“Be calm, Ezra, be calm!” his father said imploringly. “We have many chances yet if we only make the best of them. There is no use lamenting the past. I freely confess that I was wrong in using this money without your knowledge, but I did it from the best of motives. We must put our heads together now to retrieve our losses, and there are many ways in which that may be done. I want your clear common sense to help me in the matter.”
“Pity you didn’t apply to that before,” Ezra said sulkily.
“I have suffered for not doing so,” the older man answered meekly. “In considering how to rally under this grievous affliction which has come upon us, we must remember that our credit is a great resource, and one upon which we have never drawn. That gives us a broad margin to help us while we are carrying out our plans for the future.”
“What will our credit be worth when this matter leaks out?”
“But it can’t leak out. No one suspects it for a moment. They might imagine that we are suffering from some temporary depression of trade, but no one could possibly know the sad truth. For Heaven’s sake don’t you let it out!”
His son broke into an impatient oath.
A flush came into Girdlestone’s sallow cheeks, and his eyes sparkled angrily.
“Be careful how you speak, Ezra. There are limits to what I will endure from you, though I make every allowance for your feelings at this sudden catastrophe, for which I acknowledge myself responsible.”
The young man shrugged his shoulders, and drummed his heel against the ground impatiently.
“I have more than one plan in my head,” the merchant said, “by which our affairs may be re-established on their old footing. If we can once get sufficient money to satisfy our present creditors, and so tide over this run of bad luck, the current will set in the other way, and all will go well. And, first of all, there is one question, my boy, which I should like to ask you. What do you think of John Harston’s daughter?”
“She’s right enough,” the young man answered brusquely.
“She’s a good girl, Ezra—a thoroughly good girl, and a rich girl too, though her money is a small thing in my eyes compared to her virtue.”
Young Girdlestone sneered. “Of course,” he said impatiently. “Well, go on—what about her?”
“Just this, Ezra, that there is no girl in the world whom I should like better to receive as my daughter-in-law. Ah, you rogue! you could come round her; you know you could.” The old man poked his long bony finger In the direction of his son’s ribs with grim playfulness.
“Oh, that’s the idea, is it?” remarked the junior partner, with a very unpleasant smile.
“Yes, that is one way out of our difficulties. She has forty thousand pounds, which would be more than enough to save the firm. At the same time you would gain a charming wife.”
“Yes, there are a good many girls about who might make charming wives,” his son remarked dubiously. “No matrimony for me yet awhile.”
“But it is absolutely necessary,” his father urged.
“A very fine necessity,” Ezra broke in savagely. “I am to tie myself up for life and you are to use all the money in rectifying your blunders. It’s a very pretty division of labour, is that.”
“The business is yours as well as mine. It is your interest to invest the money in it, for if it fails you are as completely ruined as I should be. You think you could win her if you tried?”
Ezra stroked his dark moustache complacently, and took a momentary glance at his own bold handsome features in the mirror above the fire-place. “If we are reduced to such an expedient, I think I can answer for the result,” he said. “The girl’s not a bad-looking one. But you said you had several plans. Let us hear some of the other ones. If the worst comes to the worst I might consent to that—on condition, of course, that I should have the whole management of the money.”
“Quite so—quite so,” his father said hurriedly. “That’s a dear, good lad. As you say, when all other things fail we can always fall back upon that. At present I intend to raise as much money as I can upon our credit, and invest it in such a manner as to bring in a large and immediate profit.”
“And how do you intend to do this?” his son asked doubtfully.
“I intend,” said John Girdlestone, solemnly rising up and leaning his elbow against the mantelpiece—”I intend to make a corner in diamonds.”