Smooth and compact in his glossy evening clothes, Mr. Spence advanced toward the study door; but as he reached it, his secretary stood there before him.
“It’s not quite all, Mr. Spence.”
Mr. Spence turned on him a look in which impatience was faintly tinged with apprehension. “What else is there? It’s two and a half minutes to eight.”
Millner stood his ground. “It won’t take longer than that. I want to tell you that, if you can conveniently replace me, I’d like—there are reasons why I shall have to leave you.”
Millner was conscious of reddening as he spoke. His redness deepened under Mr. Spence’s dispassionate scrutiny. He saw at once that the banker was not surprised at his announcement.
“Well, I suppose that’s natural enough. You’ll want to make a start for yourself now. Only, of course, for the sake of appearances—”
“Oh, certainly,” Millner hastily agreed.
“Well, then: is that all?” Mr. Spence repeated.
“Nearly.” Millner paused, as if in search of an appropriate formula. But after a moment he gave up the search, and pulled from his pocket an envelope which he held out to his employer. “I merely want to give this back.”
The hand which Mr. Spence had extended dropped to his side, and his sand-coloured face grew chalky. “Give it back?” His voice was as thick as Millner’s. “What’s happened? Is the bargain off?”
“Oh, no. I’ve given you my word.”
“Your word?” Mr. Spence lowered at him. “I’d like to know what that’s worth!”
Millner continued to hold out the envelope. “You do know, now. It’s worth that. It’s worth my place.”
Mr. Spence, standing motionless before him, hesitated for an appreciable space of time. His lips parted once or twice under their square-clipped stubble, and at last emitted: “How much more do you want?”
Millner broke into a laugh. “Oh, I’ve got all I want—all and more!”
“What—from the others? Are you crazy?”
“No, you are,” said Millner with a sudden recovery of composure. “But you’re safe—you’re as safe as you’ll ever be. Only I don’t care to take this for making you so.”
Mr. Spence slowly moistened his lips with his tongue, and removing his pince-nez, took a long hard look at Millner.
“I don’t understand. What other guarantee have I got?”
“That I mean what I say?” Millner glanced past the banker’s figure at his rich densely coloured background of Spanish leather and mahogany. He remembered that it was from this very threshold that he had first seen Mr. Spence’s son.
“What guarantee? You’ve got Draper!” he said.
“Oh, there is one, of course, but you’ll never know it.”
The assertion, laughingly flung out six months earlier in a bright June garden, came back to Mary Boyne with a sharp perception of its latent significance as she stood, in the December dusk, waiting for the lamps to be brought into the library.