WE left Sam
Broome labouring in his little office with the confused tangle of
his circumstances, and wading deep in a morass of difficulties that
threatened every moment to engulf him. Whichever way he turned his
course seemed dangerous, and a sense that he was proposing the
impossible to himself grew strong within him. His great plan of
saving the business, the Blandons, and Frank himself looked more and
more quixotic as he considered it, and he began to fear that the
attempt he was making might only exaggerate the mischief and
precipitate the ultimate crisis. If he could! —if he could! But
the idea, which had become alluring in proportion as it grew
difficult, seemed now to fill his mind and lay a grip upon his
imagination which was fast becoming an infatuation. And in that hour
of his dire extremity Sam prayed—prayed as his mother had taught him
in days that were gone, prayed like a baffled, stranded soul that
has been beaten out of every other hope.
"Are you him?"
Absorbed in his troubles, he stood at his desk with his chin propped
on his hands and his eyes staring through the window, and had
neither seen nor heard anything until the question just quoted
brought him back to realities, and he turned round with a start to
behold a tall, handsome woman about his own age, and dressed in
well-made widow's weeds, who was eyeing him with studious,
calculating curiosity, as though she were buying some coveted
article of dress and begrudged the high price.
"Yes, it's me! I'm Smailes's widow, and I've come to have a look at
Sam, with a clumsy imitation of his partner's grand manner, hastened
to offer her a seat, and to inquire what he could do for her.
Her eyes and hair were black, and she had that clean-skinned, highly
coloured complexion which denotes the country-bred woman. Her
appearance did not suggest that the decease of the late lamented Smailes had exactly broken her heart or seriously affected her
health, whilst her manner was an odd mixture of rustic shyness and
"Yes, I may as well; warm, isn't it?" And she took the chair, and
commenced wiping her face with a handkerchief edged with broadest
black, whilst her eyes followed Sam's movements with a curious,
roguish slyness. On the whole, she must have seen something
encouraging in the young builder's looks and manner, for, peeping
over the edge of her handkerchief, she remarked, "Well, you aren't
exactly—but, there! what does it matter! the heart's the thing,
Sam looked ridiculously embarrassed.
Whatever did she want?
"They said the office was easy to find, so I thought I'd have a look
Sam bobbed a clumsy acknowledgement, and must have looked curious,
for the black eyes twinkled behind the black-edged cambric, and she
went on, "Plain an' steady, that's my motty. I think I shall like
Sam bobbed again, and immediately felt disgusted with himself. The
situation was fast becoming ridiculous.
"You are Mrs. Smailes, I suppose?" And then he checked himself—he
had heard her say that already.
"I am, mister. He was oldish, you know, and queer; but I put up
with him, and did my duty by him. Hay dear!" And the dancing black
eyes were buried again in the black border.
Sam waited with sympathetic delicacy for a few
moments, and then, as he caught the glint from her eyes, once more
"I think, ma'am, there is a mistake."
"What about? Aren't you him? Are you the other one—Blandon? That
old Punch said I wasn't to—"
"No, no, ma'am! I'm Broome, Sam Broome, but I'm afraid—"
"Oh! don't be frightened. You'll do; you will, certain. I like you
real well, now I've seed you."
What could he do but bob again, and hate himself immediately? This
must be ended.
"Yes, ma'am, but I'm afraid—"
"Of me? Oh laws! Why, there's nothin' to be afraid of in me!" And
as she sat up there and held herself stiffly, as though challenging
inspection, even the pre-occupied Sam had to admit to himself that
she was a bonny woman, whose weeds became her exceedingly.
Whether it was that his look betrayed his thought, or that some
other idea struck her, we cannot pretend to say, but next moment she
had left her chair, was standing at his side with her neatly gloved
hand laid confidingly on his arm, and all the power of her eyes
pouring into his, as she said, in a deeply confidential tone, "Old
'Punch' doesn't know I've come; I just took the notion of it, and
came right away. Why, man"—and here her fingers clasped his arm,
and her voice fell again—"it's a lot better nor he thinks. I know,
and you just trust to me." Then she held herself off for a moment to
watch the effect, and added, "I like you—plain and honest, I like
you real well."
But Sam, under his homely exterior, had shyly delicate
sensibilities, and these, shocked by her freedom, came to his
"Madam, this is Tuesday, and I have until Friday to consider this
matter. When Friday comes I—"
"Oh! of course." And she went demurely back to her chair, and
commenced to use her handkerchief again. "You'll excuse me, mister,
I'm not myself, you know—all this trouble, and the worry— Oh, mister! if you knew how I am worried!"
Soft-hearted Sam was now abusing himself for lack of feeling; but
before he could find words she went on, "I'm being robbed every day
before my very eyes. I must have somebody, and 'Punch' says you
"Yes, yes, madam; but—"
"Oh, you must!—you must! I'm a poor, lonely widow. They are all
against me, and robbing me fearful."
This was an appeal to both his pity and his business instincts, and
Sam was visibly shaken.
"You've a mother yourself, they say, and sisters; and if you were
to die of a sudden, how—and 'Punch' says you're trusty and good. Oh,
what shall I do?"
Brice's opinion of him was very sweet to Sam just then, when all the
world seemed against him; he was fully alive also to the peril that
might overtake his dear ones if any accident occurred to him.
"Yes, ma'am—yes! I'm very sorry for you, and will help you if I can; but there are so many things to consider, and other
responsibilities, you know."
But Mrs. Smailes had another idea, and burst out impetuously, "Come
and see me, and see the concern. Come to-morrow. Oh! if you only
knew, you would come. Don't be hard-hearted!"
Sam only partially heard her; he was reflecting that this might be
a divine interposition, and that this woman had been sent to open
the way for him out of his many perplexities. The idea of helping
one in such need was very tempting too; but he knew that there were
serious considerations on the other side, and so with a tentative
promise to do what he could, he got rid of his visitor, whose last
words were a blend of artful coaxing and pathetic lamentation.
Alone once more, he was ashamed of his early suspicion of the woman
who had left him, and so the pity which had been awakened by her
later words had full scope, and made a very strong appeal to him. But as soon as he turned again to his own difficulties and the
issues involved he realized that he was sinking deeper into the bog,
whose bottom he imagined he had already touched. All the rest of
that day, and most of a sleepless night, he strove with himself and
his circumstances until the pressure of time and the absolute
necessity of immediate action added their drops to his bitter cup,
and threatened to drive him beyond the power of connected thought.
With a benumbed brain and utterly jaded nerves he went to work on
the Wednesday morning to get together the ready money his partner
required for his holiday. On the previous day he had obtained some
slight clues to the secret of their embarrassments, and realized
that Frank had been, and was, perhaps, still, speculating on the
Stock Exchange; but how to discover the extent of those
transactions, and the liability to which they were committed, he saw
When he took the money to the villa, Mrs. Blandon treated him to
another sample of her gifts of obloquy, and peremptorily refused to
allow him to see her son. Sam was within an ace of throwing
everything up, but some odd, lingering thought of loyalty to Hetty
Waine held him, and he went back to his desperate endeavour. An hour
later he received a note from the bank, informing him that the
firm's cheques would no longer be honoured; and just as he was
locking the office door to go to dinner, a dingy,
half-clerical-looking person served an execution upon him for an
amount which would ordinarily have appeared trifling, but which now
seemed the proverbial last straw.
Meanwhile tame, sleepy old Grindell was buzzing with an
extraordinary sensation; the old honoured firm of Blandon & Co. was
tottering to its fall, and all through the incompetence and stupidity
of the present junior partner. Frank Blandon was utterly crushed,
and his mind had almost given way. Mrs. Blandon had quarrelled with
the old family doctor, and called in a physician who served the
local aristocracy, and that great light had diagnosed "extreme
nervous exhaustion" with serious possibilities of brain trouble. He
prescribed entire removal from ordinary scenes of life, complete
rest, and abstinence even from newspapers and letters. The barber
heard of it quite early, and one of the first things he did was to
post off to the cottage of the Broomes. Mrs. Broome sat peeling
potatoes, and at sight of her all the barber's hasty resolutions
The barber glared down at her as though her quiet manner was some
monstrous offence, but he did not speak. Mrs. Broome was used to
him, and looking up with a placid half-smile she pointed to a chair.
Her calmness destroyed the little rag of self-control that was left;
why didn't she give him the proper opening for the delivery of his
"Well?"—and she was actually laughing at him.
"Where's your Sam?"
"He's at the works"; but the potato-basket fell on the rug, and a
woman with a white face continued, "He's not hurt, nor killed?"
"Killed! He's worse nor killed—he's disgraced!"
The drawn face relaxed, a soft smile that would have inspired the
crushed and despairing Sam, had he seen it, played about the pensive
mouth, and a steady, almost triumphant voice replied:
"I know our Sam, Jossy."
"Know? dost know he's a swindler, a stupid block-head that's ruined
a grand business?"
Surprise and resentment flushed into the dim eyes.
"Who says so?"
"Who says so? Bill Spinton says so, the town says so, all Grindell
says so. Woman, it'ull be in t' County Times o' Saturday!"
The quiet old creature was getting excited at last, for she put her
hand upon her heart, and seemed to have difficulty in breathing.
"Don't frighten me, Jossy—but there there! what is it all about?"
