“How’s business?” he asked the assistant.
“Dull, sir,” replied Mr. James. “He throws it all away, and neglects his chances. Naturally, being so rich—”
“So rich, indeed,” the solicitor echoed.
“It will be bad for his successor,” Mr. James went on, thinking how much he should himself like to be that successor. “The goodwill won’t be worth half what it ought to be, and the stock is just falling to pieces.”
Mr. Chalker looked about him again thoughtfully, and opened his mouth as if about to ask a question, but said nothing. He remembered, in time, that the shopman was not likely to know the amount of his master’s capital or investments.
“There isn’t a book even in the glass-case that’s worth a five-pound note,” continued Mr. James, whispering, “and he don’t look about for purchases any more. Seems to have lost his pluck.”
Mr. Chalker returned to the back-shop.
“Within three weeks, Mr. Emblem,” he repeated, and then departed.
Mr. Emblem sat in his chair. He had to find three hundred and fifty pounds in three weeks. No one knew better than himself that this was impossible. Within three weeks! But, in three weeks, he would open the packet of letters, and give Iris her inheritance. At least, she would not suffer. As for himself—He looked round the little back shop, and tried to recall the fifty years he had spent there, the books he had bought and sold, the money which had slipped through his fingers, the friends who had come and gone. Why, as for the books, he seemed to remember them every one—his joy in the purchase, his pride in possession, and his grief at letting them go. All the friends gone before him, his trade sunk to nothing.
“Yet,” he murmured, “I thought it would last my time.”
But the clock struck six. It was his tea-time. He rose mechanically, and went upstairs to Iris.
Fox and wolf.
Mr. James, left to himself, attempted, in accordance with his daily custom, to commit a dishonorable action.
That is to say, he first listened carefully to the retreating footsteps of his master, as he went up the stairs; then he left his table, crept stealthily into the back shop, and began to pull the drawers, turn the handle of the safe, and try the desk. Everything was carefully locked. Then he turned over all the papers on the table, but found nothing that contained the information he looked for. It was his daily practice thus to try the locks, in hope that some day the safe, or the drawers, or the desk would be left open by accident, when he might be able to solve a certain problem, the doubt and difficulty of which sore let and hindered him—namely, of what extent, and where placed, were those great treasures, savings, and investments which enabled his master to be careless over his business. It was, further, customary with him to be thus frustrated and disappointed. Having briefly, therefore, also in accordance with his usual custom, expressed his disgust at this want of confidence between master and man, Mr. James returned to his paste and scissors.