The Adventures of Don Lavington - George Manville Fenn - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1896

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George Manville Fenn

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Opis ebooka The Adventures of Don Lavington - George Manville Fenn

Lindon, known as Don, is a boy in his late teens who has left school, and who lives with his mother and uncle Josiah, his father being dead, and works as a clerk in the office, the business being sugar and tobacco importation, in Bristol, England, which he does not much like.

Opinie o ebooku The Adventures of Don Lavington - George Manville Fenn

Fragment ebooka The Adventures of Don Lavington - George Manville Fenn

About
Chapter 1 - Four Folk o’ Bristol City
Chapter 2 - Blind as Bats
Chapter 3 - An Awkward Guinea
Chapter 4 - Mike Bannock has a Ride
Chapter 5 - A Stubborn Disposition

About Fenn:

George Manville Fenn (January 3, 1831, Pimlico - August 26, 1909, Isleworth) was a British writer. He worked as a teacher in Lincolnshire, until he became printer, editor and publisher of various magazines. He had eight children with his wife Susanna Leake, whom he had married in 1855. Most of hist work consists of adventure stories for young readers, featuring Explorers, Smugglers, young Adventurers and Seamen. His adult novels offer critical social commentary on Victorian England, especially reconsidering economic questions.

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Chapter 1 Four Folk o’ Bristol City

 

“Mind your head! Crikey! That was near, ’nother inch, and you’d ha’ crushed him like an eggshell.”

“Well, you told me to lower down.”

“No, I didn’t, stupid.”

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t. You’re half tipsy, or half asleep, or—”

“There, there, hold your tongue, Jem. I’m not hurt, and Mike thought you said lower away. That’s enough.”

“No, it arn’t enough, Mas’ Don. Your uncle said I was to soop’rintend, and a nice row there’d ha’ been when he come back if you hadn’t had any head left.”

“Wouldn’t have mattered much, Jem. Nobody would have cared.”

“Nobody would ha’ cared? Come, I like that. What would your mother ha’ said to me when I carried you home, and told her your head had been scrunched off by a sugar-cask?”

“You’re right, Mas’ Don. Nobody wouldn’t ha’ cared. You aren’t wanted here. Why don’t you strike for liberty, my lad, and go and make your fortun’ in furren parts?”

“Same as you have, Mike Bannock? Now just you look ye here. If ever I hears you trying to make Master Don unsettled again, and setting him agen his work, I tells Mr Chris’mas, and no begging won’t get you back on again. Fortun’ indeed! Why, you ragged, penny-hunting, lazy, drunken rub-shoulder, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

“And I arn’t a bit, Jem Wimble, not a bit. Never you mind him, Master Don, you strike for freedom. Make your uncle give you your father’s money, and then off you goes like a man to see life.”

“Now lookye here,” cried the sturdy, broad-faced young fellow who had first spoken, as he picked up a wooden lever used for turning over the great sugar-hogsheads lying in the yard, and hoisting them into a trolly, or beneath the crane which raised them into the warehouse. “Lookye here, Mike Bannock, I never did knock a man down with this here wooden bar, but if you gets stirring Mas’ Don again, has it you do, right across the back. Spang!”

“Be quiet, Jem, and put the bar down,” said Lindon Lavington, a dark, well set-up lad of seventeen, as he sat upon the head of a sugar-hogshead with his arms folded, slowly swinging his legs.

“No, I sha’n’t put the bar down, Mas’ Don. Your uncle left me in charge of the yard, and—what yer sitting on the sugar-barrel for when there’s a ’bacco hogshead close by? Now just you feel how sticky you are.”

Don got off the barrel, and made a face, as he proved with one hand the truth of the man’s words, and then rubbed his treacly fingers against the warehouse wall.

“Your mother’ll make a row about that, just as my Sally does when I get molasses on my clothes.”

“You should teach her to lick it off, Jemmy Wimble,” said the rough-looking, red-faced labourer, who had lowered down a sugar-hogshead so rapidly, that he had been within an inch of making it unnecessary to write Don Lavington’s life, from the fact of there being no life to write.

“You mind your own business, Mike,” said Jem, indignantly.

“That’s what I’m a-doing of, and a-waiting for orders, Mr Jem Wimble. He’s hen-pecked, Mas’ Don, that what’s the matter with him. Been married only three months, and he’s hen-pecked. Haw-haw-haw! Poor old cock-bird! Hen-pecked! Haw-haw-haw!”

 

Jem Wimble, general worker in the warehouse and yard of  Josiah Christmas, West India merchant, of River Street, Bristol, gave Mike the labourer an angry look, as he turned as red as a blushing girl.

“Lookye here,” he cried angrily, as Don, who had reseated himself, this time on a hogshead crammed full of compressed tobacco-leaves from Baltimore, swung his legs, and looked on in a half-moody, half-amused way; “the best thing that could happen for Christmas’ Ward and for Bristol City, would be for the press-gang to get hold o’ you, and take you off to sea.”

“Haw-haw-haw!” laughed the swarthy, red-faced fellow. “Why don’t you give ’em the word, and have me pressed?”

“No coming back to be begged on then by Miss Kitty and Mas’ Don, after being drunk for a week. You’re a bad ’un, that’s what you are, Mike Bannock, and I wish the master wouldn’t have you here.”

“Not such a hard nut as you are, Jemmy,” said the man with a chuckle. “Sailors won’t take me—don’t want cripples to go aloft. Lookye here, Mas’ Don, there’s a leg.”

As he spoke, the great idle-looking fellow limped slowly, with an exaggerated display of lameness, to and fro past the door of the office.

“Get out, Mike,” said Don, as the man stopped. “I believe that’s nearly all sham.”

“That’s a true word, Mas’ Don,” cried Jem. “He’s only lame when he thinks about it. And now do please go on totting up, and let’s get these casks shifted ’fore your uncle comes back.”

“Well, I’m waiting, Jem,” cried the lad, opening a book he had under his arm, and in which a pencil was shut. “I could put down fifty, while you are moving one.”

“That’s all right, sir; that’s all right. I only want to keep things straight, and not have your uncle rowing you when he comes back. Seems to me as life’s getting to be one jolly row. What with my Sally at home, and your uncle here, and you always down in the mouth, and Mike not sticking to his work, things is as miserable as mizzar.”

“He’s hen-pecked, that’s what he is,” chuckled Mike, going to the handle of the crane. “Poor old Jemmy! Hen-pecked, that’s what’s the matter with him.”

“Let him alone, Mike,” said Don quietly.

“Right, Mas’ Don,” said the man; “but if I was you,” he murmured hoarsely, as Jem went into the warehouse, “I’d strike for liberty. I knows all about it. When your mother come to live with your uncle she give him all your father’s money, and he put it into the business. I know. I used to work here when you first come, only a little un, and a nice little un you was, just after your poor father died.”

Don’s brow wrinkled as he looked searchingly at the man.

“You’ve a right to half there is here, Mas’ Don; but the old man’s grabbing of it all for his gal, Miss Kitty, and has made your mother and you reg’lar servants.”

“It is not true, Mike. My uncle has behaved very kindly to my mother and me. He has invested my money, and given me a home when I was left an orphan.”

Kick!”

That is the nearest approach to the sound of Mike’s derisive laugh, one which made the lad frown and dart at him an angry look.

“Why, who told you that, my lad?”

“My mother, over and over again.”

