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Saved by Faith by Ian Maclaren

I

So you have agreed to accept seven-and-six-pence in the pound from Hatchard?" Oxley said in his slow, quiet manner, as he smoked with his two friends after luncheon at the Club. "I could not attend the meeting, but I hear that the affairs showed badly."

"Yes, we took the sum he offered, and of course it would have done no good to put him in the Bankruptcy Court, as far as the dividend is concerned: very likely we should only have netted half-a-crown; but I had a good mind to refuse a composition." And in his excitement Beazley established himself for oratorical purposes on the hearthrug,—he had recently taken to municipal politics.

"You mean that Hatchard has acted foolishly, and ought not to have got into such a hole. I suppose you are right: Tommy was always a sanguine chap."

"Sanguine has nothing to do with it, Oxley, and I fancy you know that there's more than want of judgment at Hatchard's door. Of course the longest-headed men in the corn trade may make a mistake and be caught by a falling market, but that is no reason why a fellow should take in every friend he could lay hands on. What do you say, Macfarlane?"

That most phlegmatic and silent of Scots never said anything unless speech was absolutely necessary; and as the proposition that a man ought not to cheat his friends was one no person could deny, Macfarlane gave no sign.

"I'm afraid that it is a rather bad case," Oxley admitted with reluctance, "but I'm sorry for Tommy: when a man is at his wits' end he's apt to... forget himself, in fact, and do things he would be the first to condemn at other times. A man loses his moral presence of mind."

Macfarlane indicated, after consideration, his agreement.

"That sounds very fine, Oxley," burst in Beaz-ley, "but it's very dangerous doctrine and would cover some curious transactions. Hatchard knew quite well that when he was hopelessly bankrupt he ought not to have borrowed a thousand from Macfarlane and you and five hundred from me: our business losses were enough."

"Had none," murmured Macfarlane to himself.

"I was so angry," continued Beazley, "that I got hold of him afterwards in Fenwick Street and gave him as sound a talking to as ever a man got in this city: he'll not forget it in a hurry. You see he is a friend, and that makes me sore."

"Can you give us an idea what you said?" inquired Oxley drily, while Macfarlane showed that he was listening.

"Well, I said various things; but the gist was that his friends were ashamed of him—not about the cash, you know, but about the conduct, and that he was little better than a swindler: yes, I did."

Macfarlane smoked furiously.

"No, Oxley, he made no reply. Not one word of defence: he simply turned round and walked away. I suppose you think that I ought not to have been so hard on him?"

"Well, no doubt you did what seemed right, and Hatchard has not been quite straight; but I now understand what I saw two hours ago, and what gave me a shock. You favoured him with your mind about eleven, I should guess? Yes: then at twelve he came out of a restaurant in Dale Street as if he had been drinking. That is the first time Hatchard ever did that kind of thing, I believe, but it will not be the last: his face was quite changed—half woe-begone and half desperate."

"If Thomas takes to tasting"—Macfarlane was much moved—"it's all over with him: he's such a soft-hearted chap."

"Nonsense, you're making too much of it; but I was a trifle sharp, perhaps: he's been very provoking, and any other man would have said the same except you two fellows, and the one of you is so charitable that he would find an excuse for a pickpocket, and the other is so cannie that he can't make up his mind to say anything."

After which there was a pause.

"Yes," began Oxley again, falling into ancient history, "he has gone off form a bit—the best may do so at a time—but Tommy wasn't half a bad fellow once: he got a study at Soundbergh before me, and he was very decent with it, letting me do 'prep.' in it before exams.; and I never counted him sidey, did you, B.?"

"I should think not; I'll say that for him at any rate, there wasn't one scrap of humbug in Tommy: why, he was a prefect when I was in the fourth, and he didn't mind although a chap 'ragged' and chaffed him; he was the jolliest 'pre.' in the whole school. It was perhaps rather hard lines to slang him to-day,—I half wish I hadn't."

"If Tommy got a grub-box from home every chap in Buttery's house knew,"—Oxley was bent on reminiscences,—"it was shared round in three days, and his raspberry jam was not to be despised. I hear him yet: 'All right, Ox., dig in, there's lots left' Now there's By les, who makes speeches about hospitals: he was mean if you please."

