Chapter XI: Senior and Junior

It was a hard task for the proud and austere merchant to be compelled to confess to his son that he had speculated without his knowledge in the capital of the company, and that a large part of that capital had disappeared. These speculations in many instances had promised large returns, and John Girdlestone had withdrawn money from safer concerns, and reinvested it in the hope of getting a higher rate of interest. He had done this with his eyes open to the risk, and knowing that his son was of too practical and cautious a nature to embark in such commercial gambling, he had never consulted him upon the point, nor had he made any entry of the money so invested in the accounts of the firm. Hence Ezra was entirely ignorant of the danger which hung over them, and his father saw that, in order to secure his energetic assistance in the stroke which he was contemplating, it was absolutely necessary that he should know how critical their position was.

The old man had hardly come to this conclusion when he heard the sharp footfall of his son in the outer office and the harsh tones of his voice as he addressed the clerks. A moment or two later the green baize door flew open, and the young man came in, throwing his hat and coat down on one of the chairs. It was evident that something had ruffled his temper.

“Good-morning,” he said brusquely, nodding his head to his father.

“Good-morning, Ezra,” the merchant answered meekly.

“What’s the matter with you, father?” his son asked, looking at him keenly. “You don’t look yourself, and haven’t for some time back.”

“Business worries, my boy, business worries,” John Girdlestone answered wearily.

“It’s the infernal atmosphere of this place,” Ezra said impatiently. “I feel it myself sometimes. I wonder you don’t start a little country seat with some grounds. Just enough to ask a fellow to shoot over, and with a good billiard board, and every convenience of that sort. It would do for us to spend the time from Saturday to Monday, and allow us to get some fresh air into our lungs. There are plenty of men who can’t afford it half as well, and yet have something of the sort. What’s the use of having a good balance at your banker’s, if you don’t live better than your neighbours?”

“There is only one objection to it,” the merchant said huskily, and with a forced laugh; “I have not got a good balance at the banker’s.”

“Pretty fair, pretty fair,” his son said knowingly, picking up the long thin volume in which the finance of the firm was recorded and tapping it against the table.

“But the figures there are not quite correct, Ezra,” his father said, still more huskily. “We have not got nearly so much as that.”

“What!” roared the junior partner.

“Hush! For God’s sake don’t let the clerks hear you. We have not so much as that. We have very little. In fact, Ezra, we have next to nothing in the bank. It is all gone.”

For a moment the young man stood motionless, glaring at his father. The expression of incredulity which had appeared on his features faded away before the earnestness of the other, and was replaced by a look of such malignant passion that it contorted his whole face.

“You fool!” he shrieked, springing forward with the book upraised as though he would have struck the old merchant. “I see it now. You have been speculating on your own hook, you cursed ass! What have you done with it?” He seized his father by the collar and shook him furiously in his wrath.

“Keep your hands off me!” the senior partner cried, wrenching himself free from his son’s grasp. “I did my best with the money. How dare you address me so?”

“Did your best!” hissed Ezra, hurling the ledger down on the table with a crash. “What did you mean by speculating without my knowledge, and telling me at the same time that I knew all that was done? Hadn’t I warned you a thousand times of the danger of it? You are not to be trusted with money.”

“Remember, Ezra,” his father said with dignity, re-seating himself in the chair from which he had risen, in order to free himself from his son’s clutches, “if I lost the money, I also made it. This was a flourishing concern before you were born. If the worst comes to the worst you are only where I started. But we are far from being absolutely ruined as yet.”

“To think of it!” Ezra cried, flinging himself upon the office sofa, and burying his face in his hands. “To think of all I have said of our money and our resources! What will Clutterbuck and the fellows at the club say? How can I alter the ways of life that I have learned?” Then, suddenly clenching his hands, and turning upon his father he broke out, “We must have it back, father; we must, by fair means or foul. You must do it, for it was you who lost it. What can we do? How long have we to do it in? Is this known in the City? Oh, I shall be ashamed to show my face on ‘Change.” So he rambled on, half-maddened by the pictures of the future which rose up in his mind.

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