MR. LISMORE AND THE WIDOW





Late in the autumn, not many years since, a public meeting was held

at the Mansion House, London, under the direction of the Lord Mayor.



The list of gentlemen invited to address the audience had been

chosen with two objects in view. Speakers of celebrity, who would

rouse public enthusiasm, were supported by speakers connected with

commerce, who would be practically useful in explaining the purpose

for which the meeting was convened. Money wisely spent in advertising

had produced the customary result: every seat was occupied before

the proceedings began.



Among the late arrivals, who had no choice but to stand or to leave

the hall, were two ladies. One of them at once decided on leaving

the hall.



"I shall go back to the carriage," she said, "and wait for you at

the door."



Her friend answered, "I sha'n't keep you long. He is advertised

to support the second resolution; I want to see him, and that is

all."



An elderly gentleman, seated at the end of a bench, rose and

offered his place to the lady who remained. She hesitated to take

advantage of his kindness, until he reminded her that he had heard

what she said to her friend. Before the third resolution was proposed

his seat would be at his own disposal again. She thanked him, and

without further ceremony took his place. He was provided with an

opera-glass, which he more than once offered to her when famous

orators appeared on the platform. She made no use of it until

a speaker, known in the City as a ship-owner, stepped forward to

support the second resolution.



His name (announced in the advertisements) was Ernest Lismore.



The moment he rose the lady asked for the opera-glass. She kept

it to her eyes for such a length of time, and with such evident

interest in Mr. Lismore, that the curiosity of her neighbours

was aroused. Had he anything to say in which a lady (evidently a

stranger to him) was personally interested? There was nothing in

the address that he delivered which appealed to the enthusiasm of

women. He was undoubtedly a handsome man, whose appearance proclaimed

him to be in the prime of life, midway, perhaps, between thirty

and forty years of age. But why a lady should persist in keeping

an opera-glass fixed on him all through his speech was a question

which found the general ingenuity at a loss for a reply.



Having returned the glass with an apology, the lady ventured on

putting a question next. "Did it strike you, sir, that Mr. Lismore

seemed to be out of spirits?" she asked.



"I can't say it did, ma'am."



"Perhaps you noticed that he left the platform the moment he had

done?"



This betrayal of interest in the speaker did not escape the notice

of a lady seated on the bench in front. Before the old gentleman

could answer she volunteered an explanation.



"I am afraid Mr. Lismore is troubled by anxieties connected with

his business," she said. "My husband heard it reported in the City

yesterday that he was seriously embarrassed by the failure---"



A loud burst of applause made the end of the sentence inaudible.

A famous member of Parliament had risen to propose the third

resolution. The polite old man took his seat, and the lady left

the hall to join her friend.



"Well, Mrs. Callender, has Mr. Lismore disappointed you?"



"Far from it! But I have heard a report about him which has alarmed

me: he is said to be seriously troubled about money matters. How

can I find out his address in the City?"



"We can stop at the first stationer's shop we pass, and ask to look

at the directory. Are you going to pay Mr. Lismore a visit?"



"I am going to think about it."



The next day a clerk entered Mr. Lismore's private room at the office,

and presented a visiting-card. Mrs. Callender had reflected, and

had arrived at a decision. Underneath her name she had written

these explanatory words: "An important business."



"Does she look as if she wanted money?" Mr. Lismore inquired.



"Oh dear, no! She comes in her carriage."



"Is she young or old?"



"Old, sir."



To Mr. Lismore, conscious of the disastrous influence occasionally

exercised over busy men by youth and beauty, this was a recommendation

in itself. He said, "Show her in."



Observing the lady as she approached him with the momentary

curiosity of a stranger, he noticed that she still preserved the

remains of beauty. She had also escaped the misfortune, common

to persons at her time of life, of becoming too fat. Even to a

man's eye, her dressmaker appeared to have made the most of that

favourable circumstance. Her figure had its defects concealed,

and its remaining merits set off to advantage. At the same time she

evidently held herself above the common deceptions by which some

women seek to conceal their age. She wore her own gray hair, and

her complexion bore the test of daylight. On entering the room, she

made her apologies with some embarrassment. Being the embarrassment

of a stranger (and not of a youthful stranger) it failed to impress

Mr. Lismore favourably.



"I am afraid I have chosen an inconvenient time for my visit," she

began.



"I am at your service," he answered, a little stiffly, "especially

if you will be so kind as to mention your business with me in few

words."



She was a woman of some spirit, and that reply roused her.



"I will mention it in one word," she said, smartly." My business

is--gratitude."



