served quietly, ' This does not alter my opinion, Nelly ; but I
suppose we must now act as you suggested.'
This was in reference to Nelly's proposal that they should con-
sult Mr. Wardlaw as to their affairs ; on the sale of their furniture,
and the realisation of what other little property they possessed ;
and generally upon the subject of their means of livelihood.
' Shall we go together, mamma ? '
' No, dear ; I think, as the Wardlaws are your friends rather
than mine, you had better go alone.'
Nelly knew very well that it was not to escape a disagreeable
conversation that her mother had thus deputed the matter to her,
but to be spared the humiliation of owning herself even by impli-
cation in the wrong. She could hardly consult upon arrangements
to be made in consequence of her husband's death, and yet main-
tain her theory that he was alive. So, after their slender midday
meal was over, Nelly, dressed in her deep black garb, and with the
grave slow step that only genuine grief can teach the young and
healthful, took her way to their friendly neighbours. It was now
nearly five weeks from the date of her father's death, and since
that tidings had been brought to them by Kaymond she had not
262 BY PROXY,
seen him. We may say at once that this was not his fault. He
had hesitated to intrude upon their calamity for the first few days,
and then had written to Mrs. Conway to ask leave to visit them.
She had declined to see him for the present, at the same time in-
timating that when they felt equal to a second interview she would
give him notice, and up to this time he had heard nothing further.
Mrs. Conway had penned her letter without consultation with her
daughter, or even letting her know that she had heard from Eay-
mond ; her distrust and hatred of Ealph Pennicuick were just then
so extreme, that they had almost extended to the young man him-
self ; his presence at all events would remind her of his father, and
was therefore unwelcome to her. But when Nelly had expressed
her quiet surprise at Eaymond's absence, Mrs. Conway did not con-
ceal the step she had taken, though she hid her two reasons for it.
' Since this man is coming back so soon, my dear, I think it wise to
keep Eaymond at a distance. There may be nothing â as you tell
me â but friendliness between you, but that Ealph Pennicuick will
never believe. I do not wish him to reproach us in our stricken
state with laying a trap to catch his boy.'
' Oh, mamma, how would it be possible for us â nay, for any-
body â to think of such things so soon ' Here she stopped,
remembering that her mother did not admit the premisses alluded
to, and half afraid that she should have angered her â as had been
more than once the case â by assuming them. But it was with
quiet calm that Mrs. Conway answered, ' You speak in ignorance,
Nelly â judging of others by your own standard. You are one
of those who think they see good in everybody when it is only the
reflection of their own proper feelings. To suppose that Ealph
Pennicuick would take such a small thing as his friend's death
A MAN OF BUSINESS. 263
into account, in ascribing a motive to our actions, shows a simple
faith indeed. He will find us in the dust, but let us not give him
an opportunity of treading us under foot.'
' Only do not let Raymond think us unkind,' pleaded Nelly.
' I care nothing what he thinks, nor what anybody thinks*
I â - ' then came the symptoms familiar to her daughter by this
time â the hand pressed upon the side, and the face of pain, and
the break of speech in its full tide.
' Everything shall be done as you please, dear mamma,' said
Nelly soothingly. ' Pray, pray, do not distress'yourself.'
And from that moment she had made no mention of Eaymond.
The motives that actuated her mother were unintelligible to her ;
it seemed to her inconsistent that a few weeks ago she should have
seemed to advocate her immediate marriage with her lover with-
out his father's consent, and that now, because Mr. Pennicuick
was coming home, she was to be even deprived of his son's friend-
ship. She did not understand that a middle course in relation
to Ealph Pennicuick was as impossible to her mother as it is to
the drunkard with respect to wine. She could keep him at a
distance and treat him with scom, or she could act in flat defiance
of him. But she could not be on such terms with him as would
give opportunity for patronage, or for the imputation of interested
No doubt the sense of separation from Eaymond made Nelly's
heart more heavy than it would have been ; but her thoughts for
the present were almost monopolised by her recent loss. The
errand on which she was now bound to Coromandel House was sad
and serious enough, but her calamity so outweighed the results of
it that she did not as yet realise them ; in her knowledge that she
264 BY PROXY
was bereaved she forgot that she might be also penniless. She
had timed her visit so as to find the master of the house at home^
without reference to the canonical hours for ' calling ; ' and expected,
as usual, to be at once ushered into the dining-room, to find Mr,
Wardlaw with a handkerchief cast decently over his face, as was his
custom after dessert, and his wife â knitting-needle in hand â keep-
ing guard over his slumbers.
