THE EMOTIONS OF MR BRIDGEWATER

Mr Bridgewater’s emotions, when he saw his principal following the
pretty Miss Lambert, were mixed.

He saw through the whole thing at once: she had come by appointment, and
they were going somewhere together.

Now, on the day when he had called to lunch with Patience Hancock, and
look over the lease of the Peckham House, the Peckham House had not been
once mentioned; the whole conversation, conducted chiefly by Miss
Hancock, concerned the welfare of her brother. She hinted at certain
news, supposed to have been received by her, that a designing woman had
her eye on her treasure; she implored her listener to let her know if he
saw any indication of the truth of these reports. “For you know,
Bridgewater,” said she, indicating that the decanter was at his side,
and that he might help himself to his third glass of port, “there is no
fool like an old fool,” to which axiom Bridgewater giggled assent.

He promised to keep a “sharp look-out,” and inform her of what he saw
from time to time. And it did not require a very sharp look-out to see
what he saw this morning.

As we have indicated, his emotions were mixed. Fanny’s face, her
“sweetly pretty face,” appealed to him; that she had fascinated Mr
James, he felt sure; that he ought instantly to inform Miss Hancock he
felt certain; that he had a lot of important letters to write and
business to transact with Mr Purvis and Mr Isaacs were facts. Between
these facts and these fancies the old man sat scratching his head with
the stump of his pen, staring at the letters before him, and pretending
to be busy. Born in the age of valentines and sentiment, he had carried
along with him through life a “feeling” for the other sex; to be frank,
the feeling was compounded mainly of shyness, but not altogether. I
doubt if there lives a man in whose life’s history there exists not a
woman in some form or other, either living and active in the present, or
dead and a memory–a leaf in amber.

In old Bridgewater’s brain there lived, keeping company with other
futilities of youth, a girl. The winters and the springs of forty-five
years had left her just the same, red-cheeked and buxom, commonplace,
pretty, with an undecided mouth, and a crinoline. As he sat cogitating,
this old mental daguerreotype took on fresh colours. He saw the sunlight
on a certain street in Hoxton, and heard the tinkle of a piano, long
gone to limbo, playing a tune that memory had in some mysterious way
bound up with the perfume of wall-flowers.

He remembered a Christmas card that pulled out like a concertina: a
shocking production of art which gave a vista of a garden in filigree
paper leading to a house.

A feeling of tenderness possessed him. Why should he move in a matter
that did not concern him? He determined to remain neutral, and, with the
object of dismissing the matter from his mind, turned to his letters.

But this kindly, though inferior being was dominated by a strong and
active intelligence, and that intelligence existed in the brain of a
woman.

Whilst he made notes and dictated to a clerk, this alien intelligence
was voicing its commands in the sub-conscious portions of his brain. He
began to hesitate in his dictation and to shuffle his feet, to pause and
to dictate nonsense. Then rising and taking his hat, he asked Mr Wolf,
his second in command, to take charge, as he had business which would
keep him away for half an hour–and made for the door. In Southampton
Row he walked twenty yards, retraced his steps, paused, blew his nose in
a huge bandana handkerchief, and then, travelling as if driven by
clockwork well wound up, he made for Gordon Square.

The servant said that Miss Hancock was dressing to go out, and invited
him into the cave-like dining-room. She then closed the door and left
him to the tender mercies of the place.

Decision was not the most noteworthy characteristic of Mr Bridgewater,
nor tact. He stood, consulting the clock on the mantelpiece, yet, had
you asked him, he could not have told you the time. Having come into the
place of his own volition he was now endeavouring to get up volition
enough to enable him to leave.

“Well, Bridgewater?” said a voice. The old man turned. Miss Hancock,
dressed for going out, stood before him.

“Why, I declare, Miss Patience!” said Bridgewater, as if the woman
before him was the very last person on earth he expected to see.

“You have found me just in time, for I was going out. I am in a hurry,
so I won’t ask you to sit down. Can I do anything for you?”

