Part 3 out of 6
When old Heythorp entered this room, which extended from back to
front of the little house, preceded by the announcement "Mr. Aesop,"
it was resonant with a very clatter-bodandigo of noises, from Phyllis
playing the Machiche; from the boy Jock on the hearthrug, emitting at
short intervals the most piercing notes from an ocarina; from Mrs.
Larne on the sofa, talking with her trailing volubility to Bob
Pillin; from Bob Pillin muttering: "Ye-es! Qui-ite! Ye-es!" and
gazing at Phyllis over his collar. And, on the window-sill, as far
as she could get from all this noise, the little dog Carmen was
rolling her eyes. At sight of their visitor Jock blew one rending
screech, and bolting behind the sofa, placed his chin on its top, so
that nothing but his round pink unmoving face was visible; and the
dog Carmen tried to climb the blind cord.
Encircled from behind by the arms of Phyllis, and preceded by the
gracious perfumed bulk of Mrs. Larne, old Heythorp was escorted to
the sofa. It was low, and when he had plumped down into it, the boy
Jock emitted a hollow groan. Bob Pillin was the first to break the
"How are you, sir? I hope it's gone through."
Old Heythorp nodded. His eyes were fixed on the liqueur, and Mrs.
"Guardy, you must try our new liqueur. Jock, you awful boy, get up
and bring Guardy a glass."
The boy Jock approached the tea-table, took up a glass, put it to his
eye and filled it rapidly.
"You horrible boy, you could see that glass has been used."
In a high round voice rather like an angel's, Jock answered:
"All right, Mother; I'll get rid of it," and rapidly swallowing the
yellow liquor, took up another glass.
Mrs. Larne laughed.
"What am I to do with him?"
A loud shriek prevented a response. Phyllis, who had taken her
brother by the ear to lead him to the door, let him go to clasp her
Bob Pillin went hastening towards her; and following the young man
with her chin, Mrs. Larne said, smiling:
"Aren't those children awful? He's such a nice fellow. We like him
so much, Guardy."
The old man grinned. So she was making up to that young pup!
Rosamund Larne, watching him, murmured:
"Oh! Guardy, you're as bad as Jock. He takes after you terribly.
Look at the shape of his head. Jock, come here!" The innocent boy
approached; with his girlish complexion, his flowery blue eyes, his
perfect mouth, he stood before his mother like a large cherub. And
suddenly he blew his ocarina in a dreadful manner. Mrs. Larne
launched a box at his ears, and receiving the wind of it he fell
"That's the way he behaves. Be off with you, you awful boy. I want
to talk to Guardy."
The boy withdrew on his stomach, and sat against the wall cross-
legged, fixing his innocent round eyes on old Heythorp. Mrs. Larne
"Things are worse and worse, Guardy. I'm at my wits' end to tide
over this quarter. You wouldn't advance me a hundred on my new
story? I'm sure to get two for it in the end."
The old man shook his head.
"I've done something for you and the children," he said. "You'll get
notice of it in a day or two; ask no questions."
"Oh! Guardy! Oh! you dear!" And her gaze rested on Bob Pillin,
leaning over the piano, where Phyllis again sat.
Old Heythorp snorted. "What are you cultivating that young gaby for?
She mustn't be grabbed up by any fool who comes along."
Mrs. Larne murmured at once:
"Of course, the dear gairl is much too young. Phyllis, come and talk
When the girl was installed beside him on the sofa, and he had felt
that little thrill of warmth the proximity of youth can bring, he
"Been a good girl?"
She shook her head.
"Can't, when Jock's not at school. Mother can't pay for him this
Hearing his name, the boy Jock blew his ocarina till Mrs. Larne drove
him from the room, and Phyllis went on:
"He's more awful than anything you can think of. Was my dad at all
like him, Guardy? Mother's always so mysterious about him. I
suppose you knew him well."
Old Heythorp, incapable of confusion, answered stolidly:
"Who was his father? I don't believe even mother knows."
"Man about town in my day."
"Oh! your day must have been jolly. Did you wear peg-top trousers,
Old Heythorp nodded.
"What larks! And I suppose you had lots of adventures with opera
dancers and gambling. The young men are all so good now." Her eyes
rested on Bob Pillin. "That young man's a perfect stick of
Old Heythorp grunted.
"You wouldn't know how good he was," Phyllis went on musingly,
"unless you'd sat next him in a tunnel. The other day he had his
waist squeezed and he simply sat still and did nothing. And then
when the tunnel ended, it was Jock after all, not me. His face was--
Oh! ah! ha! ha! Ah! ha!" She threw back her head, displaying
all her white, round throat. Then edging near, she whispered:
"He likes to pretend, of course, that he's fearfully lively. He's
promised to take mother and me to the theatre and supper afterwards.
Won't it be scrummy! Only, I haven't anything to go in."
Old Heythorp said: "What do you want? Irish poplin?"
Her mouth opened wide: "Oh! Guardy! Soft white satin!"
"How many yards'll go round you?"
"I should think about twelve. We could make it ourselves. You are a
A scent of hair, like hay, enveloped him, her lips bobbed against his
nose,--and there came a feeling in his heart as when he rolled the
first sip of a special wine against his palate. This little house
was a rumty-too affair, her mother was a humbug, the boy a cheeky
young rascal, but there was a warmth here he never felt in that big
house which had been his wife's and was now his holy daughter's. And
once more he rejoiced at his day's work, and the success of his
breach of trust, which put some little ground beneath these young
feet, in a hard and unscrupulous world. Phyllis whispered in his
"Guardy, do look; he will stare at me like that. Isn't it awful--
like a boiled rabbit?"
Bob Pillin, attentive to Mrs. Larne, was gazing with all his might
over her shoulder at the girl. The young man was moonstruck, that
was clear! There was something almost touching in the stare of those
puppy dog's eyes. And he thought 'Young beggar--wish I were his
age!' The utter injustice of having an old and helpless body, when
your desire for enjoyment was as great as ever! They said a man was
as old as he felt! Fools! A man was as old as his legs and arms,
and not a day younger. He heard the girl beside him utter a
discomfortable sound, and saw her face cloud as if tears were not far
off; she jumped up, and going to the window, lifted the little dog
and buried her face in its brown and white fur. Old Heythorp
thought: 'She sees that her humbugging mother is using her as a
decoy.' But she had come back, and the little dog, rolling its eyes
horribly at the strange figure on the sofa, in a desperate effort to
escape succeeded in reaching her shoulder, where it stayed perched
like a cat, held by one paw and trying to back away into space. Old
Heythorp said abruptly:
"Are you very fond of your mother?"
"Of course I am, Guardy. I adore her."
"H'm! Listen to me. When you come of age or marry, you'll have a
hundred and twenty a year of your own that you can't get rid of.
Don't ever be persuaded into doing what you don't want. And
remember: Your mother's a sieve, no good giving her money; keep what
you'll get for yourself--it's only a pittance, and you'll want it all
Phyllis's eyes had opened very wide; so that he wondered if she had
taken in his words.
"Oh! Isn't money horrible, Guardy?"
"The want of it."
"No, it's beastly altogether. If only we were like birds. Or if one
could put out a plate overnight, and have just enough in the morning
to use during the day."
Old Heythorp sighed.
"There's only one thing in life that matters--independence. Lose
that, and you lose everything. That's the value of money. Help me
Phyllis stretched out her hands, and the little dog, running down her
back, resumed its perch on the window-sill, close to the blind cord.
Once on his feet, old Heythorp said:
"Give me a kiss. You'll have your satin tomorrow."
Then looking at Bob Pillin, he remarked:
"Going my way? I'll give you a lift."
The young man, giving Phyllis one appealing look, answered dully:
"Tha-anks!" and they went out together to the taxi. In that
draughtless vehicle they sat, full of who knows what contempt of age
for youth; and youth for age; the old man resenting this young pup's
aspiration to his granddaughter; the young man annoyed that this old
image had dragged him away before he wished to go. Old Heythorp said
Thus expected to say something, Bob Pillin muttered
"Glad your meetin' went off well, sir. You scored a triumph I should
"Oh! I don't know. I thought you had a good bit of opposition to
Old Heythorp looked at him.
"Your grandmother!" he said; then, with his habitual instinct of
attack, added: "You make the most of your opportunities, I see."
At this rude assault Bob Pillin's red-cheeked face assumed a certain
dignity. "I don't know what you mean, sir. Mrs. Larne is very kind
"No doubt. But don't try to pick the flowers."
Thoroughly upset, Bob Pillin preserved a dogged silence. This
fortnight, since he had first met Phyllis in old Heythorp's hall, had
been the most singular of his existence up to now. He would never
have believed that a fellow could be so quickly and completely
bowled, could succumb without a kick, without even wanting to kick.
To one with his philosophy of having a good time and never committing
himself too far, it was in the nature of "a fair knock-out," and yet
so pleasurable, except for the wear and tear about one's chances. If
only he knew how far the old boy really counted in the matter! To
say: "My intentions are strictly honourable" would be old-fashioned;
besides--the old fellow might have no right to hear it. They called
him Guardy, but without knowing more he did not want to admit the old
curmudgeon's right to interfere.
"Are you a relation of theirs, sir?"
Old Heythorp nodded.
Bob Pillin went on with desperation:
"I should like to know what your objection to me is."
