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You will not see me again for a very long time -perhaps never."
Alison took them tearfully.
"Now go, Alison," repeated Stephen, in his harshest voice-“ go, I say; cry over them at home as much as you please. Have you anything more to tell me?"
"No," she replied. "Stay, I have a message from my aunt Rachel."
"From Rachel Nethersole?" Stephen became suddenly and deeply interested. "She is with you, is she? She knows? What does that excellent lady say? What did she tell you?”
"When I told her what I had learned, she cried, and said that she wanted nothing now but to ask pardon of my father-I mean, your brother. When I said I was coming here, she kissed me, and bade me tell you that for my sake she would forgive you all. All,' she told me to say."
"Did she?" cried Stephen, as a new light came into his eyes. "Did she? She will forgive all, will she? A brave old girl. That is right-and-and-Alison, I think I shall reconsider that question of the transfer." He looked his daughter in the face with a sudden change of manner which startled and terrified her. "Perhaps it will be best to arrange things differently. I shall see. I shall think things over. Go now." He almost pushed her out of his room. Then, left quite alone, he gave way to every external sign of joy. These signs were undignified, and we therefore pass them over.
"I've done them again!" he cried. "By Gad! I've done them again! And I shall have the handling, all to myself, of the whole big pile."
HOW YOUNG NICK FETCHED THE WRITINGMASTER.
THE boy remained behind the screen, as we have seen, until the footsteps in the passage were silent. Then he emerged from his hiding-place. His face was scared, though his movements, as we have seen, indicated joy. The occasion had come, then, at last. This was the day, the very day, for which he had so longed-the day of greatness. On no other occasion could Anthony Hamblin be so dramatically, so usefully restored to his own people; in no other way could the discomfiture of Stephen be so complete. He had been proved to be a forger; that would be a blow to Alison, should the fact be told her: by Anthony's intervention the thing might be hidden. He was to be the heir to the whole estate; he was to go away on a large annuity: very good, he would have to go on nothing.
He rapidly reviewed the arguments for immediate action, and then, resolved to lose no time, he slipped cautiously out of the room, passed with noiseless step by the doors of the two partners, and ran down the broad staircase.
In the doorway he found Gilbert Yorke, who was waiting for a cab to take him to Clapham. "Well?" asked young Nick, with his usual twinkle, "have you found anything? Have you got the marriage?"
Gilbert laughed, and nodded.
“You shall hear all about it,” he said, “in good time."
"Ah!" replied the boy, 'now you think you've been mighty deep, I suppose. Mark my words, Gilbert Yorke. You'll own, before long, that there's one who has been deeper. Where are you going now?”
I am going to Clapham, to tell Alison something."
"Oh, very good. Yes; your exertions have been creditable, I'm sure. But my turn will come later on, and then, if you find your nose out of joint, don't say I did not warn you." Gilbert laughed again.
"What did I say once?" the boy went on, folding his arms, and leaning against the doorpost; "Just when you think everything is cleared up, you turn to me and I will astonish you.' That is what I said. Now, is everything cleared up?”
"It is. I can tell you so much. Alison will learn all from me in half an hour. This evening there is going to be a sort of family council at the House."
"Ah! Please tell the partners, with my compliments Mr. Nicolas Cridland's complimentsthat, if they think everything is cleared up, they are mightily mistaken. And as for Alison, remind her that the writing-master leads a happy life. Now don't botch that message, young man. Give it her in full, just as I have told you." He began to look positively demoniac, dancing on the pavement, and twinkling with his pink eyes under his white eyebrows. "Oh, ah! Yes; all cleared up. Ha! ha! ho! ho! what a jolly game it will be, to be sure!"
Gilbert began to think young Nick was off his head. There could be nothing more to know.
"I'm the man in the play who turns up at the last moment, and pardons the conspirator for love of the lady he wants to marry. I'm the man who comes home with a pocket full of money, and pays off the wicked lawyer. I'm the man who draws aside the curtain with a 'Houp-la! Hooray! There-you-are-and-who'da-thought-it?'"'
Then the cab came up.
"If you want to see larks-if you want to be taken aback as you never were so taken aback in
all your born days before—if you want to see ME in the proudest moment of my life—you turn up at the house to-night about nine o'clock or thereabouts. Oh! and if you are going there now, you may tell the old lady that I've got important business in the City, and shall not come home to tea-that's all. Tata!"
