Part 6 out of 8
and concerning whom he was perpetually conceiving projects
which could not have been discussed with their husbands,
and as perpetually doing nothing to test their feasibility.
But these diversions were in their essence unsubstantial.
There was not even the semblance of a real friendship
among them,--and loneliness became an increasing burden.
His sister at the old book-shop exasperated him nowadays
to a degree which often provoked within him the resolution
to have done with her. He had a score of projects for
her betterment, each capable of as many variations and eager
adaptations to suit her fancy, but to them all and sundry she
opposed a barrier of stupidly passive negation. There was
nothing she wanted done for her. She would not exchange
the work she had been brought up in for a life of idleness.
She did not want, and would not know what to do with,
a bigger shop than she had. An augmentation of her capital
would be of no use, because there was no room in the
crowded little shop for a larger stock than it contained.
She was entirely satisfied with the dingy home overhead,
and declined to think even of moving elsewhere.
Over and over again she met his propositions with a saying
which he could recall having particularly hated on their
father's lips,--"It's ill teaching an old dog new tricks."
"You ought to have them taught you with a stick,"
he had told her roundly, on the last occasion.
She had merely shrugged her gaunt shoulders at him.
"You think you can bully everybody and make them crawl
to you,--but there's no good your trying it on with me,"
she had told him, and he had pushed his way out of the shop
almost stamping his feet. It was clear to him at that moment
that he would never darken her door again.
Yet now, on this afternoon of the tenth, as he lounged
with a cigar and a City paper in his apartment at the hotel
after luncheon, wondering whether it were too hot to issue
forth for a walk to the Park, the irrelevant idea of going
round to see his sister kept coming into his mind.
He seated himself and fastened his attention upon the
paper,--but off it slipped again to the old book-shop,
and to that curious, cross-grained figure, its mistress.
He abandoned himself to thinking about her--and discovered
that a certain unique quality in her challenged his admiration.
She was the only absolutely disinterested person he knew--the
only creature in the world, apparently, who did not desire
to make something out of him. She was not at all well-
off,--was indeed rather poor than otherwise,--and here was
her only brother a millionaire, and in her dumb way she
had a sisterly affection for him, and yet she could not
be argued or cajoled into touching a penny of his money.
Surely there could be no other woman like her.
Thorpe realized that it was a distinction to have such
a sister,--and behind this thought rose obscurely the
suggestion that there must be wonderful blood in a race
which had produced such a daughter. And for that matter,
such a son too! He lifted his head, and looked abstractedly
before him, as if he were gazing at some apotheosis
of himself in a mirror.
He beheld all at once something concrete and personal,
obtruded into the heart of his reverie, the sight of
which dimly astounded him. For the moment, with opened
lips he stared at it,--then slowly brought himself
to comprehend what had happened. An old man had by some
oversight of the hotel servants been allowed to enter
the room unannounced. He had wandered in noiselessly,
and had moved in a purblind fashion to the centre of
the apartment. The vagueness of the expression on his face
and of his movements hinted at a vacant mind or too much
drink,--but Thorpe gave no thought to either hypothesis.
The face itself--no--yes--it was the face of old Tavender.
"In the name of God! What are you doing here?" Thorpe gasped
at this extraordinary apparition. Still staring, he began
to push back his chair and put his weight upon his feet.
"Well--Thorpe"--the other began, thrusting forward his head
to look through his spectacles--"so it is you, after all.
I didn't know whether I was going to find you or not.
This place has got so many turns and twists to it----"
"But good heavens!" interposed the bewildered Thorpe.
He had risen to his feet. He mechanically took the hand
which the other had extended to him. "What in hell"--he began,
and broke off again. The aroma of alcohol on the air
caught his sense, and his mind stopped at the perception
that Tavender was more or less drunk. He strove to spur
it forward, to compel it to encompass the meanings of this
new crisis, but almost in vain.
"Thought I'd look you up," said the old man, buoyantly.
"Nobody in London I'd rather see than you. How are you, anyway?"
"What did you come over for? When did you get here?"
Thorpe put the questions automatically. His self-control
was returning to him; his capable brain pushed forward
now under something like disciplined direction.
"Why I guess I owe it all to you," replied Tavender.
Traces of the old Quaker effect which had been so
characteristic of him still hung about his garb and mien,
but there shone a new assurance on his benignant,
rubicund face. Prosperity had visibly liberalized
and enheartened him. He shook Thorpe's hand again.
"Yes, sir--it must have been all through you!" he repeated.
"I got my cable three weeks ago--'Hasten to London,
urgent business, expenses and liberal fee guaranteed,
Rubber Consols'--that's what the cable said, that is,
the first one and of course you're the man that introduced me
to those rubber people. And so don't you see I owe it all
His insistence upon his obligation was suddenly almost tearful.
Thorpe thought hard as he replied: "Oh--that's all right.
I'm very glad indeed to have helped you along.
And so you came over for the Rubber Consols people,
eh? Well--that's good. Seen 'em yet? You haven't told
me when you landed."
"Came up from Southampton this morning. My brother-in-law
was down there to meet me. We came up to London together."
"Your brother-in-law," observed Thorpe, meditatively.
Some shadowy, remote impression of having forgotten
something troubled his mind for an instant. "Is your
brother-in-law in the rubber business?"
"Extraor'nary thing," explained Tavender, beamingly, "he don't
know no more about the whole affair than the man 'n the moon.
I asked him today--but he couldn't tell me anything about
the business--what it was I'd been sent for, or anything."
"But he--he knew you'd been sent for," Thorpe commented
upon brief reflection.
"Why, he sent the second cable himself----"
"What second cable?"
"Why it was the next day,--or maybe it was sent
that same night, and not delivered till morning,--I
got another cable, this time from my brother-in-law,
telling me to cable him what ship I sailed on and when.
So of course he knew all about it--but now he says
he don't. He's a curious sort of fellow, anyway."
"But how is he mixed up in it?" demanded Thorpe, impatiently.
"Well, as nearly as I can figure it out, he works for one
of the men that's at the head of this rubber company.
It appears that he happened to show this man--he's a man
of title, by the way--a letter I wrote to him last spring,
when I got back to Mexico--and so in that way this man,
when he wanted me to come over, just told Gafferson to cable
"Gafferson," Thorpe repeated, very slowly, and with almost
an effect of listlessness. He was conscious of no surprise;
it was as if he had divined all along the sinister
shadows of Lord Plowden and Lord Plowden's gardener,
lurking in the obscurity behind this egregious old ass
of a Tavender.
"He's a tremendous horticultural sharp," said the other.
"Probably you've heard tell of him. He's taken medals
for new flowers and things till you can't rest.
He's over at--what do you call it?--the Royal Aquarium,
now, to see the Dahlia Show. I went over there with him,
but it didn't seem to be my kind of a show, and so I left
him there, and I'm to look in again for him at 5:30. I'm
going down to his place in the country with him tonight,
to meet his boss--the nobleman I spoke of."
"That's nice," Thorpe commented, slowly. "I envy anybody
who can get into the country these days. But how did
you know I was here?" "The woman in the book-store told
me--I went there the first thing. You might be sure I'd
look you up. Nobody was ever a better friend than you've
been to me, Thorpe. And do you know what I want you
to do? I want you to come right bang out, now, and have
a drink with me."
"I was thinking of something of the sort myself,"
the big man replied. "I'll get my hat, and be with you
in a minute."
In the next room he relinquished his countenance to a
frown of fierce perplexity. More than a minute passed
in this scowling preoccupation. Then his face lightened
with the relief of an idea, and he stepped confidently
back into the parlour.
"Come along," he said, jovially. "We'll have a drink
downstairs, and then we'll drive up to Hanover Square
and see if we can't find a friend of mine at his club."
In the office below he stopped long enough to secure a
considerable roll of bank-notes in exchange for a cheque.
A little later, a hansom deposited the couple at the door
of the Asian Club, and Thorpe, in the outer hallway
of this institution, clicked his teeth in satisfaction
at the news that General Kervick was on the premises.
The General, having been found by a boy and brought down,
extended to his guests a hospitality which was none the
less urbane for the evidences of surprise with which it
was seasoned. He concealed so indifferently his inability
to account for Tavender, that the anxious Thorpe grew
annoyed with him, but happily Tavender's perceptions
were less subtle. He gazed about him in his dim-eyed
way with childlike interest, and babbled cheerfully over
his liquor. He had not been inside a London club before,
and his glimpse of the reading-room, where, isolated,
purple-faced, retired old Empire-makers sat snorting
in the silence, their gouty feet propped up on foot-rests,
their white brows scowling over the pages of French novels,
particularly impressed him. It was a new and halcyon
vision of the way to spend one's declining years.
And the big smoking-room--where the leather cushions were
so low and so soft, and the connection between the bells
and the waiters was so efficient--that was even better.
Thorpe presently made an excuse for taking Kervick apart.
"I brought this old jackass here for a purpose," he said
in low, gravely mandatory tones. "He thinks he's got
an appointment at 5:30 this afternoon--but he's wrong.
He hasn't. He's not going to have any appointment at
all--for a long time yet. I want you to get him drunk,
there where he sits, and then take him away with you,
and get him drunker still, and then take a train with him
somewhere--any station but Charing Cross or that line--and
I don't care where you land with him--Scotland or Ireland
or France--whatever you like. Here's some money for
you--and you can write to me for more. I don't care
what you say to him--make up any yarn you like--only keep
him pacified, and keep him away from London, and don't
let a living soul talk to him--till I give you the word.
You'll let me know where you are. I'll get away
now--and mind, General, a good deal depends on the way
you please me in this thing."
The soldier's richly-florid face and intent, bulging blue
eyes expressed vivid comprehension. He nodded with eloquence
as he slipped the notes into his trousers pocket.
