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his stakes, won still ; and when he left the house it was with a hundred pounds in his pocket and a grey dawn of wretchedness in his heart.
MRS. BOXALL AND MR. STOPPER.
LUCY was not upstairs with her grandmother when Thomas went into the room. She had arrived some time before, and had run across to the bookseller's to put Mattie to bed, according to promise, leaving the door just ajar that she might not trouble her grandmother to come down and open it for her. She had come home hoping against hope that Thomas must by this time have complied, in some way or other, with her request-must have written to his father, or, at least, so positively made up his mind to tell him on his return, that he would be at the station to meet her with the assurance, or would appear in Guild Court some time during the evening with a response to her earnest appeal. When she had put the child to bed, she lingered a few moments with the bookseller in his back parlour, for the shop was shut up, telling him about Mattie, and listening to what little bits of news the worthy man had to impart in return. Their little chat ran something in this way.
“And how have you been, Mr. Kitely ?”
“Oh, among the middlins, miss, thank you: How's yourself been ? "
" Quite well, and no wonder."
“I don't know that, miss, with two young things a pullin' of you all ways at once. I hope Mattie wasn't over and above troublesome to you."
"She was no trouble at all. You must have missed her, though."
“ I couldn't ha' believed how I'd miss her. Do you know the want of her to talk to made me do what I 'aint done for twenty year?"
- What's that, Mr. Kitely? Go to church of a Sunday?"
- More than that, miss,' answered the bookseller, laughing-a little sheepishly. “Would you believe it of me ?-I've been to church of a week-day more than once. Ha ! ha! But then it wasn't a long rigmarole, like—"
"You mustn't talk about it like that—to me, you know, Mr. Kitely."
“I beg your pardon, miss. I only meant he didn't give us a Sundayful of it, you know. I never could ha' stood that. We had just a little prayer, and a little chapter, and a little sermon-good sense, too, upon my word. I know I altered a price or two in my next catalogue when I come home again. I don't know as I was right, but I did it, just to relieve my mind and make believe I was doin' as the minister told me. If they was all like Mr. Fuller, I don't know as I should ha’ the heart to say much agen them."
“So it's Mr. Fuller's church you've been going to ? I'm so glad ! How often has he service, then ?”
“ Every day, miss. Think o'that. It don't take long though, as I tell you. But why should it? If there is any good in talking at all, it comes more of being the right thing than the muchness of it, as my old father used to say—for he was in the business afore me, miss, though I saw a good deal more o' the world than ever he did afore I took to it myself-says he, 'It strikes me, Jacob, there's more for your money in some o' those eighteen-mos, if you could only read 'em, than in some o' them elephants. Í ha' been a watchin',' says he, 'the sort o man that buys the one and that buys the t'other. When a little man with a shabby coat brings in off the stall one o' them sixpenny books in Latin, that looks so barbarious to me, and pops it pleased like into the tail of his coat—as if he meant to have it out again the minute he was out of the shopthen I thinks there's something in that little book—and something in that little man,' says father, miss. And so I stick up for the little sermons and the little prayers, miss. I've been thinking about it since; and I think Mr. Fuller's right about the short prayers. They're much more after the manner of the Lord's prayer, anyhow. I never heard of anybody getting tired before that was over. As you are fond of church, miss, you'd better drop into Mr. Fuller's to-morrow mornin'. If you go once, you'll go again."
Long after, Lucy told Mr. Fuller what the bookseller had said, and it made him think yet again whether our long prayers-services, as we call them, forsooth-are not all a mistake, and closely allied to the worship of the Pagans, who think they shall be heard for their much speaking.
She went out by the side door into the archway. As she opened it, a figure sped past her, fleet and silent. She started back. Why should it remind her of Thomas ? She had scarcely seen more in the darkness than a deeper darkness in motion, for she came straight from the light.
She found the door not as she left it.
“ Has Thomas been here, grannie ?" she asked, with an alarm she could not account for.
“No, indeed. He has favoured us with little of his company this many a day," answered grannie, speaking out of the feelings which had gradually grown from the seeds sown by Stopper. “The sooner you're off with him, my dear, the better for you!” she continued. “He's no good, I doubt."
With a terrible sinking at the heart, Lucy heard her grandmother's words. But she would fight Thomas's battles to the last.
“ If ever that man dares to say a word against Thomas in my hearing,” she said, “I'll—I'll—I'll leave the room."
Oh most lame and impotent conclusion ! But Lucy carried it farther than her words ; for when Mr. Stopper entered the next morning, with a face scared into the ludicrous, she, without even waiting to hear what he had to say, though she foreboded evil, rose at once and left the room. Mr. Stopper stood and looked after her in dismayed admiration ; for Lucy was one of those few whose anger even is of such an unselfish and unspiteful nature, that it gives a sort of piquancy to their beauty.
“I hope I haven't offended the young lady,” said Mr. Stopper, with some concern.
“Never you mind, Mr. Stopper. I've been giving her a hint about Thomas, and she's not got over it yet. Never you mind her. It's me you've got to do with, and I 'aint got no fancies.”
“It's just as well, perhaps, that she did walk herself away," said Mr. Stopper.
“You've got some news, Mr. Stopper. Sit ye down. Will you have a cup o' tea ?” “No, thank you. Where's the keys, Mrs. Boxall ?”. The old lady looked up at the wall, then back at Mr. Stopper. 6 Why, go along! There they are in your own hand.”
“ Yes; but where do you think I found them ? Hanging in the door of the safe, and all the money gone from the cash-box. I haven't got over the shock of it yet.”
