Ellen Pickering.

The merchant's daughter (Volume 2) online

. (page 9 of 13)
Online LibraryEllen PickeringThe merchant's daughter (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

decided measures can be taken to avoid it. A
further delay might have made prudence and

208 THE merchant's daughter.

decision of no avail, as I am inclined to think
that the danger has been permitted to advance
to a perilous proximity of that point at which
interference would be hopeless. Mr. Sawyer
is not a man to be trusted.'"

" I feared so ; but my father entertains a
high opinion of him.""

" He did ; but, of course, he cannot do so
now. Were I to laud your talents for business
on the evidence of this paper, I suspect it is a
compliment which you neither deserve nor would
accept. Though in Miss Lyle's writing, I am
much mistaken if I cannot trace in the cautious
construction of some of the phrases the consti-
tutional prudence of my friend Walton. Kind,
honest, timid man ! He feared lest his fs and
his g^s should stand as an evidence against him,
so compelled you to the unintellectual task of
copying a mere matter of pounds, shillings, and
pence. Am I not correct ?" he asked with a

" You gentlemen never will allow our sex

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 209

the ability of understanding the science of
figures. I doubt if Mr. Walton would thank
you for the supposition, so as you value his
favour do not hint your belief," she replied
with an answering smile, beginning to hope
that his penetration would save her from some
of her dreaded difficulties, whilst of his willing-
ness — nay, eagerness to serve her father, she
was now convinced.

" I am delighted at your having heard of my
arrival at Fairport last night, since my presence
may prove useful ; but I was not aware that
it had been so widely bruited," he continued in
the same playful manner. " I had intended to
ride over this morning to inquire after INFr.
Lyle, of whose illness I had not heard till I saw
Walton. But perhaps you know all this .^"

" To state the extent or the source of know-
ledge, is to lower it in the opinion of the multi-

" I shall at least pique myself on my pene-
tration, since you do not forbid me," he replied

210 THE merchant's DAUGHTER.

" And now, perhaps, as there is no time to lose,
I had better consult with Mr. Lyle and receive
his directions how to act."

'*" My dear father is too ill to be consulted
on business — particularly such important busi-
ness. The slightest anxiety or excitement
might produce a relapse.*"

She spoke hurriedly, looking down ; but
she felt his anxious, searching gaze upon her,
and her cheek flushed. The deception she was
practising embarrassed her : she wished him to
guess the truth, though she could scarcely tell

" The knowledge alone must cause anxiety ; —
consulting with me would rather diminish than
increase it," he remarked with quickness.

Florence spoke not, but her colour became
still deeper : she felt that he was reading her
meaning and her thoughts.

" You would not so decidedly forbid a con-
sultation with your father without a sufficient
reason, and I will urge it no more," he said

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 211

at length. " But it is a great, — I might say, an
awful responsibility, which you wish me to un-
dertake. My powers, though all exerted to
their utmost, may prove unavailing : it is not in
man to command success, and my endeavours
may scarcely merit it. jNIr. Sawyer will oppose
and blame all my proceedings ; and should I
fail, your father too may censure my presump-
tion. It is a great responsibility !"

Florence looked up. It was scarcely possi-
ble to believe that a few moments could have
wrought such a change. The flush, the bright-
ness of excited feeling had passed away : the
cheeks were of a deathly hue, the eye fixed,
the whitened nostril expanded, the voice low
but deep, and the lips through which his
words issued showed in their compression a firm
yet anxious resolve. There was no mistaking —
all indicated the disappointment of some hope,
and the decision of a noble spirit that would
not waver though it felt its all was laid upon
one cast.

212 THE merchant's daughter.

Florence trembled " It is a great respon-
sibility, Mr. Gordon, and I know it ; — yet I
cannot lessen it. Do you shrink from it ?"
she asked earnestly but with downcast eyes.
" You are not bound by anything that you
have said."

" Noj Miss Lyle, I will shrink from nothing
which you wish me to undertake. Should I
fail," — and his voice was unsteady, — " you at
least, I hope, will do me justice."

" I trust that you will not fail, Mr. Gordon :
but if you should, our gratitude will not be less ;
and we shall bear our trial better, knowing that
all which man can do will have been done."

Gordon took the hand she held towards him,
with a look of gratitude and confidence ; press-
ed, dropped it suddenly, and turned away.
Neither spoke for some time : Gordon was the
first to break the silence.

