A Perilous Secret by Charles Reade
Chapter III. The Two Fathers.
Hope looked wistfully at that crushed figure, and hesitated; it seemed neither kind nor politic to intrude business upon grief.
But if the child was Bartley's idol, money was his god, and soon in his strange mind defeated avarice began to vie with nobler sorrow. His child dead! his poor little flower withered, and her death robbed him of L20,000, and indeed of ten times that sum, for he had now bought experience in trade and speculation, and had learned to make money out of money, a heap out of a handful. Stung by this vulgar torment in its turn, he started suddenly up, and dashed his wife's will down upon the floor in a fury, and paced the room excitedly. Hope still stood aghast, and hesitated to risk his application.
But presently Bartley caught sight of him, and stared at him, but said nothing.
Then the poor fellow saw it was no use waiting for a better opportunity, so he came forward and carried out Bolton's instructions; he put on a tolerably jaunty air, and said, cheerfully, "I beg your pardon, sir; can I claim your attention for a moment?"
"What do you want?" asked Bartley, but like a man whose mind was elsewhere.
"Only employment for my talent, sir. I hear you have a vacancy for a manager."
"Nothing of the sort. I am manager."
Hope drew back despondent, and his haggard countenance fell at such prompt repulse. But he summoned courage, and, once more acting genial confidence, returned to the attack.
"But you don't know, sir, in how many ways I can be useful to you. A grand and complicated business like yours needs various acquirements in those who have the honor to serve you. For instance, I saw a small engine at work in your yard; now I am a mechanic, and I can double the power of that engine by merely introducing an extra band and a couple of cogs."
"It will do as it is," said Bartley, languidly, "and I can do without a manager."
Bartley's manner was not irritated but absorbed. He seemed in all his replies to Hope to be brushing away a fly mechanically and languidly. The poor fly felt sick at heart, and crept away disconsolate. But at the very door he turned, and for his child's sake made another attempt.
"Have you an opening for a clerk? I can write business letters in French, German, and Dutch; and keep books by double entry."
"No vacancy for a clerk," was the weary reply.
"Well, then, a foreman in the yard. I have studied the economy of industry, and will undertake to get you the greatest amount of labor out of the smallest number of men."
"I have a foreman already," said Bartley, turning his back on him peevishly, for the first time, and pacing the room, absorbed in his own disappointment.
Hope was in despair, and put on his hat to go. But he turned at the window and said: "You have vans and carts. I understand horses thoroughly. I am a veterinary surgeon, and I can drive four-in-hand. I offer myself as carman, or even hostler."
"I do not want a hostler, and I have a carman."
Bartley, when he had said this, sat down like a man who had finally disposed of the application.
Hope went to the very door, and leaned against it. His jaw dropped. He looked ten years older. Then, with a piteous attempt at cheerfulness, he came nearer, and said: "A messenger, then. I'm young and very active, and never waste my employer's time."
Even this humble proposal was declined, though Hope's cheeks burned with shame as he made it. He groaned aloud, and his head dropped on his breast.
His eye fell on the will lying on the ground; he went and picked it up, and handed it respectfully to Bartley.
Bartley stared, took it, and bowed his head an inch or two in acknowledgment of the civility. This gave the poor daunted father courage again. Now that Bartley's face was turned to him by this movement, he took advantage of it, and said, persuasively:
"Give me some kind of employment, sir. You will never repent it." Then he began to warm with conscious power. "I've intelligence, practicability, knowledge; and in this age of science knowledge is wealth. Example: I saw a swell march out of this place that owns all the parish I was born in. I knew him in a moment--Colonel Clifford. Well, that old soldier draws his rents when he can get them, and never looks deeper than the roots of the grass his cattle crop. But I tell you he never takes a walk about his grounds but he marches upon millions--coal! sir, coal! and near the surface. I know the signs. But I am impotent: only fools possess the gold that wise men can coin into miracles. Try me, sir; honor me with your sympathy. You are a father--you have a sweet little girl, I hear."--Bartley winced at that.--"Well, so have I, and the hole my poverty makes me pig in is not good for her, sir. She needs the sea air, the scent of flowers, and, bless her little heart, she does enjoy them so! Give them to her, and I will give you zeal, energy, brains, and a million of money."
This, for the first time in the interview, arrested Mr. Bartley's attention.