"Mean ain't the word for Byles," and in his enthusiasm Freddie Beazley dropped into school slang, which no public-schoolboy ever forgets, and which lasts from generation to generation, like the speech of the Gypsies: "Byles was a beastly gut, and a sneak too; why, for all his cheek now he isn't fit to black Tommy's shoes. Tommy wasn't what you would call 'pie,' but he was as straight as a die. I'd give ten pounds not to have called him that word to-day." Freddie was breaking down.

"Poor old Tommy!" went on Oxley: "one never expected him to come such a cropper; he was a good all-round man—cricket, football, sports, Tommy did well for his house; he was a double-colour man."

"Do ye mind the ten miles, lads?" and Macfarlane chuckled.

"Rather," and Freddie could not sit still: "he did it in one hour twelve minutes and was it fifteen seconds?"

"Thirteen and three-fifths seconds." Macfarlane spoke with decision.

"And he could have walked back to Buttery's, as if he had never run a yard; but didn't the fellows carry him?"

"I had a leg myself." Macfarlane was growing loquacious.

"Yes, and he didn't swagger or brag about it,"—Oxley took up the running,—"not he, but was just as civil as if he had won some footling little race at the low-country schools, where they haven't a hill within twenty miles, instead of running round Baughfell in the Soundbergh ten-mile."

"What did old Tommy do it for?" and Freddie Beazley almost wept at the thought that the crack of Soundbergh had played foul: "it couldn't be money; he was never selfish—as open-handed a chap as ever I saw."

"Wife and kids" answered Macfarlane, smoking thoughtfully.

"The Scot has it," said Oxley. "Tommy doesn't care one straw for himself, but he wanted, I take it, to keep that dear little wife of his comfortable and get a good education for his boys, and so he got deeper and deeper, trying to retrieve himself for their sakes. Mind you, I don't defend him, but that was his excuse; and now Tommy has gone under."

"Not if I can help it, boys," and Beazley's face flushed. "And I say, here are three of us: why shouldn't we join and—and—tighten the rope and haul Tommy on his feet again?" Macfarlane took the briar root out of his mouth and regarded Freddie with admiration.

"We were all in the same house, and Tommy likes us, and we could do... that sort of thing when he wouldn't take it from others; and I say, it would be a jolly decent thing to do."

"You're all right, Freddie,"—Oxley was evidently pleased,—"and we're with you" ("shoulder to shoulder," said Macfarlane, lighting his pipe with ostentatious care). "Now the first step is to let Tommy know that we have not turned our backs on him: my idea is that if he knows we three are going to stand by him he'll not throw up the sponge."

"Look here," cried Beazley, "I'll go round this minute, and I'll beg his pardon for what I said, and I'll tell him that we haven't forgotten the old days among the hills, and that we know he's a white man, and... in fact he'll take the cup yet."

"That will help mightily; and now let us make up our plans," said Oxley.

And that was how three men joined in a conspiracy for the business and social and personal salvation of Thomas Hatchard.

II

"How late you are, Tom—eight o'clock—and how tired you look, poor fellow! I've been thinking about you all day. Was it very trying this morning, or were they nice? They ought to have been, for everybody must know that it wasn't your fault."

"No, I don't think everybody could know that, Amy dear, for I don't know it myself, and some men have good reason to know the opposite. Well, yes, I was... rather sick at the meeting, and worse afterwards."

"Did they dare to insult you, Tom? If they had had one spark of gentlemanly feeling they would have pitied you. Do you mean that they... said things? Tell me, for I want to share every sorrow with you, darling."

"One man was very hard on me, and I didn't expect it from him—no, I won't tell you his name, for he behaved very handsomely in the end. Perhaps I didn't deserve all the sharp words, but I am sure I haven't deserved any of the kind words that were said before the day was done. But never mind about me just now: tell me how you got on. Wasn't it your visiting day? did... any one call?"

"So you were thinking about me in all your troubles!"—his wife put her arm round Hatch-ard's neck—"and you were afraid I should be deserted because you were victimised by those speculators! Now confess."

