Imatges de pÓgina
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'Ay-we must.”

"Well, well," said Brian impatiently, "go on with the story, and then we shall see how to act."

"Do you mind my helping myself to halfa-glass more of your excellent brandy ?-it steadies my nerves, and you have probably • observed an awkward habit I have of trembling like an aspen."

"Drink away," said Brian carelessly. Mr. Halfday mixed his second glass of spirits-and-water whilst Brian looked gravely at him.

"Shall I mix for you also?" asked the father.

"Not now-presently."
"As you please."

Mr. Halfday drank deeply, set his glass aside, and recommenced.

"You must know, my dear boy," he said very confidentially now, "that when it struck me I might require proofs of identification, I wrote to Peter Scone. He met me in the city, and we had a few words at first-not many-about a trifling and ridiculous loan which he had once advanced. I told him he should have the money with ample interest to boot, and that appeased him. He remembered me as William Halfday very clearly, and was prepared to swear to me in any court of law, providing his expenses were paid, in the United Kingdom."

"And this will ?"

"Don't be in a hurry, my dear boy," continued Mr. Halfday, "he did not tell me anything about the will then; but a few days afterwards he came to me again, and in an artful, roundabout way that disgusted me, he let out that he remembered Adam Halfday's making a will a few weeks before he died. He remembered witnessing it with another brother—and Adam's hiding it away

somewhere in the church of the Hospital, where Peter Scone thought he might find it, if he were paid well for his trouble. Otherwise he fancied his memory might fail him at the last. Oh! that man's an awful hum bug, Brian!"

"How much does he want ?”

"Five hundred pounds if he should be lucky enough to find it."

"Does he know the contents of the will?"

"Oh! yes, he knows ; it is easily guessed at, he says, and I say so too. We are both out of the reckoning, that's certain." "Both of us. That is bad," said Brian. "Devilish bad."

"Then it is Dorcas, whom he did not love a great deal, and to whom he was always as hard and uncharitable as-I was," mused Brian.

"Yes-Dorcas-as if she could not wait until her poor father's death," whimpered Mr. Halfday, "before superseding him in this way.'

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"Dorcas ! said Brian again; "into whose hands next is this accursed money to pass?"

"Don't curse the money, Brian," implored his father, "it is profanity to go on like that. It is not business."

"It must be Dorcas," said Brian to himself, "and there is more misery ahead of us.'

"Misery," cried the father, catching at the word, "I should rather think there was, unless we can raise-I mean you can raise

five hundred pounds to pay this cormorant, and then no one need know about the will."

"Why did Adam Halfday make this will at all?" said Brian.

"You offended your grandfather one day-"

"I was always offending him."

"And he had saved a little money," continued the father; "he had scraped together, as you know yourself, some seventy pounds. He thought that you wanted it, or had some idea he had saved it, and he swore to Peter Scone that you should not be the better for his death by a single penny. He made a will, and Peter Scone and one of his brethren since deceased were the witnesses to the document."

"So Peter Scone says?"

"Oh, it's true enough," groaned the

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"I trust you because it is your interest to ing you would see the matter in the same help me.'

"I have no interest in the matter." "That's a cool remark," said the father, when you have just agreed to—

"Nothing, Mr. Halfday. Pray do not misunderstand me."

"But you will raise this five hundred pounds ? "

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"It is a sum almost beyond my power to raise for any honest purpose-I shall not at tempt the experiment in order to bribe that poor old rascal at St. Lazarus," said Brian. "You foolish fellow, don't you see it puts ten thousand pounds in your pocket? "And in yours. And I don't want you to have ten thousand pounds." "You will never betray my confidence," said the father, beginning to tremble once more; "I have put my whole trust in you, Brian."

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light as myself," Mr. Halfday continued, "and you were acting all the time."

"Not all the time."

"You led me to think I might put faith in you. You did indeed."

"Did you put faith in me when you came to Datchet Bridge?" asked Brian sternly.

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You frightened me then-it was meeting a stranger and expecting perfect confidence at once-it was natural I should be upon my guard," was the reply. "But now, Brian-now I have made inquiries and found how good and earnest and strong-minded and careful a fellow you are, I—

"I will hear no more," shouted Brian as he sprang to his feet, "I will bear with you no more. Do your worst, or best, I am opposed to you; you are a villain, and had hoped to find your likeness in the son you ran away from. Now, sir, let me see you from this house for ever."

The man cowered at the wrath of Brian's words and looks. He was afraid of him, and he slunk towards the door without another protest against the reception he had met with; he had shown his hand and been defeated; he had discovered an honest man

whose behaviour had perplexed him, and whose disregard of his own interests was past all comprehension. He had been led to expect so very different a man in Brian Halfday; he had found an enemy where he had believed a friend and confidant would rise up for a bribe. He could scarcely see his way to the end now-ruin and disgrace stared him closely in the face.

