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Chapter XIII.

Mr Stubble's insolvency.—Happy change in Peggy's demeanour.

THE following morning, Mr Rowley and Mr Stubble drove straightway to Ben Goldstone's office. The clerk was absent, but a note on his desk explained that the state of his health demanded a change of air; so, he had gone to Geelong and elsewhere.

Throughout that day Mr Rowley was engaged in a patient investigation of the books and papers that he found in the office. Many inquiring creditors called during the day, and seemed somewhat comforted when Mr Stubble told them to send in particulars of their claims as soon as possible. Some of them were very uncomplimentary in their remarks; but Joe refrained from arguing in defence of the absent defaulter, for the case was undoubtedly a bad one.

When Mr Rowley and Joe returned home to tea, Mrs Stubble told them that Mrs Simon Goldstone and her uncle had called in the afternoon. They stated that the news of Benjamin's gross misconduct had so affected his father, that he was thoroughly prostrated; but he wished to express sympathy with the Stubble family, and also to say that he would most willingly render them pecuniary aid if they needed it.

“It is very kind of Mr Goldstone,” said Mr Stubble; “but we cannot tell yet how I stand. You never saw such a muddle, Peggy, as there is in Ben's office. The affairs puzzle our good friend here; and I don't like to see him taking so much trouble.”

“Do not distress yourself in the least on my account, Joe;” said Mr Rowley kindly. “We must have patience, you know. I think, as there are so many excited callers at the office, we had better get all the books and papers removed out here; then we can look through them quietly, and without interruption.”

That suggestion was acted upon next morning; and for the

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whole ensuing week, Mr Rowley plodded through the intricacles of Ben's entries, and cross-entries, and non-entries, and examined a host of letters and other documents relating to business transactions, of which he could find no record in the books. At length he was forced to admit that he was unable to unravel the accounts sufficiently to attempt to make even a rough balance-sheet; and he could form no other conclusion but that Ben had systematically complicated his accounts, so that no human being but himself could understand them,—a device not at all uncommon with men of cheating proclivities.

“In my opinion, Joe, the most straightforward course for you to adopt is to call a meeting of your creditors, and explain your position to them,” said Mr Rowley, after he had given the result of his inquiry.

“Do you say so, Peter?” responded Joe, sorrowfully. I can meet the bills due to-morrow.”

“Yes; but I see they are accommodation-bills, Joe, and it would not be fair to pay them if there is a doubt of other bona fide claims being left unpaid.”

“I surely do not owe more than I can pay by and bye, Peter! I thought I should find a large sum to the good.”

“You do not know what you owe, or rather, what you are liable for. I perceive you have been in the practice of signing bills in blank, and leaving Ben to fill them up as he chose. However could you be so unwise as to do that, Joe? I fancied that none but thoroughly reckless men, who had nothing to lose, did such unbusiness-like things.”

“Well, Peter, it is no use to say anything to me now; I see my folly. The fact is, I have been gradually fooled into placing confidence in Ben; and, as I told you before, I have left everything to his management while I have been working away for the public good. That is all about it.”

“I understand it, Joe; and I do not mean to say anything to reproach you—far from it. There will be plenty of people ready to do that I daresay, for that is the way of the world in showing sympathy for misfortune. It was perhaps natural for you to repose confidence in your son-in-law; but he has shamefully betrayed your confidence, and there is no disguising the fact. He has got you inextricably involved in cross-bill transactions with nine or ten persons in town, some of whom are notorious sharpers. There is a large amount of their paper under discount, for which you are liable. If it

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should all be paid, I have no doubt you will find a pretty large balance in your favour; but I tell you candidly, I have no faith in the stability of any of the persons; and if one should fail they will all fail, and, in that case, you will be insolvent likewise.”

“As old Mr Goldstone has offered to lend me a hand, I might pay everything, Peter.”

“In my opinion it would hardly be fair to accept his generous offer, to take his money and pay it to rogues and schemers, Joe. He would be grieved if he knew you did that.”

“True, Peter; it would not be right. I will not take a penny from him. But there are lots of goods in various stores in town; we might see after them.”

