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   Chapter 5 THE CHANCE

Leonora By Arnold Bennett Characters: 37387

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Leonora was aware that she had tamed one of the lions which menaced her husband's path; she could not conceive that Arthur Twemlow, whatever his mysterious power over John, would find himself able to exercise it now; Twemlow was a friend of hers, and so disarmed. She wished to say proudly to John: 'I neither know nor wish to know the nature of the situation between you and Arthur Twemlow. But be at ease. He is no longer dangerous. I have arranged it.' The thing was impossible to be said; she was bound to leave John in ignorance; she might not even hint. Nevertheless, Leonora's satisfaction in this triumph, her pleasure in the mere memory of the intimate talk by the fire, her innocent joyous desire to see Twemlow again soon, emanated from her in various subtle ways, and the household was thereby soothed back into a feeling of security about John. Leonora ignored, perhaps deliberately, that Stanway had still before him the peril of financial embarrassment, that he was mortgaging the house, and that his colloquies with David Dain continued to be frequent and obviously disconcerting. When she saw him nervous, petulant, preoccupied, she attributed his condition solely to his thought of the one danger which she had secretly removed. She had a strange determined impulse to be happy and gay.

An episode at an extra Monday night rehearsal of the Amateur Operatic Society seemed to point to the prevalence of certain sinister rumours about Stanway's condition. Milly, inspired by dreams of the future, had learnt her part perfectly in five days. She sang and acted with magnificent assurance, and with a vivid theatrical charm which awoke enthusiasm in the excitable breasts of the male chorus. Harry Burgess lost his air of fatigued worldliness, and went round na?vely demanding to be told whether he had not predicted this miracle. Even the conductor was somewhat moved.

'She'll do, by gad!' said that man of few illusions to his crony the accompanist.

But it is not to be imagined that such a cardinal event as the elevation of a chit like Millicent Stanway to the principal r?le could achieve itself without much friction and consequent heat. Many ladies of the chorus thought that the committee no longer deserved the confidence of the society. At least three suspected that the conductor had a private spite against themselves. And one, aged thirty-five, felt convinced that she was the victim of an elaborate and scandalous plot. To this maid had been offered Milly's old part of Ella; it was a final insult-but she accepted it. In the scene with Angela and Bunthorne in the first act, the new Ella made the same mistake three times at the words, 'In a doleful train,' and the conductor grew sarcastic.

'May I show you how that bit goes, Miss Gardner?' said Milly afterwards with exquisite pertness.

'No, thank you, Milly,' was the freezing emphasised answer; 'I dare say I shall be able to manage without your assistance.'

'Oh, ho!' sang Milly, delighted to have provoked this exhibition, and she began a sort of Carmen dance of disdain.

'Girls grow up so quick nowadays!' Miss Gardner exclaimed, losing control of herself; 'who are you, I should like to know!' and she proceeded with her irrelevant inquiries: 'who's your father? Doesn't every one know that he'll have gone smash before the night of the show?' She was shaking, insensate, brutal.

Millicent stood still, and went very white.

'Miss Gardner!'

'Miss Stanway!'

The rival divas faced each other, murderous, for a few seconds, and then Milly turned, laughing, to Harry Burgess, who, consciously secretarial, was standing near with several others.

'Either Miss Gardner apologises to me at once,' she said lightly, 'at once, or else either she or I leave the Society.'

Milly tapped her foot, hummed, and looked up into Miss Gardner's eyes with serene contempt. Ethel was not the only one who was amazed at the absolute certitude of victory in little Millicent's demeanour. Harry Burgess spoke apart with the conductor upon this astonishing contretemps, and while he did so Milly, still smiling, hummed rather more loudly the very phrase of Ella's at which Miss Gardner had stumbled. It was a masterpiece of insolence.

'We think Miss Gardner should withdraw the expression,' said Harry after he had coughed.

'Never!' said Miss Gardner. 'Good-bye all!'

Thus ended Miss Gardner's long career as an operatic artist-and not without pathos, for the ageing woman sobbed as she left the room from which she had been driven by a pitiless child.