He pulled his hat farther over his forehead and strode out of Great Saint Simon Apostle with as much noise and importance as boots at fourteen can produce. When he got to the end of Carmel Friars, he turned to see if by any chance Gilbert was following him. He was not.
Then he pursued his way as rapidly as possible down Gracechurch Street, Eastcheap, to Tower Hill, past the entrance to the docks, through Cable Street to Jubilee Road, where he knocked at the door of the house in whose window was the advertisement of Mr. Hampton, Writingmaster.
Mr. Hampton was not in. He would return, perhaps, at five or so, but the woman could not tell. This was extremely annoying, because, all the way along, Nicolas had been arranging in his own head a little drama between himself and Anthony. He was to assume the Grand Style which Mr. Matthew Arnold so much admires; he was to be calmly, impressively judicial: he was not to argue, but to command. And Anthony was not to argue either, but to obey the superior will of the boy. Young Nick possessed a lively imagination, and really worked up a very fine scene, something on the lines of a well-known situation in "Athalie," which he had been reading lately at school.
All this was completely spoiled, because the drama was incomplete without two performers, and one of them was away.
Nicolas haunted the hot street all the afternoon, growing every moment more impatient, and continually losing more of the Grand Style, till at last there was none of it left at all.
At five o'clock the writing-master had not returned. Then the boy went to the coffee-house where he had first made his wonderful discovery, and ordered tea, with shrimps and watercresses. He had great joy in the independence of this meal, but he was anxious to bring off his grand coup, and could not linger. After it he went again to the house, and, being tired of walking up and down on the shady side of the pavement, asked permission to wait in Mr. Hampton's room. He sat down in Anthony's arm-chair, and presently, being tired, went fast asleep. When he awoke it was nearly eight o'clock, and already in the badly-lighted room it was growing dark. Before him stood his uncle.
"I've been waiting for you all the afternoon,' he cried, reproachfully. "Where have you been idling about?"
"I've been keeping punishment school," said Anthony humbly; "my turn comes once a month."
'O Lord!" the boy ejaculated, with infinite disgust; "he's been keeping punishment school, while I've been looking for him. However, you've come at last-sit down. Have you had your tea?"
"I've had some tea and bread and butter with the boys," replied his uncle.
"Well! you shall have some champagne and grilled chicken for your supper," the boy told him encouragingly. “A spread eagle and champagne for supper you shall have, or I'll know the reason why."
"What on earth do you mean?"
"Exactly what I say. The game's finished; it is all found out, and you may put on your hat and come home with me as soon as ever you like."
"All found out?"
"Part ferreted out, part made out. Gilbert Yorke had a lot of things told him by Miss Nethersole, and fished up the rest. He's not a bad sort, that young man, if he didn't fancy himself too much. I suppose I ought not to grumble because he's cut me out with Alison. What a donkey you've been, Uncle Anthony, to be sure! What a donkey! Fancy wanting to screen Uncle Stephen! You see I know the whole story— forged receipts, runaway marriage-all. So don't pretend any more. WHAT A DONKEY!"
'It was for Alison's sake," pleaded the donkey. "I wanted to save her."
"And the end of it is, that you haven't saved her. She knows who her father is by this time, and might just as well have known before. A pretty father for a young woman who respects the fifth commandment!" He looked at his watch. "A quarter-past eight,” he said; “plenty of time. I told him about nine o'clock." "You told whom?"
"Gilbert Yorke. Told him to look out for games of a most surprising kind at nine o'clock. Now, just you listen, and don't say a word till I tell you to speak." If it was not the Grand Style, it was the Cocky style, which has been overlooked by critics, and is yet sometimes extremely effective. "All you've got to do is to listen to me, and behave accordingly. Sit down."
The writing-master humbly took a chair. By this time he had got disreputably shabby, and it was not so dark but that the condition of his boots was apparent, though the shininess of his
Young Nick sprang to his feet, and clutched coat-sleeves was partly hidden. The heels had him by the arm.
long been down. Now they were gone at the
toes, and chinks in the leather revealed on either They'd found out where Alison's mother was foot a patch of white.