Jossy, a little scared by the signs, resolved inwardly that at all
costs he would be calm, so he took the chair he had previously
neglected, drew it up close to the old lady's side, and putting on a
look of scowling gravity burst out, "Blandons' is busted, your Sam's
blamed for it, and t'other chap is gain' off his nut!"
There was a pause; the silvered head bent forward, the wrinkled
chin fell on the hard breast, and the shaking hands pressed heavily
on the heart. But it was only for a moment; instantly the face,
firm and set, though ghastly pale, looked up again, a soft, quiet
light blushed into the old eyes, and the trembling lips murmured, "I
know our Sammy, Joshua."
Jossy sat gazing at her for a moment, fire and tears struggling
together in his blinking eyes, and then he cried, "Dost know as he's
a thick-head, a muddler, and bungles everything?"
"No, I don't."
"Dost know as he's feathered his own nest out o' th' business ever
sin' old Blandon died?"
"No, I don't."
Then Joshua arose in the majesty of long-restrained indignation, and
standing over her as though she were the embodiment of all her son's
badness, he shouted, "No, nor I don't nayther! Niver! niver! niver!" And then, breaking off and shaking his fist at her, he went
on: "Sithi, woman! if thou'd a-weakened on it, if thou'd a-budged
one solitary little inch, I'd a-bashed thy white cap in—that's wot
Mrs. Broome received these terrible announcements with quiet
indifference, for her thoughts were on other things, and by-and-by
Jossy had to explain and submit to searching cross-examination. Long
before she was satisfied, however, he began to be restive; he was
longing for his next great sensation of announcing the news at
Jessamine Cottage. He broke away at last, though she seemed very
loth to be left with such scanty details, and her look as they
parted was very wistful. He flung behind him hasty promises to
return, and had got half-way down the garden path, when he came
skipping back, and stood over her again with all his old fierceness.
"As soon as I'm gone thou'll start o' cryin'?" he cried, with stern
"I winnat, Jossy!—I winnat!" and she struggled to straighten her
face, like a schoolgirl forbidden the luxury of tears.
"Then thou'll howd thy head down, and stop i' th' house and mopse?"
"I winnat!—truly, I winnat!"
"Then thou'll let thi heart down an' give up prayin'?"
"Nay, niver, niver, Jossy!"
"G-l-o-r-y!" shouted the excited barber, much more demonstrative
than he felt, but with a roughly kind purpose of comforting his old
friend. "Then wee'st win!—if thou pulls, and he pulls, an' we all
pulls, wee'st win!" And the last words were flung upon the quiet air
of the garden, for Jossy's coat-tails were already round the house
corner, as their wearer flew towards Jessamine Cottage.
A few minutes later he stood in the Waines' big kitchen, secretly
gloating over the sensation he had produced.
Peter was shaking his head, and inclined to moralize on young men
who left their mother's church. Jossy watched him much as a terrier
watches at a rabbit-hole. Then he spread out one great palm,
extended two fingers on the other hand, with which he intended to
beat out the points of his argument, and commenced.
"Now look you here, mister"—Jossy only said "mister" to Peter when
he was angry with him—"Has thou known that there lad all his life?"
Peter, staring broodingly at his friend, gave his head a little side
jerk, as though adjusting an unmanageable collar, and waited for the
"Has thou iver known anythin' again him —by, with, or through?"
Another side jerk of the head, and Peter's eyes began to twinkle
with new thoughts.
"Has that lad been a husban' to his mother and a father to them
lasses iver sin' he were a kiddy?" And as he beat out each word
with his two fingers, Peter followed his action, and greeted each
stroke with a separate side-twist of the head, each more decisive
than the last. "Did he come to t' Sunday school wi' patched-up
clothes an' brussen-out shoes, to let his sisters hev new frocks
many a time?"
Peter's head had now stopped its twistings, and he was staring hard
at the barber with glistening eyes.
"Did he royle and moyle at nights, an' larn hisself to read an'
reason as good—as good as me myself?"
This lofty flight of comparison, which may strike the reader as
something in the nature of an anti-climax, seemed to impress Peter
more than anything that had hitherto been advanced. He began to
shake his head in slow, solemn wags of intense conviction, eagerly
watching the barber's lips as he waited for the climax. Joshua was
so fully enjoying the conquering sweep of his own resistless logic
that he went more leisurely to his grand finale. The open palm was
thrust out as far as it could reach, the argumentative fingers were
raised above his head, he swung backwards a little, and then, rising
on tip-toe, he came down with a series of tremendous whacks on his
open hand, and demanded, "Did—that there—lad—promise—t'
biggest—subscription nobbut—us, to—t' new—chappil? an'—is he—payin'—it
This last demand made such an impression on the susceptible
ex-grocer that his eyes were gleaming with ready tears, and his big,
plain face beamed with shy delight.
Hitherto the men had had the argument to themselves, but there was a
lady present who did not usually allow herself to be ignored. In a
discussion like this she was no longer a mere domestic, but one of
the responsible heads of the Grindell Methodist Church. She had
listened to Jossy with looks of reluctant sufferance which gradually
grew to contemptuous disdain, and so, turning to her master as
though the barber was no longer present, she remarked: "Let alone bombaciousniss" (Jemima was not averse to the coining of a word upon
sufficient provocation), "that there lad is t' quietist,
hardworkinest, straightforradist lad in this town."
As she paused to give her words due effect, and prepare her next
statement, Peter gave his head another series of side-twists,
watching her narrowly as he did so.
"While them there Blandons has been blabbin' about and runnin' him
down to iverybody, he's been keepin' a roof over their heads."
Peter was forgetting his neck-jerking, but gave his shoulders a
great shrug, and his eyebrows were distended in sheer amazement.
"He's niver taken nothin' out of t' business sin' he went into it—nobbut
his bits o' wages; an' he thinks there's nobody like 'em in this
The irrepressible barber here broke out in exclamations, and seemed
about to intervene; but Jemima turned upon him a disdainful
shoulder, and, ignoring him as ignoring really as though he had not
been present, she continued, "That there lad hez one ter'ble fault."
"Wot's that?—wot's that?" snapped the barber, and Peter looked
what he was—clearly too astonished to speak.
"He's that soft about old Blandon—as knew what he was doin' when he
picked him out for a pardner--that he'd lie down an' let 'em walk
over him." And then, as she surveyed the effect of her words upon
her hearers, she tossed her head contemptuously, with a sly glance
at her master, and cried, "That's his Quakerism, I reason. I'd
Quaker him if I had him here! I'd larn him a bit of good owd
Jossy held the private opinion that Jemima might some day have to be
expelled for heterodoxy, the theological views she expressed being
often of a scandalous and revolutionary character; and so, to
protect her from herself and get her away from such dangerous
ground, he gave the discussion a sharp turn.
"But, woman, t' bums [bailiffs] is in!"
Jemima blanched, her armour of easy contempt was pierced at last, and
young Wess came bounding into the room all white and breathless, and
with news that even the restraining presence of his father could not
check. "Why, Jim, Blandons' have the bailiffs in!"
There they all stood, looking at the panting Wesley, and glancing
shyly at each other, as though the lad had blurted out some shameful
secret; and then, as old Peter turned to his son, with a soft and
belated "Hush!" Jemima's hands went up hurriedly to her face, a
smothered burst of tears escaped her, and she broke out, "Oh, Betsy!—poor Betsy Broome!" and rushed into the pantry, banging the door
But that night, when the rest had all retired, she, the barber, and
Peter sat there in long and anxious confabulation; and when at last
they separated, Joshua Sweetlove went home to a long and careful
examination of his savings bank pass-book. "Souls is more nor
sites," he kept repeating to himself—"Souls is more nor sites."
THE last persons
to hear important news are usually those most concerned, and so it
was Thursday morning before Hetty was informed of what had happened,
or was about to happen, to Blandon & Co. She had noted odd
things which, when she did realize the situation, explained
themselves, but at the time her preoccupied mind had scarcely taken
them in. Her father had spent most of Wednesday afternoon in
long, solemn confabulations with the barber in the summer-house, and
whenever she had come across either of them they seemed to be
studying her with curious, mournful interest.
Jemima, most perplexing circumstance of all, had taken to
treating her with marked gentleness, as though silently offering
sympathy. But the news, when it did come, reached her from the
most improbable of all sources—Frank Blandon himself. That
prostrated victim of extreme nervous debility had somehow found
strength to write her a letter; and when, after Thursday's
breakfast, she took it away to her room to read, ambiguous and
perplexing though it was, it produced a revulsion of feeling in
favour of the writer which surprised even the recipient herself.
The writer commenced with an ominous exhortation to her not
to take too seriously the information he was about to disclose, as
signs of distress in her would only add to the burden of his misery.
It then informed her of his sudden collapse, the serious view taken
of it by Dr. Blenkinsop, and the imperative command that compelled
him to betake himself to the seaside. Reference was then made
to rumours she had doubtless heard of the financial embarrassments
of his firm, and she was reminded that though it was necessary that
his mother, sisters, and friends should be allowed to believe that
these were the causes of his collapse—and he had suffered enough,
God knew! from other people's folly—she, and she alone, knew the
true reason. Then came a long, vague paragraph in which she
was exhorted not to distress herself, as both she and the world
would soon be relieved of his presence, and might then be willing to
give him now and then a kindly thought. The letter concluded
with a wandering, maudlin farewell which filled a whole page, and
was a curious mixture of fulsome flattery and artfully implied
reproach. The first rapid reading produced dazed bewilderment;
the second, taken more slowly, resulted in such a rush of contending
emotions that she dropped with a gasp into the nearest seat, and
sitting bolt upright stared at the epistle with wide-eyed dismay.