* * *

According to custom Harry Burgess set out from the National School, where the rehearsals were held, with Ethel and Milly for Hillport. But at the bottom of Church Street Ethel silently fell behind and joined a fourth figure which had approached. The two couples walked separately to Hillport by the field-path. As Harry and Milly opened the wicket at the foot of Stanway's long garden, Ethel ran up, alone again.

'That you?' cried a thin voice under the trees by the gate. It was Rose, taking late exercise after her studies.

'Yes, it's us,' replied Harry. 'Shall you give me a whisky if I come in?'

And he entered the house with the three girls.

'I'm certain Rose saw you with Fred in the field, and if she did she's sure to split to mother,' Milly whispered as she and Ethel ran upstairs. They could hear Harry already strumming on the piano.

'I don't care!' said Ethel callously, exasperated by three days of futility at the office, and by the manifest injustice of fate.

'My dear, I want to speak to you,' said Leonora to Ethel, when the informal supper was over, and Harry had buckishly departed, and Rose and Milly were already gone upstairs. Not a word had been mentioned as to the great episode of the rehearsal.

'Well, mother?' Ethel answered in a tone of weary defiance.

Leonora still sat at the supper-table, awaiting John, who was out at a meeting; Ethel stood leaning against the mantelpiece like a boy.

'How often have you been seeing Fred Ryley lately?' Leonora began with a gentle, pacific inquiry.

'I see him every day at the works, mother.'

'I don't mean at the works; you know that, Ethel.'

'I suppose Rose has been telling you things.'

'Rose told me quite innocently that she happened to see Fred in the field to-night.'

'Oh, yes!' Ethel sneered with cold irony. 'I know Rose's innocence!'

'My dear girl,' Leonora tried to reason with her. 'Why will you talk like that? You know you promised your father--'

'No, I didn't, ma,' Ethel interrupted her sharply. 'Milly did; I never promised father anything.'

Leonora was astonished at the mutinous desperation in Ethel's tone. It left her at a loss.

'I shall have to tell your father,' she said sadly.

'Well, of course, mother,' Ethel managed her voice carefully. 'You tell him everything.'

'No, I don't, my dear,' Leonora denied the charge like a girl. 'A week last night I heard Fred Ryley talking to you at your window. And I have said nothing.'

Ethel flushed hotly at this disclosure.

'Then why say anything now?' she murmured, half daunted and half daring.

'Your father must know. I ought to have told him before. But I have been wondering how best to act.'

'What's the matter with Fred, mother?' Ethel demanded, with a catch in her throat.

'That isn't the point, Ethel. Your father has distinctly said that he won't permit any'-she stopped because she could not bring herself to say the words; and then continued: 'If he had the slightest suspicion that there was anything between you and Fred Ryley he would never have allowed you to go to the works at all.'

'Allowed me to go! I like that, mother! As if I wanted to go to the works! I simply hate the place-father knows that. And yet-and yet--' She almost wept.

'Your father must be obeyed,' Leonora stated simply.

'Suppose Fred is poor,' Ethel ran on, recovering herself. 'Perhaps he won't be poor always. And perhaps we shan't be rich always. The things that people are saying--' She hesitated, afraid to proceed.

'What do you mean, dear?'

'Well!' the girl exclaimed, and then gave a brief account of the Gardner incident.

'My child,' was Leonora's placid comment, 'you ought to know that Florence Gardner will say anything when she is in a temper. She is the worst gossip in Bursley. I only hope Milly wasn't rude. And really this has got nothing to do with what we are talking about.'

'Mother!' Ethel cried hysterically, 'why are you always so calm? Just imagine yourself in my place-with Fred. You say I'm a woman, and I am, I am, though you don't think so, truly. Just imagine-- No, you can't! You've forgotten all that sort of thing, mother.' She burst into gushing tears at last. 'Father can kill me if he likes! I don't care!'

She fled out of the room.

'So I've forgotten, have I!' Leonora said to herself, smiling faintly, as she sat alone at the table waiting for John.

