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in your neighbourhood about eight o'clock, may I, if I should have the good fortune to come across your carriage on its way to Lady Sellon's, venture to ask to be taken in ? I shall not add much to the weight of your trunks. By-the-by, what an exquisite carte-de-visite of yourself was that which you showed so reluctantly yesterday; and which, but for Lady Sellon's kind treachery, would have remained unknown to us all! You gave away copies, but did not give one to me. I did not ask then, it is true. Now I do. I wait anxiously to know if you forgive the request.'
Surely an innocent letter! But why is it unsigned ? Why is there no indication of the name of the lady to whom it is addressed ? Obviously it is a lady to whom John Cunliff writes.
He must be one of the least conceited of men, to be so unwilling, even now, when he has got a fair and completed copy after innumerable failures, to read it over and over so many times, and always with increasing dissatisfaction. To judge from his attitude-his head supported on his left arm, which is elbowed on the desk, looking sideways at the letter which the right hand has drawn away and holds up just a little while, resting on the farthest part of the slope--there is not a sentence or a thought in it over which he does not hold a mental cavil; and which he only leaves unaltered because he dares not embark on a new attempt, and is hopeless of improving the texture if he did.
It must go as it is—or not at all,' he says to himself. One more pause—the open letter on the slope, elbows on each side, hands clasped and drawn down over the eyes as if to shut out the too brilliant light from the conservatory-and shut in the letter while a last thoughtful look at it is taken.
Suddenly he breaks the pause ; encloses the envelope, addresses it, and two minutes later drops it in the post-office letter-box, saying to himself, with half a smile
That settles my part of the business, at any rate. Six hours will tell me all the rest.'
WAITING FOR AN ANSWER. WHEN the letter had been dropped into the box, Cunliff stood for a moment in the street, irresolute-then turned towards a shop to purchase some gloves, but suddenly hurried back to his rooms, as if wishing neither to see nor to be seen. On his way he met a respectable-looking man, evidently fresh from a journey, who stopped and bowed with marked respect.
'Jarman! You in London! Anything the matter?' asked Cunliff, stretching out his hand.
No, sir-no. But as you were so anxious about the payment into the bank to-day, I thought I'd come myself, with all I have been able to collect.'
Cunliff looked as if he could have dispensed with this personal attention on the part of his obsequious agent; whose inclined head, subdued attitude of deference, upward sideglance from a brown bright eye, and respectful words, only called forth a rough, 'Oh, very well!' and then Cunliff turned on his heel, leaving Mr. Jarman to follow as he pleased. That gentleman accordingly hung back just enough to admit of conversation without seeming to claim intimate acquaintance.
"And how much have you got for me?' demanded Cunliff, the moment the door was closed upon them in his own room.
A little less than sixteen hundred pounds.' "You mean beyond what must go to the mortgages ? ' 'I am sorry to say, sir, inclusive of that: 'You didn't sell the timber, then ?'
The best of it; but it only fetched four hundred and ten pounds.
Cunliff looked at the agent, and his face darkened.
'I assure you, sir,' said the agent, 'I have done my best to force in all arrears, even under painful circumstances —
'I told you, Mr. Jarman,' interrupted Cunliff, in a rapid, impetuous tone, 'I did not wish to hurt deserving people among my tenants.'
“Yes, sir, I understood that; and I hope I have drawn the arrears I refer to with as little damage as was possible.' 'You must go into this matter more fully with me.' Oh, certainly! Now?'.
'N-0, not to-day! I'm busy.'
Of course, sir, any time will do for that.' Cunliff glanced at the agent, then turned away moodily. Nothing could the agent say that did not jar. His employer looked so thoroughly dissatisfied that it was a wonder he ventured on his next theme: 'I had, sir, I must confess, another motive for presenting myself to you to-day.'
Then why the devil didn't you say so? What is it? The fact is, Mr. Jarman, I'm thoroughly disappointed. I expected at least five hundred more. And when I intimated to you that I might possibly travel, and not find it convenient for a long time to wait for remittances, I did expect you would have managed better. Sixteen hundred pounds! Absurd ! Why, half goes for things that, as you know, must be provided for! But what's this other matter?'.
• Pardon me for what I am going to say. I have been thinking you might be put out at this unsatisfactory result, and as I have a thousand pounds lying idle, if you will allow me to anticipate your next rents, and
‘Jarman, you surprise me! I didn't expect this. No, thank you. It's very kind—very! Excuse my ill-temper; I'm out of sorts. But, I don't think I can avail myself of your kindness.'
