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An African Millionaire by Grant Allen

Part 3 out of 4

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residence in the house for the present, and should be described to
the servants as assistant secretary. He came that very day, with a
marvellously small portmanteau. But from the moment he arrived,
we noticed that Césarine took a violent dislike to him.

Medhurst was a most efficient detective. Charles and I told him
all we knew about the various shapes in which Colonel Clay had
"materialised," and he gave us in turn many valuable criticisms and
suggestions. Why, when we began to suspect the Honourable David
Granton, had we not, as if by accident, tried to knock his red wig
off? Why, when the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon first discussed
the question of the paste diamonds, had we not looked to see if
any of Amelia's unique gems were missing? Why, when Professor
Schleiermacher made his bow to assembled science at Lancaster Gate,
had we not strictly inquired how far he was personally known
beforehand to Sir Adolphus Cordery and the other mineralogists?
He supplied us also with several good hints about false hair and
make-up; such as that Schleiermacher was probably much shorter than
he looked, but by imitating a stoop with padding at his back he
had produced the illusion of a tall bent man, though in reality no
bigger than the little curate or the Graf von Lebenstein. High heels
did the rest; while the scientific keenness we noted in his face was
doubtless brought about by a trifle of wax at the end of the nose,
giving a peculiar tilt that is extremely effective. In short, I must
frankly admit, Medhurst made us feel ashamed of ourselves. Sharp as
Charles is, we realised at once he was nowhere in observation beside
the trained and experienced senses of this professional detective.

The worst of it all was, while Medhurst was with us, by some curious
fatality, Colonel Clay stopped away from us. Now and again, to be
sure, we ran up against somebody whom Medhurst suspected; but
after a short investigation (conducted, I may say, with admirable
cleverness), the spy always showed us the doubtful person was
really some innocent and well-known character, whose antecedents
and surroundings he elucidated most wonderfully. He was a perfect
marvel, too, in his faculty of suspicion. He suspected everybody. If
an old friend dropped in to talk business with Charles, we found out
afterwards that Medhurst had lain concealed all the time behind the
curtain, and had taken short-hand notes of the whole conversation,
as well as snap-shot photographs of the supposed sharper, by means
of a kodak. If a fat old lady came to call upon Amelia, Medhurst
was sure to be lurking under the ottoman in the drawing-room, and
carefully observing, with all his eyes, whether or not she was
really Mme. Picardet, padded. When Lady Tresco brought her four
plain daughters to an "At Home" one night, Medhurst, in evening
dress, disguised as a waiter, followed them each round the room with
obtrusive ices, to satisfy himself just how much of their complexion
was real, and how much was patent rouge and Bloom of Ninon. He
doubted whether Simpson, Sir Charles's valet, was not Colonel Clay
in plain clothes; and he had half an idea that Césarine herself was
our saucy White Heather in an alternative avatar. We pointed out
to him in vain that Simpson had often been present in the very
same room with David Granton, and that Césarine had dressed Mrs.
Brabazon's hair at Lucerne: this partially satisfied him, but only
partially. He remarked that Simpson might double both parts with
somebody else unknown; and that as for Césarine, she might well
have a twin sister who took her place when she was Mme. Picardet.

Still, in spite of all his care--or because of all his care--Colonel
Clay stopped away for whole weeks together. An explanation occurred
to us. Was it possible he knew we were guarded and watched? Was he
afraid of measuring swords with this trained detective?

If so, how had he found it out? I had an inkling, myself--but, under
all the circumstances, I did not mention it to Charles. It was clear
that Césarine intensely disliked this new addition to the Vandrift
household. She would not stop in the room where the detective was,
or show him common politeness. She spoke of him always as "that
odious man, Medhurst." Could she have guessed, what none of the
other servants knew, that the man was a spy in search of the
Colonel? I was inclined to believe it. And then it dawned upon me
that Césarine had known all about the diamonds and their story; that
it was Césarine who took us to see Schloss Lebenstein; that it was
Césarine who posted the letter to Lord Craig-Ellachie! If Césarine
was in league with Colonel Clay, as I was half inclined to surmise,
what more natural than her obvious dislike to the detective who was
there to catch her principal? What more simple for her than to warn
her fellow-conspirator of the danger that awaited him if he
approached this man Medhurst?

However, I was too much frightened by the episode of the cheque to
say anything of my nascent suspicions to Charles. I waited rather
to see how events would shape themselves.

After a while Medhurst's vigilance grew positively annoying. More
than once he came to Charles with reports and shorthand notes
distinctly distasteful to my excellent brother-in-law. "The fellow
is getting to know too much about us," Charles said to me one day.
"Why, Sey, he spies out everything. Would you believe it, when I had
that confidential interview with Brookfield the other day, about the
new issue of Golcondas, the man was under the easy-chair, though I
searched the room beforehand to make sure he wasn't there; and he
came to me afterwards with full notes of the conversation, to assure
me he thought Brookfield--whom I've known for ten years--was too
tall by half an inch to be one of Colonel Clay's impersonations."

"Oh, but, Sir Charles," Medhurst cried, emerging suddenly from the
bookcase, "you must never look upon _any one_ as above suspicion
merely because you've known him for ten years or thereabouts.
Colonel Clay may have approached you at various times under many
disguises. He may have built up this thing gradually. Besides, as to
my knowing too much, why, of course, a detective always learns many
things about his employer's family which he is not supposed to know;
but professional honour and professional etiquette, as with doctors
and lawyers, compel him to lock them up as absolute secrets in his
own bosom. You need never be afraid I will divulge one jot of them.
If I did, my occupation would be gone, and my reputation shattered."

Charles looked at him, appalled. "Do you dare to say," he burst out,
"you've been listening to my talk with my brother-in-law and
secretary?"

"Why, of course," Medhurst answered. "It's my business to listen,
and to suspect everybody. If you push me to say so, how do I know
Colonel Clay is not--Mr. Wentworth?"

Charles withered him with a look. "In future, Medhurst," he said,
"you must never conceal yourself in a room where I am without my
leave and knowledge."

Medhurst bowed politely. "Oh, as you will, Sir Charles," he
answered; "that's _quite_ at your own wish. Though how can I act
as an efficient detective, any way, if you insist upon tying my
hands like that, beforehand?"

Again I detected a faint American flavour.

After that rebuff, however, Medhurst seemed put upon his mettle. He
redoubled his vigilance in every direction. "It's not my fault," he
said plaintively, one day, "if my reputation's so good that, while
I'm near you, this rogue won't approach you. If I can't _catch_ him,
at least I keep him away from coming near you!"

A few days later, however, he brought Charles some photographs.
These he produced with evident pride. The first he showed us was a
vignette of a little parson. "Who's that, then?" he inquired, much
pleased.

We gazed at it, open-eyed. One word rose to our lips simultaneously:
"Brabazon!"

"And how's this for high?" he asked again, producing another--the
photograph of a gay young dog in a Tyrolese costume.

We murmured, "Von Lebenstein!"

"_And_ this?" he continued, showing us the portrait of a lady with a
most fetching squint.

We answered with one voice, "Little Mrs. Granton!"

Medhurst was naturally proud of this excellent exploit. He replaced
them in his pocket-book with an air of just triumph.

"How did you get them?" Charles asked.

Medhurst's look was mysterious. "Sir Charles," he answered, drawing
himself up, "I must ask you to trust me awhile in this matter.
Remember, there are people whom you decline to suspect. _I_ have
learned that it is always those very people who are most dangerous
to capitalists. If I were to give you the names now, you would
refuse to believe me. Therefore, I hold them over discreetly for
the moment. One thing, however, I say. I _know_ to a certainty where
Colonel Clay is at this present speaking. But I will lay my plans
deep, and I hope before long to secure him. You shall be present
when I do so; and I shall make him confess his personality openly.
More than that you cannot reasonably ask. I shall leave it to
_you_, then, whether or not you wish to arrest him."

Charles was considerably puzzled, not to say piqued, by this curious
reticence; he begged hard for names; but Medhurst was adamant. "No,
no," he replied; "we detectives have our own just pride in our
profession. If I told you now, you would probably spoil all by some
premature action. You are too open and impulsive! I will mention
this alone: Colonel Clay will be shortly in Paris, and before long
will begin from that city a fresh attempt at defrauding you, which
he is now hatching. Mark my words, and see whether or not I have
been kept well informed of the fellow's movements!"

He was perfectly correct. Two days later, as it turned out, Charles
received a "confidential" letter from Paris, purporting to come
from the head of a second-rate financial house with which he had
had dealings over the Craig-Ellachie Amalgamation--by this time,
I ought to have said, an accomplished union. It was a letter of
small importance in itself--a mere matter of detail; but it paved
the way, so Medhurst thought, to some later development of more
serious character. Here once more the man's singular foresight was
justified. For, in another week, we received a second communication,
containing other proposals of a delicate financial character, which
would have involved the transference of some two thousand pounds
to the head of the Parisian firm at an address given. Both these
letters Medhurst cleverly compared with those written to Charles
before, in the names of Colonel Clay and of Graf von Lebenstein.
At first sight, it is true, the differences between the two seemed
quite enormous: the Paris hand was broad and black, large and bold;
while the earlier manuscript was small, neat, thin, and gentlemanly.
Still, when Medhurst pointed out to us certain persistent twists in
the formation of his capitals, and certain curious peculiarities in
the relative length of his t's, his l's, his b's, and his h's, we
could see for ourselves he was right; both were the work of one hand,
writing in the one case with a sharp-pointed nib, very small, and in
the other with a quill, very large and freely.

This discovery was _most_ important. We stood now within measurable
distance of catching Colonel Clay, and bringing forgery and fraud
home to him without hope of evasion.

To make all sure, however, Medhurst communicated with the Paris
police, and showed us their answers. Meanwhile, Charles continued to
write to the head of the firm, who had given a private address in
the Rue Jean Jacques, alleging, I must say, a most clever reason why
the negotiations at this stage should be confidentially conducted.
But one never expected from Colonel Clay anything less than
consummate cleverness. In the end, it was arranged that we three
were to go over to Paris together, that Medhurst was to undertake,
under the guise of being Sir Charles, to pay the two thousand pounds
to the pretended financier, and that Charles and I, waiting with the
police outside the door, should, at a given signal, rush in with our
forces and secure the criminal.

We went over accordingly, and spent the night at the Grand, as is
Charles's custom. The Bristol, which I prefer, he finds too quiet.
Early next morning we took a fiacre and drove to the Rue Jean
Jacques. Medhurst had arranged everything in advance with the Paris
police, three of whom, in plain clothes, were waiting at the foot
of the staircase to assist us. Charles had further provided himself
with two thousand pounds, in notes of the Bank of France, in order
that the payment might be duly made, and no doubt arise as to the
crime having been perpetrated as well as meditated--in the former
case, the penalty would be fifteen years; in the latter, three only.
He was in very high spirits. The fact that we had tracked the rascal
to earth at last, and were within an hour of apprehending him, was
in itself enough to raise his courage greatly. We found, as we
expected, that the number given in the Rue Jean Jacques was that
of an hotel, not a private residence. Medhurst went in first, and
inquired of the landlord whether our man was at home, at the same
time informing him of the nature of our errand, and giving him to
understand that if we effected the capture by his friendly aid, Sir
Charles would see that the expenses incurred on the swindler's bill
were met in full, as the price of his assistance. The landlord
bowed; he expressed his deep regret, as M. le Colonel--so we
heard him call him--was a most amiable person, much liked by the
household; but justice, of course, must have its way; and, with a
regretful sigh, he undertook to assist us.

