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at the unexpected sight of Geraldine, as he wrung her hand with the fervour of a brother. He sat down; but except to drink Mrs. Kedge's health he accepted none of the eager offers of hospitality, but said he was to dine with Mr. Brown at eight o'clock. He had come home on business, and not being able to wind up his uncle's affairs quickly, thought he should have to spend his time between England and America for a good while to come; but he hoped to run down and see Felix, and to hear about the organ.' Cherry had so much to tell him about the building of it, and of Lance's delight in the prospect, that she forgot her anxieties for the moment, till he asked after the success of the concert, and she had to tell him of Edgar and his stars. He looked at his watch, and said he should have time to see after Edgar before dinner. 'Ah, do!' said Cherry; ' and find out whether he got my note, I haven't seen him these four days!'
There was a break-up from the dining-room; and Ferdinand, smiling a sort of apology to Mrs. Kedge, offered his arm to Cherry to take her up to the drawing-room, where except on these great occasions no one ever sat; Marilda managed to linger on the stairs, so as to intercept him on his way down.
'Mr. Travis,' she said, 'you will do me a great favour, if you will call on me at our office between ten and twelve to-morrow. Can you?'
Certainly,' he replied, much surprised; but she flew up the stairs before any more could be said.
She was at her counting-house in full time, sitting at the librarytable in the private room, just like her father, opening letters and jotting on them the replies to be made by her clerks, without often needing to take counsel with Spooner.
At ten o'clock a clerk brought up Mr. Travis, and he was soon seated opposite to her, not quite so unprepared as on the previous day.
'Thank you for coming,' she said; 'I knew you were the only person whom I could trust in for help.'
'I shall be very happy,' he began. 'Is it about Edgar Underwood ?'
'Do you know anything?'
'Only that no one at his rooms seems to know where he is.'
'Ah!' (as if expecting this). Now, I know you would do anything for Felix Underwood and the rest, and can keep silence. To speak would be worse than anything.' He bent his head : and she went on, 'Read that. No, you won't understand it;' then collecting herself, Poor Edgar! you know what he is, and how he can't help running into debt. We gave him his tastes, and it is our fault. This year he managed to do a picture, an odd red and yellow looking thing, but very fine, with a lady fast asleep in the middle of a fire. Well, he thought he had sold it, and made sure of the price, when some spiteful newspaper abused it, and the shabby man was off his bargain, and left the picture on his hands. He was so frightfully downcast, and I had reason to think him so hard up, that I thought I'd take the picture off his hands; and so I popped a cheque for a hundred, done up in an envelope, into his hand, not telling him what it was-more's the pity. We were out all the next day, and he called and wanted to find out where we were gone, but the footman is stupidity itself, and could not tell him. He came three times; but we were racketting at that miserable Sydenham, and did not get home till eleven. If he had only come in and waited! The next day came Spooner to me in a terrible rage. Now, promise, Mr. Travis, that this is never mentioned. On your honour !'
'On my honour. Never!'
My cheque had been presented with the one hundred changed into four. The clerk at the bank doubted it, and had come here, and Spooner came to Kensington about it. I believe I went nearer to a lie than ever I did before; I said it
was all right, and
stood to it so that they both had to be pacified. You see,' as she
"Well, it seems that I was altogether wrong about the value, as pictures go. Of course I thought it rather too bad, and meant to give him a piece of my mind and frighten him thoroughly; but ever since poor Cherry has been pining, and wondering at his not coming; and yesterday I got this-addressed here, no doubt that Cherry might not see it, but marked private to keep Spooner's hands off.'
She thrust a sheet of paper into his hand.
Had I seen you yesterday, I should not be in my present plight. I rehearse continually in my own ears the assault I had in readiness for you for your ignorance of the market price of art. Brynhild may be worthless, but if she be worth a penny, she is worth £250, which was what that gay deceiver was to have given. I had liabilities which I had staved off; indeed, my villain of a landlord only refrained from seizing my goods and chattels on the promise of the cash instanter. Other debts I durst not face. All that was left of your father's bequest is gone in the smash of the National Minstrelsy. County courts yawned on me, and only promptitude could save me. But verily I would not have taken a sheep when a lamb would have sufficed the first wolf, if one would have lent itself to transformation into anything but a cool four. Your round hand has been the ruin of me, Polly. It must have been the loop of youre that undid me. Nevertheless, I had the odd £150 in my pocket to hand over as your rightful change, (and maybe have begged of you,) when thrice I failed in finding you; and as I was coming this very morning-or was it yesterday? I'm all in a maze-I saw Spooner dash by in a cab, and knew it was all up with me!
