The next few days were largely spent in house hunting; and, after careful investigation, and much discussion, they decided to take, for the present, a pleasantly situated detached villa, which stood on the road leading out past the field where, so many years ago, "Cobbler" Horn had found his little lost Marian's shoe. The nearness of the house to this spot had induced him, in spite of his sister's protest, to prefer it to several otherwise more eligible residences; and he was confirmed in his decision by the fact that the villa was no great distance from the humble dwelling he was so reluctant to leave. They were to have possession at once; and Miss Jemima was permitted to plunge without delay into the delights of buying furniture, engaging servants, and such like fascinating concerns.
During these busy days, "Cobbler" Horn himself was absorbed in the arrangements for the rehabilitation of his old workshop. He subjected it to a complete renovation, in keeping with its character and use. A new tile floor, a better window, a fresh covering of whitewash on the walls, and a new coat of paint for the wood-work, effected a transformation as agreeable as it was complete. He kept the old stool; but procured a new and modern set of tools, and furnished himself with a stock of the best leather the market could supply.
He had no difficulty in letting his poor customers know of his charitable designs, and he soon had as much work as he could do. As his sister had warned him, he had many applications from those who were unworthy of his help. He did not like to turn any of the applicants away; but he did so remorselessly in every instance in which, after careful investigation, the case broke down, his chief regret being that his gratuitous services were rarely sought by those who needed them most. But this is to anticipate.
It was in connection with what was regarded as the quixotic undertaking of Miss Jemima's brother to mend, free of charge, the boots and shoes of his poor neighbours, that he soon became generally known as "Cobbler" Horn.
"THE GOLDEN SHOEMAKER" WAITS UPON HIS MINISTER.
"Cobbler" Horn's correspondence was steadily accumulating. Every day brought fresh supplies of letters; and the humble cottage was in danger of being swamped by an epistolary inundation, which was the despair of "Cobbler" Horn, and a growing vexation to his sister's order-loving soul.
For some time "the Golden Shoemaker" persisted valiantly in his attempt to answer every letter he received. Miss Jemima's scornful disapproval was of no avail. In vain she declared her conviction that every other letter was an imposture or a hoax, and pointed out that, if people wanted their letters answered, they ought to enclose a stamp. Then, for the twentieth time, she repeated her suggestion that a secretary should be engaged. At first her brother waived this proposal aside; but at length it became imperative that help should be sought. "Cobbler" Horn was like a man who attempts, single-handed, to cut his way through a still-accumulating snow-drift. The man must perish, if help do not come; unless "Cobbler" Horn secured assistance in dealing with his letters, it was impossible to tell what his fate might be. It was now simply a question by what means the needed help might best be obtained; and both "Cobbler" Horn and his sister agreed that the wisest thing would be to consult the minister of their church. This, accordingly, "Cobbler" Horn resolved to do.
"Cobbler" Horn's minister officiated in a sanctuary such as was formerly called a "chapel," but is now, more frequently designated a "church." His name was Durnford; and he was a man of strongly-marked individuality—a godly, earnest, shrewd, and somewhat eccentric, minister of the Gospel. He was always accessible to his people in their trouble or perplexity, and they came to him without reserve. But surely his advice had never been sought concerning difficulties so peculiar as those which were about to be laid before him by "Cobbler" Horn!
It was about ten o'clock on the Monday morning following his visit to the lawyers, that "Cobbler" Horn sat in Mr. Durnford's study, waiting for the minister to appear. He had not long to wait. The door opened, and Mr. Durnford entered. He was a middle-aged man of medium height, with keen yet kindly features, and hair and beard of iron grey. He greeted his visitor with unaffected cordiality.
"I've come to ask your advice, sir, under circumstances of some difficulty," said "Cobbler" Horn, when they were seated facing each other before a cheerful fire.
This being a kind of appeal to which he was accustomed, the minister received the announcement calmly enough.
"Glad to help you, if I can, Mr. Horn," he said.
There was a breeziness about Mr. Durnford which at once afforded preliminary refreshment to such troubled spirits as sought his counsel.
"Thank you, sir," said "Cobbler" Horn, "I'm sure you will. You have heard of the sudden and unexpected——"
"To be sure!" broke in the minister, leaping to his feet, and grasping his visitor's hand, "Pardon me; I quite forgot. Let me congratulate you. Of course it's true?"
"Yes, sir, thank you; it's true—too true, I'm afraid."
Mr. Durnford laughed.
"How if I were to commiserate you, then?" he said.
"No, sir," said "Cobbler" Horn gravely, "not that either. It's the Lord's will after all; and it's a great joy to me to be able to do so much that I have long wished to do. It's the responsibility that I feel."
"Very good," replied the minister; "such joy is the purest pleasure wealth can give. But the responsibility of such a position as yours, is, no doubt, as you say, very great."
"Yes, sir; I feel that I hold all this wealth in trust from God; and I want to be a faithful steward. I am resolved to use my Lord's money exactly as I believe He desires that I should—in fact as He Himself would use it, if He were in my place."
"Excellent, Mr. Horn!" exclaimed the minister; "you have spoken like a Christian."
"Thank you, sir. But there's another thing; it seems so dreadful that one man should have so much money. Do you know, sir, I'm almost a millionaire?"
He made this announcement in very much the same tone in which he would have informed the minister that he was stricken with some dire disease.
"Is your trouble so great as that?" asked Mr. Durnford, in mock dismay.
"Yes, sir; and it's a very serious matter indeed. It doesn't seem right for me to be so rich, while so many have too little, and not a few nothing at all."
"That can soon be rectified," said Mr. Durnford.
"Perhaps so, sir; though it may not be so easy as you suppose. But there's another matter that troubles me. I can't think that this great wealth has been all acquired by fair means. Indeed I have only too much reason to suspect that it was not. I feel ashamed that some of the money which my uncle made should have become mine. I feel as though a curse were on it."
"Ah!" exclaimed the minister, with a long-drawn sigh, "such feelings do you credit, Mr. Horn; but don't you see that God means you to turn that curse into a blessing?"
"Yes; and yet I am almost inclined to wish my uncle had taken his money with him."
"Scarcely a charitable wish, from any point of view," said Mr. Durnford, smiling. "It seems to me that nothing could have been better than the arrangement as it stands."
"Well, at any rate, I wish it were possible to restore their money to any persons who may have been wronged."
"A laudible, but impossible wish, my dear sir; but, though you cannot restore your uncle's wealth to those from whom it may have been wrongfully acquired, you can, in some measure, make atonement for the evil involved in its acquisition, by employing it for the benefit of those in general who suffer and are in need."
"Yes," assented "Cobbler" Horn, with emphasis; "if I thought otherwise, every coin of the money that I handled would scorch my fingers to the bone."
After this there was a brief silence, and the minister sat back in his chair, with closed eyes, smiling gently.
"I beg your pardon," he said, in another moment, starting forward, "I have been thinking of all the good that might be done, if every rich man were like you. But you came to ask my advice?"
"Yes, sir," replied "Cobbler" Horn; "and I am keeping you too long."
"Not at all, my dear sir! Your visit has refreshed me greatly. Your talk is like a cool breeze on a hot day. It is not often that a millionaire comes to discuss with me the responsibilities of wealth. But let me hear what the peculiar difficulty is of which you spoke."
"Well, sir, there is a serious inconvenience involved in my new position, with which I am quite unable to grapple."
"Ah," said the minister, raising his eye-brows, "what is that?"
"Why it is just the number of letters I receive."
"Of course!" cried the minister, with twinkling eyes. "The birds of prey will be upon you from every side; and your being a religious man will, by no means, mitigate the evil."
"Ah, I have no doubt you are right, sir! And it's a sort of compliment to religion, isn't it?"
"Of course it is," said Mr. Durnford; "and a very beautiful way of looking at it too."
"Thank you, sir. Well, there are two sides to my difficulty. First I wish to answer every letter I receive; but I cannot possibly do it myself."
"No," said the minister. "But surely many of them need not be answered at all."
"Yes, sir, by your leave. My sister says that many of the letters are probably impostures. But you see I cannot tell certainly which are of that kind. She also points out that very few of them contain stamps for reply. But I tell her that a few stamps, more or less, are of no moment to me now."
"I don't know," broke in the minister, "which more to admire—your sister's wisdom or your own goodness."
"Cobbler" Horn deprecatingly waved his hand.
"Now, sir," he resumed, "Jemima advises me to engage a secretary."
"Obviously," assented the minister, "that is your best course."
"I suppose it is, sir; but I am all at sea, and want your help."
"And you shall have it," said the minister heartily. "There are scores of young men—and young women too—who would jump at the chance of such a post as that of your secretary would probably be."
"Thank you, sir; but you said young women?"
"Precisely. Young women often accept, and very efficiently fill, such posts."
"Indeed? I don't know how my sister——"
"Of course not. But suppose we look for a moment at the other side of your difficulty."