The police remained below, but Charles and Medhurst were each
provided with a pair of handcuffs. Remembering the Polperro case,
however, we determined to use them with the greatest caution. We
would only put them on in case of violent resistance. We crept up to
the door where the miscreant was housed. Charles handed the notes in
an open envelope to Medhurst, who seized them hastily and held them
in his hands in readiness for action. We had a sign concerted.
Whenever he sneezed--which he could do in the most natural
manner--we were to open the door, rush in, and secure the criminal!

He was gone for some minutes. Charles and I waited outside in
breathless expectation. Then Medhurst sneezed. We flung the door
open at once, and burst in upon the creature.

Medhurst rose as we did so. He pointed with his finger. "_This_ is
Colonel Clay!" he said; "keep him well in charge while I go down
to the door for the police to arrest him!"

A gentlemanly man, about middle height, with a grizzled beard and a
well-assumed military aspect, rose at the same moment. The envelope
in which Charles had placed the notes lay on the table before him.
He clutched it nervously. "I am at a loss, gentlemen," he said, in
an excited voice, "to account for this interruption." He spoke with
a tremor, yet with all the politeness to which we were accustomed in
the little curate and the Honourable David.

"No nonsense!" Charles exclaimed, in his authoritative way. "We know
who you are. We have found you out this time. You are Colonel Clay.
If you attempt to resist--take care--I will handcuff you!"

The military gentleman gave a start. "Yes, I _am_ Colonel Clay," he
answered. "On what charge do you arrest me?"

Charles was bursting with wrath. The fellow's coolness seemed never
to desert him. "You _are_ Colonel Clay!" he muttered. "You have the
unspeakable effrontery to stand there and admit it?"

"Certainly," the Colonel answered, growing hot in turn. "I have done
nothing to be ashamed of. What do you mean by this conduct? How dare
you talk of arresting me?"

Charles laid his hand on the man's shoulder. "Come, come, my
friend," he said. "That sort of bluff won't go down with us. You
know very well on what charge I arrest you; and here are the police
to give effect to it."

He called out "Entrez!" The police entered the room. Charles
explained as well as he could in most doubtful Parisian what they
were next to do. The Colonel drew himself up in an indignant
attitude. He turned and addressed them in excellent French.

"I am an officer in the service of her Britannic Majesty," he said.
"On what ground do you venture to interfere with me, messieurs?"

The chief policeman explained. The Colonel turned to Charles.
"_Your_ name, sir?" he inquired.

"You know it very well," Charles answered. "I am Sir Charles
Vandrift; and, in spite of your clever disguise, I can instantly
recognise you. I know your eyes and ears. I can see the same man
who cheated me at Nice, and who insulted me on the island."

"_You_ Sir Charles Vandrift!" the rogue cried. "No, no, sir, you are
a madman!" He looked round at the police. "Take care what you do!"
he cried. "This is a raving maniac. I had business just now with Sir
Charles Vandrift, who quitted the room as these gentlemen entered.
This person is mad, and you, monsieur, I doubt not," bowing to me,
"you are, of course, his keeper."

"Do not let him deceive you," I cried to the police, beginning to
fear that with his usual incredible cleverness the fellow would
even now manage to slip through our fingers. "Arrest him, as you
are told. _We_ will take the responsibility." Though I trembled when
I thought of that cheque he held of mine.

The chief of our three policemen came forward and laid his hand on
the culprit's shoulder. "I advise you, M. le Colonel," he said, in
an official voice, "to come with us quietly for the present. Before
the juge d'instruction we can enter at length into all these
questions."

The Colonel, very indignant still--and acting the part
marvellously--yielded and went along with them.

"Where's Medhurst?" Charles inquired, glancing round as we reached
the door. "I wish he had stopped with us."

"You are looking for monsieur your friend?" the landlord inquired,
with a side bow to the Colonel. "He has gone away in a fiacre. He
asked me to give this note to you."

He handed us a twisted note. Charles opened and read it. "Invaluable
man!" he cried. "Just hear what he says, Sey: 'Having secured
Colonel Clay, I am off now again on the track of Mme. Picardet.
She was lodging in the same house. She has just driven away; I know
to what place; and I am after her to arrest her. In blind haste,
MEDHURST.' That's smartness, IF you like. Though, poor little woman,
I think he might have left her."

"Does a Mme. Picardet stop here?" I inquired of the landlord,
thinking it possible she might have assumed again the same old
alias.

He nodded assent. "Oui, oui, oui," he answered. "She has just driven
off, and monsieur your friend has gone posting after her."

"Splendid man!" Charles cried. "Marvillier was quite right. He is
the prince of detectives!"

We hailed a couple of fiacres, and drove off, in two detachments,
to the juge d'instruction. There Colonel Clay continued to brazen
it out, and asserted that he was an officer in the Indian Army, home
on six months' leave, and spending some weeks in Paris. He even
declared he was known at the Embassy, where he had a cousin an
attaché; and he asked that this gentleman should be sent for at once
from our Ambassador's to identify him. The juge d'instruction
insisted that this must be done; and Charles waited in very bad
humour for the foolish formality. It really seemed as if, after all,
when we had actually caught and arrested our man, he was going by
some cunning device to escape us.

After a delay of more than an hour, during which Colonel Clay
fretted and fumed quite as much as we did, the attaché arrived. To
our horror and astonishment, he proceeded to salute the prisoner
most affectionately.

"Halloa, Algy!" he cried, grasping his hand; "what's up? What do
these ruffians want with you?"

It began to dawn upon us, then, what Medhurst had meant by
"suspecting everybody": the real Colonel Clay was no common
adventurer, but a gentleman of birth and high connections!

The Colonel glared at us. "This fellow declares he's Sir Charles
Vandrift," he said sulkily. "Though, in fact, there are two of them.
And he accuses me of forgery, fraud, and theft, Bertie."

The attaché stared hard at us. "This _is_ Sir Charles Vandrift," he
replied, after a moment. "I remember hearing him make a speech once
at a City dinner. And what charge have you to prefer, Sir Charles,
against my cousin?"

"Your cousin?" Charles cried. "This is Colonel Clay, the notorious
sharper!"

The attaché smiled a gentlemanly and superior smile. "This is
Colonel Clay," he answered, "of the Bengal Staff Corps."

It began to strike us there was something wrong somewhere.

"But he has cheated me, all the same," Charles said--"at Nice two
years ago, and many times since; and this very day he has tricked me
out of two thousand pounds in French bank-notes, which he has now
about him!"

The Colonel was speechless. But the attaché laughed. "What he has
done to-day I don't know," he said; "but if it's as apocryphal as
what you say he did two years ago, you've a thundering bad case,
sir; for he was then in India, and I was out there, visiting him."

"Where are the two thousand pounds?" Charles cried. "Why, you've got
them in your hand! You're holding the envelope!"

The Colonel produced it. "This envelope," he said, "was left with me
by the man with short stiff hair, who came just before you, and who
announced himself as Sir Charles Vandrift. He said he was interested
in tea in Assam, and wanted me to join the board of directors of
some bogus company. These are his papers, I believe," and he handed
them to his cousin.

"Well, I'm glad the notes are safe, anyhow," Charles murmured, in a
tone of relief, beginning to smell a rat. "Will you kindly return
them to me?"

The attaché turned out the contents of the envelope. They proved to
be prospectuses of bubble companies of the moment, of no importance.

"Medhurst must have put them there," I cried, "and decamped with the
cash."

Charles gave a groan of horror. "And Medhurst is Colonel Clay!" he
exclaimed, clapping his hand to his forehead.

"I beg your pardon, sir," the Colonel interposed. "I have but one
personality, and no aliases."

It took quite half an hour to explain this imbroglio. But as soon as
all was explained, in French and English, to the satisfaction of
ourselves and the juge d'instruction, the real Colonel shook hands
with us in a most forgiving way, and informed us that he had more
than once wondered, when he gave his name at shops in Paris, why
it was often received with such grave suspicion. We instructed
the police that the true culprit was Medhurst, whom they had seen
with their own eyes, and whom we urged them to pursue with all
expedition. Meanwhile, Charles and I, accompanied by the Colonel
and the attaché--"to see the fun out," as they said--called at the
Bank of France for the purpose of stopping the notes immediately. It
was too late, however. They had been presented at once, and cashed
in gold, by a pleasant little lady in an American costume, who was
afterwards identified by the hotel-keeper (from our description) as
his lodger, Mme. Picardet. It was clear she had taken rooms in the
same hotel, to be near the Indian Colonel; and it was _she_ who had
received and sent the letters. As for our foe, he had vanished into
space, as always.

Two days later we received the usual insulting communication on a
sheet of Charles's own dainty note. Last time he wrote it was on
Craig-Ellachie paper: this time, like the wanton lapwing, he had got
himself another crest.

"MOST PERSPICACIOUS OF MILLIONAIRES!--Said I not well, as
Medhurst, that you must distrust everybody? And the one man
you never dreamt of distrusting was--Medhurst. Yet see how
truthful I was! I told you I knew where Colonel Clay was
living--and I _did_ know, exactly. I promised to take you to
Colonel Clay's rooms, and to get him arrested for you--and
I kept my promise. I even exceeded your expectations; for
I gave you _two_ Colonel Clays instead of one--and you took
the wrong man--that is to say, the real one. This was a neat
little trick; but it cost me some trouble.

"First, I found out there _was_ a real Colonel Clay, in the
Indian Army. I also found out he chanced to be coming home on
leave this season. I might have made more out of him, no doubt;
but I disliked annoying him, and preferred to give myself the
fun of this peculiar mystification. I therefore waited for him
to reach Paris, where the police arrangements suited me better
than in London. While I was looking about, and delaying
operations for his return, I happened to hear you wanted a
detective. So I offered myself as out of work to my old
employer, Marvillier, from whom I have had many good jobs in the
past; and there you get, in short, the kernel of the Colonel.

"Naturally, after this, I can never go back as a detective
to Marvillier's. But, on the large scale on which I have
learned to work since I first had the pleasure of making
your delightful acquaintance, this matters little. To say
the truth, I begin to feel detective work a cut or two below
me. I am now a gentleman of means and leisure. Besides, the
extra knowledge of your movements which I have acquired in
your house has helped still further to give me various holds
upon you. So the fluke will be true to his own pet lamb. To
vary the metaphor, you are not fully shorn yet.

"Remember me most kindly to your charming family, give
Wentworth my love, and tell Mlle. Césarine I owe her a grudge
which I shall never forget. She clearly suspected me. You are
much too rich, dear Charles; I relieve your plethora. I bleed
you financially. Therefore I consider myself--Your sincerest
friend,

"CLAY-BRABAZON-MEDHURST,

"Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons."

