The Yellow God An Idol of Africa
H. Rider Haggard
Part 1 out of 5
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Emma Dudding, email@example.com
The Yellow God
An Idol of Africa
Sir Robert Aylward, Bart., M.P., sat in his office in the City of
London. It was a very magnificent office, quite one of the finest that
could be found within half a mile of the Mansion House. Its exterior
was built of Aberdeen granite, a material calculated to impress the
prospective investor with a comfortable sense of security. Other
stucco, or even brick-built, offices might crumble and fall in an
actual or a financial sense, but this rock-like edifice of granite,
surmounted by a life-sized statue of Justice with her scales, admired
from either corner by pleasing effigies of Commerce and of Industry,
would surely endure any shock. Earthquake could scarcely shake its
strong foundations; panic and disaster would as soon affect the Bank
of England. That at least was the impression which it had been
designed to convey, and not without success.
"There is so much in externals," Mr. Champers-Haswell, Sir Robert's
partner, would say in his cheerful voice. "We are all of us influenced
by them, however unconsciously. Impress the public, my dear Aylward.
Let solemnity without suggest opulence within, and the bread, or
rather the granite, which you throw upon the waters will come back to
you after many days."
Mr. Aylward, for this conversation occurred before his merits or the
depth of his purse had been rewarded by a baronetcy, looked at his
partner in the impassive fashion for which he was famous, and
"You mix your metaphors, Haswell, but if you mean that the public are
fools who must be caught by advertisement, I agree with you. Only this
particular advertisement is expensive and I do not want to wait many
days for my reward. However, £20,000 one way or the other is a small
matter, so tell that architect to do the thing in granite."
Sir Robert Aylward sat in his own quiet room at the back of this
enduring building, a very splendid room that any Secretary of State
might have envied, but arranged in excellent taste. Its walls were
panelled with figured teak, a rich carpet made the footfall noiseless,
an antique Venus stood upon a marble pedestal in the corner, and over
the mantelpiece hung a fine portrait by Gainsborough, that of a
certain Miss Aylward, a famous beauty in her day, with whom, be it
added, its present owner could boast no connection whatsoever.
Sir Robert was seated at his ebony desk playing with a pencil, and the
light from a cheerful fire fell upon his face.
In its own way it was a remarkable face, as he appeared then in his
fourth and fortieth year; very pale but with a natural pallor, very
well cut and on the whole impressive. His eyes were dark, matching his
black hair and pointed beard, and his nose was straight and rather
prominent. Perhaps the mouth was his weakest feature, for there was a
certain shiftiness about it, also the lips were thick and slightly
sensuous. Sir Robert knew this, and therefore he grew a moustache to
veil them somewhat. To a careful observer the general impression given
by this face was such as is left by the sudden sight of a waxen mask.
"How strong! How lifelike!" he would have said, "but of course it
isn't real. There may be a man behind, or there may be wood, but
that's only a mask." Many people of perception had felt like this
about Sir Robert Aylward, namely, that under the mask of his pale
countenance dwelt a different being whom they did not know or
If these had seen him at this moment of the opening of our story, they
might have held that Wisdom was justified of her children. For now in
the solitude of his splendid office, of a sudden Sir Robert's mask
seemed to fall from him. His face broke up like ice beneath a thaw. He
rose from his table and began to walk up and down the room. He talked
to himself aloud.
"Great Heavens!" he muttered, "what a game to have played, and it will
go through. I believe that it will go through."
He stopped at the table, switched on an electric light and made a
rapid calculation on the back of a letter with a blue pencil.
"Yes," he said, "that's my share, a million and seventeen thousand
pounds in cash, and two million in ordinary shares which can be worked
off at a discount--let us say another seven hundred and fifty
thousand, plus what I have got already--put that at only two hundred
and fifty thousand net. Two millions in all, which of course may or
may not be added to, probably not, unless the ordinaries boom, for I
don't mean to speculate any more. That's the end of twenty years'
work, Robert Aylward. And to think of it, eighteen months ago,
although I seemed so rich, I was on the verge of bankruptcy--the very
verge, not worth five thousand pounds. Now what did the trick? I
wonder what did the trick?"
He walked down the room and stopped opposite the ancient marble,
staring at it--
"Not Venus, I think," he said, with a laugh, "Venus never made any man
rich." He turned and retraced his steps to the other end of the room,
which was veiled in shadow. Here upon a second marble pedestal stood
an object that gleamed dimly through the gloom. It was about ten
inches or a foot high, but in that place nothing more could be seen of
it, except that it was yellow and had the general appearance of a
toad. For some reason it seemed to attract Sir Robert Aylward, for he
halted to stare at it, then stretched out his hand and switched on
another lamp, in the hard brilliance of which the thing upon the
pedestal suddenly declared itself, leaping out of the darkness into
light. It was a terrible object, a monstrosity of indeterminate sex
and nature, but surmounted by a woman's head and face of
extraordinary, if devilish loveliness, sunk back between high but
grotesquely small shoulders, like to those of a lizard, so that it
glared upwards. The workmanship of the thing was rude yet strangely
powerful. Whatever there is cruel, whatever there is devilish,
whatever there is inhuman in the dark places of the world, shone out
of the jewelled eyes which were set in that yellow female face, yellow
because its substance was of gold, a face which seemed not to belong
to the embryonic legs beneath, for body there was none, but to float
above them. A hollow, life-sized mask with two tiny frog-like legs,
that was the fashion of it.
"You are an ugly brute," muttered Sir Robert, contemplating this
effigy, "but although I believe in nothing in heaven above or earth
below, except the abysmal folly of the British public, I am bothered
if I don't believe in you. At any rate from the day when Vernon
brought you into my office, my luck turned, and to judge from the
smile on your sweet countenance, I don't think it is done with yet. I
wonder what those stones are in your eyes. Opals, I suppose, from the
way they change colour. They shine uncommonly to-day, I never remember
them so bright. I----"
At this moment a knock came on the door. Sir Robert turned off the
lamp and walked back to the fireplace.
"Come in," he said, and as he spoke once more his pale face grew
impassive and expressionless.
The door opened and a clerk entered, an imposing-looking clerk with
iron-grey hair, who wore an irreproachable frock coat and patent
leather boots. Advancing to his master, he stood respectfully silent,
waiting to be addressed. For quite a long while Sir Robert looked over
his head as though he did not see him; it was a way of his. Then his
eyes rested on the man dreamily and he remarked in his cold, clear
"I don't think I rang, Jeffreys."
"No, Sir Robert," answered the clerk, bowing as though he spoke to
Royalty, "but there is a little matter about that article in /The
"Press business," said Sir Robert, lifting his eyebrows; "you should
know by this time that I do not attend to such details. See Mr.
Champers-Haswell, or Major Vernon."
"They are both out at the moment, Sir Robert."
"Go on, then, Jeffreys," replied the head of the firm with a resigned
sigh, "only be brief. I am thinking."
The clerk bowed again.
"The /Cynic/ people have just telephoned through about that article we
sent them. I think you saw it, sir, and you may remember it
begins----" and he read from a typewritten copy in his hand which was
headed "Sahara Limited":
"'We are now privileged to announce that this mighty scheme which will
turn a desert into a rolling sea bearing the commerce of nations and
cause the waste places of the earth to teem with population and to
blossom like the rose, has been completed in its necessary if dull
financial details and will within a few days be submitted to investors
among whom it has already caused so much excitement. These details we
will deal with fully in succeeding articles, and therefore now need
only pause to say that the basis of capitalization strikes us as
wonderfully advantageous to the fortunate public who are asked to
participate in its vast prospective prosperity. Our present object is
to speak of its national and imperial aspects----'"
Sir Robert lifted his eyes in remonstrance:
"How much more of that exceedingly dull and commonplace puff do you
propose to read, Jeffreys?" he asked.
"No more, Sir Robert. We are paying /The Cynic/ thirty guineas to
insert this article, and the point is that they say that if they have
to put in the 'national and imperial' business they must have twenty
"Indeed, Jeffreys? Why?"
"Because, Sir Robert--I will tell you, as you always like to hear the
truth--their advertisement-editor is of opinion that Sahara Limited is
a national and imperial swindle. He says that he won't drag the nation
and the empire into it in an editorial under fifty guineas."
A faint smile flickered on Sir Robert's face.
"Does he, indeed?" he asked. "I wonder at his moderation. Had I been
in his place I should have asked more, for really the style is a
little flamboyant. Well, we don't want to quarrel with them just now--
feed the sharks. But surely, Jeffreys, you didn't come to disturb me
about such a trifle?"
"Not altogether, Sir Robert. There is something more important. /The
Daily Judge/ not only declines to put any article whatsoever, but
refuses our advertisement, and states that it means to criticize the
"Ah!" said his master after a moment's thought, "that /is/ rather
serious, since people believe in the /Judge/ even when it is wrong.
Offer them the advertisement at treble rates."
"It has been done, sir, and they still refuse."
Sir Robert walked to the corner of the room where the yellow object
squatted on its pedestal, and contemplated it a while, as a man often
studies one thing when he is thinking of another. It seemed to give
him an idea, for he looked over his shoulder and said:
"That will do, Jeffreys. When Major Vernon comes in, give him my
compliments and say that I should be obliged by a word or two with
The clerk bowed and went as noiselessly as he had entered.
"Let's see," added Sir Robert to himself. "Old Jackson, the editor of
/The Judge/, was a great friend of Vernon's father, the late Sir
William Vernon, G.C.B. I believe that he was engaged to be married to
his sister years ago, only she died or something. So the Major ought
to be able to get round him if anybody can. Only the worst of it is I
don't altogether trust that young gentleman. It suited us to give him
a share in the business because he is an engineer who knows the
country, and this Sahara scheme was his notion, a very good one in a
way, and for other reasons. Now he shows signs of kicking over the
traces, wants to know too much, is developing a conscience, and so
forth. As though the promoters of speculative companies had any
business with consciences. Ah! here he comes."
Sir Robert seated himself at his desk and resumed his calculations
upon a half-sheet of note-paper, and that moment a clear, hearty voice
was heard speaking to the clerks in the outer office. Then came the
sound of a strong, firm footstep, the door opened and Major Alan
He was still quite a young man, not more than thirty-two or three
years of age, though he lacked the ultra robust and rubicund
appearance which is typical of so many Englishmen of his class at this
period of life. A heavy bout of blackwater fever acquired on service
in West Africa, which would have killed anyone of weaker constitution,
had robbed his face of its bloom and left it much sallower, if more
interesting than once it had been. For in a way there was interest
about the face; also a certain charm. It was a good and honest face
with a rather eager, rather puzzled look, that of a man who has
imagination and ideas and who searches for the truth but fails to find
it. As for the charm, it lay for the most part in the pleasant, open
smile and in the frank but rather round brown eyes overhung by a
somewhat massive forehead which projected a little, or perhaps the
severe illness already alluded to had caused the rest of the face to
sink. Though thin, the man was bigly built, with broad shoulders and
well-developed limbs, measuring a trifle under six feet in height.