Why, sir, may I ask?' And Mr. Jarman's attitude of respect and upward side-look of enquiry compelled Cunliff to ask himself the same question—'Why?' Not getting any decisive answer, he said · Mind you take interest, till you have repaid yourself.'
“Yes, sir ; I'll 'mind that !' said Mr. Jarman, with a rich smile overspreading his face, which seemed to say for them both-As if he were the man to forget!
'You won't care about my being inhospitable ?' said Cunliff. “If I do decide to go, I shall start this very evening.'
Pray don't mention it, sir!' • Of course you noted my request?' • Not to say anything about your journey ? ' “Yes : not till you know I am off “I have been, and will be, very careful.'
Oh, it's merely this : two or three different things are tempting me into new expenses at home, and so I'm half inclined to join a military friend on a Continental tour, and economise.'
Something tickled Mr. Jarman's throat, and caused him to cough ; but he only looked red and discomposed when Mr. Cunliff stared at him, and said — · Have we done for the day, then?'.
Hem ! yes. One thing I will just mention-merely that you may, when at leisure, kindly take it into consideration.'
"And that is-?' asked Cunliff, wondering at the agent's hesitation.
• The cottages, sir—the labourers' and the workmen's cottages– Mr. Jarman spoke in a low and confidential tone that particularly irritated the listener.
They are getting bad, and people talk, and there's some illness—not much, but a little. You'll forgive my mentioning it, sir?' "Of course. Quite right. I ought to have attended to this before. But I couldn't see my way to doing the business effectually. So, Jarman, I must get you to draw me up a · comprehensive report, and add your own suggestions.'
'I beg pardon—I did so, and sent it to you about a year ago.'
Did you ? Oh, very good. I can't stop now; neither can I just now spare a sixpence. But it shall be seen to. Say so if you like.'
And the money ?! • Pay all into the bank, instantly. Thank you! I wish you good-bye in case we don't meet again for the present.'
Mr. Jarman shook hands as he always did with his 'superiors,' that is, he managed by the very set of his shoulders, and the movement of his apologetic hands, to express how highly he felt the compliment, without at the same time doing aught that a bystander could have charged against him as fulsome or unmanly. Indeed, Mr. Jarman gave the impression of a gentleman who had only bent his mind to circumstances, but with a little more than ordinary determination as to the bend, and as to to the subdued and graceful dignity of its manifestation.
It was an odd thing that when Cunliff had got rid of his visitor, happening to entangle his feet in the crimson wool mat at the threshold of his door, he sent it flying towards the open conservatory, and had the satisfaction to hear a crash of falling pots and plants, which made him grind his teeth as
he waited for the end—but when it was over, his only comment was,
'I couldn't refuse without insulting him. Excellent man, and thoroughly detestable!' He then shut the conservatory door, and forgot all but his immediate cares. And in some such fashion as this was the fabric of his thought:
Six hours. One gone. What on earth am I to do with the other five ? Five hours, twenty quarters, three hundred minutes—no, I won't go into the seconds, lest I should turn wild, and lose what little reputation for sanity this day may leave me. And yet, in the name of Heaven, how am I to get through five hours of this ?!
To keep down the irritable fit that was taking possession of . him, he found or made things to do which in a measure engrossed him. He read a French novel-a rather exciting one --for a few minutes, then threw it away, walked till he was tired, and then read again, and so got rid of a couple of hours.
Then he went over his banker's book; and no worn-out clerk of an old-fashioned private bank could have done it more slowly, methodically, or painstakingly. It was as if he felt he was in the mood for mistakes, and mistakes should not be made. His strong will carried him successfully through. When he had finished, he dallied a little with his cheque-book in his hand, thinking :
If I draw the cheque, I needn't do any more till I know. I must draw it close. The bank won't mind—I may when I'm far off.'
He drew the cheque, examined it with minute care-went twice or thrice over it as if conscious of failing attention, to be sure that no accidental violation of form might cause embarrassment at the last moment, and was about, when satisfied, to put it in his pocket, when he remembered something, and rang the bell.
George, did the tailor send the things ?' he said, as the man entered.
“Yes, sir. They are in the dining-room. Would you like to try any of them on ?!
No. Yes! Bring the waistcoat. The last fitted badly.'
The servant brought the waistcoat, and left it on the table. When he had gone, Cunliff, without even a single glance at the shape or quality, changed it for the one he wore; slid his hand into a pocket inside the breast which he had specially