"Absolutely," he murmured with martial brevity,
from under his white, tight moustache.
With only a vague word or two of meaningless explanation
to Tavender, Thorpe took his departure, and walked back
to the hotel. From what he had learned and surmised, it was
not difficult to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
This ridiculous old fool, he remembered now, had reproached
himself, when he was in England before, for his uncivil
neglect of his brother-in-law. By some absurd chance,
this damned brother-in-law happened to be Gafferson.
It was clear enough that, when he returned to Mexico,
Tavender had written to Gafferson, explaining the unexpected
pressure of business which had taken up all his time
in England. Probably he had been idiot enough to relate
what he of course regarded as the most wonderful piece
of good news--how the worthless concession he had been
deluded into buying had been bought back from him.
As likely as not he had even identified the concession,
and given Thorpe's name as that of the man who had first
impoverished and then mysteriously enriched him. At all events,
he had clearly mentioned that he had a commission to report
upon the Rubber Consols property, and had said enough
else to create the impression that there were criminal
secrets connected with its sale to the London Company.
The rest was easy. Gafferson, knowing Lord Plowden's
relation to the Company, had shown him Tavender's letter.
Lord Plowden, meditating upon it, had seen a way to be
nasty--and had vindictively plunged into it. He had brought
Tavender from Mexico to London, to use him as a weapon.
All this was as obvious as the nose on one's face.
But a weapon for what? Thorpe, as this question put
itself in his mind, halted before a shop-window full
of soft-hued silk fabrics, to muse upon an answer.
The delicate tints and surfaces of what was before his eyes
seemed somehow to connect themselves with the subject.
Plowden himself was delicately-tinted and refined of texture.
Vindictiveness was too plain and coarse an emotion
to sway such a complicated and polished organism.
He reasoned it out, as he stood with lack-lustre gaze
before the plate-glass front, aloof among a throng of
eager and talkative women who pressed around him--that
Plowden would not have spent his money on a mere impulse
of mischief-making. He would be counting upon something
more tangible than revenge--something that could be counted
and weighed and converted into a bank-balance. He smiled
when he reached this conclusion--greatly surprising
and confusing a matronly lady into whose correct face he
chanced to be looking at the instant--and turning slowly,
continued his walk.
At the office of the hotel, he much regretted not having
driven instead, for he learned that Semple had twice
telephoned from the City for him. It was late in the
afternoon--he noted with satisfaction that the clock showed
it to be already past the hour of the Tavender-Gafferson
appointment,--but he had Semple's office called up,
upon the chance that someone might be there. The clerk
had not consumed more than ten minutes in the preliminaries
of finding out that no one was there--Thorpe meanwhile passing
savage comments to the other clerks about the British official
conception of the telephone as an instrument of discipline
and humiliation--when Semple himself appeared in the doorway.
The Broker gave an exclamation of relief at seeing Thorpe,
and then, apparently indifferent to the display
of excitement he was exhibiting, drew him aside.
"Come somewhere where we can talk," he whispered nervously.
Thorpe had never seen the little Scotchman in such a flurry.
"We'll go up to my rooms," he said, and led the way
to the lift.
Upstairs, Semple bolted the door of the sitting-room
behind them, and satisfied himself that there was no one
in the adjoining bedroom. Then, unburdening himself
with another sigh, he tossed aside his hat, and looked
keenly up at the big man. "There's the devil to pay,"
he said briefly.
Thorpe had a fleeting pride in the lethargic,
composed front he was able to present. "All right,"
he said with forced placidity. "If he's got to be paid,
we'll pay him." He continued to smile a little.
"It's nah joke," the other hastened to warn him.
"I have it from two different quarters. An application has
been made to the Stock Exchange Committee, this afternoon,
to intervene and stop our business, on the ground of fraud.
It comes verra straight to me."
Thorpe regarded his Broker contemplatively. The news
fitted with precision into what he had previously known;
it was rendered altogether harmless by the precautions
he had already taken. "Well, keep your hair on,"
he said, quietly. "If there were fifty applications,
they wouldn't matter the worth of that soda-water cork.
Won't you have a drink?"
Semple, upon reflection, said he would. The unmoved
equipoise of the big man visibly reassured him. He sipped
at his bubbling tumbler and smacked his thin lips.
"Man, I've had an awful fright," he said at last,
in the tone of one whose ease of mind is returning.
"I gave you credit for more nerve," observed the other,
eyeing him in not unkindly fashion over his glass.
"You've been so plumb full of sand all the while--I didn't
think you'd weaken now. Why, we're within two days of home,
now--and for you to get rattled at this late hour--you ought
to be ashamed of yourself"
The Scotchman looked into the bottom of his glass,
as he turned it thoughtfully round. "I'm relieved
to see the way you take it," he said, after a pause.
With increased hesitation he went dryly on: "I've never
enquired minutely into the circumstances of the flotation.
It has not seemed to be my business to do so, and upon
advice I may say that the Committee would not hold
that such was my business. My position is quite clear,
upon that point."
"Oh, perfectly," Thorpe assented. "It couldn't possibly
be any of your business--either then, or now." He gave
a significant touch of emphasis to these last two words.
"Precisely," said Semple, with a glance of swift comprehension.
"You must not think I am asking any intrusive questions.
If you tell me that--that there is no ground for uneasiness--I
am verra pleased indeed to accept the assurance.
That is ample information for my purposes."
"You can take it from me," Thorpe told him. He picked up
a red book from a side table, and turned over its pages
with his thick thumb. "This is what Rule 59 says,"
he went on: "'NO APPLICATION WHICH HAS FOR ITS OBJECT TO
ANNUL ANY BARGAIN IN THE STOCK EXCHANGE SHALL BE ENTERTAINED
BY THE COMMITTEE, UNLESS UPON A SPECIFIC ALLEGATION OF
FRAUD OR WILFUL MISREPRESENTATION.' Shall be entertained,
d'ye see? They can't even consider anything of the sort,
because it says 'specific,' and I tell you plainly that
anything 'specific' is entirely out of the question."
The Broker lifted his sandy brows in momentary apprehension.
"If it turns upon the precise definition of a word,"
he remarked, doubtingly.
"Ah, yes,--but it doesn't," Thorpe reassured him.
"See here--I'll tell you something. You're not asking
any questions. That's as it should be. And I'm not forcing
information upon you which you don't need in your business.
That's as it should be, too. But in between these two,
there's a certain margin of facts that there's no harm
in your knowing. A scheme to blackmail me is on foot.
It's rather a fool-scheme, if you ask me, but it might have
been a nuisance if it had been sprung on us unawares.
It happened, however, that I twigged this scheme about
two hours ago. It was the damnedest bit of luck you ever
"You don't have luck," put in Semple, appreciatively.
"Other men have luck. You have something else--I don't
give it a name."
Thorpe smiled upon him, and went on. "I twigged it, anyway.
I went out, and I drove the biggest kind of spike
through that fool-scheme--plumb through its heart.
Tomorrow a certain man will come to me--oh, I could
almost tell you the kind of neck-tie he'll wear--and
he'll put up his bluff to me, and I'll hear him out--and
then--then I'll let the floor drop out from under him."
"Aye!" said Semple, with relish.
"Stay and dine with me tonight," Thorpe impulsively suggested,
"and we'll go to some Music Hall afterward. There's a
knock-about pantomime outfit at the Canterbury--Martinetti
I think the name is--that's damned good. You get plenty
of laugh, and no tiresome blab to listen to. The older
I get, the more I think of people that keep their mouths shut."
"Aye," observed Semple again.
IN the Board Room, next day, Thorpe awaited the coming
of Lord Plowden with the serene confidence of a prophet
who not only knows that he is inspired, but has had an
illicit glimpse into the workings of the machinery of events.
He sat motionless at his desk, like a big spider for who
time has no meaning. Before him lay two newspapers,
folded so as to expose paragraphs heavily indicated
by blue pencil-marks. They were not financial journals,
and for that reason it was improbable that he would
have seen these paragraphs, if the Secretary of the
Company had not marked them, and brought them to him.
That official had been vastly more fluttered by them than
he found it possible to be. In slightly-varying language,
these two items embedded in so-called money articles
reported the rumour that a charge of fraud had arisen
in connection with the Rubber Consols corner, and that
sensational disclosures were believed to be impending.
Thorpe looked with a dulled, abstracted eye at these papers,
lying on the desk, and especially at the blue pencil-lines
upon them, as he pondered many things. Their statement,
thus scattered broadcast to the public, seemed at
once to introduce a new element into the situation,
and to leave it unchanged. That influence of some sort
had been exerted to get this story into these papers,
it did not occur to him for an instant to doubt.
To his view, all things that were put into papers
were put there for a purpose--it would express his
notion more clearly, perhaps, to say for a price.
Of the methods of Fleet Street, he was profoundly ignorant,
but his impressions of them were all cynical.
Upon reflection, however, it seemed unlikely to him that
Lord Plowden had secured the insertion of these rumours.
So far as Thorpe could fathom that nobleman's game,
its aims would not be served by premature publicity
of this kind.
Gradually, the outlines of a more probable combination took
shape in his thoughts. There were left in the grip of the
"corner" now only two victims,--Rostocker and Aronson.
They owed this invidious differentiation to a number
of causes: they had been the chief sellers of stock,
being between them responsible for the delivery of
8,500 Rubber Consols shares, which they could not get;
they were men of larger fortune than the other "shorts,"
and therefore could with safety be squeezed longest;
what was fortunate for him under the circumstances,
they were the two men against whom Thorpe's personal grudge
seemed able to maintain itself most easily.
For these reasons, they had already been mulcted in differences
to the extent of, in round numbers, 165,000 pounds.
