Part 5 out of 8
the sights from South Kensington Museum to the Tower,
shopping with him, resting in old taverns with him,
breakfasting, lunching, aud dining with him--in the
indefatigable resolution that he should strike up no
dangerous gossiping acquaintance with strangers.
The task had been tiresome in the extreme--
but it had been very well worth while.
"One thing I'm rather sorry about," Tavender remarked,
in apologetic parenthesis--"I ought to have gone down
and seen that brother-in-law of mine in Kent. He's been
very good to me, and I'm not treating him very well.
I wrote to tell him I was coming--but since then I haven't
had a minute to myself. However, I can write to him
and explain how it happened. And probably I'll be over
"Why, of course," said Thorpe, absently. The allusion
to the brother-in-law in Kent had escaped his notice,
so intent was he upon a new congeries of projects taking
vague shape in his mind.
"Think of yourself as my man out there," he said now,
slowly, following the clue of his thoughts. "There may
be big things to do. Write to me as often as you can.
Tell me everything that's going on. Money will be no object
to me--you can have as much as you like--if things turn
up out there that are worth taking up. But mind you say
nothing about me--or any connection you've ever had with me.
You'll get a letter from the Secretary of a Company and
the Chairman asking for a report on a certain property,
and naming a fee. You simply make a good report--on
its merits. You say nothing about anything else--about me,
or the history of the concession, or its validity,
or anything. I mustn't be alluded to in any way.
You quite understand that?"
"Trust me!" said the old man, and wrung his benefactor's hand.
It was indeed with a trustful eye that Thorpe watched
the train draw out of the station.
THE week following the August Bank Holiday is very rarely
indeed a busy or anxious time in the City. In the
ordinary course of things, it serves as the easy-going
prelude--with but casual and inattentive visits eastward,
and with only the most careless glances through the financial
papers--to the halcyon period of the real vacation.
Men come to the City during this week, it is true,
but their thoughts are elsewhere--on the moors, on the
blue sea, on the glacier or the fiord, or the pleasant
German pine forests.
To the great mass of City people; this August in question
began in a normal enough fashion. To one little group
of operators, however, and to the widening circle
of brokers, bankers, and other men of affairs whose
interests were more or less involved with those of
this group, it was a season of keen perturbation.
A combat of an extraordinary character was going on--a
combat which threatened to develop into a massacre.
Even to the operators who, unhappily for themselves,
were principals in this fight, it was a struggle in the dark.
They knew little about it, beyond the grimly-patent fact
that they were battling for their very lives. The outer
ring of their friends and supporters and dependents knew
still less, though their rage and fears were perhaps greater.
The "press" seemed to know nothing at all. This unnatural
silence of the City's mouthpieces, usually so resoundingly
clamorous upon the one side and the other when a duel
is in progress, gave a sinister aspect to the thing.
The papers had been gagged and blindfolded for the occasion.
This in itself was of baleful significance. It was
not a duel which they had been bribed to ignore.
It was an assassination.
Outwardly there was nothing to see, save the unofficial,
bald statement that on August 1st, the latest of twelve
fortnightly settlements in this stock, Rubber Consols had been
bid for, and carried over, at 15 pounds for one-pound shares.
The information concerned the public at large not at all.
Nobody knew of any friend or neighbour who was fortunate enough
to possess some of these shares. Readers here and there,
noting the figures, must have said to themselves that
certain lucky people were coining money, but very little
happened to be printed as to the identity of these people.
Stray notes were beginning to appear in the personal
columns of the afternoon papers about a "Rubber King"
of the name of Thorpe, but the modern exploitation of the
world's four corners makes so many "kings" that the name
had not, as yet, familiarized itself to the popular eye.
City men, who hear more than they read, knew in a general
way about this "Rubber King." He was an outsider who had
come in, and was obviously filling his pockets; but it
was a comforting rule that outsiders who did this always
got their pockets emptied for them again in the long run.
There seemed nothing about Thorpe to suggest that he
would prove an exception to the rule. He was investing
his winnings with great freedom, so the City understood,
and his office was besieged daily by promoters and touts.
They could clean out his strong-box faster than
the profits of his Rubber corner could fill it.
To know such a man, however, could not but be useful,
and they made furtive notes of his number in Austin Friars
on their cuffs, after conversation had drifted from him
to other topics.
As to the Rubber corner itself, the Stock Exchange
as a whole was apathetic. When some of the sufferers
ventured cautious hints about the possibility of official
intervention on their behalf, they were laughed
at by those who did not turn away in cold silence.
Of the fourteen men who had originally been caught
in the net drawn tight by Thorpe and Semple, all the
conspicuous ones belonged to the class of "wreckers,"
a class which does not endear itself to Capel Court.
Both Rostocker and Aronson, who, it was said, were worst hit,
were men of great wealth, but they had systematically
amassed these fortunes by strangling in their cradles
weak enterprises, and by undermining and toppling
over other enterprises which would not have been weak
if they had been given a legitimate chance to live.
Their system was legal enough, in the eyes alike of the law
and of the Stock Exchange rules. They had an undoubted
right to mark out their prey and pursue it, and bring
it down, and feed to the bone upon it. But the exercise
of this right did not make them beloved by the begetters
and sponsors of their victims. When word first went round,
on the last day of February, that a lamb had unexpectedly
turned upon these two practised and confident wolves,
and had torn an ear from each of them, and driven them
pell-mell into a "corner," it was received on all sides
with a gratified smile.
Later, by fortnightly stages, the story grew at once
more tragic and more satisfactory. Not only Rostocker
and Aronson, but a dozen others were in the cul de sac
guarded by this surprising and bloody-minded lamb.
Most of the names were well-known as those of "wreckers."
In this category belonged Blaustein, Ganz, Rothfoere,
Lewis, Ascher, and Mendel, and if Harding, Carpenter,
and Vesey could not be so confidently classified,
at least their misfortune excited no particular sympathy.
Two other names mentioned, those of Norfell and Pinney,
were practically unknown.
There was some surprise, however, at the statement that
the old and respected and extremely conservative firm of
Fromentin Bros. was entangled in the thing. Egyptian bonds,
minor Levantine loans, discounts in the Arabian and Persian
trades--these had been specialties of the Fromentins for
many years. Who could have expected to find them caught among
the "shorts" in Mexican rubber? It was Mexico, wasn't it,
that these Rubber Consols purported to be connected with?
Thorpe's Company, upon its commercial merits, had not been
considered at all by the gentlemen of the Stock Exchange,
at the time of its flotation. Men vaguely and with
difficulty recalled the fact of its prospectus,
when the "corner" in its shares was first talked about.
They looked it up in their lists and files, later on,
but its terms said nothing to them. Nobody discussed
the value of the assets owned by this Company, or the
probability of its paying a dividend--even when the
price bid for its shares was making the most sensational
upward leaps. How Thorpe stood with his shareholders,
or whether he had any genuine shareholders behind him
at all, was seen by the keen eyes of Capel Court to be
beside the question. Very likely it was a queer affair,
if the truth were known--but at least it had substance
enough in it to be giving the "wreckers" a lively time.
By the end of July it was understood that the fight
was better worth watching than anything that had been
seen in a long time. The only trouble was that there
was so little to see. The papers said nothing.
The sufferers were the reverse of garrulous. The little
red Scotchman, Semple, who was the visible avenging sword
of the "corner," was more imperturbably silent than
anybody else. His fellow-members in the "House" watched
him now, however, with a new respect. They discovered
unsuspected elements of power in his thin, tight mouth,
in the direct, cold glances of his brown-grey eyes,
in the very way he carried his head and wore his hat.
He came to be pointed out, and nodded about behind his back,
more than anyone else in the "House," and important men
sought his acquaintance, with an awkward show of civility,
who were notorious for their rude exclusiveness.
It might be, of course, that his "corner" would break
under him at any fortnightly settlement, but already he
had carried it much further than such things often went,
and the planning of the coup had been beyond doubt Napoleonic.
Had this small sandy Scot planned it, or was he merely
the weapon in Thorpe's hand? Both views had their supporters
on the Exchange, but after the wrench of August 1st,
when with an abrupt eighty-shilling rise the price of Rubber
Consols stood at 15 pounds, and it was to be computed that
Semple had received on that single day nearly 75,000 pounds
in differences and "backwardation," a story was set afloat
which gave Thorpe the undivided credit of the invention.
It was related as coming from his own lips that he
had schemed it all out to be revenged upon a group
of Jewish operators, against whom he had a grievance.
In confirmation of this tale, it was pointed out that,
of the seven men still held pinned in the fatal "corner," six
were Jews--and this did, upon first glance, look significant.
But then it was objected, upon reflection, that Blaustein
and Ascher had both been permitted to make their escape,
and this hardly justified the theory of an implacable
anti-Semitic vendetta. The objection seemed reasonable,
but it was met in turn by the point that Blaustein and
Ascher had been bled white, as Bismarck's phrase went,
before they were released, whereas the five Christians
had been liberated with relatively moderate fines.
Upon the whole, a certain odour of the Judenhetze clung
thereafter about the "corner" in Rubber Consols.
On an afternoon of the following week, Mr. Stormont Thorpe
was alone in the Board Room of the offices in Austin Friars.
He had risen from the great roller-topped desk over
between the windows, and walked now with a lethargic,
tired step to and fro before the empty fireplace,
yawning more than once, and stretching out his arms in the
supreme gesture of fatigue. After a dozen listless rounds,
something occurred to him. He moved with a certain directness
of purpose to the cabinet in the corner, unlocked it,
and poured out for himself a tumbler of brandy and soda.
He drank it without a pause, then turned again, and began
pacing up and down as before, his hands clasped behind him,
his head bent in thought.
The intervening six months had effected visible changes
in the outer man. One noted most readily that the face
had grown fuller in its lower parts, and was far less
browned than formerly. The large, heavy countenance,
with its square jaws masked now under increased flesh,
its beginnings of a double-chin, and its slightly flabby effect
of pallor, was no longer lacking in individual distinction.