" I will not detain you longer from your
father, but seek Mr. Sawyer instantly. If I
require further information, I must innocently

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 213

ask Mr. Walton if he can furnish it, 1 con-
clude :" and he tried to smile.

" Yes," said Florence, making a similar at-

" The great difficulty will be in inducing
Mr. Sawyer to admit my right to interfere,'' he
remarked thoughtfully. " I must be reserved
and mysterious, and stake his character for
probity on his not shrinking from such an in-
terference. But he is no simpleton."

" Will not this authority silence all dis-
pute ?" holding it towards him, but with a
trembling hand and without venturing to meet
his look.

His eye ran rapidly over the contents, and
then, she was aware, was fixed on her. He
started, but asked no question — made no re-

" Is that sufficiently full ?" she ventured to
ask in a husky voice.

" More than sufficiently full ! it breathes of
Walton's cautious foresight."

214 THE merchant's DAUGHTER.

" You have read it — you understand it.
Will you undertake the responsibility on the
strength of such a document, — will you act
on that authority ?" she asked ; and though
the blush of shame still lingered on her cheek,
her voice was steady, and she looked up and
met his gaze, wishing him to comprehend that
she had nothing further to conceal.

" I have read it — I understand it, and will
incur the responsibility. I would act on the
authority of that signature though it urged me
on to death. I neither pause nor doubt : I ask
— I desire no more."

" I need not assure you that my father will
hereafter, let what may come, acknowledge all
which that paper contains, and fulfil any ar-
rangements that you may make,'' she replied
with quickness.

" I do not doubt it — or if I did, I should still
act as I now do. I entreat you to stay all fur-
ther anxiety, and rely on my utmost exer-


" I do. My father will hereafter thank you ;
— repay you we cannot."

" I thank you for this confidence — it shall
not be misplaced ; but you can owe me no-
thing — all I can do will never balance your
father's kindness. I will not intrude upon you
longer now, or for some days. All the time
which you can be persuaded to spare from your
father, you will require for rest and quiet : but
you shall hear the result of my first meeting
with Sawyer, and have daily notice of our
proceedings. Do not, I entreat you, give way
to fears: it is my firm belief that all will be well.
Promise me that you will immediately seek
repose : for your father's sake, I ask you to be
careful of yourself."

'* Fear nothing for me ! I will be very care-
ful and prudent for my father''s sake, as you de-

" Good morning ! I will no long-er detain
you. I leave it to you to tell Mr. Lyle the
pleasure I feel in serving him."

216 THE merchant's DAUGHTER.

" He shall hear that, and all, as soon as I
dare venture.""

*' I did not mean to hasten your communi-
cation, but I hope he will soon be beyond your
anxiety. Do not ring — it might disturb him/'
Their hands touched, and merely touched,
at parting; and Gordon left the room glad,
Florence thought, that the meeting was con-

*' Be careful of myself for my father's sake —
he will do all for him," murmured Florence
sadly when his departing steps were no longer

But other steps approached, and taking up
a book, she endeavoured to appear engaged in
its perusal, when the friendly physician en-
tered the room.

" Is this keeping your promise ?" he asked
reproachfully. " Instead of sleeping, you have
been walking and talking, they tell me, since I
forbade you to be nurse; and are none the better
for it, as I can see. No excuses, but do better


for the future, or I shall lock your father's
door against you. You left me pale and lan-
guid, and now are flushed and feverish. I
must prescribe for you too," shaking his head
at her pulse. " No wonder our trade thrives,
when people will be obstinate. Go to your
room, take what I shall send you, and sleep as
long as you can. Your father is not yet awake,
so off with you."

Florence would have explained and remon-
strated, but it was of no use. The kind, blunt
doctor, who had known her from a child,
would listen to nothing. He led her to her
room — saw her take the composing draught —
sent old nurse to put her to bed, and then de-


218 THE merchant's daughter.


Fernando. You cannot mean this stripling should command

Beatrice. I am a simple woman, good my lord,

And oft mean nothing !
Fer. Then I shall rule as I have ruled before.
Bea. My lord will act as is consistent with his honour.
Fer. What gives the boy a right ?
Bea. Doth he not show a warrant ?

It was late in the day when Florence
woke, and learnt from old nurse, who was
watching her slumbers, that her father, after
waking once and taking nourishment, had again
fallen into a quiet sleep.

