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Charles Dickens > No Thoroughfare > Chapter II

No Thoroughfare

Chapter II


The summer and the autumn passed. Christmas and the New Year were
at hand.

As executors honestly bent on performing their duty towards the
dead, Vendale and Bintrey had held more than one anxious
consultation on the subject of Wilding's will. The lawyer had
declared, from the first, that it was simply impossible to take any
useful action in the matter at all. The only obvious inquiries to
make, in relation to the lost man, had been made already by Wilding
himself; with this result, that time and death together had not left
a trace of him discoverable. To advertise for the claimant to the
property, it would be necessary to mention particulars--a course of
proceeding which would invite half the impostors in England to
present themselves in the character of the true Walter Wilding. "If
we find a chance of tracing the lost man, we will take it. If we
don't, let us meet for another consultation on the first anniversary
of Wilding's death." So Bintrey advised. And so, with the most
earnest desire to fulfil his dead friend's wishes, Vendale was fain
to let the matter rest for the present.

Turning from his interest in the past to his interest in the future,
Vendale still found himself confronting a doubtful prospect. Months
on months had passed since his first visit to Soho Square--and
through all that time, the one language in which he had told
Marguerite that he loved her was the language of the eyes, assisted,
at convenient opportunities, by the language of the hand.

What was the obstacle in his way? The one immovable obstacle which
had been in his way from the first. No matter how fairly the
opportunities looked, Vendale's efforts to speak with Marguerite
alone ended invariably in one and the same result. Under the most
accidental circumstances, in the most innocent manner possible,
Obenreizer was always in the way.

With the last days of the old year came an unexpected chance of
spending an evening with Marguerite, which Vendale resolved should
be a chance of speaking privately to her as well. A cordial note
from Obenreizer invited him, on New Year's Day, to a little family
dinner in Soho Square. "We shall be only four," the note said. "We
shall be only two," Vendale determined, "before the evening is out!"

New Year's Day, among the English, is associated with the giving and
receiving of dinners, and with nothing more. New Year's Day, among
the foreigners, is the grand opportunity of the year for the giving
and receiving of presents. It is occasionally possible to
acclimatise a foreign custom. In this instance Vendale felt no
hesitation about making the attempt. His one difficulty was to
decide what his New Year's gift to Marguerite should be. The
defensive pride of the peasant's daughter--morbidly sensitive to the
inequality between her social position and his--would be secretly
roused against him if he ventured on a rich offering. A gift, which
a poor man's purse might purchase, was the one gift that could be
trusted to find its way to her heart, for the giver's sake. Stoutly
resisting temptation, in the form of diamonds and rubies, Vendale
bought a brooch of the filagree-work of Genoa--the simplest and most
unpretending ornament that he could find in the jeweller's shop.

He slipped his gift into Marguerite's hand as she held it out to
welcome him on the day of the dinner.

"This is your first New Year's Day in England," he said. "Will you
let me help to make it like a New Year's Day at home?"

She thanked him, a little constrainedly, as she looked at the
jeweller's box, uncertain what it might contain. Opening the box,
and discovering the studiously simple form under which Vendale's
little keepsake offered itself to her, she penetrated his motive on
the spot. Her face turned on him brightly, with a look which said,
"I own you have pleased and flattered me." Never had she been so
charming, in Vendale's eyes, as she was at that moment. Her winter
dress--a petticoat of dark silk, with a bodice of black velvet
rising to her neck, and enclosing it softly in a little circle of
swansdown--heightened, by all the force of contrast, the dazzling
fairness of her hair and her complexion. It was only when she
turned aside from him to the glass, and, taking out the brooch that
she wore, put his New Year's gift in its place, that Vendale's
attention wandered far enough away from her to discover the presence
of other persons in the room. He now became conscious that the
hands of Obenreizer were affectionately in possession of his elbows.
He now heard the voice of Obenreizer thanking him for his attention
to Marguerite, with the faintest possible ring of mockery in its
tone. ("Such a simple present, dear sir! and showing such nice
tact!") He now discovered, for the first time, that there was one
other guest, and but one, besides himself, whom Obenreizer presented
as a compatriot and friend. The friend's face was mouldy, and the
friend's figure was fat. His age was suggestive of the autumnal
period of human life. In the course of the evening he developed two
extraordinary capacities. One was a capacity for silence; the other
was a capacity for emptying bottles.

Madame Dor was not in the room. Neither was there any visible place
reserved for her when they sat down to table. Obenreizer explained
that it was "the good Dor's simple habit to dine always in the
middle of the day. She would make her excuses later in the
evening." Vendale wondered whether the good Dor had, on this
occasion, varied her domestic employment from cleaning Obenreizer's
gloves to cooking Obenreizer's dinner. This at least was certain--
the dishes served were, one and all, as achievements in cookery,
high above the reach of the rude elementary art of England. The
dinner was unobtrusively perfect. As for the wine, the eyes of the
speechless friend rolled over it, as in solemn ecstasy. Sometimes
he said "Good!" when a bottle came in full; and sometimes he said
"Ah!" when a bottle went out empty--and there his contributions to
the gaiety of the evening ended.

Silence is occasionally infectious. Oppressed by private anxieties
of their own, Marguerite and Vendale appeared to feel the influence
of the speechless friend. The whole responsibility of keeping the
talk going rested on Obenreizer's shoulders, and manfully did
Obenreizer sustain it. He opened his heart in the character of an
enlightened foreigner, and sang the praises of England. When other
topics ran dry, he returned to this inexhaustible source, and always
set the stream running again as copiously as ever. Obenreizer would
have given an arm, an eye, or a leg to have been born an Englishman.
Out of England there was no such institution as a home, no such
thing as a fireside, no such object as a beautiful woman. His dear
Miss Marguerite would excuse him, if he accounted for HER
attractions on the theory that English blood must have mixed at some
former time with their obscure and unknown ancestry. Survey this
English nation, and behold a tall, clean, plump, and solid people!
Look at their cities! What magnificence in their public buildings!
What admirable order and propriety in their streets! Admire their
laws, combining the eternal principle of justice with the other
eternal principle of pounds, shillings, and pence; and applying the
product to all civil injuries, from an injury to a man's honour, to
an injury to a man's nose! You have ruined my daughter--pounds,
shillings, and pence! You have knocked me down with a blow in my
face--pounds, shillings, and pence! Where was the material
prosperity of such a country as THAT to stop? Obenreizer,
projecting himself into the future, failed to see the end of it.
Obenreizer's enthusiasm entreated permission to exhale itself,
English fashion, in a toast. Here is our modest little dinner over,
here is our frugal dessert on the table, and here is the admirer of
England conforming to national customs, and making a speech! A
toast to your white cliffs of Albion, Mr. Vendale! to your national
virtues, your charming climate, and your fascinating women! to your
Hearths, to your Homes, to your Habeas Corpus, and to all your other
institutions! In one word--to England! Heep-heep-heep! hooray!