Charles was threatened with apoplexy. This blow was severe.
"Whom can I trust," he asked, plaintively, "when the detectives
themselves, whom I employ to guard me, turn out to be swindlers?
Don't you remember that line in the Latin grammar--something about,
'Who shall watch the watchers?' I think it used to run, 'Quis
custodes custodiet ipsos?'"

But I felt this episode had at least disproved my suspicions of
poor Césarine.

VIII

THE EPISODE OF THE SELDON GOLD-MINE

On our return to London, Charles and Marvillier had a difference
of opinion on the subject of Medhurst.

Charles maintained that Marvillier ought to have known the man
with the cropped hair was Colonel Clay, and ought never to have
recommended him. Marvillier maintained that Charles had _seen_
Colonel Clay half-a-dozen times, at least, to his own never; and
that my respected brother-in-law had therefore nobody on earth
but himself to blame if the rogue imposed upon him. The head
detective had known Medhurst for ten years, he said, as a most
respectable man, and even a ratepayer; he had always found him the
cleverest of spies, as well he might be, indeed, on the familiar
set-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief principle. However, the upshot of
it all was, as usual--nothing. Marvillier was sorry to lose the
services of so excellent a hand; but he had done the very best
he could for Sir Charles, he declared; and if Sir Charles was
not satisfied, why, he might catch his Colonel Clays for himself
in future.

"So I will, Sey," Charles remarked to me, as we walked back from
the office in the Strand by Piccadilly. "I won't trust any more to
these private detectives. It's my belief they're a pack of thieves
themselves, in league with the rascals they're set to catch, and
with no more sense of honour than a Zulu diamond-hand."

"Better try the police," I suggested, by way of being helpful.
One must assume an interest in one's employer's business.

But Charles shook his head. "No, no," he said; "I'm sick of all
these fellows. I shall trust in future to my own sagacity. We
learn by experience, Sey--and I've learned a thing or two. One of
them is this: It's not enough to suspect everybody; you must have
no preconceptions. Divest yourself entirely of every fixed idea
if you wish to cope with a rascal of this calibre. Don't jump at
conclusions. We should disbelieve everything, as well as distrust
everybody. That's the road to success; and I mean to pursue it."

So, by way of pursuing it, Charles retired to Seldon.

"The longer the man goes on, the worse he grows," he said to me
one morning. "He's just like a tiger that has tasted blood. Every
successful haul seems only to make him more eager for another.
I fully expect now before long we shall see him down here."

About three weeks later, sure enough, my respected connection
received a communication from the abandoned swindler, with
an Austrian stamp and a Vienna post-mark.

"MY DEAR VANDRIFT.--(After so long and so varied an acquaintance
we may surely drop the absurd formalities of 'Sir Charles' and
'Colonel.') I write to ask you a delicate question. Can you kindly
tell me exactly how much I have received from your various generous
acts during the last three years? I have mislaid my account-book,
and as this is the season for making the income tax return, I am
anxious, as an honest and conscientious citizen, to set down my
average profits out of you for the triennial period. For reasons
which you will amply understand, I do not this time give my private
address, in Paris or elsewhere; but if you will kindly advertise
the total amount, above the signature 'Peter Simple,' in the Agony
Column of the Times, you will confer a great favour upon the
Revenue Commissioners, and also upon your constant friend and
companion, CUTHBERT CLAY,

"Practical Socialist."

"Mark my word, Sey," Charles said, laying the letter down, "in a
week or less the man himself will follow. This is his cunning way
of trying to make me think he's well out of the country and far
away from Seldon. That means he's meditating another descent. But
he told us too much last time, when he was Medhurst the detective.
He gave us some hints about disguises and their unmasking that I
shall not forget. This turn I shall be even with him."

On Saturday of that week, in effect, we were walking along the road
that leads into the village, when we met a gentlemanly-looking man,
in a rough and rather happy-go-lucky brown tweed suit, who had the
air of a tourist. He was middle-aged, and of middle height; he wore
a small leather wallet suspended round his shoulder; and he was
peering about at the rocks in a suspicious manner. Something in
his gait attracted our attention.

"Good-morning," he said, looking up as we passed; and Charles
muttered a somewhat surly inarticulate, "Good-morning."

We went on without saying more. "Well, _that's_ not Colonel Clay,
anyhow," I said, as we got out of earshot. "For he accosted us
first; and you may remember it's one of the Colonel's most marked
peculiarities that, like the model child, he never speaks till he's
spoken to--never begins an acquaintance. He always waits till we
make the first advance; he doesn't go out of his way to cheat us;
he loiters about till we ask him to do it."

"Seymour," my brother-in-law responded, in a severe tone, "there
you are, now, doing the very thing I warned you not to do! You're
succumbing to a preconception. Avoid fixed ideas. The probability
is this man _is_ Colonel Clay. Strangers are generally scarce at
Seldon. If he isn't Colonel Clay, what's he here for, I'd like
to know? What money is there to be made here in any other way?
I shall inquire about him."

We dropped in at the Cromarty Arms, and asked good Mrs. M'Lachlan
if she could tell us anything about the gentlemanly stranger. Mrs.
M'Lachlan replied that he was from London, she believed, a pleasant
gentleman enough; and he had his wife with him.

"Ha! Young? Pretty?" Charles inquired, with a speaking glance at me.

"Weel, Sir Charles, she'll no be exactly what you'd be ca'ing a
bonny lass," Mrs. M'Lachlan replied; "but she's a guid body for
a' that, an' a fine braw woman."

"Just what I should expect," Charles murmured, "He varies the
programme. The fellow has tried White Heather as the parson's wife,
and as Madame Picardet, and as squinting little Mrs. Granton, and
as Medhurst's accomplice; and now, he has almost exhausted the
possibilities of a disguise for a really young and pretty woman;
so he's playing her off at last as the riper product--a handsome
matron. Clever, extremely clever; but--we begin to see through him."
And he chuckled to himself quietly.

Next day, on the hillside, we came upon our stranger again,
occupied as before in peering into the rocks, and sounding them
with a hammer. Charles nudged me and whispered, "I have it this
time. He's posing as a geologist."

I took a good look at the man. By now, of course, we had some
experience of Colonel Clay in his various disguises; and I could
observe that while the nose, the hair, and the beard were varied,
the eyes and the build remained the same as ever. He was a trifle
stouter, of course, being got up as a man of between forty and
fifty; and his forehead was lined in a way which a less consummate
artist than Colonel Clay could easily have imitated. But I felt we
had at least some grounds for our identification; it would not do
to dismiss the suggestion of Clayhood at once as a flight of fancy.

His wife was sitting near, upon a bare boss of rock, reading a
volume of poems. Capital variant, that, a volume of poems! Exactly
suited the selected type of a cultivated family. White Heather and
Mrs. Granton never used to read poems. But that was characteristic
of all Colonel Clay's impersonations, and Mrs. Clay's too--for I
suppose I must call her so. They were not mere outer disguises;
they were finished pieces of dramatic study. Those two people were
an actor and actress, as well as a pair of rogues; and in both
their rôles they were simply inimitable.

As a rule, Charles is by no means polite to casual trespassers on
the Seldon estate; they get short shrift and a summary ejection.
But on this occasion he had a reason for being courteous, and he
approached the lady with a bow of recognition. "Lovely day," he
said, "isn't it? Such belts on the sea, and the heather smells
sweet. You are stopping at the inn, I fancy?"

"Yes," the lady answered, looking up at him with a charming smile.
("I know that smile," Charles whispered to me. "I have succumbed to
it too often.") "We're stopping at the inn, and my husband is doing
a little geology on the hill here. I hope Sir Charles Vandrift won't
come and catch us. He's so down upon trespassers. They tell us at
the inn he's a regular Tartar."

("Saucy minx as ever," Charles murmured to me. "She said it on
purpose.") "No, my dear madam," he continued, aloud; "you have
been quite misinformed. _I_ am Sir Charles Vandrift; and I am _not_
a Tartar. If your husband is a man of science I respect and admire
him. It is geology that has made me what I am to-day." And he drew
himself up proudly. "We owe to it the present development of South
African mining."

The lady blushed as one seldom sees a mature woman blush--but
exactly as I had seen Madame Picardet and White Heather. "Oh, I'm
so sorry," she said, in a confused way that recalled Mrs. Granton.
"Forgive my hasty speech. I--I didn't know you."

("She did," Charles whispered. "But let that pass.") "Oh, don't
think of it again; so many people disturb the birds, don't you know,
that we're obliged in self-defence to warn trespassers sometimes off
our lovely mountains. But I do it with regret--with profound regret.
I admire the--er--the beauties of Nature myself; and, therefore,
I desire that all others should have the freest possible access
to them--possible, that is to say, consistently with the superior
claims of Property."

"I see," the lady replied, looking up at him quaintly. "I admire
your wish, though not your reservation. I've just been reading
those sweet lines of Wordsworth's--

And O, ye fountains, meadows, hills, and groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves.

I suppose you know them?" And she beamed on him pleasantly.

"Know them?" Charles answered. "Know them! Oh, of course, I know
them. They're old favourites of mine--in fact, I adore Wordsworth."
(I doubt whether Charles has ever in his life read a line of poetry,
except Doss Chiderdoss in the Sporting Times.) He took the book
and glanced at them. "Ah, charming, charming!" he said, in his most
ecstatic tone. But his eyes were on the lady, and not on the poet.

I saw in a moment how things stood. No matter under what disguise
that woman appeared to him, and whether he recognised her or not,
Charles couldn't help falling a victim to Madame Picardet's
attractions. Here he actually suspected her; yet, like a moth
round a candle, he was trying his hardest to get his wings singed!
I almost despised him with his gigantic intellect! The greatest
men are the greatest fools, I verily believe, when there's a woman
in question.

The husband strolled up by this time, and entered into conversation
with us. According to his own account, his name was Forbes-Gaskell,
and he was a Professor of Geology in one of those new-fangled
northern colleges. He had come to Seldon rock-spying, he said, and
found much to interest him. He was fond of fossils, but his special
hobby was rocks and minerals. He knew a vast deal about cairngorms
and agates and such-like pretty things, and showed Charles quartz
and felspar and red cornelian, and I don't know what else, in the
crags on the hillside. Charles pretended to listen to him with the
deepest interest and even respect, never for a moment letting him
guess he knew for what purpose this show of knowledge had been
recently acquired. If we were ever to catch the man, we must not
allow him to see we suspected him. So Charles played a dark game.
He swallowed the geologist whole without question.

Most of that morning we spent with them on the hillside. Charles
took them everywhere and showed them everything. He pretended to be
polite to the scientific man, and he was really polite, most polite,
to the poetical lady. Before lunch time we had become quite friends.

The Clays were always easy people to get on with; and, bar their
roguery, we could not deny they were delightful companions. Charles
asked them in to lunch. They accepted willingly. He introduced them
to Amelia with sundry raisings of his eyebrows and contortions
of his mouth. "Professor and Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell," he said,
half-dislocating his jaw with his violent efforts. "They're stopping
at the inn, dear. I've been showing them over the place, and they're
good enough to say they'll drop in and take a share in our cold
roast mutton;" which was a frequent form of Charles's pleasantry.

