On the station platform
at Dudley Port, in the dusk of a February
afternoon, half-a-dozen people waited for the train to Birmingham. A
south-west wind had loaded the air with moisture, which dripped at
and sluggishly, from a featureless sky. The lamps, just
lighted, cast upon wet wood and metal a pale yellow shimmer; voices
sounded with peculiar
clearness; so did the rumble
of a porter's barrow
laden with luggage. From a foundry hard by came the muffled, rhythmic
thunder of mighty
blows; this and the long note of an engine-whistle
wailing far off seemed to intensify
of the air as gloomy
day passed into gloomier night.
In clear daylight
the high, uncovered platform
would have offered an
outlook over the surrounding
country, but at this hour no horizon
discernible. Buildings near at hand, rude masses of grimy brick, stood
out against a grey confused background; among them rose a turret
flame. This fierce, infernal
glare seemed to lack the
irradiating quality of earthly
fires; with hard, though fluctuating
outline, it leapt towards the kindred
night, and diffused a blotchy
darkness. In the opposite direction, over towards Dudley Town, appeared
spots of lurid glow. But on the scarred and barren
plain which extends
to Birmingham there had settled so thick an obscurity, vapours from
above blending with earthly
reek, that all tile beacons of fiery toil
were wrapped and hidden.
Of the waiting
travellers, two kept apart from the rest, pacing this
way and that, but independently
of each other. They were men of
dissimilar appearance; the one comfortably
and expensively dressed, his
age about fifty, his visagebearing
the stamp of commerce; the other,
younger by more than twenty years, habited in a way which made it;
difficult to as certain his social standing, and looking about him with
of anything but prudence
or content. Now and then they
exchanged a glance: he of the high hat and caped ulster betrayed an
interest in the younger man, who, in his turn, took occasion to observe
the other from a distance, with show of dubious
The trill of an electric signal, followed by a clanging bell, brought
them both to a pause, and they stood only two or three yards apart.
Presently a light flashed through the thickening dusk; there was
roaring, grinding, creaking and a final yell of brake-tortured wheels.
Making at once for the nearest third-class carriage, the man in the
to a place, and threw himself carelessly
moment, and he was followed by the second passenger, who seated himself
on the opposite side of the compartment. Once more they looked at each
other, but without change of countenance.
Tickets were collected, for there would be no stoppage before
Birmingham: then the door slammed, and the two men were alone together.
Two or three minutes after the train had started, the elder man leaned
forward, moved slightly, and spoke.
"Excuse me, I think your name must be Hilliard."
"What then?" was the brusque reply.
"You don't remember me?"
"Scoundrels are common enough," returned the other, crossing his legs,
"but I remember you for all that."
was thrown out with a peculiarlyreckless
air; it astounded
the hearer, who sat for an instant
with staring eyes and lips apart;
then the blood rushed to his cheeks.
"If I hadn't just about twice your muscle, my lad," he answered
angrily, "I'd make you repent
that, and be more careful with your
tongue in future. Now, mind what you say! We've a quiet quarter of an
hour before us, and I might alter my mind."
The young man laughed contemptuously. He was tall, but slightly
and had delicate
"So you've turned out a blackguard, have you?" pursued his companion,
whose name was Dengate. "I heard something about that."
"You drink, I am told. I suppose that's your condition now."
"Well, no; not just now," answered Hilliard. He spoke the language of
an educated man, but with a trace of the Midland accent. Dengate's
speech had less refinement.
"What do you mean by your insulting talk, then? I spoke to you civilly."
"And I answered as I thought fit."
citizen sat with his hands on his knees, and
scrutinised the other's sallow features.
"You've been drinking, I can see. I had something to say to you, but
I'd better leave it for another time."
Hilliard flashed a look of scorn, and said sternly--
"I am as sober as you are."
"Then just give me civil answers to civil questions."
"Questions? What right have you to question me?"
"It's for your own advantage. You called me scoundrel. What did you
mean by that?"
"That's the name I give to fellows who go bankrupt
to get rid of their
"Is it!" said Dengate, with a superior smile. "That only shows how
little you know of the world, my lad. You got it from your father, I
daresay; he had a rough way of talking."
habit of telling the truth."