" And I not there when he awoke !"
" Well, Miss Florence, and what then ? My
master said it did him more good to hear that
you was sleeping than to see your sweet face ;

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 219

and I am sure you was not fit for much when the
doctor sent you to bed. Mr. Gordon should
have knowed better than to have kept you talk-
ing all that time, when he knew that you had
been up all night."

" It was my own doing : Mr. Gordon was
not to blame."

" Maybe not: it is not often that he is. I
wish he had never gone ; for, to my mind, you
have not looked so happy since, except when
with master. Lords may be fine things, but
Walter Gordon is worth a dozen of them. I
can't think why he went, when every one
wished him to stay. Why, you are all in a
tremble still, Miss Florence, and your cheek
is getting red again : I must send for Doctor

" If you please, ma''am, Mr. Sawyer is in
the library and wishes to see you," said the
lady's maid, entering the room on hearing

" My compliments to Mr. Sawyer ; I am but


220 THE merchant's DAUGHTER.

just awake, and too much engaged with my fa-
ther to see any one. And be sure that no mes-
sage is taken to your master ; he must not be
disturbed on any account."

" Yes, ma''am ;" and the servant left the
room without any suspicion of her mistress's
vexation at Mr. Sawyer's visit.

" Mr. Sawyer will wait, ma'am. He is very
sorry to trouble you, but, as he can't see my
master, he must speak to you. He will not
leave the house without." Such was the se-
cond message delivered by the maid.

" Say that I will be with him as soon as
possible. — Tiresome — troubling me now," add-
ed Florence carelessly, to hide from those
present her dread of the meeting, and its pos-
sible importance.

Florence was well aware of Mr. Sawyer's pow-
ers of penetrating and deluding, but positively
to refuse the demanded interview might increase
the suspicion which his visit showed, and which
it was most material to lull. As she had not

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 221

yet heard what had passed between him and Gor-
don, all that she could do was to reveal nothing,
and make the visit as brief as possible. Mr.
Sawyer, having long ceased to receive anything
from her but the merest common politeness,
could now expect nothing more. Hurrying
her toilet, she was soon ready to descend.

There was nothing in Mr. Sawyer to denote
his penetration but the occasional sudden glan-
cing of his clear, grey eye; nothing to hint
his powers of deluding, but a winning smile,
a soft voice, and an insinuating manner. There
was nothing to warn you against him ; — no force
of manner, speaking strength of character, whilst
destroying the harmony of elegance ; no per-
sonal beauty to excite envy, and yet no ugli-
ness to disgust those who unwisely judge from
externals. He did not compel to admiration,
but won imperceptibly his way to influence.
In figure he was short and slight, with pleas-
ing, unmarked features ; clear complexion, ra-
ther fully coloured ; and well- shaped head, as

222 THE merchant's DAUGHTER.

far as the intellectual organs only were con-

He was a popular — a very popular man. In
his own rank in life there were few who did
not speak well of him — fewer still who said ill
of him. He was not one of those free, drink-
ing, joyous, good-natured men, whom all join
in lauding, though an admission of vice or
folly may be tacked to that lauding ; yet still
might the world claim him wholly as its own.
If he was not known to practise gross and open
vices, he countenanced those who did, or his
rebuke was too lukewarm to reform ; and
when he served, it was never to his own possi-
ble detriment. He might utter a fine sentiment
on a fitting occasion — he never acted one. He
might deny another — he never denied himself.
His talents for business were indisputable,
and no one excelled him in flattery; yet was
he generally considered a sincere man. So de-
lightful and delicate were his flatteries, that the
self-love of the flattered was fully engaged to
prove him candid.

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 223

Such was the person whom Florence met in
the library with increased alarm and dislike,
but with outward calmness. She knew much
was at stake, and his penetrating eye saw in
her manner nothing more than her usual cold
politeness, and vexation at being summoned
from her father.

Mr. Sawyer advanced to meet her with a
gentle and courteous eagerness ; inquired with
interest after her health, hoping it had not suf-
fered from nursing and anxiety ; intimated
that her brilliant beauty (the flush was still
upon her cheek) rendered the question need-
less ; and then led her gallantly to a seat,
taking one beside her. To all this she sub-
mitted, but only submitted, taking no trouble
to conceal her impatience.