She was not at all hurt by Ethel's impassioned taunt, but rather amused, indulgently amused, that the girl should have so misread her. She felt more maternal, protective, and tender towards Ethel than she had ever felt since the first year of Ethel's existence. She seemed perfectly to comprehend, and she nobly excused, the sudden outbreak of violence and disrespect on the part of her languid, soft-eyed daughter. She thought with confidence that all would come right in the end, and vaguely she determined that in some undefined way she would help Ethel, would yet demonstrate to this child of hers that she understood and sympathised. The interview which had just terminated, futile, conflicting, desultory, muddled, tentative, and abrupt as life itself, appeared to her in the light of a positive achievement. She was not unhappy about it, nor about anything. Even the scathing speech of Florence Gardner had failed to disturb her.

'I want to tell you something, Jack,' she began, when her husband at length came home.

'Who's been drinking whisky?' was Stanway's only reply as he glanced at the table.

'Harry brought the girls home. I dare say he had some. I didn't notice,' she said.

'H'm!' Stanway muttered gloomily, 'he's young enough to start that game.'

'I'll see it isn't offered to him again, if you like,' said Leonora. 'But I want to tell you something, Jack.'

'Well?' He was thoughtlessly cutting a piece of cheese into small squares with the silver butter-knife.

'Only you must promise not to say a word to a soul.'

'I shall promise no such thing,' he said with uncompromising bluntness.

She smiled charmingly upon him. 'Oh yes, Jack, you will, you must.'

He seemed to be taken unawares by her sudden smile. 'Very well,' he said gruffly.

She then told him, in the manner she thought best, of the relations between Ethel and Fred Ryley, and she pointed out to him that, if he had reflected at all upon the relations between Harry Burgess and Millicent, he would not have fallen into the error of connecting Milly, instead of her sister, with Fred.

'What relations between Milly and young Burgess?' he questioned stolidly.

'Why, Jack,' she said, 'you know as much as I do. Why does Harry come here so often?'

'He'd better not come here so often. What's Milly? She's nothing but a child.'

Leonora made no attempt to argue with him. 'As for Ethel,' she said softly, 'she's at a difficult age, and you must be careful--'

'As for Ethel,' he interrupted, 'I'll turn Fred Ryley out of my office to-morrow.'

She tried to look grave and sympathetic, to use all her tact. 'But won't that make difficulties with Uncle Meshach? And people might say you had dismissed him because Uncle Meshach had altered his will.'

'D--n Fred Ryley!' he swore, unable to reply to this. 'D--n him!'

He walked to and fro in the room, and all his secret, profound resentment against Ryley surged up, loose and uncontrolled.

'Wouldn't it be better to take Ethel away from the works?' Leonora suggested.

'No,' he answered doggedly. 'Not for a moment! Can't I have my own daughter in my own office because Fred Ryley is on the place? A pretty thing!'

'It is awkward,' she admitted, as if admitting also that what puzzled his sagacity was of course too much for hers.

'Fred Ryley!' he repeated the hateful syllables bitterly. 'And I only took him out of kindness! Simply out of kindness! I tell you what, Leonora!' He faced her in a sort of bravado. 'It would serve 'em d--n well right if Uncle Meshach died to-morrow, and Aunt Hannah the day after. I should be safe then. It would serve them d--n well right, all of 'em-Ryley and Uncle Meshach; yes, and Aunt Hannah too! She hasn't altered her will, but she'd no business to have let uncle alter his. They're all in it. She's bound to die first, and they know it.... Well, well!' He was a resigned martyr now, and he turned towards the hearth.

'Jack!' she exclaimed, 'what's the matter?'

'Ruin's the matter,' he said. 'That's what's the matter. Ruin!'

He laughed sourly, undecided whether to pretend that he was not quite serious, or to divulge his real condition.

Her calm confident eyes silently invited him to relieve his mind, and he could not resist the temptation.

'You know that mortgage on the house,' he said quickly. 'I got it all arranged at once. Dain was to have sent the deed in last Tuesday night for you to sign, but he sent in a letter instead. That's why I had to go over and see him. There was some confounded hitch at the last moment, a flaw in the title--'

'A flaw in the title!' It was the phrase only that alarmed her.

