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THE next day, Thomas had made up his mind not to go near Guild Court; but in the afternoon Mr. Stopper himself sent him to bring an old ledger from the floor above Mrs. Boxall's. As he got down from his perch, and proceeded to get his hat
“ There's no use in going round such a way," said Mr. Stopper. “ Mr. Boxall's not in ; you can go through his room. Here's the key of the door. Only mind you lock it when you come back."
The key used to lie in Mr. Boxall's drawer, but now Mr. Stopper took it from his own. Thomas was not altogether pleased at the change of approach, though why, he would hardly have been able to tell. Probably he felt something as a miser would feel, into whose treasure-cave the new gallery of a neighbouring mine threatened to break. He was, as it were, exposed upon the flank. Annoyance instantly clouded the expression of eagerness which he had not been able to conceal; and neither the light nor the following cloud escaped Mr. Stopper, who, although the region of other men's thoughts was dark as pitch to him in the usual relation he bore to them, yet the moment his interests or-rare case-his feelings brought him into the contact of opposition with any man, all the man's pregnable points lay bare before him.
Thomas had nothing to do but take the key and go. He had now no opportunity of spending more than one moment with Lucy. When the distance was of some length, he could cut both ways, and pocket the time gained; now there was nothing to save upon. Nevertheless, he sped up the stairs as if he would overtake old Time himself.
Rendered prudent, or cunning, by his affections, he secured the ordered chaos of vellum before he knocked at Mrs. Boxall's door, which he then opened without waiting for the response to his
* Lucy! Lucy!” he said ; “I have but one half-minute, and hardly that."
Lucy appeared with the rim of a rainy sunset about her eyes. The rest of her face was still as a day that belonged to not one of the four seasons—that had nothing to do.
“If you have forgotten yesterday, Thomas, I have not,” she said.
“Oh! never mind yesterday," he returned. “I'm coming in to. night; and I can stay as long as I please. My father and mother have gone to Folkestone, and there's nobody to know when I go home. Isn't it jolly ? ".
And without waiting for an answer, he scudded like Poppie.
But what in Poppie might be graceful, was not dignified in Thomas; and I fear Lucy felt this, when he turned the corner to the staircase with the huge ledger under his arm, and his coat flying out behind him. But she would not have felt it had she had not on the preceding evening, for the first time, a peep into his character.
As he re-entered the counting-house he was aware of the keen glance cast at him by Stopper, and felt that he reddened. But he laid the ledger on the desk before him, and perched again with as much indifference as he could assume.
Wearily the hours passed. How could they otherwise pass with figures, figures everywhere, Stopper right before him at the double desk, and Lucy one storey removed and inaccessible ? Some men would work all the better for knowing their treasure so near, but Thomas had not yet reached such a repose. Indeed, he did not yet love Lucy well enough for that. People talk about loving too much ; for my part I think all the mischief comes of loving too little.
The dinner-hour at length arrived. Thomas, however, was not in the way of attempting to see Lucy at that time. He would have said that there was too much coming and going of the clerks about that hour : I venture to imagine that a quiet enjoyment of his dinner had something to do with it. Now, although I can well enough understand a young fellow in love being as hungry as a hawk, I cannot quite understand his spending an hour over his dinner when the quarter of it would be enough, and the rest might give him if but one chance of one peep at the lady. On the present occasion, however, seeing he had the whole evening in prospect, Thomas may have been quite right to devote himself to his dinner, the newspaper, and anticipation. At all events, he betook himself to one of the courts off Cornhill, and ascended to one of those eating-houses which abound in London City, where a man may generally dine well, and always at a moderate expense.
Now this was one of the days on which Thomas usually visited Mr. Molken. But as he had missed two lessons, the spider had become a little anxious about his fly, and knowing that Thomas went to dine at this hour, and knowing also where he went, he was there before him, and on the outlook for his entrance. This was not the sort of place the German generally frequented. He was more likely to go prowling about Thames Street for his dinner ; but when Thomas entered, there he was signalling to him to take his place beside him. Thomas did not see that in the dark corner of an opposite box sat Mr. Stopper. He obeyed the signal, and a steak was presently broiling for him upon the gridiron at the other end of the room.
“You vas not come fore your lesson de letst time, Mistare Verbose," said Molken.
“ No," answered Thomas, who had not yet made a confidant of Mr. Molken. “ I was otherwise engaged.'
He spoke quite carelessly.
Presently he broke into a suppressed laugh, which caused Thomas, who was very sensitive as to his personal dignity, to choke over his tankard of bitter ale, with which he was consoling himself for the delay of his steak.
“What is it you find so amusing, Mr. Molken ?” he asked.
“I beg your pardon," returned Molken. "It was very rude ; but I could not help it. I will tell you one story I did see last night. I am a man of de vorld, as you know, Mr. Verbose.”
My reader must excuse me if I do not keep to the representation of the fellow's German-English. It is hardly worth doing, and I am doubtful, besides, whether I can do it well.
“I am a man of the world,” said Molken, “and I was last night in one of those shops, what you call them-paradise ; no, the other thing-hell-where they have the spinning thing—the roulette-and the Rouge et Noir, and cætera. I do not mean to say that I was gambling. Oh! no. I was at the bar having a glass of Judenlip, when lo! and behold ! down through the green door, with a burst, comes a young man I knew. He was like yourself, Mr. Worboise, a clerk in a counting-house."
