Part 2 out of 8
He seemed annoyed at the consciousness that he had done so,
turning abruptly first to stare out of the window,
then shifting his position on the seat, and at last stealing
an uneasy glance toward his companion. Apparently his
tongue was at a loss for an appropriate comment.
Thorpe had lost none of these unwilling tokens of embarrassment.
Plowden saw that at once, but it relieved even more than
it surprised him to see also that Thorpe appeared not
to mind. The older man, indeed, smiled in good-natured
if somewhat ironical comprehension of the dumb-show.
"Oh, that'll be all right, too," he said, with the evident
intention of reassurance. "I can do it right enough,
so far as the big things are concerned. It'll be in the
little things that I'll want some steering."
"I've already told you--you may command me to the utmost
of my power," the other declared. Upon reflection,
he was disposed to be ashamed of himself. His nerves
and facial muscles had been guilty of an unpardonable
lapse into snobbishness--and toward a man, too, who had
been capable of behaviour more distinguished in its
courtesy and generosity than any he had encountered
in all the "upper circles" put together. He recalled all
at once, moreover, that Thorpe's "h's" were perfect--aud,
for some occult reason, this completed his confusion.
"My dear fellow"--he began again, confronting with verbal
awkwardness the other's quizzical smile--"don't think I
doubt anything about you. I know well enough that you
can do anything--be anything--you like."
Thorpe laughed softly.
"I don't think you know, though, that I'm a public-
school man," he said.
Plowden lifted his brows in unfeigned surprise.
"No--I didn't know that," he admitted, frankly.
"Yes, I'm a Paul's Pigeon," Thorpe went on, "as they
called them in my day. That's gone out now, I'm told,
since they've moved to the big buildings in Hammersmith.
I did very well at school, too; came out in the first fourteen.
But my father wouldn't carry the thing any further.
He insisted on my going into the shop when I left St. Paul's
and learning the book-business. He had precisely the same
kind of dynastic idea, you know, that you fellows have.
His father and his grand-father had been booksellers,
and he was going to hand on the tradition to me,
and my son after me. That was his idea. And he thought
that Paul's would help this--but that Oxford would
"Of course, he was right there--but he was wrong in supposing
there was a bookseller in me. I liked the books well enough,
mind you--but damn the people that came to buy them,
I couldn't stand it. You stood two hours watching to see
that men didn't put volumes in their pockets, and at
the end of that time you'd made a profit of ninepence.
While you were doing up the parcel, some fellow walked off
with a book worth eighteen-pence. It was too slow for me.
I didn't hit it off with the old man, either. We didn't
precisely quarrel, but I went off on my own hook.
I hung about London for some years, trying this thing
and that. Once I started a book-shop of my own--but I
did no good here. Finally I turned it up altogether,
and went to Australia. That was in 1882. I've been
in almost every quarter of the globe since; I've known
what it was to be shipwrecked in a monsoon, and I've
lain down in a desert not expecting to get up again,
with my belt tightened to its last hole for hunger--but
I can't remember that I ever wished myself back in my
Plowden's fine eyes sparkled his appreciation of the
other's mood. He was silent for a moment, then lifted
his head as if something had occurred to him.
"You were speaking of the plan that you should succeed
to your father's business--and your son after you--you're
not married, are you?"
Thorpe slowly shook his head.
"Our station is the next," said the younger man.
"It's a drive of something under two miles. You'd better
light another cigar." He added, as if upon a casual
afterthought: "We can both of us think of marrying now."
FOR the next two hours, Thorpe's thoughts were almost
wholly occupied with various phases of the large subject of
domestic service. He seemed suddenly to have been transported
to some region populated exclusively by clean-shaven men
in brown livery. One of these was holding a spirited
horse outside the station, and when Lord Plowden had taken
the reins, and Thorpe had gathered the rugs about his
knees and feet, this menial silently associated himself
with the young man who had accompanied them from town,
on the back seat of the trap. With these people so close
behind him, Thorpe felt that any intimate conversation
was out of the question. Indeed, talk of any sort
was not invited; the big horse burst forth with high,
sprawling strides upon a career through the twilight,
once the main road was reached, which it taxed all Plowden's
energies to regulate. He kept up a continual murmuring
monologue to the animal--"So--so--quiet, my pet,--so--
so--easy, my beauty---so--so"--and his wrists and gloved
hands were visibly under a tremendous tension of strain,
as they held their own against the rigid arched neck
and mouth of steel. Thorpe kept a grip on the side of
the trap, and had only a modified pleasure in the drive.
The road along which they sped seemed, in the gathering dusk,
uncomfortably narrow, and he speculated a good deal
as to how frightened the two mutes behind him must be.
But silence was such a law of their life that, though he
strained his ears, he could not so much as hear them
sigh or gasp.
It seemed but a very few minutes before they turned off,
with but the most fleeting diminution of pace, upon a
private road, which speedily developed into an avenue
of trees, quite dark and apparently narrower than ever.
Down this they raced precipitately, and then, coming out
all at once upon an open space, swung smartly round the
crescent of a gravel road, and halted before what seemed
to be the door of a greenhouse. Thorpe, as he stood up
in the trap, got an uncertain, general idea of a low,
pale-coloured mansion in the background, with lights showing
behind curtains in several widely separated windows;
what he had taken to be a conservatory revealed itself now
to be a glass gallery, built along the front of the central
portion of this house.
A profusion of hospitable lights--tall wax-candles
in brackets among the vines against the trellised wall--
gave to this outlying entrance what the stranger felt
to be a delightful effect. Its smooth tiled floor,
comfortably bestrewn with rugs, was on a level with the
path outside. There were low easy-chairs here, and a little
wicker table bearing books and a lady's work-basket.
Further on, giant chrysanthemum blooms were massed beneath
the clusters of pale plumbago-flowers on the trellis.
Directly in front, across the dozen feet of this
glazed vestibule, the broad doorway of the house proper
stood open--with warm lights glowing richly upon dark
woods in the luxurious obscurity within.
What Thorpe noted most of all, however, was the servants
who seemed to swarm everywhere. The two who had alighted
from the trap had contrived somehow mysteriously to multiply
themselves in the darkness. All at once there were a
number of young men--at the horse's head, at the back and
sides of the trap, at the first doorway, and the second,
and beyond--each presenting such a smooth-faced, pallid,
brown-clad replica of all the others that Thorpe knew
he should never be able to tell them apart.
Lord Plowden paused for a moment under the candle-light to
look at his watch. "We did it in a bit over eight minutes,"
he remarked, with obvious satisfaction. "With four
people and heavy roads that's not so bad--not so bad.
But come inside."
They moved forward through the wide doorway into an
apartment the like of which Thorpe had not seen before.
It was a large, square room, with a big staircase at
the end, which separated and went off to right and left,
half-way up its visible course. Its floor was of
inlaid woods, old and uneven from long use, and carpeted
here and there by the skins of tigers and leopards.
There were many other suggestions of the chase about
the room: riding boots, whips, spurs, and some stands
of archaic weapons caught the eye at various points;
the heads of foxes and deer peeped out on the blackened
panels of the walls, from among clusters of hooks crowded
with coats, hats, and mackintoshes. At the right,
where a fire glowed and blazed under a huge open
chimney-place, there were low chairs and divans drawn up
to mark off a space for orderly domestic occupation.
The irregularity of every thing outside--the great table
in the centre of the hall strewn with an incongruous litter
of caps, books, flasks, newspapers, gloves, tobacco-pouches;
the shoes, slippers, and leggings scattered under the
benches at the sides--all this self-renewing disorder of a
careless household struck Thorpe with a profound surprise.
It was like nothing so much as a Mexican ranch--and
to find it in the ancestral home of an English nobleman,
filled to overflowing with servants, amazed him.
The glances that he cast about him, however, were
impassive enough. His mind was charged with the ceaseless
responsibility of being astonished at nothing.
A man took his hat, and helped him off with his coat.
Another moved toward the staircase with his two bags.
"If you will follow Pangbourn," said his host,
indicating this second domestic, "he will look after you.
You would like to go up and change now, wouldn't you?
There's a fire in your room."
Thus dismissed, he went up the stairs in the wake
of his portmanteaus, taking the turning to the left,
and then proceeding by a long, low passage, round more than
one corner, to what he conceived to be a wing of the house.
The servant ushered him into a room--and, in despite
of himself, he sighed with pleasure at the sight of it.
The prettiest and most charming of rooms it seemed
to him to be--spacious and quaintly rambling in shape,
with a delicately-figured chintz repeating the dainty
effects of the walls upon the curtains and carpet and
bed-hangings and chair-covers, and with a bright fire
in the grate throwing its warm, cozy glow over everything.
He looked at the pictures on the walls, at the photographs
and little ornaments on the writing desk, and the high
posts and silken coverlet of the big bed, and, secure in
the averted face of the servant, smiled richly to himself.
This servant, kneeling, had unstrapped and opened
the new bags. Thorpe looked to see him quit the room,
this task accomplished, and was conscious of something
like dismay at the discovery that he intended to unpack
them as well. Pangbourn began gravely to unwrap one
paper parcel after another and to assort their contents
in little heaps on the sofa beside him. He did it deftly,
imperturbably, as if all the gentlemen he had ever seen
carried their belongings in packages done up by tradesmen.
Thorpe's impulse to bid him desist framed itself in words
on the tip of his tongue--but he did not utter these words.
After circling idly, hands in pockets, about the man
and the bags for a little time, he invented something
which it seemed better for him to say.
"I don't know what you'll be able to make of those things,"
he remarked, casually. "My man has been buying them
today--and I don't know what he mayn't have forgotten.
My whole outfit of that sort of thing went astray or was
stolen at some station or other--the first part of the
week--I think it must have been Leeds."
"Yes, sir," said Pangbourn, without emotion.
"They're very careless, sir."
