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they stared! Bob Parsons going to be married! Little Bob Parsons! "Well, I never!" cried Jack Hooper. "Something has come of his Christmas Holiday with a vengeance!"
BE JUST BEFORE YOU ARE GENEROUS.
"Sophy," said Mr Lisle one day to his wife, "you can't think how vexed I am about poor Williams!"
"What about Williams?" inquired Mrs Lisle.
"Why, he's such an unlucky dog. You know, in the first place, he had no sooner signed the agreement to take that shop in Dean Street, than he found out that Maxwell and Grieves had previously taken the one next door to open in the same line; and of course, as he was a stranger, and they were well known in the town, there was a considerable chance of their carrying off all the business."
"Well, but why didn't he take care to ascertain who had taken the next shop?" said Mrs Lisle.
"It would have been better if he had, certainly," replied her husband; "but people can't think of everything. But I was going to tell you—you know he naturally thought that if he didn't show as good a front as Maxwell's, he'd have no chance against them at all, so that led him to spend a good deal more on his fittings-up than he had intended, and left him short of money to stock his shop; so that he was obliged to get long credits, and bought at a disadvantage. All this threw him behind from the beginning, poor fellow; and although he has been as attentive to his business as a man could be, he has never been able to bring himself up."
"Well, he should have looked about him better at first," said Mrs Lisle.
"Ah, that's always your way," answered her husband; "you never feel for anybody. I'm sure a better-hearted fellow than Williams doesn't exist. Who could be kinder than both he and his wife were when little Jane was ill? They were always sending us something or another out of the shop that they thought the child would like—dates, and figs, and sugar-candy, and oranges at a time I know they were at least half-a-crown a dozen, for I went into Maxwell's shop on purpose to ask, out of curiosity."
"It was very good-natured, I admit," answered Mrs Lisle; "but I must say I was often more sorry than obliged. The child couldn't have used half they sent had she been well, much less when she was sick. I should often have sent them back, only you said it would seem so ungrateful. That sort of thing lavs one under such awkward obligations; particularly when yon know people can't afford it, which I am sure they couldn't."
"Then it was the more kind of them at anyrate," replied the husband. "It's easy to give what one can spare, but real generosity consists in giving what one wants one's-self."
Mrs Lisle did not feel satisfied with this position of her husband: she felt there was a fallacy about it; but not having reflected sufficiently on such subjects to be able to detect at once where the weakness lay, she was silent; whilst Mr Lisle, who on his part was perfectly sincere, thinking he had gained a legitimate advantage in the argument, pursued his discourse with more confidence.
"It often seems, really," continued he, "as if fortune delighted in persecuting those who least deserve it. I'm sure if everybody had their deserts, Williams merits success much more than Maxwell—a fellow that actually wouldn't go ten miles to see his sister, though he knew she was on her deathbed."
"Yes, that was very bad indeed," answered Mrs Lisle. "I never could bear him after that."
"And yet everything goes well with him that he undertakes," pursued her husband. "Those railroad shares that he bought, for example, I hear they are likely to pay fifteen per cent."
"I wish you'd had some of them," said Mrs Lisle; "you know Mr Bostock always told us they would turn out well. Maxwell would not have bought them without good advice—he's so cautious."
"But I hadn't the money, you know, Sophia," replied Mr Lisle. "I couldn't be off my word with Williams; and I had promised to lend him a few hundred pounds at Christmas, which he expected would have kept him up till he had time to get out of his difficulties."
"Instead of which he is farther in difficulties," said the wife.
"But he couldn't foresee that," replied the husband; "nobody expects luck is always to be against them."
"Well, but what's the matter with him now," inquired Mrs Lisle. "Has anything particular happened t"
"Why, it appears that the Liverpool house that has always furnished him with sugars has got a hint from somebody—Maxwell, perhaps, I shouldn't wonder—that he's not going on well; and they have not only stopped the supplies, but they threaten to put in an execution directly, if he don't pay them at least part of the debt, if he can't pay the whole. And what makes it so particularly unlucky is, that Mrs Williams' aunt Patty, they say, positively can't hold out above another six weeks; and it they could only contrive to keep the mill going till she pops off, her money would bring them up, and set all right. Besides, she's very proud and very stingy—that everybody knows—and who can tell but she might alter her will if she found out how things are with them."
"I shouldn't wonder if she did indeed," replied Mrs Lisle; "for she was always against their marrying till Williams had tried how far his business was likely to answer; and she scolds and reproaches them, and asks them how they expect to keep all those children off the parish."
"Unfeeling, selfish old wretch !" said Mr Lisle.
"They certainly have a very large family for such young people," observed Mrs Lisle.
"Well, that's the worse for them in present circumstances," replied the husband. "As I said before, everything goes against some people; and when one thing turns out ill, it seems as if it led the way for everything else to do the same."
"But why don't he ask the Liverpool people to wait the event of Miss Patty's death 1"
"So he has, but they think it's all a sham."
"Then I don't see what he's to do, I'm sure."
"Nor I, unless he could contrive to patch up any way for the next six months, till Miss Patty's off the hooks."
Mrs Lisle, at this crisis of the conversation, addressed her attention very exclusively to the stocking she was darning, and remained silent. Mr Lisle sat with his legs crossed, looking into the fire; but he saw the expression of his wife's face out of the corner of his eye. Presently he began to beat what some people call the devil's tatoo with his heel.
"I don't think you like Williams, Sophia," said he, after a pause.
"I have no dislike to him," answered Mrs Lisle; "but I can't help thinking that he might have done better if he had been more prudent."