Obenreizer's voice had barely chanted the last note of the English
cheer, the speechless friend had barely drained the last drop out of
his glass, when the festive proceedings were interrupted by a modest
tap at the door. A woman-servant came in, and approached her master
with a little note in her hand. Obenreizer opened the note with a
frown; and, after reading it with an expression of genuine
annoyance, passed it on to his compatriot and friend. Vendale's
spirits rose as he watched these proceedings. Had he found an ally
in the annoying little note? Was the long-looked-for chance
actually coming at last?

"I am afraid there is no help for it?" said Obenreizer, addressing
his fellow-countryman. "I am afraid we must go."

The speechless friend handed back the letter, shrugged his heavy
shoulders, and poured himself out a last glass of wine. His fat
fingers lingered fondly round the neck of the bottle. They pressed
it with a little amatory squeeze at parting. His globular eyes
looked dimly, as through an intervening haze, at Vendale and
Marguerite. His heavy articulation laboured, and brought forth a
whole sentence at a birth. "I think," he said, "I should have liked
a little more wine." His breath failed him after that effort; he
gasped, and walked to the door.

Obenreizer addressed himself to Vendale with an appearance of the
deepest distress.

"I am so shocked, so confused, so distressed," he began. "A
misfortune has happened to one of my compatriots. He is alone, he
is ignorant of your language--I and my good friend, here, have no
choice but to go and help him. What can I say in my excuse? How
can I describe my affliction at depriving myself in this way of the
honour of your company?"

He paused, evidently expecting to see Vendale take up his hat and
retire. Discerning his opportunity at last, Vendale determined to
do nothing of the kind. He met Obenreizer dexterously, with
Obenreizer's own weapons.

"Pray don't distress yourself," he said. "I'll wait here with the
greatest pleasure till you come back."

Marguerite blushed deeply, and turned away to her embroidery-frame
in a corner by the window. The film showed itself in Obenreizer's
eyes, and the smile came something sourly to Obenreizer's lips. To
have told Vendale that there was no reasonable prospect of his
coming back in good time, would have been to risk offending a man
whose favourable opinion was of solid commercial importance to him.
Accepting his defeat with the best possible grace, he declared
himself to be equally honoured and delighted by Vendale's proposal.
"So frank, so friendly, so English!" He bustled about, apparently
looking for something he wanted, disappeared for a moment through
the folding-doors communicating with the next room, came back with
his hat and coat, and protesting that he would return at the
earliest possible moment, embraced Vendale's elbows, and vanished
from the scene in company with the speechless friend.

Vendale turned to the corner by the window, in which Marguerite had
placed herself with her work. There, as if she had dropped from the
ceiling, or come up through the floor--there, in the old attitude,
with her face to the stove--sat an Obstacle that had not been
foreseen, in the person of Madame Dor! She half got up, half looked
over her broad shoulder at Vendale, and plumped down again. Was she
at work? Yes. Cleaning Obenreizer's gloves, as before? No;
darning Obenreizer's stockings.

The case was now desperate. Two serious considerations presented
themselves to Vendale. Was it possible to put Madame Dor into the
stove? The stove wouldn't hold her. Was it possible to treat
Madame Dor, not as a living woman, but as an article of furniture?
Could the mind be brought to contemplate this respectable matron
purely in the light of a chest of drawers, with a black gauze held-
dress accidentally left on the top of it? Yes, the mind could be
brought to do that. With a comparatively trifling effort, Vendale's
mind did it. As he took his place on the old-fashioned window-seat,
close by Marguerite and her embroidery, a slight movement appeared
in the chest of drawers, but no remark issued from it. Let it be
remembered that solid furniture is not easy to move, and that it has
this advantage in consequence--there is no fear of upsetting it.

Unusually silent and unusually constrained--with the bright colour
fast fading from her face, with a feverish energy possessing her
fingers--the pretty Marguerite bent over her embroidery, and worked
as if her life depended on it. Hardly less agitated himself,
Vendale felt the importance of leading her very gently to the avowal
which he was eager to make--to the other sweeter avowal still, which
he was longing to hear. A woman's love is never to be taken by
storm; it yields insensibly to a system of gradual approach. It
ventures by the roundabout way, and listens to the low voice.
Vendale led her memory back to their past meetings when they were
travelling together in Switzerland. They revived the impressions,
they recalled the events, of the happy bygone time. Little by
little, Marguerite's constraint vanished. She smiled, she was
interested, she looked at Vendale, she grew idle with her needle,
she made false stitches in her work. Their voices sank lower and
lower; their faces bent nearer and nearer to each other as they
spoke. And Madame Dor? Madame Dor behaved like an angel. She
never looked round; she never said a word; she went on with
Obenreizer's stockings. Pulling each stocking up tight over her
left arm, and holding that arm aloft from time to time, to catch the
light on her work, there were moments--delicate and indescribable
moments--when Madame Dor appeared to be sitting upside down, and
contemplating one of her own respectable legs, elevated in the air.
As the minutes wore on, these elevations followed each other at
longer and longer intervals. Now and again, the black gauze head-
dress nodded, dropped forward, recovered itself. A little heap of
stockings slid softly from Madame Dor's lap, and remained unnoticed
on the floor. A prodigious ball of worsted followed the stockings,
and rolled lazily under the table. The black gauze head-dress
nodded, dropped forward, recovered itself, nodded again, dropped
forward again, and recovered itself no more. A composite sound,
partly as of the purring of an immense cat, partly as of the planing
of a soft board, rose over the hushed voices of the lovers, and
hummed at regular intervals through the room. Nature and Madame Dor
had combined together in Vendale's interests. The best of women was

Marguerite rose to stop--not the snoring--let us say, the audible
repose of Madame Dor. Vendale laid his hand on her arm, and pressed
her back gently into her chair.