For the first few minutes she could not think at all, but
panted and rocked herself in a vain endeavour at self-command.
Then ideas came thick and fast—suspicion, resentment, indignation,
and finally one great sweeping wave of pity obliterating every
previous emotion, filling every nerve of her body and gushing out at
her eyes in showers of compassionate tears. Frank Blandon had
played his last card—and won. Had he been there at that moment
he would have found his hitherto difficult task easy enough; for the
next half-hour she was the victim of passionate, shame-stricken
self-reproaches, and equally passionate longings to make reparation.
Old maid Methodism was the hatefulest of all things, and the "hard,
narrow" creed of her father's Church cynical cruelty; she herself a
selfish, prejudiced little wretch; whilst Frank's handsome face and
figure, his gay, alluring smile, and his immense popularity,
standing out as they now did from a horrid background of undeserved
calamity and perilous sickness, made a pathetically fascinating
picture that thrilled every nerve of her body.
She was well aware that this was but one aspect of the
situation, and that the colder, safer one would have to have its
say; but this was only the greater reason why it should have full
fling and riot within her, after its own painfully pleasurable
nature. More than once she rose to her feet with a wild
impulse to see him before he left the town; but the spell of her
delicious dream was too strong, and she easily lapsed into sensuous
self-abandonment again. Presently she dried her still-flowing
tears and took up the letter again. She hated gossip so much,
and knew Grindell so well, that she had not regarded the vague
rumours she had heard about Frank's difficulties with his
discreditable partner; but now her heart burned hotly against Sam
Broome, and she felt that she had been most mistakenly considerate
to him. She realized that the purchase of the land for the
chapel site might have been a providential arrangement to help Frank
in his perplexities, and that she had thoughtlessly frustrated it.
These were, however, but passing impressions, wiped out again soon
enough by the sweet thought that Grindell's handsomest man was
seriously sick of love for her. Oh, the delicious flattery of
such a thought!
She had thrown herself on the couch under the window by this
time, but soon discovered that the movement was the commencement of
a new phase, a phase of imperious constraint to action. Her
heart was still in her dreams, but her brain would no longer consent
to be hypnotized, and twenty startling questions began to clamour
for attention. It never occurred to her to doubt any of the
facts as hinted at in Frank's communication, and as she went over it
for the fourth time she could not find a single sentence to which
she could take exception; and yet—and yet—reluctant though she was
to admit it—the tone of some parts of it jarred upon her, and the
impression somehow grew unpleasant. A man in his state of body
and mind could not be expected to choose his words very discreetly,
and yet—yes, it was unreal, cheap, even cowardly—only she could not
decide exactly where. Then she reproached herself for thinking
such mean thoughts, whilst her lover was in peril perhaps of his
life—almost beyond himself with mental distress. Sweet, tender
pictures of what she, she could do, and the transformation
she could make, not merely for Frank, but for so many others,
floated about in her brain, and she awoke suddenly, to find a silly
simper on her face and pitiful tears in her eyes.
But at this moment she was interrupted, for Jemima, duster in
hand, came into the room in pursuit of her daily duty, but with a
significantly wooden face and alert, wary eyes.
"You've heard about young Blandon, I reacon," she commenced;
and Hetty's disappointment at the intrusion gave way to the desire
for further information, and so in a few minutes the two were
engaged in earnest conversation, both evidently more intent upon
acquiring than giving information.
The talk took up time; and when Jemima, somewhat
disappointed, at length took her departure, Hetty found herself cool
and critical, with old maid Methodism in full command. Left
thus to herself, however, she took another glance at the note, and
soon found her own frank, warm nature reasserting itself.
These emotions quickly grew again to glowing, proud delight that she
was loved, really passionately loved; and by the one man whose
preference was most flattering to her. And thus the old
conflict between the two parts of her nature was resumed, and for
long hours, in spite of sudden intermittent reminders of the
pressing necessity for action, she paced about the room, trembling
one moment with pity that was fast growing to some deeper feeling,
and gazing the next at the letter with puckered brow and timorous,
And all this time Sam Broome was fighting his terrible battle
in the wood-yard office. He had found the money for Frank's
holiday by emptying his mother's and his sister's money-boxes,
pawning at Brixford the gold watch and chain old Mr. Blandon had
given him on his death-bed, and appealing to two tradesmen for
advances upon work not yet finished, and by these means he had
managed to get rid also of the man in possession. But the
mischief was done, and the rumours of the firm's position had spread
so rapidly in the town and neighbourhood, that everybody suddenly
realized their need of immediate cash; and bill after bill came in
to the distracted junior partner, until the very number of them made
him heartsick, and black despair settled grimly on his soul.
All he could do now was to cease searching his brain for the
means to pay, and settle down to a blind sort of waiting for the
coming crash. It was hopeless, it was madness to go on trying;
very well then, he would try to be found at his post and go down
with the rest when the blow fell. Nothing affected him now:
three telegrams, cryptically worded but terribly eloquent to him,
came just before closing time, and he left them lying there for any
workmen or customer to read, and even a couple of curtly worded
notes, informing him that the writers had been compelled to hand
their accounts to Brice & Co. for instant collection, evoked no sign
of interest, except that they diverted his thoughts for a moment or
two to the offer made by "Punch," and Sam smiled bitterly as he
reflected how easily he could get clear of every embarrassment by a
word, and by leaving the Blandons to fight things out for
As he locked the safe and desk before departing for the day,
he was awakened from his lethargy by another visit from Clara
Blandon. She closed and seemed almost inclined to lock the
door after her, stepped up to him without a word, took his head
between her hot little hands, and critically examined the wounded
brow; then she pulled forward the arm-chair, set it coolly before
him, sat down in it, restlessly swinging one small foot, and
commenced a series of cool, keen, evidently carefully premeditated
questions, which startled Sam by their point and the knowledge they
The interview was a long one, and neither wariness nor sulky
obstinacy availed him; bit by bit she drew her facts out of him, and
then vanished even more suddenly than she had come. On her way
home, however, she was muttering to herself, and shaking her little
head in most evident excitement. "It'll come to that," she
cried; "there's nothing else for it—if it isn't too late! Yes,
one of us will have to marry that fellow: yes, I suppose it will—it
always is me, it always is!" But to do the energetic little
lady justice, it has to be recorded that she did not seem wholly
inconsolable at the prospect.
On the whole, her visit seemed to have an awakening effect on
the almost stupefied Sam; the discovery that one person at any rate
saw things as they were eased his stunned and despairing mind, and
the thoughts suggested to him awakened one last desire to overcome
the difficulty and save the concern, the Blandon family, and himself
from ruin. He spent a sleepless night, therefore, searching
for expedients, and the first thing he remembered next morning was
that this was the day upon which he was to give his final answer to
What an eternity it seemed since the making of that
appointment! It appeared incredible that only five days had
passed! His mother, always attentive to his wants, was
watchfully studying his manner, and buzzed about him with an inward
excitement she tried vainly to conceal; and when he was leaving the
cottage, she stepped before him in the doorway, caught him by the
arm, peered into his face until he was compelled to look at her, and
then, as wistful tears started into her anxious eyes, she put her
thin arms round his neck, and whispered, "Fear not, Abram; I am thy
shield, and thy exceeding great reward."
Sam gulped and groaned in sudden relief; but the light that
shone through his hot tears was still in his eyes when he entered
the office. His heart sickened, however, when he saw the pile
of letters waiting for him, and with a sudden cowardliness he thrust
them aside unopened until he came upon one in Frank's handwriting
and bearing the Lydmouth postmark. It announced their arrival
at the watering-place, the necessity of more money as soon as Sam
could raise it, and his mother's consent for the sale of the land to
the Methodists as quickly as possible. The epistle was well
written, but curt and formal, and contained not the slightest
reference to the writer's state of health. It was clear,
however, that Mrs. Blandon was the real owner of the land in
question, and that the money was required by her, and would not be
available for the needs of the firm. Only now did poor Sam
realize what a large place at the bottom of his hopes this little
bit of land had recently filled, and all his new courage seemed to
ooze away, the black misery of the day before was once more settling
down upon him, and he leaned heavily on the desk with a choking sob,
mute and motionless in utter discomfiture.
Presently he remembered his interview with the accountant,
and the happy escape it offered from all these crushing cares
suddenly shone before him the more bright and alluring from the
conviction now growing to certainty that Blandon & Co. were
irretrievably doomed, and that anything he could do would but
precipitate the inevitable collapse. The old lethargy was now
heavy upon him, and when the violent little timekeeper gave warning
of the hour appointed, he buttoned up his jacket and allowed his
legs to carry him mechanically to the accountant's office.
The interview lasted a full hour, and was terribly trying to
the overwrought young builder. "Punch," who assumed that he
had come with an eager assent, was first jocular, then elaborately
explanatory, then amazed, then furious; and Sam finally left, the
stormy, wilful little man flinging curse-studded threats after him,
the significance of which he understood only too well.
"Punch" Brice was as wilful as he was generous, and would
crush what he could not control.