"Very well, sir; the other trouble is that I find it hard to decide what answers to send to a good many of the letters. They are mostly applications for money; and it's not easy to tell whether they are genuine. Then there are a great many appeals on behalf of all sorts of good objects. May I venture to hope, sir, that you will give me your advice in these matters?"
"With pleasure!" replied Mr. Durnford, with sparkling eyes.
"Thank you, sir; thank you very much indeed," said "Cobbler" Horn, greatly relieved. "And will it be too much if I ask you to advise me, in due course, as to the best way of making this money of my uncle's do as much good as possible, in a general way?"
"By no means," protested Mr. Durnford, "I am entirely at your service, my dear sir. But now," he added, after a pause, "I've been considering, and I think I can find you a secretary."
"Ah! who is he, sir?"
"It is she, not he."
"Yes, I know; but this is an exceptional young lady."
"A young lady?"
"Yes, a capable, well-behaved, Christian young lady. I have known her for a good many years, and would recommend her to anybody. I know she is looking out for such a situation as this. She would serve you well—better than any young man, I know—and would be a most agreeable addition to your family circle. Besides, by engaging my friend, Miss Owen, you would be affording help in a case of real need and sterling merit. The girl has no parents, and has been brought up by some kind friends. But they are not rich, and she will have to make her own way. Now, look here; suppose the young lady were to run down and see you? She lives in Birmingham."
"Do you really think it would be advisable?"
"Indeed I do. She'll disarm Miss Horn at once. It'll be a case of love at first sight."
"Well, sir, let it be as you say."
"Then I may write to her without delay?"
"If you please, sir."
"Pray for me, Mr. Durnford," said "Cobbler" Horn, as he took his leave.
"I will, my friend," was the hearty response.
"It's not often," resumed "Cobbler" Horn, "that a Christian man is placed in circumstances of such difficulty as mine."
The minister laughed heartily and long.
"I really mean it, sir," persisted "Cobbler" Horn, with a deprecatory smile. "When I think of all that my having this money involves, I almost wish the Lord had been pleased to leave me in my contented poverty."
"My dear friend," said the minister, "that will not do at all. Depend upon it, the joy of using your wealth for the Lord, and for His 'little ones,' will far more than make up for the vanished delights of your departed poverty."
"COBBLER" HORN ENGAGES A SECRETARY.
On his way home from the minister's house, "Cobbler" Horn was somewhat exercised in his mind as to how he should tell his sister what he had done. He could inform her, without hesitation, that the minister had recommended a secretary; but how should he make known the fact that the commended secretary was a lady? He was not afraid of his sister; but he preferred that she should approve of his doings, and he wished to render his approaching announcement as little distasteful to her as might be. But the difficulty of doing this would be great. It would have been hard to imagine a communication likely to prove more unwelcome to Miss Jemima than the announcement that her brother contemplated the employment of a lady secretary. Nor was the difficulty of the situation relieved by the fact that the lady was young, and possibly attractive. It would have been as easy to impart a delectable flavour to a dose of castor-oil, as to render agreeable to his sister the announcement he must immediately make. Long before he reached home, he relinquished all attempt to settle the difficulty which was agitating his mind. He would begin by telling his sister that the minister had recommended a secretary, and then trust to the inspiration of the moment for the rest.
Miss Jemima, encompassed with a comprehensive brown apron, stood at the table peeling the potatoes for dinner.
"You've been a long time gone, Thomas," she said complacently—for Miss Jemima was in one of her most amiable moods.
"Yes; we found many things to talk about."
"Well, what did he say on the secretary question?"
"Oh, he has recommended one to me who, he thinks, will do first-rate."
"Ah! and who is the young man? For of course he is young; all secretaries are."
"The person lives in Birmingham," was the guarded reply, "and goes by the name of Owen."
Miss Jemima felt by instinct that her brother was keeping something back. She shot at him a keen, swift glance, and then resumed the peeling of the potato just then in hand, which operation she effected with such extreme care, that it was a very attenuated strip of peeling which fell curling from her knife into the brown water in the bowl beneath.
"What is this young man's other name?" she calmly asked.
"Well, now, I don't know," said "Cobbler" Horn, with a shrewd smile.
"Just like you men!" whipped out Miss Jemima, pausing in her work; "but I suppose, as the minister recommends him, it will be all right."
There was nothing for it now but a straightforward declaration of the dreadful truth.
"Jemima," said "Cobbler" Horn, "I mustn't mislead you. It's not a young man at all."
Miss Jemima let fall into the water, with a sudden flop, the potato she was peeling, and faced her brother, knife in hand, with a look of wild astonishment in her eyes.
"Not a young man!" she almost shrieked, "What then?"
Her brother's emphasis had been on the word man, and not on the word young.
"Well, my dear," he replied, "a young——in fact, a young lady."
Up went Miss Jemima's hands.
"Yes, Jemima; such is the minister's suggestion."
Miss Jemima, who had resumed her work, proceeded to dig out the eye of a potato with unwonted prodigality.
"Mr. Durnford," resumed "Cobbler" Horn, "tells me it is a common thing for young ladies to be secretaries now-a-days; and he very highly recommended this one in particular."
Miss Jemima knew, that if her brother's mind was made up, it would be useless to withstand his will.
"When is she coming?" was all she said.
"I don't know. Mr. Durnford promised to write and ask her to come and see us first. You shall talk with her yourself, Jemima; and, believe me, if there is any good reason to object to the arrangement, she shall not be engaged."
Miss Jemima permitted herself just one other word.
"I am surprised at Mr. Durnford!" she said; and then the matter dropped.
Two days later, in prompt response to the minister's letter, Miss Owen duly arrived. Mr. Durnford met her at the station, and conducted her to the house of "Cobbler" Horn. He had sent her, in his letter, all needful information concerning "Cobbler" Horn, and the circumstances which rendered it necessary for him to engage a secretary.
"They reside at present," he said during the walk from the station, "in a small house, but will soon remove to a larger one."
"Cobbler" Horn was busy in his workshop when they arrived; but Miss Jemima was awaiting them in solitary state, in the front-room. The good lady had meant to be forbidding and severe in her reception of the "forward minx," whom she had settled it in her mind the prospective secretary would prove to be. But the moment her eyes beheld Miss Owen she was disarmed. The dark-eyed, black-haired, modestly-attired, and even sober-looking girl, who put out her hand with a very simple movement, and spoke, with considerable self-possession truly, but certainly not with an impudent air, bore but scant resemblance to the "brazen hussey" who had haunted Miss Jemima's mind for the past two days.
"Cobbler" Horn came in from his workshop, and greeted the young girl with an honest heartiness which placed her at her ease at once.
With almost a cordial air, Miss Jemima invited the visitors to sit down. As Miss Owen glanced a second time around the room, a look of perplexity came into her face.
"Do you know, Miss Horn," she said, "your house seems quite familiar to me. I almost feel as if I had been here before. Of course I never have. It's just one of those queer feelings everybody has sometimes, as if what you are going through at the time had all taken place before."
She spoke out the thought of her mind with a simple impulsiveness which had its own charm.
"No doubt," said Miss Jemima, with a start; but she was deterred from further remark by Mr. Durnford's rising from his seat.
"I think I'll leave you," he said, "and call for Miss Owen in—say a quarter of an hour. With your permission, Mr. Horn, she will sleep at our house to-night."
"Don't go, sir," said "Cobbler" Horn. "Your presence will be a help to us on both sides."
It needed no further pursuasion to induce the minister to remain: with his assistance, "Cobbler" Horn soon came to terms with the young lady; and, as, upon a hint conveyed in the letter she had received from the minister, she had come to Cottonborough prepared, if necessary, to remain, it was arranged that she should commence her duties on the following day.
"And would it not be as well for her to come to us to-night?" asked "Cobbler" Horn. "The sooner she begins to get used to us the better. And she can still spend the evening with you, Mr. Durnford."
The minister looked enquiringly at Miss Owen,
"What do you say, my dear?"
"I am entirely in your hands, sir, and those of Mr. Horn."
"Well," said Mr. Durnford, "if you really wish it. Mr. Horn, Miss Owen shall come to you to-night."
And thus it was arranged.
THE ATTACK ON THE CORRESPONDENCE.
When "Cobbler" Horn's secretary awoke next morning, she experienced a return of the feeling of familiarity with her surroundings of which she had been conscious on first entering the house. The little white-washed bedroom, with its simple furniture, seemed like a vision of the past. She had a dreamy impression that she had slept in this little white room many times before. There was, in particular, a startling appearance of familiarity in a certain picture which hung upon the wall, beyond the foot of the bed. It was an old-fashioned coloured print, in a black frame, and represented Jacob's dream. For a long time she gazed at the picture. Then she gave herself a shake, and sighed, and laughed a low, pathetic little laugh.
"What nonsense!" she thought. "As if I could ever have been here before, or set eyes on the picture! Though I may have seen one like it somewhere else, to be sure."
Then she roused herself, and got out of bed. But when, having dressed, she went downstairs, the same sense of familiarity with her surroundings surged over her again. The boxed-up staircase seemed to her a not untrodden way; and when she emerged in the kitchen at its foot, and saw the round deal table spread for breakfast with its humble array, she almost staggered at the familiarity of the scene.
