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    Chapter 15

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    Chapter 15
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    As the day fixed for the hearing drew near, Ruin lived with them by day and slept with them by night. Its dark shadow covered their lives, and they moved in the gloom of its presence. If the trial went against them, and Owen in his most hopeful moods did not disguise from them that it might, they would have to pay the double costs as well as the original claim. All that they possessed would not cover it. On the other hand, if they won, this rich Company might carry the matter to a higher Appeal Court, and so involve them in a fresh succession of anxieties and expenses. Do what they would, there was always danger. Frank said little, and he slept little also.

    One night, just before the trial, Wingfield, the accountant of the Society, came down to Woking. He had managed the case all through for the directors. His visit was a sort of ultimatum.

    'We are still ready to pay our own law-costs,' said he, 'if you will allow the original claim.'

    'I can't do that,' said Frank doggedly.

    'The costs are piling up at a furious rate, and some one will have to pay them.'

    'I hope that it will be you.'

    'Well, don't say afterwards that I did not warn you. My dear Crosse, I assure you that you are being misled, and that you have not really got a leg to stand upon.'

    'That's what the trial is about,' said Frank.

    He kept a bold face to the enemy, but after Wingfield's departure, Maude saw that his confidence was greatly shaken.

    'He seemed very sure of their case,' said he. 'He would not speak like that if he did not know.'

    But Maude took quite another view.

    'If they know that they can recover their money in court, why should they send Mr. Wingfield down in this way.'

    'He is such a good chap--he wants to save us expense.'

    Maude was less trusting.

    'He is doing the best for his own side,' said she. 'It is his duty, and we can't blame him. But if he thought it best to get behind his own lawyers and come down here, then he must have some doubts about going into court. Perhaps he would be willing to consider some compromise.'

    But Frank only shook his head.

    'We have drawn the cork, and we must drink the wine,' said he. 'We have gone too far to stop. Any compromise which they would accept would be as much out of our power to pay as the whole sum would be, and so we may just as well see it through.' But for once Maude did not take his opinion as final, but lay awake all night and thought it over. She had determined to begin acting upon her own account, and she was so eager to try what she could do that she lay longing for the morning to break. When she came down to breakfast, her plan of campaign was formed.

    'I am coming up to town with you, Frank.'

    'Delighted to hear it, dear.' When she had shopping to do, she frequently went up with him, so it did not surprise him. What would have surprised him was to know that she had despatched three telegrams, by means of Jemima, before he was up.

    'To John Selby, 53 Fenchurch Street, E.C. Will call eleven o'clock. Important business. - MAUDE.'

    'To Lieutenant Selby, the Depot, Canterbury. Please come up next train, meet me Fenchurch Street, eleven thirty. Important. - MAUDE.'

    'To Owen, 14 Shirley Lane, E.C. Will call twelve o'clock. Important.--MRS. CROSSE.'

    So she had opened her campaign.

    'By the way, Frank,' said she, as they travelled up together, 'to- morrow is your birthday.'

    'Yes, dear, it is,' he answered lugubriously.

    'Dear me! What shall I give my boy for a birthday present? Nothing you particularly want?'

    'I have all I want,' said he, looking at her.

    'Oh, but I think I could find something. I must look round when I am in town.'

    She began her looking round by a visit to her father in Fenchurch Street. It was something new for him to get telegrams from Maude upon business, and he was very much surprised.

    'Looking remarkably well, my dear. Your appearance is a certificate of character to your husband. Well, and how is all at Woking? I hope the second cook proved to be a success.'

    But Maude was not there for small talk. 'Dear dad,' said she, 'I want you to stand by me, for I am in trouble. Now, my dear good dad, please see things from my point of view, and don't make objections, and do exactly what I ask you.' She threw her arms round his neck and gave him a hearty squeeze.

    'Now I call that exerting undue pressure,' said he, extricating his white head. 'If this sort of thing is allowed in the city of London, there is an end of all business.' However, his eyes twinkled and looked as if he liked it. 'Now madame, what can I do for you?'

    'I'm going to be perfectly business-like,' said she, and gave him another squeeze before sitting down. 'Look here, dad. You give me an income of fifty pounds a year, don't you?'

    'My dear girl, I can't raise it. Jack's expenses in the Hussars--'

    'I don't want you to raise it.'

    'What do you want?'

    'I seem to remember, dad, that you told me that this fifty pounds was the interest on a thousand pounds which was invested for me.'

    'So it is--five per cent. debentures.'

