In a room in the west of London--a room full of pictures and brie-a-brac, of quaint and luxurious furniture, with volumes abundant, with a piano in a shadowed corner, a violin and a mandoline laid carelessly aside--two men sat facing each other, their looks expressive of anything but mutual confidence. The one (he wore an overcoat, and had muddy boots) was past middle age, bald, round-shouldered, dressed like a country gentleman; upon his knees lay a small hand-bag, which he seemed about to open, He leaned forward with a face of stern reproach, and put a short, sharp question:
"Then why haven't I heard from you since my nephew's death?"
The other was not ready with a reply. Younger, and more fashionably attired, he had assumed a lounging attitude which seemed natural to him, though it served also to indicate a mood of resentful superiority. His figure was slight, and not ungraceful; his features --pale, thin, with heavy nose, high forehead--were intellectual and noteworthy, but lacked charm.
"I have been abroad till quite recently," he said at length, his fine accent contrasting with that of the questioner, which had a provincial note. "Why did you expect me to communicate with you?"
"Don't disgrace yourself by speaking in that way, Mr. Glazzard!" exclaimed the other, his voice uncertain with strong, angry feeling. "You know quite well why I have come here, and why you ought to have seen me long ago!"
Thereupon he opened the bag and took out a manuscript-book.
"I found this only the other day among Harry's odds and ends. It's a diary that he kept. Will you explain to me the meaning of this entry, dated in June of last year: 'Lent E. G. a hundred pounds'?"
Glazzard made no answer, but his self-command was not sufficient to check a quivering of the lips.
"There can be no doubt who these initials refer to. Throughout, ever since my nephew's intimacy with you began, you are mentioned here as 'E. G.' Please to explain another entry, dated August: 'Lent E. G. two hundred pounds.' And then again, February of this year: 'Lent E. G. a hundred and fifty pounds'--and yet again, three months later: 'Lent E. G. a hundred pounds'--what is the meaning of all this?"
"The meaning, Mr. Charnock," replied Glazzard, "is indisputable."
"You astound me!" cried the elder man, shutting up the diary and straightening himself to an attitude of indignation. "Am I to understand, then, that this is the reason why Harry left no money? You mean to say you have allowed his relatives to believe that he had wasted a large sum, whilst they supposed that he was studying soberly in London"----
"If you are astounded," returned the other, raising his eyebrows, "I certainly am no less so. As your nephew made note of these lendings, wasn't he equally careful to jot down a memorandum when the debt was discharged?"
Mr. Charnock regarded him fixedly, and for a moment seemed in doubt.
"You paid back these sums?"
"With what kind of action did you credit me?" said Glazzard, quietly.
The other hesitated, but wore no less stern a look.
"I am obliged to declare, Mr. Glazzard, that I can't trust your word. That's a very strong thing to have to say to a man such as I have thought you--a man of whom Harry always spoke as if there wasn't his like on earth. My acquaintance with you is very slight; I know very little indeed about you, except what Harry told me. But the man who could deliberately borrow hundreds of pounds from a lad only just of age--a simple, trustful, good-natured country lad, who had little but his own exertions to depend upon--such a man will tell a lie to screen himself! This money was not paid back; there isn't a word about it in the diary, and there's the fact that Harry had got rid of his money in a way no one could explain. You had it, and you have kept it, sir!"
Glazzard let his eyes stray about the room. He uncrossed his legs, tapped on the arm of his easy-chair, and said at length:
"I have no liking for violence, and I shall try to keep my temper. Please to tell me the date of the last entry in that journal."
Mr. Charnock opened the book again, and replied at once:
"June 5th of this year--1879."
"I see. Allow me a moment." He unlocked a drawer in a writing-table, and referred to some paper. "On the 1st of June--we were together the whole day--I paid your nephew five hundred and fifty pounds in bank-notes. Please refer to the diary."
"You were together on that day, but there is no note of such a transaction. 'With E. G. Much talk about pictures, books, and music --delightful!' That's all."
"Have you added up the sums mentioned previously?"
"Yes. They come to what you say. How did it happen, Mr. Glazzard, that you had so large a sum in bank-notes? It isn't usual."
"It is not unheard of, Mr. Charnock, with men who sometimes play for money."
"What! Then you mean to tell me that Harry learnt from you to be a gambler?"
"Certainly not. He never had the least suspicion that I played."
"And pray, what became of those notes after he received them?"
"I have no idea. For anything I know, you may still find the money."
Mr. Charnock rose from his seat.
"I see," he said, "that we needn't talk any longer. I don't believe your story, and there's an end of it. The fact of your borrowing was utterly disgraceful; it shows me that the poor boy had fallen in a trap, instead of meeting with a friend who was likely to guide and improve him. You confess yourself a gambler, and I go away with the conviction that you are something yet worse."
Glazzard set his lips hard, but fell back into the lounging attitude.
"The matter doesn't end here," went on his accuser, "be sure of that! I shall light upon evidence sooner or later. Do you know, sir, that Harry had a sister, and that she earns her own living by giving lessons? You have robbed her--think it over at your leisure. Why, less than a fortnight after that day you and he spent together-- the 1st of June--the lad lay dying; yet you could deliberately plan to rob him. Your denial is utterly vain; I would pledge my life on the charge! I read guilt in your face when I entered--you were afraid of me, Mr. Glazzard! I understand now why you never came to see the lad on his death-bed, though he sent for you--and of course I know why he was anxious to speak to you. Oh, you have plenty of plausible excuses, but they are lies! You felt pretty sure, I dare say, that the lad would not betray you; you knew his fine sense of honour; you calculated upon it. All your conduct is of a piece!"
"Mr. Charnock, please to leave me.--I oughtn't to have borrowed that money; but having paid it back, I can't submit to any more of your abuse. My patience has its limits."
