James Payn.

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also a loophole of escape.'

' It will be a composition that will re-
quire very delicate handling,' observed Mr.
Roden drily, ' especially the construction of
the loophole. — I am quite of your opinion,
my dear madam.'

This last was an aside in reply to a mut-
tered aspiration from Miss Darrell, that the
said loophole could be a slip-knot attached
to a gallows.

' Oh, as to that,' observed the lawyer,
smiling, ' in such cases a mere keyhole is
amply sufficient for exit. I hope this plan,
my dear Miss Clare, as being fair to every-
one, as well as merciful to Gerald himself,
commends itself to your sense of right.*


At the moment Clare was thinking of a
letter somewhat similar to the one proposed,
written of late by herself, and also leaving a
loophole, and what came of it. How hard
it was to find baseness in one so dear, and
now again (for it seemed taken for granted)
in one so near !

' I suppose it is the wisest course/ she
sighed. ' I thank all here from the bottom
of my heart for all the pains they are taking
for my sake.'

But she felt, as everyone could perceive
who heard her, that it was labour in vain.


Gerald's telegram.

THAT metaphor of Mr. Oldcastle with
respect to a conflagration should the
spark of calumny once get ahead was by
no means an exaggerated one. It was
clear to all the little party now assembled
at Sandford that should Gerald once com-
municate his story, whether it was false or
true, to other ears, irreparable disaster must
needs follow. The proposed letter was
therefore despatched to Gerald by the next
train to Stokeville, the guard being in-
structed to place it in the young man's own
hand. In it he was adjured by every tie
that is supposed to be sacred to retract the


charge against his dead father, which,
though absolutely incredible to ordinary
ears, was making his sister miserable, while
at the same time he was assured that, in
making a clean breast of it, he would obtain
her forgiveness. The simple phrase, * he
would be no loser,' which the lawyer had
added in place of the last sentence Clare
had struck out with her own hand. ' Just
as you please, my dear young lady,' he had
said, with a shrewd conviction that the
young gentleman would have taken for-
giveness in a very material sense. In
adding that all that was wanted from him
was the truth, Mr. Oldcastle had also
pointed out to Gerald that his omission to
come at once to Sandford would be a tacit
confession that the whole story was an in-
vention. ' My own private impression,'
the note concluded, ' is that it was a prac-
tical joke, designed, I must say, in the
worst taste, but still not of course the un-
forgivable sin ; and I can only hope you


have already repented of it' — which was
the loophole.

At Clare's earnest request Mr. Oldcastle
' gave himself a holiday ' — a present he
seldom got from other people — and stayed
the night at Sandford, in hopes that there
might be some reply from Gerald by post
the next morning. She felt that, next to
Herbert, the lawyer understood her best,
and could be patient even with what he
might consider morbid weakness in her with
respect to the matter in hand ; whereas,
though they would be powerless to move
her from any settled purpose of her own,
she rather shrank from the sharp antagon-
ism it might evoke from Miss Darrell, and
from the contemptuous philosophy of
Uncle Roden. As it waSj Miss Darrell
could not restrain herself from giving utter-
ance to significant opinions with reference
to the wickedness of weakness in certain
cases ; and how people with the best inten-
tions in the world often did more harm for


the sake of peace and quietness, or from
sentimental considerations, than the most
terrible tyrants. To give way to injustice
in one's own case was, she argued, the most
certain method of encouraging it in that of
others, and, under the guise of self-sacrifice
and patient submission, was in effect to act
most selfishly and to the disadvantage of
the whole human race. To Mr. Roden, for
whom she conceived an unwonted admira-
tion from the manner in which he had ' put
his foot down ' on Gerald's story, she ap-
pealed with confidence for corroboration of
these views.

* My dear madam,' he said, ' I have no
doubt you're right : conciliation in the case
of a disagreeable person is not only thrown
away, but most injudicious; it leads him
to imagine you are afraid of him, and en-
courages him to further acts of aggression.
At the same time I am bound to confess I
never tried it.'

' Well, I have; said the old lady. ' When


I first retired from the educational pro-
fession I had no proper pride ; exacting
parents and their audacious offspring had
broken my spirit. I only wished to be
quiet and comfortable, and to this end —
among other things — I thought I would
furnish my sitting in church with a cushion
and a hassock. The next Sunday, when
I entered my pew, I found them both
occupied by another lady — mine was the
very first seat as you entered — and nothing
left for me but the bare seat and floor as
usual. I said nothing on that occasion.'