    'Well, dad, if I were content with an income of twenty-five pounds a year instead of fifty pounds, then I could take five hundred pounds out of my money, and nobody would be the worse.'

    'Except yourself.'

    Maude laughed at that.

    'I want the use of the money just for one day. I certainly won't need it all. I just want to feel that I have as much as that in case I need it. Now, my dear old daddy, do please not ask any questions, but be very nice and good, and tell me how I can get these five hundred pounds.'

    'And you won't tell me why you want them?'

    'I had rather not--but I will if you insist.'

    Old Selby looked into the brave, clear eyes of his daughter, and he did not insist.

    'Look here! You've got your own little banking account, have you not?'

    'Yes, dad.'

    'That's right. Never mix it up with your husband's.' He scribbled a cheque. 'Pay that in! It is for five hundred pounds. I will sell half your debentures and charge you with brokerage. I believe in strict business between relatives. When you pay back the five hundred pounds, your allowance will be fifty a year once more.'

    Maude then and there endorsed the cheque and posted it to her bank. Then with a final embrace to her father, she hastened out to further victories. Jack Selby was smoking a cigarette upon the doorstep.

    'Hullo, Maude! Calling up the reserves? What's the matter? Jolly lucky it wasn't my day on duty. You girls think a soldier has nothing to do. It was so once, but we are all scientific blokes now. No, thank you, I won't see the dad! He'd think I had come for money, and it would upset him for the day.'

    Maude took her brother in the cab with her, and told him the whole story of Frank's misfortune, with some account of her own intentions. Jack was vastly interested.

    'What did dad say about it?'

    'I didn't tell him. I thought Frank would rather not.'

    'Quite right. He won't mind me. He knows I'm a bit of a business man myself. Only signed a paper once in my life, and quite a small paper too, and I haven't heard the last of it yet. The thing wasn't much bigger than a postcard, but the fuss those people made afterwards! I suppose they've been worrying Frank.'

    'We have had no peace for months.'

    'Worry is bad for the young. But he should not mind. He should go on fizzing like I did. Now we'll put this thing through together, Maude. I see your line, and I'll ride it with you.'

    They found Mr. Owen at home, and Maude did the talking.

    'I am convinced, Mr. Owen, that they don't want to go into court. Mr. Wingfield coming down like that proves it. My husband is too proud to bargain with them, but I have no scruples. Don't you think that I might go to Mr. Wingfield myself, and pay the three hundred and forty pounds, and so have done with the worry for ever?'

    'Speaking as a lawyer,' said Owen, 'I think that it is very irregular. Speaking as a man, I think no harm could come of it. But I should not like you to offer the whole sum. Simply say that you are prepared for a reasonable compromise, and ask them to suggest what is the lowest sum which the office would accept to close the business.'

    'You leave it with me,' said Jack, winking at the lawyer. 'I am seeing her through. I'll keep her on the rails. I am Number 1, Class A, at business. We'll take 'em up one link in the curb if they try any games with us! Come on, Maude, and get it over.'

    He was an excellent companion for her, for his buoyancy turned the whole thing into fun. She could not take it too seriously in his company. They called at the Hotspur office and asked to see Mr. Wingfield. He was engaged, but Mr. Waters, the secretary, a very fat, pompous man, came in to them.

    'I am very sorry,' said he, 'very sorry, indeed, Mrs. Crosse, but it is too late for any compromise of the sort. We have our costs to consider, and there is no alternative but for the case to go into court.'

    Poor Maude nearly burst into tears.

    'But suppose that we were to offer--'

    'To give you an hour to think it over,' cried Jack.

    Mr. Waters shook, his head despondently.

    'I do not think that we should alter our decision. However, Mr. Wingfield will be here presently, and he will, of course, listen to any representations which you may have to make. In the meantime you must excuse me, as I have matters of importance to attend to.'

    'Why, Maude, you little Juggins,' cried Jack, when the door was shut, 'you were just going to offer to pay their costs. I only just headed you off in time.'

    'Well, I was going to inquire about it.'

    'Great Scot, it's lucky you've got a business man at your elbow. I couldn't stand that chap at any price. A bit too hairy in the fetlocks for my taste. Couldn't you see that he was only bluffing?'

    'How do you know, Jack?'

    'It was shining all over him. Do you suppose a man has bought as many hairies as I have, and can't tell when a dealer is bluffing? He was piling it on so that when the next Christmas-tree comes along, he may find a soft job waiting for him. I tell you you want a friendly native, like me, when you get into this kind of country. Now ride this one on the curb, and don't let him have his head for a moment.'

