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"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?"
66 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."
"That'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 Mrs Lisle.
"Well, it's too late to lament that now," answered the husband. 66 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 money, 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 im
portant to their education. His arguments, too, were always so specious when she endeavoured to obtain a hearing for any of 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.
So 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 Curaçoa, a rich Stilton cheese, and several other 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.
It was very provoking of Miss Patty Wise; but the obstinacy of old women on these occasions is proverbial, especially when they have anything to leave. She did not die, but was out of bed and down in her drawing-room again at the end of a week; but Williams assured Lisle that this attack had given her such a shake, that it was impossible she could survive another. It might be that the old lady was of the same opinion, and therefore took care not to expose herself to the risk; however that was, three months more passed without any further alarm. Still, that her disease was mortal, was past a doubt, and a month or two, more or less, could make no difference, provided she "hopped off," as Williams termed it, before the year was expired; and that all the parties concerned, except herself and Mrs Lisle, felt perfectly assured she would do. Poor Sophia could not resist many qualms of uneasiness; and she frequently made her husband angry by shaking her head and looking incredulous when she heard these repeated prognostications of Miss Patty's speedy dissolution. Still more annoyed he was by her occasionally proposing little retrenchments in their expenditure. She said she had altered her mind, and that she should not buy a new shawl. She thought the old one would do very well another winter: neither did she see any necessity for taking the children to sea this autumn; they were in very good health, and lodgings were so expensive. Then Mr Lisle was persuaded that he saw the remains of a cold leg of mutton upon his table much more frequently than he had been accustomed to; and he never took up his knife and fork to help his wife, without feeling a vague sensation of displeasure towards Miss Patty for not dying within the limited period, as she ought to have done, and with Sophia for obstinately continuing to doubt that she would still die time enough to save him from any inconvenience. He looked upon his wife's retrenchments and distrusts as so many tacit reproaches; and he felt very sorry he had ever consulted her in the business at all, as it only gave her an opportunity of plaguing him.
Eight months of the year had elapsed, and Miss Patty, though daily declining, was still alive, when one morning Mr Lisle received a message from Williams to say he would be glad if he could step to his house for a few minutes, as he wanted to speak to him on particular business. Lisle obeyed the summons. "Where is your master?" said he to the shop-boy. "Mr Williams is up stairs, sir; you'll find him in the drawing-room," replied the lad. "Well, Williams, what's the matter?" said Mr Lisle; but he stopt short; for beside Williams sat his wife bathed in tears, with an infant in her arms, and at the other end of the apartment sat a man with his hat on the floor, whom he recog nised at once for a sheriff's officer. "Oh, Lisle, my dear fellow, I am so glad you are come!" exclaimed Williams: "I was sure you would. There now, Mary, dry your eyes, and don't cry so.
You'll make yourself ill, and then the poor baby will suffer. These women always look to the worst side of everything," continued he, leading Lisle towards the window. "The least thing upsets them, and there's no getting them to listen to reason." "But what's the matter?" reiterated Lisle. "What's that man doing here?"
"It's the most unlucky thing," replied Williams, "that ever happened. A twelvemonth ago I gave Martina and Co. a bill for five hundred pounds, making sure that before it became due I should have touched old Patty's legacy, and have been able to take it up. But the time's expired, and my bill is returned dishonoured; and though they are literally now keeping body and soul together by administering a teaspoonful of gruel with brandy in it every quarter of an hour, yet alive she is; and, what's more, perfectly sensible, and as capable of altering her will as ever she was in her life, if she choose to do it. Now, though certainly to be carried to jail, and have an execution in one's house, would be very unpleasant, and would occasion great loss and sacrifice of my property, not to mention the discredit of the thing, yet I would submit to all the inconvenience a thousand times, rather than make another application to you, who have already done so much for me. I'm sure if you had been my brother you could not have been kinder, as Mary and I often say; and there are very few men in the world who have heart enough to do as much for their own relations, much less for those who have no claim on them. But the less our claim, the greater has been your kindness, and the more grateful we are bound to be; and it is for that very reason that I am so distressed about this business. You see, if I am arrested, and old Patty hears of it-and there will be plenty glad enough to tell her-she'll alter her will as sure as my name is Williams; and then how I am ever to discharge my debt to you, I honestly confess I don't know.”
Nothing could be more certain than the imminence of this danger. Mr Lisle was perfectly aware that the only chance of saving his money was by means of Miss Patty's legacy, and he was much disposed to think with Williams, that, if she once became aware of the real state of her nephew's affairs, she would take very good care that her money should not be lavished in the vain attempt to extricate him from difficulties of his own incurring. Now it was that Lisle began to feel the magnitude of his first error; that had led the way to a second; and now here was a third dilemma, much more potent and pressing than the second. He certainly could pay the seven hundred pounds, as he had told his wife, should the bill become due before the old lady's death, because, as he had no arrears of debt, and his credit was good, he trusted that his own creditors would not be importunate; but the loss of the whole twelve hundred pounds would be a ruinous blow, and would involve him in embarrassments that he could not see his way out of at all. What was to be done? He asked Williams