'Oh! It's all right,' said Stanway, wondering angrily why women should always, by the trick of seizing on trifles, destroy the true perspective of a business affair. 'The title's all right, at least it will be put right. But it means delay, and I can't wait. I must have money at once, in three days. Can you understand that, my girl?'

By an effort she conquered the impulses to ask why, and why, and why; and to suggest economy in the house. Something came to her mysteriously out of her memory of her own father's affairs, a sudden inspiration; and she said:

'Can't you deposit my deeds at the bank and get a temporary advance?' She was very proud of this clever suggestion.

He shook his head: 'No, the bank won't.'

The fact was that the bank had long been pressing him to deposit security for his over-draft.

'I tell you what might be done,' he said, brightening as her idea gave birth to another one in his mind. 'Uncle Meshach might lend some money on the deeds. You shall go down to-morrow morning and ask him, Nora.'

'Me!' She was scared at this result.

'Yes, you,' he insisted, full of eagerness. 'It's your house. Ask him to let you have five hundred on the house for a short while. Tell him we want it. You can get round him easily enough.'

'Jack, I can't do it, really.'

'Oh yes, you can,' he assured her. 'No one better. He likes you. He doesn't like me-never did. Ask him for five hundred. No, ask him for a thousand. May as well make it a thousand. It'll be all the same to him. You go down in the morning, and do it for me.'

Stanway's animation became quite cheerful.

'But about the title-the flaw?' she feebly questioned.

'That won't frighten uncle,' said Stanway positively. 'He knows the title is good enough. That's only a technical detail.'

'Very well,' she agreed, 'I'll do what I can, Jack.'

'That's good,' he said.

And even now, the resolve once made, she did not lose her sense of tranquil optimism, her mild happiness, her widespreading benevolence. The result of this talk with John aroused in her an innocent vanity, for was it not indirectly due to herself that John had been able to see a way out of his difficulties?

They soon afterwards dismissed the subject, put it with care away in a corner; and John finished his supper.

'Is Mr. Twemlow still in the district?' she asked vivaciously.

'Yes,' said John, and there was a pause.

'You're doing some business together, aren't you, Jack?' she hazarded.

John hesitated. 'No,' he said, 'he only wanted to see me about old Twemlow's estate-some details he was after.'

'I felt it,' she mused. 'I felt all the time it was that that was wrong. And John is worrying over it! But he needn't-he needn't-and he doesn't know!'

She exulted.

She could read plainly the duplicity in his face. She knew that he had done some wicked thing, and that all his life was a maze of more or less equivocal stratagems. But she was so used to the character of her husband that this aspect of the situation scarcely impressed her. It was her new active beneficent interference in John's affairs that seemed to occupy her thoughts.

'I told you I wouldn't say anything about Ethel's affair,' said John later, 'and I won't.' He was once more judicial and pompous. 'But, of course, you will look after it. I shall leave it to you to deal with. You'll have to be firm, you know.'

'Yes,' she said.

* * *

Not till after breakfast the next day did Leonora realise the utter repugnance with which she shrank from the mission to Uncle Meshach. She had declined to look the project fairly in the face, to examine her own feelings concerning it. She had said to herself when she awoke in the dark: 'It is nothing. It is a mere business matter. It isn't like begging.' But the idea, the absurd indefensible idea, of its similarity to begging was precisely what troubled her as the moment approached for setting forth. She pondered, too, upon the intolerable fact that such a request as she was about to prefer to Uncle Meshach was a tacit admission that John, with all his ostentations, had at last come to the end of the tether. She felt that she was a living part of John's meretriciousness. She had the fancy that she should have dressed for the occasion in rusty black. Was it not somehow shameful that she, a suppliant for financial aid, should outrage the ugly modesty of the little parlour in Church Street by the arrogant and expensive perfection of her beautiful skirt and street attire?

Moreover, she would fail.