He went along the public rooms of the Museum preceded by its custodian; he crept like a shadow of evil down the broad oaken staircase into the hall; he sidled from the hall into the street without another word to Brian, or even a furtive glance at him as he passed him on his way.

W

CHAPTER VII.

KNAVES IN COUNCIL.

HEN he was fairly out of sight of his son, who remained at the open door of the Penton Museum as though the night air was grateful to him, Mr. William Halfday came to a full stop. The curves of this narrow, old-fashioned street had left him nothing save the top windows of the Museum to shake his clenched and trembling hands at, but this he did with energy, and with a considerable amount of violent and improper language.

He was still anathematizing his son with a vigour and eloquence that would have reflected credit on a better cause, when some one touched him suddenly and sharply on the shoulder with a stick. Mr. Halfday was his natural self at once; he gave a cry of alarm and fell against the wall for support in his new fright.

"Well, how did you get on with him?" croaked a rusty voice in his ears, and Mr. Halfday, coming back by spasms to more self-composure, recognised the form and features of old Peter Scone. He recollected

also that this brother of the Noble Poor had spent the afternoon with him, and promised to wait for him near the gates of the cathedral till the interview with Brian had taken place, and here was the man grinning like a death's head and waiting for the news.

"How you have scared me, Scone !" he said.

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"Did you take me for a policeman, Halfday?" asked the old man.

"I have nothing to fear from the police; but I hate to be taken off my guard," he answered.

"Well, well, what does he say?" asked Peter very eagerly; "you haven't told me one scrap of the news for which I have been waiting and shivering here this hour."

"Let us get into the Close, where we can talk in safety," said Mr. Halfday; "there may be listeners at every corner of these cursed alleys."

"So there may," assented Scone, as he put his left arm through William Halfday's and toddled on by his side. "Am I leaning too heavily upon you?"

"Yes, you are," said Mr. Halfday frankly. "I can't help it. I'm a very old man, William, and require support. I have not your robust youth and strength."

"Don't talk like a fool," growled Halfday.

They passed through the open gates into the Close, and made for the broad road between the elms and the tall houses of the dean and chapter, and where there were some yards of open ground on either side of them. An eavesdropper under the giant trees, or lurking in the shadow of the opposite wall, could have learned nothing from their conversation, and might as profitably have been concealed in the cathedral towers which loomed before them in a starlit sky.

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Well, well-what does the curator say?" said Peter Scone again; "you put the question delicately to him, and without wounding his feelings, to begin with?"

"You may guess what he said by the passion in which you found me, Peter," was his companion's reply.

"Ay, ay-you were saying awful words, but I fancied he had only driven too hard a bargain with you."

"He will have nothing to do with me," said Halfday. "He treats me like a dog." "What did you offer him? was Peter Scone's next inquiry.

"Halves of anything I got by letters of administration."

"Did you did you say anything about me?"

"Yes I did."

"That was exceedingly imprudent—that was a breach of confidence between us, mind you," said Peter Scone; "you might have

said that a certain party had told you that he knew another certain party who thought it was possible to find a will of Adam Halfday's."

"I am too straightforward a man to go dodging about in that way," said Halfday scornfully.

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"Oh yes-certainly," was the ironical reply.

(( Besides, he would not have believed me, and I-I thought it was quite safe, he seemed to seize the bait so greedily. And it was all play-acting-vile deception-by all that's holy. And that man I am compelled by the law of the country to call my son," he cried.

"It is hard," said Peter.

"I will never forgive him. Peter, old fellow, I have only you to trust in now. You will not desert me?"

"I am a poor man, and can't do anything for you, William.” "You can.

And I can do a deal for you when I get rich, if you will only wait." "How do you mean?"

"I have explained it all before, Peter, but you don't or won't understand," said Mr. Halfday in an injured tone of voice; "if you say nothing about the will

"I never said positively there was a will," remarked Peter cautiously; "I remember witnessing Adam's signature to some document or other, and Adam's saying he knew where to keep the paper in safety-and I think I might be able, in a long search, to find it, if it's still in existence. That is all I said."

"Except that you wanted five hundred pounds."

"I never said that, William. You remarked," and here the old man's bony fingers closed tightly on the arm of his companion, "that it would be worth five hundred pounds to any one to find that will, and I agreed with you. This might be a long searchfor Adam was an old magpie in storing things in holes and corners-and to find the will was wealth to the legatee at any rate." "Look here, Peter," said Mr. Halfday, "you can keep the will till I am rich. That's fair. Let me get out the letters of administration and come into the property, and I will give you two thousand pounds down on the day you bring the document to me. You're safe-I'm not."

"I could not trust you, William," answer

ed Mr. Scone, shaking his head vigorously; "you would be off with all the money within an hour of laying your hands upon it. You have a most unpleasant way of slipping into obscurity when it suits with your convenience."