"Fear not, Abram; I am thy shield." And as the words
beat themselves out in his brain, Sam burst into a terrible,
hysterical laugh as he went along the street, and had to put his
hand to his mouth to keep back curses more bitter than Brice's own.
He was too deep in internal anguish to notice that the
office-door stood open as he approached, and he had already passed
heedlessly two timber merchants' travellers who stood in the yard;
but entering the place which had now become a sort of
torture-chamber, he discovered Clara Blandon dressed more daintily
even than usual, and seated in the arm-chair evidently waiting for
him. That active-minded young person had been thinking to some
purpose during the night; self-preservation is the first law of
nature, and what she had wrung out of Sam the night before, and what
she knew herself, revealed a terrible state of things which she was
the wrong person to accept without resistance.
"Sam! Sam!"—and she resumed the previous night's
conversation, as though it had never been interrupted, almost before
he could close the door—"you haven't told me everything—it is not so
bad as that—surely, surely something can be done!"
"I'm trying, miss—I'm trying." But the tone took all
promise out of the assurance.
"But—but"—and she was on her feet and gazing at him with
furrowed brow and wide-stretched eyes, in which alarm and protest
fought fiercely together—"you must do something! We cannot
fail! we cannot be disgraced!—we cannot! Oh! I'll do anything.
I'll work, I'll slave; but we cannot be disgraced!"
Sam's chin was on his breast, and he was fighting with weak
sobs and could not risk speech.
"You're brave, Sam!"—and the little hand was on his arm, and
the deep dark eyes were turned beseechingly up to him.
Sam was a man, and such an appeal from such a source would
ordinarily have moved him deeply; but her words could now add
nothing to the stupor that was upon him, and he could only look down
at her in dazed and hopeless grief.
"It's not you, Sam—I always stood up for you at home.
Ah, what a life I've had of late! Oh, Frank! Frank! how
could you!" The deadness began to fade from his eyes, he
licked his lips restlessly, soft, pitiful, compassionate light rose
into his face, he was a man, and she was a dainty woman to him once
more; and as he moved a step back in shy self-consciousness, and the
little hand on his arm dropped away, he gasped, "God help us, miss,
it's a sore case!"
"But you will, Sam?"—and the little fingers were on his
sleeve again—"you will help us? Oh! Sam, you're good—you're
good. I'll do anything, bear anything if you will try!"
There was silence. The little clock, suddenly inflamed
with a mad ambition to obliterate the drone of the sawmills and the
distant bleat of the market sheep, tore out its staccato notes in a
passion of haste and in ignorance of the fact that Clara could not
hear it for the loud thump! thump! of her own heart.
Presently Sam turned and bent over towards her. "Miss
Clara, there's a good God above us."
Clara, intent on the man rather than his Maker, responded
with an eager double nod.
"And right always comes right—if we trust in Him."
Two more nods, and Clara was wishing he would not stare at
her so, but come to the point.
"He can turn enemies into friends, and hindrances into
"Yes, and you'll try, Sam, you'll—"
"I've been trying, miss; but, God helping me, I'll, I'll—"
But the words were choking him, and turning abruptly away and
flinging them out with vehemence, he cried, "I'll try again! try
They talked a little longer, Sam making as clear as he could
the complicated peril of the moment; and as she walked home down the
back lanes to avoid the market people she was soberer and sadder
than she had been before, and wondered now and then, when that
aspect of the case occurred to her, whether it would not be better
to ask herself whether Sam would marry her.
Left to himself the stranded junior partner tried vainly to
collect his thoughts and brace himself for some action. He
spent a full ten minutes leaning with his head buried in his hands
and his elbows on the desk; then he stood up, thrust his hands into
his pockets, and stared with frowning, hopeless face through the
window. Twice he started to the shop to stop the men and close
the concern, and twice he came back to glower again through the
dusty panes. Then, still standing at the desk, he tried to
pray; but the few sentences he got out were disjointed and
incoherent, and he found himself staring open-mouthed at some new
phase of the situation that had suddenly thrust itself into the
midst of his petitions.
He began to pace up and down the little office, casting about
for some one to whom he could open his mind and unburden his
unbearable anxieties. His mother knew much, and her sympathy
was precious, but she could have nothing to suggest in the way of
practical expedient. The bank-manager was shrewd, and as kind
as shrewd, but he would be fettered by his official instructions.
More than once he thought of his new acquaintances the Quakers, but
remembrance of their strict commercial probity, and the damaging
disclosures he would be compelled to make, forbade the hope of help
from that quarter; and at last the absolute hopelessness of the
situation compelled him to turn to his old friends and associates
the humble Methodists. The idea was more distasteful than it
ought to have been, for his pride reminded him of the warning
Sweetlove had given him when he first severed his connexion with his
mother's fellow-religionists. Why, the barber's words, vague
though they had been, had more than come true—he could not go there.
Besides, what could they do? With the exception of the
Waines, they were all poor working people, and Sweetlove was very
conceited, and could be exceedingly aggravating if he chose.
No, no!—and yet—they were his mother's friends; through all the
poverty and struggling of his early years they had helped her, and
yes, had put within him those very principles which now made his
position so painful. It seemed shameless to appeal to those
who had so often helped before, and whose kindness he had repaid by
desertion; but every other hope had gone, every door was closed,
desperate circumstances demand desperate remedies, and if he gained
nothing he was at least sure of genuine sympathy. It was the
hardest of the many hard things he had to do in that most terrible
crisis; but in the quiet part of that afternoon he dragged reluctant
limbs to the barber's, and was soon pouring out his tale to eager
Leaving him thus to get what consolation the experiment might
provide, we must return to Hetty Waine, who was busy composing her
first letter to Frank Blandon. Much and often she hesitated,
two fair epistles had been finished and torn up because they were
too sympathetic, and one because it was too hard and formal; and
when the final one was ready, it seemed to have all the faults of
the others. But ashamed of her mistrust, and acutely anxious
to comfort, she at length sealed and posted it, thereby reducing
herself to a condition of restlessness that spoilt her night's
repose, and produced an effect at Lydmouth which greatly astonished
and, of course, delighted the anxious Mrs. Blandon.
Next morning Jemima visited her young mistress's room, and
her manner, usually so inscrutable, prepared the younger woman for
news. "Hev you heeard about Edie Plewman, miss?"
Hetty looked up hastily from her needlework with a new shadow
on her face. Edie Plewman had already been too much in her
thoughts of late. Jemima went on rubbing away at the
furniture; when she did condescend to supply information, she
intended that it should be received with due respect, and properly
"She's greatly upset over young Blandon."
The tenderest woman has one hard spot in her, and as this had
now been touched in Hetty, she replied coldly, "She always was
rather forward, you know."
Jemima, now engaged on some books on the table, dusted them
very carefully, and took excessive pains to arrange them exactly as
she had found them. Then she answered with stern, inflexible
face, "Nobody can marry Blandon, she says, whilst she's single."
Hetty lifted her head with a startled look, blushed deeply,
then went suddenly white, and gasped out, "Oh, Jemima, what are you
Jemima, cold and imperturbable, went stolidly on with her
"They found her at the station waiting for the Lydmouth
train. She's glad about his business goin' wrong; she says
he'll be glad to have her now."
"But—but"—and then Hetty recollected herself, and in keenest
pain snatched a hat from its hook and escaped breathlessly to the
garden. Then it was true, the firm was in difficulties, and
Frank had therefore a double claim upon her. Oh what a cold,
empty, heartless letter she had written him! Poor fellow!—poor
fellow! And if Frank Blandon had carried out his first impulse
when he received that much regretted little note that morning, and
returned to Grindell, he would have found, Edie Plewman or no Edie
Plewman, the one great chance of his life.
PETER WAINE TAKES HIS INNINGS
IF roses could
think and snapdragons and asters talk, there would have been much
whispered wondering in Jessamine Cottage garden that fateful
Saturday morning. The goddess of the garden walked about
amongst the flowers without noticing her favourites, and even when
she looked at them, and bent down her head to examine them, the
least self-conscious flower there was dissatisfied; for though she
looked, she saw nothing, whilst her darkened brow and far-away eyes
told but too plainly that her thoughts were otherwhere.
"Pity is next to love," old maid Methodism was whispering;
but she heeded not, for all her heart was going out to her
suffering, absent lover, whose circumstances had been made more
bitter by her own prudish coldness. All her nature was up in
arms against the "narrow Methodist" prejudices of Jemima and Jossy
Sweetlove. How could good people be so hard and pitiless?
They were allowing their desire for the chapel site to colour all
their judgements, and were thinking evil of others out of pure
She did not care for Frank Blandon—all that was dead and done
with—but she would like to see him happy again. What a hateful
thing money was, and what misery it brought one way or other to
people! Oh that she were one-tenth as rich as many of the
so-called friends of the Blandons!—and just then she saw her father
coming down the path with his long clay pipe, but she was too
absorbed to note his Sunday apparel. He was a dear old man,
but worldly, she feared, and prejudiced like the rest. He was
not rich, but surely he might have helped in an extremity like this.
She supposed it never occurred to him. Oh, how hard the world
made people, and how much misery might be averted in this world with
a little self-sacrifice and sympathy! She waited for him to
overtake her, slid her arm into his, just brushed the edge of his
shoulder with her cheek, and fell into his step.
"Isn't this dreadful about poor Blandons, father?"