“Ah, poor thing, for the sake o’ peace and quietness. Don’t you believe it, my lad. You’ve been werry kind to me, and begged me on again here when I’ve been ’most starving, and many’s the shillin’ you’ve give me, Mas’ Don, to buy comforts, or I wouldn’t say to you what I does now, and werry welcome a shilling would be to-day, Mas’ Don.”

“I haven’t any money, Mike.”

“Got no money, my lad? What a shame, when half of all this here ought to be yourn. Oh dear, what a cruel thing it seems! I’m very sorry for you, Mas’ Don, that I am, ’specially when I think of what a fine dashing young fellow like—”

“Don’t humbug, Mike.”

“Nay, not I, my lad; ’tarn’t likely. You know it’s true enough. You’re one of the young fellows as is kep’ out of his rights. I know what I’d do if I was you.”

“What?”

“Not be always rubbing my nose again a desk. Go off to one o’ them bu’ful foreign countries as I’ve told you of, where there’s gold and silver and dymons, and birds jus’ like ’em; and wild beasts to kill, and snakes as long as the main mast. Ah! I’ve seen some sights in furren abroad, as what I’ve told you about’s like nothing to ’em. Look here, Mas’ Don, shall I stop on for an hour and tell you what I’ve seen in South America?”

“No, no, Mike; my uncle doesn’t like you to be with me.”

“Ah, and well I knows it. ’Cause I tells you the truth and he feels guilty, Mas’ Don.”

“And—and it only unsettles me,” cried the boy with a despairing look in his eyes. “Get on with your work, and I must get on with mine.”

“Ah, to be sure,” said the scoundrel with a sneer. “Work, work, work. You and me, Mas’ Don, is treated worse than the black niggers as cuts the sugar-canes down, and hoes the ’bacco in the plantations. I’m sorry for you.”

Lindon Lavington thrust his little account book in his breast, and walked hurriedly in the direction taken by the man Jem, entering directly after a low warehouse door, where rows of sugar-hogsheads lay, and there was a murmur and buzz made by the attracted flies.

Mike Bannock stood with his hands clasping the handle of the crane winch against which he leaned without moving, but his eyes were hard at work.

He followed Don with them till he had disappeared through the low dark doorway, then glanced at the closed gate leading into the busy street, and then at the open office door, a few yards away.

All was still, save the buzzing of the flies about the casks on that hot midsummer’s day, and without the trace of a limp, the man stepped rapidly into the office, but only to dart back again in alarm, for, all at once, there was a loud rattling noise of straps, chains, and heavy harness.

There was no cause for alarm. It was only the fat, sleepy horse in the trolly shafts, who, at the same time that he gave his nosebag a toss, shook himself violently to get rid of the flies which preferred his juices to the sugar oozing from many a hogshead’s seams.

Mike darted into the office again; the flies buzzed; the horse munched oats; the faint sound of Don’s voice in converse with Jem Wimble could he heard; then there was a faint click as if a desk had been shut down softly, and Mike stepped out again, gave a hasty glance round, and the next moment was standing dreamily with his eyes half-closed, grasping the handle of the crane winch as Don returned, closely followed by Jem Wimble.

“Now, Mas’ Don, I’ll just mark another,” said Jem, “and we’ll have him out.”

He took a lump of chalk from a ledge close by, and ascended a step ladder to a door about six feet above the spot where Mike stood, and Don stood with his book under his arm, his brow rugged, and a thoughtful look in his eyes.

Just then the small door in the yard gate was opened, and a sturdy-looking grey-haired man in snuff-coloured coat and cocked hat, drab breeches and gaiters, entered unseen by the pair, who had their backs to him.

“I ’member, Mas’ Don, when I were out in the Mary Anne five year ago. We’d got to Pannymah, when the skipper stood with his glass to his eye, looking at a strange kind o’ hobjick ashore, and he says to me, ‘Mike, my lad—’”

“You idle scoundrel! How many more times am I to tell you that I will not have my time wasted over those lying stories of yours? Lindon, am I ever to be able to trust you when business takes me away?”

The words came in short sharp tones, and the speaker’s dark eyes seemed to flash. The effect was marvellous.

Mike began to turn the handle at a rapid rate, winding up the rope till the pair of hooks used for grasping the great hogsheads rattled with their chains against the pulley wheels of the crane, and a shout came from the warehouse,—

“Whatcher doing of? Hold hard!”

“Stop, sir!” cried the stern-looking man to Mike, just as Jem appeared at the upper doorway and looked down.

“Oh!” he ejaculated. “Didn’t know as you was there, sir.”

“It is disgraceful, Lindon. The moment my back is turned you leave your desk to come and waste the men’s time. I am ashamed of you.”

Lindon’s forehead grew more wrinkled as Josiah Christmas, merchant of Bristol city, and his maternal uncle, walked into the office, whither the lad followed slowly, looking stubborn and ill-used, for Mike Bannock’s poison was at work, and in his youthful ignorance and folly, he felt too angry to attempt a frank explanation.

In fact, just then one idea pervaded his mind—two ideas—that his uncle was a tyrant, and that he ought to strike against his tyranny and be free.

 


Chapter 2 Blind as Bats

 

That same evening Don Lavington did not walk home with his uncle, but hung back to see Jem Wimble lock-up, and then sauntered slowly with him toward the little low house by the entrance gates, where the yard-man, as he was called, lived in charge.

Jem had been in the West India merchant’s service from a boy, and no one was more surprised than he when on the death of old Topley, Josiah Christmas said to him one morning,—

“Wimble, you had better take poor old Topley’s place.”

“And—and take charge of the yard, sir?”

“Yes. I can trust you, can’t I?”

“Oh, yes, sir; but—”

“Ah! Yes. You have no wife to put in the cottage.”

Jem began to look foolish, and examine the lining of his hat.

“Well, sir, if it comes to that,” he faltered; and there was a weak comical aspect in his countenance which made Don burst out laughing.

“I know, uncle,” he cried, “he has got a sweetheart.”

“Well, Master Don,” said the young man, colouring up; “and nothing to be ashamed on neither.”

“Certainly not,” said the merchant quietly. “You had better get married, Wimble, and you can have the cottage. I will buy and lend you old Topley’s furniture.”

Wimble begged pardon afterwards, for on hearing all this astounding news, he rushed out of the office, pulled off his leather apron, put on his coat as he ran, and disappeared for an hour, at the end of which time he returned, went mysteriously up to Don and whispered,—

“It’s all right, sir; she says she will.”

The result was that Jem Wimble looked twice as important, and cocked his cocked hat on one side, for he had ten shillings a week more, and the furnished cottage, kept the keys, kept the men’s time, and married a wife who bore a most extraordinary likeness to a pretty little bantam hen.

This was three months before the scene just described, but though Jem spoke in authoritative tones to the men, it was with bated breath to his little wife, who was standing in the doorway looking as fierce as a kitten, when Jem walked up in company with his young master.

“Which I will not find fault before Master Lindon, Jem,” she said; “but you know I do like you to be home punctual to tea.”

“Yes, my dear, of course, of course,” said Jem, apologetically. “Not much past time, and had to shut up first.”

“That’s what you always say when you’re late. You don’t know, Master Don, what a life he leads me.”

“’Tain’t true, Master Don,” cried Jem. “She’s always a-wherritting me.”