He went on impassively, shaking out the black garments
and spreading them on the bed, laying out a shirt and tie
beside them, and arranging the razors, strop, and brushes
on the dressing-table. He seemed to foresee everything--for
there was not an instant's hesitation in the clock-like
assiduity of his movements, as he bestowed handkerchiefs,
in one drawer, socks in another, hung pyjamas before the fire,
and set the patent-leather pumps against the fender.
Even the old Mexican shooting-suit seemed in no way to
disconcert him. He drew forth its constituent elements
as with a practised hand; when he had hung them up,
sombrero and all, in the wardrobe against the wall,
they had the trick of making that venerable oaken receptacle
look as if it had been fashioned expressly for them.
Thorpe's earlier uneasiness quite lost itself in his
admiration for Pangbourn's resourceful dexterity.
The delighted thought that now he would be needing a man
like this for himself crossed his mind. Conceivably he might
even get this identical Pangbourn--treasure though he were.
Money could command everything on this broad globe--and why
not Pangbourn? He tentatively felt of the coins in his pocket,
as it became apparent that the man's task was nearing
completion--and then frowned at himself for forgetting
that these things were always reserved for the end of a visit.
"Will you dress now, sir?" asked Pangbourn. His soft,
distinct enunciation conveyed the suggestion of centuries
"Eh?" said Thorpe, finding himself for the moment behind
the other's thought.
"Shall you require me any further, sir?" the man reframed
the question, deferentially.
"Oh! Oh--no," replied Thorpe. "No--I'll get along all right."
Left to himself, he began hurriedly the task of shaving
and dressing. The candles on either side of the thick,
bevelled swinging mirror presented a somewhat embarrassing
contrast to the electric light he was used to--but upon second
thought he preferred this restrained aristocratic glimmer.
He had completed his toilet, and was standing at the
bay-window, with his shoulder holding back the edge
of the curtain, looking out upon the darkened lawn and
wondering whether he ought to go downstairs or wait for
someone to summon him, when he heard a knock at his door.
Before he could answer, the door opened, and he made
out in the candle-and firelight that it was Lord Plowden
who had come in. He stepped forward to meet his host who,
clad now in evening-clothes, was smoking a cigarette.
"Have they looked after you all right?" said Plowden,
nonchalantly. "Have a cigarette before we go down? Light
it by the candle. They never will keep matches in a bedroom."
He seated himself in an easy-chair before the fire,
as he spoke, and stretched out his shining slippers
toward the grate. "I thought I'd tell you before we went
down"--he went on, as Thorpe, with an elbow on the mantel,
looked down at his handsome head--"my sister has a couple
of ladies visiting her. One of them I think you know.
Do you remember on shipboard a Miss Madden--an American,
you know--very tall and fine, with bright red hair--rather
remarkable hair it was?"
"I remember the lady," said Thorpe, upon reflection,
"but we didn't meet." He could not wholly divest his tone
of the hint that in those days it by no means followed
that because he saw ladies it was open to him to know them.
Lord Plowden smiled a little. "Oh, you'll like her.
She's great fun--if she's in the mood. My mother and sister--I
had them call on her in London last spring--and they took
a great fancy to her. She's got no end of money, you know--at
least a million and a half--dollars, unfortunately.
Her parents were Irish--her father made his pile in the
waggon business, I believe--but she's as American as if
they'd crossed over in--what was it, the 'Sunflower'?--no,
the 'Mayflower.' Marvelous country for assimilation,
that America is! You remember what I told you--it's put
such a mark on you that I should never have dreamt you were English."
Thorpe observed his companion, through a blue haze of smoke,
in silence. This insistence upon the un-English nature
of the effect he produced was not altogether grateful
to his ears.
"The other one," continued Plowden, "is Lady Cressage.
You'll be interested in her--because a few years ago she
was supposed to be the most beautiful woman in London.
She married a shocking bounder--he would have been
Duke of Glastonbury, though, if he had lived--but he
was drowned, and she was left poor as a church mouse.
Oh! by the way!" he started up, with a gleam of aroused
interest on his face--"it didn't in the least occur
to me. Why, she's a daughter of our General Kervick.
How did he get on the Board, by the way? Where did you pick
Thorpe bent his brows in puzzled lines. "Why, you introduced
me to him yourself, didn't you?" he asked, slowly.
Plowden seemed unaffectedly surprised at the suggestion,
as he turned it over in his mind. "By George! I think
you're right," he said. "I'd quite forgotten it.
Of course I did. Let me see--oh yes, I reconstruct it
readily enough now. Poor old chappie--he needs all he
can get. He was bothering her about money--that was it,
I remember now--but what an idiot I was to forget it.
But what I was saying--there's no one else but my mother
and sister, and my brother Balder. He's a youngster--twenty
or thereabouts--and he purports to be reading for his exams
for the Army. If they opened his head, though, I doubt
if they'd find anything but cricket and football,
unless it might be a bit of golf. Well--that's the party.
I thought you might like to have a notion of them in advance.
If you've finished your cigarette"--he threw his own
into the grate, and rose as he spoke--"we may as well be
moving along. By the way," he concluded, as they walked
toward the door, "I've an idea that we won't say anything,
just at the moment, about our great coup. I should like
to keep it as a little surprise--for my mother and sister,
Some two hours later, Thorpe found the leisure and the
restored equanimity needful for a dispassionate survey
of his surroundings. He had become temporarily detached
from the group over by the fireplace in the big drawing-room
and was for the first time that evening very much at
his ease. It was all much simpler, upon experiment,
than he had feared. He stood now in a corner of the
ornate apartment, whither he had wandered in examining
the pictures on the walls, and contemplated with serenity
the five people whom he had left behind him. He was
conscious of the conviction that when he rejoined them,
it would be on a new footing of assured equality.
He knew now the exact measure of everything.
The Hon. Balder Plowden--a tall, heavily-built youth,
with enormous shoulders and thick, hard hands, and pale
straw-coloured hair and brows and eyelashes--had amiably
sauntered beside him, and was elucidating for his benefit now,
in slow, halting undertones, some unfathomable mystery
connected with the varying attitude of two distinct breeds
of terriers toward rats. Across the room, just within
reach of the flickering ruddy firelight from the hearth,
the American guest, Miss Madden, was seated at the piano,
playing some low and rather doleful music. Thorpe bent
his head, and assumed an air of attention, but in truth he
listened to neither the Honourable Balder nor the piano.
His thoughts were concentrated jealously upon his own
position in this novel setting. He said to himself that it
was all right. Old Lady Plowden had seemed to like him
from the start. The genial, if somewhat abstracted,
motherliness of her welcome had been, indeed, his sheet
anchor throughout the evening. She had not once failed
to nod her head and smile and twinkle her little kind eyes
through their spectacles at him, whenever by word or look he
had addressed her. Nor did his original half-suspicion,
that this was her manner to people in general, justify itself
upon observation. She was civil, even excessively civil,
to the other two guests, but these ladies did not get
the same eager and intent smile that he could command.
He reasoned it out that Plowden must have said something
pleasant to his mother about him--perhaps even to the point
of explaining that he was to be the architect of their
fortunes--but he did not like to ascribe all her hospitable
warmth to that. It was dear to him to believe that she
liked him on his own merits--and he did believe it,
as his softened glance rested upon her where she sat
almost facing him in her padded, wicker chair--small,
white-haired, rosy-cheeked, her intelligent face radiating
a kind of alert placidity which somehow made him feel
He had not been as much at home with the others.
The Honourable Balder, of course, didn't count; nobody paid
attention to him, and least of all a busy Rubber King.
He gave not much more heed to the American--the tall
young woman with the red hair and the million and a half
of dollars. She was plainly a visitor like himself,
not at all identified with the inner life of the household.
He fancied, moreover, that she in no way desired to be
thus identified. She seemed to carry herself with a
deliberate aloofness underlying her surface amiability.
Then he had spoken his few words with her, once or twice,
he had got this effect of stony reserve close beneath
her smile and smooth words. True, this might mean only
that she felt herself out of her element, just as he
did--but to him, really it did not matter what she felt.
A year ago--why, yes, even a fortnight ago--the golden
rumour of millions would have shone round her auburn hair
in his eyes like a halo. But all that was changed.
Calculated in a solidified currency, her reported fortune
shrank to a mere three hundred thousand pounds. It was
a respectable sum for a woman to have, no doubt, but it
did nothing to quicken the cool indifference with which he
The two other young women were different. They were seated
together on a sofa, so placed as regarded his point of view,
that he saw only in part the shadowed profiles of the faces
they turned toward the piano. Although it was not visible
to him, the posture of their shoulders told him that they
were listening to the music each holding the other's hand.
This tacit embrace was typical in his mind of the way
they hung together, these two young women. It had been
forced upon his perceptions all the evening, that this
fair-haired, beautiful, rather stately Lady Cressage,
and the small, swarthy, round-shouldered daughter
of the house, peering through her pince-nez from under
unduly thick black brows, formed a party of their own.
Their politeness toward him had been as identical in all
its little shades of distance and reservation as if they
had been governed from a single brain-centre. It would
be unfair to them to assume from their manner that they
disliked him, or were even unfavourably impressed by him.
The finesse of that manner was far too delicate a thing
to call into use such rough characterizations. It was
rather their action as a unit which piqued his interest.
He thought he could see that they united upon a common
demeanour toward the American girl, although of course they
knew her much better than they knew him. It was not even
clear to him that there were not traces of this combination
in their tone toward Plowden and the Honourable Balder.
The bond between them had twisted in it strands of social
exclusiveness, and strands of sex sympathy.
He did not analyze all this with much closeness in his thoughts,
but the impressions of it were distinct enough to him.
He rather enjoyed these impressions than otherwise.
Women had not often interested him consecutively
to any large degree, either in detail or as a whole.
He had formulated, among other loose general notions
of them, however, the idea that their failure to stand
by one another was one of their gravest weaknesses.
This proposition rose suddenly now in his mind, and claimed
his attention. It became apparent to him, all at once,
that his opinions about women would be henceforth
invested with a new importance. He had scarcely before
in his life worn evening dress in a domestic circle
which included ladies--certainly never in the presence
of such certificated and hall-marked ladies as these.
