FRANK’S OPERATIONS

Frank Mowbray was one of the young men, fitly described by the
unenthusiastic, but just populace, as “no an ill callant.” He was not
very wise, not very clever, but he was also not “ill,” in any sense of
the word; a good-hearted, good-tempered, easy-going young man, willing
to save himself trouble, by letting others, and especially his mother,
manage his affairs for him, but no grumbler, accepting the consequences
of that situation with great equanimity, allowing himself to be more or
less governed, and obeying all the restrictions of his mother’s house,
as if he had been the most dependent of sons. This may seem to indicate
a want of spirit on his part; but it was rather a spirit of justice and
fair dealing, as well as the result of a gentle and contented
temperament.

Frank had no desire whatever to revolt. His mother’s sway had been very
light upon him: had he been what he was not, inclined towards
dissipation, so long as it had been carried on among what she called
“the right sort of people,” I am inclined to believe that Mrs. Mowbray
would rather have liked it than otherwise; but that would have been
perhaps because she did not know what it was, and liked to see her
son’s name among the names of the great, on whatsoever excuse. She would
rather have had Frank conspicuous by the side of a young duke, than
known to the world in the most virtuous circumstances, as the companion
of lesser men; but Frank did not accept, nor was he even aware of, this
tacit license to do evil, so long as it was fashionably done. He had not
the slightest leaning towards dissipation–he was one of those young men
whom perhaps we undervalue in theory, though in action they are the
backbone of the race, who seem to be inaccessible to the ordinary
temptations. Had he been offered the choice of Hercules, he would
certainly, by inclination, have offered his arm to Madam Virtue, and
waved away dishevelled Pleasure, however pretty, with the most unfeigned
indifference: he did not care for that sort of thing, he would have
said: and this insensibility was better than coat armour to him. It is
common to believe that a boy, brought up as he had been, at the
apron-strings of his mother, is open to every touch of temptation, and
apt to find the fascination of a disorderly life irresistible; but,
howsoever Frank had been brought up, the issue would have been the
same–he was “no an ill callant”–he was not led away by fancies, either
for good or evil, quite disposed to be kind, but never lavish in
generosity; not prodigal in anything, able to balance the pros and the
cons, and to accept the disadvantages with the advantages. Perhaps it
was not a character to excite any great enthusiasm, but it was one that
was very easy to live with, and could not have inspired any serious
anxiety in the most fanciful and susceptible of minds.

Frank went out that evening to meet some of his daily companions with a
great deal in his mind, but not any panic or dismay. He would not
believe that the “Scotch property” could have been all frittered away by
the loans which his old uncle had made, however imprudent or foolish the
old man might have been in that way. He had, indeed, so just and calm a
mind, that he did not harshly condemn Mr. Anderson for making these
loans as his mother did; he was even willing to allow that a man had a
right to do what he liked with his own, even if he had a grand-nephew to
provide for, especially one who was not entirely dependent upon him, but
had already a comfortable provision of his own. As he went out into the
evening air, and strolled towards the club of which he was a member, and
where, as I have said, the young men, who were not yet members, had a
way of meeting outside, and under the verandah, arranging their matches
for next day, and talking out their gossip like their elders within–he
turned over the matter in his mind, and reconciled himself to it. It is
foolish, he said to himself, to lend your money without interest, and
without a proper certainty of one day getting it back–but still the old
gentleman had no doubt his reasons for doing this, and might have had
his equivalent or even been paid back without anybody knowing, as
nobody knew who the borrowers were: and at the worst, if the money was
lost, it was lost, and there was an end of it, and no need to upbraid
poor old uncle, who probably thought himself quite entitled to do what
he liked with his own. He did not believe that the estate could have
been seriously impoverished in any such manner; but he thought that he
might perhaps make inquiries in his own way, and even consult Mr.
Buchanan, who probably would be willing enough to help him, though he
might not perhaps feel disposed to respond to Mrs. Mowbray’s more urgent
appeals. Frank, of course, knew his mother’s weak points, as all our
children do, with an unerring certainty produced by the long unconscious
study of childhood of all we say and do. His affection for her was quite
unimpaired, but he knew exactly how she would address herself to the
minister, with a vehemence and an indignation against Uncle Anderson,
which Frank was impartial enough to feel, was not deserved. He would
approach him quite differently–as a man to a man, Frank said to
himself–and if there was really anything to be done in that way, any
bloated debtor, as his mother supposed, who had grown fat on Uncle
Anderson’s bounty, and was not honourable enough to pay back what had
been the origin of his fortune–why, the minister would probably tell
him, and that would be so much gained.

