The Clement–Pells lived at Parrifer Hall, and were as grand as all the rest of us put together. After that affair connected with Cathy Reed, and the death of his son, Major Parrifer and his family could not bear to stay in the place. They took a house near London, and Parrifer Hall was advertised to be let. Mr. Clement–Pell came forward, and took it for a term of years.
The Clement–Pells rolled in riches. His was one of those cases of self-made men that have been so common of late years: where an individual, from a humble position, rises by perceptible degrees, until he towers above all, like a Jack sprung out of a box, and is the wonder and envy of the world around. Mr. Clement–Pell was said to have begun life in London as a lawyer. Later, circumstances brought him down to a bustling town in our neighbourhood where he became the manager of a small banking company; and from that time he did nothing but rise. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,” says Shakespeare: and this was the tide in Mr. Clement–Pell’s. The small banking company became a great one. Its spare cash helped to make railways, to work mines, and to do all kinds of profitable things. The shareholders flourished; Mr. Clement–Pell was more regarded than a heathen deity. He established a branch at two or three small places; and, amongst them, one at Church Dykely. After that, he took Parrifer Hall. The simple people around could not vie with the grandeur of the Pells, and did not try to do so. The Pells made much of me and Joseph Todhetley — perhaps because there was a dearth of young fellows near — and often asked us to the Hall. Mrs. Pell, a showy, handsome woman, turned up her nose at all but the best families, and would not associate with farmers, however much they might live like gentlefolk. She was decisive in manner, haughty, and ruled the house and everything in it, including her husband, with iron will. In a slight degree she and her children put us in mind of the Parrifers: for they held their heads in the clouds as the Parrifers had done, and the ostentation they displayed was just the least bit vulgar. Mr. Pell was a good-looking, gentlemanlike man, with a pleasant, hearty, straightforward manner that took with every one. He was neither fine nor stuck up: but his wife and daughters were; after the custom of a good many who have shot up into greatness.
And now that’s the introduction to the Clement–Pells. One year they took a furnished house in London, and sent to invite me and Tod up in the summer. It was not very long after we had paid that visit to the Whitneys and Miss Deveen. The invitation was cordially pressed; but Squire Todhetley did not much like our going.
“Look here, you boys,” said he, as we were starting, for the point was yielded, “I’d a great deal rather you were going to stay at home. Don’t you let the young Pells lead you into mischief.”
Tod resented the doubt. “We are not boys, sir.”
“Well, I suppose you’d like to call yourselves young men,” returned the Pater; “you in particular, Joe. But young men have gone up to London before now, and come home with their fingers burnt.”
“They have. It is this, Joe: Johnny, listen to me. A young fellow, just launched on the world, turns out very much according to the companions he is thrown amongst and the associations he meets with. I have a notion that the young Pells are wild; fast, as it is called now; so take care of yourselves. And don’t forget that though their purses may be unlimited, yours are not.”
Three footmen came rushing out when the cab stopped at the house in Kensington, and the Pells made much of us. Mr. Pell and the eldest son, James, were at the chief bank in the country; they rarely spared the time to come up; but the rest were in town. Mrs. Pell, the four girls, the two sons, and a new German governess. The house was not as large as Parrifer Hall, and Tod and I had a top room between us, with two beds in it. Fabian Pell held a commission in the army. Augustus was reading for the bar — he was never called at home anything but “Gusty.”
We got there just before dinner, and dressed for it — finding dress was expected. A worn-looking, fashionable man of thirty was in the drawing-room when we went down, the Honourable Mr. Crayton: and Fabian brought in two officers. Mrs. Pell wore blue, with a string of pearls on her neck that were too big to be real: the two girls were in white silk and white shoes. Altogether, considering it was not a state occasion, but a friendly dinner, the dresses looked too fine, more suited to a duke’s table; and I wondered what Mrs. Todhetley would have said to them.
“Will you take Constance in to dinner, Mr. Todhetley?”
Tod took her. She was the second girl: the eldest, Martha Jane, went in with one of the officers. The younger girls, Leonora and Rose, dined in the middle of the day with the governess. Gusty was not there, and Fabian and I went in together.
“Where is he?” I asked of Fabian.
“Gusty? Oh, knocking about somewhere. His getting home to dinner’s always a chance. He has chambers in town.”
Why the idea should have come over me, I know not, unless it was the tone Mrs. Pell spoke in, but it flashed across my mind that she was looking at Tod as a possible husband for her daughter Constance. He was not of an age to marry yet: but some women like to plot and plan these things beforehand. I hated her for it: I did not care that Tod should choose one of the Pells. Gusty made his appearance in the course of the evening; and we fellows went out with him.
