Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Man of Means
Author: Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville), 1881-1975
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Man of Means" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



A MAN OF MEANS

A SERIES OF SIX STORIES


By Pelham Grenville Wodehouse and C. H. Bovill

From the _Pictorial Review_, May-October 1916



CONTENTS


THE EPISODE OF THE LANDLADY'S DAUGHTER

THE EPISODE OF THE FINANCIAL NAPOLEON

THE EPISODE OF THE THEATRICAL VENTURE

THE EPISODE OF THE LIVE WEEKLY

THE DIVERTING EPISODE OF THE EXILED MONARCH

THE EPISODE OF THE HIRED PAST



THE EPISODE OF THE LANDLADY'S DAUGHTER

First of a Series of Six Stories [First published in _Pictorial Review_,
May 1916]


When a seed-merchant of cautious disposition and an eye to the main
chance receives from an eminent firm of jam-manufacturers an extremely
large order for clover-seed, his emotions are mixed. Joy may be said to
predominate, but with the joy comes also uncertainty. Are these people,
he asks himself, proposing to set up as farmers of a large scale, or do
they merely want the seed to give verisimilitude to their otherwise bald
and unconvincing raspberry jam? On the solution of this problem
depends the important matter of price, for, obviously, you can charge
a fraudulent jam disseminator in a manner which an honest farmer would
resent.

This was the problem which was furrowing the brow of Mr. Julian
Fineberg, of Bury St. Edwards, one sunny morning when Roland Bleke
knocked at his door; and such was its difficulty that only at the
nineteenth knock did Mr. Fineberg raise his head.

"Come in--that dashed woodpecker out there!" he shouted, for it was his
habit to express himself with a generous strength towards the junior
members of his staff.

The young man who entered looked exactly like a second clerk in a
provincial seed-merchant's office--which, strangely enough, he chanced
to be. His chief characteristic was an intense ordinariness. He was a
young man; and when you had said that of him you had said everything.
There was nothing which you would have noticed about him, except the
fact that there was nothing to notice. His age was twenty-two and his
name was Roland Bleke.

"Please, sir, it's about my salary."

Mr. Fineberg, at the word, drew himself together much as a British
square at Waterloo must have drawn itself together at the sight of a
squadron of cuirassiers.

"Salary?" he cried. "What about it? What's the matter with it? You get
it, don't you?"

"Yes, sir, but----"

"Well? Don't stand there like an idiot. What is it?"

"It's too much."

Mr. Fineberg's brain reeled. It was improbable that the millennium could
have arrived with a jerk; on the other hand, he had distinctly heard
one of his clerks complain that his salary was too large. He pinched
himself.

"Say that again," he said.

"If you could see your way to reduce it, sir----"

It occurred to Mr. Fineberg for one instant that his subordinate was
endeavoring to be humorous, but a glance at Roland's face dispelled that
idea.

"Why do you want it reduced?"

"Please, sir, I'm going to be married."

"What the deuce do you mean?"

"When my salary reaches a hundred and fifty, sir. And it's a hundred and
forty now, so if you could see your way to knocking off ten pounds----"

Mr. Fineberg saw light. He was a married man himself.

"My boy," he said genially, "I quite understand. But I can do you better
than that. It's no use doing this sort of thing in a small way. From now
on your salary is a hundred and ten. No, no, don't thank me. You're an
excellent clerk, and it's a pleasure to me to reward merit when I find
it. Close the door after you."

And Mr. Fineberg returned with a lighter heart to the great clover-seed
problem.

The circumstances which had led Roland to approach his employer may
be briefly recounted. Since joining the staff of Mr. Fineberg, he had
lodged at the house of a Mr. Coppin, in honorable employment as porter
at the local railway-station. The Coppin family, excluding domestic
pets, consisted of Mr. Coppin, a kindly and garrulous gentleman of
sixty, Mrs. Coppin, a somewhat negative personality, most of whose life
was devoted to cooking and washing up in her underground lair, Brothers
Frank and Percy, gentleman of leisure, popularly supposed to be engaged
in the mysterious occupation known as "lookin' about for somethin',"
and, lastly, Muriel.

For some months after his arrival, Muriel had been to Roland Bleke
a mere automaton, a something outside himself that was made only for
neatly-laid breakfast tables and silent removal of plates at dinner.
Gradually, however, when his natural shyness was soothed by use
sufficiently to enable him to look at her when she came into the room,
he discovered that she was a strikingly pretty girl, bounded to the
North by a mass of auburn hair and to the South by small and shapely
feet. She also possessed what, we are informed--we are children in these
matters ourselves--is known as the R. S. V. P. eye. This eye had met
Roland's one evening, as he chumped his chop, and before he knew what he
was doing he had remarked that it had been a fine day.

From that wonderful moment matters had developed at an incredible speed.
Roland had a nice sense of the social proprieties, and he could not
bring himself to ignore a girl with whom he had once exchanged easy
conversation about the weather. Whenever she came to lay his table, he
felt bound to say something. Not being an experienced gagger, he found
it more and more difficult each evening to hit on something bright,
until finally, from sheer lack of inspiration, he kissed her.

If matters had progressed rapidly before, they went like lightning then.
It was as if he had touched a spring or pressed a button, setting vast
machinery in motion. Even as he reeled back stunned at his audacity, the
room became suddenly full of Coppins of every variety known to science.
Through a mist he was aware of Mrs. Coppin crying in a corner, of
Mr. Coppin drinking his health in the remains of sparkling limado,
of Brothers Frank and Percy, one on each side trying to borrow
simultaneously half-crowns, and of Muriel, flushed but demure, making
bread-pellets and throwing them in an abstracted way, one by one, at the
Coppin cat, which had wandered in on the chance of fish.

Out of the chaos, as he stood looking at them with his mouth open, came
the word "bans," and smote him like a blast of East wind.

It is not necessary to trace in detail Roland's mental processes from
that moment till the day when he applied to Mr. Fineberg for a
reduction of salary. It is enough to say that for quite a month he was
extraordinarily happy. To a man who has had nothing to do with women, to
be engaged is an intoxicating experience, and at first life was one
long golden glow to Roland. Secretly, like all mild men, he had always
nourished a desire to be esteemed a nut by his fellow men; and his
engagement satisfied that desire. It was pleasant to hear Brothers
Frank and Percy cough knowingly when he came in. It was pleasant to walk
abroad with a girl like Muriel in the capacity of the accepted wooer.
Above all, it was pleasant to sit holding Muriel's hand and watching the
ill-concealed efforts of Mr. Albert Potter to hide his mortification.
Albert was a mechanic in the motor-works round the corner, and hitherto
Roland had always felt something of a worm in his presence. Albert was
so infernally strong and silent and efficient. He could dissect a car
and put it together again. He could drive through the thickest traffic.
He could sit silent in company without having his silence attributed to
shyness or imbecility. But--he could not get engaged to Muriel Coppin.
That was reserved for Roland Bleke, the nut, the dasher, the young man
of affairs. It was all very well being able to tell a spark-plug from a
commutator at sight, but when it came to a contest in an affair of the
heart with a man like Roland, Albert was in his proper place, third at
the pole.

Probably, if he could have gone on merely being engaged, Roland would
never have wearied of the experience. But the word marriage began to
creep more and more into the family conversation, and suddenly panic
descended upon Roland Bleke.

All his life he had had a horror of definite appointments. An invitation
to tea a week ahead had been enough to poison life for him. He was one
of those young men whose souls revolt at the thought of planning out any
definite step. He could do things on the spur of the moment, but plans
made him lose his nerve.

By the end of the month his whole being was crying out to him in
agonized tones: "Get me out of this. Do anything you like, but get me
out of this frightful marriage business."

If anything had been needed to emphasize his desire for freedom, the
attitude of Frank and Percy would have supplied it. Every day they made
it clearer that the man who married Muriel would be no stranger to them.
It would be his pleasing task to support them, too, in the style to
which they had become accustomed. They conveyed the idea that they went
with Muriel as a sort of bonus.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Coppin family were at high tea when Roland reached home. There was
a general stir of interest as he entered the room, for it was known that
he had left that morning with the intention of approaching Mr. Fineberg
on the important matter of a rise in salary. Mr. Coppin removed his
saucer of tea from his lips. Frank brushed the tail of a sardine from
the corner of his mouth. Percy ate his haddock in an undertone. Albert
Potter, who was present, glowered silently.