On the morrow, the twelfth of September, it was Thorpe's
plan to allow them to buy in the shares they needed,
at 22 or 23 pounds per share--which would take from them
nearly 200,000 pounds more. He had satisfied himself
that they could, and would if necessary, pay this enormous
ransom for their final escape from the "corner." Partly
because it was not so certain that they could pay more,
partly because he was satiated with spoils and tired
of the strain of the business, he had decided to permit
He realized now, however, that they on their side had
planned to escape without paying any final ransom at all.
That was clearly the meaning of these paragraphs,
and of the representations which had yesterday been made
to the Stock Exchange Committee. He had additional
knowledge today of the character of these representations.
Nothing definite had been alleged, but some of the members
of the Committee had been informally notified, so Semple
had this morning learned, that a specific charge of fraud,
supported by unanswerable proof, was to be brought
against the Rubber Consols management on the morrow.
Thorpe reasoned out now, step by step, what that meant.
Lord Plowden had sought out Rostocker and Aronson, and had
told them that he had it in his power ignominiously to break
the "corner." He could hardly have told them the exact nature
of his power, because until he should have seen Tavender
he did not himself know what it was. But he had given
them to understand that he could prove fraud, and they,
scenting in this the chance of saving 200,000 pounds,
and seeing that time was so terribly short, had hastened
to the Committeemen with this vague declaration that,
on the morrow, they could prove--they did not precisely
know what. Yes--plainly enough--that was what had happened.
And it would be these two Jew "wreckers," eager to invest
their speculative notification to the Committee with as much
of an air of formality as possible, who had caused the
allusions to it to be published in these papers.
Thorpe's lustreless eye suddenly twinkled with mirth as he
reached this conclusion; his heavy face brightened into a grin
of delight. A vision of Lord Plowden's absurd predicament
rose vividly before him, and he chuckled aloud at it.
It seemed only the most natural thing in the world that,
at this instant, a clerk should open the door and nod
with meaning to the master. The visitor whom he had warned
the people in the outer office he expected, had arrived.
Thorpe was still laughing to himself when Lord Plowden entered.
"Hallo! How d'ye do!" he called out to him from where he
sat at his desk.
The hilarity of the manner into which he had been betrayed,
upon the instant surprised and rather confused him.
He had not been altogether clear as to how he should
receive Plowden, but certainly a warm joviality had not
occurred to him as appropriate.
The nobleman was even more taken aback. He stared
momentarily at the big man's beaming mask, and then,
with nervous awkwardness, executed a series of changes
in his own facial expression and demeanour. He flushed red,
opened his lips to say "Ah!" and then twisted them into
a doubting and seemingly painful smile. He looked with
very bright-eyed intentness at Thorpe, as he advanced,
and somewhat spasmodically put out his hand.
It occurred to Thorpe not to see this hand. "How are you!"
he repeated in a more mechanical voice, and withdrew
his smile. Lord Plowden fidgeted on his feet for a brief,
embarrassed interval before the desk, and then dropped
into a chair at its side. With a deliberate effort
at nonchalance, he crossed his legs, and caressed the
ankle on his knee with a careless hand. "Anything new?"
Thorpe lolled back in his arm-chair. "I'm going to be able
to get away in a few days' time," he said, indifferently.
"I expect to finally wind up the business on the Stock
"Ah--yes," commented Plowden, vacantly. He seemed to be
searching after thoughts which had wandered astray.
"Yes--of course," Thorpe said after him, with a latent
touch of significance.
The other looked up quickly, then glanced away again.
"It's all going as you expected, is it?" he asked.
"Better than I expected," Thorpe told him, energetically.
"Much better than anybody expected."
"Hah!" said Plowden. After a moment's reflection he went
on hesitatingly: "I didn't know. I saw something in one of
the papers this morning,--one of the money articles,--which
spoke as if there were some doubt about the result.
That's why I called."
"Well--it's damned good of you to come round, and show such
a friendly interest." Thorpe's voice seemed candid enough,
but there was an enigmatic something in his glance
which aroused the other's distrust.
"I'm afraid you don't take very much stock in the
'friendly interest,'" he said, with a constrained little laugh.
"I'm not taking stock in anything new just now,"
replied Thorpe, lending himself lazily to the other's metaphor.
"I'm loaded up to the gunnels already."
A minute of rather oppressive silence ensued.
Then Plowden ventured upon an opening. "All the same,
it WAS with an idea of,--perhaps being of use to you,--
that I came here," he affirmed. "In what way?" Thorpe put
the query almost listlessly.
Lord Plowden turned his hands and let his dark
eyes sparkle in a gesture of amiable uncertainty.
"That depended upon what was needed. I got the impression
that you were in trouble--the paper spoke as if there
were no doubt of it--and I imagined that quite probably
you would be glad to talk with me about it."
"Quite right," said Thorpe. "So I should."
This comprehensive assurance seemed not, however,
to facilitate conversation. The nobleman looked at
the pattern of the sock on the ankle he was nursing,
and knitted his brows in perplexity. "What if the Committee
of the Stock Exchange decide to interfere?" he asked at last.
"Oh, that would knock me sky-high," Thorpe admitted.
"Approximately, how much may one take 'sky-high' to mean?"
Thorpe appeared to calculate. "Almost anything up
to a quarter of a million," he answered.
"Hah!" said Lord Plowden again. "Well--I understand--
I'm given to understand--that very likely that is what
the Committee will decide."
"Does it say that in the papers?" asked Thorpe.
He essayed an effect of concern. "Where did you see that?"
"I didn't see it," the other explained. "It--it came
"God!" said Thorpe. "That'll be awful! But are you
really in earnest? Is that what you hear? And does it
come at all straight?"
Lord Plowden nodded portentously. "Absolutely straight,"
he said, with gravity.
Thorpe, after a momentary stare of what looked like
bewilderment, was seen to clutch at a straw. "But what
was it you were saying?" he demanded, with eagerness.
"You talked about help--a minute ago. Did you mean
it? Have you got a plan? Is there something that you can do?"
Plowden weighed his words. "It would be necessary
to have a very complete understanding," he remarked.
"Whatever you like," exclaimed the other.
"Pardon me--it would have to be a good deal more definite
than that," Plowden declared. "A 'burnt child'--you know."
The big man tapped musingly with his finger-nails on
the desk. "We won't quarrel about that," he said.
"But what I'd like to know first,--you needn't give
anything away that you don't want to,--but what's your
plan? You say that they've got me in a hole, and that you
can get me out." "In effect--yes."
"But how do you know that I can't get myself out? What
do you know about the whole thing anyway? Supposing I
tell you that I laugh at it--that there's no more ground
for raising the suspicion of fraud than there is for--for
suspecting that you've got wings and can fly."
"I--I don't think you'll tell me that," said Plowden, placidly.
"Well then, supposing I don't tell you that,"
the other resumed, argumentatively. "Supposing I say
instead that it can't be proved. If the Committee doesn't
have proof NOW,--within twenty-one or twenty-two hours,--
they can't do anything at ail. Tomorrow is settling day.
All along, I've said I would wind up the thing tomorrow.
The market-price has been made for me by the jobbers
yesterday and today. I'm all ready to end the whole
business tomorrow--close it all out. And after that's done,
what do I care about the Stock Exchange Committee? They
can investigate and be damned! What could they do to me?"
"I think a man can always be arrested and indicted,
and sent to penal servitude," said Lord Plowden, with a
certain solemnity of tone. "There are even well-known
instances of extradition."
Thorpe buried his chin deep in his collar, and regarded
his companion with a fixed gaze, in which the latter
detected signs of trepidation. "But about the
Committee--and tomorrow," he said slowly. "What do you say
about that? How can they act in that lightning fashion?
And even if proofs could be got, how do you suppose
they are to be got on the drop of the hat, at a minute's notice?"
"The case is of sufficient importance to warrant a
special meeting tomorrow morning," the other rejoined.
"One hour's notice, posted in the House, is sufficient,
I believe. Any three members of the Committee can call
such a meeting, and I understand that seven make a quorum.
You will see that a meeting could be held at noon tomorrow,
and within half an hour could make you a ruined man."
"I don't know--would you call it quite ruined?"
commented Thorpe. "I should still have a few sovereigns
to go on with."
"A criminal prosecution would be practically inevitable--after
such a disclosure," Plowden reminded him, with augmented
severity of tone.
"Don't mix the two things up," the other urged.
There seemed to the listener to be supplication in the voice.
"It's the action of the Committee that you said you
could influence. That's what we were talking about.
You say there will be a special meeting at noon tomorrow----
"I said there could be one," Plowden corrected him.
"All right. There CAN be one. And do you say that there
can be proof,--proof against me of fraud,--produced
at that meeting?"
"Yes--I say that," the nobleman affirmed, quietly.
"And further still--do you say that it rests with you
whether that proof shall be produced or not?"
Lord Plowden looked into the impassive, deep-eyed gaze
which covered him, and looked away from it again.
"I haven't put it in just that form," he said, hesitatingly.
"But in essentials--yes, that may be taken as true."
"And what is your figure? How much do you want for holding
this proof of yours back, and letting me finish scooping
the money of your Hebrew friends Aronson and Rostocker?"
The peer raised his head, and shot a keenly enquiring
glance at the other. "Are they my friends?" he asked,
with challenging insolence.
"I'm bound to assume that you have been dealing with them,
just as you are dealing with me." Thorpe explained
his meaning dispassionately, as if the transaction were
entirely commonplace. "You tell them that you're in a position
to produce proof against me, and ask them what they'll give
for it. Then naturally enough you come to me, and ask
what I'll be willing to pay to have the proof suppressed.
