New Grub Street, by George Gissing

Chapter 29

Catastrophe

Marian had finished the rough draft of a paper on James Harrington, author of ‘Oceana.’ Her father went through it by the midnight lamp, and the next morning made his comments. A black sky and sooty rain strengthened his inclination to sit by the study fire and talk at large in a tone of flattering benignity.

‘Those paragraphs on the Rota Club strike me as singularly happy,’ he

said, tapping the manuscript with the mouthpiece of his pipe. ‘Perhaps you might say a word or two more about Cyriac Skinner; one mustn’t be too allusive with general readers, their ignorance is incredible. But there is so little to add to this paper — so little to alter — that I couldn’t feel justified in sending it as my own work. I think it is altogether too good to appear anonymously. You must sign it, Marian, and have the credit that is due to you.’

‘Oh, do you think it’s worth while?’ answered the girl, who was far from easy under this praise. Of late there had been too much of it; it made her regard her father with suspicions which increased her sense of trouble in keeping a momentous secret from him.

‘Yes, yes; you had better sign it. I’ll undertake there’s no other girl of your age who could turn out such a piece of work. I think we may fairly say that your apprenticeship is at an end. Before long,’ he smiled anxiously, ‘I may be counting upon you as a valued contributor. And that reminds me; would you be disposed to call with me on the Jedwoods at their house next Sunday?’

Marian understood the intention that lay beneath this proposal. She saw that her father would not allow himself to seem discouraged by the silence she maintained on the great subject which awaited her decision. He was endeavouring gradually to involve her in his ambitions, to carry her forward by insensible steps. It pained her to observe the suppressed eagerness with which he looked for her reply.

‘I will go if you wish, father, but I had rather not.’

‘I feel sure you would like Mrs Jedwood. One has no great opinion of her novels, but she is a woman of some intellect. Let me book you for next Sunday; surely I have a claim to your companionship now and then.’

Marian kept silence. Yule puffed at his pipe, then said with a speculative air:

‘I suppose it has never even occurred to you to try your hand at fiction?’

‘I haven’t the least inclination that way.’

‘You would probably do something rather good if you tried. But I don’t urge it. My own efforts in that line were a mistake, I’m disposed to think. Not that the things were worse than multitudes of books which nowadays go down with the many-headed. But I never quite knew what I wished to be at in fiction. I wasn’t content to write a mere narrative of the exciting kind, yet I couldn’t hit upon subjects of intellectual cast that altogether satisfied me. Well, well; I have tried my hand at most kinds of literature. Assuredly I merit the title of man of letters.’

‘You certainly do.’

‘By-the-by, what should you think of that title for a review — Letters? It has never been used, so far as I know. I like the word “letters.” How much better “a man of letters” than “a literary man”! And apropos of that, when was the word “literature” first used in our modern sense to signify a body of writing? In Johnson’s day it was pretty much the equivalent of our “culture.” You remember his saying, “It is surprising how little literature people have.” His dictionary, I believe, defines the word as “learning, skill in letters” — nothing else.’

It was characteristic of Yule to dwell with gusto on little points such as this; he prosed for a quarter of an hour, with a pause every now and then whilst he kept his pipe alight.

‘I think Letters wouldn’t be amiss,’ he said at length, returning to the suggestion which he wished to keep before Marian’s mind. ‘It would clearly indicate our scope. No articles on bimetallism, as Quarmby said — wasn’t it Quarmby?’

He laughed idly.

‘Yes, I must ask Jedwood how he likes the name.’

Though Marian feared the result, she was glad when Jasper made up his mind to write to her father. Since it was determined that her money could not be devoted to establishing a review, the truth ought to be confessed before Yule had gone too far in nursing his dangerous hope. Without the support of her love and all the prospects connected with it, she would hardly have been capable of giving a distinct refusal when her reply could no longer be postponed; to hold the money merely for her own benefit would have seemed to her too selfish, however slight her faith in the project on which her father built so exultantly. When it was declared that she had accepted an offer of marriage, a sacrifice of that kind could no longer be expected of her. Opposition must direct itself against the choice she had made. It would be stern, perhaps relentless; but she felt able to face any extremity of wrath. Her nerves quivered, but in her heart was an exhaustless source of courage.

