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Title: The Honour Of His House
Author: Harold Bindloss
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000631h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2010
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The Honour Of His House

by

Harold Bindloss


Author of "Blakes Burden," "By Right of Purchase," "His Lady's Pleasure," &c., &c.


Published in The Queenslander,
Saturday, 30 March, 1918.


Alan Thorne, master of otter hounds, had run up to town, and was waiting for dinner in the smoking-room of his club when a man he knew came in. Jervis Liddel did not see Thorne, for he picked up an evening newspaper and studied the stock exchange quotations. He was dressed with fastidious taste, but his face was hot, and he had an anxious look. Thorne watched and pondered, because the young man's father was a neighbour of his in the North.

Derwent Liddel, of Scarside, was a man of some importance, but he had had financial troubles, and Thorne wondered how his son managed to belong to the rather expensive club. Jervis had done well at Woolwich, but left just before an examination that his friends expected would give him a commission in the Royal Engineers. Thorne imagined Jervis had not left of his own free will, and was puzzled when he heard that the young man had got a post at a London bank. The Liddels had all been soldiers or country gentlemen, and Jervis was not the stuff of which good bank clerks are made. Perhaps, however, family influence with the manager of a country branch had done much, and Liddel made his son a small allowance on condition that he kept away from the North.

Jervis's face went pale when he threw down the paper and spoke to a man close by.

"Any sign of Jacinta Copper rallying. Mason? I imagine you ought to know."

"I know too much," said the other dryly. "Sold my shares to cut my loss, and wouldn't touch Jacintas now! The slump that has started is not going to stop."

He went away, and Jervis looked straight before him for a few seconds and then saw Thorne.

"Hallo!" he said. "But wait a minute; I need a drink."

He drained the glass brought him, and resumed hoarsely: "Well, I've had a knock. I wonder whether you could lend me two thousand pounds? The rate of interest doesn't matter."

Thorne smiled. "Impossible, my dear fellow!"

"Why is it impossible? You're rich enough."

"For one thing, I know you rather well."

Jervis flushed, but his face got haggard, and he gave Thorne a meaning look. "Better think a moment, if you hope to marry my sister, you're foolish to refuse."

"Ah," said Thorne, "that's rather a vague hint! Besides, I can't flatter myself that your sister cares much about me. I have thought, and on the whole the speculation looks too rash."

Jervis got up abruptly, and when he went off another man crossed the floor. Grant was not a regular money-lender, but sometimes financed young men about town. One finds men like him at smart London clubs.

"What's the matter with Liddel?" he asked.

"I don't know," Thorne answered. "Perhaps you do!"

Grant smiled inscrutably. "Well, I thought he was upset by something he read. A bank clerk, I understand. Hasn't his father an estate in your neighbourhood?"

Thorne thought hard for a moment, and then said: "The estate is encumbered. I should not consider it a good security."

Grant nodded; he knew his man and imagined Thorne had a reason for giving him a guarded hint. "Do you know anything about Foster of Roughten?"

"Roughten's a poor farm. The fellow's enterprising, but the land went sour in his father's time, and I doubt if he'll get back the money he has spent. But I thought small farmers were hardly worth your powder and shot!"

"Mr. Foster doesn't want to borrow," Grant replied with a laugh. "Well, thanks for what you have told me. I must be off."

Thorne sat still and mused over his cigar. He was 45, and Grace Liddel, Jervis's sister, was 24, but he meant to marry her, and knew Liddel approved. Grace did not, but Thorne began to see how her resistance might be overcome. Liddel was dull, impoverished, but arrogantly proud; and his son, the bank clerk, was in desperate need of 2,000 pounds. Jervis was an unscrupulous wastrel, and had obviously been speculating; then he had somehow persuaded Grant to lend him money. This was strange, since Grant was shrewd, but Thorne could not see where Foster, so to speak, came in.

He understood that when Grace was about 18, and Foster's father was alive, the romantic girl had indulged in something like a flirtation with the young farmer, who had been to a good school. Liddel had firmly stopped it, speaking his mind in a manner that the elder Foster never forgave, and the young man joined an uncle in Australia. He had recently come back, but Thorne knew the Liddels' pride, and thought a renewal of Grace's liking for the fellow was impossible. For all that, he decided to take the night train North.