“Now I appeal to Master Don: was it me, sir, as was late? There’s the tea ready, and the bread and butter cut, and the watercresses turning limp, and the flies getting at the s’rimps. It arn’t your fault, sir, I know, and I’m not grumbling, but there never was such a place as this for flies.”

“It’s the sugar, Sally,” said Don, who had sauntered aimlessly in with Jem, and as he stared round the neat little kitchen with the pleasant meal all ready, he felt as if he should like to stay to tea instead of going home.

“Yes, it’s the sugar, sir, I know; and you’d think it would sweeten some people’s temper, but it don’t.”

“Which if it’s me you mean, and you’re thinking of this morning—”

“Which I am, Jem, and you ought to be ashamed. You grumbled over your breakfast, and you reg’larly worried your dinner, and all on account of a button.”

“Well, then, you should sew one on. When a man’s married he does expect to find buttons on his clean shirts.”

“Yes, and badly enough you want ’em, making ’em that sticky as you do.”

“I can’t help that; it’s only sugar.”

“Only sugar indeed! And if it was my last words I’d say it—there was a button on the neck.”

“Well, I know that,” cried Jem; “and what’s the good of a button being on, if it comes off directly you touch it? Is it any good, Mas’ Don?”

“Oh, don’t ask me,” cried the lad, half-amused, half annoyed, and wishing they’d ask him to tea.

“He dragged it off, Master Don.”

“I didn’t.”

“You did, Jem, and you know you did, just to aggravate me.”

“Wasn’t half sewn on.”

“It was. I can’t sew your buttons on with copper wire.”

“You two are just like a girl and boy,” cried Don. “Here you have everything comfortable about you, and a good place, and you’re always quarrelling.”

“Well, it’s his fault, sir.”

“No, sir, it’s her’n.”

“It’s both your faults, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

“I’m not,” said Sally; “and I wish I’d never seen him.”

“And I’m sure I wish the same,” said Jem despondently. “I never see such a temper.”

“There, Master Don,” cried the droll-looking little Dutch doll of a woman. “That’s how he is always going on.”

“There, Jem, now you’ve made your poor little wife cry. You are the most discontented fellow I ever saw.”

“Come, I like that, Master Don; you’ve a deal to brag about, you have. Why, you’re all at sixes and sevens at home.”

This was such a home thrust that Don turned angrily and walked out of the place.

“There!” cried Sally. “I always knew how it would be. Master Don was the best friend we had, and now you’ve offended him, and driven him away.”

“Shouldn’t ha’ said nasty things then,” grumbled Jem, sitting down and attacking his tea.

“Now he’ll go straight to his uncle and tell him what a man you are.”

“Let him,” said Jem, with his mouth full of bread and butter.

“And of course you’ll lose your place, and we shall be turned out into the street to starve.”

“Will you be quiet, Sally? How’s a man to eat his tea with you going on like that?”

“Turned out into the world without a chance of getting another place. Oh! It’s too bad. Why did I ever marry such a man as you?”

“’Cause you were glad of the chance,” grumbled Jem, raising his hand to pour out some tea, but it was pushed aside indignantly, and the little woman busily, but with a great show of indignation, filled and sweetened her husband’s cup, which she dabbed down before him, talking all the while, and finishing with,—

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jem.”

“I am,” he grumbled. “Ashamed that I was ever such a stupid as to marry a girl who’s always dissatisfied. Nice home you make me.”

“And a nice home you make me, sir; and don’t eat your victuals so fast. It’s like being at the wild beast show.”

“That’s right; go on,” grumbled Jem, doubling his rate of consumption. “Grudge me my meals now. Good job if we could undo it all, and be as we was.”

“I wish we could,” cried the little woman, whose eyes seemed to say that her lips were not telling the truth.

“So do I,” cried Jem, tossing off his third cup of tea; and then to his little wife’s astonishment he took a thick slice of bread and butter in each hand, clapped them together as if they were cymbals, rose from the table and put on his hat.

“Where are you going, Jem?”

“Out.”

“What for?”

“To eat my bread and butter down on the quay.”

“But why, Jem?”

“’Cause there’s peace and quietness there.”

Bang! Went the door, and little Mrs Wimble stood gazing at it angrily for a few moments before sitting down and having what she called “a good cry,” after which she rose, wiped her eyes, and put away the tea things without partaking of any herself.

“Poor Jem!” she said softly; “I’m afraid I’m very unkind to him sometimes.”

Just at that moment Jem was sitting on an empty cask, eating his bread and butter, and watching a boat manned by blue-jackets going off to the sloop of war lying out toward the channel, and flying her colours in the evening breeze.

“Poor little Sally!” he said to himself. “We don’t seem to get on somehow, and I’m afraid I’m a bit rough to her; but knives and scissors! What a temper she have got.”

Meanwhile, in anything but a pleasant frame of mind, Don had gone home to find that the tea was ready, and that he was being treated as a laggard.

“Come, Lindon,” said his uncle quietly, “you have kept us waiting some time.”

The lad glanced quickly round the well-furnished room, bright with curiosities brought in many a voyage from the west, and with the poison of Mike’s words still at work, he wondered how much of what he saw rightfully belonged to him.

The next moment his eyes lit on the soft sweet troubled face of his mother, full of appeal and reproach, and it seemed to Don that his uncle had been upsetting her by an account of his delinquencies.

“It’s top bad, and I don’t deserve it,” he said to himself. “Everything seems to go wrong now. Well, what are you looking at?” he added, to himself, as he took his seat and stared across at his cousin, the playmate of many years, whose quiet little womanly face seemed to repeat her father’s grave, reproachful look, but who, as it were, snatched her eyes away as soon as she met his gaze.

“They all hate me,” thought Don, who was in that unhappy stage of a boy’s life when help is so much needed to keep him from turning down one of the dark side lanes of the great main route.

“Been for a walk, Don?” said his mother with a tender look.

“No, mother, I only stopped back in the yard a little while.”

His uncle set down his cup sharply.

“You have not been keeping that scoundrel Bannock?” he cried.

“No, sir; I’ve been talking to Jem.”

“Ho!” ejaculated the old merchant. “That’s better. But you might have come straight home.”

Don’s eyes encountered his Cousin Kitty’s just then, as she gave her head a shake to throw back the brown curls which clustered about her white forehead.

She turned her gaze upon her plate, and he could see that she was frowning.

“Yes,” thought Don, “they all dislike me, and I’m only a worry and trouble to my mother. I wish I was far away—anywhere.”

He went on with his tea moodily and in silence, paying no heed to the reproachful glances of his mother’s eyes, which seemed to him to say, and with some reason, “Don’t be sulky, Don, my boy; try and behave as I could wish.”

“It’s of no use to try,” he said to himself; and the meal passed off very silently, and with a cold chill on every one present.

“I’m very sorry, Laura,” said her brother, as soon as Don had left the room; “and I don’t know what to do for the best. I hate finding fault and scolding, but if the boy is in the wrong I must chide.”

“Try and be patient with him, Josiah,” said Mrs Lavington pleadingly. “He is very young yet.”

“Patient? I’m afraid I have been too patient. That scoundrel at the yard has unsettled him with his wild tales of the sea; and if I allowed it, Don would make him quite a companion.”

“But, Josiah—”

“There, don’t look like that, my dear. I promised you I would play a father’s part to the boy, and I will; but you must not expect me to be a weak indulgent father, and spoil him with foolish lenity. There, enough for one day. I daresay we shall get all right in time.”

