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- Hard Cash - 80/145 -


hide me where no one that knows me can ever see me again." A flood of tears came to her relief: and she went along sobbing and kissing her brother's hand every now and then.

But, as they drew near the gate of Albion Villa, twilight began to usher in the dawn. Julia shuddered at even that faint light, and fled like a guilty thing, and hid herself sobbing in her own bedroom.

Mr. Richard Hardie slept better now than he had done for some time past, and therefore woke more refreshed and in better spirits. He knew an honest family was miserable a few doors off; but he did not care. He got up and shaved with a mind at ease. One morning, when he had removed the lather from one half his face, he happened to look out of window, and saw on the wall opposite--a placard: a large placard to this effect:

"ONE HUNDRED GUINEAS REWARD!

Whereas, on the 11th instant Mr. Alfred Hardie disappeared mysteriously from his lodgings in 15 Mill Street, under circumstances suggesting a suspicion of foul play, know all men that the above reward will be paid to any person or persons who shall first inform the undersigned where the said Alfred Hardie is to be found, and what person or persons, if any, have been concerned in his disappearance.

ALEXANDER SAMPSON, 39 Pope Street, Napoleon Square London."

CHAPTER XXXI

THE note Alfred Hardie received, on the 10th of April, was from Peggy Black. The letters were well formed, for she had been educated at the national school: but the style was not upon a par.

"MR. ALFRED, SIR,--Margaret Black sends her respects, and if you want to know the truth about the money, I can tell you all, and where it is at this present time. Sir, I am now in situation at Silverton Grove House, about a furlong from the station; and if you will be so good to call there and ask for Margaret, I will tell you where it is, which I mean the L. 14,000; for it is a sin the young lady should be beguiled of her own. Only you must please come this evening, or else to-morrow before ten o'clock, by reason my mistress and me we are going up to London that day early, and she talk of taking me abroad along with her.--I remain, Sir, yours respectfully to command,

MARGARET BLACK.

"If you please, sir, not to show this letter on no account."

Alfred read this twice over, and felt a contemptuous repugnance towards the writer, a cashiered servant, who offered to tell the truth out of spite, having easily resisted every worthy motive. Indeed, I think he would have perhaps dismissed the subject into the fire, but for a strange circumstance that had occurred to him this very afternoon; but I had no opportunity to relate it till now. Well, just as he was going to dress for dinner, he received a visit from Dr. Wycherley, a gentleman he scarcely knew by name. Dr. Wycherley inquired after his kephalalgia: Alfred stared and told him it was much the same; troubled him occasionally.

"And your insomnia."

"I don't know the word: have you any authority for it?"

Dr. Wycherley smiled with a sort of benevolent superiority that galled his patient, and proceeded to inquire after his nightly visions and voices. But at this Alfred looked grave as well as surprised and vexed. He was on his guard now, and asked himself seriously what was the meaning of all this, and could his father have been so mad as to talk over his own shame with this stranger: he made no reply whatever.

Dr. Wycherley's curiosity was not of a very ardent kind: for he was one of those who first form an opinion, and then collect the materials of one: and a very little fact goes a long way with such minds. So, when he got no answer about the nocturnal visions and voices, he glided calmly on to another matter. "By-the-bye, that L. 14,000!"

Alfred started, and then eyed him keenly: "What L. 14,000?"

"The fabulous sum you labour under the impression of your father having been guilty of clandestinely appropriating."

This was too much for Alfred's patience. "I don't know who you are, sir," said he; "I never exchanged but three words in my life with you; and do you suppose I will talk to a stranger on family matters of so delicate a kind as this? I begin to think you have intruded yourself on me simply to gratify an impertinent curiosity."

"The hypothesis is at variance with my established character," replied the oleaginous one. "Do me the justice to believe in the necessity of this investigation, and that it is one of a most friendly character."

"Then I decline the double nuisance: your curiosity and your friendship! Take them both out of my room, sir, or I shall turn them both out by one pair of shoulders."

"You shall smart for this," said the doctor, driven to plain English by anger, that great solvent of circumlocution with which Nature has mercifully supplied us. He made to the door, opened it, and said in considerable excitement to some one outside, "Excited!--Very!"