The old man turned his head so far as he was able; a grim smile
bristled the hairs about his lips, and twinkled in his eyes. What
did he object to? Why--everything! Object to! That sleek head,
those puppy-dog eyes, fattish red cheeks, high collars, pearl pin,
spats, and drawl-pah! the imbecility, the smugness of his mug; no
go, no devil in any of his sort, in any of these fish-veined,
coddled-up young bloods, nothing but playing for safety! And he
"Milk and water masquerading as port wine."
Bob Pillin frowned.
It was almost too much for the composure even of a man of the world.
That this paralytic old fellow should express contempt for his
virility was really the last thing in jests. Luckily he could not
take it seriously. But suddenly he thought: 'What if he really has
the power to stop my going there, and means to turn them against me!'
And his heart quailed.
"Awfully sorry, sir," he said, "if you don't think I'm wild enough.
Anything I can do for you in that line--"
The old man grunted; and realising that he had been quite witty, Bob
Pillin went on:
"I know I'm not in debt, no entanglements, got a decent income,
pretty good expectations and all that; but I can soon put that all
right if I'm not fit without."
It was perhaps his first attempt at irony, and he could not help
thinking how good it was.
But old Heythorp preserved a deadly silence. He looked like a
stuffed man, a regular Aunt Sally sitting there, with the fixed red
in his cheeks, his stivered hair, square block of a body, and no neck
that you could see-only wanting the pipe in his mouth! Could there
really be danger from such an old idol? The idol spoke:
"I'll give you a word of advice. Don't hang round there, or you'll
burn your fingers. Remember me to your father. Good-night!"
The taxi had stopped before the house in Sefton Park. An insensate
impulse to remain seated and argue the point fought in Bob Pillin
with an impulse to leap out, shake his fist in at the window, and
walk off. He merely said, however:
"Thanks for the lift. Good-night!" And, getting out deliberately,
he walked off.
Old Heythorp, waiting for the driver to help him up, thought 'Fatter,
but no more guts than his father!'
In his sanctum he sank at once into his chair. It was wonderfully
still there every day at this hour; just the click of the coals, just
the faintest ruffle from the wind in the trees of the park. And it
was cosily warm, only the fire lightening the darkness. A drowsy
beatitude pervaded the old man. A good day's work! A triumph--that
young pup had said. Yes! Something of a triumph! He had held on,
and won. And dinner to look forward to, yet. A nap--a nap! And
soon, rhythmic, soft, sonorous, his breathing rose, with now and then
that pathetic twitching of the old who dream.
When Bob Pillin emerged from the little front garden of 23, Millicent
Villas ten days later, his sentiments were ravelled, and he could not
get hold of an end to pull straight the stuff of his mind.
He had found Mrs. Larne and Phyllis in the sitting-room, and Phyllis
had been crying; he was sure she had been crying; and that memory
still infected the sentiments evoked by later happenings. Old
Heythorp had said: "You'll burn your fingers." The process had
begun. Having sent her daughter away on a pretext really a bit too
thin, Mrs. Larne had installed him beside her scented bulk on the
sofa, and poured into his ear such a tale of monetary woe and
entanglement, such a mass of present difficulties and rosy prospects,
that his brain still whirled, and only one thing emerged clearly-that
she wanted fifty pounds, which she would repay him on quarter-day;
for their Guardy had made a settlement by which, until the dear
children came of age, she would have sixty pounds every quarter. It
was only a question of a few weeks; he might ask Messrs. Scriven and
Coles; they would tell him the security was quite safe. He certainly
might ask Messrs. Scriven and Coles--they happened to be his
father's solicitors; but it hardly seemed to touch the point. Bob
Pillin had a certain shrewd caution, and the point was whether he was
going to begin to lend money to a woman who, he could see, might
borrow up to seventy times seven on the strength of his infatuation
for her daughter. That was rather too strong! Yet, if he didn't she
might take a sudden dislike to him, and where would he be then?
Besides, would not a loan make his position stronger? And then--such
is the effect of love even on the younger generation--that thought
seemed to him unworthy. If he lent at all, it should be from
chivalry--ulterior motives might go hang! And the memory of the
tear-marks on Phyllis's pretty pale-pink cheeks; and her petulantly
mournful: "Oh! young man, isn't money beastly!" scraped his heart,
and ravished his judgment. All the same, fifty pounds was fifty
pounds, and goodness knew how much more; and what did he know of Mrs.
Larne, after all, except that she was a relative of old Heythorp's
and wrote stories--told them too, if he was not mistaken? Perhaps it
would be better to see Scrivens'. But again that absurd nobility
assaulted him. Phyllis! Phyllis! Besides, were not settlements
always drawn so that they refused to form security for anything?
Thus, hampered and troubled, he hailed a cab. He was dining with the
Ventnors on the Cheshire side, and would be late if he didn't get
home sharp to dress.
Driving, white-tied--and waist-coated, in his father's car, he
thought with a certain contumely of the younger Ventnor girl, whom he
had been wont to consider pretty before he knew Phyllis. And seated
next her at dinner, he quite enjoyed his new sense of superiority to
her charms, and the ease with which he could chaff and be agreeable.
And all the time he suffered from the suppressed longing which
scarcely ever left him now, to think and talk of Phyllis. Ventnor's
fizz was good and plentiful, his old Madeira absolutely first chop,
and the only other man present a teetotal curate, who withdrew with
the ladies to talk his parish shop. Favoured by these circumstances,
and the perception that Ventnor was an agreeable fellow, Bob Pillin
yielded to his secret itch to get near the subject of his affections.
"Do you happen," he said airily, "to know a Mrs. Larne--relative of
old Heythorp's--rather a handsome woman-she writes stories."
Mr. Ventnor shook his head. A closer scrutiny than Bob Pillin's
would have seen that he also moved his ears.
"Of old Heythorp's? Didn't know he had any, except his daughter, and
that son of his in the Admiralty."
Bob Pillin felt the glow of his secret hobby spreading within him.
"She is, though--lives rather out of town; got a son and daughter. I
thought you might know her stories--clever woman."
Mr. Ventnor smiled. "Ah!" he said enigmatically, "these lady
novelists! Does she make any money by them?"
Bob Pillin knew that to make money by writing meant success, but that
not to make money by writing was artistic, and implied that you had
private means, which perhaps was even more distinguished. And he
"Oh! she has private means, I know."
Mr. Ventnor reached for the Madeira.
"So she's a relative of old Heythorp's," he said. "He's a very old
friend of your father's. He ought to go bankrupt, you know."
To Bob Pillin, glowing with passion and Madeira, the idea of
bankruptcy seemed discreditable in connection with a relative of
Phyllis. Besides, the old boy was far from that! Had he not just
made this settlement on Mrs. Larne? And he said:
"I think you're mistaken. That's of the past."
Mr. Ventnor smiled.
"Will you bet?" he said.
Bob Pillin also smiled. "I should be bettin' on a certainty."
Mr. Ventnor passed his hand over his whiskered face. "Don't you
believe it; he hasn't a mag to his name. Fill your glass."
Bob Pillin said, with a certain resentment:
"Well, I happen to know he's just made a settlement of five or six
thousand pounds. Don't know if you call that being bankrupt."
"What! On this Mrs. Larne?"
Confused, uncertain whether he had said something derogatory or
indiscreet, or something which added distinction to Phyllis, Bob
Pillin hesitated, then gave a nod.
Mr. Ventnor rose and extended his short legs before the fire.
"No, my boy," he said. "No!"
Unaccustomed to flat contradiction, Bob Pillin reddened.
"I'll bet you a tenner. Ask Scrivens."
Mr. Ventnor ejaculated:
"Scrivens---but they're not--" then, staring rather hard, he added:
"I won't bet. You may be right. Scrivens are your father's
solicitors too, aren't they? Always been sorry he didn't come to me.
Shall we join the ladies?" And to the drawing-room he preceded a
young man more uncertain in his mind than on his feet....
Charles Ventnor was not one to let you see that more was going on
within than met the eye. But there was a good deal going on that
evening, and after his conversation with young Bob he had occasion
more than once to turn away and rub his hands together. When, after
that second creditors' meeting, he had walked down the stairway which
led to the offices of "The Island Navigation Company," he had been
deep in thought. Short, squarely built, rather stout, with moustache
and large mutton-chop whiskers of a red brown, and a faint floridity
in face and dress, he impressed at first sight only by a certain
truly British vulgarity. One felt that here was a hail-fellow--well-
met man who liked lunch and dinner, went to Scarborough for his
summer holidays, sat on his wife, took his daughters out in a boat
and was never sick. One felt that he went to church every Sunday
morning, looked upwards as he moved through life, disliked the
unsuccessful, and expanded with his second glass of wine. But then a
clear look into his well-clothed face and red-brown eyes would give
the feeling: 'There's something fulvous here; he might be a bit too
foxy.' A third look brought the thought: 'He's certainly a bully.'
He was not a large creditor of old Heythorp. With interest on the
original, he calculated his claim at three hundred pounds--unredeemed
shares in that old Ecuador mine. But he had waited for his money
eight years, and could never imagine how it came about that he had
been induced to wait so long. There had been, of course, for one who
liked "big pots," a certain glamour about the personality of old
Heythorp, still a bit of a swell in shipping circles, and a bit of an
aristocrat in Liverpool. But during the last year Charles Ventnor
had realised that the old chap's star had definitely set--when that
happens, of course, there is no more glamour, and the time has come
to get your money. Weakness in oneself and others is despicable!