His future, however, was to be filled with experiences
of this nature. Already, after this briefest of ventures
into the new life, he found fresh conceptions of the great
subject springing up in his thoughts. In this matter
of women sticking together, for example--here before his
eyes was one of the prettiest instances of it imaginable.
As he looked again at the two figures on the sofa,
so markedly unlike in outward aspect, yet knit to each
other in such a sisterly bond, he found the spectacle
Lady Cressage had inclined her classic profile even more
toward the piano. Thorpe was not stirred at all by
the music, but the spirit of it as it was reflected upon
this beautiful facial outline--sensitive, high-spirited,
somewhat sad withal--appealed to something in him.
He moved forward cautiously, noiselessly, a dozen
restricted paces, and halted again at the corner of a table.
It was a relief that the Honourable Balder, though he
followed along, respected now his obvious wish for silence.
But neither Balder nor anyone else could guess that
the music said less than nothing to his ears--that
it was the face that had beckoned him to advance.
Covertly, with momentary assurances that no one observed him,
he studied this face and mused upon it. The white candle-light
on the shining wall beyond threw everything into a soft,
uniform shadow, this side of the thread of dark tracery
which outlined forehead and nose and lips and chin.
It seemed to him that the eyes were closed, as in reverie;
he could not be sure.
So she would have been a Duchess if her husband had
lived! He said to himself that he had never seen before,
or imagined, a face which belonged so indubitably
beneath a tiara of strawberry leaves in diamonds.
The pride and grace and composure, yes, and melancholy,
of the great lady--they were all there in their supreme
expression. And yet--why, she was no great lady at all.
She was the daughter of his old General Kervick--the
necessitous and haughtily-humble old military gentleman,
with the grey moustache and the premature fur coat,
who did what he was told on the Board without a question,
for a pitiful three hundred a year. Yes--she was his daughter,
and she also was poor. Plowden had said so.
Why had Plowden, by the way, been so keen about relieving
her from her father's importunities? He must have had
it very much at heart, to have invented the roundabout
plan of getting the old gentleman a directorship.
But no--there was nothing in that. Why, Plowden had even
forgotten that it was he who suggested Kervick's name.
It would have been his sister, of course, who was
evidently such chums with Lady Cressage, who gave him
the hint to help the General to something if he could.
And when you came to think of it, these aristocrats and
military men and so on, had no other notion of making money
save by directorships. Clearly, that was the way of it.
Plowden had remembered Kervick's name, when the chance
arose to give the old boy a leg up, and then had clean
forgotten the circumstance. The episode rather increased
his liking for Plowden.
He glanced briefly, under the impulse of his thought,
to where the peer sat, or rather sprawled, in a big low chair
before the fire. He was so nearly recumbent in it, indeed,
that there was nothing to be seen of him but an elbow,
and two very trim legs extended to the brass fender.
Thorpe's gaze reverted automatically to the face of
General Kervick's daughter. He wondered if she knew
about the Company, and about him, and about his ability
to solidify to any extent her father's financial position.
Even more, upon reflection, he wondered whether she was
very fond of her father; would she be extremely grateful
to one who should render him securely comfortable for
life? Miss Madden rose from the piano before Thorpe noted
that the music had ceased. There came from the others
a soft but fervent chorus of exclamations, the sincerity
and enthusiasm of which made him a little ashamed.
He had evidently been deaf to something that deeply
moved the rest. Even Balder made remarks which seemed
to be regarded as apposite.
"What IS it?" asked Lady Cressage, with obvious feeling.
"I don't know when anything has touched me so much."
"Old Danish songs that I picked up on the quai
in Paris for a franc or two," replied Miss Madden.
"I arranged and harmonized them--and, oddly enough,
the result is rather Keltic, don't you think?"
"We are all of us Kelts in our welcome to music--and
musicians--like this," affirmed Lord Plowden, who had
scrambled to his feet.
With sudden resolution, Thorpe moved forward and joined
THORPE'S life-long habit of early rising brought him downstairs
next morning before anybody else in the house, apparently,
was astir. At all events, he saw no one in either the hall
or the glass vestibule, as he wandered about. Both doors
were wide open, however, to the mild, damp morning air.
He found on one of the racks a cap that was less uncomfortable
than the others, and sauntered forth to look about him.
His nerves were by no means in so serene a state as his reason
told him they ought to be. The disquieting impression of bad
dreams hung about him. The waking hour--always an evil
time for him in these latter days of anxiety--had been this
morning a peculiarly depressing affair. It had seemed
to him, in the first minutes of reviving consciousness,
that he was a hopelessly ruined and discredited man;
the illusion of disaster had been, indeed, so complete
and vivid that, even now, more than an hour later,
he had not shaken off its effects.
He applied his mental energies, as he strolled along
the gravel paths, to the task of reassuring himself.
There were still elements of chance in the game,
of course, but it was easy enough, here in the daylight,
to demonstrate that they had been cut down to a minimum--that
it was nonsense to borrow trouble about them. He reviewed
the situation in painstaking detail, and at every point
it was all right, or as nearly all right as any human
business could be. He scolded himself sharply for this
foolish susceptibility to the intimidation of nightmares.
"Look at Plowden!" he bade his dolorous spirit.
"See how easy he takes things."
It was undeniable that Lord Plowden took things very
easily indeed. He had talked with eloquence and feeling
about the miseries and humiliations of a peerage inadequately
endowed with money, but no traces of his sufferings were
visible to Thorpe's observant eye. The nobleman himself looked
the very image of contented prosperity--handsome, buoyant,
light-hearted, and, withal, the best-groomed man in London.
And this ancestral home of his--or of his mother's, since he
seemed to insist upon the distinction--where were its signs
of a stinted income? The place was overrun with servants.
There was a horse which covered a distance of something
like two miles in eight minutes. Inside and out,
Hadlow House suggested nothing but assured plenty.
Yet its master told the most unvarying tales of poverty,
and no doubt they were in one sense true. What he wished
to fix his mind upon, and to draw strength for himself from,
was the gay courage with which these Plowdens behaved
as if they were rich.
The grounds at the front of the house, hemmed in by
high hedges and trees from what seemed to be a public
road beyond, were fairly spacious, but the sleek decorum
of their arrangement, while it pleased him, was scarcely
interesting. He liked better to study the house itself,
which in the daylight revealed itself as his ideal
of what a historic English country-house of the minor
class should be.
There had been a period in his youth when architecture
had attracted him greatly as offering a congenial and
lucrative career. Not much remained to him now of the
classifications and phraseology which he had gone to the trouble
of memorizing, in that far-off time, but he still looked
at buildings with a kind of professional consciousness.
Hadlow House said intelligible things to him, and he
was pleased with himself for understanding them.
It was not new in any part, apparently, but there was
nothing pretentious in its antiquity. It had never
been a castle, or a fortified residence. No violent
alteration in habits or needs distinguished its present
occupants from its original builders. It had been
planned and reared as a home for gentle people, at some
not-too-remote date when it was already possible for gentle
people to have homes, without fighting to defend them.
One could fancy that its calm and infinitely comfortable
history had never been ruffled from that day to this.
He recalled having heard it mentioned the previous evening
that the house stood upon the site of an old monastery.
No doubt that accounted for its being built in a hollow,
with the ground-floor on the absolute level of the
earth outside. The monks had always chosen these low-lying
sheltered spots for their cloisters. Why should they
have done so? he wondered--and then came to a sudden
mental stop, absorbed in a somewhat surprised contemplation
of a new version of himself. He was becoming literary,
historical, bookish! His mind had begun to throw open again,
to abstract thoughts and musings, its long-closed doors.
He had read and dreamed so much as a lad, in the old
book-shop! For many years that boyhood of eager concern
in the printed page had seemed to him to belong to
somebody else. Now, all at once, it came back to him as his
own possession; he felt that he could take up books again
where he had dropped them, perhaps even with the old rapt,
Visions rose before him of the magnificent library he
would gather for himself. And it should be in no wise
for show--the gross ostentation of the unlettered
parvenu--but a genuine library, which should minister
to his own individual culture. The thought took instant
hold upon his interest. By that road, his progress to the
goal of gentility would be smooth and simple. He seemed
not to have reasoned it out to himself in detail before,
but now, at all events, he saw his way clearly enough.
Why should he be tormented with doubts and misgivings
about himself, as if he had come out of the gutter?
Why indeed? He had passed through--and with credit,
too--one of the great public schools of England.
He had been there on a footing of perfect equality,
so far as he saw, with the sons of aristocratic families
or of great City potentates. And as to birth, he had
behind him three generations at least of scholarly men,
men who knew the contents, as well as the commercial value,
of the books they handled.
His grandfather had been a man of note in his calling.
The tradition of Lord Althorp's confidence in him, and of
how he requited it by securing Caxton's "Golden Legend"
for the library of that distinguished collector, under the
very nose of his hot rival, the Duke of Marlborough,
was tenderly cherished as an heirloom in the old shop.
And Thorpe's father, too, though no such single achievement
crowned his memory, had been the adviser and, as one might say,
the friend of many notable writers and patrons of literature.
The son of such forbears needed only money to be recognized
by everybody as a gentleman.
On his mother's side, now that he thought of it,
there was something perhaps better still than a heritage
of librarians' craft and tastes. His mother's maiden
name was Stormont, and he remembered well enough the
solemnity with which she had always alluded to the fact,
in the course of domestic discussions. Who the Stormonts
were he could not recall that he had ever learned,
but his mother had been very clear indeed about their
superiority to the usual ruck of people. He would
ask his sister whether she knew anything about them.
In the meantime there was no denying that Stormont was
a fine-sounding name. He reflected that it was his own
middle name--and, on the instant, fancy engraved for him
a card-plate on which appeared the legend--"Mr. Stormont Thorpe."
It was an inspiration! "Joel" he had not used for so many
years that now, after six months' familiarity with it
on his sister's lips, he could not get accustomed to it.