Amelia sent them upstairs to wash their hands--which, in the
Professor's case, was certainly desirable, for his fingers were
grimed with earth and dust from the rocks he had been investigating.
As soon as we were left alone Charles drew me into the library.

"Seymour," he said, "more than ever there is a need for us strictly
to avoid preconceptions. We must not make up our minds that this man
is Colonel Clay--nor, again, that he isn't. We must remember that we
have been mistaken in _both_ ways in the past, and must avoid our
old errors. I shall hold myself in readiness for either event--and
a policeman in readiness to arrest them, if necessary!"

"A capital plan," I murmured. "Still, if I may venture a suggestion,
in what way are these two people endeavouring to entrap us? They
have no scheme on hand--no schloss, no amalgamation."

"Seymour," my brother-in-law answered in his board-room style, "you
are a great deal too previous, as Medhurst used to say--I mean,
Colonel Clay in his character as Medhurst. In the first place, these
are early days; our friends have not yet developed their intentions.
We may find before long they have a property to sell, or a company
to promote, or a concession to exploit in South Africa or elsewhere.
Then again, in the second place, we don't always spot the exact
nature of their plan until it has burst in our hands, so to speak,
and revealed its true character. What could have seemed more
transparent than Medhurst, the detective, till he ran away with our
notes in the very moment of triumph? What more innocent than White
Heather and the little curate, till they landed us with a couple
of Amelia's own gems as a splendid bargain? I will not take it for
granted _any_ man is not Colonel Clay, merely because I don't happen
to spot the particular scheme he is trying to work against me. The
rogue has so many schemes, and some of them so well concealed, that
up to the moment of the actual explosion you fail to detect the
presence of moral dynamite. Therefore, I shall proceed as if there
were dynamite everywhere. But in the third place--and this is _very_
important--you mark my words, I believe I detect already the lines
he will work upon. He's a geologist, he says, with a taste for
minerals. Very good. You see if he doesn't try to persuade me before
long he has found a coal mine, whose locality he will disclose for
a trifling consideration; or else he will salt the Long Mountain
with emeralds, and claim a big share for helping to discover them;
or else he will try something in the mineralogical line to _do_ me
somehow. I see it in the very transparency of the fellow's face;
and I'm determined this time neither to pay him one farthing on
any pretext, nor to let him escape me!"

We went in to lunch. The Professor and Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell, all
smiles, accompanied us. I don't know whether it was Charles's
warning to take nothing for granted that made me do so--but I kept
a close eye upon the suspected man all the time we were at table.
It struck me there was something very odd about his hair. It
didn't seem quite the same colour all over. The locks that hung
down behind, over the collar of his coat, were a trifle lighter and
a trifle grayer than the black mass that covered the greater part
of his head. I examined it carefully. The more I did so, the more
the conviction grew upon me: he was wearing a wig. There was no
denying it!

A trifle less artistic, perhaps, than most of Colonel Clay's
get-ups; but then, I reflected (on Charles's principle of taking
nothing for granted), we had never before suspected Colonel Clay
himself, except in the one case of the Honourable David, whose red
hair and whiskers even Madame Picardet had admitted to be absurdly
false by her action of pointing at them and tittering irrepressibly.
It was possible that in every case, if we had scrutinised our man
closely, we should have found that the disguise betrayed itself
at once (as Medhurst had suggested) to an acute observer.

The detective, in fact, had told us too much. I remembered what he
said to us about knocking off David Granton's red wig the moment
we doubted him; and I positively tried to help myself awkwardly
to potato-chips, when the footman offered them, so as to hit the
supposed wig with an apparently careless brush of my elbow. But
it was of no avail. The fellow seemed to anticipate or suspect my
intention, and dodged aside carefully, like one well accustomed
to saving his disguise from all chance of such real or seeming
accidents.

I was so full of my discovery that immediately after lunch I induced
Isabel to take our new friends round the home garden and show them
Charles's famous prize dahlias, while I proceeded myself to narrate
to Charles and Amelia my observations and my frustrated experiment.

"It _is_ a wig," Amelia assented. "_I_ spotted it at once. A very
good wig, too, and most artistically planted. Men don't notice these
things, though women do. It is creditable to you, Seymour, to have
succeeded in detecting it."

Charles was less complimentary. "You fool," he answered, with that
unpleasant frankness which is much too common with him. "Supposing
it _is_, why on earth should you try to knock it off and disclose
him? What good would it have done? If it _is_ a wig, and we spot it,
that's all that we need. We are put on our guard; we know with whom
we have now to deal. But you can't take a man up on a charge of
wig-wearing. The law doesn't interfere with it. Most respectable men
may sometimes wear wigs. Why, I knew a promoter who did, and also
the director of fourteen companies! What we have to do next is, wait
till he tries to cheat us, and then--pounce down upon him. Sooner
or later, you may be sure, his plans will reveal themselves."

So we concocted an excellent scheme to keep them under constant
observation, lest they should slip away again, as they did from the
island. First of all, Amelia was to ask them to come and stop at the
castle, on the ground that the rooms at the inn were uncomfortably
small. We felt sure, however, that, as on a previous occasion,
they would refuse the invitation, in order to be able to slink
off unperceived, in case they should find themselves apparently
suspected. Should they decline, it was arranged that Césarine should
take a room at the Cromarty Arms as long as they stopped there, and
report upon their movements; while, during the day, we would have
the house watched by the head gillie's son, a most intelligent
young man, who could be trusted, with true Scotch canniness, to
say nothing to anybody.

To our immense surprise, Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell accepted the invitation
with the utmost alacrity. She was profuse in her thanks, indeed; for
she told us the Arms was an ill-kept house, and the cookery by no
means agreed with her husband's liver. It was sweet of us to invite
them; such kindness to perfect strangers was quite unexpected. She
should always say that nowhere on earth had she met with so cordial
or friendly a reception as at Seldon Castle. But--she accepted,
unreservedly.

"It _can't_ be Colonel Clay," I remarked to Charles. "He would never
have come here. Even as David Granton, with far more reason for
coming, he wouldn't put himself in our power: he preferred the
security and freedom of the Cromarty Arms."

"Sey," my brother-in-law said sententiously, "you're incorrigible.
You _will_ persist in being the slave of prepossessions. He may
have some good reason of his own for accepting. Wait till he shows
his hand--and then, we shall understand everything."

So for the next three weeks the Forbes-Gaskells formed part of the
house-party at Seldon. I must say, Charles paid them most assiduous
attention. He positively neglected his other guests in order to keep
close to the two new-comers. Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell noticed the fact,
and commented on it. "You are really too good to us, Sir Charles,"
she said. "I'm afraid you allow us quite to monopolise you!"

But Charles, gallant as ever, replied with a smile, "We have
you with us for so short a time, you know!" Which made Mrs.
Forbes-Gaskell blush again that delicious blush of hers.

During all this time the Professor went on calmly and persistently
mineralogising. "Wonderful character!" Charles said to me. "He works
out his parts so well! Could anything exceed the picture he gives
one of scientific ardour?" And, indeed, he was at it, morning, noon,
and night. "Sooner or later," Charles observed, "something practical
must come of it."

Twice, meanwhile, little episodes occurred which are well worth
notice. One day I was out with the Professor on the Long Mountain,
watching him hammer at the rocks, and a little bored by his
performance, when, to pass the time, I asked him what a particular
small water-worn stone was. He looked at it and smiled. "If there
were a little more mica in it," he said, "it would be the
characteristic gneiss of ice-borne boulders, hereabouts. But
there isn't _quite_ enough." And he gazed at it curiously.

"Indeed," I answered, "it doesn't come up to sample, doesn't it?"

He gave me a meaning look. "Ten per cent," he murmured in a slow,
strange voice; "ten per cent is more usual."

I trembled violently. Was he bent, then, upon ruining me? "If you
betray me--" I cried, and broke off.

"I beg your pardon," he said. He was all pure innocence.

I reflected on what Charles had said about taking nothing for
granted, and held my tongue prudently.

The other incident was this. Charles picked a sprig of white heather
on the hill one afternoon, after a picnic lunch, I regret to say,
when he had taken perhaps a glass more champagne than was strictly
good for him. He was not exactly the worse for it, but he was
excited, good-humoured, reckless, and lively. He brought the sprig
to Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell, and handed it to her, ogling a little.
"Sweets to the sweet," he murmured, and looked at her meaningly.
"White heather to White Heather." Then he saw what he had done,
and checked himself instantly.

Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell coloured up in the usual manner. "I--I don't
quite understand," she faltered.

Charles scrambled out of it somehow. "White heather for luck," he
said, "and--the man who is privileged to give a piece of it to you
is surely lucky."

She smiled, none too well pleased. I somehow felt she suspected us
of suspecting her.

However, as it turned out, nothing came, after all, of the untoward
incident.

Next day Charles burst upon me, triumphant. "Well, he has shown
his hand!" he cried. "I knew he would. He has come to me to-day
with--what do you think?--a fragment of gold, in quartz, from the
Long Mountain."

"No!" I exclaimed.

"Yes," Charles answered. "He says there's a vein there with distinct
specks of gold in it, which might be worth mining. When a man begins
_that_ way you know what he's driving at! And what's more, he's got
up the subject beforehand; for he began saying to me there had long
been gold in Sutherlandshire--why not therefore in Ross-shire?
And then he went at full into the comparative geology of the two
regions."

"This is serious," I said. "What will you do?"

"Wait and watch," Charles answered; "and the moment he develops a
proposal for shares in the syndicate to work the mine, or a sum of
money down as the price of his discovery--get in the police, and
arrest him."

For the next few days the Professor was more active and ardent than
ever. He went peering about the rocks on every side with his hammer.
He kept on bringing in little pieces of stone, with gold specks
stuck in them, and talking learnedly of the "probable cost of
crushing and milling." Charles had heard all that before; in
point of fact, he had assisted at the drafting of some dozens of
prospectuses. So he took no notice, and waited for the man with the
wig to develop his proposals. He knew they would come soon; and he
watched and waited. But, of course, to draw him on he pretended to
be interested.

While we were all in this attitude of mind, attending on Providence
and Colonel Clay, we happened to walk down by the shore one day, in
the opposite direction from the Seamew's island. Suddenly we came
upon the Professor linked arm-in-arm with--Sir Adolphus Cordery!
They were wrapped in deep talk, and appeared to be most amicable.

Now, naturally, relations had been a trifle strained between Sir
Adolphus and the house of Vandrift since the incident of the Slump;
but under the present circumstances, and with such a matter at stake
as the capture of Colonel Clay, it was necessary to overlook all
such minor differences. So Charles managed to disengage the
Professor from his friend, sent Amelia on with Forbes-Gaskell
towards the castle, and stopped behind, himself, with Sir Adolphus
and me, to clear up the question.

"Do you know this man, Cordery?" he asked, with some little
suspicion.

"Know him? Why, of course I do," Sir Adolphus answered. "He's
Marmaduke Forbes-Gaskell, of the Yorkshire College, a very
distinguished man of science. First-rate mineralogist--perhaps
the best (_but_ one) in England." Modesty forbade him to name the
exception.

"But are you sure it's he?" Charles inquired, with growing
doubt. "Have you known him before? This isn't a second case of
Schleiermachering me, is it?"