"I see you are a superior man," said he, "but I have no way to utilize your services."
"You can give me no hope, sir?" asked the poor fellow, still lingering.
"None--and I am sorry for it."
This one gracious speech affected poor Hope so that he could not speak for a moment. Then he fought for manly dignity, and said, with a lamentable mixture of sham sprightliness and real anguish, "Thank you, sir; I only trust that you will always find servants as devoted to your interest as my gratitude would have made me. Good-morning, sir." He clapped his hat on with a sprightly, ghastly air, and marched off resolutely.
But ere he reached the door, Nature overpowered the father's heart; way went Bolton's instructions; away went fictitious deportment and feigned cheerfulness. The poor wretch uttered a cry, indeed a scream, of anguish, that would have thrilled ten thousand hearts had they heard it; he dashed his hat on the ground, and rushed toward Bartley, with both hands out--"FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T SEND ME AWAY--MY CHILD IS STARVING!"
Even Bartley was moved. "Your child!" said he, with some little feeling. This slight encouragement was enough for a father. His love gushed forth. "A little golden-haired, blue-eyed angel, who is all the world to me. We have walked here from Liverpool, where I had just buried her mother. God help me! God help us both! Many a weary mile, sir, and never sure of supper or bed. The birds of the air have nests, the beasts of the field a shelter, the fox a hole, but my beautiful and fragile girl, only four years old, sir, is houseless and homeless. Her mother died of consumption, sir, and I live in mortal fear; for now she is beginning to cough, and I can not give her proper nourishment. Often on this fatal journey I have felt her shiver, and then I have taken off my coat and wrapped it round her, and her beautiful eyes have looked up in mine, and seemed to plead for the warmth and food I'd sell my soul to give her."
"Poor fellow," said Bartley; "I suppose I ought to pity you. But how can I? Man--man--your child is alive, and while there is life there is hope; but mine is dead--dead!" he almost shrieked.
"Dead!" said Hope, horrified.
"Dead," cried Bartley. "Cut off at four years old, the very age of yours. There--go and judge for yourself. You are a father. I can't look upon my blasted hopes, and my withered flower. Go and see my blue-eyed, fair-haired darling--clay, hastening to the tomb; and you will trouble me no more with your imaginary griefs." He flung himself down with his head on his desk.
Hope, following the direction of his hand, opened the door of the house, and went softly forward till he met the nurse. He told her Mr. Bartley wished him to see the deceased. The nurse hesitated, but looked at him. His sad face inspired confidence, and she ushered him into the chamber of mourning. There, laid out in state, was a little figure that, seen in the dim light, drew a cry of dismay from Hope. He had left his own girl sleeping, and looking like tinted wax. Here lay a little face the very image of hers, only this was pale wax.
Had he looked more closely, the chin was unlike his own girl's, and there were other differences. But the first glance revealed a thrilling resemblance. Hope hurried away from the room, and entered the office pale and disturbed. "Oh, sir! the very image of my own. It fills me with forebodings. I pity you, sir, with all my heart. That sad sight reconciles me to my lot. God help you!" and he was going away; for now he felt an unreasoning terror lest his own child should have turned from colored wax to pale.
Mr. Bartley stopped him. "Are they so very like?" said he.
"Wonderfully like." And again he was going, but Bartley, who had received him so coldly, seemed now unwilling to part with him.
"Stay," said he, "and let me think." The truth is, a daring idea had just flashed through that brain of his; and he wanted to think it out. He walked to and fro in silent agitation, and his face was as a book in which you may read strange matter. At last he made up his mind, but the matter was one he did not dare to approach too bluntly, so he went about a little.
"Stay--you don't know all my misfortunes. I am ambitious--like you. I believe in science and knowledge--like you. And, if my child had lived, you should have been my adviser and my right hand: I want such a man as you."
Hope threw up his hands. "My usual luck!" said he: "always a day too late." Bartley resumed:
"But my child's death robs me of the money to work with, and I can't help you nor help myself."
Bartley hesitated. But after a moment he said, timidly, "Unless--" and then stopped.
"Unless what?" asked Hope, eagerly. "I am not likely to raise objections my child's life is at stake."
"Well, then, unless you are really the superior man you seem to be: a man of ability and--courage."
"Courage!" thought Hope, and began to be puzzled. However, he said, modestly, that he thought he could find courage in a good cause.