When he thought, however, of thus meeting the minister in private
session, Frank’s orderly and steady heart beat a little higher. Before
all questions of Uncle Anderson’s debtors, there was one of much more
importance–and that was the question of Elsie, which meant far more to
Frank than money, or even the whole of the Scotch property–at least he
thought so for the moment: but things were by no means so far advanced
as to justify him in asking an interview with Mr. Buchanan on that
subject. Alas! no, Elsie was never in the same mind (he thought) for any
two meetings. Sometimes she was delightful to him, accepting his
attentions; which, however, were no more than were paid to her by
several other admirers as if she liked them, and giving him dances,
almost as many as he asked, and allowing him to walk by her side in the
weekly promenade on the Links, and talking to him sweetly, whatever his
company might be: but next time they met, Elsie would be engaged for
every dance, she would be flanked by other competitors on each side, and
if she gave Frank a bow and a smile in passing, that would be all he
obtained from her–so that if he were sometimes high in hope, he was at
others almost in despair. Should he ever be allowed to see Mr. Buchanan
on the subject, to ask his daughter from him? Ah, that depended! not
upon Frank, but upon Elsie, who was no longer a little girl, but at the
height of her simple sway, one of the prettiest girls in St. Rule’s, and
enjoying the position, and with no intention of cutting it short. Frank
breathed a sigh, that almost blew out the lamps in the High Street,
lamps already lighted, and shining in the lingering daylight, like
strange little jewelled points, half green, half yellow. The electric
light shines white in that street now, and makes the whole world look
dead, and all the moving people like ghosts. But the lamps then were
like jewels, with movement and consciousness in them, trembling in the
colourless radiance of the long evening: for it was now summer weather,
and already the days were long.

When the assembly outside the club dispersed, it happened to be Frank’s
luck to walk up the town with Rodie Buchanan, whose way was the same as
his own. They went round by the West Port, though it was out of their
way, to convoy Johnny Wemyss to his lodgings. Johnnie did not make
matches for next day, except at rare intervals, for he was busy, either
“coaching” his pupils (but that word had not then been invented), or
working (as he called it) on the sands with his net and his “wee
spy-glass,” playing himself, the natives called it: or else he was
reading theology for the next examination; but he allowed himself to
walk down to the club in the evening, where all the young men met.

Johnny was not much younger than Frank, but he was paternal to the
others, having the airs and aims of a man, and having put, chiefly by
necessity, but a little also by inclination, boyish things from him; he
was as much in advance of Frank as he was of Rodie, who had not yet
attained his twentieth year.

The night was lovely, clear, and mild, and they made the round by the
West Port very pleasantly together, and stood for a long time at the
stairfoot of Johnny’s humble lodging, which was in one of the
old-fashioned square two-storied houses at that end of the town, which
still retained the picturesque distinction of an outside stair. It was
not thought picturesque then, but only old-fashioned, and a mark of
poverty, everybody’s ambition being to have a more modern and convenient
house. The young men continued to discuss the matches past and present,
and how Alick Seaton was off his game, and Bob Sinclair driving like
fire, and the Beatons in force playing up to each other, so that they
were awfully hard to beat in a foursome. Johnny took the interest of a
born golfer in these particulars, though he himself played so little;
and Frank, on ordinary occasions, had all the technicality of a
neophyte, and outdid his more learned companions in all the terms of the
game.