That a change had somehow come about in the girl Yule was aware. He observed her with the closest study day after day. Her health seemed to have improved; after a long spell of work she had not the air of despondent weariness which had sometimes irritated him, sometimes made him uneasy. She was more womanly in her bearing and speech, and exercised an independence, appropriate indeed to her years, but such as had not formerly declared itself The question with her father was whether these things resulted simply from her consciousness of possessing what to her seemed wealth, or something else had happened of the nature that he dreaded. An alarming symptom was the increased attention she paid to her personal appearance; its indications were not at all prominent, but Yule, on the watch for such things, did not overlook them. True, this also might mean nothing but a sense of relief from narrow means; a girl would naturally adorn herself a little under the circumstances.

His doubts came to an end two days after that proposal of a title for the new review. As he sat in his study the servant brought him a letter delivered by the last evening post. The handwriting was unknown to him; the contents were these:

‘DEAR MR YULE, — It is my desire to write to you with perfect frankness and as simply as I can on a subject which has the deepest interest for me, and which I trust you will consider in that spirit of kindness with which you received me when we first met at Finden.

‘On the occasion of that meeting I had the happiness of being presented to Miss Yule. She was not totally a stranger to me; at that time I used to work pretty regularly in the Museum Reading-room, and there I had seen Miss Yule, had ventured to observe her at moments with a young man’s attention, and had felt my interest aroused, though I did not know her name. To find her at Finden seemed to me a very unusual and delightful piece of good fortune.

When I came back from my holiday I was conscious of a new purpose in life, a new desire and a new motive to help me on in my chosen career.

‘My mother’s death led to my sisters’ coming to live in London. Already there had been friendly correspondence between Miss Yule and the two girls, and now that the opportunity offered they began to see each other frequently. As I was often at my sisters’ lodgings it came about that I met Miss Yule there from time to time. In this way was confirmed my attachment to your daughter. The better I knew her, the more worthy I found her of reverence and love.

‘Would it not have been natural for me to seek a renewal of the acquaintance with yourself which had been begun in the country? Gladly I should have done so. Before my sisters’ coming to London I did call one day at your house with the desire of seeing you, but unfortunately you were not at home. Very soon after that I learnt to my extreme regret that my connection with The Current and its editor would make any repetition of my visit very distasteful to you. I was conscious of nothing in my literary life that could justly offend you — and at this day I can say the same — but I shrank from the appearance of importunity, and for some months I was deeply distressed by the fear that what I most desired in life had become unattainable. My means were very slight; I had no choice but to take such work as offered, and mere chance had put me into a position which threatened ruin to the hope that you would some day regard me as a not unworthy suitor for your daughter’s hand.

‘Circumstances have led me to a step which at that time seemed impossible. Having discovered that Miss Yule returned the feeling I entertained for her, I have asked her to be my wife, and she has consented. It is now my hope that you will permit me to call upon you. Miss Yule is aware that I am writing this letter; will you not let her plead for me, seeing that only by an unhappy chance have I been kept aloof from you? Marian and I are equally desirous that you should approve our union; without that approval, indeed, something will be lacking to the happiness for which we hope.

‘Believe me to be sincerely yours,

‘JASPER MILVAIN.’

Half an hour after reading this Yule was roused from a fit of the gloomiest brooding by Marian’s entrance. She came towards him timidly, with pale countenance. He had glanced round to see who it was, but at once turned his head again.

‘Will you forgive me for keeping this secret from you, father?’

‘Forgive you?’ he replied in a hard, deliberate voice. ‘I assure you it is a matter of perfect indifference to me. You are long since of age, and I have no power whatever to prevent your falling a victim to any schemer who takes your fancy. It would be folly in me to discuss the question. I recognise your right to have as many secrets as may seem good to you. To talk of forgiveness is the merest affectation.’

‘No, I spoke sincerely. If it had seemed possible I should gladly have let you know about this from the first. That would have been natural and right. But you know what prevented me.’

‘I do. I will try to hope that even a sense of shame had something to do with it.’

‘That had nothing to do with it,’ said Marian, coldly. ‘I have never had reason to feel ashamed.’

‘Be it so. I trust you may never have reason to feel repentance. May I ask when you propose to be married?’

‘I don’t know when it will take place.’

‘As soon, I suppose, as your uncle’s executors have discharged a piece of business which is distinctly germane to the matter?’

‘Perhaps.’

‘Does your mother know?’

‘I have just told her.’

‘Very well, then it seems to me that there’s nothing more to be said.’

‘Do you refuse to see Mr Milvain?’

‘Most decidedly I do. You will have the goodness to inform him that that is my reply to his letter.’

‘I don’t think that is the behaviour of a gentleman,’ said Marian, her eyes beginning to gleam with resentment.

‘I am obliged to you for your instruction.’

