‘Fifty pounds!’ the old woman cried aghast. ‘Yo’ talk easily of fifty pounds. And, Lord knows, it is soon spent here. But where will yo’ get another?’
‘Well, well,’ the girl answered patiently, ’that is true. Yet we must make the best of it. Let us make the best of it,’ she continued, appealing to them bravely, yet with tears in her voice. ’We are all losers together. Let us bear it together. I have lost most,’ she continued, her voice trembling. Fifty pounds? Oh, God! what was fifty pounds to what she had lost. ’But perhaps I deserve it. I was too ready to leave you, mother. I was too ready to—to take up with new things and—and richer things, and forget those who had been kin to me and kind to me all my life. Perhaps this is my punishment. You have lost your all, but that we will get again. And our friend here—he, too, has lost.’
Mr. Fishwick, standing, dogged and downcast, by the window, did not say what he had lost, but his thoughts went to his old mother at Wallingford and the empty stocking, and the weekly letters he had sent her for a month past, letters full of his golden prospects, and the great case of Soane v. Soane, and the grand things that were to come of it. What a home-coming was now in store for him, his last guinea spent, his hopes wrecked, and Wallingford to be faced!
There was a brief silence. Mrs. Masterson sobbed querulously, or now and again uttered a wailing complaint: the other two stood sank in bitter retrospect. Presently, ‘What must we do?’ Julia asked in a faint voice.’ I mean, what step must we take? Will you let them know?’
‘I will see them,’ Mr. Fishwick answered, wincing at the note of pain in her voice. ’I—I was sent for this morning, for twelve o’clock. It is a quarter to eleven now.’
She looked at him, startled, a spot of red in each cheek. ’We must go away,’ she said hurriedly, ’while we have money. Can we do better than return to Oxford?’
The attorney felt sure that at the worst Sir George would do something for her: that Mrs. Masterson need not lament for her fifty pounds. But he had the delicacy to ignore this. ‘I don’t know,’ he said mournfully. ’I dare not advise. You’d be sorry, Miss Julia—any one would be sorry who knew what I have gone through. I’ve suffered—I can’t tell you what I have suffered—the last twenty-four hours! I shall never have any opinion of myself again. Never!’
Julia sighed. ‘We must cut a month out of our lives,’ she murmured. But it was something else she meant—a month out of her heart!