"Well, you know, Amy, society is not very merciful, and I think women are the crudest of all. What hits a man, if he is unfortunate, or... worse, is that his poor wife is made to suffer. If her husband has done... I mean has acted foolishly, well, say, has lost money, his wife is neglected and cut and made to feel miserable. It's a beastly shame, and I was afraid that..."

"I would be sitting all alone to-day, because we are poor. Do you know, Tom, I was just a tiny bit nervous too, although I would not have told you this morning for worlds. And now I have splendid news to give you: our friends are as true as steel. Now answer a question, Tom, to see whether you and I agree about the difference between acquaintances and friends. Mention the names of the three families you would expect to stand by us in our trial."

"The Oxleys, of course, wife, and... I would have said the Beazleys, and, let me see, yes, the Macfarlanes, although their manner doesn't allow them to show what they feel. Am I right?"

"To a man (and woman), they all called today—the women, I mean: I daresay the men called on you. And they all said the nicest things, and what is best, they said the nicest things about you: yes, they did, and if you doubt my word we shall separate... do you really think I would chaff to-day?

"Sit there, just where I can lay my head on your shoulder, and I shall describe everything. It was half-past two when I began to watch the clock and wonder whether any one would come: have other people had the same feeling? About a quarter to three the bell rang, and my heart beat: who would it be? It was nothing—a tax paper; and I began to think what I would have done if the same thing had happened to one of our friends—how I would have simply rushed along and been in the house the first decent minute after lunch, and how I would..."

"I know you would, Pet, and that is why they did it to you. Well, drive on."

"Exactly at eight minutes to three—oh, I know the time to-day without mistake—the door opened, and in came Mrs. Macfarlane; and do you know what she did?"

"She didn't!" cried Hatchard—"not kissed you?"

"Yes, she did, and a real kiss; and she took me in her arms, and I saw tears in her eyes, and—and... I cried for a minute; I couldn't help it, and it was quite a comfort. She hadn't said a word all this time, and that was just right, wasn't it?"

"I'll never say a word against the Scots' manner again," said Tom huskily.

"But she spoke quite beautifully afterwards, and told me of some trials no one knows, which they had ten years ago, and how they had never loved one another so much before. When reticent people give you their confidence it touches your heart, and we used to think her voice harsh, and to laugh at her accent."

"God forgive me!" said Thomas: "I'm a fool."

"She said: 'You know how quiet Ronald is, and how he hardly ever gets enthusiastic. Well, it would have done you good to have heard him speak about Mr. Hatchard this morning. He said...'"

"Don't tell me, Amy—it... hurts; but I'm grateful all the same, and will never forget it. And who came next?"

"Mrs. Oxley; and what do you think? We are to have their house at Hoylake for August, so the chicks will have their holiday. Mr. Oxley has been quite cast down, she says, about you, for he has such a respect——"

"It's good of them to think about the children, but never mind about me."

"You are very unfeeling, Tom, to stop me at the best bits, when I had saved them up and committed them to memory: perhaps you would get vain, however, and become quite superior. What do you think of your 'kindness.' and your 'generosity,' and your 'popularity,' and your 'straightness'? You are shivering: are you cold?"

"No, no; but you haven't told me if Mrs. Beazley was kind to you: did she call between four and five?"

"Yes: how did you know the hour?"

"Oh, I.. guessed, because she... was last, wasn't she?"

"She apologised for being so late; indeed, she was afraid that she might not get round at all, but I'm so glad she came, for no one was more glowing about you: I saw, of course, that she was just repeating Mr. Beazley's opinion, for every one can see how he admires...

"Tom, you are very ungrateful, and for a punishment I'll not tell you another word. What is wrong? has any one injured you? Was it Mr. Beazley?"

"Beazley said kinder things in my office to me, in difficult circumstances too, than I ever got from any man: some day, Amy, I'll tell you what he said, but not now—I cannot—and he spent two hours canvassing for business to start me as a corn broker, and he... got it."

"It could not be Mr. Oxley."

"Oxley has given me a cargo to dispose of, and I never had any of his broking before; and he told me that some of my old friends were going to... to... in fact, see me through this strait, speaking a good word for me and putting things in my way.