“Oh, yes,” cried Mrs Lavington, earnestly. “He’s a true-hearted, brave boy; don’t try to crush him down.”

“Crush him, nonsense!” cried the merchant, angrily. “You really are too bad, Laura, and—”

He stopped, for just then Don re-entered the room to flush up angrily as he saw his mother in tears; and he had heard enough of his uncle’s remark and its angry tone to make him writhe.

“Ill using her now,” he said to himself, as he set his teeth and walked to the window.

The closing of the door made him start round quickly, to find that his mother was close behind him, and his uncle gone. “What has Uncle Jos been saying to you, mother?” he cried angrily.

“Nothing—nothing particular, my boy,” she faltered. “He has,” cried Don fiercely; “and I won’t have it. He may scold and abuse me as much as he likes, but I will not have him ill use you.”

“Ill use me, Don?” cried Mrs Lavington. “Nonsense, my dear boy. Your uncle is all that is kind and good; and he loves you very dearly, Don, if you could only try—try a little more, my dear boy, to do what he likes, and please him.”

“I do try, mother, but it’s no good.”

“Don’t say that, Don. Try a little harder—for my sake, dear, as well as your own.”

“I have tried, I am always trying, and it’s of no use. Nothing pleases uncle, and the men in the yard know it.”

“Don, my boy, what foolish obstinate fit is this which has come over you?” said Mrs Lavington tenderly.

“I’m not obstinate,” he said sullenly; “only unhappy.”

“Is it not your own fault, my darling?” she whispered; “believe me, your uncle is one of the kindest and best of men.”

Don shook his head.

“Are you going to prefer the opinion of the men of the yard to mine, dear?”

“No, mother, but uncle is your brother, and you believe in him and defend him. You know how harsh and unkind he is to me.”

“Not unkind, Don, only firm and for your good. Now come, my boy, do, for my sake, try to drive away these clouds, and let us all be happy once more.”

“It’s of no use to try, mother; I shall never be happy here, tied down to a desk. It’s like being uncle’s slave.”

“What am I to say to you, Don, if you talk like this?” said Mrs Lavington. “Believe me you are wrong, and some day you will own it. You will see what a mistaken view you have taken of your uncle’s treatment. There, I shall say no more now.”

“You always treat me as if I were a child,” said Don, bitterly. “I’m seventeen now, mother, and I ought to know something.”

“Yes, my boy,” said Mrs Lavington gently; “at seventeen we think we know a good deal; and at forty we smile as we look back and see what a very little that ‘good deal’ was.”

Don shook his head.

“There, we will have no more sad looks. Uncle is eager to do all he can to make us happy.”

“I wish I could think so,” cried Don, bitterly.

“You may, my dear. And now, come, try and throw aside all those fanciful notions about going abroad and meeting with adventures. There is no place like home, Don, and you will find out some day that is true.”

“But I have no home till I make one,” said the lad gloomily.

“You have an excellent home here, Don, the gift of one who has kindly taken the place toward you of your father. There, I will listen to no more from you, for this is all foolish fighting of your worse against your better self.”

There was a quiet dignity in his mother’s words which awed Don for the moment, but the gentle embrace given the next minute seemed to undo that which the firmness had achieved, and that night the cloud over the lad’s life seemed darker than ever.

“She takes uncle’s side and thinks he is everything,” he said gloomily, as he went to bed. “She means right, but she is wrong. Oh, how I wish I could go right away somewhere and begin life all over again.”

Then he lay down to sleep, but slumber did not come, so he went on thinking of many things, to fall into a state of unconsciousness at last, from which he awoke to the fact that it was day—a very eventful day for him, but he did not awaken to the fact that he was very blind.

 


Chapter 3 An Awkward Guinea

 

It was a busy day at the yard, for a part of the lading of a sugar ship was being stored away in Uncle Josiah’s warehouses; but from the very commencement matters seemed to go wrong, and the state of affairs about ten o’clock was pretty ably expressed by Jem Wimble, who came up to Don as he was busy with pencil and book, keeping account of the deliveries, and said in a loud voice,—

“What did your uncle have for breakfast, Mas’ Don?”

“Coffee—ham—I hardly know, Jem.”

“Ho! Thought p’r’aps it had been cayenne pepper.”

“Nonsense!”

“Ah, you may say that, but see how he is going it. ’Tarn’t my fault that the dock men work so badly, and ’tarn’t my fault that Mike isn’t here, and—”

“Don’t stand talking to Wimble, Lindon,” said a voice sharply, and Uncle Josiah came up to the pair. “No, don’t go away, Wimble. Did Bannock say he should stay away to-day?”

“Not to me, uncle.”

“Nor to me, sir.”

“It’s very strange, just as we are so busy too. He has not drawn any money.”

“P’r’aps press-gang’s got him, sir,” suggested Jem.

“Humph! Hardly likely!” said Uncle Josiah; and he went on and entered the office, to come out at the end of a few minutes and beckon to Don.

“Lindon,” he said, as the lad joined him, “I left nine guineas and a half in the little mahogany bowl in my desk yesterday. Whom have you paid?”

“Paid? No one, sir.”

“But eight guineas are gone—missing.”

“Eight guineas? Missing, sir?”

“Yes, do you know anything about them?”

“No, sir. I—that is—yes, I remember now: I picked up a guinea on the floor, and meant to give it to you. Here it is: I forgot all about it.”

Don took a piece of gold from his flap waistcoat pocket, and handed it to his uncle, who looked at him so curiously that the boy grew confused.

“Picked this up on the floor, Lindon?” said Uncle Josiah.

“Yes, sir. It had rolled down by my desk.”

“It is very strange,” said Uncle Josiah, thoughtfully. “Well, that leaves seven missing. You had better look round and see if you can find them.”

Don felt uncomfortable, he hardly knew why; but it seemed to him that his uncle looked at him doubtingly, and this brought a feeling of hot indignation into the boy’s brain.

He turned quickly, however, entered the office, and with his uncle looking on, searched all over the floor.

“Well?”

“There’s nothing here, sir. Of course not,” cried Don eagerly; “Mrs Wimble sweeps up every morning, and if there had been she would have found it.”

Uncle Josiah lifted off his cocked hat, and put it on again wrong way first.

“This is a very unpleasant affair, Lindon,” he said. “I can afford to lose seven guineas, or seven hundred if it came to that, but I can’t afford to lose confidence in those whom I employ.”

Don felt hot and cold as his uncle walked to the door and called Jem; and as he waited he looked at the map of an estate in the West Indies, all fly-specked and yellow, then at the portraits of three merchant vessels in full sail, all as yellow and fly-specked as the map, and showing the peculiarity emphasised by the ingenious artist, of their sails blown out one way and their house flags another.

“Surely uncle can’t suspect me,” he said to himself; and then the thought came again—“surely uncle can’t suspect me.”

“Come in here, Wimble,” said Uncle Josiah, very sternly.

Jem took off his hat, and followed him into the office.

“Some money is missing from my desk, Wimble. Have you seen it?”

“Me, sir?” said Jem, stooping down and peering in all directions under the desks. “No, sir, I harn’t seen it. Let’s see, I don’t think I’ve been here only when I locked up.”

“By some mischance I left my desk unlocked when I went out in a hurry yesterday. Lindon here has found one piece on the floor.”

“P’r’aps tothers is there, too,” said Jem eagerly.

“No; we have looked. Call your wife. Perhaps she may have found them when sweeping.”

