To The West, by George Manville Fenn.
At fifteen hours this is a fairly long book for this author. It starts with two young men working as clerks in the offices of a tyrannical auctioneer. Fed up with his unpleasant behaviour they give up their jobs and determine to set out for British Columbia. To get there they must take passage in a ship going round the Horn, and up to San Francisco. Then they have to make their way further up the coast to their destination. On the way they encounter various characters, some good and honourable, and others very much the reverse. Finally they arrive and set to work seeking for gold. Of course there are more adventures and tense situations, as you would expect from this author.
Fenn is very good at describing places, even ones to which he has never been. Personally I prefer the books set in England, but that is not to say that this book is anything but most enjoyable, and I commend it to you.
TO THE WEST, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
MR. JOHN DEMPSTER.
"What would I do, sir? Why, if I were as poor as you say you are, and couldn't get on here, I'd go abroad."
"But where, sir? where to?"
"Anywhere. Don't ask me. The world's big enough and round enough for you, isn't it?"
"But without means, Mr Dempster?"
"Yes, sir, without means. Work, sir—work. The same as I have done. I pay my poor rate, and I can't afford to help other people. Good morning."
I heard every word uttered as I sat on my stool in the outer office, and I felt as if I could see my employer, short, stout, fierce-looking and grey, frowning at the thin, pale, middle-aged man whom I had ushered in—Mr John Dempster he told me his name was—and who had come to ask for the loan of a little money, as he was in sore distress.
Every word of his appeal hurt me, and I felt, when the words came through the open door, as if I should have liked to take my hat and go away. But I dared not, for I had been set to copy some letters, and I knew from old experience that if Mr Dempster—Mr Isaac Dempster that is—came out or called for me, and I was not there, I should have a repetition of many a painful scene.
I tried not to listen, but every word came, and I heard how unfortunate Mr John Dempster had been; that his wife had been seriously ill, and now needed nourishing food and wine; and as all that was said became mixed up with what I was writing, and the tears would come into my eyes and make them dim, I found myself making mistakes, and left off in despair.
I looked cautiously over the double desk, peeping between some books to see if Esau Dean, my fellow boy-clerk, was watching me; but as usual he was asleep with his head hanging down over his blotting-paper, and the sun shining through his pale-coloured knotty curls, which gave his head the appearance of a black man's bleached to a whitey brown; and as I looked through the loop-hole between the books, my fellow-clerk's head faded away, and I was looking back at my pleasant old school-days at Wiltboro', from which place I was suddenly summoned home two years before to bid good-bye to my mother before we had to part for ever.
And then all the old home-life floated before me like a bright sunny picture, and the holidays at the rambling red-brick house with its great walled garden, where fruit was so abundant that it seemed of no value at all. There was my pony, and Don and Skurry, the dogs, and the river and my boat, and the fellows who used to come and spend weeks with me— school-fellows who always told me what a lucky chap I was; and perhaps it was as well, for I did not understand it then, not till the news came of my father's death, and my second summons home. I did not seem to understand it then—that I was alone in the world, and that almost the last words my mother said to me would have to be thought out and put to the test. I had a dim recollection of her holding my hand, and telling me that whatever came I was to be a man, and patient, and never to give up; but it was not till months after that I fully realised that in place of going back to school I was to go at once out into the world and fight for myself, for I was quite alone.
I can't go into all this now—how I used to sit in my bed-room at night with my head aching from thinking and trying to see impossibilities. Let it be sufficient if I tell you that after several trials at various things, for all of which I was soon told I was inefficient, I found myself, a big, sturdy, country-looking lad, seated on an old leather-covered stool at a double desk, facing Esau Dean, writing and copying letters, while my fellow-clerk wrote out catalogues for the printer to put in type, both of us in the service of Mr Isaac Dempster, an auctioneer in Baring Lane, in the City of London, and also both of us, according to Mr Dempster, the most stupid idiots that ever dipped pen in ink.
I supposed then that Mr Dempster was right—that I was stupid and not worth my salt, and that he had only to hold up his little finger and he could get a thousand better lads than we were; but at the same time I felt puzzled that he should keep us on, and that Saturday after Saturday he should pay our wages and never say a word about discharging us—Esau for going to sleep over his work, and me for making so many mistakes.
I had had scores of opportunities for judging that Mr Dempster was a hard unfeeling man, who was never harder than when he had been out to his lunch, and came back nibbling a toothpick, and smelling very strongly of sherry; but it had never come so thoroughly home to me as on that bright day, just at the time when for nearly an hour the sun shone down into the narrow court-like lane, and bathed our desk, and made me think of the country, the garden, the bright river, and above all, of those who were dead and gone.
As I told you, my eyes were very dim when I saw Mr John Dempster come out of the office slowly and close the door, to stand on the mat shaking his head sadly.
"He who goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing," he said to himself, softly. "I might have known—I might have known."
He turned then and glanced at Esau, smiling faintly to see him asleep, and then his eyes met mine gazing at him fixedly, for somehow he seemed just then to have a something in his face that recalled my father, as he looked one day when he had had some very bad news—something about money. And as I gazed at our visitor that day the likeness seemed to grow wonderful, not in features, but in his aspect, and the lines about his eyes and the corner of his mouth.
"Ah, my lad," he said, with a pleasant smile full of sadness, "you ought to pray that you might be always young and free from care. Good-day."
He nodded and passed out of the office, and I heard his steps in the narrow lane.
I glanced at Esau, who was asleep still, then at the door of the inner office, and started as I heard a cough and the rustling of a newspaper. Then, gliding off my stool, I caught my cap from the peg where it hung, slipped out at the swing-door, and saw our late visitor just turning the corner at the bottom of the lane into Thames Street.
The next minute I had overtaken him, and he turned sharply with a joyful look in his eyes.
"Ah!" he said, "my cousin has sent you to call me back?"
"No, sir," I stammered, with my cheeks burning; and there I stopped, for the words would not come.
How well I remember it! We were close to the open door of a warehouse, with the scent of oranges coming out strongly, and great muscular men with knots on their shoulders, bare-armed, and with drab breeches and white stockings, were coming up a narrow court leading to a wharf, bearing boxes of fruit from a schooner, and going back wiping their foreheads with their bare arms.
"You came after me?" said our visitor, with the old pained look in his eyes, as he half turned from me, and I stood turning over something in my hand.
"You came after me?" he said again; and as he once more looked in my eyes, they seemed to make me speak.
"Well, what is it? Speak out."
"I—I couldn't help hearing all you said to Mr Dempster, sir," I faltered.
"Eh!" he cried, with a start. Then with a smile full of bitterness, "Let it be a lesson to you, boy. Work—strive—do anything sooner than humble yourself as I have done this day. But—but," he said, as if to himself, "Heaven knows I was driven."
"Mr Dempster never will lend any one money, sir," I said hastily; "but if you wouldn't mind—I don't want this for a bit. I've been saving it up—for a long time—and—by and by—you can pay me again, and—"
I had stammered out all this and then stopped short, drawing my breath hard, for he had seized my hand, and was gripping it so hard that the coin I held was pressed into my fingers, as I gazed up into his face, while he slowly relaxed his hold and looked down into my palm.
"A sovereign!" he said slowly; and then fiercely, "Did your employer send you with that? And," he cried hastily, "you heard?"
"Yes, sir. I was not listening."
"How—how long has it taken you to save up this?"
"I don't know, sir—months."
"Ah!" Then as he held my hand tightly, he said in a half-mocking way, "Do you know when I came into the office I envied you, my boy, for I said, Here is one who has begun on the stool, and he'll grow up to be a rich City man."
"I don't think I shall, sir," I said, with a laugh.
"No," he said, "you are of the wrong stuff, boy. Do you know that you are a weak young idiot to come and offer me, a perfect stranger, all that money—a man you have never seen before, and may never see again? How do you know I am not an impostor?"
"I don't know how, sir," I said, "but I can see you are not."
He pressed my hand more firmly, and I saw his lips move for a few moments, but no sound came. Then softly—
"Thank you, my lad," he said. "You have given me a lesson. I was saying that it was a hard and a bitter and cruel world, when you came up to show me that it is full of hope and sunshine and joy after all if we only seek it. I don't know who you are, but your father, boy, must have been a gentleman at heart, and your mother as true a lady as ever breathed. Ah!"
He bent towards me as he still held my hand, for he must have read the change in my face, for his words sent a curious pang through me.
"Your mother is—?" He finished his question with a look.
I nodded, and set my teeth hard.
"Now, sir, please!" cried a rough voice, as a heavily-laden man came up, and my companion drew me into the road.
"Tell me your name."
"Gordon, sir," I said. "Mayne Gordon."
"Come and see me—and my wife," he said, taking a card from a shabby pocket-book. "Come on Sunday evening and have tea with us—Kentish Town. Will you come?"
"Yes," I said, eagerly.
"That's right. There, I can't talk now. Shake hands. Good-bye."
He wrung my hand hard, and turned hurriedly away, but I was by his side again.
"Stop," I said. "You have not taken the—the—"
"No," he said, clapping me on the shoulder, "I can't do that. You've given me something worth a thousand such coins as that, boy as you are— renewed faith in my fellow-man—better still, patience and hope. Good-bye, my lad," he said, brightly. "On Sunday, mind. Don't lose that card."
