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      Please! If I have another cup of tea to keep the cold out?The event occurred at the most inopportune moment. He had concluded a bargain, a day or two before, for the purchase of the entire vintage of a French vine-grower in the Bordeaux district, and had just opened a letter to say that owing to the absence of a certain payment in advance, the stock had been disposed of to another purchaser, and he had lost one of the best bargains he had ever made. But he felt sure that he had drawn the cheque in question: he remembered drawing it in his private cheque-book, just before leaving one afternoon, when the cashier had already gone home. He opened the drawer where he kept his cheque-book and examined it. There it was: it was true he had drawn the cheque, but he had forgotten to tear it out and despatch it, meaning no doubt to do so in the morning.{122}

      He was inspecting these things when Alice came in. Her hair was quite white now, and she stooped a little, but it seemed to Reuben as if her eyes were still as lively as ever. Something strange suddenly flooded up in his heart and he held out both hands."Most likely."

      A few weeks later Richard wrote himself, breaking the silence of years. Success had made him feel more kindly towards his father. He forgave the frustrations and humiliations of his youth, and enquired after his brothers and sisters and the progress of the old farm. Anne Bardon had kept him fairly well posted in Backfield history, but though he knew of Reuben's unlucky marriage and of the foot-and-mouth catastrophe, he had evidently lost count of absconding sons, for he[Pg 336] seemed to think Pete had run away too, which Reuben considered an unjustifiable aspersion on his domestic order. However, the general tone of his letter was conciliatory, and his remarks on the cattle-plague "most pr?aper."

      "Yeswith all the curiosity of a boy, I afterwards found that the secret door led by some long dark steps to the bed-chamber of the old lord!"

      "I did, lady, and my heart rejoicedeven as a father at sight of his children!" a slight tinge passing over his cheek.Norah held out her hand to Mrs Keeling. I wont keep you up any longer, she said. I shall walk home at once.


      "And how is she?""If we had no king," said Kirkby, "we should have no tax grinding down the poor. If that tax had not made a beggar of me, Jack Kirkby would not have been here amongst you this night."


      "Save yourself, f?ather," continued the evangelist, "and give up all the vain desires of the flesh. Is this a time to buy olive-yards and vineyards? Beware lest there c?ame upon you as it did to him wot purchaised a field, the reward of inquiety, and falling headlong he bust asunder in the midst and his bowels goshed out"


      "He's had some punishment," said Pete when they were alone. He inspected the tramp, now feebly moaning, with the air of a connoisseur. "I'm hemmed if I ever saw a purtier knock-out."