"H'm, h'm, h'um," and Peter rolled his eyes about and lifted
a long sigh.
"So respectable, so well thought of—it's terrible!"
"H-a-a-um!" and Peter wagged his head in sorrowful agreement.
There was silence for a moment, broken only by Peter's sighs,
and then she ventured a question disguised in sympathetic assertion.
"I don't think he's to blame: he's tried hard, hasn't
Her attempt to keep her feelings out of her voice frustrated
itself, and her "He's" had a peculiar emphasis. Peter
stopped in the path, looked at her searchingly, and then, as she
dropped her eyes and blushed, he said, with earnest conviction, "My
dear, he's a hero! He's fought like a giant!"
They had reached the garden-hedge; and, turning round, Hetty
tucked her other arm into his, though her heart was fluttering so
that she could not trust herself to speak.
"Nobody will ever know what that lad's done and suffered;
he's a blessèd martyr," and Peter nodded his head, and waved his
pipe in weighty emphasis.
Hetty had decided on a great venture, but her lips refused to
"There isn't one son in a thousand 'ud a done what he's done
for his women-folk, bless him!" And there were tears in the
old man's tones. The word she wanted to say was on her lips,
but she blushed and panted, and then said something else.
"It isn't his fault; it's his partner's, isn't it?"
"Partner!"—and old Peter flushed with sudden indignation—"the
partner's done it! He's a rogue, my dear!—a villain, Hetty!
That young man'll get hisself transported."
Never had Sam Broome appeared so utterly despicable to Hetty
as at that moment. And to think that he had once proposed to
her, and appeared to be so humble.
But her anger loosened her tongue, and she now found power to
say what she had been hesitating with, and so she blurted out, "It's
the poor women I'm thinking about. Can nothing be done,
Peter seemed suddenly to shrink into a smaller man; he
pressed her hand close into his side with his elbow, filled her hair
and the space about her with a huge volume of smoke, but jogged
doggedly on without speaking. Hetty, struggling with her
emotions, hugged his arm closer to hers, and then said, almost under
her breath, "Couldn't somebody—is it very bad—can't they be saved?"
The smoke was pouring forth in short, thick jets, and she
could feel the quickened beat of his heart. "Hetty, woman, we
must!—we must! Me and Jossy 'ull do it"; and then he
looked at her studiously, and went on, "But nothing for t'other!—not
a penny! not a penny!"
Hetty was perplexed; for, of course, they were thinking of
different people. Her father was greatly attached to Mrs.
Broome, and they were not to blame for Sam's misdoing; but if she
suggested them at this point, it might recall difficulties, and so
she said lamely, "I'm sorry for the poor women."
"Women!" and the tears came at last, hot and indignant.
"Hetty, woman, nobody knows but themselves what them poor things has
had to put up with. He's a brute!—a selfish brute!
Her father's unwonted heat was not quite clear to her; but as
they turned once more in the path, she asked, "Is it very bad?
Will it take a great deal to save them?"
"Can't tell, girl; generally does in them cases. We
mayn't be able to do anything, but we'll see—we'll see."
Just then the barber, dressed in his Sabbath clothes,
appeared at the front gate, looking very dignified and important,
and as her father left her to join his friend, it struck her as
being odder still that the barber should be neglecting his shop on a
Saturday for the sake of the Blandons. But she suddenly
remembered the site question, and smiled at the easy explanation.
Meanwhile, Sam was sitting in his dingy office, apathetically
waiting for the impending crash. He had wondered, in a dull
way, why there had been no dunning letters that morning, and was
still vaguely astonished that so far not a single applicant for
money had appeared; but, remembering "Punch" Brice's threats, and
that gentleman's intimate connexion with all Grindell's commercial
affairs, he guessed what was happening, and waited in sullen despair
for the coming of the accountant's representative. But in that
desolate moment a great temptation came to him, and he was soon
sitting up and facing it with what of mental intentness was left to
Why not accept "Punch's" offer, and use it as a means of
gradually righting things? "Punch" had been unjust in
insisting on his entire separation from the falling concern, but why
should he know? And if he did his duty by the Smailes's
estate. It was stronger than he expected, it held possession
of him; for a long dreary time he had-difficulty in insisting to
himself that it was a breach of confidence; and he had not finished
with the beguiling idea when there was a shuffle of feet outside,
and in walked Peter Waine and the old barber.
Peter looked flurried, but very red and stern, and Joshua had
an injured, protesting look, and held his head at a highly haughty
angle. Sam could not speak, never thought of it in fact, but
stared glumly at his visitors, and could have laughed in their
faces. Was this a time to talk of sites? Peter had taken
his hat off, and was rubbing his perspiring face; whilst Joshua,
meeting Sam's eye, was starting forward to open the conversation,
when the ex-grocer, observing him, shook his fist warningly, and
then turned his back to him as though to hide him from the other's
"Good mornin', Sam, mornin'—very warm, isn't it?" And
the old man shouldered his companion behind him, as though
determined to have all the conversation to himself.
Sam, with his elbow still on the desk, turned to stare
through the window to hide his eyes from his visitors.
Peter, his elbows extended as a barricade against the
impetuous barber, and his glistening eyes fixed on the young
builder, drew a hard breath or two, and proceeded, "Nobody saw us
come, nobody knows we are here"; and then, whisking round, he
glanced at his companion and commanded him to close the door, and
lock it, and pull down the window-blind.
Sam attended to the window; Jossy, muttering smothered
rebellion, turned the key in the lock, and, returning, drew up
alongside the grocer; but the old man elbowed him back, and, again
setting his eyes on Sam, earnestly asked, "Sam Broome, has thou
allus done thy duty by this here firm?"
A look, half dull wonder, half protesting indignation, sprang
into Sam's averted face then he wheeled round, and betrayed
something of what he was enduring by bursting out fiercely, as he
smote the desk with his clenched hand, "Before God, Mr. Waine, I
Peter, gloating eagerly over him, turned for a moment with
shining eyes to his muttering colleague, and then, recollecting
himself, twisted round, so as to get the barber fairly behind him,
and continued, "An' did thou know 'ut this nasty mess was a-coming?"
Sam's hand was lifted for another savage denial; but in
sudden remembrance he dropped it to his side, and cried with a
woeful shake of the head, "Partners are partners, Mr. Waine."
Peter wheeled round, and beamed on Sweetlove with tear-gemmed
eyes, as though Sam had stated the most amazingly delightful of
truths, and the barber had the look of a man who protested against
even the welcomest intelligence, because of the gross irregularity
of the methods by which it was elicited.
Peter turned again to his quarry, took a step nearer,
devouring him the while with greedy, glowing eyes. "An' has thou
parted wi' all thou has, an' done everything thou could to come out
honest and straight?"
Sam followed each word with a dull nod, paused a moment,
stared hard at the drawn window-blind, and then, dropping his head
into his hands again, groaned out, "I've tried! I have!—I
have!" and ended with a sob that shook the desk.
There was a pause that was broken only by the young builder's
hard breathing, and certain mysterious snufflings from Peter; then
the heart-broken Sam heard a step, a heavy arm was placed on his
shoulder and half round his neck, and a trembling voice bawled into
his ear, "Sam! Sam! Once have I heard this; yea, twice
hath it been told, that power belongeth to the Lord."
Sam was now shaking with great unburdening sobs, and the old
man began to stroke his arm in soft, soothing touches. But the
third party to this strange interview now stepped in. The
outrageous irregularity of the whole proceedings could no longer be
endured, and so, thrusting his friend aside, he seized Sam's arm,
compelled him to turn his heavy, sorrowful face towards him, and
demanded in sternest tones, "Did thou think that when thou left the
Methodisses the Methodisses left thee? Look here, now!" and,
releasing the builder's arm, he stretched out one hand, and smiting
upon it with the inevitable two fingers of the other, he continued,
"Will thou chuck that swindling pardner o' thine, or will thou not?"
Peter was stepping forward again with plaintive protests, but
the now masterful barber elbowed him back, and repeated the question
with the same emphatic gestures.
"Mr. Sweetlove"—and Sam lifted a haggard face and cried
desperately—"he's a mother and sisters, like me, and he's the old
"That's it!—that's it!" and Peter, almost beside himself with
contending emotions, began to pace about the office, crying as he
did so, "True blue!—he's true blue! We'll do it!—we will! we
will! we will!"
But the scandalized barber sprang round at him, and demanded,
"What! will you throw good money after bad? Will you aid an'
abet a swindler?"
"We'll do it!—we'll do it!" was all the answer he got, and
his old friend was once more tramping the floor.
Joshua looked from one to the other, and then, evidently
giving the older man up as utterly hopeless, he turned on the
younger, and demanded for the third time, "Will thou give that there
chap up once an' for all an' for ever?"
Sam seemed to have no answer, and before he could recover
himself old Peter was by his side again, and, undertaking his part,
turned upon the obstreperous barber, and cried, "Did thou ever know
a lad 'at stood by his mother and sisters like he's done?"
The barber commenced another scornful protest against the
ridiculous irrelevancy of the question; but before he could get his
words out, the grocer went on, "An' did thou ever know a steadier,
more hard-working, more carefuller lad?"
Again the barber was protesting, but Peter, now on his very
highest horse, broke in, "Did thou hear what 'Punch' Brice said
about him this very morning?"