"Then you and I are made men," said Bartley. These were stout words; but they were not spoken firmly; on the contrary, Mr. Bartley's voice trembled, and his brow began to perspire visibly.
His agitation communicated itself to Hope, and the latter said, in a low, impressive voice, "This is something very grave, Mr. Bartley. Sir, what is it?"
Mr. Bartley looked uneasily all round the room, and came close to Hope. "The very walls must not hear what I now say to you." Then, in a thrilling whisper, "My daughter must not die."
Hope looked puzzled.
"Your daughter must take her place."
Now just before this, two quick ears began to try and catch the conversation. Monckton had heard all that Colonel Clifford said, that warrior's tones were so incisive; but, as the matter only concerned Mr. Bartley, he merely grinned at the disappointment likely to fall on his employer, for he knew Mary Bartley was at death's door. He said as much to himself, and went out for a sandwich, for it was his lunch-time. But when he returned with stealthy foot, for all his movements were cat-like, he caught sight of Bartley and Hope in earnest conversation, and felt very curious.
There was something so mysterious in Bartley's tones that Monckton drew up against the little window, pushed it back an inch, and listened hard.
But he could hear nothing at all until Hope's answer came to Bartley's proposal.
Then the indignant father burst out, so that it was easy enough to hear every word. "I part with my girl! Not for the world's wealth. What! You call yourself a father, and would tempt me to sell my own flesh and blood? No! Poverty, beggary, anything, sooner than that. My darling, we will thrive together or starve together; we will live together or die together!"
He snatched up his hat to leave. But Bartley found a word to make him hesitate. He never moved, but folded his arms and said, "So, then, your love for your child is selfish."
"Selfish!" cried Hope; "so selfish that I would die for her any hour of the day." For all that, the taunt brought him down a step, and Bartley, still standing like a rock, attacked him again. "If it is not selfish, it is blind." Then he took two strides, and attacked him with sudden power. "Who will suffer most if you stand in her light? Your daughter: why, she may die." Hope groaned. "Who will profit most if you are wise, and really love her, not like a jealous lover, but like a father? Why, your daughter: she will be taken out of poverty and want, and carried to sea-breezes and scented meadows; her health and her comfort will be my care; she will fill the gap in my house and in my heart, and will be my heiress when I die."
"But she will be lost to me," sighed poor Hope.
"Not so. You will be my right hand; you will be always about us; you can see her, talk to her, make her love you, do anything but tell her you are her father. Do this one thing for me, and I will do great things for you and for her. To refuse me will be to cut your own throat and hers--as well as mine."
Hope faltered a little. "Am I selfish?" said he.
"Of course not," was the soothing reply. "No true father is--give him time to think."
Hope clinched his hands in agony, and pressed them against his brow. "It is selfish to stand in her light; but part with her--I can't; I can't."
"Of course not: who asks you? She will never be out of your sight; only, instead of seeing her sicken, linger, and die, you will see her surrounded by every comfort, nursed and tended like a princess, and growing every day in health, wealth, and happiness."
"Health, wealth, and happiness?"
"Health, wealth, and happiness!"
These words made a great impression on the still hesitating father; he began to make conditions. They were all granted heartily.
"If ever you are unkind to her, the compact is broken, and I claim my own again."
"So be it. But why suppose anything so monstrous; men do not ill-treat children. It is only women, who adore them, that kill them and ill-use them accordingly. She will be my little benefactress, God bless her! I may love her more than I ought, being yours, for my home is desolate without her; but that is the only fault you shall ever find with me. There is my hand on it."
Hope at the last was taken off his guard, and took the proffered hand. That is a binding action, and somehow he could no longer go back.
Then Bartley told him he should live in the house at first, to break the parting. "And from this hour," said he, "you are no clerk nor manager, but my associate in business, and on your own terms."
"Thank you," said Hope, with a sigh.
"Now lose no time; get her into the house at once while the clerks are away, and meantime I must deal with the nurse, and overcome the many difficulties. Stay, here is a five-pound note. Buy yourself a new suit, and give the child a good meal. But pray bring her here in half an hour if you can."
Then Bartley took him to the lobby, and let him out in the street, whilst he went into the house to buy the nurse, and make her his confidante.