" Now, having ascertained that you have
not suffered from your dutiful and fond at-
tention, I must congratulate you on Mr. Lyle's
great and sudden amendment. It must be a
source of pleasure to all his friends, — and who

224< THE merchant's daughter.

is not his friend? But to a daughter — and
such a daughter ! it must be a happiness be-
yond expression. The sympathy with father
and child has been universal : Mr. Lyle being
so highly esteemed by all who know him."

'' I rejoice in such a tribute to my father''s
worth, and accept the sympathy of friends with
gratitude," said Florence, the tears starting to
her eyes at this mention of her father, though
guessing the speaker's purpose.

Her apparent good faith was a little sur-
prising, but he continued.

" The high estimation in which your father
is held can be nothing new to you, however de-
lightful may be its repetition. When did Mr.
Lyle's rapid amendment begin ? I understood
yesterday that he was scarcely out of danger."

" I was still anxious for him yesterday ; to-
day I am assured my fears may cease : but as
he yet requires my care, you will, I hope, ex-
cuse me if I wish you good morning. I am
impatient to take my station again at his side : —

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 2rii

indeed, I bade the servant tell you so,'' she
added coldly.

" Your message was delivered : and perhaps
I ought to apologise for again requesting an
interview, and hurrying your toilet ; but I had
urgent reasons, which I hope will plead my
excuse for this intrusion. I will no longer
detain you, but accompany you to your fa-

*' Impossible, Mr. Sawyer ! my father sleeps ;
or, if he does not, is unequal to receiving the
visit of a stranger."

- " A stranger perhaps. Miss Lyle ; but you
cannot consider me as such.""

" My father is forbidden to see any one but
me and his immediate attendants."

" That might be yesterday ; but now that
he is so much better, he will admit me, I have
no doubt. I will wait till he wakes "

" Pardon me, Mr. Sawyer, but waiting
would be useless : my father will not see you


226 THE merchant's daughter.

"But I would speak to him on important

" So I imagined from your thus pressing a
point which you cannot fail to see is unpleasant.
Were our house on the eve of insolvency, — to
put an extreme case, — you should not see my
father to-day : I will not risk a relapse by
permitting him to be excited by business.''

Mr. Sawyer looked at her steadily, but she
did not shrink or turn away. He felt himself
baffled — her cool manner gave him little hope ;
and yet he scarcely believed the truth of the
sudden amendment on which he had congratu-
lated her.

" I am sorry to hear you say so, Miss Lyle,
as my business with your father is of a press-
ing — a most pressing nature. Surely, if well
enough to see Mr. Gordon, he might see me,
whom he has known so much longer."

" Having endured one excitement, is scarce-
ly a reason why an invalid should be sub-
jected to another. I know not who informed

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 227

you that my father had seen Mr. Gordon ; but
I tell you candidly, that it will be of no use to
urge this matter further ; and it is unlike Mr.
Sawyer's usual courtesy the having urged it
so far. If we argue, you will gain the mastery
in words; but, as you know, I do not follow
as you would lead in acts. Once more, good
morning : — I must attend my father."

He rather quailed at her pointed manner,
yet prevented her departure.

"I know your firmness; but something has
occurred this morning which makes it absolutely
necessary that I should consult with Mr. Lyle,
and your apparent ignorance of the fact but
makes the consultation the more imperative.
You are evidently not aware that Mr. Gordon
has called on me and claimed a right to interfere
in the arrangements of the house in a most extra-
ordinary manner. Now, Mr. Gordon is a very
sensible, and, I dare say, a very honourable
young man, — but having left the house some
time, he cannot have an accurate knowledge of

228 THE merchant's daughter.

its present connexions and engagements, and I
am inclined to think there must be some mistake.
With all Mr. Lyle's fondness for him, — a just
fondness, I have no doubt, — he could scarcely-
mean that he should check or alter engagements
formed or forming. I am not touchy on these
points," he added with a smile ; " but even you
must be aware that it is not customary to place
a late clerk in control over a present partner."

" Of course, Mr. Sawyer, I can know little
of these things ; but has not Mr. Gordon some
authority for acting .^■"

" He certainly does show a paper signed
Robert Lyle ; but, to say the best of it, it
must have been gained from your father whilst
labouring under some delusion. If I could
converse with Mr. Lyle, I am convinced that
he would not sanction Mr. Gordon's present

" Does Mr. Gordon overstep his authority
then .?"