The Squire was right: it was fast life at the Pells’, and no mistake. I don’t believe there was a thing that cost money but Fabian and Gusty Pell and Crayton went in for it. Crayton was with them always. He seemed to be the leader: the Pells followed him like sheep; Tod went with them. I sometimes: but they did not always ask me to go. Billiards and cards were the chief amusements; and there’d be theatres and singing-halls. The names of some of the places would have made the Squire’s hair stand on end. One, a sort of private affair, that the Pells and Crayton said it was a favour to gain admittance to, was called “Paradise.” Whether that was only the Pells’ or Crayton’s name for it, we did not hear. And a paradise it was when you were inside, if decorations and mirrors can make one. Men and women in evening dress sang songs in a kind of orchestra; to which you might listen sitting and smoking or lounging about and talking: if you preferred a rubber at whist or a hand at écarté in another room, there you had it. Never a thing was there, apparently, that the Squire could reasonably have grumbled at, except the risk of losing money at cards, and the sense of intoxicating pleasure. But I don’t think it was a good place to go to. The Pells called all this “Seeing Life.”
It would not have done Tod much harm — for he had his head on his shoulders the right way — but for the gambling. It is a strong word to use; but the play grew into nothing less. Had the Squire said to us, Take care you don’t learn to gamble up in London, Tod would have resented it as much as if he had been warned not to go and hang himself, feeling certain that there was no more chance of one than the other. But gambling, like some other things — drinking for instance — steals upon you by degrees, too imperceptibly to alarm you. The Pells and Crayton and other fellows that they knew went in for cards and billiards wholesale. Tod was asked at first to take a quiet hand with them; or just play for the tables — and he thought no more of complying than if the girls had pressed him to make one at the round game of Old Maid, or to while away a wet afternoon at bagatelle.
There was no regularity in Mrs. Pell’s household: there was no more outward observance of religion than if we’d lived in Heathendom. It was so different from Tod’s last London visit, when he was at the Whitneys’. There you had to be at the breakfast-table to the moment — half-past eight; and to be in at bedtime, unless engaged out with friends. Sir John read a chapter of the Bible morning and night, and then, pushing the spectacles lower on his old red nose, he’d look over them at us and tell us simply to be good boys and girls. Here you might come down at any hour, from nine or ten, to eleven or twelve, and ring for fresh breakfast to be supplied. As to staying out at night, that was quite ad libitum; a man-servant sat up till morning to open the door.
I was initiated less into the card-playing than Tod, and never once was asked to make one at pool, probably because it was taken for granted that I had less money to stake. Which was true. Tod had not much, for the matter of that: and it never struck me to think he was losing wholesale.
I got home one night at twelve, having been dining at Miss Deveen’s and going to a concert with her afterwards. Tod was not in, and I sat up in our room, writing to Mr. Brandon, which I had put off doing until I felt ashamed. Tod came in as I was folding the letter. It was hot weather, and he stretched himself out at the open window.
“Are you going to stop there all night, Tod?” I asked by-and-by. “It’s one o’clock.”
“I may as well stop here, for all the sleep I shall get in bed,” was his answer, as he brought his head in. “I’m in an awful mess, Johnny.”
“What kind of mess?”
“Debt! What for?”
“Card-playing,” answered Tod, shortly. “And betting at pool.”
“Why do you play?”
“I’ll be shot if I would ever have touched one of their cards, or their billiard balls either, had I known what was to come of it. Let me once get out of this hole, and neither Gusty Pell nor Crayton shall ever draw me in again. I’ll promise them that.”
“How much is it?”
“That I owe? Twenty-five pounds.”
“Twenty-five — what?” I cried, starting up.
“Don’t wake up the next room, Johnny. Twenty-five pounds. And not a stiver in my pocket to go on with. I owe it to Crayton.”
Sitting on the edge of his bed, he told me how the thing had crept upon him. At first they only played for shillings; one night Crayton suddenly changed the stakes to sovereigns. The other fellows playing took it as a matter of course, and Tod did not like to make a fuss, and get up ——
“I should, Tod,” I interrupted.
“I dare say you would,” he retorted. “I didn’t. But I honestly told them that if I lost much, my purse would not stand it. Oh that need not trouble you, they said. When we rose, that night, I owed Crayton nineteen pounds.”
“They must be systematic gamblers!”
“No, not that. Gentlemen who play high. Since then I have played, hoping to redeem my losses — they tell me I shall be sure to do it. But the redemption has not come yet, for it is twenty-five pounds now.”
“Tod,” I said, after a pause, “it would about kill the Pater.”
“It would awfully vex him. And that’s what is doing the mischief, you see, Johnny. I can’t write home for the money without telling him what I want it for; he’d never give it me unless I said: and I can’t cut our visit short to the Pells and leave Crayton in debt.”
“But —what’s to be done, Tod?”
“Nothing until I get some luck, and win enough back to pay him.”
“You may get deeper into the mire.”
“Yes — there’s that chance.”
“It will never do to go on playing.”
“Will you tell me what else I am to do? I must continue to play: or pay.”
I couldn’t tell him; I didn’t know. Fifty of the hardest problems in Euclid were nothing to this. Tod sat down in his shirt-sleeves.
“Get one of the Pells to let you have the money, Tod. A loan of twenty or thirty pounds can be nothing to them.”
“It’s no good, Johnny. Gusty is cleaned out. As to Fabian, he never has any spare cash, what with one expensive habit and another. Oh, I shall win it back again: perhaps tomorrow. Luck must turn.”