“Not she, sir,” said Jem. “If she had she’d ha’ told me. ’Sides, how could they ha’ got on the floor?”

“That remains to be proved, Wimble,” said Uncle Josiah, drily. “Call your wife.”

Jem went to the door, rubbing his ear, and as it happened, seeing his wife outside the cottage, telegraphed to her to come by working one arm about furiously.

Little Mrs Wimble came up in a hurry, looking scared.

“Take off that there dirty apron,” whispered Jem, making a dash at the offending garment, and snatching back his hand bleeding from the scratch of the pin by which it was fastened.

“Look at that,” he began.

“Then you shouldn’t—”

“Silence!” said Uncle Josiah. “Mrs Wimble, did you sweep up this room to-day?”

“That I did, sir, and dusted too, and if there’s any dust, it must be an—”

“Hush! Don’t talk so. Listen to me. Did you find any money on the floor?”

“Sakes alive, sir, no.”

“You are quite sure?”

“Oh yes, sir, quite sure. Have you dropped anything?”

“Yes! No! That will do.”

Mrs Wimble stared.

“Don’t you hear?” whispered Jem. “Be off!”

The little woman gave him an angry look, and then hurried from the office, looking put out and hurt.

“This money must be found,” said Uncle Josiah sternly, as soon as they were alone. “You are sure that you have seen no more, Lindon?”

“Quite, uncle. I’m sorry I forgot about the guinea I found.”

“Yes!” said Uncle Josiah, giving him a quick searching look. “You are quite certain, Wimble?”

“Me, sir? Oh, yes; I’m moral sartain.”

“I should be sorry to suspect any one, and behave unjustly, but I must have this matter cleared up. Michael Bannock is away, and I cannot conceive his being absent without money, unless he is ill. Wimble, go and see.”

“Yes, sir,” said the yard-man, with alacrity; and he went off shaking his head, as if all this was a puzzle beyond his capacity to comprehend.

“You had better go to your desk, Lindon,” said Uncle Josiah, coldly.

Don started, and mounted his stool, but he could not write. His brain was confused; and from time to time he glanced at the stern-looking old merchant, and tried to grasp his thoughts. “Surely uncle can’t suspect me—surely he can’t suspect me!” he found himself saying again, and the trouble seemed to increase till he felt as if he must speak out and say how sorry he was that he had picked up the money and forgotten all about it, when Jem returned.

“He arn’t ill, sir,” said the man eagerly, “I found him close by, at the Little Half Moon, in the back street.”

“Drinking?”

“Yes, sir, and treating a lot of his mates. He wanted me to have some, and when I wouldn’t, he said I should, and emptied half a glass over me. See here.”

He held up one of his broad skirts which was liberally splashed.

Uncle Josiah frowned, and took a turn or two up and down the office. Then he stopped before Jem.

“Go round to Smithers the constable. You know: the man who came when the rum was broached.”

“Yes, sir, I know.”

“Ask Smithers to bring Michael Bannock round here. I must clear this matter up.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jem; and he hurried out, while Don drew a long breath.

“Uncle does not suspect me,” he said to himself. “The scoundrel! He must have taken advantage of your back being turned to come in here. You did not notice anything, Lindon?”

“No, uncle, and I hardly think he could have been left alone.”

“But the money is missing; some of it was dropped; this man is always penniless; he has not drawn his wages, and yet he is half tipsy and treating his companions. I hope I am not suspecting him wrongfully, but it looks bad, Lindon, it looks bad.”

The old merchant sat down and began to write. So did Don, who felt better now, and the time glided on till there were the sounds of feet heard in the yard, and directly after Mike, looking very red-eyed and flushed, entered the office, half pushed in by Jem Wimble and a hard-faced ugly man, who had a peculiar chip out of, or dent in, his nose.

“Morn’, master,” said Mike, boisterously. “Couldn’t yer get on without yer best man i’ th’ yard?”

“Silence, sir!” cried Uncle Josiah, turning round, and glaring magisterially at the culprit.

“Take yer hat off, can’t yer?” cried Jem, knocking it off for him, and then picking it up and handing it.

“Give man time, Jem Wimble,” said Mike, with a grimace. “Want to pay me what you owes me, master?”

“Hold your tongue, sir! And listen. Constable, a sum of money has been abstracted from my desk, and this man, who I believe was penniless two days ago, is now staying away from his work treating his friends.”

“Steady, master; on’y having a glass.”

“He was paying for ale with a guinea when I fetched him out, sir,” said the constable. “Now, Mike, you’re wanted for another ugly job, so you may as well clear yourself of this if you can.”

“What yer mean with your ugly job?” said the man, laughing.

“You’ll know soon enough; you and four more are in trouble. Now then, what money have you got on you?”

“None ’tall.”

“Out with it.”

“Well, only two o’ these. I did have three,” grumbled the man, reluctantly taking out a couple of guineas from his pocket.

“Looks bad, sir,” said the constable. “Now then, where did you get them?”

“What’s that to you?”

“Enough for Mr Christmas to charge you with robbing his desk, my lad; and this and what I’ve got against you will send you to Botany Bay.”

“What, me? Rob a good master? Not a penny.”

“What have you done with the rest?” continued the constable.

“Never had no more, and wouldn’t have had that if I’d knowed.”

“This will do, sir,” said the constable. “You charge him here with stealing money from your desk?”

“I am afraid I must,” said Uncle Josiah.

“What, me? Charge me?” cried the man, angrily.

“Yes, Bannock, reluctantly; but it seems that you are the thief.”

“No: not me!” cried the man, fiercely. “It warn’t me. It was him.”

Don started and turned pale, as the man stood pointing at him.

“What do you mean?” cried Uncle Josiah.

“Mean? Why, I ketched him a-helping hisself to the money, and he give me three guineas to hold my tongue.”

“What?”

“And when I wouldn’t take ’em he said if I didn’t he’d say it was me; and that’s the whole truth, and nothing else.”

“Lindon, what have you to say to this?” cried Uncle Josiah.

Don thought of the guinea he had picked up, of his uncle’s curious look when he gave it to him, and as he turned red and white with terror and dismay, mingled with confusion, he tried to speak, but try how he would, no words would come.

 


Chapter 4 Mike Bannock has a Ride

 

“You wretch!”

Those two words were a long time coming, but when they did escape from Lindon’s lips, they made up in emphasis and force for their brevity.

“Steady, Master Don, steady,” said Jem, throwing his arms round the boy’s waist, and holding him back. “You arn’t strong enough to fight him.”

“Wretch? Oh! Well, I like that. Why, some men would ha’ gone straight to your uncle here, and told him all about it; but I didn’t, and I’d made up my mind to send him the money back, only I met two or three mates, and I had to change one of ’em to give the poor lads a drink o’ ale.”

“You own, then, that you had my money, sir?” cried the old merchant.

“Well—some on it, master. He give it me. S’pose I oughtn’t to have took it, but I didn’t like to come and tell you, and get the poor lad into trouble. He’s so young, you see.”

“Uncle, it is not true!” cried Lindon, excitedly.

“But you had one of the guineas in your pocket, sir.”

“Yes, uncle, but—”

“Course he had,” interrupted Mike sharply. “I told you it wouldn’t do, Master Don. I begged you not to.”

“You villain!” cried Don, grinding his teeth, while his uncle watched him with a sidelong look.

“Calling names won’t mend it, my lad. I knowed it was wrong. I telled him not to, sir, but he would.”