"'Punch' Brice!' began the disgusted barber; but Peter rushed
in again, "An' hasn't all this come by him sticking true blue to his
partner? Well, then, wee'st do it!—wee'st do it!" And
the excited old fellow lugged a cheque-book out of his pocket, and
banged it triumphantly on the desk, as though by that mere act he
had dissipated all Sam's embarrassments for ever.
Broome was staring at his old friend in dull bewilderment,
and the barber, with folded arms, stalked across to the one
armchair, and, dropping into it, sat up stiff and grim, as though
demonstrating that he washed his hands for ever of proceedings so
disgracefully irregular and mad.
But at this point they were interrupted by the advent of
Brice's head clerk, accompanied by two bailiffs, who brought writs
for sums amounting in all to over four hundred pounds. Peter,
after labouring with many a sigh over the cheque he was writing,
dismissed them, and then handed Sam ready money for the payment of
the men's wages.
"Oh, Mr. Waine!" began the bewildered young builder as soon
as they were alone again. But the old grocer stopped him,
"Young man, let alone! It's a bigger job than I reasoned
on"—loud groan from the armchair—"but we shall go through with it!
We'll pay what we must, get the other to wait a bit, and we'll soon
be in smooth waters."
"But, Mr. Waine, you don't know, you've no idea—"
"Yes, I have! I had my own reasons for getting to know,
and I've found out everything. We shall win!—we shall win!"
Sam continued to protest, and to want to explain; but the old
man, glowing all over with blessed self-complacency, would have his
way, though the barber did not deign to offer a single word, and
went away with his companion, still evidently outraged at the way
things had been done.
But Jossy had a splendid time that day, and before it was
over he was found chuckling to himself in Little Gungate, and
crying, "This is a day!—this is a day! Oh! ha!
Methodisses is scum, are they? Methodisses is nothin' an'
nobody, are they? Ha! ha! We can't do nothin'? Oh
no! We've beaten peacock Blandon, we've beaten 'Punch' Brice,
we've beaten everybody. Ha! ha! ha!"
His greatest triumph, however, was at Jessamine Cottage.
Peter Waine was in his own way almost as much afraid of Jemima as
the barber himself; she played Cerberus between him and the
impecunious of Grindell, who, on the strength of old customership or
nominal attachment to Methodism, found him more amiable than
judicious, and, but for her, would have imposed upon him more than
they did. This, however, was far away his most serious plunge,
and his only hope lay in her devotion to the Broomes, and in the
fact that the barber shared, in part, the heavy responsibility.
Jemima held the view that Sweetlove was "scraping," and would rather
relish the fact that he had been drawn into the affair. Peter,
therefore, contrived to saddle the barber with a very considerable
share of the burden; but, being divided in mind between a desire to
see the barber's long-delayed amatory projects consummated, and a
fear of losing Jemima's services as housekeeper, he told his tale
somewhat lamely. But Mr. Waine might very well have spared
himself, for Jemima surprised him exceedingly. As soon as he
introduced his subject, the half-contemptuous disdain with which she
invariably listened to masculine talk, especially where Sweetlove
was concerned, dropped away from her, and as soon as the Broomes'
name was mentioned she came and stood on the hearthrug, and followed
every word with encouraging nods, and even smiled appreciatively at
his clumsy circumlocution. Whether she understood the
situation rightly or not Peter will never be quite sure, but all
doubts about his own success were set at rest by her first actions.
The barber, happening to arrive at that moment, was placed
ceremoniously in Jemima's own particular chair, a cushion even was
brought for him, and without the slightest hint from either man, two
foaming jugs of dandelion and burdock beer were placed before them.
Peter pulled at the beverage with a sense that all his labours of
the day were now amply compensated, and the barber looked grim in a
stern endeavour to keep down a mighty impulse towards triumphant
laughter. But the exact proportions of their tremendous
victory were only realized later on, for when, after a long and
animated talk on the details of their grand coup, Peter invited the
barber to have tea in the parlour, and Jemima, lapsing at once into
her old manner, peremptorily vetoed the suggestion, and Peter had
waddled off into the cooler front room, and was waiting the coming
meal, young Wess, hand on mouth to suppress uncontrollable laughter,
and eyebrows raised in wondering amazement, came into the room with
the paralysing intelligence that "Old Joss is having tea with
And all this time Hetty, too relieved by the unusual
preoccupation of her friends to be curious as to the cause, was
spending her afternoon in the summer-house with elegant needlework
in her fingers, and the troubles of Frank Blandon in entire
possession of her thoughts. Never had his good points appeared
so interesting, nor his questionable ones so trivial; the things she
had resented in him now wore other colours, and the woman in her
actually tried to commend them as marks of the impetuosity of love.
Suspicious of Jemima, and hating tittle-tattle at all times,
the tale about Edie Plewman awoke a sort of loyalty within her, and
strengthened the feeling of resentment towards Frank's enemies which
she now no longer tried to conceal. Pity for Sam Broome became
something to be ashamed of, and she burned with helpless indignation
that mere matters of finance should have the power to spoil people's
lives and prospects. Everything and everybody were against
him. Oh, how she would love to stand by his side and defy the
whole world! Every hour that passed but deepened the feeling.
Her father, Jemima, and even young Wess seemed strangely elated
about something, but she was not curious; they were presumably
rejoicing over her lover's downfall, in mean revenge about that
ridiculous site question, and in unholy pride at the justification
of their own prognostications. She could not just then endure
their society, and the serious concern which she saw in her father's
eyes, when she had caught him studying her at the tea-table, made
her wary and taciturn. And then it all came out.
Her father, pipe in hand, followed her presently to her
refuge, drew her into reluctant conversation, and then, bit by bit,
with roundabout deviousness and a tender anxiety that heightened the
ultimate effect, told her the whole story. Not knowing how
deeply her affections were engaged, but all the more concerned
because of the uncertainty, the guileless old man, with his most
difficult task and little worldly skill to help him, unconsciously
employed the cunning of a great affection, and little by little got
the hard facts into her mind and all the honest logic of a
transparent nature on his side.
She objected, she questioned, she argued but the very
shrinking reluctance with which he advanced his facts gave them
sharper point; and when, at last, unable longer to endure his
wistful eyes, she swept her work into her arms and fled to her own
room, she could not have told whether shame of her interest in Frank
or shame of her misjudgement of Sam was the stronger emotion within
her. Not that the conflict was over; again and again her whole
nature rose in rebellion against the facts, and passionate
championship of her lover; but again and again the evidence
indicated by her father, and confirmatory facts known only to
herself, bore down all resistance; and though in that bitter hour
she almost hated Jemima, Sweetlove, the Broomes, and even her
beloved father, yet the image of Frank Blandon slipped somehow from
its throne in her heart, never to be reinstated. The next day
was the dreariest Sabbath she ever spent, and the day following, wet
and depressing, gave her opportunity of keeping her own room without
exciting particular notice.
Her father, however, was watching her on every opportunity,
with an anxiety that annoyed and yet touched her; and on Tuesday
evening the news came that Mrs. Blandon, a broken, shamed woman, had
returned home, and that Frank and Edie Plewman had been missing
since Monday, and had presumably gone off to be married. Her
father brought her the sad tidings himself, for fear that ruder lips
should break it to her, and for a whole hour he sat with his hand in
hers, mutely succouring her with a sympathy that words would have
marred; and when he left her there were soft tears on her face, but
strength to face the world again in her heart.
A fortnight passed away; Grindell was growing a little weary
of its sudden glorification of honest merit, as exemplified in the
case of Sam Broome, and Hetty was beginning to admit to herself that
she had been unjust to him. She wanted to be fair to him, but
could not endure the thought of him as the head of the once honoured
firm of Blandon, and resented hotly the malicious gossip of the town
against the fallen family. One day she heard that Sam, after a
double refusal to manage Widow Smailes's business, had been induced
to accept it on his own terms, and realized, as only an inhabitant
of their little town could have done, how fine a certificate of
character that was for the young fellow, coming as it did from
"Punch" Brice of all persons.
Then came the climax. It was known that the Blandon
business was still a matter of grave anxiety to the partner in
charge, who went about as though ashamed of the sudden popularity he
had achieved, and still wearing his old worried look. It was
freely asserted by those supposed to know that old Waine and those
who had acted with him were not yet out of the wood, and might find
themselves seriously involved. One evening it was reported
that Sam Broome and "Punch" Brice had quarrelled—at any rate,
"Punch" had been heard raving about in the wood-yard, and storming
until his raspy voice reached the street; and a day later Grindell
business was suspended, whilst people discussed the mysterious
disappearance of Sam Broome. He had been seen boarding the
early train for Gittering Junction a few hours after his quarrel
with "Punch," and since then all trace of him had been lost.
The usual quidnuncs were "not surprised"; the usual number of
"Told-you-so's" lifted their heads; confident surmises and
predictions of what people would ultimately "see" were expressed;
and it was freely promised that Sam Broome would turn out to be the
greater rogue of the two.
But just before midnight on Thursday the through express was
unexpectedly pulled up at Grindell station, and Frank Blandon, his
new wife, and the junior partner of the firm alighted. Then
Grindell talked, if you like! It was next morning before the
news was generally known; but the barber held a constant levee in
his shop, and expatiated without let or hindrance of the stuff that
Methodists were made of. Peter Waine had shaken hands with Sam
three distinct times before ten o'clock that morning, and spent the
next hour or so wandering about and basking in a blaze of strangely
unfamiliar Methodist popularity. He broke into fits of tender
tears as he discussed with sympathetic friends the quiet nobility of
Sam's character and the crowning splendour of his last act.