It was palpably the visage of a dictator. The moustache
had been cut down to military brevity, and the line of mouth
below it was eloquent of rough power. The steady grey eyes,
seemingly smaller yet more conspicuous than before,
revealed in their glance new elements of secretiveness,
of strategy supported by abundant and confident personal force.
The man himself seemed scarcely to have grown stouter.
He held himself more compactly, as it were; seemed more
the master of all his physical expressions. He was
dressed like a magnate who was also a person of taste.
There was a flower in the lapel of his well-shaped
frock-coat, and the rustle of his starched and spotless
white waistcoat murmured pleasantly of refined toilets.
"The Marquis of Chaldon--and a gentleman, with him."
The announcement, from a clerk who had noiselessly opened
the door, imposed itself with decorum upon Thorpe's reverie.
"Who is the gentleman with him?" Thorpe began austerely
to ask, after an instant's hesitation. But this briefest
of delays had brought the callers into plain view behind
the clerk, and with a slight gesture the master assented
to their entrance.
This large apartment was no longer called the Board
Room by anybody. By tacit processes, it had become
Mr. Thorpe's room. Not even the titular Chairman
of the Company, the renowned and eminent Lord Chaldon,
ex-Ambassador and ex-Viceroy, entered this chamber
now with any assumption of proprietorship in it.
No hint of a recollection that there were such things
as the Company and the Board, or that he was nominally
the head of both, expressed itself in his Lordship's
demeanour as he advanced, his hand a little extended.
The noble Chairman was white of beard and hair, and extremely
courteous of manner--a small, carefully-clad, gracious
old gentleman, whose mild pink countenance had, with years
of anxiety about ways and means, disposed itself in lines
which produced a chronic expression of solicitude.
A nervous affection of the eyelids lent to this look,
at intervals, a beseeching quality which embarrassed
the beholder. All men had liked him, and spoken well
of him throughout his long and hard-worked career.
Thorpe was very fond of him indeed, and put a respectful
cordiality into his grasp of the proffered hand.
Then he looked, with a certain thinly-veiled bluntness
of enquiry, past the Marquis to his companion.
"You were very kind to give me the appointment,"
said Lord Chaldon, with a little purring gloss of affability
upon the earnestness of his tone. "I wish very much
to introduce to you my friend, my old friend I may say,
Monsieur Alexandre Fromentin. We slept together under
the same tent, in the Persian country beyond Bagdad--oh,
it must have been quite forty years ago. We were youngsters
looking to win our first spurs then--I in my line, he in his.
And often since we have renewed that old friendship--at many
different places--India, and Constantinople, and Egypt.
I wish heartily to commend him to your--your kindness."
Thorpe had perfunctorily shaken hands with the stranger--a tall,
slender, sharp-faced, clean-shaven, narrow-shouldered man,
who by these accounts of his years ought not to have such
excessively black hair. He bowed in a foreign fashion,
and uttered some words which Thorpe, though he recognized
them as English in intent, failed to follow. The voice
was that of an elderly man, and at a second glance there
were plenty of proofs that he might have been older
than the Marquis, out there in Persia, forty years ago.
But Thorpe did not like old men who dyed their hair,
and he offered his visitors chairs, drawn up from the
table toward his desk, with a certain reserve of manner.
Seating himself in the revolving chair at the desk itself,
he put the tips of his fingers together, and looked
this gentleman with the Continental name and experience
in the face.
"Is there something you wish me to do?" he asked,
passively facilitating the opening of conversation.
"Ah, my God! 'Something'!"--repeated the other,
with a fluttering gesture of his hands over his thin,
pointed knees--"everything, Mr. Thorpe!"
"That's a tolerably large order, isn't it?"
Thorpe asked, calmly, moving a slow, inscrutable glance
from one to the other of his callers.
"I could ask for nothing that would be a greater personal
favour--and kindness"--Lord Chaldon interposed.
His tone bore the stress of sincerity.
"That means a great deal to me, as you know, my Lord,"
replied Thorpe, "but I don't in the least understand--
what is it that your friend wants?"
"Only that I shall not be buried in a bankrupt's grave,"
the suppliant answered, with a kind of embittered eagerness
of utterance. "That I shall not see disgraced the honoured
name that my father and his father bequeathed to my care!"
Thorpe's large, composed countenance betrayed
a certain perplexity. "There must be a mistake,"
he observed. "I don't even know this name of yours.
I never heard it before."
The other's mobile face twisted itself in a grimace
of incredulity. He had a conspicuously wide mouth,
and its trick of sidelong extension at this moment
was very unpleasant. "Ah, Herr Je! He never heard it,"
he ejaculated, turning nervously to the Marquis.
"Would to the good God you never had!" he told Thorpe,
with suppressed excitement.
Lord Chaldon, his own voice shaken a little, interposed
with an explanation. "My friend is the head--the
respected head--of the firm of Fromentin Brothers.
I think you have--have dealings with them."
Thorpe, after a furtive instant of bewilderment,
opened his mouth. "Oh! I see," he said. "I know what you
mean now. With the French pronunciation, I didn't recognize
the name. I've always heard it called 'Fromen'-tin'
here in London. Oh, yes, of course--Fromen'tin Brothers."
His lips shut tight again at this. The listeners had
caught no helpful clue from the tone of his words.
They exchanged a glance, and then M. Fromentin spoke.
"Mr. Thorpe," he began, slowly, with an obvious effort
at self-repression. "It is a very simple story. Our house
is an old one. My father's grandfather organized the
finance of the commissariat of General Bonaparte in Egypt.
He created the small beginnings of the carpet and rug
importation from Asia Minor. His son, and in turn his son,
followed him. They became bankers as well as importers.
They helped very greatly to develop the trade of
the Levant. They were not avaricious men, or usurers.
It is not in our blood. Your Chairman, Lord Chaldon,
who honours me so highly by calling me his friend--he
will assure you that we have a good name in the East.
Our banks have befriended the people, and never oppressed
or injured them. For that reason--I will say perhaps
for that reason--we have never become a very rich house.
It is possible to name bankers who have made large fortunes
out of Egypt. It was different with us. Lord Chaldon
will tell you that of our own free will--my two brothers
and I--of our own choice we consented to lose a fifth
of all our possessions, rather than coin into gold by force
the tears and blood of the wretched fellaheen."
"Yes--I have never known a more honourable or humane action,"
put in the Marquis, fervently.
"And then my brothers die--Polydor, who lived mostly
at Smyrna, and whose estate was withdrawn from the
business by his widow, and Augustin, who lived here in
London after 1870, and died--it is now six years ago.
He left a son, Robert, who is my nephew, and my partner.
He is now of an age--perhaps thirty years. He was a small
child when he came to London--he has become more English
than the English themselves. His activity and industry
are very great; he forms plans of such magnitude
and numbers that they would compel his grandfather
to turn in his coffin. I am in indifferent health.
I live much at Homburg and Marienbad and at Cairo.
Practically speaking, I have retired from business.
There remain branches of our house--in several places--but
the London house has become the centre of all things--and
Robert has become the London house. This I make plain
to your mind, do I, Mr. Thorpe?"
The other, with his chin sunk within the collar of his
white waistcoat, and scrutinizing the narrator with a
steadfast though impassive glance, made the faintest
possible nod of assent.
"I had great confidence in Robert, "the old man went on.
His eyes were dimming with tears, and his voice
quavered uncertainly. "His plans seemed wise, even if they
risked more than formerly. The conditions of business are
wholly altered since my youth--and it was best, I thought,
to make Robert free to act under these conditions,
which he understood much better than I could pretend
to do. Thus it was that when he said it was necessary
for Fromentin Brothers to belong to the Stock Exchange,
I did not object. He was active and bold and clever,
and he was in the thick of the fight. Therefore he
should be the judge in all things. And that is our ruin.
In the time of the South African excitement, he won
a great deal of money. Then he lost it all and more.
Then gambling began, and his fortunes went now up, now down,
but always, as his books show to me now--sinking a little
on the average. He grew more adventurous--more careless.
He put many small counters upon different numbers on
the table. You know what I mean? And in an accursed moment,
because other gamblers were doing the same, he sold two
thousand of your shares, without having them in his hands.
Voila! He wishes now to put a bullet through his brain.
He proposes that as the fitting end of Fromentin Freres."
Thorpe, his chin on his breast, continued to regard the
melancholy figure opposite with a moody eye. It seemed
a long minute before he broke the tense silence by a sigh
of discomfort. "I do not discuss these things with anybody,"
he said then, coldly. "If I had known who you were,
I don't think you'd have got in."
The Marquis of Chaldon intuitively straightened himself
in his chair, and turned toward the speaker a glance
of distressed surprise.
"Or no--I beg your pardon," Thorpe hastened to add,
upon the instant hint of this look--"that doesn't convey
my meaning. Of course, our Chairman brings whom he pleases.
His friends--as a matter of course--are our friends.
What I should have said was that if this had been mentioned
beforehand to me, I should have explained that it wasn't
possible to discuss that particular business."
"But--pardon me"--said Lord Chaldon, in a quiet, very gentle,
yet insistent voice, which seemed now to recall to its
listeners the fact that sovereigns and chancellors had
in their day had attentive ears for its tones--"pardon me,
but why should it not be possible?"
Thorpe frowned doubtfully, and shifted his position
in his chair. "What could I say, if it were discussed?"
he made vague retort. "I'm merely one of the Directors.
You are our Chairman, but you see he hasn't found it of
any use to discuss it with you. There are hard and fast
rules about these things. They run their natural course.
You are not a business man, my Lord----"
"Oh, I think I may be called a 'business man,'"
interposed the nobleman, suavely. "They would tell
you so in Calcutta, I think, and in Cairo too.
When one considers it, I have transacted a great
deal of business--on the behalf of other people.