Now Dr. Pleonast had no sooner been converted to the vernacular, and disappeared, than another stranger entered the room. He had evidently been lurking in the passage: it was a man of smallish stature, singularly gaunt, angular, and haggard, but dressed in a spruce suit of black, tight, new, and glossy. In short, he looked like Romeo's apothecary gone to Stultz with the money. He fluttered in with pale cheek and apprehensive body, saying hurriedly, "Now, my _dear_ sir, _be_ calm: _pray_ be calm. I have come down all the way from London to see you, and I am _sure_ you won't make me lose my journey; will you now?"

"And pray who asked you to come all the way from London, sir?"

"A person to whom your health is very dear."

"Oh indeed; so I have secret friends, have I? Well, you may tell my secret, underhand, _friends,_ I never was better in my life."

"I am truly glad to hear it," said the little man: "let me introduce myself, as Dr. Wycherley forgot to do it." And he handed Alfred a card, on which his name and profession were written.

"Well, Mr. Speers," said Alfred, "I have only a moment to give you, for I must dress for dinner. What do you want?"

"I come, sir, in hopes of convincing your friends you are not so very ill; not incurable. Why your eye is steady, your complexion good: a little high with the excitement of this conversation; but, if we can only get over this little delusion, all will be well."

"What little delusion?"

"About the L. 14,000, you know."

"What L. 14,000? I have not mentioned L. 14,000 to you, have I?"

"No, sir: you seem to shun it like poison; that is the worst of it. You talk about it to others fast enough: but to Dr. Wycherley and myself, who could cure you of it, you would hide all about it, if you could."

At this Alfred rose and put his hands in his pockets and looked down grimly on his inquisitor. "Mr. Speers," said he, "you had better go. There is no credit to be gained by throwing so small an apothecary as you out of that window; and _you_ won't find it pleasant either; for, if you provoke me to it, I shall not stand upon ceremony: I shan't open the window first, as I should for Dr. What's his confounded name."

At these suggestive words, spoken with suppressed ire and flashing eyes, Speers scuttled to the door crabwise, holding the young lion in check conventionally--to wit, with an eye as valiant as a sheep's; and a joyful apothecary was he when he found himself safe outside the house and beside Dr. Wycherley, who was waiting for him.

Alfred soon cooled, and began to laugh at his own anger and the unbounded impudence of his visitors: but, on the other hand, it struck him as a grave circumstance that so able a man as his father should stir muddy water; should go and talk to these strangers about the money he had misappropriated. He puzzled himself all the time he was dressing: and, not to trouble the reader with all the conjectures that passed through his mind, he concluded at last, that Mr. Hardie must feel very strong, very sure there was no evidence against him but his son's, or he would not take the eighth commandment by the horns like this.

"Injustice carries it with a high hand," thought Alfred, with a sigh. He was not the youth to imitate his father's shamelessness: so he locked this last incident in his own breast; did not even mention it to Julia.

But now, on reading Peggy's note, his warlike instincts awoke, and, though he despised his correspondent and her motives, he could not let such a chance pass of defeating brazen injustice. It was unfortunate and awkward to have to go to Silverton on his wedding morning; but, after all, there was plenty of time. He packed up his things at once for the wedding tour, and in the morning took them with him in the fly to Silverton: his plan was to come back direct to Albion Villa: so he went to Silverton Grove full dressed, all ready for the wedding.

As it happened he overtook his friend Peterson just outside the town, called to him gaily, and invited him to church and breakfast.

To his surprise the young gentleman replied sullenly that he should certainly not come.

"Not come, old fellow?" said Alfred, hurt.

"You have a good cheek to ask me," retorted the other.

This led to an explanation. Peterson's complaint was that he had told Alfred he was in love with Julia, and Alfred had gone directly and fallen in love with her just to cut him out.

"What are you talking about?" said Alfred. "So this is the reason you have kept away from me of late: why, I was engaged to her at the very time; only my father was keeping us apart."

"Then why didn't you say so?"

"Because my love is not of the prattling sort."


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