Bridgewater rubbed his nose.

“It’s about a little matter, Miss Patience.”

“Yes?”

“A little matter concerning Mr James.”

“Yes?”

“I am afraid–I am afraid, Miss Patience, there is–well–not to put
too fine a point upon it–a lady.”

“What is this you say, Bridgewater? But sit down.”

“A lady, Miss Patience.”

“You’ve said that before–_what_ lady, and what about her?” The
recollection of Leavesley’s words shot up in her brain.

“Dear me, dear me! I wish I hadn’t spoken now. I’m sure it’s nothing
wrong. I think, very possibly, I have been mistaken.”

“John Bridgewater,” said Miss Hancock, “you have known me from my
childhood, you know I hate shuffling, come to the point–there is a
lady–well, I have known it all along, so you need not be afraid to
speak. Just tell me all you know. You are very well aware that no one
cares for Mr James as much as I do. You are very well aware that some
men _need_ protecting. You know very well there is no better-hearted man
in the world than my brother.”

“None indeed.”

“And you know very well that he is just the man to fall a victim to a
designing woman. Think for a moment. What would a woman see in a man of
his age, except his money.”

“Very true; though I’m sure, Miss Patience, no man would make a better
husband for a woman than Mr James.”

“Oh, don’t talk nonsense! When a man arrives at his age, he is too old
to be made into a husband, but he is not too old to be made into a fool.
Now tell me all you know about this affair. First of all, what is
the–person’s name?”

“The person I suspect, Miss Patience, though indeed my suspicions may be
wrong, is a Miss Lambert.”

“Surely not any relation of the Highgate Lamberts?”

“The daughter, Miss Patience.”

“_That_ broken-down lot! Good heavens! Are you _sure_?”

“Perfectly sure.”

“The daughter of the man who is fighting with Mr Bevan about the fish
pond?”

“Stream.”

“It’s the same. Well, go on.”

“Miss Fanny Lambert called some time ago on Mr James. She called in
distress about the action. Mr James interviewed her, and discovered
that her father was in a very bad way, financially speaking. He took
pity on them—-”

“Idiot!”

“—-and called at Highgate to see Mr Lambert. He became very friendly
with Mr Lambert. Then Miss Fanny Lambert called again.”

“What about?”

“I don’t know. And to-day, this morning, she called again.”

“Called at the office this morning?”

“Yes.”

“What did she call for?”

Bridgewater was silent.

“I repeat,” said Miss Hancock, speaking as an examiner might speak to a
candidate, “I repeat, what did she call for? You surely must have some
inkling.”

“I am afraid she called about nothing. I’m afraid so, very much afraid
so.”

“What _do_ you mean?”

“I’m afraid, Miss Patience, it was an assignation.”

“How long did she stay?”

“About twenty minutes; but that is not the worst.”

“Go on.”

“They went out together.”

“How long was my brother out with her?”

“He hasn’t come back; he has gone for the day–told me to take charge of
the office.”

“You mean they went out together like that and you did not follow them
to see where they went?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, you _idiot_!”

“How could I, Miss Patience?”

“How could you–yes, that’s just it. How could you, when you had such a
chance, let it slip through your fingers?”

“But the office?”

“The office–why, you have left the office to come round here. If you
could leave it to come here, surely you could have left it for a more
important purpose. Well, you may take this from me: soon there will be
no office to leave. It’s quite possible that if Mr James makes a fool of
himself, he’ll leave business and do what he’s always threatening to
do–go in for farming. When a man once begins making a fool of himself,
he goes on doing so, the appetite comes with eating. Well, you had
better go back to the office and remember this for your own sake, for
my sake, for Mr James’ sake, keep your eyes open. If you get another
chance, follow them.”

Bridgewater left the house walking in a very depressed manner. In Oxford
Street he entered a bar and had a glass of sherry and a biscuit. As he
left the bar, who should he see but James Hancock–James Hancock, and
Fanny side by side. They were looking in at a shop window.