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was some selfish feeling at the bottom of his
oppositionsome natural and pardonable
disinclination to agree to an union, that
threatened to deprive him in his sickness
and his old age of an only daughter who was
both his companion and his nurse. Be this
as it may, he would not fix any definite time
for the marriage, although, for his daughter's
sake, he did not prohibit the visits of him
upon whom her heart was bestowed. Michael
Armstrong did not press just then for a more
favourable determination, and, for this reason,
I am led to believe that he had obtained
his objectan excuse for being upon the
premises unsuspected after the business hours
of the day were over. I never knew him to
allow his will to be opposed, and I must,
therefore, conclude, that in this instance he
was satisfied with the ground that had been
gained. Esther, too, was happyhappy in
her confidence and pure affectionhappy in
the presence of him she lovedhappy in being
powerless to penetrate behind the stony,
cruel, selfish mask, that, in her trusting eyes,
seemed always lighted up with love and
truth.

In this way, the daily life went on for
several months. Michael Armstrong, by care
unceasing careperseverance, and talent,
rose, day by day, in the respect and estimation
of the partners. Much was entrusted to
him; and although he was not visibly
promoted over the heads of his seniors, he was
still the confidential clerk; and the one in
whom was centred the management of the
banking and financial transactions of the
house. We presumedfor we knew nothing
thenthat he was still working stealthily
on the information that he gathered in the
partners' room; and which his new position,
more than ever, gave him opportunities of
using. It was a busy time for speculation
about this period. Fortunes were made
and lost by stock-gambling, in a day; and
Michael Armstrong with his active, calculating
brain, was not the man to allow the
tempting stream to rush by without plunging
into it.

Our firm had an important branch house
at Liverpool, through which it conducted its
shipping-trade with America. Every six
mouths it was the custom of one of the
partnerseither Mr. James or Mr. Robert
to go down and pay a visit of inspection
to this house, a task that usually
occupied ten or twelve days. Mr. James
Fordyce, about this time, took his departure
one morning for Liverpool, leaving his brother
Robert in charge of the London affairs. I
can see them even now, shaking hands,
outside that old gateway, before Mr. James
stepped into the family coach in which the
brothers always posted the journey. Michael
Armstrong was gliding to and fro with certain
required papersunobtrusive, but keen and
watchful. As the coach rolled away up the
narrow street, Mr. James looked out of the
window just as his brother had turned slowly
back under the archway. It was the last
he ever saw of him, alive.

For several days after Mr. James Fordyce's
departure, everything went on as before. He
started on a Friday, with a view of breaking
the long, tedious journey, by spending the
Sunday with some friends in Staffordshire,
On the following Wednesday, towards the
close of the day, a pigeon-express arrived
from Liverpool, bearing a communication in
his handwriting, which was taken in to Mr.
Robert Fordyce in the private room. No
one in the officeexcept, doubtless, Michael
Armstrongknew for many days what that
short letter contained; but we knew too well
what another short letter conveyed, which
was placed in melancholy haste and silence
the next morning under the pigeon's wing,
and started back to Liverpool. This was in
Michael Armstrong's handwriting.

Mr. James Fordyce, upon his arrival at
Liverpool, had found their manager committed
to large purchases in American produce
without the knowledge of his principals,
in the face of a market that had rapidly and
extensively fallen. This gentleman's anxiety
to benefit his employers was greater than his
prudence; and, while finding that he had
made a fearful error, he had not the courage
to communicate it to London, although every
hour rendered the position more ruinous.
Mr. James Fordyce, after a short and anxious
investigation, sent a despatch to his brother,
for a sum of many thousands of pounds,—an
amount as great as the house could command
upon so sudden an emergency. This money
was to be forwarded by special messenger,
without an hour's delay, in a Bank of England
draft: nothing less would serve to
extricate the local branch from its pressing
difficulty, and save the firm from heavier
loss. The letter arrived on the Wednesday,
after the banks had closed, and when nothing
could be done until the following morning.
In the meantime, in all probability,
Michael Armstrong received instructions to
prepare a statement of the available resources
of the firm.

That evening, about half-past eight o'clock,
when Esther Barnard returned from church,
she found Michael Armstrong waiting for
her at the gateway. He seemed more
thoughtful and absent than usual; and his
face, seen by the flickering light of the street
oil-lamp (it was an October night), had the
old, pale, anxious expression that I have
before alluded to. Esther thought he was
ill; but, in reply to her gentle inquiries, as
they entered the house together, he said he
was merely tired with the extra labour he
had undergone, consequent upon the receipt
of the intelligence from Mr. James Fordyce,
and his natural solicitude for the welfare of
the firm.

Mr. Robert Fordyce's habitsas, indeed,

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