Flora will be there to keep you countenance; and we shall see what we shall see.'
'Wouldn't it be wiser for me to stay in bed?' said John.
'If you mean to manage your own concerns, you can do precisely what you like,' replied Alexander; 'but if you are not in your place five minutes before the half-hour I wash my hands of you, for one.'
And thereupon he departed. He had spoken warmly, but the truth is, his heart was somewhat troubled. And as he hung over the balusters, watching for his father to appear, he had hard ado to keep himself braced for the encounter that must follow.
'If he takes it well, I shall be lucky,' he reflected.
'If he takes it ill, why it'll be a herring across John's tracks, and perhaps all for the best. He's a confounded muff, this brother of mine, but he seems a decent soul.'
At that stage a door opened below with a certain emphasis, and Mr. Nicholson was seen solemnly to descend the stairs, and pass into his own apartment. Alexander followed, quaking inwardly, but with a steady face. He knocked, was bidden to enter, and found his father standing in front of the forced drawer, to which he pointed as he spoke.
'This is a most extraordinary thing,' said he; 'I have been robbed!'
'I was afraid you would notice it,' observed his son; 'it made such a beastly hash of the table.'
'You were afraid I would notice it?' repeated Mr. Nicholson. 'And, pray, what may that mean?'
'That I was a thief, sir,' returned Alexander. 'I took all the money in case the servants should get hold of it; and here is the change, and a note of my expenditure. You were gone to bed, you see, and I did not feel at liberty to knock you up; but I think when you have heard the circumstances, you will do me justice. The fact is, I have reason to believe there has been some dreadful error about my brother John; the sooner it can be cleared up the better for all parties; it was a piece of business, sir - and so I took it, and decided, on my own responsibility, to send a telegram to San Francisco. Thanks to my quickness we may hear to-night. There appears to be no doubt, sir, that John has been abominably used.'
'When did this take place?' asked the father.
'Last night, sir, after you were asleep,' was the reply.
'It's most extraordinary,' said Mr. Nicholson. 'Do you mean to say you have been out all night?'
'All night, as you say, sir. I have been to the telegraph and the police office, and Mr. Macewen's. Oh, I had my hands full,' said Alexander.
'Very irregular,' said the father. 'You think of no one but yourself.'
'I do not see that I have much to gain in bringing back my elder brother,' returned Alexander, shrewdly.
The answer pleased the old man; he smiled. 'Well, well, I will go into this after breakfast,' said he.
'I'm sorry about the table,' said the son.
'The table is a small matter; I think nothing of that,' said the father.
'It's another example,' continued the son, 'of the awkwardness of a man having no money of his own. If I had a proper allowance, like other fellows of my age, this would have been quite unnecessary.'
'A proper allowance!' repeated his father, in tones of blighting sarcasm, for the expression was not new to him. 'I have never grudged you money for any proper purpose.'
'No doubt, no doubt,' said Alexander, 'but then you see you aren't always on the spot to have the thing explained to you. Last night, for instance - '
'You could have wakened me last night,' interrupted his father.
'Was it not some similar affair that first got John into a mess?' asked the son, skilfully evading the point.
But the father was not less adroit. 'And pray, sir, how did you come and go out of the house?' he asked.
'I forgot to lock the door, it seems,' replied Alexander.
'I have had cause to complain of that too often,' said Mr. Nicholson. 'But still I do not understand. Did you keep the servants up?'
'I propose to go into all that at length after breakfast,' returned Alexander. 'There is the half-hour going; we must not keep Miss Mackenzie waiting.'
And greatly daring, he opened the door.