Such was the outward appearance of Alan Vernon. As for his mind, it
was able enough in certain fashions, for instance those of
engineering, and the soldier-like faculties to which it had been
trained; frank and kindly also, but in other respects not quick,
perhaps from its unsuspiciousness. Alan Vernon was a man slow to
discover ill and slower still to believe in it even when it seemed to
be discovered, a weakness that may have gone far to account for his
presence in the office of those eminent and brilliant financiers,
Messrs. Aylward & Champers-Haswell. Just now he looked a little
worried, like a fish out of water, or rather a fish which has begun to
suspect the quality of the water, something in its smell or taste.
"Jeffreys tells me that you want to see me, Sir Robert," he said in
his low and pleasant voice, looking at the baronet rather anxiously.
"Yes, my dear Vernon, I wish to ask you to do something, if you kindly
will, although it is not quite in your line. Old Jackson, the editor
of /The Judge/, is a friend of yours, isn't he?"
"He was a friend of my father's, and I used to know him slightly."
"Well, that's near enough. As I daresay you have heard, he is an
unreasonable old beggar, and has taken a dislike to our Sahara scheme.
Someone has set him against it and he refuses to receive
advertisements, threatens criticisms, etc. Now the opposition of /The
Judge/ or any other paper won't kill us, and if necessary we can
fight, but at the same time it is always wise to agree with your enemy
while he is in the way, and in short--would you mind going down and
explaining his mistake to him?"
Before answering Major Vernon walked to the window leisurely and
"I don't like asking favours from family friends," he replied at
length, "and, as you said, I think it isn't quite my line. Though of
course if it has anything to do with the engineering possibilities, I
shall be most happy to see him," he added, brightening.
"I don't know what it has to do with; that is what I shall be obliged
if you will find out," answered Sir Robert with some asperity. "One
can't divide a matter of this sort into watertight compartments. It is
true that in so important a concern each of us has charge of his own
division, but the fact remains that we are jointly and severally
responsible for the whole. I am not sure that you bear this
sufficiently in mind, my dear Vernon," he added with slow emphasis.
His partner moved quickly; it might almost have been said that he
shivered, though whether the movement, or the shiver, was produced by
the argument of joint and several liability or by the familiarity of
the "my dear Vernon," remains uncertain. Perhaps it was the latter,
since although the elder man was a baronet and the younger only a
retired Major of Engineers, the gulf between them, as any one of
discernment could see, was wide. They were born, lived, and moved in
different spheres unbridged by any common element or impulse.
"I think that I do bear it in mind, especially of late, Sir Robert,"
answered Alan Vernon slowly.
His partner threw a searching glance on him, for he felt that there
was meaning in the words, but only said:
"That's all right. My motor is outside and will take you to Fleet
Street in no time. Meanwhile you might tell them to telephone that you
are coming, and perhaps you will just look in when you get back. I
haven't got to go to the House to-night, so shall be here till dinner
time, and so, I think, will your cousin Haswell. Muzzle that old
bulldog, Jackson, somehow. No doubt he has his price like the rest of
them, in meal or malt, and you needn't stick at the figure. We don't
want him hanging on our throat for the next week or two."
Ten minutes later the splendid, two-thousand guinea motor brougham
drew up at the offices of the /Judge/ and the obsequious motor-footman
bowed Major Vernon through its rather grimy doorway. Within, a small
boy in a kind of box asked his business, and when he heard his name,
said that the "Guvnor" had sent down word that he was go up at once--
third floor, first to the right and second to the left. So up he went,
and when he reached the indicated locality was taken possession of by
a worried-looking clerk who had evidently been waiting for him, and
almost thrust through a door to find himself in a big, worn, untidy
room. At a huge desk in this room sat an elderly man, also big, worn,
and untidy-looking, who waved a long slip of galley-proof in his hand,
and was engaged in scolding a sub-editor.
"Who is that?" he said, wheeling round. "I'm busy, can't see anyone."
"I beg your pardon," answered the Major with humility, "your people
told me to come up. My name is Alan Vernon."
"Oh! I remember. Sit down for a moment, will you, and--Mr. Thomas,
oblige me by taking away this rot and rewriting it entirely in the
sense I have outlined."
Mr. Thomas snatched his rejected copy and vanished through another
door, whereon his chief remarked in an audible voice:
"That man is a perfect fool. Lucky I thought to look at his stuff.
Well, he is no worse than the rest, in this weary world," and he burst
into a hearty laugh and swung his chair round, adding, "Now then,
Alan, what is it? I have a quarter of an hour at your service. Why,
bless me! I was forgetting that it's more than a dozen years since we
met; you were still a boy then, and now you have left the army with a
D.S.O. and gratuity, and turned financier, which I think wouldn't have
pleased your old father. Come, sit down here and let us talk."
"I didn't leave the army, Mr. Jackson," answered his visitor; "it left
me; I was invalided out. They said I should never get my health back
after that last go of fever, but I did."
"Ah! bad luck, very bad luck, just at the beginning of what should
have been a big career, for I know they thought highly of you at the
War Office, that is, if they can think. Well, you have grown into a
fine-looking fellow, like your father, very, and someone else too,"
and he sighed, running his fingers through his grizzled hair. "But you
don't remember her; she was before your time. Now let us get to
business; there's no time for reminiscences in this office. What is
it, Alan, for like other people I suppose that you want something?"
"It is about that Sahara flotation, Mr. Jackson," he began rather
The old editor's face darkened. "The Sahara flotation! That
accursed----" and he ceased abruptly. "What have you, of all people in
the world, got to do with it? Oh! I remember. Someone told me that you
had gone into partnership with Aylward the company promoter, and that
little beast, Champers-Haswell, who really is the clever one. Well,
set it out, set it out."
"It seems, Mr. Jackson, that /The Judge/ has refused not only our
article, but also the advertisement of the company. I don't know much
about this side of the affair myself, but Sir Robert asked me if I
would come round and see if things couldn't be arranged."
"You mean that the man sent you to try and work on me because he knew
that I used to be intimate with your family. Well, it is a poor errand
and will have a poor end. You can't--no one on earth can, while I sit
in this chair, not even my proprietors."
There was silence broken at last by Alan, who remarked awkwardly:
"If that is so, I must not take up your time any longer."
"I said that I would give you a quarter of an hour, and you have only
been here four minutes. Now, Alan Vernon, tell me as your father's old
friend, why you have gone to herd with these gilded swine?"
There was something so earnest about the man's question that it did
not even occur to his visitor to resent its roughness.
"Of course it is not original," he answered, "but I had this idea
about flooding the Desert; I spent a furlough up there a few years ago
and employed my time in making some rough surveys. Then I was obliged
to leave the Service and went down to Yarleys after my father's death
--it's mine now, you know, but worth nothing except a shooting rent,
which just pays for the repairs. There I met Champers-Haswell, who
lives near and is a kind of distant cousin of mine--my mother was a
Champers--and happened to mention the thing to him. He took it up at
once and introduced me to Aylward, and the end of it was, that they
offered me a partnership with a small share in the business, because
they said I was just the man they wanted."
"Just the man they wanted," repeated the editor after him. "Yes, the
last of the Vernons, an engineer with an old name in his county, a
clean record and plenty of ability. Yes, you would be just the man
they wanted. And you accepted?"
"Yes. I was on my beam ends with nothing to do; I wanted to make some
money. You see Yarleys has been in the family for over five hundred
years, and it seemed hard to have to sell it. Also--also----" and he
"Ever meet Barbara Champers?" asked Mr. Jackson inconsequently. "I did
once. Wonderfully nice girl, and very good-looking too. But of course
you know her, and she is her uncle's ward, and their place isn't far
off Yarleys, you say. Must be a connection of yours also."
Major Vernon started a little at the name and his face seemed to
"Yes," he said, "I have met her and she is a connection."
"Will be a big heiress one day, I think," went on Mr. Jackson, "unless
old Haswell makes off with her money. I think Aylward knows that; at
any rate he was hanging about when I saw her."
Vernon started again, this time very perceptibly.
"Very natural--your going into the business, I mean, under all the
circumstances," went on Mr. Jackson. "But now, if you will take my
advice, you'll go out of it as soon as you can."
"Because, Alan Vernon, I am sure you don't want to see your name
dragged in the dirt, any more than I do." He fumbled in a drawer and
produced a typewritten document. "Take that," he said, "and study it
at your leisure. It's a sketch of the financial career of Messrs.
Aylward and Champers-Haswell, also of the companies which they have
promoted and been connected with, and what has happened to them and to
those who invested in them. A man got it out for me yesterday and I'm
going to use it. As regards this Sahara business, you think it all
right, and so it may be from an engineering point of view, but you
will never live to sail upon that sea which the British public is
going to be asked to find so many millions to make. Look here. We have
only three minutes more, so I will come to the point at once. It's
Turkish territory, isn't it, and putting aside everything else, the
security for the whole thing is a Firman from the Sultan?"
"Yes, Sir Robert Aylward and Haswell procured it in Constantinople. I
have seen the document."
"Indeed, and are you well acquainted with the Sultan's signature? I
know when they were there last autumn that potentate was very ill----"
"You mean----" said Major Vernon, looking up.
"I mean, Alan, that I like not the security. I won't say any more, as
there is a law of libel in this land. But /The Judge/ has certain
sources of information. It may be that no protest will be made at
once, for baksheesh can stop it for a while, but sooner or later the
protest or repudiation will come, and perhaps some international
bother; also much scandal. As to the scheme itself, it is shamelessly
over-capitalized for the benefit of the promoters--of whom, remember,
Alan, you will appear as one. Now time's up. Perhaps you will take my
advice, and perhaps you won't, but there it is for what it's worth as
that of a man of the world and an old friend of your family. As for
your puff article and your prospectus, I wouldn't put them in /The
Judge/ if you paid me a thousand pounds, which I daresay your friend,
Aylward, would be quite ready to do. Good-bye. Come and see me again
sometime, and tell me what has happened--and, I say"--this last was
shouted through the closing door,--"give my kind regards to Miss
Barbara, for wherever she happens to live, she is an honest woman."
