Lucy. A sudden cloud had fallen upon them. They must not go on this way, but what other way were they to take? They stood side by side, looking into the water, Thomas humiliated and Lucy disgraced. There was no comfort to be got out of that rushing blackness, and the mud-banks grew wider and wider.

Lucy was the first to speak, for she was far more capable than Tom.

“ We must go ashore at the next pier,” she said.

“Very well,” said Tom, as if he had been stunned into sullen. ness. “If you want to get rid of me because of what that fellow said "

“ Oh, Tom !” said Lucy, and burst out crying.
“Well, what do you want, Lucy ?”
“We must part, Tom," sobbed Lucy.

“Nonsense!” said Tóm, nearly crying himself, for a great painful lump had risen in his throat.

“We can love each other all the same," said Lucy, still sobbing ; "only you must not come to see me any more-that is I do not mean-never any more at all—but till you have told them-all about it. I don't mean now, but some time, you know. When will you be of age, Tom?

"Oh, that makes no difference. As long's I'm dependent, it's all the same. I wish I was my own master. I should soon let them see I didn't care what they said."

Silence again followed, during which Lucy tried in vain to stop her tears by wiping them away. A wretched feeling awoke in her that Thomas was not manly, could not resolve-or rather, could not help her when she would do the right thing. She would have borne anything rather than that. It put her heart in a vice.

The boat stopped at the Westminster pier. They went on shore. The sun was down, and the fresh breeze that blew, while it pleasantly cooled the hot faces that moved westward from their day's work, made Lucy almost shiver with cold. For loss had laid hold of her heart. They walked up Parliament Street. Thomas felt that he must say something, but what he should say he could not think. He always thought what he should say-never what he should do.

“Lucy, dear,” he said, at last, “ we won't make up our minds tonight. Wait till I see you next. I shall have time to think about it before then. I will be a match for that sneaking rascal, Stopper, yet.”

Lucy felt inclined to say that to sneak was no way to give sneaking its own. But she said neither that nor anything else.

They got into an omnibus at Charing Cross, and returneddeafened, stupefied, and despondent-into the city. They parted at Lucy's door, and Thomas went home, already much later than usual.

What should he do? He resolved upon nothing, and did the worst thing he could have done. He lied.

“You are very late to-night, Thomas," said his mother. “Have you been all this time with Mr. Moloch ? "

“ Yes, mother," answered Thomas,

And when he was in bed he consoled himself by saying that there was no such person as Mr. Moloch.

When Lucy went to bed, she prayed to God in sobs and cries of pain. Hitherto she had believed in Thomas without a question crossing the disc of her faith ; but now she had begun to doubt, and the very fact that she could doubt was enough to make her miserable, even if there had been no ground for the doubt. My readers must remember that no one had attempted to let her into the secrets of his character as I have done with them. His beautiful face, pleasant manners, self-confidence, and, above all, her love, had blinded her to his faults. For, although I do not in the least believe that Love is blind, yet I must confess that, like kittens and some other animals, he has his blindness nine days or more, as it may be, from his birth. But once she had begun to suspect, she found ground for suspicion enough. She had never known grief before-not even when her mother died-for death has not anything despicable, and Thomas had.

What Charles Wither had told Thomas was true enough. Mr. Stopper was after him. Ever since the dinner party at Mr. Boxall's he had hated him, and bided his time.

Mr. Stopper was a man of forty, in whose pine-apple whiskers and bristly hair the first white streaks of autumn had begun to show themselves. He had entered the service of Messrs. Blunt and Baker some five-and-twenty years before, and had gradually risen through all the intervening positions to his present post. Within the last year, moved by prudential considerations, he had begun to regard the daughters of his principal against the background of pos. sible marriage; and as he had hitherto, from motives of the same class, resisted all inclinations in that direction, with so much the more force did his nature rush into the channel which the consent of his selfishness opened for the indulgence of his affections. For the moment he saw Mary Boxall with this object in view, he fell in love with her after the fashion of such a man, beginning instantly to build, not castles, but square houses in the air, in the dining-rooms especially of which her form appeared in gorgeous and somewhat matronly garments amidst ponderous mahogany, seated behind the obscuration of tropical plants at a table set out à la Russe. His indignation when he entered the drawing-room after Mr. Boxall's dinner, and saw Thomas in the act of committing the indiscretion recorded in that part of my story, passed into silent hatred when he found that while his attentions were slighted, those of Thomas, in his eyes a mere upstart-for he judged everything in

relation to the horizon of Messrs. Blunt and Baker, and every man in relation to himself, seated upon the loftiest summit within the circle of that horizon-not even offered, but only dropped at her feet in passing, were yet accepted.

Amongst men, Mr. Stopper was of the bull-dog breed, sagacious, keen-scented, vulgar, and inexorable ; capable of much within the range of things illuminated by his own interests, capable of nothing beyond it. And now one of his main objects was to catch some scent--for the bull-dog has an excellent nose-of Thomas's faults or failings, and follow such up the wind of his prosperity, till he should have a chance of pulling him down at last. His first inclination towards this revenge was strengthened and elevated into an imagined execution of justice when Mary fell ill, and it oozed out that her illness had not a little to do with some behaviour of Thomas's. Hence it came that, both consciously and unconsciously, Mr. Stopper was watching the unfortunate youth, though so cautious was Thomas that he had not yet discovered anything of which he could make a definite use. Nor did he want to interrupt Thomas's projects before he found that they put him in his power.