The colourless and non-committal style of "J. S. Thorpe,"
under which he had lived so long, had been well enough
for the term of his exile--the weary time of obscure toil
and suspense. But now, in this sunburst of smiling fortune,
when he had achieved the right to a name of distinction--here
it was ready to his hand. A fleeting question as to
whether he should carry the "J" along as an initial put
itself to his mind. He decided vigorously against it.
He had always had a prejudice against men who, in the
transatlantic phrase, parted either their hair or their
names in the middle.
He had made his unheeding way past the house to the
beginning of the avenue of trees, which he remembered
from the previous evening's drive. To his right, an open
space of roadway led off in the direction of the stables.
As he hesitated, in momentary doubt which course to take,
the sound of hoofs in the avenue caught his ear,
and he stood still. In a moment there came into view,
round a curve in the leafy distance, two horses with riders,
advancing at a brisk canter. Soon he perceived that the
riders were ladies; they drew rein as they approached him,
and then it was to be seen that they were the pair he had
judged to be such close friends last night--Lady Cressage
and the daughter of the house.
They smiled and nodded down at him, as he lifted his
cap and bowed. Their cheeks were glowing and their
eyes sparkling with the exhilaration of their ride.
Even the Hon. Winifred looked comely and distinguished
in his eyes, under the charm of this heightened vivacity.
She seemed to carry herself better in the saddle than she
did out of it; the sweep of her habit below the stirrup
lent dignity to her figure.
But her companion, whose big chestnut mount was pacing slowly
toward the stepping-block--how should he bring within the
compass of thought the impressions he had had of her as she
passed? There seemed to have been no memory in his mind
to prepare him for the beauty of the picture she had made.
Slender, erect, exquisitely-tailored, she had gone by like
some queen in a pageant, gracious yet unapproachable.
He stared after her, mutely bewildered at the effect she
produced upon him--until he saw that a groom had run from
the stable-yard, and was helping the divinity to dismount.
The angry thought that he might have done this himself
rose within him--but there followed swiftly enough
the answering conviction that he lacked the courage.
He did not even advance to proffer his services to the other
young lady, while there was still time. The truth was,
he admitted ruefully to himself, they unnerved him.
He had talked freely enough to them, or rather to the company
of which they made part, the previous evening. There had
been an hour or more, indeed, before the party broke up,
in which he had borne the lion's share of the talk--and
they had appeared as frankly entertained as the others.
In fact, when he recalled the circle of faces to which he
had addressed his monologue of reminiscences--curious
experiences and adventures in Java and the Argentine,
in Brazil and the Antilles and Mexico and the far West--it
was in the face of Lady Cressage that he seemed to discern
the most genuine interest.
Why should she frighten him, then, by daylight? The
whimsical theory that the wine at dinner had given him
a spurious courage occurred to him. He shrugged his
shoulders at it, and, with his hands in his pockets,
turned toward the stables.
The stable-yard is, from some points of view,
the prettiest thing about Hadlow. There is a big,
uneven, grass-grown space, in the centre of which,
from a slight mound, springs an aged oak of tremendous
girth and height. All around this enclosure are buildings
of the same pale yellowish brick as the mansion itself,
but quaintly differing one from another in design and size.
Stables, carriage-houses, kennels, a laundry, a brewery,
and half a dozen structures the intention of which is
now somewhat uncertain--some flat-topped, some gabled,
others with turrets, or massive grouped chimneys, or overhanging
timbered upper stories--form round this unkempt, shadowed
green a sort of village, with a communal individuality of its own.
A glance shows its feudal relation to, and dependence
upon, the great house behind which it nestles;
some of the back-kitchens and offices of this
great house, indeed, straggle out till they meet and
merge themselves into this quadrangle. None the less,
it presents to the enquiring gaze a specific character,
of as old a growth, one might think, as the oak itself.
Here servants have lived, it may be, since man first learned
the trick of setting his foot on his brother's neck.
Plainly enough, the monks' servants lived and worked here;
half the buildings on the side nearest the house belong to
their time, and one of them still bears a partially-defaced
coat of arms that must have belonged to an Abbot.
And when lay lord succeeded cleric, only the garb and
vocabulary of servitude were altered in this square.
Its population crossed themselves less, and worked much harder,
but they remained in a world of their own, adjacent aud
subject to the world of their masters, yet separated
from it by oh! such countless and unthinkable distances.
Thorpe sauntered along the side of the stables.
He counted three men and a boy who visibly belonged
to this department. The dog-cart of the previous evening
had been run out upon the brick-pavement which drained
the stables, and glistened with expensive smartness now
beneath the sponge of one of the hostlers. Under cover,
he discerned two other carriages, and there seemed to be
at least half a dozen horses. The men who, in the half
gloom of the loose-boxes, were busy grooming these
animals made a curious whistling noise as they worked.
Everybody in the yard touched a forelock to him as he passed.
From this quaint, old-world enclosure he wandered at
his leisure, through an open gate in the wall at the back,
into the gardens behind the house. There was not much
in the way of flowers to look at, but he moved about quite
unconscious of any deprivation. A cluster of greenhouses,
massed against the southern side of the mansion,
attracted his listless fancy, and he walked toward what
appeared to be an entrance to them. The door was locked,
but he found another further on which opened to his hand.
The air was very hot and moist inside, and the place was
so filled with broad-leaved, umbrageous tropical plants
that he had to stoop to make his way through to the end.
The next house had a more tolerable atmosphere, and contained
some blossoms to which he gave momentary attention.
In the third house, through the glass-door, he could
see a man--evidently a gardener--lifting some pots to a
The thought occurred to him that by entering into
conversation with this man, he might indirectly obtain
a hint as to the usual breakfast-hour at Hadlow. It was
now nearly ten o'clock, and he was getting very hungry.
Would they not ring a bell, or sound a gong, or something?
he wondered. Perhaps there had been some such summons,
and he had not heard it. It might be the intelligent
thing for him to return to the house, at all events,
and sit in the hall where the servants could see him,
in case the meal was in progress.
Looking idly through the glass at the gardener, meanwhile,
it suddenly dawned upon him that the face and figure
were familiar. He stared more intently at the man,
casting about in his memory for a clue to his identity.
It came to him that the person he had in mind was a
fellow named Gafferson, who had kept an impoverished
and down-at-the-heels sort of hotel and general store on
the road from Belize to Boon Town, in British Honduras.
Yes, it undoubtedly was Gafferson. What on earth
was he doing here? Thorpe gave but brief consideration
to this problem. It was of more immediate importance
to recall the circumstances of his contact with the man.
He had made Gafferson's poor shanty of an hotel his
headquarters for the better part of a month--the base
of supplies from which he made numerous prospecting
tours into the mountains of the interior. Had he paid
his bill on leaving? Yes, there was no doubt about that.
He could even recall a certain pity for the unbusiness-like
scale of charges, and the lack of perception of opportunity,
which characterized the bill in question. He remembered
now his impression that Gafferson would never do any good.
It would be interesting to know what kind of an impression he,
in turn, had produced on his thriftless host. At any rate,
there was no good reason why he should not find out.
He opened the door and went in.
The gardener barely looked up from his occupation,
and drew aside to let the newcomer pass with no sign
of a gesture toward his cap. Thorpe halted, and tried
to look at the pots on the staging as if he knew about
"What are you doing?" he asked, in the tentative tone
of one who is in no need of information, but desires
to be affable.
"Drying off the first lot of gloxinias," answered the other.
"Some people put 'em on their sides, but I like 'em upright,
close to the glass. It stands to reason, if you think
"Why, certainly," said Thorpe, with conviction.
In his mind he contrasted the independence of Gafferson's
manner with the practised servility of the stable-yard--
and thought that he liked it--and then was not so sure.
He perceived that there was no recognition of him.
The gardener, as further desultory conversation about his
work progressed, looked his interlocutor full in the face,
but with a placid, sheep-like gaze which seemed to be entirely
insensible to variations in the human species.
"How did you ever get back here to England?" Thorpe was
emboldened to ask at last. In comment upon the other's
stare of puzzled enquiry, he went on: "You're Gafferson,
aren't you? I thought so. When I last saw you, you were
running a sort of half-way house, t'other side of Belize.
That was in '90."
Gafferson--a thick-set, squat man of middle age, with a
straggling reddish beard--turned upon him a tranquil but
uninformed eye. "I suppose you would have been stopping
at Government House," he remarked. "That was in Sir
Roger Goldsworthy's time. They used to come out often
to see my flowers. And so you remembered my name.
I suppose it was because of the Gaffersoniana hybrids.
There was a good bit in the papers about them last spring."
Thorpe nodded an assent which it seemed better not to put
into words. "Well, it beats all," he mused aloud.
"Why, man, there's gold in those mountains! You had an inside
track on prospecting, placed as you were. And there's
cocoa--and some day they'll coin money in rubber, too.
All that country's waiting for is better communications.
And you were on the spot, and knew all the lay of the
land--and yet here you are back in England, getting so much
a month for messing about in the mud."
He saw swiftly that his reflections had carried him beyond
his earlier limit, and with rapidity decided upon frankness.
"No, I wasn't in the Governor's outfit at all. I was
looking for gold then--with occasionally an eye on rubber.
I stopped at your place. Don't you remember me? My
name's Thorpe. I had a beard then. Why, man, you and one
of your niggers were with me three or four days once,
up on the ridge beyond the Burnt Hills--why, you remember,
the nigger was from San Domingo, and he was forever
bragging about the San Domingo peppers, and saying those
on the mainland hadn't enough strength to make a baby
wrinkle his nose, and you found a pepper coming through
the swamp, and you tipped me the wink, and you handed
that pepper to the nigger, and it damned near killed him.
Hell! You must remember that!"
"That would have been the Chavica pertusum," said Gafferson,
thoughtfully. He seemed to rouse himself to an interest in
the story itself with some difficulty. "Yes--I remember it,"
he admitted, finally. "I shouldn't have known you though.