THE YELLOW GOD
Alan Vernon walked thoughtfully down the lead-covered stairs, hustled
by eager gentlemen hurrying up to see the great editor, whose bell was
already ringing furiously, and was duly ushered by the obsequious
assistant-chauffeur back into the luxurious motor. There was an
electric lamp in this motor, and by the light of it, his mind being
perplexed, he began to read the typewritten document given to him by
Mr. Jackson, which he still held in his hand.
As it chanced they were blocked for a quarter of an hour near the
Mansion House, so that he found time, if not to master it, at least to
gather enough of its contents to make him open his brown eyes very
wide before the motor pulled up at the granite doorway of his office.
Alan descended from the machine, which departed silently, and stood
for a moment wondering what he should do. His impulse was to jump into
a bus and go straight to his rooms or his club, to which Sir Robert
did not belong, but being no coward, he dismissed it from his mind.
His fate hung in the balance, of that he was well aware. Either he
must disregard Mr. Jackson's warning, confirmed as it was by many
secret fears and instincts of his own, and say nothing except that he
had failed in his mission, or he must take the bull by the horns and
break with the firm. To do the latter meant not only a good deal of
moral courage, but practical ruin, whereas if he chose the former
course, probably within a fortnight he would find himself a rich man.
Whatever Jackson and a few others might say in its depreciation, he
was certain that the Sahara flotation would go through, for it was
underwritten, of course upon terms, by responsible people, moreover
the unissued preferred shares had already been dealt in at a heavy
premium. Now to say nothing of the allotment to which he was entitled
upon his holding in the parent Syndicate, the proportion of cash due
to him as a partner, would amount to quite a hundred thousand pounds.
In other words, he, who had so many reasons for desiring money, would
be wealthy. After working so hard and undergoing so much that he felt
to be humiliating and even degrading, why should he not take his
reward and clear out afterwards?
This he remembered he could do, since probably by some oversight of
Aylward's, who left such matters to his lawyers, his deed of
partnership did not bind him to a fixed term. It could be broken at
any moment. To this argument there was only one possible answer, that
of his conscience. If once he were convinced that things were not
right, it would be dishonest to participate in their profits. And he
was convinced. Mr. Jackson's arguments and his damning document had
thrown a flood of light upon many matters which he had suspected but
never quite understood. He was the partner of, well, adventurers, and
the money which he received would in fact be filched from the pockets
of unsuspecting persons. He would vouch for that of which he was
doubtful and receive the price of sharp practice. In other words he,
Alan Vernon, who had never uttered a wilful untruth or taken a
halfpenny that was not his own, would before the tribunal of his own
mind, stand convicted as a liar and a thief. The thing was not to be
borne. At whatever cost it must be ended. If he were fated to be a
beggar, at least he would be an honest beggar.
With a firm step and a high head he walked straight into Sir Robert's
room, without even going through the formality of knocking, to find
Mr. Champers-Haswell seated at the ebony desk by his partner's side
examining some document through a reading-glass, which on his
appearance, was folded over and presently thrust away into a drawer.
It seemed, Alan noticed, to be of an unusual shape and written in some
Mr. Haswell, a stout, jovial-looking, little man with a florid
complexion and white hair, rose at once to greet him.
"How do you do, Alan," he said in a cheerful voice, for as a cousin by
marriage he called him by his Christian name. "I am just this minute
back from Paris, and you will be glad to learn that they are going to
support us very well there; in fact I may say that the Government has
taken up the scheme, of course under the rose. You know the French
have possessions all along that coast and they won't be sorry to find
an opportunity of stretching out their hand a little further. Our
difficulties as to capital are at an end, for a full third of it is
guaranteed in Paris, and I expect that small investors and speculators
for the rise will gobble a lot more. We shall plant £10,000,000 worth
of Sahara scrip in sunny France, my boy, and foggy England has
underwritten the rest. It will be a case of 'letters of Allotment and
regret,' /and/ regret, Alan, financially the most successful issue of
the last dozen years. What do you say to that?" and in his elation the
little man puffed out his chest and pursing up his lips, blew through
them, making a sound like that of wind among wires.
"I don't know, Mr. Haswell. If we are all alive I would prefer to
answer the question twelve months hence, or later, when we see whether
the company is going to be a practical success as well, or not."
Again Mr. Haswell made the sound of wind among wires, only this time
there was a shriller note in it; its mellowness was gone, it was as
though the air had suddenly been filled with frost.
"A practical success!" he repeated after him. "That is scarcely our
affair, is it? Promoters should not bother themselves with long views,
Alan. These may be left to the investing public, the speculative
parson and the maiden lady who likes a flutter--those props of modern
enterprise. But what do you mean? You originated this idea and always
said that the profits should be great."
"Yes, Mr. Haswell, on a moderate capitalization and provided that we
are sure of the co-operation of the Porte."
Mr. Haswell looked at him very searchingly and Sir Robert, who had
been listening, said in his cold voice:
"I think that we thrashed out these points long ago, and to tell you
the truth I am rather tired of them, especially as it is too late to
change anything. How did you get on with Jackson, Vernon?"
"I did not get on at all, Sir Robert. He will not touch the thing on
any terms, and indeed means to oppose it tooth and nail."
"Then he will find himself in a minority when the articles come out
to-morrow. Of course it is a bore, but we are strong enough to snap
our fingers at him. You see they don't read /The Judge/ in France, and
no one has ever heard of it in Constantinople. Therefore we have
nothing to fear--so long as we stick together," he added meaningly.
Alan felt that the crisis had come. He must speak now or for ever hold
his peace; indeed Aylward was already looking round for his hat.
"Sir Robert and Mr. Haswell," he broke in rather nervously, "I have
something to say to you, something unpleasant," and he paused.
"Then please say it at once, Vernon. I want to dress for dinner, I am
going to the theatre to-night and must dine early," replied Aylward in
a voice of the utmost unconcern.
"It is, Sir Robert," went on Alan with a rush, "that I do not like the
lines upon which this business is being worked, and I wish to give up
my interest in it and retire from the firm, as I have a right to do
under our deed of partnership."
"Have you?" said Aylward. "Really, I forget. But, my dear fellow, do
not think that we should wish to keep you for one moment against your
will. Only, might I ask, has that old puritan, Jackson, hypnotized
you, or is it a case of sudden madness after influenza?"
"Neither," answered Alan sternly, for although he might be diffident
on matters that he did not thoroughly understand, he was not a man to
brook trifling or impertinence. "It is what I have said, no more nor
less. I am not satisfied either as to the capitalization or as to the
guarantee that the enterprise can be really carried out. Further"--and
he paused,--"Further, I should like what I have never yet been able to
obtain, more information as to that Firman under which the concession
For one moment a sort of tremor passed over Sir Robert's impassive
countenance, while Mr. Haswell uttered his windy whistle, this time in
a tone of plaintive remonstrance.
"As you have formally resigned your membership of the firm, I do not
see that any useful purpose can be served by discussing such matters.
The fullest explanations, of course, we should have been willing to
"My dear Alan," broke in Mr. Champers-Haswell, who was quite upset, "I
do implore you to reflect for one moment, for your own sake. In a
single week you would have been a wealthy man; do you really mean to
throw away everything for a whim?"
"Perhaps Vernon remembers that he holds over 1700 of the Syndicate
shares which we have worked up to £18, and thinks it wiser to capture
the profit in sight, generally speaking a very sound principle,"
interrupted Aylward sarcastically.
"You are mistaken, Sir Robert," replied Alan, flushing. "The way that
those shares have been artificially put up is one of the things to
which I most object. I shall only ask for mine the face value which I
paid for them."
Now notwithstanding their experience, both of the senior partners did
for a moment look rather scared. Such folly, or such honesty, was
absolutely incredible to them. They felt that there must be much
behind. Sir Robert, however, recovered instantly.
"Very well," he said; "it is not for us to dictate to you; you must
make your own bed and lie on it. To argue or remonstrate would only be
rude." He put out his hand and pushed the button of an electric bell,
adding as he did so, "Of course we understand one thing, Vernon,
namely, that as a gentleman and a man of honour you will make no
public use of the information which you have acquired during your stay
in this office, either to our detriment, personal or financial, or to
your own advantage."
"Certainly you may understand that," replied Vernon. "Unless my
character is attacked and it becomes necessary for me to defend
myself, my lips are sealed."
"That will never happen--why should it?" said Sir Robert with a polite
The door opened and the head clerk, Jeffreys, appeared.
"Mr. Jeffreys," said Sir Robert, "please find us the deed of
partnership between Major Vernon and ourselves, and bring it here. One
moment. Please make out also a transfer of Major Vernon's parcel of
Sahara Syndicate shares to Mr. Champers-Haswell and myself at par
value, and fill in a cheque for the amount. Please remove also Major
Vernon's name wherever it appears in the proof prospectus, and--yes--
one thing more. Telephone to Specton--the Right Honourable the Earl of
Specton, I mean, and say that after all I have been able to arrange
that he shall have a seat on the Board and a block of shares at a very
moderate figure, and that if he will wire his assent, his name shall
be put into the prospectus. You approve, don't you, Haswell?--yes--
then that is all, I think, Jeffreys, only please be as quick as you
can, for I want to get away."
Jeffreys, the immaculate and the impassive, bowed, and casting one
swift glance at Vernon out of the corner of his eye, departed.
What is called an awkward pause ensued; in fact it was a very awkward
pause. The die was cast, the matter ended, and what were the
principals to do until the ratifications had been exchanged or, a
better simile perhaps, the /decree nisi/ pronounced absolute. Mr.
Champers-Haswell remarked that the weather was very cold for April,
and Alan agreed with him, while Sir Robert found his hat and brushed
it with his sleeve. Then Mr. Haswell, in desperation, for in minor
matters he was a kindly sort of man who disliked scenes and
unpleasantness, muttered something as to seeing him--Alan--at his
house, The Court, in Hertfordshire, from Saturday to Monday.
"That was the arrangement," answered Alan bluntly, "but possibly after
what has happened you will not wish that it should be kept."
"Oh! why not, why not?" said Mr. Haswell. "Sunday is a day of rest
when we make it a rule not to talk business, and if we did, perhaps we
might all change our minds about these matters. Sir Robert is coming,
and I am sure that your cousin Barbara will be very disappointed if
you do not turn up, for she understands nothing about these city
things which are Greek to her."
At the mention of the name of Barbara Sir Robert Aylward looked up
from the papers which he affected to be tidying, and Alan thought that
there was a kind of challenge in his eyes. A moment before he had made
up his mind that no power on earth would induce him to spend a Sunday
with his late partners at The Court. Now, acting upon some instinct or
impulse, he reversed his opinion.
"Thanks," he said, "if that is understood, I shall be happy to come. I
will drive over from Yarleys in time for dinner to-morrow. Perhaps you
will say so to Barbara."
