"It is really too generous and kind, sir," he said. "I don't know how to thank you."

"Don't mention it, John," the senior partner said grandly. "The firm is always glad to advance the interests of its employees in any reasonable manner. Have you your cheque-book with you? Fill it up for fourteen hundred. No more, John; I cannot oblige you by taking any more."

The head clerk having made out his cheque for the amount, and having signed his name to it in a cramped little quaint handwriting, which reminded one of his person, was duly presented with a receipt and dismissed to his counting-house. There he entertained the other clerks by a glowing description of the magnanimity of his employer.

John Girdlestone took some sheets of blue official paper from a drawer, and his quill pen travelled furiously over them with many a screech and splutter.

"Sir," he said to the bank manager, "I enclose fourteen hundred pounds, which represents the loose cash about the office. I shall make a heavy deposit presently. In the meantime, you will, of course, honour anything that may be presented.--Yours truly, JOHN GIRDLESTONE."

To Lloyd's Insurance Agency he wrote:--"Sir,--Enclosed you will find cheque for 241 pounds seven shillings and sixpence, being amount due as premium on the _Leopard_, _Black Eagle_, and _Maid of Athens_. Should have forwarded cheque before, but with so many things of importance to look after these trifles are liable to be overlooked."

These two epistles having been sealed, addressed, and despatched, the elder Girdlestone began to feel somewhat more easy in his mind, and to devote himself once more to the innocent amusement of planning how a corner might best be created in diamonds.



John Girdlestone's private residence in Eccleston Square was a large and substantial house in a district which the wave of fashion had passed over in its westward course. It might still, however, be said to be covered by a deposit of eminent respectability. The building was stern and hard, and massive in its external appearance, but the interior was luxury itself, for the old merchant, in spite of his ascetic appearance, was inclined to be a sybarite at heart, and had a due appreciation of the good things of this world. Indeed, there was an oriental and almost barbarous splendour about the great rooms, where the richest of furniture was interspersed with skins from the Gaboon, hand-worked ivory from Old Calabar, and the thousand other strange valuables which were presented by his agents to the African trader.

After the death of his friend, Girdlestone had been as good as his word. He had taken Kate Harston away from the desolate house at Fulham and brought her to live with him. From the garrets of that palatial edifice to the cellars she was at liberty to roam where she would, and do what she chose. The square garden too, with its smoke-dried trees and faded lawn, was at her disposal, in which she might walk, or work, or read. No cares or responsibilities were imposed upon her. The domestic affairs were superintended by a stern housekeeper, who bore a quaint resemblance to Girdlestone himself in petticoats, and who arranged every detail of housekeeping. The young girl had apparently only to exist and to be happy.

Yet the latter item was not so easy as it might seem. It was not a congenial atmosphere. Her whole society consisted of the stern, unemotional merchant and his vulgar, occasionally brutal, son. At first, while the memory of her father was still fresh, she felt her new surroundings acutely, contrasting, as they did, with her happy Fulham home. Gradually, however, as time deadened the sting, she came to accommodate herself to circumstances. The two men left her very much to her own devices. Girdlestone was so engrossed in his business that he had little time to inquire into her pursuits, and Ezra, being addicted to late hours, was seldom seen except at breakfast-time, when she listened with awe to his sporting slang and cynical comments upon men and manners.

The Firm of Girdlestone Page 48

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