The morning was fine, and with infantile pusillanimity she began to hope that Uncle Meshach would be taking his walks abroad. In order to give him every chance of being out she delayed her departure, upon one domestic excuse or another, for quite half an hour. 'How silly I am!' she reflected. But she could not help it, and when she had started down the hill towards Bursley she felt sick. She had a suspicion that her feet might of their own accord turn into a by-road and lead her away from Uncl

e Meshach's. 'I shall never get there!' she exclaimed. She called at the fishmonger's in Oldcastle Street, and was delighted because the shop was full of customers and she had to wait. At last she was crossing St. Luke's Square and could distinguish Uncle Meshach's doorway with its antique fanlight. She wished to stop, to turn back, to run, but her traitorous feet were inexorable. They carried her an unwilling victim to the house. Uncle Meshach, by some strange accident, was standing at the window and saw her. 'Ah!' she thought, 'if he had not been at the window, if he had not caught sight of me, I should have walked past!' And that chance of escape seemed like a lost bliss.

Uncle Meshach himself opened the door.

'Come in, lass,' he said, looking her up and down through his glasses. 'You're the prettiest thing I've seen since I saw ye last. Your aunt's out, with the servant too; and I'm left here same as a dog on the chain. That's how they leave me.'

She was thankful that Aunt Hannah was out: that made the affair simpler.

'Well, uncle,' she said, 'I haven't seen you since you came back from the Isle of Man, have I?'

Some inspiration lent her a courage which rose far beyond embarrassment. She saw at once that the old man was enchanted to have her in the house alone, and flattered by the apparatus of feminine elegance which she always displayed for him at its fullest. These two had a sort of cult for each other, a secret sympathy, none the less sincere because it seldom found expression. His pale blue eyes, warmed by her presence, said: 'I'm an old man, and I've seen the world, and I keep a few of my ideas to myself. But you know that no one understands a pretty woman better than I do. A glance is enough.' And in reply to this challenge she gave the rein to her profoundest instincts. She played the simple feminine to his masculine. She dared to be the eternal beauty who rules men, and will ever rule them, they know not why.

'My lass,' he said in a tone that granted all requests in advance, after they had talked a while, 'you're after something.'

His wrinkled features, ironic but benevolent, intimated that he knew she wished to take an unfair advantage of the gifts which Nature had bestowed on her, and that he did not object.

She allowed herself to smile mysteriously, provocatively at him.

'Yes,' she admitted frankly, 'I am.'

'Well?' He waited indulgently for the disclosure.

She paused a moment, smiling steadily at him. The contrast of his wizened age made her feel deliciously girlish.

'It's about my house, at Hillport,' she began with assurance. 'I want you--'

And she told him, with no more than a sufficiency of detail, what she wanted. She did not try to conceal that the aim was to help John, that, in crude fact, it was John who needed the money. But she emphasised 'my house,' and 'I want you to lend me.' The thing was well done, and she knew it was well done, and felt satisfied accordingly. As for Meshach, he was decidedly caught unawares. He might, perhaps, have suspected from the beginning that she was only an emissary of John's, but the form and magnitude of her proposal were a violent surprise to him. He hesitated. She could see clearly that he sought reasons by which to justify himself in acquiescence.

'It's your affair?' he questioned meditatively.

'Quite my own,' she assured him.

'Let me see--'

'I shall get it!' she said to herself, and she was astounded at the felicitous event of the enterprise. She could scarcely believe her good luck, but she knew beyond any doubt that she was not mistaken in the signs of Meshach's demeanour. She thought she might even venture to ask him for an explanation of his warning letter about Arthur Twemlow.

At that moment Aunt Hannah and the middle-aged servant re-entered the house, and the servant had to pass through the parlour to reach the kitchen. The atmosphere which Meshach and Leonora had evolved in solitude from their respective individualities was dissipated instantly. The parlour became nothing but the parlour, with its glass partition, its antimacassars, its Meshach by the hob, and its diminutive Hannah uttering fatuous, affectionate exclamations of pleasure.

Leonora's heart was pierced by a sudden stab of doubt, as she waited for the result.

