A Bank Fraud

By Rudyard Kipling
  • 25 Feb - 03 Mar, 2023
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

Reggie's face changed at once into the face of "Mr Reginald Burke," and he answered:

"What can I do?"

"Nothing," said the doctor.

"For all practical purposes the man is dead already. Keep him quiet and cheerful and tell him he's going to recover. That's all. I'll look after him to the end, of course."

The doctor went away, and Reggie sat down to open the evening mail. His first letter was one from the Directors, intimating for his information that Mr Riley was to resign, under a month's notice, by the terms of his agreement, telling Reggie that their letter to Riley would follow and advising Reggie of the coming of a new Accountant, a man whom Reggie knew and liked. Reggie lit a cheroot, and, before he had finished smoking, he had sketched the outline of a fraud.

He put away – "burked" – the Directors letter, and went in to talk to Riley, who was as ungracious as usual, and fretting himself over the way the bank would run during his illness. He never thought of the extra work on Reggie's shoulders, but solely of the damage to his own prospects of advancement. Then Reggie assured him that everything would be well, and that he, Reggie, would confer with Riley daily on the management of the Bank. Riley was a little soothed, but he hinted in as many words that he did not think much of Reggie's business capacity. Reggie was humble. And he had letters in his desk from the Directors that a Gilbarte or a Hardie might have been proud of!

The days passed in the big darkened house, and the Directors' letter of dismissal to Riley came and was put away by Reggie, who, every evening, brought the books to Riley's room, and showed him what had been going forward, while Riley snarled. Reggie did his best to make statements pleasing to Riley, but the Accountant was sure that the Bank was going to rack and ruin without him. In June, as the lying in bed told on his spirit, he asked whether his absence had been noted by the Directors, and Reggie said that they had written most sympathetic letters, hoping that he would be able to resume his valuable services before long.

He showed Riley the letters: and Riley said that the Directors ought to have written to him direct. A few days later, Reggie opened Riley's mail in the half-light of the room, and gave him the sheet – not the envelope – of a letter to Riley from the Directors. Riley said he would thank Reggie not to interfere with his private papers, especially as Reggie knew he was too weak to open his own letters. Reggie apologised.

Then Riley's mood changed, and he lectured Reggie on his evil ways: his horses and his bad friends.

"Of course, lying here on my back, Mr Burke, I can't keep you straight; but when I'm well, I DO hope you'll pay some heed to my words."

Reggie, who had dropped polo, and dinners, and tennis, and all to attend to Riley, said that he was penitent and settled Riley's head on the pillow and heard him fret and contradict in hard, dry, hacking whispers, without a sign of impatience. This at the end of a heavy day's office work, doing double duty, in the latter half of June. When the new Accountant came, Reggie told him the facts of the case, and announced to Riley that he had a guest staying with him. Riley said that he might have had more consideration than to entertain his "doubtful friends" at such a time.

Reggie made Carron, the new Accountant, sleep at the Club in consequence. Carron's arrival took some of the heavy work off his shoulders, and he had time to attend to Riley's exactions – to explain, soothe, invent, and settle and resettle the poor wretch in bed, and to forge complimentary letters from Calcutta.

At the end of the first month, Riley wished to send some money home to his mother. Reggie sent the draft. At the end of the second month, Riley's salary came in just the same. Reggie paid it out of his own pocket; and, with it, wrote Riley a beautiful letter from the Directors. Riley was very ill indeed, but the flame of his life burnt unsteadily. Now and then he would be cheerful and confident about the future, sketching plans for going Home and seeing his mother. Reggie listened patiently when the office work was over, and encouraged him. At other times Riley insisted on Reggie's reading the Bible and grim "Methody" tracts to him.

Out of these tracts he pointed morals directed at his Manager. But he always found time to worry Reggie about the working of the Bank, and to show him where the weak points lay. This in-door, sick-room life and constant strains wore Reggie down a good deal, and shook his nerves, and lowered his billiard-play by forty points. But the business of the Bank, and the business of the sick-room, had to go on, though the glass was 116 degrees in the shade. At the end of the third month, Riley was sinking fast, and had begun to realise that he was very sick. But the conceit that made him worry Reggie, kept him from believing the worst.

"He wants some sort of mental stimulant if he is to drag on," said the doctor.

"Keep him interested in life if you care about his living."

So Riley, contrary to all the laws of business and the finance, received a 25-per-cent, rise of salary from the Directors.

The "mental stimulant" succeeded beautifully. Riley was happy and cheerful, and, as is often the case in consumption, healthiest in mind when the body was weakest. He lingered for a full month, snarling and fretting about the Bank, talking of the future, hearing the Bible read, lecturing Reggie on sin, and wondering when he would be able to move abroad. But at the end of September, one mercilessly hot evening, he rose up in his bed with a little gasp, and said quickly to Reggie:

"Mr Burke, I am going to die. I know it in myself. My chest is all hollow inside, and there's nothing to breathe with. To the best of my knowledge I have done now" – he was returning to the talk of his boyhood – "to lie heavy on my conscience. God be thanked, I have been preserved from the grosser forms of sin; and I counsel YOU, Mr Burke."

Here his voice died down, and Reggie stooped over him.

"Send my salary for September to my mother… done great things with the Bank if I had been spared… mistaken policy… no fault of mine."

Then he turned his face to the wall and died. Reggie drew the sheet over Its face, and went out into the verandah, with his last "mental stimulant" – a letter of condolence and sympathy from the Directors – unused in his pocket.

"If I'd been only ten minutes earlier," thought Reggie,

"I might have heartened him up to pull through another day."