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A walk with consequences.
Clare had been in the bank more than a year, and not yet had Mr. Shotover discovered why he did not quite trust him. Had Clare known he did not, he would have wondered that he trusted him with such a precious thing as his little Ann. But was his child very precious to Mr. Shotover? When a man's heart is in his business, that is, when he is set on making money, some precious things are not so precious to him as they might be--among the rest, the living God and the man's own life. He would pass Clare and the child without even a nod to indicate approval, or a smile for the small woman. He had, I presume, sufficient regard for the inoffensive little thing to be content she should be happy, therefore did not interfere with what his clerks counted so little to the honour of the bank. But although, as I have said, he still doubted Clare, true eyes in whatever head must have perceived that the child was in charge of an angel. The countenance of Clare with Ann in his arms, was so peaceful, so radiant of simple satisfaction, that surely there were some in that large town who, seeing them, thought of the angels that do alway behold the face of the Father in heaven.
One evening in the early summer, when they had resumed their walks after five o'clock, they saw, in a waste place, where houses had been going to be built for the last two years, a number of caravans drawn up in order.
A rush of hope filled the heart of Clare: what if it should be the menagerie he knew so well! And, sure enough, there was Mr. Halliwell superintending operations! But if Glum Gunn were about, he might find it awkward with the child in his arms! Gunn might not respect even her! Besides he ought to ask leave to take her! He would carry her home first, and come again to see his third mother and all his old friends, with Pummy and the lion and the rest of the creatures.
Little Ann was eager to know what those curious houses on wheels were. Clare told her they were like her Noah's ark, full of beasts, only real, live beasts, not beasts made of bits of stick. She became at once eager to see them--the more eager that her contempt of things like life that wouldn't come alive had been growing stronger ever since she threw her doll out of the window. Clare told her he could not take her without first asking leave. This puzzled her: Clare was her highest authority.
"But if you take me?" she said.
"Your papa and mamma might not like me to take you."
"But I'm yours!"
"Yes, you're mine--but not so much," he added with a sigh, "as theirs!"
"Ain't I?" she rejoined, in a tone of protesting astonishment mingled with grief, and began to wriggle, wanting to get down.
Clare set her down, and would have held her, as usual, by the hand, but she would not let him. She stood with her eyes on the ground, and her little gray face looking like stone. It frightened Clare, and he remained a moment silent, reviewing the situation.
"You see, little one," he said at length, "you were theirs before I came! You were sent to them. You are their own little girl, and we must mind what they would like!"
"It was only till you came!" she argued. "They don't care very much for me. Ask them, please, to sell me to you. I don't think they would want much money for me! How many shillings do you think I am worth, Clare? Not many, I hope!--Six?"
"You are worth more than all the money in your papa's bank," answered Clare, looking down at her lovingly.
The child's face fell.
"Am I?" she said. "I'm so sorry! I didn't know I was worth so much!--and not yours!" she added, with a sigh that seemed to come from the very heart of her being. "Then you're not able to buy me?"
"No, indeed, little one!" answered Clare. "Besides, papas don't sell their little girls!"
"Oh, yes, they do! Gus said so to Trudie!" Clare knew that Trudie meant her sister Gertrude.
"Who is Gus?" he asked.
"Trudie calls him Gus. I don't know more name to him. Perhaps they call him something else in the bank."
"Oh! he's in the bank, is he?" returned Clare. "Then I think I know him."
"He said it to her one night in my nursery. Jane went down; I was in my crib. They talked such a long time! I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn't. I heard all what he said to her. It wasn't half so nice as what you talk to me!"
