Mr. Lismore and the Widow Page 01
MR. LISMORE AND THE WIDOW.
LATE in the autumn, not many years since, a public meeting was held at the Mansion House, London, under the direction of the Lord Mayor.
The list of gentlemen invited to address the audience had been chosen with two objects in view. Speakers of celebrity, who would rouse public enthusiasm, were supported by speakers connected with commerce, who would be practically useful in explaining the purpose for which the meeting was convened. Money wisely spent in advertising had produced the customary result--every seat was occupied before the proceedings began.
Among the late arrivals, who had no choice but to stand or to leave the hall, were two ladies. One of them at once decided on leaving the hall. "I shall go back to the carriage," she said, "and wait for you at the door." Her friend answered, "I shan't keep you long. He is advertised to support the second Resolution; I want to see him--and that is all."
An elderly gentleman, seated at the end of a bench, rose and offered his place to the lady who remained. She hesitated to take advantage of his kindness, until he reminded her that he had heard what she said to her friend. Before the third Resolution was proposed, his seat would be at his own disposal again. She thanked him, and without further ceremony took his place He was provided with an opera-glass, which he more than once offered to her, when famous orators appeared on the platform; she made no use of it until a speaker--known in the City as a ship-owner--stepped forward to support the second Resolution.
His name (announced in the advertisements) was Ernest Lismore.
The moment he rose, the lady asked for the opera-glass. She kept it to her eyes for such a length of time, and with such evident interest in Mr. Lismore, that the curiosity of her neighbors was aroused. Had he anything to say in which a lady (evidently a stranger to him) was personally interested? There was nothing in the address that he delivered which appealed to the enthusiasm of women. He was undoubtedly a handsome man, whose appearance proclaimed him to be in the prime of life--midway perhaps between thirty and forty years of age. But why a lady should persist in keeping an opera-glass fixed on him all through his speech, was a question which found the general ingenuity at a loss for a reply.
Having returned the glass with an apology, the lady ventured on putting a question next. "Did it strike you, sir, that Mr. Lismore seemed to be out of spirits?" she asked.
"I can't say it did, ma'am."
"Perhaps you noticed that he left the platform the moment he had done?"
This betrayal of interest in the speaker did not escape the notice of a lady, seated on the bench in front. Before the old gentleman could answer, she volunteered an explanation.
"I am afraid Mr. Lismore is troubled by anxieties connected with his business," she said. "My husband heard it reported in the City yesterday that he was seriously embarrassed by the failure--"
A loud burst of applause made the end of the sentence inaudible. A famous member of Parliament had risen to propose the third Resolution. The polite old man took his seat, and the lady left the hall to join her friend.
"Well, Mrs. Callender, has Mr. Lismore disappointed you?"
"Far from it! But I have heard a report about him which has alarmed me: he is said to be seriously troubled about money matters. How can I find out his address in the City?"
"We can stop at the first stationer's shop we pass, and ask to look at the Directory. Are you going to pay Mr. Lismore a visit?"
"I am going to think about it."
THE next day a clerk entered Mr. Lismore's private room at the office, and presented a visiting-card. Mrs. Callender had reflected, and had arrived at a decision. Underneath her name she had written these explanatory words: "On important business."
"Does she look as if she wanted money?" Mr. Lismore inquired.
"Oh dear, no! She comes in her carriage."
"Is she young or old?"
To Mr. Lismore--conscious of the disastrous influence occasionally exercised over busy men by youth and beauty--this was a recommendation in itself. He said: "Show her in."
Observing the lady, as she approached him, with the momentary curiosity of a stranger, he noticed that she still preserved the remains of beauty. She had also escaped the misfortune, common to persons at her time of life, of becoming too fat. Even to a man's eye, her dressmaker appeared to have made the most of that favorable circumstance. Her figure had its defects concealed, and its remaining merits set off to advantage. At the same time she evidently held herself above the common deceptions by which some women seek to conceal their age. She wore her own gray hair; and her complexion bore the test of daylight. On entering the room, she made her apologies with some embarrassment. Being the embarrassment of a stranger (and not of a youthful stranger), it failed to impress Mr. Lismore favorably.
"I am afraid I have chosen an inconvenient time for my visit," she began.
"I am at your service," he answered a little stiffly; "especially if you will be so kind as to mention your business with me in few words."
She was a woman of some spirit, and that reply roused her.
"I will mention it in one word, " she said smartly. "My business is--gratitude."
He was completely at a loss to understand what she meant, and he said so plainly. Instead of explaining herself, she put a question.
"Do you remember the night of the eleventh of March, between five and six years since?"
He considered for a moment.
"No," he said, "I don't r emember it. Excuse me, Mrs. Callender, I have affairs of my own to attend to which cause me some anxiety--"
"Let me assist your memory, Mr. Lismore; and I will leave you to your affairs. On the date that I have referred to, you were on your way to the railway-station at Bexmore, to catch the night express from the North to London."
As a hint that his time was valuable the ship-owner had hitherto remained standing.