Chapter XXI




To return to the bank. Skinner came back from the Dodds' that miserable afternoon in a state of genuine agitation and regret. He was human, and therefore mixed, and their desolation had shocked him.

The footman told him Mr. Hardie was not at home; gone to London, he believed. Skinner walked away dejected. What did this mean? Had he left the country?

He smiled at his fears, and felt positive Mr. Hardie had misled the servants, and was quietly waiting for him in the bank parlour.

It was now dusk: he went round to that little dark nook of the garden the parlour window opened on, and tapped: there was no reply; the room looked empty. He tried the sash: it yielded. Mr. Hardie had been too occupied with embezzling another's property to take common precautions in defence of his own; never in his life before had he neglected to fasten the iron shutters with his own hand, and to-day he had left the very window unfastened. This augured ill. "He is off: he has done me along with the rest," thought Skinner. He stepped into the room, found a lucifer-box, shut the shutters, lighted a candle, and went peering about amongst the banker's papers, to see if he could find a clue to his intentions; and, as he pottered and peered, he quaked as well: a detector by dishonest means feels thief-like, and is what he feels. He made some little discoveries that guided him in his own conduct; he felt more and more sure his employer would outwit him if he could, and resolved it should be diamond cut diamond.

The church clock struck one.

He started at the hour, crept out and closed the window softly, then away by the garden gate.

A light was still burning in Alfred's room, and at this Skinner had another touch of compunction. "There is one won't sleep this night along of our work," thought he.

At three next afternoon Mr. Hardie reappeared.

He had gone up to town to change the form of the deposit:-- He took care to think of it as a deposit still, the act of deposit having been complete, the withdrawal incomplete, and by no fault of his, for he had offered it back; but Fate and Accident had interposed. He had converted the notes into gold direct, and the bills into gold through notes; this was like going into the river to hide his trail. Next process: he turned his gold into £500 notes, and came flying home with them.

His return was greeted by Skinner with a sigh of relief. Hardie heard it, interpreted it aright, and sent for him into the parlour, and there told him with a great affectation of frankness what he had done, then asked significantly if there was any news at Albion Villa.

Skinnier in reply told Mr. Hardie of the distress he had witnessed up at Albion Villa: "And, sir," said he, lowering his voice, "Mr. Alfred helped carry the body upstairs. It is a nice mess altogether, sir, when you come to think."

"Ah! all the better," was the cool reply: "he will be useful to let us know what we want; he will tell Jane, and Jane me. You don't think he will live, do you?"

"Live! no: and then who will know the money is here?"

"Who should know? Did not he say he had just landed, and been shipwrecked? Shipwrecked men do not bring fourteen thousand pounds ashore." The speaker's eyes sparkled: Skinner watched him demurely. "Skinner," said he solemnly, "I believe my daughter Jane is right, and that Providence really interferes sometimes in the affairs of this world. You know how I have struggled to save my family from disgrace and poverty: those struggles have failed in a great degree: but Heaven has seen them, and saved this money from the sea, and dropped it into my very hands to retrieve my fortunes with. I must be grateful: spend a portion of it in charity, and rear a noble fortune on the rest. Confound it all!"

And his crestfallen countenance showed some ugly misgiving had flashed on him quite suddenly.

"What sir? what?" asked Skinner eagerly.

"The receipt!"



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