Page images
PDF
EPUB

knight, ready to go anywhere or render her any service in her need, it would be as well to be better provided with the sinews of war. He unlocked the little writing-case which stood on a side table.

Percival's carefulness in money matters had helped him very much in his poverty. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to him, that, since his income was fixed, his expenditure must be made to fit it. He hardly understood the difficulties of that numerous class, of which Bertie was an example, men who consider certain items of expenditure as fixed and unchangeable, let their income be what it may. But Percival had retained one remembrance of his wealthier days, a familiarity with money. People who have been stinted all their lives, are accustomed to handle silver and copper, but are anxious about gold, and frightened at notes or cheques. Percival, though he was quite conscious of the relative greatness of small sums to his narrow means, retained the old habit of thinking them small, and never bestowed an anxious thought on the little hoard in his desk. As he went to it that evening he remembered, with sudden pleasure, that there was the money that had been accumulating for some time, in readiness for Mrs. Bryant's return. He could borrow from that if need were.

The money was gone.
Percival stood up, and stared vaguely round the room.

Then, unable to believe in his misfortune, he emptied out the contents of the desk upon

the table, and tossed them over in a hurried search. A carelessly folded paper caught his eye, as something unfamiliar. He opened it and read :

“ DEAR THORNE,

“You were good enough to let me borrow of you once, when I was in a scrape. I am in a worse difficulty now, and, as I have not the chance of asking your leave, I've ventured to help myself. You shall have it back again in a few days, with an explanation of this cool proceeding

“H. L.

be an

Percival threw the letter down, and walked to the window again. It was clear enough now. Bertie had had no need to borrow eight or nine pounds, if he were only going out for the day to enquire about a situation as organist. But if a man is running off with a young lady, it will not do to have an absolutely empty purse. Even though she niay heiress, he cannot very well begin by asking her to pay his railway fare. “ It would define the relative positions a little too clearly,” thought Percival, with a scornful smile.

“ Will she hope still ?” was his next thought. “It is not utterly impossible, I suppose, that Master Bertie has bolted alone. One couldn't swear he hadn't. Bolted he certainly has, but if she will hope, I can't say that I know he has gone with Miss Nash. Though I am sure he

has-how else would be undertake to repay me in a few days? Unless
that is only a figure of speech.”
He suddenly remembered the time when Bertie left bis debt unpaid

, after a similar promise, and he went back to his desk with a new anxiety. His talisman, the half-sovereign which was to have been tressured to his dying day, had shared the fate of the common-place coins which were destined for Mrs. Bryant and his bootmaker. It was a cruel blow, but Percival saw the absurd side of his misfortune, and laughed aloud in spite of himself.

“My sentiment hasn't prospered. It might just as well have been a threepenny-piece! Ah, well ! it would be unreasonable to complain," he reflected, "since Bertie has promised to send my souvenir back again. Very thoughtful of him! It will be a little remembrance of Emmeline Nash, when it comes, and not of Judith Lisle; that will be the only difference. Quite unimportant, of course. Upon my word, Lisle went about it in a systematic fashion. Pity he gave bis attention to music; & distinguished burglar was lost to society when he turned organist.” He took ир

the
paper

and glanced at it again. “If I show this to her, she will pay his debt, as she did last time—and that she never shall do!" He doubled it up, and thrust it in with the rest.

A shuffling step in the passage, a knock at the door, and Emma made her appearance.

“Miss Lisle has come in, sir." Percival looked up a little astonished, but he only thanked her in his quiet voice, and closed his desk. He turned the key, and waited : moment till Emma should have gone, before he obeyed the summons When, answering Judith's "Come in," he entered the Lisles' room, he found her standing by the window. She turned and looked at him, as if she were not quite certain whom to expect. “ It is I,” he said. Thank

you for sending for me." “Sending for you? I didn't send. But I am glad you came," she added.