Tod said no more. But what particularly struck me was this: that, to win money from a guest in that way, and he a young fellow not of age, whose pocket-money they knew to be limited, was not at all consistent with the idea of their being “gentlemen.”
The next evening we were in a well-known billiard-room. Fabian Pell, Crayton, and Tod were at pool. It had been a levee day, or something of that sort, and Fabian was in full regimentals. Tod was losing, as usual. He was no match for those practised players.
“I wish you would get me a glass of water, Johnny,” he said.
So I got it. In turning back after taking the glass from his hand, who should I see on the high bench against the wall, sitting just where I had been sitting a minute before, but my guardian and trustee, Mr. Brandon. Could it be he? Old Brandon in London! and in a billiard-room.
“It is never you, sir! Here!”
“Yes, it is I, Johnny Ludlow,” he said in his squeaky voice. “As to being here, I suppose I have as much right to be here as you have: perhaps rather more. I should like to ask what brings you here.”
“I came in with those three,” I said, pointing towards the board.
He screwed up his little eyes, and looked. “Who are they?” he asked. “Who’s the fellow in scarlet?” For he did not happen to know these two younger Pells by sight.
“That’s Fabian Pell, sir. The one standing with his hands in his pockets, near Joseph Todhetley, is the Honourable Mr. Crayton.”
“Who’s the Honourable Mr. Crayton?”
“I think his father is the Earl of Lackland.”
“Oh, ah; one of Lackland’s sons, is he? There’s six or eight sons, of them, Johnny Ludlow, and not a silver coin amongst the lot. Lackland never had much, but what little it was he lost at horse-racing. The sons live by their wits, I’ve heard: lords’ sons have not much work in them. The Honourable Mr. Crayton, eh! Your two friends had better take care of themselves.”
The thought of how Tod had “taken care” of himself flashed into my mind. I wouldn’t have old Brandon know it for the world.
“I posted a letter to you today, sir. I did not know you were from home.”
“What was it about?”
“Nothing particular, sir. Only I had not written since we were in London.”
“How long are you going to stay here, Johnny Ludlow?”
“About another week, I suppose.”
“I mean here. In this disreputable room.”
“Yes, Johnny Ludlow, disreputable. Disreputable for all young men, especially for a very young one like you. I wonder what your father would have said to it!”
“I, at least, sir, am doing no harm in it.”
“Yes, you are, Johnny. You are suffering your eyes and mind to grow familiar with these things. So, their game is over, is it!”
I turned round. They had finished, and were leaving. In looking for me, Tod saw Mr. Brandon. He came up to shake hands with him, and told me they were going.
“Come in and see me tomorrow morning, Johnny Ludlow,” said Mr. Brandon, in a tone of command. “Eleven o’clock.”
“Yes, sir. Where are you staying?”
“The Tavistock; Covent Garden.”
“Johnny, what the mischief brings him here?” whispered Tod, as we went downstairs.
“I don’t know. I thought it must be his ghost at first.”
From the billiard-rooms we went on to Gusty’s chambers, and found him at home with some friends. He served out wine, with cold brandy-and-water for Crayton — who despised anything less. They sat down to cards — loo. Tod did not play. Complaining of a racking headache, he sat apart in a corner. I stood in another, for all the chairs were occupied. Altogether the party seemed to want life, and broke up soon.
“Was it an excuse to avoid playing, Tod?” I asked, as we walked home.
“Was what an excuse?”
“If your head were beating as mine is, Johnny, you wouldn’t call it an excuse. You’ll be a muff to the end of your days.”
“Well, I thought it might be that.”
“Did you! If I made up my mind not to play, I should tell it out straightforwardly: not put forth any shuffling ‘excuse.’”
“Any way, a headache’s better than losing your money.”
I got to the Tavistock at five minutes past eleven, and found Mr. Brandon reading the Times. He looked at me over the top of it, as if he were surprised.
“So you have come, Mr. Johnny!”
“Yes, sir. I turned up the wrong street and missed my way: it has made me a little late.”
“Oh, that’s the reason, is it,” said Mr. Brandon. “I thought perhaps a young man, who has been initiated into the ways of London life, might no longer consider it necessary to attend to the requests of his elders.”
“But would you think that of me, sir?”
Mr. Brandon put the newspaper on the table with a dash, and burst out with as much feeling as his weak voice would allow him.
“Johnny Ludlow, I’d rather have seen you come to sweep a crossing in this vile town, than to frequent one of its public billiard-rooms!”
“But I don’t frequent them, Mr. Brandon.”
“How many times have you been in?”
“Twice in the one where you saw me: once in another. Three times in all.”
“That’s three times too much. Have you played?”
“No, sir; there’s never any room for me.”
“Do you bet?”
“What do you go for, then?”
“I’ve only gone in with the others when I have been out with them.”
“Pell’s sons and the Honourable Mr. Crayton. Rather ostentatious of you, Johnny Ludlow, to hasten to tell me he was the ‘Honourable.’”