‘Will you tell me, father, in plain words, why you dislike Mr Milvain?’

‘I am not inclined to repeat what I have already fruitlessly told you. For the sake of a clear understanding, however, I will let you know the practical result of my dislike. From the day of your marriage with that man you are nothing to me. I shall distinctly forbid you to enter my house. You make your choice, and go your own way. I shall hope never to see your face again.’

Their eyes met, and the look of each seemed to fascinate the other.

‘If you have made up your mind to that,’ said Marian in a shaking voice, ‘I can remain here no longer. Such words are senselessly cruel. To-morrow I shall leave the house.’

‘I repeat that you are of age, and perfectly independent. It can be nothing to me how soon you go. You have given proof that I am of less than no account to you, and doubtless the sooner we cease to afflict each other the better.’

It seemed as if the effect of these conflicts with her father were to develop in Marian a vehemence of temper which at length matched that of which Yule was the victim. Her face, outlined to express a gentle gravity, was now haughtily passionate; nostrils and lips thrilled with wrath, and her eyes were magnificent in their dark fieriness.

‘You shall not need to tell me that again,’ she answered, and immediately left him.

She went into the sitting-room, where Mrs Yule was awaiting the result of the interview.

‘Mother,’ she said, with stern gentleness, ‘this house can no longer be a home for me. I shall go away to-morrow, and live in lodgings until the time of my marriage.’

Mrs Yule uttered a cry of pain, and started up.

‘Oh, don’t do that, Marian! What has he said to you? Come and talk to me, darling — tell me what he’s said — don’t look like that!’

She clung to the girl despairingly, terrified by a transformation she would have thought impossible.

‘He says that if I marry Mr Milvain he hopes never to see my face again. I can’t stay here. You shall come and see me, and we will be the same to each other as always. But father has treated me too unjustly. I can’t live near him after this.’

‘He doesn’t mean it,’ sobbed her mother. ‘He says what he’s sorry for as soon as the words are spoken. He loves you too much, my darling, to drive you away like that. It’s his disappointment, Marian; that’s all it is. He counted on it so much. I’ve heard him talk of it in his sleep; he made so sure that he was going to have that new magazine, and the disappointment makes him that he doesn’t know what he’s saying. Only wait and see; he’ll tell you he didn’t mean it, I know he will. Only leave him alone till he’s had time to get over it. Do forgive him this once.’

‘It’s like a madman to talk in that way,’ said the girl, releasing herself. ‘Whatever his disappointment, I can’t endure it. I have worked hard for him, very hard, ever since I was old enough, and he owes me some kindness, some respect. It would be different if he had the least reason for his hatred of Jasper. It is nothing but insensate prejudice, the result of his quarrels with other people. What right has he to insult me by representing my future husband as a scheming hypocrite?’

‘My love, he has had so much to bear — it’s made him so quick-tempered.’

‘Then I am quick-tempered too, and the sooner we are apart the better, as he said himself’

‘Oh, but you have always been such a patient girl.’

‘My patience is at an end when I am treated as if I had neither rights nor feelings. However wrong the choice I had made, this was not the way to behave to me. His disappointment? Is there a natural law, then, that a daughter must be sacrificed to her father? My husband will have as much need of that money as my father has, and he will be able to make far better use of it. It was wrong even to ask me to give my money away like that. I have a right to happiness, as well as other women.’

She was shaken with hysterical passion, the natural consequence of this outbreak in a nature such as hers. Her mother, in the meantime, grew stronger by force of profound love that at length had found its opportunity of expression. Presently she persuaded Marian to come upstairs with her, and before long the overburdened breast was relieved by a flow of tears. But Marian’s purpose remained unshaken.

‘It is impossible for us to see each other day after day,’ she said when calmer. ‘He can’t control his anger against me, and I suffer too much when I am made to feel like this. I shall take a lodging not far off where you can see me often.’

‘But you have no money, Marian,’ replied Mrs Yule, miserably.

‘No money? As if I couldn’t borrow a few pounds until all my own comes to me! Dora Milvain can lend me all I shall want; it won’t make the least difference to her. I must have my money very soon now.’

At about half-past eleven Mrs Yule went downstairs, and entered the study.

‘If you are coming to speak about Marian,’ said her husband, turning upon her with savage eyes, ‘you can save your breath. I won’t hear her name mentioned.’

She faltered, but overcame her weakness.

‘You are driving her away from us, Alfred. It isn’t right! Oh, it isn’t right!’