"I swear that I will pay you every penny that I promise you. Bind me down in any way, Peter-and rely on my good faith." "I never relied on any one's good faith in my life, and I am not going to begin now," said Peter; "besides life is short, and I'm eighty-six years of age. Hale and strong, but a very old man, William—awfully old."

"Awfully obstinate and distrustful," muttered William Halfday.

"And this may be robbing your own daughter, although I haven't a doubt but that you will provide properly for her." "To be sure I would."

"Although, if this will could be foundI say if it could be found-Dorcas would pay as handsomely as you to any one lucky enough to discover it; or Dorcas's mistress, the rich Miss Westbrook from the States, would give the man who found it money down. And, William Halfday, it's the money -down in these old hands-I want. Six months hence may be too late for me-six weeks hence-six days. Good God, man, don't you understand? I'm eighty-six years of age, and haven't time to enjoy life and money without I'm sharp about it. I must have money now-a heap of money!"

Peter Scone's avarice and eagerness were pitiable things to witness; but they were displayed before one whose feelings were not likely to be impressed or shocked. Halfday was fighting for money also, after his own bad fashion, but life was not at a critical point with him as with this aged man who clung to him, and raved of riches, and would not trust to time to bring them to him.

"I dare not ask my lawyer for more money; he told me flatly I must not expect any more," said William Halfday, "and that I could afford to wait. To ask him for a large sum would be to arouse his suspicions and set spies upon me. Peter, you must help me ; you must not turn against me and send me to beggary like this."

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I don't send you to beggary."

"You do. They will never help me. Brian hates me, and so will Dorcas; and I shall be cast down into the dirt of the

streets. Had my father known I was coming back, he would have left me a wealthy man."

"I don't fancy he would have done anything of the kind," said Peter Scone; "but this is not time for fancy, is it?"

"Where are you going?"

"To Miss Westbrook-and your daughter."

"Do you know where to find them ?" "Yes. Miss Westbrook answered a letter of mine this afternoon."

"You will drive no bargain with them. You have lost your chance."

"Eh-how's that?" asked Peter Scone, alarmed at this declaration.

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"Brian is not a man to stand still-he will have sought them out by this time. saw it in his face."

"He will not discover them very easily, and he can do no good if he does. He has only your word for all this."

"He may go to the Hospital and search my father's rooms again, and yours, finding you are away from home."

Peter Scone broke into a childish little laugh, and patted William Halfday affectionately upon the arm.

They may treat me badly though," said the old man; "Dorcas does not like me, and she will set the American girl against me, too, unless-Ha! would you?" he shrieked suddenly-"a poor old man like me, and eighty-six--help, help-here's murder doing!" It was a stronger, sharper cry than the younger man had bargained for, and his brute courage failed him. Life was not to be shaken so quickly from the body of Peter Sconę, who had aroused the echoes of this ancient place with his wild cry for succour. The hands relaxed their grasp of the throat, and William Halfday's voice said, quickly and tremulously

"A little joke of mine, Peter-that's all ! Were you frightened? There, don't make a noise. Lean on me. My fun, nothing else, I assure you. Only my fun, to show you what might have happened from people more unprincipled than I am. Don't think anything of it-don't

"

But Peter had slid from his hold to the ground, in his fright, and brought his poor old head against the iron railings of the cathedral garden. He was not dead; but he looked so like a dead man-he lay so still and quiet there- that William Halfday thought he was. The man was scared almost unto death himself at the sight of all that had happened in the last few minutes -at the consciousness of what might happen to him next if he were not prompt of action. He leaned over Peter Scone, and tried to feel for the beating of his heart, and failed, in the confusion of his own distracted mind, to discover any signs of life. He listened as if for the hurrying footsteps of people alarmed by the cry that had broken upon the stillness of the Close; but the

"If I cannot put my hand upon that will, no one else is likely to do so, William. If I were to die to-night, no one in all the world would ever find it, William," croaked old Peter Scone. "I am not afraid of what your son can do, clever as he thinks himself." If he were to die to-night! It was a strange thought to put into the head of a man as desperate as William Halfday was. "If he were to die to-night, no one would ever find the will," that was what the old man said, and meant ; and dying suddenly, as old men did die very often, he, William Half-leaves of the great elms were only rustling day, would have leisure to grow rich!

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above him in the summer air.

Under the hand that had sought for a heart-throb, lay temptation again in the shape of a pocket-book and key, which had been tied together by a string, and deposited in the breast pocket of Peter Scone before he had left the Hospital that afternoon. William Halfday forgot part of his alarm at this discovery. Here might be the clue to the will of his father; and it was this, perhaps, which Peter had wished to sell him for five hundred pounds. He stood erect with the key and pocket-book in his hand. The owner was lying very quietly under the trees, and there was no one astir in Penton

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