He had a good deal of difficulty with her; she was shocked at the proposal, and, being a woman, it was the details that horrified her. She cried a good deal. She stipulated that her darling should have Christian burial, and cried again at the doubt. But as Bartley conceded everything, and offered to settle a hundred pounds a year on her, so long as she lived in his house and kept his secret, he prevailed at last, and found her an invaluable ally.
To dispose of this character for the present we must inform the reader that she proved a woman can keep a secret, and that in a very short time she was as fond of Grace Hope as she had been of Mary Bartley.
We have said that Colonel Clifford's talk penetrated Monckton's ear, but produced no great impression at the time. Not so, however, when he had listened to Bartley's proposal, Hope's answer, and all that followed. Then he put this and Colonel Clifford's communication together, and saw the terrible importance of the two things combined. Thus, as a congenital worm grew with Jonah's gourd, and was sure to destroy it, Bartley's bold and elaborate scheme was furnished from the outset with a most dangerous enemy.
Leonard Monckton was by nature a schemer and by habit a villain, and he was sure to put this discovery to profit. He came out of the little office and sat down at his desk, and fell into a brown-study.
He was not a little puzzled, and here lay his difficulty. Two attractive villainies presented themselves to his ingenious mind, and he naturally hesitated between them. One was to levy black-mail on Bartley; the other, to sell the secret to the Cliffords.
But there was a special reason why he should incline toward the Cliffords, and, whilst he is in his brown-study, we will let the reader into his secret.
This artful person had immediately won the confidence of young Clifford, calling himself Bolton, and had prepared a very heartless trap for him. He introduced to him a most beautiful young woman--tall, dark, with oval face and glorious black eyes and eyebrows, a slight foreign accent, and ingratiating manners. He called this beauty his sister, and instructed her to win Walter Clifford in that character, and to marry him. As she was twenty-two, and Master Clifford nineteen, he had no chance with her, and they were to be married this very day at the Register Office.
Manoeuvring Monckton then inclined to let Bartley's fraud go on and ripen, but eventually expose it for the benefit of young Walter and his wife, who adored this Monckton, because, when a beautiful woman loves an ugly blackguard, she never does it by halves.
But he had no sooner thought out this conclusion than there came an obstacle. Lucy Muller's heart failed her at the last moment, and she came into the office with a rush to tell her master so. She uttered a cry of joy at sight of him, and came at him panting and full of love. "Oh, Leonard, I am so glad you are alone! Leonard, dear Leonard, pray do not insist on my marrying that young man. Now it comes to the time, my heart fails me." The tears stood in her glorious eyes, and an honest man would have pitied her, and even respected her a little for her compunction, though somewhat tardy.
But her master just fixed his eyes coldly on his slave, and said, brutally, "Never mind your heart; think of your interest."
The weak woman allowed herself to be diverted into this topic. "Why, he is no such great catch, I am sure."
"I tell you he is, more than ever: I have just discovered another L20,000 he is heir to, and not got to wait for that any longer than I choose."
Lucy stamped her foot. "I don't care for his money. Till he came with his money you loved me."
"I love you as much as ever," said Monckton, coldly.
Lucy began to sob. "No, you don't, or you wouldn't give me up to that young fool."
The villain made a cynical reply, that not every Newgate thief could have matched. "You fool," said he, "can't you marry him, and go on loving me? you won't be the first. It is done every day, to the satisfaction of all parties."
"And to their unutterable shame," said a clear, stern voice at their back. Walter Clifford, coming rapidly in, had heard but little, but heard enough; and there he stood, grim and pale, a boy no longer. These two skunks had made a man of him in one moment. They recoiled in dismay, and the woman hid her face.
He turned upon the man first, you may be sure. "So you have palmed this lady off on me as your sister, and trapped me, and would have destroyed me." His lip quivered; for they had passed the iron through his heart. But he manned himself, and carried it off like a soldier's son:
"But if I was fool enough to leave my father, I am not fool enough to present to the world your cast-off mistress as my wife." (Lucy hid her face in her hands.) "Here, Miss Lucy Monckton--or whatever your name may be--here is the marriage license. Take that and my contempt, and do what you like with them."
With these words he dashed into Bartley's private room, and there broke down. It was a bitter cup, the first in his young life.
The baffled schemers drank wormwood too; but they bore it differently. The woman cried, and took her punishment meekly; the man raged and threatened vengeance.
