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OUR SHORT STORY. [

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OUR SHORT STORY. [ ONE IN TEN THOUSAND. I I THE STORY OF A. STRANGE FINANCIER. I It was one of those moments of supreme im- portance into which a lifetime seems com- pressed a moment of crisis, of a mental pain that wrung each expectant nerve. He had flung love and ruin into the balance. Which would kick the beam? The footman had taken up his card. He waited there, in the hall—John Algernon Brewis, broken financier. He knew that she must have received his letter of confession. Their engagement was to have been announced that very morning. Would she even see him now? He kept turning white and red, cold and hot. It was death or life to him. The servant descended. Would Mr. Brewis follow him? Ah, at least, then, he was to be granted an interview. A door closed behind him. He was alone with her. How beautiful she was! If it had not been for her quiet, composed greeting, he would have thought that she had been weep- ing. "You got my letter, Florence? "Yes," said Miss Anstruther. "It was a fear- ful shock to me." Brewis sank into a chair, for his limbs were shaking. The thought that he might lose her, that fate intended to snatch from him so dear a prize, was more than he could bear. He said huskily- "It is seven months back since I began t* speculate with my fortune. I lost a consider- able sum, regained it, then lost more. I should have pulled myself together, but I met you. You are rich. You won my heart, won all ihe love I am capable of bestowing. I felt that I dared not seek to woo you, Florence, with such a mere shred of my means left to me. Money I must have. It was sink or swim. I threw my- self heart and soul into the gambling markets. At first fortune favoured me again. I made love to you as your equal in social worth. You gave me your heart. Then the tide turned. Ah, the pain of the past few months. I pitted my young brains against a veteran head. He has been too crafty for me. Slowly but surely this man has beaten me. I have been, by him, strangled, suffocated, wrung dry. I do not blame him; it was part of the legiti- mate game." "The name of this man?" "Morris Hawksby." If Brewis's thoughts had not been so intro- spective he would have seen the girl start and turn her face aside. He continued, "The man is my master, as he is the master of hundreds." There was a period of silence while Florence watched the dejected figure. Then she said simply, "What are your plans?" "I have none; I feel altogether broken." He roused himself with an effort. "Florence, you won't throw me over, will .you?" he entreated, passionately. She saw that he had been very hard hit, and the tears started to her eyes. Perhaps there flitted through her mind a faint doubt if he was playing the man, and whether he would let cir- cumstances beat him. She said quietly- "Does it not all depend upon yourself?" I suppose so yes. of course it does," was the dejected answer. "I have got to begin all over again, that is clear." "And most necessary." i "You are severe and critical. Heaven knows what I am good at." j j^° .fn<^ prove that you are worthy of me, Brewis got up with something like a groan. She gave him her hand. He would have drawn her to him, would have clasped her tightly in his arms', but she drew back. He kissed her cheek, and went out of the room with a feeling that his heart had died. On the stairway he met a man ascending, pre- ceded by a servant. It was Morris Hawksby. The great financier glanced at the younger man -an indifferent, impassive look. Brewis re- turned it with a furious stare; a thought had passed into his brain that made him feel as if he woud have fallen. What was this man doing at her house? He went out into the wide street, along which many carriages were passing and repassing. It was five o'clock on a November day. The ends of the thoroughfares were obscured by a thin fog that was settling down with the day's decline. It seemed to enter into his bones; the gloom of the hour mingled with his blood. The touch of despair made him desperate, ready for any chance or mischance that fate might have for him. So he walked on, slowly and moodily, hour succeeding hour, untired, listening to the wild thoughts speaking in his brain. Suddenly he paused his breathing had become hoarse and quick. He looked round furtively. The river ran black and turgid beneath the bridge. How far down was it? Twenty feet? What did the drop signify? Brewis leaned upon the coping of the parapet. At what a crisis had he arrived The cold, horrible stream was whispering as it ran round tue stone piers. It was calling him, he