This was not pleasant news to Clare. Augustus Marway was, if half the tales of him were true, no fit person for his master's daughter to be intimate with! He had once heard Mr. Shotover speak about gambling in such terms of disapprobation as he had never heard him use about anything else; and it was well known in the bank that Marway was in the company of gamblers almost every night. He was so troubled, that at first he wished the child had not told him. For what was he to do? Could it be right to let the thing go on? Clare felt sure Mr. Shotover either did not know that Marway gambled, or did not know that he talked in the nursery with his daughter. But, alas, he could do nothing without telling, and they all said none but the lowest of cads would carry tales! For the young men thought it the part of gentlemen to stick by each other, and hide from Mr. Shotover some things he had a right to know. But Clare saw that, whatever they might think, he must act in the matter. Little Ann wondered that he scarcely spoke to her all the way home. But she did not say anything, for she too was troubled: she did not belong to Clare so much as she had thought she did!
Clare reflected also as he went, how much he owed Ann's sister for letting him have the little one. She had always spoken to him kindly too, and never seemed, like the clerks, to look down upon him because he had been a page-boy--though, he thought, if they were to be as often hungry as he had been, they would be glad to be page-boys themselves! For himself, he liked to be a page-boy! He would do anything for Miss Tempest! And he must do what he could for Miss Shotover! It would be wicked to let her marry a man that was wicked! He had himself seen him drunk! Would it be fair, knowing she did not know, not to tell? Would it not be helping to hurt her? Was he to be a coward and fear being called bad names? Was he, for the sake of the good opinion of rascals, to take care of the rascal, and let the lady take care of herself? There was this difficulty, however, that he could assert nothing beyond having seen him drunk!
He carried Ann to the nursery, and set out for the menagerie. When he knocked at the door of the house-caravan, Mrs. Halliwell opened it, stared hardly an instant, threw her arms round his neck, and kissed him.
"Come in, come in, my boy!" she said. "It makes me a happy woman to see you again. I've been just miserable over what might have befallen you, and me with all that money of yours! I've got it by me safe, ready for you! I lie awake nights and fancy Gunn has got hold of you, and made away with you; then fall asleep and am sure of it. He's been gone several times, a looking for you, I know! I think he's afraid of you; I know he hates you. Mind you keep out of his sight; he'll do you a mischief if he has the chance. He's the same as ever, a man to make life miserable."
"I've never done him wrong," said Clare, "and I'm not going to keep out of his way as if I were afraid of him! I mean to come and see the animals to-morrow."
A great deal more passed between them. They had their tea together. Mr. Halliwell, who did not care for tea, came and went several times, and now the night was dark. Then they spoke again of Gunn.
"Well, I don't think he'll venture to interfere with you," said Mrs. Halliwell, "except he happens to be drunk.--But what's that talking? We're all quiet for the night. Listen."
For some time Clare had been conscious of the whispered sounds of a dialogue somewhere near, but had paid no attention. The voices were now plainer than at first When his mother told him to listen, he did, and thought he had heard one of them before. It was peculiar--that of an old Jew whom he had seen several times at the bank. As the talking went on, he began to think he knew the other voice also. It was that of Augustus Marway. The two fancied themselves against a caravan full of wild beasts.
Marway was the son of the port-admiral, who, late in life, married a silly woman. She died young, but not before she had ruined her son, whose choice company was the least respectable of the officers who came ashore from the king's ships.
He had of late been playing deeper and having worse luck; and had borrowed until no one would lend him a single sovereign more. His father knew, in a vague way, how he was going on, and had nearly lost hope of his reformation. Having yet large remains of a fine physical constitution, he seldom failed to appear at the bank in the morning--if not quite in time, yet within the margin of lateness that escaped rebuke. Mr. Shotover was a connection by marriage, which gave Marway the privilege of being regarded by Miss Shotover as a cousin--a privilege with desirable possibilities contingent, making him anxious to retain the good opinion of his employer.
Clare heard but a portion here and there of the conversation going on outside the wooden wall; but it was plain nevertheless that Marway was pressing a creditor to leave him alone until he was married, when he would pay every shilling he owed him.