A week later, Grace Liddel, stopping beside a larch wood one evening, met Foster leading a horse. He was splashed with the mud of a moss track, but looked strong, alert, and resolute as he held the impatient horse. Moreover, travel, healthy toil, and adventure had refined the man. Grace had met him at other times since his return, and knew at the first meeting that he had not forgotten. Now she was in distress, her heart went out to him.

"It's Jervis," she said, half-coherently. "Of course, I should not tell you this, but I don't know what to do and durst not talk to anybody else. There was a quarrel when he came home. My father was terribly angry, and Jervis only goes out in the dark. I don't understand things altogether; but money is needed, and we have none."

"I think I understand," Foster answered.

Grace gave him a quick look, for there was something that comforted her in his steady voice. She knew he could be trusted, and, in sudden hot rebellion, contrasted him with the master of otter hounds. Thorne was getting fat, and she shrank from him, in spite of his fastidious taste and urbane manners. Foster, with his clean, brown skin and athletic figure, was a very different man. But her father was Thorne's friend.

"Then you must tell me," she said.

"I think not," said Foster. "Anyhow, not yet."

She hesitated and coloured. The women folk did not count for much at Scarside, and she had liked Foster's quiet deference. Now it was rather a shock to find him firm.

"But we are in great trouble; and I'm puzzled and afraid----"

"Why are you afraid?" Foster asked, looking hard at her. "The trouble is Jervis's, and has nothing to do with you."

"Ah!" she said, with a hint of pride. "The Liddels together. What touches one touches all!"

"No folly of your brother's could touch you. But you have some grounds--personal grounds--for being afraid."

"I have," she said impulsively, for she was desperate. "Jervis is in danger, and Thorne can save him. I think you know----"

Foster's face went grim.

"You mean Thorne won't help for nothing--he'll expect his reward? He's one of you, and your father's already on his side. Well, the fellow has many advantages, from your people's point of view; but it's unthinkable that he should be left to use his power. I must know all you know and what you suspect."

Grace told him, her colour coming and going, because the narrative cost her much, and Foster asked a few questions. Then he said: "This man from London comes on Thursday. In the meantime promise nothing, no matter what your people urge I think I can help."

She turned her head for a moment, and then looked up with a strained expression. "But it would only change one obligation for another; and my father would hate to be in your debt."

Foster smiled.

"You won't find me a merciless creditor. I know my drawbacks; and, whatever I do, you will be free. When you get home tell Jervis to come to my house; I'll expect him in an hour."

She promised, and gave him her hand. He held it for a moment, and her heart beat fast when he let her go, for she was conscious of keen relief and some hesitation. A fear that had daunted her had gone, but she must shortly make a plunge that would try her courage.

An hour later Jervis Liddel stole up to the lonely farm in the gathering dusk. Foster let him in, and took him to his room, where he lighted the lamp.

"Sit down!" he said, and took a place opposite. "I suppose you found out through the bank that I'm not as poor as my neighbours think. As a matter of fact, I was lucky in Australia, and a relation I joined there left me some money. Well, you knew something of this, and used my name."

Jervis was relieved by his coolness and began to see a ray of hope. "I did," he said, with a furtive look. "I never expected you would be called upon; there was every ground to believe I could meet the bill."

"It's an illusion that has got other people into trouble," Foster remarked. "I don't know much about banking, but no doubt you doctored your accounts and plunged in some rash speculation. Then I expect you lost your margin and plunged again, in order to carry over until the shares went up, but this time you got a fashionable money-lender to discount your bill. Now the bill's due and you have no money to meet it."

"I have not," Jervis owned. "Still, I think the money could be found. You'll lose nothing if the bill isn't brought to you."

"Your father can't help; he can hardly pay the interest on his mortgages. Who do you expect will find the money?"

Jervis hesitated, but saw the other meant to learn the truth. "Thorne might; in fact, I've a reason for believing he won't let me down."

Jervis was not lying, for he thought he saw Thorne's game. The fellow had at first refused to help, but this was because he wanted to get more power. When he was master of the situation he would do something.