You don't look as if your salary was paid regularly" said the boy sternly, pointing to the boots.
"It's such a very small salary," replied the poor man; "and eating costs such a lot. One must eat, you know. It is not altogether the profession one would choose for a son, that of writing-master in a private academy."
"No," said Nicolas, with severity; "it certainly is not. However, you can get your hat, and come away to Clapham with me, because that fooling is all over."
"Nonsense!" said Mr. Hampton; "what should I do that for? Clapham? I never heard of that place. All that to me is gone and forgotten. I am nothing now but a half-starved usher, and I shall never be anything else."
'And Alison, is she forgotten too? What you did for her sake, Uncle Anthony, five months ago, you will have to undo for her sake."
"Boy! tell me what has happened!" Young Nick laughed. He was entire master of the whole situation. It belonged to him. He held the strings of Destiny. He was the Deus ex machina whose functions he had that very morning, with contempt for the mercantile uselessness of Latin, painfully construed.
He looked at his watch again.
"We've got a few minutes to spare." Then he began his narrative, of which he delivered himself slowly and with importance, reflecting that this would certainly be regarded ever after as the greatest day of his life, and desirous of leaving nothing to regret in its history, no shortcoming, no failure, no lack of power to rise to the dignity of the situation.
buried, and taken her to see the grave. That was why she was crying. The reason why she laughed was because Gilbert Yorke had begun the kissing all over again. However, as Alison wouldn't wait for me, I can't object. There's a mighty lot of kissing going on now, down at the House. The old lady and Alison are at it all the morning, with a-'Oh, my dear! how glad I am!' and 'O auntie! how happy I am!' And in the afternoon it's Aunt Rachel's turn; I shouldn't care much about kissing Aunt Rachel myself, but girls will kiss anything." "Aunt Rachel ?"
Anthony Hamblin began to feel in a dream. "Why, of course, Miss Nethersole. It's raining uncles and aunts. Do be quiet, and don't interrupt; time's getting very short." The boy considered a minute-" Oh! about the kissing. Aunt Rachel meets Alison and takes her hand gingerly, as if she was something that must be handled, for fear of breaking, like a Richmond maid-of-honor. My niece,' she says
that's all—and kisses her on the forehead. In the evening Gilbert arrives, and Alison and he go into the garden and kiss each other in the conservatories. I know where I can stand and see them, and they don't know. Then they come back and pretend they haven't had their arms round each other. And to think of the way that girl used to pound away about truth and fibs, when I was a boy!"
"I suppose," said Anthony, presently, "that we shall get something coherent in time."
"It's coming," replied Nick; "where shall I begin? After the Bournemouth expedition, letters and telegrams came thick from Gilbert, and Alison carried on in a most agitating way. Meals
"It began last week, when Alison took Mrs. went anyhow. Several times I had to order the Duncombe-"
"Mrs. Duncombe ?"
Oh, yes! she's been staying with us since we found her out. But she was no good, and knew nothing; you took care of that. Your craft and subtlety about that baby, Uncle Anthony, astonished every one. Nobody more than myself, I must own, though perhaps I ought to know the world by this time.
"However," he went on, after a little pause, during which he shook his head in a modest depreciation of himself, "that is nothing. Alison and Mrs. Duncombe went off to Bournemouth. Of course, Gilbert Yorke went with them. I was not invited to go, so I staid at home and took care of the old lady. We had Normandy pippins. Of course I suspected that something was up, and when Alison came back, two days later, crying and laughing both together, I was quite certain. Well, I listened, and I made out.
pudding myself. We knew she'd got a new aunt, and we made as much fuss over her as if it was a new baby.
"Very good. Gilbert came back, and there was a tremendous talking. It was then that kissing set in with such vigor. And one evening I heard him tell Alison that he had kept back part of the story, and would tell her afterward. He has told her, I suppose, by this time, for I left him on his way to Clapham Common-in a hansom cab, if you please! I've got to travel on the knife-board. The day after, he came back; it was in the evening. Alison was playing, and Gilbert was sitting by her whispering soft things in her ear: my mother was asleep: I was beginning one of those exercises: The letters which I have received. The letters which my cousin (feminine) says she has burned-you know— when the door opened, and a lady appeared. She just marched in, without being announced.
