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flustered, ye see. But I said,
look at the books; but I didn't think his deposit was any thing like that.' 'You
little equivocating humbug,' says he: 'and which was better, to tell the truth
at once and let Captain Dodd, which never did me any harm, have his own, or to
hear it told me in the felon's dock?' those were his words, Sir: and they made
my blood run cold; and if he had gone on at me like that, I should have split, I
know I should: but he just said, 'there, your face has given your tongue the
lie: you haven't brains enough to play the rogue.' Oh, and—another thing—he said
he wouldn't talk to the sparrow-hawk any more, when there was the kite hard by:
so by that I guess your turn is coming, Sir; so mind your eye. And then he
turned his back on me with a look as if I was so much dirt. But I didn't mind
that; I was glad to be shut of him at any price."
This intelligence discomposed Mr.
Hardie terribly: it did away with all hope that Alfred meant to keep his
suspicions to himself. "Why did you not tell me this before?" said he,
Skinner's sharp visage seemed to
sharpen as he replied, "Because I wanted a thousand pounds first."
"Curse your low cunning!"
Skinner laughed. "Good-by, Sir:
take care of yourself and I'll take care of mine. I'm afraid of Mr. Alfred and
the stone jug, so I'm off to London, and there I'll un-Skinner myself into Mr.
Something or other, and make my thousand pounds breed ten." And he whipped out,
leaving his master filled with rage and dismay.
"Outwitted even by this little
He was now accountable for
fourteen thousand pounds, and had only thirteen thousand left, if forced to
reimburse; so that it was quite on the cards for him to lose a thousand pounds
by robbing his neighbor and risking his own immortal jewel: this galled him to
the quick; and altogether his equable temper began to give way; it had already
survived half the iron of his nerves. He walked up and down the parlor chafing
like an irritated lion. In which state of his mind the one enemy he now feared
and hated walked quietly into the room, and begged for a little serious
conversation with him.
"It is like your effrontery,"
said he: "I wonder you are not ashamed to look your father in the face."
"Having wronged nobody, I can
look any body in the face," replied Alfred, looking him in the face point-blank.
At this swift rejoinder Mr.
Hardie felt like a too-confident swords-man, who, attacking in a passion,
suddenly receives a prick that shows him his antagonist is not one to be trifled
with. He was on his guard directly, and said, coldly, "You have been belying me
to my very clerk."
"No, Sir: you are mistaken: I
have never mentioned your name to your clerk."
Mr. Hardie reflected on what
Skinner had told him, and found he had made another false move. He tried again:
"Nor to the Dodds?" with an incredulous sneer.
"Nor to the Dodds," replied
Alfred, calmly. "What, not to Miss Julia Dodd?"
"No, Sir; I have seen her but
once, since—I discovered about the fourteen thousand pounds."
"What fourteen thousand pounds?"
inquired Mr. Hardie, innocently.
"What fourteen thousand pounds!"
repeated the young man, disdainfully. Then suddenly turning on his father, with
red brow and flashing eyes: "the fourteen thousand pounds Captain Dodd brought
home from India: the fourteen thousand pounds I heard him claim of you with
curses: ay, miserable son, and miserable man, that I am, I heard my own father
called a villain; and what did my father reply? Did you hurl the words back into
your accuser's throat? No: you whispered, 'Hush! hush! I'll bring it you down.'
Oh, what a hell shame is!"
Mr. Hardie turned pale and almost
sick: with these words of Alfred's fled all hope of ever deceiving him.
"There, there," said the young
man, lowering his voice from rage to profound sorrow: "I don't come here to
quarrel with my father, nor to insult him, God knows: and I entreat you for both
our sakes not to try my temper too hard by these childish attempts to blind me:
and, Sir, pray dismiss from your mind the notion that I have disclosed to any
living soul my knowledge of this horrible secret: on the contrary, I have kept
it gnawing my heart, and almost maddening me at times. For my own personal
satisfaction I have applied a test both to you and Skinner; but that is all I
have done: I have not told dear Julia, nor any of her family; and now, if you
will only listen to me, and do what I entreat you to do, she shall never know;
"Oho!" thought Mr. Hardie, "he
comes with a proposal: I'll hear it any way."
He then took a line well known to
artful men: he encouraged Alfred to show his hand; maintaining a complete
reserve as to his own; "You say you did not communicate your illusion about this
fourteen thousand pounds to Julia Dodd that night: may I ask then (without
indiscretion) what did pass between you two?"
"I will tell you, Sir. She saw me
standing there, and asked me in her own soft angel voice if I was unhappy. I
told her I must be a poor creature if I could be happy. Then she asked me, with
some hesitation I thought, why I was unhappy. I said because I could not see the
path of honor and duty clear: that, at least, was the purport. Then she told me
that in all difficulties she had found the best way was to pray to God to guide
her; and she begged me to lay my care before him, and ask his counsel. And then
I thanked her; and bade her good-night, and she me; and that was all passed
between us two unhappy lovers, whom you have made miserable; and even cool to
one another; but not hostile to you. And you played the
spy on us, Sir; and misunderstood
us, as spies generally do. Ah, Sir! a few months ago you would not have
condescended to that."