"Sure it's he?" Sir Adolphus echoed. "Am I sure of myself? Why, I've
known Marmy Gaskell ever since we were at Trinity together. Knew him
before he married Miss Forbes of Glenluce, my wife's second cousin,
and hyphened his name with hers, to keep the property in the family.
Know them both most intimately. Came down here to the inn because I
heard that Marmy was on the prowl among these hills, and I thought he
had probably something good to prowl after--in the way of fossils."

"But the man wears a wig!" Charles expostulated.

"Of course," Cordery answered. "He's as bald as a bat--in front at
least--and he wears a wig to cover his baldness."

"It's disgraceful," Charles exclaimed; "disgraceful--taking us in
like that." And he grew red as a turkey-cock.

Sir Adolphus has no delicacy. He burst out laughing.

"Oh, I see," he cried out, simply bursting with amusement. "You
thought Forbes-Gaskell was Colonel Clay in disguise! Oh, my stars,
what a lovely one!"

"_You_, at least, have no right to laugh," Charles responded, drawing
himself up and growing still redder. "You led me once into a
similar scrape, and then backed out of it in a way unbecoming a
gentleman. Besides," he went on, getting angrier at each word,
"this fellow, whoever he is, has been trying to cheat me on his
own account. Colonel Clay or no Colonel Clay, he's been salting my
rocks with gold-bearing quartz, and trying to lead me on into an
absurd speculation!"

Sir Adolphus exploded. "Oh, this is too good," he cried. "I must
go and tell Marmy!" And he rushed off to where Forbes-Gaskell was
seated on a corner of rock with Amelia.

As for Charles and myself, we returned to the house. Half an hour
later Forbes-Gaskell came back, too, in a towering temper.

"What is the meaning of this, sir?" he shouted out, as soon as
he caught sight of Charles. "I'm told you've invited my wife
and myself here to your house in order to spy upon us, under the
impression that I was Clay, the notorious swindler!"

"I thought you were," Charles answered, equally angry. "Perhaps you
may be still! Anyhow, you're a rogue, and you tried to bamboozle
me!"

Forbes-Gaskell, white with rage, turned to his trembling wife.
"Gertrude," he said, "pack up your box and come away from these
people instantly. Their pretended hospitality has been a studied
insult. They've put you and me in a most ridiculous position. We
were told before we came here--and no doubt with truth--that Sir
Charles Vandrift was the most close-fisted and tyrannical old
curmudgeon in Scotland. We've been writing to all our friends to
say ecstatically that he was, on the contrary, a most hospitable,
generous, and large-hearted gentleman. And now we find out he's a
disgusting cad, who asks strangers to his house from the meanest
motives, and then insults his guests with gratuitous vituperation.
It is well such people should hear the plain truth now and again in
their lives; and it therefore gives me the greatest pleasure to tell
Sir Charles Vandrift that he's a vulgar bounder of the first water.
Go and pack your box, Gertrude! I'll run down to the Cromarty Arms,
and order a cab to carry us away at once from this inhospitable
sham castle."

"You wear a wig, sir; you wear a wig," Charles exclaimed,
half-choking with passion. For, indeed, as Forbes-Gaskell spoke,
and tossed his head angrily, the nature of his hair-covering grew
painfully apparent. It was quite one-sided.

"I do, sir, that I may be able to shake it in the face of a cad!"
the Professor responded, tearing it off to readjust it; and, suiting
the action to the word, he brandished it thrice in Charles's eyes;
after which he darted from the room, speechless with indignation.

As soon as they were gone, and Charles had recovered breath
sufficiently to listen to rational conversation, I ventured to
observe, "This comes of being too sure! We made one mistake. We
took it for granted that because a man wears a wig, he _must_ be
an impostor--which does not necessarily follow. We forgot that not
Colonel Clays alone have false coverings to their heads, and that
wigs may sometimes be worn from motives of pure personal vanity.
In fact, we were again the slaves of preconceptions."

I looked at him pointedly. Charles rose before he replied. "Seymour
Wentworth," he said at last, gazing down upon me with lofty scorn,
"your moralising is ill-timed. It appears to me you entirely
misunderstand the position and duties of a private secretary!"

The oddest part of it all, however, was this--that Charles, being
convinced Forbes-Gaskell, though he wasn't Colonel Clay, had been
fraudulently salting the rocks with gold, with intent to deceive,
took no further notice of the alleged discoveries. The consequence
was that Forbes-Gaskell and Sir Adolphus went elsewhere with the
secret; and it was not till after Charles had sold the Seldon
Castle estate (which he did shortly afterward, the place having
somehow grown strangely distasteful to him) that the present
"Seldon Eldorados, Limited," were put upon the market by Lord
Craig-Ellachie, who purchased the place from him. Forbes-Gaskell,
as it happened, had reported to Craig-Ellachie that he had found
a lode of high-grade ore on an estate unnamed, which he would
particularise on promise of certain contingent claims to founder's
shares; and the old lord jumped at it. Charles sold at grouse-moor
prices; and the consequence is that the capital of the Eldorados
is yielding at present very fair returns, even after allowing for
expenses of promotion--while Charles has been done out of a good
thing in gold-mines!

But, remembering "the position and duties of a private secretary,"
I refrained from pointing out to him at the time that this loss was
due to a fixed idea--though as a matter of fact it depended upon
Charles's strange preconception that the man with the wig, whoever
he might be, was trying to diddle him.

IX

THE EPISODE OF THE JAPANNED DISPATCH-BOX

"Sey," my brother-in-law said next spring, "I'm sick and tired
of London! Let's shoulder our wallets at once, and I will to
some distant land, where no man doth me know."

"Mars or Mercury?" I inquired; "for, in our own particular planet,
I'm afraid you'll find it just a trifle difficult for Sir Charles
Vandrift to hide his light under a bushel."

"Oh, I'll manage it," Charles answered. "What's the good of being
a millionaire, I should like to know, if you're always obliged to
'behave as sich'? I shall travel incog. I'm dog-tired of being
dogged by these endless impostors."

And, indeed, we had passed through a most painful winter. Colonel
Clay had stopped away for some months, it is true, and for my own
part, I will confess, since it wasn't _my_ place to pay the piper, I
rather missed the wonted excitement than otherwise. But Charles had
grown horribly and morbidly suspicious. He carried out his principle
of "distrusting everybody and disbelieving everything," till life
was a burden to him. He spotted impossible Colonel Clays under a
thousand disguises; he was quite convinced he had frightened his
enemy away at least a dozen times over, beneath the varying garb
of a fat club waiter, a tall policeman, a washerwoman's boy, a
solicitor's clerk, the Bank of England beadle, and the collector
of water-rates. He saw him as constantly, and in as changeful forms,
as mediæval saints used to see the devil. Amelia and I really
began to fear for the stability of that splendid intellect; we
foresaw that unless the Colonel Clay nuisance could be abated
somehow, Charles might sink by degrees to the mental level of a
common or ordinary Stock-Exchange plunger.

So, when my brother-in-law announced his intention of going away
incog. to parts unknown, on the succeeding Saturday, Amelia and
I felt a flush of relief from long-continued tension. Especially
Amelia--who was _not_ going with him.

"For rest and quiet," he said to us at breakfast, laying down the
Morning Post, "give _me_ the deck of an Atlantic liner! No letters;
no telegrams. No stocks; no shares. No Times; no Saturday. I'm sick
of these papers!"

"The World is too much with us," I assented cheerfully. I regret
to say, nobody appreciated the point of my quotation.

Charles took infinite pains, I must admit, to ensure perfect
secrecy. He made me write and secure the best state-rooms--main
deck, amidships--under my own name, without mentioning his, in
the Etruria, for New York, on her very next voyage. He spoke of
his destination to nobody but Amelia; and Amelia warned Césarine,
under pains and penalties, on no account to betray it to the other
servants. Further to secure his incog., Charles assumed the style
and title of Mr. Peter Porter, and booked as such in the Etruria
at Liverpool.

The day before starting, however, he went down with me to the City
for an interview with his brokers in Adam's Court, Old Broad Street.
Finglemore, the senior partner, hastened, of course, to receive us.
As we entered his private room a good-looking young man rose and
lounged out. "Halloa, Finglemore," Charles said, "that's that scamp
of a brother of yours! I thought you had shipped him off years and
years ago to China?"

"So I did, Sir Charles," Finglemore answered, rubbing his hands
somewhat nervously. "But he never went there. Being an idle young
dog, with a taste for amusement, he got for the time no further
than Paris. Since then, he's hung about a bit, here, there, and
everywhere, and done no particular good for himself or his family.
But about three or four years ago he somehow 'struck ile': he went
to South Africa, poaching on your preserves; and now he's back
again--rich, married, and respectable. His wife, a nice little
woman, has reformed him. Well, what can I do for you this morning?"

Charles has large interests in America, in Santa Fé and Topekas, and
other big concerns; and he insisted on taking out several documents
and vouchers connected in various ways with his widespread ventures
there. He meant to go, he said, for complete rest and change, on a
general tour of private inquiry--New York, Chicago, Colorado, the
mining districts. It was a millionaire's holiday. So he took all
these valuables in a black japanned dispatch-box, which he guarded
like a child with absurd precautions. He never allowed that box out
of his sight one moment; and he gave me no peace as to its safety
and integrity. It was a perfect fetish. "We must be cautious," he
said, "Sey, cautious! Especially in travelling. Recollect how that
little curate spirited the diamonds out of Amelia's jewel-case! I
shall not let this box out of my sight. I shall stick to it myself,
if we go to the bottom."

We did _not_ go to the bottom. It is the proud boast of the Cunard
Company that it has "never lost a passenger's life"; and the captain
would not consent to send the Etruria to Davy Jones's locker, merely
in order to give Charles a chance of sticking to his dispatch-box
under trying circumstances. On the contrary, we had a delightful
and uneventful passage; and we found our fellow-passengers most
agreeable people. Charles, as Mr. Peter Porter, being freed for
the moment from his terror of Colonel Clay, would have felt really
happy, I believe--had it not been for the dispatch-box. He made
friends from the first hour (quite after the fearless old fashion
of the days before Colonel Clay had begun to embitter life for him)
with a nice American doctor and his charming wife, on their way back
to Kentucky. Dr. Elihu Quackenboss--that was his characteristically
American name--had been studying medicine for a year in Vienna, and
was now returning to his native State with a brain close crammed
with all the latest bacteriological and antiseptic discoveries. His
wife, a pretty and piquant little American, with a tip-tilted nose
and the quaint sharpness of her countrywomen, amused Charles not a
little. The funny way in which she would make room for him by her
side on the bench on deck, and say, with a sweet smile, "You sit
right here, Mr. Porter; the sun's just elegant," delighted and
flattered him. He was proud to find out that female attention was
not always due to his wealth and title; and that plain Mr. Porter
could command on his merits the same amount of blandishments as Sir
Charles Vandrift, the famous millionaire, on his South African
celebrity.

During the whole of that voyage, it was Mrs. Quackenboss here, and
Mrs. Quackenboss there, and Mrs. Quackenboss the other place, till,
for Amelia's sake, I was glad she was not on board to witness it.
Long before we sighted Sandy Hook, I will admit, I was fairly sick
of Charles's two-stringed harp--Mrs. Quackenboss and the
dispatch-box.