Upon this occasion, however, she was shown into the library,
where perhaps was to be seen the very newest collection of books on
view anywhere ; for in London, literature â with the exception of
the catalogue of the auction marts â had been neglected by Mr,
Wardlaw, while in the country he had understood a library to be a
sine qua non^ and had provided himself with one well furnished,
and thirty feet by twenty in length, accordingly. In a few minutes
her hostess entered the room, with a face in which Nelly was quick
to read not only sympathy for her own case, but a personal trouble.
' My darling, this is indeed kind of you, and like the old times,'
she said. ' To keep aloof from one's true friends when misfortune
overtakes one is a bad plan ; but I know it is not your fault that
we have seen so little of one another lately ; and as for your
mother, I will say nothing more than that I am thankful that she
has let you come at last.'
' She has not only let me come, but sent me, Mrs. Wardlaw ;
though my visit is not, I confess, without a selfish object. I am
come to consult your husband about my poor father's affairs.'
'Very good ; he will be delighted to see you, and will give you,
I am sure, the best advice in his pov/er. We shall find him in
the drawing-room, and, I hope, awake.'
She led the way into the room in question, where at the
A MAN 01^ BUSINESS. 265,
dessert-table â Nelly noticed with surprise that it was laid for
three â sat Mr. Wardlaw, with a glass of spirits and water before
him, a beverage he much preferred to wine.
'Now sit down, my dear, and take an orange,' said he, pat-
ting Nelly's head as if she were a child ; ' you're as welcome
as nutmeg to punch in this house, and always will be ; how's
your ma ? '
' Mamma is pretty well as to health, Mr. Wardlaw ; though in
grievous trouble, as you may imagine. A new cause of worry
to her cropped up this morning, in the fact of Messrs. Boxe & Co.
declining to pay her quarter's allowance, on account of my poor
father's death. It was nothing more than what was to be ex-
pected, of course ; but you know my mother's views ; and now that
matters have come to a crisis, she has sent me here to ask your
counsel. She says that I know as much about poor dear papa's
affairs as she does, but indeed I know very little ; and it seems to
me that all that can be done at present is to make arrangements
about our house. Of course we cannot afford to live there, in any
' And why not ? ' put in Mrs. Wardlaw ; ' you must live some-
where, Nelly, and why not there ? '
' I am afraid that our landlord will say " he does not see the
necessity,"' said Nelly smiling. 'The house does not require
much " keeping up," it is true, but it requires an income of some
sort â and I don't know that we have any.'
' You must have got sometJdng^ Nelly,' said Mrs. Wardlaw
confidently. ' But there, John will tell you all about it.'
' My dear, I must have the facts before me,' said Mr. Wardlaw,
with the air of a man who only needs the raw materials to indite
266 BY PROXY.
an epic. ' In the first place, Nelly, what does your father's will
' We don't even know if dear papa left a will, Mr. Wardlaw.'
' A will ! of course he left a will ! ' answered the merchant.
* The only question is whether the will is in England.'
' But if he had nothing to leave ? ' said Nelly simply.
' Stuff and nonsense ! everybody has something,' said Mr.
Wardlaw. ' The idea of your mother being in such a state of
helpless ignorance, Nelly ! she must be worse than m/y wife. She
always seemed to me a sensible, prudent woman, too.'
' She is very careful and prudent, Mr. Wardlaw, so far as has
been possible for her ; but there were reasons â I think you will
understand them â why she has not pressed dear papa of late as to
our pecuniary position ; they were not on confidential terms, and
the subject of money '
' Of course, my dear,' interrupted Mrs. Wardlaw, willing to
spare her favourite what she knew would be a painful explanation ;
^ that is intelligible enough.'
' Not to me, my dear, I confess,' observed her husband drily.
*" Whether I were confidential with a party or not, I should insist
upon knowing how my affairs stood. As matters are, then, you
don't really know whether your father has left five thousand pounds
or fivepence ? You can tell me, I suppose, at least whether his
life was insured ? '
'It was not so when he left England, nor has he mentioned
having insured his life in any of his letters. You see,' said Nelly,
in mitigation, as Mr. Wardlaw beat the air with his hands in
horrified dismay, ' dear papa found it hard enough to save out of
his professional income ' (the poor girl knew nothing about his
A MAN OF BUSINESS. 267
successes at play, or the little thoroughbred he had ' financed ' for
a couple of racing seasons) ' to support his wife and daughter, and
had nothing to put by for an insurance premium.'