I quite understand that I must bid against these men--and
of course I take it for granted that, since you know
their figure, you've arranged in your mind what mine is
to be. I quite understand, too, that I am to pay more
than they have offered. That is on account of 'friendly interest.'"
"Since you allude to it," Lord Plowden observed,
with a certain calm loftiness of tone, "there is no harm
in saying that you WILL pay something on that old score.
Once you thrust the promise of something like a hundred
thousand pounds positively upon me. You insisted on my
believing it, and I did so, like a fool. I came to you
to redeem the promise, and you laughed in my face.
Very well. It is my turn now. I hold the whip-hand, and I
should be an ass not to remember things. I shall want
that entire one hundred thousand pounds from you, and fifty
thousand added to it 'on account of the 'friendly interest,'
as you so intelligently expressed it."
Thorpe's chin burrowed still deeper upon his breast.
"It's an outrage," he said with feeling. Then he added,
in tones of dejected resignation: "When will you want it?"
"At the moment when the payments of Rostocker and Aronson are made
to you, or to your bankers or agents," Lord Plowden replied,
with prepared facility. He had evidently given much thought
to this part of the proceedings. "And of course I shall
expect you to draw up now an agreement to that effect.
I happen to have a stamped paper with me this time.
And if you don't mind, we will have it properly witnessed--
Thorpe looked at him with a disconcertingly leaden stare,
the while he thought over what had been proposed.
"That's right enough," he announced at last, "but I shall
expect you to do some writing too. Since we're dealing
on this basis, there must be no doubt about the guarantee
that you will perform your part of the contract."
"The performance itself, since payment is conditional
upon it--" began Plowden, but the other interrupted him.
"No, I want something better than that. Here--give me your
stamped paper." He took the bluish sheet, and, without hesitation,
wrote several lines rapidly. "Here--this is my promise,"
he said, "to pay you 150,000 pounds, upon your satisfactory
performance of a certain undertaking to be separately
nominated in a document called 'A,' which we will jointly
draw up and agree to and sign, and deposit wherever
you like--for safe keeping. Now, if you'll sit here,
and write out for me a similar thing--that in consideration
of my promise of 150,000 pounds, you covenant to perform
the undertaking to be nominated in the document 'A'--and so on."
Lord Plowden treated as a matter of course the ready and
business-like suggestion of the other. Taking his place
at the desk in turn, he wrote out what had been suggested.
Thorpe touched a bell, and the clerk who came in
perfunctorily attested the signatures upon both papers.
Each principal folded and pocketed the pledge of the other.
"Now," said Thorpe, when he had seated himself again
at the desk, "we are all right so far as protection
against each other goes. If you don't mind, I will draw
up a suggestion of what the separate document 'A' should
set forth. If you don't like it, you can write one."
He took more time to this task, frowning laboriously over
the fresh sheet of foolscap, and screening from observation
with his hand what he was writing. Finally, the task
seemed finished to his mind. He took up the paper,
glanced through it once more, and handed it in silence
to the other.
In silence also, and with an expression of arrested attention,
Lord Plowden read these lines:
"The undertaking referred to in the two documents of even date,
signed respectively by Lord Plowden and Stormont Thorpe,
is to the effect that at some hour between eleven A.M.
and three P.M. of September 12th, instant, Lord Plowden
shall produce before a special meeting of the Committee
of the Stock Exchange, the person of one Jerome P. Tavender,
to explain to said Committee his share in the blackmailing
scheme of which Lord Plowden, over his own signature,
has furnished documentary evidence."
The nobleman continued to look down at the paper, after the
power to hold it without shaking had left his hand.
There came into his face, mingling with and vitiating
its rich natural hues of health, a kind of grey shadow.
It was as if clay was revealing itself beneath faded paint.
He did not lift his eyes.
Thorpe had been prepared to hail this consummation
of his trick with boisterous and scornful mirth.
Even while the victim was deciphering the fatal paper,
he had restrained with impatience the desire to burst
out into bitter laughter. But now there was something
in the aspect of Plowden's collapse which seemed to forbid
triumphant derision. He was taking his blow so like a
gentleman,--ashen-pale and quivering, but clinging to a
high-bred dignity of silence,--that the impulse to exhibit
equally good manners possessed Thorpe upon the instant.
"Well--you see how little business you've got,
setting yourself to buck against a grown-up man."
He offered the observation in the tone of the school-
teacher, affectedly philosophical but secretly jubilant,
who harangues a defeated and humiliated urchin upon his folly.
"Oh, chuck it!" growled Lord Plowden, staring still
at the calamitous paper.
Thorpe accepted in good part the intimation that silence
was after all most decorous. He put his feet up on
the corner of the desk, and tipping back his chair,
surveyed the discomfited Viscount impassively.
He forbore even to smile.
"So this swine of a Tavender came straight to you!"
Lord Plowden had found words at last. As he spoke,
he lifted his face, and made a show of looking the other
in the eye.
"Oh, there are a hundred things in your own game, even,
that you haven't an inkling of," Thorpe told him,
lightly. "I've been watching every move you've made,
seeing further ahead in your own game than you did.
Why, it was too easy! It was like playing draughts
with a girl. I knew you would come today, for example.
I told the people out there that I expected you."
"Yes-s," said the other, with rueful bewilderment.
"You seem to have been rather on the spot--I confess."
"On the spot? All over the place!" Thorpe lifted himself
slightly in his chair, and put more animation into his voice.
"It's the mistake you people make!" he declared oracularly.
"You think that a man can come into the City without a penny,
and form great combinations and carry through a great scheme,
and wage a fight with the smartest set of scoundrels
on the London Stock Exchange and beat 'em, and make for
himself a big fortune--and still be a fool! You imagine
that a man like that can be played with, and hoodwinked
by amateurs like yourself. It's too ridiculous!"
The perception that apparently Thorpe bore little or no
malice had begun to spread through Plowden's consciousness.
It was almost more surprising to him than the revelation
of his failure had been. He accustomed himself to the
thought gradually, and as he did so the courage crept
back into his glance. He breathed more easily.
"You are right!" he admitted. It cost him nothing to give
a maximum of fervid conviction to the tone of his words.
The big brute's pride in his own brains and power was still
his weakest point. "You are right! I did play the fool.
And it was all the more stupid, because I was the first
man in London to recognize the immense forces in you.
I said to you at the very outset, 'You are going to go far.
You are going to be a great man.' You remember that,
Thorpe nodded. "Yes--I remember it."
The nobleman, upon reflection, drew a little silver box
from his pocket, and extracted a match. "Do you mind?"
he asked, and scarcely waiting for a token of reply,
struck a flame upon the sole of his shoe, and applied
it to the sheet of foolscap he still held in his hand.
The two men watched it curl and blacken after it had been
tossed in the grate, without a word.
This incident had the effect of recalling to Thorpe
the essentials of the situation. He had allowed the talk
to drift to a point where it became almost affable.
He sat upright with a sudden determination, and put his feet
firmly on the floor, and knitted his brows in austerity.
"It was not only a dirty trick that you tried to play me,
"he said, in an altered, harsh tone, "but it was a
fool-trick. That drunken old bum of a Tavender writes
some lunatic nonsense or other to Gafferson, and he's
a worse idiot even than Tavender is, and on the strength
of what one of these clowns thinks he surmises the other
clown means, you go and spend your money,--money I
gave you, by the way,--in bringing Tavender over here.
You do this on the double chance, we'll say, of using
him against me for revenge and profit combined,
or of peddling him to me for a still bigger profit.
You see it's all at my fingers' ends."
Lord Plowden nodded an unqualified assent.
"Well then--Tavender arrives. What do you do? Are you
at the wharf to meet him? Have you said to yourself: 'I've
set out to fight one of the smartest and strongest men
in England, and I've got to keep every atom of wits about me,
and strain every nerve to the utmost, and watch every point
of the game as a tiger watches a snake'? Not a bit of it!
You snooze in bed, and you send Gafferson--Gafferson!--the
mud-head of the earth! to meet your Tavender, and loaf
about with him in London, and bring him down by a slow
train to your place in the evening. My God! You've only
got two clear days left to do the whole thing in--and you
don't even come up to town to get ready for them! You
send Gafferson--and he goes off to see a flower-show--
Mother of Moses! think of it! a FLOWER-show!--and your
Tavender aud I are left to take a stroll together,
and talk over old times and arrange about new times,
and so on, to our hearts' content. Really, it's too
easy! You make me tired!"
The nobleman offered a wan, appealing shadow of a smile.
"I confess to a certain degree of weariness myself,"
he said, humbly.
Thorpe looked at him in his old apathetic, leaden fashion
for a little. "I may tell you that if you HAD got hold
of Tavender," he decided to tell him, "he shouldn't
have been of the faintest use to you. I know what it
was that he wrote to Gafferson,--I couldn't understand
it when he first told me, but afterwards I saw through
it,--and it was merely a maudlin misapprehension of his.
He'd got three or four things all mixed up together.
You've never met your friend Tavender, I believe? You'd
enjoy him at Hadlow House. He smells of rum a hundred
yards off. What little brain he's got left is soaked in it.
The first time I was ever camping with him, I had to lick
him for drinking the methylated spirits we were using with
our tin stove. Oh, you'd have liked him!"
"Evidently," said Lord Plowden, upon reflection, "it was
all a most unfortunate and--ah--most deplorable mistake."
With inspiration, he made bold to add: "The most amazing thing,
though--to my mind--is that you don't seem--what shall
I say?--particularly enraged with me about it."
"Yes--that surprises me, too," Thorpe meditatively admitted.
"I was entitled to kill you--crush you to jelly.
Any other man I would. But you,--I don't know,--I do funny
things with you."
"I wish you would give me a drink, now--as one of them,"
Plowden ventured to suggest, with uneasy pleasantry.