"Cobbler" Horn was in his workshop, and Miss Jemima had gone into the yard; and, as the young girl gazed around the humble room it seemed, in some strange fashion, to have belonged to her past life. The very tap-tap of "Cobbler" Horn's hammer, coming cheerily from the workshop behind, awoke weird echoes in her brain, and helped to render her illusion complete.
All breakfast-time she felt like one in a dream. She seemed to be drifting into a new life, which was not new but old; and she almost felt as if she had come home. She was utterly unable to imagine what might be the explanation of this strange experience. She had not a glimmering of the actual truth. She struggled against the feeling which possessed her, and partly overcame it; but it returned again and again during her stay in the house, though with diminished force.
After breakfast, "Cobbler" Horn invited his secretary to attack the accumulated mass of letters which waited for despatch.
"You see, Miss Owen," he said in half-apology for asking her to begin work so soon, "the pile gets larger every day; and, if we don't do something to reduce it at once, it will get altogether beyond bounds."
Miss Owen turned her sparkling dark eyes upon her employer.
"Oh, Mr. Horn," she exclaimed, as she took her seat at the table, "the sooner we get to work the better! I did not come here to play, you know."
"Cobbler" Horn poured an armful of unanswered letters down upon the table, in front of his ardent young secretary.
"There's a snow-drift for you, Miss Owen!" he said.
"Thank you, sir," was the cheery response, "we must do our best to clear it away."
Miss Owen was already beginning to feel quite at home with "Cobbler" Horn; and she even ventured at this point, to rally him on the dismay with which he regarded his piles of letters.
"Don't you think, sir," she asked, with a radiant smile, "that a little sunshine might help us?"
"Cobbler" Horn started, and glanced towards the window. The morning was dull.
"Yes," he said; "but we can't command——" Then he perceived her meaning, and broke off with a smile. "To be sure; you are right, Miss Owen. It is wrong of me to be wearing such a gloomy face. But you see this kind of thing is all so new and strange to me; and you need not wonder that I am dismayed."
"No," replied the secretary, with just the faintest little touch of patronage in her tone; "it's not surprising in your case. But I am not dismayed. Answering letters has always been my delight."
"That's well," said "Cobbler" Horn, gravely; "And I think you will have to supply a large share of the 'sunshine' too, Miss Owen."
"I'll try," she replied, simply, with a beaming smile; and she squared her shapely arms, and bent her dusky head, and set to work with a will, while "Cobbler" Horn, regarding her from the opposite side of the table, was divided between two mysteries, which were, how she could write so fast and well, and what it was which made him feel as if he had known her all his life?
Most of the letters contained applications for money. Some few were from the representatives of well-known philanthropic societies; many others were appeals on behalf of local charities or associations; and no small proportion were the applications of individuals, who either had great need, or were very cunning, or both.
The private appeals were of great variety. "Cobbler" Horn was amazed to find how many people were at the point of despair for want of just the help that he was able to give. It was past belief how large a number of persons he had the opportunity of saving from ruin, and with how small a sum of money, in each case, it might be done. What a manifold disclosure of human misery and despair those letters were, or seemed to be! Some of them, doubtless, had been written with breaking hearts, and punctuated with tears; but which?
"I had no idea there was so much trouble in the world!" cried "Cobbler" Horn, in dismay.
"Perhaps there is not quite so much as your letters seem to imply, sir," suggested the secretary.
"You think not?" queried "Cobbler" Horn.
"I feel sure of it," said the young girl, with a knowing shake of her head. "But we must do our best to discriminate. I should throw some of these letters into the fire at once, if I were you, Mr. Horn."
"But they must be answered first!"
"Must they, sir? Every one?" enquired the secretary, arching her dark eye-brows. "Why it will cost you a small fortune in stamps, Mr. Horn!"
"But you forget how rich I am, Miss Owen. And I would rather be cheated a thousand times, than withhold, in a single instance, the help I ought to give."
"Well, Mr. Horn, I'm your secretary, and must obey your commands, whether I approve of them or not."
She spoke with a merry trill of laughter; and "Cobbler" Horn, far from being offended, shot back upon her a beaming smile.
They took the letters as they came. Concerning some of the applications, "Cobbler" Horn felt quite able to decide himself. Appeals from duly-accredited philanthropic institutions received from him a liberal response, and so large were some of the amounts that the young secretary felt constrained to remonstrate.
"You forget," he replied, "how much money I've got."
"But—excuse me, sir—you seem resolved to give it all away!"
"Yes, almost," was the calm reply.
There was but little difficulty, moreover, in dealing with the applications on behalf of local interests. It was the private appeals which afforded most trouble. Every case had to be strenuously debated with Miss Owen, who maintained that not one of these importunate correspondents ought to be assisted, until "Cobbler" Horn had satisfied himself that the case was one of actual necessity, and real merit. By dint of great persistency, she succeeded in convincing her employer that many of these private appeals were not worthy of a moment's consideration. To each of the writers of these a polite note of refusal was to be despatched. With regard to the rest, it was decided that an application for references should be made.
"I shall have to be your woman of business, Mr. Horn," said Miss Owen, "as well as your secretary; and, between us, I think we can manage."
She felt that there was a true Christian work for her in doing what she could to help this poor embarrassed Christian man of wealth.
"Cobbler" Horn was enraptured with his secretary. She seemed to be fitting herself into a vacant place in his life. It appeared the most natural thing in the world that she should be there writing his letters. If his little Marian had not gone from him years ago, she might have been his secretary now. He sighed at the thought; and then, as he looked across at the animated face of Miss Owen, as she bent over her work, and swept the table with her abundant tresses, he was comforted in no small degree.
Miss Jemima's respect for the proprieties, rendered her reluctant to absent herself much from the room where her brother and his engaging young secretary sat together at their interesting work; and she manifested, from time to time, a lively interest in the progress of their task.
A PARTING GIFT FOR "THE LITTLE TWIN BRETHREN."
The honest joy of "the little twin brethren" at the sudden enrichment of their friend, "Cobbler" Horn, was dashed with a deep regret. It was excellent that he had been made a wealthy man. As Tommy Dudgeon expressed it, "Providence had not made a mistake this time, anyhow." But, in common with the rest of "Cobbler" Horn's neighbours, the two worthy little men bitterly deplored the inevitable departure of their friend from their midst. It was "not to be supposed," said Tommy again—it was always Tommy who said things; to John had been assigned the honour of perpetuating the family name—it was "not to be supposed that a millionaire would live in a small house, in a narrow street, remain at the cobbler's bench, or continue to associate with poor folks like themselves." The little hucksters considered it a matter of course that "Cobbler" Horn would shortly remove to another and very different abode, and they mourned over the prospect with sincere and bitter grief.
The little men had good reason for their sorrow, for to none of all his poor neighbours had "Cobbler" Horn been a better friend. And their regret in view of his approaching removal was fully reciprocated by "Cobbler" Horn himself. Of all the friends, in the network of streets surrounding his humble abode, whom he had fastened to his heart with the golden hooks of love, there were none whom he held more closely there than the two little tradesmen across the way. His intercourse with them had been one of the chief refreshments of his life; and he knew that he would sadly miss his humble little friends.
And now the time had come for the removal, and the evening previous to the departure from the old home, "the Golden Shoemaker" paid his last visit, in the capacity of neighbour, to the worthy little twins. He had long known that they had a constant struggle to make their way. He had often assisted them as far as his own hitherto humble means would allow; and now, he had resolved that before leaving the neighbourhood, he would make them such a present as would lift them, once for all, out of the quagmire of adversity in which they had floundered so long.
At six o'clock, on that autumn evening, it being already dusk, "Cobbler" Horn opened his front door, and stood for a moment on the step. Miss Jemima and the young secretary were both out of the way. If Miss Jemima had known where her brother was going and for what purpose, she would have held up her hands in horror and dismay, and might even, had she been present, have tried to detain him in the house by main force.
"Cobbler" Horn lingered a moment on the door-step, with the instinctive hesitation of one who is about to perform an act of unaccustomed magnitude; but his soul revelled in the thought of what he was going to do. He was about to exercise the gracious privilege of the wealthy Christian man; and, as he handled a bundle of crisp bank-notes which he held in the side pocket of his coat, his fingers positively tingled with rapture.
The street was very quiet. A milk girl was going from door to door, and the lamplighter was vanishing in the distance. Yet "Cobbler" Horn flitted furtively across the way, as though he were afraid of being seen; and, having glided with the stealth of a burglar through the doorway of the little shop, found himself face to face with Tommy Dudgeon. The smile of commercial satisfaction, which had been summoned to the face of the little man by the consciousness that some one was coming into the shop, resolved itself into an air of respectful yet genial greeting when he recognised "Cobbler" Horn.
"Ah, good evening, Mr. Horn! You said you would pay us a farewell visit, and we were expecting you. Come in, sir."