' I see,' said Mr. Wardlaw, in a tone that suggested that it was
a bad look-out indeed.
'You will wonder what I come to consult you about, ]Mr.
Wardlaw,' continued Nelly, with a ghost of a smile, ' since it ap-
'Nay, my dear, I don't wonder,' interposed Mr. Wardlaw
kindly ; ' it is the most natural thing in the world that you should
do so. And though, of course, until the China mail comes in,
nothing certain can be known of your affairs, I can perhaps be of
help in the mean time.'
' That is what we thought,' answered Nelly eagerly. ' It was
you who were so kind as to take the house for us ; you will know
what to advise us as to giving it up. We have got it for the year,
' Oh, yes ; you have undoubtedly the right of remaining in it
for the year,'
' But it is not paid for up to the end of the twelve months ? '
Mrs. Wardlaw's face was a study ; she had moved behind her
young friend, and was making the most eloquent signals to her
husband to answer the girl in the affirmative.
' Paid for ! ' echoed the merchant, with a clumsy laugh. ' Oh
yes, I paid for it myself â that is, of course, with your father's
' Then we have a roof over our heads at least,' said Nelly,
with a sigh of relief. ' You see, if we had had to move at once
into small lodgings, we should have had to part with all our furni-
268 BY PROXY.
ture, and there are some things â though it is only a fancy â that
I should be loth to part with, unless it were absolutely necessary.'
'Which it never will be,' put in Mrs. Wardlaw confidently.
' Do you suppose there is not a room to keep things for you at
Coromandel House ! '
' What Miss Nelly is thinking of is that she may be obliged
to dispose of some superliuous articles,' observed the merchant
^ Then she ought to be ashamed of herself,' put in Mrs. Ward-
law indignantly, ' since she ought to know that she has friends as
would not stand by and see it done.'
'Nay, wife, the young lady is right. It is better to look
matters in the face, and make up one's mind to a thing when it
has to be done.'
' That is what I am striving to do,' said Nelly simply ; ' to
begin a new sort of life, where pleasure may still be pleasure, but
a source of profit also. In case poor mamma is left with nothing
â absolutely nothing, I mean â I think â indeed, I know that I can
earn sufficient by my pencil, or rather my paint-brush, to supply
our modest needs. I have already made inquiries at an artist-
colourman's in town, who puts pictures for sale in his window ;
and I am not without hopes. I confess it is an immense relief to
me to find that we can stay on for a time at least in our present
quarters, since I could scarcely do my work so well in such lodg-
ings as we had, for example, in Gower Street. And oh, Mr. Ward-
law, I am so much obliged to you '
' Pooh, pooh ! for nothing at all. Why, what have I done ? '
inquired the merchant with an aggrieved air, as though some im^
puted misconduct of his own had melted the poor girl to tears.
A MAN OF BUSINESS. 269
' It is your kindness,' sobbed poor Xelly. ' I see you are so
sorry for us.'
' I am sorry for your changed circumstances, my dear,' said
the merchant, patting her head, as she took her leave, ' that is, so
far as you yourself are concerned, and of course your mother like-
wise ; but personally, and from a commercial point of view, my
wife and I have cause to be pleased. We see our way to getting
some excellent pictures, by an artist we have long admired, dirt
cheap â cheaper even than at an auction.'
*He shall pay their weight in gold for them, my dear,' cried
Mrs. Wardlaw indignantly.
' The market price â the market price, and a little under on
account of personal friendship,' answered her husband, waving her
away with his toddy-spoon. ' The great principles of buying in
the cheapest market, and taking advantage of the necessities of
the vendor, are cardinal points.'
'You are a greedy, gTasping, selfish wretch, John,' cried Mrs.
Wardlaw, ' to talk like that even in fun. Come along, my dear,
and don't waste another smile on him.'
Oh, rare and blessed gift of kindliness I what matters it in
what guise you come to the bruised human heart ? The rough
but genial humour of the honest merchant touched poor Nelly as
deeply as his wife's sympathetic tears. When' we are in trouble,
and find friends are true, the benefit is infinite, since it seems to
us a sign that Grod also has not forsaken us. And that visit to
Coromandel House had for Xelly the same sweet solace that is
found at shrines.