This was to the constable in a confidential tone, and that functionary responded with a solemn wink.

“It is not true, uncle!” cried Don again.

“Oh, come now,” said Mike, shaking his head with half tipsy reproach, “I wouldn’t make worse on it, my lad, by telling a lot o’ lies. You did wrong, as I says to you at the time; but you was so orbst’nate you would. Says as you’d got such lots of money, master, as you’d never miss it.”

Uncle Josiah gave vent to a sound resembling a disgusted grunt, and turned from the speaker, who continued reproachfully to Don,—

“What you’ve got to do, my lad, is to go down on your bended knees to your uncle, as is a good master as ever lived—and I will say that, come what may—and ask him to let you off this time, and you won’t do so any more.”

“Uncle, you won’t believe what he says?” cried Don wildly.

Uncle Josiah did not reply, only looked at him searchingly.

“He can’t help believing it, my lad,” said Mike sadly. “It’s werry shocking in one so young.”

Don made a desperate struggle to free himself from Jem’s encircling arms, but the man held fast.

“No, no, my lad; keep quiet,” growled Jem. “I’m going to spoil the shape of his nose for him before he goes.”

“Then you don’t believe it, Jem?” cried Don, passionately.

“Believe it, my lad? Why, I couldn’t believe it if he swore it ’fore a hundred million magistrits.”

“No, that’s allus the way with higgerant chaps like you, Jem Wimble,” said Mike; “but it’s all true, genelmen, and I’m sorry I didn’t speak out afore like a man, for he don’t deserve what I did for him.”

“Hah!” ejaculated Uncle Josiah, and Don’s face was full of despair.

“You charge Mike Bannock, then, with stealing this money, sir,” said the constable.

“Yes, certainly.”

“What?” roared Mike, savagely, “charge me?”

“That will do,” said the constable, taking a little staff with a brass crown on the end from his pocket. “No nonsense, or I shall call in help. In the King’s name, my lad. Do you give in?”

“Give in? What for? I arn’t done nothing. Charge him; he’s the thief.”

Don started as if the word thief were a stinging lash.

Jem loosed his hold, and with double fists dashed at the scoundrel.

“You say Master Don’s a thief!”

“Silence, Wimble! Stand back, sir,” cried Uncle Josiah, sternly.

“But, sir—”

“Silence, man! Am I master here?”

Jem drew back muttering.

“Charge him, I say,” continued Mike, boisterously; “and if you won’t, I will. Look here, Mr Smithers, I charge this ’ere boy with going to his uncle’s desk and taking all the gold, and leaving all the silver in a little hogamee bowl.”

“You seem to know all about it, Mike,” said the constable, grimly.

“Course I do, my lad. I seed him. Caught him in the werry act, and he dropped one o’ the guineas, and it run away under the desk, and he couldn’t find it.”

“You saw all that, eh?” said the constable.

“Every bit of it. I swears to it, sir.”

“And how came you to be in the office to see it?”

“How come I in the office to see it?” said Mike, staring; “how come I in the office to see it?”

“Yes. Your work’s in the yard, isn’t it?”

“Course it is,” said Mike, with plenty of effrontery; “but I heerd the money jingling like, and I went in to see.”

“And very kind of you too, Mike,” said the constable, jocularly. “Don’t you forget to tell that to the magistrates.”

“Magistrits? What magistrits? Master arn’t going to give me in custody, I know.”

“Indeed, but I am, you scoundrel,” cried Uncle Josiah, wrathfully. “You are one of the worst kind of thieves—”

“Here, take that back, master.”

“Worst kind of scoundrels—dogs who bite the hand that has fed them.”

“I tell yer it was him,” said Mike, with a ferocious glare at Don.

“All right, Mike, you tell the magistrates that,” said the constable, “and don’t forget.”

“I arn’t going ’fore no magistrits,” grumbled Mike.

“Yes, you are,” said the constable, taking a pair of handcuffs from his pocket. “Now then, is it to be quietly?”

Mike made a furious gesture.

“Just as you like,” said the constable. “Jem Wimble, I call you in the King’s name to help.”

“Which I just will,” cried Jem, with alacrity; and he made at Mike, while Don felt a strange desire tingling in his veins as he longed to help as well.

“I gives in,” growled Mike. “I could chuck the whole lot on you outer winder, but I won’t. It would only make it seem as if I was guilty, and it’s not guilty, and so I tell you. Master says I took the money, and I says it was that young Don Lavington as is the thief. Come on, youngster. I’ll talk to you when we’re in the lock-up.”

Don looked wildly from Mike to his uncle, whose eyes were fixed on the constable.

“Do you charge the boy too, sir?”

Uncle Josiah was silent for some moments.

“No! Not now!”

Lindon’s heart leapt at that word “no!” But it sank again at the “not now.”

“But the case is awkward, sir,” said the constable. “After what this man has said we shall be obliged to take some notice of the matter.”

“’Bliged to? Course you will. Here, bring ’im along. Come on, mate. I can tell you stories all night now about my bygones. Keep up yer sperrits, and I daresay the magistrits ’ll let you off pretty easy.”

“If there is any charge made against my young clerk,”—Don winced, for his uncle did not say, “against my nephew,”—“I will be answerable for his appearance before the magistrates. That will be sufficient, I presume.”

“Yes, sir, I suppose that will do,” said the constable.

“But I s’pose it won’t,” said Mike. “He’s the monkey and I’m only the cat. You’ve got to take him if you does your dooty, and master ’ll be answerable for me.”

“Exactly,” said the constable; “come along.”

“Nay, but this arn’t fair, master. Take one, take all. You bring us both.”

“Come along.”

“If you don’t bring that there young un too, I won’t go,” exclaimed the scoundrel, fiercely.

Click!

A short struggle, and then click again, and Mike Bannock’s hands were useless, but he threw himself down.

“Fair play, fair play,” he cried, savagely; “take one, take all. Are you going to charge him, master?”

“Take the scoundrel away, Smithers, and once more I will be bail—before the magistrates, if necessary—for my clerk’s appearance,” cried Uncle Josiah, who was now out of patience. “Can I help?”

“Well, sir, you could,” said the constable, grimly; “but if you’d have in three or four of your men, and a short step ladder, we could soon carry him off.”

“No man sha’n’t carry me off,” roared Mike, as Jem ran out of the office with great alacrity, and returned in a very short time with three men and a stout ladder, about nine feet long.

“That’s the sort, Wimble,” said the constable. “Didn’t think of a rope, did you?”

“Did I think of two ropes?” said Jem, grinning.

“Ah!” ejaculated the constable. “Now, Mike Bannock, I just warn you that any violence will make your case worse. Take my advice, get up and come quietly.”

“Take young Don Lavington too, then, and I will.”

“Get up, and walk quietly.”

“Not ’less you takes him.”

“Sorry to make a rumpus, sir,” said the constable, apologetically; “but I must have him out.”

“The sooner the better,” said Uncle Josiah, grimly.

“I am ready to go, uncle,” said Don, quietly. “I am not afraid.”

“Hold your tongue, sir!” said the merchant, sternly; “and stand out of the way.”

“Now, Mike,” said the constable, “this is the third time of asking. Will you come quiet?”

“Take him too,” cried Mike.

“Ready with those ropes, Wimble. You two, ready with that there. Now, Mike Bannock, you’ve been asked three times, and now you’ve got to mount that ladder.”