I'm the worst in the world about remembering people.
It seems to be growing on me. I notice that when I go
up to London to the shows, I don't remember the men
that I had the longest talks with the time before.
Once you get wrapped up in your flowers, you've got
no room in your head for anything else--that's the way of it."
Thorpe considered him with a ruminating eye. "So this
is the sort of thing you really like, eh? You'd rather be
doing this, eh? than making your pile in logwood and mahogany
out there, or floating a gold mine?" Gafferson answered
quite simply: "I wasn't the kind to ever make a pile.
I got led into going out there when I was a youngster,
and there didn't seem to be any good in trying to get back,
but I wasn't making more than a bare living when you
were there, and after that I didn't even do that much.
It took me a good many years to find out what my
real fancy was. I hated my hotel and my store,
but I was crazy about my garden. Finally an American
gentleman came along one day, and he put up at my place,
and he saw that I was as near ruined as they make 'em,
and he says to me, 'You're no good to run a hotel,
nor yet a store, and this aint your country for a cent.
What you're born for is to grow flowers. You can't
afford to do it here, because nobody'll pay you for it,
but you gather up your seeds and roots and so on, and come
along with me to Atlanta, Georgia, and I'll put fat on
"That's what he said to me, and I took him at his word,
and I was with him two years, and then I thought I'd like to
come to England, and since then I've worked my way up here,
till now I take a Royal Horticultural medal regular,
and there's a clematis with salmon-coloured bars that'll
be in the market next spring that's named after my master.
And what could I ask more 'n that?"
"Quite right," said Thorpe. "What time do they have
The gardener's round, phlegmatic, florid countenance had
taken on a mild glow of animation during his narrative.
It relapsed into lethargy at the advent of this new topic.
"It seems to me they eat at all hours," he said.
"But if you want to see his Lordship," he went on,
considering, "about noon would be your best time."
"See his Lordship!" repeated Thorpe, with an impatient grin.
"Why I'm a guest here in the house. All I want is
something to eat."
"A guest," Gafferson repeated in turn, slowly. There was
nothing unpleasant in the intonation, and Thorpe's sharp
glance failed to detect any trace of offensive intention
in his companion's fatuous visage. Yet it seemed to
pass between the two men that Gafferson was surprised,
and that there were abundant grounds for his surprise.
"Why, yes," said Thorpe, with as much nonchalance as he
could summon, "your master is one of my directors.
I've taken a fancy to him, and I'm going to make a rich
man of him. He was keen about my seeing his place here,
and kept urging me to come, and so finally I've got away
over Sunday to oblige him. By the way--I shall buy an
estate in the country as soon as the right thing offers,
and I shall want to set up no end of gardens and greenhouses
and all that. I see that I couldn't come to a better
man than you for advice. I daresay I'll put the whole
arrangement of it in your hands. You'd like that,
"Whatever his Lordship agrees to," the gardener
replied, sententiously. He turned to the staging,
and took up one of the pots.
Thorpe swung on his heel, and moved briskly toward the
further door, which he could see opened upon the lawn.
He was conscious of annoyance with this moon-faced,
dawdling Gafferson, who had been afforded such a splendid
chance of profiting by an old acquaintanceship--it might even
be called, as things went in Honduras, a friendship--and
who had so clumsily failed to rise to the situation.
The bitter thought of going back and giving him a half-crown
rose in Thorpe's inventive mind, and he paused for
an instant, his hand on the door-knob, to think it over.
The gratuity would certainly put Gafferson in his place,
but then the spirit in which it was offered would be wholly
lost on his dull brain. And moreover, was it so certain
that he would take it? He had not said "sir" once, and he
had talked about medals with the pride of a scientist.
The rules were overwhelmingly against a gardener rejecting
a tip, of course, but if there was no more than one chance
in twenty of it, Thorpe decided that he could not afford
He quitted the greenhouse with resolution, and directed his
steps toward the front of the mansion. As he entered the hall,
a remarkably tuneful and resonant chime filled his ears
with novel music. He looked and saw that a white-capped,
neatly-clad domestic, standing with her back to him beside
the newel-post of the stairs, was beating out the tune
with two padded sticks upon some strips of metal ranged on
a stand of Indian workmanship. The sound was delightful,
but even more so was the implication that it betokened breakfast.
With inspiration, he drew forth the half-crown which he
had been fingering in his pocket, and gave it to the girl
as she turned. "That's the kind of concert I like,"
he declared, bestowing the patronage of a jovial smile upon
her pleased and comely face. "Show me the way to this
breakfast that you've been serenading about."
Out in the greenhouse, meanwhile, Gafferson continued
to regard blankly the shrivelled, fatty leaves of
the plant he had taken up. "Thorpe," he said aloud,
as if addressing the tabid gloxinia--"Thorpe--yes--I
remember his initials--J. S. Thorpe. Now, who's the
man that told me about him? and what was it he told me?"
THE experiences of the breakfast room were very agreeable indeed.
Thorpe found himself the only man present, and, after the
first few minutes of embarrassment at this discovery,
it filled him with surprised delight to note how perfectly
he was at his ease. He could never have imagined
himself seated with four ladies at a table--three
of them, moreover, ladies of title--and doing it all so well.
For one thing, the ladies themselves had a morning manner,
so to speak, which differed widely from the impressions
he had had of their deportment the previous evening.
They seemed now to be as simple and fresh and natural
as the unadorned frocks they wore. They listened with an
air of good-fellowship to him when he spoke; they smiled
at the right places; they acted as if they liked him,
and were glad of his company.
The satisfied conviction that he was talking well,
and behaving well, accompanied him in his progress
through the meal. His confession at the outset of his
great hunger, and of the sinister apprehensions which
had assailed him in his loitering walk about the place,
proved a most fortuitous beginning; after that,
they were ready to regard everything he said as amusing.
"Oh, when we're by ourselves," the kindly little old
hostess explained to him, "my daughter and I breakfast
always at nine. That was our hour yesterday morning,
for example. But when my son is here, then it's farewell
to regularity. We put breakfast back till ten, then,
as a kind of compromise between our own early habits
and his lack of any sort of habits. Why we do it I
couldn't say--because he never comes down in any event.
He sleeps so well at Hadlow--and you know in town he sleeps
very ill indeed--and so we don't dream of complaining.
We're only too glad--for his sake."
"And Balder," commented the sister, "he's as bad the other way.
He gets up at some unearthly hour, and has his tea and a
sandwich from the still-room, and goes off with his rod
or his gun or the dogs, and we never see him till luncheon."
"I've been on the point of asking so many times,"
Miss Madden interposed--"is Balder a family name,
or is it after the Viking in Matthew Arnold's poem?"
"It was his father's choice," Lady Plowden made answer.
"I think the Viking explanation is the right one--it
certainly isn't in either family. I can't say that it
attracted me much--at first, you know."
"Oh, but it fits him so splendidly," said Lady Cressage.
"He looks the part, as they say. I always thought it
was the best of all the soldier names--and you have only
to look at him to see that he was predestined for a soldier
from his cradle."
"I wish the Sandhurst people would have a good long
look at him, then," put in the mother with earnestness
underlying the jest of her tone. "The poor boy will
never pass those exams in the world. It IS ridiculous,
as his father always said. If there ever was a man who
was made for a soldier, it's Balder. He's a gentleman,
and he's connected by tradition with the Army, and he's
mad about everything military--and surely he's as clever
as anybody else at everything except that wretched matter
of books, and even there it's only a defect of memory--and
yet that suffices to prevent his serving his Queen.
And all over England there are young gentlemen like that--the
very pick of the hunting-fields, strong and brave as lions,
fit to lead men anywhere, the very men England wants
to have fighting her battles--and they can't get places
in the Army because--what was it Balder came to grief
over last time?--because they can't remember whether
it's Ispahan or Teheran that's the capital of Persia.
"They are the fine old sort that would go and capture both
places at the point of the bayonet--and find out their
names afterward--but it seems that's not what the Army
wants nowadays. What is desired now is superior clerks,
and secretaries and professors of languages--and much
good they will do us when the time of trouble comes!"
"Then you think the purchase-system was better?"
asked the American lady. "It always seemed to me
that that must have worked so curiously."
"Prefer it?" said Lady Plowden. "A thousand times
yes! My husband made one of the best speeches in the
debate on it--one do I say?--first and last he must
have made a dozen of them. If anything could have kept
the House of Lords firm, in the face of the wretched
Radical outcry, it would have been those speeches.
He pointed out all the evils that would follow the change.
You might have called it prophetic--the way he foresaw
what would happen to Balder--or not Balder in particular,
of course, but that whole class of young gentlemen.
"As he said, you have only to ask yourself what kind
of people the lower classes naturally look up to and
obey and follow. Will they be ordered about by a man
simply because he knows Greek and Latin and Hebrew? Do
they respect the village schoolmaster, for example,
on account of his learning? Not in the very slightest! On
the contrary, they regard him with the greatest contempt.
The man they will serve is the man whose birth gives him
the right to command them, or else the man with money
in his pockets to make it worth their while. These two
are the only leaders they understand. And if that's true
here in England, in times of peace, among our own people,
how much truer must it be of our soldiers, away from England,
in a time of war?"
"But, mamma," the Hon. Winifred intervened, "don't you
see how badly that might work nowadays? now that the good
families have so little money, and all the fortunes are
in the hands of stockjobbing people--and so on? It would
be THEIR sons who would buy all the commissions--and
I'm sure Balder wouldn't get on at all with that lot."
Lady Plowden answered with decision and great promptness.
"You see so little of the world, Winnie dear,
that you don't get very clear ideas of its movements.
The people who make fortunes in England are every whit
as important to its welfare as those who inherit names,
and individually I'm sure they are often much more deserving.
Every generation sniffs at its nouveaux riches, but by
the next they have become merged in the aristocracy.
It isn't a new thing in England at all. It has always been
that way. Two-thirds of the peerage have their start
from a wealthy merchant, or some other person who made
a fortune. They are really the back-bone of England.