Besides, he had food for thought, and descending the stairs he chewed
it: He smelt a rat--creatures for which both by nature and profession
he had a nose. Through Bob Pillin, on whom he sometimes dwelt in
connection with his younger daughter, he knew that old Pillin and old
Heythorp had been friends for thirty years and more. That, to an
astute mind, suggested something behind this sale. The thought had
already occurred to him when he read his copy of the report. A
commission would be a breach of trust, of course, but there were ways
of doing things; the old chap was devilish hard pressed, and human
nature was human nature! His lawyerish mind habitually put two and
two together. The old fellow had deliberately appointed to meet his
creditors again just after the general meeting which would decide the
purchase--had said he might do something for them then. Had that no
In these circumstances Charles Ventnor had come to the meeting with
eyes wide open and mouth tight closed. And he had watched. It was
certainly remarkable that such an old and feeble man, with no neck at
all, who looked indeed as if he might go off with apoplexy any
moment, should actually say that he "stood or fell" by this purchase,
knowing that if he fell he would be a beggar. Why should the old
chap be so keen on getting it through? It would do him personally no
good, unless--Exactly! He had left the meeting, therefore, secretly
confident that old Heythorp had got something out of this transaction
which would enable him to make a substantial proposal to his
creditors. So that when the old man had declared that he was going
to make none, something had turned sour in his heart, and he had said
to himself: "All right, you old rascal! You don't know C. V." The
cavalier manner of that beggarly old rip, the defiant look of his
deep little eyes, had put a polish on the rancour of one who prided
himself on letting no man get the better of him. All that evening,
seated on one side of the fire, while Mrs. Ventnor sat on the other,
and the younger daughter played Gounod's Serenade on the violin--he
cogitated. And now and again he smiled, but not too much. He did
not see his way as yet, but had little doubt that before long he
would. It would not be hard to knock that chipped old idol off his
perch. There was already a healthy feeling among the shareholders
that he was past work and should be scrapped. The old chap should
find that Charles V. was not to be defied; that when he got his teeth
into a thing, he did not let it go. By hook or crook he would have
the old man off his Boards, or his debt out of him as the price of
leaving him alone. His life or his money--and the old fellow should
determine which. With the memory of that defiance fresh within him,
he almost hoped it might come to be the first, and turning to Mrs.
Ventnor, he said abruptly:
"Have a little dinner Friday week, and ask young Pillin and the
curate." He specified the curate, a tee-totaller, because he had two
daughters, and males and females must be paired, but he intended to
pack him off after dinner to the drawing-room to discuss parish
matters while he and Bob Pillin sat over their wine. What he
expected to get out of the young man he did not as yet know.
On the day of the dinner, before departing for the office, he had
gone to his cellar. Would three bottles of Perrier Jouet do the
trick, or must he add one of the old Madeira? He decided to be on
the safe side. A bottle or so of champagne went very little way with
him personally, and young Pillin might be another.
The Madeira having done its work by turning the conversation into
such an admirable channel, he had cut it short for fear young Pillin
might drink the lot or get wind of the rat. And when his guests were
gone, and his family had retired, he stood staring into the fire,
putting together the pieces of the puzzle. Five or six thousand
pounds--six would be ten per cent. on sixty! Exactly! Scrivens--
young Pillin had said! But Crow & Donkin, not Scriven & Coles, were
old Heythorp's solicitors. What could that mean, save that the old
man wanted to cover the tracks of a secret commission, and had
handled the matter through solicitors who did not know the state of
his affairs! But why Pillin's solicitors? With this sale just going
through, it must look deuced fishy to them too. Was it all a mare's
nest, after all? In such circumstances he himself would have taken
the matter to a London firm who knew nothing of anybody. Puzzled,
therefore, and rather disheartened, feeling too that touch of liver
which was wont to follow his old Madeira, he went up to bed and woke
his wife to ask her why the dickens they couldn't always have soup
Next day he continued to brood over his puzzle, and no fresh light
came; but having a matter on which his firm and Scrivens' were in
touch, he decided to go over in person, and see if he could surprise
something out of them. Feeling, from experience, that any really
delicate matter would only be entrusted to the most responsible
member of the firm, he had asked to see Scriven himself, and just as
he had taken his hat to go, he said casually:
"By the way, you do some business for old Mr. Heythorp, don't you?"
Scriven, raising his eyebrows a little, murmured: "Er--no," in
exactly the tone Mr. Ventnor himself used when he wished to imply
that though he didn't as a fact do business, he probably soon would.
He knew therefore that the answer was a true one. And non-plussed,
"Oh! I thought you did, in regard to a Mrs. Larne."
This time he had certainly drawn blood of sorts, for down came
Scriven's eyebrows, and he said:
"Mrs. Larne--we know a Mrs. Larne, but not in that connection. Why?"
"Oh! Young Pillin told me--"
"Young Pillin? Why, it's his---!" A little pause, and then: "Old
Mr. Heythorp's solicitors are Crow & Donkin, I believe."
Mr. Ventnor held out his hand. "Yes, yes," he said; "goodbye. Glad
to have got that matter settled up," and out he went, and down the
street, important, smiling. By George! He had got it! "It's his
father"--Scriven had been going to say. What a plant! Exactly! Oh!
neat! Old Pillin had made the settlement direct; and the solicitors
were in the dark; that disposed of his difficulty about them. No
money had passed between old Pillin and old Heythorp not a penny.
Oh! neat! But not neat enough for Charles Ventnor, who had that
nose for rats. Then his smile died, and with a little chill he
perceived that it was all based on supposition--not quite good enough
to go on! What then? Somehow he must see this Mrs. Larne, or
better--old Pillin himself. The point to ascertain was whether she
had any connection of her own with Pillin. Clearly young Pillin
didn't know of it; for, according to him, old Heythorp had made the
settlement. By Jove! That old rascal was deep--all the more
satisfaction in proving that he was not as deep as C. V. To unmask
the old cheat was already beginning to seem in the nature of a public
service. But on what pretext could he visit Pillin? A subscription
to the Windeatt almshouses! That would make him talk in self-defence
and he would take care not to press the request to the actual point
of getting a subscription. He caused himself to be driven to the
Pillin residence in Sefton Park. Ushered into a room on the ground
floor, heated in American fashion, Mr. Ventnor unbuttoned his coat.
A man of sanguine constitution, he found this hot-house atmosphere a
little trying. And having sympathetically obtained Joe Pillin's
reluctant refusal--Quite so! One could not indefinitely extend one's
subscriptions even for the best of causes!--he said gently:
"By the way, you know Mrs. Larne, don't you?"
The effect of that simple shot surpassed his highest hopes. Joe
Pillin's face, never highly coloured, turned a sort of grey; he
opened his thin lips, shut them quickly, as birds do, and something
seemed to pass with difficulty down his scraggy throat. The hollows,
which nerve exhaustion delves in the cheeks of men whose cheekbones
are not high, increased alarmingly. For a moment he looked deathly;
then, moistening his lips, he said:
"Larne--Larne? No, I don't seem---"
Mr. Ventnor, who had taken care to be drawing on his gloves,
"Oh! I thought--your son knows her; a relation of old Heythorp's,"
and he looked up.
Joe Pillin had his handkerchief to his mouth; he coughed feebly, then
with more and more vigour:
"I'm in very poor health," he said, at last. "I'm getting abroad at
once. This cold's killing me. What name did you say?" And he
remained with his handkerchief against his teeth.
Mr. Ventnor repeated:
"Larne. Writes stories."
Joe Pillin muttered into his handkerchief
"Ali! H'm! No--I--no! My son knows all sorts of people. I shall
have to try Mentone. Are you going? Good-bye! Good-bye! I'm sorry;
ah! ha! My cough--ah! ha h'h'm! Very distressing. Ye-hes! My
cough-ah! ha h'h'm! Most distressing. Ye-hes!"
Out in the drive Mr. Ventnor took a deep breath of the frosty air.
Not much doubt now! The two names had worked like charms. This
weakly old fellow would make a pretty witness, would simply crumple
under cross-examination. What a contrast to that hoary old sinner
Heythorp, whose brazenness nothing could affect. The rat was as
large as life! And the only point was how to make the best use of
it. Then--for his experience was wide--the possibility dawned on
him, that after all, this Mrs. Larne might only have been old
Pillin's mistress--or be his natural daughter, or have some other
blackmailing hold on him. Any such connection would account for his
agitation, for his denying her, for his son's ignorance. Only it
wouldn't account for young Pillin's saying that old Heythorp had made
the settlement. He could only have got that from the woman herself.
Still, to make absolutely sure, he had better try and see her. But
how? It would never do to ask Bob Pillin for an introduction, after
this interview with his father. He would have to go on his own and
chance it. Wrote stories did she? Perhaps a newspaper would know
her address; or the Directory would give it--not a common name! And,
hot on the scent, he drove to a post office. Yes, there it was,
right enough! "Larne, Mrs. R., 23, Millicent Villas." And thinking
to himself: 'No time like the present,' he turned in that direction.
The job was delicate. He must be careful not to do anything which
might compromise his power of making public use of his knowledge.