"Don't disturb her," he whispered. "I have been waiting to tell you
a secret. Let me tell it now."

Marguerite resumed her seat. She tried to resume her needle. It
was useless; her eyes failed her; her hand failed her; she could
find nothing.

"We have been talking," said Vendale, "of the happy time when we
first met, and first travelled together. I have a confession to
make. I have been concealing something. When we spoke of my first
visit to Switzerland, I told you of all the impressions I had
brought back with me to England--except one. Can you guess what
that one is?"

Her eyes looked stedfastly at the embroidery, and her face turned a
little away from him. Signs of disturbance began to appear in her
neat velvet bodice, round the region of the brooch. She made no
reply. Vendale pressed the question without mercy.

"Can you guess what the one Swiss impression is which I have not
told you yet?"

Her face turned back towards him, and a faint smile trembled on her

"An impression of the mountains, perhaps?" she said slyly.

"No; a much more precious impression than that."

"Of the lakes?"

"No. The lakes have not grown dearer and dearer in remembrance to
me every day. The lakes are not associated with my happiness in the
present, and my hopes in the future. Marguerite! all that makes
life worth having hangs, for me, on a word from your lips.
Marguerite! I love you!"

Her head drooped as he took her hand. He drew her to him, and
looked at her. The tears escaped from her downcast eyes, and fell
slowly over her cheeks.

"O, Mr. Vendale," she said sadly, "it would have been kinder to have
kept your secret. Have you forgotten the distance between us? It
can never, never be!"

"There can be but one distance between us, Marguerite--a distance of
your making. My love, my darling, there is no higher rank in
goodness, there is no higher rank in beauty, than yours! Come!
whisper the one little word which tells me you will be my wife!"

She sighed bitterly. "Think of your family," she murmured; "and
think of mine!"

Vendale drew her a little nearer to him.

"If you dwell on such an obstacle as that," he said, "I shall think
but one thought--I shall think I have offended you."

She started, and looked up. "O, no!" she exclaimed innocently. The
instant the words passed her lips, she saw the construction that
might be placed on them. Her confession had escaped her in spite of
herself. A lovely flush of colour overspread her face. She made a
momentary effort to disengage herself from her lover's embrace. She
looked up at him entreatingly. She tried to speak. The words died
on her lips in the kiss that Vendale pressed on them. "Let me go,
Mr. Vendale!" she said faintly.

"Call me George."

She laid her head on his bosom. All her heart went out to him at
last. "George!" she whispered.

"Say you love me!"

Her arms twined themselves gently round his neck. Her lips, timidly
touching his cheek, murmured the delicious words--"I love you!"

In the moment of silence that followed, the sound of the opening and
closing of the house-door came clear to them through the wintry
stillness of the street.

Marguerite started to her feet.

"Let me go!" she said. "He has come back!"

She hurried from the room, and touched Madame Dor's shoulder in
passing. Madame Dor woke up with a loud snort, looked first over
one shoulder and then over the other, peered down into her lap, and
discovered neither stockings, worsted, nor darning-needle in it. At
the same moment, footsteps became audible ascending the stairs.
"Mon Dieu!" said Madame Dor, addressing herself to the stove, and
trembling violently. Vendale picked up the stockings and the ball,
and huddled them all back in a heap over her shoulder. "Mon Dieu!"
said Madame Dor, for the second time, as the avalanche of worsted
poured into her capacious lap.

The door opened, and Obenreizer came in. His first glance round the
room showed him that Marguerite was absent.

"What!" he exclaimed, "my niece is away? My niece is not here to
entertain you in my absence? This is unpardonable. I shall bring
her back instantly."

Vendale stopped him.

"I beg you will not disturb Miss Obenreizer," he said. "You have
returned, I see, without your friend?"

"My friend remains, and consoles our afflicted compatriot. A heart-
rending scene, Mr. Vendale! The household gods at the pawnbroker's-
-the family immersed in tears. We all embraced in silence. My
admirable friend alone possessed his composure. He sent out, on the
spot, for a bottle of wine."

"Can I say a word to you in private, Mr. Obenreizer?"

"Assuredly." He turned to Madame Dor. "My good creature, you are
sinking for want of repose. Mr. Vendale will excuse you."

Madame Dor rose, and set forth sideways on her journey from the
stove to bed. She dropped a stocking. Vendale picked it up for
her, and opened one of the folding-doors. She advanced a step, and
dropped three more stockings. Vendale stooping to recover them as
before, Obenreizer interfered with profuse apologies, and with a
warning look at Madame Dor. Madame Dor acknowledged the look by
dropping the whole of the stockings in a heap, and then shuffling
away panic-stricken from the scene of disaster. Obenreizer swept up
the complete collection fiercely in both hands. "Go!" he cried,
giving his prodigious handful a preparatory swing in the air.
Madame Dor said, "Mon Dieu," and vanished into the next room,
pursued by a shower of stockings.

"What must you think, Mr. Vendale," said Obenreizer, closing the
door, "of this deplorable intrusion of domestic details? For
myself, I blush at it. We are beginning the New Year as badly as
possible; everything has gone wrong to-night. Be seated, pray--and
say, what may I offer you? Shall we pay our best respects to
another of your noble English institutions? It is my study to be,
what you call, jolly. I propose a grog."

Vendale declined the grog with all needful respect for that noble

"I wish to speak to you on a subject in which I am deeply
interested," he said. "You must have observed, Mr. Obenreizer, that
I have, from the first, felt no ordinary admiration for your
charming niece?"

"You are very good. In my niece's name, I thank you."

"Perhaps you may have noticed, latterly, that my admiration for Miss
Obenreizer has grown into a tenderer and deeper feeling--?"

"Shall we say friendship, Mr. Vendale?"

"Say love--and we shall be nearer to the truth."

Obenreizer started out of his chair. The faintly discernible beat,
which was his nearest approach to a change of colour, showed itself
suddenly in his cheeks.

"You are Miss Obenreizer's guardian," pursued Vendale. "I ask you
to confer upon me the greatest of all favours--I ask you to give me
her hand in marriage."

Obenreizer dropped back into his chair. "Mr. Vendale," he said,
"you petrify me."

"I will wait," rejoined Vendale, "until you have recovered

"One word before I recover myself. You have said nothing about this
to my niece?"

