Feltram was indeed beginning to see that he was suspected of something very bad, but exactly what, he was not yet sure; and being a man of that unhappy temperament which shrinks from suspicion, as others do from detection, he looked very much put out indeed.
“Ha, ha! I think we do begin to see,” said Sir Bale savagely. “It’s a bore, I know, troubling a fellow with a story that he knows before; but I’ll make mine short. When I take my key, intending to send the note to pay the crown and quit-rents that you know—you—you—no matter—you know well enough must be paid, I open it so—and so—and look there, where I left it, for my note; and the note’s gone—you understand, the note’s gone!”
Here was a pause, during which, under the Baronet’s hard insulting eye, poor Feltram winced, and cleared his voice, and essayed to speak, but said nothing.
“It’s gone, and we know where. Now, Mr. Feltram, I did not steal that note, and no one but you and I have access to this desk. You wish to go away, and I have no objection to that—but d—n me if you take away that note with you; and you may as well produce it now and here, as hereafter in a worse place.”
“O, my good heaven!” exclaimed poor Feltram at last. “I’m very ill.”
“So you are, of course. It takes a stiff emetic to get all that money off a fellow’s stomach; and it’s like parting with a tooth to give up a bank-note. Of course you’re ill, but that’s no sign of innocence, and I’m no fool. You had better give the thing up quietly.”
“May my Maker strike me——”
“So He will, you d——d rascal, if there’s justice in heaven, unless you produce the money. I don’t want to hang you. I’m willing to let you off if you’ll let me, but I’m cursed if I let my note off along with you; and unless you give it up forthwith, I’ll get a warrant and have you searched, pockets, bag, and baggage.”
“Lord! am I awake?” exclaimed Philip Feltram.
“Wide awake, and so am I,” replied Sir Bale. “You don’t happen to have got it about you?”
“God forbid, sir! O, Sir—O, Sir Bale—why, Bale, Bale, it’s impossible! You can’t believe it. When did I ever wrong you? You know me since I was not higher than the table, and—and——”
He burst into tears.
“Stop your snivelling, sir, and give up the note. You know devilish well I can’t spare it; and I won’t spare you if you put me to it. I’ve said my say.”
Sir Bale signed towards the door; and like a somnambulist, with dilated gaze and pale as death, Philip Feltram, at his wit’s end, went out of the room. It was not till he had again reached the housekeeper’s door that he recollected in what direction he was going. His shut hand was pressed with all his force to his heart, and the first breath he was conscious of was a deep wild sob or two that quivered from his heart as he looked from the lobby-window upon a landscape which he did not see.