Thorpe smiled a little as he rose, and heavily moved
across the room. He set out upon the big official table
in the middle, that mockingly pretentious reminder
of a Board which never met, a decanter and two glasses
and some recumbent, round-bottomed bottles. He handed one
of these last to Plowden, as the latter strolled toward the table.
"You know how to open these, don't you?" he said, languidly.
"Somehow I never could manage it."
The nobleman submissively took the bottle, and picked
with awkwardness at its wire and cork, and all at once
achieved a premature and not over-successful explosion.
He wiped his dripping cuff in silence, when the tumblers
"Well--here's better luck to you next time," Thorpe said,
lifting his glass. The audacious irony of his words filled
Plowden with an instant purpose.
"What on earth did you round on me in that way for,
Thorpe--when I was here last?" He put the question with
bravery enough, but at sight of the other's unresponsive
face grew suddenly timorous aud explanatory. "No man
was ever more astounded in the world than I was. To this
day I'm as unable to account for it as a babe unborn.
What conceivable thing had I done to you?"
Thorpe slowly thought of something that had not occurred
to him before, and seized upon it with a certain satisfaction.
"That day that you took me shooting," he said, with the
tone of one finally exposing a long-nursed grievance,
"you stayed in bed for hours after you knew I was up and
waiting for you--and when we went out, you had a servant
to carry a chair for you, but I--by God!--I had to stand up."
"Heavens above!" ejaculated Plowden, in unfeigned amazement.
"These are little things--mere trifles," continued Thorpe,
dogmatically, "but with men of my temper and make-up those
are just the things that aggravate and rankle and hurt.
Maybe it's foolish, but that's the kind of man I am.
You ought to have had the intelligence to see that--and
not let these stupid little things happen to annoy me.
Why just think what you did. I was going to do God
knows what for you--make your fortune and everything
else,--and you didn't show consideration enough for me
to get out of bed at a decent hour--much less see to it
that I had a chair if you were going to have one."
"Upon my word, I can't tell how ashamed and sorry I am,"
Lord Plowden assured him, with fervent contrition in
"Well, those are the things to guard against,"
said Thorpe, approaching a dismissal of the subject.
"People who show consideration for me; people who take
pains to do the little pleasant things for me, and see
that I'm not annoyed and worried by trifles--they're
the people that I, on my side, do the big things for.
I can be the best friend in the world, but only to those
who show that they care for me, and do what they know
I'll like. I don't want toadies about me, but I do want
people who feel bound to me, and are as keen about me
and my feelings and interests as they are about their own."
"It is delightfully feudal--all this," commented the nobleman,
smilingly addressing the remark to nobody in particular.
Then he looked at Thorpe. "Let me be one of them--one
of the people you speak of," he said, with directness.
Thorpe returned his look with the good-natured
beginnings of a grin. "But what would you be good for?"
he queried, in a bantering tone. "People I have about
me have to be of some use. They require to have heads
on their shoulders. Why--just think what you've done.
I don't mean so much about your letting Tavender slip
through your fingers--although that was about the worst I
ever heard of. But here in this room, at that desk there,
you allowed me to bounce you into writing and signing
a paper which you ought to have had your hand cut off
rather than write, much less sign. You come here trying
to work the most difficult and dangerous kind of a
bluff,--knowing all the while that the witness you depended
entirely upon had disappeared, you hadn't the remotest
idea where,--and you actually let me lead you into giving
me your signature to your own declaration that you
are blackmailing me! Thinking it all over--you know--I
can't see that you would be of much help to me in the City."
Lord Plowden joined perforce in the laughter with
which the big man enjoyed his own pleasantry.
His mirth had some superficial signs of shamefacedness,
but it was hopeful underneath. "The City!" he echoed,
with meaning. "That's the curse of it. What do I know
about the City? What business have I in the City? As
you said, I'm the amateur. A strong man like you can
make me seem any kind of a ridiculous fool he likes,
with the turn of his hand. I see that right enough.
But what am I to do? I have to make a shot at something.
I'm so rotten poor!"
Thorpe had retired again behind the barrier of dull-
eyed abstraction. He seemed not to have heard this
The other preserved silence in turn, and even made
a pretence of looking at some pamphlets on the table,
as a token of his boundless deference to the master's mood.
"I don't know. I'll see," the big man muttered
at last, doubtfully.
Lord Plowden felt warranted in taking an optimistic view
of these vague words. "It's awfully good of you"--
he began, lamely, and then paused. "I wonder,"--he took
up a new thought with a more solicitous tone,--"I wonder
if you would mind returning to me that idiotic paper I signed."
Thorpe shook his head. "Not just now, at any rate,"
he said, still musingly. With his head bowed, he took
a few restless steps.
"But you are going to--to help me!" the other remarked,
with an air of confidence. He had taken up his hat,
in response to the tacit warning of his companion's manner.
Thorpe looked at him curiously, and hesitated over
his answer. It was a surprising and almost unaccountable
conclusion for the interview to have reached. He was in
some vague way ashamed of himself, but he was explicitly
and contemptuously ashamed for Plowden, and the impulse
to say so was strong within him. This handsome young
gentleman of title ought not to be escaping with this
restored buoyancy of mien, and this complacency of spirit.
He had deserved to be punished with a heavy hand, and here
he was blithely making certain of new benefits instead.
"I don't know--I'll see," Thorpe moodily repeated--and
there was no more to be said.
IN the noon hour of the following day was enacted the brief
final scene in the drama of the "Rubber Consols corner."
For long weeks, Mr. Stormont Thorpe had given much thought
to this approaching climax of his great adventure--looking
forward to it both as the crowning event of his life,
and as the dawn of a new existence in some novel,
enchanted world. It was to bring his triumph, and even more,
his release. It was at once to crown him as a hero
and chieftain among City men, and transfigure him into
a being for whom all City things were an abomination.
In his waking hours, the conflict between these aims did
not specially force itself upon his attention: he mused upon,
and spun fancies about, either one indifferently,
and they seemed not at all irreconcilable. But his dreams
were full of warfare,--wearily saturated with strife,
and endless endeavour to do things which could not be done,
and panic-stricken terrors before the shadow of shapeless
calamities,--until he dreaded to go to sleep. Then he
discovered that an extra two glasses of whiskey-and-water
would solve that particular difficulty, and send him
into prompt, leaden slumber--but the early mornings remained
as torturing as ever. In the twilight he awoke oppressed
and sick at heart with gloom--and then dozed at intervals
through fantastic new ordeals of anguish and shame and fear,
till it was decently possible to get up.
Then, indeed, the big cold sponge on his head and spine
scattered these foolish troubles like chaff, and restored
to him his citizenship among the realities. He dressed
with returning equanimity, and was almost cheerful
by the time he thrust his razor into the hot water.
Yet increasingly he was conscious of the wear and strain
of it all, and increasingly the date, September twelfth,
loomed before him with a portentous individuality of
This day grew to mean so much more to him than had all
the other days of the dead years together that he woke
in the darkness of its opening hours, and did not get
satisfactorily to sleep again. His vigil, however,
was for the once free from grief. He drowsily awaited
the morning in vague mental comfort; he had recurring
haphazard indolent glimpses of a protecting fact standing
guard just outside the portals of consciousness--the
fact that the great day was here. He rose early,
breakfasted well, and walked by the Embankment to the City,
where at ten he had a few words with Semple, and afterward
caused himself to be denied to ordinary callers.
He paced up and down the Board Room for the better part
of the ensuing two hours, luxuriating in the general sense
of satisfaction in the proximity of the climax, rather than
pretending to himself that he was thinking out its details.
He had provided in his plans of the day for a visit
from Messrs. Rostocker and Aronson, which should constitute
the dramatic finale of the "corner," and he looked forward
to this meeting with a certain eagerness of expectation.
Yet even here he thought broadly of the scene as a whole,
and asked himself no questions about words and phrases.
It seemed to be taken for granted in his mind that the scene
itself would be theatrically impressive, even spectacular.
In the event, this long-awaited culmination proved
to be disappointingly flat and commonplace. It was over
before Thorpe had said any considerable proportion of the
things he saw afterward that he had intended to say.
The two men came as he had expected they would--
and they bought their way out of the tragic "corner"
at precisely the price he had nominated in his mind.
But hardly anything else went as he had dimly prefigured it.
Mr. Rostocker was a yellow-haired man, and Mr. Aronson
was as dark as a Moor, and no physical resemblance of
features or form suggested itself to the comparing eye,
yet Thorpe even now, when they stood brusquely silent
before him, with their carefully-brushed hats pulled
down over their eyes, stuck to it in his own mind
that it was hard to tell them apart. To the end,
there was something impersonal in his feeling toward them.
They, for their part, coldly abstained from exhibiting
a sign of feeling about him, good, bad, or indifferent.
It was the man with the fair hair and little curly flaxen
beard who spoke: "How do you do! I understand that we can
buy eight thousand five hundred Rubber Consols from you
"No--twenty-five," replied Thorpe.
The dark man spoke: "The jobbers' price is twenty-three."
"To carry over--yes," Thorpe answered. "But to buy it
The two sons of the race which invented mental arithmetic
exchanged an alert glance, and looked at the floor
for an engrossed instant.
"I don't mind telling you," Thorpe interposed upon
their silence, "I put on that extra two pounds because you
got up that story about applying to the Stock Exchange
Committee on a charge of fraud."
"We didn't get up any story," said Rostocker, curtly.
"You tried to plant it on us," Aronson declared.
"One of your own Directors put it about. I thought it
was a fake at the time."
This view of the episode took Thorpe by surprise.
As it seemed, in passing, to involve a compliment to his
own strategic powers, he accepted it without comment.
"Well--it is twenty-five, anyway," he told them,
"Twenty-four," suggested Aronson, after another momentary pause.
