Part 3 out of 5
upright and banging his heavy fist down on the arm of his chair--"and
there are millions in your malgamite works at the Hague--millions. If
it were only honest it would be the finest monopoly the world has ever
seen--for two years, but no longer. At the end of that period the
paper-makers will have had time to combine and make their own
stuff--then they'll smash you. But during those two years all the
makers in the world will have to buy your malgamite at the price you
chose to put upon it. They have their forward contracts to
fulfil--government contracts, Indian contracts, newspaper contracts.
Thousands and thousands of tons of paper will have to be manufactured
at a loss every week during the next two years, or they'll have to shut
up their mills. Now do you see where you are?"
"Yes," answered Cornish, "I see where I am, now."
His face was drawn and his eyes hard, like those of a man facing ruin.
And that which was written on his face was an old story, so old that
some may not think it worth the telling; for he had found out (as all
who are fortunate will, sooner or later, discover) that success or
failure, riches or poverty, greatness or obscurity, are but small
things in a man's life. Mr. Wade looked at his companion with a sort of
wonder in his shrewd old face. He had seen ruined men before now--he
had seen criminals convicted of their wrong-doing--he had seen old and
young in adversity, and, what is more dangerous still, in
prosperity--but he had never seen a young face grow old in the
twinkling of an eye. The banker was only thinking of this matter as a
financial crisis, in which his great skill made him take a master's
delight. There must inevitably come a great crash, and Mr. Wade's
interest was aroused. Cornish was realizing that the crash would of a
certainty fall between himself and Dorothy.
"This thing," continued the banker, judicially, "has not evolved
itself. It is not the result of a singular chain of circumstances. It
is the deliberate and careful work of one man's brain. This sort of
speculative gambling comes to us from America. It was in America that
the first cotton corner was conceived. That is what the paper means
when it plainly calls it the malgamite corner. Now, what I want to know
is this--who has worked this thing?"
"Percy Roden," answered Cornish, thoughtfully. "It is Roden's corner."
"Then Roden's a clever fellow," said the great financier. "The sort of
man who will die a millionaire or a felon--there is no medium for that
sort. He has conducted the thing with consummate skill--has not made a
mistake yet. For I have watched him. He began well, by saying just
enough and not too much. He went abroad, but not too far abroad. He
avoided a suspicious remoteness. Then he bided his time with a fine
patience, and at the right moment converted it quietly into a
company--with a capital subscribed by the charitable--a splendid piece
of audacity. I saw the announcement in the newspaper, neatly worded,
and issued at the precise moment when the public interest was beginning
to wane, and before the thing was forgotten. People read it, and having
found a new plaything--bicycles, I suppose--did not care two pins what
became of the malgamite scheme, and yet they were not left in a
position to be able to say that they had never heard that the thing had
been turned into a company." The banker rubbed his large soft hands
together with a grim appreciation of this misapplied skill, which so
few could recognize at its full value.
"But," he continued, in his deliberate, practical way, as if in the
course of his experience he had never yet met a difficulty which could
not be overcome, "it is more our concern to think about the future. The
difficulty you are in would be bad enough in itself--it is made a
hundred times worse by the fact that you have a man like Roden, with
all the trumps in his hand, waiting for you to throw the first card. Of
course, I know no details yet, but I soon shall. What seems complicated
to you may appear simple enough to me. I am going to stand by
you--understand that, Tony. Through thick and thin. But I am going to
stand behind you. I can hit harder from there. And this is just one of
those affairs with which my name must not be associated.
So far as I can judge at present, there seems to be only one course
open to you, and that is to abandon the whole affair as quietly and
expeditiously as possible, to drop malgamite and the hope of benefiting
the malgamite workers once and for all."
Tony was looking at his watch. It was, it appeared, time for him to go
if he wanted to catch his train.
"No," he said, rising; "I will be d----d if I do that."
Mr. Wade looked at him curiously, as one may look at a sleeper who for
no apparent reason suddenly wakes and stretches himself.
"Ah!" he said slowly, and that was all.
"Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so."
If Major White was not a man of quick comprehension, he was, at all
events, honest in his density. He never said that he understood when he
did not do so. When he received a telegram in barracks at Dover to come
up to London the next day and meet Cornish at his club at one o'clock,
the major merely said that he was in a state of condemnation, and
fixing his glass very carefully into his more surprised eye, studied
the thin pink paper as if it were a unique and interesting proof of the
advance of the human race. In truth, Major White never sent telegrams,
and rarely received them. He blew out his cheeks and said a second time
that he was damned. Then he threw the telegram into a waste-paper
basket, which was rarely put to so legitimate a use; for the major
never wrote letters if he could help it, and received so few that they
hardly kept him supplied in pipe-lights.
He apparently had no intention of replying to Cornish's telegram,
arguing very philosophically in his mind that he would go if he could,
and if he could not, it would not matter very much. A method of
contemplating life, as a picture with a perspective to it, which may be
highly recommended to fussy people who herald their paltry little
comings and goings by a number of unnecessary communications.
Without, therefore, attempting a surmise as to the meaning of this
summons, White took a morning train to London, and solemnly reported
himself to the hall porter of a club in St. James's Street as the
well-dressed throng was leisurely returning from church.
"Mr. Cornish told me to come and have lunch with him," he said, in his
usual bald style, leaving explanations and superfluous questions to
such as had time for luxuries of that description.
He was taken charge of by a button-boy, whose head reached the major's
lowest waistcoat button, was deprived of his hat and stick, and
practically commanded to wash his hands, to all of which he submitted
under stolid and silent protest.
Then he was led upstairs, refusing absolutely to hurry, although urged
most strongly thereto by the boy's example and manner of pausing a few
steps higher up and looking back.
"Yes," said the major, when he had heard Cornish's story across the
table, and during the consumption of a perfectly astonishing
luncheon--"yes; half the trouble in this world comes from the
incapacity of the ordinary human being to mind his own business." He
operated on a creaming Camembert cheese with much thoughtfulness, and
then spoke again. "I should like you to tell me," he said, "what a
couple of idiots like us have to do with these confounded malgamiters.
We do not know anything about industry or workmen--or work, so far as
that goes"--he paused and looked severely across the table--"especially
you," he added.
Which was strictly true; for Tony Cornish was and always had been a
graceful idler. He was one of those unfortunate men who possess
influential relatives, than which there are few heavier handicaps in
that game of life, where if there be any real scoring to be done, it
must be compassed off one's own bat. To follow out the same inexpensive
simile, influential relatives may get a man into a crack club, but they
cannot elect him to the first eleven. So Tony Cornish, who had never
done anything, but had waited vaguely for something to turn up that
might be worth his while to seize, had no answer ready, and only
laughed gaily in his friend's face.
"The first thing we must do," he said, very wisely leaving the past to
take care of itself, "is to get old Ferriby out of it."
"'Cos he is a lord?"
"'Cos he is an ass?" suggested White, as a plausible alternative.
"Partly; but chiefly because he is not the sort of man we want if there
is going to be a fight."
A momentary light gleamed in the major's eye, but it immediately gave
place to a placid interest in the Camembert.
"If there is going to be a fight," he said, "I'm on."
In which trivial remark the major explained his whole life and mental
attitude. And if the world only listened, instead of thinking what
effect it is creating and what it is going to say next, it would catch
men thus giving themselves away in their daily talk from morning till
night. For Major White had always been "on" when there was fighting. By
dint of exchanging and volunteering and asking, and generally bothering
people in a thick-skinned, dull way, he always managed to get to the
front, where his competitors--the handful of modern knights-errant who
mean to make a career in the army, and inevitably succeed--were not
afraid of him, and laughingly liked him. And the barrack-room
balladists had discovered that White rhymes with Fight. And lo! Another
man had made a name for himself in a world that is already too full of
names, so that in the paths of Fame the great must necessarily fall
against each other.
After luncheon, in the smaller smoking-room, where they were alone,
Cornish explained the situation at greater length to Major White, who
did not even pretend to understand it.
"All I can make of it is that that loose-shouldered chap Roden is a
scoundrel," he said bluntly, from behind a great cigar, "and wants
thumping. Now, if there's anything in that line--"
"No; but you must not tell him so," interrupted Cornish. "I wish to
goodness I could make you understand that cunning can only be met by
cunning, not by thumps, in these degenerate days. Old Wade has taken us
by the hand, as I tell you. They come to town, by the way, to-morrow,
and will be in Eaton Square for the rest of the season. He says that it
is his business to meet the low cunning of the small solicitors and the
noble army of company promoters, and it seems that he knows exactly
what to do. At any rate, it is not expedient to thump Roden."
Major White shrugged his shoulders with much silent wisdom. He
believed, it appeared, in thumps in face of any evidence in favour of
"Deuced sorry for that girl," he said.
Cornish was lighting a cigarette. "What girl?" he asked quietly.
"Miss Roden, chap's sister. She knows her brother is a dark horse, but
she wouldn't admit it, not if you were to kill her for it. Women"--the
major paused in his great wisdom--"women are a rum lot."
Which, assuredly, no one is prepared to deny.
Cornish glanced at his companion through the cigarette smoke, and said
"However," continued the major, "I am at your service. Let us have the
"To-morrow," answered Cornish, "is Monday, and therefore the Ferribys
will be at home. You and I are to go to Cambridge Terrace about four
o'clock to see my uncle. We will scare him out of the Malgamite
business. Then we will go upstairs and settle matters with Joan. Wade
and Marguerite will drop in about half-past four. Joan and Marguerite
see a good deal of each other, you know. If we have any difficulty with
my uncle, Wade will give him the _coup de grace_, you understand. His
word will have more weight than ours We shall then settle on a plan of
campaign, and clear out of my aunt's drawing-room before the crowd
"And you will do the talking," stipulated Major White.
"Oh yes; I will do the talking. And now I must be off. I have a lot of
calls to pay, and it is getting late. You will find me here to-morrow
afternoon at a quarter to four."
Whereupon Major White took his departure, to appear again the next day
in good time, placid and debonair--as he had appeared when called upon
in various parts of the world, where things were stirring.