"I have opened my whole heart to your niece. And I have reason to

"What!" interposed Obenreizer. "You have made a proposal to my
niece, without first asking for my authority to pay your addresses
to her?" He struck his hand on the table, and lost his hold over
himself for the first time in Vendale's experience of him. "Sir!"
he exclaimed, indignantly, "what sort of conduct is this? As a man
of honour, speaking to a man of honour, how can you justify it?"

"I can only justify it as one of our English institutions," said
Vendale quietly. "You admire our English institutions. I can't
honestly tell you, Mr. Obenreizer, that I regret what I have done.
I can only assure you that I have not acted in the matter with any
intentional disrespect towards yourself. This said, may I ask you
to tell me plainly what objection you see to favouring my suit?"

"I see this immense objection," answered Obenreizer, "that my niece
and you are not on a social equality together. My niece is the
daughter of a poor peasant; and you are the son of a gentleman. You
do us an honour," he added, lowering himself again gradually to his
customary polite level, "which deserves, and has, our most grateful
acknowledgments. But the inequality is too glaring; the sacrifice
is too great. You English are a proud people, Mr. Vendale. I have
observed enough of this country to see that such a marriage as you
propose would be a scandal here. Not a hand would be held out to
your peasant-wife; and all your best friends would desert you."

"One moment," said Vendale, interposing on his side. "I may claim,
without any great arrogance, to know more of my country people in
general, and of my own friends in particular, than you do. In the
estimation of everybody whose opinion is worth having, my wife
herself would be the one sufficient justification of my marriage.
If I did not feel certain--observe, I say certain--that I am
offering her a position which she can accept without so much as the
shadow of a humiliation--I would never (cost me what it might) have
asked her to be my wife. Is there any other obstacle that you see?
Have you any personal objection to me?"

Obenreizer spread out both his hands in courteous protest.
"Personal objection!" he exclaimed. "Dear sir, the bare question is
painful to me."

"We are both men of business," pursued Vendale, "and you naturally
expect me to satisfy you that I have the means of supporting a wife.
I can explain my pecuniary position in two words. I inherit from my
parents a fortune of twenty thousand pounds. In half of that sum I
have only a life-interest, to which, if I die, leaving a widow, my
widow succeeds. If I die, leaving children, the money itself is
divided among them, as they come of age. The other half of my
fortune is at my own disposal, and is invested in the wine-business.
I see my way to greatly improving that business. As it stands at
present, I cannot state my return from my capital embarked at more
than twelve hundred a year. Add the yearly value of my life-
interest--and the total reaches a present annual income of fifteen
hundred pounds. I have the fairest prospect of soon making it more.
In the meantime, do you object to me on pecuniary grounds?"

Driven back to his last entrenchment, Obenreizer rose, and took a
turn backwards and forwards in the room. For the moment, he was
plainly at a loss what to say or do next.

"Before I answer that last question," he said, after a little close
consideration with himself, "I beg leave to revert for a moment to
Miss Marguerite. You said something just now which seemed to imply
that she returns the sentiment with which you are pleased to regard

"I have the inestimable happiness," said Vendale, "of knowing that
she loves me."

Obenreizer stood silent for a moment, with the film over his eyes,
and the faintly perceptible beat becoming visible again in his

"If you will excuse me for a few minutes," he said, with ceremonious
politeness, "I should like to have the opportunity of speaking to my
niece." With those words, he bowed, and quitted the room.

Left by himself, Vendale's thoughts (as a necessary result of the
interview, thus far) turned instinctively to the consideration of
Obenreizer's motives. He had put obstacles in the way of the
courtship; he was now putting obstacles in the way of the marriage--
a marriage offering advantages which even his ingenuity could not
dispute. On the face of it, his conduct was incomprehensible. What
did it mean?

Seeking, under the surface, for the answer to that question--and
remembering that Obenreizer was a man of about his own age; also,
that Marguerite was, strictly speaking, his half-niece only--Vendale
asked himself, with a lover's ready jealousy, whether he had a rival
to fear, as well as a guardian to conciliate. The thought just
crossed his mind, and no more. The sense of Marguerite's kiss still
lingering on his cheek reminded him gently that even the jealousy of
a moment was now a treason to HER.

On reflection, it seemed most likely that a personal motive of
another kind might suggest the true explanation of Obenreizer's
conduct. Marguerite's grace and beauty were precious ornaments in
that little household. They gave it a special social attraction and
a special social importance. They armed Obenreizer with a certain
influence in reserve, which he could always depend upon to make his
house attractive, and which he might always bring more or less to
bear on the forwarding of his own private ends. Was he the sort of
man to resign such advantages as were here implied, without
obtaining the fullest possible compensation for the loss? A
connection by marriage with Vendale offered him solid advantages,
beyond all doubt. But there were hundreds of men in London with far
greater power and far wider influence than Vendale possessed. Was
it possible that this man's ambition secretly looked higher than the
highest prospects that could be offered to him by the alliance now
proposed for his niece? As the question passed through Vendale's
mind, the man himself reappeared--to answer it, or not to answer it,
as the event might prove.

A marked change was visible in Obenreizer when he resumed his place.
His manner was less assured, and there were plain traces about his
mouth of recent agitation which had not been successfully composed.
Had he said something, referring either to Vendale or to himself,
which had raised Marguerite's spirit, and which had placed him, for
the first time, face to face with a resolute assertion of his
niece's will? It might or might not be. This only was certain--he
looked like a man who had met with a repulse.

"I have spoken to my niece," he began. "I find, Mr. Vendale, that
even your influence has not entirely blinded her to the social
objections to your proposal."

"May I ask," returned Vendale, "if that is the only result of your
interview with Miss Obenreizer?"

A momentary flash leapt out through the Obenreizer film.

"You are master of the situation," he answered, in a tone of
sardonic submission. "If you insist on my admitting it, I do admit
it in those words. My niece's will and mine used to be one, Mr.
Vendale. You have come between us, and her will is now yours. In
my country, we know when we are beaten, and we submit with our best
grace. I submit, with my best grace, on certain conditions. Let us
revert to the statement of your pecuniary position. I have an
objection to you, my dear sir--a most amazing, a most audacious
objection, from a man in my position to a man in yours."

"What is it?"

"You have honoured me by making a proposal for my niece's hand. For
the present (with best thanks and respects), I beg to decline it."


"Because you are not rich enough."

The objection, as the speaker had foreseen, took Vendale completely
by surprise. For the moment he was speechless.