My face flushed. I had not said it in that light.
“One day at Pershore Fair, in a booth, the clown jumped on to the boards and introduced himself,” continued Mr. Brandon: “‘I’m the clown, ladies and gentlemen,’ said he. That’s the Honourable Mr. Crayton, say you. — And so you have gone in with Mr. Crayton and the Pells!”
“And with Joseph Todhetley.”
“Ay. And perhaps London will do him more harm than it will you; you’re not much better than a boy yet, hardly up to bad things. I wonder what possessed Joe’s father to let you two come up to stay with the Pells! I should have been above it in his place.”
“Above it? Why, Mr. Brandon, they live in ten times the style we do.”
“And spend twenty times as much over it. Who was thinking about style or cost, Mr. Johnny? Don’t you mistake Richard for Robert.”
He gave a flick to the newspaper, and stared me full in the face. I did not venture to speak.
“Johnny Ludlow, I don’t like your having been initiated into the iniquities of fast life — as met with in billiard-rooms, and similar places.”
“I have got no harm from them, sir.”
“Perhaps not. But you might have got it.”
I supposed I might: and thought of Tod and his losings.
“You have good principles, Johnny Ludlow, and you’ve a bit of sense in your head; and you have been taught to know that this world is not the end of things. Temptation is bad for the best, though. When I saw you in that place last night, looking on with eager eyes at the balls, listening to the betting, I wished I had never let your father make me your guardian.”
“I did not know my eyes or ears were so eager, sir. I don’t think they were.”
“Nonsense, boy: that goes as a matter of course. You have heard of gambling hells?”
“Well, a public billiard-room is not many degrees better. It is crowded with adventurers who live by their wits. Your needy ‘honourables,’ who’ve not a sixpence of their own in their purses, and your low-lived blackguards, who have sprung from the scum of the population, are equally at home there. These men, the lord’s son and the blackguard, must each make a living: whether by turf-betting, or dice, or cards, or pool — they must do it somehow. Is it a nice thing, pray, for you honest young fellows to frequent places where you must be their boon companions?”
“No, I don’t think it is.”
“Good, Johnny. Don’t you go into one again — and keep young Todhetley out if you can. It is no place, I say, for an honest man and a gentleman: you can’t touch pitch and not be defiled; neither can a youngster frequent these billiard-rooms and the company he meets in them, and come away unscathed. His name will get a mark against it. That’s not the worst: his soul may get a mark upon it; and never be able to throw it off again during life. You turn mountebank, and dance at wakes, Johnny, rather than turn public billiard player. There’s many an honest mountebank, dancing for the daily crust he puts into his mouth: I don’t believe you’d find one honest man amongst billiard sharpers.”
He dropped the paper in his heat. I picked it up.
“And that’s only one phase of their fast life, these billiard-rooms,” he continued. “There are other things: singing-halls, and cider cellars — and all sorts of places. You steer clear of the lot, Johnny. And warn Todhetley. He wants warning perhaps more than you do.”
“Tod has caught no harm, I think, except ——”
“Except what?” asked he sharply, as I paused.
“Except that I suppose it costs him money, sir.”
“Just so. A good thing too. If these seductions (as young fools call them) could be had without money, the world would soon be turned upside down. But as to harm, Johnny, once a young fellow gets to feel at home in these places, I don’t care how short his experience may be, he loses his self-respect. He does; and it takes time to get it back again. You and Joe had not been gone five minutes last night, with your ‘Honourable’ and the other fellow in scarlet, when there was a row in the room. Two men quarrelled about a bet; sides were taken by the spectators, and it came to blows. I have heard some reprobate language in my day, Johnny Ludlow, but I never heard such as I heard then. Had you been there, I’d have taken you by the back of the neck and pitched you out of the window, before your ears should have been tainted with it.”
“Did you go to the billiard-room, expecting to see me there, Mr. Brandon?” I asked. And the question put his temper up.
“Go to the billiard-room, expecting to see you there, Johnny Ludlow!” he retorted, his voice a small shrill pipe. “How dare you ask it? I’d as soon have expected to see the Bishop of London there, as you. I can tell you what, young man: had I known you were going to these places, I should pretty soon have stopped it. Yes, sir: you are not out of my hands yet. If I could not stop you personally, I’d stop every penny of your pocket-money.”
“We couldn’t think — I and Tod — what else you had gone for sir,” said I, in apology for having put the question.
“I don’t suppose you could. I have a graceless relative, Johnny Ludlow; a sister’s son. He is going to the bad, fast, and she got me to come up and see what he was after. I could not find him; I have not found him yet; but I was told that he frequented those rooms, and I went there on speculation. Now you know. He came up to London nine months ago as pure-hearted a young fellow as you are: bad companions laid hold of him, and are doing their best to ruin him. I should not like to see you on the downward road, Johnny; and you shan’t enter on it if I can put a spoke in the wheel. Your father was my good friend.”
“There is no fear for me, Mr. Brandon.”