You should keep that always in mind."
"Of course--I see what you mean"--Winnie replied,
her dark cheek flushing faintly under the tacit reproof.
She had passed her twenty-fifth birthday, but her voice had
in it the docile self-repression of a school-girl. She spoke
with diffident slowness, her gaze fastened upon her plate.
"Of course--my grandfather was a lawyer--and your point
is that merchants--and others who make fortunes--would
be the same."
"Precisely," said Lady Plowden. "And do tell us,
Mr. Thorpe"--she turned toward where he sat at her right
and beamed at him over her spectacles, with the air of
having been wearied with a conversation in which he bore no
part--"is it really true that social discontent is becoming
more marked in America, even, than it is with us in England?"
"I'm not an American, you know," he reminded her.
"I only know one or two sections of the country--and
those only as a stranger. You should ask Miss Madden."
"Me?" said Celia. "Oh, I haven't come up for my
examinations yet. I'm like Balder--I'm preparing."
"What I should like Mr. Thorpe to tell us,"
suggested Lady Cressage, mildly, "is about the flowers
in the tropics--in Java, for example, or some
of the West Indies. One hears such marvelous tales about them."
"Speaking of flowers," Thorpe suddenly decided to mention the fact;
"I met out in one of the greenhouses here this morning,
an old acquaintance of mine, the gardener, Gafferson.
The last time I saw him, he was running the worst hotel
in the world in the worst country in the world--
out in British Honduras."
"But he's a wonderful gardener," said Lady Cressage.
"He's a magician; he can do what he likes with plants.
It's rather a hobby of mine--or used to be--and I never saw
Thorpe told them about Gafferson, in that forlorn
environment on the Belize road, and his success in
making them laugh drew him on to other pictures of the
droll side of life among the misfits of adventure.
The ladies visibly dallied over their tea-cups to listen
to him; the charm of having them all to himself,
and of holding them in interested entertainment by his
discourse--these ladies of supremely refined associations
and position--seemed to provide an inspiration of its own.
He could hear that his voice was automatically modulating
itself to their critical ears. His language was producing
itself with as much delicacy of selection as if it came
out of a book--and yet preserving the savour of quaint,
outlandish idiom which his listeners clearly liked.
Upon the instant when Lady Plowden's gathering of skirts,
and glance across the table, warned him that they were
to rise, he said deliberately to himself that this had
been the most enjoyable episode of his whole life.
There were cigar boxes on the fine old oak mantel,
out in the hall, and Winnie indicated them to him with
the obvious suggestion that he was expected to smoke.
He looked her over as he lit his cigar--where she
stood spreading her hands above the blaze of the logs,
and concluded that she was much nicer upon acquaintance
than he had thought. Her slight figure might not
be beautiful, but beyond doubt its lines were ladylike.
The same extenuating word applied itself in his mind
to her thin and swarthy, though distinguished, features.
They bore the stamp of caste, and so did the way she looked
at one through her eye-glasses, from under those over-heavy
black eyebrows, holding her head a little to one side.
Though it was easy enough to guess that she had a spirit
of her own, her gentle, almost anxious, deference to her
mother had shown that she had it under admirable control.
He had read about her in a peerage at his sister's
book-shop the previous day. Unfortunately it did not
give her age, but that was not so important, after all.
She was styled Honourable. She was the daughter of one
Viscount and the sister of another. Her grandfather
had been an Earl, and the book had shown her to possess
a bewildering number of relationships among titled folks.
All this was very interesting to him--and somewhat suggestive.
Vague, shapeless hints at projects rose in his brain as he
looked at her.
"I'm afraid you think my brother has odd notions
of entertaining his guests," she remarked to him,
over her shoulder. The other ladies had not joined them.
"Oh, I'm all right," he protested cordially. "I should
hate to have him put himself out in the slightest."
Upon consideration he added: "I suppose he has given up
the idea of shooting to-day."
"I think not, "she answered." The keeper was about this morning,
that is--and he doesn't often come unless they are to go
out with the guns. I suppose you are very fond of shooting."
"Well--I've done some--in my time," Thorpe replied, cautiously.
It did not seem necessary to explain that he had yet to fire
his first gun on English soil. "It's a good many years,"
he went on, "since I had the time and opportunity to do much
at it. I think the last shooting I did was alligators.
You hit 'em in the eye, you know. But what kind of
a hand I shall make of it with a shot-gun, I haven't
the least idea. Is the shooting round I here pretty good?"
"I don't think it's anything remarkable. Plowden says
my brother Balder kills all the birds off every season.
Balder's by way of being a crack-shot, you know.
There are some pheasants, though. We saw them flying
when we were out this morning."
Thorpe wondered if it would be possible to consult her
upon the question of apparel. Clearly, he ought to make
some difference in his garb, yet the mental vision
of him-self in those old Mexican clothes revealed itself
now as ridiculously impossible. He must have been out
of his mind to have conceived anything so preposterous
as rigging himself out, among these polished people,
like a cow-puncher down on his luck.
"I wonder when your brother will expect to start,"
he began, uneasily. "Perhaps I ought to go and get ready."
"Ah, here comes his man," remarked the sister.
A round-faced, smooth-mannered youngster--whom Thorpe
discovered to be wearing cord-breeches and leather
leggings as he descended the stairs--advanced toward him
and prefaced his message by the invariable salutation.
"His Lordship will be down, sir, in ten minutes--and he
hopes you'll be ready, sir," the valet said.
"Send Pangbourn to this gentleman's room," Miss Winnie
bade him, and with a gesture of comprehensive submission
he went away.
The calm readiness with which she had provided a solution
for his difficulties impressed Thorpe greatly.
It would never have occurred to him that Pangbourn
was the answer to the problem of his clothes, yet how
obvious it had been to her. These old families did
something more than fill their houses with servants;
they mastered the art of making these servants an integral
part of the machinery of existence. Fancy having a man
to do all your thinking about clothes for you, and then
dress you, into the bargain. Oh, it was all splendid.
"It seems that we're going shooting," Thorpe found
himself explaining, a few moments later in his bedroom,
to the attentive Pangbourn. He decided to throw himself
with frankness upon the domestic's resourceful good-feeling.
"I haven't brought anything for shooting at all. Somehow I
got the idea we were going to do rough riding instead--and
so I fetched along some old Mexican riding-clothes that make
me feel more at home in the saddle than anything else would.
You know how fond a man gets of old, loose things like that.
But about this shooting--I want you to fix me out.
What do I need? Just some breeches and leggings, eh? You
can manage them for me, can't you?"
Pangbourn could and did--and it was upon his advice that the
Mexican jacket was utilized to complete the out-fit. Its
shape was beyond doubt uncommon, but it had big pockets,
and it looked like business. Thorpe, as he glanced up
and down his image in the tall mirror of the wardrobe,
felt that he must kill a large number of birds to justify
the effect of pitiless proficiency which this jacket lent
to his appearance.
"We will find a cap below, sir," Pangbourn announced,
with serenity, and Thorpe, who had been tentatively
fingering the big, flaring sombrero, thrust it back upon
its peg as if it had proved too hot to handle.
Downstairs in the hall there was more waiting to be done,
and there was nobody now to bear him company. He lit
another cigar, tried on various caps till he found a leathern
one to suit him, and then dawdled about the room and the
adjoining conservatory for what seemed to him more than half
an hour. This phase of the aristocratic routine, he felt,
did not commend itself so warmly to him as did some others.
Everybody else, however, seemed to regard it as so wholly
a matter of course that Plowden should do as he liked,
that he forbore formulating a complaint even to himself.
At last, this nobleman's valet descended the stairs
once more. "His Lordship will be down very shortly
now, sir," he declared--"and will you be good enough
to come into the gun-room, sir, and see the keeper?"
Thorpe followed him through a doorway under the staircase--the
existence of which he had not suspected--into a
bare-looking apartment fitted like a pantry with shelves.
After the semi-gloom of the hall, it was almost
glaringly lighted. The windows and another door opened,
he saw, upon a court connected with the stable-yard.
By this entrance, no doubt, had come the keeper,
a small, brown-faced, brown-clothed man of mature years,
with the strap of a pouch over his shoulder, who stood
looking at the contents of the shelves. He mechanically
saluted Thorpe in turn, and then resumed his occupation.
There were numerous gun cases on the lower shelf,
and many boxes and bags above.
"Did his Lordship say what gun?" the keeper demanded
of the valet. He had a bright-eyed, intent glance,
and his tone conveyed a sense of some broad, impersonal,
out-of-doors disdain for liveried house-men.
The valet, standing behind Thorpe, shrugged his shoulders
and eloquently shook his head.
"Do you like an 'ammerless, sir?" the keeper turned
To his intense humiliation, Thorpe could not make out
the meaning of the query. "Oh, anything'll do for me,"
he said, awkwardly smiling. "It's years since I've shot--I
daresay one gun'll be quite the same as another to me."
He felt the knowing bright eyes of the keeper taking
all his measurements as a sportsman. "You'd do best
with 'B,' sir, I fancy," the functionary decided at last,
and his way of saying it gave Thorpe the notion that "B"
must be the weapon that was reserved for school-boys.
He watched the operation of putting the gun together,
and then took it, and laid it over his arm, and followed
the valet out into the hall again, in dignified silence.
To the keeper's remark--"Mr. Balder has its mate with
him today, sir," he gave only a restrained nod.
There were even now whole minutes to wait before Lord
Plowden appeared. He came down the stairs then with
the brisk, rather impatient air of a busy man whose plans
are embarrassed by the unpunctuality of others. He was
fully attired, hob-nailed shoes, leggings, leather coat
and cap, gloves, scarf round his throat and all--and he
behaved as if there was not a minute to lose. He had barely
time to shake perfunctorily the hand Thorpe offered him,
and utter an absent-minded "How are you this morning?"