270 By PROXY.
A BITTER TRIAL.
'You must not mind John, dear,' said Mrs. Wardlaw, as she
took Nelly's hand and led her with a gentle violence from the
front door, to which she was tending, into the library once more.
' Mind him ! ' said Nelly, with a smile. ' Indeed, I only mind
him in the sense of liking him very much.'
' Well, I shall not believe that, if you run away from the house
as though you were in a huff, and don't give me a minute's talk to
myself. How nice my pretty pet does look,' added she, holding
the girl at arm's length and sighing, ' even in her black things ! '
' I do not feel nice, dear Mrs. Wardlaw. I am very unthankful,
I fear, for the good of the past, and very resentful of the evil to
' And quite right too,' exclaimed Mrs. Wardlaw impulsively ;
^ or, rather, it's only natural. It does seem very hard that a bright
little innocent creature like you should suffer so, now, doesn't it ? '
' Well, I don't think it ever struck me quite in that light, dear
Mrs. Wardlaw,' said Nelly, laughing ; ' but of course it seems
hard. My sense of loss, however, will wear away in time, I suppose,
and poverty is a burden that soon fits itself to the back.'
' Well, I'm not so certain about that, Nelly. I wouldn't admit
A BITTER TRIAL. 271
as much to John for a fifty-pound note, but I will confess to you
that I never got over the discomfort of those omnibuses. It was
necessary, or I thought it was, to use them at one time, but I had
rather have walked the whole distance if my legs could have done
it. Never was more dismay and discomposure bought for two-
pence or threepence than I got for my money. In the first place,
there were *' Pickpockets, male and female, beware ! " staring me in
the face, at the bottom of the table of fares. I never picked a
pocket in my life, and the insult used to bring the blood into my
face to begin with.'
' But, surely,' said Xelly, laughing, ' that notice is meant for
the honest people.'
' I don't know which way it is to be read, my dear ; but it is
just as bad to be put on your guard against everybody that sits
next or opposite to you. Then I was always as much afraid of
losing my purse as of ha\ing it stolen, for what would become of
me when I got out, and couldn't pay ? Still I went on with those
omnibuses â out of principle, my dear â until I had that accident
opposite your house in Grower Street. Then says John, "Now, in
future you take cabs." But, lor, that was nearly as bad as the
other. Hansoms of course I would no more have trusted myself to
than to winged griffins, but the very first four-wheeler I engaged to
bring me home from a friend's house, where I had been to tea, took
me right away among strange streets, and presently down a steep
place into darkness, and then stopped. When I expected nothing
less than to be robbed and murdered, the man put his head into the
window, and said, " This is my mews ; and I am a-going to put a
fresh horse into the shafts, that's all." But it was nearly enough
to do for me. Then again I had sad colds at that time, and used to
272 BY PROXY.
lose my voice. I could hail a cab, of course ; but when I had to say
where I wished to go to, it was very embarrassing- Many a time
have I gone quite close to the wheel and beckoned the man to lean
his head down that I might whisper in his ear, and his only reply
has been to drive off wildly, and almost over my toes, thinking
perhaps I was a mad woman and wanted to bite him.'
' Well, now you have got a carriage of your own, Mrs. Wardlaw,
:all your troubles are over,' said Nelly, who, though her mind was
fixed on serious matters, had a great stock of patience and good
temper, and knew that as a listener she was conferring happiness
on her hostess.
' Not all, my dear, I do assure 3^ou, as I was afraid you would
see by my red eyes when you entered the house. I'm fairly
â worrited to death about them tambourines.'
' What tambourines ? '
' Why, that gross of them as I told you John picked up at
â some auction, and brought home with him six months ago. One
hundred and forty-four tambourines all blocking up my store cup-
board ! Well, since it was so long since he bought the things, I
began to hope he had forgotten all about them ; and the fact is, I
put them into a sale which I saw advertised in John's paper. And
now, only think, they have all come back again on my hands.'