Yes-ticklish! What he did now must have a proper legal bottom.
Still, anyway you looked at it, he had a right to investigate a fraud
on himself as a shareholder of "The Island Navigation Company," and a
fraud on himself as a creditor of old Heythorp. Quite! But suppose
this Mrs. Larne was really entangled with old Pillin, and the
settlement a mere reward of virtue, easy or otherwise. Well! in that
case there'd be no secret commission to make public, and he needn't
go further. So that, in either event, he would be all right. Only--
how to introduce himself? He might pretend he was a newspaper man
wanting a story. No, that wouldn't do! He must not represent that
he was what he was not, in case he had afterwards to justify his
actions publicly, always a difficult thing, if you were not careful!
At that moment there came into his mind a question Bob Pillin had
asked the other night. "By the way, you can't borrow on a
settlement, can you? Isn't there generally some clause against it?"
Had this woman been trying to borrow from him on that settlement?
But at this moment he reached the house, and got out of his cab still
undecided as to how he was going to work the oracle. Impudence,
constitutional and professional, sustained him in saying to the
"Mrs. Larne at home? Say Mr. Charles Ventnor, will you?"
His quick brown eyes took in the apparel of the passage which served
for hall--the deep blue paper on the walls, lilac-patterned curtains
over the doors, the well-known print of a nude young woman looking
over her shoulder, and he thought: 'H'm! Distinctly tasty!' They
noted, too, a small brown-and-white dog cowering in terror at the
very end of the passage, and he murmured affably: "Fluffy! Come
here, Fluffy!" till Carmen's teeth chattered in her head.
"Will you come in, sir?"
Mr. Ventnor ran his hand over his whiskers, and, entering a room, was
impressed at once by its air of domesticity. On a sofa a handsome
woman and a pretty young girl were surrounded by sewing apparatus and
some white material. The girl looked up, but the elder lady rose.
Mr. Ventnor said easily
"You know my young friend, Mr. Robert Pillin, I think."
The lady, whose bulk and bloom struck him to the point of admiration,
murmured in a full, sweet drawl:
"Oh! Ye-es. Are you from Messrs. Scrivens?"
With the swift reflection: 'As I thought!' Mr. Ventnor answered:
"Er--not exactly. I am a solicitor though; came just to ask about a
certain settlement that Mr. Pillin tells me you're entitled under."
Seeing the girl about to rise from underneath the white stuff, Mr.
Ventnor said quickly:
"Pray don't disturb yourself--just a formality!" It had struck him
at once that the lady would have to speak the truth in the presence
of this third party, and he went on: "Quite recent, I think. This'll
be your first interest-on six thousand pounds? Is that right?" And
at the limpid assent of that rich, sweet voice, he thought: 'Fine
woman; what eyes!'
"Thank you; that's quite enough. I can go to Scrivens for any
detail. Nice young fellow, Bob Pillin, isn't he?" He saw the girl's
chin tilt, and Mrs. Larne's full mouth curling in a smile.
"Delightful young man; we're very fond of him."
And he proceeded:
"I'm quite an old friend of his; have you known him long?"
"Oh! no. How long, Phyllis, since we met him at Guardy's? About a
month. But he's so unaffected--quite at home with us. A nice
Mr. Ventnor murmured:
"Very different from his father, isn't he?"
"Is he? We don't know his father; he's a shipowner, I think."
Mr. Ventnor rubbed his hands: "Ye-es," he said, "just giving up--a
warm man. Young Pillin's a lucky fellow--only son. So you met him
at old Mr. Heythorp's. I know him too--relation of yours, I
"Our dear Guardy such a wonderful man."
Mr. Ventnor echoed: "Wonderful--regular old Roman."
"Oh! but he's so kind!" Mrs. Larne lifted the white stuff: "Look
what he's given this naughty gairl!"
Mr. Ventnor murmured: "Charming! Charming! Bob Pillin said, I think,
that Mr. Heythorp was your settlor."
One of those little clouds which visit the brows of women who have
owed money in their time passed swiftly athwart Mrs. Larne's eyes.
For a moment they seemed saying: 'Don't you want to know too much?'
Then they slid from under it.
"Won't you sit down?" she said. "You must forgive our being at
Mr. Ventnor, who had need of sorting his impressions, shook his head.
"Thank you; I must be getting on. Then Messrs. Scriven can--a mere
formality! Goodbye! Good-bye, Miss Larne. I'm sure the dress will
be most becoming."
And with memories of a too clear look from the girl's eyes, of a warm
firm pressure from the woman's hand, Mr. Ventnor backed towards the
door and passed away just in time to avoid hearing in two voices:
"What a nice lawyer!"
"What a horrid man!"
Back in his cab, he continued to rub his hands. No, she didn't know
old Pillin! That was certain; not from her words, but from her face.
She wanted to know him, or about him, anyway. She was trying to hook
young Bob for that sprig of a girl--it was clear as mud. H'm! it
would astonish his young friend to hear that he had called. Well,
let it! And a curious mixture of emotions beset Mr. Ventnor. He saw
the whole thing now so plainly, and really could not refrain from a
certain admiration. The law had been properly diddled! There was
nothing to prevent a man from settling money on a woman he had never
seen; and so old Pillin's settlement could probably not be upset.
But old Heythorp could. It was neat, though, oh! neat! And that
was a fine woman--remarkably! He had a sort of feeling that if only
the settlement had been in danger, it might have been worth while to
have made a bargain--a woman like that could have made it worth
while! And he believed her quite capable of entertaining the
proposition! Her eye! Pity--quite a pity! Mrs. Ventnor was not a
wife who satisfied every aspiration. But alas! the settlement was
safe. This baulking of the sentiment of love, whipped up, if
anything, the longing for justice in Mr. Ventnor. That old chap
should feel his teeth now. As a piece of investigation it was not so
bad--not so bad at all! He had had a bit of luck, of course,--no,
not luck--just that knack of doing the right thing at the right
moment which marks a real genius for affairs.
But getting into his train to return to Mrs. Ventnor, he thought: 'A
woman like that would have been--!' And he sighed.
With a neatly written cheque for fifty pounds in his pocket Bob
Pillin turned in at 23, Millicent Villas on the afternoon after Mr.
Ventnor's visit. Chivalry had won the day. And he rang the bell
with an elation which astonished him, for he knew he was doing a soft
"Mrs. Larne is out, sir; Miss Phyllis is at home."
His heart leaped.
"Oh-h! I'm sorry. I wonder if she'd see me?"
The little maid answered
"I think she's been washin' 'er'air, sir, but it may be dry be now.
Bob Pillin stood stock still beneath the young woman on the wall. He
could scarcely breathe. If her hair were not dry--how awful!
Suddenly he heard floating down a clear but smothered "Oh!
Gefoozleme!" and other words which he could not catch. The little
maid came running down.
"Miss Phyllis says, sir, she'll be with you in a jiffy. And I was to
tell you that Master Jock is loose, sir."
Bob Pillin answered "Tha-anks," and passed into the drawing-room. He
went to the bureau, took an envelope, enclosed the cheque, and
addressing it: "Mrs. Larne," replaced it in his pocket. Then he
crossed over to the mirror. Never till this last month had he really
doubted his own face; but now he wanted for it things he had never
wanted. It had too much flesh and colour. It did not reflect his
passion. This was a handicap. With a narrow white piping round his
waistcoat opening, and a buttonhole of tuberoses, he had tried to
repair its deficiencies. But do what he would, he was never easy
about himself nowadays, never up to that pitch which could make him
confident in her presence. And until this month to lack confidence
had never been his wont. A clear, high, mocking voice said:
"Oh-h! Conceited young man!"
And spinning round he saw Phyllis in the doorway. Her light brown
hair was fluffed out on her shoulders, so that he felt a kind of
fainting-sweet sensation, and murmured inarticulately:
"Oh! I say--how jolly!"
"Lawks! It's awful! Have you come to see mother?"
Balanced between fear and daring, conscious of a scent of hay and
verbena and camomile, Bob Pillin stammered:
"Ye-es. I--I'm glad she's not in, though."
Her laugh seemed to him terribly unfeeling.
"Oh! oh! Don't be foolish. Sit down. Isn't washing one's head
Bob Pillin answered feebly:
"Of course, I haven't much experience."
Her mouth opened.
"Oh! You are--aren't you?"
And he thought desperately: 'Dare I--oughtn't I--couldn't I somehow
take'her hand or put my arm round her, or something?' Instead, he
sat very rigid at his end of the sofa, while she sat lax and lissom
at the other, and one of those crises of paralysis which beset would-
-be lovers fixed him to the soul.
Sometimes during this last month memories of a past existence, when
chaff and even kisses came readily to the lips, and girls were fair
game, would make him think: 'Is she really such an innocent? Doesn't
she really want me to kiss her?' Alas! such intrusions lasted but a
moment before a blast of awe and chivalry withered them, and a
strange and tragic delicacy--like nothing he had ever known--resumed
its sway. And suddenly he heard her say:
"Why do you know such awful men?"
"What? I don't know any awful men."
"Oh yes, you do; one came here yesterday; he had whiskers, and he was
"Whiskers?" His soul revolted in disclaimer. "I believe I only know
one man with whiskers--a lawyer."
"Yes--that was him; a perfectly horrid man. Mother didn't mind him,
but I thought he was a beast."