They took a hansom, for the afternoon was showery, and drove through
the crowded streets. Even Cambridge Terrace, usually a quiet
thoroughfare, was astir with traffic, for it was the height of the
season and a levee day. As the cab swung round into Cambridge Terrace,
White suddenly pushed his stick up through the trap-door in the roof of
"Ninety-nine," he shouted to the driver in his great voice. "Not nine."
Then he threw himself back against the dingy blue cushions.
Cornish turned and looked at him in surprise. "Gone off your head?" he
inquired. "It is nine--you know that well enough."
"Yes," answered White, "I know that, my good soul; but you could not
see the door as I could when we came round the corner. Roden and Von
Holzen are on the steps, coming out."
"Roden and Von Holzen in England?"
"Not only in England," said White, placidly, "but in Cambridge Terrace.
And "--he paused, seeking a suitable remark among his small selection
of conversational remnants--"and the fat is in the fire."
The cab had now stopped at the door of number ninety-nine. And if Roden
or Von Holzen, walking leisurely down Cambridge Terrace, had turned
during the next few moments, they would have seen a stationary hansom
cab, with a large round face--mildly surprised, like a pink harvest
moon--rising cautiously over the roof of it, watching them.
When the coast was clear, Cornish and White walked back to number nine.
Lord Ferriby was at home, and they were ushered into his study, an
apartment which, like many other things appertaining to his lordship,
was calculated to convey an erroneous impression. There were books upon
the tables--the lives of great and good men. Pamphlets relating to
charitable matters, missionary matters, and a thousand schemes for the
amelioration of the human lot here and hereafter, lay about in
profusion. This was obviously the den of a great philanthropist.
His lordship presently appeared, carrying a number of voting papers,
which he threw carelessly on the table. He was, it seemed, a subscriber
to many institutions for the blind, the maimed, and the halt.
"Ah!" he said, "I generally get through my work in the morning, but I
find myself behindhand to-day. It is wonderful," he added, directing
his conversation and his benevolent gaze towards White, "how busy an
idle man may be."
"M--m--yes!" answered the major, with his stolid stare.
Cornish broke what threatened to be an awkward silence by referring at
once to the subject in hand.
"It seems," he began, "that this Malgamite scheme is not what we took
it to be."
Lord Ferriby looked surprised and slightly scandalized. Could it be
possible for a fashionable charity to be anything but what it appeared
to be? In his eyes, wandering from one face to the other, there lurked
the question as to whether they had seen Roden and Von Holzen quit his
door a minute earlier. But no reference was made to those two
gentlemen, and Lord Ferriby, who, as a chairman of many boards, was a
master of the art of conciliation and the decent closing of both eyes
to unsightly facts, received Cornish's suggestion with a polite and
"We must not," he said soothingly, "allow our judgment to be hastily
affected by the ill-considered statements of the--er--newspapers. Such
statements, my dear Anthony--and you, Major White--are, I may tell you,
only what we, as the pioneers of a great movement, must be prepared to
expect. I saw the article in the _Times_ to which you refer--indeed, I
read it most carefully, as, in my capacity of chairman of
this--eh--char--that is to say, company, I was called upon to do. And I
formed the opinion that the mind of the writer was--eh--warped." Lord
Ferriby smiled sadly, and gave a final wave of the hand, as if to
indicate that the whole matter lay in a nutshell, and that nutshell
under his lordship's heel. "Warped or not," answered Cornish, "the man
says that we have formed ourselves into a company, which company is
bound to make huge profits, and those profits are naturally assumed to
find their way into our pockets."
"My dear Anthony," replied the chairman, with a laugh which was almost
a cackle, "the labourer is worthy of his hire."
Which seems likely to become the _dernier cri_ of the overpaid
throughout all the ages.
"Even if we contradict the statement," pursued Cornish, with a sudden
coldness in his manner, "the contradiction will probably fail to reach
many of the readers of this article, and as matters at present stand,
I do not see that we are in a position to contradict."
"My dear Anthony," answered Lord Ferriby, turning over his papers with
a preoccupied air, as if the question under discussion only called for
a small share of his attention--"my dear Anthony, the money was
subscribed for the amelioration of the lot of the malgamite workers. We
have not only ameliorated their lot, but we have elevated them morally
and physically. We have far exceeded our promises, and the subscribers,
who, after all, take a small interest in the matter, have every reason
to be satisfied that their money has been applied to the purpose for
which they intended it. They were kind enough to intrust us with the
financial arrangements. The concern is a private one, and it is the
business of no one--not even of the _Times_--to inquire into the method
which we think well to adopt for the administration of the Malgamite
Fund. If the subscribers had no confidence in us, they surely would not
have given the management unreservedly into our hands." Lord Ferriby
spread out the limbs in question with an easy laugh. Has not a greater
than any of us said that a man "may smile, and smile, and be a
villain"? A silence followed, which was almost, but not quite, broken
by the major, who took his glass from his eye, examined it very
carefully, as if wondering how it had been made, and, replacing it with
a deep sigh, sat staring at the opposite wall.
"Then you are not disposed to withdraw your name from the concern?"
"Most certainly not, my dear Anthony. What have the malgamiters done
that I should, so to speak, abandon them at the first difficulty which
has presented itself?"
"And what about the profits?" inquired Cornish, bluntly.
"Mr. Roden is our paid secretary. He understands the financial
situation, which is rather a complicated one. We may, I think, leave
such details to him. And if I may suggest it (I may perhaps rightly lay
claim to a somewhat larger experience in charitable finances than
either of you), I should recommend a strict reticence on this matter.
We are not called upon to answer idle questions, I think. And
if--well--if the labourer is found worthy of his hire ... buy yourself
a new hat, my dear Anthony. Buy yourself a new hat."
Cornish rose, and looked at his watch. "I wonder if Joan will give us a
cup of tea," he said. "We might, at all events, go up and try."
"Certainly--certainly. And I will follow when I have finished my work.
And do not give the matter another thought--either of you--eh!"
"He's been got at," said Major White to his companion as they walked
upstairs together, as if Lord Ferriby were a jockey or some common
person of that sort.
"Il est rare que la tete des rois soit faite a la mesure de leur
"What I want is something to eat," Miss Marguerite Wade confided in an
undertone to Tony Cornish, a few minutes later in Lady Ferriby's
drawing-room. She said this with a little glance of amusement, as
Cornish stood before her with two plates of biscuits, which certainly
did not promise much sustenance.
"Then," answered Cornish, "you have come to the wrong house."
Marguerite kept him waiting while she arranged biscuits in her saucer.
He set the plates aside, and returned to her in answer to her tacit
order, conveyed by laying one hand on a vacant chair by her side.
Marguerite was in the midst of that brief period of a woman's life
wherein she dares to state quite clearly what she wants.
"Why don't you marry Joan?" she asked, eating a biscuit with a fine
young optimism, which almost implied that things sometimes taste as
nice as they look.
"Why don't you marry Major White?" retorted Tony; and Marguerite turned
and looked at him gravely.
"For a man," she said, "that wasn't so dusty. So few men have any eyes
in their head, you know." And she thoughtfully finished the biscuits.
"I think I'll go back to the bread-and-butter," she said. "It's the
last time Lady Ferriby will ask me to stay to tea, so I may as well be
hanged for--three pence as three farthings. And I think I will be more
careful with you in the future. For a man, you are rather sharp." And
she looked at him doubtfully.
"When you attain my age," replied Tony, "you will have arrived at the
conclusion that the whole world is sharper than one took it to be. It
does not do to think that the world is blind. It is better not to care
whether it sees or not."
"Women cannot afford to do that," returned Marguerite, with the
accumulated wisdom of nearly a score of years. "Oh, hang!" she added, a
moment later, under her breath, as she perceived Joan and Major White
coming towards them.
"I have a letter for you," said Joan, "enclosed in one I received this
morning from Mrs. Vansittart at The Hague. She is not coming to the
Harberdashers' Assistants' Ball, and this is, I suppose, in answer to
the card you sent her. She explains that she did not know your
address." And Joan looked at him with a doubting glance for a moment.
Cornish took the letter, but did not ask permission to open it. He held
it in his hand, and asked Joan a question. "Did you see Saturday's
"Yes, of course I did," she answered earnestly; "and of course, if it
is true you will all wash your hands of the whole affair, I suppose. I
was talking to Mr. Wade about it. He, however, placed both sides of the
question before me in about ten words, and left me to take my
choice--which I am incompetent to do."
"Papa doesn't understand women," put in Marguerite.
"Understands money, though," retorted Major White, looking at her in
somewhat severe astonishment, as if he had hitherto been unaware that
she could speak.
Marguerite took the rebuff with demurely closed lips, a probable
indication that the only retort she could think of was hardly fit for
Then Cornish drifted out of the conversation, and presently moved away
to the window, where he took the opportunity of opening Mrs.
Vansittart's letter. Mr. Wade, near at hand, was explaining
good-naturedly to Lady Ferriby that, with the best will in the world,
five per cent, and perfect safety are not to be obtained nowadays.
"MON AMI" (wrote Mrs. Vansittart in French), "I take a daily promenade
after coffee in the Oude Weg. I sit on the bench where you sat, and
more often than not I see the sight that you saw. I am not a
sentimental woman, but, after all, one has a heart, and this is a
pitiful affair. Also, I have obtained from a reliable source the
information that the new system of manufacture is more deadly than the
old, which I have long suspected, and which, I believe, has passed
through your mind as well. You and I went into this thing without _le
bon motif_; but Providence is dealing out fresh hands, and you, at all
events, hold cards that call for careful and bold playing. My friend,
throw your Haberdashers over the wall and act without delay."
She enclosed a formal refusal of the invitation to the Haberdashers'
Major White was not a talkative man, and towards Joan in particular his
attitude was one of silent wonder. In preference to talking to her, he
preferred to stand a little way off and look at her. And if, at these
moments, the keen observer could detect any glimmer of expression on
his face, that glimmer seemed to express abject abasement before a
creation that could produce anything so puzzling, so interesting, so
absolutely beautiful--as Joan.