So here was a weak and conceited youth of fine faculties and fine impulses, between the malign aspects of two opposite starswatched, that is, and speculated upon by two able and unprincipled men ; the one, Mr. Molken, searching him and ingratiating himself with him,“ to the end to know how to worke him, or winde hin, or governe him,” which, Lord Bacon goes on to say, “ proceedeth from a heart that is double and cloven, and not entyre and ingenuous ;" the other, Mr. Stopper, watching his conduct, not for the sake of procuring advantage to himself but injury to Thomas. The one sought to lead him astray, that he might rob him in the dark ; the other sought a chance of knocking him down, that he might leave him lying in the ditch. And they soon began to play into each other's hands without knowing it.



ABOUT three weeks before the occurrences last recorded, the fol. lowing conversation took place between Richard and John Boxall over their wine.

"I tell you what, brother," said the captain, “ you're addling good brains with overwork. You won't make half so much money if you're too greedy after it. You don't look the sane fellow you used to."

" I hope I'm not too greedy after money, John. But it's my business, as yours is to sail your ship.”

“ Yes, yes. I can't sail my ship too well, nor you attend to your business too well. But if I was to sail two ships instead of one, or if I was to be on deck instead of down at my dinner when she was going before the wind in the middle of the Atlantic, I shouldn't do my best when it came on to blow hard in the night."

“That's all very true. But I don't think it applies to me. I never miss my dinner by any chance."

“Don't you turn your blind eye on my signal, Dick. You know what I mean well enough.-I've got a proposal to make—the jolliest thing in the world.”

“Go on. I'm listening.”
“ Mary ain't quite so well again-is she, now?"

“Well, I don't think she's been getting on so fast. I suppose it's the spring weather.”

“Why, you may call it summer now. But she ain't as I should like to see her, the darling."

“Well, no. I must confess I'm sometimes rather uneasy about her.”

“And there's Jane. She don't look at home somehow.”

For some time Richard had been growing more and more uneasy as the evidence of his daughter's attachment to Charles Wither became plainer. Both he and his wife did the best they could to prevent their meeting, but, having learned a little wisdom from the history of his father's family, and knowing well the hastiness of his own temper, he had as yet managed to avoid any open conflict with his daughter, who he knew had inherited his own stubbornness. He had told his brother nothing of this second and now principal source of family apprehension ; and the fact that John saw that all was not right with Jane, greatly increased his feeling of how much things were going wrong. He made no reply, however, but sat waiting what was to follow. Accumulating his arguments, the captain went on.

"And there's your wife : she's had a headache almost every day since I came to the house."

“Well, what are you driving at, John?” said his brother, with the more impatience that he knew all John said was true.

“What I'm driving at is this," answered the captain, bringing-to suddenly. “ You must all make this next voyage in my clipper. It'll do you all a world o' good, and me too."

“Nonsense, John," said Richard, feeling, however, that a faint light dawned through the proposal.

"Don't call it nonsense till you've slept upon it, Dick. The ship's part mine, and I can make it easy for you. You'll have to pay a little passage-money, just to keep me right with the rest of the owners ; but that won't be much, and you're no screw, though I did say you were too greedy after the money. I believe it's not the money so much as the making of it that fills your head."

“ Still, you wouldn't have me let the business go to the dogs ?

“No fear of that, with Stopper at the head of affairs. I'll tell you what you must do. You must take him in."

“Into partnership, do you mean?” said Richard, his tone expressing no surprise, for he had thought of this before.

“ Yes, I do. You'll have to do it some day, and the sooner the better. If you don't, you'll lose him, and that you'll find won't be a mere loss. That man'll make a dangerous enemy. Where he bites he'll hold. And now's a good time to serve yourself and him too."

“ Perhaps you're right, brother," answered the merchant, empty. ing his glass of claret and filling it again instantly, an action indi. cating a certain perturbed hesitation not in the least common to him. “I'll turn it over in my mind. I certainly should not be sorry to have a short holiday. I haven't had one to speak of for nearly twenty years, I do believe.

John judged it better not to press him. He believed from what he knew of himself and his brother too that good advice was best let alone to work its own effects. He turned the conversation to something indifferent.

But after this many talks followed. Mrs. Boxall of course was consulted. Although she shrank from the thought of a sea-voyage, she yet saw in the proposal a way out of many difficulties, especially as giving room for time to work one of his especial works-that of effacement. So between the three the whole was arranged before either of the young people was spoken to on the subject. Jane heard it with a rush of blood to her heart that left her dark face almost livid. Mary received the news gladly, even merrily, though a slight paleness followed and just indicated that she regarded the journey as the symbol and sign of severed bonds. Julia, a plump child of six, upon whose condition no argument for the voyage could be founded, danced with joy at the idea of going in Uncle John's ship. Mr. Stopper threw no difficulty in the way of accepting a partnership in the concern, and thus matters were arranged.

John Boxall had repeatedly visited his mother during the six weeks he spent at his brother's house. He seldom saw Lucy, however, because of her engagement at the Morgensterns', until her grandmother's sickness kept her more at home. Then, whether it was that Lucy expected her uncle to be prejudiced against her, or that he really was so prejudiced, I do not know, but the two did not take much to each other. Lucy considered her uncle a common and rough-looking sailor; John Boxall called his niece a fine lady. And so they parted.

On the same day on which Thomas and Lucy had their blow on the river, the “Ningpo" had cleared out of St. Katherine's Dock, and was lying in the Upper Pool, all but ready to drop down with the next tide to Gravesend, where she was to take her passengers on board.

« ForrigeFortsett »