"Ventnor! Came here? How d'you mean?"
"He did; about some business of yours, too." Her face had clouded
over. Bob Pillin had of late been harassed by the still-born
beginning of a poem:
"I rode upon my way and saw
A maid who watched me from the door."
It never grew longer, and was prompted by the feeling that her face
was like an April day. The cloud which came on it now was like an
April cloud, as if a bright shower of rain must follow. Brushing
aside the two distressful lines, he said:
"Look here, Miss Larne--Phyllis--look here!"
"All right, I'm looking!"
"What does it mean--how did he come? What did he say?"
She shook her head, and her hair quivered; the scent of camomile,
verbena, hay was wafted; then looking at her lap, she muttered:
"I wish you wouldn't--I wish mother wouldn't--I hate it. Oh! Money!
Beastly--beastly!" and a tearful sigh shivered itself into Bob
Pillin's reddening ears.
"I say--don't! And do tell me, because--"
"Oh! you know."
"I don't--I don't know anything at all. I never---"
Phyllis looked up at him. "Don't tell fibs; you know mother's
borrowing money from you, and it's hateful!"
A desire to lie roundly, a sense of the cheque in his pocket, a
feeling of injustice, the emotion of pity, and a confused and black
astonishment about Ventnor, caused Bob Pillin to stammer:
'Well, I'm d---d!" and to miss the look which Phyllis gave him
through her lashes--a look saying:
"Ah! that's better!"
"I am d---d! Look here! D'you mean to say that Ventnor came here
about my lending money? I never said a word to him---"
"There you see--you are lending!"
He clutched his hair.
"We've got to have this out," he added.
"Not by the roots! Oh! you do look funny. I've never seen you with
your hair untidy. Oh! oh!"
Bob Pillin rose and paced the room. In the midst of his emotion he
could not help seeing himself sidelong in the mirror; and on pretext
of holding his head in both his hands, tried earnestly to restore his
hair. Then coming to a halt he said:
"Suppose I am lending money to your mother, what does it matter?
It's only till quarter-day. Anybody might want money."
Phyllis did not raise her face.
"Why are you lending it?"
"Because--because--why shouldn't I?" and diving suddenly, he seized
She wrenched them free; and with the emotion of despair, Bob Pillin
took out the envelope.
"If you like," he said, "I'll tear this up. I don't want to lend it,
if you don't want me to; but I thought--I thought--" It was for her
alone he had been going to lend this money!
Phyllis murmured through her hair:
"Yes! You thought that I--that's what's so hateful!"
Apprehension pierced his mind.
"Oh! I never--I swear I never--"
"Yes, you did; you thought I wanted you to lend it."
She jumped up, and brushed past him into the window.
So she thought she was being used as a decoy! That was awful--
especially since it was true. He knew well enough that Mrs. Larne
was working his admiration for her daughter for all that it was
worth. And he said with simple fervour:
"What rot!" It produced no effect, and at his wits' end, he almost
shouted: "Look, Phyllis! If you don't want me to--here goes!"
Phyllis turned. Tearing the envelope across he threw the bits into
the fire. "There it is," he said.
Her eyes grew round; she said in an awed voice: "Oh!"
In a sort of agony of honesty he said:
"It was only a cheque. Now you've got your way."
Staring at the fire she answered slowly:
"I expect you'd better go before mother comes."
Bob Pillin's mouth fell afar; he secretly agreed, but the idea of
sacrificing a moment alone with her was intolerable, and he said
"No, I shall stick it!"
"My hair isn't a bit dry," and she sat down on the fender with her
back to the fire.
A certain spirituality had come into Bob Pillin's face. If only he
could get that wheeze off: "Phyllis is my only joy!" or even:
"Phyllis--do you--won't you--mayn't I?" But nothing came--nothing.
And suddenly she said:
"Oh! don't breathe so loud; it's awful!"
"Breathe? I wasn't!"
"You were; just like Carmen when she's dreaming."
He had walked three steps towards the door, before he thought: 'What
does it matter? I can stand anything from her; and walked the three
steps back again.
She said softly:
"Poor young man!"
He answered gloomily:
"I suppose you realise that this may be the last time you'll see me?"
"Why? I thought you were going to take us to the theatre."
"I don't know whether your mother will--after---"
Phyllis gave a little clear laugh.
"You don't know mother. Nothing makes any difference to her."
And Bob Pillin muttered:
"I see." He did not, but it was of no consequence. Then the thought
of Ventnor again ousted all others. What on earth-how on earth! He
searched his mind for what he could possibly have said the other
night. Surely he had not asked him to do anything; certainly not
given him their address. There was something very odd about it that
had jolly well got to be cleared up! And he said:
"Are you sure the name of that Johnny who came here yesterday was
"And he was short, and had whiskers?"
"Yes; red, and red eyes."
He murmured reluctantly:
"It must be him. Jolly good cheek; I simply can't understand. I
shall go and see him. How on earth did he know your address?"
"I expect you gave it him."
"I did not. I won't have you thinking me a squirt."
Phyllis jumped up. "Oh! Lawks! Here's mother!" Mrs. Larne was
coming up the garden. Bob Pillin made for the door. "Good-bye," he
said; "I'm going." But Mrs. Larne was already in the hall.
Enveloping him in fur and her rich personality, she drew him with her
into the drawing-room, where the back window was open and Phyllis
"I hope," she said, "those naughty children have been making you
comfortable. That nice lawyer of yours came yesterday. He seemed
Very red above his collar, Bob Pillin stammered:
"I never told him to; he isn't my lawyer. I don't know what it
Mrs. Larne smiled. "My dear boy, it's all right. You needn't be so
squeamish. I want it to be quite on a business footing."
Restraining a fearful inclination to blurt out: "It's not going to be
on any footing!" Bob Pillin mumbled: "I must go; I'm late."
"And when will you be able---?"
"Oh! I'll--I'll send--I'll write. Good-bye!" And suddenly he found
that Mrs. Larne had him by the lapel of his coat. The scent of
violets and fur was overpowering, and the thought flashed through
him: 'I believe she only wanted to take money off old Joseph in the
Bible. I can't leave my coat in her hands! What shall I do?'
Mrs. Larne was murmuring:
"It would be se sweet of you if you could manage it today"; and her
hand slid over his chest. "Oh! You have brought your cheque-book--
what a nice boy!"
Bob Pillin took it out in desperation, and, sitting down at the
bureau, wrote a cheque similar to that which he had torn and burned.
A warm kiss lighted on his eyebrow, his head was pressed for a moment
to a furry bosom; a hand took the cheque; a voice said: "How
delightful!" and a sigh immersed him in a bath of perfume. Backing
to the door, he gasped:
"Don't mention it; and--and don't tell Phyllis, please. Good-bye!"
Once through the garden gate, he thought: 'By gum! I've done it now.
That Phyllis should know about it at all! That beast Ventnor!'
His face grew almost grim. He would go and see what that meant
Mr. Ventnor had not left his office when his young friend's card was
brought to him. Tempted for a moment to deny his own presence, he
thought: 'No! What's the good? Bound to see him some time!' If he
had not exactly courage, he had that peculiar blend of self-
confidence and insensibility which must needs distinguish those who
follow the law; nor did he ever forget that he was in the right.
"Show him in!" he said.
He would be quite bland, but young Pillin might whistle for an
explanation; he was still tormented, too, by the memory of rich
curves and moving lips, and the possibilities of better
While shaking the young man's hand his quick and fulvous eye detected
at once the discomposure behind that mask of cheek and collar, and
relapsing into one of those swivel chairs which give one an advantage
over men more statically seated, he said:
"You look pretty bobbish. Anything I can do for you?"
Bob Pillin, in the fixed chair of the consultor, nursed his bowler on
"Well, yes, there is. I've just been to see Mrs. Larne."
Mr. Ventnor did not flinch.
"Ah! Nice woman; pretty daughter, too!" And into those words he put
a certain meaning. He never waited to be bullied. Bob Pillin felt
the pressure of his blood increasing.
"Look here, Ventnor," he said, "I want an explanation."
"Why, of your going there, and using my name, and God knows what."
Mr. Ventnor gave his chair two little twiddles before he said
"Well, you won't get it."
Bob Pillin remained for a moment taken aback; then he muttered
"It's not the conduct of a gentleman."
Every man has his illusions, and no man likes them disturbed. The
gingery tint underlying Mr. Ventnor's colouring overlaid it; even the
whites of his eyes grew red."
"Oh!" he said; "indeed! You mind your own business, will you?"
"It is my business--very much so. You made use of my name, and I
"The devil you don't! Now, I tell you what---"
Mr. Ventnor leaned forward--"you'd better hold your tongue, and not
exasperate me. I'm a good-tempered man, but I won't stand your
Clenching his bowler hat, and only kept in his seat by that sense of
something behind, Bob Pillin ejaculated:
"Impudence! That's good--after what you did! Look here, why did
you? It's so extraordinary!"
Mr. Ventnor answered:
"Oh! is it? You wait a bit, my friend!"
Still more moved by the mystery of this affair, Bob Pillin could only
"I never gave you their address; we were only talking about old
And at the smile which spread between Mr. Ventnor's whiskers, he
jumped up, crying:
"It's not the thing, and you're not going to put me off. I insist on
Mr. Ventnor leaned back, crossing his stout legs, joining the tips of
his thick fingers. In this attitude he was always self-possessed.