"No, no," said Lucy; "it serves us right. I wish I had never seen the fellow: then you would have kept your word, and married me."
"I will marry you now, if you can obey me."
"Obey you, Leonard? You have been my ruin; but only marry me, and I will be your slave in everything--your willing, devoted, happy slave."
"That is a bargain," said Monckton, coolly. "I'll be even with him; I will marry you in his name and in his place."
This puzzled Lucy.
"Why in his name?" said she.
He did not answer.
"Well, never mind the name," said she, "so that it is the right man--and that is you."
Then Monckton's fertile brain, teeming with villainies, fell to hatching a new plot more felonious than the last. He would rob the safe, and get Clifford convicted for the theft; convicted as Bolton, Clifford would never tell his real name, and Lucy should enter the Cliffords' house with a certificate of his death and a certificate of his marriage, both obtained by substitution, and so collar his share of the L20,000, and off with the real husband to fresh pastures.
Lucy looked puzzled. Hers was not a brain to disentangle such a monstrous web.
Monckton reflected a moment. "What is the first thing? Let me see. Humph! I think the first thing is to get married."
"Yes," said Lucy, with an eagerness that contrasted strangely with his cynical composure, "that is the first thing, and the most understandable." And she went dancing off with him as gay as a lark, and leaning on him at an angle of forty-five; whilst he went erect and cold, like a stone figure marching.
Walter Clifford came out in time to see them pass the great window. He watched them down the street, and cursed them--not loud but deep.
"Mooning, as usual," said a hostile voice behind him. He turned round, and there was Mr. Bartley seated at his own table. Young Clifford walked smartly to the other side of the table, determined this should be his last day in that shop.
"There are the payments," said he.
Bartley inspected them.
"About one in five," said he, dryly.
"Thereabouts," was the reply. (Consummate indifference.)
"You can't have pressed them much."
"Well, I am not good at dunning."
"What are you good at?"
"Should be puzzled to say."
"You are not fit for trade."
"That is the highest compliment was ever paid me."
"Oh, you are impertinent as well as incompetent, are you? Then take a week's warning, Mr. Bolton."
"Five minutes would suit me better, Mr. Bartley."
"Oh! indeed! Say one hour."
"All right, sir; just time for a city clerk's luncheon--glass of bitter, sandwich, peep at Punch, cigarette, and a chat with the bar-maid."
Mr. Walter Clifford was a gentleman, but we must do him the justice to say that in this interview with his employer he was a very impertinent one, not only in words, but in the delivery thereof. Bartley, however, thought this impertinence was put on, and that he had grave reasons for being in a hurry. He took down the numbers of the notes Clifford had given him, and looked very grave and suspicious all the time.
Then he locked up the notes in the safe, and just then Hope opened the door of the little office and looked in.
"At last," said Bartley.
"Well, sir," said Hope, "I have only been half an hour, and I have changed my clothes and stood witness to a marriage. She begged me so hard: I was at the door. Such a beautiful girl! I could not take my eyes off her."
"The child?" said Bartley, with natural impatience.
"I have hidden her in the yard."
"Bring her this moment, while the clerks are out."
Hope hurried out, and soon returned with his child, wrapped up in a nice warm shawl he had bought her with Bartley's money.
Bartley took the child from him, looked at her face, and said, "Little darling, I shall love her as my own;" then he begged Hope to sit down in the lobby till he should call him and introduce him to his clerks. "One of them is a thief, I'm afraid."
He took the child inside, and gave her to his confederate, the nurse.
"Dear me," thought Hope, "only two clerks, and one of them dishonest. I hope it is not that good-natured boy. Oh no! impossible."
And now Bartley returned, and at the same time Monckton came briskly in through the little office.
At sight of him Bartley said, "Oh, Monckton, I gave that fellow Bolton a week's notice. But he insists on going directly," Monckton replied, slyly, that he was sorry to hear that.
"Suspicious? Eh?" said Bartley.
"So suspicious that if I were you--Indeed, Mr. Bartley, I think, in justice to me, the matter ought to be cleared to the bottom."
"You are right," said Bartley: "I'll have him searched before he goes. Fetch me a detective at once."
