A Perilous Secret by Charles Reade
Chapter V. Mary's Peril.
Whilst Mr. Bartley's business was improving under Hope's management, Hope himself was groaning under his entire separation from his daughter. Bartley had promised him this should not be; but among Hope's good qualities was a singular fidelity to his employers, and he was also a man who never broke his word. So when Bartley showed him that the true parentage of Grace Hope--now called Mary Bartley--could never be disguised unless her memory of him was interrupted and puzzled before she grew older, and that she as well as the world must be made to believe Bartley was her father, he assented, and it was two years before he ventured to come near his own daughter.
But he demanded to see her at a distance, himself unseen, and this was arranged. He provided himself with a powerful binocular of the kind that is now used at sea, instead of the unwieldy old telescope, and the little girl was paraded by the nurse, who was in the secret. She played about in the sight of this strange spy. She was plump, she was rosy, she was full of life and spirit. Joy filled the father's heart; but then came a bitter pang to think that he had faded out of her joyous life; by-and-by he could see her no longer, for a mist came from his heart to his eyes; he bowed his head and went back to his business, his prosperity, and his solitude. These experiments were repeated at times. Moreover, Bartley had the tact never to write to him on business without telling him something about his girl, her clever sayings, her pretty ways, her quickness at learning from all her teachers, and so on. When she was eight years old a foreign agent was required in Bartley's business, and Hope agreed to start this agency and keep it going till some more ordinary person could be intrusted to work it.
But he refused to leave England without seeing his daughter with his own eyes and hearing her voice. However, still faithful to his pledge, he prepared a disguise; he actually grew a mustache and beard for this tender motive only, and changed his whole style of dress; he wore a crimson neck-tie and dark green gloves with a plaid suit, which combination he abhorred as a painter, and our respected readers abominate, for surely it was some such perverse combination that made a French dressmaker lift her hands to heaven and say, "Quelle immoralite!" So then Bartley himself took his little girl for a walk, and met Mr. Hope in an appointed spot not far from his own house. Poor Hope saw them coming, and his heart beat high. "Ah!" said Bartley, feigning surprise; "why, it's Mr. Hope. How do you do, Hope? This is my little girl. Mary, my dear, this is an old friend of mine. Give him your hand."
The girl looked in Hope's face, and gave him her hand, and did not recognize him.
"Fine girl for her years, isn't she?" said Bartley. "Healthy and strong, and quick at her lessons; and, what's better still, she is a good girl, a very good girl."
"Papa!" said the child, blushing, and hid her face behind Bartley's elbow, all but one eye, with which she watched the effect of these eulogies upon the strange gentleman.
"She is all a father could wish," said Hope, tenderly.
Instantly the girl started from her position, and stood wrapt in thought; her beautiful eyes wore a strange look of dreamy intelligence, and both men could see she was searching the past for that voice.
Bartley drew back, that the girl might not see him, and held up his finger. Hope gave a slight nod of acquiescence, and spoke no more. Bartley invited him to take an early dinner, and talk business. Before he left he saw his child more than once; indeed, Bartley paraded her accomplishments. She played the piano to Hope; she rode her little Shetland pony for Hope; she danced a minuet with singular grace for so young a girl; she conversed with her governess in French, or something very like it, and she worked a little sewing-machine, all to please the strange gentleman; and whatever she was asked to do she did with a winning smile, and without a particle of false modesty, or the real egotism which is at the bottom of false modesty.
Anybody who knew William Hope intimately might almost recognize his daughter in this versatile little mind with its faculty of learning so many dissimilar things.
Hope left for the Continent with a proud heart, a joyful heart, and a sore heart. She was lovely, she was healthy, she was happy, she was accomplished, but she was his no longer, not even in name; her love was being gained by a stranger, and there was a barrier of iron, as well as the English Channel, between William Hope and his own Mary Bartley.