Before I could speak again he had hurried away, and just then a cold chill ran through me, and I set off at a run.
Suppose Mr Isaac Dempster should have come out into the office and found I had gone out!
MR. ISAAC DEMPSTER.
I was in the act of opening the swing-door stealthily, and was half through when I saw that Mr Dempster was acting precisely in the same way, stealing through the inner doorway, and making me a sign to stop.
I obeyed, shivering a little at what was to come, and wishing that I had the courage to utter a word of warning. For there was Esau with his head hanging down over the catalogue he was copying out, fast asleep, the sun playing amongst his fair curls, and a curious guttural noise coming from his nose.
It was that sound, I felt, which had brought Mr Dempster out with his lips drawn back in an ugly grin, and a malicious look in his eyes as he stepped forward on tiptoe, placed both his hands together on my fellow-clerk's curly head, and pressed it down with a sudden heavy bang on the desk.
Something sounded very hollow. Perhaps it was the desk. Then there was a sudden bound, and Esau was standing on the floor, gazing wildly at our employer.
"You lazy idiotic lump of opium," roared the latter. "That's the way my work's done, is it?"
As our employer uttered these words he made at Esau, following up and cuffing him first on one side of the head and then on the other, while the lad, who seemed utterly confused with sleep, and the stunning contact of his brow against the desk, backed away round the office, beginning then to put up his arms to defend himself.
"Here," he cried, "don't you hit me—don't you hit me."
"Hit you!—you stupid, thick-headed, drowsy oaf! I'll knock some sense into you. Nice pair, upon my word! And you—you scoundrel," he cried, turning on me, "where have you been?"
"Only—only just outside, sir," I stammered, as I felt my cheeks flush.
"I'll only just outside you," he roared, catching me by the collar and shaking me. "This is the way my work is done, is it? You're always late of a morning—"
"No, sir," I cried, indignantly.
"Silence!—And always the first to rush off before your work's done; and as soon as my back's turned, you're off to play with the boys in the street. Where have you been?"
I was silent, I felt that I could not tell him.
"Sulky, eh? Here, you," he roared, turning upon Esau, "where has he been? How long has he been gone?"
"Don't you hit me! Don't you hit me!" cried the boy, sulkily; "I shan't stand this."
"I say, how long has he been gone?"
"I was only gone a few minutes, sir," I said.
"Gone a few minutes, you scoundrel! How dare you be gone a few minutes, leaving my office open? You're no more use than a boy out of the streets, and if I did my duty by you, I should thrash you till you could not stand. Back to your desk, you dog, and the next time I catch you at any of these tricks off you go, and no character."
As I climbed back to my place at the desk, hot, flushed, and indignant, feeling more and more unable to explain the reason for my absence, and guilty at the same time—knowing as I did that I had no business to steal off—Mr Dempster turned once more upon Esau, who backed away from him round the office, sparring away with his arms to ward off the blows aimed at him, though I don't think they were intended to strike, but only as a malicious kind of torture.
"Here, don't you hit me! don't you hit me!" Esau kept on saying, as if this was the only form of words he could call up in his excitement.
"I'll half break your neck for you, you scoundrel! Is that catalogue done?"
"How can I get it done when you keep on chivvying me about the place?" cried Esau.
"How can you get it done if you go to sleep, you scoundrel, you mean. Now then, up on to that stool, and if it isn't done you stop after hours till it is done. Here, what are you staring at? Get on with those letters."
Mr Dempster had turned upon me furiously as I sat looking, and with a sigh I went on with my writing, while red-faced and wet-eyed, for he could not keep the tears back, Esau climbed slowly on to his stool, and gave a tremendous sniff.
"I shall tell mother as soon as I get home," he cried.
"Tell your mother, you great calf! You had better not," roared Mr Dempster. "She has troubles enough. It was only out of charity to her that I took you on. For you are useless—perfectly useless. I lose pounds through your blunders. There, that will do. Get on with your work."
He went back into the inner office, and banged the door so heavily that all the auction bills which papered the walls of our office began to flap and swing about. Then for a few minutes there was only the scratching of our pens to be heard.
Then Esau gave a tremendous sniff, began wiping his eyes on the cuffs of his jacket, and held the blotting-paper against each in turn as he looked across at me.
"'Tain't crying," he said. "Only water. Ketch him making me cry!"
"You were crying," I said, quietly.
"No, I wasn't. Don't you get turning again' me too. Take a better man than him to make me cry."
"Ah, you may grin," grumbled my companion; "but just you have your head knocked again' the desk, and just you see if it wouldn't make your eyes water."
At that moment the door was opened with a snatch.
"Silence there! You, Gordon, will you go on with your work?"
The door was banged before I could have answered. Not that I should have said anything. But as soon as the door clicked Esau went on again without subduing his voice—
"I ain't afraid of him—cheating old knocktioneer! Thinks he's a right to knock everybody down 'cause he's got a licence."
"Go on with your work," I whispered, "or he'll come back."
"Let him; I don't care. I ain't afraid. It was all your fault for going out."
"And yours for being asleep."
"I can't help my head being heavy. Mother says it's because I've got so much brains. But I'll serve him out. I'll make all the mistakes I can, and he'll have to pay for them being corrected."
"What good will that do?"
"I dunno; but I'll serve him out. He shan't hit me. I say, what did you go out to buy?"
"Nothing. I went out to speak to that gentleman who came."
"What gentleman who came?"
"While you were asleep."
"There you go! You're as bad as old Knock-'em-down. Fellow's only got to shut his eyes, and you say he's asleep. But I don't care. Everybody's again' me, but I'll serve 'em out."
"You'd better go on with your writing."
"Shan't. Go on with yours. I know. I'll 'list—that's what I'll do. Like to see old Going-going touch me then!"
There was a busy interval of writing, during which something seemed to ask me why I let Mr Dempster behave so brutally to me, and I began wondering whether I was a coward. I felt that I could not be as brave as Esau, or I should have resisted.
"Not half a chap, you ain't!" said my companion, suddenly.
"You'd say you'd come with me. Deal better to be soldiers than always scrawling down Lot 104 on paper."
"I don't want to be a soldier," I said.
"No; you're not half a chap. Only wait a bit. I'd ha' gone long ago if it hadn't been for mother."
"Yes; she wouldn't like you to go."
"How do you know?"
"Mrs Dean told me so. She said you were mad about red-coats."
"That's just like mother," said Esau, with a grin, "allus wrong. I don't want to wear a red coat. Blue's my colour."
"What—a sailor?" I said quickly.
"Get out! Sailor! all tar and taller. I'm not going to pull ropes. I mean blue uniform—'Tillery—Horse Artillery. They do look fine. I've seen 'em lots o' times."
"Here, you two, I'm going out. I shall be back in five minutes," said Mr Dempster, so suddenly that he made us both start. "Look sharp and get that work done."
He stood drawing a yellow silk handkerchief round and round his hat, which was already as bright as it could be made, and then setting it on very much on one side, he gave his silk umbrella a flourish, touched his diamond pin with the tip of his well-gloved finger, and strutted out.
"Back in five minutes! Yah!" cried Esau. "It's all gammon about being honest and getting on."
"No, it isn't," I said, as I carefully dotted a few i's.
"Yes, it is. Look at him—makes lots o' money, and he cheats people and tells more lies in a day than I've told in all my life."
"Tain't. He's a regular bad 'un. Back in five minutes! Why he won't come till it's time to go, and then he'll keep us waiting so as to get all the work he can out of us."
But that time Esau was wrong, for in about five minutes the outer door was opened, and our employer thrust in his head.
"There's a letter on my table to post, Gordon," he said. "Be sure it goes."
"Yes, sir," I said, and as the door closed again I looked at Esau and laughed.
"Oh, I don't mind," he said. "That wasn't coming back. He only looked in to see if we were at work. I shan't stop here; I shall 'list."
"No, you will not," I said, as I went on writing quietly.
"Oh, yes, I shall. You can go on lodging with the old woman, for you won't be the chap to come with me."
"You won't go," I said.
"Ah, you'll see. You don't mean to stop here, do you, and be bullied and knocked about?"
I went on writing and thinking of how dearly I should have liked to go somewhere else, for my life was very miserable with Mr Dempster; but I always felt as if it would be cowardly to give up, and I had stayed on, though that day's experience was very like those which had gone before.
We had both finished our tasks an hour before Mr Dempster returned, nearly an hour after closing time, and even then he spent a long time in criticising the writing and finding fault, concluding by ordering Esau to go round with the catalogue he had made out to the printer's.
"There's a master for you!" cried my fellow-clerk, as we went up into the main street. "I shan't stand it. I'm going for a soldier."
"Ah, you may grin at what I say, but wait a bit. Going home?"
"No," I said, "I shall walk round with you to the printer's."
He gave me a quick bright look, and his manner changed as if, once free of the office, he felt boy-like and happy. He whistled, hummed over bits of songs, and chatted about the various things we passed, till we had been at the printer's, and then had to retrace our steps so as to cross Blackfriars Bridge, and reach Camberwell, where in a narrow street off the Albany Road Esau's mother rented a little house, working hard with her needle to produce not many shillings a week, which were supplemented by her boy's earnings, and the amount I paid for my bed, breakfast, and tea.