" Not perhaps the letter of the paper, if

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 229

you consider that his authority ; but, in my
opinion, he does its spirit. Could I see your
father ''

" I have already said it is impossible,'"' she
replied, interrupting him.

" Then I must act on my own discretion,
and decline admitting Mr. Gordon's inter-
ference," he answered quickly.

*' On what plea, Mr. Sawyer ? Was not the
authority full and sufficient .^"

" Perfectly so; but Mr. Lyle had not heard

my explanations. In fact, Miss Lyle " and

he spoke as in embarrassment and pain, " I
fear your father could scarcely be aware of what
he was doing at the time he wrote that paper."

" What should make you think so .^^ she
demanded rather haughtily.

" I would not pain you : — of course, I only
mean a little confused by his illness. The
whole proceeding is so extraordinary — so un-
precedented, that I can account for it in no
other way. The writing is so firm for a sick

230 THE merchant's daughter.

man — tolerably firm even for one in health, and
yet you do not deem him well enough to con-
verse on business ! The more I think, the
more I am perplexed ; whilst Mr, Gordon's
sudden arrival increases the singularity."

" Knowing my impatience to be with the
invalid, you might have spared me this discus-
sion ; whilst your conjectures and remarks seem
so contradictory as almost to prove the confu-
sion of ideas of which you accuse my father.
If Mr. Lyle knew not what he did, it is strange
that the authority should have been so clear and
full : if he did know, it is not extraordinary,
with his energy when roused, that he should
write for a short time distinctly. Why you
hesitate to admit of Mr. Gordon's interference,
as you term it, or why you find it unplea-
sant, you best know. Of his honour and ability
you can have no suspicion, and his zeal for the
interests of our house admit of as little doubt.
His being justified in claiming to be informed
of and consulted in all affairs of that house, his

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 231

written authority fully proves ; and I should
have thought, that in these perilous times^
when my father cannot attend, a person whom
I have heard utter such delicate sentiments of
honour as yourself would have felt it a relief,
rather than an annoyance, to divide the re-
sponsibility with another — that other so highly
regarded by your partner."

" Certainly, as you say, a great relief," he
replied, turning away from her lofty look.
" But the truth is," forcing a smile, " per-
haps, without knowing it, I am a little touchy ;
and it does seem something like a suspicion — I
will not say an insult — the empowering so young
a man to control my actions, and that without
any particular occasion ; — the placing an in-
ferior over me, as I said before — a clerk above
a partner."

" I am sorry you should see it in that light,
as the deed is done and cannot be undone,"
she replied very coldly. " Mr. Gordon, being
empowered, must and will act."

2S2 THE merchant's daughter.

" If I could be quite certain that the paper
was Mr. Lyle's ! — wholly his !" — he broke
forth, fixing his keen, clear eyes upon her.

" What am I to understand by this, Mr.
Sawyer ?" demanded Florence, standing before
him in the full majesty of indignation, for his
perseverance told her that Gordon's suspicions
were not groundless.

" I beg your pardon, Miss Lyle ; I meant
nothing that could offend you," he replied
humbly and gently, recalled to a sense of his
imprudence by her question. " I am shocked
at my rudeness, though unintentional ; but I
own I am chafed in this matter. I thought
Mr. Lyle would never have given such an
authority without first informing me; and then
I fear that Mr. Gordon's views and mine do
not coincide : his ideas are rather confined ;
and he is so determined to enter into the most
minute particulars, that the time for action
passes by before he has decided/'

" That is novel ! Mr. Gordon was always

THE merchant's DAUGHTER. 233

noted for his quickness of apprehension and
promptness in action."

" All do not see alike, Miss Lyle. To be
candid, I foresee great embarrassment and loss
to the house from his interference."

" We are willing to abide the peril !*^

" I should at least wish to converse
with Mr. Lyle before the authority is acted

" As I have already said that cannot be, Mr.
Sawyer; and, to be as candid as yourself, this
anxiety on the subject does not look well.
There can be nothing in the affairs of my
father^s house, as far as he is concerned, which
he would not wish Mr. Gordon to understand ;
and it is only by understanding them that he
can act with effect or judgment. Should his
over-caution, as you hint, occasion loss, no
blame can rest on you : my father will abide
by the authority given in that paper, and

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13

Online LibraryEllen PickeringThe merchant's daughter (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 13)