Don't believe so badly of me as he has told you, dear old Poll. I have put myself out of his reach that he may have the less chance to break Felix's heart. For myself, I don't care a rap what becomes of me; but if it be not too late, I implore you to screen him and poor little Geraldine from the knowledge. Let them think it a simple flight from creditors-true enough in all conscience, as I fear they will soon find.
If it have got wind, I need not beg you to spare them and let Lance know that I am thankful to the early piety' or whatever it was that kept him out of the scrape. Some day all shall be repaid; but until then you have seen and heard the last of-your not ungrateful in heart, however ungrateful in deed— the most miserable and unlucky of dogs,
'Where was this posted?' asked Ferdinand.
'At Ostend. Here's the post-mark.'
'Has he sent back the £150?'
'Oh no; of course he must have that to go on with.'
T. E. U.
'It would have been more like repentance if he had sent it.' 'No, no; he couldn't. He would have had nothing to live on. Besides, it makes no real difference. Don't you turn against him, Mr. Travis, for I have no one else to trust to. I can't tell Felix; for it might do him serious harm in his business, and he might not consent to hush it up. Then Clement is a formal prig;
and Lance is a boy, and couldn't get away. Nobody but you can do any good.'
'And what is it that you wish me to do?'
'I wanted your advice, first of all; I had no one I could venture to talk to, lest he might think some dreadful thing his duty, and go and tell!'
There can be no palliating the criminality of the act,' said Ferdinand gravely; but for the sake of the the innocent(his lip quivered at the word,) 'it may well be concealed, since you are so generous. Vanderkist might make a cruel use of it.'
'And I think it would kill Cherry. What I wished wassince one can't write with no address—if any one could go after him, and tell him that not a soul knows. I do believe now,
after this shock, he might be sobered and make a new start; not here perhaps―'
'I'll go !' cried Ferdinand. and start by to-night's steamer. to be?'
'I'll do my business with Brown,
Do you know where he is likely
'His wish has always been for Italy, but it is hardly the season; and my dread is of his going to Hesse Homburg, or Baden, or some of those places, hoping to retrieve this money.'
'I'll look, I'll make every inquiry. I'll never rest till I have found him!' said Ferdinand, with the earnestness of one delighted to have found the means of rendering an important service to his dearest friends.
'I felt sure that you could and would, from the moment I saw you,' said Marilda. 'When your card came in, there seemed to open a way out of this dreadful black misery.'
'Remember,' said Ferdinand, it would not be right to bring him home at once on the former terms. You forgive him, and for the sake of his family you do not expose him; but he ought not to be reinstated.'
'Not only for his family's sake-for his own!' cried Marilda. 'He is just like my brother-it was only between brother and sister. But you are right,' she added, as the man's grave look of severity recalled her from her sisterly championship; 'it would only be running him into danger again. He had much better go
and study in Italy; and he can be helped there, if he will only keep out of mischief.'
She then mentioned all the haunts of his she knew of in Belgium and Germany; Geraldine might know more, but how was she to be told? Marilda had a perfect terror of renewing the condition into which she had last year been thrown, and besides feared her quickness of eye might discover the secret. She hoped to keep her in ignorance till Ferdinand could send home tidings, and make Edgar write what would be some comfort after the suspense; but when the time that, at the lowest computation, must elapse before anything could be heard was reckoned, they both felt that it was cruelty to keep Cherry in her present state. A week more would be enough to destroy her.
But Marilda, though a strong-minded woman enough ordinarily, shrunk with dismay from telling her. Should Felix be written to? There was no doubt that so soon as he heard the tidings from Cherry, or otherwise, he would hurry up to investigate and to take her home; so that to ask him to come and hardly giving him unreasonable trouble. might be safer, so managed. Thus, the two generous spirits who sat in council first destroyed poor Edgar's letter, lest it should ever serve as evidence against him; and then Marilda wrote—
MY DEAR FELIX,
break it to her was
Geraldine will have told you that we have not seen Edgar for some time. From a note received from him, I have reason to believe that debts are the cause of his flight. Mr. Travis is kind enough to follow and see what can be done; but I do not know how to tell poor Cherry, and if you will come up I will meet you at the station at 11.30.
Your affectionate cousin,
M. A. UNDERWOOD.