It would weary the reader were we to detail the small events bearing on the part of the story which took place during the next five years. They might be summed up thus: That William Hope got a peep at his daughter now and then; and, making a series of subtle experiments by varying his voice as much as possible, confused and nullified her memory of that voice to all appearance. In due course, however, father and daughter were brought into natural contact by the last thing that seemed likely to do it, viz., by Bartley's avarice. Bartley's legitimate business at home and abroad could now run alone. So he invited Hope to England to guide him in what he loved better than steady business, viz., speculation. The truth is, Bartley could execute, but had few original ideas. Hope had plenty, and sound ones, though not common ones. Hope directed the purchase of convertible securities on this principle: Select good ones; avoid time bargains, which introduce a distinct element of risk; and buy largely at every panic not founded on a permanent reason or out of proportion. Example: A great district bank broke. The shares of a great district railway went down thirty per cent. Hope bade his employer and pupil observe that this was rank delusion, the dividends of the railway were not lowered one per cent. by the failure of that bank, nor could they be: the shareholders of the bank had shares in the railway, and were compelled to force them on the market; hence the fall in the shares. "But," said Hope, "those depreciated shares are now in the hands of men who can hold them, and will, too, until they return from this ridiculous 85 to their normal value, which is from 105 to 115. Invest every shilling you have got; I shall." Bartley invested L30,000, and cleared twenty per cent. in three months.
Example 2: There was a terrible accident on another railway, and part of the line broken up. Vast repairs needed. Shares fell twenty per cent.
"Out of proportion," said Hope. "The sum for repairs will not deduct from the dividends one-tenth of the annual sum represented by the fall, and, in three months, fear of another such disaster will not keep a single man, woman, child, bullock, pig, or coal truck off that line. Put the pot on."
Bartley put the pot on, and made fifteen per cent.
Hope said to Bartley:
"When an English speculator sends his money abroad at all, he goes wild altogether. He rushes at obscure transactions, and lends to Peru, or Guatemala, or Tierra del Fuego, or some shaky place he knows nothing about. The insular maniac overlooks the continent of Europe, instead of studying it, and seeking what countries there are safe and others risky. Now, why overlook Prussia? It is a country much better governed than England, especially as regards great public enterprises and monopolies. For instance, the directors of a Prussian railway can not swindle the shareholders by false accounts, and passing off loans for dividends. Against the frauds of directors, the English shareholder has only a sham security. He is invited to leave his home, and come two hundred miles to the directors' home, and vote in person. He doesn't do it. Why should he? In Prussia the Government protects the shareholder, and inspects the accounts severely. So much for the superior system of that country. Now, take a map. Here is Hamburg, the great port of the Continent, and Berlin, the great Continental centre; and there is one railway only between the two. What English railway can compare with this? The shares are at 150. But they must go to 300 in time unless the Prussian Government allows another railway, and that is not likely, and, if so, you will have two years to back out. This is the best permanent investment of its class that offers on the face of the globe."
Bartley invested timidly, but held for years, and the shares went up over 300 before he sold.
"Do not let your mind live in an island if your body does," was a favorite saying of William Hope; and we recommend it impartially to Britons and Bornese.
On one of Hope's visits Bartley complained he had nothing to do. "I can sit here and speculate. I want to be in something myself; I think I will take a farm just to occupy me and amuse me."
"It will not amuse you unless you make money by it," suggested Hope.
"And nobody can do that nowadays. Farms don't pay."
"Ploughing and sowing don't pay, but brains and money pay wherever found together."
"What, on a farm?"
"Why not, sir? You have only to go with the times. Observe the condition of produce: grain too cheap for a farmer because continents can export grain with little loss; fruit dear; meat dear, because cattle can not be driven and sailed without risk of life and loss of weight; agricultural labor rising, and in winter unproductive, because to farm means to plough and sow, and reap and mow, and lose money. But meet those conditions. Breed cattle, sheep, and horses, and make the farm their feeding-ground. Give fifty acres to fruit; have a little factory on the land for winter use, and so utilize all your farm hands and the village women, who are cheaper laborers than town brats, and I think you will make a little money in the form of money, besides what you make in gratuitous eggs, poultry, fruit, horses to ride, and cart things for the house--items which seldom figure in a farmer's books as money, but we stricter accountants know they are."
"I'll do it," said Bartley, "if you'll be my neighbor, and work it with me, and watch the share market at home and abroad."
Hope acquiesced joyfully to be near his daughter; and they found a farm in Sussex, with hills for the sheep, short grass for colts, plenty of water, enough arable land and artificial grasses for their purpose, and a grand sunny slope for their fruit trees, fruit bushes, and strawberries, with which last alone they paid the rent.
"Then," said Hope, "farm laborers drink an ocean of beer. Now look at the retail price of beer: eighty per cent. over its cost, and yet deleterious, which tells against your labor. As an employer of labor, the main expense of a farm, you want beer to be slightly nourishing, and very inspiriting, not somniferous."