It was my fellow-clerk's proposal that I should join them, and I had good cause to be grateful, the place being delightfully clean, and little, quaint, homely Mrs Dean looking upon me as a lodger who was to be treated with the greatest of respect.
"Shan't go for a soldier to-night!" said Esau, throwing himself back in his chair, after we had finished our tea.
"I should think not indeed," cried his mother. "Esau, I'm ashamed of you for talking like that. Has he been saying anything about it to you, Master Gordon?"
"Oh, yes, but he don't mean it," I replied. "It's only when he's cross."
"Has master been scolding him then again?"
"Scolding?" cried Esau scornfully, "why he never does nothing else."
"Then you must have given him cause, Esau dear. Master Gordon, what had he done?"
"Mr Dempster caught him asleep."
"Well, I couldn't help it. My head was so heavy."
"Yes," sighed Mrs Dean, "his head always was very heavy, poor boy. He goes to sleep at such strange times too, sir."
"Well, don't tell him that, mother," cried Esau. "You tell everybody."
"Well, dear, there's no harm in it. I never said it was your fault. Lots of times, Master Gordon, I've known him go to sleep when at play, and once I found him quite fast with his mouth full of bread and butter."
"Such stuff!" grumbled Esau, angrily.
"It is quite true, Master Gordon. He always was a drowsy boy."
"Make anybody drowsy to keep on writing lots and figures," grumbled Esau. "Heigho—ha—hum!" he yawned. "I shan't be very long before I go to bed."
He kept his word, and I took a book and sat down by the little fire to read; but though I kept on turning over the pages, I did not follow the text; for I was either thinking about Mrs Dean's needle as it darted in and out of the stuff she was sewing, or else about Mr John Dempster and our meeting that day—of how I had promised to go up and see him on Sunday, and how different he was to his cousin.
The time must have gone fast, for when the clock began to strike, it went on up to ten; and I was thinking it was impossible that it could be so late, when I happened to glance across at little Mrs Dean, whose work had dropped into her lap, and she was as fast asleep then as her son had been at the office hours before.
MY NEW FRIENDS.
Poor Esau and I had had a hard time at the office, for it seemed that my patient forbearing way of receiving all the fault-finding made Mr Dempster go home at night to invent unpleasant things to say, till, as I had listened, it had seemed as if my blood boiled, and a hot sensation came into my throat.
All this had greatly increased by the Saturday afternoon, and had set me thinking that there was something in what Esau said, and that I should be better anywhere than where I was.
But on the Sunday afternoon, as I walked up the sunny road to Kentish Town, and turned down a side street of small old-looking houses, each with its bit of garden and flowers, everything looked so bright and pleasant, even there, that my spirits began to rise; and all the more from the fact that at one of the cottage-like places with its porch and flowers, there were three cages outside, two of whose inmates, a lark and a canary, were singing loudly and making the place ring.
It is curious how a musical sound takes one back to the past. In an instant as I walked on, I was seeing the bright river down at home, with the boat gliding along, the roach and dace flashing away to right and left, the chub scurrying from under the willows, the water-weeds and white buttercups brushing against the sides, and the lark singing high overhead in the blue sky.
London and its smoke were gone, and the houses to right and left had no existence for me then, till I was suddenly brought back to the present by a hand being laid on my shoulder, and a familiar voice saying—
"Mr Gordon! Had you forgotten the address? You have passed the house!"
As these words were uttered a hand grasped mine very warmly, and I was looking in the thin, worn, pleasant features of Mr John Dempster, which seemed far brighter than when I saw him at the office.
"Very, very glad to see you, my dear young friend," he cried, taking my arm. "My wife and I have been looking forward to this day; she is very eager to make your acquaintance."
To my surprise he led me back to the little house where the birds were singing, and I could not help glancing at him wonderingly, for I had fully expected to find him living in a state of poverty, whereas everything looked neat and good and plain.
"Give me your hat," he said, as we stood in the passage. "That's right. Now in here. Alexes, my dear, this is my young friend, Mr Gordon."
"I am very glad you have come," said a sweet, musical voice; and my hand was taken by a graceful-looking lady, who must once have been very beautiful. "You are hot and tired. Come and sit down here."
I felt hot and uncomfortable, everything was so different from what I had expected; for the room was not in the least shabby, and the tea-things placed ready added to the pleasant home-like aspect of the place.
"You have not walked?" said Mr John Dempster.
"Oh, yes," I replied.
I told him.
"Camberwell? And I was so unreasonable as to ask you to come all this way."
I did not know how it was, but I somehow felt as if I had come to visit some very old friends, and in quite a short time we were chatting confidentially about our affairs. They soon knew all about my own home, and my life since I left school so suddenly; and on my side I learned that Mrs John Dempster had had a very serious illness, but was recovering slowly, and that they were contemplating going abroad, the doctors having said that she must not stay in our damp climate for another winter.
I learned, too, that, as Mr John Dempster said, when things came to the worst they improved. It had been so here, for the night after his visit to his cousin in the city, a letter had come from Mrs John Dempster's brother, who was in the North-west—wherever that might be—and their temporary troubles were at an end.
That would have been a delightfully pleasant meal but for one thing. No allusion was made to the visit to the city, and though I sat trembling, for fear they should both begin to thank me for my offer, not a word was said. The tea was simple. The flowers on the table and in the window smelled sweetly, and the birds sang, while there was something about Mrs John that fascinated me, and set me thinking about the happy old days at home.
The one unpleasantly was the conduct of the little maid they kept. She was a round rosy-faced girl of about fifteen, I suppose, but dressed in every respect, cap and apron and all, like a woman of five-and-twenty. In fact she looked like a small-sized woman with very hard-looking shiny dark eyes.
Upon her first entrance into the room bearing a bright tin kettle, for the moment I thought that as she looked so fierce, it was she who uttered little snorts, hisses, and sputtering noises. But of course it was only the kettle, for she merely looked at me angrily and gave a defiant sniff. As the evening went on, I found that this was Maria, and it soon became evident that Maria did not like me, but looked upon me as a kind of intruder, of whom she was as jealous as a girl of her class could be.
Pleasant evenings always pass too rapidly, and it was so here; I could not believe it when the hands of the little clock on the chimney-piece pointed to nine, and I rose to go.
"How soon it seems!" sighed Mrs John. "Well, Mayne,"—it had soon come to that—"you must call and see us again very soon—while we are here," she added, slowly.
"Ah, and who knows but what he may come when we are far away!" said Mr John. "The world is only a small place after all."
"Where should you go?" I said, earnestly. "I would come if I could."
"Possibly to Canada," said Mr John. "But there, we are not gone yet. You will not feel lonely, dear, if I walk a little way with our visitor?"
She gave him a very gentle smile, and as I held out my hand, she drew me to her and kissed me.
I could not say "Good-bye" then, for there was a strange choking feeling in my throat which made me hurry away, and the last thing I heard as I went out was the sharp banging and locking of the little gate, followed by another defiant sniff.
"Come and see us as often as you can, Mayne," said my new friend at parting. "We never had any children, and it is a pleasure to us to have young people about us, for since my misfortunes we have lived very much to ourselves. In fact, my dear wife's health has made it necessary that she should be much alone."
"But she is getting better, sir?"
"Oh, rapidly now; and if I can get her abroad—Ah, we must talk about this another time. Goodnight."
It was like the opening out of a new life to me, and I walked back to Camberwell as if the distance was nothing, thinking as I was all the time about the conversation, of Mrs John's sweet, patient face, and the constantly attentive manner of Mr John, every action of his being repaid by a grateful smile. "I wonder," I thought, "how it is possible that Mr Dempster and Mr John could be cousins;" and then I went on thinking about the interview at the office when Mr Dempster was so harsh.
This kept my attention till I reached the Deans', and then I walked straight in to find Mrs Dean making believe to read, while Esau was bending his head slowly in a swaying motion nearer and nearer to the candle every moment. In fact I believe if I had not arrived as I did, Esau's hair would have been singed so as to need no cutting for some time. As it was, he leaped up at a touch.
"Oh, here you are!" he said. "If you hadn't come I believe I should soon have dropped asleep."
HOW MR. DEMPSTER USED HIS CANE.
My life at the office grew more miserable every day, and Mr Isaac Dempster more tyrannical.
That's a big word to use, and seems more appropriate to a Roman emperor than to a London auctioneer; but, on quietly thinking it over, it is quite correct, for I honestly believe that that man took delight in abusing Esau and me.
Let me see; what did some one say about the employment of boys? "A boy is a boy; two boys are half a boy; and three boys are no boy at all."
Of course, as to the amount of work they do. But it is not true, for I know—one of the auction-room porters told me—that Mr Dempster used to keep two men-clerks in his office, till they both discharged themselves because they would not put up with what the porter called "his nastiness." Then we were both engaged.
That was one day when Dingle came down in his green baize apron and carpet-cap, and had to wait till our employer returned from his lunch.
"Ah!" he said, "the guv'nor used to lead them two a pretty life, and keep 'em ever so late sometimes."
"But he had more business then, I suppose?" I said.
"Not he. Busier now, and makes more money. Nobody won't stop with him."
"Yes, they will," said Esau. "You said you'd been with him fourteen years."
"Yes," said Dingle, showing his yellow teeth, "but I'm an auctioneer's fixtur', and going ain't in my way."
"Why not?" asked Esau.