"You do--do you?"
"Yes. You must have had some reason."
Mr. Ventnor gazed up at him.
"I'll give you a piece of advice, young cock, and charge you nothing
for it, too: Ask no questions, and you'll be told no lies. And
here's another: Go away before you forget yourself again."
The natural stolidity of Bob Pilings face was only just proof against
this speech. He said thickly:
"If you go there again and use my name, I'll Well, it's lucky for you
you're not my age. Anyway I'll relieve you of my acquaintanceship in
future. Good-evening!" and he went to the door. Mr. Ventnor had
"Very well," he said loudly. "Good riddance! You wait and see which
boot the leg is on!"
But Bob Pillin was gone, leaving the lawyer with a very red face, a
very angry heart, and a vague sense of disorder in his speech. Not
only Bob Pillin, but his tender aspirations had all left him; he no
longer dallied with the memory of Mrs. Larne, but like a man and a
Briton thought only of how to get his own back, and punish evildoers.
The atrocious words of his young friend, "It's not the conduct of a
gentleman," festered in the heart of one who was made gentle not
merely by nature but by Act of Parliament, and he registered a solemn
vow to wipe the insult out, if not with blood, with verjuice. It was
his duty, and they should d---d well see him do it!
Sylvanus Heythorp seldom went to bed before one or rose before
eleven. The latter habit alone kept his valet from handing in the
resignation which the former habit prompted almost every night.
Propped on his pillows in a crimson dressing-gown, and freshly
shaved, he looked more Roman than he ever did, except in his bath.
Having disposed of coffee, he was wont to read his letters, and The
Morning Post, for he had always been a Tory, and could not stomach
paying a halfpenny for his news. Not that there were many letters--
when a man has reached the age of eighty, who should write to him,
except to ask for money?
It was Valentine's Day. Through his bedroom window he could see the
trees of the park, where the birds were in song, though he could not
hear them. He had never been interested in Nature--full-blooded men
with short necks seldom are.
This morning indeed there were two letters, and he opened that which
smelt of something. Inside was a thing like a Christmas card, save
that the naked babe had in his hands a bow and arrow, and words
coming out of his mouth: "To be your Valentine." There was also a
little pink note with one blue forget-me-not printed at the top. It
"DEAREST GUARDY,--I'm sorry this is such a mangy little valentine; I
couldn't go out to get it because I've got a beastly cold, so I asked
Jock, and the pig bought this. The satin is simply scrumptious. If
you don't come and see me in it some time soon, I shall come and show
it to you. I wish I had a moustache, because my top lip feels just
like a matchbox, but it's rather ripping having breakfast in bed.
Mr. Pillin's taking us to the theatre the day after to-morrow
evening. Isn't it nummy! I'm going to have rum and honey for my
So this that quivered in his thick fingers, too insensitive to feel
it, was a valentine for him!
Forty years ago that young thing's grandmother had given him his
last. It made him out a very old chap! Forty years ago! Had that
been himself living then? And himself, who, as a youth came on the
town in 'forty-five? Not a thought, not a feeling the same! They
said you changed your body every seven years. The mind with it, too,
perhaps! Well, he had come to the last of his bodies, now! And that
holy woman had been urging him to take it to Bath, with her face as
long as a tea-tray, and some gammon from that doctor of his. Too
full a habit--dock his port--no alcohol--might go off in a coma any
night! Knock off not he! Rather die any day than turn tee-totaller!
When a man had nothing left in life except his dinner, his bottle,
his cigar, and the dreams they gave him--these doctors forsooth must
want to cut them off! No, no! Carpe diem! while you lived, get
something out of it. And now that he had made all the provision he
could for those youngsters, his life was no good to any one but
himself; and the sooner he went off the better, if he ceased to enjoy
what there was left, or lost the power to say: "I'll do this and
that, and you be jiggered!" Keep a stiff lip until you crashed, and
then go clean! He sounded the bell beside him twice-for Molly, not
his man. And when the girl came in, and stood, pretty in her print
frock, her fluffy over-fine dark hair escaping from under her cap, he
gazed at her in silence.
"Want to look at you, that's all."
"Oh I an' I'm not tidy, sirr."
"Never mind. Had your valentine?"
"No, sirr; who would send me one, then?"
"Haven't you a young man?"
"Well, I might. But he's over in my country.
"What d'you think of this?"
He held out the little boy.
The girl took the card and scrutinised it reverently; she said in a
"Indeed, an' ut's pretty, too."
"Would you like it?"
"Oh I if 'tis not taking ut from you."
Old Heythorp shook his head, and pointed to the dressing-table.
"Over there--you'll find a sovereign. Little present for a good
She uttered a deep sigh. "Oh! sirr, 'tis too much; 'tis kingly."
She took it, and came back, her hands clasping the sovereign and the
valentine, in an attitude as of prayer.
The old man's gaze rested on her with satisfaction.
"I like pretty faces--can't bear sour ones. Tell Meller to get my
When she had gone he took up the other letter--some lawyer's writing,
and opening it with the usual difficulty, read:
"February 13, 1905.
"SIR,--Certain facts having come to my knowledge, I deem it my duty
to call a special meeting of the shareholders of 'The Island
Navigation Coy.,' to consider circumstances in connection with the
purchase of Mr. Joseph Pillin's fleet. And I give you notice that at
this meeting your conduct will be called in question.
"I am, Sir,
"SYLVANUS HEYTHORP, ESQ."
Having read this missive, old Heythorp remained some minutes without
stirring. Ventnor! That solicitor chap who had made himself
unpleasant at the creditors' meetings!
There are men whom a really bad bit of news at once stampedes out of
all power of coherent thought and action, and men who at first simply
do not take it in. Old Heythorp took it in fast enough; coming from
a lawyer it was about as nasty as it could be. But, at once, with
stoic wariness his old brain began casting round. What did this
fellow really know? And what exactly could he do? One thing was
certain; even if he knew everything, he couldn't upset that
settlement. The youngsters were all right. The old man grasped the
fact that only his own position was at stake. But this was enough in
all conscience; a name which had been before the public fifty odd
years--income, independence, more perhaps. It would take little,
seeing his age and feebleness, to make his Companies throw him over.
But what had the fellow got hold of? How decide whether or no to
take notice; to let him do his worst, or try and get into touch with
him? And what was the fellow's motive? He held ten shares! That
would never make a man take all this trouble, and over a purchase
which was really first-rate business for the Company. Yes! His
conscience was quite clean. He had not betrayed his Company--on the
contrary, had done it a good turn, got them four sound ships at a low
price--against much opposition. That he might have done the Company
a better turn, and got the ships at fifty-four thousand, did not
trouble him--the six thousand was a deuced sight better employed; and
he had not pocketed a penny piece himself! But the fellow's motive?
Spite? Looked like it. Spite, because he had been disappointed of
his money, and defied into the bargain! H'm! If that were so, he
might still be got to blow cold again. His eyes lighted on the pink
note with the blue forget-me-not. It marked as it were the high
water mark of what was left to him of life; and this other letter in
his hand-by Jove! Low water mark! And with a deep and rumbling sigh
he thought: 'No, I'm not going to be beaten by this fellow.'
"Your bath is ready, sir."
Crumpling the two letters into the pocket of his dressing-gown, he
"Help me up; and telephone to Mr. Farney to be good enough to come
An hour later, when the secretary entered, his chairman was sitting
by the fire perusing the articles of association. And, waiting for
him to look up, watching the articles shaking in that thick, feeble
hand, the secretary had one of those moments of philosophy not too
frequent with his kind. Some said the only happy time of life was
when you had no passions, nothing to hope and live for. But did you
really ever reach such a stage? The old chairman, for instance,
still had his passion for getting his own way, still had his
prestige, and set a lot of store by it! And he said:
"Good morning, sir; I hope you're all right in this east wind. The
purchase is completed."
"Best thing the company ever did. Have you heard from a shareholder
called Ventnor. You know the man I mean?"
"No, sir. I haven't."
"Well! You may get a letter that'll make you open your eyes. An
impudent scoundrel! Just write at my dictation."
"February 14th, 1905.
"CHARLES VENTNOR, Esq.
"SIR,--I have your letter of yesterday's date, the contents of which
I am at a loss to understand. My solicitors will be instructed to
take the necessary measures."
'Phew What's all this about?' the secretary thought.
"I'll sign." And the shaky letters closed the page:
"Post that as you go."
"Anything else I can do for you, sir?"
"Nothing, except to let me know if you hear from this fellow."
When the secretary had gone the old man thought: 'So! The ruffian
hasn't called the meeting yet. That'll bring him round here fast
enough if it's his money he wants-blackmailing scoundrel!'
"Mr. Pillin, sir; and will you wait lunch, or will you have it in the
"In the dining-room."
At sight of that death's-head of a fellow, old Heythorp felt a sort
of pity. He looked bad enough already--and this news would make him
look worse. Joe Pillin glanced round at the two closed doors.
"How are you, Sylvanus? I'm very poorly." He came closer, and
lowered his voice: "Why did you get me to make that settlement? I
must have been mad. I've had a man called Ventnor--I didn't like his
manner. He asked me if I knew a Mrs. Larne."
"Ha! What did you say?"