“Well, Johnny, I hope not. You be cautious, and come and dine with me this evening. And now will you promise me one thing: if you get into any trouble or difficulty at any time, whether it’s a money trouble, or what not, you come to me with it. Do you hear?”
“Yes, sir. I don’t know any one I would rather take it to.”
“I do not expect you to get into one willingly, mind. That’s not what I mean: but sometimes we fall into pits through other people. If ever you do, though it were years to come, bring the trouble to me.”
And I promised, and went, according to the invitation, to dine with him in the evening. He had found his nephew: a plain young medical student, with a thin voice like himself. Mr. Brandon dined off boiled scrag of mutton; I and the nephew had soup and fish and fowl and plum pudding.
After that evening I did not see anything more of old Brandon. Upon calling at the Tavistock they said he had left for the rest of the week, but would be back on the following Monday.
And it was on the following Monday that Tod’s affairs came to a climax.
We had had a regal entertainment. Fit for regal personages — as it seemed to us simple country people, inexperienced in London dinner giving. Mrs. Pell headed her table in green gauze, gold beetles in her hair, and a feathered-fan dangling. Mr. Pell, who had come to town for the party, faced her; the two girls, the two sons, and the guests were dispersed on either side. Eighteen of us in all. Crayton was there as large as life, and of the other people I did not know all the names. The dinner was given for some great gun who had to do with railway companies. He kept it waiting twenty minutes, and then loomed in with a glistening bald head, and a yellow rose in his coat: his wife, a very little woman in pink, on his arm.
“I saw your father yesterday,” called out Pell down the table to Tod. “He said he was glad to hear you were enjoying yourselves.”
“Ah — yes — thank you,” replied Tod, in a hesitating sort of way. I don’t know what he was thinking of; but it flashed into my mind that the Squire would have been anything but “glad,” had he known about the cards, and the billiards, and the twenty-five-pound debt.
Dinner came to an end at last, and we found a few evening guests in the drawing-room — mostly young ladies. Some of the dinner people went away. The railway man sat whispering with Pell in a corner: his wife nodded asleep, and woke up to talk by fits and starts. The youngest girl, Rose, who was in the drawing-room with Leonora and the governess, ran up to me.
“Please let me be your partner, Mr. Ludlow! They are going to dance a quadrille in the back drawing-room.”
So I took her, and we had the quadrille. Then another, that I danced with Constance. Tod was not to be seen anywhere.
“I wonder what has become of Todhetley?”
“He has gone out with Gusty and Mr. Crayton, I think,” answered Constance. “It is too bad of them.”
By one o’clock all the people had left; the girls and Mrs. Pell said good night and disappeared. In going up to bed, I met one of the servants.
“Do you know what time Mr. Todhetley went out, Richard?”
“Mr. Todhetley, sir? He has not gone out. He is in the smoking-room with Mr. Augustus and Mr. Crayton. I’ve just taken up some soda-water.”
I went on to the smoking-room: a small den, built out on the leads of the second floor, that no one presumed to enter except Gusty and Fabian. The cards lay on the table in a heap, and the three round it were talking hotly. I could see there had been a quarrel. Some stranger had come in, and was standing with his back to the mantel-piece. They called him Temply; a friend of Crayton’s. Temply was speaking as I opened the door.
“It is clearly a case of obligation to go on; of honour. No good in trying to shirk it, Todhetley.”
“I will not go on,” said Tod, as he tossed back his hair from his hot brow with a desperate hand. “If you increase the stakes without my consent, I have a right to refuse to continue playing. As to honour; I know what that is as well as any one here.”
They saw me then: and none of them looked too well pleased. Gusty asked me what I wanted; but he spoke quite civilly.
“I came to see after you all. Richard said you were here.”
What they had been playing at, I don’t know: whether whist, écarté, loo, or what. Tod, as usual, had been losing frightfully: I could see that. Gusty was smoking; Crayton, cool as a cucumber, drank hard at brandy-and-soda. If that man had swallowed a barrel of cognac, he would never have shown it. Temply and Crayton stared at me rudely. Perhaps they thought I minded it.
“I wouldn’t play again to-night, were I you,” I said aloud to Tod.
“No, I won’t; there,” he cried, giving the cards an angry push. “I am sick of the things — and tired to death. Good night to you all.”
Crayton swiftly put his back against the door, barring Tod’s exit. “You cannot leave before the game’s finished, Todhetley.”
“We had not begun the game,” rejoined Tod. “You stopped it by trebling the stakes. I tell you, Crayton, I’ll not play again to-night.”
“Then perhaps you’ll pay me your losses.”
“How much are they?” asked Tod, biting his lips.
“To-night? — or in all, do you mean?”
“Oh, let us have it all,” was Tod’s answer; and I saw that he had great difficulty in suppressing his passion. All of them, except Crayton, seemed tolerably heated. “You know that I have not the ready-money to pay you; you’ve known that all along: but it’s as well to ascertain how we stand.”
Crayton had been coolly turning over the leaves of a note-case, adding up some figures there, below his breath.
“Eighty-five before, and seven to-night makes just ninety-two. Ninety-two pounds, Todhetley.”
I sprang up from the chair in terror. It was as if some blast had swept over me, “Ninety-two pounds! Tod! do you owe that?”
“I suppose I do.”
“Ninety-two pounds! It cannot be. Why, it is close upon a hundred!” Crayton laughed at my consternation, and Temply stared.
“If you’ll go on playing, you may redeem some of it, Todhetley,” said Crayton. “Come, sit down.”
“I will not touch another card to-night,” said he, doggedly. “I have said it: and I am not one to break my word: as Johnny Ludlow here can testify to. I don’t know that I shall play again after to-night.”
Crayton was offended. Cool though he was, I think he was somewhat the worse for what he had taken — perhaps they all were. “Then you’ll make arrangements for paying your debts,” said he, in scornful tones.
“Yes, I’ll do that,” answered Tod. And he got away. So did I, after a minute or two: Gusty kept me, talking.
In passing upstairs, for we slept on the third floor, Mr. Pell came suddenly out of a room on the left; a candle in one hand and some papers in the other, and a look on his face as of some great trouble.
“What! are you young men not in bed yet?” he exclaimed. “It is late.”
“We are going up now. Is anything the matter, sir?” I could not help asking.
“The matter?” he repeated.
“I thought you looked worried.”
“I am worried with work,” he said, laughing slightly. “While others take their rest, I have to be up at my books and letters. Great wealth brings great care with it, Johnny Ludlow, and hard work as well. Good night, my lad.”
Tod was pacing the room with his hands in his pockets. It was a terrible position for him to be in. Owing a hundred pounds — to put it in round numbers — for a debt of honour. No means of his own, not daring to tell his father. I mounted on the iron rail of my little bed opposite the window, and looked at him.
“Tod, what is to be done?”
“For two pins I’d go and enlist in some African regiment,” growled he. “Once over the seas, I should be lost to the world here, and my shame with me.”
“Well, and it is shame. An ordinary debt that you can’t pay is bad enough; but a debt of honour ——”
He stopped, and caught his breath with a sort of sob — as if there were no word strong enough to express the sense of shame.
“It will never do to tell the Pater.”
“Tell him!” he exclaimed sharply. “Johnny, I’d cut off my right hand — I’d fling myself into the Thames, rather than bring such a blow on him.”
“Well, and so I think would I.”
“It would kill him as sure as we are here, Johnny. He would look upon it that I have become a confirmed gambler, and I believe the shock and grief would be such that he’d die of it. No: I have not been so particularly dutiful a son, that I should bring that upon him.”
I balanced myself on the bed-rail. Tod paced the carpet slowly.
“No, never,” he repeated, as if there had not been any pause. “I would rather die myself.”
“But what is to be done?”
“Heaven knows! I wish the Pells had been far enough before they had invited us up.”
“I wish you had never consented to play with the lot at all, Tod. You might have stood out from the first.”
“Ay. But one glides into these things unconsciously. Johnny, I begin to think Crayton is just a gambler, playing to win, and nothing better.”
“Playing for his bread. That is, for the things that constitute it. His drink, and his smoke, and his lodgings, and his boots, and his rings. Old Brandon said it. As to his dinners, he generally gets them at friends’ houses.”
“Old Brandon said it, did he?”
“Why, I told you so the same day. And you bade me shut up.”
“Do you know what they want me to do, Johnny? To sign a post-obit bond for two hundred, or so, to be paid after my father’s death. It’s true. Crayton will let me off then.”
“And will you do it?” I cried, feeling that my eyes blazed as I leaped down.
“No, I won’t: and I told them so to-night. That’s what the quarrel was about. ‘Every young fellow does it whose father lives too long and keeps him out of his property,’ said that Temply. ‘Maybe so; I won’t,’ I answered. Neither will I. I’d rather break stones on the road than speculate upon the good Pater’s death, or anticipate his money in that manner to hide my sins.”
“Gusty Pell ought to help you.”
“Gusty says he can’t. Fabian, I believe, really can’t; he is in difficulties of his own: and sometimes, Johnny, I fancy Gus is. Crayton fleeces them both, unless I am mistaken. Yes, he’s a sharper; I see through him now. I want him to take my I O U to pay him as soon as I can, and he knows I would do it, but he won’t do that. There’s two o’clock.”
It was of no use sitting up, and I began to undress. The question reiterated itself again and again — what was to be done? I lay awake all night thinking, vainly wishing I was of age. Fanciful thoughts crossed my mind: of appealing to rich old Pell, and asking him to lend the money, not betraying Gusty and the rest by saying what it was wanted for; of carrying the story to Miss Deveen, and asking her; and lastly, of going to old Brandon, and getting him to help. I grew to think that I would do this, however much I disliked it, and try Brandon; that it lay in my duty to do so.
Worn and haggard enough looked Tod the next morning. He had sat up nearly all night. When breakfast was over, I started for the Tavistock, whispering a word to Tod first.
“Avoid the lot today, Tod. I’ll try and help you out of the mess.”
He burst out laughing in the midst of his perplexity. “You, Johnny! what next?”
