It was a dull October morning in Fenchurch Street, some weeks after the events with which our story opened. The murky City air looked murkier still through the glazed office windows. Girdlestone, grim and grey, as though he were the very embodiment of the weather, stooped over his mahogany table. He had a long list in front of him, on which he was checking off, as a prelude to the day’s work, the position in the market of the various speculations in which the capital of the firm was embarked. His son Ezra lounged in an easy chair opposite him, looking dishevelled and dark under the eyes, for he had been up half the night, and the Nemesis of reaction was upon him.
“Faugh!” his father ejaculated, glancing round at him with disgust.
“You have been drinking already this morning.”
“I took a brandy and seltzer on the way to the office,” he answered carelessly. “I needed one to steady me.”
“A young fellow of your age should not want steadying. You have a strong constitution, but you must not play tricks with it. You must have been very late last night. It was nearly one before I went to bed.”
“I was playing cards with Major Clutterbuck and one or two others.
We kept it up rather late.”
“With Major Clutterbuck?”
“I don’t care about your consorting so much with that man. He drinks and gambles, and does you no good. What good has he ever done himself? Take care that he does not fleece you.” The merchant felt instinctively, as he glanced at the shrewd, dark face of his son, that the warning was a superfluous one.
“No fear, father,” Ezra answered sulkily; “I am old enough to choose my own friends.”
“Why such a friend as that?”
“I like to know men of that class. You are a successful man, father, but you—well, you can’t be much help to me socially. You need some one to show you the ropes, and the major is my man. When I can stand alone, I’ll soon let him know it.”
“Well, go your own way,” said Girdlestone shortly. Hard to all the world, he was soft only in this one direction. From childhood every discussion between father and son had ended with the same words.
“It is business time,” he resumed. “Let us confine ourselves to business. I see that Illinois were at 112 yesterday.”
“They are at 113 this morning.”