"What could I say? I don't know her. But why did he ask?"
"Smells a rat."
Joe Pillin grasped the edge of the table with both hands.
"Oh!" he murmured. "Oh! don't say that!"
Old Heythorp held out to him the crumpled letter.
When he had read it Joe Pillin sat down abruptly before the fire.
"Pull yourself together, Joe; they can't touch you, and they can't
upset either the purchase or the settlement. They can upset me,
Joe Pillin answered, with trembling lips:
"How you can sit there, and look the same as ever! Are you sure they
can't touch me?"
Old Heyworth nodded grimly.
"They talk of an Act, but they haven't passed it yet. They might
prove a breach of trust against me. But I'll diddle them. Keep your
pecker up, and get off abroad."
"Yes, yes. I must. I'm very bad. I was going to-morrow. But I
don't know, I'm sure, with this hanging over me. My son knowing her
makes it worse. He picks up with everybody. He knows this man
Ventnor too. And I daren't say anything to Bob. What are you
thinking of, Sylvanus? You look very funny!"
Old Heythorp seemed to rouse himself from a sort of coma.
"I want my lunch," he said. "Will you stop and have some?"
Joe Pillin stammered out:
"Lunch! I don't know when I shall eat again. What are you going to
"Bluff the beggar out of it."
"But suppose you can't?"
"Buy him off. He's one--of my creditors."
Joe Pillin stared at him afresh. "You always had such nerve," he
said yearningly. "Do you ever wake up between two and four? I do--
and everything's black."
"Put a good stiff nightcap on, my boy, before going to bed."
"Yes; I sometimes wish I was less temperate. But I couldn't stand
it. I'm told your doctor forbids you alcohol."
"He does. That's why I drink it."
Joe Pillin, brooding over the fire, said: "This meeting--d'you think
they mean to have it? D'you think this man really knows? If my name
gets into the newspapers--" but encountering his old friend's deep
little eyes, he stopped. "So you advise me to get off to-morrow,
Old Heythorp nodded.
"Your lunch is served, sir."
Joe Pillin started violently, and rose.
"Well, good-bye, Sylvanus-good-bye! I don't suppose I shall be back
till the summer, if I ever come back!" He sank his voice: "I shall
rely on you. You won't let them, will you?"
Old Heythorp lifted his hand, and Joe Pillin put into that swollen
shaking paw his pale and spindly fingers. "I wish I had your pluck,"
he said sadly. "Good-bye, Sylvanus," and turning, he passed out.
Old Heythorp thought: 'Poor shaky chap. All to pieces at the first
shot!' And, going to his lunch, ate more heavily than usual.
Mr. Ventnor, on reaching his office and opening his letters, found,
as he had anticipated, one from "that old rascal." Its contents
excited in him the need to know his own mind. Fortunately this was
not complicated by a sense of dignity--he only had to consider the
position with an eye on not being made to look a fool. The point was
simply whether he set more store by his money than by his desire for-
-er--Justice. If not, he had merely to convene the special meeting,
and lay before it the plain fact that Mr. Joseph Pillin, selling his
ships for sixty thousand pounds, had just made a settlement of six
thousand pounds on a lady whom he did not know, a daughter, ward, or
what-not--of the purchasing company's chairman, who had said,
moreover, at the general meeting, that he stood or fell by the
transaction; he had merely to do this, and demand that an explanation
be required from the old man of such a startling coincidence.
Convinced that no explanation would hold water, he felt sure that his
action would be at once followed by the collapse, if nothing more, of
that old image, and the infliction of a nasty slur on old Pillin and
his hopeful son. On the other hand, three hundred pounds was money;
and, if old Heythorp were to say to him: "What do you want to make
this fuss for--here's what I owe you!" could a man of business and
the world let his sense of justice--however he might itch to have it
satisfied--stand in the way of what was after all also his sense of
Justice?--for this money had been owing to him for the deuce of along
time. In this dilemma, the words:
"My solicitors will be instructed" were of notable service in helping
him to form a decision, for he had a certain dislike of other
solicitors, and an intimate knowledge of the law of libel and
slander; if by any remote chance there should be a slip between the
cup and the lip, Charles Ventnor might be in the soup--a position
which he deprecated both by nature and profession. High thinking,
therefore, decided him at last to answer thus:
"February 19th, 1905.
"SIR,--I have received your note. I think it may be fair, before
taking further steps in this matter, to ask you for a personal
explanation of the circumstances to which I alluded. I therefore
propose with your permission to call on you at your private residence
at five o'clock to-morrow afternoon.
"SYLVANUS HEYTHORP, Esq."
Having sent this missive, and arranged in his mind the damning, if
circumstantial, evidence he had accumulated, he awaited the hour with
confidence, for his nature was not lacking in the cock-surety of a
Briton. All the same, he dressed himself particularly well that
morning, putting on a blue and white striped waistcoat which, with a
cream-coloured tie, set off his fulvous whiskers and full blue eyes;
and he lunched, if anything, more fully than his wont, eating a
stronger cheese and taking a glass of special Club ale. He took care
to be late, too, to show the old fellow that his coming at all was in
the nature of an act of grace. A strong scent of hyacinths greeted
him in the hall; and Mr. Ventnor, who was an amateur of flowers,
stopped to put his nose into a fine bloom and think uncontrollably of
Mrs. Larne. Pity! The things one had to give up in life--fine
women--one thing and another. Pity! The thought inspired in him a
timely anger; and he followed the servant, intending to stand no
nonsense from this paralytic old rascal.
The room he entered was lighted by a bright fire, and a single
electric lamp with an orange shade on a table covered by a black
satin cloth. There were heavily gleaming oil paintings on the walls,
a heavy old brass chandelier without candles, heavy dark red
curtains, and an indefinable scent of burnt acorns, coffee, cigars,
and old man. He became conscious of a candescent spot on the far
side of the hearth, where the light fell on old Heythorp's thick
"Mr. Ventnor, sir."
The candescent spot moved. A voice said: "Sit down."
Mr. Ventnor sat in an armchair on the opposite side of the fire; and,
finding a kind of somnolence creeping over him, pinched himself. He
wanted all his wits about him.
The old man was speaking in that extinct voice of his, and Mr.
Ventnor said rather pettishly:
"Beg pardon, I don't get you."
Old Heythorp's voice swelled with sudden force:
"Your letters are Greek to me."
"Oh! indeed, I think we can soon make them into plain English!"
"Sooner the better."
Mr. Ventnor passed through a moment of indecision. Should he lay his
cards on the table? It was not his habit, and the proceeding was
sometimes attended with risk. The knowledge, however, that he could
always take them up again, seeing there was no third person here to
testify that he had laid them down, decided him, and he said:
"Well, Mr. Heythorp, the long and short of the matter is this: Our
friend Mr. Pillin paid you a commission of ten per cent. on the sale
of his ships. Oh! yes. He settled the money, not on you, but on
your relative Mrs. Larne and her children. This, as you know, is a
breach of trust on your part."
The old man's voice: "Where did you get hold of that cock-and-bull
story?" brought him to his feet before the fire.
"It won't do, Mr. Heythorp. My witnesses are Mr. Pillin, Mrs. Larne,
and Mr. Scriven."
"What have you come here for, then--blackmail?"
Mr. Ventnor straightened his waistcoat; a rush of conscious virtue
had dyed his face.
"Oh! you take that tone," he said, "do you? You think you can ride
roughshod over everything? Well, you're very much mistaken. I
advise you to keep a civil tongue and consider your position, or I'll
make a beggar of you. I'm not sure this isn't a case for a
The choler in Charles Ventnor kept him silent for a moment; then he
"Neither gammon nor spinach. You owe me three hundred pounds, you've
owed it me for years, and you have the impudence to take this
attitude with me, have you? Now, I never bluster; I say what I mean.
You just listen to me. Either you pay me what you owe me at once, or
I call this meeting and make what I know public. You'll very soon
find out where you are. And a good thing, too, for a more
unscrupulous--unscrupulous---" he paused for breath.
Occupied with his own emotion, he had not observed the change in old
Heythorp's face. The imperial on that lower lip was bristling, the
crimson of those cheeks had spread to the roots of his white hair.
He grasped the arms of his chair, trying to rise; his swollen hands
trembled; a little saliva escaped one corner of his lips. And the
words came out as if shaken by his teeth:
"So-so-you-you bully me!"
Conscious that the interview had suddenly passed from the phase of
negotiation, Mr. Ventnor looked hard at his opponent. He saw nothing
but a decrepit, passionate, crimson-faced old man at bay, and all the
instincts of one with everything on his side boiled up in him. The
miserable old turkey-cock--the apoplectic image! And he said:
"And you'll do no good for yourself by getting into a passion. At
your age, and in your condition, I recommend a little prudence. Now
just take my terms quietly, or you know what'll happen. I'm not to
be intimidated by any of your airs." And seeing that the old man's
rage was such that he simply could not speak, he took the opportunity
of going on: "I don't care two straws which you do--I'm out to show
you who's master. If you think in your dotage you can domineer any
longer--well, you'll find two can play at that game. Come, now,
which are you going to do?"
The old man had sunk back in his chair, and only his little deep-blue
eyes seemed living. Then he moved one hand, and Mr. Ventnor saw that
he was fumbling to reach the button of an electric bell at the end of
a cord. 'I'll show him,' he thought, and stepping forward, he put it
out of reach.