"You hope to save yourself by selling your sister to a man she dislikes!" Foster remarked with stern quietness. "This is what your plan comes to; but my consent's needful. Without it you must stand your trial for forgery."

"But, why--? What would you gain by ruining me?" stammered Jervis, whose face was wet with sweat. "It's a poor revenge, if it's because my father long since----"

"I don't want revenge. Your father used his power like a bully, but he was honest, and perhaps it's not his fault, he was bound by the traditions of his class, I can forgive him, but I can't forgive you.'"

"If you put the police on my track and ruin us, Grace will hate you as long as you live," said Jervis, with helpless malice.

"You're clever; the trouble is that you're unthinkably mean! In fact, for your mother's and sister's sake you're better out of the country, and you'll start to-night. A boat leaves Liverpool tomorrow for Montreal, and you can catch the train from Carlisle at the junction. To make sure of this, I'll drive you across."

Jervis pondered; he was savage, but he knew he could not fight. "You seem to have arranged it all, but there's an obstacle. I have no money."

"I'll provide some. Make your choice now--stay and stand your trial, or go!"

"Confound you!" said Jervis weakly. "You know I have no choice. I'll go."

Foster made him write a note he dictated to Mrs. Liddel, and half an hour later drove him across the hills.

On the Thursday evening Derwent Liddel sat in his library at Scarside, with Thorne opposite across the big oak table. He was red-faced and autocratic, and his voice was generally loud, but he looked like a beaten man, and his pose was slack. Thorne studied him without much pity, for he had borne much from Liddel.

"It's a bitter draught," the latter said. "I'm helpless, and the money-lending fellow will soon be here. But you drive a harsh bargain."

"You nave known my wishes for some time. I thought you approved."

"I did approve. If Grace had liked you, the thing would have pleased me well; but she does not. Now it looks as if her judgment was better than mine!"

Thorne was mildly surprised. Liddel ruled his household firmly. He was selfish, extravagant, and domineering. It was strange that he should run a risk for the sake of his rebellious daughter.

"I'm sorry to press my advantage, but see no other way. Grace is romantic and might have chosen a younger lover, but I have waited long and will be patient. Girls' feelings change, and I hope in time----"

Liddel stopped him. "You have stated your terms, and it's obvious that I can not refuse! Grace knows her duty, but I must tell her mother."

He rang a bell, and Mrs. Liddel came in. She was a reserved woman, and seldom opposed her husband, but when he explained Thorne's proposal her face flushed.

"No!" she exclaimed. "We have lived in dishonest extravagance, and Jervis has helped to ruin us by his debts. He must pay for his folly; Grace shall not be sacrificed!"

Liddel looked frankly astonished. "Jervis cannot pay alone; and the matter does not end with our suffering. There have been Liddels at Scarside for six generations, and they lived like gentlemen. All we have left is the honour of our name, and Grace's duty is to keep it clean."

Mrs. Liddel had once agreed with her husband, and knew that his family pride, exaggerated as it was, was the best gift he had; but she loved her daughter, and love was stronger than tradition. Yet the choice was cruel, because if she saved the girl she must give up her wastrel son. Her heart beat and her breath came hard, but she meant to be just.

"It is too late," she said. "Grace would pay for Jervis' fault while she and her husband lived. The price is too high. I will not consent."

There was silence for a few moments, and Liddel glanced at his watch. Then they heard a knock at the door, and Foster came in.

"I followed up your servant because my business cannot wait. There is no time to lose," he said.

Liddel looked at him dully, for he had perhaps got the worst shock of all. The farmer whom he had driven out of the country knew the secret he had hoped to keep.

"It might be better if Mr. Thorne left us," Foster went on. "What I have to say is for you and Mrs. Liddel."

Liddel signed to Thorne, who hesitated, but went out. He had played too bold a game, and since Foster knew, it looked as if he had lost. Then Liddel roused himself, and said, "Well?"

"A bill your son discounted carries my name. I understand it will be presented in a few minutes."

"Do you know where Jervis is?" Mrs. Liddel asked.

"Yes, and he is well; but we'll talk about that later. Time is getting short." Foster turned to Liddel. "Jervis cannot meet this bill. Can you?"