‘If she didn’t go I should, so understand that! And if I go, you have seen the last of me. Make your choice, make your choice!’

He had yielded himself to that perverse frenzy which impels a man to acts and utterances most wildly at conflict with reason. His sense of the monstrous irrationality to which he was committed completed what was begun in him by the bitterness of a great frustration.

‘If I wasn’t a poor, helpless woman,’ replied his wife, sinking upon a chair and crying without raising her hands to her face, ‘I’d go and live with her till she was married, and then make a home for myself. But I haven’t a penny, and I’m too old to earn my own living; I should only be a burden to her.’

‘That shall be no hindrance,’ cried Yule. ‘Go, by all means; you shall have a sufficient allowance as long as I can continue to work, and when I’m past that, your lot will be no harder than mine. Your daughter had the chance of making provision for my old age, at no expense to herself. But that was asking too much of her. Go, by all means, and leave me to make what I can of the rest of my life; perhaps I may save a few years still from the curse brought upon me by my own folly.’

It was idle to address him. Mrs Yule went into the sitting-room, and there sat weeping for an hour. Then she extinguished the lights, and crept upstairs in silence.

Yule passed the night in the study. Towards morning he slept for an hour or two, just long enough to let the fire go out and to get thoroughly chilled. When he opened his eyes a muddy twilight had begun to show at the window; the sounds of a clapping door within the house, which had probably awakened him, made him aware that the servant was already up.

He drew up the blind. There seemed to be a frost, for the moisture of last night had all disappeared, and the yard upon which the window looked was unusually clean. With a glance at the black grate he extinguished his lamp, and went out into the passage. A few minutes’ groping for his overcoat and hat, and he left the house.

His purpose was to warm himself with a vigorous walk, and at the same time to shake off if possible, the nightmare of his rage and hopelessness. He had no distinct feeling with regard to his behaviour of the past evening; he neither justified nor condemned himself; he did not ask himself whether Marian would to-day leave her home, or if her mother would take him at his word and also depart. These seemed to be details which his brain was too weary to consider. But he wished to be away from the wretchedness of his house, and to let things go as they would whilst he was absent. As he closed the front door he felt as if he were escaping from an atmosphere that threatened to stifle him.

His steps directing themselves more by habit than with any deliberate choice, he walked towards Camden Road. When he had reached Camden Town railway-station he was attracted by a coffee-stall; a draught of the steaming liquid, no matter its quality, would help his blood to circulate. He laid down his penny, and first warmed his hands by holding them round the cup. Whilst standing thus he noticed that the objects at which he looked had a blurred appearance; his eyesight seemed to have become worse this morning. Only a result of his insufficient sleep perhaps. He took up a scrap of newspaper that lay on the stall; he could read it, but one of his eyes was certainly weaker than the other; trying to see with that one alone, he found that everything became misty.

He laughed, as if the threat of new calamity were an amusement in his present state of mind. And at the same moment his look encountered that of a man who had drawn near to him, a shabbily-dressed man of middle age, whose face did not correspond with his attire.

‘Will you give me a cup of coffee?’ asked the stranger, in a low voice and with shamefaced manner. ‘It would be a great kindness.’

The accent was that of good breeding. Yule hesitated in surprise for a moment, then said:

‘Have one by all means. Would you care for anything to eat?’

‘I am much obliged to you. I think I should be none the worse for one of those solid slices of bread and butter.’

The stall-keeper was just extinguishing his lights; the frosty sky showed a pale gleam of sunrise.

‘Hard times, I’m afraid,’ remarked Yule, as his beneficiary began to eat the luncheon with much appearance of grateful appetite.

‘Very hard times.’ He had a small, thin, colourless countenance, with large, pathetic eyes; a slight moustache and curly beard. His clothes were such as would be worn by some very poor clerk. ‘I came here an hour ago,’ he continued, ‘with the hope of meeting an acquaintance who generally goes from this station at a certain time. I have missed him, and in doing so I missed what I had thought my one chance of a breakfast. When one has neither dined nor supped on the previous day, breakfast becomes a meal of some importance.’

‘True. Take another slice.’

‘I am greatly obliged to you.’

‘Not at all. I have known hard times myself, and am likely to know worse.’

‘I trust not. This is the first time that I have positively begged. I should have been too much ashamed to beg of the kind of men who are usually at these places; they certainly have no money to spare. I was thinking of making an appeal at a baker’s shop, but it is very likely I should have been handed over to a policeman. Indeed I don’t know what I should have done; the last point of endurance was almost reached. I have no clothes but these I wear, and they are few enough for the season. Still, I suppose the waistcoat must have gone.’