“I am afraid you will find that all the goods are hypothecated in some way, Joe. Depend on it, there will be claims set up against them if you attempt to remove them. That is usually the case under such circumstances; there is generally a scramble after a failing man's assets, especially if he is helpless, as you certainly are. In plain terms, Joe, the only honest course for you is to call your creditors together. To attempt to patch up your affairs would only involve you still farther, and perhaps undermine your health with anxiety.”

“I will take your advice, Peter. I never thought I should have got into the insolvent list, and it will be a bitter pill for me to swallow; but I daresay it will all be for the best. Thank God, I am able to think so, whatever happens to me now. I want to do what is straightforward and honest; and so long as my good name is not sacrificed, I don't care.”

“God can take care of your good name, Joe.”

“That is true enough, Peter. What time I am afraid, I will trust in Him. All these things will work together for good in some way that I cannot yet see.” …

Two days afterwards there was a meeting of Mr Stubble's creditors. It was soon evident to them all that Joe had been grossly deceived and victimised, and the utmost sympathy was shown for him. After a brief discussion, trustees were appointed, who took charge of all the books and papers relating to Joe's affairs; and it was hoped by some that all claims on him would be liquidated, and a balance remain to be handed over to him. They allowed him his household furniture. After the meeting Joe walked home beside his good friend, satisfied at having taken an honest course, and glad

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at heart that not one of his creditors had evinced the least suspicion that he had knowingly acted dishonestly in any way.

“This serious affair does not fret me at all, as far as I am personally concerned,” remarked Joe. “I am able and willing to work for my living, and it will be all the better for my health if I do so; but I am afraid my poor wife will be sadly cut up when she hears that I have given up everything, and that we have nothing left in the world but our household effects.”

“I do not think Mrs Stubble will fret much about it, Joe. I have been delighted to see her in such a placid state of mind for several days past.”

“Poor thing! I heard her sobbing and sighing last night, and I did not like to say aught to her; I thought she was grieving about our losses.” .…

Mrs Stubble met them at the door as they entered the house, when poor Joe burst into tears, and threw his arms about her neck. “Oh, Peggy!” he sobbed, “I have given up every penny I had in the world. Us have got no money now; it is all gone, and we must work for our living.”

“Never mind, Joe dear,” said Peggy, kissing him affectionately, while tears streamed down her face. “We have got health and strength left, and what is better than all, dear, we have got peace of mind, which all the wealth of the world would never give. Since you have been away I have been praying to God to subdue my stubborn will, and help me to bear with patience and resignation any fresh trial that may come upon us; and I have derived such comfort, Joe. God has answered my prayer, and I am now ready to submit to anything He sees fit to send. Thank God! I am so happy now, Joe,” added Peggy, burying her face on her husband's breast and sobbing aloud.

I pass over the occurrences of the next two hours; but Mr Rowley told his wife, when he went home, that it was one of the happiest seasons he had ever experienced.

“Have you any money to go on with, Joe?” asked Mr Rowley, as they sat a few hours afterwards smoking their pipes in the library.

“I have a few shillings, Peter. You know I gave a cheque for my balance in the bank to my trustees.”

“They will probably offer you an allowance for a while; but in the meantime let me supply you with what you want,”

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said Mr Rowley, pulling out his pocket-book and laying a ten-pound note on the table.

“No, Peter; I will never take money from you; thank you all the same. I shall soon set about doing something; I won't be idle very long, never fear.”

“This is your own money, Joe; so do not scruple to use it.” Peter then explained to his astonished friend how that Mrs Rowley had found the roll of notes in the old arm-chair.

“But don't you think I ought to give it up to my trustees, Peter?” asked Joe, after his surprise had subsided sufficiently to enable him to speak.

“No; I do not think they have any claim to it. If the original owner of the chair was alive, or even if you knew his descendants, it would be right to return it to him or them, but otherwise, I think, you may honestly keep it yourself.”

“Well, well! this is lucky, or providential I mean. It will just start me on a farm again—ha, ha! Won't Peggy laugh when she thinks how she wanted to sell the old chair? Let us call her in and tell her all about it; here she comes up the garden walk.”

Peggy's joyful surprise was highly amusing to Mr Rowley. After she had left the room, Joe remarked that he would have given a five-pound note if Peggy's likeness could have been taken a few minutes ago. He had never seen her look so pretty before in all his life; and if it were not for that fashionable fright of a bonnet, and her queer petticoats, she would look exactly like an angel.