And if you will permit me--I do not impute indirection,
of course--but your remark seems to require a footnote.
It is true that I am Chairman of the Board on which you
are a Director--but it is not quite the whole truth.
I as Chairman know absolutely nothing about this matter.
As I understand the situation, it is not in your capacity
as a Director that you know anything about it either.
He paused, as if suddenly conscious of some impropriety
in this domestic frankness before a third party,
and Thorpe pounced through his well-mannered hesitation
with the swiftness of a bird of prey.
"Let me suggest," he said roundly, lifting his head and
poising a hand to hold attention, while he thought upon
what it was he should suggest--"this is what I would say.
It seems rather irregular, doesn't it? to debate the matter
in the presence of an outsider. You see it yourself.
That is partly what I meant. Now I have met Mr. Fromentin,"
he gave the name its English vowels with an obstinate emphasis,
"and I have heard his statement. You have heard it too.
If he wishes to lay more facts before us, why, well and good.
But then I would suggest that he leave the matter in
our hands, to discuss and look into between ourselves.
That seems to you the proper course, doesn't it,
The French banker had been studying with strained
acuteness the big lymphatic mask of the Director,
with sundry sharp glances aside at the Chairman.
The nervous changes on his alert, meagre old face showed
how intently he followed every phase of their talk.
A certain sardonic perception of evil in the air curled
on his lip when he saw the Marquis accede with a bow
and wave of the hand to Thorpe's proposition. Then he
made his bow in turn, and put the best face possible upon
"Naturally I consult your convenience--and the proprieties,
"he said, with an effect of proud humility. "There are but
a few other facts to submit. My nephew has already paid,
in differences upon those accursed two thousand shares,
a sum of nearly 30,000 pounds. I have the figures
in my pocket--but they are fixed in my head as well.
Twenty-eight thousand five hundred, those differences
already amount to, not to speak of interest.
At the last settlement, August 1st, the price per share
was 15 pounds. That would make 30,000 pounds more,
if we bought now--or a total of practically 60,000 pounds.
Eh bien! I beg for the privilege of being allowed to buy
these shares now. It is an unpleasant confession to make,
but the firm of Fromentin Freres will be made very poor
by this loss of 60,000 pounds. It was not always so,
but it is so now. My nephew Robert has brought it into
that condition. You see my shame at this admission.
With all my own means, and with his sister's marriage portion,
we can make up this sum of 30,000 pounds, and still enable
the firm to remain in existence. I have gone over the
books very painstakingly, since I arrived in London.
It can be kept afloat, and it can be brought back
to safe and moderately profitable courses--if nothing
worse happens. With another six weeks like the last,
this will not be at all possible. We shall have the cup
of dishonour thrust between our teeth. That will be the end
M. Fromentin finished in tremulous, grave tones.
After looking with blurred eyes for a moment into Thorpe's face,
he bowed his head, and softly swayed the knees upon
which his thin, dark hands maintained their clutch.
Not even the revelation of hair quite white at the roots,
unduly widening the track of parting on the top of his
dyed head, could rob this movement of its mournful dignity.
Thorpe, after a moment's pause, took a pencil and paper
from the desk, and made a calculation. He bit his lips
and frowned at the sight of these figures, and set
down some others, which seemed to please him no more.
Then, with a sudden gesture as of impatience, he rose to his feet.
"How much is that sister's marriage portion you spoke of?"
he asked, rather brusquely.
The French gentleman had also risen. He looked with an air
of astonishment at his questioner, and then hardened his face.
"I apologize for mentioning it," he said, with brevity.
"One does not speak of family affairs."
"I asked you how much it was," pursued Thorpe, in a masterful tone.
"A man doesn't want to rob a girl of her marriage portion."
"I think I must not answer you," the other replied,
hesitatingly. "It was the fault of my emotion to introduce
the subject. Pray leave the young lady out of account."
"Then I've nothing more to say," Thorpe declared,
and seated himself again with superfluous energy.
He scowled for a little at the disorder of his desk,
and then flung forth an angry explanation. "If you evade
fair questions like that, how can you expect that I will go
out of my way to help you?"
"Oh, permit me, Mr. Thorpe"--the Marquis intervened
soothingly--"I think you misapprehend. My friend,
I am sure, wished to evade nothing. He had the idea
that he was at fault in--in alluding to a purely
domestic matter as--as a--what shall I say?--as a plea
for your consideration." He turned to the old banker.
"You will not refuse to mention the sum to me, will you,
M. Fromentin shrugged his shoulders. "It is ten
thousand pounds," he replied, almost curtly.
Thorpe was seemingly mollified. "Very well, then," he said.
"I will sell you 2,000 shares at ten pounds."
The others exchanged a wondering look.
"Monsieur," the banker stammered--"I see your meaning.
You will forgive me--it is very well meant indeed by
you--but it was not my proposition. The market-price
is fifteen pounds--and we were prepared to pay it."
Thorpe laughed in a peremptory, gusty way. "But you can't
pay more than I ask!" he told him, with rough geniality.
"Come, if I let you and your nephew in out of the cold,
what kind of men-folk would you be to insist that your niece
should be left outside? As I said, I don't want her money.
I don't want any woman's money. If I'm going to be nice
to the rest of the family, what's the objection to my being
nice to her?"
"Monsieur," said the Frenchman, after an instant's reflection,
"I offer none. I did not at the moment perceive the spirit
of your words, but I recognize now that it was delicacy itself.
I tender you the most profound thanks--for ALL the family."
After some further conversation the elder Fromentin
took his departure. Lord Chaldon apparently proposed
to accompany him, but Thorpe begged him to remain,
and he put aside his hat once more and resumed his seat.
Thorpe walked about a little, with his hands in his pockets,
in a restless way. "If it isn't unpleasant to you,
I think I'll light a cigar," he said suddenly, and moved
over to the cabinet. He poured out a drink of neat brandy,
as well, and furtively swallowed it. Then he came back,
preceded by a cloud of smoke.
"It went terribly against the grain," he said, with a
rueful laugh. "I'd sworn to let no Jew off with an inch
of hide left on him--and here three of them have been
wheedled out of my grip already."
"Jews?" exclaimed the Marquis, much puzzled.
"Did you--did you think Fromentin was a Jew? God bless
me! he's no more one than I am! Why, not even so much,
for there IS a Herschell in my pedigree. Why, dear man,
they were Crusaders!"
Thorpe smiled somewhat sheepishly. "I never noticed much,"
he said. "It was a foreign-looking name. I took it
Lord Chaldon bent his brows a little. "Yes-s"--he murmured,
meditatively. "I've heard it mentioned that your
enterprise was suspected of an anti-Semitic twist.
Do you mind my talking a little with you about that?"
"Oh, not at all," the other answered with languid acquiescence,
as he seated himself.
LORD CHALDON'S instructive little monologue on the subject
of the Hebrew in finance afforded Thorpe a certain pleasure,
which was in its character, perhaps, more social
It was both a flattering and striking experience to have
so eminent a man at the side of one's desk, revealing for
one's guidance the secrets of sovereigns and cabinets.
Great names were mentioned in the course of this
dissertation--mentioned with the authoritative ease of one
who dined with princes and prime ministers--and Thorpe
felt that he shared in the distinction of this familiarity
with the august. He was in the position of paying a salary
to this courtly old nobleman and statesman, who could tell
him of his own intimate knowledge how Emperors conversed
with one another; how the Pope fidgeted in his ornate-carved
chair when the visitor talked on unwelcome topics;
how a Queen and an opera-bouffe dancer waged an obscure
and envenomed battle for the possession of a counting-house
strong box, and in the outcome a nation was armed
with inferior old muskets instead of modern weapons,
and the girl got the difference expressed in black pearls.
These reminiscences seemed to alter the atmosphere,
and even the appearance, of the Board Room. It was
almost as if the apartment itself was becoming historic,
like those chambers they pointed out to the tourist wherein
crowned heads had slept. The manner of the Marquis lent
itself charmingly to this illusion. He spoke in a facile,
mellifluous voice, and as fluently as if he had been
at work for a long time preparing a dissertation on
this subject, instead of taking it up now by chance.
In his tone, in his gestures, in the sustained friendliness
of his facial expressions, there was a palpable desire
to please his auditor--and Thorpe gave more heed to this
than to the thread of the discourse. The facts that he
heard now about the Jewish masters of international finance
were doubtless surprising and suggestive to a degree,
but somehow they failed to stimulate his imagination.
Lord Chaldon's statesmanlike discussion of the uses to
which they put this vast power of theirs; his conviction
that on the whole they were beneficent; his dread of
the consequences of any organized attempt to take this
power away from them, and put it into other and less
capable hands--no doubt it was all very clever and wise,
but Thorpe did not care for it.
At the end he nodded, and, with a lumbering movement,
altered his position in his chair. The fixed idea
of despoiling Rostocker, Aronson, Ganz, Rothfoere,
Lewis, and Mendel of their last sixpence had been
in no wise affected by this entertaining homily.
There appeared to be no need of pretending that it
had been. If he knew anything of men and their manners,
his titled friend would not object to a change of topic.
"Lord Chaldon," he said abruptly, "we've talked
enough about general matters. While you're here,
we might as well go into the subject of the Company.
Our annual meeting is pretty nearly due--but I think
it would be better to have it postponed. You see,
this extraordinary development of dealing in our shares
on the Stock Exchange has occupied my entire attention.
There has been no time for arranging the machinery of
operations on our property in Mexico. It's still there;
it's all right. But for the time being, the operations
in London are so much more important. We should have nothing
to tell our shareholders, if we brought them together,
except that their one-pound shares are worth fifteen pounds,
and they know that already."
The Marquis had listened with a shrewdly attentive eye
upon the speaker's face. The nervous affection of his
eyelids gave him now a minute of blinking leisure in which
to frame his comment. "I have not heard that my shares
are worth fifteen pounds," he said then, with a direct,
meaning little smile.