"I know all about it. Your father wasn't a man of business, and
couldn't see things from a business point of view. Now, what I just
want to say to you is this: there's all the difference in the world
and rascality. If you go down to Liverpool,
and ask men of credit for their opinion about Charles Edward Dengate,
you'll have a lesson that would profit you. I can see you're one of the
young chaps who think a precious deal of themselves; I'm often coming
across them nowadays, and I generally give them a piece of my mind."
"If you gave them the whole, it would be no great generosity."
"Eh? Yes, I see you've had a glass or two, and it makes you witty. But
wait a bit I was devilish
near thrashing you a few minutes ago; but I
sha'n't do it, say what you like. I don't like vulgar
"No more do I," remarked Hilliard; "and I haven't fought since I was a
boy. But for your own satisfaction, I can tell you it's a wise resolve
not to interfere
with me. The temptation
to rid the world of one such
man as you might prove too strong."
There was a force of meaning in these words, quietly as they were
uttered, which impressed the listener.
"You'll come to a bad end, my lad."
"Hardly. It's unlikely
that I shall ever be rich."
"Oh! you're one of that sort, are you? I've come across Socialistic
fellows. But look here. I'm talking civilly, and I say again it's for
your advantage. I had a respect for your father, and I liked your
brother--I'm sorry to hear he's dead."
"Please keep your sorrow to yourself."
"All right, all right! I understand you're a draughtsman at Kenn and
"I daresay you are capable
of understanding that."
Hilliard planted his elbow in the window of the carriage
his cheek on his hand.
"Yes; and a few other things," rejoined the well-dressed man. "How to
make money, for instance.--Well, haven't you any insult
The other looked out at a row of flaring chimneys, which the train was
rushing past: he kept silence.
"Go down to Liverpool," pursued Dengate, "and make inquiries about me.
You'll find I have as good a reputation
as any man living."
He laboured this point. It was evident
that he seriously
establish his probity and importance in the young man's eyes. Nor did
anything in his look or speech conflict
with such claims. He had hard,
but not disagreeable
features, and gave proof of an easy temper.
"Paying one's debts," said Hilliard, "is fatal to reputation."
"You use words you don't understand. There's no such thing as a debt,
except what's recognised by the laws."
"I shouldn't wonder if you think of going into Parliament. You are just
the man to make laws."
"Well, who knows? What I want you to understand is, that if your father
were alive at this moment, I shouldn't admit that he had claim upon me
for one penny."
"It was because I understood it already that I called you a scoundrel."
"Now be careful, my lad," exclaimed Dengate, as again he winced under
the epithet. "My temper
may get the better of me, and I should be sorry
for it. I got into this carriage
with you (of course I had a
first-class ticket) because I wanted to form an opinion of your
character. I've been told you drink, and I see that you do, and I'm
sorry for it. You'll be losing your place before long, and you'll go
down. Now look here; you've called me foul names, and you've done your
best to rile me. Now I'm going to make you ashamed
Hilliard fixed the speaker
with his scornful
eyes; the last words had
moved him to curiosity.
"I can excuse a good deal in a man with an empty pocket," pursued the
other. "I've been there myself; I know how it makes you feel--how much
do you earn, by the bye?"
"Mind you own business."
"All right. I suppose it's about two pounds a week. Would you like to
know what _my_ in come is? Well, something like two pounds an hour,
reckoning eight hours as the working
day. There's a difference, isn't
there? It comes of minding my business, you see. You'll never make
anything like it; you find it easier to abuse people who work than to
work yourself. Now if you go down to Liverpool, and ask how I got to my
present position, you'll find it's the result of hard and honest work.
Understand that: honest work."
"And forgetting to pay your debts," threw in the young man.
"It's eight years since I owed any man a penny. The people I _did_ owe
money to were sensible
men of business--all except your father, and he
never could see things in the right light. I went through the
bankruptcy court, and I made arrangements that satisfied my creditors.
I should have satisfied your father too, only he died."
"You paid tuppence ha'penny in the pound."
