« ForrigeFortsett »
Mr. Boxall, “the governor,” might be seen at a writing-table, with his face towards the exoteric department. All that a spectator from without could see, as he went on writing, was a high forehead, occupying more than its due share of a countenance which, foreshortened of course from his position at the table, appeared other. wise commonplace and rather insignificant, and a head which had been as finely tonsured by the scythe of Time as if the highest ecclesiastical dignity had depended upon the breadth and perfection of the vacancy. The corona which resulted was iron-grey.
When Thomas was quite ready, he walked into the inner room. “ Tom, my boy, you are late,” said Mr. Boxall
, lifting a face whose full view considerably modified the impression I have just given. There was great brilliance in the deep-set eyes, and a certain something, almost merriment, about the mouth, hovering lightly over a strong upper lip, which overhung and almost hid a disproportionately small under one. His chin was large, and between it and the forehead there was little space left for any further development of countenance.
“ Not very late, I believe, sir," answered Thomas. “My watch must have misled me."
"Pull out your watch, my boy, and let us see.”
I will not do you the discredit of granting you have spent that time in taking off your hat and gloves. Your
watch is five minutes slower than mine," continued Mr. Boxall, pulling out a saucepan of silver, “and mine is five minutes slower than the Exchange. You are nearly half an hour late. You will never get on if you are not punctual. It's an old-fashioned virtue, I know. But first at the office is first at the winning-post, I can tell you. You'll never make money if you're late."
“ I have no particular wish–I don't want to make money,” said Thomas.
“But I do," rejoined Mr. Boxall, good-naturedly; "and you are my servant, and must do your part.” Thereat Thomas bridled visibly.
"Ah! I see," resumed the merchant; "you don't like the word. I will change it. There's no masters or servants nowadays; they are all governors and employees. What they gain by the alteration, I am sure I don't know."
I spell the italicized word thus, because Mr. Boxall pronounced employés exactly as if it were an English word ending in ees.
Mr. Worboise's lip curled. He could afford to be contemptuous. He had been to Boulogne, and believed he could make a Frenchman understand him. He certainly did know two of the conju. gations out of really don't know how many. His master did
not see what the curl indicated, but possibly his look made Thomas feel that he had been rude. He sought to cover it by saying,-.
“Mr. Wither was as late as I was, sir. I think it's very hard I should be always pulled up, and nobody else."
“Mr. Wither is very seldom late, and you are often late, my boy. Besides, your father is a friend of mine, and I want to do my duty by him. I want you to get on.”
“My father is very much obliged to yon, sir.”
“ Só he tells me," returned Mr. Boxall, with remarkable good humour. “We expect you to dine with us to-morrow, mind."
“Thank you, I have another engagement,” answered Thomas, with dignity, as he thought.
Now at length Mr. Boxall's brow fell. But he looked more dis. appointed than angry. “I am sorry for that, Tom. I wish you could have dined with
I won't detain you longer. Mind you don't ink your trowsers."
Was Thomas never to hear the last of those trowsers ? He began to wish he had not put them on. He made his bow, and withdrew in chagrin, considering himself disgraced before his fellows, to whom he would gladly have been a model, if he could have occupied that position without too much trouble. But his heart smote him-gently, it must be confessed-for having refused the kindness of Mr. Boxall, and shown so much resentment in a matter wherein the governor was quite right.
Mr. Boxall was a man who had made his money without losing his money's worth. Nobody could accuse him of having ever done a mean, not to say a dishonest thing. This would not have been remarkable, had he not been so well recognized as a sharp man of business. The more knowing any jobber about the Ex. change, the better he knew that it was useless to dream of getting an advantage over Mr. Boxall. But it was indeed remarkable that he should be able to steer so exactly in the middle course that, while he was keen as an eagle on his own side, he should yet be thoroughly just on the other. Nor, seeing both sides of a ques. tion with even marvellous clearness, was he, in order to keep his own hands clean, driven by uncertainty to give the other side anything more than was just right. Yet Mr. Boxall knew how to be generous upon occasion, both in time and money : the ordinary sharp man of business is stingy of both. The chief fault he had was a too great a respect for success. He had risen himself by honest diligence, and he thought when a man could not rise it must be either from a want of diligence or of honesty. Hence he was à priori ready to trust the successful man, and in some in. stances, to trust him too much. That he had a family of three daughters only-one of them quite a child-who had never as yet come into collision with any project or favourite opinion of his,
might probably be one negative cause of the continuance of his open-heartedness and justice of regard.
Thomas Worboise's father had been a friend of his for many years-at least so far as that relation could be called friendship which consisted in playing as much into each other's hands in the way of business as they could, dining together two or three times in the course of the year, and keeping an open door to each other's family. Thomas was an only son, with one sister. His father would gladly have brought him up to his own profession, that of the law, but Thomas showing considerable disinclination to the necessary studies, he had placed him in his friend's counting-house with the hope that that might suit him better. Without a word having been said on the subject, both the fathers would have gladly seen the son of the one engaged to any daughter of the other. They were both men of considerable property, and thought that this would be a pleasant way of determining the future part of their possessions. At the same time Mr. Boxall was not quite satisfied with what he had as yet seen of Tom's business-character. However, there had been no signs of approximation between him and either of the girls, and therefore there was no cause to be particu. larly anxious about the matter.