said. One jump, and then-yes, he would end it so. His fingers gripped the parapet; he nerved himself for the single effort. Suddenly he turned sharply. A hansom cab had come up swiftly and unseen. A man's face looked through the lighted window. He saw Brewis cowering there, and Brewis saw him. Hawksby again Was that a sneer upon his inscrutable face? The suspicion was galling. Brewis walked on quickly. His terrible tempta- tion had passed. An hour after midnight found Brewis still pacing the hushed streets. Involuntarily he had made his way westward again. He had been thinking so long and so hard that his ideas ( lacked any cohesion. He was always driven back to that staring truth—he was a ruined man, separated by a gulf of poverty from the woman he loved. Through the fog circling round a street lamp he saw the name of a thoroughfare upon, the glass, P-- Place. He called to mind that here was situated the luxurious dwelling-place that Morris Hawksby had recently purchased. He knew the number, and presently, walking on- ward he came to it. The fog was now very thick. No sound echoed in the street. Brewis paused before the house. Something caught his attention, and he drew closer. Was it possible? Yes, one of the win- dows on the ground floor was open at least four inches from the sill. The sound of footsteps came out from the fog. Brewis moved away. He met the policeman who was patrolling his beat, and passed him with a slinking tread and flushed cheeks. He looked round. Would the officer observe that open window? No, the fog baffled him; he went straight on, and his steps died away. Brewis returned to stare up at the house, which had no light in any window. How he hated iL owner, to be sure He felt that this man had wrought him an irreparable injury. And then, the house! Whv, it was filled with trea- sure The rare and costly things within its stone walls were commonly spoken of. An area railing partitioned off the short space between the steps and the narrow ledge of the unshut window. To climb the railing, balance one's self for an instant, and by a single stride to c>ain the sill, was no difficult task. Thump, thump, thump! It seemed as if his heart must. bnrst its bars. He looked to right nnd left, listened intently. What could be more easy? In another minute the thing was done. He turned in the room, and pulled down the win- dow softly. Then he stood still, wiping his streaming face. He had become, in a moment, by one short step, a criminal. Gradually his agitation lessened. He dared not strike one of the matches in hie pocket. As his eves grew accustomed to the gloom he be- gan to perceive just where he was. The apart- ment was a reception-room. Valuable pictures adorned the walls. That piece of furniture yon- der bore the appearance of a cabinet. He moved towards it, and as he did so he collided with the back ol a chair. He felt the thing lurch over sideways, and he grabbed at it, only to send it flying. It fell to the carpet with a dull crash. A hoarse curse escaped from Brewis. He drove his nails into the palms of his hands standing rigid, hardly breathing. "Fool, you fool!" he gasped. Then he added feeling thoroughly scared, "I will go, I think. What good am I at this sort of thing? What madness sent me here? Yes, I will clear." As he turned to make his escape by the way that he had entered, the door of the room was opened quickly, and the electric light was switched' on. Brewis spun round, and he saw the figure of Morris Hawksby standing on the threshold. It is you, then?" said the master of the house. "I thought I heard someone move. Your mean- ing? Brewis had turned livid. His dry lips were capable of no utterance. The horror of the situation attacked his senses, drove him momentarily frantic. He rushed forward to grapple with Hawksby, to strangle him—any- thing-he knew not what. The other caught him by the shoulders and threw him backward upon the carpet. Brewis rose slowly, then slunk away from Hawksby, whom he watched with eyes of terror. The "master approached the window, which he flung up. He turned to the intruder. "I presume you came in by this way," he said. "Now go The other did not move; but he watched Hawksby narrowly, an indescribable expres- sion in his face. "I tell you to go," repeated the master. "I will give you one minute. If you are here after that time, I shall give you into custody." Half the minute passed before Brewis moved. Then he. stepped slowly to the open window, still regarding the other with the same indescrib- able look. He clim'bed to the sill, and was gone. The humid night swallowed him. Florence Anstruther could not understand her visitor's mood, nor he hers. Brewis had