"No," Thorpe laughed, leaning comfortably back in his chair.
"That's what I want to talk to you about. You see,
when the Company was started, it was impossible to foresee
that this dealing in our ordinary shares would swamp
everything else. If things had taken their usual course,
and we had paid our attention to Mexico instead of to
the London Stock Exchange, my deferred vendor's shares,
two thousand of which you hold, would by this time be worth
a good bit. As it is, unfortunately, they are outside
of the deal. They have nothing to do with the movement
of the ordinary shares. But of course you understand
Lord Chaldon assented by an eloquent nod, at once resigned
"Well--that is contrary to all my expectations--and intentions,"
Thorpe resumed. "I don't want you to suffer by this
unlooked-for change in the shape of things. You hold
two thousand shares--only by accident they're the wrong
kind of shares. Very well: I'll make them the right kind
of shares. I'll have a transfer sent to you tomorrow,
so that you can return those vendor's shares to me,
and in exchange for them I'll give you two thousand
fully-paid ordinary shares. You can sell these at once,
if you like, or you can hold them on over one more settlement,
whichever you please."
"This is very munificent," remarked Lord Chaldon, after an
instant's self-communion. His tone was extremely gracious,
but he displayed none of the enthusiastic excitement
which Thorpe perceived now that he had looked for.
The equanimity of Marquises, who were also ex-Ambassadors,
was evidently a deeper-rooted affair than he had supposed.
This elderly and urbane diplomat took a gift of thirty
thousand pounds as he might have accepted a superior cigar.
A brief pause ensued, and was ended by another remark
from the nobleman: "I thought for the moment of asking
your advice--on this question of selling," he continued.
"But it will be put more appropriately, perhaps, in this
way: Let me leave it entirely in your hands. Whatever you
do will be right. I know so little of these things--and
you know so much."
Thorpe put out his lips a trifle, and looked away
for an instant in frowning abstraction. "If it were
put in that way--I think I should sell," he said.
"It's all right for me to take long chances--it's my
game--but there's no reason why you should risk things.
But let me put it in still another way," he added,
with the passing gleam of a new thought over the dull
surface of his eye. "What do you say to our making
the transaction strictly between ourselves? Here are
shares to bearer, in the safe there. I say that two
thousand of them are yours: that makes them yours.
I give you my cheque for thirty thousand pounds--here, now,
if you like--and that makes them mine again.
The business is finished and done with--inside this room.
Neither of us is to say anything about it to a soul.
Does that meet your views?"
The diplomat pondered the proposition--again with a lengthened
perturbation of the eyelids. "It would be possible to suggest
a variety of objections, if one were of a sophistical
turn of mind," he said at last, smilingly reflective.
"Yet I see no really insuperable obstacle in the path."
He thought upon it further, and went on with an enquiring
upward glance directed suddenly at Thorpe: "Is there
likely to be any very unpleasant hubbub in the press--when
it is known that the annual meeting has been postponed?"
Thorpe shook his head with confidence. "No--you need have
no fear of that. The press is all right. It's the talk
of the City, I'm told--the way I've managed the press.
It isn't often that a man has all three of the papers
walking the same chalk-line."
The Marquis considered these remarks with a puzzled air.
Then he smiled faintly. "I'm afraid we're speaking of
different things," he suggested. "Apparently you refer to
the financial papers. I had scarcely given them a thought.
It does not seem to me that I should mind particularly
what they said about me--but I should care a great deal
about the other press--the great public press."
"Oh, what do they know about these things?" said Thorpe, lightly.
"So far as I can see, they don't know about anything,
unless it gets into the police court, or the divorce court,
or a court of some kind. They're the funniest sort of
papers I ever saw. Seems as if they didn't think anything
was safe to be printed until it had been sworn to.
Why anybody should be afraid of them is more than I can see."
"Nevertheless," persisted his Lordship, blandly, "I should
greatly dislike any public discussion of our Company's affairs.
I hope it is quite clear that that can be avoided."
"Absolutely!" Thorpe told him, with reassuring energy.
"Why, discussions don't make themselves. Somebody has
to kick before anything gets discussed. And who is to
kick here? The public who hold the shares are not likely
to complain because they've gone up fifteen hundred
or two thousand per cent. And who else has any interest
in what the Company, as a Company, does?"
"Ah, that is a question which has occurred to me," said Lord
Chaldon, "and I shall be glad if it is already answered.
The only people likely to 'kick,' as you put it so simply,
would be, I take it, Directors and other officers of the
Company who find themselves holding a class of shares
which does not participate in the present rise. I speak
with some confidence--because I was in that position myself
until a few minutes ago--and I don't mind confessing
that I had brought myself to contemplate the contingency
of ultimately being compelled to--to 'kick' a little.
Of course, so far as I am concerned, events have put me
in a diametrically different frame of mind. If I came
prepared--I won't say to curse, but to--to criticize--I
certainly remain to bless. But you see my point.
I of course do not know what you have done as regards
the other members of the Board."
"I don't care about them," said Thorpe, carelessly. "You are
the one that I wished to bring in on the ground-floor.
The others don't matter. Of course, I shall do something
for them; they shan't be allowed to make trouble--even
supposing that it would be in their power to make trouble,
which isn't the case. But it won't be done by any means
on the same scale that--" he paused abruptly, and the two
men tacitly completed his sentence in the glance they exchanged.
The Marquis of Chaldon rose, and took up his hat and stick.
"If you will post it to me--in a registered letter--my
town house--please," he remarked, with a charmingly delicate
hesitation over the phrases. Then he put out his hand: "I
need not say how fully I appreciate your great kindness
to my old friend Fromentin. It was a noble action--one
I shall always reflect upon with admiration."
"I hope you won't mention it, though," said Thorpe,
as they shook hands; "either that or--or anything else."
"I shall preserve the most guarded--the most diplomatic secrecy,"
his Lordship assured him, as they walked toward the door.
Thorpe opened this door, and stepped aside, with a half bow,
to facilitate the exit of the Marquis, who bent gracious
acknowledgment of the courtesy. Then, with an abrupt
start of surprise, the two men straightened themselves.
Directly in front of them, leaning lightly against the
brass-rail which guarded the entrance to the Board Room,
stood Lord Plowden.
A certain sense of confusion, unwelcome but inevitable,
visibly enveloped this chance meeting. The Marquis blinked
very hard as he exchanged a fleeting hand-shake with the
younger nobleman, and murmured some indistinguishable
commonplaces. Then, with a graceful celerity, which was
more than diplomatic, he disappeared. Thorpe, with more
difficulty, recovered a sort of stolidity of expression
that might pass for composure. He in turn gave his
hand to the newcomer, and nodded to him, and achieved a doubtful smile.
"Come in!" he said, haltingly. "Where did you drop from?
Glad to see you! How are all your people?"
A moment later the young Viscount was seated in the chair
which the elderly Marquis had vacated. He presented
therein a figure which, in its way, was perhaps as courtly
as the other had been--but the way was widely different.
Lord Plowden's fine, lithe form expressed no deference
in its easy postures. His handsome face was at no
pains to assume conciliatory or ingratiating aspects.
His brilliant brown eyes sparkled a confident, buoyant gaze
full into the heavy, lethargic countenance of the big man
at the desk.
"I haven't bothered you before," he said, tossing his
gloves into his hat, and spreading his frock-coat
out by its silk lapels. He crossed his legs,
and sat back with a comfortable smile. "I knew you
were awfully busy--and I kept away as long as I could.
But now--well, the truth is--I'm in rather of a hole.
I hope you don't mind my coming."
"Why not at all," said Thorpe, laconically. After a momentary
pause he added: "The Marquis has just been consulting me
about the postponement of the annual meeting. I suppose
you agree with us--that it would be better to put it off.
There's really nothing to report. Of course, you know
more about the situation than he does--between ourselves.
The shareholders don't want a meeting; it's enough for them
that their shares are worth fifteen or twenty times what they
paid for them. And certainly WE don't need a meeting,
as things stand now."
"Ah yes--how do things stand now?" asked Lord Plowden, briskly.
"Well,"--Thorpe eyed his visitor with a moody blankness
of gaze, his chin once more buried in his collar--"well,
everything is going all right, as far as I can see.
But, of course, these dealings in our shares in the City
have taken up all my time--so that I haven't been able
to give any attention to starting up work in Mexico.
That being the case, I shall arrange to foot all the
bills for this year's expenses--the rent, the Directors'
fees and clerk-hire and so on--out of my own pocket.
It comes, all told, to about 2,700 pounds--without
counting my extra 1,000 pounds as Managing Director.
I don't propose to ask for a penny of that, under the
circumstances--and I'll even pay the other expenses.
So that the Company isn't losing a penny by our not
getting to work at the development of the property.
No one could ask anything fairer than that.--And are your
mother and sister quite well?"
"Oh, very well indeed, thanks," replied the other. He relapsed
abruptly into a silence which was plainly preoccupied.
Something of the radiant cheerfulness with which his
face had beamed seemed to have faded away.
"I'm in treaty for a house and a moor in the Highlands"--Thorpe
went on, in a casual tone--"in fact, I'm hesitating between
three or four places that all seem to be pretty good--but I
don't know whether I can get away much before the twentieth.
I hope you can contrive to come while I'm there.
I should like it very much if you would bring your mother
and sister--and your brother too. I have a nephew about
his age--a fine young fellow--who'd be company for him.
Why can't you say now that you'll all come?"
Lord Plowden emerged from his brown study with the gleam
of some new idea on his face. "I might bring my sister,"
he said. "My mother hates Scotland. She doesn't
go about, either, even in England. But I daresay Winnie
would enjoy it immensely. She has a great opinion of you,
"I only saw her that once," Thorpe remarked.
Some thought behind his words lent a musing effect
to the tone in which they were uttered. The brother's
contemplative smile seemed a comment upon this tone.