So they set up a malt-house and a brew-house, and supplied all their own hands with genuine liquor on the truck system at a moderate but remunerative price, and the grains helped to feed their pigs. Hope's principle was this: Sell no produce in its primitive form; if you change its form you make two profits. Do you grow barley? Malt it, and infuse it, and sell the liquor for two small profits, one on the grain, and one on the infusion. Do you grow grass? Turn it into flesh, and sell for two small profits, one on the herb, and one on the animal.
And really, when backed by money, the results seemed to justify his principle.
Hope lived by himself, but not far from his child, and often, when she went abroad, his loving eyes watched her every movement through his binocular, which might be described as an opera-glass ten inches long, with a small field, but telescopic power.
Grace Hope, whom we will now call Mary Bartley, since everybody but her father, who generally avoided her name, called her so, was a well-grown girl of thirteen, healthy, happy, beautiful, and accomplished. She was the germ of a woman, and could detect who loved her. She saw in Hope an affection she thought extraordinary, but instinct told her it was not like a young man's love, and she accepted it with complacency, and returned it quietly, with now and then a gush, for she could gush, and why not? "Far from us and from our friends be the frigid philosophy"--of a girl who can't gush.
Hope himself was loyal and guarded, and kept his affection within bounds; and a sore struggle it was. He never allowed himself to kiss her, though he was sore tempted one day, when he bought her a cream-colored pony, and she flung her arms round his neck before Mr. Bartley and kissed him eagerly; but he was so bashful that the girl laughed at him, and said, half pertly, "Excuse the liberty, but if you will be such a duck, why, you must take the consequences."
Said Bartley, pompously, "You must not expect middle-aged men to be as demonstrative as very young ladies; but he has as much real affection for you as you have for him."
"Then he has a good deal, papa," said she, sweetly. Both the men were silent, and Mary looked to one and the other, and seemed a little puzzled.
The great analysts that have dealt microscopically with commonplace situations would revel in this one, and give you a curious volume of small incidents like the above, and vivisect the father's heart with patient skill. But we poor dramatists, taught by impatient audiences to move on, and taught by those great professors of verbosity, our female novelists and nine-tenths of our male, that it is just possible for "masterly inactivity," alias sluggish narrative, creeping through sorry flags and rushes with one lily in ten pages, to become a bore, are driven on to salient facts, and must trust a little to our reader's intelligence to ponder on the singular situation of Mary Bartley and her two fathers.
One morning Mary Bartley and her governess walked to a neighboring town and enjoyed the sacred delight of shopping. They came back by a short-cut, which made it necessary to cross a certain brook, or rivulet, called the Lyn. This was a rapid stream, and in places pretty deep; but in one particular part it was shallow, and crossed by large stepping-stones, two-thirds of which were generally above-water. The village girls, including Mary Bartley, used all to trip over these stones, and think nothing of it, though the brook went past at a fine rate, and gradually widened and deepened as it flowed, till it reached a downright fall; after that, running no longer down a decline, it became rather a languid stream.
Mary and her governess came to this ford and found it swollen by recent rains, and foaming and curling round the stepping-stones, and their tops only were out of the water now.
The governess objected to pass this current.
"Well, but," said Mary, "the other way is a mile round, and papa expects us to be punctual at meals, and I am, oh, so hungry! Dear Miss Everett, I have crossed it a hundred times."
"But the water is so deep."
"It is deeper than usual; but see, it is only up to my knee. I could cross it without the stones. You go round, dear, and I'll explain against you come home."
"Not until I've seen you safe over."
"That you will soon see," said the girl, and, fearing a more authoritative interference, she gathered up her skirts and planted one dainty foot on the first stepping-stone, another on the next, and so on to the fourth; and if she had been a boy she would have cleared them all. But holding her skirts instead of keeping her arms to balance herself, and wearing idiotic shoes, her heels slipped on the fifth stone, which was rather slimy, and she fell into the middle of the current with a little scream.
To her amazement she found that the stream, though shallow, carried her off her feet, and though she recovered them, she could not keep them, but was alternately up and down, and driven along, all the time floundering. Oh, then she screamed with terror, and the poor governess ran screaming too, and making idle clutches from the bank, but powerless to aid.