* Very foolish,' interposed Mr. Roden.

' But I could not make a disturbance
with a stranger in the sacred edifice.'

' Pardon me, my dear madam, it was
the very place for it ; she would have been
more frightened than even you were, and
have given everything up at once.'

' At that time, however,' continued the
old lady, ' I had not your keen sense and
knowledge of the world. On the next


Sunday, however, when I again found the
interloper in possession, I did venture to
murmur, ** I think, madam, this is my
place;" and — would you believe it? — she
said simply, " Oh, indeed!" and pushing my
cushion, and viy hassock up to the other
end of the pew, left me the bare boards
and the floor, just as before.'

' Exactly what I should have expected,
and precisely what you deserved,' said Mr.

' Indeed, I think you are very hard on
Nannie,' said Clare, smiling. ' What on
earth could she have done under such
circumstances ?'

' Why, my dear Clare, she could have
sent for the beadle and got the woman
turned out of the pew\'

'Well, to confess the truth, that is just
what I did do,' said Miss Darrell naively.
* What are you all laughing at ? Was I
not quite right, Mr. Oldcastle ?'

' No doubt you were quite right, madam ;


only, as an example of [passive obedience
carried out to the bitter end, the narrative
seems a little defective.'

' Well, at all events I am wiser now,'
insisted the quondam maVtyr ; ^ and I only
wish,' she added, with a glance at Clare,
^ I could impart my experience to others
who have a natural tendency to be trodden
on, but, unlike the worm, are averse to

Clare only laughed good-naturedly.
They were walking (in complete privacy)
in the public garden, and all the sights and
sounds about them were redolent of the
beauty of the spring. The fresh air and
friendly companionship had done her good.
For the next few hours at all events she
would keep her mind free from troubles,
and not mar by downcast looks the enjoy-
ment of those about her, two of whom, at
least, were putting themselves to incon-
venience on her account. The despatch of
Mr. Oldcastle's letter had been a relief to


her, as any kind of action always is in such
cases ; and in particular his having informed
Gerald that his silence or absence would
be held equivalent to retractation gave her
comfort. As a matter of fact, of course,
Gerald could neither have written nor
come to Sandford since the letter was
sent ; but in the meanwhile the truce
suggested peace.

' Talking of being trodden on/ continued
Miss Darrell, who was in high good-
humour, and because Clare made no
attempt at self-defence, imagined, perhaps,
that she was on the road to conviction, ' I
never knew what real oppression was till
I flattered myself I was emancipated from
it, and set up a page. The humiliation I
have suffered through that boy exceeds all
I have undergone from my one hundred
and fifty young ladies. He leaves my
most important morning callers behind the
glass doors in the hall, for fear they should
steal the umbrellas and things, and ushers


all the begging-letter impostors up Into the
drawing-room ; while out of doors he is
worse than at home. When I go to pay
visits In my hired brougham to the parents
of my old pupils, and wish to be particularly
dignified, he has to call in the assistance of
the passers-by to reach the knockers ; and
when I come out, Instead of finding him at
the carriage-door, I discover, to the ill-
concealed delight of the powdered footman,
that he is in the next street looking at
Punch. He is always just where he ought
not to be, and never where he ought to be.'

* He is here, at all events, looking for
his mistress/ observed Mr. Roden, who
had his eyeglass up, as was his habit when

' Here ! Where ?' exclaimed the old
lady, in extreme dismay. ' I left him on
board wages.'

* It is the boy from the hotel,' observed
Herbert quietly. ' He has a telegram.'

The message was for Mr. Oldcastle,


and, as all rightly concluded, from

* I have nothing to retract of what I have

said. It Is all quite true. I cannot come
to Sandford ; the whole subject Is much too
painful to me to bear discussion.'

The little party looked at one another In

* Well, upon my word, that is cool !' ex-
claimed Miss Darrell indignantly.

'Still it is very delicately expressed/
observed Mr. Roden in his blandest tones.
' I like the phrase *' too painful." It shows
a sensitive disposition.'