"Not a shilling less than twenty-five," Thorpe insisted,
with quiet doggedness.
"We can always pay our creditors and let you whistle,"
Rostocker reminded him, laconically.
"You can do anything you like," was the reply, "except buy
Rubber Consols under twenty-five. It doesn't matter a fig
to me whether you go bankrupt or not. It would suit me
as well to have you two 'hammered' as to take your money."
Upon the spur of a sudden thought he drew out his watch.
"In just two minutes' time to a tick, the price will
"Let's be 'hammered' then!" said Aronson to his companion,
with simulated impulsiveness.
Rostocker was the older and stronger man, and when at last
he spoke it was with the decision of one in authority.
"It is your game," he said, with grave imperturbability.
"Eight thousand five hundred at twenty-five. Will you deliver
at the Credit Lyonnais in half an hour?"
Thorpe nodded, impassively. Then a roving idea of genial
impertinence brought a gleam to his eye. "If you should
happen to want more Rubber Consols at any time," he said,
with a tentative chuckle, "I could probably let you have
them at a reduced price."
The two received the pleasantry without a smile,
but to Thorpe's astonishment one of them seemed to discern
something in it beside banter. It was Rostocker who said:
"Perhaps we may make a deal with you," and apparently meant it.
They went out at this, ignoring ceremony upon their
exit as stolidly as they had done upon their entrance,
and a moment later Thorpe called in the Secretary,
and despatched a messenger to bring Semple from Capel Court.
The formalities of this final transfer of shares had been
dictated to the former, and he had gone off on the business,
before the Broker arrived.
Thorpe stood waiting near the door, and held out his hand
with a dramatically significant gesture when the little
Scotchman entered. "Put her there!" he exclaimed heartily,
with an exuberant reversion to the slang of remote
"Yeh've done it, then!" said Semple, his sharp face
softening with pleasure at the news. "Yeh've pulled
it off at twenty-three!"
The other's big countenance yielded itself to a boyish grin.
"Twenty-FIVE!" he said, and laughed aloud. "After you
left this morning, it kind o' occurred to me that I'd
raise it a couple of pounds. I found I was madder about
those pieces in the newspapers than I thought I was,
and so I took an extra seventeen thousand pounds on
"God above!" Semple ejaculated, with a satisfaction
through which signs of an earlier fright were visible.
"It was touch-and-go if you didn't lose it all by doing
that! You risked everything, man!"
Thorpe ponderously shrugged his shoulders.
"Well--I did it, anyhow, and it came off," was his comment.
Then, straightening himself, he drew a long, long breath,
and beamed down at the little man. "Think of it! God! It's
actually all over! And NOW perhaps we won't have a drink!
Hell! Let's send out for some champagne!" His finger was
hovering over the bell, when the Broker's dissuading voice
arrested it. "No, no!" Semple urged. "I wouldn't touch it.
It's no fit drink for the daytime--and it's a scandal
in an office. Your clerks will aye blab it about hither
and yon, and nothing harms a man's reputation more in the City."
"Oh, to hell with the City!" cried Thorpe, joyously.
"I'm never going to set foot in it again. Think of that!
I mean it!"
None the less, he abandoned the idea of sending out for wine,
and contented himself with the resources of the cabinet instead.
After some friendly pressure, Semple consented to join
him in a brandy-and-soda, though he continued to protest
between sips that at such an hour it was an indecent practice.
"It's the ruin of many a strong man," he moralized,
looking rather pointedly at Thorpe over his glass. "It's the
principal danger that besets the verra successful man.
He's too busily occupied to take exercise, and he's
too anxious and worried to get his proper sleep--but he
can always drink! In one sense, I'm not sorry to think
that you're leaving the City."
"Oh, it never hurts me," Thorpe said, indifferently accepting
the direction of the homily. "I'm as strong as an ox.
But all the same, I shall be better in every way for
getting out of this hole. Thank God, I can get off
to Scotland tomorrow. But I say, Semple, what's the
matter with your visiting me at my place there? I'll
give you the greatest shooting and fishing you ever heard of."
The Broker was thinking of something else. "What is to be
the precise position of the Company, in the immediate future?"
"Company? What Company?"
Semple smiled grimly. "Have you already forgotten
that there is such a thing?" he queried, with irony.
"Why, man, this Company that paid for this verra fine
Board-table," he explained, with his knuckles on its red
Thorpe laughed amusedly. "I paid for that out of my
own pocket," he said. "For that matter everything
about the Company has come out of my pocket----"
"Or gone into it," suggested the other, and they
"But no--you're right," Thorpe declared. "Some thing
ought to be settled about the Company, I suppose.
Of course I wash my hands of it--but would anybody else
want to go on with it? You see its annual working expenses,
merely for the office and the Board, foot up nearly
3,000 pounds. I've paid these for this year, but naturally
I won't do it again. And would it be worth anybody else's
while to do it? Yours, for example?"
"Have you had any explanations with the other Directors?"
the Broker asked, thoughtfully.
"Explanations--no," Thorpe told him. "But that's all right.
The Marquis has been taken care of, and so has Plowden.
They're game to agree to anything. And let's see--Kervick
is entirely my man. That leaves Watkin and Davidson--and
they don't matter. They're mere guinea-pigs. A few hundreds
apiece would shut them up, if you thought it was worth
while to give them anything at all."
"And about the property,--the rubber plantation,--that
the Company was formed to acquire and develop. I suppose
there really is such a plantation?"
"Oh, yes, it's all there right enough," Thorpe said, briefly.
"It's no good, though, is it?" the Broker asked,
with affable directness.
"Between ourselves, it isn't worth a damn," the other
blithely assured him.
The Scotchman mused with bent brows. "There ought still
to be money in it," he said, with an air of conviction.
"By the way," it occurred to Thorpe to mention, "here's
something I didn't understand. I told Rostocker here,
just as a cheeky kind of joke, that after he and Aronson
had got their eight thousand five hundred, if they
thought they'd like still more shares, I'd let 'em have
'em at a bargain--and he seemed to take it seriously.
He did for a fact. Said perhaps he could make a deal
"Hm-m!" said Semple, reflectively. "I'll see if he
says anything to me. Very likely he's spotted some way
of taking the thing over, and reorganizing it, and giving
it another run over the course. I'll think it out.
And now I must be off. Aren't you lunching?"
"No--I'll have the boy bring in some sandwiches,"
Thorpe decided. "I want my next meal west of Temple Bar
when I get round to it. I've soured on the City for keeps."
"I wouldn't say that it had been so bad to you, either,"
Semple smilingly suggested, as he turned to the door.
Thorpe grinned in satisfied comment. "Hurry back as soon
as you've finally settled with Rostocker and the other fellow,"
he called after him, and began pacing the floor again.
It was nearly four o'clock when these two men, again together
in the Board Room, and having finished the inspection
of some papers on the desk, sat upright and looked at each
other in tacit recognition that final words were to be spoken.
"Well, Semple," Thorpe began, after that significant
little pause, "I want to say that I'm damned glad
you've done so well for yourself in this affair.
You've been as straight as a die to me,--I owe it
as much to you as I do to myself,--and if you don't
think you've got enough even now, I want you to say so."
He had spoken in tones of sincere liking, and the
other answered him in kind. "I have more than I ever
dreamed of making in a lifetime when I came to London,"
he declared. "If my father were alive, and heard me
tell him that in one year, out of a single transaction,
I had cleared over sixty-five thousand pounds,
he'd be fit to doubt the existence of a Supreme Being.
I'm obliged to you for your good words, Thorpe. It's not
only been profitable to work with you, but it has been
a great education and a great pleasure as well."
Thorpe nodded his appreciation. "I'm going to ask
a favour of you," he said. "I want to leave the general
run of my investments and interests here in your hands,
to keep track of I don't want to speculate at all,
in the ordinary meaning of the word. Even after I bury
a pot of money in non-productive real estate, I shall
have an income of 50,000 pounds at the very least,
and perhaps twice as much. There's no fun in gambling
when you've got such a bank as that behind you. But if
there are good, wise changes to be made in investments,
or if things turn up in the way of chances that I ought
to know about, I want to feel that you're on the spot
watching things and doing things in my interest.
And as it won't be regular broker's work, I shall want
to pay you a stated sum--whatever you think is right."
"That will arrange itself easily enough," said Semple.
"I shall have the greatest pleasure in caring for whatever
you put in my hands. And I think I can promise that it
will be none the worse for the keeping."
"I don't need any assurance on that score,"
Thorpe declared, cordially. "You're the one sterling,
honest man I've known in the City."
It was the Broker's turn to make a little acknowledging bow.
His eyes gleamed frank satisfaction at being so well understood.
"I think I see the way that more money can be made out
of the Company," he said, abruptly changing the subject.
"I've had but a few words with Rostocker about it--but
it's clear to me that he has a plan. He will be coming
to you with a proposition."
"Well, he won't find me, then," interposed Thorpe,
with a comfortable smile. "I leave all that to you."
"I suspect that his plan," continued Semple, "is to make
a sub-rosa offer of a few shillings for the majority
of the shares, and reconstitute the Board, and then form
another Company to buy the property and good-will of the old
one at a handsome price. Now if that would be a good thing
for him to do, it would be a good thing for me to do.
I shall go over it all carefully, in detail, this evening.
And I suppose, if I see my way clear before me, than I
may rely upon your good feeling in the matter. I would
do all the work and assume all the risk, and, let us say,
divide any profits equally--you in turn giving me
a free hand with all your shares, and your influence
with the Directors."
"I'll do better still," Thorpe told him, upon brief reflection.