To the valet, who hurried forward to open the outer door,
bearing his master's gun and a camp-stool, he said reproachfully,
"We are very late today, Barnes." They went out,
and began striding down the avenue of trees at such a pace
that the keeper and his following of small boys and dogs,
who joined them near the road, were forced into a trot
to keep up with it.
Thorpe had fancied, somehow, that a day's shooting would
afford exceptional opportunities for quiet and intimate
talk with his host, but he perceived very soon that this
was not to be the case. They walked together for half
a mile, it is true, along a rural bye-road first and then
across some fields, but the party was close at their heels,
and Plowden walked so fast that conversation of any sort,
save an occasional remark about the birds and the
covers between him and the keeper, was impracticable.
The Hon. Balder suddenly turned up in the landscape,
leaning against a gate set in a hedgerow, and their course
was deflected toward him, but even when they came up to him,
the expedition seemed to gain nothing of a social character.
The few curt words that were exchanged, as they halted
here to distribute cartridges and hold brief consultation,
bore exclusively upon the subject in hand.
The keeper assumed now an authority which Thorpe,
breathing heavily over the unwonted exercise and hoping
for nothing so much as that they would henceforth take
things easy, thought intolerable. He was amazed that the
two brothers should take without cavil the arbitrary orders
of this elderly peasant. He bade Lord Plowden proceed
to a certain point in one direction, and that nobleman,
followed by his valet with the gun and the stool,
set meekly off without a word. Balder, with equal docility,
vaulted the gate, and moved away down the lane at the
bidding of the keeper. Neither of them had intervened
to mitigate the destiny of their guest, or displayed
any interest as to what was going to become of him.
Thorpe said to himself that he did not like this--and
though afterward, when he had also climbed the gate and taken
up his station under a clump of trees at the autocrat's behest,
he strove to soothe his ruffled feelings by the argument
that it was probably the absolutely correct deportment
for a shooting party, his mind remained unconvinced.
Moreover, in parting from him, the keeper had dropped
a blunt injunction about firing up or down the lane,
the tone even more than the matter of which nettled him.
To cap all, when he presently ventured to stroll about a
little from the spot on which he had been planted, he caught
a glimpse against the skyline of the distant Lord Plowden,
comfortably seated on the stool which his valet had
been carrying. It seemed to Thorpe at that moment that he
had never wanted to sit down so much before in his life--and
he turned on his heel in the wet grass with a grunt of displeasure.
This mood vanished utterly a few moments later.
The remote sounds had begun to come to him, of boys
shouting and dogs barking, in the recesses of the strip
of woodland which the lane skirted, and at these he hastened
back to his post. It did not seem to him a good place,
and when he heard the reports of guns to right and left
of him, and nothing came his way, he liked it less
than ever; it had become a matter of offended pride
with him, however, to relieve the keeper of no atom
of the responsibility he had taken upon himself.
If Lord Plowden's guest had no sport, the blame for it
should rest upon Lord Plowden's over-arrogant keeper.
Then a noise of a different character assailed his ears,
punctuated as it were by distant boyish cries of "mark!"
These cries, and the buzzing sound as of clockwork gone
wrong which they accompanied and heralded, became all at
once a most urgent affair of his own. He strained his eyes
upon the horizon of the thicket--and, as if by instinct,
the gun sprang up to adjust its sight to this eager gaze,
and followed automatically the thundering course of the
big bird, and then, taking thought to itself, leaped ahead
of it and fired. Thorpe's first pheasant reeled in the air,
described a somersault, and fell like a plummet.
He stirred not a step, but reloaded the barrel with a hand
shaking for joy. From where he stood he could see the
dead bird; there could never have been a cleaner "kill."
In the warming glow of his satisfaction in himself,
there kindled a new liking of a different sort for Plowden
and Balder. He owed to them, at this belated hour
of his life, a novel delight of indescribable charm.
There came to him, from the woods, the shrill bucolic
voice of the keeper, admonishing a wayward dog. He was
conscious of even a certain tenderness for this keeper--and
again the cry of "mark!" rose, strenuously addressed to him.
Half an hour later the wood had been cleared, and Thorpe
saw the rest of the party assembling by the gate. He did
not hurry to join them, but when Lord Plowden appeared he
sauntered slowly over, gun over arm, with as indifferent
an air as he could simulate. It pleased him tremendously
that no one had thought it worth while to approach the
rendezvous by way of the spot he had covered. His eye
took instant stock of the game carried by two of the boys;
their combined prizes were eight birds and a rabbit,
and his heart leaped within him at the count.
"Well, Thorpe?" asked Plowden, pleasantly. The smell
of gunpowder and the sight of stained feathers had co-
operated to brighten and cheer his mood. "I heard you
blazing away in great form. Did you get anything?"
Thorpe strove hard to give his voice a careless note.
"Let some of the boys run over," he said slowly.
"There are nine birds within sight, and there are two or
three in the bushes--but they may have got away."
"Gad!" said Balder.
"Magnificent!" was his brother's comment--and Thorpe
permitted himself the luxury of a long-drawn, beaming
sigh of triumph.
The roseate colouring of this triumph seemed really
to tint everything that remained of Thorpe's visit.
He set down to it without hesitation the visible
augmentation of deference to him among the servants.
The temptation was very great to believe that it had
affected the ladies of the house as well. He could not
say that they were more gracious to him, but certainly
they appeared to take him more for granted. In a hundred
little ways, he seemed to perceive that he was no longer
held mentally at arm's length as a stranger to their caste.
Of course, his own restored self-confidence could account
for much of this, but he clung to the whimsical conceit
that much was also due to the fact that he was the man
of the pheasants.
Sunday was bleak and stormy, and no one stirred out of
the house. He was alone again with the ladies at breakfast,
and during the long day he was much in their company.
It was like no other day he had ever imagined to himself.
On the morrow, in the morning train by which he
returned alone to town, his mind roved luxuriously
among the fragrant memories of that day. He had been
so perfectly at home--and in such a home! There were
some things which came uppermost again and again--but
of them all he dwelt most fixedly upon the recollection
of moving about in the greenhouses and conservatories,
with that tall, stately, fair Lady Cressage for his guide,
and watching her instead of the flowers that she pointed out.
Of what she had told him, not a syllable stuck in his mind,
but the music of the voice lingered in his ears.
"And she is old Kervick's daughter!" he said to himself
more than once.
IT may be that every other passenger in that morning train
to London nursed either a silent rage, or declaimed aloud
to fellow-sufferers in indignation, at the time consumed
in making what, by the map, should be so brief a journey.
In Thorpe's own compartment, men spoke with savage irony
of cyclists alleged to be passing them on the road,
and exchanged dark prophecies as to the novelties in
imbecility and helplessness which the line would be preparing
for the Christmas holidays. The old joke about people
who had gone travelling years before, and were believed
to be still lost somewhere in the recesses of Kent,
revived itself amid gloomy approbation. The still older
discussion as to whether the South Eastern or the Brighton
was really the worst followed naturally in its wake,
and occupied its accustomed half-hour--complicated, however,
upon this occasion, by the chance presence of a loquacious
stranger who said he lived on the Chatham-and-Dover,
and who rejected boisterously the idea that any other
railway could be half so bad.
The intrusion of this outsider aroused instant resentment,
and the champions of the South Eastern and the Brighton,
having piled up additional defenses in the shape of
personal recollections of delay and mismanagement quite
beyond belief, made a combined attack upon the newcomer.
He was evidently incapable, their remarks implied,
of knowing a bad railway when he saw one. To suggest
that the characterless and inoffensive Chatham-and-Dover,
so commonplace in its tame virtues, was to be mentioned
in the same breath with the daringly inventive and
resourceful malefactors whose rendezvous was London Bridge,
showed either a weak mind or a corrupt heart. Did this man
really live on the Dover line at all? Angry countenances
plainly reflected the doubt.
But to Thorpe the journey seemed short enough--almost
too short. The conversation interested him not at all;
if he had ever known the Southern lines apart, they were
all one to him now. He looked out of the window,
and could have sworn that he thought of nothing but the
visit from which he was returning.
When he alighted at Cannon Street, however, it was
to discover that his mind was full of a large, new,
carefully-prepared project. It came to him, ready-made and
practically complete, as he stood on the platform,
superintending the porter's efforts to find his bags.
He turned it over and over in his thoughts, in the hansom,
more to familiarize himself with its details than to add
to them. He left the cab to wait for him at the mouth
of a little alley which delves its way into Old Broad
Street through towering walls of commercial buildings,
old and new.
Colin Semple was happily in his office--a congeries of small,
huddled rooms, dry and dirty with age, which had a doorway
of its own in a corner of the court--and Thorpe pushed on to his
room at the end like one who is assured of both his way and his welcome.
The broker was standing beside a desk, dictating a letter
to a clerk who sat at it, and with only a nod to Thorpe
he proceeded to finish this task. He looked more than
once at his visitor as he did so, in a preoccupied,
impersonal way. To the other's notion, he seemed the
personification of business--without an ounce of distracting
superfluous flesh upon his wiry, tough little frame,
without a trace of unnecessary politeness, or humour,
or sensibility of any sort. He was the machine perfected
and fined down to absolute essentials. He could understand
a joke if it was useful to him to do so. He could drink,
and even smoke cigarettes, with a natural air, if these
exercises seemed properly to belong to the task he had
in hand. Thorpe did not conceive him doing anything
for the mere human reason that he liked to do it.
There was more than a touch of what the rustic calls "ginger"
in his hair and closely-cropped, pointed beard, and he had
the complementary florid skin. His eyes--notably direct,
confident eyes--were of a grey which had in it more brown
than blue. He wore a black frock-coat, buttoned close,
and his linen produced the effect of a conspicuous whiteness.
He turned as the clerk left the room, and let his serious,
thin lips relax for an instant as a deferred greeting.
"Well?" he asked, impassively.
"Have you got a quarter-of-an-hour?" asked Thorpe in turn.
"I want a talk with you."