Roland shook his head with the nearest approach to gloom which his
rejoicing heart would permit.

"I'm afraid I've bad news."

Mrs. Coppin burst into tears, her invariable practise in any crisis.
Albert Potter's face relaxed into something resembling a smile.

"He won't give you your raise?"

Roland sighed.

"He's reduced me."

"Reduced you!"

"Yes. Times are bad just at present, so he has had to lower me to a
hundred and ten."

The collected jaws of the family fell as one jaw. Muriel herself seemed
to be bearing the blow with fortitude, but the rest were stunned. Frank
and Percy might have been posing for a picture of men who had lost their
fountain pens.

Beneath the table the hand of Albert Potter found the hand of Muriel
Coppin, and held it; and Muriel, we regret to add, turned and bestowed
upon Albert a half-smile of tender understanding.

"I suppose," said Roland, "we couldn't get married on a hundred and
ten?"

"No," said Percy.

"No," said Frank.

"No," said Albert Potter.

They all spoke decidedly, but Albert the most decidedly of the three.

"Then," said Roland regretfully, "I'm afraid we must wait."

It seemed to be the general verdict that they must wait. Muriel said she
thought they must wait. Albert Potter, whose opinion no one had asked,
was quite certain that they must wait. Mrs. Coppin, between sobs, moaned
that it would be best to wait. Frank and Percy, morosely devouring
bread and jam, said they supposed they would have to wait. And, to end a
painful scene, Roland drifted silently from the room, and went up-stairs
to his own quarters.

There was a telegram on the mantel.

"Some fellows," he soliloquized happily, as he opened it, "wouldn't
have been able to manage a little thing like that. They would have given
themselves away. They would----"

The contents of the telegram demanded his attention.

For some time they conveyed nothing to him. The thing might have been
written in Hindustani.

It would have been quite appropriate if it had been, for it was from the
promoters of the Calcutta Sweep, and it informed him that, as the holder
of ticket number 108,694, he had drawn Gelatine, and in recognition of
this fact a check for five hundred pounds would be forwarded to him in
due course.

       *       *       *       *       *

Roland's first feeling was one of pure bewilderment. As far as he
could recollect, he had never had any dealings whatsoever with these
open-handed gentlemen. Then memory opened her flood-gates and swept him
back to a morning ages ago, so it seemed to him, when Mr. Fineberg's
eldest son Ralph, passing through the office on his way to borrow money
from his father, had offered him for ten shillings down a piece of
cardboard, at the same time saying something about a sweep. Partly
from a vague desire to keep in with the Fineberg clan, but principally
because it struck him as rather a doggish thing to do, Roland had passed
over the ten shillings; and there, as far as he had known, the matter
had ended.

And now, after all this time, that simple action had borne fruit in the
shape of Gelatine and a check for five hundred pounds.

Roland's next emotion was triumph. The sudden entry of checks for five
hundred pounds into a man's life is apt to produce this result.

For the space of some minutes he gloated; and then reaction set in. Five
hundred pounds meant marriage with Muriel.

His brain worked quickly. He must conceal this thing. With trembling
fingers he felt for his match-box, struck a match, and burnt the
telegram to ashes. Then, feeling a little better, he sat down to think
the whole matter over. His meditations brought a certain amount of balm.
After all, he felt, the thing could quite easily be kept a secret. He
would receive the check in due course, as stated, and he would bicycle
over to the neighboring town of Lexingham and start a bank-account with
it. Nobody would know, and life would go on as before.

He went to bed, and slept peacefully.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was about a week after this that he was roused out of a deep sleep
at eight o'clock in the morning to find his room full of Coppins. Mr.
Coppin was there in a nightshirt and his official trousers. Mrs.
Coppin was there, weeping softly in a brown dressing-gown. Modesty had
apparently kept Muriel from the gathering, but brothers Frank and Percy
stood at his bedside, shaking him by the shoulders and shouting. Mr.
Coppin thrust a newspaper at him, as he sat up blinking.

These epic moments are best related swiftly. Roland took the paper, and
the first thing that met his sleepy eye and effectually drove the sleep
from it was this head-line:

   ROMANCE OF THE CALCUTTA SWEEPSTAKES

And beneath it another in type almost as large as the first:

   POOR CLERK WINS £40,000

His own name leaped at him from the printed page, and with it that of
the faithful Gelatine.

Flight! That was the master-word which rang in Roland's brain as day
followed day. The wild desire of the trapped animal to be anywhere
except just where he was had come upon him. He was past the stage when
conscience could have kept him to his obligations. He had ceased to
think of anything or any one but himself. All he asked of Fate was to
remove him from Bury St. Edwards on any terms.

It may be that some inkling of his state of mind was wafted
telepathically to Frank and Percy, for it can not be denied that their
behavior at this juncture was more than a little reminiscent of the
police force. Perhaps it was simply their natural anxiety to keep an eye
on what they already considered their own private gold-mine that made
them so adhesive. Certainly there was no hour of the day when one or the
other was not in Roland's immediate neighborhood. Their vigilance
even extended to the night hours, and once, when Roland, having tossed
sleeplessly on his bed, got up at two in the morning, with the wild idea
of stealing out of the house and walking to London, a door opened as he
reached the top of the stairs, and a voice asked him what he thought he
was doing. The statement that he was walking in his sleep was accepted,
but coldly.

It was shortly after this that, having by dint of extraordinary strategy
eluded the brothers and reached the railway-station, Roland, with his
ticket to London in his pocket and the express already entering the
station, was engaged in conversation by old Mr. Coppin, who appeared
from nowhere to denounce the high cost of living in a speech that lasted
until the tail-lights of the train had vanished and Brothers Frank and
Percy arrived, panting.

A man has only a certain capacity for battling with Fate. After this
last episode Roland gave in. Not even the exquisite agony of hearing
himself described in church as a bachelor of this parish, with the grim
addition that this was for the second time of asking, could stir him to
a fresh dash for liberty.

Altho the shadow of the future occupied Roland's mind almost to the
exclusion of everything else, he was still capable of suffering a
certain amount of additional torment from the present; and one of the
things which made the present a source of misery to him was the fact
that he was expected to behave more like a mad millionaire than a sober
young man with a knowledge of the value of money. His mind, trained from
infancy to a decent respect for the pence, had not yet adjusted itself
to the possession of large means; and the open-handed role forced upon
him by the family appalled him.

When the Coppins wanted anything, they asked for it; and it seemed to
Roland that they wanted pretty nearly everything. If Mr. Coppin had
reached his present age without the assistance of a gold watch, he might
surely have struggled along to the end on gun-metal. In any case, a man
of his years should have been thinking of higher things than mere gauds
and trinkets. A like criticism applied to Mrs. Coppin's demand for a
silk petticoat, which struck Roland as simply indecent. Frank and Percy
took theirs mostly in specie. It was Muriel who struck the worst blow by
insisting on a hired motor-car.

Roland hated motor-cars, especially when they were driven by Albert
Potter, as this one was. Albert, that strong, silent man, had but one
way of expressing his emotions, namely to open the throttle and shave
the paint off trolley-cars. Disappointed love was giving Albert a good
deal of discomfort at this time, and he found it made him feel better
to go round corners on two wheels. As Muriel sat next to him on these
expeditions, Roland squashing into the tonneau with Frank and Percy, his
torments were subtle. He was not given a chance to forget, and the only
way in which he could obtain a momentary diminution of the agony was to
increase the speed to sixty miles an hour.

It was in this fashion that they journeyed to the neighboring town of
Lexingham to see M. Etienne Feriaud perform his feat of looping the loop
in his aeroplane.

It was Brother Frank's idea that they should make up a party to go and
see M. Feriaud. Frank's was one of those generous, unspoiled natures
which never grow _blasé_ at the sight of a fellow human taking a
sporting chance at hara-kiri. He was a well-known figure at every wild
animal exhibition within a radius of fifty miles, and M. Feriaud drew
him like a magnet.

"The blighter goes up," he explained, as he conducted the party into the
arena, "and then he stands on his head and goes round in circles. I've
seen pictures of it."

It appeared that M. Feriaud did even more than this. Posters round the
ground advertised the fact that, on receipt of five pounds, he would
take up a passenger with him. To date, however, there appeared to have
been no rush on the part of the canny inhabitants of Lexingham to avail
themselves of this chance of a breath of fresh air. M. Feriaud, a small
man with a chubby and amiable face, wandered about signing picture cards
and smoking a lighted cigaret, looking a little disappointed.