"Your income is fifteen hundred a year," pursued Obenreizer. "In my
miserable country I should fall on my knees before your income, and
say, 'What a princely fortune!' In wealthy England, I sit as I am,
and say, 'A modest independence, dear sir; nothing more. Enough,
perhaps, for a wife in your own rank of life who has no social
prejudices to conquer. Not more than half enough for a wife who is
a meanly born foreigner, and who has all your social prejudices
against her.' Sir! if my niece is ever to marry you, she will have
what you call uphill work of it in taking her place at starting.
Yes, yes; this is not your view, but it remains, immovably remains,
my view for all that. For my niece's sake, I claim that this uphill
work shall be made as smooth as possible. Whatever material
advantages she can have to help her, ought, in common justice, to be
hers. Now, tell me, Mr. Vendale, on your fifteen hundred a year can
your wife have a house in a fashionable quarter, a footman to open
her door, a butler to wait at her table, and a carriage and horses
to drive about in? I see the answer in your face--your face says,
No. Very good. Tell me one more thing, and I have done. Take the
mass of your educated, accomplished, and lovely country-women, is
it, or is it not, the fact that a lady who has a house in a
fashionable quarter, a footman to open her door, a butler to wait at
her table, and a carriage and horses to drive about in, is a lady
who has gained four steps, in female estimation, at starting? Yes?
or No?"

"Come to the point," said Vendale. "You view this question as a
question of terms. What are your terms?"

"The lowest terms, dear sir, on which you can provide your wife with
those four steps at starting. Double your present income--the most
rigid economy cannot do it in England on less. You said just now
that you expected greatly to increase the value of your business.
To work--and increase it! I am a good devil after all! On the day
when you satisfy me, by plain proofs, that your income has risen to
three thousand a year, ask me for my niece's hand, and it is yours."

"May I inquire if you have mentioned this arrangement to Miss

"Certainly. She has a last little morsel of regard still left for
me, Mr. Vendale, which is not yours yet; and she accepts my terms.
In other words, she submits to be guided by her guardian's regard
for her welfare, and by her guardian's superior knowledge of the
world." He threw himself back in his chair, in firm reliance on his
position, and in full possession of his excellent temper.

Any open assertion of his own interests, in the situation in which
Vendale was now placed, seemed to be (for the present at least)
hopeless. He found himself literally left with no ground to stand
on. Whether Obenreizer's objections were the genuine product of
Obenreizer's own view of the case, or whether he was simply delaying
the marriage in the hope of ultimately breaking it off altogether--
in either of these events, any present resistance on Vendale's part
would be equally useless. There was no help for it but to yield,
making the best terms that he could on his own side.

"I protest against the conditions you impose on me," he began.

"Naturally," said Obenreizer; "I dare say I should protest, myself,
in your place."

"Say, however," pursued Vendale, "that I accept your terms. In that
case, I must be permitted to make two stipulations on my part. In
the first place, I shall expect to be allowed to see your niece."

"Aha! to see my niece? and to make her in as great a hurry to be
married as you are yourself? Suppose I say, No? you would see her
perhaps without my permission?"


"How delightfully frank! How exquisitely English! You shall see
her, Mr. Vendale, on certain days, which we will appoint together.
What next?"

"Your objection to my income," proceeded Vendale, "has taken me
completely by surprise. I wish to be assured against any repetition
of that surprise. Your present views of my qualification for
marriage require me to have an income of three thousand a year. Can
I be certain, in the future, as your experience of England enlarges,
that your estimate will rise no higher?"

"In plain English," said Obenreizer, "you doubt my word?"

"Do you purpose to take MY word for it when I inform you that I have
doubled my income?" asked Vendale. "If my memory does not deceive
me, you stipulated, a minute since, for plain proofs?"

"Well played, Mr. Vendale! You combine the foreign quickness with
the English solidity. Accept my best congratulations. Accept,
also, my written guarantee."

He rose; seated himself at a writing-desk at a side-table, wrote a
few lines, and presented them to Vendale with a low bow. The
engagement was perfectly explicit, and was signed and dated with
scrupulous care.

"Are you satisfied with your guarantee?"

"I am satisfied."

"Charmed to hear it, I am sure. We have had our little skirmish--we
have really been wonderfully clever on both sides. For the present
our affairs are settled. I bear no malice. You bear no malice.
Come, Mr. Vendale, a good English shake hands."

Vendale gave his hand, a little bewildered by Obenreizer's sudden
transitions from one humour to another.

"When may I expect to see Miss Obenreizer again?" he asked, as he
rose to go.

"Honour me with a visit to-morrow," said Obenreizer, "and we will
settle it then. Do have a grog before you go! No? Well! well! we
will reserve the grog till you have your three thousand a year, and
are ready to be married. Aha! When will that be?"

"I made an estimate, some months since, of the capacities of my
business," said Vendale. "If that estimate is correct, I shall
double my present income--"

"And be married!" added Obenreizer.

"And be married," repeated Vendale, "within a year from this time.


When Vendale entered his office the next morning, the dull
commercial routine at Cripple Corner met him with a new face.
Marguerite had an interest in it now! The whole machinery which
Wilding's death had set in motion, to realise the value of the
business--the balancing of ledgers, the estimating of debts, the
taking of stock, and the rest of it--was now transformed into
machinery which indicated the chances for and against a speedy
marriage. After looking over results, as presented by his
accountant, and checking additions and subtractions, as rendered by
the clerks, Vendale turned his attention to the stock-taking
department next, and sent a message to the cellars, desiring to see
the report.

The Cellarman's appearance, the moment he put his head in at the
door of his master's private room, suggested that something very
extraordinary must have happened that morning. There was an
approach to alacrity in Joey Ladle's movements! There was something
which actually simulated cheerfulness in Joey Ladle's face

"What's the matter?" asked Vendale. "Anything wrong?"

"I should wish to mention one thing," answered Joey. "Young Mr.
Vendale, I have never set myself up for a prophet."

"Who ever said you did?"