Mr. Hardie colored, but did not
reply. He had passed from the irritable into the quietly vindictive stage.
Alfred then deprecated farther
discussion of what was past, and said abruptly: "I have an offer to make you: in
a very short time I shall have ten thousand pounds; I will not resign my whole
fortune; that would be unjust to myself, and my wife; and I loathe and despise
Injustice in all its forms however romantic or plausible. But, if you will give
the Dodds their £14,000, I will share my little fortune equally with you: and
thank you, and bless you. Consider, Sir, with your abilities and experience,
five thousand pounds may yet be the nucleus of a fortune; a fortune built on an
honorable foundation. I know you will thrive with my five thousand pounds ten
times more than with their fourteen thousand; and enjoy the blessing of
blessings, a clear conscience.
Now this offer was no sooner made
than Mr. Hardie shut his face, and went to mental arithmetic, like one doing a
sum behind a thick door. He would have taken ten thousand: but five thousand did
not much tempt him: besides, would it be five thousand clear? He already owed
Alfred two thousand five hundred. It flashed through him that a young man who
loathed and despised Injustice—even to himself—would not consent to be diddled
by him out of one sum while making him a present of another: and then there was
Skinner's thousand to be reimbursed. Ile therefore declined in these terms:
"This offer shows me you are
sincere in these strange notions you have taken up. I am sorry for it: it looks
like insanity. These nocturnal illusions, these imaginary sights and sounds,
come of brooding on a single idea, and often usher in a calamity one trembles to
think of. You have made me a proposal: I make you one: take a couple of hundred
pounds (I'll get it from your trustees) and travel the Continent for four
months; enlarge and amuse your mind with the contemplation of nature and manners
and customs; and if that does not clear this phantom £14,000 out of your head, I
am much mistaken."
Alfred replied that foreign
travel was his dream: but he could not leave Barkington while there was an act
of justice to be done.
"Then do me justice, boy," said
Mr. Hardie, with wonderful dignity, all things considered. "Instead of brooding
on your one fantastical idea, and shutting out all rational evidence to the
contrary, take the trouble to look through my books: and they will reveal to you
a fortune, not of fourteen thousand, but of eighty thousand pounds, honorably
sacrificed in the struggle to fulfill my engagements: who, do you think, will
believe, against such evidence, the preposterous tale you have concocted against
your poor father? Already the tide is turning, and all, who have seen the
accounts of the Bank, pity me; they will pity me still more if ever they hear my
own flesh and blood insults me in the moment of my fall; sees me ruined by my
honesty, and living in a hovel, yet comes into that poor but honest abode, and
stabs me to the heart by accusing me of stealing fourteen thousand pounds: a sum
that would have saved me, if I could only have laid my hands on it."
He hid his face, to conceal its
incongruous expression: and heaved a deep sigh.
Alfred turned his head away and
After a while he rose from his
seat and went to the door; but seemed reluctant to go: he cast a longing,
lingering look on his father, and said, beseechingly: "Oh think! you are not my
flesh and blood more than I am yours; is all the love to be on my side? have I
no influence even when right is on my side?" Then he suddenly turned and threw
himself impetuously on his knees; "Your father was the soul of honor: your son
loathed fraud and injustice from his cradle; you stand between two generations
of Hardies, and belong to neither; do but reflect one moment how bright a thing
honor is, how short and uncertain a thing life, how sure a thing retribution is,
in this world or the next: it is your guardian angel that kneels before you now,
and not your son; oh, for Christ's sake, for my mother's sake, listen to my last
appeal. You don't know me: I can not compound with injustice. Pity me, pity her
I love, pity yourself!"
"You young viper!" cried the
father, stung with remorse but not touched with penitence. "Get away, you
amorous young hypocrite; get out of my house, get out of my sight, or I'll spit
on you and curse you at my feet."
"Enough!" said Alfred, rising and
turning suddenly calm as a statue; "let us be gentlemen, if you please, even
though we must be enemies. Good-by, my father that was."
And he walked gently out of the
room, and, as he passed the window, Mr. Hardie heard his great heart sob.
He wiped his forehead with his
handkerchief. "A hard tussle," thought he, "and with my own unnatural,
ungrateful, flesh and blood: but I have won it: he hasn't told the Dodds; he
never will: and, if he did, who would believe him, or them?"
At dinner there was no Alfred;
but after dinner a note to Jane informing her he had taken lodgings in the town,
and requesting her to send his books and clothes in the evening. Jane handed the
note to her father: and sighed deeply. Watching his face as he read it, she saw
him turn rather pale, and looked more furrowed than ever.
"Papa!" said she, "What does it
"I am thinking."
Then, after a long pause he
ground his teeth and said, "It means—WAR."