Will Warburton by George Gissing
Toward the end of the following week, Mrs. Cross came to the shop. She had a busy air, and spoke to Warburton in a confidential undertone.
"We have been making inquiries, and at last I think we have heard of something that might suit your poor friend. This is the address. My daughter went there this morning, and had a long talk with the woman, and she thinks it really might do; but perhaps you have already found something?"
"Nothing at all," answered Will. "I am much obliged to you. I will go as soon as possible."
"We shall be so glad to hear if it suits," said Mrs. Cross. "Do look in on Sunday, will you? We are always at home at five o'clock.-- Oh, I have written out a little list of things," she added, laying her grocery order on the counter. "Please tell me what they come to."
Warburton gravely took the cash, and Mrs. Cross, with her thinly gracious smile, bade him good-day.
He did not fail to "look in" on Sunday, and this time he wore his ordinary comfortable clothing. The rooms recommended for Mr. Potts had seemed to him just what were needed, and on his own responsibility he had taken them. Moreover, he had been to Kennington, and had made known to the nervous old man the arrangements that were proposed for him.
"But will he be allowed to leave?" asked Bertha in her eyes the twinkle for which Will watched.
"He won't dare, he tells me, to give notice but he'll only have to pay a week's rent in lieu of it. I have promised to be with him at ten to morrow morning, to help him to get away. I shall take my heaviest walking-stick; one must be prepared for every emergency. Glance over the police news on Tuesday, Mrs. Cross, just to see whether I have come to harm."
"We shall be very anxious indeed," replied the literal lady, with pained brow. "Couldn't you let us hear to-morrow evening? I know only too well what dreadful creatures the women of that class can be. I very strongly advise you, Mr. Warburton, to be accompanied by a policeman. I beg you will."
Late on the Monday afternoon, Jollyman's errand boy left a note for Mrs. Cross. It informed her that all had gone well, though "not without uproar. The woman shrieked insults from her doorstep after our departing cab. Poor Mr. Potts was all but paralytic with alarm, but came round famously at sight of the new lodgings. He wants to thank you both."
It was on this same evening that Warburton had a visit from Godfrey Sherwood. A fortnight ago, just after Easter, had taken place the marriage of Mr. Milligan and Miss Parker; and Sherwood, whilst his chief was absent on the honeymoon, had run down to the seaside for a change of air. Tonight, he presented himself unexpectedly, and his face was the prologue to a moving tale.
"Read that, Warburton--" he held out a letter. "Read that, and tell me what you think of human nature."
It was a letter from Milligan, who, with many explanations and apologies, wrote to inform his secretary that the Great Work could not be pursued, that the vegetarian colony in Ireland, which was to civilise the world, must--so far as he was concerned--remain a glorious dream. The fact of the matter was, Mrs. Milligan did not like it. She had tried vegetarianism; it did not suit her health; moreover, she objected to living in Ireland, on account of the dampness of the climate. Sadly, reluctantly, Mrs. Milligan's husband had to forgo his noble project. In consequence, he would have no need henceforth of a secretary, and Sherwood must consider their business relations at an end.
"He encloses a very liberal cheque," said Godfrey. "But what a downfall! I foresaw it. I hinted my fears to you as soon as Miss Parker appeared on the scene. Poor old Milligan! A lost man--sunk in the commonplace--hopelessly whelmed in vulgar matrimony. Poor old fellow!"
"But that isn't all," went on the other, "Old Strangwyn is dead, really dead at last. I wrote several times to him; no acknowledgment of my letters. Now it's all over. The ten thousand pounds--"
He made a despairing gesture. Then:
"Take that cheque, Warburton. It's all I have; take it, old fellow, and try to forgive me. You won't? Well, well, if I live, I'll pay you yet; but I'm a good deal run down, and these disappointments have almost floored me. To tell you the truth, the vegetarian diet won't do. I feel as weak as a cat. If you knew the heroism it has cost me, down at the seaside, to refrain from chops and steaks. Now I give it up. Another month of cabbage and lentils and I should be sunk beyond recovery. I give it up. This very night I shall go and have a supper, a real supper, in town. Will you come with me, old man? What's before me, I don't know. I have half a mind to go to Canada as farm labourer; it would be just the thing for my health; but let us go and have one more supper together, as in the old days. Where shall it be?"
So they went into town, and supped royally, with the result that Warburton had to see his friend home. Over the second bottle, Godfrey decided for an agricultural life in the Far West, and Will promised to speak for him to a friend of his, a lady who had brothers farming in British Columbia; but, before he went, he must be assured that Warburton really forgave him the loss of that money. Will protested that he had forgotten all about it; if any pardon were needed, he granted it with all his heart. And so with affectionate cordiality they bade each other good-night.
To his surprise, he received a letter from Sherwood, a day or two after, seriously returning to the British Columbia project, and reminding him of his promise. So, on Sunday, Will called for the first time without invitation at Mrs. Cross', and, being received with no less friendliness than hitherto, began asking news of Bertha's brothers; whereupon followed talk upon Canadian farming life, and the mention of Godfrey Sherwood. Bertha undertook to write on the subject by the next mail; she thought it likely enough that her brothers might be able to put Mr. Sherwood into the way of earning a living.
"What do you think we did yesterday?" said Mrs. Cross. "We took the liberty of calling upon Mr. Potts. We had to go and see Mrs. Bolton, at Holloway, and, as it was so near, we thought we might venture-- using your name as our introduction. And the poor old gentleman was delighted to see us--wasn't he, Bertha? Oh, and he is so grateful for our suggestion of the lodgings."
Bertha's smile betrayed a little disquiet. Perceiving this, Warburton spoke with emphasis.
"It was kind of you. The old man feels a little lonely in that foreign region; he's hardly been out of Kennington for forty years. A very kind thought, indeed."
"I am relieved," said Bertha; "it seemed to me just possible that we had been guilty of a serious indiscretion. Good intentions are very dangerous things."
When next Warburton found time to go to Holloway, he heard all about the ladies' visit. He learnt, moreover, that Mr. Potts had told them the story of his kindness to the sick lad at St. Kitts, and of his first visit to Kennington Lane.