"Got a wife and twelve children, squire, and they nails a man down."
Just then Mr Dempster came in, ordered Dingle to go into his room, and we could hear him being well bullied about something, while as he came out he laughed at us both, and gave his head a peculiar shake.
"Off!" he whispered. "Flea in each ear."
I mention this because it set me thinking that if we two lads of sixteen or seventeen did all the work for which two men were formerly kept, we could not be quite so useless and stupid as Mr Dempster said.
I know that my handwriting was not so very good, and I was not quite so quick with my pen as Esau, but his writing was almost like copper-plate, and I used to feel envious; though I had one consolation—I never made Esau's mistakes in spelling.
But nothing we ever did was right, and as the weeks went on, made bright to me now by my visits up in North London, Esau would throw down his pen three or four times a day, rub his hands all over his curly head, and look over the top of the desk at me.
"Now then," he used to say; "ready?"
"Ready for what?"
"To go and 'list. We're big enough now."
"'Tain't nonsense," he said one morning, after Mr Dempster had been a little more disagreeable than usual about some copying not being finished, and then gone out, leaving me thinking what I could do to give him a little more satisfaction, so as to induce him to raise the very paltry salary he paid me. "'Tain't nonsense. Mother says that if I stop I shall some day rise and get to be Lord Mayor, but I don't think Demp would like it, so when you're ready we'll go.—Ready?"
"You are a fellow!" said Esau, taking up his pen again. "I say, though, I wish we could get places somewhere else."
"Why not try?"
"Because it would only be to do writing again, and it's what makes me so sleepy. I'm getting worse—keep making figures and writing out catalogues till my head gets full of 'em."
"It is tiring," I said, with a sigh. "But do go on; he'll be so cross if that list isn't finished."
"Can't help it. I'm ever so much more sleepy this morning, and the words get running one atop of another. Look here," he cried, holding up a sheet of ruled paper. "This ought to have been 'chest of drawers,' and it's run into one word, 'chawers'; and up higher there's another blunder, 'loo-table,'—it's gone wrong too—do you see?—'lable.' My head's all a buzz."
"Tear it up quickly and write it again."
"Shan't; I shall correct it. No, I know. I shall cut the paper up, and stick it on another sheet, and write these lines in again. Pass the gum. Oh!"
"What's the matter?"
"Here's 'mogany' lower down, and 'Tarpet' for 'Turkey carpet.'"
"Write it again, do," I said, for I dreaded the scene that I knew there would be.
"Ah, well, all right, but I know I shall muddle it again, and—"
"As usual," cried Mr Dempster, and we both started back on to our stools, for we had been standing up on the rails leaning towards each other over the double desk, so intent on the errors that we had not heard him open the door softly—I believe, on purpose to surprise us.
We began writing hard, and I felt my heart beating fast, as our employer banged the door heavily and strode up to the desk.
I gave one quick glance at him as he turned to Esau's side, and snatched up the sheet of paper the boy tried to hide under the blotting-pad; and as I looked I saw that his face was flushed and fierce-looking as I had never seen it before.
"Hah!" he ejaculated, as he took off his glossy hat and stood it on a chair, with his ivory-handled Malacca cane across it. "Pretty stuff this, upon my word. Here, let me look at that letter."
He reached over and snatched the missive I was writing from the desk, and held it up before him.
"Do you call that writing?" he roared. "Disgraceful! Abominable! The first boy I met in the street would do better. There—and there—and there!"
He tore the letter to fragments and threw the paper in my face.
"Now then; write another directly," he cried; "and if you dare to—Here, what are you going to do?" he roared, as Esau took hold of the sheet of paper containing the errors.
"Going to write it over again, sir."
"Write it over again, you miserable impostor!" he cried, as he snatched the paper back and laid a leaden weight upon it. "I'll teach you to waste my time and paper gossiping—that's what it means."
"Here, what are you going to do?" cried Esau, as Mr Dempster seized him by the collar.
"I'll show you what I'm going to do, you idle young scoundrel," cried Mr Dempster, and he reached out his hand to take his stout cane from where it lay across his hat.
"Here, don't you hit me," cried Esau; and he tried to get away, as I sat breathless, watching all that was going on, and thinking that Mr Dempster dared not use the walking-cane in the way he seemed to threaten. Esau evidently thought he would, for he struggled hard now, but in vain, and he was dragged towards the chair. Then, as pulling seemed no use, the lad changed his tactics, and he darted forward to make for the door, just as Mr Dempster's hand was touching the stick, which he did not secure, for the jerk he received sent cane and hat off the chair on to the floor.
"You dog!" roared Dempster, as the hat went on to the oilcloth with a hollow bang.
"Don't you hit me!" cried Esau, struggling wildly to escape; and the next moment, as they swayed to and fro, I heard a strange crushing sound, and on looking to see the cause, there lay Mr Dempster's beautiful guinea-and-a-half hat crushed into a shapeless, battered mass.
"Ah!" roared Mr Dempster, "you dog; you did that on purpose."
"I didn't," cried Esau; "it was your foot did it."
"Was it? was it?" snarled Mr Dempster, and the struggle recommenced, until I, with the perspiration standing on my forehead, caught tightly hold of the desk.
Esau was pretty strong, but he was almost helpless in the bands of the angry man who held him, and the struggle ended, after the high stool and the chair had both been knocked over with a crash, by Mr Dempster's getting Esau down and holding him there with one knee upon his chest.
"Hah!" he ejaculated, panting. "Here you, Gordon, get down and pick up my cane," and he gave his head a jerk in the direction of where the stick lay, just as it had been knocked close to the door.
Months of rigid obedience to the tyrant had their effect, and I got down from my stool trembling with excitement.
"Oh, don't, don't, Gordon!" cried Esau; "don't give it him."
But my employer's eyes were fixed upon me with such a look that I was fascinated, and as if moved against my own will, I crossed the office and picked up the thick cane.
"Give it here, quick!"
For I stood there hesitating, but the imperative voice mastered me, and I moved towards the speaker.
"Don't—don't give it him," cried Esau.
"Quick—this instant!" roared Mr Dempster, and I handed the cane.
"You sneak!" cried Esau angrily; "I'd ha' died first."
His words sent a sting through me, and I would have given anything to have been able to say, "I couldn't help it, Esau." But I was speechless, and felt the next instant as if a blow had fallen upon me, as I saw with starting eyes Mr Dempster shift his position, keeping a tight hold of Esau by the collar as he rose into a stooping position, and then, whizz! thud! he brought the cane down with all his force across the lad's shoulders.
Esau uttered a yell as he tried to spring up, but he was held fast, and the blows were falling thick and fast upon the struggling lad, when I could bear it no longer, and with one bound I was at the auctioneer, and had fast hold of the cane.
"Stop!" I shouted, half hysterically; "you shan't beat him. You have no right to do it, sir. Esau, get up. Run!"
"Let go!" cried Mr Dempster, turning a face black with passion at me. "Do you hear, beggar? Let go!"
"I will not," I cried, for my blood was up now, and I did not feel in the least afraid. "You have no right to beat him."
"Don't, don't, Gordon! Yah! you great coward!"
"Once more, will you let go?" cried Mr Dempster, as he stood with one hand in Esau's collar, bent down, and tugging at the cane, to which I clung.
"No," I cried. "You shall not strike him again."
I had hardly spoken when Mr Dempster rose up, loosening his hold of Esau, and dashing his free hand full in my face, while, as I fell back, he jerked the cane away and struck at me a cruel stinging blow from the left shoulder, as a cavalry-man would use a sabre, the cane striking me full across the right ear, while the pain was as acute as if the blow had been delivered by a keen-edged sword.
For a few moments I staggered back, half stunned and confused, while blow succeeded blow, now delivered on my back and arms with all his might.
As I said, the first cruel, cowardly blow half stunned me; those which followed stung me back into a wild state of rage and pain which made me reckless and blind, as, regardless of pain and the fact that he was a well-knit, strong man, I made a dash at the cane, got hold of it with both hands, and in spite of his efforts kept my grip of the stout elastic stick.
I knew that I was swung here and there, and the cane was tugged at till the ivory handle fell on the floor, and then he changed his attack, letting go of the cane with one hand and catching me by the throat.
"Now then," he cried, and I felt that I was mastered.
Then I knew I was wrong, for at that moment Mr Dempster was driven forward, his forehead striking mine, and as I fell back my assailant fell on his knees, and I stood panting, the master of the cane.
The explanation was simple. Esau had watched his opportunity, and leaped upon our tyrant's back, pinning his arms to his sides, and making him in his surprise loosen his hold of the cane.
It is hard work to recall it now, so wild and confused it all seems; but I remember well that I must have struck Mr Dempster, and that as he came at me Esau seized and overturned the great desk right in his way, sending him down again, while the next moment my fellow-clerk was holding open the door, shouting to me to come.
I caught down my hat and Esau's, and made for the door, which Esau dragged to in our employer's face, and the next minute we were tearing up the lane.
"Stop them! stop thief!" was shouted hoarsely, and in our excitement we looked back to see our enemy in pursuit, while, as we turned again to run, we found ourselves face to face with a burly City policeman, who caught each of us by an arm.
A MISERABLE NIGHT.