How he had come to do it nobody seemed to be able to guess, but the
simple truth was that he had, after all that had passed, and all he
had suffered for and through his partner, fetched him back, and
given him once more his place in the business. Wise men shook
their heads, prominent judges of character confessed confusion,
shrewd business men frowned portentously; but Peter Waine was in the
seventh heaven, and the barber bragged about the town until he
became almost insufferable.
Two days later Jemima Grubb had the best room turned out in
the early hours of the day, and for no reason in the world but that
Sam Broome and his ex-charwoman mother were coming to tea. To
tea they came; the barber was also of the company, the only silent
person being the young lady who did the honours of the table.
But she made up for her silence in good time. When the tea was
over, and they all adjourned to the garden, Hetty, without the least
shyness or hesitation, sent the elders down the path to the grass
plot at the end of the cottage, and then boldly beckoned Sam to
follow her into the summerhouse. Then she talked enough; with
glowing eyes and flaming cheeks, she tumbled out her thoughts into
the young builder's ears until he scarce knew where to look or what
to say. "It was good, sir, to bear with him, good to remember
your obligation to his father, good to bear disgrace and dishonour
for his sake; but, oh, Sam Broome, to fetch him back, after all that
had taken place, that was the splendid thing, that was the best of
Sam listened, frightened and confounded, and when at last,
all breathless and tearful, she stopped and dropped into the corner
seat, he sat and looked at her, and positively trembled. She
was very demure with him for the rest of the evening; but Sam went
home that night scarcely touching the earth upon which he trod,
whilst a dead hope was rapidly booming into beautiful life.
Once more, months after that memorable interview, they were
in the summer-house again, though autumn was now stripping the old
shed of its glory. And again she did all the talking, at least
up to a certain point. But as the soft twilight fell upon
them, and the stillness of sweet eventide hushed all nature about
them, she sealed a joy, that in him was too deep for words, with a
first shy, shrinking kiss.
JEMIMA GRUBB'S DISMISSAL
THE person who
seemed least able to profit by his partner's handsome loyalty was
Frank Blandon himself. He was moody and taciturn, very restive
and suspicious under all inquiries after his health, and simply
would not face Grindell at all. He came each day to the
office, but confined himself to bookkeeping, and referred customers
to the now happy but exceedingly busy Sam. From the extreme of
dressiness he slipped rapidly to that of slovenliness, and spent his
evenings in his old room at his mother's house, smoking and, alas!
About Christmas, when business affairs were getting
straightened out somewhat, Sam offered to retire and leave his
partner in sole possession; but to his great astonishment, Mrs.
Blandon and—most amazing of all—"Punch" Brice, who still represented
certain creditors, peremptorily vetoed the suggestion, in spite of
the fact that Sam was being most obviously overworked. But at
this juncture another person began to assert herself, and Sam was so
disgracefully delighted to be "hectored" by the aforesaid intruder,
that Grindell saw some wonderful things. Hetty interfered in
her lover's most private and personal affairs, condemned his beard
to instant removal, and his moustache, of which she said some
charmingly flattering things, to the also daily attention of the
barber. Sam protestingly declared she was trying to turn him
into a second Frank Blandon, for his clothing was condemned
wholesale, nothing his wardrobe contained, not even his wonderful
Sunday best, was spared; and he soon found himself going about in
shamefully extravagant attire, including even a signet ring, which
his wilful ladylove gave him and insisted on his wearing every day.
But the most terrible struggle of all came when her vain and
capricious ladyship, who affected extreme jealousy of the widow
Smailes, insisted that her lover should set up a pony and trap to
assist him in the constant travelling made necessary in the
management of the two businesses. Sam was seriously
scandalized, and did his very utmost in the way of evasion,
procrastination, and the like; but all the same the New Year found
him driving about on his numerous errands behind a smart little
mare, and two months' experience wrung from him the reluctant and
almost guilty confession that the turn-out was more than paying for
The wood-yard end, meanwhile, had been duly made over to the
Methodists, and presently, as soon as the weather made outdoor
ceremonies possible, the foundation-stones were laid amid such
demonstrations as the poor "Candle-lofters" never dreamed of seeing.
It was arranged presently that Sam and Hetty were to be the
first couple married in the new sanctuary, the barber handsomely
waiving his claim to that honour with a generosity for which he was
doomed to pay a terrible price. The marriage took place in due
course, Frank Blandon and, marvel of marvels, "Punch" Brice himself
being amongst the spectators. But when the ceremony was over,
and the honeymoon ended, the barber was plunged into a condition of
mind which alternated between long fits of mysterious silence and
outbursts of cynical raillery against this wicked world and the
deceitful wiles of women; for Jemima pointed out to him, in her most
exasperatingly matter-of-fact manner, that, as Hetty had now left
Jessamine Cottage, Mr. Waine and Wess must have somebody to look
Joshua's long-tried patience now utterly gave out; for a
whole fortnight the proverbial horses and chains could not drag him
to the cottage, and when he did at length go he seemed to be holding
long, noisy wrangles with Jemima every night, to the entire neglect
of his old friend Peter, at the time when that worthy gentleman was
most needing company. These lengthy interviews in the back
premises always ended the same way, Joshua invariably departing red,
excited, and profoundly disgusted, leaving Jemima cool, doggedly
logical, and grimly amused. Then dark hints began to reach the
cottage from one mysterious source or another. Joshua was
accepting one of the many offers for his shop, retiring from
business, and leaving Grindell for ever! Before confirmation
could be obtained, it was told with circumstantial exactitude that
the barber was courting a widow with a snug little competency at
Gittering; and this was followed by the most terrible tidings of
all—Joshua was sending in his preachers' plan, resigning all his
local offices, and going over to the Quakers!
The barber made himself very scarce in these days, and when
he was encountered and cornered he was so evasive, so
crafty-looking, and so solemnly mysterious, that the conviction of
something seriously wrong settled firmly down on the minds of old
Peter and his son Wess. Left thus to themselves, Wess, to the
old man's great delight, took to cultivating his father's company,
and the extraordinary conduct of the barber, and Jemima's
contemptuous indifference to the signs of the times, came in for
frequent discussion between them.
Wess was to leave school at the end of the term and go as a
gentleman apprentice to Blandon & Co., and whenever conversation on
this absorbing topic flagged between them, Jossy and his cryptic
antics was the easiest alternative. These conversations
naturally had their effect upon the boy's habits of observation, and
he soon convinced himself that the barber was looking ill, and had a
wild glare in his eyessuggestive of incipient insanity. And
so, lingering one wet afternoon over his dinner, he suddenly
surprised Jemima by demanding, as he propped his chin on his hands,
"I say, Jim! What's the matter with old Joss? He looks
"Hur-ur-u-m-ph!—worse if he ailed owt!" But there was a
relishful smirk on the housekeeper's face which excited her
"He does though! Has he anything on his mind, think
Jemima laughed; a wicked triumphant sort of laugh, that
stimulated the boy's thoughts still further. "You know, I can
see, and you won't tell me."
"Nowt ails him but awkerdness."
"That's it! You won't tell me!" and the experienced
Wess rose out of his chair to leave, shrewdly calculating upon the
"He—he—er—well, he wants to get married," and Jemima giggled
like a school-girl, and then looked very disgusted.
"Well, why shouldn't he—er— Oh, I say, Jim, does he want to
"Yes, does he; and what'll become of your father and you if I
This was an entirely new idea. Wess's face went slowly
longer and his eyes widened out protestingly, but all he could do
was to emit a long, amazed whistle.
Seeing her advantage, and lusting for a tender word from her
idol, Jemima continued, "Would you like me to go now?
Would you, Master Wess?"
Wess, still staring at her and wrestling with the problem she
had suggested, gasped out, "Oh! I say, Jim, I never— Oh, well, you
know, that's up another street, isn't it?"
"Of course it is. It can't be thought on, now, can it?"
Wess was reflecting, and his eyes blinked rapidly.
"But—er, you know, Jim, you'll have to go some day; I might
get married myself, you know, and then—"
Jim's face dropped; many and many a time lately had she
thought of this fearful possibility now that marriage was so much in
the air amongst them. "Well, well! we'll wait till then,
Master Wess—and there's your father, you know."
Wess had a real serious problem before him, and gloated over
it with all a boy's profound inward delight.
"But—but— Why Jim, you'll never get married at all at that
rate!" and his tone carried all youth's sense of the awfulness of
such a possibility.
"So much the better!"
Wess was getting out of his depth; he knew that Jemima was a
very remarkable woman, but the state of mind suggested by her words
was utterly unthinkable to him—for a female. What could any
woman on earth wish but to be married?
"Do you mean to tell me, Jim, that you don't want to be
married?" and his voice was tremulous with unbelieving amazement.
But Jemima's love-hunger was still the uppermost feeling in
her mind, and so she made another daring bid.
"I don't want to leave you, at any rate."
But she was disappointed, she had been a mother in all but
name, and he took her affection as a matter of course in youth's
eternal way, and gave his mind wholly to the problem in hand.