"She will be glad, I am sure," answered Mr. Haswell, "for she told me
the other day that she wants to consult you about some outdoor
theatricals that she means to get up in July."
"In July!" answered Alan with a little laugh. "I wonder where I shall
be in July."
Then came another pause, which seemed to affect even Sir Robert's
nerves, for abandoning the papers, he walked down the room till he
came to the golden object that has been described, and for the second
time that day stood there contemplating it.
"This thing is yours, Vernon," he said, "and now that our relations
are at an end, I suppose that you will want to take it away. What is
its history? You never told me."
"Oh! that's a long story," answered Alan in an absent voice. "My
uncle, who was a missionary, brought it from West Africa. I rather
forget the facts, but Jeekie, my negro servant, knows them all, for as
a lad my uncle saved him from sacrifice, or something, in a place
where they worship these things, and he has been with us ever since.
It is a fetish with magical powers and all the rest of it. I believe
they call it the Swimming Head and other names. If you look at it, you
will see that it seems to swim between the shoulders, doesn't it?"
"Yes," said Sir Robert, "and I admire the beautiful beast. She is
cruel and artistic, like--like finance. Look here, Vernon, we have
quarrelled, and of course henceforth are enemies, for it is no use
mincing matters, only fools do that. But in a way you are being hardly
treated. You could get £10 apiece to-day for those shares of yours in
a block on the market, and I am paying you £1. I understand your
scruples, but there is no reason why we should not square things. This
fetish of yours has brought me luck, so let's do a deal. Leave it
here, and instead of a check for £1700, I will make you one out for
"That's a very liberal offer," said Vernon. "Give me a moment to think
Then he also walked into the corner of the room and contemplated the
golden mask that seemed to float between the frog-like shoulders. The
shimmering eyes drew his eyes, though what he saw in them does not
matter. Indeed he could never remember. Only when he straightened
himself again there was left on his mind a determination that not for
seventeen or for seventy thousand pounds would he part with his
ownership in this very unique fetish.
"No, thank you," he said presently. "I don't think I will sell the
Yellow God, as Jeekie calls it. Perhaps you will kindly keep her here
for a week or so, until I make up my mind where to stow her."
Again Mr. Champers-Haswell uttered his windy whistle. That a man
should refuse £17,000 for a bit of African gold worth £100 or so,
struck him as miraculous. But Sir Robert did not seem in the least
surprised, only very disappointed.
"I quite understand your dislike to selling," he said. "Thank you for
leaving it here for the present to see us through the flotation," and
At that moment Jeffreys entered the room with the documents. Sir
Robert handed the deed of partnership to Alan, and when he had
identified it, took it from him again and threw it on the fire, saying
that of course the formal letter of release would be posted and the
dissolution notified in the /Gazette/. Then the transfer was signed
and the cheque delivered.
"Well, good-bye till Saturday," said Alan when he had received the
latter, and nodding to them both, he turned and left the room.
The passage ran past the little room in which Mr. Jeffreys, the head
clerk, sat alone. Catching sight of him through the open door, Alan
entered, shutting it behind him. Finding his key ring he removed from
it the keys of his desk and of the office strongroom, and handed them
to the clerk who, methodical in everything, proceeded to write a
"You are leaving us, Major Vernon?" he said interrogatively as he
signed the paper.
"Yes, Jeffreys," answered Alan, then prompted by some impulse, added,
"Are you sorry?"
Mr. Jeffreys looked up and there were traces of unwonted emotion upon
his hard, regulated face.
"For myself, yes, Major--for you, on the whole, no."
"What do you mean, Jeffreys? I do not quite understand."
"I mean, Major, that I am sorry because you have never tried to
shuffle off any shady business on to my back and leave me to bear the
brunt of it; also because you have always treated me as a gentleman
should, not as a machine to be used until a better can be found, and
kicked aside when it goes out of order."
"It is very kind of you to say so, Jeffreys, but I can't remember
having done anything particular."
"No, Major, you can't remember what comes natural to you. But I and
the others remember, and that's why I am sorry. But for yourself I am
glad, since although Aylward and Haswell have put a big thing through
and are going to make a pot of money, this is no place for the likes
of you, and now that you are going I will make bold to tell you that I
always wondered what you were doing here. By and by, Major, the row
will come, as it has come more than once in the past, before your
"And then?" said Alan, for he was anxious to get to the bottom of this
man's mind, which hitherto he had always found so secret.
"And then, Major, it won't matter much to Messrs. Aylward and
Champers-Haswell, who are used to that kind of thing and will probably
dissolve partnership and lie quiet for a bit, and still less to folk
like myself, who are only servants. But if you were still here it
would have mattered a great deal to you, for it would blacken your
name and break your heart, and then what's the good of the money? I
tell you, Major," the clerk went on with quiet intensity, "though I am
nobody and nothing, if I could afford it I would follow your example.
But I can't, for I have a sick wife and a family of delicate children
who have to live half the year on the south coast, to say nothing of
my old mother, and--I was fool enough to be taken in and back Sir
Robert's last little venture, which cost me all I had saved. So you
see I must make a bit before the machine is scrapped, Major. But I
tell you this, that if I can get £5000 together, as I hope to do out
of Saharas before I am a month older, for they had to give me a look-
in, as I knew too much, I am off to the country, where I was born, to
take a farm there. No more of Messrs. Aylward and Haswell for Thomas
Jeffreys. That's my bell. Good-bye, Major, I'll take the liberty to
write you a line sometimes, for I know you won't give me away. Good-
bye and God bless you, as I am sure He will in the long run," and
stretching out his hand, he took that of the astonished Alan and wrung
When he was gone Alan went also, noticing that the clerks, whom some
rumour of these events seemed to have reached, eyed him curiously
through the glass screens behind which they sat at their desks, as he
thought not without regret and a kind of admiration. Even the
magnificent be-medalled porter at the door emerged from the carved
teak box where he dwelt and touching his cap asked if he should call a
"No, thank you, Sergeant," answered Alan, "I will take a bus, and,
Sergeant, I think I forgot to give you a present last Xmas. Will you
accept this?--I wish I could make it more," and he presented him with
The Sergeant drew himself up and saluted.
"Thank you kindly, Major," he said. "I'd rather take that from you
than £10 from the other gentlemen. But, Major, I wish we were out on
the West Coast again together. It's a stinking, barbarous hole, but
not so bad as this 'ere city."
For once these two had served as comrades, and it was through Alan
that the sergeant obtained his present lucrative but somewhat
He was outside at last. The massive granite portal vanished behind him
in the evening mists, much as a nightmare vanishes. He, Alan Vernon,
who for a year or more had been in bondage, was a free man again. All
his dreams of wealth had departed; indeed if anything, save in
experience, he was poorer than when first the shadow of yonder doorway
fell upon him. But at least he was safe, safe. The deed of partnership
which had been as a chain about his neck, was now white ashes; his
name was erased from that fearful prospectus of Sahara Limited,
wherein millions which someone would provide were spoken of like
silver in the days of Solomon, as things of no account. The bitterest
critic could not say that he had made a halfpenny out of the venture,
in fact, if trouble came, his voluntary abandonment of the profits due
to him must go to his credit. He had plunged into the icy waters of
renunciation and come up clean if naked. Never since he was a boy
could Alan remember feeling so utterly light-hearted and free from
anxiety. Not for a million pounds would he have returned to gather
gold in that mausoleum of reputations. As for the future, he did not
in the least care what happened. There was no one dependent on him,
and in this way or in that he could always earn a crust, a nice,
He ran down the street and danced for joy like a child, yes, and
presented a crossing-sweeper against whom he butted with a whole
sixpence in compensation. Thus he reached the Mansion House, not
unsuspected of inebriety by the police, and clambered to the top of a
bus crowded with weary and anxious-looking City clerks returning home
after a long day's labour at starvation wage. In that cold company and
a chilling atmosphere some of his enthusiasm evaporated. He remembered
that this step of his meant that sooner or later, within a year or two
at most, Yarleys, where his family had dwelt for centuries, must go to
the hammer. Why had he not accepted Aylward's offer and sold that old
fetish to him for £17,000? There was no question of share-dealing
there, and if a very wealthy man chose to give a fancy price for a
curiosity, he could take it without doubt or shame. At least it would
have sufficed to save Yarleys, which after all was only mortgaged for
£20,000. For the life of him he could not tell. He had acted on
impulse, a very curious impulse, and there was an end of it perhaps;
it might be because his uncle had told him as a boy that the thing was
unique, or perhaps because old Jeekie, his negro servant, venerated it
so much and swore that it was "lucky." At any rate he had declined and
there was an end.
But another and a graver matter remained. He had desired wealth to
save Yarleys, but he desired it still more for a different purpose.
Above everything on earth he loved Barbara, his distant cousin and the
niece of Mr. Champers-Haswell, who until an hour ago had been his
partner. Now she was a great heiress, and without fortune he could not
marry her, even if she would marry him, which remained in doubt. For
one thing her uncle and guardian Haswell, under her father's will, had
absolute discretion in this matter until she reached the age of
twenty-five, and for another he was too proud. Therefore it would seem
that in abandoning his business, he had abandoned his chance of
Barbara also, which was a truly dreadful thought.
Well, it was in order that he might see her, that he had agreed to
visit The Court on the morrow, even though it meant a meeting with his
late partners, who were the last people with whom he desired to
foregather again so soon. Then and there he made up his mind that
before he bade Barbara farewell, he would tell her the whole story, so
that she might not misjudge him. After that he would go off somewhere
--to Africa perhaps. Meanwhile he was quite tired out, as tired as
though he had lain a week in the grip of fever. He must eat some food
and get to bed. Sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof, yet on
the whole he blessed the name of Jackson, editor of /The Judge/ and
his father's old friend.
When Alan had left the office Sir Robert turned to Mr. Champers-
Haswell and asked him abruptly, "What the devil does this mean?"
Mr. Haswell looked up at the ceiling and whistled in his own peculiar
fashion, then answered:
"I cannot say for certain, but our young friend's strange conduct
seems to suggest that he has smelt a rat, possibly even that Jackson,
the old beast, has shown him a rat--of a large Turkish breed."
Sir Robert nodded.
"Vernon is a fellow who doesn't like rats; they seem to haunt his
sleep," he said; "but do you think that having seen it, he will keep
it in the bag?"
"Oh! certainly, certainly," answered Mr. Haswell with cheerfulness;
"the man is the soul of honour; he will never give us away. Look how
he behaved about those shares. Still, I think that perhaps we are well
rid of him. Too much honour, like too much zeal, is a very dangerous
quality in any business."
"I don't know that I agree with you," answered Sir Robert. "I am not
sure that in the long run we should not do better for a little more of
the article. For my part, although it will not hurt us publicly, for
the thing will never be noticed, I am sorry that we have lost Vernon,
very sorry indeed. I don't think him a fool, and awkward as they may
be, I respect his qualities."
"So do I, so do I," answered Mr. Haswell, "and of course we have acted
against his advice throughout, which must have been annoying to him.
The scheme as he suggested it was a fair business proposition that
might have paid ten per cent. on a small capital, but what is the good
of ten per cent. to you and me? We want millions and we are going to
get them. Well, he is coming to The Court to-morrow, and perhaps after
all we shall be able to arrange matters. I'll give Barbara a hint; she
has great influence with him, and you might do the same, Aylward."
"Miss Champers has great influence with everyone who is fortunate
enough to know her," answered Sir Robert courteously. "But even if she
chooses to use it, I doubt if it will avail in this case. Vernon has
been making up his mind for a long while. I have watched him and am
sure of that. To-night he determined to take the plunge and I do not
think that we shall see any more of him in this office. Haswell," he
added with sudden energy, "I tell you that of late our luck has been
too good to last. The boom, the real boom, came in with Vernon, and
with Vernon I think that it will go."
"At any rate it must leave something pretty substantial behind it this
time, Aylward, my friend. Whatever happens, within a week we shall be
rich, really rich for life."
"For life, Haswell, yes, for life. But what is life? A bubble that any
pin may prick. Oh! I know that you do not like the subject, but it is
as well to look it in the face sometimes. I'm no church-goer, but if I
remember right we were taught to pray the good Lord to deliver us
especially 'in all times of our wealth,' which is followed by
something about tribulation and sudden death, for when they wrote that
prayer the wheel of human fortune went round just as it does to-day.
There, let's get out of this before I grow superstitious, as men who
believe in nothing sometimes do, because after all they must believe
in something, I suppose. Got your hat and coat? So have I, come on,"
and he switched off the light, so that the room was left in darkness
except for the faint glimmering of the fire.
His partner grumbled audibly, for in turning he had knocked his hand
against the desk.
"Leave me my only economy, Haswell," he answered with a hard little
laugh. "Electricity is strength and I hate to see strength burning to
waste. Why do you mind?" he went on as he stepped towards the door.
"Is it the contrast? In all times of our wealth, in all times of our
tribulation, from sickness and from sudden death----"
"Good Lord deliver us," chimed in Mr. Haswell in a shaking voice
behind him. "What the devil's that?"
Sir Robert looked round and saw, or thought that he saw, something
very strange. From the pillar on which it stood the golden fetish with
a woman's face, appeared to have floated. The firelight showed it
gliding towards them across, but a few inches above the floor of the
great room. It came very slowly, but it came. Now it reached them and
paused, and now it rose into the air until it attained the height of
Mr. Champers-Haswell and stayed there, staring into his face and not a
hand's breadth away, just as though it were a real woman glaring at
He uttered a sound, half whistle and half groan, and fell back, as it
chanced on to a morocco-covered seat behind him. For a moment or two
the gleaming, golden mask floated in the air. Then it turned very
deliberately, rose a little way, and moving sidelong to where Sir
Robert stood, hung in front of /his/ face.
Presently Aylward staggered to the mantelpiece and began to fumble for
the switch; in the silence his nails scratching at the panelling made
a sound like to that of a gnawing mouse. He found it at last, and next
instant the office broke into a blaze of light, showing Mr. Haswell,
his rubicund face quite pale, his hat and umbrella on the floor,
gasping like a dying man upon the couch, and Sir Robert himself
clinging to the mantel-shelf as a person might do who had received a
mortal wound, while the golden fetish reposed calmly on its pillar, to
all appearance as immovable and undisturbed as the antique Venus which
matched it at the other end of the room. For a while there was
silence. Then Sir Robert, recovering himself, asked:
"Did you notice anything unusual just now, Haswell?"
"Yes," whispered his partner. "I thought that hideous African thing
which Vernon brought here, came sliding across the floor and stared
into my face with its glittering eyes, and in the eyes----"
"Well, what was in the eyes?"
"I can't remember. It was a kind of picture and the meaning of it was
Sudden Death--oh Lord! Sudden Death. Tell me it was a fancy bred of
that ill-omened talk of yours?"
"I can't tell you anything of the sort," answered Aylward in a hollow
voice, "for I saw something also."
"What?" asked his partner.
"Death that wasn't sudden, and other things."
Again the silence fell till it was broken by Aylward.
"Come," he said, "we have been over-working--too much strain, and now
the reaction. Keep this rubbish to yourself, or they will lock you up
in an asylum."
"Certainly, Aylward, certainly. But can't you get rid of that beastly
"Not on any account, Haswell, even if it haunts us all day. Here it
shall stop until the Saharas are floated on Monday, if I have to lock
it in the strongroom and throw the keys into the Thames. Afterwards
Vernon can take it, as he has a right to do, and I am sure that with
it will go our luck."
"Then the sooner our luck goes, the better," replied Haswell, with a
mere ghost of his former whistle. "Life is better than luck, and--
Aylward, that Yellow God you are so fond of means to murder us. We are
being fatted for the sacrifice, that is all. I remember now, that was
one of the things I saw written in its eyes!"
JEEKIE TELLS A TALE
The Court, Mr. Champers-Haswell's place, was a very fine house indeed,
of a sort. That is, it contained twenty-nine bedrooms, each of them
with a bathroom attached, a large number of sitting-rooms, ample
garages, stables, and offices, the whole surrounded by several acres
of newly-planted gardens. Incidentally it may be mentioned that it was
built in the most atrocious taste and looked like a suburban villa
seen through a magnifying glass.
It was in this matter of taste that it differed from Sir Robert
Aylward's home, Old Hall, a few miles away. Not that this was old
either, for the original house had fallen down or been burnt a hundred
years before. But Sir Robert, being gifted with artistic perception,
had reared up in place of it a smaller but really beautiful dwelling
of soft grey stone, long and low, and built in the Tudor style with
This house, charming as it was, could not of course compare with
Yarleys, the ancient seat of the Vernons in the same neighbourhood.
Yarleys was pure Elizabethan, although it contained an oak-roofed hall
which was said to date back to the time of King John, a remnant of a
former house. There was no electric light or other modern convenience
at Yarleys, yet it was a place that everyone went to see because of
its exceeding beauty and its historical associations. The moat by
which it was surrounded, the grass court within, for it was built on
three sides of a square, the mullioned windows, the towered gateway of
red brick, the low-panelled rooms hung with the portraits of departed
Vernons, the sloping park and the splendid oaks that stood about,
singly or in groups, were all of them perfect in their way. It was one
of the most lovely of English homes, and oddly enough its neglected
gardens and the air of decay that pervaded it, added to rather than
decreased its charm.
But it is with The Court that we have to do at present, not with
Yarleys. Mr. Champers-Haswell had a week-end party. There were ten
guests, all men, and with the exception of Alan, who it will be
remembered was one of them, all rich and in business. They included
two French bankers and three Jews, everyone a prop of the original
Sahara Syndicate and deeply interested in the forthcoming flotation.
To describe them is unnecessary, for they have no part in our story,
being only financiers of a certain class, remarkable for the riches
they had acquired by means that for the most part would not bear
examination. The riches were evident enough. Ever since the morning
the owners of this wealth had arrived by ones or twos in their costly
motorcars, attended by smart chauffeurs and valets. Their fur coats,
their jewelled studs and rings, something in their very faces
suggested money, which indeed was the bond that brought and held them
Alan did not come until it was time to dress for dinner, for he knew
that Barbara would not appear before that meal, and it was her society
he sought, not that of his host or fellow guests. Accompanied by his
negro servant, Jeekie, for in a house like this it was necessary to
have someone to wait upon him, he drove over from Yarleys, a distance
of ten miles, arriving about eight o'clock.
"Mr. Haswell as gone up to dress, Major, and so have the other
gentlemen," said the head butler, Mr. Smith, "but Miss Champers told
me to give you this note and to say that dinner is at half-past
Alan took the note and asked to be shown to his room. Once there,
although he had only five and twenty minutes, he opened it eagerly,
while Jeekie unpacked his bag.
"Dear Alan," it ran: "Don't be late for dinner, or I may not be
able to keep a place next to me. Of course Sir Robert takes me in.
They are a worse lot than usual this time, odious--odious!--and I
can't stand one on the left hand as well as on the right. Yours,
"P.S. What /have/ you been doing? Our distinguished guests, to say
nothing of my uncle, seem to be in a great fuss about you. I
overheard them talking when I was pretending to arrange some
flowers. One of them called you a sanctimonious prig and an
obstinate donkey, and another answered--I think it was Sir Robert
--'No doubt, but obstinate donkeys can kick and have been known to
upset other people's applecarts ere now.' Is the Sahara Syndicate
the applecart? If so, I'll forgive you.
"P.P.S. Remember that we will walk to church together to-morrow,
but come down to breakfast in knickerbockers or something to put
them off, and I'll do the same--I mean I'll dress as if I were
going to golf. We can turn into Christians later. If we don't--
dress like that, I mean--they'll guess and all want to come to
church, except the Jews, which would bring the judgment of Heaven
"P.P.P.S. Don't be careless and leave this note lying about, for
the under-footman who waits upon you reads all the letters. He
steams them over a kettle. Smith the butler is the only
respectable man in this house."
Alan laughed outright as he finished this peculiar and outspoken
epistle, which somehow revived his spirits, that since the previous
day had been low enough. It refreshed him. It was like a breath of
frosty air from an open window blowing clean and cold into a scented,
overheated room. He would have liked to keep it, but remembering
Barbara's injunctions and the under-footman, threw it onto the fire
and watched it burn. Jeekie coughed to intimate that it was time for
his master to dress, and Alan turned and looked at him in an absent-
He was worth looking at, was Jeekie. Let the reader imagine a very
tall and powerfully-built negro with a skin as black as a well-
polished boot, woolly hair as white as snow, a little tufted beard
also white, a hand like a leg of mutton, but with long delicate
fingers and pink, filbert-shaped nails, an immovable countenance, but
set in it beneath a massive brow, two extraordinary humorous and
eloquent black eyes which expressed every emotion passing through the
brain behind them, that is when their owner chose to allow them to do
so. Such was Jeekie.
"Shall I unlace your boots, Major?" he said in his full, melodious
voice and speaking the most perfect English. "I expect that the gong
will sound in nine and a half minutes."
"Then let it sound and be hanged to it," answered Alan; "no, I forgot
--I must hurry. Jeekie, put that fire out and open all the windows as
soon as I go down. This room is like a hot-house."
"Yes, Major, the fire shall be extinguished and the sleeping-chamber
ventilated. The other boot, if you please, Major."
"Jeekie," said Alan, "who is stopping in this place? Have you heard?"
"I collected some names on my way upstairs, Major. Three of the
gentlemen you have never met before, but," he added suddenly breaking
away from his high-flown book-learned English, as was his custom when
in earnest, "Jeekie think they just black niggers like the rest, thief
people. There ain't a white man in this house, except you and Miss
Barbara and me, Major. Jeekie learnt all that in servant's hall
palaver. No, not now, other time. Everyone tell everything to Jeekie,
poor old African fool, and he look up an answer, 'O law! you don't say
so?' but keep his eyes and ears open all the same."
"I'll be bound you do, Jeekie," replied Alan, laughing again. "Well,
go on keeping them open, and give me those trousers."
"Yes, Major," answered Jeekie, reassuming his grand manner, "I shall
continue to collect information which may prove to your advantage, but
personally I wish that you were clear of the whole caboodle, except
"Hear, hear," ejaculated Alan, "there goes the gong. Mind you come in
and help to wait," and hurrying into his coat he departed downstairs.
The guests were gathered in the hall drinking sherry and bitters, a
proceeding that to Alan's mind set a stamp upon the house. His host,
Mr. Champers-Haswell, came forward and greeted him with much
affectionate enthusiasm, and Alan noticed that he looked very pale,
also that his thoughts seemed to be wandering, for he introduced a
French banker to him as a noted Jew, and the noted Jew as the French
banker, although the distinction between them was obvious and the
gentlemen concerned evidently resented the mistake. Sir Robert
Aylward, catching sight of him, came across the hall in his usual,
direct fashion, and shook him by the hand.
"Glad to see you, Vernon," he said, fixing his piercing eyes upon Alan
as though he were trying to read his thoughts. "Pleasant change this
from the City and all that eternal business, isn't it? Ah! you are
thinking that one is not quite clear of business after all," and he
glanced round at the company. "That's one of your cousin Haswell's
faults; he can never shake himself free of the thing, never get any
real recreation. I'd bet you a sovereign that he has a stenographer
waiting by a telephone in the next room, just in case any opportunity
should arise in the course of conversation. That is magnificent, but
it is not wise. His heart can't stand it; it will wear him out before
his time. Listen, they are all talking about the Sahara. I wish I were
there; it must be quiet at any rate. The sands beneath, the eternal
stars above. Yes, I wish I were there," he repeated with a sigh, and
Alan noted that although his face could not be more pallid than its
natural colour, it looked quite worn and old.
"So do I," he answered with enthusiasm.
Then a French gentleman on his left, having discovered that he was the
engineer who had formulated the great flooding scheme, began to
address him as "Cher maitre," speaking so rapidly his own language
that Alan, whose French was none of the best, struggled after him in
vain. Whilst he was trying to answer a question which he did not
understand, the door at the end of the hall opened, and through it
appeared Barbara Champers.
It was a large hall and she was a long way off, which caused her to
look small, who indeed was only of middle height. Yet even at that
distance it was impossible to mistake the dignity of her appearance. A
slim woman with brown hair, cheerful brown eyes, a well-modelled face,
a rounded figure and an excellent complexion, such was Barbara. Ten
thousand young ladies could be found as good, or even better looking,
yet something about her differentiated her from the majority of her
sex. There was determination in her step, and overflowing health and
vigour in her every movement. Her eyes had a trick of looking straight
into any other eyes they met, not boldly, but with a kind of virginal
fearlessness and enterprise that people often found embarrassing.
Indeed she was extremely virginal and devoid of the usual fringe of
feminine airs and graces, a nymph of the woods and waters, who
although she was three and twenty, as yet recked little of men save as
companions whom she liked or disliked according to her instincts. For
the rest she was sweetly dressed in a white robe with silver on it,
and wore no ornaments save a row of small pearls about her throat and
some lilies of the valley at her breast.
Barbara came straight onwards, looking neither to the right or to the
left, till she reached her uncle, to whom she nodded. Then she walked
to Alan and, offering him her hand, said:
"How do you do! Why did you not come over at lunch time? I wanted to
play a round of golf with you this afternoon."
Alan answered something about being busy at Yarleys.
"Yarleys!" she replied. "I thought that you lived in the City now,
making money out of speculations, like everyone else that I know."
"Why, Miss Champers," broke in Sir Robert reproachfully, "I asked you
to play a round of golf before tea and you would not."
"No," she answered, "because I was waiting for my cousin. We are
better matched, Sir Robert."
There was something in her voice, usually so soft and pleasant, as she
spoke these words, something of steeliness and defiance that caused
Alan to feel at once happy and uncomfortable. Apparently also it
caused Aylward to feel angry, for he flashed a glance at Alan over her
head of which the purport could not be mistaken, though his pale face
remained as immovable as ever. "We are enemies. I hate you," said that
glance. Probably Barbara saw it; at any rate before either of them
could speak again, she said:
"Thank goodness, there is dinner at last. Sir Robert, will you take me
in, and, Alan, will you sit on the other side of me? My uncle will
show the rest their places."
The meal was long and magnificent; the price of each dish of it would
have kept a poor family for a month, and on the cost of the exquisite
wines they might have lived for a year or two. Also the last were well
patronized by everyone except Barbara, who drank water, and Alan, who
since his severe fever took nothing but weak whiskey and soda and a
little claret. Even Aylward, a temperate person, absorbed a good deal
of champagne. As a consequence the conversation grew animated, and
under cover of it, while Sir Robert was arguing with his neighbour on
the left, Barbara asked in a low voice:
"What is the row, Alan? Tell me, I can't wait any longer."
"I have quarrelled with them," he answered, staring at his mutton as
though he were criticizing it. "I mean, I have left the firm and have
nothing more to do with the business."
Barbara's eyes lit up as she whispered back:
"Glad of it. Best news I have heard for many a day. But then, may I
ask why you are here?"
"I came to see you," he replied humbly--"thought perhaps you wouldn't
mind," and in his confusion he let his knife fall into the mutton,
whence it rebounded, staining his shirt front.
Barbara laughed, that happy, delightful little laugh of hers,
presumably at the accident with the knife. Whether or no she "minded"
did not appear, only she handed her handkerchief, a costly, last-
fringed trifle, to Alan to wipe the gravy off his shirt, which he took
thinking it was a napkin, and as she did so, touched his hand with a
little caressing movement of her fingers. Whether this was done by
chance or on purpose did not appear either. At least it made Alan feel
extremely happy. Also when he discovered what it was, he kept that
gravy-stained handkerchief, nor did she ever ask for it back again.
Only once in after days when she happened to come across it stuffed
away in the corner of a despatch-box, she blushed all over, and said
that she had no idea that any man could be so foolish out of a book.
"Now that /you/ are really clear of it, I am going for them," she said
presently when the wiping process was finished. "I have only
restrained myself for your sake," and leaning back in her chair she
stared at the ceiling, lost in meditation.
Presently there came one of those silences which will fall upon
dinner-parties at times, however excellent and plentiful the
"Sir Robert Aylward," said Barbara in that clear, carrying voice of
hers, "will you, as an expert, instruct a very ignorant person? I want
a little information."
"Miss Champers," he answered, "am I not always at your service?" and
all listened to hear upon what point their hostess desired to be
"Sir Robert," she went on calmly, "everyone here is, I believe, what
is called a financier, that is except myself and Major Vernon, who
only tries to be and will, I am sure, fail, since Nature made him
something else, a soldier and--what else did Nature make you, Alan?"
As he vouchsafed no answer to question, although Sir Robert muttered
an uncomplimentary one between his lips which Barbara heard, or read,
"And you are all very rich and successful, are you not, and are going
to be much richer and much more successful--next week. Now what I want
to ask you is--how is it done?"
"Accepting the premises for the sake of argument, Miss Champers,"
replied Sir Robert, who felt that he could not refuse the challenge,
"the answer is that it is done by finance."
"I am still in the dark," she said. "Finance, as I have heard of it,
means floating companies, and companies are floated to earn money for
those who invest in them. Now this afternoon as I was dull, I got hold
of a book called the Directory of Directors, and looked up all your
names in it, except those of the gentlemen from Paris, and the
companies that you direct--I found out about those in another book.
Well, I could not make out that any of these companies have ever
earned any money, a dividend, don't you call it? Therefore how do you
all grow so rich, and why do people invest in them?"
Now Sir Robert frowned, Alan coloured, two or three of the company
laughed outright, and one of the French gentlemen who understood
English and had already drunk as much as was good for him, remarked
loudly to his neighbour, "Ah! she is charming. She do touch the spot,
like that ointment you give me to-day. How do we grow rich and why do
the people invest? /Mon Dieu!/ why do they invest? That is the great
mystery. I say that /cette belle demoiselle, votre nièce, est
ravissante. Elle a d'esprit, mon ami Haswell./"
Apparently her uncle did not share these sentiments, for he turned as
red as any turkey-cock, and said across the great round table:
"My dear Barbara, I wish that you would leave matters which you do not
understand alone. We are here to dine, not to talk about finance."
"Certainly, Uncle," she answered sweetly. "I stand, or rather sit,
reproved. I suppose that I have put my foot into it as usual, and the
worst of it is," she added, turning to Sir Robert, "that I am just as
ignorant as I was before."
"If you want to master these matters, Miss Champers," said Aylward
with a rather forced laugh, "you must go into training and worship at
the shrine of"--he meant to say Mammon, then thinking that the word
sounded unpleasant, substituted--"the Yellow God as we do."
At these words Alan, who had been studying his plate, looked up
quickly, and her uncle's face turned from red to white. But the
irrepressible Barbara seized upon them.
"The Yellow God," she repeated. "Do you mean money or that fetish
thing of Major Vernon's with the terrible woman's face that I saw at
the office in the City. Well, to change the subject, tell us, Alan,
what is that yellow god of yours and where did it come from?"
"My uncle Austin, who was my mother's brother and a missionary,
brought it from West Africa a great many years ago. He was the first
to visit the tribe who worship it; in fact I do not think that anyone
has ever visited them since. But really I do not know all the story.
Jeekie can tell you about it if you want to know, for he is one of
that people and escaped with my uncle."
Now Jeekie having left the room, some of the guests wished to send for
him, but Mr. Champers-Haswell objected. The end of it was that a
compromise was effected, Alan undertaking to produce his retainer
afterwards when they went to play billiards or cards.