"Hah! The scoundrels!" panted Dempster, as he came up, flushed, bareheaded, his glossy coat covered with dust, and a great dark weal growing darker moment by moment on his forehead, while for the first time I became aware of the fact that my right ear was cut and bleeding freely.
"What is it, sir?" said the policeman; and I shivered slightly as I felt his grip tighten on my arm.
"Take them. I give them in charge," panted Mr Dempster, hoarse with rage—"robbery and assault."
"What?" shouted Esau, furiously.
"It is not true!" I cried wildly.
"Take them," shouted Mr Dempster. "I'll follow in a cab. Take them."
"You'll have to charge them, sir," said the constable.
"Yes. I know. I must make myself decent first."
"You can do that afterwards, sir. Better all get in a cab at once before there's a crowd."
The cool matter-of-fact policeman was master of the situation, and, summoning a cab, he seemed to pack us all in, and followed to unpack us again a few minutes later, both Esau and I with the spirit evaporating fast, and feeling soft and limp, full of pain too, as we were ushered into the presence of a big, stern-looking inspector, who prepared to fill up a form.
All that passed is very misty now; but I remember Mr Dempster, as he glared at us, telling the inspector that he had had cause to complain about our conduct, and that we had, evidently after planning it, made a sudden attack upon him, and beaten him savagely with a stick.
"But you said robbery, sir," the policeman suggested.
"Ah!—I will not press that," cried Mr Dempster. "I don't want to quite ruin the boys. I proceed against them for assault."
I looked wildly at Esau for him to speak out, and he was looking at me as if half stupefied. The next I recollect is that the big policeman signed to us to follow him, and we were marched away.
Then we were in a whitewashed cell, a door was banged to, and we heard the bolts shot.
For a few minutes I stood there as if stunned, but was brought back to myself by Esau.
"Well," he said loudly, "this is a nice game."
"Oh, Esau!" I said weakly.
"Yes, it is 'Oh!'" he cried. "What will my mother say?"
I could not answer—only look at him in the dim light hopelessly, and feeling in my mental and bodily pain as if everything was over for me in this world.
To my horror Esau burst into a heavy fit of laughter, and sitting down he rocked himself to and fro.
"What a game!" he cried; "but, I say, you didn't half give it to him."
"Oh, Esau!" I cried, "it's horrible."
"For him," he replied. "I say, I'm precious stiff and sore though; did he hurt you very much?"
"Yes; my arms ache, and my ear bleeds. Esau, we shall never be able to go back."
"Hooray!" cried my companion defiantly. "Who wants to? But that isn't the worst of it; he will not pay us our wages."
"No," I said; "and we shall be punished."
"Then it's a jolly shame; for he ought to be punished for hitting us. I say, can't we have a summons against him for assaulting us?"
"I don't know," I said, wondering. "How my head does ache!"
"Some one coming," whispered Esau.
For there were heavy footsteps, and the bolts were drawn. Then the door opened, to show the inspector and the big policeman.
"Here, boy," said the former roughly, "let me look at your ear."
I was holding my handkerchief to the place, which was bleeding a good deal.
"Better have the doctor," he said.
"What, for that! Only wants bathing and some sticking-plaster."
"Well, we shall see," he said, looking at me curiously. "What did you do with the money?"
"That Mr Dempster said you took."
"He didn't take any!" cried Esau indignantly. "He knocked us about, and we hit him again, and he got the worst of it."
"Oh, that's it, is it? Come, my lad, that's not true."
"It is, sir, indeed," I said earnestly.
"But look at your handkerchief. Seems to me you got the worst of it."
"Oh, that's nothing," I said.
"You had a regular scrimmage, then?"
"Yes, sir," I said; and I told him exactly how it happened.
"Humph!" ejaculated the inspector, when I had finished, "I dare say you will not get more than seven years."
"Seven years, sir!" cried Esau. "What for? Old Demp ought to get it, not us."
"You must tell the Lord Mayor that, or the alderman, to-morrow."
"But are we going to be kept in prison, sir?" I asked, with my courage sinking.
"You are going to be locked up here till tomorrow, of course. Like to have a good wash?"
Of course we said "Yes," and before long we looked fairly respectable again, with the exception of scratches, bruises, and the ugly cut I had on my ear.
The thing that encouraged me most was the way in which I saw the inspector and constable exchange a smile, while later on they and the other constables about gave us a good tea with bread and butter and meat, and we had to tell all our adventures again before we were locked up for the night, after refusing an offer that was made.
"Think we ought to have sent?" said Esau, as we sat together alone.
"I have no one I could send to but Mr John, and I shouldn't like to do that," I said, as I wondered the while whether he would be very angry.
"And I've got nobody but mother," said Esau, "and that's what made it so queer."
"What do you mean? Queer?"
"Yes, if I sent to her and she knew I was locked up at the station, she'd come running down here in a dreadful fright and be having fits or something."
"But she'll be horribly frightened now!"
"Not so much frightened. She'll think we've gone to see something, or been asked out to supper."
"But she'll sit up."
"That won't matter, because she's sure to go to sleep."
So no message was sent—no opportunity afforded of our having bail; but after a time this did not trouble us much. In fact, as we were discussing our future in a low tone, wondering what punishment would be meted out to us, and what we could do afterwards, Esau burst into a fit of laughter.
"It was fine," he said, as he sat afterwards wiping his eyes. "And you such a quiet, patient fellow!"
"What was fine?"
"To see you go on as you did. I say, I wonder what he'll say to the judge?"
"We shall not go before a judge," I told him.
"Well, madjistrit then. He'll say anything, and you'll see if we don't get sent to prison."
I said I hoped not, but I felt pretty sure that we should be punished very severely, and the outlook seemed so bad that I began to think my only chance would be to follow Esau's fortune, and go for a soldier.
All at once, just after he had been wondering how long "mother" would be before she dropped off to sleep, and what she would say when she found that we had not been home, I became aware of a low dull guttural sound, which told me that Esau had dropped off, and was sleeping soundly.
But I could not follow his example for thinking. What would Mr John say? What would Mrs John think? They would set me down as a reckless lad with a savage temper, and if we were punished they would never know the truth. Then another idea, one which made me shiver, occurred to me; the whole account would be in the newspapers, given as Police Intelligence, and that completely baffled all my attempts to sleep.
It was a very quiet night at the station. I heard doors opened and closed twice over, with a good deal of talking; and once while I was thinking most deeply, I started and stared curiously at a bright blaze of light, beyond which I could not see; but I felt that a constable had that light in his hand, and that he had come to see if we were asleep.
I had not heard the door open, I suppose I was thinking too deeply; but I heard it shut again, and heavy steps in the long stone passage outside. Then I began thinking again intently, full of remorse for what I had done, and how soon it would be morning; and then I began to envy Esau, who could sleep so soundly in spite of our position.
I remember it all—the trampling of feet outside, the dull muttering of voices, and the curious guttural sound Esau made as he slept, one that I was often to hear in years to come; and I sat there with my head resting in a corner, envying him, and wishing that I too could forget. And over and over again came the events of the past day—the struggle in the office, and the savage, malicious look of Mr Dempster as he struck me.
Weary, aching, and with my head throbbing, I sat and wondered now at my daring; and then came all kinds of mental questions as to the amount of punishment I, a poor boy, would receive.
All at once, as these miserable thoughts kept on repeating themselves in a strange, feverish way, that was somehow connected with a throbbing, smarting sensation in one ear, Mr Dempster seemed to have raised me by the arm once more, and to begin shaking me roughly—so vigorously that I made a desperate effort to escape, when he cried—
"Steady, steady! You're all right. Come, rouse up and have a wash, my lad. It's nearly eight. Ready for some coffee and bread and butter?"
I looked up in the dim light to see the big, burly policeman leaning over me, while Esau was giving vent to a noisy yawn. It was morning, indeed, and though not aware of the fact, I must have slept about seven hours.
AN ESCAPE, AND A SUGGESTION.
I don't know whether I was any more cowardly than most boys of my age; but I certainly felt a curiously nervous sensation that morning, and I was not alone in it; for Esau had a strange scared look, and his fair hair did not curl nearly so tightly as usual.
"Eh?" he said, "feel frightened?" in answer to a question. "No, I don't think I do; but I wish they'd leave the door open so that a fellow could run."
But there were no doors open for us to escape, and at last, after a weary time of waiting, the big policeman who had us in his charge bent down to us in the place where we were waiting, and said—
"Your case comes on next. There, hold up, my lads. Speak out, both of you, like men, and tell the whole truth. It's Sir Thomas Browning to-day."
I listened to him, but I felt as if I was growing hopelessly confused, and that I should never be able to say a word in my defence, while when I looked at Esau, I found that he was looking at me with his forehead full of wrinkles.
"It's all very well for him to say 'hold up.' He haven't got to be tried," he whispered. "I'm 'fraid it's all up with us, Gordon. Wish we could be together when they sends us off."
"Now then!" said the policeman, clapping me on the shoulder; "it's us. Don't you be scared. Sir Thomas is a good 'un."
The next minute Esau and I were standing somewhere with our constable close by, and somewhere before us, in places that looked like pews, sat a number of gentlemen, some of whom wore wigs. Some were writing, and, seen as it were through a mist, a number of people looking on. Next, in a confused way, I saw a red-faced, white-headed gentleman, who took off his spectacles to have a good look at us, and put them on again to read a paper before him.