Suddenly he had an inspiration. "Why, Jim, let him come and
live here!" This was the very last suggestion she was
expecting, and all she could do for the moment was to shake her
"I'll have no flusterous, hulking men in this 'ere kitchen
whilst I'm in it."
Wess was puzzled. He had been angling for a hint of
Jemima's real state of mind, and had caught a fish of a very
different kind. He sat staring before him with a perplexed
frown, sighed a little, leaned his head on his arms to think more
quietly and fairly thrash the point out, and when Jemima returned
from the scullery a few moments later she found him fast asleep.
When he awoke some twenty minutes later he seemed to have
forgotten all about their conversation, and as he strolled to the
door, yawning and stretching himself, even a palpable hint from
Jemima did not arrest his progress or bring him back to the great
topic. Out in the back lane, however, his thoughts returned to
Jossy and his courtship, and as he reflected his hand went up to his
hair, and finally, a whole week earlier than he usually did so, he
decided to visit the hairdresser.
Wess, as Jemima's idol, was one of the favoured few whom the
barber always waited upon himself; but on this occasion the boy had
a surly reception, and his tonsorial requirements were attended to
in cold silence. Business over, however, Wess took a look
round on the pictures, then sauntered to a chair, drew it a little
nearer the smouldering fire, stuck his feet on the bars, and,
looking across at the barber, demanded, "I say, Joshua, you're a bit
queer, aren't you—ill or something?"
There was a genuine chord of sympathy in the inquiry, pert
though it sounded, and the barber, a little disarmed, grunted out
that he was "all right," and began to search for his pipe.
Wess put on a look as near like a medical man's at a
consultation as he could command, and still searching the uneasy
barber's face, remarked, "Jim and I were talking about you just
now—she says nothing ails you."
The barber had been arrested by the sudden introduction of
his ladylove's name, but the finish of the sentence brought back all
the old bitterness, and so, peeping here and there behind the
ornaments on the mantelpiece for his lost consoler, he cried,
apparently unconscious of his companion's presence, "Oh,
woman!—woman! Thy name is crewilty!"
Wess, wide awake and absorbingly interested, watched the
other's face as on discovering his pipe he fell back into his chair
and began to charge, watched him as he took the first long draws,
watched him still as he settled himself in his seat, and then asked,
"Is that what you're fretting about? Why, anybody could
persuade old Jim!"
The barber laughed, a hollow bitter laugh of intense irony.
"It's right! but look here, Joshua, you know, what's father
and me to do if you take her?"
This question, which Wess evidently expected would induce the
barber to think reasonably, had been so often flung at him in
Jessamine Cottage kitchen that it was like rubbing an old wound, and
he sprang to his feet to say terrible things. But a second
thought struck him, just in time, and so, glancing at the boy's
sympathetic face, he merely remarked, "Well, but Mr. Wess, if she
had to die, or—or go off it, you'd have to do without her then."
Wess was impressed, but more by the appeal to his logical
faculty than by the strength of the argument, and so he answered,
"Yes, but who could we get, you know? We couldn't stand an
ordinary servant-girl, you know."
The barber's brain was working; he was not much interested in
the lad's logic, but he was remembering that in Wess he might have a
very powerful ally, and so, changing his tone, and making a strong
appeal to the boy's generous sympathies, he replied, "Ah! Mr. Wess,
what's the use o' talkin'? She's again it, she's only dodgin'—she's
just breikin' my pore 'eart."
The look and tone he put into the last words brought his
young companion over to his side irretrievably, and he leaned
forward and began to stare into the dying fire in vain endeavour to
think of some feasible plan.
"I could square Jim, you know, Jossy," he said musingly, and
with a wag of the head expressive of seasoned sagacity; "but then
there's father and me, and she wouldn't do it—she wouldn't, I know!"
The barber, still thinking rapidly, puffed away at his pipe
and stared like his young friend into the fire, cogitating the while
on how he could best employ the other's services in the
all-important cause. Then he rose to his feet, held out his
hand, and cried in pathetic tones, "Bless you, Master Wess! bless
you! I've one true friend in the world, bless you!"
Wess, though astonished and very uncomfortable under the
tragic flattery, was still highly complimented; and so, after
assuring the barber once more of his sympathy and co-operation, he
left him, and Joshua Sweetlove, though with momentary lapses into
deep despair, entered once more into the enjoyment of hope's sweet
Two days later Wess, now inspired with the dignity of a great
project, called again upon the hairdresser, and sketched the first
outlines of a plot. The barber was earnestly exhorted to "Keep
on looking bad," and to "manage to get worse if he could, but to
look worse anyway." A week later Wess laid the project before
his father, accompanying his statements with most harrowing
descriptions of the barber's secret sufferings. But still the
problem of problems was, who was to take Jemima's place? and both
realized that nothing could be done until that point was disposed
of. Then they decided to consult Hetty; and that versatile
young lady, though she entered fully into all their desires, was
nonplussed by just the same obstacle as had given pause to the rest.
She took two days to consider matters, and then came smiling and
triumphant. There was one family Jemima really loved—the
Broomes; there was one member of that family of whose steadiness and
thorough domestication Miss Grubb was never tired of boasting—Sam's
elder sister Patty. With a young domestic to assist, Patty was
the ideal substitute—at least, from Jemima's standpoint. But
just when that difficulty seemed disposed of, another presented
itself. Who was to tell Jemima? and what if she refused to go?
Wess undertook to sound the housekeeper as to her possible
attitude towards Patty Broome, Hetty was to see the Broomes and get
their mind on the subject, and they were to consult together as soon
as the results were known. Hetty came in perfect triumph;
Wess, though he thought he had been perfectly successful, gave such
details as suggested quite other results to the older members of the
conspiracy. Still, there was nothing to do but to go on and
bring the venture to an issue. But who was to tackle Jemima?
and what if, as was almost certain, she flatly refused? This
was a poser; neither Hetty nor the barber—admitted by this time to
the great secret—could suggest any way out, and at last Peter Waine,
always at his best as we have seen in great emergencies, came out
with the staggering suggestion that Jemima should be "sacked,"
discharged from her situation—in precise terms, "given a month's
Wess rolled on the floor in an ecstasy of anticipatory fun at
the idea. "Father" smiled very sheepishly, and the barber
nearly choked with violent inward chuckling.
But the next point was worse. Who would give her the
notice? Peter wouldn't, Hetty daren't for the world, the
barber groaned, but had nothing to suggest; but all agreed in
rejecting Wess's suggestion that it should be sent to her through
Then Hetty undertook the task—and repented the moment she had
done so. It took her days to screw up her courage; but finally
the grand assault was made, and the notice formally given. But
Hetty came away half an hour later, declaring that no power on earth
should ever induce her to undertake such a task again. Jemima
simply defied them all; she would go when she liked, and not a
moment sooner. That night the barber, after a timorous visit
to the kitchen, went home with the decided conviction that single
blessèdness was not the worst possible condition of man.
And then the change came. Wess, disappointed, and a
little resentful towards Jemima, kept away from the kitchen for one
whole week; but one damp evening he wandered back to his old resort
for sheer lack of some place to go to. For the moment he had
no thought of the recent conspiracy, and quite innocently commenced
a conversation on his apprenticeship. Jemima startled and a
little disgusted him by bursting into tears, and dolefully demanded
to be informed who would awake him in a morning, prepare his
breakfast, and wash his over-alls, and Wess, amazed but now alert,
protested that of course she would—who else?
This seemed to give the tearful creature the idea that her
cherished favourite had had no part in the conspiracy against her,
and in a few moments she was telling him all her tale. She
spoke so movingly that Wess was touched and shaken, and protested
that he wanted her and her only. And that momentary surrender
on the part of one of the chief conspirators saved the situation.
Wess, discovering that Jemima, in spite of all that had passed,
still regarded her position as insecure and temporary, began to
comfort himself by suggesting all the possible advantages of the
expected new arrangement. It would be dreadfully dull in the
house with a stranger reigning in the kitchen, but how nice to be
able to slip out at nights and have a good time with his old
mother-sweet-heart! Jemima drank in the words as thirsty men
drink precious water.
The barber's was about half-way between Jessamine Cottage and
Hetty's. How convenient to have such a handy calling-place!
The barber had promised to teach him to play the 'cello, and
he meant to go in for it "hot and strong," and practise nearly every
night. Jemima was licking her lips and blinking her eyes,
whilst her hard face positively glowed.
If the new housekeeper failed or was sick, why he, Wess,
would simply go and stay with Jemima until things were right again.
Jemima was leaning over his chair, her eyes dewy and her lips
"If you were going to marry a stranger and live away, I
couldn't stand it, Jim, I really could—" But here he was
smothered in a big embrace, and lips that had not kissed him for
years were pressed to his burning cheeks. "Ah—um, don't, Jim;
hold hard, woman. Why, Jim, I shall be more at your house than
our own—a fine sight more! Wherever dear old Jim goes, I shall
go—to the world's end!" This was not exactly consistent with
one of the arguments he had just been using, but Jemima, choking at
the seldom-uttered confession of affection, drank it all in with
pure delight. Wess stayed the whole evening with his old
nurse, dropping every now and again tender little hints, always on
the assumption that Jemima was going to leave them; and when, on
Wess's report to his fellow conspirators, the barber waited upon the
queen of the kitchen, he—well, after much circumlocution and many a
perilous quiver on the edge of failure—had his way, and went back to
his shop a happy man.
Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and