Albert Potter was scornful.

"Lot of rabbits," he said. "Where's their pluck? And I suppose they call
themselves Englishmen. I'd go up precious quick if I had a five-pound
note. Disgrace, I call it, letting a Frenchman have the laugh of us."

It was a long speech for Mr. Potter, and it drew a look of respectful
tenderness from Muriel. "You're so brave, Mr. Potter," she said.

Whether it was the slight emphasis which she put on the first word, or
whether it was sheer generosity that impelled him, one can not say; but
Roland produced the required sum even while she spoke. He offered it to
his rival.

Mr. Potter started, turned a little pale, then drew himself up and waved
the note aside.

"I take no favors," he said with dignity.

There was a pause.

"Why don't you do it." said Albert, nastily. "Five pounds is nothing to
you."

"Why should I?"

"Ah! Why should you?"

It would be useless to assert that Mr. Potter's tone was friendly. It
stung Roland. It seemed to him that Muriel was looking at him in an
unpleasantly contemptuous manner.

In some curious fashion, without doing anything to merit it, he had
apparently become an object of scorn and derision to the party.

"All right, then, I will," he said suddenly.

"Easy enough to talk," said Albert.

Roland strode with a pale but determined face to the spot where M.
Feriaud, beaming politely, was signing a picture post-card.

Some feeling of compunction appeared to come to Muriel at the eleventh
hour.

"Don't let him," she cried.

But Brother Frank was made of sterner stuff. This was precisely the sort
of thing which, in his opinion, made for a jolly afternoon.

For years he had been waiting for something of this kind. He was
experiencing that pleasant thrill which comes to a certain type
of person when the victim of a murder in the morning paper is an
acquaintance of theirs.

"What are you talking about?" he said. "There's no danger. At least, not
much. He might easily come down all right. Besides, he wants to. What do
you want to go interfering for?"

Roland returned. The negotiations with the bird-man had lasted a little
longer than one would have expected. But then, of course, M. Feriaud was
a foreigner, and Roland's French was not fluent.

He took Muriel's hand.

"Good-by," he said.

He shook hands with the rest of the party, even with Albert Potter. It
struck Frank that he was making too much fuss over a trifle--and, worse,
delaying the start of the proceedings.

"What's it all about?" he demanded. "You go on as if we were never going
to see you again."

"You never know."

"It's as safe as being in bed."

"But still, in case we never meet again----"

"Oh, well," said Brother Frank, and took the outstretched hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

The little party stood and watched as the aeroplane moved swiftly along
the ground, rose, and soared into the air. Higher and higher it rose,
till the features of the two occupants were almost invisible.

"Now," said Brother Frank. "Now watch. Now he's going to loop the loop."

But the wheels of the aeroplane still pointed to the ground. It grew
smaller and smaller. It was a mere speck.

"What the dickens?"

Far away to the West something showed up against the blue of the
sky--something that might have been a bird, a toy kite, or an aeroplane
traveling rapidly into the sunset.

Four pairs of eyes followed it in rapt silence.



THE EPISODE OF THE FINANCIAL NAPOLEON

Second of a Series of Six Stories [First published in _Pictorial
Review_, June 1916]


Seated with his wife at breakfast on the veranda which overlooked the
rolling lawns and leafy woods of his charming Sussex home, Geoffrey
Windlebird, the great financier, was enjoying the morning sun to the
full. His chubby features were relaxed in a smile of lazy contentment;
and his wife, who liked to act sometimes as his secretary, found it
difficult to get him to pay any attention to his morning's mail.

"There's a column in to-day's _Financial Argus_," she said, "of which
you really must take notice. It's most abusive. It's about the Wildcat
Reef. They assert that there never was any gold in the mine, and that
you knew it when you floated the company."

"They will have their little joke."

"But you had the usual mining-expert's report."

"Of course we had. And a capital report it was. I remember thinking at
the time what a neat turn of phrase the fellow had. I admit he depended
rather on his fine optimism than on any examination of the mine. As a
matter of fact, he never went near it. And why should he? It's down in
South America somewhere. Awful climate--snakes, mosquitoes, revolutions,
fever."

Mr. Windlebird spoke drowsily. His eyes closed.

"Well, the Argus people say that they have sent a man of their own out
there to make inquiries, a well-known expert, and the report will be in
within the next fortnight. They say they will publish it in their next
number but one. What are you going to do about it?"

Mr. Windlebird yawned.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, dearest, the game is up. The
Napoleon of Finance is about to meet his Waterloo. And all for twenty
thousand pounds. That is the really bitter part of it. To-morrow we sail
for the Argentine. I've got the tickets."

"You're joking, Geoffrey. You must be able to raise twenty thousand.
It's a flea-bite."

"On paper--in the form of shares, script, bonds, promissory notes, it
is a flea-bite. But when it has to be produced in the raw, in flat, hard
lumps of gold or in crackling bank-notes, it's more like a bite from a
hippopotamus. I can't raise it, and that's all about it. So--St. Helena
for Napoleon."

Altho Geoffrey Windlebird described himself as a Napoleon of Finance, a
Cinquevalli or Chung Ling Soo of Finance would have been a more accurate
title. As a juggler with other people's money he was at the head of his
class. And yet, when one came to examine it, his method was delightfully
simple. Say, for instance, that the Home-grown Tobacco Trust, founded by
Geoffrey in a moment of ennui, failed to yield those profits which the
glowing prospectus had led the public to expect. Geoffrey would appease
the excited shareholders by giving them Preference Shares (interest
guaranteed) in the Sea-gold Extraction Company, hastily floated to meet
the emergency. When the interest became due, it would, as likely as not,
be paid out of the capital just subscribed for the King Solomon's Mines
Exploitation Association, the little deficiency in the latter being
replaced in its turn, when absolutely necessary and not a moment before,
by the transfer of some portion of the capital just raised for yet
another company. And so on, ad infinitum. There were moments when it
seemed to Mr. Windlebird that he had solved the problem of Perpetual
Promotion.

The only thing that can stop a triumphal progress like Mr. Windlebird's
is when some coarse person refuses to play to the rules, and demands
ready money instead of shares in the next venture. This had happened
now, and it had flattened Mr. Windlebird like an avalanche.

He was a philosopher, but he could not help feeling a little galled that
the demand which had destroyed him had been so trivial. He had handled
millions--on paper, it was true, but still millions--and here he was
knocked out of time by a paltry twenty thousand pounds.

"Are you absolutely sure that nothing can be done?" persisted Mrs.
Windlebird. "Have you tried every one?"

"Every one, dear moon-of-my-delight--the probables, the possibles, the
highly unlikelies, and the impossibles. Never an echo to the minstrel's
wooing song. No, my dear, we have got to take to the boats this time.
Unless, of course, some one possessed at one and the same time of twenty
thousand pounds and a very confiding nature happens to drop from the
clouds."

As he spoke, an aeroplane came sailing over the tops of the trees beyond
the tennis-lawn. Gracefully as a bird it settled on the smooth turf, not
twenty yards from where he was seated.

       *       *       *       *       *

Roland Bleke stepped stiffly out onto the tennis-lawn. His progress
rather resembled that of a landsman getting out of an open boat in
which he has spent a long and perilous night at sea. He was feeling more
wretched than he had ever felt in his life. He had a severe cold. He had
a splitting headache. His hands and feet were frozen. His eyes smarted.
He was hungry. He was thirsty. He hated cheerful M. Feriaud, who had
hopped out and was now busy tinkering the engine, a gay Provencal air
upon his lips, as he had rarely hated any one, even Muriel Coppin's
brother Frank.

So absorbed was he in his troubles that he was not aware of Mr.
Windlebird's approach until that pleasant, portly man's shadow fell on
the turf before him.

"Not had an accident, I hope, Mr. Bleke?"

Roland was too far gone in misery to speculate as to how this genial
stranger came to know his name. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Windlebird,
keen student of the illustrated press, had recognized Roland by his
photograph in the Daily Mirror. In the course of the twenty yards' walk
from house to tennis-lawn she had put her husband into possession of
the more salient points in Roland's history. It was when Mr. Windlebird
heard that Roland had forty thousand pounds in the bank that he sat up
and took notice.

"Lead me to him," he said simply.

Roland sneezed.

"Doe accident, thag you," he replied miserably. "Somethig's gone wrong
with the worgs, but it's nothing serious, worse luck."