burst in upon her in this unconvenional way. He said that he had come to say good-bye, that he was going abroad, that he should never come back. He had not told her of the insanity of the past night. How could he? The loss of his honour had wrought him a deeper hurt than any loss of fortune. He had but one idea-to leave the country and to forget himself. "Good-bye, Florence! I was never worthy of you, my darling." "If you wish it, good-bye. Only there is something which I should like to have told you. Still-" "Whatever it may be it, is too late to affect my purpose." "Mr. Hawksby came to see me last evening." "Ah Yes, I met him on the stairs." Brewis turned pale. "And he told me why-why he crushed you; why he permitted and encouraged you to waste your energies and fortune in a struggle with him in the markets. I could not understand his technical expressions and details, but you know." "Why he crushed me?" echoed Brewis, look- ing at her in a bewildered way. "It was just a matter of supremacy. He would have done the same to anyone else. He-" "Stop," said Florence. "You are wrong. He beat you because you were in his path, because you were between him and his hap- piness." "I?" Brewis drew a hand over his forehead. "Pardon me-" "He loved me, John. He wanted me. Yes, yes he told me this himself. And he was afraid of you, so—so he ruined you." She paused. Brewis said, piteously— "Go on." "Last evening Mr. Hawksby offered me his love, his hand, his fortune." "Oh, my eoul, Florence And you—you—" "Refused him." "Thank God!" "Why, how can it matter, since you are leav- ing me for ever? Listen to me. You have done this man a great injustice. He is brave and good. I will repeat his words Since you refuse my offer, Miss Anstruther, there is but one course open to me. Brewis was in my way. All's fair in love and war, and I' ground him under. Yet now that I see clearly that he has your heart, your peace, in his keeping, I perceive that my duty lies another way. Tell him that I shall pay a visit to his bankers to-morrow morn- ing, will restore every penny that he has lost- ay, and double it for the plucky fight he made with me.' That was all, John. And now—now Merciful heavens! What is the matter with you?" Well might she ask the question. Brewis, his cheeks the colour of death, had sunk into a chair. An awful fear showed in his eyes. She knelt before him, caught his hands, and noticed that they were as cold as marble. "John John," she implored, "speak to me! What is it? Ah, I told you too abruptly. The good news is more than you can bear." If Brewis understood her words, he was not capable of replying. He could only stare at her with his vacant eyes. Suddenly he laughed, and she shrank from him at that sinister sound. What a jest was this that fate had played upon him! This man, this Morris Hawksby, who could and would have saved him, he had wronged, and made an enemy of him indeed. The madness of a moment had robbed him of honour, love, and fortune. Brewis staggered to his feet, and was on the point of rushing from the room, from the house, when the handle of the door was turned, and there entered, unannounced, Hawksby himself. Brewis stepped backward, watching the other as if he anticipated a pistol ball. Hawksby advanced to Miss Anstruther, with whom he shook hands, exchanging a commonplace greet- ing. Then he turned, and appeared to catch sight of Brewis for the first time. No change passed over his rugged face. He moved towards the young man, while he extended his right hand. "Ah, Brewis," said he, "I did not see you. How do you do?" The other, whose face was now white as a sheet, held out four shaking fingers. Twice he struggled for a word, but could not find it. "You are looking none too well," continued Hawksby. "Take heart, man. I have just come from a visit to your bankers. Had a long chat with them. Explained things after my own fashion. Nice people. I believe you will find that your account stands there about the same as it did a year ago; and if it is a little more, why, blame my impertinence that has led me to help you without asking permission. Ah, no thanks. I did it gladly, from my heart. Good-bye, Miss Anstruther. 1-" "God bless you, Hawksby!" Brewis made a piteous gesture. His voice was strangled. He strove to repeat his words. "God bless you!" he said hoarsely. "I—I No further could he get; but he, dropped into a chair, and covered his face with his hands. "Good-bye, Miss Anstruther—Florence," said Hawksby. And his voice sounded strange to his own ears. "Look after Brewis. You have till his heart. Good-bye He went out quickly, and left those two- alone. =

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