But when they had left Johnny at his stairfoot, and, looking back, had
seen the light of his candles leap into the darkness of the window, and
wondered for a moment how he could sit down to work at this hour, they
proceeded along the long line of the High Street for a minute or two in
silence. Rodie was taller, stronger, and heavier than Frank, though so
much younger, and had a little compassionate sympathy for the fellow,
who, at his antiquated age, four-and-twenty, was still only a beginner
at golf.

The big youth was considering how to break down certain well considered
advices for future play into terms adapted for the intellect of his
elder, when Frank suddenly took the word, and began thus:

“I say, Rodie! do you remember my old Uncle Anderson, and do you know
anything about him? he must have been a queer old chap, if what my
mother has been telling me is true about him.”

“Ten to one—-” said Rodie: but paused in time–he was about to say
“ten to one it isn’t true”–for he heard of Mrs. Mowbray’s paint and
powder (which at the worst was only powder), and knew her over-civility
and affectations, and therefore concluded frankly, as became his age,
that nothing about her could be true. But he remembered in time that
this could not fitly be said to her son. “Ten to one it’s just stories,”
Rodie said; “there’s stories about everybody; it is an awful town for
stories, St. Rule’s.”

“I daresay that is true enough,” said Frank; “but it seems that this is
more than stories. They say he lent money to everybody, and never took
any note or acknowledgment: and the people have never paid. They
certainly should have paid; especially as, having no acknowledgment, it
became, don’t you see, a debt of honour. There is something which I
don’t quite understand about some Statute of Limitations that makes it
impossible to recover money after a certain number of years. I don’t
know much about the law myself; but my mother’s a great hand. Do you
know anything about the Statute of Limitations, you that are going to be
a W. S.?”

“Who said I was going to be a W. S.?” cried Rodie, red with indignation.
“Nothing of the sort: I’m going into the army. It’s John that is the W.
S.; but I think I’ve heard of it,” he added sulkily, after a moment,
“sometimes he tells us about his cases. If you’re not asked for the
money for so many years, it’s considered that you have been forgiven:
but on the other hand if they asked for it, you’re still bound; I’ve
heard something like that from John.”

“Oh, then I suppose,” cried Frank, “it is rather urgent, and we ought to
ask for it to preserve our claim.”

There is a universal sentiment in the human heart against a creditor
wishing to recover, and in favour of the debtor who is instinctively
understood not to be able to pay. Especially strong is this sentiment in
the bosom of the young; to lend is a fine thing, but to ask back again
is always a mean proceeding. Rodie instinctively hardened himself
against the legal rights of his friend.

“There’s men,” he said, “I’ve heard, that are constantly dunning you to
pay them. I would rather never borrow a penny if it was to be like
that.”

“I would rather never borrow a penny whether it was like that or not,”
said the virtuous Frank.

“Oh, it’s easy speaking for you, that have more money than you know what
to do with; but if you think of my commission, and where the money is
to come from.”

“Most likely,” said Frank, without any special meaning, merely as a
conjecture, “if my Uncle Anderson had been living, your father would
have got it from him.”

Rodie grew redder than ever under this suggestion. “It might be so,” he
said; “but I hope you are not meaning that my father would not have paid
the money back, whoever it came from: for if that is what you are
meaning, you’re a—-”

“I was meaning nothing of the kind,” cried Frank in a hurry; for to have
the word _leear_, even though it is a mild version of liar, flung in his
face by Rodie Buchanan, the brother of Elsie, was a thing he did not at
all desire. “I hope I know better: but I wish I could speak to your
father about my affairs, for I know that he was Uncle Anderson’s great
friend, and he is sure to know.”

“To know what?” said Rodie.

“Oh, to know the people that borrowed from my uncle, and did not pay. I
hope you don’t think I ought to let them off when they have behaved like
that.”

“Behaved like what?” Rodie asked again.

“What is the matter with you, Rodie? I am saying nothing that is wrong.
If my uncle lent them money, they ought to pay.”

