Then the little clerk, mortified to the core as well as wounded, ground his teeth and drew a little nearer to this incarnate Arithmetic, and said with an excess of obsequiousness, "Will you condescend to give me a reason for turning me away all in a moment after five-and-thirty years' faithful services?"
"Men of business do not deal in reasons," was the cool reply: "it is enough for you that I give you an excellent character, and that we part good friends."
"That we do not," replied Skinner sharply: "if we stay together we are friends; but we part enemies, if we do part."
"As you please, Mr. Skinner. I will detain you no longer."
And Mr. Hardie waved him away so grandly that he started and almost ran to the door. When he felt the handle, it acted like a prop to his heart. He stood firm, and rage supplied the place of steady courage. He clung to the door, and whispered at his master--such a whisper: so loud, so cutting, so full of meaning and malice; it was like a serpent hissing at a man.
"But I'll give _you_ a reason, a good reason, why you had better not insult me so cruel: and what is more, I'll give you two: and one is that but for me the bank must have closed this day at ten o'clock--ay, you may stare; it was I saved it, not you--and the other is that, if you make an enemy of me, you are done for. I know too much to be made an enemy of, sir--a great deal too much."
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?"