It was all dim and strange, and there was quite a singing in my ears, as I looked vacantly about while some talking went on, ending by a voice saying—
"Kiss the book."
Then the white-headed old gentleman said—
"Well, Mr Dempster, what have you to say?"
At the name Dempster, I started and looked sharply about me, to see that my employer was a little way off, very carefully dressed, and with a glossy hat in his hand.
"That can't be the hat," I remember thinking, as I stared at him wildly.
The mist had cleared away now, and I stood listening to him as he went on speaking, in a very quiet subdued way, about the troubles he had had with the two defendants—boys whom he had taken into his service out of kindness.
"Yes, yes, yes, Mr Dempster," said the old gentleman testily; "but this isn't a sale of house property. There's a very long charge-sheet. You have given these two lads into custody on a charge of assault. Now, shortly, please, how did it happen?"
"The fact is, your worship," said Mr Dempster, "I have had much trouble with both of them. The boy Dean is idle in the extreme, while Gordon is a lad of vile and passionate temper."
"Well, sir—well, sir?"
"I had occasion to speak to them yesterday about idling in my absence, the consequence being that a great many mistakes were made."
"Allus careful as I could be," said Esau, in an ill-used tone.
"Silence, sir! How dare you?" cried the old gentleman. "You shall be heard presently. Now, Mr Dempster, please go on."
"I was angry, Sir Thomas, and I scolded them both severely, when to my utter surprise—stop, I will be perfectly accurate—things had come to such a pass that I had threatened them with dismissal—when in a fit of passion Dean struck my new hat from a chair on which it was laid, jumped upon it, and crushed it."
"Oh, what a whopper!" cried Esau, excitedly. "Will you be silent, sir?" cried the old gentleman, tapping the desk in front of him with his knuckles.
"Here is the hat, Sir Thomas," said Mr Dempster, and stooping down he held up his crushed and beaten head-covering in corroboration of his words, when a perfect roar of laughter ran round the court, and I saw the old gentleman lift his glasses and smile.
"Well, Mr Dempster, well?" he said.
"Then, Sir Thomas, then, to my utter astonishment, evidently by collusion, Gordon seized my Malacca cane, and the boy Dean shouted to him to come on now, and they made a combined attack upon me, breaking off the handle of my cane, inflicting the injuries you see, and but for my energetic defence I believe they would have robbed me and gone off. Fortunately I was able to call for the police, and give them into custody."
"Well, of all—" began Esau; but the old alderman turned upon him sharply.
"I shall commit you, sir, for contempt of court," he cried.
"But he is telling such—"
"Quiet, you young donkey," whispered the policeman. "Hsh!"
"Hm! Mr Dempster, Mr Dempster," said the old gentleman, "this is a police court, not an auctioneer's rostrum."
"I beg your pardon, Sir Thomas," said Mr Dempster, with dignity.
"You are sworn, sir, and I wished to remind you that this is not a rostrum. You auctioneers are licenced gentlemen, and you do exaggerate a little sometimes. Are you not doing so now?"
"Look at my face, Sir Thomas. My arm is terribly strained."
"Um—yes, but it does not sound reasonable to me, as an old man of the world who has had much to do with boys."
"I have stated my case, Sir Thomas," said Mr Dempster in an ill-used tone.
"Are you sure that you did not use the cane first yourself?"
"I—I will not swear I did not, Sir Thomas. I was very angry."
"Hah! yes," said the old gentleman, nodding his head. "Now, boy, speak the truth. This is a very serious business; what have you to say?"
"Got hold of me, sir, and was going to hit me, and we wrestled, and the hat was knocked over, and the stick, and he trod on his 'at, sir, and I sings out to Mayne Gordon—this is him, sir—to take the stick away, but he got it, sir, and I calls out to Gordon not to let him thrash me."
"Gently, gently," cried the old gentleman, holding up his hands, for Esau's words came pouring out in a breathless way, and every one was laughing.
"No, sir, not a bit gently; 'ard, sir, awful! and I can show the marks, and Gordon—that's him, sir—says he'd no business to 'it his mate, and he 'it him, and then Gordon got hold of the cane and held on, and Mr Dempster, he got it away again, and cut him across the ear, sir, and it bled pints, and 'it him again, and then I went at him and held him, and Gordon got the cane away and 'it 'im, sir, and then we ran away, and the police took us and locked us up, and that's all."
"And enough too," said Sir Thomas good-humouredly. "There, hold your tongue.—Now, you, sir, what have you to say?—the same as your companion?"
"I'm very sorry, sir," I said huskily; and then a feeling of indignation seemed to give me strength, and I continued, "What Esau Dean says is all true. Mr Dempster has behaved cruelly to us, and I could not stand still and see him beat Esau. I only tried to hold the stick so that he should not strike him, and then he hit me here, and here, and then I think I got hold of it, and—I don't remember any more, sir. I'm very sorry now."
"I ain't," said Esau defiantly.
"Do you want me to send you to prison, sir?" cried the old gentleman.
"Then hold your tongue. Any witnesses, constable?"
"No, Sir Thomas."
"Humph! Well, really, Mr Dempster, from what I know of human nature, it seems to me that these lads have both spoken the truth."
"Incorrigible young scoundrels, Sir Thomas."
"No, no, no! Excuse me, I think not. A boy is only a very young man, and there is a great responsibility in properly managing them. The marks upon these lads show that they have had a very cruel attack made upon them by somebody. You confessed that you struck one of them. Well, I am not surprised, sir, that one took the other's part. I say this, not as a magistrate, but as a man. You have to my mind, sir, certainly been in the wrong—so have they, for they had their remedy if they were ill-used by applying to a magistrate. So understand this, boys—I do not consider you have done right, though I must own that you had great provocation."
"Then am I to understand, sir," began Mr Dempster, in a very different tone of voice to that which he had before used, "that you are not going to punish these young scoundrels?"
"Have the goodness to recollect where you are, sir," said the old alderman sternly. "Yes, sir, I dismiss the case."
"Then a more contemptible mockery of justice," roared Mr Dempster, "I never saw."
"Exactly," said the old alderman, quietly; "your words, Mr Dempster, quite endorse my opinion. You are a man of ungovernable temper, and not fit to have charge of boys."
"That will do, sir.—The next case."
"I should like to shake hands with that old chap," whispered Esau; and then aloud, as he tossed his cap in the air, "Hooray!"
There was a roar of laughter in the court, and the old alderman turned very fiercely upon Esau, and shook his head at him, but I half fancy I saw him smile, as he turned to a gentleman at his side.
Then in the midst of a good deal of bustle in the court, and the calling of people's names, the policeman hurried us both away, and soon after stood shaking hands with us both.
"You've both come off splendid, my lads," he said, "and I'm glad of it. Old Sir Thomas saw through Master Dempster at once. I know him; he's a bad 'un—regular bully. One of his men—Dingle, isn't his name?—has often told me about him."
"Ah, you don't know half," said Esau.
"Quite enough, anyhow," said the constable, clapping Esau on the shoulder; "and you take my advice, don't you go back to him."
"No," said Esau; "he wouldn't have us if we wanted."
"What are you going to do, then?"
"Join the Royal Artillery," said Esau, importantly.
"Join the Royal Nonsense, boy!" said the big, bluff constable. "Better be a p.c. than that. Plenty of gents in the city want clerks."
"Then," said Esau, "they shan't have me."
But he did not say it loud enough for the constable to hear, the words being meant for me, and after once more shaking hands with us the man said, "Good-bye," and we were out in the busy streets once more—as it seemed to me, the only two lads in London with nothing to do.
I was walking along by Esau's side, low-spirited in spite of our acquittal, for everything seemed so novel and strange, when Esau, who had been whistling, looked round at me.
"Now then," he said, "will you come with me?"
"No. And you are not going."
"Oh, ain't I?"
"No," I said. "You are going home. Your mother must be very anxious about us."
"I'd forgotten all about her," cried Esau. "I say, look: here's old Demp."
If I had obeyed my first inclination I should have turned down the first street to avoid our late employer; but I kept on boldly, as he came towards us, and I expected that he would go by, but he stopped short, and looked from one to the other.
"Oh, here you are," he said; "look out, my lads, I have not done yet. If you think I am going to be beaten like this, you are—"
"Come on, Esau," I whispered, and we did not hear the end of his threat.
"There!" cried Esau. "Now what do you say? He'll be giving us into custody again. 'Tillery's our only chance. He daren't touch us there. But I say, he isn't going back to the office. Let's run and get what's in our desks. There's my old flute."
"I thought you did not want to be given into custody again?" I cried. "Why, if we go and try to touch anything there, and he catches us, he is sure to call in the police."
"Never thought o' that," said Esau, rubbing one ear. "I say, don't be a coward. Come on down to Woolwich."
"You go on directly to your mother and tell her all about it."
"I say, don't order a fellow about like that. You ain't master."
"You do as I tell you," I said, firmly.
"Oh, very well," he replied, in an ill-used tone. "If you say I am to, I suppose I must. Won't you come too?"
"No; I'm going up to see Mr John Dempster to tell him all about it, and ask him to give me his advice."
"Ah, it's all very fine," grumbled Esau; "it's always Mr John Dempster now. You used to make me a friend and ask my advice: now I'm nobody at all. You always was such a gentleman, and too fine for me."