“And do you think,” cried Rodie, in high indignation, “that my father
would betray to you the names of the poor bodies that got a little money
from Mr. Anderson to set them up in their shops, or to buy them a boat?
Do you think if you were to talk to him till doomsday, that my father
would do _that_?”

“Why shouldn’t he?” said Frank, whose intellect was not of a subtle
kind. “People should pay back the money when they have borrowed it. It
is not as if it had been given to them as a present; Mr. Buchanan has
been very kind to me, and I shouldn’t ask him to do anything that was
not right, neither would I be hard on any poor man. I was not told they
were very poor men who had got my old uncle’s money; and surely they had
not so good a right to it as I have. I don’t want to do anything that is
cruel; but I will have my money if I can get it, for I have a right to
it,” Frank said, whose temper was gradually rising; yet not so much his
temper as a sensation of justice and confidence in his own cause.

“You had better send in the sheriff’s officers,” said Rodie,
contemptuously, “and take their plenishing, or the stock in the shop, or
the boat. But if you do, Frank Mowbray, mind you this, there is not one
of us will ever speak to you again.”

“One of you!” cried Frank, “I don’t want to quarrel with you, Rodie; but
you are all a great deal younger than I am, and I am not going to be
driven by you. I’ll see your father, and ask his advice, and I shall do
what he says; but if you think I am going to be driven by you, from
anything that is right in itself, you’re mistaken: and that’s all I have
got to say.”

“You are a prig, and a beast, and a cruel creditor,” cried Rodie. “Not
the kind for us in St. Rule’s: and good-night to you, and if you find
nobody to play with to-morrow, you will just mind that you’ve chosen to
put yourself against us, and it’s your own fault.”

Saying which, Rodie made a stride against the little garden gate which
led to the Buchanan’s front door, flung it inwards with a clang, and
disappeared under the shadow of the dark elder-tree which overshadowed
the entrance.

It was not until that moment that Frank realised what the consequence
might be of quarrelling with Elsie’s brother. He called after him, but
Rodie was remorseless, and would not hear; and then the young man went
home very sadly. Everybody knew that Rodie was Elsie’s favourite
brother; she liked him better than all the rest. If Rodie asked anything
of her, Elsie was sure to grant almost everything to his request: and
Frank had been such a fool as to offend him! He could not think how he
could have been so foolish as to do it. It was the act of a madman, he
said to himself. What was a few hundreds, or even thousands in
comparison with Elsie, even if he recovered his money? It would be no
good to him if he had to sacrifice his love.

Frank was not a young man who despised either hundreds or thousands,
and probably, later, if all went well with him, he might think himself a
fool to sacrificing good money for any other consideration; but he
certainly was not in this state of feeling now. Elsie and Rodie, and the
Statute of Limitations, and the money that Uncle Anderson had strewed
about broadcast, jumbled each other in his mind. What did it matter to
him if he lost the favour of his love? and on the other hand the pity it
would be to lose the money for want of asking for it, and knowing who
the man was who had got it, and had not had the honesty to pay. He grew
angrier and angrier at these people as he went along, seeing that in
addition to this fundamental sin against him, they were also the cause
of his quarrel with Rodie, and terrible dismissal by Elsie. The cads! to
hold their tongues and conceal who they were, when it was a debt of
honour; and to trust in such a poor defence as a Statute of Limitations,
and to part him from the girl he loved. He had been more curious than
eager before, thinking besides the natural feeling one has not to be
robbed, and to recover at all hazard that which is one’s own, however
wicked people should endeavour to cheat one out of it–that it would be
fun to break through the secret pretences of those people, and force
them to disgorge the money they had unlawfully obtained; but now Frank
began to have a personal animosity against those defaulters, as his
mother called them, who not only had cheated him of his money, but had
made him to quarrel with Rodie, and perhaps with Rodie’s sister.
Confound them! they should not be let off now. He would find them,
though all the world united in concealing them. He would teach them to
take away his inheritance, and interfere between him and his love! It
was with these sentiments hot in his heart that he hastened home.