Then, as the current deepened, the poor girl lost her feet altogether, and was carried on toward the deep water, flinging her arms high and screaming, but powerless. At first she was buoyed up by her clothes, and particularly by a petticoat of some material that did not drink water. But as her other clothes became soaked and heavy, she sank to her chin, and death stared her in the face.
She lost hope, and being no common spirit, she gained resignation; she left screaming, and said to Everett, "Pray for me."
But the next moment hope revived, and fear with it--this is a law of nature--for a man, bare-headed and his hair flying, came galloping on a bare-backed pony, shouting and screaming with terror louder than both the women. He urged the pony furiously to the stream; then the beast planted his feet together, and with the impulse thus given Hope threw himself over the pony's head into the water, and had his arm round his child in a moment. He lashed out with the other hand across the stream. But it was so powerful now as it neared the lasher that they made far more way onward to destruction than they did across the stream; still they did near the bank a little. But the lasher roared nearer and nearer, and the stream pulled them to it with iron force. They were close to it now. Then a willow bough gave them one chance. Hope grasped it, and pulled with iron strength. From the bough he got to a branch, and finally clutched the stem of the tree, just as his feet were lifted up by the rushing water, and both lives hung upon that willow-tree. The girl was on his left arm, and his right arm round the willow.
"Grace," said he, feigning calmness. "Put your arm around my neck, Mary."
"Yes, dear," said she, firmly.
"Now don't hurry yourself--there's no danger; move slowly across me, and hold my right arm very tight."
She did so.
"Now take hold of the bank with your left hand; but don't let go of me."
"Yes, dear," said the little heroine, whose fear was gone now she had Hope to take care of her.
Then Hope clutched the tree with his left hand, pushed Mary on shore with his right, and very soon had her in his arms on terra firma.
But now came a change that confounded Mary Bartley, to whom a man was a very superior being; only not always intelligible.
The brave man fell to shaking like an aspen leaf; the strong man to sobbing and gasping, and kissing the girl wildly. "Oh, my child! my child!"
Then Mary, of course, must gulp and cry a little for sympathy; but her quick-changing spirit soon shook it off, and she patted his cheek and kissed him, and then began to comfort him, if you please. "Good, dear, kind Mr. Hope," said she. "La! don't go on like that. You were so brave in the water, and now the danger is over. I've had a ducking, that is all. Ha! ha! ha!" and the little wretch began to laugh.
Hope looked amazed; neither his heart nor his sex would let him change his mood so swiftly.
"Oh, my child," said he, "how can you laugh? You have been near eternity, and if you had been lost, what should I--O God!"
Mary turned very grave. "Yes," said she, "I have been near eternity. It would not have mattered to you--you are such a good man--but I should have caught it for disobedience. But, dear Mr. Hope, let me tell you that the moment you put your arm round me I felt just as safe in the water as on dry land; so you see I have had longer to get over it than you have; that accounts for my laughing. No, it doesn't; I am a giddy, giggling girl, with no depth of character, and not worthy of all this affection. Why does everybody love me? They ought to be ashamed of themselves."
Hope told her she was a little angel, and everybody was right to love her; indeed, they deserved to be hanged if they did not.
Mary fixed on the word angel. "If I was an angel," she said, "I shouldn't be hungry, and I am, awfully. Oh, please come home; papa is so punctual. Mr. Hope, are you going to tell papa? Because if you are, just you take me and throw me in again. I'd rather be drowned than scolded." (This with a defiant attitude and flashing eyes.)
"No, no," said Hope. "I will not tell him, to vex him, and get you scolded."
"Then let us run home."
She took his hand, and he ran with her like a playmate, and oh! the father's heart leaped and glowed at this sweet companionship after danger and terror.
When they got near the house Mary Bartley began to walk and think. She had a very thinking countenance at times, and Hope watched her, and wondered what were her thoughts. She was very grave, so probably she was thinking how very near she had been to the other world.
Standing on the door-step, whilst he stood on the gravel, she let him know her thoughts. All her life, and even at this tender age, she had very searching eyes; they were gray now, though they had been blue. She put her hands to her waist, and bent those searching eyes on William Hope.
"Mr. Hope," said she, in a resolute sort of way.
"My dear," said he, eagerly.
"YOU LOVE ME BETTER THAN PAPA DOES, THAT'S ALL."
And having administered this information as a dry fact that might be worth looking into at leisure, she passed thoughtfully into the house.