‘You know what happened that day, sir,’ observed Leah, hesitating a moment, for even her hard nature felt some compunction at the look of suffering on her master’s face. She had eaten his bread for years, and had deceived and duped him; but she must have felt remorse stirring in her as she saw him drop his head on his clasped hands again, as though he were compelling himself to listen without interruption.
’You had been talking to Mr. Eric a long time in the study, Miss Etta told me; he had been going on like mad about Mr. Edgar Brown, and having to go to Mr. Armstrong’s office; but you had been very firm, and had refused to hear any more, and he had flung off to his own room in one of his passions. Miss Gladys had followed him, and I heard him telling her that he had forgotten himself and struck you, and that you had turned him out of the study, and that he was in difficulties and must have money, for Mr. Edgar had got him into some trouble.’
’You heard this by listening at Mr. Eric’s door, for Miss Gladys saw you,’ I observed, not willing to let this pass.
‘What has that got to do with it?’ she returned rudely. ’I am speaking to the master, not you’: but she grew a shade paler as I spoke. ’You were up late that night, sir; I was waiting to speak to Miss Etta, and encountered you in the passage. I went back to my own room for a little while, and then I knocked at her door; but there was no answer. I could see the room was dark, but I could hardly believe she was asleep: so I went to the bed and called Miss Etta, but I very soon found she was not there: her gown was on the couch and her dressing-gown missing from its place.
’I had a notion that I might as well follow her, for somehow I guessed that she had gone to the study; but I was certainly not prepared to see Mr. Eric stooping over your desk. He had a letter in his hand, and had just put down his chamber candlestick. All at once it flashed upon my mind that Miss Etta had told me that you had received a large cheque that night, and that you were going up to London the next day to cash it, and she hoped Dryden would not call again before you went. She said it quite casually, and I am sure then she had not thought of helping herself. Then the thought must have come to her all of a sudden.
’I remembered the cheque, and for an instant I suspected Mr. Eric. But as I was watching him I saw the curtain of one of the windows move, and I had a glimpse of yellow embroidery that certainly belonged to Miss Etta’s dressing-gown. In a moment I grasped the truth: she had taken the cheque to settle Dryden’s bill. But I must make myself certain of the fact: so I asked Mr. Eric, rather roughly, what he was doing, and he retorted by bidding me mind my own business.
’He had laid his letter on the desk, but when he had gone I walked up straight to the window, and nearly frightened Miss Etta into a fit by asking her what she had done with the cheque. She was grovelling on her knees before me in a moment, calling me her dear Leah and imploring me to shield her. I was very fierce with her at first, and was for putting it back again, until she told me, trembling all over, that she had endorsed it. She had copied your writing, and only an expert could have told the difference.