"Women are curious creatures," he said. "They take fancies
and dislikes as swiftly and irresponsibly as cloud-shadows
shift and change on a mountain-side in April. But I
happen to know that my sister does like you immensely.
So does my mother," he added, with another little smile.
He continued to regard Thorpe's face, but there was
an increasing uncertainty in his glance. "You've put
on flesh, haven't you?" he ventured, after a brief pause.
There was the implication in his voice and manner that he
observed changes which disconcerted him.
"Not much, I guess," replied the other, carelessly.
"I've been sticking to the City pretty closely. That's all.
There's nothing that a fortnight's rest won't put right.
I should like it first-rate to have you and your sister come.
I'll let you know which place I decide upon. Very likely
you can manage to bring her at the same time that some
other ladies will be there. I expect Lady Cressage and
Miss Madden, you know."
Lord Plowden stared at his friend. "Are they back? Have
they returned to England?" he asked, confusedly.
"Oh, didn't you know?" Thorpe pursued, with an accession
of amiability. He visibly had pleasure in the disclosure
of the other's ignorance. "They've been in London for two
or three weeks. That is, Miss Madden has been taking flying
trips to see cathedrals and so on, but Lady Cressage has
stayed in town. Their long journeyings have rather done
her up. "He looked Plowden straight in the eye, and added
with an air of deliberation: "I'm rather anxious about her health."
The nobleman frankly abandoned his efforts to maintain
an undisturbed front. "You--are--anxious," he repeated,
frowning in displeased wonderment.
"Why yes--why not?" demanded Thorpe, with a sudden growl
in his voice. As he covered the handsome Viscount
with his heavy, intent gaze, impulses of wrath stirred
within him. Why should this fop of a lordling put on
this air of contemptuous incredulity?" What is there
so amazing about that? Why shouldn't I be anxious?"
The peremptory harshness of his manner, and the scowl
on his big, lowering face, brought a sort of self-
control back to the other. He shrugged his shoulders,
with an attempt at nonchalance. "Why not indeed!"
he said, as lightly as he could. With hands on knees,
he bent forward as if to rise. "But perhaps I'd better
come in another day," he suggested, tentatively.
"I'm interrupting you."
"No--sit still," Thorpe bade him, and then, with chin
settled more determinedly than ever in his cravat,
sat eyeing him in a long, dour silence.
Lord Plowden found it impossible to obtain from this massive,
apathetic visage any clue to the thoughts working behind it.
He chanced to recall the time when he had discussed
with Thorpe the meaning and values of this inscrutable
expression which the latter's countenance could assume.
It had seemed interesting and even admirable to him
then--but then he had not foreseen the possibility that he
himself might some day confront its adamantine barrier
with a sinking heart. All at once he could bear this
implacable sphinx-gaze no longer.
"I'm sure some other day would be better," he urged,
with an open overture to propitiation in his tone.
"You're not in the mood to be bothered with my affairs today."
"As much today as any other," Thorpe answered him, slowly.
The other sat suddenly upright--and then upon a moment's
reflection rose to his feet. "I don't in the least know what
to make of all this," he said, with nervous precipitancy.
"If I've offended you in any way, say so, and I will
apologize at once. But treatment of this sort passes
Thorpe in truth did not himself comprehend it much
more clearly. Some strange freak of wilfulness impelled
him to pursue this unintelligible persecution.
"I've said nothing about any offense," he declared,
in a hard, deliberate voice. "It is your own word.
All the same--I mention the name of a lady--a lady,
mind you, whom I met under your own roof--and you strike
attitudes and put on airs as if--as if I wasn't good enough!"
"Oh, upon my word, that's all rubbish!" the other broke in.
"Nothing could have been further from my thoughts,
I assure you. Quite naturally I was surprised for the
moment at a bit of unexpected news--but that was all.
I give you my word that was all."
"Very well, then," Thorpe consented grudgingly to mutter.
He continued his sullen scrutiny of the man standing
before him, noting how the vivacity of his bearing had
deteriorated in these few minutes. He had cut such a gallant
figure when he entered the room, with his sparkling eye
and smile, his almost jaunty manner, his superior tailor's
plumage--and now he was such a crestfallen and wilted thing!
Remembering their last conversation together--remembering
indeed how full of liking for this young nobleman he
had been when they last met--Thorpe paused to wonder
at the fact that he felt no atom of pity for him now.
What was his grievance? What had Plowden done to provoke
this savage hostility? Thorpe could not tell. He knew
only that unnamed forces dragged him forward to hurt
and humiliate his former friend. Obscurely, no doubt,
there was something about a woman in it. Plowden had been
an admirer of Lady Cressage. There was her father's
word for it that if there had been money enough he would
have wished to marry her. There had been, as well,
the General's hint that if the difficulty of Plowden's
poverty were removed, he might still wish to marry
her--a hint which Thorpe discovered to be rankling
with a sudden new soreness in his mind. Was that why he
hated Plowden? No--he said to himself that it was not.
He was going to marry Lady Cressage himself. Her letter,
signifying delicately her assent to his proposal,
had come to him that very morning--was in his pocket now.
What did he care about the bye-gone aspirations of
other would-be suitors? And, as for Plowden, he had
not even known of her return to London. Clearly there
remained no communications of any sort between them.
It was not at all on her account, he assured himself,
that he had turned against Plowden. But what other reason
could there be? He observed his visitor's perturbed
and dejected mien with a grim kind of satisfaction--but
still he could not tell why.
"This is all terribly important to me," the nobleman said,
breaking the unpleasant silence. His voice was surcharged
with earnestness. "Apparently you are annoyed with
something--what it may be I can't for the life of me make out.
All I can say is"--and he broke off with a helpless
gesture which seemed to imply that he feared to say anything.
Thorpe put out his lips. "I don't know what you mean,"
he said, brusquely.
"What I mean"--the other echoed, with bewildered vagueness
of glance. "I'm all at sea. I don't in the least grasp
the meaning of anything. You yourself volunteered
the declaration that you would do great things for me.
'We are rich men together'--those were your own words.
I urged you at the time to go slowly--to consider carefully
whether you weren't being too generous. I myself said
to you that you were ridiculously exaggerating what you
called your obligation to me. It was you who insisted upon
presenting me with 100,000 shares."
"Well, they are here ready for you," said Thorpe,
with calculated coldness. "You can have them whenever
you please. I promised them to you, and set them
aside for you. You can take them away with you now,
if you like. What are you kicking up this fuss for,
then? Upon my word!--you come here and suggest to me
that I made promises to you which I've broken!"
Plowden looked hard at him, as he turned over in his mind
the purport of these words. "I see what you are doing,"
he said then. "You turn over to me 100,000 vendor's
deferred shares. Thanks! I have already 1,000 of them.
I keep them in the same box with my father's Confederate bonds."
"What the hell do you mean?" Thorpe broke in with
explosive warmth, lifting himself in his chair.
"Oh, come now, Thorpe," Plowden retorted, "let's get
this talk on an intelligent, common-sense footing."
He had regained something of his self-control, and keenly
put forward now to help him all his persuasive graces
of eye and speech. He seated himself once more.
"I'm convinced that you want to be good to me.
Of course you do! If I've seemed here for a minute or two
to think otherwise, it was because I misunderstood things.
Don't let there be any further misunderstandings! I apologize
for doing you the momentary injustice of suspecting that
you were going to play off the vendor's shares on me.
Of course you said it--but it was a joke."
"There seems to be a joke somewhere, sure enough,"
said Thorpe, in dryly metallic tones--"but it isn't me
who's the joker. I told you you should have 100,000
of my 400,000 shares, didn't I? I told you that in so
many words. Very well, what more do you want? Here
they are for you! I keep my promise to the letter.
But you--you seem to think you're entitled to make a row.
What do you mean by it?"
"Just a little word"--interposed Plowden, with strenuous
calmness of utterance--"what you say may be true
enough--yes, I admit it is true as far as it goes.
But was that what either of us had in our minds at the time?
You know it wasn't! You had just planned a coup on the Stock
Exchange which promised you immense rewards. I helped
you to pass a bogus allotment through our Board--without
which your coup wouldn't have been worth a farthing.
You were enthusiastically grateful to me then. In the
excitement of the moment you promised me a quarter of all
you should make. 'WE ARE BOTH RICH MEN!' I remember those
very words of yours. They have never been out of my mind.
We discussed the things that we would each do, when we came
into this wealth. It was taken for granted in all our
talk that your making money meant also my making money.
That was the complete understanding--here in London,
and while you were at my house. You know it as well as I do.
And I refuse to suppose that you seriously intend to sit
there and pretend that you meant to give me nothing
but an armful of waste paper. It would be too monstrous!"
Thorpe rapped with his nails on the desk, to point the
force of his rejoinder: "How do you account for the fact,
my Lord"--he gave his words a chillingly scornful precision
of utterance--"that I distinctly mentioned 400,000 vendor's
shares of mine, 100,000 of which I promised to turn
over to you? Those were the specific terms, were they
not? You don't deny it? Then what are you talking about?"
"I account for it in this way"--said Plowden, after a moment's
baffled reflection: "at that time you yourself hadn't
grasped the difference between the two classes of shares.
You thought the vendor's shares would play a part in
the game. Ah! I see I've hit the mark! That was the way
of it!--And now here, Thorpe! Let all that's been said
be bye-gones! I don't want any verbal triumph over you.
You don't want to wrong me--and yourself too--by sticking
to this quibble about vendor's shares. You intended
to be deuced good to me--and what have I done that you
should round on me now? I haven't bothered you before.
I came today only because things are particularly rotten,
financially, just now. And I don't even want to hold
you to a quarter--I leave that entirely to you.
But after all that's been said and done--I put it to you
as one man to another--you are morally bound to help
"How do you mean?--'all that's been said and done'?"
Thorpe asked the question in some confusion of moods.