Bartley then wrote a line upon his card, and handed it to Monckton, directing him to lose no time. He then rushed out of the house with an air of virtuous indignation, and went to make some delicate arrangements to carry out a fraud, which, begging his pardon, was as felonious, though not so prosaic, as the one he suspected his young clerk of. Monckton was at first a little taken aback by the suddenness of all this; but he was too clear-headed to be long at fault. The matter was brought to a point. Well, he must shoot flying.
In a moment he was at the safe, whipped out a bunch of false keys, opened the safe, took out the cash-box, and swept all the gold it contained into his own pockets, and took possession of the notes. Then he locked up the cash-box again, restored it to the safe, locked that, and sat down at Bartley's table. He ran over the notes with feverish fingers, and then took the precaution to examine Bartley's day-book. His caution was rewarded--he found that the notes Bolton had brought in were numbered. He instantly made two parcels--clapped the unnumbered notes into his pocket. The numbered ones he took in his hand into the lobby. Now this lobby must be shortly described. First there was a door with a glass window, but the window had dark blue gauze fixed to it, so that nobody could see into the lobby from the office; but a person in the lobby, by putting his eye close to the gauze, could see into the office in a filmy sort of way. This door opened on a lavatory, and there were also pegs on which the clerks hung their overcoats. Then there was a swing-door leading direct to the street, and sideways into a small room indispensable to every office.
Monckton entered this lobby, and inserted the numbered notes into young Clifford's coat, and the false keys into his bag. Then he whipped back hastily into the office, with his craven face full of fiendish triumph.
He started for the detective. But it was bitter cold, and he returned to the lobby for his own overcoat. As he opened the lobby door the swing-door moved, or he thought so; he darted to it and opened it, but saw nobody, Hope having whipped behind the open door of the little room. Monckton then put on his overcoat, and went for the detective.
He met Clifford at the door, and wore an insolent grin of defiance, for which, if they had not passed each other rapidly, he would very likely have been knocked down. As it was, Walter Clifford entered the office flushed with wrath, and eager to leave behind him the mortifications and humiliations he had endured.
He went to his own little desk and tore up Lucy Mailer's letters, and his heart turned toward home. He went into the lobby, and, feeling hot, which was no wonder, bundled his office overcoat and his brush and comb into his bag. He returned to the office for his penknife, and was going out all in a hurry, when Mr. Bartley met him.
Bartley looked rather stern, and said, "A word with you, sir."
"Certainly, sir," said the young man, stiffly.
Mr. Bartley sat down at his table and fixed his eyes upon the young man with a very peculiar look.
"You seem in a very great hurry to go."
"Well, I am."
"You have not even demanded your salary up to date."
"Excuse the oversight; I was not made for business, you know."
"There is something more to settle besides your salary."
"Premium for good conduct?"
"No, sir. Mr. Bolton, you will find this no jesting matter. There are defalcations in the accounts, sir."
The young man turned serious at once. "I am sorry to hear that, sir," said he, with proper feeling.
Bartley eyed him still more severely. "And even cash abstracted."
"Good heavens!" said the young man, answering his eyes rather than his words. "Why, surely you can't suspect me?"
Bartley answered, sternly, "I know I have been robbed, and so I suspect everybody whose conduct is suspicious."
This was too much for a Clifford to bear. He turned on him like a lion. "Your suspicions disgrace the trader who entertains them, not the gentleman they wrong. You are too old for me to give you a thrashing, so I won't stay here any longer to be insulted."
He snatched up his bag and was marching off, when the door opened, and Monckton with a detective confronted him.
"No," roared Bartley, furious in turn; "but you will stay to be examined."
"Searched, then, if you like it better."
"No, don't do that," said the young fellow. "Spare me such a humiliation."
Bartley, who was avaricious, but not cruel, hesitated.
"Well," said he, "I will examine the safe before I go further."
Mr. Bartley opened the safe and took out the cash-box. It was empty. He uttered a loud exclamation. "Why, it's a clean sweep! A wholesale robbery! Notes and gold all gone! No wonder you were in such a hurry to leave! Luckily some of the notes were numbered. Search him."
"No, no. Don't treat me like a thief!" cried the poor boy, almost sobbing.
"If you are innocent, why object?" said Monckton, satirically.
"You villain," cried Clifford, "this is your doing! I am sure of it!"
Monckton only grinned triumphantly; but Bartley fired up. "If there is a villain here, it is you. He is a faithful servant, who warned his employer." He then pointed sternly at young Bolton, and the detective stepped up to him and said, curtly, "Now, sir, if I must."