' Oh, Uncle Roden, don't laugh at it !'
pleaded Clare pitifully ; ' it is such dreadful

* Pardon me, my dear ; If you refer to
the character of the writer, of which this
message is certainly very significant, it Is
hardly to be called news. If you expected
him to come here and submit himself to


cross-examination, you must have been
sanguine indeed.'

* What Miss Clare means is his sticking
to his story,' remarked the lawyer, ' which
is a serious matter.'

* Of course he sticks to it,' returned Mr.
Roden airily. ' When I was at Eton we
had an eleventh commandment, which we
broke less often than the others. " Tell a
lie, tell a good one, and stick to it;" in
spirit, at all events, this young gentleman
is an Etonian.'

' Nevertheless, it is evident to me,' said
Mr. Oldcastle thoughtfully, ^ that whatever
may be his motive he means mischief. It
is impossible for us to ignore such a state-
ment as he has committed himself to.'

^ I should treat his story precisely as I
treat that vslug yonder,' observed Mr. Roden,
pointing out the object in question with
the neatest of umbrellas. ^ I should let it

* Wherever It crawls it leaves a slime,'


answered the lawyer sententiously. * In
the slug's case it doesn't matter, but some-
thing must be done to stop this ' — and he
struck his hand upon the telegram, which
he had spread out on his knee. ' If this
sort of thing goes on, it will worry Miss
Clare to fiddle-strings/

' I would rather die than endure it,' said
Clare firmly.

* Then we must produce counter-evi-
dence — or rather, let us hope there will
be no necessity to produce it ; if we can
only make sure of having it — to use if we
wanfc it — that will nip the mischief in
the bud and frighten Gerald into veracity.
What I now propose is to write to the only
other person who was present at Oak Lodge
on the night when ]\Ir. Lyster died — Mr.
Percy Fibbert.'

Mr. Roden uttered a little sniff of
contempt; j\Iiss Darrell pressed her lips
together ; Clare, pale as a ghost, cast
down her eyes, which fell upon the law-

VOL. 11. 39


yer's late metaphor, the slug, and shud-

*If something must be done,' said Her-
bert, ' I agree with Mr. Oldcastle that it
must be that. We shall, after all, be asking
no favour of him, but only that he shall
speak the truth.'

*A difficult thing with some people when
it is opposed to their interests/ remarked
Mr. Roden drily. 'What do you say, Miss

' An impossible thing.'

' Still,' urged the lawyer, * we shall be in
no worse position than if Gerald goes to
Percy, or it may be to Sir Peter himself,
as I am inclined to think is more than

' Possible ! ' ejaculated Mr. Roden scorn-
fully, * it is certain ; the whole affair is a
plant between them from first to last.'

Miss Darrell cast a glance of admiration
at the speaker which would have flattered
Solomon. All she said was ' Ah ! ' but the


Interjection had the significance of a

' Well, in that case,' pursued the lawyer,
' the affair might present Itself in the form
of a distinct claim. My suggestion is to
anticipate and thereby prevent that. I
propose to write In general terms to Mr.
Percy Fibbert, admitting that a question
had arisen as to the precise time at which
Mr. Lyster expired, and recalling to his
recollection the fact that the town clock
struck twelve while he was at supper with
Herbert and Miss Clare. All that I
shall ask of him is a corroboration of that

'And suppose he declines to give it?'
inquired Mr. Roden.

' Well, that will look ugly for him in the
eyes of a jury — nay, my dear young lady,'
for Clare had been about to make objec-
tions, * I am quite aware that the case is
never to come into court, but Mr. Percy
Fibbert does not know that. He will take



a practical view of the matter. If he
answers truly, that will cut the ground
away from Gerald's feet. You may say,
indeed, that it will still be open to Gerald
to repeat is statement; but upon the sup-
position that it is false he will forbear to do
so, since nothing can then be got by it.
Even you, my dear Miss Clare, will hardly,
I conclude, giYQ up your property on the
unsupported word of this young man when
it is also contradicted by independent testi-

'It is a frightful thing to entertain a
doubt on such a matter,' said Clare hesi-
tatingly. ' However slight it may be, it
seems to me that Sir Peter — that is to say
the firm — ought in honour to have the
benefit of it.'

* My dear Clare,' interposed Mr. Roden,
^ you are wearing my watch.'

* Your watch ?'