"Cobbler" Horn followed his humble conductor into the small but cosy living-room behind, which the large number of its occupants caused to appear even smaller than it was. John Dudgeon was there, and Mrs. John, and several offshoots of the Dudgeon tree. Mrs. Dudgeon was ironing at a table beneath the one small window, in the fading light. She was a staid and dapper matron, with here and there the faintest line of care upon her comely face. A couple of the children were rolling upon the hearthrug in the ruddy glow of the fire, and two or three others were doing their home-lessons by the aid of the same unsteady gleam. The father, swept to one side by the surges of his superabundant family, sat on a chair at the extreme corner of the hearthrug, with both the twins upon his knees.
"Cobbler" Horn was greeted with the cordiality due to an old family friend. Even the children clustered around him and clung to his arms and legs. Mrs. John, as she was invariably called—possibly on the assumption that Tommy Dudgeon also would, in due time, take a wife, cleared the children away from the side of the hearth opposite to her husband, and placed a chair for the ever-welcome guest. Tommy Dudgeon, who had slipped into the shop to adjust the door-bell, so that he might have timely notice of the entrance of a customer, soon returned, and placing a chair for himself between his brother and "Cobbler" Horn, sat down with his feet amongst the children, and his gaze fixed on the fire.
For a time there was no sound in the room but the click of Mrs. John's iron, as it travelled swiftly to and fro. Even the children were preternaturally quiet. At length Tommy spoke, in sepulchral tones, with his eyes still on the fire.
"Only to think that it's the last time!"
"What's the last time, friend?" asked "Cobbler" Horn, with a start.
"Why this—that we shall see you sitting there so sociable like, Mr. Horn."
"Indeed, I hope not," was the hearty response. "You're not going to get rid of me so easily as that, old friend."
"Why," exclaimed Tommy, "I thought you were going to remove; and I'm sure no one could find fault with it."
"Yes: but you surely don't suppose I'm going to turn my back on my old neighbours altogether?"
"What you say is very kind," replied Tommy; "but, Mr. Horn, we can't expect to see you very often after this."
"Well, friend, perhaps oftener than you think." Then he told them that he had bought the house in which he had lived amongst them, and meant to keep it up, and come there almost every day to mend boots and shoes, without charge for his poor customers.
"Well, to be sure!" exclaimed Tommy Dudgeon, while John chuckled exultantly to the twins, and Mrs. John moved her iron more vigorously to and fro, and hastily raised her hand to brush away a grateful and admiring tear.
Meanwhile "Cobbler" Horn was considering how he might most delicately disclose the special purpose of his visit.
"But after all," he said at length, "this is a farewell visit. I'm going away, and, after to-morrow, I shall not be your neighbour any more."
For some moments his hand had been once more in his pocket, fingering the bank-notes. He now drew them forth very much in the way in which a man entrapped into a den of robbers might draw a pocket-pistol, and smoothed them out upon his knee.
"I thought, old friend," he said, turning to Tommy Dudgeon, "that perhaps you might be willing to accept a trifling memento of our long acquaintance. And, indeed, you mustn't say no."
John Dudgeon was too deeply engaged with the twins to note what was said; Tommy but dimly perceived the drift of his friend; but upon Mrs. John the full truth flashed with the clearness of noon.
The next moment the notes were being transferred to the hands of the astonished Tommy. John was still absorbed with his couple of babies. Mrs. John was ironing more furiously than ever. Tommy felt, with his finger and thumb, that there were many of the notes; and he perceived that he and his were being made the recipients of an act of stupendous generosity. Tears trickled down his cheeks; his throat and tongue were parched. He tried to thrust the bank-notes back into the hand of his friend.
"Mr. Horn, you must not beggar yourself on our account."
"Cobbler" laughed. In truth, he was much relieved. It seemed that his humble friend objected to his gift only because he thought it was too large.
"'Beggar' myself, Tommy?" he cried. "I should have to be a very reckless spendthrift indeed to do that. You forget how dreadfully rich I am. Why these paltry notes are a mere nothing to such a wealth-encumbered unfortunate as I. But I thought the money would be a help to you. And you must take it, Tommy, you must indeed. The Lord told me to give it to you; and what shall I say to Him, if I allow you to refuse His gift?"
And so the generous will of "the Golden Shoemaker" prevailed; and if he could have heard and seen all that took place by that humble fireside, after he was gone, he would have been assured that at least one small portion of his uncle's wealth had been well-bestowed.
THE NEW HOUSE.
"Cobbler" Horn's new house, which was situated, as we have seen, on one of the chief roads leading out of the town, marked almost the verge, in that direction, of the straggling fringe of urban outskirts. Beyond it there was only the small cottage in which had lived, and still resided, the woman who had seen Marian as she trotted so eagerly away into the great pitiless world. "Cobbler" Horn had not deliberately set himself to seek a house upon this road. But, when he found there a residence to let which seemed to be almost exactly the kind of dwelling he required, the fact that it was situated in a locality so tenderly associated with the memory of his lost child, in no degree diminished his desire to make it his abode.
"It was here that she went by," he said softly to himself, at the close of their visit of inspection, as he stood with Miss Jemima at the gate; "and it was yonder that she was last seen."
What were Miss Jemima's thoughts, as she followed, with her eyes, the direction of her brother's gaze, may not be known; for an unwonted silence had fallen on her usually ready tongue.
It was a good house, with a pleasant lawn in front, and a yard, containing coach-house and stables, behind. The house itself was well-built, commodious, and fitted with all the conveniences of the day. As most of the furniture was new, the removal of the family was not a very elaborate process. In this, as in all other things, "Cobbler" Horn found that his money secured him the minimum of trouble. He had simply given a few orders—which his sister, it is true, had supplemented with a great many more—; and, when the day of removal came, they found themselves duly installed in a house furnished with a completeness which left nothing to be desired.
On their arrival, they were received in the hall by three smiling maids, a coachman, and a boy in buttons. "The Golden Shoemaker" almost staggered, as the members of his domestic staff paid due homage to their master. He half-turned to his sister, and saw that, she, unlike himself, was not taken by surprise. Then he hastily returned the respectful salutations of the beaming group, and passed into the house.
It was afternoon when the removal took place, and the remainder of the day was spent in inspecting the premises, and settling down. With the aid of his indefatigable secretary, "Cobbler" Horn had disposed of his morning's letters before leaving the old house, and, as it happened, the later mails were small that day. Miss Jemima stepped into her new position as mistress of a large establishment with ease and grace; and, assisted by the young secretary, who was fast gaining the goodwill of her employer's sister, was already giving to the house, by means of a few slight touches here and there, that indescribable air of homeliness which money cannot buy, and no skill of builder or upholsterer can impart.
To "Cobbler" Horn himself that evening was a restless time. He felt himself to be strangely out of place; and he was almost afraid to tread upon the thick soft carpets, or to sit upon the luxurious chairs. And yet he smiled to himself, as he contrasted his own uneasiness with the complacency with which his sister was fitting herself into her place in their new sphere.
Under the guidance of the coachman, "Cobbler" Horn inspected the horses and carriages. The coachman, who was the most highly-finished specimen of his kind who could be obtained for money, treated his new master with an oppressive air of respect. "Cobbler" Horn would have preferred a more familiar bearing on the part of his gorgeously-attired servant; but Bounder was obdurate, for he knew his place. His only recognition of the somewhat unusual sociability of his master, was to touch his hat with a more impressive action, and to impart a still deeper note of respect to the tones of his voice. His bearing implied a solemn rebuke. It was as though he said, "If you, sir, don't know your place, I know mine."
"The Golden Shoemaker," having completed his survey of his new abode and its surroundings, realized more fuller than hitherto the change his circumstances had undergone. The old life was now indeed past, and he was fairly launched upon the new. Well, by the help of God, he had tried to do his duty in the humble sphere of poverty; and he would attempt the same in the infinitely more difficult position in which he was now placed.
Entering the house by the back way, he paused and lingered regretfully for a moment at the kitchen door. One of the maids perceived his hesitation, and wondered if master was of the interfering kind. He dispelled her alarm by passing slowly on.
After supper, in the dining-room, Miss Jemima handed the old family Bible to her brother, and he took it with a loving grasp. Here, at least, was a part of the old life still.
"Shall I ring for the servants?" asked Miss Jemima.
"By all means," said her brother, with a slight start.
Miss Jemima touched the electric bell, with the air of one who had been in the habit of ringing for servants all her life. In quick response, the door was opened; and the maids, the coachman, and the boy, who had all been well schooled by Miss Jemima, filed gravely in.
The ordeal through which "Cobbler" Horn had now to pass was very unlike the homely family prayer of the old life. He performed his task, however, with a simplicity and fervour with which the domestics were duly impressed; and when it was over he made them a genial yet dignified little speech, and wished them all a hearty good night.
"Brother," Miss Jemima ventured to remark, when the servants were gone, "I am afraid you lean too much to the side of familiarity with the servants."
"Sister," was the mildly sarcastic response, "you are quite able to adjust the balance."