M. Feriaud, having by this time adjusted the defect in his engine, rose
to his feet, and bowed.

"Excuse if we come down on your lawn. But not long do we trespass. See,
_mon ami_," he said radiantly to Roland, "all now O. K. We go on."

"No," said Roland decidedly.

"No? What you mean--no?"

A shade of alarm fell on M. Feriaud's weather-beaten features. The
eminent bird-man did not wish to part from Roland. Toward Roland he
felt like a brother, for Roland had notions about payment for little
aeroplane rides which bordered upon the princely.

"But you say--take me to France with you----"

"I know. But it's all off. I'm not feeling well."

"But it's all wrong." M. Feriaud gesticulated to drive home his point.
"You give me one hundred pounds to take you away from Lexingham. Good.
It is here." He slapped his breast pocket. "But the other two hundred
pounds which also you promise me to pay me when I place you safe in
France, where is that, my friend?"

"I will give you two hundred and fifty," said Roland earnestly, "to
leave me here, and go right away, and never let me see your beastly
machine again."

A smile of brotherly forgiveness lit up M. Feriaud's face. The generous
Gallic nature asserted itself. He held out his arms affectionately to
Roland.

"Ah, now you talk. Now you say something," he cried in his impetuous
way. "Embrace me. You are all right."

Roland heaved a sigh of relief when, five minutes later, the aeroplane
disappeared over the brow of the hill. Then he began to sneeze again.

"You're not well, you know," said Mr. Windlebird.

"I've caught cold. We've been flying about all night--that French ass
lost his bearings--and my suit is thin. Can you direct me to a hotel?"

"Hotel? Nonsense." Mr. Windlebird spoke in the bluff, breezy voice which
at many a stricken board-meeting had calmed frantic shareholders as
if by magic. "You're coming right into my house and up to bed this
instant."

It was not till he was between the sheets with a hot-water bottle at his
toes and a huge breakfast inside him that Roland learned the name of his
good Samaritan. When he did, his first impulse was to struggle out of
bed and make his escape. Geoffrey Windlebird's was a name which he had
learned, in the course of his mercantile career, to hold in something
approaching reverence as that of one of the mightiest business brains of
the age.

To have to meet so eminent a man in the capacity of invalid, a nuisance
about the house, was almost too much for Roland's shrinking nature. The
kindness of the Windlebirds--and there seemed to be nothing that they
were not ready to do for him--distressed him beyond measure. To have a
really great man like Geoffrey Windlebird sprawling genially over
his bed, chatting away as if he were an ordinary friend, was almost
horrible. Such condescension was too much.

Gradually, as he became convalescent, Roland found this feeling replaced
by something more comfortable. They were such a genuine, simple, kindly
couple, these Windlebirds, that he lost awe and retained only gratitude.
He loved them both. He opened his heart to them. It was not long before
he had told them the history of his career, skipping the earlier years
and beginning with the entry of wealth into his life.

"It makes you feel funny," he confided to Mr. Windlebird's sympathetic
ear, "suddenly coming into a pot of money like that. You don't seem
hardly able to realize it. I don't know what to do with it."

Mr. Windlebird smiled paternally.

"The advice of an older man who has had, if I may say so, some little
experience of finance, might be useful to you there. Perhaps if you
would allow me to recommend some sound investment----"

Roland glowed with gratitude.

"There's just one thing I'd like to do before I start putting my money
into anything. It's like this."

He briefly related the story of his unfortunate affair with Muriel
Coppin. Within an hour of his departure in the aeroplane, his conscience
had begun to trouble him on this point. He felt that he had not acted
well toward Muriel. True, he was practically certain that she didn't
care a bit about him and was in love with Albert, the silent mechanic,
but there was just the chance that she was mourning over his loss; and,
anyhow, his conscience was sore.

"I'd like to give her something," he said. "How much do you think?"

Mr. Windlebird perpended.

"I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll send my own lawyer to her with--say,
a thousand pounds--not a check, you understand, but one thousand golden
sovereigns that he can show her--roll about on the table in front of her
eyes. That'll console her. It's wonderful, the effect money in the raw
has on people."

"I'd rather make it two thousand," said Roland. He had never really
loved Muriel, and the idea of marrying her had been a nightmare to him;
but he wanted to retreat with honor.

"Very well, make it two thousand, if you like. Tho I don't quite know
how old Harrison is going to carry all that money."

As a matter of fact, old Harrison never had to try. On thinking it
over, after he had cashed Roland's check, Mr. Windlebird came to the
conclusion that seven hundred pounds would be quite as much money as it
would be good for Miss Coppin to have all at once.

Mr. Windlebird's knowledge of human nature was not at fault. Muriel
jumped at the money, and a letter in her handwriting informed Roland
next morning that his slate was clean. His gratitude to Mr. Windlebird
redoubled.

"And now," said Mr. Windlebird genially, "we can talk about that money
of yours, and the best way of investing it. What you want is something
which, without being in any way what is called speculative, nevertheless
returns a fair and reasonable amount of interest. What you want is
something sound, something solid, yet something with a bit of a kick to
it, something which can't go down and may go soaring like a rocket."

Roland quietly announced that was just what he did want, and lit another
cigar.

"Now, look here, Bleke, my boy, as a general rule I don't give tips--But
I've taken a great fancy to you, Bleke, and I'm going to break my rule.
Put your money--" he sank his voice to a compelling whisper, "put every
penny you can afford into Wildcat Reefs."

He leaned back with the benign air of the Alchemist who has just
imparted to a favorite disciple the recently discovered secret of the
philosopher's stone.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Windlebird," said Roland gratefully. "I will."

The Napoleonic features were lightened by that rare, indulgent smile.

"Not so fast, young man," laughed Mr. Windlebird. "Getting into Wildcat
Reefs isn't quite so easy as you seem to think. Shall we say that you
propose to invest thirty thousand pounds? Yes? Very well, then. Thirty
thousand pounds! Why, if it got about that you were going to buy Wildcat
Reefs on that scale the market would be convulsed."

Which was perfectly true. If it had got about that any one was going to
invest thirty thousand pounds--or pence--in Wildcat Reefs, the market
would certainly have been convulsed. The House would have rocked with
laughter. Wildcat Reefs were a standing joke--except to the unfortunate
few who still held any of the shares.

"The thing will have to be done very cautiously. No one must know. But I
think--I say I think--I can manage it for you."

"You're awfully kind, Mr. Windlebird."

"Not at all, my dear boy, not at all. As a matter of fact, I shall be
doing a very good turn to another pal of mine at the same time." He
filled his glass. "This--" he paused to sip--"this pal of mine has a
large holding of Wildcats. He wants to realize in order to put the money
into something else, in which he is more personally interested." Mr.
Windlebird paused. His mind dwelt for a moment on his overdrawn current
account at the bank. "In which he is more personally interested," he
repeated dreamily. "But of course you couldn't unload thirty pounds'
worth of Wildcats in the public market."

"I quite see that," assented Roland.

"It might, however, be done by private negotiation," he said. "I
must act very cautiously. Give me your check for the thirty thousand
to-night, and I will run up to town to-morrow morning, and see what I
can do."

       *       *       *       *       *

He did it. What hidden strings he pulled, what levers he used, Roland
did not know. All Roland knew was that somehow, by some subtle means,
Mr. Windlebird brought it off. Two days later his host handed him twenty
thousand one-pound shares in the Wildcat Reef Gold-mine.

"There, my boy," he said.

"It's awfully kind of you, Mr. Windlebird."

"My dear boy, don't mention it. If you're satisfied, I'm sure I am."

Mr. Windlebird always spoke the truth when he could. He spoke it now.

It seemed to Roland, as the days went by, that nothing could mar the
pleasant, easy course of life at the Windlebirds. The fine weather, the
beautiful garden, the pleasant company--all these things combined to
make this sojourn an epoch in his life.

He discovered his mistake one lovely afternoon as he sat smoking idly
on the terrace. Mrs. Windlebird came to him, and a glance was enough to
show Roland that something was seriously wrong. Her face was drawn and
tired.

A moment before, Roland had been thinking life perfect. The only
crumpled rose-leaf had been the absence of an evening paper. Mr.
Windlebird would bring one back with him when he returned from the city,
but Roland wanted one now. He was a great follower of county cricket,
and he wanted to know how Surrey was faring against Yorkshire. But even
this crumpled rose-leaf had been smoothed out, for Johnson, the groom,
who happened to be riding into the nearest town on an errand, had
promised to bring one back with him. He might appear at any moment now.