' Yes ; you may have had a conviction it
was yours, but I have an idea that it's mine.


My idea may not be so strong as your con-
viction, but it creates a doubt ; and how-
ever slight that doubt may be, you are
bound in honour to give it me.'

' My dear Uncle Roden,' said Clare,
with a faint smile, ' the cases are not
parallel. You have a watch of your own.'

' That is just what completes the parallel ;
I have apparently no motive for depriving
you of your watch, just as Gerald to our
eyes has no motive. But that docs not
make either of our claims less preposterous.
Do, I beseech you, behave like a reason-
able being.'

If Miss Darrell had known Mr. Roden
better, she would have admired him even
more than she did for the attitude he had
assumed with respect to Gerald and his
story. During the whole of his existence
he had probably never taken so much
trouble, or interested himself half so much
in the affairs of a fellow-creature. But in
addition to his liking for Clare, and his


detestation of the Fibberts (whom he really
believed to be at the bottom of it all), he
resented beyond measure the possibility of
his niece giving" way to her morbid and
Quixotic feelings in the matter. As an
heiress, she reflected credit on him ; but
should she be mad enough to strip herself
of her fortune through these foolish
scruples, she would be a credit to nobody,
and, if he had been of a weaker disposition,
might even become a burthen to him.
For all she knew (though he knew better)
he was wealthy ; and her conduct aggra-
vated him all the more, since it seemed to
him that she was ready to make a sacrifice
at his expense, the very wickedest thing in
his eyes that any human being could pro-
pose to himself.

' If you have any regard for your friends,
Clare,' pleaded Miss Darrell, unconsciously
following up this argument, ' I entreat you
to follow their advice in a matter so


Thus pressed on all sides, Clare cast an
appealing glance at Herbert.

* I used to think it was always easy to
know what was right/ she sighed, 'but now
it seems so difficult ; what would you do,
Herbert, if you were in my place ? '

* I should put myself in the hands of a
just man, who also knew the ways of the
unjust,' replied Herbert with an inclination
of his head towards Mr. Oldcastle.

* Then be so good, my dear Mr. Old-
castle,' said Clare firmly, ' as to write that
letter to — ' her lips quivered, as though
declining to pronounce Percy's name —
' the letter, that is, which you have sug-

Mr. Roden looked thunders, and frowned
so hard that his glass fell out of his eye,
and Miss Dafrell lifted her hands from her
lap in silent protest; but Mr. Oldcastle
bowed like a lawyer who has received his
instructions, and to whom it only remains
to carrv them out.



BY common consent, and also because
opinion was so divided among the
little party, the subject of Gerald was
dropped for the remainder of the day.
The lawyer's letter was despatched in due
course to Percy's address in London, and
for the present there was an end of the
matter. Mr. Roden withdrew himself in
dudgeon from the rest of the party until
dinner-time, and gave himself up to his
own devices. With his gold eyeglass and
superior bearing he patronised Sandford to
that extent that if patronage could have
done it, independent of numbers, the


dreams of the Railway Company In cre-
ating the place would have been realised —
its fortunes would have been made. As
It was, he rather Impoverished them ; for
finding In the guide-book that the lift used
many thousand gallons of water in its
ascent and only cost a penny to the hirer,
including the services of an attendant, he
amused himself by going up and down in
it, taking especial care to use it when no-
body else desired its accommodation. By
this invigorating exercise and the conscious-
ness that he had got his money s worth out
of It and more, Mr. Roden so far w^orked
off his ill-humour as to meet the law^yer
(who was the chief cause of it) at the
dinner-table with renewed complacency ;
but when the ladies retired for the nieht
he also lit his bed-candle, and took his
cigarette with him to his bedroom in
preference to remaining with the other

Thus, for the first time since they came


to Sandibrd, Mr. Oldcastle and Herbert
found themselves alone together.

' Now that that cantankerous gentleman
has taken himself off, my lad,' said the
lawyer, as soon as the door had closed
behind their late companion, ' I should
like to have a few words with you. A
second consultation of five, and two of
them ladies, is not a thing I have a taste
for ; and I doubt if the result of the first
will be satisfactory.'

' Still I think we have done — or rather
you have done — the best that could be done
under the circumstances.'