She was in black, and she had a black bag with her-a lady with sharp chin, and a mouth that looked a little bit like the useful end of a pair of scissors. She set eyes on me first, and stared. It isn't manners, but I don't mind it much, because it isn't every day that people get a chance of seeing an albino. So I nodded to encourage her, and then she looked at the old lady, who was fast asleep with her mouth open; then she saw Alison, who rose to meet her. You are Alison Hamblin?' she asked; 'you are more like your uncle than your father. I am your aunt, Rachel Nethersole, Let us try to be friends.' Then kissing set in, and I was introduced, and Gilbert did a lot of talking."
"Poor Alison!" said Anthony, hoarsely. The boy was glad to see these signs of emotion, and turned his head.
"You see, uncle, Miss Nethersole didn't know everything. You and I know better than that."
"How do you know? What do you know?" "I know now as much as you do," replied the boy. "I wish I had known it five months ago. You and your writing-mastering!" "Does anybody else know?" "We all know everything-except that one thing that you and I know. And you've got to tell that to-night. Let me go on.
"Miss Nethersole agreed to stay, and they fetched in her things. Presently we had something hot-a kidney it was-for supper. I needed it. Evenings like that tell upon the strongest man. Three women to be comforted all at once is a large order."
Nicolas shook his white locks en philosophe, and went on :
And there's the cabinet with the glass doors; I always wondered what you kept in that cabinet, uncle. Once I thought it was piles of money; then I thought it must be skeletons; then I thought very likely it was specimens of indigo. Well, to make quite sure, I opened the doors and found what it is you do keep there. Fie, uncle! I thought better of you. A decanter full of sherry and a couple of glasses! also a box of cigars, and half a dozen boxes of cigarettes. Call that business? When I had satisfied myself upon that point, I went and sat down in your chair, just to feel what it was like to be a rich man; and then I made myself a little speech, nobody being there to hear. I was getting along first rate, thinking what a clever sort of a man I was going to turn out, when I heard footsteps, and, as I didn't wish to be caught, and look as much like a fool as it is possible for this young man to look, I nipped behind your old screen-you remember it, uncle -and sat down and listened. Mean, wasn't it? Wait till you hear what I found out, then you will jump for joy-and-oh! Jerusalem !
"There was Mr. Augustus first, and then Mr. William-he's had his wig put into black on your account-and then Mr. Billiter. Last came Gilbert Yorke, looking mighty important. A regular procesh, only they didn't sing a hymn. While they were disposing themselves in attitudes round the table like head-masters before a caning, or like ambassadors and plenipotentates at least, in marches Uncle Stephen."
'What did they want with him?"
'Now, uncle, do not interrupt. That spoils every man's style. Cæsar, when he was writing his Commentaries' for the Third Form, would never allow any interruption; nor would Cornelius Nepos when he hammered out his biographies for the Second. Mr. Augustus it was who went for him. It's all found out,' he says; there was never any marriage, and you are the heir to the whole estate!' 'Oh, my gum!' said Uncle Stephen, turning very red; then I suppose you are all going to apologize, are you?' O‘Devil a bit,' said Mr. Augustus. Are you interested now, uncle?"
"After supper-Aunt Rachel did pretty well with the kidneys, but I had to lead the way, as usual-we all sat round, while Alison held her new relation's hand-you know their silly wayand we began to talk about you. The new aunt does not like you, uncle, and I saw her make faces while Alison and the old lady went on about your having been such a good man. crammed my handkerchief in my mouth. Jiminy !
"That was yesterday. And, as if there wasn't enough to tell you, something else more important still happened to-day. Now, then, listen with all your might. As it was a half-holiday I came up to town after dinner to see what news there was in the City. Mighty little doing, as I found out from a little conversation with the senior clerks. However, as I was coming on to see you, I thought I would just drop in and look at your old room. Nobody has ever used it; your name is on the door; the furniture is untouched; there's your old blotting-pad, covered all over with heads in ink, in front of your own old chair.
"Go on, boy-go on."
Anthony Hamblin was pacing the little room, showing every sign of agitation.