"No prophet, as far as I've heard I tell of that profession,"
proceeded Joey, "ever lived principally underground. No prophet,
whatever else he might take in at the pores, ever took in wine from
morning to night, for a number of years together. When I said to
young Master Wilding, respecting his changing the name of the firm,
that one of these days he might find he'd changed the luck of the
firm--did I put myself forward as a prophet? No, I didn't. Has
what I said to him come true? Yes, it has. In the time of
Pebbleson Nephew, Young Mr. Vendale, no such thing was ever known as
a mistake made in a consignment delivered at these doors. There's a
mistake been made now. Please to remark that it happened before
Miss Margaret came here. For which reason it don't go against what
I've said respecting Miss Margaret singing round the luck. Read
that, sir," concluded Joey, pointing attention to a special passage
in the report, with a forefinger which appeared to be in process of
taking in through the pores nothing more remarkable than dirt.
"It's foreign to my nature to crow over the house I serve, but I
feel it a kind of solemn duty to ask you to read that."

Vendale read as follows:- "Note, respecting the Swiss champagne. An
irregularity has been discovered in the last consignment received
from the firm of Defresnier and Co." Vendale stopped, and referred
to a memorandum-book by his side. "That was in Mr. Wilding's time,"
he said. "The vintage was a particularly good one, and he took the
whole of it. The Swiss champagne has done very well, hasn't it?"

"I don't say it's done badly," answered the Cellarman. "It may have
got sick in our customers' bins, or it may have bust in our
customers' hands. But I don't say it's done badly with us."

Vendale resumed the reading of the note: "We find the number of the
cases to be quite correct by the books. But six of them, which
present a slight difference from the rest in the brand, have been
opened, and have been found to contain a red wine instead of
champagne. The similarity in the brands, we suppose, caused a
mistake to be made in sending the consignment from Neuchatel. The
error has not been found to extend beyond six cases."

"Is that all!" exclaimed Vendale, tossing the note away from him.

Joey Ladle's eye followed the flying morsel of paper drearily.

"I'm glad to see you take it easy, sir," he said. "Whatever
happens, it will be always a comfort to you to remember that you
took it easy at first. Sometimes one mistake leads to another. A
man drops a bit of orange-peel on the pavement by mistake, and
another man treads on it by mistake, and there's a job at the
hospital, and a party crippled for life. I'm glad you take it easy,
sir. In Pebbleson Nephew's time we shouldn't have taken it easy
till we had seen the end of it. Without desiring to crow over the
house, young Mr. Vendale, I wish you well through it. No offence,
sir," said the Cellarman, opening the door to go out, and looking in
again ominously before he shut it. "I'm muddled and molloncolly, I
grant you. But I'm an old servant of Pebbleson Nephew, and I wish
you well through them six cases of red wine."

Left by himself, Vendale laughed, and took up his pen. "I may as
well send a line to Defresnier and Company," he thought, "before I
forget it." He wrote at once in these terms:

"Dear Sirs. We are taking stock, and a trifling mistake has been
discovered in the last consignment of champagne sent by your house
to ours. Six of the cases contain red wine--which we hereby return
to you. The matter can easily be set right, either by your sending
us six cases of the champagne, if they can be produced, or, if not,
by your crediting us with the value of six cases on the amount last
paid (five hundred pounds) by our firm to yours. Your faithful


This letter despatched to the post, the subject dropped at once out
of Vendale's mind. He had other and far more interesting matters to
think of. Later in the day he paid the visit to Obenreizer which
had been agreed on between them. Certain evenings in the week were
set apart which he was privileged to spend with Marguerite--always,
however, in the presence of a third person. On this stipulation
Obenreizer politely but positively insisted. The one concession he
made was to give Vendale his choice of who the third person should
be. Confiding in past experience, his choice fell unhesitatingly
upon the excellent woman who mended Obenreizer's stockings. On
hearing of the responsibility entrusted to her, Madame Dor's
intellectual nature burst suddenly into a new stage of development.
She waited till Obenreizer's eye was off her--and then she looked at
Vendale, and dimly winked.

The time passed--the happy evenings with Marguerite came and went.
It was the tenth morning since Vendale had written to the Swiss
firm, when the answer appeared, on his desk, with the other letters
of the day:

"Dear Sirs. We beg to offer our excuses for the little mistake
which has happened. At the same time, we regret to add that the
statement of our error, with which you have favoured us, has led to
a very unexpected discovery. The affair is a most serious one for
you and for us. The particulars are as follows:

"Having no more champagne of the vintage last sent to you, we made
arrangements to credit your firm to the value of six cases, as
suggested by yourself. On taking this step, certain forms observed
in our mode of doing business necessitated a reference to our
bankers' book, as well as to our ledger. The result is a moral
certainty that no such remittance as you mention can have reached
our house, and a literal certainty that no such remittance has been
paid to our account at the bank.

"It is needless, at this stage of the proceedings, to trouble you
with details. The money has unquestionably been stolen in the
course of its transit from you to us. Certain peculiarities which
we observe, relating to the manner in which the fraud has been
perpetrated, lead us to conclude that the thief may have calculated
on being able to pay the missing sum to our bankers, before an
inevitable discovery followed the annual striking of our balance.
This would not have happened, in the usual course, for another three
months. During that period, but for your letter, we might have
remained perfectly unconscious of the robbery that has been

"We mention this last circumstance, as it may help to show you that
we have to do, in this case, with no ordinary thief. Thus far we
have not even a suspicion of who that thief is. But we believe you
will assist us in making some advance towards discovery, by
examining the receipt (forged, of course) which has no doubt
purported to come to you from our house. Be pleased to look and see
whether it is a receipt entirely in manuscript, or whether it is a
numbered and printed form which merely requires the filling in of
the amount. The settlement of this apparently trivial question is,
we assure you, a matter of vital importance. Anxiously awaiting
your reply, we remain, with high esteem and consideration,


Vendale had the letter on his desk, and waited a moment to steady
his mind under the shock that had fallen on it. At the time of all
others when it was most important to him to increase the value of
his business, that business was threatened with a loss of five
hundred pounds. He thought of Marguerite, as he took the key from
his pocket and opened the iron chamber in the wall in which the
books and papers of the firm were kept.

He was still in the chamber, searching for the forged receipt, when
he was startled by a voice speaking close behind him.

"A thousand pardons," said the voice; "I am afraid I disturb you."

He turned, and found himself face to face with Marguerite's

"I have called," pursued Obenreizer, "to know if I can be of any
use. Business of my own takes me away for some days to Manchester
and Liverpool. Can I combine any business of yours with it? I am
entirely at your disposal, in the character of commercial traveller
for the firm of Wilding and Co."

