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those days. Whatever words dropped from
the partners' table—(and they dropped with
less reserve, as there was only a half-deaf
secretary in the room)—were drunk in by
that sharp, calm, smiling, deceitful face at the
window. But, perhaps, his greatest opportunity
was during the opening of the morning
letters,—many of them valuable, as
coming from important correspondents abroad.
Michael Armstrong's duty was to receive the
key of the strong-room from the partners,
when they came to business in the morning,
and to prepare the books for the clerks
in the outer offices. This strong-room was
just at the back of Mr. James Fordyce's
chair, and as he opened the most important
correspondence, reading it to his brother,
who rested on the corner of the table, there
must have been a sharp eye and a sharper
ear watching through the crevices of the iron
door behind them. The next duty that fell
to Michael Armstrong, after the letters were
read and sorted, was, to take any drafts that
might be in them to the bankers, and bring
back the cash-box, which was always
deposited there for safety overnight. This journey
gave him an opportunity of acting upon the
information that he had gathered, and he lost
no time in doing so. Of course, we never
knew exactly what he did, or how he did it;
but we guessed that through some agent,
with the money that Mr. James Fordyce had
given him when he brought back the letter,
he made purchases and sales in the stock-
market, with more or less success. He
never altered in his manner or appearance;
never betrayed by word or signs to any of
the clerks, his losses or his gains; and never
neglected his mechanical duties, although he
must have been much troubled in mind at
times, by the operations he was conducting
secretly out of doors.

Although not a favourite with the clerks,
he became a favourite with the partners.
There was no undue partiality exhibited towards
him, for they were too scrupulously just
for that,—but his remarkable business
aptitude, his care and industry, his manners, and
probably his supposed infirmity, brought immediately
before them, every hour in the day by
his position as private secretary, had a
natural influence, and met with adequate

In this way five years passed, quietly
enough, to all outward appearance; but
Michael Armstrong was working actively
and desperately beneath the surface, and
biding his time.

In those upper rooms to the right, exactly
facing our counting-houses, lived an old clerk,
named Barnard, with one child, a daughter,
named Esther. The place was a refuge provided
for an old and faithful, poor, and nearly
worn-out servant of the house; and the
salary he received was more like a pension,
for his presence was never required in the
office, except when he chose to render it.
The daughter superintended the home of the
two brothers, who, as I have said before,
lived upon the premises in those rooms over
the arches.

Esther Barnard, at this time, was not more
than twenty years of age; rather short in
figure; very pretty and interesting, with
large, dark, thoughtful eyes. Her manners
were quiet and timid, the natural result of a
life spent chiefly within these red-bricked
walls, in attendance upon an infirm father,
and two old merchants. She went out very
seldom, except on Sundays and Wednesday
evenings, and then only to that old city
church just beyond the gateway, whose bells
are ringing even now. In the summer-time,
after business-hours, she used to bring her
work and sit upon this bench, under this
tree; and in winter her favourite place, while
her father was dozing over the fire in a deep
leathern chair, was in the dark recesses of
that long window, in the corner of their
sitting-room, overlooking the garden. She
was very modest and retiring, never appearing
more than was absolutely necessary
during the day; but for all her care, many
a busy pen was stopped in the office as
her small, light form flitted rapidly under
the arched passage; and many an old
heart sighed in remembrance of its bygone
youthful days, while many a young heart
throbbed with something more of hope and

The one who saw her most was Michael
Armstrong. His duty, every night, was to
lock up the warerooms and counting-houses,
rendering the keys to old Barnard, who
placed them in the private apartments of the
two brothers. Since the old clerk's bodily
weakness had increased, this task was
confided to his daughter, who executed it timidly
at first, gaining courage, however, by degrees,
until, at last, she came to consider it a part
of the day's labour, even pleasant to look
forward to. Whether Michael Armstrong
ever really loved Esther Barnard is more
than I can say. I have to judge him heavily
enough in other and greater matters, and I
am, therefore, loth to suspect him in this.
He had no faith, no hope, no heartnothing
but brain, brain, ceaseless brain; and small
love, that I have found, ever came from a
soul like this. What he thought and meant
was always hidden behind the same calm,
smiling maskthe same thoughtful, deceptive,
even beautiful face. He used his
appearance as only another instrument to aid
him in his designs, and he seldom used it in
vain. Esther's love for Michael Armstrong
was soon no secret to the whole house, and
many, while they envied him, sincerely pitied
her, though they could scarcely give a reason
for so doing. The partners, howeverespecially
Mr. James Fordycelooked with favour
upon the match; but, from some cause, her
father, old Barnard, felt towards it a strange
repugnance. It may have been that there

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