"Don't talk like that, Esau," I said; "you hurt me."
He turned and caught hold of my hand directly. "I didn't mean it," he said, huskily. "On'y don't chuck me over. I won't go for a soldier if you don't want, but let's stick together."
"I should like to, Esau," I said, "for I've no friends but you and Mr John."
"Oh, I don't know 'bout friends," he said. "I don't want to be friends, 'cause I'm not like you, but let's keep together. I'll do anything you want, and I'll always stick up for you, same as you did for me."
"I should be an ungrateful brute if I did part from you, Esau, for I shall never forget how kind you and your mother have always—"
"Don't! don't! don't!" he cried, putting his fingers in his ears. "Now you're beginning to preach at me, and you know I hate that. I say, let's call at the auction-rooms and say good-bye to old Dingle. Dempster won't be there."
I hesitated, and then hurried down the next street with Esau, for I thought I should like to say a friendly word to the porter, who had always been pleasant and kind, little thinking how it would influence my future career.
He was just inside the long sale-room, and he came out to us directly to shake hands gleefully.
"All right, lads," he cried. "I know all about it. I was there, and heard every word. Serve him precious well right! Ah, you're lucky ones. Wish I was out of his service. What are you both going to do?"
"I don't know," I said sadly. "Esau here wants to be a soldier."
"Yes, he always was mad that way. Don't you listen to him."
"Better be a soldier than old Demp's clerk."
"Don't you be too sure, my lad," said Dingle. "There are such things as drill-sergeants in the army, and they tell me they're a kind of Double Dempsters. It's awkward for you, Master Gordon. You see, you'll have to send to the guv'nor for a reference when you try for another place, and he won't give you one, see if he does."
"No," I said sadly, "there is no chance there. What would you do?"
"Well," he said, taking off his carpet cap, and stroking his thin grey hair, "it's easy to advise anybody, but it ain't easy to advise right."
"Never mind," I said, "try."
"Well, sir, speaking as a poor man, if I was like you, out of a 'gagement, and no character 'cept for being able to thrash your own master—"
"Oh, Dingle!" I cried.
"Well, sir, it's true enough," he said; and he bent down to indulge in a long silent fit of laughter.
"Don't do that," I said uneasily, "it's nothing to laugh at."
"Well, 'tis, and it 'tisn't, sir," said Dingle, wiping his eyes on the corner of his apron.
"What would you do if you were out of an engagement?"
"Me? I should do what my brother did—hemigrate."
"Your brother did, Ding? To a nice place?" cried Esau.
"Yes, my lad, and he's getting on fine."
"Then why didn't you go too, and get on fine?"
"'Cause I've got a houseful o' children, and nearly all gals. That's why, Clevershakes."
"But what does your brother do?" I said eagerly. "Is he an auctioneer's porter?"
"Love and bless your heart, Mr Gordon, sir, no," he cried. "I don't believe there's such a thing over there. He went out in the woods, and got a bit o' land give him, and built hisself a log-house, and made a garden, and got cows, and shoots in the woods."
"Here, hold hard, Ding," cried Esau, excitedly; "that'll do. Goes shooting in the woods?"
"Yes, and gets a deer sometimes, and one winter he killed a bear and two wolves, my lad."
"That's the place," cried Esau. "Hooroar! Come on, Master Gordon, let's go there."
"Hark at him, sir. What a one he is! Why, you don't know even where it is."
"I don't care where it is," cried Esau. "You say you can go there, and get some land, and live in the woods, and make your own house, and shoot bears and wolves—that's just the thing I should like to do."
"Why, you said you wanted to jyne the Ryle Artilleree."
"Yes, but I didn't know of this place then. Where is it? How do you go? You'll come too, won't you?"
"I don't know," I said, slowly, for my imagination was also fired by the idea of living in such a land of liberty as that. In fact, as I spoke, bright pictures of green forests and foaming rivers and boats began to form in my mind. "Yes," I cried, "I think I should like to go."
"Hooroar! Where is it, Ding?"
"Oh, my brother's in Bri'ish Columbia, but it's a long, long way."
"Oh, we don't mind that," cried Esau. "How do you get there?"
"Him and his wife and their boy went eight or nine year ago. Sailed in a ship from the docks, and it took 'em five months."
"Oh!" said Esau, in a disappointed tone. "Five months! Why, I didn't think there was anywhere so far off as that."
"Ah! but there is, and in one letter he told me that a man he knew was once a year going, but he went in a waggon instead of a ship."
"Get out! He's gammoning us," cried Esau. "You can't drive a waggon over the sea."
"Who said you could, Clevershakes?" said Dingle—then turning to me, "He went over to Canady by ship, and then all acrost the prayerees in a waggon—lots o' waggons all together, because o' the Injins."
"Fire-injins?" said Esau, eagerly. "No. Dunno though," said Dingle, grinning; "they did fire at 'em a deal."
"Red Injins!" cried Esau. "Oh, I say, I think I'd rather go that way, because there'd be some fighting."
"What, ain't you had fightin' enough, boy? Want to get at it again? What yer thinking about, Mr Gordon?"
I started, for my thoughts were far away. "I was thinking about your brother," I said, hastily.
"Ah! but such a life wouldn't do for you, my lad. There's no clean hands out there—leastwise I dessay they're clean sometimes. What I mean is, it's always hard, rough work, and no setting on a stuffed seat and writing on bloo paper. Why, what do you think my brother had for chairs in his house?"
"Boxes," I said.
"No, boxes made tables. Stumps of wood—logs cut off a fir tree—no castors on them, my lad."
"British Columbia?" I said, thoughtfully, as I tried to remember where that country was on the map, and I am afraid getting a very hazy notion as to its position.
"Yes, my lad, Bri'ish Columbia; and if you go out there and mention my name, my brother will be glad enough to see you, I know. There—I must get to work 'fore the guv'nor catches me, or p'r'aps there'll be another fight, and me wanting a fresh place too." So we shook hands, promising to go and see him again, and directly after Esau and I parted, he going south for home, I going north, and feeling a curious sensation of shrinking as I neared Mr John Dempster's home.
MY FRIENDS' PLANS.
They were both in the little sitting-room, when Maria, who had given me a very indignant look for dragging her down to the gate, announced the visitor and went away, closing the door more loudly than was necessary, and the reception I had was very warm as they both rose from where they had been turning over some letters together.
"Why, Mayne," cried Mr John, "this is an unexpected pleasure," and he made way for Mrs John, who took my hand, smiling in her gentle way, and then turning serious and eager as she exclaimed—
"There is something the matter?"
I nodded, for I could not speak.
"Some trouble with—my cousin?"
"Yes, sir," I said, hoarsely; and for a few minutes the words would not come, the incidents of the past twenty-four hours having upset me more than I was aware.
"Don't hurry, my boy, don't hurry; and don't question him, Alexes. Did you walk up?"
"Ah, a nice day for walking. We two ought to have had ours, but some letters—a little business—kept us in. We have had a very long communication from my wife's brother, and it necessitates a great deal of thinking at our time of life."
"I—I have left Mr Dempster, sir," I said.
"Indeed! I am not surprised, Mayne, and—bless me! what is the matter with your ear?"
The words came now, and I told him everything, while before I had half got through my narrative, Mr John was upon his legs tramping excitedly up and down the little room, and uttering angry ejaculations from time to time.
"You—you are not very angry with me?"
"Angry?" he cried. "I am more than angry that such a thing could have happened, and the principal actor in it have been one who bears the same name as myself. It is cruel—scandalous—disgraceful; and above all, to have exposed you to such an indignity—in custody like a common thief! But there, you shall not continue in his office."
I could not help giving him rather a droll look.
"Of course, sir," I said, "I am discharged."
"Yes, yes, I had forgotten that," he said, hurriedly. "You must have a better post—one more suited to your abilities. Now, let me see—let me see—what steps ought I to take first? Something in the city, perhaps, or I would rather see you in one of the Government offices."
I looked at him wonderingly, as he sat down at the table now, and taking up a letter, used it to tap on the polished wood.
"Yes, I think in one of the Government offices," he continued, while I glanced now at Mrs John, whose face was full of the lines caused by her thoughts.
As she met my eyes, she gave me a piteous look, and shook her head sadly, as if saying something by way of warning.
"Yes, I think decidedly one of the Government offices, my dear, but which?"
As he spoke he raised his eyes and looked at Mrs John, who met his gaze with one so full of loving tenderness that it impressed me, and the more that I saw what a change took place directly in Mr John's countenance, ending by his looking down at the letter he held in his hand.
"Ah," he exclaimed, "what a miserable dreamer I am! Always the same! Mayne, my boy," he added, piteously, "you must not listen to me. I cannot even help myself, and here am I talking to you in this vain, foolish way."
He let his head drop into his hands, and sat bent down till Mrs John went to his side.
"Don't give way," I heard her whisper; "it was your good heart that spoke."
"My good heart," he said piteously—"no, my weak, foolish, dreaming brain. It was always so, and I have brought you down to poverty like this."
She bent lower, and whispered a few words which seemed quite to transform him.
"Yes," he cried, with his face flushing, "I am always ungrateful, and letting present troubles set benefits aside. Mayne, my boy, I wanted you to come and see us. I told you that we were going abroad—for my wife's health—I might say for my own," he added, with a smile, "for I am no use here in England."