"No, it was five shillings, and my creditors--sensible men of
business--were satisfied. Now look here. I owed your father four
hundred and thirty-six pounds, but he didn't rank as an ordinary
creditor, and if I had paid him after my bankruptcy
it would have been
just because I felt a respect for him--not because he had any legal
claim. I _meant_ to pay him--understand that."
Hilliard smiled. Just then a block signal caused the train to slacken
speed. Darkness had fallen, and lights glimmered from some cottages by
"You don't believe me," added Dengate.
man bit his lower lip, and sat gazing at the lamp in the
carriage. The train came to a standstill; there was no sound but the
throbbing of the engine.
"Well, listen to me," Dengate resumed. "You're turning out badly, and
any money you get you're pretty sure to make a bad use of. But"--he
assumed an air of great solemnity--"all the same--now listen----"
"Just to show you the kind of a man I am, and to make you feel ashamed
of yourself, I'm going to pay you the money."
For a few seconds there was unbroken
stillness. The men gazed at each
other, Dengate superbly triumphant, Hilliard incredulous
"I'm going to pay you four hundred and thirty-six pounds," Dengate
repeated. "No less and no more. It isn't a legal debt, so I shall pay
no interest. But go with me when we get to Birmingham, and you shall
have my cheque for four hundred and thirty-six pounds."
The train began to move on. Hilliard had uncrossed his legs, and sat
bending forward, his eyes on vacancy.
"Does that alter your opinion of me?" asked the other.
"I sha'n't believe it till I have cashed the cheque."
"You're one of those young fellows who think so much of themselves
they've no good opinion to spare for anyone else. And what's more, I've
still half a mind to give you a good thrashing before I give you the
cheque. There's just about time, and I shouldn't wonder if it did you
good. You want some of the conceit
taken out of you, my lad."
Hilliard seemed not to hear this. Again he fixed his eyes on the
"Do you say you are going to pay me four hundred pounds?" he asked
"Four hundred and thirty-six. You'll go to the devil with it, but
that's no business of mine."
"There's just one thing I must tell you. If this is a joke, keep out of
my way after you've played it out, that's all."
"It isn't a joke. And one thing I have to tell _you_. I reserve to
myself the right of thrashing you, if I feel in the humour
Hilliard gave a laugh, then threw himself back into the corner, and did
not speak again until the train pulled up at New Street station.
An hour later he was at Old Square, waiting
for the tram to Aston. Huge
steam-driven vehicles came and went, whirling about the open space with
monitory bell-clang. Amid a press of homeward-going workfolk, Hilliard
clambered to a place on the top and lit his pipe. He did not look the
same man who had waited gloomily
at Dudley Port; his eyes gleamed with
life; answering a remark addressed to him by a neighbour on the car, he
No rain was falling, but the streets shone wet and muddy under lurid
lamp-lights. Just above the house-tops appeared the full moon, a
reddish disk, blurred athwart floating vapour. The car drove northward,
speedily passing from the region of main streets and great edifices
into a squalid district of factories and workshops and crowded
At Aston Church the young man alighted, and walked rapidly for five
minutes, till he reached a row of small modern houses. Socially they
represented a step or two upwards
in the gradation which, at
Birmingham, begins with the numbered court and culminates in the
mansions of Edgbaston.
He knocked at a door, and was answered by a girl, who nodded
"Mrs. Hilliard in? Just tell her I'm here."
There was a natural abruptness in his voice, but it had a kindly note,
and a pleasant smile accompanied it. After a brief delay he received
permission to go upstairs, where the door of a sitting-room stood open.
Within was a young woman, slight, pale, and pretty, who showed
something of embarrassment, though her face made him welcome.
"I expected you sooner."
"Business kept me back. Well, little girl?"
The table was spread for tea, and at one end of it, on a high chair,
sat a child of four years old. Hilliard kissed her, and stroked her
curly hair, and talked with playful
affection. This little girl was his
niece, the child of his elder brother, who had died three years ago.
furnished room and her own attire
proved that Mrs. Hilliard
had but narrow resources in her widowhood. Nor did she appear a woman