Cornish, seeing White engaged in his favourite pastime, took him by the
arm and led him to the window.
"Read that," he said, "and then burn it."
"Of course," Joan was saying to Marguerite, as he joined them, "there
are, as your father says, two sides to the question. If papa and Tony
and Major White withdraw their names and abandon the poor malgamiters
now, there will be no help for the miserable wretches. They will all
drift back to the cheaper and more poisonous way of making malgamite.
And such a thing would be a blot upon our civilization--wouldn't it,
Marguerite nodded an airy acquiescence. She was watching Major
White--that great strategist--tear up Mrs. Vansittart's letter and
throw it into the fire, with a deliberate non-concealment which was
perhaps superior to any subterfuge. The major joined the group.
"That is the view that I take of it," answered Tony.
"And what do you say?" asked Joan, turning upon the major.
"I? Oh, nothing!" replied that soldier, with perfect truthfulness.
"Then what are you going to do?" asked Joan, who was practical, and,
like many practical people, rather given to hasty action.
"We are going to stick to the malgamiters," replied Tony, quietly.
"Through thick and thin?" inquired Marguerite, buttoning her glove.
"Yes--through thick and thin."
Both girls looked at Major White, who stolidly returned their gaze, and
appeared as usual to have no remark to offer. He was saved, indeed,
from all effort in that direction by the advent of Lord Ferriby, who
entered the room with more than his usual importance. He carried an
open letter in his hand, and seemed by his manner to demand the instant
attention of the whole party. There are some men and a few women who
live for the multitude, and are not content with the attention of one
or two persons only. And surely these have their reward, for the
attention of the multitude, however pleasant it may be while it lasts,
is singularly short-lived, and there is nothing more pitiful to watch
than the effort to catch it when it has wandered.
"Eh--er," began his lordship, and everybody paused to listen. "I have
here a letter from our clerk at the Malgamite office in Great George
Street. It appears that there are a number of persons
there--paper-makers, I understand--who insist upon seeing us, and
refuse to leave the premises until they have done so."
Lord Ferriby's manner indicated quite clearly his pity for these
persons who had proved themselves capable of such a shocking breach of
"One hardly knows what to do," he said, not meaning, of course, that
his words should be taken _au pied de la lettre_. His hearers, he
obviously felt assured, knew him better than to imagine that he was
really at a loss. "It is difficult to deal with--er--persons of this
description. What do you propose that we should do?" he inquired,
turning, as if by instinct, to Cornish.
"Go and see them," was the reply.
"But, my dear Anthony, such a crisis should be dealt with by Mr. Roden,
whom one may regard as our--er--financial adviser."
"But as Roden is not here, we must do without his assistance. Perhaps
Mr. Wade would consent to act as our financial adviser on this
occasion," suggested Cornish.
"I'll go with you," replied the banker, "and hear what they have to
say, if you like. But of course I can take no part in anything in the
nature of a controversy, and my name must not be mentioned."
"Incognito," suggested Lord Ferriby, with a forced laugh.
"Yes--incognito," returned the banker, gravely.
The major attracted general attention to himself by murmuring something
inaudible, which he was urged to repeat.
"Doocid decent of Mr. Wade," he said, a second time.
And that seemed to settle the matter, for they all moved towards the
"Leave the carriage for me," cried Marguerite over the banisters, as
her father descended the stairs. "Seems to me," she added to Joan in an
undertone, "that the Malgamite scheme is up a gum-tree."
At the little office of the Malgamite Fund the directors of that
charity found four gentlemen seated upon the chairs usually grouped
round the table where the ball committee or the bazaar sub-committees
held their sittings. One, who appeared to be what Lord Ferriby
afterwards described, more in sorrow than in anger, as the ringleader,
was a red-haired, brown-bearded Scotchman, with square shoulders and
his head set thereon in a manner indicative of advanced radical
opinions. The second in authority was a mild-mannered man with a pale
face and a drooping sparse moustache. He had a gentle eye, and lips for
ever parting in a mildly argumentative manner. The other two
paper-makers appeared to be foreigners. "Ah'm thinking----" began the
mild man in a long drawl; but he was promptly overpowered by his
fellow-countryman, who nodded curtly to Mr. Wade, and said--"Lord
"No," answered the banker, calmly.
"That is my name," said the chairman of the Malgamite Fund, with his
finger in his watch-chain.
The russet gentleman looked at him with a fierce blue eye.
"Then, sir," he said, "we'll come to business. For it's on business
that we've come. My friend Mr. MacHewlett, is, like myself, in charge
of one of the biggest mills in the country; here's Mossier Delmont of
the great mill at Clermont-Ferrand, and Mr. Meyer from Germany. My own
name's a plain one--like myself--but an honest one; it's John Thompson."
Lord Ferriby bowed, and Major White looked at John Thompson with a
placid interest, as if he felt glad of this opportunity of meeting one
of the Thompson family.
"And we've come to ask you to be so good as to explain your position as
regards malgamite. What are ye, anyway?"
"My dear sir," began Lord Ferriby, with one hand upraised in mild
expostulation, "let us be a little more conciliatory in our manner. We
are, I am sure (I speak for myself and my fellow-directors, whom you
see before you), most desirous of avoiding any unpleasantness, and we
are ready to give you all the information in our power, when"--he
paused, and waved a graceful hand--"when you have proved your right to
demand such information."
"Our right is that of representatives of a great trade. We four men,
that have been deputed to see you on the matter, have at our backs no
less than eight thousand employees--honest, hard-workin' men, whose
bread you are taking out of their mouths. We are not afraid of the
ordinary vicissitudes of commerce. If ye had quietly worked this
monopoly in fair competition, we should have known how to meet ye. But
ye come before the world as philanthropists, and ye work a great
monopoly under the guise of doin' a good work. It was a dirty thing to
Lord Ferriby shrugged his shoulders. "My dear sir," he said, "you fail
to grasp the situation. We have given our time and attention to the
grievances of these poor men, whose lot it has been our earnest
endeavour to ameliorate. You are speaking, my dear sir, to men who
represent, not eight thousand employes, but who represent something
greater than they, namely, charity."
"Ah'm thinking!" began Mr. MacHewlett, plaintively, and the very
richness of his accents secured a breathless attention. "Damn charity,"
he concluded, abruptly.
And Major White looked upon him in solid approval, as upon a
plain-spoken man after his own heart.
"And we," said Mr. Thompson, "represent commerce, which was in the
world before charity, and will be there after it, if charity is going
to be handled by such as you."
There was, it appeared, no possibility of pacifying these irate
paper-makers, whose plainness of speech was positively painful to ears
so polite as those of Lord Ferriby. A Scotchman, hard hit in his
tenderest spot, namely, the pocket, is not a person to mince words, and
Lord Ferriby was for the moment silenced by the stormy attack of Mr.
Thompson, and the sly, plaintive hits of his companion. But the
chairman of the Malgamite Fund would not give way, and only repeated
his assurances of a desire to conciliate, which desire took the form
only of words, and must, therefore, have been doubly annoying to angry
men. To him who wants war there is nothing more insulting than feeble
offers of peace. Major White expressed his readiness to fight Messrs.
Thompson and MacHewlett at one and the same time on the landing, but
this suggestion was not well received.
Upon two of the listeners no word was lost, and Mr. Wade and Cornish
knew that the paper-makers had right upon their side.
Quite suddenly Mr. Thompson's manner changed, and he glanced towards
the door to see that it was closed.
"Then it's a matter of paying," he said to his companions. Turning
towards Lord Ferriby, he spoke in a voice that sounded more
contemptuous than angry. "We're plain business men," he said. "What's
your price--you and these other gentlemen?"
"I have no price," answered Cornish, meeting the angry blue eyes and
speaking for the first time.
"And mine is too high--for plain business men," added Major White, with
a slow smile.
"Seeing that you're a lord," said Thompson, addressing the chairman
again, "I suppose it's a matter of thousands. Name your figure, and be
done with it."
Lord Ferriby took the insult in quite a different spirit to that
displayed by his two co-directors. He was pale with anger, and
spluttered rather incoherently. Then he took up his hat and stick and
walked with much dignity to the door.
He was followed down the stairs by the paper-makers, Mr. Thompson
making use of language that was decidedly bespattered with "winged
words," while Mr. MacHewlett detailed his own thoughts in a plaintive
monotone. Lord Ferriby got rather hastily into a hansom and drove away.
"There is nothing for it," said Mr. Wade to Cornish in the gay little
office above the Ladies' Tea Association--"there is nothing for it
but to run Roden's Corner yourself."
"The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat one's self."
Percy Roden was possessed of that love of horses which, like sentiment,
crops up in strange places. He had never been able to indulge this
taste beyond the doubtful capacities of the livery-stable. He found,
however, that at the Hague he could hire a good saddle-horse, which
discovery was made with suspicious haste after learning the fact that
Mrs. Vansittart occasionally indulged in the exercise that his soul
Mrs. Vansittart said that she rode because one has to take exercise,
and riding is the laziest method of fulfilling one's obligations in
"I don't like horsy women," she said; "and I cannot understand how my
sex has been foolish enough to believe that any woman looks her best,
or, indeed, anything but her worst, in the saddle."
There is a period in the lives of most men when they are desirous of
extending their knowledge of the surrounding country on horseback, on a
bicycle, on foot, or even on their hands and knees, if such journeys
might be accomplished in the company of a certain person. Percy Roden
was at this period, and he soon discovered that there are tulip farms
in the neighbourhood of The Hague. A tulip farm may serve its purpose
as well as ever did a ruin or a waterfall in more picturesque countries
than Holland; for, indeed, during the last weeks in April and the early
half of May, these fields of waving yellow, pink, and red are worth
traveling many miles to see. As for Mrs. Vansittart, it may be said of
her, as of the rest of her sex under similar circumstances, that it
suited her purpose to say that she would like nothing better than to
visit the tulip farms.
