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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 111, 10 June 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
— THE LOST BANK NOTE. CHAPTER 111- continued. The shock of the discovery paralysed him, and when sense retmnod he saw himself in imagination a ruined man, discharged from his situation if not prose cuted by his employers, and turned, with his daughter Kate, into the streets for the trifle of rent he owed. He had always been a nervous man, a moral coward ; and his fear of consequences made him blindly accept one dangerous loophole of escape offered to him. He had not the courage to confess his negligence and throw s himself on the mercy of the firm ; he took a fatal step, and from carelessness passed into crime. After much bewildered ■ cogitation with himself (for Kate knew nothing of his misfortune till long after), he decided upon pretending to have paid the money to William Wylde, and producing a fictitious receipt from that worthy. But forgery belongs to the fine arts, and old Graham was a sad blunderer, being only a novice in the accomplishment. Perhaps it was this inexperience which betrayed him—perhaps he discovered the true state of affairs, from subsequent applications for money made by Wylde. At all events, the wretched old man was soon found out, and the cashier’s sharp questioning wrung the truth from him. The knowledge Murdon kept for his own use. Affecting to discredit the story of the accidental discovery of the note, he persisted in regarding Graham as a thief as well as a forger. Tims playing bn his terror and misery, and intensifying the self reproaches of the old clerk with the cruellest sarcasm, he brought him into a state of abjectness, which left the miserable man an easy prey in his hands. Then Murdon struck a keen and bitter bargain. He would keep the defalcation a secret from the firm on one condition. The condition was the possession of Kate. How soon the bargain was ratified by the unhappy girl herself, I had to supply out of my own knowledge, for here her story broke down in utter grief; but I knew her gentle, winning ways, her absorbing love for her father, and her selfsacrifice on all occasions where he was concerned. I could understand the sharpness of the struggle before she yielded. Not until her father had told her how fully he was compromised did she consent to part with her own happiness in order to save him from a felon’s doom. Then she gave up all hope of a fair future, and accepted the man she hated, her father’s enemy and tyrant, as her promised husband. Here her pitiful story ended. How was I to comfort her ? I could not tell her that the note was not destroyed, as her father thought; that I held it, though by what means it had escaped, or what had been burnt in its place I failed to guess. For though the money itself was safe, the receipt yet remained in Murdon ” hands, and any attempt at an dclaircisseinent would only bring down detection on her father’s head. I could only murmur some commonplaces of sympathy and consolation, assure her that 1 yet hoped to foil Murdon, and re-establish her father’s peace of mind. And so I left her. That evening I again sought out Wylde, and found him at his usual haunt, and in his usual state. Hiplomatically, and with much circumlocution, I worked the conversation round to the subject of money, and my gentleman’s claims upon his father-in-law. Mr. Wylde’s present mood was less violent than ordinary, but more bitterly despondent. “ What’s the use of trusting to that old buffer?” he asked dejectedly. “I was once led to believe he would come down with a round sum if I applied to his lawyers. I went, and saw a yellow-faced scoundrel —a loathsome hound with a paunch. He threatened to set the bailiffs on me if I came again. He knew where to have me, the menial. I never troubled his degraded sight again. ” ■ “ When was that ? ” “That was Let me see. Thirteen months ago on the first of this month. Hah, no matter. He knew my weak point, a malison be on his caitiff soul. I was in difficulties at that time : I am in difficulties now. If you have half-a-crown upon you ” “ I have much more than half-a-crown upon me, and you shall have it if you will give me an acknowledgement,” I returned. * “ I'll give you,” said Wylde gracefully, “ my solemn I O U on any sum above a sovereign. A gentleman’s IO U, I presume, is as sacred as his bond.” “Exactly so. But I must have a receipt in full.” “You may have, Mr. Dunning, my acceptance, if you like, at three, six, or nine months, presupposing that the sum s at least a fiver. ” The magnificent air of probity with which he delivered his conditions tickled me. “ Supposing I could accomodate you with ten fivers,” I replied “ would you consent to antedate the receipt 1 ” “ I would do anything, sir, honorable and accomodating. I would give you a mortgage on my personal or freehold property, or a lien on my next half-year’s salary : which ever you like. But what do you mean ? ” Before replying, I called for more refreshment, and helped him copiously yet judiciously. “ Look here, Wylde,” I said, “I have a reason in this, of course —a motive. I went to prove to certain parties who shall be nameless, that my income a couple of years ago amounted to a certain sum—call it x in algebra : an unknown quantity. Now if I get a receipt from you for an advance, dating about eighteen months back, I have documentary evidence which I can exhibit, and prove my position at that time. Ho you see 1 ” “ I see,” chuckled Wylde. “ Like the arrears of unpaid income tax, only more valuable, being a gentleman’s bona fide receipt. Sly dog ! ” “The money you shall have down—now. Will you give me 'an antedated ieceipt ? ” “ What’s the sum ? ” “ Five hundred pounds. ” Mr. Wylde upset his glass. “ Bring forth the bond,” he cried heroically. ‘ ‘l’ll sign if it were dated five hundred years back. ” I produced the receipt, previously prepared on one of the firm’s loose forms, and the bank-note Number 07,482. The latter Mr. Wylde eyed suspiciously, questioning its genuineness. But upon my showing him that the receipt vras merely for this note, with the number specified, and that unless the note were good the acknowledgment would be valueless, he abated his distrust, merely remarking that he should never believe his luck till he had “ cashed the ffimsy.” But he affixed liis signature without further protest. And on my expressing a desire to have the names of a couple of witnesses to the document, Mr. Wylde, relieved at the demand as corroborative of the genuineness of the note, summoned the landlord and waiter, who added their names with cheerful alacrity, pleased at being called on to witness so tremendous a transaction. “ And now,” said Mr. Wylde, when it was concluded, “I shall quit an ungrateful country, and seek to plant the standard of art in the far west. When I have acquired the colossal fortune that awaits the true artist in that more enterprising clime, I shall punctually discharge this debt, Mr. Dunning, which I persist in regarding as a mere temporary obligation.”