' What, couldn't you sell them ? '
' Oh, yes ! I sold them fast enough, but unfortunately it was
John that bought them. Bought his own tambourines, my dear,
at an advance of a shilling apiece, as I'm a sinful woman ! '
' And does not he know what he has done ? '
' Not a bit of ic ; and it makes me so miserable, because I've got
to tell him. He says, " Here's another gross of tambourines, my
A BITTER TRIAL. 273
dear ; a little dearer than the last, I am sorry to say, but it would
never do to let the price go down." '
At this Nelly could no longer restrain herself, but broke into
a hearty laugh â such as had not escaped her since her first day of
' That's music,' said Mrs. Wardlaw, laughing too ; ' and there's
one within hearing of it, who will rejoice in it even more than I do.
Nelly dear, I've been a-talking about this, and that, and the other^
but nothing â except the tambourines â has had any real hold upon
me. I was striving to keep your heart up, and to turn it mayhaps,
if I could see the chance, to listen to one as loves you dearly.
Eajonond Pennicuick is waiting in the boudoir yonder for one
clasp of your hand â if that is all you will give him.'
' Eaymond here ! ' said Xelly, with a flush of anger as well as
of distress ; ' why was I not told at first ? '
' Because I was afraid you might have gone away, my darling,
from a mistaken sense of what was right. Of course he did not
know you were coming. He was dining with John and me, not
as I believe because we are much attraction for him, but simply
because we are your neighbours and friends, and like to talk about
you. When he heard you were at the door, he was for running
away, lest his presence should give you pain. But I said, " No I
you just wait here till I talk to her a bit, and she'll see you, never
fear." And you will see him, won't you, Xelly ? '
' Yes ; I will see him.'
She had gTOwn pale again, now, and calm. Indeed, Mrs.
AVardlaw thought she had never seen her ' bright little fairy,' as
she was wont to call her, so quiet and resolute-looking.
' You are not going to be hard upon the poor lad, I trust,' said
VOL. I. T
274 ^y PROXY.
she apprehensively. ' I hoped I had put a little life and spirit
into you ; if it is not a good time for him to see you, let him bide
awhile, or he will lay all the blame upon my shoulders.'
' It is as good a time now, Mrs. Wardlaw, as any time will be.'
' Lor, my dear, you talk as if you were an old woman ; and
life is but beginning with you.'
' I know it,' said Nelly gravely ; though, indeed, she felt as if
life â or all that was worth living for â was finished rather than
beginning. ' Where is Raymond ? '
'^ Mrs. Wardlaw rose and opened a door that communicated with
her boudoir, an apartment which had been put to its first use that
day. As she never wrote, nor read, for pleasure, nor played on any
musical instrument, nor had any intimate acquaintances with
whom to en}oj Si tete-a-tete, the room was a superfluous luxury;
but this afternoon it had offered an asylum to Raymond Pennicuick,
where he had been placed in honourable imprisonment until it
should be decided whether Nelly was to see him or not. He had
guessed pretty accurately the cause of her long silence, but that
had only made it the more insupportable to him. If his visits
were unwelcome now, when he was his own master, how much less
welcome would they be after his father's return, when it would be
taken for granted that he was subject to his dictation. As Mrs.
Wardlaw had stated with such characteristic humility, it was for
some news of Nelly, some hint perhaps as to her position with
respect to himself, that he had called that day at Coromandel
House, where of course he had been pressed to stay to dinner. And
now, by a stroke of fortune â which might be good or bad â an
opportunity was afforded him of getting an explanation of the
state of affairs from Nelly's own lips.
A BITTER TRIAL. 275
The room was as elegant as the upholsterer's art could make
it â with dainty hand-paintings on the walls and ceilings, which
(as that astute tradesman had himself observed) had 'removed the
apartment beyond the domain of upholstery,' while a mag-nificent
stretch of landscape was commanded from the open windows ; but
neither the view without nor the scene within had attracted
Raymond's attention. He stood with his hand upon the central
table, waiting and watching for the summons that he felt would
come, but to which he had looked forward by no means with
delighted expectation. His eyes would indeed be gladdened by
the sight of Nelly â it was a physical impossibility that it should
be otherwise ; but the words of her lips might be far indeed from
those he longed for. He had begun to understand her backward-
ness to accept his proffered love since the change that had fallen
on his own fortunes. If she really thought it her duty to oppose
his wishes upon the groimd of his father's disapprobation of their
union, there was small chance of his winning her, for that objec-
tion was not likely to be removed. He had thought it possible, when
he had asked her permission to quote her own consent among the
arguments he was about to make use of to his father ; and of course,
when he had thought his father was dead, the'marriage had seemed