The young fellow had a persuasive tongue, and boasted he could get the better of even a Jew. Clare heard the money-lender grant him a renewal for three months, when, if Marway did not pay, or were not the accepted suitor of the lady whose fortune was to redeem him, his creditor would take his course.
The moment he perceived they were about to part, Clare hastened from the caravan, and went along the edge of the waste ground, so as to meet Marway on his road back to the town: at the corner of it they came jump together. Marway started when Clare addressed him. Seeing, then, who claimed his attention, he drew himself up.
"Well?" he said.
"Mr. Marway," began Clare, "I heard a great deal of what passed between you and old Lewin."
Marway used worse than vulgar language at times, and he did so now, ending with the words,
"A spy! a sneaking spy! Would you like to lick my boot? By Jove, you shall know the taste of it!"
"Nobody minds being overheard who hasn't something to conceal! If I had low secrets I would not stand up against the side of a caravan when I wanted to talk about them. I was inside. Not to hear you I should have had to stop my ears."
"Why didn't you, then, you low-bred flunkey?"
"Because I had heard of you what made it my duty to listen."
Marway cursed his insolence, and asked what he was doing in such a place. He would report him, he said.
"What I was doing is my business," answered Clare. "Had I known you for an honest man I would not have listened to yours. I should have had no right."
"You tell me to my face I'm a swindler!" said Marway between his teeth, letting out a blow at Clare, which he cleverly dodged.
"I don't know what you mean, but bitterly shall you repent your insolence, you prying rascal! This is your sweet revenge for a blow you had not the courage to return!--to dog me and get hold of my affairs! You cur! You're going to turn informer next, of course, and bear false witness against your neighbour! You shall repent it, I swear!"
"Will it be bearing false witness to say that Miss Shotover does not know the sort of man who wants to marry her? Does she know why he wants to marry her? Does her father know that you are in the clutches of a money-lender?"
Marway caught hold of Clare and threatened to kill him. Clare did not flinch, and he calmed down a little.
"What do you want to square it?" he growled.
"I don't understand you," returned Clare.
"What's the size of your tongue-plaster?"
"I don't know much slang."
"What bribe will silence you then? I hope that is plain enough--even for your comprehension!"
"If I had meant to hold my tongue, I should have held it."
"What do you want, then?"
"To keep you from marrying Miss Shotover."
"By Jove! And suppose I kick you into the gutter, and tell you to mind your own business--what then?"
"I will tell either your father or Mr. Shotover all about it."
"Even you can't be such a fool! What good would it do you? You're not after her yourself, are you?--Ha! ha!--that's it! I didn't nose that!--But come, hang it! where's the use?--I'll give you four flimsies--there! Twenty pounds, you idiot! There!"
"Mr. Marway, nothing will make me hold my tongue--not even your promise to drop the thing."
"Then what made you come and cheek me? Impudence?"
"Not at all! I should have been glad enough not to have to do it! I came to you for my own sake."
"That of course!"
"I came because I would do nothing underhand!"
"What are you going to do next, then?"
"I am going to tell Mr. Shotover, or Admiral Marway--I haven't yet made up my mind which."
"What are you going to tell them?"
"That old Lewin has given you three months to get engaged to Miss Shotover, or take the consequences of not being able to pay what you owe him."
"And you don't count it underhand to carry such a tale?"
"I do not. It would have been if I hadn't told you first. I would tell Miss Shotover, only, if she be anything of a girl, she wouldn't believe me."
"I should think not! Come, come, be reasonable! I always thought you a good sort of fellow, though I was rough on you, I confess. There! take the money, and leave me my chance."
"No. I will save the lady if I can. She shall at least know the sort of man you are."
"Then it's war to the knife, is it?"
"I mean to tell the truth about you."
"Then do your worst. You shall black my boots again."
"If I do, I shall have the penny first."
"You cringing flunkey!"
"I haven't cringed to you, Mr. Marway!"
Marway tried to kick him, failed, and strode into the dark between him and the lamps of the town.
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