' Let us hope so ; but to tell you the
truth, I am much more apprehensive about
what may come of the affair than I have
cared to show. I have reason to entertain
a very bad opinion of Master Gerald Lyster.
Clare has often assured me that the young
gentleman Is nobody's enemy but his own ;
but that is sometimes a very dangerous
sort of person, eh ?'


The lawyer's tone was interrogative ; he
seemed to expect some revelation from his
companion that might throw further light
on Gerald's character : but Herbert only
answered gravely, ' That is so, no doubt.'

' I know, of course, that he is a very
young fellow, but still there are sad stories
about him ; a man in my position in a
place like Stoke ville hears a good deal
about people.'

* Naturally.'

' Now I don't want you to tell tales out
of school, Herbert, but it is important that
I should thoroughly understand our posi-
tion, which is affected by his own. The
time, too, has quite gone by for any false
delicacy, or reticence, as regards this fellow.
Is Gerald married ?'

' I don't know. I have heard it stated
that he is, but I have never believed it.'

* That is, from what you know of his
character, you think he is much too selfish
to have sacrificed his prospects, as his father


did, from any scruples of morality. But it
may be, as he would put it, that he couldn't
help himself. He has certainly something
on his mind which troubles him ; he is
always in urgent need of money ; girls of
his own rank in life seem to have no attrac-
tions for him. Upon the whole, it is my
impression that he is married.'

* It is quite possible.'

Mn that case there may be motives for
his present proceeding; for that his whole
story is a lie, I take it for granted you are
convinced. It is so, is it not ?'

* It is, I am quite sure, an invention from
beginning to end,' said Herbert.

'Just so. Well, if he's married, there
may have been many things to quicken his
invention — necessities.'

Herbert shook his head.

* Ah, but you don't know. His wife is,
I hear, expecting a son and heir ; and he
has debts besides. These things make a
man look about him. He must have


funds from somebody. Gerald invents
this tale, to get them out of his half-
sister in the shape of hush-money.'

* Gerald never invented it,' said Herbert

' What do you mean ? You surely don't
agree with Mr. Roden that the whole affair
is got up between him and the Fibberts to
deprive Clare of her share in the profits of
the firm. He called it "a plant." It made
my blood run cold to hear him. Why,
Sir Peter, with all his faults, would sooner
see his museum burnt down than do such
a thing.'

' I don't deny it ; I don't wish to say a
word against Sir Peter nor anyone else.
But I am quite sure that Gerald did not
originate this scheme.'

' You mean he is not an inventor like
yourself; hasn't got the wits for it? But
perhaps some of his belongings have.
There's that Sam Chigwell, for instance,
a very cunning fellow, who, moreover, as


I have reason to believe, has already been
mixed up discreditably with Gerald's affairs.
If it be so, it may prove very difficult to
keep matters quiet, as Clare has set her
heart upon doing. Though, on the other
hand Percy's answer to our letter should
be final. When Gerald hears we have
got that, he will know that the game is

' Do you build very much on Percy's
reply ?'

' Most certainly I do. With Clare in
this Quixotic and morbid state of mind,
which of course ties our hands, what else
have we to build upon ? The whole edi-
fice of our defence rests upon it : as to our
legal rights, those could be established
easily enough, I flatter myself, in any court
in England ; but there's Clare. Her
scruples stand in our way. Now, with
Percy's word to back us '

' You will never get it,' interrupted Her-
bert ; ' that, at least, is my firm conviction.'


' What ? Why, you yourself advocated
my writing to hnn !'

* Because it was the only chance which
suggested itself in Clare's favour ; the only
plan which, if successful, would satisfy her.
I may be wronof, but I fear it will not be

' My dear Herbert, you astound me ! Do
you think, then, with Mr. Roden, that
Percy is a scoundrel ? You must surely
have some reason besides personal dislike
(for I know, of course, you dislike him; for
imputing to him such a course of conduct.'

Herbert flushed to the temples. ' You
will please to remember, Mr. Oldcastle,
that I have volunteered no expression of
opinion regarding Mr. Percy Fibbert,
whom, as you justly observe, I do not
like. But we are discussing Clare's affairs,
and since you tell me they depend on
Percy's aid, I must needs say that I believe
it will be withheld. What you wish him
to do is, in effect, to cancel his own claim to


Clare's profits in the firm for the year, as
also his uncle's claim. On the latter ground

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