For answer, Semple left the room. Returning after a minute
or two, he remarked, "Go ahead till we're stopped,"
and seated himself on the corner of the desk with the light
inconsequence of a bird on a twig. Thorpe unbuttoned
his overcoat, laid aside his hat, and seated himself.
"I've worked out the whole scheme," he began, as if introducing
the product of many sleepless nights' cogitations.
"I'm going to leave England almost immediately--go
on the Continent and loaf about--I've never seen the Continent."
Semple regarded him in silence. "Well?" he observed
"You see the idea, don't you?" Thorpe demanded.
The broker twitched his shoulders slightly. "Go on,"
"But the idea is everything," protested the other.
"We've been thinking of beginning the campaign straight
away--but the true game now is to lie low--silent as the grave.
I go away now, d'ye see? Nothing particular is said about it,
of course, but in a month or two somebody notices that
I'm not about, and he happens to mention it to somebody
else--and so there gets to be the impression that things
haven't gone well with me, d'ye see? On the same plan,
I let all the clerks at my office go. The Secretary'll
come round every once in a while to get letters, of course,
and perhaps he'll keep a boy in the front office for show,
but practically the place'll be shut up. That'll help
out the general impression that I've gone to pieces.
Now d'ye see?"
"It's the Special Settlement you're thinking of,"
"Of course. The fellows that we're going to squeeze would
move heaven and hell to prevent our getting that Settlement,
if they got wind of what was going on. The only weak point
in our game is just there. Absolutely everything hangs
on the Settlement being granted. Naturally, then, our play
is to concentrate everything on getting it granted.
We don't want to raise the remotest shadow of a suspicion
of what we're up to, till after we're safe past that rock.
So we go on in the way to attract the least possible attention.
You or your jobber makes the ordinary application for a
Special Settlement, with your six signatures and so on;
and I go abroad quietly, and the office is as good as
shut up, and nobody makes a peep about Rubber Consols--
and the thing works itself. You do see it, don't you?"
"I see well enough the things that are to be seen,"
replied Semple, with a certain brevity of manner.
"There was a sermon of my father's that I remember, and it
had for its text, 'We look not at the things which are seen,
but at the things which are not seen.'"
Thorpe, pondering this for a moment, nodded his head.
"Semple," he said, bringing his chair forward to the desk,
"that's what I've come for. I want to spread my cards on
the table for you. I know the sum you've laid out already,
in working this thing. We'll say that that is to be paid
back to you, as a separate transaction, and we'll put that
to one side. Now then, leaving that out of consideration,
what do you think you ought to have out of the winnings,
when we pull the thing off? Mind, I'm not thinking of your
2,000 vendor's shares----"
"No--I'm not thinking much of them, either," interposed Semple,
with a kind of dry significance.
"Oh, they'll be all right," Thorpe affirmed. He laughed
unconsciously as he did so. "No, what I want to get
at is your idea of what should come to you, as a bonus,
when I scoop the board."
"Twenty thousand pounds," said Semple, readily.
Thorpe's slow glance brightened a trifle. "I had
thought thirty would be a fairer figure," he remarked,
with an effort at simplicity.
The broker put out his under-lip. "You will find people
rather disposed to distrust a man who promises more than
he's asked," he remarked coldly.
"Yes--I know what you mean," Thorpe hurried to say,
flushing awkwardly, even though the remark was so undeserved;
"but it's in my nature. I'm full of the notion of
doing things for people that have done things for me.
That's the way I'm built. Why"--he halted to consider
the advisability of disclosing what he had promised to do
for Lord Plowden, and decided against it--"why, without you,
what would the whole thing have been worth to me? Take
one thing alone--the money for the applications--I could
have no more got at it than I could at the Crown Jewels
in the Tower. I've wondered since, more than once--if
you don't mind the question--how did you happen to have
so much ready money lying about."
"There are some Glasgow and Aberdeen folk who trust me to
invest for them," the broker explained. "If they get five
per cent. for the four months, they'll be very pleased.
And so I shall be very pleased to take thirty thousand
instead of twenty--if it presents itself to your mind
in that way. You will give me a letter to that effect,
"Of course," assented Thorpe. "Write it now, if you like."
He pushed his chair forward, closer to the desk, and dipped
a pen in the ink. "What I want to do is this," he said,
looking up. "I'll make the promise for thirty-two thousand,
and I'll get you to let me have two thousand in cash
now--a personal advance. I shall need it, if I'm to hang
about on the Continent for four months. I judge you think
it'll be four months before things materialize, eh?"
"The Special Settlement, in the natural order of events,
would come shortly after the Christmas holidays.
That is nearly three months. Then the work of taking
fort-nightly profits will begin--and it is for you to say
how long you allow that to go on."
"But about the two thousand pounds now," Thorpe reminded him.
"I think I will do that in this way," said Semple,
kicking his small legs nonchalantly. "I will buy two thousand
fully-paid shares of you, for cash down, NOT vendor's shares,
you observe--and then I will take your acknowledgment
that you hold them for me in trust up to a given date.
In that way, I would not at all weaken your market,
and I would have a stake in the game." "Your stake's
pretty big, already," commented Thorpe, tentatively.
"It's just a fancy of mine," said the other, with his
first smile. "I like to hold shares that are making
sensational advances. It is very exciting."
"All right," said Thorpe, in accents of resignation.
He wrote out two letters, accepting the wording which Semple
suggested from his perch on the desk, and then the latter,
hopping down, took the chair in turn and wrote a cheque.
"Do you want it open?" he asked over his shoulder.
"Are you going to get it cashed at once?"
"No--cross it," said the other. "I want it to go
through my bankers. It'll warm their hearts toward me.
I shan't be going till the end of the week, in any event.
I suppose you know the Continent by heart."
"On the contrary, very little indeed. I've had business
in Frankfort once, and in Rotterdam once, and in Paris twice.
That is all."
"But don't you ever do anything for pleasure?"
Thorpe asked him, as he folded the cheque in his pocket-book.
"Oh yes--many things," responded the broker, lightly.
"It's a pleasure, for example, to buy Rubber Consols
"Oh, if you call it buying," said Thorpe, and then
softened his words with an apologetic laugh. "I didn't
tell you, did I? I've been spending Saturday and Sunday
with Plowden--you know, the Lord Plowden on my Board."
"I know of him very well," observed the Scotchman.
"Has he a place that he asks people down to, then? That
isn't the usual form with guinea-pigs."
"Ah, but, he isn't the guinea-pig variety at all,"
Thorpe asserted, warmly. "He's really a splendid
fellow--with his little oddities, like the rest of us,
of course, but a decent chap all through. Place? I should
think he HAD got a place! It's one of the swellest old
country-houses you ever saw--older than hell, you know--and
it's kept up as if they had fifty thousand a year.
Do you happen to know what his real income is supposed
Semple shook his head. He had taken his hat, and was
smoothing it deftly with the palm of his hand.
"I asked," Thorpe went on, "because he had so much to say
about his poverty. To hear him talk, you'd think the
bailiffs were sitting on his doorstep. That doesn't prevent
his having fast horses, and servants all over the place,
and about the best shooting I've seen in the South
of England. As luck would have it, I was in wonderful form.
God! how I knocked the pheasants!" A clerk showed his head
at the door, with a meaning gesture. "I must go now,"
said Semple, briskly, and led the way out to another room.
He halted here, and dismissed his caller with the
brief injunction, "Don't go away without seeing me."
It was the noon-hour, and the least-considered grades
of the City's slaves were in the streets on the quest
for cheap luncheons. Thorpe noted the manner in which some
of them studied the large bill of fare placarded beside
a restaurant door; the spectacle prompted him luxuriously
to rattle the gold coins remaining in his pocket.
He had been as anxious about pence as the hungriest
of those poor devils, only a week before. And now! He
thrust up the door in the roof of the cab, and bade
the driver stop at his bank. Thence, after some brief
but very agreeable business, and a hurried inspection
of the "Court" section of a London Directory, he drove
to a telegraph station and despatched two messages.
They were identical in terms. One sought General Kervick
at his residence--he was in lodgings somewhere in the Hanover
Square country--and the other looked for him at his club.
Both begged him to lunch at the Savoy at two o'clock.
There was time and to spare, now. Thorpe dismissed the cab
at his hotel--an unpretentious house in Craven Street,
and sent his luggage to his rooms. There were no letters
for him on the board in the hallway, and he sauntered up
to the Strand. As by force of habit, he turned presently
into a side-street, and stopped opposite the ancient
book-shop of his family.
In the bright yet mellow light of the sunny autumn noontide,
the blacks and roans and smoked drabs of the low old
brick front looked more dingy to his eye than ever.
It spoke of antiquity, no doubt, but it was a dismal and
graceless antiquity of narrow purposes and niggling thrift.
It was so little like the antiquity, for example,
of Hadlow House, that the two might have computed their
age by the chronological systems of different planets.
Although his sister's married name was Dabney, and she
had been sole proprietor for nearly a dozen years,
the sign over the doorway bore still its century-old legend,
He crossed the street, and paused for a moment to run
an eye over the books and placards exposed on either
side of the entrance. A small boy guarded these wares,
and Thorpe considered him briefly, with curious recollections
of how much of his own boyhood had been spent on that
very spot. The lad under observation had a loutish
and sullen face; its expression could not have been more
devoid of intellectual suggestions if he had been posted
in a Wiltshire field to frighten crows with a rattle,
instead of being set here in the highway of the world's
brain-movement, an agent of students and philosophers.
Thorpe wondered if in his time he could have looked such
a vacant and sour young fool. No--no. That could not be.
Boys were different in his day--and especially boys
in book-shops. They read something and knew something
of what they handled. They had some sort of aspirations,
fitful and vague as these might be, to become in their
time bookmen also. And in those days there still
were bookmen--widely-informed, observant, devoted old
bookmen--who loved their trade, and adorned it.
Thorpe reflected that, as he grew older, he was the better
able to apprehend the admirable qualities of that departed
race of literature's servants. Indeed, it seemed that he
had never adequately realized before how proud a man might
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