CHAPTER IV. The possession of the true receipt was m important step gained : the next and more difficult one was to obtain and destroy the forged acknowledgment. Towards that attainment I now directed my energies. I knew it could be concealed in no drawer or desk accessible to the firm : it was too valuable to bo allowed to slip out of Murdon’s private keeping. It was likely enough kept under lock and key in his own desk. Watching my opportunity, I abstracted his bunch of keys one day when he was engaged in the private room of the firm, having left them in one of his drawers. There was no time to rummage in his desk, but I rapidly took an impression of all his keys—only five in number—in wax, which I had kept prepared for that purpose. The mould I took to a locksmith, the son of my landlady, a man on whom I could roly. Trumping up some story about a fellow clerk whose honesty I suspected, and whose drawers I wished to search, I got him to make me a set of keys according to tho pattern. The locksmith was not a man burdened with consciencious scruples; besides, he knew me well enough not to discredit my motives in ordering the job. He made the keys readily and deftly. Armed with these, one evening, when the clerks were gone, I opened the cashier’s desk, and subjected its contents to a thorough examination. Not a paper, not a memorandum could I find having reference to the Wylde business ; not a document relating to Number 07,482. There were only two out of the five keys which fitted locks in the office—one the desk, another a private drawer. The others apparently belonged to drawers or cliests at Murdon’s private residence ; and there, in all probability, lay the receipt. The next day I sent an excuse for nonattendance at the office, pleading illness, and set about elaborately counterfeiting the handwriting of Murdon, authorising his landlady to allow me to visit his rooms for the purpose of finding a deed which he had left at home. This forged letter procured me a ready admission into his rooms, the landlady contenting herself with 'suffering me to go up-stairs unaccompanied. The coast was clear, for Murdon was down at the office, and I had all the morning and afternoon before mo. I left no corner or crevice unexplored. I ransacked his clothes, books, and papers. I turned every pocket inside out, I peered behind the mirror on the mantelpiece, emptied his dressing case, tobaccobox, peered even into the cruet-stand, prodded the stuffing of the chairs and sofa, and turned up the corners of the carpet. All to no purpose. My search brought to light other keys, which sufficed to open every closed receptacle in the place. But not a vestige of the receipt or clue to its hiding place could be found. After a long and fruitless search, I turned away with a heavy heart, convinced that if ho still held the receipt, it must be carried about his person, or else lodged in some distant keeping which 1 saw no possibility of reaching. Disappointed and dejected, I turned my steps towards Kennington, hoping to gain strength of heart and acuteness of invention from the sight of her beloved face. For Kate’s gentle and reliant nature ever stimulated and fortified me—taught me endurance, taught me to hope against hope. I found her alone. Though she read in my countenance that I had no good news to bring as yet, her patient, uncomplaining voice nerved me as of old, and I regained confidence. After all, fortune had befriended us generously ; for much was already done towards clearing her father’s name. I did not despair of accomplishing all this in time. But time. There -was the rub. Would time be accorded us ? As if in answer to the enquiry, her father’s knock was heard, and Kate, looking out of the window, saw that he was accompanied by Murdon. Her terror rose. “Oh, go—go,” she cried excitedly; “ there will be a scene if he meets you here again. He is so violent, and then he has my father in his power, and father’s health is so shattered. Not for your own sake, but for mine, do pray avoid him.” Unable to resist her entreaty, I slipped into an adjoining room, and as he ascended the stairs and entered the sittingroom, I passed down. Murdon’s top-coat, an ill-fitting wrap-rascal which descended to his ankles, was hanging in the hall. He had divested himself of his overcoat, purporting to pass the evening at that house. There was a lost hope that I might find the receipt in one of tho pockets. Quick as thought, I passed my hand into the pocket in the breast of the coat, and found a bulky pocket-book. It was full of old letters. But there was an inner receptacle. [to be continued.]
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 111, 10 June 1880
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