“Why, good heavens ! Mr. Stopper," said the old lady, who was rather out of temper with both herself and Lucy, “ you don't think I've been a robbing of your cash-box, do you ?"
Mr. Stopper laughed aloud.
“Well, ma'am, that would be a roundabout way of coming by your own. I don't think we could make out a case against you, if you had. Not quite. But, seriously, who came into the house after I left it ? I hung the keys on that wall with my own hands."
"And I saw them there when I went to bed,” said Mrs. Boxall, making a general impression ground for an individual assertion.
“Then somebody must have come in after you had gone to bedsome one that knew the place. Did you find the street-door had been tampered with ? "
“ Lucy opened it this morning."
Mrs. Boxall went to the door and called her granddaughter. Lucy came, thinking Mr. Stopper must be gone. When she saw him there, she would have left the room again, but her grandmother interfered.
“ Come here, child,” she said, peremptorily. “Was the housedoor open when you went down this morning ?"
Lucy felt her face grow pale with the vaguest foreboding--asso
ciated with the figure which had run through the archway and her finding the door open. But she kept her self-command.
“No, grannie. The door was shut as usual."
“Did nobody call last night?" asked Mr. Stopper, who had his suspicions, and longed to have them confirmed, in order to pay off old scores at once.
“Nobody; that I'll give my word for," answered Mrs. Boxall.
"A most unaccountable thing, ladies,” said Stopper, rubbing his forehead as if he would fain rouse an idea in his baffled brain.
“Have you lost much money?" asked the old lady.
“Oh, it's not the money; that's a flea-bite. But justice, you know-that's the point," said Mr. Stopper, with his face full of meaning.
“Do you suspect any one, Mr. Stopper?"
“I do. I found something on the floor. If Mr. Worboise were come," he continued, looking hard at Lucy, "he might be able to help us out with it. Sharp fellow that! But it's an hour past his time, and he's not made his appearance yet. I fear he's been taking to fast ways lately. I'll just go across the court to Mr. Molken, and see if he knows anything about him."
“ You'll oblige me," said Lucy, who was cold to the very heart, but determined to keep up,“ by doing nothing of the sort. I will not have his name mentioned in the matter. Does any one but yourself know of the-the robbery, Mr. Stopper?”
“Not a soul, miss. I wouldn't do anything till I had been to you. I was here first, as I generally am."
“ Then if I am to have anything to say at all," she returned with dignity, “let the matter rest in the meantime--at least till you have some certainty. If you don't, you will make suspicion fall on the innocent. It might have been grannie or myself, for anything you can tell yet.”
“ Highty-tighty, lass !” said her grandmother. “We're on our high horse, I believe.”
Before she could say more, however, Lucy had left the room. She just managed to reach her bed, and fell fainting upon it.
Money had evidently, even in the shadow it cast before it, wrought no good effect upon old Mrs. Boxall. The bond between her and her granddaughter was already weakened. She had never spoken thus to her till now.
“Never you mind what the wench says,” she went on to Stopper. “The money's none of hers, and shan't be except I please. You just do as you think proper, Mr. Stopper. If that young vagabond has taken the money, why you take him, and see what the law will say to it. The sooner our Lucy is shut of him the better for her-and may be for you too, Mr. Stopper," added the old lady, looking insinuatingly at him.
But whether the head clerk had any design upon Lucy or not, he seemed to think that her favour was of as much consequence as that of her grandmother. He might have reasoned in this way—that he could not expose Thomas without making Lucy his enemy, both from her regard to him and because of the disgrace that would come upon her by having her name associated with his; and Mrs. Boxall was old, and Lucy might take her place any day in the course of nature. Whereas so long as he kept the secret and strengthened the conclusions against Thomas without divulging them, he had a hold over Lucy, even a claim upon her gratitude, he would say, which he might employ as he saw occasion, and as prudence should direct, holding his revenge still ready in his hands in case there should be nothing to be gained by foregoing it. Therefore, when the clerk in whose charge the moneybox was, opened it, he found in it only a ticket with Mr. Stopper's initials and the sum abstracted in figures, by which it was implied that Mr. Stopper had taken the contents for his own use. So, although it seemed queer that he should have emptied it of the whole sum, even to the few coppers, there was nothing to be said, and hardly anything to be conjectured even.
As Thomas did not make his appearance all day, not a doubt remained upon Mr. Stopper's mind that he had committed the robbery. But he was so well acquainted with the minutest details of the business that he knew very well that the firm was the gainer by Thomas's absconding as nearly as possible to the same amount that he had taken. This small alleviation of Thomas's crime, however, Mr. Stopper took no pains to communicate to Lucy, chuckling only over his own good fortune in getting rid of him so opportunely; for he would no longer stand in his way, even if he were to venture on making advances to Lucy: she could never have anything more to do with a fellow who could be tried for burglary if he chose to apply for a warrant for his apprehension.
Intending that his forbearance should have the full weight of obedience to her wishes, Mr. Stopper went up in the evening after the counting-house was closed. Lucy was not there. She had not left her room since the morning, and the old woman's tenderness had revived a little.
“ Perhaps you'd better not hang them keys up there, Mr. Stopper. I don't care about the blame of them. I've had enough of it. There's Lucy, poor dear, lying on her bed like a dead thing; and neither bit nor sup passed her lips all day. Take your keys away with you, Mr. Stopper. I'll have nothing more to do wi' them, I can tell you. And don't you go and take away that young man's character, Mr. Stopper."
“Indeed, I should be very sorry, Mrs. Boxall. He hasn't been here all day, but I haven't even made a remark on his absence to any one about the place."