Roden's suggestion included breakfast at the Villa des Dunes, whither
Mrs. Vansittart drove in her habit, while her saddle-horse was to
follow later. Dorothy welcomed her readily enough, with, however, a
reserve at the back of her grey eyes. A woman is, it appears, ready to
forgive much if love may be held out as an excuse, but Dorothy did not
believe that Mrs. Vansittart had any love for Percy; indeed, she
shrewdly suspected that all that part of this woman's life belonged to
the past, and would remain there until the end of her existence. There
are few things more astonishing to the close observer of human nature
than the accuracy and rapidity with which one woman will sum up
"You are not in your habit," said Mrs. Vansittart, seating herself at
the breakfast-table. "You are not to be of the party?"
"No," answered Dorothy. "I have never had the opportunity or the
inclination to ride." "Ah, I know," laughed the elder woman. "Horses
are old-fashioned, and only dowagers drive in a barouche to-day. I
suppose you ride a bicycle, or would do so in any country but Holland,
where the roads make that craze a madness. I must be content with my
old-fashioned horse. If, in moving with the times, one's movements are
apt to be awkward, it is better to be left behind, is it not, Mr.
Roden's glance expressed what he did not care to say in the presence of
a third person. When a woman, whose every movement is graceful, speaks
of awkwardness, she assuredly knows her ground.
Mrs. Vansittart, moreover, showed clearly enough that she was on the
safe side of forty by quite a number of years when it came to settling
herself in the saddle and sitting her fresh young horse.
"Which way?" she inquired when they reached the canal.
"Not that way, at all events," answered Roden, for his companion had
turned her horse's head toward the malgamite works.
He spoke with a laugh that was not pleasant to the ears, and a shadow
passed through Mrs. Vansittart's dark eyes. She glanced across the
yellow sand hills, where the works were effectually concealed by the
rise and fall of the wind-swept land, from whence came no sign of human
life, and only at times, when the north wind blew, a faint and not
unpleasant odour like the smell of sealing-wax. For all that the world
knew of the malgamite workers, they might have been a colony of lepers.
"You speak," said Mrs. Vansittart, "as if you were a failure instead of
a brilliant success. I think"--she paused for a moment, as if the
thought were a real one and not a mere conversational convenience, as
are the thoughts of most people--"that the cream of social life
consists of the cheery failures."
"I have no faith in my own luck," answered Percy Roden, gloomily, whose
world was a narrow one, consisting as it did of himself and his
bank-book. Moreover, most men draw aside readily enough the curtain
that should hide the world in which they live, whereas women take their
stand before their curtain and talk, and talk--of other things.
Mrs. Vansittart had never for a moment been mistaken in her estimate of
her companion, of--as he considered himself--her lover. She had
absolutely nothing in common with him. She was a physically lazy, but a
mentally active woman, whose thoughts ran to abstract matters so
persistently that they brought her to the verge of abstraction itself.
Percy Roden, on the other hand, would, with better health, have been an
athlete. In his youth he had overtaxed his strength on the football
field. When he took up a newspaper now he read the money column first
and the sporting items next.
Mrs. Vansittart glanced at neither of these, and as often as not
contented herself with the advertisements of new books, passing idly
over the news of the world with a heedless eye. She, at all events,
avoided the mistake, common to men and women of a journalistic
generation, of allowing themselves to be vastly perturbed over events
in far countries, which can in no way affect their lives.
Roden, on the other hand, took a certain broad interest in the progress
of the world, but only watched the daily procession of events with the
discriminating eye of a business man. He kept his eye, in a word, on
the main chance, as on a small golden thread woven in the grey tissue
of the world's history.
It was easy enough to make him talk of himself and of the Malgamite
"And you must admit that you are a success, you know," said Mrs.
Vansittart. "I see your quiet grey carts, full of little square boxes,
passing up Park Straat to the railway station in a procession every
"Yes," admitted Roden. "We are doing a large business."
He was willing to allow Mrs. Vansittart to suppose that he was a rich
man, for he was shrewd enough to know that the affections, like all
else in this world, are purchasable.
"And there is no reason," suggested Mrs. Vansittart, "why you should
not go on doing a large business, as you say your method of producing
malgamite is an absolute secret."
"And the process is preserved in your memory only?" asked the lady,
with a little glance towards him which would have awakened the vanity
of wiser men than Percy Roden.
"Not in my memory," he answered. "It is very long and technical, and I
have other things to think of. It is in Von Holzen's head, which is a
better one than mine."
"And suppose Herr von Holzen should fall down and die, or be murdered,
or something dramatic of that sort--what would happen?"
"Ah," answered Roden, "we have a written copy of it, written in Hebrew,
in our small safe at the works, and only Von Holzen and I have the keys
of the safe."
Mrs. Vansittart laughed. "It sounds like a romance," she said. She
pulled up, and sat motionless in the saddle for a few moments. "Look at
that line of sea," she said, "on the horizon. What a wonderful blue."
"It is always dark like that with an east wind," replied Roden,
practically. "We like to see it dark."
Mrs. Vansittart turned and looked at him interrogatively, her mind only
half-weaned from the thoughts which he never understood.
"Because we know that the smell of malgamite will be blown out to sea,"
he explained; and she gave a little nod of comprehension.
"You think of everything," she said, without enthusiasm.
"No; I only think of you," he answered, with a little laugh, which
indeed was his method of making love.
For fear of Mrs. Vansittart laughing at him, he laughed at love--a very
common form of cowardice. She smiled and said nothing, thus tacitly
allowing him, as she had allowed him before, to assume that she was not
displeased. She knew that in love he was the incarnation of caution,
and would only venture so far as she encouraged him to come. She had
him, in a word, thoroughly in hand.
They rode on, talking of other things; and Roden, having sped his
shaft, seemed relieved in mind, and had plenty to say--about himself. A
man's interests are himself, and malgamite naturally formed a large
part of Roden's conversation. Mrs. Vansittart encouraged him with a
singular persistency to talk of this interesting product.
"It is wonderful," she said--"quite wonderful."
"Well, hardly that," he answered slowly, as if there were something
more to be said, which he did not say.
"And I do not give so much credit to Herr von Holzen as you suppose,"
added Mrs. Vansittart, carelessly. "Some day you will have to fulfil
your promise of taking me over the works."
Roden did not answer. He was perhaps wondering when he had made the
promise to which his companion referred.
"Shall we go home that way?" asked Mrs. Vansittart, whose experience of
the world had taught her that deliberate and steady daring in social
matters usually, succeeds. "We might have a splendid gallop along the
sands at low tide, and then ride up quietly through the dunes. I take a
certain interest in--well--in your affairs, and you have never even
allowed me to look at the outside of the malgamite works."
"Should like to know the extent of your interest," muttered Roden, with
his awkward laugh.
"I dare say you would," replied Mrs. Vansittart, coolly. "But that is
not the question. Here we are at the cross-roads. Shall we go home by
the sands and the dunes?"
"If you like," answered Roden, not too graciously.
According to his lights, he was honestly in love with Mrs. Vansittart,
but Percy Roden's lights were not brilliant, and his love was not a
very high form of that little-known passion. It lacked, for instance,
unselfishness, and love that lacks unselfishness is, at its best, a
sorry business. He was afraid of ridicule. His vanity would not allow
him to risk a rebuff. His was that faintness of heart which is all too
common, and owes its ignoble existence to a sullen vanity. He wanted to
be sure that Mrs. Vansittart loved him before he betrayed more than a
half-contemptuous admiration for her. Who knows that he was not dimly
aware of his own inferiority, and thus feared to venture?
The tide was low, as Mrs. Vansittart had foreseen, and they galloped
along the hard, flat sands towards Scheveningen, where a few clumsy
fishing-boats lay stranded. Far out at sea, others plied their trade,
tacking to and fro over the banks, where the fish congregate.
The sky was clear, and the deep-coloured sea flashed here and there
beneath the sun. Objects near and far stood out in the clear air with a
startling distinctness. It was a fresh May morning, when it is good to
be alive, and better to be young.
Mrs. Vansittart rode a few yards ahead of her companion, with a set
face and deep calculating eyes. When they came within sight of the tall
chimney of the pumping-station, it was she who led the way across the
dunes. "Now," she suddenly inquired, pulling up, and turning in her
saddle, "where are your works? It seems that one can never discover
Roden passed her and took the lead. "I will take you there, since you
are so anxious to go--if you will tell me why you wish to see the
works," he said.
"I should like to know," she answered, with averted eyes and a slow
deliberation, "where and how you spend so much of your time."
"I believe you are jealous of the malgamite works," he said, with his
"Perhaps I am," she admitted, without meeting his glance; and Roden
rode ahead, with a gleam of satisfaction in his heavy eyes.
So Mrs. Vansittart found herself within the gates of the malgamite
works, riding quietly on the silent sand, at the heels of Roden's
The workmen's dinner-bell had rung as they approached, and now the
factories were deserted, while within the cottages the midday meal
occupied the full attention of the voluntary exiles. For the directors
had found it necessary, in the interests of all concerned, to bind the
workers by solemn contract never to leave the precincts of the works
Roden did not speak, but led the way across an open space now filled
with carts, which were to be loaded during the day in readiness for an
early despatch on the following morning. Mrs. Vansittart followed
without asking questions. She was prepared to content herself with a
very cursory visit.
They had not progressed thirty yards from the entrance gate, which
Roden had opened with a key attached to his watch-chain, when the door
of one of the cottages moved, and Von Holzen appeared. He was hatless,
and came out into the sunshine rather hurriedly.
"Ah, madame," he said, "you honour us beyond our merits." And he stood,
smiling gravely, in front of Mrs. Vansittart's horse.
She surreptitiously touched the animal with her heel, but Von Holzen
checked its movement by laying his hand on the bridle.
"Alas!" he said, "it happens to be our mixing day, and the factories
are hermetically closed while the process goes forward. Any other day,
madame, that your fancy brings you over the dunes, I should be
delighted--but not to-day. I tell you frankly there is danger. You
surely would not run into it." He looked up at her with his searching
"Ah! you think it is easy to frighten me, Herr von Holzen," she cried,
with a little laugh.
"No; but I would not for the world that you should unwittingly run any
risks in this place."