Perhaps it was the ethical force of Lord Plowden's appeal,
perhaps only a recurring sense of his earlier affection for
the man--but for the moment he wavered in his purpose.
The peer flushed a little, as he looked at the floor,
revolving possible answers to this query. His ear had been
quick to seize the note of hesitation in Thorpe's tone.
He strove anxiously to get together considerations which
should tip the fluttering balance definitely his way.
"Well," he began slowly, "I hardly know how to put it.
Of course there was, in the first place, the immense
expectation of fortune which you gave me, and which I'm
afraid I've more than lived up to. And then, of course,
others shared my expectations. It wasn't a thing
one could very well keep to oneself. My mother and my
sister--especially my sister--they were wonderfully
excited about it. You are quite the hero in their eyes.
And then--you remember that talk we had, in which you said
I could help you--socially, you know. I did it a little,
just as a start, but of course there's no end to what
could be done. You've been too busy heretofore, but we
can begin now whenever you like. I don't mind telling
you--I've had some thoughts of a possible marriage for you.
In point of blood and connections it would be such a match
as a commoner hasn't made before in my memory--a highly-
cultivated and highly-bred young lady of rank--and
settlements could be made so that a considerable quantity
of land would eventually come to your son. I needn't
tell you that land stands for much more than money,
if you happen to set your mind on a baronetcy or a peerage.
Of course--I need scarcely say--I mention this marriage
only as something which may or may not attract you,--it is
quite open to you to prefer another,--but there is hardly
anything of that sort in which I and my connections could
not be of use to you."
Even more by the tone and inflection of these words than
by the phrases themselves, Thorpe divined that he was being
offered the hand of the Hon. Winifred Plowden in marriage.
He recalled vividly the fact that once the shadow
of some such thought had floated through his own brain;
there had been a moment--it seemed curiously remote, like a
dream-phantom from some previous state of existence--when
he had dwelt with personal interest upon her inheritance
from long lines of noblemen, and her relation to half
the peerage. Then, swiftly, illogically, he disliked
the brother of this lady more than ever.
"All that is talking in the air," he said,
with abrupt decision. "I see nothing in it. You shall
have your vendor's shares, precisely as I promised you.
I don't see how you can possibly ask for anything more."
He looked at the other's darkling face for a moment,
and then rose with unwieldy deliberation. "If you're
so hard up though," he continued, coldly, "I don't mind
doing this much for you. I'll exchange the thousand
vendor's shares you already hold the ones I gave you
to qualify you at the beginning--for ordinary shares.
You can sell those for fifteen thousand pounds cash.
In fact, I'll buy them of you now. I'll give you a cheque
for the amount. Do you want it?"
Lord Plowden, red-faced and frowning, hesitated for a
fraction of time. Then in constrained silence he nodded,
and Thorpe, leaning ponderously over the desk, wrote out
the cheque. His Lordship took it, folded it up, and put
it in his pocket without immediate comment.
"Then this is the end of things, is it?" he asked,
after an awkward silence, in a voice he strove in vain
to keep from shaking.
"What things?" said the other.
Plowden shrugged his shoulders, framed his lips to utter
something which he decided not to say, and at last turned
on his heel. "Good day," he called out over his shoulder,
and left the room with a flagrant air of hostility.
Thorpe, wandering about the apartment, stopped after
a time at the cabinet, and helped himself to a drink.
The thing most apparent to him was that of set purpose he
had converted a friend into an enemy. Why had he done
this? He asked himself the question in varying forms,
over his brandy and soda, but no convincing answer came.
He had done it because he had felt like doing it. It was
impossible to trace motives further than that.
"EDITH will be down in a very few moments," Miss Madden
assured Thorpe that evening, when he entered the drawing-room
of the house she had taken in Grafton Street.
He looked into her eyes and smiled, as he bowed over the hand
she extended to him. His glance expressed with forceful
directness his thought: "Ah, then she has told you!"
The complacent consciousness of producing a fine effect
in evening-clothes had given to Mr. Stormont Thorpe
habitually now a mildness of manner, after the dressing hour,
which was lacking to his deportment in the day-time.
The conventional attire of ceremony, juggled in the hands
of an inspired tailor, had been brought to lend to his
ponderous figure a dignity, and even something of a grace,
which the man within assimilated and made his own.
It was an equable and rather amiable Thorpe whom people
encountered after nightfall--a gentleman who looked impressive
enough to have powerful performances believed of him,
yet seemed withal an approachable and easy-going person.
Men who saw him at midnight or later spoke of him to their
womenkind with a certain significant reserve, in which
trained womankind read the suggestion that the "Rubber King"
drank a good deal, and was probably not wholly nice in
This, however, could not be said to render him less
interesting in any eyes. There was indeed about it
the implication of a generous nature, or at the least
of a blind side--and it is not unpleasant to discover
these attributes in a new man who has made his half-million,
and has, or may have, countless favours to bestow.
It was as if his tongue instead of his eyes had uttered
the exclamation--"Ah, then she has told you!"--for Miss
Madden took it as having been spoken. "I'm not disposed
to pretend that I'm overjoyed about it, you know,"
she said to him bluntly, as their hands dropped, and they
stood facing each other. "If I said I congratulated you,
it would be only the emptiest form. And I hate empty forms."
"Why should you think that I won't make a good husband?"
Thorpe asked the question with a good-natured if peremptory
frankness which came most readily to him in the presence
of this American lady, herself so outspoken and masterful.
"I don't know that I specially doubt it," she replied.
"I suppose any man has in him the makings of what is called
a good husband--if the conditions are sufficiently propitious."
"Well then--what's the matter with the conditions?"
he demanded, jocosely.
Miss Madden shrugged her shoulders slightly. Thorpe noted
the somewhat luxuriant curves of these splendid shoulders,
and the creamy whiteness of the skin, upon which,
round the full throat, a chain of diamonds lay as upon
satin--and recalled that he had not seen her before in
what he phrased to himself as so much low-necked dress.
The deep fire-gleam in her broad plaits of hair gave a
wonderful brilliancy to this colouring of brow and throat
and bosom. He marvelled at himself for discovering only
now that she also was beautiful--and then thrilled with
pride at the thought that henceforth his life might be
passed altogether among beautiful women, radiant in gems
and costly fabrics, who would smile upon him at his command.
"Oh, I have no wish to be a kill-joy," she protested.
"I'm sure I hope all manner of good results from the--
"I suppose that's what it comes to," he said, meditatively.
"It's all an experiment. Every marriage in the world
must be that--neither more nor less."
"With all the experience of the ages against its coming
out right." She had turned to move toward a chair,
but looked now over her shoulder at him. "Have you ever
seen what seemed to you an absolutely happy marriage
in your life?"
Upon reflection he shook his head. "I don't recall
one on the spur of the minute," he confessed.
"Not the kind, I mean, that you read about in books.
But I've seen plenty where the couple got along together
in a good, easy, comfortable sort of way, without a notion
of any sort of unpleasantness. It's people who marry
too young who do most of the fighting, I imagine.
After people have got to a sensible age, and know
what they want and what they can get along without,
why then there's no reason for any trouble. We don't
start out with any school-boy and school-girl moonshine"
"Oh, there's a good deal to be said for the moonshine,"
she interrupted him, as she sank upon the sofa.
"Why certainly," he assented, amiably, as he stood looking
down at her. "The more there is of it, the better--if
it comes naturally, and people know enough to understand
that it is moonshine, and isn't the be-all and end-all
"There's a lover for you!" Miss Madden cried, with mirth
and derision mingled in her laugh.
"Don't you worry about me," he told her. "I'm a good
enough lover, all right. And when you come to that,
if Edith is satisfied, I don't precisely see what----"
"What business it is of mine?" she finished the sentence
for him. "You're entirely right. As you say,
IF she's satisfied, no one else has anything to do with it."
"But have you got any right to assume that she
isn't satisfied?" he asked her with swift directness--"or
any reason for supposing it?"
Miss Madden shook her head, but the negation seemed qualified
by the whimsical smile she gave him. "None whatever,"
she said--and on the instant the talk was extinguished
by the entrance of Lady Cressage.
Thorpe's vision was flooded with the perception of his
rare fortune as he went to meet her. He took the hand
she offered, and looked into the smile of her greeting,
and could say nothing. Her beauty had gathered to it
new forces in his eyes--forces which dazzled and
troubled his glance. The thought that this exquisite
being--this ineffable compound of feeling and fine nerves
and sweet wisdom and wit and loveliness--belonged
to him seemed too vast for the capacity of his mind.
He could not keep himself from trembling a little,
and from diverting to a screen beyond her shoulder
a gaze which he felt to be overtly dimmed and embarrassed.
"I have kept you waiting," she murmured.
The soft sound of her voice came to his ears as from
a distance. It bore an unfamiliar note, upon the strangeness
of which he dwelt for a detached instant. Then its
meaning broke in upon his consciousness from all sides,
and lighted up his heavy face with the glow of a conqueror's
self-centred smile. He bent his eyes upon her, and noted
with a controlled exaltation how her glance in turn deferred
to his, and fluttered beneath it, and shrank away.
He squared his big shoulders and lifted his head.
Still holding her jewelled hand in his, he turned and led
her toward the sofa. Halting, he bowed with an exaggerated
genuflection and flourish of his free hand to Miss Madden,
the while he flashed at her a glance at once of challenge
and of deprecation. Through the sensitized contact of the
other hand, he felt that the woman he held bowed also,
and in his own spirit of confused defiance and entreaty.
The laugh he gave then seemed to dispel the awkwardness
which had momentarily hung over the mocking salutation.
Miss Madden laughed too. "Oh, I surrender," she said.
"You drag congratulations from me."
Some quality in the tone of this ungracious speech
had the effect of putting the party at its ease.
Lady Cressage seated herself beside her friend on the sofa,
and gently, abstractedly, patted one of her hands.