She had not sent for him, and Percival remembered that he had passed Lydia Bryant on his way. The message, which after all was a mere statement of a fact, was hers. He coloured angrily, and stood confused. “ You did not send ?

NOVI see.

I beg your pardon--I misunderstood"

" It makes no difference,” said Judith, quickly. “Don't go. I wanted to tell you

She paused. “I have not been unjust, Mr. Thorne. Mr. Nash has been at Standon Square this afternoon. After he had my telegram, he received a letter from Emmeline, and it was as I thought. She is with Bertie.”

“ With Bertie ? And he came here ?"

“ Yes; to see if it was as Emmeline said, that they were married at St. Andrew's, last Tuesday."

Percival looked blankly at her. “Married ! It isn't possible, is it?"

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“Quite possible," said Judith, bitterly. “Standon Square is in St. Andrew's parish, as well as Bellevue Street. It seems that Bertie had only to have the banns mumbled over for three Sundays, by an old clergyman whom nobody hears, in a church where nobody goes. It sounds very easy, doesn't it?”

Percival stood for a moment speechless, while the cool audacity of Bertie's proceeding filtered slowly into his mind. “But if any one had gone to St. Andrew's ?” he said at last. “ That would have ended it, of course. I

suppose he would have run away without Emmeline. If I had gone that Sunday, when I had arranged to go, for instance. Yes, that would have been very awkward, wouldn't it, Mr. Thorne? Only you see Bertie happened to be ill that morning, and I couldn't leave him. You remember, you were good enough to go to church with us."

“I remember," said Percival, with a scornful smile, as he recalled the devoted attention with which he had escorted the young organist to St. Sylvester's.

“He must have enjoyed that walk, I should think,” said Judith, still very quietly. Her unopened note was on the table, where she had placed it that morning. She took it up, and tore it into a hundred pieces.

“ You have heard people talk of broken hearts, haven't you ?" she said. “Often," he answered.

“Well then, Bertie has broken Miss Crawford's. She said this morning that she should never hold up her head again if this were true, and I believe she never will.”

“Do you mean she will die of it ?" said Thorne, aghast.

“Not directly, perhaps ; but I am sure she will die the sooner for it. All her pride in her life's work is gone. She feels that she is disgraced. I could not bear to see her this afternoon, utterly asbamed and humble before that man.”

“ What did he say?”

“ Some things I won't tell you." A quick blush dyed her face. Naturally he was angry, he had good reason to be. And when he told her she was past her work, she moaned, poor thing, while the tears rained down her cheeks, and only said 'God forgive me-yes.'

Percival could but echo her pity. “ Bertie never thought he began.

“Never thought! When our trouble came,” said Judith, "we had plenty of friends better able to do something for us, but, somehow, they didn't. And when there was the talk of Bertie's coming here, and I remembered her, and asked her if she could help me to a situation anywhere in the neighbourhood, she wrote to me to come to her at once, and she would do all she could to help Bertie too. I have her letter still. She said she longed to know me for my mother's sake, and was sure she should soon love me for my own. And this afternoon she prayed God she might never see my face again !"

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

“She thinks you are to blame, then ?" said Thorne.

Yes; and am I not ?" was the quick reply. “Ought I not to have known Bertie better? And I did know him. That is the worst of it. I did not expect this, and yet I ought to have been on my guard. He has been my one study from first to last. From the time that he was a little boy—the bonniest little boy that ever was !--my life has been all Bertie. I remember him, with long curls hanging down his back, and his grey eyes opened wide, when he stood on tiptoe at the piano, and touched the little tunes that he had heard, and looked over his shoulder at me, and laughed for pleasure in his music. I can see his little baby fingers—the little soft fingers I used to kiss-on the keys now. Oh, Bertie ! why didn't you

die then?She stopped, as if checked by a sudden thought, and looked so quickly up at Percival, that she caught an answer in his eyes that he would never have uttered.