Mrs. Quackenboss, it turned out, was an amateur artist, and she
painted Sir Charles, on calm days on deck, in all possible
attitudes. She seemed to find him a most attractive model.

The doctor, too, was a precious clever fellow. He knew something of
chemistry--and of most other subjects, including, as I gathered, the
human character. For he talked to Charles about various ideas of
his, with which he wished to "liven up folks in Kentucky a bit," on
his return, till Charles conceived the highest possible regard for
his intelligence and enterprise. "That's a go-ahead fellow, Sey!"
he remarked to me one day. "Has the right sort of grit in him!
Those Americans are the men. Wish I had a round hundred of them on
my works in South Africa!"

That idea seemed to grow upon him. He was immensely taken with it.
He had lately dismissed one of his chief superintendents at the
Cloetedorp mine, and he seriously debated whether or not he should
offer the post to the smart Kentuckian. For my own part, I am
inclined to connect this fact with his expressed determination to
visit his South African undertakings for three months yearly in
future; and I am driven to suspect he felt life at Cloetedorp would
be rendered much more tolerable by the agreeable society of a quaint
and amusing American lady.

"If you offer it to him," I said, "remember, you must disclose your
personality."

"Not at all," Charles answered. "I can keep it dark for the present,
till all is arranged for. I need only say I have interests in South
Africa."

So, one morning on deck, as we were approaching the Banks, he
broached his scheme gently to the doctor and Mrs. Quackenboss. He
remarked that he was connected with one of the biggest financial
concerns in the Southern hemisphere; and that he would pay Elihu
fifteen hundred a year to represent him at the diggings.

"What, dollars?" the lady said, smiling and accentuating the
tip-tilted nose a little more. "Oh, Mr. Porter, it ain't good
enough!"

"No, pounds, my dear madam," Charles responded. "Pounds sterling,
you know. In United States currency, seven thousand five hundred."

"I guess Elihu would just jump at it," Mrs. Quackenboss replied,
looking at him quizzically.

The doctor laughed. "You make a good bid, sir," he said, in his slow
American way, emphasising all the most unimportant words: "_But_ you
overlook one element. I _am_ a man of science, not a speculator. I
_have_ trained myself for medical work, _at_ considerable cost, _in_
the best schools of Europe, _and_ I do not propose _to_ fling away
the results _of_ much arduous labour _by_ throwing myself out
elastically _into_ a new line of work _for_ which my faculties _may_
not perhaps equally adapt me."

("How thoroughly American!" I murmured, in the background.)

Charles insisted; all in vain. Mrs. Quackenboss was impressed; but
the doctor smiled always a sphinx-like smile, and reiterated his
belief in the unfitness of mid-stream as an ideal place for swopping
horses. The more he declined, and the better he talked, the more
eager Charles became each day to secure him. And, as if on purpose
to draw him on, the doctor each day gave more and more surprising
proofs of his practical abilities. "I _am_ not a specialist," he said.
"I just ketch the drift, appropriate the kernel, _and_ let the rest
slide."

He could do anything, it really seemed, from shoeing a mule to
conducting a camp-meeting; he was a capital chemist, a very sound
surgeon, a fair judge of horseflesh, a first class euchre player,
and a pleasing baritone. When occasion demanded he could occupy a
pulpit. He had invented a cork-screw which brought him in a small
revenue; and he was now engaged in the translation of a Polish work
on the "Application of Hydrocyanic Acid to the Cure of Leprosy."

Still, we reached New York without having got any nearer our goal,
as regarded Dr. Quackenboss. He came to bid us good-bye at the quay,
with that sphinx-like smile still playing upon his features. Charles
clutched the dispatch-box with one hand, and Mrs. Quackenboss's
little palm with the other.

"_Don't_ tell us," he said, "this is good-bye--for ever!" And his
voice quite faltered.

"I guess so, Mr. Porter," the pretty American replied, with a
telling glance. "What hotel do you patronise?"

"The Murray Hill," Charles responded.

"Oh my, ain't that odd?" Mrs. Quackenboss echoed. "The Murray Hill!
Why, that's just where we're going too, Elihu!"

The upshot of which was that Charles persuaded them, before
returning to Kentucky, to diverge for a few days with us to Lake
George and Lake Champlain, where he hoped to over-persuade the
recalcitrant doctor.

To Lake George therefore we went, and stopped at the excellent hotel
at the terminus of the railway. We spent a good deal of our time on
the light little steamers that ply between that point and the road
to Ticonderoga. Somehow, the mountains mirrored in the deep green
water reminded me of Lucerne; and Lucerne reminded me of the little
curate. For the first time since we left England a vague terror
seized me. _Could_ Elihu Quackenboss be Colonel Clay again, still
dogging our steps through the opposite continent?

I could not help mentioning my suspicion to Charles--who, strange
to say, pooh-poohed it. He had been paying great court to Mrs.
Quackenboss that day, and was absurdly elated because the little
American had rapped his knuckles with her fan and called him "a
real silly."

Next day, however, an odd thing occurred. We strolled out together,
all four of us, along the banks of the lake, among woods just
carpeted with strange, triangular flowers--trilliums, Mrs.
Quackenboss called them--and lined with delicate ferns in the
first green of springtide.

I began to grow poetical. (I wrote verses in my youth before I went
to South Africa.) We threw ourselves on the grass, near a small
mountain stream that descended among moss-clad boulders from the
steep woods above us. The Kentuckian flung himself at full length
on the sward, just in front of Charles. He had a strange head of
hair, very thick and shaggy. I don't know why, but, of a sudden, it
reminded me of the Mexican Seer, whom we had learned to remember as
Colonel Clay's first embodiment. At the same moment the same thought
seemed to run through Charles's head; for, strange to say, with
a quick impulse he leant forward and examined it. I saw Mrs.
Quackenboss draw back in wonder. The hair looked too thick and close
for nature. It ended abruptly, I now remembered, with a sharp line
on the forehead. Could this, too, be a wig? It seemed very probable.

Even as I thought that thought, Charles appeared to form a sudden
and resolute determination. With one lightning swoop he seized the
doctor's hair in his powerful hand, and tried to lift it off bodily.
He had made a bad guess. Next instant the doctor uttered a loud and
terrified howl of pain, while several of his hairs, root and all,
came out of his scalp in Charles's hand, leaving a few drops of
blood on the skin of the head in the place they were torn from.
There was no doubt at all it was not a wig, but the Kentuckian's
natural hirsute covering.

The scene that ensued I am powerless to describe. My pen is unequal
to it. The doctor arose, not so much angry as astonished, white and
incredulous. "What did you do that for, any way?" he asked, glaring
fiercely at my brother-in-law. Charles was all abject apology. He
began by profusely expressing his regret, and offering to make any
suitable reparation, monetary or otherwise. Then he revealed his
whole hand. He admitted that he was Sir Charles Vandrift, the famous
millionaire, and that he had suffered egregiously from the endless
machinations of a certain Colonel Clay, a machiavellian rogue,
who had hounded him relentlessly round the capitals of Europe. He
described in graphic detail how the impostor got himself up with
wigs and wax, so as to deceive even those who knew him intimately;
and then he threw himself on Dr. Quackenboss's mercy, as a man who
had been cruelly taken in so often that he could not help suspecting
the best of men falsely. Mrs. Quackenboss admitted it was natural to
have suspicions--"Especially," she said, with candour, "as you're
not the first to observe the notable way Elihu's hair seems to
originate from his forehead," and she pulled it up to show us. But
Elihu himself sulked on in the dumps: his dignity was offended.
"_If_ you wanted to know," he said, "you might as well have asked me.
Assault _and_ battery _is_ not the right way to test whether _a_
citizen's hair is primitive or acquired."

"It was an impulse," Charles pleaded; "an instinctive impulse!"

"Civilised man restrains his impulses," the doctor answered. "You
_have_ lived too long _in_ South Africa, Mr. Porter--I mean, Sir
Charles Vandrift, if that's the right way _to_ address such a
gentleman. You appear to _have_ imbibed the habits _and_ manners
of the Kaffirs you lived among."

For the next two days, I will really admit, Charles seemed more
wretched than I could have believed it possible for him to be on
somebody else's account. He positively grovelled. The fact was,
he saw he had hurt Dr. Quackenboss's feelings, and--much to my
surprise--he seemed truly grieved at it. If the doctor would have
accepted a thousand pounds down to shake hands at once and forget
the incident--in my opinion Charles would have gladly paid it.
Indeed, he said as much in other words to the pretty American--for
he could not insult her by offering her money. Mrs. Quackenboss did
her best to make it up, for she was a kindly little creature, in
spite of her roguishness; but Elihu stood aloof. Charles urged him
still to go out to South Africa, increasing his bait to two thousand
a year; yet the doctor was immovable. "No, no," he said; "I had half
decided _to_ accept your offer--_till_ that unfortunate impulse; but
that settled the question. _As_ an American citizen, I decline _to_
become the representative _of_ a British nobleman who takes such means
_of_ investigating questions which affect the hair and happiness _of_
his fellow-creatures."

I don't know whether Charles was most disappointed at missing the
chance of so clever a superintendent for the mine at Cloetedorp, or
elated at the novel description of himself as "a British nobleman;"
which is not precisely our English idea of a colonial knighthood.

Three days later, accordingly, the Quackenbosses left the Lakeside
Hotel. We were bound on an expedition up the lake ourselves, when
the pretty little woman burst in with a dash to tell us they were
leaving. She was charmingly got up in the neatest and completest of
American travelling-dresses. Charles held her hand affectionately.
"I'm sorry it's good-bye," he said. "I have done my best to secure
your husband."

"You couldn't have tried harder than I did," the little woman
answered, and the tip-tilted nose looked quite pathetic; "for I just
hate to be buried right down there in Kentucky! However, Elihu is
the sort of man a woman can neither drive nor lead; so we've got to
put up with him." And she smiled upon us sweetly, and disappeared
for ever.

Charles was disconsolate all that day. Next morning he rose, and
announced his intention of setting out for the West on his tour of
inspection. He would recreate by revelling in Colorado silver lodes.

We packed our own portmanteaus, for Charles had not brought even
Simpson with him, and then we prepared to set out by the morning
train for Saratoga.

Up till almost the last moment Charles nursed his dispatch-box.
But as the "baggage-smashers" were taking down our luggage, and a
chambermaid was lounging officiously about in search of a tip,
he laid it down for a second or two on the centre table while he
collected his other immediate impedimenta. He couldn't find his
cigarette-case, and went back to the bedroom for it. I helped
him hunt, but it had disappeared mysteriously. That moment lost
him. When we had found the cigarette-case, and returned to the
sitting-room--lo, and behold! the dispatch-box was missing!
Charles questioned the servants, but none of them had noticed it.
He searched round the room--not a trace of it anywhere.

"Why, I laid it down here just two minutes ago!" he cried. But it
was not forthcoming.

"It'll turn up in time," I said. "Everything turns up in the
end--including Mrs. Quackenboss's nose."