THE INVALID MOTHER.
To account in some measure for the condition in which we find Tom at the commencement of my story, it will be better to say a word here about his mother. She was a woman of weak health and intellect, but strong character ; was very religious, and had a great influence over her son, who was far more attached to her than he was to his father. The daughter, on the other hand, leaned to her father, an arrangement not uncommon in families.
On the evening of the day on which my story commences, officehours were long over before Tom appeared at home. He went into his p other's room, and found her, as usual, reclining on a couch, supported by pillows. She was a woman who never complained of her sufferings, and her face, perhaps in consequence of her never desiring sympathy, was hard and unnaturally still. Nor were her features merely still they looked immobile, and her constant pain was indicated only by the absence of all curve in her upper lip. When her son entered, a gentle shimmer of love shone out of her eyes of troubled blue, but the words in which she addressed hiin did not correspond to this shine. She was one of those who think the Deity jealous of the amount of love bestowed
upon other human beings, even by their own parents, and thereföre struggle to keep down their deepest and holiest emotions, regarding them not merely as weakness but as positive sin, and likely to be most hurtful to the object on which they are permitted to expend themselves.
"Well, Thomas," said his mother, “what has kept you so late ? »
*Oh! I don't know, mother," answered Tom, in whose attempted carelessness there yet appeared a touch of anxiety which caught
'You do know, Tom; and I want to know."
“How was he so late ? You must have left the office hours ago."
He had some extra business to finish." It was business of his own, not fice business; and Tom, finding out that he would be walking home a couple of hours later, had arranged to join him that he might have this account to give of himself. “ You know I do not like you to be too much with that young
He is not religious. In fact, I believe him to be quite worldly. Does he ever go to church?”
“I don't know, mother. He's not a bad sort of fellow."
“ He is a bad sort of fellow, and the less you are with him the better."
"I can't help being with him in the office, you know, mother." “You need not be with him after office-hours."
“Well, no; perhaps not. But it would look strange to avoid him."
“I thought you had more strength of character, Thomas." “I-I-I spoke very seriously to him this morning, mother."
“ Ah! That alters the case, if you have courage to speak the truth to him."
At that moment the door opened, and the curate of St. Solomon's was announced. Mrs. Worboise was always at home to him, and he called frequently, both because she was too great an invalid to go to church, and because they supposed, on the ground of their employing the same religious phrases in their conversation, that they understood each other. He was a gentle, abstracted youth, with a face that looked as if its informing idea had been for a considerable period sat upon by something ungenial. With him the profession had become everything, and humanity never had been anything, if not something bad. He walked through the crowded streets in the neighbourhood with hurried steps and eyes fixed on the ground, his pale face rarely brightening with recognition, for he seldom saw any passing acquaintance. When he did, he
greeted him with a veice that seemed to come from far-off shores, but came really from a bloodless, nerveless chest, that had nothing to do with life, save to yield up the ghost in eternal security, and send it safe out of it. He seemed to recognize none of those human relations which make the blood mount to the face at meeting, and give strength to the grasp of the hand. He would not have hurt a fly; he would have died to save a malefactor from the gallows, that he might give him another chance of repentance. But mere human aid he had none to bestow; no warmth, no heartening, no hope.
Mr. Simon bowed solemnly, and shook hands with Mrs. Wor. boise.
“How are you to-night, Mrs. Worboise?" he said, glancing round the room, however. For the only sign of humanity about him was a certain weak admiration of Amy Worboise, who, if tried by his own tests, was dreadfully unworthy even of that. For she was a merry girl, who made great sport of the little church-mouse, as she called him.
Mrs. Worboise did not reply to this question, which she always treated as irrelevant. Mr. Simon then shook hands with Thomas, who looked on him with a respect inherited from his mother.
Any signs of good in your class, Mr. Thomas ?” he asked. The question half irritated Tom-why, he could not have explained even to himself. The fact was that he had begun to enter upon another phase of experience since he saw the curate last, and the Sunday School was just a little distasteful to him at the moment.
“No,” he answered, with a certain slightest motion of the head that might have been interpreted either as of weariness or indifference.
The clergyman interpreted it as of the latter, and proceeded to justify his question, addressing his words to the mother.
“ Your son thinks me too anxious about the fruits of his labour, Mrs. Worboise. But when we think of the briefness of life, and how soon the night cometh when no man can work, I do not think we can be too earnest to win souls for our crown of rejoicing when He comes with the holy angels. First our own souls, Mr. Thomas, and then the souls of others.”
Thomas, believing every word that the curate said, made notwithstanding no reply, and the curate went on.
“ There are so many souls that might be saved, if one were only in earnest, and so few years to do it in. We do not strive with God in prayer, Mrs. Worboise. We faint and cease from our prayers and our endeavours together."
“ That is too true,” responded the lady. "I try to do my best," said Thomas, in a tone of apology, and with a lingering doubt in his mind whether he was really speaking