The sight of his hostess drove all thoughts of sport out of his mind.
She was looking terribly troubled.

It flashed across Roland that both his host and hostess had been
unusually silent at dinner the night before; and later, passing Mr.
Windlebird's room on his way to bed, he had heard their voices, low and
agitated. Could they have had some bad news?

"Mr. Bleke, I want to speak to you."

Roland moved like a sympathetic cow, and waited to hear more.

"You were not up when my husband left for the city this morning, or he
would have told you himself. Mr. Bleke, I hardly know how to break it to
you."

"Break it to me!"

"My husband advised you to put a very large sum of money in a mine
called Wildcat Reefs."

"Yes. Thirty thousand pounds."

"As much as that! Oh, Mr. Bleke!"

She began to cry softly. She pressed his hand. Roland gaped at her.

"Mr. Bleke, there has been a terrible slump in Wildcat Reefs. To-day,
they may be absolutely worthless."

Roland felt as if a cold hand had been laid on his spine.

"Wor-worthless!" he stammered.

Mrs. Windlebird looked at him with moist eyes.

"You can imagine how my husband feels about this. It was on his advice
that you invested your money. He holds himself directly responsible. He
is in a terrible state of mind. He is frantic. He has grown so fond of
you, Mr. Bleke, that he can hardly face the thought that he has been the
innocent instrument of your trouble."

       *       *       *       *       *

Roland felt that it was an admirable comparison. His sensations were
precisely those of a leading actor in an earthquake. The solid earth
seemed to melt under him.

"We talked it over last night after you had gone to bed, and we came to
the conclusion that there was only one honorable step to take. We must
make good your losses. We must buy back those shares."

A ray of hope began to steal over Roland's horizon.

"But----" he began.

"There are no buts, really, Mr. Bleke. We should neither of us know a
minute's peace if we didn't do it. Now, you paid thirty thousand pounds
for the shares, you said? Well"--she held out a pink slip of paper to
him--"this will make everything all right."

Roland looked at the check.

"But--but this is signed by you," he said.

"Yes. You see, if Geoffrey had to sign a check for that amount, it would
mean selling out some of his stock, and in his position, with every
movement watched by enemies, he can not afford to do it. It might ruin
the plans of years. But I have some money of my own. My selling out
stock doesn't matter, you see. I have post-dated the check a week,
to give me time to realize on the securities in which my money is
invested."

Roland's whole nature rose in revolt at this sacrifice. If it had
been his host who had made this offer, he would have accepted it.
But chivalry forbade his taking this money from a woman. A glow of
self-sacrifice warmed him. After all, what was this money of his? He had
never had any fun out of it. He had had so little acquaintance with it
that for all practical purposes it might never have been his.

With a gesture which had once impressed him very favorably when
exhibited on the stage by the hero of the number two company of "The
Price of Honor," which had paid a six days' visit to Bury St. Edwards a
few months before, he tore the check into little pieces.

"I couldn't accept it, Mrs. Windlebird," he said. "I can't tell you how
deeply I appreciate your wonderful kindness, but I really couldn't. I
bought the shares with my eyes open. The whole thing is nobody's fault,
and I can't let you suffer for it. After the way you have treated me
here, it would be impossible. I can't take your money. It's noble and
generous of you in the extreme, but I can't accept it. I've still got a
little money left, and I've always been used to working for my living,
anyway, so--so it's all right."

"Mr. Bleke, I implore you."

Roland was hideously embarrassed. He looked right and left for a way of
escape. He could hardly take to his heels, and yet there seemed no other
way of ending the interview. Then, with a start of relief, he perceived
Johnson the groom coming toward him with the evening paper.

"Johnson said he was going into the town," said Roland apologetically,
"so I asked him to get me an evening paper. I wanted to see the lunch
scores."

If he had been looking at his hostess then, an action which he was
strenuously avoiding, he might have seen a curious spasm pass over her
face. Mrs. Windlebird turned very pale and sat down suddenly in the
chair which Roland had vacated at the beginning of their conversation.
She lay back in it with her eyes closed. She looked tired and defeated.

Roland took the paper mechanically. He wanted it as a diversion to
the conversation merely, for his interest in the doings of Surrey and
Yorkshire had waned to the point of complete indifference in competition
with Mrs. Windlebird's news.

Equally mechanically he unfolded it and glanced at front page; and, as
he did do, a flaring explosion of headlines smote his eye.

Out of the explosion emerged the word "WILD-CATS".

"Why!" he exclaimed. "There's columns about Wild-cats on the front page
here!"

"Yes?" Mrs. Windlebird's voice sounded strangely dull and toneless. Her
eyes were still closed.

Roland took in the headlines with starting eyes.

       THE WILD-CAT REEF GOLD-MINE

            ANOTHER KLONDIKE

    FRENZIED SCENES ON THE STOCK EXCHANGE

         BROKERS FIGHT FOR SHARES

              RECORD BOOM

      UNPRECEDENTED RISE IN PRICES

Shorn of all superfluous adjectives and general journalistic exuberance,
what the paper had to announce to its readers was this:

    The "special commissioner" sent out by The _Financial Argus_ to
    make an exhaustive examination of the Wild-cat Reef Mine--with
    the amiable view, no doubt, of exploding Mr. Geoffrey Windlebird
    once and for all with the confiding British public--has found,
    to his unbounded astonishment, that there are vast quantities of
    gold in the mine.

    The discovery of the new reef, the largest and richest, it is
    stated, since the famous Mount Morgan, occurred with dramatic
    appropriateness on the very day of his arrival. We need scarcely
    remind our readers that, until that moment, Wild-cat Reef shares
    had reached a very low figure, and only a few optimists retained
    their faith in the mine. As the largest holder, Mr. Windlebird
    is to be heartily congratulated on this new addition to his
    fortune.

    The publication of the expert's report in The _Financial Argus_ has
    resulted in a boom in Wild-cats, the like of which can seldom have
    been seen on the Stock Exchange. From something like one shilling
    and sixpence per bundle the one pound shares have gone up to nearly
    ten pounds a share, and even at this latter figure people were
    literally fighting to secure them.

The world swam about Roland. He was stupefied and even terrified. The
very atmosphere seemed foggy. So far as his reeling brain was capable
of thought, he figured that he was now worth about two hundred thousand
pounds.

"Oh, Mrs. Windlebird," he cried, "It's all right after all."

Mrs. Windlebird sat back in her chair without answering.

"It's all right for every one," screamed Roland joyfully. "Why, if I've
made a couple of hundred thousand, what must Mr. Windlebird have netted.
It says here that he is the largest holder. He must have pulled off the
biggest thing of his life."

He thought for a moment.

"The chap I'm sorry for," he said meditatively, "is Mr. Windlebird's
pal. You know. The fellow whom Mr. Windlebird persuaded to sell all his
shares to me."

A faint moan escaped from his hostess's pale lips. Roland did not hear
it. He was reading the cricket news.



THE EPISODE OF THE THEATRICAL VENTURE

Third of a Series of Six Stories [First published in _Pictorial Review_,
July 1916]


It was one of those hard, nubbly rolls. The best restaurants charge you
sixpence for having the good sense not to eat them. It hit Roland Bleke
with considerable vehemence on the bridge of the nose. For the moment
Roland fancied that the roof of the Regent Grill-room must have fallen
in; and, as this would automatically put an end to the party, he was not
altogether sorry. He had never been to a theatrical supper-party before,
and within five minutes of his arrival at the present one he had
become afflicted with an intense desire never to go to a theatrical
supper-party again. To be a success at these gay gatherings one must
possess dash; and Roland, whatever his other sterling qualities, was a
little short of dash.

The young man on the other side of the table was quite nice about it.
While not actually apologizing, he went so far as to explain that it was
"old Gerry" whom he had had in his mind when he started the roll on
its course. After a glance at old Gerry--a chinless child of about
nineteen--Roland felt that it would be churlish to be angry with a young
man whose intentions had been so wholly admirable. Old Gerry had one of
those faces in which any alteration, even the comparatively limited
one which a roll would be capable of producing, was bound to be for the
better. He smiled a sickly smile and said that it didn't matter.

The charming creature who sat on his assailant's left, however, took a
more serious view of the situation.