"Tnat's just what the world always says when anybody's unfortunate," answered Mr Lisle. "There's nothing so easy as finding out that people's misfortunes might have been avoided if they had acted differently to what they have. It's a very convenient doctrine certainly, because it exonerates one from the pain of pitying them, or the duty of assisting them."
"I don't see that it prevents our pitying them," answered Mrs Lisle, "because one may blame people and pity them too."
"At all events it absolves you from assisting them," said the husband.
"If one could do them any good by assisting them, and if one could do it without injuring one's-self, there might be some sense in it," replied Mrs Lisle.
"Those are just the selfish maxims of the world, Sophia," answered Mr Lisle. "In the first place, when one assists people, it is in the hope and belief that we are doing them good. If things don't turn out according to our expectations, it isn't our fault; we have at least the consolation of having done a generous action. And as for only assisting others when we are sure the doing it will not injure ourselves, there would be very few good offices done in the world at that rate; besides, as I said before, I don't see much generosity in giving away what we don't want. However, to come to the point at once—I believe in this particular instance, so far from injuring myself, that the best thing I can do is to assist Williams. You see if he is made a bankrupt now, so far from ever being able to pay me my five hundred, I doubt whether I shall get two shillings in the pound."
"That shows how imprudent it was to lend it," remarked Mb Lisle.
'' Well, it's too late to lament that now," answered the husband. "I fancied, from his own account, that things were likely to go better with him than they have done. I daresay he thought so himself. However, as I was saying, I don't suppose I should get two shillings in the pound if there was a break-up now; but if we can keep things going till the old girl's death, he has faithfully promised that the very day he touches the Hioney, he will pay me my five hundred down upon the nail."
"But how are you to keep things going?' inquired Mrs Lisle.
"Just by putting my name to a bill for a twelvemonth. Old Patty can't hold out a twelvemonth; we're sure of that."
"I don't know that," said Mrs Lisle.
"But the doctor knows it," replied the husband, "and told Williams so; indeed he said it was his opinion she couldn't last six weeks."
"But suppose, Edward, she did live over the twelvemonth," said Mrs Lisle, looking up at her husband with an anxious face, "what are you to do then? Are you to go to a prison to keep Williams out of one?"
"Prison! Nonsense, Sophia! You really talk as if you supposed I was a fool!" exclaimed Mr Lisle. "In the first place, if you must suppose what's impossible—that old Patty Wise is to live, which we know she can't, because we know that her disease is mortal—I have no doubt the holder of the bill, knowing his money was ultimately safe, would give me a little longer time; but even if he was churlish, and would not, let the worst come to the worst, I could pay it; and the very day that Williams gets the old woman's money, he would give it me back again."
Mrs Lisle did not feel quite satisfied with this statement of the case; but she had never been in the habit of opposing her husband, and had not resolution enough to do it now to any effect; and indeed she had a secret misgiving that, oppose as she might in the present instance, the result would be exactly the same. Williams was a gay, pleasant companion—goodnatured, liberal, hospitable, and sanguine—and by these qualities had rendered himself so agreeable to Mr Lisle, that he would have found it more difficult to refuse Williams a loan, or the use of his name, than he would to have denied his wife some article necessary to her comfort, or his children some advantage important to their education. His arguments, too, were always so specious when she endeavoured to obtain a hearing for any o£ her prudential maxims, and the side he took appeared so much the most amiable, that sometimes she almost feared she might be selfish and unfeeling, as he always on these occasions asserted she was; and at all events, as she had a real affection for him, she could not bear that he should think her so, and therefore preferred submitting, though against her judgment, to persisting, at the risk of losing his good opinion.
Bo Mr Lisle, acting under the influence of his good-nature, and his friendly feelings towards Williams, put his name to a bill for seven hundred pounds; and Williams declared he was the best fellow in the world, and that he might rely on it, that the very moment the breath was out of old Patty Wise, he would take up the bill, and release him from the engagement. Added to this, in the fervour of his gratitude, he sent his benefactor a case of fine Curacoa, a rich Stilton cheese, and several othey luxuries—very agreeable to Mr Lisle, but such as he would not have thought himself by any means authorised, by his circumstances, to purchase for his own table; whilst Mrs Lisle received constant offerings in the shape of boxes of foreign fruits, a few pounds of very fine tea, and various other delicacies, quite beyond the line of their standard of housekeeping. Mr and Mrs Williams, too, saw a great deal of company, and the Lisles were always of the party—a great deal too much company Mrs Lisle thought; but her husband remarked, that as they were only evening parties, and the greatest part of the refreshments were furnished from their own shop, the expense must be trifling.
In this manner the six weeks to which Miss Patty Wise's existence was limited had passed rapidly and pleasantly away, without any symptoms on her part to testify that she intended to conform to the decree of the physician. At the end of that period, however, she was seized one night with a sudden access of illness, declared to be dying, and Williams and his wife were sent for by her attendants. Lisle heard of it, and came home to his wife quite triumphant. "You see," he said, "what a fool I should have been if I had followed your advice. Where would my five hundred pounds have been, I should like to know? Whereas now I shall get the whole back, with five per cent, interest into the bargain." Mrs Lisle admitted that perhaps in this particular instance her advice might not have turned out well; but still, she said, as a general rule, she thought her maxims were the best. But Mr Lisle laughed, and said that it was very easy to back out of the affair by taking your stand upon general rules, but that these general rules very rarely fitted particular instances; however, as he was pleased with the result of his own foresight and generalship, he said he would not press her too hard, but let her off easy, only he hoped that she would have more confidence in his judgment another time.