As he spoke, he led the horse quietly to the gate, and Mrs. Vansittart,
seeing her helplessness, submitted with a good grace.
Roden made no comment, and followed, not ill pleased, perhaps, at this
simple solution of his difficulty.
Von Holzen did not refer to the incident until late in the evening,
when Roden was leaving the works.
"This is too serious a time," he said, "to let women, or vanity,
interfere in our plans. You know that the deaths are on the increase.
Anything in the nature of an inquiry at this time would mean ruin,
and--perhaps worse. Be careful of that woman. I sometimes think that
she is fooling you.--But I think," he added to himself, when the gate
was closed behind Roden, "that I can fool her."
"A tous maux, il y a deux remedes--le temps et le silence."
"They call me Uncle Ben--comprenny?" one man explained very slowly to
another for the sixth time across a small iron table set out upon the
They were seated in front of the humble Cafe de l'Europe, which lies
concealed in an alley that runs between the Keize Straat and the
lighthouse of Scheveningen. It was quite dark and a lonely reveler at
the next table seemed to be asleep. The economical proprietor of the
Cafe de l'Europe had conceived the idea of constructing a long-shaped
lantern, not unlike the arm of a railway signal, which should at once
bear the insignia of his house and afford light to his out-door custom.
But the idea, like many of the higher flights of the human imagination,
had only left the public in the dark.
"Yes," continued the unchallenged speaker, in a voice which may be
heard issuing from the door of any tavern in England on almost any
evening of the week--the typical voice of the tavern-talker--"yes,
they've always called me Uncle Ben. Seems as if they're sort o' fond of
me. Me has seen many hundreds of 'em come and go. But nothing like
this. Lord save us!"
His hand fell heavily on the iron table, and he looked round him in
semi-intoxicated stupefaction. He was in a confidential humour, and
when a man is in this humour, drunk or sober, he is in a parlous state.
It was certainly rather unfortunate that Uncle Ben should have in this
expansive moment no more sympathetic companion than an ancient,
intoxicated Frenchman, who spoke no word of English.
"What I want to know, Frenchy," continued the Englishman, in a thick,
aggrieved voice, "is how long you've been at this trade, and how much
you know about it--you and the other Frenchy. But there's none of us
speaks the other's lingo. It is a regular Tower of Babble we are!" And
Uncle Ben added to his mental confusion a further alcoholic fog.
"That's why I showed yer the way out of the works over the iron fence
by the empty casks, and brought yer by the beach to this 'ere house of
entertainment, and stood yer a bottle of brandy between two of
us--which is handsome, not bein' my own money, seeing as how the others
deputed me to do it--me knowing a bit of French, comprenny?" Benjamin,
like most of his countrymen, considering that if one speaks English in
a loud, clear voice, and adds "comprenny" rather severely, as
indicating the intention of standing no nonsense, the previous remarks
will translate themselves miraculously in the hearer's mind. "You
comprenny--eh? Yes. Oui." "Oui," replied the Frenchman, holding out his
glass; and Uncle Ben's was that pride which goes with a gift of
He struck a match to light his pipe--one of the wooden, sulphur-headed
matches supplied by the _cafe_--and the guest at the next table turned
in his chair. The match flared up and showed two faces, which he
studied keenly. Both faces were alike unwashed and deeply furrowed.
White, straggling beards and whiskers accentuated the redness of the
eyelids, the dull yellow of the skin. They were hopeless and debased
faces, with that disquieting resemblance which is perceptible in the
faces of men of dissimilar features and no kinship, who have for a
number of years followed a common calling, or suffered a common pain.
These two men were both half blind; they had equally unsteady hands.
The clothing of both alike, and even their breath, was scented by a not
unpleasant odour of sealing-wax.
It was quite obvious that not only were they at present half
intoxicated, but in their soberest moments they could hardly be of a
The reveller at the next table, who happened to be Tony Cornish, now
drew his chair nearer.
"Englishman?" he inquired.
"That's me," answered Uncle Ben, with commendable pride, "from the top
of my head to me boots. Not that I've anything to say against
"Nor I; but it's pleasant to meet a countryman in a foreign land."
Cornish deliberately brought his chair forward. "Your bottle is empty,"
he added; "I'll order another. Friend's a Frenchman, eh?"
"That he is--and doesn't understand his own language either," answered
Uncle Ben, in a voice indicating that that lack of comprehension rather
intensified his friend's Frenchness than otherwise.
The proprietor of the Cafe de l'Europe now came out in answer to
Cornish's rap on the iron table, and presently brought a small bottle
"Yes," said Cornish, pouring out the spirit, which his companions drank
in its undiluted state from small tumblers--"yes, I'm glad to meet an
Englishman. I suppose you are in the works--the Malgamite?"
"I am. And what do you know about malgamite, mister?"
"Well, not much, I am glad to say."
"There is precious few that knows anything," said the man, darkly, and
his eye for a moment sobered into cunning.
"I have heard that it is a very dangerous trade, and if you want to get
out of it I'm connected with an association in London to provide
situations for elderly men who are no longer up to their work," said
"Thank ye, mister; not for me. I'm making my five-pound note a week, I
am, and each cove that dies off makes the survivors one richer, so to
speak--survival of the fittest, they call it. So we don't talk much, and
just pockets the pay."
"Ah, that is the arrangement, is it?" said Cornish, indifferently.
"Yes. We've got a clever financier, as they call it, I can tell yer.
We're a good-goin' concern, we are. Some of us are goin' pretty quick,
"Are there many deaths, then?"
"Ah! there you're asking a question," returned the man, who came of a
class which has no false shame in refusing a reply.
Cornish looked at the man beneath the dim light of the unsuccessful
lamp--a piteous specimen of humanity, depraved, besotted, without
outward sign of a redeeming virtue, although a certain courage must
have been there--this and such as this stood between him and
Dorothy Roden. Uncle Ben had known starvation at one time, for
starvation writes certain lines which even turtle soup may never wipe
out--lines which any may read and none may forget. Tony Cornish had
seen them before--on the face of an old dandy coming down the steps of
a St. James's Street club. The malgamiter had likewise known drink long
and intimately, and it is no exaggeration to say that he had stood
cheek by jowl with death nearly all his life.
Such a man was plainly not to be drawn away from five pounds a week.
Cornish turned to the Frenchman--a little, cunning, bullet-headed
Lyonnais, who would not speak of his craft at all, though he expressed
every desire to be agreeable to monsieur.
"When one is _en fete_," he cried, "it is good to drink one's glass or
two and think no more of work."
"I knew one or two of your men once," said Cornish, returning to the
genial Uncle Ben. "William Martins, I remember, was a decent fellow,
and had seen a bit of the world. I will come to the works and look him
up some day."
"You can look him up, mister, but you won't find him."
"Ah, has he gone home?"
"He's gone to his long home, that's where he's gone."
"And his brother, Tom Martins, both London men, like myself?" inquired
Cornish, without asking that question which Uncle Ben considered such
exceedingly bad form.
"Tom's dead, too."
"And there were two Americans, I recollect--I came across from Harwich
in the same boat with them--Hewlish they were called."
"Hewlishes has stepped round the corner, too," admitted Uncle Ben. "Oh
yes; there's been changes in the works, there's no doubt. And there's
only one sort o' change in the malgamite trade. Come on, Frenchy,
The men stood up and bade Cornish good night, each after his own
manner, and went away steadily enough. It was only their heads that
were intoxicated, and perhaps the brandy of the Cafe de l'Europe had
nothing to do with this.
Cornish followed them, and, in the Keize Straat, he called a cab,
telling the man to drive to the house at the corner of Oranje Straat
and Park Straat, occupied by Mrs. Vansittart. That lady, the servant
said, in reply to his careful inquiry, was at home and alone, and,
moreover, did not expect visitors. The man was not at all sure that
madame would receive.
"I will try," said Cornish, writing two words in German on the corner
of his visiting-card. "You see," he continued, noticing a well-trained
glance, "that I am not dressed, so if other visitors arrive, I would
rather not be discovered in madame's salon, you understand?"
Mrs. Vansittart shook hands with Cornish in silence, her quick eyes
noted the change in him which the shrewd butler had noticed in the
entrance-hall. The Cornish of a year earlier would have gone back to
the hotel to dress.
"I was just going out to the Witte society concert," said Mrs.
Vansittart. "I thought the open air and the wood would be pleasant this
evening. Shall we go or shall we remain?" She stood with her hand on
the bell looking at him.
"Let us remain here," he answered.
She rang the bell and countermanded the carriage. Then she sat slowly
down, moving as under a sort of oppression, as if she foresaw what the
next few minutes contained, and felt herself on the threshold of one of
the surprises that Fate springs upon us at odd times, tearing aside the
veils behind which human hearts have slept through many years. For
indifference is not the death, but only the sleep of the heart.
"You have just arrived?"
"No; I have been here a week."
"At The Hague?"
"No," answered Cornish, with a grave smile; "at a little inn in
Scheveningen, where no questions are asked."
Mrs. Vansittart nodded her head slowly. "Then, _mon ami_," she said,
"the time has come for plain speaking?"
"I suppose so."
"It is always the woman who wants to get to the plain speaking," she
said, with a smile, "and who speaks the plainest when one gets there.
You men are afraid of so many words; you think them, but you dare not
make use of them. And how are women to know that you are thinking
them?" She spoke with a sort of tolerant bitterness, as if all these
questions no longer interested her personally. She sat forward, with
one hand on the arm of her chair. "Come," she said, with a little laugh
that shook and trembled on the brink of a whole sea of unshed tears, "I
will speak the first word. When my husband died, my heart broke--and
it was Otto von Holzen who killed him." Her eyes flashed suddenly, and
she threw herself back in the chair. Her hands were trembling.
Cornish made a quick gesture of the hand--a trick he had learnt
somewhere on the Continent, more eloquent than a hundred words--which
told of his sympathy and his comprehension of all that she had left
unsaid. For truly she had told him her whole history in a dozen words.