"I am no brawler," replied the other, "and I can do no good by talking to you. But if ever I come across any of your acquaintances, they shall know, very plainly, what opinion I have of you. Prosecute me for slander, Mr. Glazzard, if you dare--I desire nothing better!"
And Mr. Charnock went hurriedly from the room.
For several minutes Glazzard kept the same attitude, his eyes fixed on the floor, one hand behind his back, the other thrust into his waistcoat. Then he uttered an inarticulate exclamation, and walked with hurried, jerky step across the room; his facial muscles quivered ceaselessly, distorting the features into all manner of grotesque and ugly expressions. Again the harsh sound escaped him, and again he changed his place as though impelled by a sudden pain. It was a long time before he took a seat; on doing so, he threw up his feet, and rested them against the side of the fireplace. His hands were thrust into his trouser-pockets, and his head fell back, so that he stared at the ceiling. At one moment he gave out a short mocking laugh, but no look of mirth followed the explosion. Little by little he grew motionless, and sat with closed eyes.
From the walls about him looked down many a sweet and noble countenance, such as should have made the room a temple of serenity. Nowhere was there a token of vulgar sensualism; the actress, the ballet-nymph had no place among these chosen gems of art. On the dwarf book-cases were none but works of pure inspiration, the best of old and new, the kings of intellect and their gentlest courtiers. Fifteen years had gone to the adorning of this sanctuary; of money, no great sum, for Glazzard had never commanded more than his younger-brother's portion of a yearly five hundred pounds, and all his tastes were far from being represented in the retreat where he spent his hours of highest enjoyment and endeavour. Of late he had been beset by embarrassments which a man of his stamp could ill endure: depreciation of investments, need of sordid calculation, humiliating encounters. To-day he tasted the very dregs of ignoble anguish, and it seemed to him that he should never again look with delight upon a picture, or feast his soul with music, or care to open a book.
A knock at the door aroused him. It was a civil-tongued serving-woman who came to ask if he purposed having luncheon at home to-day. No; he was on the point of going forth.
Big Ben was striking twelve. At a quarter-past, Glazzard took a cab which conveyed him to one of the Inns of Court. He ascended stairs, and reached a door on which was inscribed the name of Mr. Stark, Solicitor. An office-boy at once admitted him to the innermost room, where he was greeted with much friendliness by a short, stout man, with gleaming visage, full lips, chubby hands.
"Well, what is it now?" inquired the visitor, who had been summoned hither by a note that morning.
Mr. Stark, with an air of solemnity not wholly jocose, took his friend's arm and led him to a corner of the room, where, resting against a chair-back, was a small ill-framed oil painting.
"What have you to say to that?"
"The ugliest thing I've seen for a long time."
"But--but--" the solicitor stammered, with indignant eagerness-- "but do know whose it is?"
The picture represented a bit of country road, with a dung-heap, a duck-pond, a pig asleep, and some barn-door fowls.
"I know whose you think it is," replied Glazzard, coldly. His face still had an unhealthy pallor, and his eyes looked as if they had but just opened after the oppression of nightmare. "But it isn't."
"Come, come, Glazzard! you are too dictatorial, my boy."
Mr. Stark kept turning a heavy ring upon his finger, showing in face and tone that the connoisseur s dogmatism troubled him more than he wished to have it thought.
"Winterbottom warrants it," he added, with a triumphant jerk of his plump body.
"Then Winterbottom is either cheating or cheated. That is no Morland; take my word for it. Was that all you wanted me for?"
Mr. Stark's good-nature was severely tried. Mental suffering had made Glazzard worse than impolite; his familiar tone of authority on questions of art had become too frankly contemptuous.
"You're out of sorts this morning," conjectured his legal friend. "Let Morland be for the present. I had another reason for asking you to call, but don't stay unless you like."
Glazzard looked round the office.
"Well?" he asked, more gently.
"Quarrier tells me you are going down to Polterham. Any special reason?"
"Yes. But I can't talk about it."
"I was down there myself last Sunday. I talked politics with the local wiseacres, and--do you know, it has made me think of you ever since?"
Mr. Stark consulted his watch.
"I'm at leisure for just nineteen minutes. If you care to sit down, I have an idea I should like to put before you."
The visitor seated himself and crossed his legs. His countenance gave small promise of attention.
"You know," resumed Mr. Stark, leaning forward and twiddling his thumbs, "that they're hoping to get rid of Welwyn-Baker at the next election?"
"What of that?"
"Toby Liversedge talks of coming forward--but that won't do."
The solicitor bent still more and tapped his friend's knee.
"Glazzard, here is your moment. Here is your chance of getting what you want. Liversedge is reluctant to stand; I know that for certain. To a more promising man he'll yield with pleasure.--St! st! listen to me!--you are that man. Go down; see Toby; see the wiseacres and wire-pullers; get your name in vogue! It's cut out for you. Act now, or never again pretend that you want a chance."
A smile of disdain settled upon Glazzard's lips, but his eyes had lost their vacancy.
"On the Radical side?" he asked, mockingly. "For Manchester and Brummagem?"
"For Parliament, my dear boy! For Westminster, St. Stephen's, distinction, a career! I should perhaps have thought of your taking Welwyn-Baker's place, but there are many reasons against it. You would lose the support of your brother and all his friends. Above all, Polterham will go Liberal--mark my prediction!"
"I doubt it."
"I haven't time to give you all my reasons. Dine with me this evening, will you?"
"Can't. Engaged to Quarrier."
"All right!" said the latter. "To-morrow, then?"
"Yes, I will dine to-morrow."
Mr. Stark jumped up.
"Think of it. I can't talk longer now; there's the voice of a client I'm expecting. Eight sharp tomorrow!"
Glazzard took his leave.
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