Amongst the few things which were transferred from the old house to the new, was a small tin trunk, the conveyance of which Miss Jemima was at great pains personally to superintend. It contained the tiny wardrobe of the long lost child, which the sorrowing, and still self-accusing, lady had continued to preserve.
It is doubtful whether "Cobbler" Horn was aware of his sister's pathetic hoard; but there were two mementos of his lost darling which he himself preserved. For the custody of papers, deeds, and other valuables, he had placed in the room set apart as his office, a brand new safe. In one of its most secure recesses he deposited, with gentle care, a tiny parcel done up in much soft paper. It contained a mud-soiled print bonnet-string, and a little dust-stained shoe.
"They will never be of any more use to her," he had said to himself; "but they may help to find her some day."
A TALK WITH THE MINISTER ABOUT MONEY.
"Cobbler" Horn knew his minister to be a man of strict integrity and sound judgment; and it was with complete confidence that he sought Mr. Durnford's advice with regard to those of his letters with which his secretary and himself were unable satisfactorily to deal. The morning after the removal to the new house, he hastened to the residence of the minister with a bundle of such letters in his pocket. Mr. Durnford read the letters carefully through, and gave him in each case suitable advice; and then "Cobbler" Horn had a question to ask.
"Will you tell me, sir, why you have not yet asked me for anything towards any of our own church funds?"
"Well," replied the minister, with a shrewd twinkle in his eye, "you see, Mr. Horn, I thought I might safely leave the matter to your generosity and good sense."
"Thank you, sir. Well, I am anxious that my own church should have its full share of what I have to give. Will you, sir," he added diffidently, "kindly tell me what funds there are, and how much I ought to give to each."
As he spoke, he extracted from his pocket, with some difficulty, a bulky cheque-book, and flattened it out on the table with almost reverent fingers; for he had not yet come to regard the possession of a cheque-book as a commonplace circumstance of his life.
"That's just like you, Mr. Horn," said the minister, with glistening eyes.
He was a straightforward man, and transparent as glass. He would not manifest false delicacy, or make an insincere demur.
"There are plenty of ways for your money, with us, Mr. Horn," he added. "But what is your wish? Shall I make a list of the various funds?"
Mr. Durnford drew his chair to his writing-table, as he spoke, and took up his pen.
"If you please, sir," said "Cobbler" Horn.
No sooner said than done; and in a few moments the half-sheet of large manuscript paper which the minister had placed before him was filled from top to bottom with a list of the designations of various religious funds.
"Thank you, sir," said "Cobbler" Horn, glancing at the paper. "Will you, now, kindly set down in order how much you think I ought to give in each case."
With the very slightest hesitation, and in perfect silence, Mr. Durnford undertook this second task; and, in a few minutes, having jotted down a specific amount opposite to each of the lines in the list, he handed the paper again to "Cobbler" Horn.
Mr. Durnford's estimate of his visitor's liberality had not erred by excess of modesty; and he was startled when he mentally reckoned up the sum of the various amounts he had set down. But "Cobbler" Horn's reception of the list startled him still more.
"My dear sir," said "the Golden Shoemaker," with a smile, "I'm afraid you do not realize how very rich I am. This list will not help me much in getting rid of the amount of money of which I shall have to dispose, for the Lord, every year. Try your hand again."
Mr. Durnford asked pardon for the modesty of his suggestions, and promptly revised the list.
"Ah, that is better," said "Cobbler" Horn. "The subscriptions you have set down may stand, as far as the ordinary funds are concerned; but now about the debt fund? What is the amount of the debt?"
"Two thousand pounds."
"Well, I will pay off half of it at once; and, when you have raised two-thirds of the rest, let me know."
"Thank you, sir, indeed!" exclaimed the minister, almost smacking his lips, as he dipped his pen in the ink, and added this munificent promise to the already long list.
"It is a mere nothing," said "Cobbler" Horn. "It is but a trifling instalment of the debt I owe to God on account of this church, and its minister. But you are beginning to find, Mr. Durnford, that I am rather eccentric in money matters?"
"Delightfully so!" exclaimed the minister.
"Well, the right use of money has always been a point with me. Even in the days when I had very little money through my hands, I tried to remember that I was the steward of my Lord. It was difficult, then, to carry out the idea, because it often seemed as though I could not spare what I really thought I ought to give. My present difficulty is to dispose of even a small part of what I can easily spare."
"Ah!" exclaimed the minister, in whose face there was an expression of deep interest.
"Now," resumed "Cobbler" Horn, "will you, Mr. Durnford, help me in this matter? Will you let me know of any suitable channels for my money of which you may, from time to time, be aware?"
"You may depend upon me in that, my dear sir," said the minister, with gusto.
"Thank you, sir!" exclaimed "the Golden Shoemaker," as fervently as though his minister had promised to make him acquainted with chances of gaining money, instead of letting him know of opportunities of giving it away. "And now I think of it, Mr. Durnford, I should like to place in your hands a sum for use at your own discretion. You must meet with many cases of necessity which you would not care to mention to the authorities of the church; and it would be a distinct advantage to you to have a sum of money for use in such instances absolutely at your own command. Now I am going to write you a cheque for fifty pounds to be used as you think fit; and when it is done, you shall have more."
"Mr. Horn!" exclaimed the startled minister.
"Yes, yes, it's all right. All the money I've promised you this morning is a mere trifle to me. And now, with your permission, I'll write the cheques."
Why "Cobbler" Horn should not have included the whole amount of his gifts in one cheque it is difficult to say. Perhaps he thought that, by writing a separate cheque for the last fifty pounds, he would more effectually ensure Mr. Durnford's having the absolute disposal of that amount.
The writing of the cheques was a work of time.
"There, sir," said "Cobbler" Horn, at last, as he handed the two precious slips of paper across the table, "I hope you will find them all right."
"Thank you, Mr. Horn, again and again," said the minister, as he folded up the cheques and placed them in his pocket-book; "they are perfectly right, I am sure."
"Has it occurred to you," he continued, "that it would be well if you were systematic in your giving?"
"Yes; and I intend systematically to give away as much as I can."
"But have you thought of fixing what proportion of your income you will give? Not," added the minister, laughing, "that I am afraid lest you should not give away enough."
"Oh yes," responded "Cobbler" Horn, laughing in his turn; "I have decided to give proportionately; and the proportion I mean to give is almost all I've got."
"I see you are incorrigible," laughed Mr. Durnford.
"You'll find that I am. But now—" and "Cobbler" Horn regarded his minister with an expression of modest, friendly interest in his face—"I'm going to write another cheque."
"You must be fond of the occupation, Mr. Horn."
"Cobbler" Horn's enrichment had not, in any degree, caused the cordiality of his relations with his minister to decline. There was nothing in "Cobbler" Horn to encourage sycophancy; and there was not in Mr. Durnford a particle of the sycophant.
"I believe I don't altogether dislike it, sir," assented "Cobbler" Horn in response to the minister's last remark. "But," he added, handing to him the cheque he had now finished writing, "will you, my dear sir, accept that for yourself? Your stipend is far too small; and I know Mrs. Durnford's illness in the spring must have been very expensive. Don't say no, I beg of you; but take it——as a favour to me."
He had risen from his seat, and the next moment, with a hurried "good morning," he was gone, leaving the astonished minister in possession of a cheque for one hundred pounds!
"COBBLER" HORN'S VILLAGE.
It was the custom of "Cobbler" Horn to spend the first hour of every morning, after breakfast, in the office, with his secretary. They would go through the letters which required attention; and, after he had given Miss Owen specific directions with regard to some of them, he would leave her to use her own discretion with reference to the rest. Amongst the former, there were frequently a few which he reserved for the judgment of Mr. Durnford. It was the duty of the young secretary to scan the letters which came by the later posts; but none of them were to be submitted to "Cobbler" Horn until the next morning, unless they were of urgent importance.
One morning, about a week after the removal to the new house, the office door suddenly opened, and "Cobbler" Horn emerged into the hall in a state of great excitement, holding an open letter in his hand.
"Jemima!" he shouted.
The only response was a sound of angry voices from the region of the kitchen, amidst which he recognised his sister's familiar tones. Surely Jemima was not having trouble with the servants! Approaching the kitchen door, he pushed it slightly open, and peeped into the room. Miss Jemima was emphatically laying down the law to the young and comely cook, who stood back against the table, facing her mistress, with the rolling-pin in her hand, and rebellion in every curve of her figure and in every feature of her face.
"You are a saucy minx," Miss Jemima was saying, in her sharpest tones.
"'Minx' yourself," was the pert reply. "No mistress shan't interfere with me and my work, as you've done this last week. If you was a real lady, you wouldn't do it."
"You rude girl, I'll teach you to keep your place."
"Keep your own," rapped out the girl; "and it 'ull be the better for all parties. As for me, I shan't keep this place, and I give you warning from now, so there!"
At this moment, the girl caught sight of her master's face at the door, and flinging herself around to the table, resumed her work. Miss Jemima, in her great anger, advanced a pace or two, with uplifted hand, towards the broad back of her rebellious cook: "Cobbler" Horn, observing the position of affairs, spoke in emphatic tones.