    Mr. Wingfield had entered, and his manner was very different to that of the secretary. He had great sympathy with the Crosses, and no desire to wash the Company's dirty linen in public. He was, therefore, more anxious than he dared to show to come to some arrangement.

    'It is rather irregular for me to see you. I should refer you to our solicitors,' said he.

    'Well, we saw you when you came to Woking,' said Maude. 'I believe that we are much more likely to come to an arrangement if we talk it over ourselves.'

    'I am sure I earnestly hope so,' Wingfield answered. 'I shall be delighted to listen to anything which you may suggest. Do you, in the first place, admit your liability?'

    'To some extent,' said Maude, 'if the Company will admit that they are in the wrong also.'

    'Well, we may go so far as to say that we wish the books had been inspected more often, and that we regret our misplaced confidence in our agent. That should satisfy you, Mrs. Crosse. And now that you admit SOME liability, that is a great step in advance. We have no desire to be unreasonable, but as long as no liability was admitted, we had no course open to us but litigation. We now come to the crucial point, which is, how much liability should fall upon you. My own idea is, that each should pay their own costs, and that you should, in addition, pay over to the Company--'

    'Forty pounds,' said Jack firmly.

    Maude expected Mr. Wingfield to rise up and leave the room. As he did not do so, nor show any signs of violence, she said, 'Yes, forty pounds.'

    He shook his head.

    'Dear me, Mrs. Crosse, this is a very small sum.'

    'Forty pounds is our offer,' said Jack.

    'But on what is this offer based?'

    'We have worked it out,' said Jack, 'and we find that forty pounds is right.'

    Mr. Wingfield rose from his chair.

    'Well,' said he, 'of course any offer is better than no offer. I cannot say what view the directors may take of this proposal, but they will hold a board meeting this afternoon, and I will lay it before them.'

    'And when shall we know?'

    'I could send you round a line by hand to your solicitor.'

    'No hurry about it! Quite at your own convenience!' said Jack. When he got outside, in the privacy of their hansom, he was convulsed with the sense of his own achievements.

    'Class A, Number 1, and mentioned at the Agricultural Hall,' he cried, hugging himself in his delight. His sister hugged him also, so he was a much-embraced young man. 'Am I not a man of business, Maude? You can't buy 'em--you must breed 'em. One shilling with the basket. I shook him in the first round, and he never rallied after.'

    'You are a dear good boy. You did splendidly.'

    'That's the way to handle 'em. He saw that I was a real fizzer and full of blood. One business man can tell another at a glance.'

    Maude laughed, for Jack, with his cavalry swagger and a white weal all round his sunburned face to show where his chin-strap hung, looked the most unbusiness-like of mortals.

    'Why did you offer forty pounds?' she asked.

    'Well, you have to begin somewhere.'

    'But why forty?'

    'Because it is what we offer when we are buying the hairies-- trooper's chargers, you know. It's a great thing to have a fixed rule in business. I never go higher than forty--rule one, section one, and no exceptions in the margin.'

    They lunched together at the Holborn, and Jack took Maude afterwards to what he called 'a real instructive show,' which proved to be a horse-sale at Tattersall's. They then drove back to the lawyer's, and there they found a letter waiting addressed to Mrs. Crosse. Maude tore it open.

    'Dear Mrs. Crosse,' said this delightful note, 'I am happy to be able to inform you that the directors have decided to stop the legal proceedings, and to accept your offer of forty pounds in full satisfaction of all claims due against your husband.'

    Maude, Jack, and the good Owen performed a triumphant pas de trois.

    'You have done splendidly, Mrs. Crosse, splendidly!' cried Owen. 'I never heard a better day's work in my life. Now, if you will give me your cheque and wait here, I will go over and settle everything.'

    'And please bring the bond back with you,' said Maude.

    So it was that Frank, coming down upon the morning of his birthday, perceived a pretty silver cigarette-box laid in front of his plate.

    'Is this for me, my darling?'

    'Yes, Frank, a wee present from your wife.'

    'How sweet of you! I never saw such a lovely case. Why, there's something inside it.'

    'Cigarettes, I suppose.

    'No, it is a paper of some kind. "Hotspur Insurance Company." Good Lord, I never seem for one instant to be able to shake that infernal thing off! How on earth did it get in there? What's this?--"I hereby guarantee to you--" What's this? Maude, Maude, what have you been doing?'

    'Dear old boy,' she cried, as she put her arms round him. 'Dear old boy! Oh, I DO feel so happy!'
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