"Excuse me for one moment," said Vendale; "I will speak to you
directly." He turned round again, and continued his search among
the papers. "You come at a time when friendly offers are more than
usually precious to me," he resumed. "I have had very bad news this
morning from Neuchatel."

"Bad news," exclaimed Obenreizer. "From Defresnier and Company?"

"Yes. A remittance we sent to them has been stolen. I am
threatened with a loss of five hundred pounds. What's that?"

Turning sharply, and looking into the room for the second time,
Vendale discovered his envelope case overthrown on the floor, and
Obenreizer on his knees picking up the contents.

"All my awkwardness," said Obenreizer. "This dreadful news of yours
startled me; I stepped back--" He became too deeply interested in
collecting the scattered envelopes to finish the sentence.

"Don't trouble yourself," said Vendale. "The clerk will pick the
things up."

"This dreadful news!" repeated Obenreizer, persisting in collecting
the envelopes. "This dreadful news!"

"If you will read the letter," said Vendale, "you will find I have
exaggerated nothing. There it is, open on my desk."

He resumed his search, and in a moment more discovered the forged
receipt. It was on the numbered and printed form, described by the
Swiss firm. Vendale made a memorandum of the number and the date.
Having replaced the receipt and locked up the iron chamber, he had
leisure to notice Obenreizer, reading the letter in the recess of a
window at the far end of the room.

"Come to the fire," said Vendale. "You look perished with the cold
out there. I will ring for some more coals."

Obenreizer rose, and came slowly back to the desk. "Marguerite will
be as sorry to hear of this as I am," he said, kindly. "What do you
mean to do?"

"I am in the hands of Defresnier and Company," answered Vendale.
"In my total ignorance of the circumstances, I can only do what they
recommend. The receipt which I have just found, turns out to be the
numbered and printed form. They seem to attach some special
importance to its discovery. You have had experience, when you were
in the Swiss house, of their way of doing business. Can you guess
what object they have in view?"

Obenreizer offered a suggestion.

"Suppose I examine the receipt?" he said.

"Are you ill?" asked Vendale, startled by the change in his face,
which now showed itself plainly for the first time. "Pray go to the
fire. You seem to be shivering--I hope you are not going to be

"Not I!" said Obenreizer. "Perhaps I have caught cold. Your
English climate might have spared an admirer of your English
institutions. Let me look at the receipt."

Vendale opened the iron chamber. Obenreizer took a chair, and drew
it close to the fire. He held both hands over the flames. "Let me
look at the receipt," he repeated, eagerly, as Vendale reappeared
with the paper in his hand. At the same moment a porter entered the
room with a fresh supply of coals. Vendale told him to make a good
fire. The man obeyed the order with a disastrous alacrity. As he
stepped forward and raised the scuttle, his foot caught in a fold of
the rug, and he discharged his entire cargo of coals into the grate.
The result was an instant smothering of the flame, and the
production of a stream of yellow smoke, without a visible morsel of
fire to account for it.

"Imbecile!" whispered Obenreizer to himself, with a look at the man
which the man remembered for many a long day afterwards.

"Will you come into the clerks' room?" asked Vendale. "They have a
stove there."

"No, no. No matter."

Vendale handed him the receipt. Obenreizer's interest in examining
it appeared to have been quenched as suddenly and as effectually as
the fire itself. He just glanced over the document, and said, "No;
I don't understand it! I am sorry to be of no use."

"I will write to Neuchatel by to-night's post," said Vendale,
putting away the receipt for the second time. "We must wait, and
see what comes of it."

"By to-night's post," repeated Obenreizer. "Let me see. You will
get the answer in eight or nine days' time. I shall be back before
that. If I can be of any service, as commercial traveller, perhaps
you will let me know between this and then. You will send me
written instructions? My best thanks. I shall be most anxious for
your answer from Neuchatel. Who knows? It may be a mistake, my
dear friend, after all. Courage! courage! courage!" He had entered
the room with no appearance of being pressed for time. He now
snatched up his hat, and took his leave with the air of a man who
had not another moment to lose.

Left by himself, Vendale took a turn thoughtfully in the room.

His previous impression of Obenreizer was shaken by what he had
heard and seen at the interview which had just taken place. He was
disposed, for the first time, to doubt whether, in this case, he had
not been a little hasty and hard in his judgment on another man.
Obenreizer's surprise and regret, on hearing the news from
Neuchatel, bore the plainest marks of being honestly felt--not
politely assumed for the occasion. With troubles of his own to
encounter, suffering, to all appearance, from the first insidious
attack of a serious illness, he had looked and spoken like a man who
really deplored the disaster that had fallen on his friend.
Hitherto Vendale had tried vainly to alter his first opinion of
Marguerite's guardian, for Marguerite's sake. All the generous
instincts in his nature now combined together and shook the evidence
which had seemed unanswerable up to this time. "Who knows?" he
thought. "I may have read that man's face wrongly, after all."

The time passed--the happy evenings with Marguerite came and went.
It was again the tenth morning since Vendale had written to the
Swiss firm; and again the answer appeared on his desk with the other
letters of the day

"Dear Sir. My senior partner, M. Defresnier, has been called away,
by urgent business, to Milan. In his absence (and with his full
concurrence and authority), I now write to you again on the subject
of the missing five hundred pounds.

"Your discovery that the forged receipt is executed upon one of our
numbered and printed forms has caused inexpressible surprise and
distress to my partner and to myself. At the time when your
remittance was stolen, but three keys were in existence opening the
strong-box in which our receipt-forms are invariably kept. My
partner had one key; I had the other. The third was in the
possession of a gentleman who, at that period, occupied a position
of trust in our house. We should as soon have thought of suspecting
one of ourselves as of suspecting this person. Suspicion now points
at him, nevertheless. I cannot prevail on myself to inform you who
the person is, so long as there is the shadow of a chance that he
may come innocently out of the inquiry which must now be instituted.
Forgive my silence; the motive of it is good.

"The form our investigation must now take is simple enough. The
handwriting of your receipt must be compared, by competent persons
whom we have at our disposal, with certain specimens of handwriting
in our possession. I cannot send you the specimens for business
reasons, which, when you hear them, you are sure to approve. I must
beg you to send me the receipt to Neuchatel--and, in making this
request, I must accompany it by a word of necessary warning.