Thus frustrated, the old man remained-motionless, staring up. The
word "blackmail" resumed its buzzing in Mr. Ventnor's ears. The
impudence the consummate impudence of it from this fraudulent old
ruffian with one foot in bankruptcy and one foot in the grave, if not
in the dock.
"Yes," he said, "it's never too late to learn; and for once you've
come up against someone a leetle bit too much for you. Haven't you
now? You'd better cry 'Peccavi.'"
Then, in the deathly silence of the room, the moral force of his
position, and the collapse as it seemed of his opponent, awakening a
faint compunction, he took a turn over the Turkey carpet to readjust
"You're an old man, and I don't want to be too hard on you. I'm only
showing you that you can't play fast and loose as if you were God
Almighty any longer. You've had your own way too many years. And
now you can't have it, see!" Then, as the old man again moved
forward in his chair, he added: "Now, don't get into a passion again;
calm yourself, because I warn you--this is your last chance. I'm a
man of my word; and what I say, I do."
By a violent and unsuspected effort the old man jerked himself up and
reached the bell. Mr. Ventnor heard it ring, and said sharply:
"Mind you, it's nothing to me which you do. I came for your own
good. Please yourself. Well?"
He was answered by the click of the door and the old man's husky
"Show this hound out! And then come back!"
Mr. Ventnor had presence of mind enough not to shake his fist.
Muttering: "Very well, Mr. Heythorp! Ah! Very well!" he moved with
dignity to the door. The careful shepherding of the servant renewed
the fire of his anger. Hound! He had been called a hound
After seeing Mr. Ventnor off the premises the man Meller returned to
his master, whose face looked very odd--"all patchy-like," as he put
it in the servants' hall, as though the blood driven to his head had
mottled for good the snowy whiteness of the forehead. He received
the unexpected order:
"Get me a hot bath ready, and put some pine stuff in it."
When the old man was seated there, the valet asked:
"How long shall I give you, sir?"
"Very good, sir."
Lying in that steaming brown fragrant liquid, old Heythorp heaved a
stertorous sigh. By losing his temper with that ill-conditioned cur
he had cooked his goose. It was done to a turn; and he was a ruined
man. If only--oh! if only he could have seized the fellow by the
neck and pitched him out of the room! To have lived to be so spoken
to; to have been unable to lift hand or foot, hardly even his voice--
he would sooner have been dead! Yes--sooner have been dead! A dumb
and measureless commotion was still at work in the recesses of that
thick old body, silver-brown in the dark water, whose steam he drew
deep into his wheezing lungs, as though for spiritual relief. To be
beaten by a cur like that! To have that common cad of a pettifogging
lawyer drag him down and kick him about; tumble a name which had
stood high, in the dust! The fellow had the power to make him a
byword and a beggar! It was incredible! But it was a fact. And to-
morrow he would begin to do it--perhaps had begun already. His tree
had come down with a crash! Eighty years-eighty good years! He
regretted none of them-regretted nothing; least of all this breach of
trust which had provided for his grandchildren--one of the best
things he had ever done. The fellow was a cowardly hound, too! The
way he had snatched the bell-pull out of his reach-despicable cur!
And a chap like that was to put "paid" to the account of Sylvanus
Heythorp, to "scratch" him out of life--so near the end of
everything, the very end! His hand raised above the surface fell
back on his stomach through the dark water, and a bubble or two rose.
Not so fast--not so fast! He had but to slip down a foot, let the
water close over his head, and "Good-bye" to Master Ventnor's triumph
Dead men could not be kicked off the Boards of Companies. Dead men
could not be beggared, deprived of their independence. He smiled and
stirred a little in the bath till the water reached the white hairs
on his lower lip. It smelt nice! And he took a long sniff: He had
had a good life, a good life! And with the thought that he had it in
his power at any moment to put Master Ventnor's nose out of joint--to
beat the beggar after all, a sense of assuagement and well-being
crept over him. His blood ran more evenly again. He closed his
eyes. They talked about an after-life--people like that holy woman.
Gammon! You went to sleep--a long sleep; no dreams. A nap after
dinner! Dinner! His tongue sought his palate! Yes! he could eat a
good dinner! That dog hadn't put him off his stroke! The best
dinner he had ever eaten was the one he gave to Jack Herring,
Chichester, Thornworthy, Nick Treffry and Jolyon Forsyte at Pole's.
Good Lord! In 'sixty--yes--'sixty-five? Just before he fell in love
with Alice Larne--ten years before he came to Liverpool. That was a
dinner! Cost twenty-four pounds for the six of them--and Forsyte an
absurdly moderate fellow. Only Nick Treff'ry and himself had been
three-bottle men! Dead! Every jack man of them. And suddenly he
thought: 'My name's a good one--I was never down before--never
A voice above the steam said:
"The twenty minutes is up, sir."
"All right; I'll get out. Evening clothes."
And Meller, taking out dress suit and shirt, thought: 'Now, what does
the old bloomer want dressin' up again for; why can't he go to bed
and have his dinner there? When a man's like a baby, the cradle's
the place for him.'....
An hour later, at the scene of his encounter with Mr. Ventnor, where
the table was already laid for dinner, old Heythorp stood and gazed.
The curtains had been drawn back, the window thrown open to air the
room, and he could see out there the shapes of the dark trees and a
sky grape-coloured, in the mild, moist night. It smelt good. A
sensuous feeling stirred in him, warm from his bath, clothed from
head to foot in fresh garments. Deuce of a time since he had dined
in full fig! He would have liked a woman dining opposite--but not
the holy woman; no, by George!--would have liked to see light falling
on a woman's shoulders once again, and a pair of bright eyes! He
crossed, snail-like, towards the fire. There that bullying fellow
had stood with his back to it--confound his impudence!--as if the
place belonged to him. And suddenly he had a vision of his three
secretaries' faces--especially young Farney's as they would look,
when the pack got him by the throat and pulled him down. His co-
directors, too! Old Heythorp! How are the mighty fallen! And that
His valet passed across the room to shut the window and draw the
curtains. This chap too! The day he could no longer pay his wages,
and had lost the power to say "Shan't want your services any more"--
when he could no longer even pay his doctor for doing his best to
kill him off! Power, interest, independence, all--gone! To be
dressed and undressed, given pap, like a baby in arms, served as they
chose to serve him, and wished out of the way--broken, dishonoured!
By money alone an old man had his being! Meat, drink, movement,
breath! When all his money was gone the holy woman would let him
know it fast enough. They would all let him know it; or if they
didn't, it would be out of pity! He had never been pitied yet--thank
God! And he said:
"Get me up a bottle of Perrier Jouet. What's the menu?"
"Germane soup, sir; filly de sole; sweetbread; cutlet soubees, rum
"Tell her to give me a hors d'oeuvre, and put on a savoury."
When the man had gone, he thought: 'I should have liked an oyster--
too late now!' and going over to his bureau, he fumblingly pulled out
the top drawer. There was little in it--Just a few papers, business
papers on his Companies, and a schedule of his debts; not even a copy
of his will--he had not made one, nothing to leave! Letters he had
never kept. Half a dozen bills, a few receipts, and the little pink
note with the blue forget-me-not. That was the lot! An old tree
gives up bearing leaves, and its roots dry up, before it comes down
in a wind; an old man's world slowly falls away from him till he
stands alone in the night. Looking at the pink note, he thought:
'Suppose I'd married Alice--a man never had a better mistress!' He
fumbled the drawer to; but still he strayed feebly about the room,
with a curious shrinking from sitting down, legacy from the quarter
of an hour he had been compelled to sit while that hound worried at
his throat. He was opposite one of the pictures now. It gleamed,
dark and oily, limning a Scots Grey who had mounted a wounded Russian
on his horse, and was bringing him back prisoner from the Balaclava
charge. A very old friend--bought in 'fifty-nine. It had hung in
his chambers in the Albany--hung with him ever since. With whom
would it hang when he was gone? For that holy woman would scrap it,
to a certainty, and stick up some Crucifixion or other, some new-
fangled high art thing! She could even do that now if she liked--for
she owned it, owned every mortal stick in the room, to the very glass
he would drink his champagne from; all made over under the settlement
fifteen years ago, before his last big gamble went wrong. "De
l'audace, toujours de l'audace!" The gamble which had brought him
down till his throat at last was at the mercy of a bullying hound.
The pitcher and the well! At the mercy---! The sound of a popping
cork dragged him from reverie. He moved to his seat, back to the
window, and sat down to his dinner. By George! They had got him an
oyster! And he said:
"I've forgotten my teeth!"
While the man was gone for them, he swallowed the oysters,
methodically touching them one by one with cayenne, Chili vinegar,
and lemon. Ummm! Not quite what they used to be at Pimm's in the
best days, but not bad--not bad! Then seeing the little blue bowl
lying before him, he looked up and said:
"My compliments to cook on the oysters. Give me the champagne." And
he lifted his trembling teeth. Thank God, he could still put 'em in
for himself! The creaming goldenish fluid from the napkined bottle
slowly reached the brim of his glass, which had a hollow stem;
raising it to his lips, very red between the white hairs above and
below, he drank with a gurgling noise, and put the glass down-empty.
Nectar! And just cold enough!
"I frapped it the least bit, sir."