"Reconstitute the Board and make Lord Plowden Chairman,--I
don't imagine the Marquis would have the nerve to go on
with it,--and I'll make a free gift of my shares to you
two--half and half. You'll find him all right to work
with,--if you can only get him up in the morning,--and
I've kind o' promised him something of the sort.
Does that suit you?" Semple's countenance was thoughtful
rather than enthusiastic. "I'm more skeptical about
Lords than you are," he observed, "but if he's amenable,
and understands that his part is to do what I tell
him to do, I've no doubt we shall hit it off together."
"Oh, absolutely!" said Thorpe, with confidence.
"I'll see to it that he behaves like a lamb. You're to have
an absolutely free hand. You're to do what you like,--
wind the Company up, or sell it out, or rig it up under
a new name and catch a new set of gudgeons with it,--
whatever you damned please. When I trust a man, I trust him."
The two friends, their faces brightened and their voices
mellowed by this serene consciousness of their mutual trust
in each other's loyalty and integrity, dwelt no further upon
these halcyon beginnings of a fresh plan for plundering
the public. They spoke instead on personal topics--of
the possibility of Semple's coming to Scotland during
the autumn, and of the chance of Thorpe's wintering abroad.
All at once Thorpe found himself disclosing the fact
of his forthcoming marriage, though he did not mention
the name of the lady's father, and under the gracious
stress of this announcement they drank again, and clinked
glasses fervently. When Semple at last took his leave,
they shook hands with the deep-eyed earnestness of comrades
who have been through battle and faced death together.
It was not until Thorpe stood alone that the full realizing
sense of what the day meant seemed to come to him.
Fruition was finally complete: the last winnowing
of the great harvest had been added to the pile.
Positively nothing remained for him but to enter and enjoy!
He found it curiously difficult to grasp the thought
in its entirety. He stood the master of unlimited leisure
for the rest of his life, and of power to enrich that life
with everything that money could buy,--but there was
an odd inability to feel about it as he knew he ought to feel.
Somehow, for some unaccountable reason, an absurd
depression hovered about over his mind, darkening it
with formless shadows. It was as if he were sorry
that the work was all finished--that there was nothing
more for him to do. But that was too foolish,
and he tried to thrust it from him. He said with angry
decision to himself that he had never liked the work;
that it had all been unpleasant and grinding drudgery,
tolerable only as a means to an end; that now this end
had been reached, he wanted never to lay eyes on the City again.
Let him dwell instead upon the things he did want to lay
eyes upon. Some travel no doubt he would like, but not
too much; certainly no more than his wife would cheerfully
accept as a minimum. He desired rather to rest among his
own possessions. To be lord of the manor at Pellesley Court,
with his own retinue of servants and dependents and tenants,
his own thousands of rich acres, his own splendid old timber,
his own fat stock and fleet horses and abundant covers
and prize kennels--THAT was what most truly appealed
to him. It was not at all certain that he would hunt;
break-neck adventure in the saddle scarcely attracted him.
But there was no reason in the world why he should not breed
racing horses, and create for himself a distinguished and
even lofty position on the Turf. He had never cared much
about races or racing folk himself, but when the Prince
and Lord Rosebery and people like that went in for winning
the Derby, there clearly must be something fascinating in it.
Then Parliament, of course; he did not waver at all from
his old if vague conception of a seat in Parliament as a
natural part of the outfit of a powerful country magnate.
And in a hundred other ways men should think of him
as powerful, and look up to him. He would go to church
every Sunday, and sit in the big Squire's pew.
He would be a magistrate as a matter of course,
and he would make himself felt on the County Council.
He would astonish the county by his charities, and in bad
years by the munificence of his reductions in rents.
Perhaps if there were a particularly bad harvest, he would
decline all over his estate to exact any rent whatever.
Fancy what a noble sensation that would make! A Duke could
do no more.
It was very clear to him now that he desired to have children
of his own,--say two at least, a son and a daughter,
or perhaps a son and two daughters: two little girls
would be company for each other. As he prefigured
these new beings, the son was to exist chiefly for
purposes of distinction and the dignity of heirship,
and the paternal relations with him would be always
somewhat formal, and, though affectionate, unexpansive.
But the little girls--they would put their arms round
their father's neck, and walk out with him to see the
pigs and the dogs, and be the darlings of his heart.
He would be an old man by the time they grew up.
A beatific vision of himself took form in his mind--of
himself growing grey and pleasurably tired, surrounded by
opulence and the demonstrative respect of everybody,
smiling with virtuous content as he strolled along between
his two daughters, miracles of beauty and tenderness,
holding each by a hand.
The entrance of a clerk broke abruptly upon this daydream.
He had a telegram in his hand, and Thorpe, rousing himself
with an effort, took the liver-coloured envelope, and looked
blankly at it. Some weird apprehension seized upon him,
as if he belonged to the peasant class which instinctively
yokes telegrams and calamities together. He deferred
to this feeling enough to nod dismissal to the clerk,
and then, when he was again alone, slowly opened the message,
and read it:
"Newcastle-on-Tyne, September 12. Our friend died at Edinboro
this morning. See you at hotel this evening.--Kervick."
What Thorpe felt at first was that his two daughters
had shrunk from him with swift, terrible aversion:
they vanished, along with every phase of the bright vision,
under a pall of unearthly blackness. He stood in the centre
of a chill solitude, staring stupidly at the coarse,
The premonition, then, had justified itself! Something
had told him that the telegram was an evil thing.
A vaguely superstitious consciousness of being in the presence
of Fate laid hold upon him. His great day of triumph
had its blood-stain. A victim had been needful--and to
that end poor simple, silly old Tavender was a dead man.
Thorpe could see him,--an embarrassing cadaver eyed by
strangers who did not know what to do with it,--fatuous
even in death.
A sudden rage at Kervick flamed up. He clearly had played
the fool--clumsily over-plying the simpleton with drink
till he had killed him. The shadow of murder indubitably
hung over the thing. And then--the crass witlessness
of telegraphing! Already, doubtless, the police of
Edinborough were talking over the wires with Scotland Yard.
A reference to a death in Edinborough, in a telegram
from Newcastle--it was incredible that this should escape
the eye of the authorities. Any minute might bring
a detective through that door there--following into the
Board Room with his implacable scent the clue of blood.
Thorpe's fancy pictured this detective as a momentarily
actual presence--tall, lean, cold-eyed, mysteriously calm
and fatally wise, the omniscient terror of the magazine
He turned faint and sick under a spasm of fright.
The menace of enquiry became something more than a threat:
he felt it, like the grip of a constable upon his arm.
Everything would be mercilessly unravelled. The telegram
of the idiot Kervick would bring the police down upon
him like a pack of beagles. The beliefs and surmises
of the idiot Gafferson would furnish them with the key
to everything. He would have his letter from Tavender
to show to the detectives--and the Government's smart
lawyers would ferret out the rest. The death of
Tavender--they could hardly make him responsible for that;
but it was the dramatic feature of this death which would
inspire them all to dig up everything about the fraud.
It was this same sensational added element of the death,
too, which would count with a jury. They were always gross,
sentimental fools, these juries. They would mix up the death
and the deal in Rubber Consols, and in their fat-headed
confusion would say "Penal Servitude--fourteen years."
Or no, it was the Judge who fixed that. But the Judges
were fools, too; they were too conceited, too puffed
up with vanity, to take the trouble to understand.
He groaned aloud in a nightmare of helplessness.
The sound of his own voice, moaning in his ears,
had a magical effect upon him. He lifted his head,
gazed about him, and then flushed deeply. His nerveless
cowardice had all at once become unbelievable to himself.
With a shamed frown he straightened himself, and stood
thus for a long minute, engrossed in the definite
task of chasing these phantoms from his mind.
Once a manly front was displayed to them, they slunk away
with miraculous facility. He poured out some brandy,
and sipped it neat, and laughed scornfully, defiantly, aloud.
He had over half a million--with power and force and
courage enough to do with it what he liked. He had fought
luck undauntedly, unwearyingly, during all those years when
his hands were empty. Was he to tremble and turn tail now,
when his hands were full, when he was armoured and weaponed
at every point? He was amazed and hurt, and still more enraged,
at that fit of girlish weakness which had possessed him.
He could have beaten himself with stripes for it.
But it could never happen again--never, never!
He told himself that with proud, resolute reiteration,
as he got his hat and stick, and put in his pockets
one or two papers from the desk, and then glanced about
the Board Room for what was, most likely, the last time.
Here he had won his great victory over Fate, here he had
put his enemies under his feet, and if innocent simpletons
had wandered into the company of these foes, it mattered
not a whit to him that they also had been crushed.
Figuratively, he turned his back upon them now; he left them,
slain and trampled, in the Board Room behind him.
They no longer concerned him.
Figuratively, too, as he walked with firmness to the door,
he stepped over the body of old Tavender, upon the threshold,
and bestowed upon it a downward mental glance, and passed on.
By the time he reached the street, the memory of Tavender
had become the merest shred of a myth. As he strode on,
it seemed to him that his daughters came again, and took
his hands, and moved lovingly beside him--lovingly and still
more admiringly than before.
BY the autumn of the following year, a certain small
proportion of the people inhabiting the district
in Hertfordshire which set its clocks by the dial over
the stable-tower of Pellesley Court had accustomed
themselves to give the place its new name of High Thorpe.
These were for the most part the folk of peculiarly
facile wits and ready powers of adaptation, like pushing
small tradesmen, and the upper servants in county houses.
An indolent and hazy compromise upon Pellesley Thorpe
had drifted into use by perhaps a larger number.
To the puzzled conservatism of the abiding huge majority
nearest to the soil--the round-backed, lumpish men
who tie strings round their corduroys under the knee,
and the strong, cow-faced women who look at passers-by
on the road from the doors of dark little cottages,
over radiant patches of blossoming garden--it seemed
safest to drop family names altogether, and call it
merely the Court.