"Yes, of course Macfarlane came to the office, and said nothing for fifteen minutes: just gripped my hand and smoked, and then he rose, and as he was leaving, he merely mentioned that Beazley and Oxley had become securities for £5,000 at the bank; he is in it, too, you may be sure."

"How grateful we ought to be, Tom dear; and how proud I am of you!—for it's your character has affected every person, because you are so honourable and high-minded. Tom, something is wrong; oh, I can't bear it: don't cry... you are overstrung... lie down on the couch, and I'll bathe your forehead with eau de Cologne."

"No, I am not ill, and I don't deserve any petting; if you knew how mean I have been you would never speak to me again. If they had scolded me I would not have cared; but I can't bear their kindness.

"Amy, you must not send for the doctor, else you will put me to shame; my mind is quite right, and it isn't overwork: it's... conscience: I am not worthy to be your husband, or the friend of these men."

"You will break my heart if you talk in this way. You unworthy! when you are the kindest, truest, noblest man in all the world—don't say a word—and everybody thinks so, and you must let us judge. Now rest here, and I'll get a nice little supper for you," and his wife kissed him again and again.

"It's no use trying to undeceive her," Hatchard said to himself when she was gone; "she believes in me, and those fellows believe in me—Freddie more than anybody, after all he said; and please God they will not be disappointed in the end."

III

"You've got here before me, Mac.," cried Freddie Beazley, bursting into Oxley's private room, "and I simply scooted round. Oh, I say, you've broken every bone in my hand, you great Scotch ruffian: take the ruler out of his fist, Ox., for heaven's sake, or else he'll brain us.

"Ox., you old scoundrel, read that letter aloud. Mac wasn't a creditor—he wishes he was this day—and he doesn't know it verbatim, and I'm not sure about a word or two. Stand up, old man, and do the thing properly. There now we're ready."

July 7, 1897.

"Dear Sir,—

"It will be in your recollection that in July, 1887, I was obliged to make a composition with my creditors while trading as a corn merchant under the style of Thomas Hatchard & Co., and that they were good enough to accept the sum of seven shillings and sixpence in the pound.

"Immediately thereafter, as you may be aware, I began business as a corn broker, and owing to the kind assistance of certain of my creditors and other friends, have had considerable success.

"Having made a careful examination of my affairs, I find that I can now afford to pay the balance of twelve shillings and sixpence which is morally due to my creditors of 1887, and it affords me much personal satisfaction to discharge this obligation.

"I therefore beg to enclose a cheque for the amount owing to you, with 5 per cent compound interest, and with sincere gratitude for your consideration ten years ago.

"I have the honour to remain,

"Your obedient servant,

"Thomas Hatchard."

"Isn't that great, young gentlemen?" and Beazley took a turn round the room: "it's the finest thing done in Liverpool in our time. Tommy has come in again an easy first on the ten miles—just skipped round Baughfell: there's nothing like the old school for rearing hardy fellows with plenty of puff in them for a big hill."

"Thomas 'ill be a proud man the night," remarked Macfarlane, "and his wife will be lifted."

"What about the Hatchard securities and encouragement company? isn't it a booming concern, and aren't the three men lucky dogs who took founders' shares? Oxley, old chap," and Freddie grew serious, "it was you who put Tommy on his legs, and helped him on to this big thing."

"Nonsense! we all had a share in the idea; and now that I remember, it was you, Beazley, who sang his praises that day till Macfarlane allowed his pipe to go out, and I had to join the chorus. Isn't that so, Mac.?"

Macfarlane was understood to give judgment of strict impartiality—that the one was as bad as another, and that he had been a victim in their hands, but that the result had not been destructive of morality in Liverpool, nor absolutely ruinous to the character of Thomas Hatchard, beyond which nothing more could be said.

He offered the opinion on his own account that the achievement of Thomas had been mighty.

"You can put your money on that, Mac.," and Beazley went off again: "to pay up the balance of that composition and every private loan with interest, compound too, is simply A1. T. H. has taken the cake. And didn't he train for it, poor chap!