"Seymour," said my brother-in-law, "your hilarity is inopportune."

To say the truth, Charles was beside himself with anger. He took
the elevator down to the "Bureau," as they call it, and complained
to the manager. The manager, a sharp-faced New Yorker, smiled as
he remarked in a nonchalant way that guests with valuables were
required to leave them in charge of the management, in which case
they were locked up in the safe and duly returned to the depositor
on leaving. Charles declared somewhat excitedly that he had been
robbed, and demanded that nobody should be allowed to leave the
hotel till the dispatch-box was discovered. The manager, quite cool,
and obtrusively picking his teeth, responded that such tactics might
be possible in an hotel of the European size, putting up a couple
of hundred guests or so; but that an American house, with over a
thousand visitors--many of whom came and went daily--could not
undertake such a quixotic quest on behalf of a single foreign
complainant.

That epithet, "foreign," stung Charles to the quick. No Englishman
can admit that he is anywhere a foreigner. "Do you know who I am,
sir?" he asked, angrily. "I am Sir Charles Vandrift, of London--a
member of the English Parliament."

"You may be the Prince of Wales," the man answered, "for all I care.
You'll get the same treatment as anyone else, in America. But if
you're Sir Charles Vandrift," he went on, examining his books, "how
does it come you've registered as Mr. Peter Porter?"

Charles grew red with embarrassment. The difficulty deepened.

The dispatch-box, always covered with a leather case, bore on its
inner lid the name "Sir Charles Vandrift, K.C.M.G.," distinctly
painted in the orthodox white letters. This was a painful
contretemps: he had lost his precious documents; he had given a
false name; and he had rendered the manager supremely careless
whether or not he recovered his stolen property. Indeed, seeing he
had registered as Porter, and now "claimed" as Vandrift, the manager
hinted in pretty plain language he very much doubted whether there
had ever been a dispatch-box in the matter at all, or whether, if
there were one, it had ever contained any valuable documents.

We spent a wretched morning. Charles went round the hotel,
questioning everybody as to whether they had seen his dispatch-box.
Most of the visitors resented the question as a personal imputation;
one fiery Virginian, indeed, wanted to settle the point then and
there with a six-shooter. Charles telegraphed to New York to prevent
the shares and coupons from being negotiated; but his brokers
telegraphed back that, though they had stopped the numbers as far
as possible, they did so with reluctance, as they were not aware of
Sir Charles Vandrift being now in the country. Charles declared he
wouldn't leave the hotel till he recovered his property; and for
myself, I was inclined to suppose we would have to remain there
accordingly for the term of our natural lives--and longer.

That night again we spent at the Lakeside Hotel. In the small hours
of the morning, as I lay awake and meditated, a thought broke
across me. I was so excited by it that I rose and rushed into my
brother-in-law's bedroom. "Charles, Charles!" I exclaimed, "we have
taken too much for granted once more. Perhaps Elihu Quackenboss
carried off your dispatch-box!"

"You fool," Charles answered, in his most unamiable manner (he
applies that word to me with increasing frequency); "is _that_ what
you've waked me up for? Why, the Quackenbosses left Lake George
on Tuesday morning, and I had the dispatch-box in my own hands
on Wednesday."

"We have only their word for it," I cried. "Perhaps they stopped
on--and walked off with it afterwards!"

"We will inquire to-morrow," Charles answered. "But I confess I
don't think it was worth waking me up for. I could stake my life
on that little woman's integrity."

We _did_ inquire next morning--with this curious result: it turned
out that, though the Quackenbosses had left the Lakeside Hotel on
Tuesday, it was only for the neighbouring Washington House, which
they quitted on Wednesday morning, taking the same train for
Saratoga which Charles and I had intended to go by. Mrs. Quackenboss
carried a small brown paper parcel in her hands--in which, under the
circumstances, we had little difficulty in recognising Charles's
dispatch-box, loosely enveloped.

Then I knew how it was done. The chambermaid, loitering about the
room for a tip, was--Mrs. Quackenboss! It needed but an apron to
transform her pretty travelling-dress into a chambermaid's costume;
and in any of those huge American hotels one chambermaid more or
less would pass in the crowd without fear of challenge.

"We will follow them on to Saratoga," Charles cried. "Pay the bill
at once, Seymour."

"Certainly," I answered. "Will you give me some money?"

Charles clapped his hand to his pockets. "All, all in the
dispatch-box," he murmured.

That tied us up another day, till we could get some ready cash from
our agents in New York; for the manager, already most suspicious at
the change of name and the accusation of theft, peremptorily refused
to accept Charles's cheque, or anything else, as he phrased it,
except "hard money." So we lingered on perforce at Lake George in
ignoble inaction.

"Of course," I observed to my brother-in-law that evening, "Elihu
Quackenboss was Colonel Clay."

"I suppose so," Charles murmured resignedly. "Everybody I meet seems
to be Colonel Clay nowadays--except when I believe they _are_, in
which case they turn out to be harmless nobodies. But who would have
thought it was he after I pulled his hair out? Or after he persisted
in his trick, even when I suspected him--which, he told us at
Seldon, was against his first principles?"

A light dawned upon me again. But, warned by previous ebullitions,
I expressed myself this time with becoming timidity. "Charles,"
I suggested, "may we not here again have been the slaves of a
preconception? We thought Forbes-Gaskell was Colonel Clay--for
no better reason than because he wore a wig. We thought Elihu
Quackenboss wasn't Colonel Clay--for no better reason than because
he didn't wear one. But how do we know he _ever_ wears wigs? Isn't it
possible, after all, that those hints he gave us about make-up, when
he was Medhurst the detective, were framed on purpose, so as to
mislead and deceive us? And isn't it possible what he said of his
methods at the Seamew's island that day was similarly designed in
order to hoodwink us?"

"That is so obvious, Sey," my brother-in-law observed, in a most
aggrieved tone, "that I should have thought any secretary worth his
salt would have arrived at it instantly."

I abstained from remarking that Charles himself had not arrived at
it even now, until I told him. I thought that to say so would serve
no good purpose. So I merely went on: "Well, it seems to me likely
that when he came as Medhurst, with his hair cut short, he was
really wearing his own natural crop, in its simplest form and of
its native hue. By now it has had time to grow long and bushy. When
he was David Granton, no doubt, he clipped it to an intermediate
length, trimmed his beard and moustache, and dyed them all red, to
a fine Scotch colour. As the Seer, again, he wore his hair much
the same as Elihu's; only, to suit the character, more combed and
fluffy. As the little curate, he darkened it and plastered it down.
As Von Lebenstein, he shaved close, but cultivated his moustache to
its utmost dimensions, and dyed it black after the Tyrolese fashion.
He need never have had a wig; his own natural hair would throughout
have been sufficient, allowing for intervals."

"You're right, Sey," my brother-in-law said, growing almost
friendly. "I will do you the justice to admit that's the nearest
thing we have yet struck out to an idea for tracking him."

On the Saturday morning a letter arrived which relieved us a little
from our momentary tension. It was from our enemy himself--but most
different in tone from his previous bantering communications:--

"Saratoga, Friday.

"SIR CHARLES VANDRIFT--Herewith I return your dispatch-box,
intact, with the papers untouched. As you will readily observe,
it has not even been opened.

"You will ask me the reason for this strange conduct. Let me be
serious for once, and tell you truthfully.

"White Heather and I (for I will stick to Mr. Wentworth's
judicious sobriquet) came over on the Etruria with you,
intending, as usual, to make something out of you. We followed
you to Lake George--for I had 'forced a card,' after my
habitual plan, by inducing you to invite us, with the fixed
intention of playing a particular trick upon you. It formed no
part of our original game to steal your dispatch-box; that I
consider a simple and elementary trick unworthy the skill of a
practised operator. We persisted in the preparations for our
coup, till you pulled my hair out. Then, to my great surprise,
I saw you exhibited a degree of regret and genuine compunction
with which, till that moment, I could never have credited you.
You thought you had hurt my feelings; and you behaved more
like a gentleman than I had previously known you to do. You
not only apologised, but you also endeavoured voluntarily to
make reparation. That produced an effect upon me. You may not
believe it, but I desisted accordingly from the trick I had
prepared for you.

"I might also have accepted your offer to go to South Africa,
where I could soon have cleared out, having embezzled thousands.
But, then, I should have been in a position of trust and
responsibility--and I am not _quite_ rogue enough to rob you
under those conditions.

"Whatever else I am, however, I am not a hypocrite. I do
not pretend to be anything more than a common swindler. If
I return you your papers intact, it is only on the same
principle as that of the Australian bushranger, who made a
lady _a present_ of her own watch because she had sung to him
and reminded him of England. In other words, he did not take
it from her. In like manner, when I found you had behaved, for
once, like a gentleman, contrary to my expectation, I declined
to go on with the trick I then meditated. Which does not mean
to say I may not hereafter play you some other. _That_ will
depend upon your future good behaviour.

"Why, then, did I get White Heather to purloin your dispatch-box,
with intent to return it? Out of pure lightness of heart? Not
so; but in order to let you see I really meant it. If I had
gone off with no swag, and then written you this letter, you
would not have believed me. You would have thought it was
merely another of my failures. But when I have actually got
all your papers into my hands, and give them up again of my
own free will, you must see that I mean it.

"I will end, as I began, seriously. My trade has not quite
crushed out of me all germs or relics of better feeling; and
when I see a millionaire behave like a man, I feel ashamed
to take advantage of that gleam of manliness.

"Yours, with a tinge of penitence, but still a rogue, CUTHBERT CLAY."

The first thing Charles did on receiving this strange communication
was to bolt downstairs and inquire for the dispatch-box. It had
just arrived by Eagle Express Company. Charles rushed up to our
rooms again, opened it feverishly, and counted his documents. When
he found them all safe, he turned to me with a hard smile. "This
letter," he said, with quivering lips, "I consider still more
insulting than all his previous ones."

But, for myself, I really thought there was a ring of truth about
it. Colonel Clay was a rogue, no doubt--a most unblushing rogue;
but even a rogue, I believe, has his better moments.

And the phrase about the "position of trust and responsibility"
touched Charles to the quick, I suppose, in re the Slump in
Cloetedorp Golcondas. Though, to be sure, it was a hit at me as
well, over the ten per cent commission.

X

THE EPISODE OF THE GAME OF POKER

"Seymour," my brother-in-law said, with a deep-drawn sigh, as we
left Lake George next day by the Rennselaer and Saratoga Railroad,
"no more Peter Porter for me, _if_ you please! I'm sick of disguises.
Now that we know Colonel Clay is here in America, they serve no
good purpose; so I may as well receive the social consideration and
proper respect to which my rank and position naturally entitle me."

"And which they secure for the most part (except from hotel clerks),
even in this republican land," I answered briskly.

For in my humble opinion, for sound copper-bottomed snobbery,
registered A1 at Lloyd's, give _me_ the free-born American citizen.

We travelled through the States, accordingly, for the next four
months, from Maine to California, and from Oregon to Florida,
under our own true names, "Confirming the churches," as Charles
facetiously put it--or in other words, looking into the management
and control of railways, syndicates, mines, and cattle-ranches. We
inquired about everything. And the result of our investigations
appeared to be, as Charles further remarked, that the Sabeans who
so troubled the sons of Job seemed to have migrated in a body to
Kansas and Nebraska, and that several thousand head of cattle seemed
mysteriously to vanish, à la Colonel Clay, into the pure air of the
prairies just before each branding.