“Ah, yes, he would have been the same," she said. “ He was the same then ; I know it. They used to praise me, when I was a child, for giving everything up to Bertie, as if he were not my happiness. And it bas been so always. And now I have sacrificed Miss Crawford to Bertie-my dear old friend—my mother's friend—who is worth ten times as much as Bertie ever was, or ever will be! Is not this a fine ending of all ?" Percival broke the silence after a moment's pause.

“ Is it an ending of all ?” he said. “ Bertie has been very wrong, but it has been partly thoughtlessness. He is very young, and if he should do well hereafter, may there not even yet be a future to which you may look forward? As for the world, it is not disposed to look on a runaway match of this sort as a crime."

She turned her eyes full upon him, and he stopped.

“Oh, the world !” she said. “ The world will consider it a sort of young Lochinvar affair, no doubt. But how much of the young Lochinvar do you think there is about Bertie, Mr. Thorne? You have heard him speak of Emmeline Nash sometimes-not as often nor as freely as he has spoken to me-still, you have heard him. And judging from that, do you believe he is in love with her ?"

“ Well—no," said Thorne, reluctantly. “Hardly that.”

“A thousand times No! If by any possibility he had loved her, foolishly, madly, with a passion that blinded him to the cruel wrong he was doing, it would all have been different. I should have blamed him, but in spite of Miss Crawford I should have forgiven him ; I shonld have had hope, he would have been my Bertie still; I shonld not have despised him. But this is cold, and base, and horrible-he has simply sold himself for Emmeline's money. Sold himself--his smiles, and his pretty speeches, and his handsome face. And now it is all over."

As Judith spoke, Percival understood for the first time what *

[ocr errors]

help me,

woman's voice could be. The girl's soul was filled and shaken with passion. She did not cry aloud, nor rant, but every accent thrilled through him from head to foot. And it seemed to him that she needed no words; that, had she been speaking in an unknown tongue, the very intonation, the mere sound, the vibration of her voice, would have told him of her wounded heart, her despair, her unavailing sorrow, her bitter shame—so eloquent it was.

He did not think all this, but, in a passing moment, felt it.

"I fear it is all too true," he said. “ I don't know what to say, nor how to help you. Your brother“Don't call him that-he is no brother of mine. Ah, yes! God he is

my brother; and I think we Lisles bring sorrow to all who are good to us. We have to you, have we not? Don't stay here, Mr. Thorne; don't try to help me. Remember, that I am of the same blood as my father, who robbed you—as Bertie, who has been so base."

“And if Judas himself were your brother—what then?” Percival demanded. His voice, in its masculine vigour and fulness, broke forth suddenly, like a strong creature held till then in a leash.

And as for the money-what of that? I am glad it is gone, or I should not have been here to-day !”

No; he would not have needed to turn clerk, and earn his living. He would not have gone to Brackenhill to confess his poverty. He might never have discovered anything. Most likely he would long since have been Sissy's husband. Sissy seemed far away now.

He had loved her-yes. Oh, poor little Sissy, who had clung to him ! But what were these new feelings that thronged his heart as he looked at Judith Lisle? He stopped abruptly. What had he said ?

Judith, too, looked at him, and grew suddenly calm and still. “You are very good,” she said. “I should have been very lonely to-day, if I had not had a friend. It has been a comfort to speak out what I felt, though I am afraid I've talked foolishly—

“One can't weigh all one's words," said Percival.

"No," she answered ; " and I know you will not remember my folly.

" At any rate, I will not forget that you have trusted me. tired,” he said, gently; "you ought to rest. There is nothing to be done to-night."

"Nothing," she answered, hopelessly.

“And to-morrow, if there is anything that I can do, you will send for me will

you not?She smiled. “ Promise me that,” he urged, in a tone of authority.

“ You will?” “Yes, I promise."

Sometimes, when clouds roll up, black with thunder and rain, to overshadow the heavens, and to deluge the earth, between their masses VOL, XXXVIII.-NO. 226.

*24-6

[ocr errors]

You are

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »