Chapter II.
 

The reception of young Granger was as cordial as Mrs. Dinneford chose to make it. She wanted to get near enough to study his character thoroughly, to discover its weaknesses and defects, not its better qualities, so that she might do for him the evil work that was in her heart. She hated him with a bitter hatred, and there is nothing so subtle and tireless and unrelenting as the hatred of a bad woman.

She found him weak and unwary. His kindly nature, his high sense of honor, his upright purpose, his loving devotion to Edith, were nothing in her eyes. She spurned them in her thoughts, she trampled them under her feet with scorn. But she studied his defects, and soon knew every weak point in his character. She drew him out to speak of himself, of his aims and prospects, of his friends and associates, until she understood him altogether. Then she laid her plans for his destruction.

Granger was holding a clerkship at the time of his marriage, but was anxious to get a start for himself. He had some acquaintance with a man named Lloyd Freeling, and often spoke of him in connection with business. Freeling had a store on one of the best streets, and, as represented by himself, a fine run of trade, but wanted more capital. One day he said to Granger,

"If I could find the right man with ten thousand dollars, I would take him in. We could double this business in a year."

Granger repeated the remark at home, Mrs. Dinneford listened, laid it up in her thought, and on the next day called at the store of Mr. Freeling to see what manner of man he was.

Her first impression was favorable--she liked him. On a second visit she likes him better. She was not aware that Freeling knew her; in this he had something of the advantage. A third time she dropped in, asking to see certain goods and buying a small bill, as before. This time she drew Mr. Freeling into conversation about business, and put some questions the meaning of which he understood quite as well as she did.

A woman like Mrs. Dinneford can read character almost as easily as she can read a printed page, particularly a weak or bad character. She knew perfectly, before the close of this brief interview, that Freeling was a man without principle, false and unscrupulous, and that if Granger were associated with him in business, he could, if he chose, not only involve him in transactions of a dishonest nature, but throw upon him the odium and the consequences.

"Do you think," she said to Granger, not long afterward, "that your friend, Mr. Freeling, would like to have you for a partner in business?"

The question surprised and excited him.

"I know it," he returned; "he has said so more than once."

"How much capital would he require?"

"Ten thousand dollars."

"A large sum to risk."

"Yes; but I do not think there will be any risk. The business is well established."

"What do you know about Mr. Freeling?"

"Not a great deal; but if I am any judge of character, he is fair and honorable."

Mrs. Dinneford turned her head that Granger might not see the expression of her face.

"You had better talk with Mr. Dinneford," she said.

But Mr. Dinneford did not favor it. He had seen too many young men go into business and fail.

So the matter was dropped for a little while. But Mrs. Dinneford had set her heart on the young man's destruction, and no better way of accomplishing the work presented itself than this. He must be involved in some way to hurt his good name, to blast his reputation and drive him to ruin. Weak, trusting and pliable, a specious villain in whom he had confidence might easily get him involved in transactions that were criminal under the law. She would be willing to sacrifice twice ten thousand dollars to accomplish this result.

Neither Mr. Dinneford nor Edith favored the business connection with Freeling, and said all they could against it. In weak natures we often find great pertinacity. Granger had this quality. He had set his mind on the copartnership, and saw in it a high road to fortune, and no argument of Mr. Dinneford, nor opposition of Edith, had power to change his views, or to hold him back from the arrangement favored by Mrs. Dinneford, and made possible by the capital she almost compelled her husband to supply.

In due time the change from clerk to merchant was made, and the new connection announced, under the title of "FREELING & GRANGER."

Clear seeing as evil may be in its schemes for hurting others, it is always blind to the consequent exactions upon itself; it strikes fiercely and desperately, not calculating the force of a rebound. So eager was Mrs. Dinneford to compass the ruin of Granger that she stepped beyond the limit of common prudence, and sought private interviews with Freeling, both before and after the completion of the partnership arrangement. These took place in the parlor of a fashionable hotel, where the gentleman and lady seemed to meet accidentally, and without attracting attention.

Mrs. Dinneford was very confidential in these interviews not concealing her aversion to Granger. He had come into the family, she said, as an unwelcome intruder; but now that he was there, they had to make the best of him. Not in spoken words did Mrs. Dinneford convey to Freeling the bitter hatred that was in her heart, nor in spoken words let him know that she desired the young man's utter ruin, but he understood it all before the close of their first private interview. Freeling was exceedingly deferential in the beginning and guarded in his speech. He knew by the quick intuitions of his nature that Mrs. Dinneford cherished an evil purpose, and had chosen him as the agent for its accomplishment. She was rich, and occupied a high social position, and his ready conclusion was that, be the service what it might, he could make it pay. To get such a woman in his power was worth an effort.

One morning--it was a few months after the date of the copartnership--Mrs. Dinneford received a note from Freeling. It said, briefly,

"At the usual place, 12 M. to-day. Important." There was no signature.

The sharp knitting of her brows and the nervous crumpling of the note in her hand showed that she was not pleased at the summons. She had come already to know her partner in evil too well. At 12 M. she was in the hotel parlor. Freeling was already there. They met in external cordiality, but it was very evident from the manner of Mrs. Dinneford, that she felt herself in the man's power, and had learned to be afraid of him.

"It will be impossible to get through to-morrow," he said, in a kind of imperative voice, that was half a threat, "unless we have two thousand dollars."

"I cannot ask Mr. Dinneford for anything more," Mrs. Dinneford replied; "we have already furnished ten thousand dollars beyond the original investment."

"But it is all safe enough--that is, if we do not break down just here for lack of so small a sum."

Mrs. Dinneford gave a start.

"Break down!" She repeated the words in a husky, voice, with a paling face. "What do you mean?"

"Only that in consequence of having in store a large stock of unsalable goods bought by your indiscreet son-in-law, who knows no more about business than a child, we are in a temporary strait."

"Why did you trust him to buy?" asked Mrs. Dinneford.

"I didn't trust him. He bought without consulting me," was replied, almost rudely.

"Will two thousand be the end of this thing?"

"I think so."

"You only think so?"

"I am sure of it."

"Very well; I will see what can be done. But all this must have an end, Mr. Freeling. We cannot supply any more money. You must look elsewhere if you have further need. Mr. Dinneford is getting very much annoyed and worried. You surely have other resources."

"I have drawn to the utmost on all my resources," said the man, coldly.

Mrs. Dinneford remained silent for a good while, her eyes upon the floor. Freeling watched her face intently, trying to read what was in her thoughts. At last she said, in a suggestive tone,

"There are many ways of getting money known to business-men--a little risky some of them, perhaps, but desperate cases require desperate expedients. You understand me?"

Freeling took a little time to consider before replying.

"Yes," he said, at length, speaking slowly, as one careful of his words. "But all expedients are 'risky,' as you say--some of them very risky. It takes a long, cool head to manage them safely."

"I don't know a longer or cooler head than yours," returned Mrs. Dinneford, a faint smile playing about her lips.

"Thank you for the compliment," said Freeling, his lips reflecting the smile on hers.

"You must think of some expedient." Mrs. Dinneford's manner grew impressive. She spoke with emphasis and deliberation. "Beyond the sum of two thousand dollars, which I will get for you by to-morrow, I shall not advance a single penny. You may set that down as sure. If you are not sharp enough and strong enough, with the advantage you possess, to hold your own, then you must go under; as for me, I have done all that I can or will."

Freeling saw that she was wholly in earnest, and understood what she meant by "desperate expedients." Granger was to be ruined, and she was growing impatient of delay. He had no desire to hurt the young man--he rather liked him. Up to this time he had been content with what he could draw out of Mrs. Dinneford. There was no risk in this sort of business. Moreover, he enjoyed his interviews and confidences with the elegant lady, and of late the power he seemed to be gaining over her; this power he regarded as capital laid up for another use, and at another time.

But it was plain that he had reached the end of his present financial policy, and must decide whether to adopt the new one suggested by Mrs. Dinneford or make a failure, and so get rid of his partner. The question he had to settle with himself was whether he could make more by a failure than by using Granger a while longer, and then throwing him overboard, disgraced and ruined. Selfish and unscrupulous as he was, Freeling hesitated to do this. And besides, the "desperate expedients" he would have to adopt in the new line of policy were fraught with peril to all who took part in them. He might fall into the snare set for another--might involve himself so deeply as not to find a way of escape.

"To-morrow we will talk this matter over," he said in reply to Mrs. Dinneford's last remark; "in the mean time I will examine the ground thoroughly and see how it looks."

"Don't hesitate to make any use you can of Granger," suggested the lady. "He has done his part toward getting things tangled, and must help to untangle them."

"All right, ma'am."

And they separated, Mrs. Dinneford reaching the street by one door of the hotel, and Freeling by another.

On the following day they met again, Mrs. Dinneford bringing the two thousand dollars.

"And now what next?" she asked, after handing over the money and taking the receipt of "Freeling & Granger." Her eyes had a hard glitter, and her face was almost stern in its expression. "How are you going to raise money and keep afloat?"

"Only some desperate expedient is left me now," answered Freeling, though not in the tone of a man who felt himself at bay. It was said with a wicked kind of levity.

Mrs. Dinneford looked at him keenly. She was beginning to mistrust the man. They gazed into each other's faces in silence for some moments, each trying to read what was in the other's thought. At length Freeling said,

"There is one thing more that you will have to do, Mrs. Dinneford."

"What?" she asked.

"Get your husband to draw two or three notes in Mr. Granger's favor. They should not be for less than five hundred or a thousand dollars each. The dates must be short--not over thirty or sixty days."

"It can't be done," was the emphatic answer.

"It must be done," replied Freeling; "they need not be for the business. You can manage the matter if you will; your daughter wants an India shawl, or a set of diamonds, or a new carriage--anything you choose. Mr. Dinneford hasn't the ready cash, but we can throw his notes into bank and get the money; don't you see?"

But Mrs. Dinneford didn't see.

"I don't mean," said Freeling, "that we are to use the money. Let the shawl, or the diamond, or the what-not, be bought and paid for. We get the discounts for your use, not ours."

"All very well," answered Mrs. Dinneford; "but how is that going to help you?"

"Leave that to me. You get the notes," said Freeling.

"Never walk blindfold, Mr. Freeling," replied the lady, drawing herself up, with a dignified air. "We ought to understand each other by this time. I must see beyond the mere use of these notes."

Freeling shut his mouth tightly and knit his heavy brows. Mrs. Dinneford watched him, closely.

"It's a desperate expedient," he said, at length.

"All well as far as that is concerned; but if I am to have a hand in it, I must know all about it," she replied, firmly. "As I said just now, I never walk blindfold."

Freeling leaned close to Mrs. Dinneford, and uttered a few sentences in a low tone, speaking rapidly. The color went and came in her face, but she sat motionless, and so continued for some time after he had ceased speaking.

"You will get the notes?" Freeling put the question as one who has little doubt of the answer.

"I will get them," replied Mrs. Dinneford.

"When?"

"It will take time."

"We cannot wait long. If the thing is done at all, it must be done quickly. 'Strike while the iron is hot' is the best of all maxims."

"There shall be no needless delay on my part. You may trust me for that," was answered.

Within a week Mrs. Dinneford brought two notes, drawn by her husband in favor of George Granger--one for five hundred and the other for one thousand dollars. The time was short--thirty and sixty days. On this occasion she came to the store and asked for her son-in-law. The meeting between her and Freeling was reserved and formal. She expressed regret for the trouble she was giving the firm in procuring a discount for her use, and said that if she could reciprocate the favor in any way she would be happy to do so.

"The notes are drawn to your order," remarked Freeling as soon as the lady had retired. Granger endorsed them, and was about handing them to his partner, when the latter said:

"Put our name on them while you are about it." And the young man wrote also the endorsement of the firm.

After this, Mr. Freeling put the bank business into Granger's hands. Nearly all checks were drawn and all business paper endorsed by the younger partner, who became the financier of the concern, and had the management of all negotiations for money in and out of bank.

One morning, shortly after the first of Mr. Dinneford's notes was paid, Granger saw his mother-in-law come into the store. Freeling was at the counter. They talked together for some time, and then Mrs. Dinneford went out.

On the next day Granger saw Mrs. Dinneford in the store again. After she had gone away, Freeling came back, and laying a note-of-hand on his partner's desk, said, in a pleased, confidential way.

"Look at that, my friend."

Granger read the face of the note with a start of surprise. It was drawn to his order, for three thousand dollars, and bore the signature of Howard Dinneford.

"A thing that is worth having is worth asking for," said Freeling. "We obliged your mother-in-law, and now she has returned the favor. It didn't come very easily, she said, and your father-in-law isn't feeling rather comfortable about it; so she doesn't care about your speaking of it at home."

Granger was confounded.

"I can't understand it," he said.

"You can understand that we have the note, and that it has come in the nick of time," returned Freeling.

"Yes, I can see all that."

"Well, don't look a gift-horse in the mouth, but spring into the saddle and take a ride. Your mother-in-law is a trump. If she will, she will, you may depend on't."

Freeling was unusually excited. Granger looked the note over and over in a way that seemed to annoy his partner, who said, presently, with a shade of ill-nature in his voice,

"What's the matter? Isn't the signature all right?"

"That's right enough," returned the young man, "after looking at it closely. "But I can't understand it."

"You will when you see the proceeds passed to our accounted in bank--ha! ha!"

Granger looked up at his partner quickly, the laugh had so strange a sound, but saw nothing new in his face.

In about a month Freeling had in his possession another note, signed by Mr. Dinneford and drawn to the order of George Granger. This one was for five thousand dollars. He handed it to his partner soon after the latter had observed Mrs. Dinneford in the store.

A little over six weeks from this time Mrs. Dinneford was in the store again. After she had gone away, Freeling handed Granger three more notes drawn by Mr. Dinneford to his order, amounting in all to fifteen thousand dollars. They were at short dates.

Granger took these notes without any remark, and was about putting them in his desk, when Freeling said,

"I think you had better offer one in the People's Bank and another in the Fourth National. They discount to-morrow."

"Our line is full in both of these banks," replied Granger.

"That may or may not be. Paper like this is not often thrown out. Call on the president of the Fourth National and the cashier of the People's Bank. Say that we particularly want the money, and would like them to see that the notes go through. Star & Giltedge can easily place the other."

Granger's manner did not altogether please his partner. The notes lay before him on his desk, and he looked at them in a kind of dazed way.

"What's the matter?" asked Freeling, rather sharply.

"Nothing," was the quiet answer.

"You saw Mrs. Dinneford in the store just now. I told her last week that I should claim another favor at her hands. She tried to beg off, but I pushed the matter hard. It must end here, she says. Mr. Dinneford won't go any farther."

"I should think not," replied Granger. "I wouldn't if I were he. The wonder to me is that he has gone so far. What about the renewal of these notes?"

"Oh, that is all arranged," returned Freeling, a little hurriedly. Granger looked at him for some moments. He was not satisfied.

"See that they go in bank," said Freeling, in a positive way.

Granger took up his pen in an abstracted manner and endorsed the notes, after which he laid them in his bank-book. An important customer coming in at the moment, Freeling went forward to see him. After Granger was left alone, he took the notes from his bank-book and examined them with great care. Suspicion was aroused. He felt sure that something was wrong. A good many things in Freeling's conduct of late had seemed strange. After thinking for a while, he determined to take the notes at once to Mr. Dinneford and ask him if all was right. As soon as his mind had reached this conclusion he hurried through the work he had on hand, and then putting his bank-book in his pocket, left the store.

On that very morning Mr. Dinneford received notice that he had a note for three thousand dollars falling due at one of the banks. He went immediately and asked to see the note. When it was shown to him, he was observed to become very pale, but he left the desk of the note-clerk without any remark, and returned home. He met his wife at the door, just coming in.

"What's the matter?" she asked, seeing how pale he was. "Not sick, I hope?"

"Worse than sick," he replied as they passed into the house together. "George has been forging my name."

"Impossible!" exclaimed Mrs. Dinneford.

"I wish it were," replied Mr. Dinneford, sadly; "but, alas! it is too true. I have just returned from the Fourth National Bank. They have a note for three thousand dollars, bearing my signature. It is drawn to the order of George Granger, and endorsed by him. The note is a forgery."

Mrs. Dinneford became almost wild with excitement. Her fair face grew purple. Her eyes shone with a fierce light.

"Have you had him arrested?" she asked.

"Oh no, no, no!" Mr. Dinneford answered. "For poor Edith's sake, if for nothing else, this dreadful business must be kept secret. I will take up the note when due, and the public need be none the wiser."

"If," said Mrs. Dinneford, "he has forged your name once, he has, in all probability, done it again and again. No, no; the thing can't be hushed up, and it must not be. Is he less a thief and a robber because he is our son-in-law? My daughter the wife of a forger! Great heavens! has it come to this Mr. Dinneford?" she added, after a pause, and with intense bitterness and rejection in her voice. "The die is cast! Never again, if I can prevent it, shall that scoundrel cross our threshold. Let the law have its course. It is a crime to conceal crime."

"It will kill our poor child!" answered Mr. Dinneford in a broken voice.

"Death is better than the degradation of living with a criminal," replied his wife. "I say it solemnly, and I mean it; the die is cast! Come what will, George Granger stands now and for ever on the outside! Go at once and give information to the bank officers. If you do not, I will."

With a heavy heart Mr. Dinneford returned to the bank and informed the president that the note in question was a forgery. He had been gone from home a little over half an hour, when Granger, who had come to ask him about the three notes given him that morning by Freeling, put his key in the door, and found, a little to his surprise, that the latch was down. He rang the bell, and in a few moments the servant appeared. Granger was about passing in, when the man said, respectfully but firmly, as he held the door partly closed,

"My orders are not to let you come in."

"Who gave you those orders?" demanded Granger, turning white.

"Mrs. Dinneford."

"I wish to see Mr. Dinneford, and I must see him immediately."

"Mr. Dinneford is not at home," answered the servant.

"Shut that door instantly!"

It was the voice of Mrs. Dinneford, speaking from within. Granger heard it; in the next moment the door was shut in his face.

The young man hardly knew how he got back to the store. On his arrival he found himself under arrest, charged with forgery, and with fresh evidence of the crime on his person in the three notes received that morning from his partner, who denied all knowledge of their existence, and appeared as a witness against him at the hearing before a magistrate. Granger was held to bail to answer the charge at the next term of court.

It would have been impossible to keep all this from Edith, even if there had been a purpose to do so. Mrs. Dinneford chose to break the dreadful news at her own time and in her own way. The shock was fearful. On the night that followed her baby was born.