Thorpe remained on his feet, looking down at the pair
with satisfied cheerfulness. He tool, a slip of paper
from his pocket, to support a statement he was making.
"I'm forever telling you what a strain the City is on a man
in my position," he said--"and today I had the curiosity
to keep an account of what happened. Here it is.
I had thirty callers. Of those, how many do you suppose
came to see me on my own business? Just eight. That is
to say, their errands were about investments of mine,
but most of them managed to get in some word about axes
of their own to grind. All the rest made no pretence
at all of thinking about anybody but themselves.
I've classified them, one by one, here.
"First, there were six men who wanted me to take shares
of one sort or another, and I had to more or less listen
to what they tried to make out their companies were like.
They were none of them any good. Eight different
fellows came to me with schemes that haven't reached the
company stage. One had a scheme for getting possession
of a nigger republic in the West Indies by raising
a loan, and then repudiating all the previous loans.
Another wanted me to buy a paper for him, in which he was
to support all my enterprises. Another wanted to start
a bank--I apparently to find the money, and he the brains.
One chap wanted me to finance a theatrical syndicate--he
had a bag full of photographs of an actress all eyes
and teeth and hair,--and another chap had a scheme all
worked out for getting a concession from Spain for one
of the Caroline Islands, and putting up a factory there
for making porpoise-hide leather.
"Then there were three inventors--let's see, here they
are--one with a coiled wire spring for scissors inside
a pocket-knife, and one with a bottle, the whole top
of which unscrews instead of having a cork or stopper,
and one with an electrical fish-line, a fine wire inside
the silk, you know, which connects with some battery
when a fish bites, and rings a bell, and throws out hooks
in various directions, and does all sorts of things.
"Well then, there was a man who wanted me to take
the chairmanship of a company, and one who wanted me
to guarantee an overdraft at his bank, and two who
wanted to borrow money on stock, and one parson-fellow
who tried to stick me for a subscription to some Home
or other he said he had for children in the country.
He was the worst bounder of the lot.
"Well, there's twenty-seven people--and twenty of them
strangers to me, and not worth a penny to me, and all
trying to get money out of me. Isn't that a dog's life
"I don't know," said Miss Madden, contemplatively.
"A lady may have twice that number of callers in an
afternoon--quite as great strangers to all intents
and purposes--and not even have the satisfaction of
discovering that they had any object whatever in calling.
At least your people had some motive: the grey matter
in their brain was working. And besides, one of them
might have had something to say which you would value.
I don't think that ever happens among a lady's callers;
does it, Edith?"
Edith smiled, pleasantly and yet a little wistfully,
but said nothing.
"At any rate," Thorpe went on, with a kind of purpose
gathering in his eyes, "none of those fellows cost
me anything, except in time. But then I had three callers,
almost in a bunch, and one of them took out of me thirty
thousand pounds, and another fifteen thousand pounds,
and the third--an utter stranger he was--he got an absolute
gratuity of ten thousand pounds, besides my consent
to a sale which, if I had refused it, would have stood
me in perhaps forty or fifty thousand pounds more.
You ladies may thank your stars you don't have that kind
The sound of these figures in the air brought a constrained
look to the faces of the women. Seemingly they
confronted a subject which was not to their liking.
The American, however, after a moment's pause, took it
up in an indifferent manner.
"You speak of an 'absolute gratuity.' I know nothing
of London City methods--but isn't ten thousand pounds
a gratuity on a rather large scale?"
Thorpe hesitated briefly, then smiled, and, with slow deliberation,
drew up a chair and seated himself before them. "Perhaps I
don't mind telling you about it," he began, and paused again.
"I had a letter in my mail this morning," he went on at last,
giving a sentimental significance to both tone and glance--"a
letter which changed everything in the world for me,
and made me the proudest and happiest man above ground.
And I put that letter in my pocket, right here on the left
side--and it's there now, for that matter"--he put his hand
to his breast, as if under the impulse to verify his words
by the production of the missive, and then stopped and flushed.
The ladies, watching him, seemed by their eyes to condone
the mawkishness of the demonstration which had tempted him.
There was indeed a kind of approving interest in their
joint regard, which he had not experienced before.
"I had it in my pocket," he resumed, with an accession
of mellow emotion in his voice, "and none of the callers
ever got my thoughts very far from that letter.
And one of these was an old man--a French banker who must
be seventy years old, but dyes his hair a kind of purple
black--and it seems that his nephew had got the firm into
a terrible kind of scrape, selling 2,000 of my shares
when he hadn't got them to sell and couldn't get them--and
the old man came to beg me to let him out at present
market figures. He got Lord Chaldon--he's my Chairman,
you know--to bring him, and introduce him as his friend,
and plead for him--but I don't think all that, by itself,
would have budged me an atom. But then the old man told
how he was just able to scrape together money enough
to buy the shares he needed, at the ruling price, and he
happened to mention that his niece's marriage portion
would have to be sacrificed. Well, then, do you know,
that letter in my pocket said something to me....And--well,
that's the story. The girl' s portion, I wormed it
out of him, was ten thousand...and I struck that much
off the figure that I allowed him to buy his shares,
and save his firm, for....It was all the letter that did it,
He concluded the halting narrative amid a marked silence.
The ladies looked at him and at each other, but they
seemed surprised out of their facility of comment.
In this kind of flustered hush, the door was opened and
dinner was announced.
Miss Madden welcomed the diversion by rising with
ostentatious vigour. "I will take myself out,"
she declared, with cheerful promptness leading the way.
Lady Cressage took the arm Thorpe offered her, and gave
no token of comprehending that her wrist was being
caressingly pressed against his side as they moved along.
At the little table shining in the centre of the dark,
cool dining-room, talk moved idly about among general topics.
A thunderstorm broke over the town, at an early stage
of the dinner, and the sound of the rushing downpour
through the open windows, and the breath of freshness which
stirred the jaded air, were pleasanter than any speech.
Thoughts roved intuitively country-ward, where the
long-needed rain would be dowering the landscape with new
life--where the earth at sunrise would be green again,
and buoyant in reawakened energy, and redolent with the
perfumes of sweetest summer. They spoke of the fields
and the moors with the longing of tired town-folk in August.
"Oh, when I get away"--said Thorpe, fervently,
"it seems to me that I don't want ever to come back.
These last few weeks have got terribly on my nerve.
And really--why should I come back? I've been asking
myself the question--more today than ever before.
Of course everything has been different today. But if I'm
to get any genuine good out of my--my fortune--I must pull
away from the City altogether sometime--and why not now?
Of course, some important things are still open--and
they have to be watched night and day--but after all,
Semple--that's my Broker--he could do it for me.
At the most, it won't last more than another six weeks.
There is a settlement-day next week, the 15th,
and another a fortnight after, on the 29th, and another on
September 12th. Well, those three days, if they're worked
as I intend they shall be, and nothing unforeseen happens,
will bring in over four hundred thousand pounds,
and close the 'corner' in Rubber Consols for good.
Then I need never see the City again, thank God! And for
that matter--why, what is six weeks? It's like tomorrow.
I'm going to act as if I were free already. The rain fills
me full of the country. Will you both come with me tomorrow
or next day, and see the Pellesley place in Hertfordshire?
By the photographs it's the best thing in the market.
The newest parts of it are Tudor--and that's what I've
"How unexpected you are!" commented Miss Madden.
"You are almost the last person I should have looked
to for a sentiment about Tudor foundations."
Thorpe put out his lips a trifle. "Ah, you don't know me,"
he replied, in a voice milder than his look had promised.
"Because I'm rough and practical, you mustn't think I don't
know good things when I see them. Why, all the world
is going to have living proof very soon"--he paused,
and sent a smile surcharged with meaning toward the silent
member of the trio--"living proof that I'm the greatest
judge of perfection in beauty of my time."
He lifted his glass as he spoke, and the ladies accepted
with an inclination of the head, and a touch of the wine at
their lips, his tacit toast. "Oh, I think I do know you,"
said Celia Madden, calmly discursive. "Up to a certain point,
you are not so unlike other men. If people appeal to
your imagination, and do not contradict you, or bore you,
or get in your way, you are capable of being very nice
indeed to them. But that isn't a very uncommon quality.
What is uncommon in you--at least that is my reading--is
something which according to circumstances may be nice,
or very much the other way about. It's something
which stands quite apart from standards of morals
or ethics or the ordinary emotions. But I don't know,
whether it is desirable for me to enter into this extremely
"Oh yes, go on," Thorpe urged her. He watched her face
with an almost excited interest.
"Well--I should say that you possessed a capacity for
sudden and capricious action in large matters, equally
impatient of reasoning and indifferent to consequences,
which might be very awkward, and even tragic, to people
who happened to annoy you, or stand in your road.
You have the kind of organization in which, within a second,
without any warning or reason, a passing whim may have worked
itself up into an imperative law--something you must obey."
The man smiled and nodded approvingly: "You've got me
down fine," he said.
"I talk with a good deal of confidence," she went on,
with a cheerless, ruminative little laugh, "because it
is my own organization that I am describing, too.
The difference is that I was allowed to exploit my
capacity for mischief very early. I had my own way
in my teens--my own money, my own power--of course
only of a certain sort, and in a very small place.
But I know what I did with that power. I spread trouble
and misery about me--always of course on a small scale.
Then a group of things happened in a kind of climax--a
very painful climax--and it shook the nonsense out of me.
My brother and my father died--some other sobering things
happened...and luckily I was still young enough to stop short,
and take stock of myself, and say that there were certain
paths I would never set foot on again--and stick to it.
But with you--do you see?--power only comes to you when you
are a mature man. Experiences, no matter how unpleasant
they are, will not change you now. You will not be
moved by this occurrence or that to distrust yourself,
or reconsider your methods, or form new resolutions.
Oh no! Power will be terrible in your hands, if people whom
you can injure provoke you to cruel courses----"
"Oh, dear--dear!" broke in Lady Cressage. "What a distressing
Mrs. Gummidge-Cassandra you are, Celia! Pray stop it!"
