It was two o'clock: Hardie had just arrived, and sat in the parlour, Cato-like, and cooking.
Skinner was in high spirits: it was owing to his presence of mind the bank had not been broken some hours ago by Maxley. So now, while concluding his work, he was enjoying by anticipation his employer's gratitude. "He can't hold aloof after this," said Skinner; "he must honour me with his confidence. And I will deserve it. I do deserve it."
A grave, calm, passionless voice invited him into the parlour.
He descended from his desk and went in, swelling with demure complacency.
He found Mr. Hardie seated garbling his accounts with surpassing dignity. The great man handed him an envelope, and cooked majestic on. A wave of that imperial hand, and Skinner had mingled with the past.
For know that the envelope contained three things: a cheque for a month's wages; a character; and a dismissal, very polite and equally peremptory.
Skinner stood paralysed: the complacency died out of his face, and rueful wonder came instead. It was some time before he could utter a word: at last he faltered, "Turn me away, sir? turn away Noah Skinner? Your father would never have said such a word to _my_ father." Skinner uttered this his first remonstrance in a voice trembling with awe, but gathered courage when he found he had done it, yet lived.
Mr. Hardie evaded his expostulation by a very simple means: he made no reply, but continued his work, dignified as Brutus, inexorable as Fate, cool as Cucumber.