Thomas winced, but said nothing. He regarded his business as he ought to have regarded himself, namely, as something to be ashamed of.
“Well, he comes up to me, and he says, 'Herr Molken, we are old friends : will you lend me a sovereign ?' 'No,' I said, “Mr.
- -I forget the young man's name, but I did know him-'I never lend money for gambling purposes. Get the man who won your last sovereign to lend you another. For my own part, I've had enough of that sort of thing. For you see, Mr. Thomas, I have gambled in my time-yes, and made money by it, though I spent it as foolishly as I got it. You don't think I would spend my time in teaching Ich habe, Du hast, if I hadn't given up gambling. But university men, you know, learn bad habits."
“What did he say to that?" asked Thomas.
“He swore and turned away as if he was choking. But the fact was, Mr. Verbose, I hadn't a sovereign in my possession. I wasn't going to tell him that. But if I had had one, he should have had it, for I can't forget the glorious excitement it used to be to see the gold lying like a yellow mole-hill on the table, and to think that one fortunate turn might send it all into your own pockets.”
“But he didn't choke, did he?” said Thomas, weakly trying to be clever.
“No. And I will tell you how it was that he didn't. “By
Jove!' he cried. Now I had seen him fumbling about his waistcoat as if he would tear his heart out, and all at once dive his two forefingers into a little pocket that was meant to hold a watch, only the watch had gone up the spout long ago. ' By Jove !' he said-that's the right swear, isn't it, Mr. Verbose ?-and then he rushed through the green door again. I followed him, for I wanted to see what he was after. In half an hour he had broken the bank. He had found a sovereign in that little pocket. How it got there the devil only knew. He swept his money into his pockets and turned to go. I saw the people of the house getting between him and the door, and I saw one of the fellows--I knew him —who had lost money all the evening, going to pick a quarrel with him. For those gamblers have no honour in them. So I opened the door as if to leave the room, and pretending to hesi. tate as if I had left something, kept it open, and made a sign to him to bolt, which he understood at once, and was downstairs in a moment, and I after him. Now let me tell you a secret,” continued Molken, leaning across the table, and speaking very low and impressively,— that young man confessed to me that same evening, that when I refused him the sovereign, he had just lost the last of two hundred pounds of his master's money. To-day I hope he has replaced it honestly as he ought; for his winnings that night came to more than seven hundred.”
“ But he was a thief,” said Thomas, bluntly.
“ Well, so he was ; but no more a thief than many a respectable man who secures his own and goes on risking other people's money.
It's the way of the world. However, as I told you, I gave it up long ago. There was a time in my life when I used to live by it.”
" How did you manage that ?"
“ There are certain rules to be observed, that's all. Only you must stick to them. For one thing, you must make up your mind never to lose more than a certain fixed sum any night you play. If you stick to that, you will find your winnings always in excess of your losses."
“How can that be?"
“Oh, I don't pretend to account for it. Gaming has its laws as well as the universe generally. Everything goes by laws, you know-laws that cannot be found out except by experiment; and that, as I say, is one of the laws of gambling.”
All this time Mr. Stopper had been reading Mr. Molken's face. Suddenly Tom caught sight of his superior; the warning of Wither rushed back on his mind, and he grew pale as death. Molken, perceiving the change, sought for its cause, but saw nothing save a stony gentleman in the opposite box sipping sherry, and picking the ripest pieces out of a Stilton.
"" Don't look that way, Molken," said Tom, in an undertone. " That's our Mr. Stopper.”
"Well, haven't we as good a right to be here as Mr. Stopper ?" returned Molken, in a voice equally inaudible beyond the table, but taking piercing eye-shots at the cause of Tom's discomposure.
The two men very soon had something like each other's measure. They could each understand his neighbour's rascality, while his own seemed to each only a law of Nature.
“ You generally pay, don't you ? " added Molken. Tom laughed. “Yes, I do generally, and a penny to the cook besides, which, I will be bound, he does not. But that's nothing to the point. He hates me, though why, I'm sure I don't-I can only guess."
“Some girl, I suppose," said Molken, coolly.
Thomas felt too much flattered to endeavour even to dilute the insinuation ; and Molken went on.
“Well, but how can the fellow bear malice? Of course, he must have seen from the first that he had no chance with you. I'll tell you what, Worboise; I have had a good deal of experience, and it is my conviction, from what I have seen of you, that you are one of the lucky ones one of the elect, you know,-born to it, and can't help yourself.”
Tom pulled out his watch.
“Half an hour to spare yet," he said. “Come up to the smokingroom."
Having ordered a bottle of Rhine wine, Tom turned to Molken, and said,
“What did you mean by saying that I was one of the lucky ones ? "
"Oh, don't you know there are some men born under a lucky star-as they would have said in old times ? What the cause is, of course I don't know, except it be that Heaven must have some favourites, if only for the sake of variety. At all events, there is no denying that some men are born to luck. They are lucky in everything they put their hands to. Did you ever try your luck in a lottery, now?”
"I did in a raffle once.”
“I told you so! And it would be just the same whatever you tried. You are cut out for it. You have the luck-mark on you. I was sure of it."
“How can you tell that ? ” asked Tom, lingering like a fly over the sweet poison, and ready to swallow almost any absurdity that represented him as something different from the run of ordinary mortals, of whom he was, as yet at least, a very ordinary specimen.
“Never you mind how I can tell. But I will tell you this much, that I have experience; and your own Bacon says that the laws of everything are to be found out by observation and experiment. I