"I have followed him and watched him ever since," she went on at
length, in a quiet voice; "but a woman is so helpless. I suppose if any
of us were watched and followed as he has been our lives would appear a
strange mixture of a little good and much bad, mixed with a mass of
neutral idleness. But surely his life is worse than the rest--not that
it matters. Whatever his life had been, if he had been a living saint,
Tony, he would have had to pay--for what he has done to me."
She looked steadily into the keen face that was watching hers. She was
not in the least melodramatic, and what was stranger, perhaps, she was
not ashamed. According to her lights, she was a good woman, who went to
church regularly, and did a little conventional good with her
superfluous wealth. She obeyed the unwritten laws of society, and
busied herself little in her neighbours' affairs. She was kind to her
servants, and did not hate her neighbours more than is necessary in a
crowded world. She led a blameless, unoccupied, and apparently
purposeless life. And now she quietly told Tony Cornish that her life
was not purposeless, but had for its aim the desire of an eye for an
eye and a life for a life.
"You remember my husband," continued Mrs. Vansittart, after a pause.
"He was always absorbed in his researches. He made a great discovery,
and confided in Otto von Holzen, who thought that he could make a
fortune out of it. But Von Holzen cheated and was caught. There was a
great trial, and Von Holzen succeeded in incriminating my husband, who
was innocent, instead of himself. The company, of course, failed, which
meant ruin and dishonour. In a fit of despair my husband shot himself.
And afterwards it transpired that by shooting himself at that time he
saved my money. One cannot take proceedings against a dead man, it
appears. So I was left a rich woman, after all, and my husband had
frustrated Otto von Holzen. The world did not believe that my husband
had done it on purpose; but I knew better. It is one of those beliefs
that one keeps to one's self, and is indifferent whether the world
believes or not. So there remain but two things for me to do--the one
is to enjoy the money, and to let my husband see that I spend it as he
would have wished me to spend it--upon myself; the other is to make
Otto von Holzen pay--when the time comes. Who knows? the Malgamite is
perhaps the time; you are perhaps the man." She gave her disquieting
little laugh again, and sat looking at him.
"I understand," he said at length. "Before, I was puzzled. There seemed
no reason why you should take any interest in the scheme."
"My interest in the Malgamite scheme narrows down to an interest in one
person," answered Mrs. Vansittart, "which is what really happens to all
human interests, my friend."
"La plus grande punition infligee a l'homme, c'est faire souffrir ce
qu'il aime, en voulant frapper ce qu'il hait."
Cornish had, as he told Mrs. Vansittart, been living a week at
Scheveningen in one of the quiet little inns in the fishing-town, where
a couple of apples are displayed before lace curtains in the window of
the restaurant as a modest promise of entertainment within. Knowing no
Dutch, he was saved the necessity of satisfying the curiosity of a
garrulous landlady, who, after many futile questions which he
understood perfectly, came to the conclusion that Cornish was in
hiding, and might at any moment fall into the hands of the police.
There are, it appears, few human actions that attract more curiosity
for a short time than the act of colonization. But no change is in the
long run so apathetically accepted as the presence of a colony of
aliens. Cornish soon learnt that the malgamite works were already
accepted at Scheveningen as a fact of small local importance. One or
two fish-sellers took their wares there instead of going direct to The
Hague. A few of the malgamite workers were seen at times, when they
could get leave, on the Digue, or outside the smaller _cafes_.
Inoffensive, stricken men these appeared to be, and the big-limbed,
hardy fishermen looked on them with mingled contempt and pity. No one
knew what the works were, and no one cared. Some thought that fireworks
were manufactured within the high fence; others imagined it to be a
gunpowder factory. All were content with the knowledge that the
establishment belonged to an English company employing no outside
Cornish spent his days unobtrusively walking on the dunes or writing
letters in his modest rooms. His evenings he usually passed at the Cafe
de l'Europe, where an occasional truant malgamite worker would indulge
in a mild carouse. From these grim revelers Cornish elicited a good
deal of information. He was not actually, as his landlady suspected, in
hiding, but desired to withhold as long as possible from Von Holzen and
Roden the fact that he was in Holland. None of the malgamite workers
recognized him; indeed, he saw none of those whom he had brought across
to The Hague, and he did not care to ask too many questions. At length,
as we have seen, he arrived at the conclusion that Von Holzen's schemes
had been too deeply laid to allow of attack by subtler means, and as a
preliminary to further action called on Mrs. Vansittart.
The following morning he happened to take his walk within sight of the
Villa des Dunes, although far enough away to avoid risk of recognition,
and saw Percy Roden leave the house shortly after nine to proceed
towards the works. Then Tony Cornish lighted a cigarette, and sat down
to wait. He knew that Dorothy usually walked to The Hague before the
heat of the day to do her shopping there and household business. He had
not long to wait. Dorothy quitted the little house half an hour after
her brother. But she did not go towards The Hague, turning to the right
instead, across the open dunes towards the sea. It was a cool morning
after many hot days, and a fresh, invigorating breeze swept over the
sand hills from the sea. It was to be presumed that Dorothy, having
leisure, was going to the edge of the sea for a breath of the brisk air
Cornish rose and followed her. He was essentially a practical
man--among the leaders of a practical generation. The day, moreover,
was conducive to practical thoughts and not to dreams, for it was grey
and yet of a light air which came bowling in from a grey sea whose
shores have assuredly been trodden by the most energetic of the races
of the world. For all around the North Sea and on its bosom have risen
races of men to conquer the universe again and again.
Cornish had come with the intention of seeing Dorothy and speaking with
her. He had quite clearly in his mind what he intended to say to her.
It is not claimed for Tony Cornish that he had a great mind, and that
this was now made up. But his thoughts, like all else about him, were
neat and compact, wherein he had the advantage of cleverer men, who
blundered along under the burden of vast ideas, which they could not
put into portable shape, and over which they constantly stumbled.
He followed Dorothy, who walked briskly over the sand hills, upright,
trim, and strong. She carried a stick, which she planted firmly enough
in the sand as she walked. As he approached, he could see her lifting
her head to look for the sea; for the highest hills are on the shore
here, and stand in the form of a great barrier between the waves and
the low-lying plains. She swung along at the pace which Mrs. Vansittart
had envied her, without exertion, with that ease which only comes from
perfect proportions and strength.
Cornish was quite close to her before she heard his step, and turned
sharply. She recognized him at once, and he saw the colour slowly rise
to her face. She gave no cry of surprise, however, was in no foolish
feminine flutter, but came towards him quietly.
"I did not know you were in Holland," she said.
He shook hands without answering. All that he had prepared in his mind
had suddenly vanished, leaving not a blank, but a hundred other things
which he had not intended to say, and which now, at the sight of her
face, seemed inevitable.
"Yes," he said, looking into her steady grey eyes, "I am in
Holland--because I cannot stay away--because I cannot live without you.
I have pretended to myself and to everybody else that I come to The
Hague because of the Malgamite; but it is not that. It is because you
are here. Wherever you are I must be; wherever you go I must follow
you. The world is not big enough for you to get away from me. It is so
big that I feel I must always be near you--for fear something should
happen to you--to watch over you and take care of you. You know what my
life has been...."
She turned away with a little shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the
head. For a woman may read a man's life in his face--in the twinkling
of an eye--as in an open book.
"All the world knows that...." he continued, with a sceptical laugh.
"Is it not written ... in the society papers? But it has always been
aboveboard--and harmless enough...."
Dorothy smiled as she looked out across the grey sea. He was, it
appeared, telling her nothing that she did not know. For she was wise
and shrewd--of that pure leaven of womankind which leaveneth all the
rest. And she knew that a man must not be judged by his life--not even
by outward appearance, upon which the world pins so much faith--but by
that occasional glimpse of the soul of him, which may live on, pure
through all impurity, or may be foul beneath the whitest covering.
"Of course," he continued, "I have wasted my time horribly--I have
never done any good in the world. But--great is the extenuating
circumstance! I never knew what life was until I saw it ... in your
Still she stood with her back half turned towards him, looking out
across the sea. The sun had mastered the clouds and all the surface of
the water glittered. A few boats on the horizon seemed to dream and
sleep there. Beneath the dunes, the sand stretched away north and south
in an unbroken plain. The wind whispered through the waving grass, and,
far across the sands, the sea sang its eternal song. Dorothy and
Cornish seemed to be alone in this world of sea and sand. So far as the
eye could see, there were no signs of human life but the boats dreaming
on the horizon.
"Are you quite sure?" said Dorothy, without turning her head.
"Of what ...?"
"Of what you say."
"Yes; I am quite sure."
"Because," she said, with a little laugh that suddenly opened the gates
of Paradise and bade one more poor human-being enter in--"because it is
a serious matter ... for me."
Then, because he was a practical man and knew that happiness, like all
else in this life, must be dealt with practically if aught is to be
made of it, he told her why he had come. For happiness must not be
rushed at and seized with wild eyes and grasping hands, but must be
quickly taken when the chance offers, and delicately handled so that it
be not ruined by over haste or too much confidence. It is a gift that
is rarely offered, and it is only fair to say that the majority of men
and women are quite unfit to have it. Even a little prosperity (which
is usually mistaken for happiness) often proves too much for the mental
equilibrium, and one trembles to think what the recipient would do with
"I did not come here intending to tell you that," said Cornish, after a
They were seated now on the dry and driven sand, among the inequalities
of the tufted grass.
Dorothy glanced at him gravely, for his voice had been grave.
"I think I knew," she answered, with a sort of quiet exultation.
Happiness is the quietest of human states.
Cornish turned to look at her, and after a moment she met his eyes--for
an instant only.
"I came to tell you a very different story," he said, "and one which at
the moment seems to present insuperable difficulties. I can only show
you that I care for you by bringing trouble into your life--which is not
He broke off with a little, puzzled laugh. For he did not know how best
to tell her that her brother was a scoundrel. He sat making idle holes
in the sand with his stick.