"Then Uncle Stephen looked surprised. 'You hardened villain!' says your cousin, looking like a judge on the bench, 'there was no marriage of your brother, but there was of yourself. And who was your wife? and where is your daughter?' 'What daughter?' says Stephen. 'Alison,' says Augustus. Well, Stephen was a bit staggered at that, as you may suppose. 'And don't you think,' says Augustus, 'that we are going to sit down quietly and see you chuck the
money. Quite the other way about and contrariwise. You've got to give it up, and go away on a pound a week for the rest of your life.' 'Am I?' says Stephen. You are,' says Augustus. 'Don't you wish you may get it?' says Stephen. 'I do,' says Augustus, ‘or else—' 'Else what?' says Stephen. 'Else,' says Augustus, 'we shall have to remind you of six little bits of paper bearing a dead woman's signature. Her sister will prosecute for forgery-for-ge-ry, Stephen; and it means fourteen years' quod, with skilly and cold water. How will you like that, Cousin Stephen?' Then they all chimed in, like a chorus in a play, How will you like that, Cousin Stephen?' I thought of joining in myself, but didn't. Stephen took it quite comfortably. He's a desperate wicked chap, that Stephen. Fancy going about with six forgeries on your conscience -a most awful wicked chap. He never said he was sorry; never said he wished he hadn't done it-not at all. He only growled; and then he said something about going abroad on a pension; and then he put on his hat and walked out of the room."
"Is it possible?"
So now you see. You ran away: you left me, your little comforts, and your home, in order to save Alison from finding that her father wasn't you at all, but the other fellow, and from learning what a desperate bad lot he is. And now she will learn it all, and there will be the most terrific row that ever was heard of. Stephen Hamblin will very likely be charged with forgerythat's a very pretty thing to happen in the family --and Alison Hamblin will learn that he is her father. That's what has been brought about by your running away, to say nothing of the awful expense in crape."
Anthony stood irresolute.
"What shall I do?" he cried. "The very worst has come to pass-the very thing that most I dreaded. I thought to avert this blow. I thought that my own death would do it. I thought that sorrow was better than disgrace; and Alison has had the sorrow, and now will have the disgrace."
"She need not, if you will return, because then Uncle Stephen will be coopered, and Aunt Rachel can be squared. You can stop the prosecution. Come, Uncle Anthony; they won't mind your boots."
"It isn't the boots I am thinking of," said Anthony, gravely.
with crape home yesterday-ho! ho!—and there's the black band round my hat-ho! ho! ho!— and there's the tablet in the church-ho! ho! ho! ho! What a game it will be! You'll have to pay the bill for everything but your own funeral. I wish we could hire a mourning-coach for us to go home in-I wonder if my pocket-money would run to it?"
The boy, who was half hysterical by this time, broke into inextinguishable laughter, which naturally led to choking and to tears.
"Come, Uncle Anthony." He wiped his eyes, and put his uncle's hat on for him. "What a shocking bad hat!" He took him by the hand and led him unresisting into the street. "I've got three shillings in my pocket, that will take us to Clapham Common. We will walk up to the door. I will smuggle you into the study. Then I will go away and bring you—" His voice broke again into a sob. "Poor Alison!" he cried; then he brushed away his tears. "First thing you must do, is to put on a pair of new boots. Any other man but myself would be ashamed to be seen walking in company with such beasts of boots. I always used to keep you respectable in the old time, and I mean to again, remember that."
HOW YOUNG NICK ACHIEVED GREATNESS.
WHEN Stephen Hamblin saw his daughter fairly out of the room, and got through those manifestations of joy of which we have spoken, he began, once more, to reconsider everything. Now, the message which Miss Nethersole sent him, by means of his daughter, was nothing short of an evangel, a blessed gospel, to him. It relieved him, at one stroke, of all anxiety on the one side where his armor was weak; and, even while he thought of the opportuneness of this truly Christian message, a way occurred to him by which he might, even without it, face the world and challenge his enemies to do their
'Augustus and the crew," he thought, "rejoiced to have that trump card in reserve. They knew that I did not suspect its existence, and was not prepared to answer it. They played it fairly well, considering. But not so well-no, not so well as I mean to play my trump card, presently. It is not only forgiveness, but justification."
This message of Rachel's, too, showed him how wrong he had been in his treatment of Alison. He should not have met her approaches with coldness: he should not have received her timid advances with a snub: he should have