"Sidney, you make me tired," she said severely. "If I had thought you
didn't know how to act like a gentleman I wouldn't have come here with
you. Go away somewhere and throw bread at yourself, and ask Mr. Bleke to
come and sit by me. I want to talk to him."

That was Roland's first introduction to Miss Billy Verepoint.

"I've been wanting to have a chat with you all the evening, Mr. Bleke,"
she said, as Roland blushingly sank into the empty chair. "I've heard
such a lot about you."

What Miss Verepoint had heard about Roland was that he had two hundred
thousand pounds and apparently did not know what to do with it.

"In fact, if I hadn't been told that you would be here, I shouldn't have
come to this party. Can't stand these gatherings of nuts in May as a
general rule. They bore me stiff."

Roland hastily revised his first estimate of the theatrical profession.
Shallow, empty-headed creatures some of them might be, no doubt, but
there were exceptions. Here was a girl of real discernment--a thoughtful
student of character--a girl who understood that a man might sit at a
supper-party without uttering a word and might still be a man of parts.

"I'm afraid you'll think me very outspoken--but that's me all over. All
my friends say, 'Billy Verepoint's a funny girl: if she likes any one
she just tells them so straight out; and if she doesn't like any one she
tells them straight out, too.'"

"And a very admirable trait," said Roland, enthusiastically.

Miss Verepoint sighed. "P'raps it is," she said pensively, "but I'm
afraid it's what has kept me back in my profession. Managers don't like
it: they think girls should be seen and not heard."

Roland's blood boiled. Managers were plainly a dastardly crew.

"But what's the good of worrying," went on Miss Verepoint, with a brave
but hollow laugh. "Of course, it's wearing, having to wait when one has
got as much ambition as I have; but they all tell me that my chance is
bound to come some day."

The intense mournfulness of Miss Verepoint's expression seemed to
indicate that she anticipated the arrival of the desired day not less
than sixty years hence. Roland was profoundly moved. His chivalrous
nature was up in arms. He fell to wondering if he could do anything to
help this victim of managerial unfairness. "You don't mind my going on
about my troubles, do you?" asked Miss Verepoint, solicitously. "One so
seldom meets anybody really sympathetic."

Roland babbled fervent assurances, and she pressed his hand gratefully.

"I wonder if you would care to come to tea one afternoon," she said.

"Oh, rather!" said Roland. He would have liked to put it in a more
polished way but he was almost beyond speech.

"Of course, I know what a busy man you are----"

"No, no!"

"Well, I should be in to-morrow afternoon, if you cared to look in."

Roland bleated gratefully.

"I'll write down the address for you," said Miss Verepoint, suddenly
businesslike.

       *       *       *       *       *

Exactly when he committed himself to the purchase of the Windsor
Theater, Roland could never say. The idea seemed to come into existence
fully-grown, without preliminary discussion. One moment it was not--the
next it was. His recollections of the afternoon which he spent drinking
lukewarm tea and punctuating Miss Verepoint's flow of speech with
"yes's" and "no's" were always so thoroughly confused that he never knew
even whose suggestion it was.

The purchase of a West-end theater, when one has the necessary cash,
is not nearly such a complicated business as the layman might imagine.
Roland was staggered by the rapidity with which the transaction was
carried through. The theater was his before he had time to realize that
he had never meant to buy the thing at all. He had gone into the offices
of Mr. Montague with the intention of making an offer for the lease for,
say, six months; and that wizard, in the space of less than an hour, had
not only induced him to sign mysterious documents which made him sole
proprietor of the house, but had left him with the feeling that he had
done an extremely acute stroke of business. Mr. Montague had dabbled in
many professions in his time, from street peddling upward, but what he
was really best at was hypnotism.

Altho he felt, after the spell of Mr. Montague's magnetism was
withdrawn, rather like a nervous man who has been given a large baby
to hold by a strange woman who has promptly vanished round the corner,
Roland was to some extent consoled by the praise bestowed upon him by
Miss Verepoint. She said it was much better to buy a theater than to
rent it, because then you escaped the heavy rent. It was specious,
but Roland had a dim feeling that there was a flaw somewhere in the
reasoning; and it was from this point that a shadow may be said to have
fallen upon the brightness of the venture.

He would have been even less self-congratulatory if he had known the
Windsor Theater's reputation. Being a comparative stranger in the
metropolis, he was unaware that its nickname in theatrical circles
was "The Mugs' Graveyard"--a title which had been bestowed upon it not
without reason. Built originally by a slightly insane old gentleman,
whose principal delusion was that the public was pining for a constant
supply of the Higher Drama, and more especially those specimens of
the Higher Drama which flowed practically without cessation from the
restless pen of the insane old gentleman himself, the Windsor Theater
had passed from hand to hand with the agility of a gold watch in a
gathering of race-course thieves. The one anxiety of the unhappy man who
found himself, by some accident, in possession of the Windsor Theater,
was to pass it on to somebody else. The only really permanent tenant it
ever had was the representative of the Official Receiver.

Various causes were assigned for the phenomenal ill-luck of the theater,
but undoubtedly the vital objection to it as a Temple of Drama lay in
the fact that nobody could ever find the place where it was hidden.
Cabmen shook their heads on the rare occasions when they were asked to
take a fare there. Explorers to whom a stroll through the Australian
bush was child's-play, had been known to spend an hour on its trail and
finish up at the point where they had started.

It was precisely this quality of elusiveness which had first attracted
Mr. Montague. He was a far-seeing man, and to him the topographical
advantages of the theater were enormous. It was further from a
fire-station than any other building of the same insurance value in
London, even without having regard to the mystery which enveloped its
whereabouts. Often after a good dinner he would lean comfortably back
in his chair and see in the smoke of his cigar a vision of the Windsor
Theater blazing merrily, while distracted firemen galloped madly all
over London, vainly endeavoring to get some one to direct them to the
scene of the conflagration. So Mr. Montague bought the theater for a
mere song, and prepared to get busy.

Unluckily for him, the representatives of the various fire offices with
which he had effected his policies got busy first. The generous fellows
insisted upon taking off his shoulders the burden of maintaining the
fireman whose permanent presence in a theater is required by law.
Nothing would satisfy them but to install firemen of their own and pay
their salaries. This, to a man in whom the instincts of the phoenix
were so strongly developed as they were in Mr. Montague, was distinctly
disconcerting. He saw himself making no profit on the deal--a thing
which had never happened to him before.

And then Roland Bleke occurred, and Mr. Montague's belief that his race
was really chosen was restored. He sold the Windsor Theater to Roland
for twenty-five thousand pounds. It was fifteen thousand pounds more
than he himself had given for it, and this very satisfactory profit
mitigated the slight regret which he felt when it came to transferring
to Roland the insurance policies. To have effected policies amounting
to rather more than seventy thousand pounds on a building so notoriously
valueless as the Windsor Theater had been an achievement of which Mr.
Montague was justly proud, and it seemed sad to him that so much earnest
endeavor should be thrown away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Over the little lunch with which she kindly allowed Roland to entertain
her, to celebrate the purchase of the theater, Miss Verepoint outlined
her policy.

"What we must put up at that theater," she announced, "is a revue.
A revue," repeated Miss Verepoint, making, as she spoke, little
calculations on the back of the menu, "we could run for about fifteen
hundred a week--or, say, two thousand."

Saying two thousand, thought Roland to himself, is not quite the same as
paying two thousand, so why should she stint herself?

"I know two boys who could write us a topping revue," said Miss
Verepoint. "They'd spread themselves, too, if it was for me. They're in
love with me--both of them. We'd better get in touch with them at once."

To Roland, there seemed to be something just the least bit sinister
about the sound of that word "touch," but he said nothing.

"Why, there they are--lunching over there!" cried Miss Verepoint,
pointing to a neighboring table. "Now, isn't that lucky?"

To Roland the luck was not quite so apparent, but he made no demur to
Miss Verepoint's suggestion that they should be brought over to their
table.

The two boys, as to whose capabilities to write a topping revue Miss
Verepoint had formed so optimistic an estimate, proved to be well-grown
lads of about forty-five and forty, respectively. Of the two, Roland
thought that perhaps R. P. de Parys was a shade the more obnoxious,
but a closer inspection left him with the feeling that these fine
distinctions were a little unfair with men of such equal talents.
Bromham Rhodes ran his friend so close that it was practically a dead
heat. They were both fat and somewhat bulgy-eyed. This was due to the
fact that what revue-writing exacts from its exponents is the constant
assimilation of food and drink. Bromham Rhodes had the largest appetite
in London; but, on the other hand, R. P. de Parys was a better drinker.