He then proceeded to search his waistcoat pockets. The young man hung his head, and looked guilty. He had heard of money being put into an innocent man's pockets, and he feared that game had been played with him.
The detective examined his waistcoat pockets and found--nothing. His other pockets--nothing.
The detective patted his breast and examined his stockings--nothing.
"Try the bag," said Monckton.
Then the poor fellow trembled again.
The detective searched the bag--nothing.
He took the overcoat and turned the pockets out--nothing.
Bartley looked surprised. Monckton still more so. Meantime Hope had gone round from the lobby, and now entered by the small office, and stood watching a part of this business, viz., the search of the bag and the overcoat, with a bitter look of irony.
"But my safe must have been opened with false keys," cried Bartley. "Where are they?"
"And the numbered notes," said Monckton, "where are they?"
"Gentlemen," said Hope, "may I offer my advice?"
"Who the devil are you?" said Monckton.
"He is my new partner, my associate in business," said the politic Bartley. Then deferentially to Hope, "What do you advise?"
"You have two clerks. I would examine them both."
"Examine me?" cried Monckton. "Mr. Bartley, will you allow such an affront to be put on your old and faithful servant?"
"If you are innocent, why object?" said young Clifford, spitefully, before Bartley could answer.
The remark struck Bartley, and he acted on it.
"Well, it is only fair to Mr. Bolton," said he. "Come, come, Monckton, it is only a form."
Then he gave the detective a signal, and he stepped up to Monckton, and emptied his waistcoat pockets of eighty-five sovereigns.
"There!" cried Walter Clifford, "There! there!"
"My own money, won at the Derby," said Monckton, coolly; "and only a part of it, I am happy to say. You will find the remainder in banknotes."
The detective found several notes.
Bartley examined the book and the notes. The Derby! He was beginning to doubt this clerk, who attended that meeting on the sly. However, he was just, though no longer confiding.
"I am bound to say that not one of the numbered notes is here."
The detective was now examining Monckton's overcoat. He produced a small bunch of keys.
"How did they come there?" cried Monckton, in amazement.
It was an incautious remark. Bartley took it up directly, and pounced on the keys. He tried them on the safe. One opened the safe, another opened the cash-box.
Meantime the detective found some notes in the pocket of the overcoat, and produced them.
"Great heavens!" cried Monckton, "how did they come there?"
"Oh, I dare say you know," said the detective.
Bartley examined them eagerly. They were the numbered notes.
"You scoundrel," he roared, "these show me where your gold and your other notes came from. The whole contents of my safe--in that villain's pockets!"
"No, no," cried Monckton, in agony. "It's all a delusion. Some rogue has planted them there to ruin me."
"Keep that for the beak," said the policeman; "he is sure to believe it. Come, my bloke. I knew who was my bird the moment I clapped eyes on the two. 'Tain't his first job, gents, you take my word. We shall find his photo in some jail or other in time for the assizes."
"Away with him!" cried Bartley, furiously.
As the policeman took him off, the baffled villain's eye fell on Hope, who stood with folded arms, and looked down on him with lowering brow and the deep indignation of the just, and yet with haughty triumph.
That eloquent look was a revelation to Monckton.
"Ah," he cried, "it was you."
Hope's only reply was this: "You double felon, false accuser and thief, you are caught in your own trap."
And this he thundered at him with such sudden power that the thief went cringing out, and even those who remained were awed. But Hope never told anybody except Walter Clifford that he had undone Monckton's work in the lobby; and then the poor boy fell upon his neck, and kissed his hand.
To run forward a little: Monckton was tried, and made no defense. He dared not call Hope as his witness, for it was clear Hope must have seen him commit the theft and attempt the other villainy. But the false accusation leaked out as well as the theft. A previous conviction was proved, and the indignant judge gave him fourteen years.
Thus was Bartley's fatal secret in mortal peril on the day it first existed; yet on that very day it was saved from exposure, and buried deep in a jail.
Bartley set Hope over his business, and was never heard of for months. Then he turned up in Sussex with a little girl, who had been saved from diphtheria by tracheotomy, and some unknown quack.
There was a scar to prove it. The tender parent pointed it out triumphantly, and railed at the regular practitioners of medicine.