At this Mr. Hardie raised his head from his book and eyed his crouching venomous assailant full in the face, majestically, as one can fancy a lion rearing his ponderous head, and looking lazily and steadily at a snake that has just hissed in a corner. Each word of Skinner's was a barbed icicle to him, yet not a muscle of his close countenance betrayed his inward suffering.
One thing, however, even he could not master: his blood; it retired from that stoical cheek to the chilled and foreboding heart; and the sudden pallor of the resolute face told Skinner his shafts had gone home. "Come, sir," said he, affecting to mingle good fellowship with his defiance, "why bundle me off these premises, when you will be bundled off them yourself before the week is out?"
"You insolent scoundrel! Humph! Explain, Mr. Skinner."
"Ah! what, have I warmed your marble up a bit? Yes, I'll explain. The bank is rotten, and can't last forty-eight hours."
"Oh, indeed! blighted in a day--by the dismissal of Mr. Noah Skinner. Do not repeat that after you have been turned into the streets, or you will be indicted: at present we are confidential. Anything more before you quit the rotten bank?"
"Yes, sir, plenty. I'll tell you your own history, past, present, and to come. The road to riches is hard and rugged to the likes of me, but your good father made it smooth and easy to you, sir. You had only to take the money of a lot of fools that fancy they can't keep it themselves; invest it in Consols and Exchequer bills, live on half the profits, put by the rest, and roll in wealth. But this was too slow and too sure for you: you must be Rothschild in a day; so you went into blind speculation, and flung old Mr. Hardie's savings into a well. And now for the last eight months you have been doctoring the ledger--Hardie winced just perceptibly--"You have put down our gains in white, our losses in black, and so you keep feeding your pocket-book and empty our tills; the pear will soon be ripe, and then you will let it drop, and into the Bankruptcy Court we go. But, what you forget, fraudulent bankruptcy isn't the turnpike way of trade: it is a broad road, but a crooked one: skirts the prison wall, sir, and sights the herring-pond."
An agony went across Mr. Hardie's great face, and seemed to furrow as it ran.
"Not but what you are all right, sir," resumed his little cat-like tormentor, letting him go a little way, to nail him again by-and-bye: "You have cooked the books in time: and Cocker was a fool to you. 'Twill be all down in black and white. Great sacrifices: no reserve: creditors take everything; dividend fourpence in the pound, furniture of house and bank, Mrs. Hardie's portrait, and down to the coalscuttle. Bankrupt saves nothing but his honour, and--the six thousand pounds or so he has stitched into his old great-coat: hands his new one to the official assignees, like an honest man."