He was completely at a loss to understand what she meant, and he

said so plainly. Instead of explaining herself she put a question.



"Do you remember the night of the 11th of March, between five and

six years since?"



He considered for a moment.



"No," he said, "I don't remember it. Excuse me Mrs. Callender, I

have affairs of my own to attend to which cause me some anxiety---"



"Let me assist your memory, Mr. Lismore, and I will leave you to

your affairs. On the date that I have referred to you were on your

way to the railway-station at Bexmore, to catch the night express

from the north to London."





As a hint that his time was valuable the ship-owner had hitherto

remained standing. He now took his customary seat, and began to

listen with some interest. Mrs. Callender had produced her effect

on him already.



"It was absolutely necessary," she proceeded, "that you should be

on board your ship in the London docks at nine o'clock the next

morning. If you had lost the express the vessel would have sailed

without you."



The expression of his face began to change to surprise.



"Who told you that?" he asked.



"You shall hear directly. On your way into the town your carriage

was stopped by an obstruction on the highroad. The people of Bexmore

were looking at a house on fire."



He started to his feet.



"Good heavens! are you the lady?"



She held up her hand in satirical protest.



"Gently, sir! You suspected me just now of wasting your valuable

time. Don't rashly conclude that I am the lady until you find that

I am acquainted with the circumstances."



"Is there no excuse for my failing to recognise you?" Mr. Lismore

asked. "We were on the dark side of the burning house; you were

fainting, and I--"



"And you," she interposed, "after saving me at the risk of your

own life, turned a deaf ear to my poor husband's entreaties when

he asked you to wait till I had recovered my senses."



"Your poor husband? Surely, Mrs. Callender, he received no serious

injury from the fire?"



"The firemen rescued him under circumstances of peril," she

answered, "and at his great age he sank under the shock. I have

lost the kindest and best of men. Do you remember how you parted

from him--burned and bruised in saving me? He liked to talk of it

in his last illness. 'At least,' he said to you, 'tell me the name

of the man who preserved my wife from a dreadful death.' You threw

your card to him out of the carriage window, and away you went

at a gallop to catch your train. In all the years that have passed

I have kept that card, and have vainly inquired for my brave

sea-captain. Yesterday I saw your name on the list of speakers at

the Mansion House, Need I say that I attended the meeting? Need I

tell you now why I come here and interrupt you in business hours?"



She held out her hand. Mr. Lismore took it in silence, and pressed

it warmly.



"You have not done with me yet," she resumed, with a smile. "Do

you remember what I said of my errand when I first came in?"



"You said it was an errand of gratitude."



"Something more than the gratitude which only says 'thank you,'"

she added. "Before I explain myself, however, I want to know what

you have been doing, and how it was that my inquiries failed to

trace you after that terrible night." The appearance of depression

which Mrs. Calender had noticed at the public meeting showed itself

again in Mr. Lismore's face. He sighed as he answered her.



"My story has one merit," he said: "it is soon told. I cannot

wonder that you failed to discover me. In the first place, I was not

captain of my ship at that time; I was only mate. In the second

place, I inherited some money, and ceased to lead a sailor's

life, in less than a year from the night of the fire. You will now

understand what obstacles were in the way of your tracing me. With

my little capital I started successfully in business as a ship-owner.

At the time I naturally congratulated myself on my own good fortune.

We little know, Mrs. Callender, what the future has in store for

us."



He stopped. His handsome features hardened, as if he were suffering

(and concealing) pain. Before it was possible to speak to him there

was a knock at the door. Another visitor without an appointment

had called; the clerk appeared again with a card and a message.



"The gentleman begs you will see him, sir. He has something to tell

you which is too important to be delayed."



Hearing the message, Mrs. Callender rose immediately.



"It is enough for to-day that we understand each other," she said.

"Have you any engagement to-morrow after the hours of business?"



"None."



She pointed to her card on the writing-table. "Will you come to

me to-morrow evening at that address? I am like the gentleman who

has just called: I too have my reason for wishing to see you."



He gladly accepted the invitation. Mrs. Callender stopped him as

he opened the door for her.



"Shall I offend you," she said, "if I ask a strange question before

I go? I have a better motive, mind, than mere curiosity. Are you

married?"



"No."



"Forgive me again," she resumed. "At my age you cannot possibly

misunderstand me; and yet--"



She hesitated. Mr. Lismore tried to give her confidence. "Pray

don't stand on ceremony, Mrs. Callender. Nothing that _you_

can ask me need be prefaced by an apology."



Thus encouraged, she ventured to proceed. "You may be engaged to

be married?" she suggested. "Or you may be in love?"