“Remember the fable of the lion and the mouse.”
“But you can never be the mouse in this, you mite of a boy! Thank you all the same, Johnny: you mean it well.”
“Can I see Mr. Brandon?” I asked at the hotel, of a strange waiter.
“Mr. Brandon, sir? He is not staying here.”
“Not staying here!”
“No, sir, he left some days ago.”
“But I thought he was coming back again.”
“So I believe he is, sir. But he has not come yet.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“At Brighton, sir.”
It was about as complete a floorer as I ever wished to get. All the way along, I had been planning which way to break it to him. I turned from the door, whistling and thinking. Should I go after him to Brighton? I had the money, and the time, why should I not do so? Heaven alone knew how much depended upon Tod’s being released from trouble; Heaven alone knew what desperate course he might take in his shame, if not released from it.
Dropping a note to Tod, saying I should be out for the day, and getting a porter to take it up, I made the best of my way to the nearest Brighton station, and found a train just starting. Brighton was a large place, and they could not tell me at the Tavistock what hotel Mr. Brandon was staying at; except that one of the waiters “thought” it might be the Old Ship. And that’s where I first went, on arrival.
No. No one of the name of Brandon was at the Old Ship. So there I was, like an owl in a desert, wondering where to go next.
And how many hotels and inns I tried before I found him, it would be impossible to remember now. One of the last was up Kemp Town way — the Royal Crescent Hotel.
“Is Mr. Brandon staying here?”
“Mr. Brandon of Warwickshire? Yes, sir.”
It was so very unexpected an answer after all the failures, that I hardly believed my own ears. Mr. Brandon was not well, the waiter added: suffering from cold and sore throat — but he supposed I could see him. I answered that I must see him; I had come all the way from London on purpose.
Old Brandon was sitting in a long room, with a bow-window looking out on the sea; some broth at his elbow, and a yellow silk handkerchief resting cornerwise on his head.
“Mr. Ludlow, sir,” said the waiter. And he dropped the spoon into the broth, and stared at me as if I were an escaped lunatic.
“Why! — you! What on earth brings you here, Johnny Ludlow?”
To tell him what, was the hardest task I’d ever had in my life. And I did it badly. Sipping spoonfuls of broth and looking hard at me whilst he listened, did not help the process. I don’t know how I got it out, or how confused was the way I told him that I wanted a hundred pounds of my own money.
“A hundred pounds, eh?” said he. “You are a nice gentleman, Johnny Ludlow!”
“I am very sorry, sir, to have to ask it. The need is very urgent, or I should not do so.”
“What’s it for?” questioned he.
“I— it is to pay a debt, sir,” I answered, feeling my face flush hot.
By the way he looked at me, I could see that he knew as plainly as though I had told him, that it was not my debt. And yet — but for letting him think it was mine, he might turn a deaf ear to me. Old Brandon finished up his broth, and put the basin down.
“You are a clever fellow, Johnny Ludlow, but not quite clever enough to deceive me. You’d no more get into such debt yourself, than I should. I have a better opinion of you than that. Who has sent you here?”
“Indeed, sir, I came of my own free will. No one knows, even, that I have come. Mr. Brandon, I hope you will help me: it is almost a matter of life or death.”
“You are wasting words and time, Johnny Ludlow.”
And I felt I was. Felt it hopelessly.
“There’s an old saying, and a very good one, Johnny — Tell the whole truth to your lawyer and doctor. I am neither a lawyer nor a doctor: but I promise you this much, that unless you tell me the truth of the matter, every word of it, and explain your request fully and clearly, you may go marching back to London.”
There was no help for it. I spoke a few words, and they were quite enough. He seemed to grasp the situation as by magic, and turned me, as may be said, inside out. In five minutes he knew by heart as much of it as I did.
“So!” said he, in his squeaky voice — ten times more squeaky when he was vexed. “Good! A nice nest you have got amongst. Want him to give post-obit bonds, do they! Which is Todhetley — a knave or a fool?”
“He has refused to give the bonds, I said, sir.”
“Bonds, who’s talking of bonds?” he retorted. “For playing, I mean. He must have been either a knave or a fool, to play till he owed a hundred pounds when he knew he had not the means to pay.”
“But I have explained how it was, sir. He lost, and then played on, hoping to redeem his losses. I think Crayton had him fast, and would not let him escape.”
“Ay. Got him, and kept him. That’s your grand friend, the Honourable, Johnny Ludlow. There: give me the newspaper.”
“But you will let me have the money, sir?”
“Not if I know it.”
It was a woeful check. I set on and begged as if I had been begging for life: saying I hardly knew what. That it might save Tod from a downhill course — and spare grief to the poor old Squire — and pain to me. Pain that would lie on my mind always, knowing that I possessed the money, yet might not use it to save him.
“It’s of no use, Johnny. I have been a faithful guardian to you, and done well by your property. Could your dead father look back on this world and see the income you’ll come into when you are of age, he would know I speak the truth. You cannot suppose I should waste any portion of it, I don’t care how slight a one, in paying young men’s wicked gambling debts.”