"Jemima, I want you at once."
Miss Jemima started, and then, without a word, followed her brother to the dining-room.
"Brother," she said, snatching, in her anger, the first word, "that girl has insulted me grossly."
"Yes, Jemima, I heard; but try to forget it for a moment. I have great news for you. This letter is about cousin Jack."
In a moment Miss Jemima had forgotten her insubordinate cook.
"So the poor creature is found!" she said when she had taken, and read, the letter.
"Yes, and he proves to be in a condition which will render doubly welcome the good news he will shortly receive."
"Then you persist in your intention to hand over to him a share of uncle's money?"
"To be sure I do!"
"Well," retorted Miss Jemima, somewhat acrimoniously, "it's a pity. That portion of the money will be dispersed in a worse manner even than it was gathered."
"Don't say that, Jemima," said her brother gravely.
"Well," asked Miss Jemima, dispensing with further protest, "what are you going to do?"
"The first thing is to see Messrs. Tongs and Ball. You see they ask me to do so. I can't get away to-day. To-morrow I am to visit our village, you know; and, as it is on the way to London, the best plan will be to go on when I am so far."
So it was settled, and Miss Owen was instructed to write the lawyers, saying that Mr. Horn would wait upon them on the morning of the third day from that time.
The next morning, "Cobbler" Horn, having invested his young secretary with full powers in regard to his correspondence, during his absence, set off by an early train for Daisy Lane, en route for London. He had but a vague idea as to the village of which he was the chief proprietor. He was aware, however, that his property there, including the old hall itself, was, to quote Mr. Ball, "somewhat out of repair"; and he rejoiced in the prospect of the opportunity its dilapidation might present of turning to good account some considerable portion of his immense wealth.
It was almost noon when the train stopped at the small station at which he was to alight. He was the only passenger who left the train at that station; and, almost before his feet had touched the platform, he was greeted by a plain, middle-aged man, of medium height and broad of build, whose hair was reddish-brown and his whiskers brownish-red, while his tanned and glowing face bore ample evidence of an out-door life. He had the appearance of a good-natured, intelligent, and trustworthy man. This was John Gray, the agent of the property; and "Cobbler" Horn liked him from the first.
"It's only a mile and a half to the village sir," said the man, as they mounted the trap which was waiting outside the station; "and we shall soon run along."
The trap was a nondescript and dilapidated vehicle, and the horse was by no means a thoroughbred. But the whole turn-out was faultlessly clean.
"It's rather a crazy concern, sir," said Mr. Gray candidly. "But you needn't be afraid. It will hold together for this time, I think."
"Cobbler" Horn smiled somewhat sadly, as he mounted to his seat. Here was probably an instalment of much with which he was destined to meet that day.
"Wake up, Jack!" said Mr. Gray, shaking the reins. The appearance of the animal indicated that it was necessary for him to take his master's injunction in a literal sense. He awoke with a start, and set off at a walking pace, from which, by dint of much persuasion on the part of his driver, he was induced to pass into a gentle trot.
"He never goes any faster than that," said the agent.
"Ah!" ejaculated "Cobbler" Horn. "But we must try to get you something better to drive about in than this, Mr. Gray."
"Thank you, sir. It will be a good thing."
As they slowly progressed along the pleasant country road, the agent gave his new employer sundry particulars concerning the property of which he had become possessed.
"Nearly all the village belongs to you, sir. There's only the church and vicarage, and one farm-house, with a couple of cottages attached, that are not yours. But you'll find your property in an awful state. I've done what I could to patch it up; but what can you do without money?"
"I hope, Mr. Gray," said the new proprietor, "that we shall soon rectify all that."
"Of course you will, sir," said the candid agent. "It's very painful," he added, "to hear the complaints the people make."
"No doubt. You must take me to see some of my tenants; but you must not tell them who I am."
"There's a decent house!" he remarked presently, as they came in sight of a comfortable-looking residence, which stood on their left, at the entrance of the village.
"Ah, that's the vicarage," replied the agent, "and the church is a little beyond, and along there, on the other side of the road, is the farm-house which does not belong to you."
They were now entering the village, the long, straggling street of which soon afforded "the Golden Shoemaker" evidence enough of his deceased uncle's parsimonious ideas. Half-ruined cottages and tumbledown houses were dispersed around; here and there along the main street, were two or three melancholy shops; and in the centre of the village stood a disreputable-looking public-house.
"I could wish," said "Cobbler" Horn, as they passed the last-mentioned building, "that my village did not contain any place of that kind."
"There's no reason," responded the agent, with a quiet smile, "why you should have a public-house in the place, if you don't want one."
"Couldn't we have a public-house without strong drink?"
"No doubt we could, sir; but it wouldn't pay."
"You mean as a matter of money, of course. But that is nothing to me, and the scheme would pay in other respects. I leave it to you, Mr. Gray, to get rid of the present occupant of the house as soon as it can be done without injustice, and to convert the establishment into a public-house without the drink—a place which will afford suitable accommodation for travellers, and be a pleasant meeting place, of an evening, for the men and boys of the village."
"Thank you, sir," said the agent, with huge delight. "Have I carte blanche?"
"'Carte blanche'?" queried "Cobbler" Horn, with a puzzled air. "Let me see; that's——what? Ah, I know—a free hand, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir," replied the agent gravely.
"Then that's just what I mean."
As they drove on, "Cobbler" Horn observed that most of the gardens attached to the cottages were in good order, and that some of the people had been at great pains to conceal the mouldering walls of their wretched huts with roses, honeysuckle, and various climbing plants. Glowing with honest shame, he became restlessly eager to wave his golden wand over this desolate scene.
"This is my place, sir," said the agent, as they stopped at the gate of a dingy, double-fronted house. "You'll have a bit of dinner with us in our humble way?"
"Thank you," said "the Golden Shoemaker," "I shall be very glad."
IN NEED OF REPAIRS.
After dinner, "Cobbler" Horn set out with his agent on a tour of inspection through the village.
"We'll take this row first, sir, if you please," said Mr. Gray. "One of the people has sent for me to call."
So saying he led the way towards a row of decrepit cottages which, with their dingy walls and black thatch, looked like a group of fungi, rather than a row of habitations erected by the hand of man.
At the crazy door of the first cottage they were confronted by a stout, red-faced woman with bare beefy arms, who, on seeing "Cobbler" Horn, dropped a curtsey, and suppressed the angry salutation which she had prepared for Mr. Gray.
"A friend of mine, Mrs. Blobs," said the agent.
"Glad to see you, sir," said the woman to "Cobbler" Horn. "Will you please to walk in, gentlemen."
"Just cast your eye up there, Mr. Gray," she added when they were inside. "It's come through at last."
Sure enough it had. Above their heads was a vast hole in the ceiling, and above that a huge gap in the thatch; and at their feet lay a heap of bricks, mortar, and fragments of rotten wood.
"Why the chimney has come through!" exclaimed Mr. Gray.
"Little doubt of that," said Mrs. Blobs.
"Was anybody hurt?"
"No, but they might ha' bin. It was this very morning. The master was at his work, and the children away at school; but, if I hadn't just stepped out to have a few words with a neighbour, I might ha' bin just under the very place. Isn't it disgraceful, sir," she added, turning to "Cobbler" Horn, "that human beings should be made to live in such tumbledown places? I believe Mr. Gray, here, would have put things right long ago; but he's been kept that tight by the old skin-flint what's just died. They do say as now the property have got into better hands; but——"
"Well, well, Mrs. Blobs" interposed the agent; "we shall soon see a change now I hope."
"Yes," assented "Cobbler" Horn, "we'll have——that is, I'm sure Mr. Gray will soon make you snug, ma'am."
"We must call at every house, sir," said Mr. Gray, as they passed to the next door. "There isn't one of the lot but wants patching up almost every day."
"Cheer up, Mr. Gray," said "the Golden Shoemaker." "There shall be no more patching after this."
In each of the miserable cottages they met with a repetition of their experience in the first. If the reproaches of the living could bring back the dead, old Jacob Horn should have formed one of the group in those mouldy and rotting cottages, to listen to the reiteration of the shameful story of his criminal neglect. Here the windows were bursting from their setting, like the bulging eyes of suffocating men; and here the door-frame was in a state of collapse. In one cottage the ceiling was depositing itself, by frequent instalments, on the floor; and in another the floor itself was rotting away. In every case, Mr. Gray made bold to promise the speedy rectification of everything that was wrong; and "Cobbler" Horn confirmed his promises in a manner so authoritative that it would have been a wonder if his discontented tenants had not caught some glimmering of the truth as to who he was.
On leaving the cottages, Mr. Gray took his employer to one of the farm-houses which his property comprised. They found the farmer, a burly, red-faced, ultra-choleric man, excited over some recently-consummated dilapidations on his premises. He conducted his visitors over his house and farm-buildings, grumbling like an ungreased wagon. His abuse of "Cobbler" Horn's dead uncle was unstinted, and almost every other word was a rumbling oath. Mr. Gray assured him that all would be put right now in a very short time; and "Cobbler" Horn said, "Yes, he was sure it would."
