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LUCY'S NEW TROUBLE.
MR. SARGENT'S next application to Mr. Worboise, made on the morning after the decision of the court in his favour, shared the fate of all his preceding attempts. Mr. Worboise smiled it off. There was more inexorableness expressed in his smile than in another's sullen imprecation. The very next morning Mrs. Boxall was served with notice to quit at the approaching quarter day; for she had no agreement, and paid no rent, consequently she was tenant only on sufferance. And now Mr. Stopper's behaviour towards them underwent a considerable change; not that he was in the smallest degree rude to them; but, of course, there was now no room for that assumption of the confidential by which he had sought to establish the most friendly relations between himself and the probable proprietors of the business in which he hoped to secure his position, not merely as head clerk, but as partner. The door between the house and the office was once more carefully locked, and the key put in his drawer, and having found how hostile his new master was to the inhabitants of the house, he took care to avoid every suspicion of intimacy with them.
Mrs. Boxall's paroxysm of indignant rage when she received the notice to quit was of course as impotent as the bursting of a shell in a mountain of mud. From the first, however, her anger had had this effect, that everybody in the court, down to lowly and lonely Mr. Dolman, the cobbler, knew all the phases of her oppression and injury. Lucy never said a word about it, save to Mr. and Mrs. Morgenstern, whose offer of shelter for herself and her grandmother till they could see what was to be done, she gratefully declined, knowing that her grandmother would rather die than accept such a position.
“There's nothing left for me in my old age but the workhouse,” said Mrs. Boxall, exhausted by one of her outbursts of fierce vindictive passion against the author of her misfortunes, which, as usual, ended in the few bitter tears that are left to the aged to shed.
“Grannie, grannie,” said Lucy, “ don't talk like that. You have been a mother to me. See if I cannot be a daughter to you. I am quite able to keep you and myself too as comfortable as ever. See if I can't."
“Nonsense, child. It will be all that you can do to keep your. self; and I'm not a-going to sit on the neck of a young thing like you, just like a nightmare, and have you wishing me gone from morning to night.'
“I don't deserve that you should say that of me, grannie. But I'm sure you don't think as you say. And as to being able, with
Mrs. Morgenstern's recommendation I can get as much teaching as I can undertake. I am pretty sure of that; and you know it will only be paying you back a very little of your own, grannie."
Before Mrs. Boxall could reply, for she felt reproached for having spoken so to her granddaughter, there was a tap at the door, and Mr. Kitely entered.
Begging your pardon, ladies, and taking the liberty of a neighbour, I made bold not to trouble you by ringing the bell. I've got something to speak about in the way of business.”
So saying, the worthy bookseller, who had no way of doing anything but going at it like a bull, drew a chair near the fire.
“ With your leave, ma'am, it's as easy to speak sitting as standing. So, if you don't object, I'll sit down."
“Dó sit down, Mr. Kitely," said Lucy. “We're glad to see you -though you know we're in a little trouble just at present.”
“I know all about that ; and I don't believe there's a creature in the court, down to Mrs. Cook's cat, that isn't ready to fly at that devil's limb of a lawyer. But you see, ma’am, if we was to murder him it wouldn't be no better for you. And what I come to say to you is this : I've got a deal more room on my premises than I want, and it would be a wonderful accommodation to me, not to speak of the honour of it, if you would take charge of my little woman for me. I can't interfere with her, you know, so as to say that she's not to take care of me, you know, for that would go nigh to break her little heart; but if you would come and live there as long as convenient to you, you could get things for yourselves all the same as you does here, only you wouldn't have nothing to be out of pocket for houseroom, you know. It would be the making of my poor motherless Mattie."
“Oh! we're not going to be so very poor as grannie thinks, Mr. Kitely,” said Lucy, trying to laugh, while the old lady sat rocking herself to and fro and wiping her eyes. “But I should like to move into your house, for there's nowhere I should be so much at home."