'Sister,' said Meshach, 'what dost think? Here's your nephew been speculating in stocks and shares till he can't hardly turn round--'

'Uncle!' Leonora exclaimed horrified, 'I never said such a thing!'

'Sh!' said Hannah in an awful whisper, as she shut the kitchen door.

'Till he can't hardly turn round,' Meshach continued; 'and now he wants Leonora here to mortgage her house to get him out of his difficulties. Haven't I always told you as John would find himself in a rare fix one of these days?'

Few human beings could dominate another more completely than Meshach dominated his sister. But here, for Leonora's undoing, was just a case where, without knowing it, Hannah influenced her brother. He had a reputation to keep up with Hannah, a great and terrible reputation, and in several ways a loan by him through Leonora to John would have damaged it. A few minutes later, and he would have been committed both to the loan and to the demonstration of his own consistency in the humble eyes of Hannah; but the old spinster had arrived too soon. The spell was broken. Meshach perceived the danger of his position, and retired.

'Nay, nay!' Hannah protested. 'That's very wrong of John. Eh, this speculation!'

'But, really, uncle,' Leonora said as convincingly as she could. 'It's capital that John wants.'

She saw that all was lost.

'Capital!' Meshach sarcastically flouted the word, and he turned with a dubious benevolence to Leonora. 'No, my lass, it isn't,' he said, pausing. 'John'll get out of this mess as he's gotten out of many another. Trust him. He's your husband, and he's in the family, and I'm saying nothing against him. But trust him for that.'

'No,' Hannah inserted, 'John's always been a good nephew.... If it wasn't--'

Meshach quelled her and proceeded: 'I'll none consent to John raising money on your property. It's not right, lass. Happen this'll be a lesson to him, if anything will be.'

'Five hundred would do,' Leonora murmured with mad foolishness.

Of what use to chronicle the dreadful shame which she endured before she could leave the house, she who for a quarter of an hour had been a queen there, and who left as the pitied wife of a wastrel nephew?

'You're not short, my dear?' Hannah asked at the end in an anxious voice.

'Not he!' Uncle Meshach testily ejaculated, fastening the button of that droll necktie of his.

'Oh dear no!' said Leonora, with such dignity as she could assume.

As she walked home she wondered what 'speculation' really was. She could not have defined the word. She possessed but a vague idea of its meaning. She had long apprehended, ignorantly and indifferently and uneasily, that John was in the habit of tampering with dangerous things called stocks and shares. But never before had the vital import of these secret transactions been revealed to her. The dramatic swiftness of the revelation stunned her, and yet it seemed after all that she only knew now what she had always known.

When she reached home John was already in the hall, taking off his overcoat, though the hour of one had not struck. Was this a coincidence, or had he been unable to control his desire to learn what she had done?

In silence she smiled plaintively at him, shaking her head.

'What do you mean?' he asked harshly.

'I couldn't arrange it,' she said. 'Uncle Meshach refused.'

John gave a scarcely perceptible start. 'Oh! That!' he exclaimed. 'That's all right. I've fixed it up.'

'This morning?'

'Eh? Yes, this morning.'

During dinner he showed a certain careless amiability.

'You needn't go to the works any more to-day,' he said to Ethel.

To celebrate this unexpected half-holiday, Ethel and Millicent decided that they would try to collect a scratch team for some hockey practice in the meadow.

'And, mother, you must come,' said Millicent. 'You'll make one more anyway.'

'Yes,' John agreed, 'it will do your mother good.'

'He will never know, and never guess, and never care, what I have been through!' she thought.

Before leaving for the works John helped the girls to choose some sticks.

When he reached his office, the first thing he did was to build up a good fire. Next he looked into the safe. Then he rang the bell, and Fred Ryley responded to the summons.