It stood proudly upon what was rather a notable elevation
for those flat parts--a massive mansion of simple form,
built of a grey stone which seemed at a distance almost
white against the deep background of yews and Italian
pines behind it. For many miles seaward this pale front
was a landmark. From the terrace-walk at its base,
one beheld a great expanse of soft green country,
sloping gently away for a long distance, then stretching
out upon a level which on misty days was interminable.
In bright weather, the remote, low-lying horizon had a
defining line of brownish-blue--and this stood for what was
left of a primitive forest, containing trees much older
than the Norman name it bore. It was a forest which at
some time, no doubt, had extended without a break till it
merged into that of Epping--leagues away to the south.
The modern clearance and tillage, however, which separated
it now from Epping had served as a curiously effective
barrier--more baffling than the Romans and Angles
in their turn had found the original wildwood.
No stranger seemed ever to find his way into that broad,
minutely-cultivated fertile plain which High Thorpe looked
down upon. No railway had pushed its cheapening course
across it. Silent, embowered old country roads and lanes
netted its expanse with hedgerows; red points of tiled roofs,
distinguishable here and there in clusters among the darker
greens of orchards, identified the scattered hamlets--all
named in Domesday Book, all seemingly unchanged since.
A grey square church-tower emerging from the rooks'
nests; an ordered mass of foliage sheltering the distant
gables and chimneys of some isolated house; the dim
perception on occasion that a rustic waggon was in motion
on some highway, crawling patiently like an insect--of
this placid, inductive nature were all the added proofs
of human occupation that the landscape offered.
Mr. Stormont Thorpe, on an afternoon of early October,
yawned in the face of this landscape--and then idly wondered
a little at the mood which had impelled him to do so.
At the outset of his proprietorship he had bound himself,
as by a point of honour, to regard this as the finest
view from any gentleman's house in England. During the
first few months his fidelity had been taxed a good deal,
but these temptations and struggles lay now all happily
behind him. He had satisfactorily assimilated the spirit
of the vista, and blended it with his own. Its inertia,
when one came to comprehend it, was undeniably magnificent,
and long ago he had perceived within himself the growth
of an answering repose, a responsive lethargy, which in
its full development was also going to be very fine.
Practically all the land this side of the impalpable
line where trees and houses began to fade into the
background belonged to him; there were whole villages
nestling half-concealed under its shrubberies which were
his property. As an investment, these possessions
were extremely unremunerative. Indeed, if one added
the cost of the improvements which ought to be made,
to the expenditure already laid out in renovations,
it was questionable if for the next twenty years they
would not represent a deficit on the income-sheet. But,
now that he had laid hold of the local character,
it pleased him that it should be so. He would not for
the world have his gentle, woolly-minded, unprofitable
cottagers transformed into "hustlers"; it would wound
his eye to see the smoke of any commercial chimney,
the smudge of any dividend-paying factory, staining the pure
tints of the sylvan landscape. He had truly learned to
Yet now, as he strolled on the terrace with his first
after-luncheon cigar, he unaccountably yawned at the thing
he loved. Upon reflection, he had gone to bed rather
earlier the previous evening than usual. He had not been
drinking out of the ordinary; his liver seemed right enough.
He was not conscious of being either tired or drowsy.
He looked again at the view with some fixity, and said
to himself convincingly that nothing else in England
could compare with it. It was the finest thing there
was anywhere. Then he surprised himself in the middle
of another yawn--and halted abruptly. It occurred to him
that he wanted to travel.
Since his home-coming to this splendid new home in the
previous January, at the conclusion of a honeymoon spent
in Algiers and Egypt, he had not been out of England.
There had been a considerable sojourn in London, it is true,
at what was described to him as the height of the Season,
but looking back upon it, he could not think of it
as a diversion. It had been a restless, over-worked,
mystifying experience, full of dinners to people whom he
had never seen before, and laborious encounters with other
people whom he did not particularly want to see again.
There had been no physical comfort in it for him,
and little more mental satisfaction, for Londoners,
or rather people in London, seemed all to be making
an invidious distinction in their minds between him
and his wife. The fact that she continued to be called
Lady Cressage was not of itself important to him.
But in the incessant going about in London, their names were
called out together so often that his ear grew sensitive
and sore to the touch of the footmen's reverberations.
The meaning differentiation which the voices of the servants
insisted upon, seemed inevitably reflected in the glance
and manner of their mistresses. More than anything else,
that made him hate London, and barred the doors of his
mind to all thoughts of buying a town-house.
His newly-made wife, it is true, had not cared much
for London, either, and had agreed to his decision
against a town-house almost with animation. The occasion
of their return from the hot bustle of the metropolis to
these cool home shades--in particular the minute in which,
at a bend in the winding carriage-way down below,
they had silently regarded together the spectacle uplifted
before them, with the big, welcoming house, and the servants
on the terrace--had a place of its own in his memory.
Edith had pressed his arm, as they sat side by side in
the landau, on the instant compulsion of a feeling they
had in common. He had never, before or since, had quite
the same assurance that she shared an emotion with him.
He was very far, however, from finding fault with his wife.
It was in the nature of the life he chose to lead that
he should see a great deal of her, and think a great
deal about her, and she bore both tests admirably.
If there was a fault to be found, it was with himself
for his inability to altogether understand her. She played
the part she had undertaken to play with abundant skill
and discretion and grace, and even with an air of nice
good-fellowship which had some of the aspects of affection.
He was vaguely annoyed with himself for having insight
enough to perceive that it was a part she was playing,
and yet lacking the added shrewdness to divine what
her own personal attitude to her role was like.
He had noticed sometimes the way good women looked at
their husbands when the latter were talking over their
heads--with the eager, intent, non-comprehending admiration
of an affectionate dog. This was a look which he could
not imagine himself discovering in his wife's eves.
It was not conceivable to him that he should talk
over her head. Her glance not only revealed an ample
understanding of all he said, but suggested unused reserves
of comprehension which he might not fathom. It was as if,
intellectually no less than socially, she possessed
a title and he remained an undistinguished plebeian.
He made no grievance, however, even in his own thoughts,
of either inequality. She had been charmingly frank and fair
about the question of the names, when it first arose.
The usage had latterly come to be, she explained,
for a widow bearing even a courtesy title derived from
her late husband, to retain it on marrying again.
It was always the easiest course to fall in with usage,
but if he had any feelings on the subject, and preferred
to have her insist on being called Mrs. Thorpe,
she would meet his wishes with entire willingness.
It had seemed to him, as to her, that it was wisest
to allow usage to settle the matter. Some months after
their marriage there appeared in the papers what purported
to be an authoritative announcement that the Queen objected
to the practice among ladies who married a second time,
of retaining titles acquired by the earlier marriages,
and that the lists of precedency at Buckingham Palace would
henceforth take this into account. Lady Cressage showed this
to her husband, and talked again with candour on the subject.
She said she had always rather regretted the decision
they originally came to, and even now could wish that it
might be altered, but that to effect a change in the face
of this newspaper paragraph would seem servile--and in this
as in most other things he agreed with her. As she said,
they wanted nothing of Buckingham Palace.
She wanted equally little, it seemed, of the society
which the neighbouring district might afford. There was
a meagre routine of formal calls kept in languid operation,
Thorpe knew, but it was so much in the background that he
never came in contact with it. His own notions of the part
he ought to take in County affairs had undergone a silent
and unnoted, yet almost sweeping, change. What little
he saw of the gentry and strong local men with whom he
would have to work, quietly undermined and dismantled all
his ambitions in that direction. They were not his sort;
their standards for the measurement of things were
unintelligible to him. He did not doubt that, if he set
himself about it, he could impose his dominion upon them,
any more than he doubted that, if he mastered the
Chinese language, he could lift himself to be a Mandarin,
but the one would be as unnatural and unattractive
an enterprise as the other. He came to be upon nodding
terms with most of the "carriage-people" round about;
some few he exchanged meaningless words with upon occasion,
and understood that his wife also talked with, when it
was unavoidable, but there his relationship to the County ended,
and he was well pleased that it should be so. It gave him
a deep satisfaction to see that his wife seemed also well pleased.
He used the word "seemed" in his inmost musings, for it was
never quite certain what really did please and displease her.
It was always puzzling to him to reconcile her undoubted
intellectual activity with the practical emptiness of
the existence she professed to enjoy. In one direction,
she had indeed a genuine outlet for her energies,
which he could understand her regarding in the light of
an occupation. She was crazier about flowers and plants
than anybody he had ever heard of, and it had delighted
him to make over to her, labelled jocosely as the
bouquet-fund, a sum of money which, it seemed to him,
might have paid for the hanging-gardens of Babylon.
It yielded in time--emerging slowly but steadily from
a prodigious litter of cement and bricks and mortar
and putty, under the hands of innumerable masons,
carpenters, glaziers, plumbers, and nondescript subordinates,
all of whom talked unwearyingly about nothing at all,
and suffered no man to perform any part of his allotted
task without suspending their own labours to watch
him--an imposing long line of new greenhouses, more than
twenty in number. The mail-bag was filled meanwhile
with nurserymen's catalogues, and the cart made incessant
journeys to and from Punsey station, bringing back vast
straw-enwrapped baskets and bundles and boxes beyond counting,
the arrival and unpacking of which was with Edith the event
of the day. About the reality of her engrossed interest
in all the stages of progress by which these greenhouses
became crowded museums of the unusual and abnormal
in plant-life, it was impossible to have any suspicion.
And even after they were filled to overflowing, Thorpe noted
with joy that this interest seemed in no wise to flag.
She spent hours every day under the glass, exchanging comments
and theories with her gardeners, and even pulling things