Chapter II: Charity a La Mode

“What! have you been on ‘Change already?”

“Yes, I dropped in there on my way to the office. I would hold on to those. They will go up for some days yet.”

The senior partner made a pencil note on the margin of the list.

“We’ll hold on to the cotton we have,” he said.

“No, sell out at once,” Ezra answered with decision, “I saw young Featherstone, of Liverpool, last night, or rather this morning. It was hard to make head or tail of what the fool said, but he let fall enough to show that there was likely to be a drop.”

Girdlestone made another mark upon the paper. He never questioned his son’s decisions now, for long experience had shown him that they were never formed without solid grounds. “Take this list, Ezra,” he said, handing him the paper, “and run your eye over it. If you see anything that wants changing, mark it.”

“I’ll do it in the counting-house,” his son answered. “I can keep my eye on those lazy scamps of clerks. Gilray has no idea of keeping them in order.”

As he went out he cannoned against an elderly gentleman in a white waistcoat, who was being shown in, and who ricochetted off him into the office, where he shook hands heartily with the elder Girdlestone. It was evident from the laboured cordiality of the latter’s greeting that the new-comer was a man of some importance. He was, indeed, none other than the well-known philanthropist, Mr. Jefferson Edwards, M.P. for Middlehurst, whose name upon a bill was hardly second to that of Rothschild.

“How do, Girdlestone, how do?” he exclaimed, mopping his face with his handkerchief. He was a fussy little man, with a brusque, nervous manner. “Hard at it as usual, eh? Always pegging away. Wonderful man. Ha, ha! Wonderful!”

“You look warm,” the merchant answered, rubbing his hands. “Let me offer you some claret. I have some in the cupboard.”

“No, thank you,” the visitor answered, staring across at the head of the firm as though he were some botanical curiosity. “Extraordinary fellow. ‘Iron’ Girdlestone, they call you in the City. A good name, too— ha! ha!—an excellent name. Iron-grey, you know, and hard to look at, but soft here, my dear sir, soft here.” The little man tapped him with his walking-stick over the cardiac region and laughed boisterously, while his grim companion smiled slightly and bowed to the compliment.

“I’ve come here begging,” said Mr. Jefferson Edwards, producing a portentous-looking roll of paper from an inner pocket. “Know I’ve come to the right place for charity. The Aboriginal Evolution Society, my dear boy. All it wants are a few hundreds to float it off. Noble aim, Girdlestone—glorious object.”

“What is the object?” the merchant asked.

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