He did not talk like a beggar who is trying to excite compassion, but with a sort of detached curiosity concerning the difficulties of his position.

‘You can find nothing to do?’ said the man of letters.

‘Positively nothing. By profession I am a surgeon, but it’s a long time since I practised. Fifteen years ago I was comfortably established at Wakefield; I was married and had one child. But my capital ran out, and my practice, never anything to boast of, fell to nothing. I succeeded in getting a place as an assistant to a man at Chester. We sold up, and started on the journey.’

He paused, looking at Yule in a strange way.

‘What happened then?’

‘You probably don’t remember a railway accident that took place near Crewe in that year — it was 1869? I and my wife and child were alone in a carriage that was splintered. One moment I was talking with them, in fairly good spirits, and my wife was laughing at something I had said; the next, there were two crushed, bleeding bodies at my feet. I had a broken arm, that was all. Well, they were killed on the instant; they didn’t suffer. That has been my one consolation.’

Yule kept the silence of sympathy.

‘I was in a lunatic asylum for more than a year after that,’ continued the man. ‘Unhappily, I didn’t lose my senses at the moment; it took two or three weeks to bring me to that pass. But I recovered, and there has been no return of the disease. Don’t suppose that I am still of unsound mind. There can be little doubt that poverty will bring me to that again in the end; but as yet I am perfectly sane. I have supported myself in various ways.

No, I don’t drink; I see the question in your face. But I am physically weak, and, to quote Mrs Gummidge, “things go contrairy with me.” There’s no use lamenting; this breakfast has helped me on, and I feel in much better spirits.’

‘Your surgical knowledge is no use to you?’

The other shook his head and sighed.

‘Did you ever give any special attention to diseases of the eyes?’

‘Special, no. But of course I had some acquaintance with the subject.’

‘Could you tell by examination whether a man was threatened with cataract, or anything of that kind?’

‘I think I could.’

‘I am speaking of myself.’

The stranger made a close scrutiny of Yule’s face, and asked certain questions with reference to his visual sensations.

‘I hardly like to propose it,’ he said at length, ‘but if you were willing to accompany me to a very poor room that I have not far from here, I could make the examination formally.’

‘I will go with you.’

They turned away from the stall, and the ex-surgeon led into a by-street. Yule wondered at himself for caring to seek such a singular consultation, but he had a pressing desire to hear some opinion as to the state of his eyes. Whatever the stranger might tell him, he would afterwards have recourse to a man of recognised standing; but just now companionship of any kind was welcome, and the poor hungry fellow, with his dolorous life-story, had made appeal to his sympathies. To give money under guise of a fee would be better than merely offering alms.

‘This is the house,’ said his guide, pausing at a dirty door. ‘It isn’t inviting, but the people are honest, so far as I know. My room is at the top.’

‘Lead on,’ answered Yule.

In the room they entered was nothing noticeable; it was only the poorest possible kind of bed-chamber, or all but the poorest possible. Daylight had now succeeded to dawn, yet the first thing the stranger did was to strike a match and light a candle.

‘Will you kindly place yourself with your back to the window?’ he said. ‘I am going to apply what is called the catoptric test. You have probably heard of it?’

‘My ignorance of scientific matters is fathomless.’

The other smiled, and at once offered a simple explanation of the term. By the appearance of the candle as it reflected itself in the patient’s eye it was possible, he said, to decide whether cataract had taken hold upon the organ.

For a minute or two he conducted his experiment carefully, and Yule was at no loss to read the result upon his face.

‘How long have you suspected that something was wrong?’ the surgeon asked, as he put down the candle.

‘For several months.’

‘You haven’t consulted anyone?’

‘No one. I have kept putting it off. Just tell me what you have discovered.’

‘The back of the right lens is affected beyond a doubt.’

‘That means, I take it, that before very long I shall be practically blind?’

‘I don’t like to speak with an air of authority. After all, I am only a surgeon who has bungled himself into pauperdom. You must see a competent man; that much I can tell you in all earnestness.

Do you use your eyes much?’

‘Fourteen hours a day, that’s all.’

‘H’m! You are a literary man, I think?’

‘I am. My name is Alfred Yule.’

He had some faint hope that the name might be recognised; that would have gone far, for the moment, to counteract his trouble. But not even this poor satisfaction was to be granted him; to his hearer the name evidently conveyed nothing.

‘See a competent man, Mr Yule. Science has advanced rapidly since the days when I was a student; I am only able to assure you of the existence of disease.’