He found it impossible to conceal his surprise, but he answered

without hesitation.



"There is no such bright prospect in _my_ life," he said. "I

am not even in love."



She left him with a little sigh. It sounded like a sigh of relief.



Ernest Lismore was thoroughly puzzled. What could be the old lady's

object in ascertaining that he was still free from a matrimonial

engagement? If the idea had occurred to him in time he might

have alluded to her domestic life, and might have asked if she had

children. With a little tact he might have discovered more than this.

She had described her feeling toward him as passing the ordinary

limits of gratitude, and she was evidently rich enough to be above

the imputation of a mercenary motive. Did she propose to brighten

those dreary prospects to which he had alluded in speaking of his

own life? When he presented himself at her house the next evening

would she introduce him to a charming daughter?



He smiled as the idea occurred to him. "An appropriate time to be

thinking of my chances of marriage!" he said to himself. "In another

month I may be a ruined man."



The gentleman who had so urgently requested an interview was

a devoted friend, who had obtained a means of helping Ernest at a

serious crisis in his affairs.



It had been truly reported that he was in a position of pecuniary

embarrassment, owing to the failure of a mercantile house with

which he had been intimately connected. Whispers affecting his own

solvency had followed on the bankruptcy of the firm. He had already

endeavoured to obtain advances of money on the usual conditions,

and had been met by excuses for delay. His friend had now arrived

with a letter of introduction to a capitalist, well known in

commercial circles for his daring speculations and for his great

wealth.



Looking at the letter, Ernest observed that the envelope was sealed.

In spite of that ominous innovation on established usage in cases

of personal introduction, he presented the letter. On this occasion

he was not put off with excuses. The capitalist flatly declined to

discount Mr. Lismore's bills unless they were backed by responsible

names.



Ernest made a last effort.



He applied for help to two mercantile men whom he had assisted in

_their_ difficulties, and whose names would have satisfied the

money-lender. They were most sincerely sorry, but they too refused.



The one security that he could offer was open, it must be owned,

to serious objections on the score of risk. He wanted an advance

of twenty thousand pounds, secured on a homeward-bound ship and

cargo. But the vessel was not insured, and at that stormy season

she was already more than a month overdue. Could grateful colleagues

be blamed if they forgot their obligations when they were asked

to offer pecuniary help to a merchant in this situation? Ernest

returned to his office without money and without credit.



A man threatened by ruin is in no state of mind to keep an engagement

at a lady's tea-table. Ernest sent a letter of apology to Mrs.

Callender, alleging extreme pressure of business as the excuse for

breaking his engagement.



"Am I to wait for an answer, sir?" the messenger asked.



"No; you are merely to leave the letter."



In an hour's time, to Ernest's astonishment, the messenger returned

with a reply.



"The lady was just going out, sir, when I rang at the door," he

explained, "and she took the letter from me herself. She didn't

appear to know your handwriting, and she asked me who I came from.

When I mentioned your name I was ordered to wait."



Ernest opened the letter.



"DEAR MR. LISMORE: One of us must speak out, and your letter of

apology forces me to be that one. If you are really so proud and

so distrustful as you seem to be, I shall offend you; if not, I

shall prove myself to be your friend.



"Your excuse is 'pressure of business'; the truth (as I have good

reason to believe) is 'want of money.' I heard a stranger at that

public meeting say that you were seriously embarrassed by some

failure in the City.



"Let me tell you what my own pecuniary position is in two words:

I am the childless widow of a rich man--"



Ernest paused. His anticipated discovery of Mrs. Callender's

"charming daughter" was in his mind for the moment. "That little

romance must return to the world of dreams," he thought, and went

on with the letter.



"After what I owe to you, I don't regard it as repaying an

obligation; I consider myself as merely performing a duty when I

offer to assist you by a loan of money.



"Wait a little before you throw my letter into the waste-paper

basket.



"Circumstances (which it is impossible for me to mention before

we meet) put it out of my power to help you--unless I attach to my

most sincere offer of service a very unusual and very embarrassing

condition. If you are on the brink of ruin that misfortune will

plead my excuse--and your excuse too, if you accept the loan on my

terms. In any case, I rely on the sympathy and forbearance of the

man to whom I owe my life.



"After what I have now written, there is only one thing to add: I

beg to decline accepting your excuses, and I shall expect to see

you to-morrow evening, as we arranged. I am an obstinate old woman,

but I am also your faithful friend and servant,





MR. GRAY SQUIRREL'S MISTAKE MRS. FOX OUTWITS DOG SPOT facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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