“Ah,” exclaimed the latter, as his eye fell on the paper fluttering in the other’s hand, “I expected money, not paper.”
“The paper is good,” answered Frederick, drawing him swiftly out of the house. “It has my father’s signature upon it.”
“Your father’s signature?”
Wattles gave it a look, then slowly shook his head at Frederick.
“Is it as well done as the one you tried to pass off on Brady?”
Frederick cringed, and for a moment looked as if the struggle was too much for him. Then he rallied and eying Wattles firmly, said:
“You have a right to distrust me, but you are on the wrong track, Wattles. What I did once, I can never do again; and I hope I may live to prove myself a changed man. As for that check, I will soon prove its value in your eyes. Follow me up-stairs to my father.”
His energy—the energy of despair, no doubt seemed to make an impression on the other.
“You might as well proclaim yourself a forger outright, as to force your father to declare this to be his signature,” he observed.
“I know it,” said Frederick.
“Yet you will run that risk?”
“If you oblige me.”
Wattles shrugged his shoulders. He was a magnificent-looking man and towered in that old colonial hall like a youthful giant.
“I bear you no ill will,” said he. “If this represents money, I am satisfied, and I begin to think it does. But listen, Sutherland. Something has happened to you. A week ago you would have put a bullet through my head before you would have been willing to have so compromised yourself. I think I know what that something is. To save yourself from being thought guilty of a big crime you are willing to incur suspicion of a small one. It’s a wise move, my boy, but look out! No tricks with me or my friendship may not hold. Meantime, I cash this check to-morrow.” And he swung away through the night with a grand-opera selection on his lips.
A FINAL TEMPTATION
Frederick looked like a man thoroughly exhausted when the final echo of this hateful voice died away on the hillside. For the last twenty hours he had been the prey of one harrowing emotion after another, and human nature could endure no more without rest.
But rest would not come. The position in which he found himself, between Amabel and the man who had just left, was of too threatening a nature for him to ignore. But one means of escape presented itself. It was a cowardly one; but anything was better than to make an attempt to stand his ground against two such merciless antagonists; so he resolved upon flight.
Packing up a few necessaries and leaving a letter behind him for his father, he made his way down the stairs of the now darkened house to a door opening upon the garden. To his astonishment he found it unlocked, but, giving little heed to this in his excitement, he opened it with caution, and, with a parting sigh for the sheltering home he was about to leave forever, stepped from the house he no longer felt worthy to inhabit.