The farmer stared in surprise; but his blunter perception proved less penetrative than the keen insight of the women, and he simply wondered what this rather rough looking stranger could know about it, anyhow. He expressed a hope that it might be as Mr. Gray said. For himself he hadn't much faith. But, if there wasn't something done soon, the new landlord had better not show himself there, that was all; and the aggrieved farmer clenched his implied threat with the most emphatic oath he was able to produce.
Their inspection of the remainder of the village revealed, on every side, the same condition of ruin and decay; and it was with a sad and indignant heart that "Cobbler" Horn at length sat down, in Mrs. Gray's front parlour, to a late but welcome cup of tea.
"To-morrow," he said, "we'll have a look at the old hall."
"The Golden Shoemaker" spent the evening in close consultation with his agent. The state of the property was thoroughly discussed, and Mr. Gray was invested with full power to renovate and renew. His employer enjoined him to make complete work. He was to exceed, rather than stop short of, what was necessary, and to do even more than the tenants asked.
"You will understand, Mr. Gray," said "Cobbler" Horn, "that I want all my property in this village to be put into such thorough repair that, as far as the comfort and convenience of my tenants are concerned, nothing shall remain to be desired. So set to work with all your might; and we shall not quarrel about the bill——if you only make it large enough."
Mr. Gray's big heart bounded within him, as he received this generous commission.
"And don't forget your own house," added his employer. "I think you had better build yourself a new one while you are about it; and let it be a house fit to live in."
Mr. Gray warmly expressed his thanks, and they proceeded to the consideration of the numberless matters which it was necessary to discuss.
In the morning, under the guidance of the agent, "Cobbler" Horn paid his promised visit to the old Hall. It was a venerable Elizabethan mansion, and, like everything else in the village that belonged to him, was sadly out of repair. As he entered the ancient pile, and passed from room to room, a purpose with regard to the old Hall which already vaguely occupied his mind, took definite shape; and he seemed to hear, in the empty rooms, the glad ring of children's laughter and the patter of children's feet. In memory of his long-lost Marian, and for the glory of the Divine Friend of children, the old Hall should be transformed into a Home for little ones who were homeless and without a friend.
As they drove to the station, a little later, he announced his attention, with regard to the Hall, to Mr. Gray.
"I shall leave the business in your hands, Mr. Gray. You must consult those who understand such things, and visit similar institutions, and turn the old place into the best 'Children's Home' that can be produced."
"Very well, sir; but the children?"
"That matter I will arrange myself."
The agent was getting used to surprises; but the next that came almost took his breath away.
"I believe," said "Cobbler" Horn, at the end of a brief silence, "that your salary, Mr. Gray, is L150 a year?"
"Well, I wish to increase the amount. Pray consider that you will receive, from this time, at the rate of L500 a year."
"Mr. Horn!" cried the startled agent, "such generosity!"
"Not at all; I mean you to earn it, you know. But let your horse move on, or I shall miss my train. And, by the way, will you oblige me, Mr. Gray, by procuring for yourself a horse and trap better calculated to serve the interests of my property than this sorry turn-out. Get the best equipment which can be obtained for money."
The agent, not knowing whether he was touched the more by the kindness of the injunction, or by the delicacy with which it had been expressed, murmured incoherent thanks, and promised speedy compliance with his employer's commands.
"THE GOLDEN SHOEMAKER" INSTRUCTS HIS LAWYERS.
"Cobbler" Horn reached London early the same evening, and the following morning, at the appointed hour, duly presented himself at the office of Messrs. Tongs and Ball. He was received with enthusiasm by the men of law. Long Mr. Ball was, as usual, the chief speaker; and round Mr. Tongs yielded meek and monosyllabic assent to all his partner's words.
"And how are you by this time, my dear sir?" asked Mr. Ball, almost affectionately, when they had taken their seats.
"Cobbler" Horn had a vague impression that the lawyer was asking his question on behalf of his partner as well as of himself.
"Thank you, gentlemen," was his cordial reply. "I am thankful to say I never was better in my life; and I hope I find you the same?"
"Thank you, my dear sir," answered Mr. Ball, "speaking for self and partner, I think I may say that we are well."
"Yes," said Mr. Tongs.
"But," resumed Mr. Ball, turning to the table, "your time is precious, Mr. Horn. Shall we proceed?"
"If you please, gentlemen."
"Very well," said the lawyer, taking up a bundle of papers; "these are the letters relating to the case of your unfortunate cousin. Shall I give you their contents in due order, Mr. Horn?"
"If you please," and "Cobbler" Horn composed himself to listen, with a grave face.
The letters were from the agents of Messrs. Tongs and Ball in New York; and the information they conveyed was to the effect that "Cobbler" Horn's scapegrace cousin had been traced to a poor lodging-house in that city, where he was slowly dying of consumption. He might last for months, but it was possible he would not linger more than a few weeks.
"Cobbler" Horn listened to the reading of the letters with head down-bent. When it was finished, he looked up.
"Thank you, gentlemen," he said; "have you done anything?"
Mr. Ball gazed at his client through his spectacles, over the top of the last of the letters, which he still held open in his hand, and there was gentle expostulation in his eye.
"Our instructions, Mr. Horn, were to find your cousin."
"I see," said "Cobbler" Horn, with a smile; "and you have done that. Well now, gentlemen, will you be kind enough to do something more?"
"We will attend to your commands, Mr. Horn," was the deferential response. "That is our business."
"Yes," was the emphatic assent of Mr. Tongs.
"The Golden Shoemaker" was becoming accustomed to the readiness of all with whom he had to do to wait upon his will.
"Well, gentlemen," he said, "I wish everything to be done to relieve my poor cousin's distress, and even, if possible, to save his life. Be good enough to telegraph directions for him to be removed without delay to some place where he will receive the best care that money can procure. If his life cannot be saved, he may at least be kept alive till I can reach his bedside."
"Your commands shall be obeyed, sir," said Mr. Ball; "but," he added with much surprise, "is it necessary for you to go to New York yourself?"
"That you must leave to me, gentlemen," said "the Golden Shoemaker" in a tone which put an end to debate.
"Now, gentlemen," he resumed, "kindly hand me those letters; and let me know how soon, after to-morrow, I can set out."
"You don't mean to lose any time, sir," said Mr. Ball, handing the bundle of letters to his client.
In a few moments, the lawyers were able to supply the information that a berth could be secured in a first-class steamer which would leave Liverpool for New York in two days' time; and it was arranged that a passage should be booked.
"We await your further orders, Mr. Horn," said Mr. Ball, rubbing his hands together, as he perceived that his client still retained his seat.
"I'm afraid I detain you, gentlemen."
"By no means, my dear sir," protested Mr. Ball.
"No," echoed Mr. Tongs.
"I am glad of that," said "Cobbler" Horn. "I should be sorry to waste your valuable time."
More than once a clerk had come to the door to announce that so-and-so or so-and-so, awaited the leisure of his employers; and, in every case, the answer had been, "let them wait."
The time of Messrs. Tongs and Ball was indeed valuable, and no portion of it was likely to prove more so than that bestowed on the affairs of "Cobbler" Horn.
Both the lawyers smiled amiably.
"You could not waste our time, Mr. Horn," said Mr. Ball.
"No," echoed Mr. Tongs.
"That's very good of you, gentlemen. But at any rate I really have some business of the gravest importance still to discuss with you."
"By all means, my dear sir," said Mr. Ball with gusto, settling himself in an attitude of attention, while Mr. Tongs also prepared himself to listen.
"I wish, gentlemen," announced "the Golden Shoemaker," "to make my will."
"To be sure," said Mr. Ball.
"You see," continued "Cobbler" Horn, "a journey to America is attended with some risk."
"Precisely," assented Mr. Ball. "And a man of your wealth, Mr. Horn, should not, in any case, postpone the making of his will. It was our intention to speak to you about the matter to-day."
"To be sure," said "Cobbler" Horn. "Can it be done at once?"
"Certainly," responded the lawyer, drawing his chair to the table, and preparing, pen in hand, to receive the instructions of his client.
"You have no children, I think, Mr. Horn?"
"Cobbler" Horn's cheeks blanched, and his lips quivered; but he instantly regained his self-control.
"That is my difficulty," he said. "I had a child, but——"
"Ah!" interrupted Mr. Ball, "I understand. Very sad."
"No, sir," said "Cobbler" Horn sternly, "you do not understand. It is not as you think. But can I make my will in favour of a person who may, or may not, be alive?"
Mr. Ball was in no wise abashed.
"Do I take you, my dear sir? You——"
"The person," interposed "Cobbler" Horn, "to whom I wish to leave my property is my little daughter, Marian, who wandered away twelve years ago, and has never been heard of since. Can I do it, gentlemen?"
"I think you can, Mr. Horn," replied Mr. Ball. "In the absence of any proof of death, your daughter may be considered to be still alive. What do you say, Mr. Tongs?"