"Well, dear old thing!" said Bromham Rhodes.

"Well, old child!" said R. P. de Parys.

Both these remarks were addressed to Miss Verepoint. The talented pair
appeared to be unaware of Roland's existence.

Miss Verepoint struck the business note. "Now you stop, boys," she said.
"Tie weights to yourselves and sink down into those chairs. I want you
two lads to write a revue for me."

"Delighted!" said Bromham Rhodes; "but----"

"There is the trifling point to be raised first----" said R. P. de
Parys.

"Where is the money coming from?" said Bromham Rhodes.

"My friend, Mr. Bleke, is putting up the money," said Miss Verepoint,
with dignity. "He has taken the Windsor Theater."

The interest of the two authors in their host, till then languid,
increased with a jerk. "Has he? By Jove!" they cried. "We must get
together and talk this over."

It was Roland's first experience of a theatrical talking-over, and he
never forgot it. Two such talkers-over as Bromham Rhodes and R. P. de
Parys were scarcely to be found in the length and breadth of theatrical
London. Nothing, it seemed, could the gifted pair even begin to think of
doing without first discussing the proposition in all its aspects. The
amount of food which Roland found himself compelled to absorb during the
course of these debates was appalling. Discussions which began at lunch
would be continued until it was time to order dinner; and then, as
likely as not, they would have to sit there till supper-time in order to
thrash the question thoroughly out.

       *       *       *       *       *

The collection of a cast was a matter even more complicated than the
actual composition of the revue. There was the almost insuperable
difficulty that Miss Verepoint firmly vetoed every name suggested. It
seemed practically impossible to find any man or woman in all England
or America whose peculiar gifts or lack of them would not interfere
with Miss Verepoint's giving a satisfactory performance of the principal
role. It was all very perplexing to Roland; but as Miss Verepoint was an
expert in theatrical matters, he scarcely felt entitled to question her
views.

It was about this time that Roland proposed to Miss Verepoint. The
passage of time and the strain of talking over the revue had to a
certain extent moderated his original fervor. He had shaded off from
a passionate devotion, through various diminishing tints of regard for
her, into a sort of pale sunset glow of affection. His principal reason
for proposing was that it seemed to him to be in the natural order of
events. Her air towards him had become distinctly proprietorial. She now
called him "Roly-poly" in public--a proceeding which left him with mixed
feelings. Also, she had taken to ordering him about, which, as everybody
knows, is an unmistakable sign of affection among ladies of the
theatrical profession. Finally, in his chivalrous way, Roland had
begun to feel a little apprehensive lest he might be compromising Miss
Verepoint. Everybody knew that he was putting up the money for the
revue in which she was to appear; they were constantly seen together at
restaurants; people looked arch when they spoke to him about her. He had
to ask himself: was he behaving like a perfect gentleman? The answer was
in the negative. He took a cab to her flat and proposed before he could
repent of his decision.

She accepted him. He was not certain for a moment whether he was glad
or sorry. "But I don't want to get married," she went on, "until I have
justified my choice of a profession. You will have to wait until I have
made a success in this revue."

Roland was shocked to find himself hugely relieved at this concession.

The revue took shape. There did apparently exist a handful of artistes
to whom Miss Verepoint had no objection, and these--a scrubby but
confident lot--were promptly engaged. Sallow Americans sprang from
nowhere with songs, dances, and ideas for effects. Tousled-haired scenic
artists wandered in with model scenes under their arms. A great cloud of
chorus-ladies settled upon the theater like flies. Even Bromham Rhodes
and R. P. de Parys--those human pythons--showed signs of activity. They
cornered Roland one day near Swan and Edgar's, steered him into the
Piccadilly Grill-room and, over a hearty lunch, read him extracts from
a brown-paper-covered manuscript which, they informed him, was the first
act.

It looked a battered sort of manuscript and, indeed, it had every right
to be. Under various titles and at various times, Bromham Rhodes' and R.
P. de Parys' first act had been refused by practically every responsible
manager in London. As "Oh! What a Life!" it had failed to satisfy the
directors of the Empire. Re-christened "Wow-Wow!" it had been rejected
by the Alhambra. The Hippodrome had refused to consider it, even under
the name of "Hullo, Cellar-Flap!" It was now called, "Pass Along,
Please!" and, according to its authors, was a real revue.

Roland was to learn, as the days went on, that in the world in which he
was moving everything was real revue that was not a stunt or a corking
effect. He floundered in a sea of real revue, stunts, and corking
effects. As far as he could gather, the main difference between these
things was that real revue was something which had been stolen from some
previous English production, whereas a stunt or a corking effect was
something which had been looted from New York. A judicious blend of
these, he was given to understand, constituted the sort of thing the
public wanted.

Rehearsals began before, in Roland's opinion, his little army was
properly supplied with ammunition. True, they had the first act, but
even the authors agreed that it wanted bringing up-to-date in parts.
They explained that it was, in a manner of speaking, their life-work,
that they had actually started it about ten years ago when they were
careless lads. Inevitably, it was spotted here and there with smart
topical hits of the early years of the century; but that, they said,
would be all right. They could freshen it up in a couple of evenings; it
was simply a matter of deleting allusions to pro-Boers and substituting
lines about Marconi shares and mangel-wurzels. "It'll be all right,"
they assured Roland; "this is real revue."

In times of trouble there is always a point at which one may say,
"Here is the beginning of the end." This point came with Roland at the
commencement of the rehearsals. Till then he had not fully realized
the terrible nature of the production for which he had made himself
responsible. Moreover, it was rehearsals which gave him his first clear
insight into the character of Miss Verepoint.

Miss Verepoint was not at her best at rehearsals. For the first time, as
he watched her, Roland found himself feeling that there was a case to
be made out for the managers who had so consistently kept her in the
background. Miss Verepoint, to use the technical term, threw her weight
about. There were not many good lines in the script of act one of "Pass
Along, Please!" but such as there were she reached out for and
grabbed away from their owners, who retired into corners, scowling and
muttering, like dogs robbed of bones. She snubbed everybody, Roland
included.

       *       *       *       *       *

Roland sat in the cold darkness of the stalls and watched her,
panic-stricken. Like an icy wave, it had swept over him what marriage
with this girl would mean. He suddenly realised how essentially domestic
his instincts really were. Life with Miss Verepoint would mean perpetual
dinners at restaurants, bread-throwing suppers, motor-rides--everything
that he hated most. Yet, as a man of honor, he was tied to her. If the
revue was a success, she would marry him--and revues, he knew, were
always successes. At that very moment there were six "best revues in
London," running at various theaters. He shuddered at the thought that
in a few weeks there would be seven.

He felt a longing for rural solitude. He wanted to be alone by
himself for a day or two in a place where there were no papers with
advertisements of revues, no grill-rooms, and, above all, no Miss Billy
Verepoint. That night he stole away to a Norfolk village, where, in
happier days, he had once spent a Summer holiday--a peaceful, primitive
place where the inhabitants could not have told real revue from a
corking effect.

Here, for the space of a week, Roland lay in hiding, while his quivering
nerves gradually recovered tone. He returned to London happier, but a
little apprehensive. Beyond a brief telegram of farewell, he had not
communicated with Miss Verepoint for seven days, and experience had
made him aware that she was a lady who demanded an adequate amount of
attention.

That his nervous system was not wholly restored to health was borne in
upon him as he walked along Piccadilly on his way to his flat; for,
when somebody suddenly slapped him hard between the shoulder-blades, he
uttered a stifled yell and leaped in the air.

Turning to face his assailant, he found himself meeting the genial
gaze of Mr. Montague, his predecessor in the ownership of the Windsor
Theater.

Mr. Montague was effusively friendly, and, for some mysterious reason,
congratulatory.

"You've done it, have you? You pulled it off, did you? And in the
first month--by George! And I took you for the plain, ordinary mug of
commerce! My boy, you're as deep as they make 'em. Who'd have thought
it, to look at you? It was the greatest idea any one ever had and
staring me in the face all the time and I never saw it! But I don't
grudge it to you--you deserve it my boy! You're a nut!"

"I really don't know what you mean."

"Quite right, my boy!" chuckled Mr. Montague. "You're quite right to
keep it up, even among friends. It don't do to risk anything, and the
least said soonest mended."