"No man enjoyed a good cigar more than Tommy—could not take him in with bad tobacco. Well, I happen to know that he hasn't had one smoke since July 7th, *87. Of course he could have had as much 'baccy as he wanted; but no, it was a bit of the training—giving up every luxury, d'ye see?"

"I wish I was Thomas the night," remarked Macfarlane. "He 'ill have a worthwhile smoke."

"He rather liked a good lunch, and did justice to his grub, too," continued Beazley. "Well, for ten years he's taken his midday meal standing, on milk and bread—not half bad all the same—at the Milk-Pail in Fenwick Street, and he wouldn't allow himself a cup of tea. You saw how he lived at Heswall, Oxley?"

"Yes, he found out that he could get a little house, with a bit of garden, for forty pounds, taxes included, and so he settled there and cut the whole concern here. There was one sitting-room for the children and another for themselves, and the garden was the drawing-room; but I don't believe Hatchard was ever happier, and Mrs. Hatchard has turned out a heroine."

"Tommy played up well," broke in Beazley, "and he never missed a chance. There has not been any brokerage lying loose in the corn market these ten years, you bet; and what he got he did well. Do you hear that MacConnell of Chicago has given him his work to do? Tommy is steaming down the deep-water channel now, full speed. What's to be done? that's the question. We simply must celebrate."

"Well," replied Oxley, "I suppose the creditors will be giving him a dinner at the Adelphi and that sort of thing. But there's something Hatchard would like far better than fifty dinners. He has never entered the corn exchange since his failure, and I know he never would till he could look every man in the face. What do you say to ask Barnabas Greatheart to call at his office and take him?"

"Oxley, you are inspired, and ought to take to politics: it's just the thing Greatheart would like to do, and it will please the men tremendously. I bet you a new hat there will be a cheer, and I see them shaking hands with Tommy: it will touch up two or three scallawags on the raw first-rate, too, who have made half a dozen compositions in their time. But what about ourselves, Ox.?"

"Aye," said Macfarlane; "we're not common shareholders in this concern: we're founders, that's what we are."

"I was thinking before you men came in that a nice piece of silver for their dinner-table—they will come up to town now—say a bowl with some little inscription on it..."

"The very thing: we'll have it this afternoon; and Ox., you draw up the screed, but for my sake, as well as Tommy's, put in something about honour, and, old fellow, let it be strong; it'll go down to his boys, and be worth a fortune to them, for it will remind them that their father was an honest man."

It is not needful to describe, because everybody in the Liverpool Corn Market knows, how Barnabas Greatheart came into the room arm in arm with Thomas Hatchard, and how every single man shook hands with Thomas because he had gone beyond the law and done a noble deed, and was a credit to the corn business; and how Tommy tried to return thanks for his health a week after at the Adelphi, and broke down utterly, but not before he had explained that he wasn't at all the good man they thought him, but that he happened to have had better friends than most men.

What is not known is that on the very evening of the great day a special messenger brought over to the cottage at Heswall a parcel, which, being opened, contained a massive silver bowl, with this inscription:—

TO

MRS. THOMAS HATCHARD,

From Three Friends,

In Admiration of her Husband's

Business Integrity and Stainless Honour.

July 7, 1897.

and that on the first anniversary of the great day the Hatchards gave a dinner-party in their new house at Mossley Hill, where six guests were present, whose names can be easily supplied, and the bowl, filled with roses, stood in the centre of the table so that all could read the writing thereon; that without any direct allusion to the circumstances, or any violation of good taste, the bowl came into conversation eleven times: once in praise of the roses; once in discussion of the pattern (Queen Anne); once with reference to the pedestal of Irish bog-oak; once in verification of the fact that "honour" was spelt with a "u" (it was Freddie who, with much ingenuity, turned the search-light on honour); and seven times in ways too subtle and fleeting for detection. When the ladies left the room there was a look between the host and his wife as he held the door; and when the other men's cigars were fully lit, Tommy made and finished, with some pauses, a speech which may not sound very eloquent on paper, but which the audience will never forget "There's a text somewhere in the Bible," he said, pretending that his cigar was not drawing—"which runs something like this, 'saved by faith,' and when I look at that bowl I remember that I... was saved that way; but it wasn't... my faith: it was the faith... of you three men."