This family connection, whom he both hated and trusted, was a rather thickset, very neatly dressed man of twenty-three, who had been mature, serious, and responsible for eight years. His fair, grave face, with its short thin beard, showed plainly his leading qualities of industry, order, conscientiousness, and doggedness. It showed, too, his mild benevolence. Ryley was never late, never neglectful, never wrong; he never wasted an hour either of his own or his employer's time. And yet his colleagues liked him, perhaps because he was unobtrusive and good-natured. At the beginning of each year he laid down a programme for himself, and he was incapable of swerving from it. Already he had acquired a thorough knowledge of both the manufacturing and the business sides of earthenware manufacture, and also he was one of the few men, at that period, who had systematically studied the chemistry of potting. He could not fail to 'get on,' and to win universal respect. His chances of a truly striking success would have been greater had he possessed imagination, humour, or any sort of personal distinction. In appearance, he was common, insignificant; to be appreciated, he 'wanted knowing'; but he was extremely sensitive and proud, and he could resent an affront like a Gascon. He had apparently no humour whatever. The sole spark of romance in him had been fanned into a small steady flame by his passion for Ethel. Ryley was a man who could only love once for all.

'Did you find that private ledger for me out of the old safe?' Stanway demanded.

'Yes,' said Ryley, 'and I put it in your safe, at the front, and gave you the key back this morning.'

'I don't see it there,' Stanway retorted.

'Shall I look?' Ryley suggested quietly, approaching the safe, of which the key was in the lock.

'Never mind, now! Never mind, now!' Stanway stopped him. 'I don't want to be bothered now. Later on in the afternoon, before Mr. Twemlow comes.... Did you write and ask him to call at four thirty?'

'Yes,' said Ryley, departing without a sign on his face, the model clerk.

'Fool!' whispered Stanway. It would have been impossible for Ryley to breathe without irritating his employer, and the fact that his plebeian cousin's son was probably the most reliable underling to be got in the Five Towns did not in the slightest degree lessen Stanway's dislike of him; it increased it.

Stanway had been perfectly aware that the little ledger was in his safe, and as soon as Ryley had shut the door he jumped up, unlatched the safe, removed the book, and after tearing it in two stuck first one half and then the other into the midst of the fire.

'That ends it, anyhow!' he thought, when the leaves were consumed.

Then he selected some books of cheque counterfoils, a number of prospectuses of companies, some share certificates (exasperating relic of what rich dreams!), and a lot of letters. All these he burnt with much neatness and care, putting more coal on the fire so as to hide every trace of their destruction. Then he opened a drawer in the desk, and took out a revolver which he unloaded and loaded again.

'I'm pretty cool,' he flattered himself.

He was the sort of flamboyant man who keeps a loaded revolver in obedience to the theory that a loaded revolver is a necessary and proper part of the true male's outfit, like a gold watch and chain, a gold pencil case, a razor for every day in the week, and a cigar-holder with a bit of good amber to it. He had owned that revolver for years, with no thought of utilising the weapon. But in justice to him, it must be said that when any of his contemporaries-Titus Price, for instance-had made use of revolvers or ropes in a particular way, he had always secretly justified and commended them.

He put the revolver in his hip-pocket, the correct location, and donned his 'works' hat. He did not reflect. Memories of his past life did not occur to him, nor visions of that which was to come. He did not feel solemn. On the contrary he felt cross with everyone, and determined to pay everyone out; in particular he was vexed, in a mean childish way, with Uncle Meshach, and with himself for having fancied for a moment that an appeal to Uncle Meshach could be successful. One other idea struck him forcibly by reason of its strangeness: namely, that the works was proceeding exactly as usual, raw material always coming in, finished goods always going out, the various shops hot and murmurous with toil, money tinkling in the petty cash-box, the very engine beneath his floor beating its customary monotonous stroke; and his comfortable home was proceeding exactly as usual, the man hissing about the stable yard, the servants discreetly moving in the immaculate kitchens, Leonora elegant with sovereigns in her purse, the girls chattering and restless; not a single outward sign of disaster; and yet he was at the end, absolutely at the end at last. There was going to be a magnificent and unparalleled sensation in the town of Bursley ... He seemed for an instant dimly to perceive ways, or incomplete portions of ways, by which he might still escape ... Then with a brusque gesture he dismissed such futile scheming and yielded anew to the impulse which had suddenly and piquantly seized him, three hours before, when Leonora said: 'Uncle Meshach won't,' and he replied, 'I've fixed it up.' His dilemma was too complicated. No one, not even Dain, was aware of its intricacies; Dain knew a lot, Leonora a little, and sundry other persons odd fragments. But he himself could scarcely have drawn the outlines of the whole sinister situation without much reference to books and correspondence. No, he had finished. He was bored, and he was irritable. The impulse hurried him on.