"If the person, at whom suspicion now points, really proves to be
the person who has committed this forger and theft, I have reason to
fear that circumstances may have already put him on his guard. The
only evidence against him is the evidence in your hands, and he will
move heaven and earth to obtain and destroy it. I strongly urge you
not to trust the receipt to the post. Send it to me, without loss
of time, by a private hand, and choose nobody for your messenger but
a person long established in your own employment, accustomed to
travelling, capable of speaking French; a man of courage, a man of
honesty, and, above all things, a man who can be trusted to let no
stranger scrape acquaintance with him on the route. Tell no one--
absolutely no one--but your messenger of the turn this matter has
now taken. The safe transit of the receipt may depend on your
interpreting LITERALLY the advice which I give you at the end of
this letter.

"I have only to add that every possible saving of time is now of the
last importance. More than one of our receipt-forms is missing--and
it is impossible to say what new frauds may not be committed if we
fail to lay our hands on the thief.

Your faithful servant
(Signing for Defresnier and Cie.)

Who was the suspected man? In Vendale's position, it seemed useless
to inquire.

Who was to be sent to Neuchatel with the receipt? Men of courage
and men of honesty were to be had at Cripple Corner for the asking.
But where was the man who was accustomed to foreign travelling, who
could speak the French language, and who could be really relied on
to let no stranger scrape acquaintance with him on his route? There
was but one man at hand who combined all those requisites in his own
person, and that man was Vendale himself.

It was a sacrifice to leave his business; it was a greater sacrifice
to leave Marguerite. But a matter of five hundred pounds was
involved in the pending inquiry; and a literal interpretation of M.
Rolland's advice was insisted on in terms which there was no
trifling with. The more Vendale thought of it, the more plainly the
necessity faced him, and said, "Go!"

As he locked up the letter with the receipt, the association of
ideas reminded him of Obenreizer. A guess at the identity of the
suspected man looked more possible now. Obenreizer might know.

The thought had barely passed through his mind, when the door
opened, and Obenreizer entered the room.

"They told me at Soho Square you were expected back last night,"
said Vendale, greeting him. "Have you done well in the country?
Are you better?"

A thousand thanks. Obenreizer had done admirably well; Obenreizer
was infinitely better. And now, what news? Any letter from

"A very strange letter," answered Vendale. "The matter has taken a
new turn, and the letter insists--without excepting anybody--on my
keeping our next proceedings a profound secret."

"Without excepting anybody?" repeated Obenreizer. As he said the
words, he walked away again, thoughtfully, to the window at the
other end of the room, looked out for a moment, and suddenly came
back to Vendale. "Surely they must have forgotten?" he resumed, "or
they would have excepted me?"

"It is Monsieur Rolland who writes," said Vendale. "And, as you
say, he must certainly have forgotten. That view of the matter
quite escaped me. I was just wishing I had you to consult, when you
came into the room. And here I am tried by a formal prohibition,
which cannot possibly have been intended to include you. How very

Obenreizer's filmy eyes fixed on Vendale attentively.

"Perhaps it is more than annoying!" he said. "I came this morning
not only to hear the news, but to offer myself as messenger,
negotiator--what you will. Would you believe it? I have letters
which oblige me to go to Switzerland immediately. Messages,
documents, anything--I could have taken them all to Defresnier and
Rolland for you."

"You are the very man I wanted," returned Vendale. "I had decided,
most unwillingly, on going to Neuchatel myself, not five minutes
since, because I could find no one here capable of taking my place.
Let me look at the letter again."

He opened the strong room to get at the letter. Obenreizer, after
first glancing round him to make sure that they were alone, followed
a step or two and waited, measuring Vendale with his eye. Vendale
was the tallest man, and unmistakably the strongest man also of the
two. Obenreizer turned away, and warmed himself at the fire.

Meanwhile, Vendale read the last paragraph in the letter for the
third time. There was the plain warning--there was the closing
sentence, which insisted on a literal interpretation of it. The
hand, which was leading Vendale in the dark, led him on that
condition only. A large sum was at stake: a terrible suspicion
remained to be verified. If he acted on his own responsibility, and
if anything happened to defeat the object in view, who would be
blamed? As a man of business, Vendale had but one course to follow.
He locked the letter up again.

"It is most annoying," he said to Obenreizer--"it is a piece of
forgetfulness on Monsieur Rolland's part which puts me to serious
inconvenience, and places me in an absurdly false position towards
you. What am I to do? I am acting in a very serious matter, and
acting entirely in the dark. I have no choice but to be guided, not
by the spirit, but by the letter of my instructions. You understand
me, I am sure? You know, if I had not been fettered in this way,
how gladly I should have accepted your services?"

"Say no more!" returned Obenreizer. "In your place I should have
done the same. My good friend, I take no offence. I thank you for
your compliment. We shall be travelling companions, at any rate,"
added Obenreizer. "You go, as I go, at once?"

"At once. I must speak to Marguerite first, of course!"

"Surely! surely! Speak to her this evening. Come, and pick me up
on the way to the station. We go together by the mail train to-

"By the mail train to-night."

It was later than Vendale had anticipated when he drove up to the
house in Soho Square. Business difficulties, occasioned by his
sudden departure, had presented themselves by dozens. A cruelly
large share of the time which he had hoped to devote to Marguerite
had been claimed by duties at his office which it was impossible to

To his surprise and delight, she was alone in the drawing-room when
he entered it.

"We have only a few minutes, George," she said. "But Madame Dor has
been good to me--and we can have those few minutes alone." She
threw her arms round his neck, and whispered eagerly, "Have you done
anything to offend Mr. Obenreizer?"

"I!" exclaimed Vendale, in amazement.

"Hush!" she said, "I want to whisper it. You know the little
photograph I have got of you. This afternoon it happened to be on
the chimney-piece. He took it up and looked at it--and I saw his
face in the glass. I know you have offended him! He is merciless;
he is revengeful; he is as secret as the grave. Don't go with him,
George--don't go with him!"

"My own love," returned Vendale, "you are letting your fancy
frighten you! Obenreizer and I were never better friends than we
are at this moment."

Before a word more could be said, the sudden movement of some
ponderous body shook the floor of the next room. The shock was
followed by the appearance of Madame Dor. "Obenreizer" exclaimed
this excellent person in a whisper, and plumped down instantly in
her regular place by the stove.

Obenreizer came in with a courier's big strapped over his shoulder.
"Are you ready?" he asked, addressing Vendale. "Can I take anything
for you? You have no travelling-bag. I

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