I prayed him still. I asked him to put himself in my place and see if he would not feel as I felt. I said that I should never — as I truly believed — have an opportunity of spending money that would give me half the pleasure of this, or do half the good. Besides, it was only a loan: Tod was sure to repay it when he could. No: old Brandon was hard as flint. He got up and rang the bell.
“We’ll drop it, Johnny. What will you take? Have you had anything since breakfast?”
“No, sir. But I don’t want anything.”
“Bring up dinner for this young gentleman,” he said, when the waiter appeared. “Anything you have that’s good. And be quick about it, please.”
They brought up a hastily prepared dinner: and very good it was. But I could scarcely eat for sorrow. Old Brandon, nursing himself at the opposite end of the table, the yellow handkerchief on his head, looked at me all the while.
“Johnny Ludlow, do you know what I think — that you’d give away your head if it were loose. It’s a good thing you have me to take care of you.”
“No, sir, I should not. If you would let me have this hundred pounds — it is really only ninety-two, though — I would repay it with two hundred when I came of age.”
“Like the simpleton you are.”
“I think I would give half my money, Mr. Brandon, to serve Todhetley in this strait. We are as brothers.”
“No doubt you would: but you’ve not got it to give, Johnny. You can let him fight his own battles.”
“And I would if he were able to fight them: but he is not able; it’s an exceptional case. I must go back to London, and try there.”
Old Brandon opened his eyes. “How?”
“I think perhaps Miss Deveen would let me have the money. She is rich and generous — and I will tell her the whole truth. It is a turning-point in Todhetley’s life, sir: help would save him.”
“How do you know but he’d return to the mire? Let him have this money, and he might go on gambling and lose another hundred. Perhaps hundreds at the back of it.”
“No, sir, that he never would. He may go deeper into the mire if he does not get it. Enlist, or something.”
“Are you going already, Johnny?”
“Yes, sir. I must catch the next train, and it’s a good way to the station.”
“You can take a fly. Wait a few minutes.”
He went into his bedroom, on the same floor. When he came back, he held a piece of paper in his hand.
“There, Johnny. But it is my loan; not yours.”
It was a cheque for a hundred pounds. He had listened, after all! The surprise was so great that I am afraid my eyes were dim.
“The loan is mine, Johnny,” he repeated. “I am not going to risk your money, and prove myself a false trustee. When Todhetley can repay it, it will be to me, not to you. But now — understand: unless he gives you a solemn promise never to play with that ‘Honourable’ again, or with either of the Pells, you will not use the cheque, but return it to me.”
“Oh, Mr. Brandon, there will be no difficulty. He only wants to be quit of them.”
“Get his promise, I say. If he gives it, present this cheque at Robarts’s in Lombard Street tomorrow, and they’ll pay you the money over the counter.”
“It is made out to my order!” I said, looking at the cheque: “not to Crayton!”
“To Crayton!” retorted Mr. Brandon. “I wouldn’t let a cheque of mine, uncrossed, fall into his hands. He might add an ought or two to the figures. I drew it out for an even hundred, you see: the odd money may be wanted. You’ll have to sign your name at the back: do it at the bank. And now, do you know why I have let you have this?”
I looked at him in doubt.
“Because you have obeyed the injunctions I gave you — to bring any difficulty you might have to me. I certainly never expected it so soon, or that it would take this form. Don’t you get tumbling into another. Let people take care of themselves. There: put it into your breast-pocket, and be off.”
I don’t know how I got back to town. There was no accident, and we were not pitched into next week. If we had been, I’m not sure that I should have minded it; for that cheque in my pocket seemed a panacea for all human ills. The Pells were at dinner when I entered: and Tod was lying outside his bed, with one of his torturing headaches. He did not often have them: which was a good thing, for they were rattlers. Taking his hand from his head, he glanced at me.
“Where have you been all day, Johnny?” he asked, hardly able to speak. “That was a short note of yours.”
“I’ve been to Brighton.”
Tod opened his eyes again with surprise. He did not believe it.
“Why don’t you say Bagdad, at once? Keep your counsel, if you choose, lad. I’m too ill to get it out of you.”
“But I don’t want to keep it: and I have been to Brighton. Had dinner there, too. Tod, old fellow, the mouse has done his work. Here’s a cheque for you for a hundred pounds.”
He looked at it as I held it out to him, saw it was true, and then sprang off the bed. I had seen glad emotion in my life, even at that early period of it, but hardly such as Tod’s then. Never a word spoke he.
“It is lent by Mr. Brandon to you, Tod. He bade me say it. I could not get any of mine out of him. The only condition is — that, before I cash it, you shall promise not to play again with Crayton or the Pells.”
“I’ll promise it now. Glad to do it. Long live old Brandon! Johnny, my good brother, I’m too ill to thank you — my temples seem as if they were being split with a sledge-hammer — but you have saved me.”
I was at Robarts’s when it opened in the morning. And signed my name at the back of the cheque, and got the money. Fancy me having a hundred pounds paid to me in notes and gold! The Squire would have thought the world was coming to an end.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55