However, we were fortunate in avoiding the incursions of the Colonel
himself, who must have migrated meanwhile on some enchanted carpet
to other happy hunting-grounds.

It was chill October before we found ourselves safe back in New
York, en route for England. So long a term of freedom from the
Colonel's depredations (as Charles fondly imagined--but I will not
anticipate) had done my brother-in-law's health and spirits a world
of good; he was so lively and cheerful that he began to fancy his
tormentor must have succumbed to yellow fever, then raging in New
Orleans, or eaten himself ill, as we nearly did ourselves, on a
generous mixture of clam-chowder, terrapin, soft-shelled crabs,
Jersey peaches, canvas-backed ducks, Catawba wine, winter cherries,
brandy cocktails, strawberry-shortcake, ice-creams, corn-dodger,
and a judicious brew commonly known as a Colorado corpse-reviver.
However that may be, Charles returned to New York in excellent
trim; and, dreading in that great city the wiles of his antagonist,
he cheerfully accepted the invitation of his brother millionaire,
Senator Wrengold of Nevada, to spend a few days before sailing in
the Senator's magnificent and newly-finished palace at the upper
end of Fifth Avenue.

"There, at least, I shall be safe, Sey," he said to me plaintively,
with a weary smile. "Wrengold, at any rate, won't try to take me
in--except, of course, in the regular way of business."

Boss-Nugget Hall (as it is popularly christened) is perhaps the
handsomest brown stone mansion in the Richardsonian style on all
Fifth Avenue. We spent a delightful week there. The lines had fallen
to us in pleasant places. On the night we arrived Wrengold gave
a small bachelor party in our honour. He knew Sir Charles was
travelling without Lady Vandrift, and rightly judged he would prefer
on his first night an informal party, with cards and cigars, instead
of being bothered with the charming, but still somewhat hampering
addition of female society.

The guests that evening were no more than seven, all told, ourselves
included--making up, Wrengold said, that perfect number, an octave.
He was a nouveau riche himself--the newest of the new--commonly
known in exclusive old-fashioned New York society as the Gilded
Squatter; for he "struck his reef" no more than ten years ago; and
he was therefore doubly anxious, after the American style, to be
"just dizzy with culture." In his capacity of Mæcenas, he had
invited amongst others the latest of English literary arrivals in
New York--Mr. Algernon Coleyard, the famous poet, and leader of the
Briar-rose school of West-country fiction.

"You know him in London, of course?" he observed to Charles, with
a smile, as we waited dinner for our guests.

"No," Charles answered stolidly. "I have not had that honour.
We move, you see, in different circles."

I observed by a curious shade which passed over Senator Wrengold's
face that he quite misapprehended my brother-in-law's meaning.
Charles wished to convey, of course, that Mr. Coleyard belonged to
a mere literary and Bohemian set in London, while he himself moved
on a more exalted plane of peers and politicians. But the Senator,
better accustomed to the new-rich point of view, understood Charles
to mean that _he_ had not the entrée of that distinguished coterie in
which Mr. Coleyard posed as a shining luminary. Which naturally
made him rate even higher than before his literary acquisition.

At two minutes past the hour the poet entered. Even if we had not
been already familiar with his portrait at all ages in The Strand
Magazine, we should have recognised him at once for a genuine bard
by his impassioned eyes, his delicate mouth, the artistic twirl of
one gray lock upon his expansive brow, the grizzled moustache that
gave point and force to the genial smile, and the two white rows of
perfect teeth behind it. Most of our fellow-guests had met Coleyard
before at a reception given by the Lotus Club that afternoon, for
the bard had reached New York but the previous evening; so Charles
and I were the only visitors who remained to be introduced to him.
The lion of the hour was attired in ordinary evening dress, with
no foppery of any kind, but he wore in his buttonhole a dainty
blue flower whose name I do not know; and as he bowed distantly to
Charles, whom he surveyed through his eyeglass, the gleam of a big
diamond in the middle of his shirt-front betrayed the fact that the
Briar-rose school, as it was called (from his famous epic), had at
least succeeded in making money out of poetry. He explained to us a
little later, in fact, that he was over in New York to look after
his royalties. "The beggars," he said, "only gave me eight hundred
pounds on my last volume. I couldn't stand _that_, you know; for a
modern bard, moving with the age, can only sing when duly wound up;
so I've run across to investigate. Put a penny in the slot, don't
you see, and the poet will pipe for you."

"Exactly like myself," Charles said, finding a point in common.
"_I'm_ interested in mines; and I, too, have come over to look
after my royalties."

The poet placed his eyeglass in his eye once more, and surveyed
Charles deliberately from head to foot. "Oh," he murmured slowly. He
said not a word more; but somehow, everybody felt that Charles was
demolished. I saw that Wrengold, when we went in to dinner, hastily
altered the cards that marked their places. He had evidently put
Charles at first to sit next the poet; he varied that arrangement
now, setting Algernon Coleyard between a railway king and a magazine
editor. I have seldom seen my respected brother-in-law so completely
silenced.

The poet's conduct during dinner was most peculiar. He kept quoting
poetry at inopportune moments.

"Roast lamb or boiled turkey, sir?" said the footman.

"Mary had a little lamb," said the poet. "I shall imitate Mary."

Charles and the Senator thought the remark undignified.

After dinner, however, under the mellowing influence of some
excellent Roederer, Charles began to expand again, and grew lively
and anecdotal. The poet had made us all laugh not a little with
various capital stories of London literary society--at least two of
them, I think, new ones; and Charles was moved by generous emulation
to contribute his own share to the amusement of the company. He was
in excellent cue. He is not often brilliant; but when he chooses, he
has a certain dry vein of caustic humour which is decidedly funny,
though not perhaps strictly without being vulgar. On this particular
night, then, warmed with the admirable Wrengold champagne--the
best made in America--he launched out into a full and embroidered
description of the various ways in which Colonel Clay had deceived
him. I will not say that he narrated them in full with the same
frankness and accuracy that I have shown in these pages; he
suppressed not a few of the most amusing details--on no other
ground, apparently, than because they happened to tell against
himself; and he enlarged a good deal on the surprising cleverness
with which several times he had nearly secured his man; but still,
making all allowances for native vanity in concealment and addition,
he was distinctly funny--he represented the matter for once in its
ludicrous rather than in its disastrous aspect. He observed also,
looking around the table, that after all he had lost less by
Colonel Clay in four years of persecution than he often lost by
one injudicious move in a single day on the London Stock Exchange;
while he seemed to imply to the solid men of New York, that he
would cheerfully sacrifice such a fleabite as that, in return for
the amusement and excitement of the chase which the Colonel had
afforded him.

The poet was pleased. "You are a man of spirit, Sir Charles," he
said. "I love to see this fine old English admiration of pluck and
adventure! The fellow must really have some good in him, after all.
I should like to take notes of a few of those stories; they would
supply nice material for basing a romance upon."

"I hardly know whether I'm exactly the man to make the hero of a
novel," Charles murmured, with complacence. And he certainly didn't
look it.

"_I_ was thinking rather of Colonel Clay as the hero," the poet
responded coldly.

"Ah, that's the way with you men of letters," Charles answered,
growing warm. "You always have a sneaking sympathy with the rascals."

"That may be better," Coleyard retorted, in an icy voice, "than
sympathy with the worst forms of Stock Exchange speculation."

The company smiled uneasily. The railway king wriggled. Wrengold
tried to change the subject hastily. But Charles would not be put
down.

"You must hear the end, though," he said. "That's not quite the
worst. The meanest thing about the man is that he's also a
hypocrite. He wrote me _such_ a letter at the end of his last
trick--here, positively here, in America." And he proceeded to give
his own version of the Quackenboss incident, enlivened with sundry
imaginative bursts of pure Vandrift fancy.

When Charles spoke of Mrs. Quackenboss the poet smiled. "The worst
of married women," he said, "is--that you can't marry them; the
worst of unmarried women is--that they want to marry you." But when
it came to the letter, the poet's eye was upon my brother-in-law.
Charles, I must fain admit, garbled the document sadly. Still, even
so, some gleam of good feeling remained in its sentences. But
Charles ended all by saying, "So, to crown his misdemeanours, the
rascal shows himself a whining cur and a disgusting Pharisee."

"Don't you think," the poet interposed, in his cultivated drawl, "he
may have really meant it? Why should not some grain of compunction
have stirred his soul still?--some remnant of conscience made him
shrink from betraying a man who confided in him? I have an idea,
myself, that even the worst of rogues have always some good in them.
I notice they often succeed to the end in retaining the affection
and fidelity of women."

"Oh, I said so!" Charles sneered. "I told you you literary men have
always an underhand regard for a scoundrel."

"Perhaps so," the poet answered. "For we are all of us human. Let
him that is without sin among us cast the first stone." And then he
relapsed into moody silence.

We rose from table. Cigars went round. We adjourned to the
smoking-room. It was a Moorish marvel, with Oriental hangings.
There, Senator Wrengold and Charles exchanged reminiscences of
bonanzas and ranches and other exciting post-prandial topics; while
the magazine editor cut in now and again with a pertinent inquiry
or a quaint and sarcastic parallel instance. It was clear he had an
eye to future copy. Only Algernon Coleyard sat brooding and silent,
with his chin on one hand, and his brow intent, musing and gazing at
the embers in the fireplace. The hand, by the way, was remarkable
for a curious, antique-looking ring, apparently of Egyptian or
Etruscan workmanship, with a projecting gem of several large facets.
Once only, in the midst of a game of whist, he broke out with a
single comment.

"Hawkins was made an earl," said Charles, speaking of some London
acquaintance.

"What for?" asked the Senator.

"Successful adulteration," said the poet tartly.

"Honours are easy," the magazine editor put in.

"And two by tricks to Sir Charles," the poet added.

Towards the close of the evening, however--the poet still remaining
moody, not to say positively grumpy--Senator Wrengold proposed a
friendly game of Swedish poker. It was the latest fashionable
variant in Western society on the old gambling round, and few of us
knew it, save the omniscient poet and the magazine editor. It turned
out afterwards that Wrengold proposed that particular game because
he had heard Coleyard observe at the Lotus Club the same afternoon
that it was a favourite amusement of his. Now, however, for a while
he objected to playing. He was a poor man, he said, and the rest
were all rich; why should he throw away the value of a dozen golden
sonnets just to add one more pinnacle to the gilded roofs of a
millionaire's palace? Besides, he was half-way through with an ode
he was inditing to Republican simplicity. The pristine austerity
of a democratic senatorial cottage had naturally inspired him with
memories of Dentatus, the Fabii, Camillus. But Wrengold, dimly aware
he was being made fun of somehow, insisted that the poet must take
a hand with the financiers. "You can pass, you know," he said, "as
often as you like; and you can stake low, or go it blind, according
as you're inclined to. It's a democratic game; every man decides for
himself how high he will play, except the banker; and you needn't
take bank unless you want it."

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