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- In the Year of Jubilee - 20/87 -
There was poor Jessica. As July drew on, Jessica began to look cadaverous, ghostly. She would assuredly break down long before the time of her examination. What a wretched, what an absurd existence! Her home, too, was so miserable. Mrs. Morgan lay ill, unable to attend to anything; if she could not have a change of air, it must soon be all over with her. But they had no money, no chance of going to the seaside.
It happened at length that Mr. Lord saw Jessica one evening, when she had come to spend an hour in Grove Lane. After her departure, he asked Nancy what was the matter with the girl, and Nancy explained the situation.
'Well, why not take her with you, when you go away?'
'I didn't know that I was going away, father. Nothing has been said of it.'
'It's your own business. I leave you to make what plans you like.'
'_You_ ought to have a change,' she said considerately. 'It would do you good. Suppose we all go to Teignmouth? I should think that would suit you.'
'I enjoyed it last year. And the lodgings were comfortable. We could have the same, from the first week in August.'
'How do you know?'
'I wrote the other day, and asked,' Nancy replied with a smile.
But Mr. Lord declined to leave home. Mary Woodruff did her best to persuade him, until he angrily imposed silence. In a day or two he said to Nancy:
'If you wish to go to Teignmouth, take Jessica and her mother. People mustn't die for want of a five-pound note. Make your arrangements, and let me know what money you'll need.'
'It's very kind of you, father.'
Mr. Lord turned away. His daughter noticed that he walked feebly, and she felt a moment's compunction.
'Father--you are not so well to-day.'
Without looking round, he replied that he would be well enough if left alone; and Nancy did not venture to say more.
A few days later, she called in De Crespigny Park after dinnertime. Mrs. Peachey and Fanny were at Brighton; Beatrice had preferred to stay in London, being very busy with her great project. Whilst she talked of it with Nancy, Peachey and Luckworth Crewe came in together. There was sprightly conversation, in which the host, obviously glad of his wife's absence, took a moderate part. Presently, Miss. Lord and he found themselves gossiping alone; the other two had moved aside, and, as a look informed Nancy, were deep in confidential dialogue.
'What do you think of that business?' she asked her companion in an undertone.
'I shouldn't wonder if it answers,' said the young man, speaking as usual, with a soft, amiable voice. 'Our friend is helping, and he generally knows what he's about.'
Crewe remained only for half-an-hour; on shaking hands with him, Nancy made known that she was going to the seaside next Monday for a few weeks, and the man of business answered only with 'I hope you'll enjoy yourself.' Soon afterwards, she took leave. At the junction of De Crespigny Park and Grove Lane, some one approached her, and with no great surprise Nancy saw that it was Crewe.
'Been waiting for you,' he said. 'You remember you promised me another walk.'
'Oh, it's much too late.'
'Of course it is. I didn't mean now. But to-morrow.'
'Impossible.' She moved on, in the direction away from her home. 'I shall be with friends in the evening, the Morgans.'
'Confound it! I had made up my mind to ask you for last Saturday, but some country people nabbed me for the whole of that day. I took them up the Monument, and up St Paul's.'
'I've never been up the Monument,' said Nancy.
'Never? Come to-morrow afternoon then. You can spare the afternoon. Let's meet early somewhere. Take a bus to London Bridge. I'll be at the north end of London Bridge at three o'clock.'
'All right; I'll be there,' Nancy replied off-hand.
'You really will? Three, sharp. I was never late at an appointment, business or pleasure.'
'Which do you consider this?' asked his companion, with a shrewd glance.
'Now that's unkind. I came here to-night on business, though. You quite understand that, didn't you? I shouldn't like you to make any mistake. Business, pure and simple.'
'Why, of course,' replied Nancy, with an ingenuous air. 'What else could it be?' And she added, 'Don't come any further. Ta-ta!'
Crewe went off into the darkness.
The next afternoon, Nancy alighted at London Bridge a full quarter of an hour late. It had been raining at intervals through the day, and clouds still cast a gloom over the wet streets. Crewe, quite insensible to atmospheric influence, came forward with his wonted brisk step and animated visage. At Miss. Lord's side he looked rather more plebeian than when walking by himself; his high-hat, not of the newest, utterly misbecame his head, and was always at an unconventional angle, generally tilting back; his clothes, of no fashionable cut, bore the traces of perpetual hurry and multifarious impact. But he carried a perfectly new and expensive umbrella, to which, as soon as he had shaken hands with her, he drew Nancy's attention.
'A present this morning, from a friend of mine in the business. I ran into his shop to get shelter. Upon my word, I had no intention; didn't think anything about it. However, he owed me an acknowledgment; I've sent him three customers from our office since I saw him last. By-the-bye, I shall have half a day at the seaside on Monday. There's a sale of building-plots down at Whitsand. The estate agents run a complimentary special train for people going down to bid, and give a lunch before the auction begins. Not bad business.'
'Are _you_ going to bid?' asked Nancy.
'I'm going to have a look, at all events; and if I see anything that takes my fancy--. Ever been to Whitsand? I'm told it's a growing place. I should like to get hold of a few advertising stations.-- Where is it you are going to on Monday? Teignmouth? I don't know that part of the country. Wish I could run down, but I shan't have time. I've got my work cut out for August and September. Would you like to come and see the place where I think of opening shop?'
'Is it far?'
'No. We'll walk round when we've been up the Monument. You don't often go about the City, I daresay. Nothing doing, of course, on a Saturday afternoon.'
Nancy made him moderate his pace, which was too quick for her. Part of the pleasure she found in Crewe's society came from her sense of being so undeniably his superior; she liked to give him a sharp command, and observe his ready obedience. To his talk she listened with a good-natured, condescending smile, occasionally making a remark which implied a more liberal view, a larger intelligence, than his. Thus, as they stood for a moment to look down at the steamboat wharf, and Crewe made some remark about the value of a cargo just being discharged, she said carelessly:
'I suppose that's the view you take of everything? You rate everything at market price.'
'Marketable things, of course. But you know me well enough to understand that I'm not always thinking of the shop. Wait till I've made money.--Now then, clumsy!'
A man, leaning over the parapet by Nancy's side, had pushed against her. Thus addressed he glared at the speaker, but encountered a bellicose look which kept him quiet.
'I shall live in a big way,' Crewe continued, as they walked on towards Fish Street Hill. 'Not for the swagger of it; I don't care about that, but because I've a taste for luxury. I shall have a country house, and keep good horses. And I should like to have a little farm of my own, a model farm; make my own butter and cheese, and know that I ate the real thing. I shall buy pictures. Haven't I told you I like pictures? Oh yes. I shall go round among the artists, and encourage talent that hasn't made itself known.'
'Can you recognise it?' asked Nancy.
'Well, I shall learn to. And I shall have my wife's portrait painted by some first-rate chap, never mind what it costs, and hung in the Academy. That's a great idea of mine--to see my wife's portrait in the Academy.'
His companion laughed.
'Take care, then, that your wife is ornamental.'
'I'll take precious good care of that!' Crewe exclaimed merrily. 'Do you suppose I should dream of marrying a woman who wasn't good-looking?'
'Don't shout, please. People can hear you.'
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