"No--she's right enough," said Thorpe, gravely.
"That's the kind of man I am."
He seemed so profoundly interested in the contemplation
of this portrait which had been drawn of him, that the others
respected his reflective silence. He sat for some moments,
idly fingering a fork on the table, and staring at a blotch
of vivid red projected through a decanter upon the cloth.
"It seems to me that's the only kind of man it's
worth while to be," he added at last, still speaking
with thoughtful deliberation. "There's nothing else
in the world so big as power--strength. If you have that,
you can get everything else. But if you have it,
and don't use it, then it rusts and decays on your hands.
It's like a thoroughbred horse. You can't keep it idle
in the stable. If you don't exercise it, you lose it."
He appeared to be commenting upon some illustration
which had occurred to his own mind, but was not visible
to his auditors. While they regarded him, he was prompted
to admit them to his confidence.
"There was a case of it today," he said, and then paused.
"Precisely," put in Miss Madden. "The fact that
some Frenchwoman, of whom you had never heard before,
was going to lose her marriage portion caught your attention,
and on the instant you presented her with $10,000,
an exercise of power which happens to be on the generous
side--but still entirely unreasoning, and not deserving
of any intellectual respect. And here's the point: if it
had happened that somebody else chanced to produce an
opposite impression upon you, you would have been capable
of taking $50,000 away from him with just as light a heart."
Thorpe's face beamed with repressed amusement. "As a matter
of fact it was that kind of case I was going to mention.
I wasn't referring to the girl and her marriage portion.
A young man came to me today--came into my room all
cock-a-whoop, smiling to himself with the notion that he
had only to name what he wanted, and I would give it
He stopped abruptly, with a confused little laugh.
He had been upon the brink of telling about Lord
Plowden's discomfiture, and even now the story itched
upon his tongue. It cost him an effort to put the
narrative aside, the while he pondered the arguments
which had suddenly reared themselves against publicity.
When at last he spoke, it was with a glance of conscious
magnanimity toward the lady who had consented to be his wife.
"Never mind," he said, lightly. "There wasn't much to it.
The man annoyed me, somehow--and he didn't get what he came
"But he was entitled to get it?" asked Celia Madden.
Thorpe's lips pouted over a reply. "Well--no," he said,
with a kind of reluctance. "He got strictly what he was
entitled to--precisely what I had promised him--and he
wrung up his nose at that--and then I actually gave him
15,000 pounds he wasn't entitled to at all."
"I hardly see what it proves, then," Edith Cressage remarked,
and the subject was dropped.
Some two hours later, Thorpe took his departure.
It was not until he was getting into the hansom which had
been summoned, that it all at once occurred to him that he
had not for a moment been alone with his betrothed.
Upon reflection, as the cab sped smoothly forward,
this seemed odd to him. He decided finally that there
was probably some social rule about such things which he
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the drawing-room of the house in Grafton Street
which he had quitted, the two ladies sat with faces
averted from each other, in constrained silence.
Edith Cressage rose at last, and took a few aimless steps,
with her hands at her hair. "Well--I'm embarked--fairly
under way!" she said, in clear-cut, almost provocative tones.
"I don't at all know what to say," her companion replied,
slowly. "I fancy that you exaggerate my disapproval.
Perhaps it ought not even to be called disapproval at all.
It is only that I am puzzled--and a little frightened."
"Oh, I am frightened too," said the other, but with
eagerness rather than trepidation in her voice. "That is
why I did not give you the signal to leave us alone.
I couldn't quite get up the nerve for it. But would you
believe it?--that is one of the charms of the thing.
There is an excitement about it that exhilarates me.
To get happiness through terror--you can't understand that,
"I'm trying. I think I'm beginning to understand,"
said Miss Madden, vaguely.
"Did you ever set yourself to comprehending why Marie
Stuart married Bothwell?" asked Edith, looking down
upon the other with illuminating fixity. "You have it
all--all there. Marie got tired of the smooth people,
the usual people. There was the promise of adventure,
and risk, and peril, and the grand emotions with the big,
"It isn't a happy story--this parallel that you pick out,"
commented Celia, absently.
"Happy! Pah!" retorted Edith, with spirit. "Who knows if it
wasn't the only really happy thing in her life? The snobs
and prigs all scold her and preach sermons at her--they did
it in her lifetime: they do it now----"Oh come, I'm neither
a snob nor a prig," put in Celia, looking up in her turn,
and tempering with a smile the energy of her tone--"I
don't blame her for her Bothwell; I don't criticize her.
I never was even able to mind about her killing Darnley.
You see I take an extremely liberal view. One might almost
call it broad. But if I had been one of her ladies--her
bosom friends--say Catherine Seton--and she had talked
with me about it--I think I should have confessed to some
forebodings--some little misgivings."
"And do you know what she would have said?"
Edith's swift question, put with a glowing face and a
confident voice, had in it the ring of assured triumph.
"She would have answered you: 'My dearest girl, all my
life I have done what other people told me to do. In my
childhood I was given in marriage to a criminal idiot.
In my premature widowhood I was governed by a committee
of scoundrels of both sexes until another criminal
idiot was imposed upon me as a second husband.
My own personality has never had the gleam of a chance.
I have never yet done any single thing because I wanted
to do it. Between first my politician-mother and her band
of tonsured swindlers, and then my cantankerous brother
and his crew of snarling and sour-minded preachers,
and all the court liars and parasites and spies that both
sides surrounded me with, I have lived an existence
that isn't life at all. I purport to be a woman,
but I have never been suffered to see a genuine man.
And now here is one--or what I think to be one--and I'm
given to understand that he is a pirate and a murderer
and an unspeakable ruffian generally--but he takes
my fancy, and he has beckoned to me to come to him,
and so you will kindly get me my hat and jacket and gloves.'
That's what she would have said to you, my dear."
"And I"--said Celia, rising after a moment's pause,
and putting her hand upon Edith's arm--"I would have answered,
'Dearest lady, in whatever befalls, I pray you never to forget
that I am to the end your fond and devoted and loyal servant.'"
AUGUST wore itself out in parched tedium, and a September
began which seemed even more unbearable in town,--and
still Thorpe did not get away from London.
So far as the payment of an exorbitant rent in advance,
and the receipt of innumerable letters from a restless and
fussy steward whom he had not yet seen, went as evidence,
he knew himself to be the tenant in possession of a great
shooting in Morayshire. He had several photographs of what was
called the lodge, but looked like something between a mansion
and a baronial castle, on the mantel of the Board Room.
The reflection that this sumptuous residence had been
his for a month, and that it daily stood waiting for him,
furnished and swept and provisioned for his coming,
did nothing to help the passing of time in the hot,
fagged City. More than once he had said resolutely that,
on the morrow, or at the worst the next day, he would
go--but in the event he had not gone. In the last week
of August he had proceeded to the length of sending his
niece and nephew Northward, and shutting up the house in
Ovington Square, and betaking himself to the Savoy Hotel.
This had appeared at the time to be almost equivalent
to his getting away himself,--to be at least a first stage
in the progress of his own journey. But at the hotel
he had stuck fast,--and now, on the tenth of September,
was no nearer the moors and the deer-forest than he had
been a month before.
A novel sense of loneliness,--of the fatuity of present
existence,--weighed grievously upon him. The ladies
of Grafton Street had left town upon a comprehensive
itinerary of visits which included the Malvern country,
and a ducal castle in Shropshire, and a place in Westmoreland.
There was nothing very definite about the date of their
coming to him in Scotland. The lady who had consented
to marry him had, somehow, omitted to promise that she
would write to him. An arrangement existed, instead,
by which she and his niece Julia were to correspond,
and to fix between themselves the details of the visit
Thorpe hardly went to the point of annoyance with
this arrangement. He was conscious of no deep impulse
to write love-letters himself, and there was nothing
in the situation which made his failure to receive love-
letters seem unnatural. The absence of moonshine,
at least during this preliminary season, had been quite
taken for granted between them, and he did not complain
even to himself. There was even a kind of proud
satisfaction for him in the thought that, though he had
all but completed the purchase of the noble Pellesley
estate for Edith Cressage, he had never yet kissed her.
The reserve he imposed upon himself gave him a certain
aristocratic fineness in his own eyes. It was the means
by which he could feel himself to be most nearly her equal.
But he remained very lonely in London, none the less.
It is true that a great deal of society was continually
offered to him, and even thrust upon him. In the
popular phrase, London was empty, but there seemed to be
more people than ever who desired Mr. Stormont Thorpe'
s presence at their dinner-tables, or their little theatre
or card or river parties. He clung sullenly to his rule
of going nowhere, but it was not so simple a matter to
evade the civilities and importunities of those who were
stopping at the hotel, or who came there to waylay him
at the entrance, or to encounter him in the restaurant.
He could not always refuse to sit down at tables when
attractively-dressed and vivacious women made room for him,
or to linger over cigars and wine with their husbands
and escorts later on.
An incessant and spirited court was paid to him
by many different groups of interested people who
were rarely at the pains to dissemble their aims.
He formed a manner for the reception of these advances,
compounded of joviality, cynicism, and frank brutality,
which nobody, to his face at least, resented. If women
winced under his mocking rudenesses of speech and smile,
if men longed to kill him for the cold insolence of his
refusal to let them inside his guard, they sedulously
kept it from him. The consciousness that everybody
was afraid of him,--that everybody would kneel to him,
and meekly take insult and ignominy from him, if only hope
remained to them of getting something out of him,--hardened
like a crust upon his mind.
It was impossible to get a sense of companionship from people
who cringed to him, and swallowed his affronts and cackled
at his jokes with equal docility. Sometimes he had a
passing amusement in the rough pleasantries and cruelties
which they drew from him. There were two or three bright
Jewish women, more gayly clever and impudent, perhaps,
than beautiful, with whom he found it genuine fun to talk,
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