Dinner was over at length and the diners, who had dined well, were
gathered in the billiard room to smoke and amuse themselves as they
wished. It was a very large room, sixty feet long indeed, with a wide
space in the centre between the two tables, which was furnished as a
lounge. When the gentlemen entered it they found Barbara standing by
the great fireplace in this central space, a little shape of white and
silver in its emptiness.
"Forgive me for intruding on you," she said, "and please do not stop
smoking, for I like the smell. I have sat up expressly to hear
Jeekie's story of the Yellow God. Alan, produce Jeekie, or I shall go
to bed at once."
Her uncle made a movement as though to interfere, but Sir Robert said
something to him which appeared to cause him to change his mind, while
the rest in some way or another signified an enthusiastic assent. All
of them were anxious to see this Jeekie and hear his tale, if he had
one to tell. So Jeekie was sent for and presently arrived clad in the
dress clothes which are common to all classes in England and America.
There he stood before them white-headed, ebony-faced, gigantic,
imperturbable. There is no doubt that his appearance produced an
effect, for it was unusual and indeed striking.
"You sent for me, Major?" he said, addressing his master, to whom he
gave a military salute, for he had been Alan's servant when he was in
"Yes, Jeekie. Miss Barbara here and these gentlemen, wish you to tell
them all that you know about the Yellow God."
The negro started and rolled his round eyes upwards till the whites of
them showed, then began in his school-book English:
"That is a private subject, Major, upon which I should prefer not to
discourse before this very public company."
A chorus of remonstrance arose and one of the Jewish gentlemen
approaching Jeekie, slipped a couple of sovereigns into his great
hand, which he promptly transferred to his pocket without seeming to
"Jeekie," said Barbara, "don't disappoint me."
"Very well, miss, I fall in with your wishes. The Yellow God that all
these gentlemen worship, quite another god to that of which you desire
that I should tell you. You know all about him. My god is of female
At this statement his audience burst into laughter while Jeekie rolled
his eyes again and waited till they had finished. "My god," he went on
presently, "I mean, gentlemen, the god I used to pray to, for I am a
good Christian now, has so much gold that she does not care for any
more," and he paused.
"Then what does she care for?" asked someone.
"Blood," answered Jeekie. "She is god of Death. Her name is Little
Bonsa or Small Swimming Head; she is wife of Big Bonsa or Great
Again there was laughter, though less general--for instance, neither
Sir Robert nor Mr. Champers-Haswell laughed. This merriment seemed to
excite Jeekie. At any rate it caused him to cease his stilted talk and
relapse into the strange vernacular that is common to all negroes,
tinctured with a racy slang that was all his own.
"You want to hear Yellow God palaver?" he said rapidly. "Very well, I
tell you, you cocksure white men who think you know everything, but
know nothing at all. My people, people of the Asiki, that mean people
of Spirits, what you call ghosts and say you no believe in, but always
look for behind door, they worship Yellow God, Bonsa Big and Bonsa
Little, worship both and call them one; only Little Bonsa on trip to
this country just now and sit and think in City office. Yellow God
live long way up a great river, then turn to the left and walk six
days through big forest where dwarf people shoot you with poisoned
arrow. Then turn to the right, walk up stream where many wild beasts.
Then turn to the left again and go in canoe through swamp where you
die of fever, and across lake. Then walk over grassland and mountains.
Then in kloof of the mountains where big black trees make a roof and
river fall like thunder, find Asiki and gold house of the Yellow God.
All that mountain gold, full of gold and beneath gold house Yellow God
afloat in water. She what you call Queen, priestess, live there also,
always there, very beautiful woman called Asika with face like Yellow
God, cruel, cruel. She take a husband every year, and every year he
die because she always hunt for right man but never find him."
"Does she kill him then?" asked Barbara.
"Oh! no, she no kill him, Miss, he kill himself at end of year, glad
to get away from Asika and go to spirits. While he live he have a very
good time, plenty to eat, plenty wives, fine house, much gold as he
like, only nothing to spend it on, pretty necklace, nice paint for
face. But Asika, little bit by little bit she eat up his spirit. He
see too many ghosts. The house where he sleep with dead men who once
have his billet, full of ghosts and every night there come more and
sit with him, sit all round him, look at him with great eyes, just
like you look at me, till at last when Asika finish eating up his
spirit, he go crazy, he howl like man in hell, he throw away all the
gold they give him, and then, sometimes after one week, sometimes
after one month, sometimes after one year if he be strong but never
more, he run out at night and jump into canal where Yellow God float
and god get him, while Asika sit on the bank and laugh, 'cause she
hungry for new man to eat up his spirit too."
Jeekie's big voice died away to a whisper and ceased. There was a
silence in the room, for even in the shine of the electric light and
through the fumes of champagne, in more than one imagination there
rose a vision of that haunted water in which floated the great Yellow
God, and of some mad being casting himself to his death beneath the
moon, while his beautiful witch wife who was "hungry for more spirits"
sat upon its edge and laughed. Although his language was now
commonplace enough, even ludicrous at times, the negro had undoubtedly
the art of narration. His auditors felt that he spoke of what he knew,
or had seen, that the very recollection of it frightened him,
therefore he frightened them.
Again Barbara broke the silence which she felt to be awkward.
"Why do more ghosts come very night to sit with the queen's husband,
Jeekie?" she asked. "Where do they come from?"
"Out of the dead, miss, dead husbands of Asika from beginning of the
world; what they call Munganas. Also always they make sacrifice to
Yellow God. From far, far away them poor niggers send people to be
sacrifice that their house or tribe get luck. Sometimes they send
kings, sometimes great men, sometimes doctors, sometimes women what
have twin babies. Also the Asiki bring people what is witches, or have
drunk poison stuff which blacks call /muavi/ and have not been sick,
or perhaps son they love best to take curse off their roof. All these
come to Yellow God. Then Asiki doctor, they have Death-palaver. On
night of full moon they beat drum, and drum go Wow! Wow! Wow! and
doctors pick out those to die that month. Once they pick out Jeekie,
oh! good Lord, they pick out /me/," and as he said the words he gasped
and with his great hand wiped off the sweat that started from his
brow. "But Yellow God no take Jeekie that time, no want him and I
"How?" asked Sir Robert.
"With my master, Major's uncle, Reverend Austin, he who come try to
make Asiki Christian. He snap his fingers, put on small mask of Yellow
God which he prig, Little Bonsa herself, that same face which sit in
your office now," and he pointed to Sir Robert, "like one toad upon a
stone. Priests think that god make herself into man, want holiday,
take me out into forest to kill me and eat my life. So they let us go
by and we go just as though devil kick us--fast, fast, and never see
the Asiki any more. But Little Bonsa I bring with me for luck, tell
truth I no dare leave her behind, she not stand that; and now she sit
in your office and think and think and make magic there. That why you
grow rich, because she know you worship her."
"That's a nice way for a baptized Christian to talk," said Barbara,
adding, "But Jeekie, what do you mean when you say that the god did
not take you?"
"I mean this, miss; when victim offered to Big Yellow God, priest-men
bring him to edge of canal where the great god float. Then if Yellow
God want him, it turn and swim across water."
"Swim across water! I thought you said it was only a mask of gold?"
"I don't know, miss, perhaps man inside the mask, perhaps spirit. I
say it swim across water in the night, always in the night, and lift
itself up and look in victim's face. Then priest take him and kill
him, sometimes one way--sometimes another. Or if he escape and they
not kill him, all same for that Johnnie, he die in about one year,
always die, no one ever live long if Yellow God swim to him in dark
and rise up and smile in his face. No matter if it Big Bonsa or Little
Bonsa, for they man and wife joined in holy matrimony and either do
As these words left Jeekie's lips Alan became aware of some unusual
movement on his left and looking round, saw that Mr. Champers-Haswell,
who stood by him, had dropped the cigar which he held and, white as a
sheet, was swaying to and fro. Indeed in another instant he would have
fallen had not Alan caught him in his arms and supported him till
others came to his assistance, when between them they carried him to a
sofa. On their way they passed a table where spirits and soda water
were set out, and to his astonishment Alan noticed that Sir Robert
Aylward, looking little if at all better than his partner, had helped
himself to half a tumbler of cognac, which he was swallowing in great
gulps. Then there was confusion and someone went to telephone the
doctor, while the deep voice of Jeekie was heard exclaiming:
"That Yellow God at work--oh yes, Little Bonsa on the job. Jeekie
Christian man but no doubt she very powerful fetish and can do
anything she like to them that worship her, and you see, she sit in
office of these gentlemen. 'Spect she make Reverend Austin and me
bring her to England because she got eye on firm of Messrs. Aylward &
Haswell, London, E.C. Oh, shouldn't wonder at all, for Bonsa know
"Oh, confound you and your fetish! Be off, you old donkey," almost
"Major," replied the offended Jeekie, assuming his grand manner and
language, "it was not I who wished to narrate this history of blood-
stained superstitions of poor African. Mustn't blame old Jeekie if
they make Christian gents sick as Channel steamer."
"Be off," repeated Alan, stamping his foot.
So Jeekie went, but outside the door, as it chanced, he encountered
one of the Jew gentlemen who also appeared to be a little "sick." An
idea striking him, he touched his white hair with his finger and said:
"You like Jeekie's pretty story, sir? Well, Jeekie think that if you
make little present to him, like your brother in there, it please
Yellow God very much, and bring you plenty luck."
Then acting upon some unaccustomed impulse, that Jew became
exceedingly generous. In his pocket was a handful of sovereigns which
he had been prepared to stake at bridge. He grasped them all and
thrust them into Jeekie's outstretched palm, where they seemed to
"Thank you, sir," said Jeekie. "Now I sure you have plenty luck, just
like your grandpa Jacob in Book when he do his brudder in eye."
ALAN AND BARBARA
There was no bridge or billiards at the Court that night, where
ordinarily the play ran high enough. After Mr. Haswell had been
carried to his room, some of the guests, among them Sir Robert
Aylward, went to bed, remarking that they could do no good by sitting
up, while others, more concerned, waited to hear the verdict of the
doctor, who must drive from six miles away. He came, and half an hour
later Barbara entered the billiard room and told Alan, who was sitting
there smoking, that her uncle had recovered from his faint, and that
the doctor, who was to stay all night, said that he was in no danger,
only suffering from a heart attack brought on apparently by over-work
When Alan woke next morning the first thing that he heard through his
open window was the sound of the doctor's departing dogcart. Then
Jeekie appeared and told him that Mr. Haswell was all right again, but
that all night he had shaken "like one jelly." Alan asked what had
been the matter with him, but Jeekie only shrugged his shoulders and
said that he did not know--"perhaps Yellow God touch him up."
