night on the stern, and seeing every soul lost, as far as he be. lieved, but himself. He had no great power of description, and did not volunteer much; but he returned very direct answers to all the questions Thomas put to him. Had "Thomas only read some of the proceedings in the Court of Probate during the last few months, he would have known better what sort of questions to put to him. Almost the only remark Jack volunteered was,

" Poor little July ! how she did stick to me, to be sure ! But she was as dead as a marlin'-spike long afore the starn broke up." "Were you long on the island ?” asked Tom.

“No, not long," answered the sailor. “I always was one of the lucky ones. I was picked up the same day by a brigantine bound from Portingale to the Sambusy."

Little did Tom think how much might be involved in what Jack said. They parted, and the friends went home together. They made a good voyage, notwithstanding some rough weather, to Dundee, failed in getting a return cargo, and went back to Newcastle in ballast. From Newcastle, their next voyage was to London again. “If

you would rather not go to London," said the master to Tom, “there's a friend of mine here who is just ready to start for Aberdeen. I daresay if I were to speak to him he would take you on board."

But Tom's heart was burning to see Lucy once more-if only to see her and restore her ring. If, he thought, he might but once humble himself to the dust before her-if he might but let her see that, worthless as he was, he worshipped her, his heart would be easier. He thought likewise, that what with razoring and tanning, and the change of his clothes, he was not likely to be recognized. And besides, by this time the power must be out of Mr. Stopper's hands; at least Lucy must have come to exert her influence over the affairs of the business, and she would not allow them to drive things to extremity with him, worthless as he was. He would venture, come of it what might. So he told the captain that he would much prefer to work his passage to London again. It was a long passage this time, and very rough weather.

It was with strange feelings that Thomas saw once more the turrets of the Tower of London. Danger-exposure, it might be -lay before him, but he thought only of Lucy, not of the shame now. It was yet early morning when Captain Smith and he went on shore at Shadwell. The captain was going to see an old friend in the neighbourhood, and after that to Limehouse, to The Mermaid, to see his sister. Thomas wanted to be alone, for he had not yet succeeded in making up his mind what he was going to do. So he sent a grateful message by the captain, with the addition that he would look in upon them in the evening.

Left alone, without immediate end or aim, he wandered on, not caring whither he went, but, notwithstanding his heavy thoughts, with something of the enjoyment the sailor feels in getting on shore even after only a fortnight at sea. It was a bright, cold, frosty morning, in the month of March. Without knowing his course, Thomas was wandering northwards; and after he had gone into a coffee-shop and had some breakfast, he carelessly resumed his course in the same direction. He found that he was in the Cambridge Road, but whither that led he had no idea. Nor did he know, so absorbed was he in his own thoughts, even after he came into a region he knew, till, lifting up his head, he saw the grey time-worn tower, that looks so strong and is so shaky, of the old church of Hackney, now solitary, its ancient nave and chancel and all having vanished, leaving it to follow at its leisure, wearied out with disgust at the church which has taken its place, and is probably the ugliest building in Christendom, except the parishchurch of a certain little town in the north of Aberdeenshire. This sent a strange pang to his heart, for close by, that family used to live whose bones were now whitening amongst those rocky islands of the Atlantic. He went into the churchyard, sat down on a gravestone, and thought. Now that the fiction of his own worth had vanished like an image in the clouds of yesterday, he was able to see clearly into his past life and conduct; and he could not conceal from himself that his behaviour to Mary Boxall might have had something to do with the loss of the whole family. He saw more and more the mischief that had come of his own weakness, and lack of courage and principle. If he could but have defended his own conduct where it was blameless, or at least allowed it to be open to the daylight and the anger of those whom it might not please, he would thus have furnished his own steps with a strong barrier against sliding down that slope down which he had first slidden before falling headlong from the precipice at its foot. In self-abasement he rose from the gravestone, and walked slowly past the house. Merry faces of children looked from upper windows, who knew nothing of those who had been there before them. Then he went away westward towards Highbury. He would just pass his father's door. There was no fear of his father seeing him at this time of the day, for he would be at his office, and his mother could not leave her room. Ah, his mother! How had he behaved to her? A new torrent of self-reproach rushed over his soul as he walked along the downs towards Islington. Some day, if he could only do something first to distinguish him. self in any way, he would go and beg her forgiveness. But what chance was there of his ever doing anything now? He had cut all the ground of action from under his own feet. Not yet did Thomas see that his duty was to confess his sin, waiting for no means of covering its enormity. He walked on. He passed the

door, casting but a cursory glance across the windows. There was no one to be seen. He went down the long walk with the limetrees on one side, which he knew so well, and just as he reached the gates there were his sister Amy and Mr. Simon coming from the other side. They were talking and laughing merrily, and looking in each other's face. He had never seen Mr. Simon look so pleasant before. He almost felt as if he could speak to him. But no sooner did Mr. Simon see that this sailor-looking fellow was regarding them, than the clerical mask was on his face, and Thomas turned away with involuntary dislike. “It is clear," he said to himself, “ that they don't care much what has become of me.” He turned then westward again, towards Highgate, and then went over to Hampstead, paused at the pines, and looked along the valley beneath, then descended into it, and went across the heath till he came out on the road by Wildwood. This was nearly the way he had wandered on that stormy Christmas Day with Mary Boxall. He had this day, almost without conscious choice, traversed the scenes of his former folly. Had he not been brooding repentantly over his faults, I doubt if he could have done so, even unconsciously. He turned into the Bull and Bush, and had some dinner; then, as night was falling, started for London, having made up his mind at last what he would do. At the Bull and Bush he had written a note to Lucy, to the following effect. He did not dare to call her by her name, still less to use any term of endearment :

“ I am not worthy to speak or to write your name," he said ; " but my heart is dying to see you once more. I have likewise to return you your mother's ring ; which, though it has comforted me often in my despair, I have no longer any right to retain. But I should just like to tell you that I am working honestly for my bread. I am a sailor now. I am quite clear of all my bad companions, and hope to remain so. Dare I ask you to meet me once -to-morrow night, say, or any night soon, for I am not safe in London? I will tell you all when I see you. Send me one line by the bearer of this to say where you will meet me. Do not, for the sake of your love to me once, refuse me this. I want to beg your forgiveness, that I may go away less miserable than I am. Then I will go to Australia, or somewhere out of the country, and you will never hear of me more. God bless you."