Lucy!" said her grandmother warningly.
Stop a bit, grannie. Mr. Kitely's a real friend in need ; and it I had not such a regard for him as I have, I would take it as it's meant. I'll tell you what, Mr. Kitely; it only comes to this, that I have got to work a little harder, and not lead such an idle life with my grannie here."
You idle, miss !” interrupted the bookseller. "I never see any one more like the busy bee than yourself, only that you was always a-wastin' of your honey on other people; and that they say ain't the way of the bees."
“But you won't hear me out, Mr. Kitely. It would be a shame of me to go and live in anybody's house for nothing, seeing I am quite able to pay for it. Now, if you have room in your house"
“ Miles of it," cried the bookseller.
“I don't know where it can be, then ; for it's as full of books from the ground to the garret as-as-as my darling old grannie here is of independence."
“Don't you purtend to know more about my house, miss, than I do myself. Just you say the word, and before quarter day you'll find two rooms fit for your use, and at your service. What I owe to you, miss, in regard to my little one, nothing I can do can ever repay. They're a bad lot, them Worboises--son and father ! and that I saw-leastways in the young one.”
This went with a sting to poor Lucy's heart. She kept hoping and hoping, and praying to God; but her little patch of blue sky was so easily overclouded! But she kept to the matter before her.
“Very well, Mr. Kitely; you ought to know best. Now for my side of the bargain. I told you already I would rather be in your house than anywhere else, if I must leave this dear old place. And if you will let me pay a reasonable sum, as lodgings go in this court, we'll regard the matter as settled. And then I can teach Mattie a little, you know."
Mrs. Boxall did not put in a word. The poor old lady was at length beginning to weary of everything, and for the first time in her life began to allow her affairs to be meddled with-as she would no doubt even now consider it. And the sound of paying was very satisfactory. I suspect part of Lucy's desire to move no further than the entrance of the court, came from the hope that Thomas would some day or other turn up in that neighbourhood, and perhaps this emboldened her to make the experiment of taking the matter so much into her own hands. Mr. Kitely scratched his head, and looked a little annoyed.
“Well, miss," he said, pausing between every few words, a most unusual thing with him, " that's not a bit of what I meant when I came up the court here. But that's better than nothing-for Mattie I
So if you'll be reasonable about the rent, we'll easily manage all the rest. Mind you; miss, it'll be all clear profit
“It'll cost you a good deal to get the rooms put in order as you say, you know, Mr. Kitely.”
Not much, miss. I know how to set about things better than most people. Bless you, I can buy wall-papers for half what you'd pay for them now. I know the trade. I've been aʼmost everything in my day. Why, miss, I lived at one time such a close shave with dying of hunger, that after I was married, I used to make pictureframes, and then pawn my tools to get glass to put into them, and then carry them about to sell, and when I had sold 'em I bought more gold beading and redeemed my tools, and did it all over again. Bless you! I know what it is to be hard up, if anybody ever did. I once walked from Bristol to Newcastle upon fourpence. It won't cost me much to make them rooms decent. And then there's the
back parlour at your service. I shan't plague you much, only to take a look at my princess now and then."
After another interview or two between Lucy and Mr. Kitely, the matter was arranged, and the bookseller proceeded to get his rooms ready, which involved chiefly a little closer packing, and the getting rid of a good deal of almost unsaleable rubbish, which had accumulated from the purchase of lots.
