It is a relief to me to have told you all."

"Drop the subject, then," Ezra said curtly. "I must put up with it, for I have no redress. The thing is done and nothing can undo it; but I consider that you have willfully wasted the money."

"Believe me, I have tried to act for the best. The good name of our firm is everything to me. I have spent my whole life in building it up, and if the day should come when it must go, I trust that I may have gone myself. There is nothing which I would not do to preserve it."

"I see they want our premiums," Ezra said, glancing at the open letter upon the table. "How is it that none of those ships go down? That would give us help."

"Hush! hush!" John Girdlestone cried imploringly. "Speak in a whisper when you talk of such things."

"I can't understand you," said Ezra petulantly. "You persistently over-insure your ships, year after year. Look at the _Leopard_; it is put at more than twice what she was worth as new. And the _Black Eagle_, I dare say, is about the same. Yet you never have an accident with them, while your two new uninsured clippers run each other down."

"Well, what more can I do?" replied the merchant "They are thoroughly rotten. I have done nothing for them for years. Sooner or later they must go. I cannot do any more."

"I'd make 'em go down quick enough," muttered Ezra, with an oath. "Why don't you make old Miggs bore a hole in them, or put a light to a barrel of paraffin? Bless your soul! the thing's done every day. What's the use of being milk-and-watery about it?"

"No, no, Ezra!" cried his father. "Not that--not that. It's one thing letting matters take their course, and it is another thing giving positive orders to scuttle a ship. Besides, it would put us in Miggs' power. It would be too dangerous."

"Please yourself," said Ezra, with a sneer. "You've got us into the mess and you must take us out again. If the worst comes to the worst I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll marry Kate Harston, wash my hands of the firm, leave you to settle matters with the creditors, and retire with the forty thousand pounds;" with which threat the junior partner took up his hat and swaggered out of the office.

After his departure, John Girdlestone spent an hour in anxious thought, arranging the details of the scheme which he had just submitted to his son. As he sat, his eye chanced to fall upon the two letters lying on his desk, and it struck him that they had better be attended to. It did not suit his plans to fall back upon his credit just yet. It has been already shown that he was a man of ready resource. He rang the bell and summoned his senior clerk.

"Good morning, John," he said affably.

"Good morning, Mr. Girdlestone, good morning, sir," said wizened little John Gilray, rubbing his thin yellow hands together, as a sign of his gratification.

"I hear, John, that you have come into a legacy lately," Mr. Girdlestone said.

"Yes, sir. Fifteen hundred pounds, sir. Less legacy duty and incidental expenses, fourteen hundred and twenty-eight six and fourpence. My wife's brother Andrew left it, sir, and a very handsome legacy too."

John Girdlestone smiled with the indulgent smile of one to whom such a sum was absolutely nothing.

"What have you done with the money, then, John?" he asked carelessly.

"Banked it, sir, in the United Metropolitan."

"In the United Metropolitan, John? Let me see. Their present rate of interest is three and a half?"

"Three, sir," said John.

"Three! Dear me, John, that is poor interest, very poor indeed. It is most fortunate that I made these inquiries. I was on the point of drawing fourteen hundred pounds from one of my correspondents as a temporary convenience. For this I should pay him five per cent. I have no objection, John, as you are an old servant of the firm, to giving you the preference in this matter. I cannot take more than fourteen hundred--but I shall be happy to accommodate you up to that sum at the rate named."

John Gilray was overwhelmed by this thoughtful and considerate act.

The Firm of Girdlestone Page 47

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