At breakfast, as in her note she had said she would, Barbara appeared
wearing a short skirt. Sir Robert, who was there, also looked
extremely pale even for him and with black rims round his eyes, asked
her if she were going to golf, to which she answered that she would
think it over. It was a somewhat melancholy meal, and as though by
common consent no mention was made of Jeekie's tale of the Yellow God,
and beyond the usual polite inquiries, very little of their host's
As Barbara went out she whispered to Alan, who opened the door for
her, "Meet me at half-past ten in the kitchen garden."
Accordingly, having changed his clothes surreptitiously, Alan,
avoiding the others, made his way by a circuitous route to this
kitchen garden, which after the fashion of modern places was hidden
behind a belt of trees nearly a quarter of a mile from the house. Here
he wandered about till presently he heard Barbara's pleasant voice
behind him saying:
"Don't dawdle so, we shall be late for church."
So they started, somewhat furtively like runaway children. As they
went Alan asked how her uncle was.
"All right now," she answered, "but he has had a bad shake. It was
that Yellow God story which did it. I know, for I was there when he
was coming to, with Sir Robert. He kept talking about it in a confused
manner, saying that it was swimming to him across the floor, till at
last Sir Robert bent over him and told him to be quiet quite sternly.
Do you know, Alan, I believe that your pet fetish has been manifesting
itself in some unpleasant fashion up there in the office?"
"Indeed. If so, it must be since I left, for I never heard of anything
of the sort, nor are Aylward and your uncle likely people to see
ghosts. In fact Sir Robert wished to give me about £17,000 for the
thing only the day before yesterday, which doesn't look as though it
had been frightening him."
"Well, he won't repeat the offer, Alan, for I heard him promise my
uncle only this morning that it should be sent back to Yarleys at
once. But why did he want to buy it for such a lot of money? Tell me
quickly, Alan, I am dying to hear the whole story."
So he began and told her, omitting nothing, while she listened eagerly
to every word, hardly interrupting him at all. As he finished his tale
they reached the door of the quaint old village church just as the
clock was striking eleven.
"Come in, Alan," she said gently, "and thank Heaven for all its
mercies, for you should be a grateful man to-day."
Then without giving him time to answer she entered the church and they
took their places in the great square pew that for generations had
been occupied by the owners of the ancient house which Mr. Haswell
pulled down when he built The Court. There were their monuments upon
the wall and their gravestones in the chancel floor. But now no one
except Barbara ever sat in their pew; even the benches set aside for
the servants were empty, for those who frequented The Court were not
church-goers and "like master, like man." Indeed the gentle-faced old
clergyman looked quite pleased and surprised when he saw two
inhabitants of that palatial residence amongst his congregation,
although it is true that Barbara was his friend and helper.
The simple service went on; the first lesson was read. It cried woe
upon them that joined house to house and field to field, that draw
iniquity with cords of vanity and sin as it were with a cart rope;
that call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and
light for darkness, that justify the wicked for reward; that feast
full but regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the
operation of His hand, for of such it prophesied that their houses
great and fair should be without inhabitant and desolate.
It was very well read, and Alan, listening, thought that the
denunciations of the old seer of thousands of years ago were not
inappropriate to the dwellers in some houses great and fair of his own
day, who, whatever they did or left undone, regarded not the work of
the Lord, neither considered the operation of His hand. Perhaps
Barbara thought so too; at any rate a rather sad little smile appeared
once or twice upon her sweet, firm face as the immortal poem echoed
down the aisle.
The peace that passeth understanding was invoked upon their heads, and
rising with the rest of the scanty congregation they went away.
"Shall we walk home by the woods, Alan?" asked Barbara. "It is three
miles round, but we don't lunch till two."
He nodded, and presently they were alone in those woods, the beautiful
woods through which the breath of spring was breathing, treading upon
carpets of bluebells, violet and primrose; quite alone, unaccompanied
save by the wild things that stole across their path, undisturbed save
by the sound of the singing birds and of the wind among the trees.
"What did you mean, Barbara, when you said that I should be a grateful
man to-day?" asked Alan presently.
Barbara looked him in the eyes in that open, virginal fashion of hers
and answered in the words of the lesson, "'Woe unto them that draw
iniquity with the cords of vanity and sin as it were with a cart-rope,
that lay house to house,'" and through an opening in the woods she
pointed to the roof of The Court standing on one hill, and to the roof
of Old Hall standing upon another--"'and field to field,'" and with a
sweep of her hand she indicated all the country round, "'for many
houses great and fair that have music in their feasts shall be left
desolate.'" Then turning she said:
"Do you understand now, Alan?"
"I think so," he answered. "You mean that I have been in bad company."
"Very bad, Alan. One of them is my own uncle, but the truth remains
the truth. Alan, they are no better than thieves; all this wealth is
stolen, and I thank God that you have found it out in time before you
became one of them in heart as well as in name."
"If you refer to the Sahara Syndicate," he said, "the idea is sound
enough; indeed, I am responsible for it. The thing can be done, great
benefits would result, too long to go into."
"Yes, yes, Alan, but you know that they never mean to do it, they only
mean to get the millions from the public. I have lived with my uncle
for ten years, ever since my poor father died, and I know the
backstairs of the business. There have been half a dozen schemes like
this, and although they have had their bad times, very bad times, he
and Sir Robert have grown richer and richer. But what has happened to
those who have invested in them? Oh! let us drop the subject, it is
unpleasant. For myself it doesn't matter, because although it isn't
under my control, I have money of my own. You know we are a plebeian
lot on the male side, my grandfather was a draper in a large way of
business, my father was a coal-merchant who made a great fortune. His
brother, my uncle, in whom my father always believed implicitly, took
to what is called Finance, and when my father died he left me, his
only child, in his guardianship. Until I am five and twenty I cannot
even marry or touch a halfpenny without his consent; in fact if I
should marry against his will the most of my money goes to him."
"I expect that he has got it already," said Alan.
"No, I think not. I found out that, although it is not mine, it is not
his. He can't draw it without my signature, and I steadily refuse to
sign anything. Again and again they have brought me documents, and I
have always said that I would consider them at five and twenty, when I
came of age under my father's will. I went on the sly to a lawyer in
Kingswell and paid him a guinea for his advice, and he put me up to
that. 'Sign nothing,' he said, and I have signed nothing, so, except
by forgery nothing can have gone. Still for all that it may have gone.
For anything I know I am not worth more than the clothes I stand in,
although my father was a very rich man."
"If so, we are about in the same boat, Barbara," Alan answered with a
laugh, "for my present possessions are Yarleys, which brings in about
£100 a year less than the interest on its mortgages and cost of
upkeep, and the £1700 that Aylward paid me back on Friday for my
shares. If I had stuck to them I understand that in a week or two I
should have been worth £100,000, and now you see, here I am, over
thirty years of age without a profession, invalided out of the army
and having failed in finance, a mere bit of driftwood without hope and
without a trade."
Barbara's brown eyes grew soft with sympathy, or was it tears?
"You are a curious creature, Alan," she said. "Why didn't you take the
£17,000 for that fetish of yours? It would have been a fair deal and
have set you on your legs."
"I don't know," he answered dejectedly. "It went against the grain, so
what is the use of talking about it? I think my old uncle Austin told
me it wasn't to be parted with--no, perhaps it was Jeekie. Bother the
Yellow God! it is always cropping up."
"Yes," replied Barbara, "the Yellow God is always cropping up,
especially in this neighbourhood."
They walked on a while in silence, till suddenly Barbara sat down upon
a bole of felled oak and began to cry.
"What is the matter with you?" asked Alan.
"I don't know," she answered. "Everything goes wrong. I live in a kind
of gilded hell. I don't like my uncle and I loath the men he brings
about the place. I have no friends, I scarcely know a woman
intimately, I have troubles I can't tell you and--I am wretched. You
are the only creature I have left to talk to, and I suppose that after
this row you must go away too to make your living."
Alan looked at her there weeping on the log and his heart swelled
within him, for he had loved this girl for years.
"Barbara," he gasped, "please don't cry, it upsets me. You know you
are a great heiress----"
"That remains to be proved," she answered. "But anyway, what has it to
do with the case?"
"It has everything to do with it, at least so far as I am concerned.
If it hadn't been for that I should have asked you to marry me a long
while ago, because I love you, as I would now, but of course it is
Barbara ceased her weeping, wiped her eyes with the back of her hand,
and looked up at him.
"Alan," she said, "I think that you are the biggest fool I ever knew--
not but that a fool is rather refreshing when one lives among knaves."
"I know I am a fool," he answered. "If I wasn't I should not have
mentioned my misfortune to you, but sometimes things are too much for
one. Forget it and forgive me."
"Oh! yes," she said; "I forgive you; a woman can generally forgive a
man for being fond of her. Whatever she may be, she is ready to take a
lenient view of his human weakness. But as to forgetting, that is a
different matter. I don't exactly see why I should be so anxious to
forget, who haven't many people to care about me," and she looked at
him in quite a new fashion, one indeed which gave him something of a
shock, for he had not thought the nymph-like Barbara capable of such a
look as that. She and any sort of passion had always seemed so far
Now after all Alan was very much a man, if a modest one, with all a
man's instincts, and therefore there are appearances of the female
face which even such as he could not entirely misinterpret.
"You--don't--mean," he said doubtfully, "you don't really mean----"
and he stood hesitating before her.
"If you would put your question a little more clearly, Alan, I might
be able to give you an answer," she replied, that quaint little smile
of hers creeping to the corners of her mouth like sunshine through a
mist of rain.
"You don't really mean," he went on, "that you care anything about me,
like, like I have cared for you for years?"
"Oh! Alan," she said, laughing outright, "why in the name of goodness
shouldn't I care about you? I didn't say that I do, mind, but why
shouldn't I? What is the gulf between us?"
"The old one," he answered, "that between Dives and Lazarus--that
between the rich and the poor."
"Alan," said Barbara, looking down, "I don't know what has come over
me, but for some unexplained and inexplicable reason I am inclined to
give Lazarus a lead--across that gulf, the first one, I mean, not the
Like the glance which preceded it, this was a saying that even Alan
could not misunderstand. He sat himself on the log beside her, while
she, still looking down, watched him out of the corners of her eyes.
He went red, he went white, his heart beat very violently. Then he
stretched out his big brown hand and took her small white one, and as
this familiarity produced no remonstrance, let it fall, and passing
his arm about her, drew her to him and embraced her, not once, but
often, with such vigour that a squirrel which had been watching these
proceedings from a neighbouring tree, bolted round it scandalized and
was seen no more.
"I love you, I love you," he said huskily.
Back to Full Books