“Any man comes a-nigh me,” roared Mike, “I’ll—”

He did not say what, for the constable dashed at him, and by an ingenious twist avoided a savage kick, threw the scoundrel over on his face, as he lay on the floor, and sat upon him, retaining his seat in spite of his struggles.

“Step the first,” said the constable, coolly. “Now, Wimble, I want that ladder passed under me, so as to lie right along on his back. Do you see?”

“Yes, sir,” cried Jem, eagerly; and taking the ladder as the constable sat astride the prostrate scoundrel, holding down his shoulders, and easing himself up, the ladder was passed between the officer’s legs, and, in spite of a good deal of heaving, savage kicking, and one or two fierce attempts to bite, right along till it was upon Mike’s back, projecting nearly two feet beyond his head and feet.

“Murder!” yelled Mike, hoarsely.

“What? Does it hurt, my lad? Never mind; you’ll soon get used to it.”

The constable seated himself upon the ladder, whose sides and rounds thoroughly imprisoned the scoundrel in spite of his yells and struggles to get free.

“Now then, Wimble, I’ve got him. You tie his ankles, one each side, tightly to the ladder, and one of you bind his arms same way to the ladder sides. Cut the rope. Mr Christmas will not mind.”

The men grinned, and set to work so handily that in a few moments Mike was securely bound.

“Now then,” said the constable, “I’ll have one round his middle; give me a piece of rope; I’ll soon do that.”

He seized the rope, and, without rising, rapidly secured it to one side of the ladder.

“Now,” he said, “raise that end.”

This was done, the rope passed under Mike, drawn up on the other side, hauled upon till Mike yelled for mercy, and then knotted twice.

“There, my lads,” said the constable, rising; “now turn him over.”

The ladder was seized, turned, and there lay Mike on his back, safely secured.

“Here, undo these,” he said, sullenly. “I’ll walk.”

“Too late, Mike, my boy. Now then, a couple of men head and tail. Let the ladder hang at arm’s length. Best have given in quietly, and not have made yourself a show, Mike.”

“Don’t I tell you I’ll walk?” growled the prisoner. “And let us have all our trouble for nothing? No, my lad, it’s too late. Ready there! Up with him. Good morning, sir. March!”

The men lent themselves eagerly to the task, for Mike was thoroughly disliked; and a few minutes later there was a crowd gathering and following Mike Bannock as he was borne off, spread-eagled and half tipsy, to ponder on the theft and his chances in the cold damp place known in Bristol as the lock-up.

Don Lavington stood in the office, waiting for his uncle to speak.

 


Chapter 5 A Stubborn Disposition

 

“Stop!”

Don had taken his hat, and, seeing his uncle apparently immersed in a letter, was about to yield to his curiosity and follow the constable, when, as he reached the door, his uncle’s word thundered out and made him turn and go on with his writing in response to a severe look and a pointing finger.

From time to time the boy looked up furtively as he sat, and wondered why his uncle did not say anything more about the money.

But the time glided on, and the struggle between his desire to speak out frankly and his indignant wounded pride continued.

A dozen times over he was on the point of crossing to the stern-looking old man, and begging him to listen and believe, but Uncle Josiah sat there with the most uncompromising of expressions on his face, and Don dared not speak. He dared not trust himself for very shame, as the incident had so upset him, that he felt sure that he must break down and cry like a child if he attempted to explain.

After a time there was the sound of voices talking and laughing, and the click of the heavy latch of the gate. Then through the open windows came the deep burr burr of Jem’s bass, and the shrill inquiring tones of Sally Wimble, as she eagerly questioned her lord.

Then there were steps, some of which passed the office door; and Don, as he sat with his head bent over a ledger, knew exactly whose steps those were, and where the makers of those steps were going to the different warehouses in the great yard.

Directly after Jem’s foot was heard, and he tapped at the door, pushed it a little way, and waited.

“Come in,” said Uncle Josiah, sharply.

Jem entered, doffing his cocked hat, and casting a sympathising look at Don, who raised his head. Then seeing that his employer was deeply immersed in the letter he was writing, Jem made a series of gesticulations with his hat, supplemented by some exceedingly queer grimaces, all meant as a kind of silent language, which was very expressive, but quite incomprehensible to Don.

“Well?” said Uncle Josiah, sharply.

“Beg pardon, sir! Thought you’d like to hear how we got on?”

“Well?”

“Went pretty quiet, sir, till we got about half-way there, and then he begun kicking like mad—leastways he didn’t kick, because his legs was tied, but he let go all he could, and it was hard work to hold the ladder.”

“And he is now safely locked up?”

“Yes, sir, and I’ve been thinking, sir, as he must have took that money when Master Don here was up in the warehouse along o’ me.”

“I daresay we shall find all out by-and-by, Wimble,” said the old merchant, coldly. “That will do, now.”

Jem looked uneasily at Don, as he turned his hat round to make sure which was the right way on, and moved slowly toward the door.

“Which, begging your pardon, sir, you don’t think now as—”

“Well?” said the old merchant, sharply, for Jem had stopped.

“Think as Mrs Wimble picked up any of the money, sir?”

“No, no, my man, of course not.”

“Thankye, sir, I’m glad of that; and if I might make so bold, sir, about Master Don—”

“What do you wish to say, man?”

“Oh, nothing, sir, only I’m quite sure, sir, as it was all Mike Bannock’s doing, and—”

“I think you had better go on with your work, Wimble, which you do understand, and not meddle with things that are beyond you.”

“Certainly, sir, certainly,” said Jem, quickly. “Just going, sir;” and giving Don a sympathetic look, he hurried out, but had hardly closed the door before he opened it again.

“Beg pardon, sir, Mrs Lavington, sir, and Miss Kitty.”

Don started from his stool, crimson with mortification. His mother! What would Uncle Josiah say?

Jem Wimble gave Don another look full of condolence before he closed the door, leaving Mrs Lavington and her niece in the office.

Mrs Lavington’s face was full of anxiety and care, as she glanced from her son to her brother and back again, while Kitty’s was as full of indignant reproof as she darted an angry look at Don, and then frowned and looked straight down at the floor.

“Well?” said the old merchant, coldly, “why have you come? You know I do not like you to bring Kitty here to the business place.”

“I—I heard—” faltered Mrs Lavington, who stood in great awe of her brother when he was in one of his stern moods.

“Heard? Well, what did you hear?”

“Such terrible news, Josiah.”

“Well, well, what?”

“Oh, my brother!” she exclaimed, wildly, as she stepped forward and caught his hand, “tell me it is not true.”

“How can I tell you what is not true when I don’t know what you are talking about,” cried the old man, impatiently. “My dear Laura, do you think I have not worries enough without your coming here?”

“Yes, yes; I know, dear.”

“And you ought to know that I shall do what is just and right.”

“I am sure of that, Josiah, but I felt obliged to come. Kitty and I were out shopping, and we met a crowd.”

“Then you should have turned down a side street.”

“But they were your men in the midst, and directly after I saw little Sally Wimble following.”

“Oh, she was, was she?” cried the old man, glad of some one on whom to vent his spleen. “That woman goes. How dare she leave the gates when her husband is out? I shall be having the place robbed again.”

“Yes, that is what she said, Josiah—that you had been robbed, and that Don—my boy—oh, no, no, no; say it is not true.”

Mrs Lavington looked wildly from one to the other, but there was a dead silence, and in a few minutes the poor woman’s manner had entirely changed. When she first spoke it was as the timid, shrinking, affectionate woman; now it was as the mother speaking in defence of her child.