"I think you know I cannot," said Liddel bitterly.

"Very well. I am willing to stand by my guarantee; but there is something I must ask."

Liddel started, with surprise and relief, but next moment his helpless look returned. "Then you mean to make a bargain, like the other!"

"Since Mr. Thorne has stated his terms, I must state mine. He waited until the last moment, expecting that the strain would break Mrs. Liddel's resistance down, and, guessing that he would do so, I waited too. I hope she will forgive me. Well, my condition is simple--you must use no pressure to make Miss Liddel marry Thorne."

"It is unlikely that I shall persuade her now. But have you asked all?"

"Nearly all. Miss Liddel must be free to marry whom she likes."

"Ah!" said Liddel sharply. "If your meaning's plain, I do not see much difference between Thorne's demand and yours!"

"There is a difference. I wait your reply."

Liddel leaned forward, with his arms on the table and his head bent. He was puzzled, and his brain was dull, but it was obvious that he was in Foster's power, and he felt crushed and humiliated. Then he glanced at his wife, and, to his surprise, she signed him to agree.

"Very well," he said. "I cannot refuse."

Foster nodded. Somebody knocked at the door, and in another few moments Grant came in. He bowed politely, but Foster thought he was anxious and imagined he knew why.

"My business is confidential," Grant remarked. "I expected to find you alone."

"Mrs. Liddel knows. This gentleman is Mr. Foster."

Grant looked surprised, but answered: "I discounted a bill for Mr. Jervis Liddel, and warned him that it would be presented punctually. Having no reply, I brought the document to you, before taking it to the endorser."

"Mr. Liddel has no liability; I have," Foster interposed. "Let me see the thing."

Grant gave it him and watched him keenly, but Foster's face was inscrutable.

"It looks in order. Since Jervis Liddel cannot pay, I suppose I must."

"Then you mean to honour your endorsement?"

"Certainly," said Foster. "What did you expect? It's not my habit to disown my debts. Cancel the document, and I'll give you a cheque."

Grant did not state what he expected, but looked vastly relieved, and when he took the cheque Foster gave Mrs. Liddel the cancelled bill.

"That's done with! I don't think there is anything more to be said."

When Grant went out Foster turned to Liddel. "I have now the honour to ask for your consent to my marriage with your daughter."

"I suppose this formality is to save my feelings! You take my consent for granted?"

"In a sense," said Foster. "You are not at liberty to refuse, but Miss Liddel is. I thought that was understood."

Liddel was silent for a moment, his face hot and flushed. Then he said: "You are generous, Mr. Foster. Perhaps more generous than I deserve. But I must ask a question. Can you support a wife in the comfort my daughter has some right to expect?"

"I cannot support her in idle extravagance, but I think she would not wish it, and there is nothing needful she would go without. For all that, I am a plain farmer, and she must choose between my way of life and yours. In the meantime here is a statement I asked my bank manager to make."

Liddel studied the document with surprise and satisfaction, and then gave it to his wife.

"I had not expected to find you so rich. How did you get the money?"

"I worked," said Foster, smiling. "Took risks others shrank from, and held on until I won; but I inherited some of the capital. It's important for you to understand that I mean to work now. None of this money will be spent in luxury. It will go in improving and extending Roughten farm."

"Well," said Liddel, "Grace must decide. I will send for her."

Grace's colour was high when she came in, but she listened calmly while Liddel spoke. Then she lifted her head and her eyes sparkled.

"Mr. Foster does us an honour, but knowing what he knows about us, he is rash. Still, if he is willing to run the risk----"

"Grace!" said Foster, in protest. "The worst risk I ever ran was the chance of losing you. But I won't trade upon your gratitude, and you have much to give up."

She gave him her hand with a proud smile. "Then I make my choice gladly. Where you go I will go with confidence, and trust."

Mrs. Liddel rose and kissed her. "My dear, I think you have chosen well. In time to come your father will see this, as I see it now."

She let them go and when they went out put her hand on her husband's shoulder, for Liddel sat at the big table, looking worn, with his head bent.

"Things change," she said gently. "It is hard to readjust one's views when one is getting old, but I have no fears for Grace. She will be happy with the man who has saved the honour of our house."


THE END

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