‘Bob is the name of your brother who is at Millbank?’ asked Mr. Hamilton, in the same hard voice.
’Yes, sir; he got into a bit of trouble through mixing with bad companions. But there,’—with a sudden fierce light in her eyes that reminded me of a tigress protecting her young,—’I am not going to talk of Bob: lads will get into trouble sometimes. If Mr. Eric had not been so interfering at that time, ordering Bob off the premises whenever he caught sight of him, and calling him a good-for-nothing loafer and all sorts of hard names,—why, he gave Bob a black eye one day when he was doing nothing but shying stones at the birds in the kitchen-garden,—if it had not been for Mr. Eric’s treatment of Bob I might have acted better by him.’
‘Will you keep to the subject, Leah?’ observed her master, in a warning voice. ’I wish to hear how that cheque was taken from my study that night.’
‘Well, sir, if you must know,’ returned Leah reluctantly, ’Miss Etta was in a bit of a worry about money just then: she had got the accounts wrong somehow, and there was a heavy butcher’s bill to be paid. She had let it run on too long, and all the time you believed it was settled every week: it was partly your fault, because you so seldom looked at the accounts, and was always trusting her with large sums of money. Miss Etta did not mean to be dishonest, but she was extravagant, and sometimes her dressmaker refused to wait for the money, and sometimes her milliner threatened to dun her; but she would quiet them a bit with a five- or ten-pound note filched from the housekeeping, always meaning, as she said, to pay it back when she drew her quarterly allowance.
’I used to know of these doings of hers, for often and often she has sent me to pacify them with promises. I told her sometimes that she would do it once too often, but she always said it was for the last time.
’She got afraid to tell me at last, but I knew all about the butcher’s bill, for Mr. Dryden had been up to the house asking to see you, as he wanted his account settled. You were out when he called, but I never saw Miss Etta in such a fright: she had a fit of hysterics in her own room after he had left the house, and I had trouble enough to pacify her. She said if you found out that Dryden’s account had not been settled for three months that you would never trust her again; that she was afraid Mr. Eric suspected her, and that she did not feel safe with him, and a great deal more that I cannot remember.
’It ended with her making up her mind to pawn most of her jewellery, and we arranged that Bob should manage the business. He was up at the cottage for a night or two, though no one was aware of that fact, for he kept close, for fear Mr. Eric should spy upon him.
’He slept at the cottage the very night the cheque was stolen from the study’; but as Leah paused here Mr. Hamilton lifted his head from his hands and bade her impatiently go on with the history of that night.