He cried a good deal over this note. Then came the question how he was to send it. He could, no doubt, find a messenger at The Mermaid, but he was very unwilling to make any line of communication between that part of London and Guild Court_or, more properly, to connect himself, whose story was there known, with Lucy's name. He would go to the neighbourhood of Guild Court and there look out for a messenger, whom he could then watch.

[ocr errors]



As soon as he had resolved upon this he set o.. There was plenty of time. He would walk. Tired as he was beginning to be, notion was his only solace. He walked through Hampstead, and by Haverstock-hill, Tottenham-court-road, and Holborn to the City. By this time the moon was up. Going by Ludgatehill, he saw her shining over St. Paul's right through the spire of St. Martin's, where the little circle of pillars lays it open to the sky and the wind : she seemed to have melted the spire in two. Then he turned off to the left, now looking out for a messenger. In his mind he chose and rejected several, dallying with his own eagerness, and yielding to one doubt after another about each in succession. At last he reached the further end of Bagot-street. There stood Poppy with her “murphy-buster.” Had it been daylight, when her dress and growth would have had due effect upon her appearance, probably Thomas would not have known her ; but seeing her face only by the street-lamp, he just recollected that he had seen the girl about Guild Court. He had no suspicion that she would know him. But Poppie was as sharp as a needle: she did know him.

“Do you know Guild Court, my girl ?” he asked. “I believe you,” answered Poppie.

“Would you take this letter for me, and give it to Miss Burton, who lives there, and wait for an answer? If she's not at home bring it back to me. I will take care of your potatoes, and give you a shilling when you come back.”

Whether Poppie would have accepted the office if she had not recognized Thoinas, I do not know. She might, for she had so often forsaken her machine and found it all right when she returned, that I think the promise of the shilling would have enabled her to run the risk. As it was, she scudded. While she was gone he sold three or four of her potatoes. He knew how to deliver them ; but he didn't know the price, and just took what they gave him. He stood trembling with hope.

Suddenly he was seized by the arm from behind, and a gruff voice, he thought he knew, said,

“Here he is! Come along, Mr. Worboise. You're wanted."

Thomas had turned in great alarm. There were four men, he saw, but they were not policemen. That was a comfort. Two of them were little men. None of them spoke but the one who seized him. He twisted his arm from the man's grasp, and was just throwing his fist at his head, when he was pinioned by two arms cast round him from behind.

“Don't strike," said the first man, or it'll be the worse for you. I'll call the police. Come along, and I swear nothing but good will come of it-to you as well as to other people. I'm not the man to get you into trouble, I can tell you. Don't you know me? -Kitely, the bookseller. Come along. I've been in a fix myself before now."

Thomas yielded, and they led him away. “But there's that child's potatoes !” he said. “The whole affair will be stolen. Just wait till she comes back!”

“Oh ! she's all right,” said Kitely. “There she is, buttering a ha'p'orth. Come along."

They led him through streets and lanes, every one of which Thomas knew better than his catechism a good deal. All at once they bustled him in at a church door. In the vestibule Thomas saw that there were but two with him-Mr. Kitely, whom he now recognized, and a little man with his hair standing erect over his pale face, like corn on the top of a chalk-cliff. Him, too, he recognized, for Mr. Spelt had done many repairs for him. The other two had disappeared. Neither Mr. Salter nor Mr. Dolman cared to tempt Providence by coming further. It was Jim who had secured his arms, and saved Kitely's head. Mr. Kitely made way

for Thomas to enter first. Fearful of any

commotion, he yielded still, and went into a pew near the door. The two men followed him. It is time I should account for the whole of this strange proceed. ing.

Jim Salter did not fail to revisit The Mermaid on the day of Tom's departure, but he was rather late, and Tom was gone. As to what had become of him, Mr. Potts thought it more prudent to profess ignorance. He likewise took another procedure upon him, which, although well-meant, was not honest. Regardless of Thomas's desire that Jim should have a half-sovereign for the trouble of the preceding day, Mr. Potts, weighing the value of Jim's time, and the obligation he was himself under to Tom, resolved to take Tom's interests in his own hands, and therefore very solemly handed a half-crown and a florin, as what Thomas had left for him, across the counter to Jim. Jim took the amount in severe dudgeon. The odd sixpence was especially obnoxious. It was grievous to his soul.

Four and sixpence! Four bob and one tanner,” said Jim, in a tone of injury, in which there certainly was no pretence-"after a-riskin' of my life, not to mention a-wastin' of my precious time for the ungrateful young snob. Four and sixpence !"

Mr. Potts told him with equal solemnity, a righteous indignation looking over the top of his red nose, to hold his jaw, or go out of his tavern. Whereupon Jim gave a final sniff, and was silent, for where there was so much liquor on the premises it was prudent not to anger The Mermaid's master. Thereupon the said master, pro.

« ForrigeFortsett »