“I say it is not true,” she cried. “You undertook to be a father to my poor boy, and now you charge him with having robbed you.”

“Laura, be calm,” said the old merchant, quietly; “and you had better take Kitty back home and wait.”

“You have always been too stern and harsh with the poor boy,” continued Mrs Lavington, without heeding him. “I was foolish ever to come and trust to you. How dare you charge him with such a crime?”

“I did not charge him with any crime, my dear Laura,” said the old merchant, gravely.

“Then it is not true?”

“It is true that I have been robbed, and that the man whom Lindon has persisted in making his companion, in spite of all I have said to the contrary, has charged him with the base, contemptible crime of robbing the master who trusted him.”

“But it is not true, Josiah; and that is what you always do, treat my poor boy as if he were your servant instead of your nephew—your sister’s boy.”

“I treat Lindon as if he were my son when we are at home,” said the old man, quietly. “When we are here at the office I treat him as my clerk, and I trust him to look after my interests, and to defend me from dishonest people.”

Don looked up, and it was on his lips to say, “Indeed, uncle, I always have done so,” when the old man’s next words seemed to chill and harden him.

“But instead of doing his duty by me, I have constantly had to reprove him for making a companion of a man whom I weakly, and against my better judgment, allowed in the yard; and the result is I have been robbed, and this man accuses Lindon of committing the robbery, and bribing him to silence.”

“But it is not true, Josiah. My son could not be guilty of such a crime.”

“He will have every opportunity of disproving it before the magistrates,” said Uncle Josiah, coldly.

“Magistrates!—my boy?” exclaimed Mrs Lavington, wildly. “Oh, no, no, no, brother; you will not proceed to such extremities as these. My boy before the magistrates. Impossible!”

“The matter is out of my hands, now,” said the old merchant, gravely. “I was bound to charge that scoundrel labourer with the theft. I could not tell that he would accuse your son of being the principal in the crime.”

“But you will stop it now for my sake, dear. Don, my boy, why do you not speak, and beg your uncle’s forgiveness?”

Don remained silent, with his brow wrinkled, his chin upon his breast, and a stubborn look of anger in his eyes, as he stood with his hands in his pockets, leaning back against his desk.

“Do you hear me, Don? Tell your uncle it is not true, and beg him to help you clear yourself from this disgrace.”

The lad made no reply, merely crossing his legs, and made his shoe-buckles rasp together as he slowly moved his feet.

“Don!”

He looked up strangely, met his mother’s earnest appealing gaze, and for the moment his better nature prevailed; but as he looked from her to his uncle, and saw the old man’s grey eyes fixed upon him searchingly, a feeling of obstinate anger swept over him again, and made him set his teeth, as something seemed to whisper to him, “No; you told the truth, and he would not believe you. Let him prove you guilty if he can!”

It was not the first time in history that a boy had stubbornly fought against his better self, and allowed the worst part of his nature to prevail.

“Do you not hear me, Don?” cried his mother. “Why do you not speak?”

Don remained silent, and Kitty, as she looked at him, angrily uttered an impatient ejaculation.

“Don, my son, for my sake speak to your uncle. Do you not hear me?”

“Yes, mother.”

“Then appeal to him to help you. Ask him to forgive you if you have done wrong.”

“And she believes me guilty, too,” thought Don, as he scowled at his feet.

“But you have not done wrong, my boy. I, your mother, will not believe it of you.”

Don’s better self began to force down that side of his mental scale.

“You may have been weak and foolish, Don, but nothing worse.”

The evil scale went down now in turn, and with it the foolish, ignorant boy’s heart sank low.

“Come, Don.”

“I’ve nothing more to say, mother.”

“Nothing more to say!” cried Mrs Lavington, wildly. “Oh, yes, yes, you have much to say, my boy. Come, throw away this wilful pride and obstinacy.”

“I wish I could,” thought Don one moment. “It is as cruel as it is unjust,” he thought the next; and he felt more obstinately full of pride than ever.

“Don, I command you to speak,” said Mrs Lavington, whose manner now began to change; but unfortunately the stern tone she adopted had the wrong effect, and the wrinkles in the boy’s face grew deeper, and the position more strained.

If Uncle Josiah, who had never had boys of his own, had come down from the lofty perch he had assumed, taken the boy’s hand, and said in kindly and frank tones, “Come, Don, my boy, there are troubles enough in life, clouds sufficient to obscure too much sunshine; speak out, let’s have all this over, and clear the storm away,”—if he had said something like that, Don would have melted, and all would have been well; but accustomed to manage men with an iron rule, Uncle Josiah had somehow, in spite of his straightforward, manly, and just character, seemed to repel the boy whose charge he had taken, and instead now of making the slightest advance, he said to himself, “It is not my duty to eat humble pie before the obstinate young cub. It will be a severe lesson for him, and will do him good.”

So the breach widened. Don seemed to grow sulky and sullen, when he was longing to cast himself upon his mother’s neck. The poor woman felt indignant at her son’s conduct, and the last straw which broke the camel’s back was laid on the top of the load by Kitty, who, moved by a desire to do good, made matters far worse by running across to Don, and in an impetuous way catching his hands and kissing him.

“Don, dear!” she cried.

The boy’s face lit up. Here was some one who would believe him after all, and he responded to her advances by grasping her hands tightly in his.

“Do, do speak, Don dear, and beg father to forgive you,” she cried. “Tell him it was a mistake, and that you will never do so again.”

Don let fall her hands, the deep scowl came over his brow again, and he half turned away.

“No, no, Don, dear,” she whispered; “pray don’t be obstinate. Confess that you did it, and promise father to do better in the future. He will forgive you; I know he will.”

Don turned his back with an impatient gesture, and Kitty burst into tears, and went slowly to her aunt, to whose hands she clung.

“Laura, dear,” said Uncle Josiah, gravely, “I think we had better bring this painful interview to an end. You may rest assured that I shall do what is just and right by Don. He shall have every opportunity for clearing himself.”

“I am not guilty,” cried Don, fiercely throwing back his head.

“I thought so this morning, my boy,” said the old merchant, gravely. “Your conduct now is making me think very differently. Laura, I will walk home with you, if you please.”

“Josiah! Don, my boy, pray, pray speak,” cried Mrs Lavington, piteously.

Don heard her appeal, and it thrilled him, but his uncle’s words had raised up an obstinacy that was stronger than ever, and while longing to throw himself in his mother’s arms—passionately longing so to do—his indignant pride held him back, and he stood with his head bent, as in obedience to her brother Mrs Lavington took his arm, and allowed him to lead her out of the office, weeping bitterly the while.

Don did not look up to meet his mother’s yearning gaze, but for months and years after he seemed to see that look when far away in the midst of peril, and too late he bitterly upbraided himself for his want of frankness and power to subdue his obstinate pride.

“He thinks me guilty!” he said to himself, as he stood with his head bent, listening, and unaware of the fact that some one was still in the room, till a light step came towards him, his hand was caught, and his cheek rapidly kissed.

“Kitty!”

“Coming, father.”

Then there was a rapid step, the door closed, and Don stood in the same attitude, listening to the steps on the gravel, and then to the bang of the wicket-gate.

Alone with his thoughts, and they were many and strange.

What should he do? Go right away, and—and—

“Mas’ Don.”

He looked up, and Jem stood at the door.