The rooks were awake in Randolph Crescent; but the windows looked down, discreetly blinded, on the return of the prodigal. John's pass-key was a recent privilege; this was the first time it had been used; and, oh! with what a sickening sense of his unworthiness he now inserted it into the well-oiled lock and entered that citadel of the proprieties! All slept; the gas in the hall had been left faintly burning to light his return; a dreadful stillness reigned, broken by the deep ticking of the eight-day clock. He put the gas out, and sat on a chair in the hall, waiting and counting the minutes, longing for any human countenance. But when at last he heard the alarm spring its rattle in the lower story, and the servants begin to be about, he instantly lost heart, and fled to his own room, where he threw himself upon the bed.
CHAPTER III - IN WHICH JOHN ENJOYS THE HARVEST HOME
SHORTLY after breakfast, at which he assisted with a highly tragical countenance, John sought his father where he sat, presumably in religious meditation, on the Sabbath mornings. The old gentleman looked up with that sour, inquisitive expression that came so near to smiling and was so different in effect.
'This is a time when I do not like to be disturbed,' he said.
'I know that,' returned John; 'but I have - I want - I've made a dreadful mess of it,' he broke out, and turned to the window.
Mr. Nicholson sat silent for an appreciable time, while his unhappy son surveyed the poles in the back green, and a certain yellow cat that was perched upon the wall. Despair sat upon John as he gazed; and he raged to think of the dreadful series of his misdeeds, and the essential innocence that lay behind them.
'Well,' said the father, with an obvious effort, but in very quiet tones, 'what is it?'
'Maclean gave me four hundred pounds to put in the bank, sir,' began John; 'and I'm sorry to say that I've been robbed of it!'
'Robbed of it?' cried Mr. Nicholson, with a strong rising inflection. 'Robbed? Be careful what you say, John!'
'I can't say anything else, sir; I was just robbed of it,' said John, in desperation, sullenly.
'And where and when did this extraordinary event take place?' inquired the father.
'On the Calton Hill about twelve last night.'
'The Calton Hill?' repeated Mr. Nicholson. 'And what were you doing there at such a time of the night?'
'Nothing, sir,' says John.
Mr. Nicholson drew in his breath.
'And how came the money in your hands at twelve last night?' he asked, sharply.
'I neglected that piece of business,' said John, anticipating comment; and then in his own dialect: 'I clean forgot all about it.'
'Well,' said his father, 'it's a most extraordinary story. Have you communicated with the police?'
'I have,' answered poor John, the blood leaping to his face. 'They think they know the men that did it. I dare say the money will be recovered, if that was all,' said he, with a desperate indifference, which his father set down to levity; but which sprung from the consciousness of worse behind.
'Your mother's watch, too?' asked Mr. Nicholson.
'Oh, the watch is all right!' cried John. 'At least, I mean I was coming to the watch - the fact is, I am ashamed to say, I - I had pawned the watch before. Here is the ticket; they didn't find that; the watch can be redeemed; they don't sell pledges.' The lad panted out these phrases, one after another, like minute guns; but at the last word, which rang in that stately chamber like an oath, his heart failed him utterly; and the dreaded silence settled on father and son.
It was broken by Mr. Nicholson picking up the pawn-ticket: 'John Froggs, 85 Pleasance,' he read; and then turning upon John, with a brief flash of passion and disgust, 'Who is John Froggs?' he cried.
'Nobody,' said John. 'It was just a name.'
'An ALIAS,' his father commented.
'Oh! I think scarcely quite that,' said the culprit; 'it's a form, they all do it, the man seemed to understand, we had a great deal of fun over the name - '
He paused at that, for he saw his father wince at the picture like a man physically struck; and again there was silence.