But what could have happened to Ned?
THE MAN IN POSSESSION
One morning, two or three months after Henry had left home, old Mr. Lingard came to him as he sat bent, drearily industrious, over some accounts, and said that he wished him in half-an-hour’s time to go with him to a new client; and presently the two set out together, Henry wondering what it was to be, and welcoming anything that even exchanged for a while one prison-house for another.
“I am taking you,” said the old man, as they walked along together, “to a firm of carriers and carters whose affairs have just come into our hands; there is a dispute arisen between the partners. We represent certain interests, as I shall presently explain to you, and you are to be our representative,—our man in possession,” and the old gentleman laughed uncannily.
“You never expected to be a man in possession, did you?”
Henry thrilled with a sense of awful intimacy, thus walking and even jesting with his august employer.
“It may very likely be a long business,” the old man continued; “and I fear may be a little dull for you. For you must be on the spot all day long. Your lunch will be served to you from the manager’s house; I will see to that. Actually, there will be very little for you to do, beyond looking over the day-book and receipts for the day. The main thing is for you to be there,—so to say, the moral effect of your presence,”—and the old gentleman laughed again. Then, with an amused sympathy that seemed almost exquisite to Henry, he chuckled out, looking at him, from one corner of his eye, like a roguish skeleton—
“You’ll be able to write as much poetry as you like. I see you’ve got a book with you. Well, it will keep you awake. I don’t mind that,—or even the poetry,—so long as you don’t forget the day-book.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Henry, almost hysterically.
“I suppose,” the old man continued, presently, and in all he said there was a tone of affectionate banter that quite won Henry’s heart, “that you’re still as set on literature as ever. Well, well, far be it from me to discourage you; but, my dear boy, you’ll find out that we can’t live on dreams.” (Henry thought, but didn’t dare to say, that it was dreams alone that made it possible to live at all.) “I suppose you think I’m a dried-up old fellow enough. Well, well, I’ve had my dreams too. Yes, I’ve had my dreams,”—Henry thought of what he had discovered that day in the old man’s diary,—“and I’ve written my verses to my lady’s eyebrow in my time too. Ah, my boy, we are all young and foolish once in our lives!” and it was evident what a narrow and desperate escape from being a poet the old man had had.
They had some distance to walk, for the stables to which they were bound were situated in an old and rather disreputable part of the town. “It’s not a nice quarter,” said Mr. Lingard, “not particularly salubrious or refined,” as bad smells and dirty women began to cross their path; “but they are nice people you’ve got to deal with, and the place itself is clean and nice enough, when you once get inside.”