'In half an hour that ass Twemlow will be here,' he thought, looking at the office dial over the mantelpiece.

And then he left his room, calling out to the clerks' room as he passed: 'Just going on to the bank. I shall be back in a minute or two.'

At the south-western corner of the works was a disused enamel-kiln which had been built experimentally and had proved a failure. He walked through the yard, crept with some difficulty into the kiln, and closed the iron door. A pale silver light came down the open chimney. He had decided as he crossed the yard that he should place the mouth of the revolver between his eyes, so that he had nothing to do in the kiln but to put it there and touch the trigger. The idea of this simple action preoccupied him. 'Yes,' he reflected, taking the revolver from his pocket, 'that is where I must put it, and then just touch the trigger.' He thought neither of his family, nor of his sins, nor of the grand fiasco, but solely of this physical action. Then, as he raised the revolver, the fear troubled him that he had not burnt a particular letter from a Jew in London, received on the previous day. 'Of course I burnt it,' he assured himself. 'Did I, though?' He felt that a mysterious volition over which he had no control would force him to return to his office in order to make sure. He gave a weary curse at the prospect of having to put back the revolver, leave the kiln, enter the kiln again, and once more raise the revolver.

As he passed by the archway near the packing house the afternoon postman appeared and gave him a letter. Without thinking he halted on the spot and opened it. It was written in haste, and ran: 'My Dear Stanway,-I am called away to London and may have to sail for New York at once. Sorry to have to break the appointment. We must leave that affair over. In any case it could only be a mere matter of form. As I told you, I was simply acting on behalf of my sister. My kindest regards to your wife and your daughters. Believe me, yours very truly,-ARTHUR TWEMLOW.'

He read the letter a second time in his office, standing up against the shut door. Then his eye wandered to the desk and he saw that an envelope had been placed with mathematical exactitude in the middle of his blotting-pad. 'Ryley!' he thought. This other letter was marked private, and as the envelope said 'John Stanway, Esq.,' without an address, it must have been brought by special messenger. It was from David Dain, and stated that the difficulty as to the title of the house had been settled, that the mortgage would be sent in for Mrs. Stanway to sign that night, and that Stanway might safely draw against the money to-morrow.

'My God!' he exclaimed, pushing his hat back from his brow. 'What a chance!'

In five minutes he was drawing cheques, and simultaneously planning how to get over the disappearance of the old private ledger in case Twemlow should after all, at some future date, ask to see original documents.

'What a chance!' The thought ran round and round in his brain.

As he left the works by the canal side, he paused under Shawport Bridge and furtively dropped the revolver into the water. 'That's done with!' he murmured.

He saw now that his preparations for departure, which at the moment he had deemed to be so well designed and so effective, were after all ridiculous. No amount of combustion could have prevented the disclosure at an inquest of the ignominious facts.

* * *

During tea he laughed loudly at Milly's descriptions of the hockey match, which had been a great success. Leonora had kept goal with distinction, and admitted that she rather enjoyed the game.

'So it is arranged?' said Leonora, with a hint of involuntary surprise, when he handed her the mortgage to sign.

'Didn't I tell you so this morning?' he answered loftily. There is always a despicable joy in resuscitating a lie which events have changed into a truth.

He insisted on retiring early that night. In the bedroom he remarked: 'Your friend Twemlow's had to go to London to-day, and may return straight from there to New York. I had a note from him. He sent you his kindest regards and all that sort of thing.'

'Then we mayn't see him again?' she said, delicately fingering her hair in front of the pier-glass.

* * *

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