"And you are going, sir?" I said, glad to find that the conversation was changing.
"Yes; to join my dear wife's brother. He has sent us an invitation. He thinks I might like the life out there, and he is sure that it will give renewed health to his sister."
"I am very glad, sir," I said, holding out my hands to both, "and—very sorry."
"To lose us," said Mr John. "Yes; now we are getting to know each other so well, it will be painful."
"Are you going to Canada, sir?" I said, hastily, for the idea of losing almost my only friends chilled me.
"To Canada first, then on by slow degrees to the great North-West. My brother-in-law—did I not tell you?"
I shook my head.
"He is in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, chief at one of their stations in British Columbia."
"British Columbia!" I exclaimed.
"Yes. What do you know of the country?"
"Nothing, sir, only that one of Mr Dempster's men has a brother there. But it is a rough place, wild, and there are forests. Mrs John could not go there."
"No place could be rough or wild to me, Mayne," she said, smiling, "if I could find health and strength."
"And you will there, dear," cried Mr John excitedly. "Your brother says the country is lovely, and that the slow waggon journey across, though rough, will be invigorating. It will take many months, Mayne," he continued, speaking as eagerly and joyfully as a boy preparing for a holiday, "but my brother-in-law has sent us ample for our expenses, and he tells us to take our time, and once there I shall easily be able to repay him, either by assisting him, or by means of a farm. Alexes, my darling, I feel now that nature meant me for a farmer, and at last I am going to succeed."
"Nature meant you, John," she replied, with a look of pride at him, "for what you are, what you always have been, and will be."
"A poor dreamer?"
"No, my dear husband—a gentleman."
"I thought I was sorry as well as glad," I said, after a pause. "I am now very glad. When do you go?"
"As soon as we can make all the arrangements," said Mr John.
"But you cannot journey in a waggon by yourselves."
"No, sir; you must join a party—quite a caravan."
"That is what Dan said in the letter, dear," said Mrs John.
"Of course. My head is in such a whirl. I had forgotten—but you, Mayne, you talk as if you understand all this."
"I have beard, sir," I said, colouring a little; "that is all."
"But you, my boy?—we can't go and leave you in distress, and without an engagement."
He whispered something to her.
"I had thought the same," she said, gently; "but I did not think it right to propose it."
"Not if he could do better here," cried Mr John, excitedly. "Mayne, my boy, we have only known each other a few months, but it has been enough to make me understand you. My wife will vouch for me. It seems to me that you are alone, an orphan without a chance of raising yourself here: will you come with us to try your fortune in the new land?"
"Would you take me with you?" I cried, excitedly.
"Take you, my boy?" he cried, "gladly; but, Alexes, speak for me, dear. I am so prone to let heart master judgment. Should I be doing right? Should I be doing right?"
There was a silence in the little room which lasted for some minutes, and during that time the shouts of a party of lads engaged in some sport came ringing through the window.
"Yes," cried Mr John, "you hear that—boys at play! It seems to me that our young friend here should be engaged as they are, and not be called upon to enter into the struggle for life away in some wild country."
"But I have been at work now for years, Mr John," I said.
"Yes, my lad, I know, and I want to help you; but misfortune has so marked me for her own that I seem now to have lost all faith in myself."
"Have you no relatives, Mayne?" said Mrs John, gravely. "There are people who could help you to some engagement?"
I shook my head.
"None that I know of," I said.
"And when we are gone what will you do?"
"Obtain some situation, I hope."
"You hope, my boy. It is a poor prospect, that. I do not like to say, come with us to this new land, though I believe any enterprising lad would be sure to make his way."
"Then why shouldn't I come?"
"Because prosperity will have to be fought for, and obtained at so great a cost. Civilisation has to be left behind. It will be a rough life."
"But if a delicate lady could bear it, why should not I?"
"I have told you why I could bear it," she said, smiling. "You must not judge hastily, Mayne. I am afraid to say come."
"Would you both like me to come?" I said, looking from one to the other.
"For our own sakes, yes. For yours we are afraid to speak," said Mrs John, and her husband nodded his acquiescence in her words.
"Then I shall come," I said, firmly. "Not with you. I shall go by sea."
"You will go?" cried Mr John, looking at me wonderingly.
"Yes, sir; and perhaps I shall get there first."
"But, my dear boy, how?"
"I don't know, sir," I said, laughing; "I am going to talk to a man I know, and—Oh, I had forgotten!"
"Esau," I said, "the lad who worked with me in the office."
Mr John looked at his wife in a perplexed way.
"Let us think about it all," said Mrs John. "This companion of yours— Esau—do you like him?"
"Oh, yes," I cried; "he has always been most kind, and he wants to go with me—for us to be together."
I did not grasp it so well then as I did afterwards, though I had an undefined feeling that my fellow clerk's company would not be agreeable to them; and when I left them that night, it was with the feeling that it was quite certain that my new friends would start, possibly before the month was out; while as far as I was concerned, my prospects were very much as they were.
A STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT.
That night when I got back to Camberwell, I found that not only had supper been ready above an hour, but Mrs Dean and Esau were both waiting for me to join them.
"I thought we'd make a sort of a party of it," said Esau, "only not ask anybody, so that we could enjoy ourselves, though if that policeman was anywhere near, and old Dingle wasn't so far off, I should like to have had them in."
"Oh, I am glad you've come," cried Mrs Dean, "for Esau has been going on so."
"Only," continued Esau, ignoring his mother's words, "you couldn't ask old Dingle without asking his wife and twelve children, and that would take such a lot of plates, without counting the pie mother's made, and that's only just enough for three."
"But why have you got such a grand hot supper?" I said.
"Because of its being a holiday, and because we're going to make a fresh start in life over there in the woods."
"Esau, my dear, don't, pray don't," whimpered his mother. "It was bad enough sitting up for you all night, and you not coming, but it's far worse when you will go on like that."
"Come, sit down, Mr Gordon. I'm as hungry as can be. Why you know you went to sleep, mother."
"I didn't, my dear. I never had a wink all night for expecting you."
"Well, how could I help it, mother? We should have been home safe enough if we hadn't been locked up in a dun John."
"Yes, and my boy in custody—in prison. Oh dear me! oh dear me!"
"Ah!" shouted Esau, striking the table hard with a spoon. "You dare to cry again, and I won't eat a bit of supper."
"But I can't help it, Esau," sobbed the poor little woman; "I declare I've been seeing nothing but policemen and prison vans ever since you told me where you had been."
"All comes o' getting into bad company, mother," said Esau, cutting the steaming steak pie. "There; that's an extra spoonful o' gravy for you if you promise not to cry."
He passed a plate to where his mother sat, and began to help me.
"Bad company's the ruin of all boys," continued Esau, laughing at me. "Look at Mr Gordon's ear, and that mark on his face."
"Oh, my dear," cried Mrs Dean, "my eyes were so dim, I didn't see. Is it very bad?"
"'Course you couldn't see," cried Esau, "if you keep on crying. Why you ought to laugh for joy to think Mr Gordon and me's got out of bad company, and left old Dempster for good."
"I am glad, my dear, if it's for your good, I'm sure. Let me give you a hot baked potato, Mr Gordon, my dear. But Esau has been going on in the wildest way—says he shall start across the sea to some dreadful place."
"That I didn't, mother; I said it was a lovely place. There you are, master. Mr Esau Dean, may I have the pleasure of helping you to some poy?"
"He says he shall be an emigrant, my dear, and shall go and build himself a house in the woods."
"Well," said Esau, helping himself quickly, "there's no room here in London to build one, and if there was the people wouldn't let me have the ground."
"And it's all madness, and wild as wild."
"Well, you might give your poor son, who has just escaped outer prison, a hot potato," said Esau, grinning at me again.
"Oh, my dear, I beg your pardon. There, let me help you. That's a beauty."
"Then why didn't you give it to Mr Gordon?"
"Do be quiet, my dear. How you do talk. I really think you're half crazy."
"I was, mother, to stop with old 'going, going, gone' so long. Never mind; I'm going to have land of my own, and a house in the woods, where I can go and shoot bears and wolves."
"There, Mr Gordon, my dear, that's how he has been going on ever since he came home."
"Hold your plate for some more gravy," said Esau to me. "That's the worst part of it. I shan't have mother to make hot steak pies and lovely crusts."
"It isn't half so good as I should like to make it, Esau," said the poor little woman sadly; "but do be a good boy, and leave off all that dreadful talk. Mr Gordon don't go on like that."
"No, but he thinks all the more, mother."
"He don't, I'm sure. Now do you, Mr Gordon?"
"I'm afraid I've quite made up my mind to go, Mrs Dean," I said sadly.
"Oh, my dear, don't," she cried. "It's too dreadful. Right on the other side of the world, where there's bears and wolves, and for all we know perhaps savage Red Indians."
"Oh, there are, mother, lots of 'em; and they scallop people and roast 'em."
"Esau!" half shrieked the poor little woman wildly.
"Don't eat 'em afterwards, do they, Mr Gordon?"
"Don't listen to him, Mrs Dean," I cried. "He is saying all this to tease you."
"I thought so," she cried triumphantly. "Then he doesn't mean to go?"
I was silent, and Mrs Dean's knife and fork dropped on the table.
"Tell me—the truth," she cried, rising and laying her hand on my shoulder.