"I am in a difficulty," he said at length--"so great a difficulty that
there seems to be only one way out of it. You must forget what I have
told you to-day, for I never meant to tell you until afterwards, if
ever. Forget it for some months until the malgamite works have ceased
to exist, and then, if I have the good fortune to be given an
opportunity, I will"--he paused--"I will mention myself again," he
Dorothy's lips quivered, but she said nothing. It seemed that she was
content to accept his judgment without comment as superior to her own.
For the wisest woman is she who suspects that men are wiser.
"It is quite clear," said Cornish, "that the Malgamite scheme is a
fraud. It is worse than that; it is a murderous fraud. For Von Holzen's
new system of making malgamite is not new at all, but an old system
revived, which was set aside many years ago as too deadly. If it is not
this identical system, it is a variation of it. They are producing the
stuff for almost nothing at the cost of men's lives. In plain English,
it is murder, and it must be stopped at any cost. You understand?"
"I must stop it whatever it may cost me."
"Yes," she answered again.
"I am going to the works to-night to have it out with Von Holzen and
your brother. It is impossible to say how matters really stand--how
much your brother knows, I mean--for Von Holzen is clever. He is a
cold, calculating man, who rules all who come near him. Your brother
has only to do with the money part of it. They are making a great
fortune. I am told that financially it is splendidly managed. I am a
duffer at such things, but I understand better now how it has all been
done, and I see how clever it is. They produce the stuff for almost
nothing, they sell it at a great price, and they have a monopoly. And
the world thinks it is a charity. It is not; it is murder."
He spoke quietly, tapping the ground with his stick, and emphasizing
his words with a deeper thrust into the sand. The habit of touching
life lightly had become second nature with him, and even now he did not
seem quite serious. He was, at all events, free from that deadly
earnestness which blinds the eye to all save one side of a question.
The very soil that he tapped could have risen up to speak in favour of
such as he; for William the Silent, it is said, loved a jest, and never
seemed to be quite serious during the long years of the greatest
struggle the modern world has seen.
"It seems probable," went on Cornish, "that your brother has been
gradually drawn into it; that he did not know when he first joined Von
Holzen what the thing really was--the system of manufacture, I mean. As
for the financial side of it, I am afraid he must have known of that
all along; but the older one gets the less desirous one is of judging
one's neighbour. In financial matters so much seems to depend, in the
formation of a judgment, whether one is a loser or a gainer by the
transaction. There is a great fortune in malgamite, and a fortune is a
temptation to be avoided. Others besides your brother have been
tempted. I should probably have succumbed myself if it had not
She smiled again in a sort of derision; as if she could have told him
more about himself than he could tell her. He saw the smile, and it
brought a flash of light to his eyes. Deeper than fear of damnation,
higher than the creeds, stronger than any motive in a man's life, is
the absolute confidence placed in him by a woman.
"I went into the thing thoughtlessly," he continued, "because it was
the fashion at the time to be concerned in some large charity. And I am
not sorry. It was the luckiest move I ever made. And now the thing will
have to be gone through with, and there will be trouble."
But he laughed as he spoke; for there was no trouble in their hearts,
neither could anything appall them.
"Beware equally of a sudden friend and a slow enemy."
Roden and Von Holzen were at work in the little office of the malgamite
works. The sun had just set, and the soft pearly twilight was creeping
over the sand hills. The day's work was over, and the factories were
all locked up for the night. In the stillness that seems to settle over
earth and sea at sunset, the sound of the little waves could be
heard--a distant, constant babbling from the west. The workers had gone
to their huts. They were not a noisy body of men. It was their custom
to creep quietly home when their work was done, and to sit in their
doorways if the evening was warm, or with closed doors if the north
wind was astir, and silently, steadily assuage their deadly thirst.
Those who sought to harvest their days, who fondly imagined they were
going to make a fight for it, drank milk according to advice handed
down to them from their sickly forefathers. The others, more reckless,
or wiser, perhaps, in their brief generation, took stronger drink to
make glad their hearts and for their many infirmities.
They had merely to ask, and that which they asked for was given to them
"Yes," said Uncle Ben to the new-comers, "you has a slap-up time--while
For Uncle Ben was a strong man, and waxed garrulous in his cups. He had
made malgamite all his life and nothing would kill him, not even drink.
Von Holzen watched Uncle Ben, and did not like him. It was Uncle Ben
who played the concertina at the door of his hut in the evening. He
sprang from the class whose soul takes delight in the music of a
concertina, and rises on bank holidays to that height of gaiety which
can only be expressed by an interchange of hats. He came from the slums
of London, where they breed a race of men, small, ill-formed,
disease-stricken, hard to kill.
The north wind was blowing this evening, and the huts were all closed.
The sound of Uncle Ben's concertina could be dimly heard in what
purported to be a popular air--a sort of nightmare of a tune such as a
barrel-organist must suffer after bad beer. Otherwise, there was
nothing stirring within the enclosure. There was, indeed, a hush over
the whole place, such as Nature sometimes lays over certain spots like
a quiet veil, as one might lay a cloth over the result of an accident,
and say, "There is something wrong here; go away."
Cornish, having tried the main entrance gate, found it locked, and no
bell with which to summon those within. He went round to the northern
end of the enclosure, where the sand had drifted against the high
corrugated iron fencing, and where there were empty barrels on the
inner side, as Uncle Ben had told him.
"After all, I am a managing director of this concern," said Cornish to
himself, with a grim laugh, as he clambered over the fence.
He walked down the row of huts very slowly. Some of them were empty.
The door of one stood ajar, and a sudden smell of disinfectant made him
stop and look in. There was something lying on a bed covered by a grimy
"Um--m," muttered Cornish, and walked on.
There had been another visitor to the malgamite works that day. Then
Cornish paused for a moment near Uncle Ben's hut, and listened to
"Ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay." He bit his lips, restraining a sudden desire to
laugh without any mirth in his heart, and went towards Von Holzen's
office, where a light gleamed through the ill-closed curtains. For
these men were working night and day now--making their fortunes. He
caught, as he passed the window, a glimpse of Roden bending over a
great ledger which lay open before him on the table, while Von Holzen,
at another desk, was writing letters in his neat German hand.
Then Cornish went to the door, opened it, and passing in, closed it
"Good evening," he said, with just a slight exaggeration of his usual
"Halloa!" exclaimed Roden, with a startled look, and instinctively
closing his ledger.
He looked hastily towards Von Holzen, who turned, pen in hand. Von
Holzen bowed rather coldly.
"Good evening," he answered, without looking at Roden. Indeed, he
crossed the room, and placed himself in front of his companion.
"Just come across?" inquired Roden, putting together his papers with
his usual leisureliness.
"No; I have been here some time."
Cornish turned and met Von Holzen's eyes with a ready audacity. He was
not afraid of this silent scientist, and had been trained in a social
world where nerve and daring are highly cultivated. Von Holzen looked
at him with a measuring eye, and remembered some warning words spoken
by Roden months before. This was a cleverer man than they had thought
him. This was the one mistake they had made in their careful scheme.
"I have been looking into things," said Cornish, in a final voice. He
took off his hat and laid it aside.
Von Holzen went slowly back to his desk, which was a high one. He stood
there close by Roden, leaning his elbow on the letters that he had been
writing. The two men were thus together facing Cornish, who stood at
the other side of the table.
"I have been looking into things," he repeated, "and--the game is up."
Roden, whose face was quite colourless, shrugged his shoulders with a
sneering smile. Von Holzen slowly moistened his lips, and Cornish,
meeting his glance, felt his heart leap upward to his throat. His
way had been the way of peace. He had never seen that look in a man's
eyes before, but there was no mistaking it. There are two things that
none can mistake--an earthquake, and murder shining in a man's eyes.
But there was good blood in Cornish's veins, and good blood never
fails. His muscles tightened, and he smiled in Von Holzen's face.
"When you were over in London a fortnight ago," he said, "you saw my
uncle, and squared him. But I am not Lord Ferriby, and I am not to be
squared. As to the financial part of this business"--he paused, and
glanced at the ledgers--"that seems to be of secondary importance at
the moment. Besides, I do not understand finance."
Roden's tired eyes flickered at the way in which the word was spoken.
"I propose to deal with the more vital questions," Cornish continued,
looking straight at Von Holzen. "I want details of the new process--the
prescription, in fact."
"Then you want much," answered Von Holzen, with his slight accent.
"Oh, I want more than that," was the retort; "I want a list of your
deaths--not necessarily for publication. If the public were to hear of
it, they would pull the place down about your ears, and probably hang
you on your own water-tower."
Von Holzen laughed. "Ah, my fine gentleman, if there is any hanging up
to be done, you are in it, too," he said. Then he broke into a
good-humoured laugh, and waved the question aside with his hand. "But
why should we quarrel? It is mere foolishness. We are not schoolboys,
but men of the world, who are reasonable, I hope. I cannot give you the
prescription because it is a trade secret. You would not understand it
without expert assistance, and the expert would turn his knowledge to
account. We chemists, you see, do not trust each other. No; but I can
make malgamite here before your eyes--to show you that it is
harmless--what?" He spoke easily, with a certain fascination of manner,
as a man to whom speech was easy enough--who was perhaps silent with a
set purpose--because silence is safe. "But it is a long process," he
added, holding up one finger, "I warn you. It will take me two hours.
And you, who have perhaps not dined, and this Roden, who is tired
"Roden can go home--if he is tired," said Cornish.
"Well," answered Von Holzen, with outspread hands, "it is as you like.
Will you have it now and here?"
"Yes--now and here."
Roden was slowly folding away his papers and closing his books. He
glanced curiously at Von Holzen, as if he were displaying a hitherto
unknown side to his character. Von Holzen, too, was collecting the
papers scattered on his desk, with a patient air and a half-suppressed
sigh of weariness, as if he were entering upon a work of
"As to the deaths," he said, "I can demonstrate that as we go along.
You will see where the dangers lie, and how criminally neglectful these
people are. It is a curious thing, that carelessness of life. I am told
the Russian soldiers have it."
It seemed that in his way Herr von Holzen was a philosopher, having in
his mind a store of odd human items. He certainly had the power of
arousing curiosity and making his hearers wish him to continue
speaking, which is rare. Most men are uninteresting because they talk
"Then I think I will go," said Roden, rising. He looked from one to the
other, and received no answer. "Good night," he added, and walked to
the door with dragging feet.