They talked for half an hour, until both were shaking with cold. Then Yule thrust his hand into his pocket.

‘You will of course allow me to offer such return as I am able,’ he said. ‘The information isn’t pleasant, but I am glad to have it.’

He laid five shillings on the chest of drawers — there was no table. The stranger expressed his gratitude.

‘My name is Duke,’ he said, ‘and I was christened Victor — possibly because I was doomed to defeat in life. I wish you could have associated the memory of me with happier circumstances.’

They shook hands, and Yule quitted the house.

He came out again by Camden Town station. The coffee-stall had disappeared; the traffic of the great highway was growing uproarious. Among all the strugglers for existence who rushed this way and that, Alfred Yule felt himself a man chosen for fate’s heaviest infliction. He never questioned the accuracy of the stranger’s judgment, and he hoped for no mitigation of the doom it threatened. His life was over — and wasted.

He might as well go home, and take his place meekly by the fireside. He was beaten. Soon to be a useless old man, a burden and annoyance to whosoever had pity on him.

It was a curious effect of the imagination that since coming into the open air again his eyesight seemed to be far worse than before. He irritated his nerves of vision by incessant tests, closing first one eye then the other, comparing his view of nearer objects with the appearance of others more remote, fancying an occasional pain — which could have had no connection with his disease. The literary projects which had stirred so actively in his mind twelve hours ago were become an insubstantial memory; to the one crushing blow had succeeded a second, which was fatal. He could hardly recall what special piece of work he had been engaged upon last night. His thoughts were such as if actual blindness had really fallen upon him.

At half-past eight he entered the house. Mrs Yule was standing at the foot of the stairs; she looked at him, then turned away towards the kitchen. He went upstairs. On coming down again he found breakfast ready as usual, and seated himself at the table. Two letters waited for him there; he opened them.

When Mrs Yule came into the room a few moments later she was astonished by a burst of loud, mocking laughter from her husband, excited, as it appeared, by something he was reading.

‘Is Marian up?’ he asked, turning to her.

‘Yes.’

‘She is not coming to breakfast?’

‘No.’

‘Then just take that letter to her, and ask her to read it.’

Mrs Yule ascended to her daughter’s bedroom. She knocked, was bidden enter, and found Marian packing clothes in a trunk. The girl looked as if she had been up all night; her eyes bore the traces of much weeping.

‘He has come back, dear,’ said Mrs Yule, in the low voice of apprehension, ‘and he says you are to read this letter.’

Marian took the sheet, unfolded it, and read. As soon as she had reached the end she looked wildly at her mother, seemed to endeavour vainly to speak, then fell to the floor in unconsciousness. The mother was only just able to break the violence of her fall. Having snatched a pillow and placed it beneath Marian’s head, she rushed to the door and called loudly for her husband, who in a moment appeared.

‘What is it?’ she cried to him. ‘Look, she has fallen down in a faint. Why are you treating her like this?’

‘Attend to her,’ Yule replied roughly. ‘I suppose you know better than I do what to do when a person faints.’

The swoon lasted for several minutes.

‘What’s in the letter?’ asked Mrs Yule whilst chafing the lifeless hands.

‘Her money’s lost. The people who were to pay it have just failed.’

‘She won’t get anything?’

‘Most likely nothing at all.’

The letter was a private communication from one of John Yule’s executors. It seemed likely that the demand upon Turberville & Co. for an account of the deceased partner’s share in their business had helped to bring about a crisis in affairs that were already unstable. Something might be recovered in the legal proceedings that would result, but there were circumstances which made the outlook very doubtful.

As Marian came to herself her father left the room. An hour afterwards Mrs Yule summoned him again to the girl’s chamber; he went, and found Marian lying on the bed, looking like one who had been long ill.

‘I wish to ask you a few questions,’ she said, without raising herself. ‘Must my legacy necessarily be paid out of that investment?’

‘It must. Those are the terms of the will.’

‘If nothing can be recovered from those people, I have no remedy?’

‘None whatever that I can see.’

‘But when a firm is bankrupt they generally pay some portion of their debts?’

‘Sometimes. I know nothing of the case.’

‘This of course happens to me,’ Marian said, with intense bitterness. ‘None of the other legatees will suffer, I suppose?’

‘Someone must, but to a very small extent.’

‘Of course. When shall I have direct information?’

‘You can write to Mr Holden; you have his address.’

‘Thank you. That’s all.’

He was dismissed, and went quietly away.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37