JAMES MAXLEY came out of the bank that morning with nine hundred and four pounds buttoned up tight in the pocket of his leather breeches, a joyful man; and so to his work, and home at one o'clock to dinner.
At 2 P.M. he was thoughtful; uneasy at 3; wretched at 3.30. He was gardener as well as capitalist, and Mr. Hardie owed him 30s. for work. Such is human nature in general, and Maxley's in particular, that the L. 900 in pocket seemed small, and the 30s. in jeopardy large.
"I can't afford to go with the creditors," argued Maxley: "Dividend on 30s.! Why, that will be about thirty pence: the change for a hard* half-crown.
* I.e. a half-crown in one piece.
He stuck his spade in the soil and made for his debtor's house. As he came up the street, Dodd shot out of the bank radiant, and was about to pass him without notice, full of his wife and children; but Maxley stopped him with a right cordial welcome, and told him he had given them all a fright this time.
"What, is it over the town already that my ship has been wrecked?" And Dodd looked annoyed.
"Wrecked? No; but you have been due this two months, ye know. Wrecked? Why, Captain, you haven't ever been wrecked?" And he looked him all over as if he expected to see "WRECKED" branded on him by the elements.
"Ay, James, wrecked on the French coast, and lost my chronometer, and a tip-top sextant. But what of that? I saved It. I have just landed It in the Bank. Good-bye; I must sheer off: I long to be home."
"Stay a bit, Captain," said Maxley. "I am not quite easy in my mind. I saw you come out of Hardie's. I thought in course you had been in to draa: but you says different. Now what was it you did leave behind you at that there shop, if you please: not money?"
"Not money? Only L. 14,000. How the man stares! Why, it's not mine, James; it's my children's: there, good-bye;" and he was actually off this time. But Maxley stretched his long limbs, and caught him in two strides, and griped his shoulder without ceremony. "Be you mad?" said he sternly.
"No, but I begin to think you are."
"That is to be seen," said Maxley gravely. "Before I lets you go, you must tell me whether you be jesting, or whether you have really been so simple as to drop fourteen — thousand — pounds at Hardie's?" No judge upon the bench, nor bishop in his stall, could be more impressive than this gardener was, when he subdued the vast volume of his voice to a low grave utterance of this sort.
Dodd began to be uneasy. "Why, good heavens, there is nothing wrong with the old Barkington Bank?"
"Nothing wrong?" roared Maxley: then whispered': "Holt! I was laad once for slander, and cost me thirty pounds: nearly killed my missus it did."
"Man!" cried Dodd, "for my children's sake tell me if you know anything amiss. After all, I'm like a stranger here; more than two years away at a time."
"I'll tell you all I know," whispered Maxley, "'tis the least I can do. What (roaring) do — you — think — I've forgotten you saving my poor boy out o' that scrape, and getting him a good place in Canada, and — why, he'd have been put in prison but for you, and that would ha' broken my heart and his mother's — and — — " The stout voice began to quaver.
"Oh, bother all that now," said Dodd impatiently. "The bank! you have grounded me on thorns."
"Well, I'll tell ye: but you must promise faithful not to go and say I told ye, or you'll get me laad again: and I likes to laa them, not for they to laa me."
"I promise, I promise."
"Well then, I got a letter to-day from my boy, him as you was so good to, and here 'tis in my breeches-pocket. — Laws! how things do come round surely: why, lookee here now; if so be you hadn't been a good friend to he, he wouldn't be where he is; and if so be he warn't where he is, he couldn't have writ me this here, and then where should you and I be?"
"Belay your jaw and show me this letter," cried David, trembling all over.
"That I wool," said Maxley, diving a hand into his pocket. "Hush! lookee yander now; if there ain't Master Alfred a-watching of us two out of his window: and he have got an eye like a hawk, he have. Step in the passage, Captain, and I'll show it to you.
He drew him aside into the passage, and gave him the letter. Dodd ran his eye over it hastily, uttered a cry like a wounded lion, dropped it, gave a slight stagger, and rushed away.
Maxley picked up his letter and watched Dodd into the bank again and reflected on his work. His heart was warmed at having made a return to the good captain.
His head suggested that he was on the road which leads to libel.
But he had picked up at the assizes a smattering of the law of evidence; so he coolly tore the letter in pieces. "There now," said he to himself, "if Hardies do laa me for publishing of this here letter, why they pours their water into a sieve. Ugh!" And with this exclamation he started, and then put his heavy boot on part of the letter, and ground it furtively into the mud; for a light hand had settled on his shoulder, and a keen young face was close to his.
It was Alfred Hardie, who had stolen on him like a cat. "I'm laad," thought Maxley.
"Maxley, old fellow," said Alfred, in a voice as coaxing as a woman's, "are you in a good humour?"
"Well, Master, Halfred, sight of you mostly puts me in one, especially after that there strychnine job."
"Then tell me," whispered Alfred, his eyes sparkling and his face beaming, "who was that you were talking to just now? Was it? — wasn't it? — who was it?"