"Oh yes; to be sure; certainly," exclaimed Mr. Tongs, who seemed to have been aroused from a reverie, and for whom it was enough that he was required to confirm some dictum of his partner.
"Thank you, gentlemen. Then please to note that I wish my property to pass, at my death, to my daughter, Marian Horn."
"Very good, sir," said Mr. Ball, making a note on a sheet of paper. "But," he added, with an enquiring glance towards his client, "in the event—that is to say, supposing your daughter were not to reappear, Mr. Horn?"
"I am coming to that," was the calm reply. "If my daughter does not come back before my death, I wish everything to go to my sister, Jemima Horn, on the condition that she gives it up to my daughter when she does return."
"Ah!" ejaculated Mr. Ball. "And may I ask, my dear sir?—If Miss Horn should die, say shortly after your own decease, what then?"
"I have thought of that too. Would it be in order, to appoint a trustee, to hold the property, in such a case, for my child?"
"Yes, quite in order. Have you the name ready, my dear sir?"
"I will give you that of Rev. George Durnford, of Cottonborough."
"And, for how long, Mr. Horn," asked Mr. Ball, when he had written down Mr. Durnford's name and address, "must the property be thus held?"
"Till my daughter comes to claim it."
"But, but, my dear sir——"
"Very well," said "Cobbler" Horn, breaking in upon the lawyer's incipient protest; "put it like this. Say that, in the event of my sister's death, everything is to go into the hands of Mr. Durnford, to be held by him in trust for my daughter, and to be dealt with according to his own discretion."
"That is all on that subject, gentlemen," he added, in a tone of finality; and, having summarily dismissed one matter of business, he as summarily introduced another. "And now," he said, "having made provision for my daughter in the event of my death, I wish also to provide for her in case she should come back during my life. I desire the sum of L50,000 to be set aside and invested in such a manner, that my daughter may have it—principal and interest—as her own private fortune during my life."
Mr. Ball regarded his singular client with a doubtful look.
"Is it necessary to do that, my dear sir? With your wealth, you will be able, at any time, to do for your daughter what you please."
"Yes," said Mr. Tongs, who seemed to think it time to put in his word.
"Gentlemen," said "Cobbler" Horn. "You must let me have my own way. It is my intention to turn my money to the best account, according to my light; and I wish to have the L50,000 secured to my child, lest, when she comes back, there should be nothing left for her."
"Well, Mr. Horn, of course your wishes shall be obeyed," said Mr. Ball, with a sigh; "but it is not an arrangement which I should advise."
With this final protest the subject was dismissed; but, for many days, the L50,000 to be invested for the missing daughter of his eccentric client remained a burden on the mind of Mr. Ball.
"And now," said "the Golden Shoemaker," "there is just another thing before I go. I have been to see my village. I found it, as you warned me, in a sadly dilapidated condition; and I have desired Mr. Gray to make all the necessary repairs. Will you, gentlemen, give him all the help you can, and see that he doesn't want for money?"
"We shall be delighted, my dear sir, as a matter of course."
"Thank you: Mr. Gray will probably apply to you on various points; and I wish you to know that he has my authority for all he does."
"Very good, sir," said Mr. Ball, in a respectful tone.
"Then, while I was at Daisy Lane, I paid a visit to the old Hall."
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Ball, "a splendid family mansion, Mr. Horn?"
"Yes; I have desired Mr. Gray to have it renovated and furnished."
"As a residence for yourself, of course?"
"No; I have other designs."
Then, in the deeply-attentive ears of the two men of law, "the Golden Shoemaker" recited his plans with regard to the old Hall.
It would be a mild statement to say that Messrs. Tongs and Ball were taken by surprise; but their client afforded them slight opportunity to interpose even a comment on his scheme.
"You must help Mr. Gray in this matter especially, gentlemen, if you please. Do all you can for him. I want it to be the best 'Children's Home' in the country. Don't spare expense. I wish everything to be provided that is good for little children. My friend, Mr. Durnford will, perhaps, help me to find a 'father and mother' for the 'Home;' you, gentlemen, shall assist me in the engagement of skilful nurses and trustworthy servants. In order that we may make the place as nearly perfect as possible, I have requested Mr. Gray to visit similar institutions in various parts of the country. He will look to you for advice; and I should be obliged, gentlemen, if you would put him on the right track."
Then he paused, and looked at his lawyers with a glowing face.
"It's for the sake," he said, and there was a catch in his voice, "of my little Marian, who went from me a wanderer upon the face of the earth."
Then, having arranged to call in the morning, for the purpose of signing his will, previous to his departure from town, he took his leave.
The following morning "Cobbler" Horn called at the office of Messrs. Tongs and Ball at the appointed time. The will was ready, and, having signed it, he said "good day" to the lawyers, and took the next train to Cottonborough, where he arrived early in the afternoon.
Subsequently, at the dinner-table, he answered freely the questions of Miss Jemima concerning his doings during his absence. Nor did he feel the presence of his young secretary to be, in any degree, a restraint. Already she was as one of the family, and was almost as much in the confidence of "the Golden Shoemaker" as was Miss Jemima herself. "Cobbler" Horn told of the dilapidated condition in which he had found the village, and of the instructions he had given to the agent. At the recital of the latter, Miss Jemima held up her hands in dismay, while the eyes of the secretary glistened with unconcealed delight. But the climax was reached when "Cobbler" Horn spoke of his intentions with regard to the old Hall. Miss Jemima uttered a positive shriek, and shook her head till her straight, stiff side-curls quivered again.
"Thomas," she cried, "you must be mad! It will cost you thousands of pounds!"
"Yes, Jemima," was the quiet reply; "and surely they could not be better spent! And then there'll still be a few thousands left," he added with a smile. "It's a way of spending the Lord's money of which I'm sure He will approve. What do you say, Miss Owen?"
"I think it's just splendid of you, Mr. Horn!"
To do Miss Jemima justice, her annoyance arose quite as much from the annihilation of her dearly cherished hopes of becoming the mistress of an ideal country mansion, and filling the place of lady magnificent of her brother's village, as from the thought of the gigantic extravagance which his designs with regard to the old Hall would involve.
But the poor lady was to be yet further astonished.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you, Jemima," said her brother, after a brief pause, and speaking with a whimsical air of apology, "that I am to start for America to-morrow."
He spoke as though he were announcing a trip into the next county; and Miss Jemima could scarcely have shown greater amazement, if he had declared his intention of starting for the moon.
The good lady almost bounced from her seat.
She had not breath for more than that.
In truth the announcement "the Golden Shoemaker" had made was startling enough. Even Miss Owen looked up in intense surprise; and the servant girl, who was in the act of taking away the meat, was so startled that she almost let it fall into her master's lap.
"Cobbler" Horn alone was unmoved.
"You see," he said calmly, "when I considered the sad plight of our poor cousin, I thought it would be best for me to go and see to him myself. There are the letters," he added, taking them from his pocket, and handing them to his sister. "You will see, Jemima, that the poor fellow is in sore straits—ill, and destitute in a low lodging-house in New York, Miss Owen! He will be informed, by now, of his change of fortune, and everything possible is to be done for him. But I feel that I can't leave him to strangers. And then there may be a chance of leading him to the Saviour, who can tell? Besides, Jemima, a journey to America is not so much of an undertaking now-a-days, you know; and I sha'n't be many weeks away."
By this time, Miss Jemima had managed to recover her breath, and, in part, her wits.
"But I can't get you ready by to-morrow, Thomas!"
"My dear Jemima, that doesn't matter at all: whether you can get me ready or not, I must go. The lawyers will have taken my passage by this time."
"But—but you can never take care of yourself in America, Thomas. It's such a large country, and so dreadful; and the Americans are such strange people."
"Never mind, Jemima," was the pleasant reply, "Messrs. Tongs and Ball have sent a cablegram to their agent in New York, instructing him to look after me. And, besides, I've made my will."
"What?" shouted Miss Jemima, "made your will?"
To Miss Jemima it seemed a dreadful thing to make one's will. It was a last desperate resort. It was in view of death that people made their wills. It was evident her brother did not expect to get safely back.
"Yes," repeated "Cobbler" Horn, with a quiet smile, "I've made my will. But, don't be alarmed, Jemima; I sha'n't die any the sooner for that. I did it as a wise precaution, with the approval of the lawyers. Even if I had not been going to America, I should have had to make my will sooner or later. Cheer up, Jemima! Our Heavenly Father bears rule in America, and on the sea, as well as here at home."
Miss Jemima had relapsed into silence. She was beginning to realize the fact that her brother had made his will, which, after all, was not so very strange a thing. But what was the nature of the will? She did not desire to inherit her brother's property herself. She was rich enough already. But she was apprehensive that he might have made some foolish disposition of his money of which she would not be able to approve. To whom, or to what she would have desired him to leave his wealth, she could not, perhaps, have told; but she would not be easy till she knew the contents of his will. And yet she could not question her brother on the subject in the presence of his secretary. The girl might be very well, but must not be allowed to know too much.