Meantime another trial was gathering for poor Lucy. Mr. Sargent had met Mr. Wither, and had learned from him all he knew about Thomas. Mr. Wither was certain that everything was broken off between Lucy and him. It was not only known to all at the office that Thomas had disappeared, but it was perfectly known as well that for some time he had been getting into bad ways, and his disappearance was necessarily connected with this fact, though no one but Mr. Stopper knew the precise occasion of his evanishment, and this he was, if possible, more careful than ever to conceal. Not even to the lad's father did he communicate what he knew : he kept this as a power over his new principal. From what he heard, Mr. Sargent resolved to see if he could get anything out of Molken, and called upon him for that purpose. But the German soon con. vinced him that, although he had been intimate with Thomas, he knew nothing about him now. The last information he could give him was that he had staked and lost his watch and a lady's ring that he wore; that he had gone away and returned with money ; and having gained considerably, had disappeared and never been heard of again. It was easy for Mr. Sargent to persuade himself that a noble-minded creature like Lucy, having come to know the worthlessness of her lover, had dismissed him for ever; and to believe that she would very soon become indifferent to a person so altogether unworthy of her affection. Probably he was urged yet the more to a fresh essay from the desire of convincing her that his motives in the first place had not been so selfish as accident had made them appear; for that his feelings towards her remained unaltered notwithstanding the change in her prospects. He therefore kept up his visits, and paid them even more frequently now that there was no possible excuse on the score of business. For some time, however, so absorbed were Lucy's thoughts that his attentions gave her no uneasiness. She considered the matter so entirely settled, that no suspicion of the revival of any further hope in the mind of Mr. Sargent arose to add a fresh trouble to the distress which she was doing all she could to bear patiently. But one day she was suddenly undeceived. Mrs. Boxall had just left the room.
“ Miss Burton," said Mr. Sargent, “ I venture to think circumstances may be sufficiently altered to justify me in once more expressing a hope that I may be permitted to regard a nearer friendship as possible between us."
Lucy started as if she had been hurt. The occurrence was so
strange and foreign to all that was in her thoughts, that she had to look all around her, as it were, like a person suddenly awaking in a strange place. Before she could speak her grandmother reentered. Mr. Sargent went away without any conviction that Lucy's behaviour indicated repugnance to his proposal.
Often it happens that things work together without any concerted scheme. Mrs. Morgenstern had easily divined Mr. Sargent's feelings, and the very next day began to talk about him to Lucy. But she listened without interest, until Mrs. Morgenstern touched a chord which awoke a very painful one. For at last his friend had got rather piqued at Lucy's coldness and indifference.
“I think at least, Lucy, you might show a little kindness to the poor fellow, if only from gratitude. A girl may acknowledge that feeling without compromising herself. There has Mr. Sargent been wearing himself out for you, lying awake at night, and running about all day, without hope of reward, and you are so taken up with your own troubles that you haven't a thought for the man who has done all that lay in human being's power to turn them aside."
Could Lucy help comparing this conduct with that of Thomas ? And while she compared it, she could as little help the sudden inroad of the suspicion that Thomas had forsaken her that he might keep well with his father-the man who was driving them, as far as lay in his power, into the abyss of poverty-and that this disappearance was the only plan he dared to adopt for freeing himself-for doubtless his cowardice would be at least as great in doing her wrong as it had been in refusing to do her right. And she did feel that there was some justice in Mrs. Morgenstern's reproach. For if poor Mr. Sargent was really in love with her, she ought to pity him and feel for him some peculiar tenderness, for the very reason that she could not grant him what he desired. Her strength having been much undermined of late, she could not hear Mrs. Morgenstern's reproaches without bursting into tears. And then her friend began to comfort her, but all the time supposing that her troubles were only those connected with her reverse of fortune. As Lucy went home, however, a very different and terrible thought darted into her mind : “What if it was her duty to listen to Mr. Sargent!” There seemed no hope for her any more. Thomas had forsaken her utterly. If she could never be happy, ought she not to be the more anxious to make another happy? Was there any limit to the sacrifice that ought to be made for another-that is of one's self? for, alas ! it would be to sacrifice no one besides. The thought was indeed a terrible one. All the rest of that day her soul was like a drowning creature-now getting one breath of hope, now with all the billows and waves of despair going over it. The evening passed in constant terror lest Mr. Sargent should appear, and a poor paltry