"Good night," said Cornish. And he was left alone for the first time in
his life with Von Holzen, who was clearing the table and making his
preparations with a silent deftness of touch acquired by the handling
of delicate instruments, the mixing of dangerous drugs.
"Then our good friend Lord Ferriby does not know that you are here?" he
inquired, without much interest, as if acknowledging the necessity of
conversation of some sort.
"No," answered Cornish.
"When I have shown you this experiment," pursued Von Holzen, setting
the lamp on a side-table, "we must have a little talk about his
lordship. With all modesty, you and I have the clearest heads of all
concerned in this invention." He looked at Cornish with his sudden,
pleasant smile. "You will excuse me," he said, "if while I am doing
this I do not talk much. It is a difficult thing to keep in one's head,
and all the attention is required in order to avoid a mistake or a
He had already assumed an air of unconscious command, which was
probably habitual with him, as if there were no question between them
as to who was the stronger man. Cornish sat, pleasantly silent and
acquiescent, but he felt in no way dominated. It is one thing to assume
authority, and another to possess it.
"I have a little laboratory in the factory where I usually work, but
not at night. We do not allow lights in there. Excuse me, I will fetch
my crucible and lamp."
And he went out, leaving Cornish alone. There was only one door to the
room, leading straight out into the open. The office, it appeared, was
built in the form of an annex to one of the storehouses, which stood
detached from all other buildings.
In a few minutes Von Holzen returned, laden with bottles and jars. One
large wicker-covered bottle with a screw top he set carefully on the
"I had to find them in the dark," he explained absent-mindedly, as if
his thoughts were all absorbed by the work in hand. "And one must be
careful not to jar or break any of these. Please do not touch them in
my absence." As he spoke, he again examined the stoppers to see that
all was secure. "I come again," he said, making sure that the large
basket-covered bottle was safe. Then he walked quickly out of the room
and closed the door behind him.
Almost immediately Cornish was conscious of a bitter taste in his
mouth, though he could smell nothing. The lamp suddenly burnt blue and
instantly went out.
Cornish stood up, groping in the dark, his head swimming, a deadly
numbness dragging at his limbs. He had no pain, only a strange
sensation of being drawn upwards. Then his head bumped against the
door, and the remaining glimmer of consciousness shaped itself into the
knowledge that this was death. He seemed to swing backwards and
forwards between life and death--between sleep and consciousness. Then
he felt a cooler air on his lips. He had fallen against the door, which
did not fit against the threshold, and a draught of fresh air whistled
through upon his face. "Carbonic acid gas," he muttered, with shaking
lips. "Carbonic acid gas." He repeated the words over and over again,
as a man in delirium repeats that which has fixed itself in his
wandering brain. Then, with a great effort, he brought himself to
understand the meaning of the words that one portion of his brain kept
repeating to the other portion which could not comprehend them. He
tried to recollect all that he knew of carbonic acid gas, which was, in
fact, not much. He vaguely remembered that it is not an active gas that
mingles with the air and spreads, but rather it lurks in corners--an
invisible form of death--and will so lurk for years unless disturbed
by a current of air.
Cornish knew that in falling he had fallen out of the radius of the
escaping gas, which probably filled the upper part of the room. If he
raised himself, he would raise himself into the gas, which was slowly
descending upon him, and that would mean instant death. He had already
inhaled enough--perhaps too much. He lay quite still, breathing the
draught between the door and the threshold, and raising his left hand,
felt for the handle of the door. He found it and turned it. The door
was locked. He lay still, and his brain began to wander, but with an
effort he kept a hold upon his thoughts. He was a strong man, who had
never had a bad illness--a cool head and an intrepid heart.
Stretching out his legs, he found some object close to him. It was Von
Holzen's desk, which stood on four strong legs against the wall.
Cornish, who was quick and observant, remembered now how the room was
shaped and furnished. He gathered himself together, drew in his legs,
and doubled himself, with his feet against the desk, his shoulder
against the door. He was long and lithe, of a steely strength which he
had never tried. He now slowly straightened himself, and tore the
screws out of the solid wood of the door, which remained hanging by the
upper hinge. His head and shoulders were now out in the open air.
He lay for a moment or two to regain his breath, and recover from the
deadly nausea that follows gas poisoning. Then he rose to his feet, and
stood swaying like a drunken man. Von Holzen's cottage was a few yards
away. A light was burning there, and gleamed through the cracks of the
Cornish went towards the cottage, then paused. "No," he muttered,
holding his head with both hands. "It will keep." And he staggered away
in the darkness towards the corner where the empty barrels stood
against the fence.
FROM THE PAST.
"One and one with a shadowy third."
"You have the air, _mon ami_, of a malgamiter," said Mrs. Vansittart,
looking into Cornish's face--"lurking here in your little inn in a back
street! Why do you not go to one of the larger hotels in Scheveningen,
since you have abandoned The Hague?"
"Because the larger hotels are not open yet," replied Cornish, bringing
forward a chair.
"That is true, now that I think of it. But I did not ask the question
wanting an answer. You, who have been in the world, should know women
better than to think that. I asked in idleness--a woman's trick.
Yes; you have been or you are ill. There is a white look in your face."
She sat looking at him. She had walked all the way from Park Straat in
the shade of the trees--quite a pedestrian feat for one who confessed to
belonging to a carriage generation. She had boldly entered the
restaurant of the little hotel, and had told the waiter to take her to
Mr. Cornish's apartment.
"It hardly matters what a very young waiter, at the beginning of his
career, may think of us. But downstairs they are rather scandalized, I
warn you," she said.
"Oh, I ceased explaining many years ago," replied Cornish, "even in
English. More suspicion is aroused by explanation than by silence. For
this wise world will not believe that one is telling the truth."
"When one is not," suggested Mrs. Vansittart.
"When one is not," admitted Cornish, in rather a tired voice, which, to
so keen an ear as that of his hearer, was as good as asking her why she
She laughed. "Yes," she said, "you are not inclined to sit and talk
nonsense at this time in the morning. No more am I. I did not walk from
Park Straat and take your defences by storm, and subject myself to the
insult of a raised eyebrow on the countenance of a foolish young
waiter, to talk nonsense even with you, who are cleverer with your
non-committing platitudes than any man I know." She laughed rather
harshly, as many do when they find themselves suddenly within hail, as
it were, of that weakness which is called feeling. "No, I came here
on--let us say--business. I hold a good card, and I am going to play
it. I want you to hold your hand in the mean time; give me to-day, you
understand. I have taken great care to strengthen my hand. This is no
sudden impulse, but a set purpose to which I have led up for some
weeks. It is not scrupulous; it is not even honest. It is, in a word,
essentially feminine, and not an affair to which you as a man could
lend a moment's approval. Therefore, I tell you nothing. I merely ask
you to leave me an open field to-day. Our end is the same, though our
methods and our purpose differ as much as--well, as much as our minds.
You want to break this Malgamite corner. I want to break Otto von
Holzen. You understand?"
Cornish had known her long enough to permit himself to nod and say
"If I succeed, _tant mieux_. If I fail, it is no concern of yours, and
it will in no way affect you or your plans. Ah, you disapprove, I see.
What a complicated world this would be if we could all wear masks! Your
face used to be a safer one than it is now. Can it be that you are
becoming serious--_un jeune homme serieux?_ Heaven save you from that!"
"No; I have a headache; that is all," laughed
Mrs. Vansittart was slowly unbuttoning and rebuttoning her glove, deep
in thought. For some women can think deeply and talk superficially at
the same moment.
"Do you know," she said, with a sudden change of voice and manner, "I
have a conviction that you know something to-day of which you were
ignorant yesterday? All knowledge, I suppose, leaves its mark.
Something about Otto von Holzen, I suspect. Ah, Tony, if you know
something, tell it to me. If you hold a strong card, let me play it.
You do not know how I have longed and waited--what a miserable little
hand I hold against this strong man."
She was serious enough now. Her voice had a ring of hopelessness in it,
as if she knew that limit against which a woman is fated to throw
herself when she tries to injure a man who has no love for her. If the
love be there, then is she strong, indeed; but without it, what can she
do? It is the little more that is so much, and the little less that is
such worlds away.
Cornish did not deny the knowledge which she ascribed to him, but
merely shook his head, and Mrs. Vansittart suddenly changed her manner
again. She was quick and clever enough to know that whatever account
stood open between Cornish and Von Holzen the reckoning must be between
them alone, without the help of any woman.
"Then you will remain indoors," she said, rising, "and recover from
your ... strange headache--and not go near the malgamite works, nor see
Percy Roden or Otto von Holzen--and let me have my little try--that is
all I ask."
"Yes," answered Cornish, reluctantly; "but I think you would be wiser
to leave Von Holzen to me."
"Ah!" said Mrs. Vansittart, with one of her quick glances. "You think
She paused on the threshold, then shrugged her shoulders and passed
out. She hurried home, and there wrote a note to Percy Roden.
"DEAR MR. RODEN,
"It seems a long time since I saw you last, though perhaps it only
seems so to _me_. I shall be at home at five o'clock this evening, if
you care to take pity on a lonely countrywoman. If I should be out
riding when you come, please await my return.
"Yours very truly,
She closed the letter with a little cruel smile, and despatched it by
the hand of a servant. Quite early in the afternoon she put on her
habit, but did not go straight downstairs, although her horse was at
the door. She went to the library instead--a small, large-windowed room,
looking on to Oranje Straat. From a drawer in her writing-table she
took a key, and examined it closely before slipping it into her pocket.
It was a new key with the file-marks still upon it.
"A clumsy expedient," she said. "But the end is so desirable that the
means must not be too scrupulously considered."
She rode down Kazerne Straat and through the wood by the Leyden Road.
By turning to the left, she soon made her way to the East Dunes, and
thus describing a circle, rode slowly back towards Scheveningen. She
knew her way, it appeared, to the malgamite works. Leaving her horse in