He went on his way, leaving Roland completely mystified.

Voices from his sitting-room, among which he recognized the high note of
Miss Verepoint, reminded him of the ordeal before him. He entered with
what he hoped was a careless ease of manner, but his heart was beating
fast. Since the opening of rehearsals he had acquired a wholesome
respect for Miss Verepoint's tongue. She was sitting in his favorite
chair. There were also present Bromham Rhodes and R. P. de Parys, who
had made themselves completely at home with a couple of his cigars and
whisky from the oldest bin.

"So here you are at last!" said Miss Verepoint, querulously. "The valet
told us you were expected back this morning, so we waited. Where on
earth have you been to, running away like this, without a word?"

"I only went----"

"Well, it doesn't matter where you went. The main point is, what are you
going to do about it?"

"We thought we'd better come along and talk it over," said R. P. de
Parys.

"Talk what over?" said Roland: "the revue?"

"Oh, don't try and be funny, for goodness' sake!" snapped Miss
Verepoint. "It doesn't suit you. You haven't the right shape of head.
What do you suppose we want to talk over? The theater, of course."

"What about the theater?"

Miss Verepoint looked searchingly at him. "Don't you ever read the
papers?"

"I haven't seen a paper since I went away."

"Well, better have it quick and not waste time breaking it gently,"
said Miss Verepoint. "The theater's been burned down--that's what's
happened."

"Burned down?"

"Burned down!" repeated Roland.

"That's what I said, didn't I? The suffragettes did it. They left copies
of 'Votes for Women' about the place. The silly asses set fire to two
other theaters as well, but they happened to be in main thoroughfares
and the fire-brigade got them under control at once. I suppose they
couldn't find the Windsor. Anyhow, it's burned to the ground and what we
want to know is what are you going to do about it?"

Roland was much too busy blessing the good angels of Kingsway to reply
at once. R. P. de Parys, sympathetic soul, placed a wrong construction
on his silence.

"Poor old Roly!" he said. "It's quite broken him up. The best thing we
can do is all to go off and talk it over at the Savoy, over a bit of
lunch."

"Well," said Miss Verepoint, "what are you going to do--rebuild the
Windsor or try and get another theater?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The authors were all for rebuilding the Windsor. True, it would take
time, but it would be more satisfactory in every way. Besides, at this
time of the year it would be no easy matter to secure another theater at
a moment's notice.

To R. P. de Parys and Bromham Rhodes the destruction of the Windsor
Theater had appeared less in the light of a disaster than as a direct
intervention on the part of Providence. The completion of that tiresome
second act, which had brooded over their lives like an ugly cloud, could
now be postponed indefinitely.

"Of course," said R. P. de Parys, thoughtfully, "our contract with you
makes it obligatory on you to produce our revue by a certain date--but I
dare say, Bromham, we could meet Roly there, couldn't we?"

"Sure!" said Rhodes. "Something nominal, say a further five hundred on
account of fees would satisfy us. I certainly think it would be better
to rebuild the Windsor, don't you, R. P.?"

"I do," agreed R. P. de Parys, cordially. "You see, Roly, our revue has
been written to fit the Windsor. It would be very difficult to alter it
for production at another theater. Yes, I feel sure that rebuilding the
Windsor would be your best course."

There was a pause.

"What do you think, Roly-poly?" asked Miss Verepoint, as Roland made no
sign.

"Nothing would delight me more than to rebuild the Windsor, or to take
another theater, or do anything else to oblige," he said, cheerfully.
"Unfortunately, I have no more money to burn."

It was as if a bomb had suddenly exploded in the room. A dreadful
silence fell upon his hearers. For the moment no one spoke. R. P. de
Parys woke with a start out of a beautiful dream of prawn curry and
Bromham Rhodes forgot that he had not tasted food for nearly two hours.
Miss Verepoint was the first to break the silence.

"Do you mean to say," she gasped, "that you didn't insure the place?"

Roland shook his head. The particular form in which Miss Verepoint had
put the question entitled him, he felt, to make this answer.

"Why didn't you?" Miss Verepoint's tone was almost menacing.

"Because it did not appear to me to be necessary."

Nor was it necessary, said Roland to his conscience. Mr. Montague had
done all the insuring that was necessary--and a bit over.

Miss Verepoint fought with her growing indignation, and lost. "What
about the salaries of the people who have been rehearsing all this
time?" she demanded.

"I'm sorry that they should be out of an engagement, but it is scarcely
my fault. However, I propose to give each of them a month's salary. I
can manage that, I think."

Miss Verepoint rose. "And what about me? What about me, that's what I
want to know. Where do I get off? If you think I'm going to marry you
without your getting a theater and putting up this revue you're jolly
well mistaken."

Roland made a gesture which was intended to convey regret and
resignation. He even contrived to sigh.

"Very well, then," said Miss Verepoint, rightly interpreting this
behavior as his final pronouncement on the situation. "Then everything's
jolly well off."

She swept out of the room, the two authors following in her wake like
porpoises behind a liner. Roland went to his bureau, unlocked it and
took out a bundle of documents. He let his fingers stray lovingly among
the fire insurance policies which energetic Mr. Montague had been at
such pains to secure from so many companies.

"And so," he said softly to himself, "am I."



THE EPISODE OF THE LIVE WEEKLY

Fourth of a Series of Six Stories [First published in _Pictorial
Review_, August 1916]


It was with a start that Roland Bleke realized that the girl at the
other end of the bench was crying. For the last few minutes, as far
as his preoccupation allowed him to notice them at all, he had been
attributing the subdued sniffs to a summer cold, having just recovered
from one himself.

He was embarrassed. He blamed the fate that had led him to this
particular bench, but he wished to give himself up to quiet deliberation
on the question of what on earth he was to do with two hundred and fifty
thousand pounds, to which figure his fortune had now risen.

The sniffs continued. Roland's discomfort increased. Chivalry had always
been his weakness. In the old days, on a hundred and forty pounds
a year, he had had few opportunities of indulging himself in this
direction; but now it seemed to him sometimes that the whole world was
crying out for assistance.

Should he speak to her? He wanted to; but only a few days ago his eyes
had been caught by the placard of a weekly paper bearing the title of
'Squibs,' on which in large letters was the legend "Men Who Speak
to Girls," and he had gathered that the accompanying article was a
denunciation rather than a eulogy of these individuals. On the other
hand, she was obviously in distress.

Another sniff decided him.

"I say, you know," he said.

The girl looked at him. She was small, and at the present moment had
that air of the floweret surprized while shrinking, which adds a good
thirty-three per cent. to a girl's attractions. Her nose, he noted, was
delicately tip-tilted. A certain pallor added to her beauty. Roland's
heart executed the opening steps of a buck-and-wing dance.

"Pardon me," he went on, "but you appear to be in trouble. Is there
anything I can do for you?"

She looked at him again--a keen look which seemed to get into Roland's
soul and walk about it with a searchlight. Then, as if satisfied by the
inspection, she spoke.

"No, I don't think there is," she said. "Unless you happen to be the
proprietor of a weekly paper with a Woman's Page, and need an editress
for it."

"I don't understand."

"Well, that's all any one could do for me--give me back my work or give
me something else of the same sort."

"Oh, have you lost your job?"

"I have. So would you mind going away, because I want to go on crying,
and I do it better alone. You won't mind my turning you out, I hope, but
I was here first, and there are heaps of other benches."

"No, but wait a minute. I want to hear about this. I might be able--what
I mean is--think of something. Tell me all about it."

There is no doubt that the possession of two hundred and fifty thousand
pounds tones down a diffident man's diffidence. Roland began to feel
almost masterful.

"Why should I?"

"Why shouldn't you?"

"There's something in that," said the girl reflectively. "After all,
you might know somebody. Well, as you want to know, I have just been
discharged from a paper called 'Squibs.' I used to edit the Woman's
Page."

"By Jove, did you write that article on 'Men Who Speak----'?"

The hard manner in which she had wrapped herself as in a garment
vanished instantly. Her eyes softened. She even blushed. Just a becoming
pink, you know!

"You don't mean to say you read it? I didn't think that any one ever
really read 'Squibs.'"

"Read it!" cried Roland, recklessly abandoning truth. "I should jolly
well think so. I know it by heart. Do you mean to say that, after
an article like that, they actually sacked you? Threw you out as a
failure?"

"Oh, they didn't send me away for incompetence. It was simply because
they couldn't afford to keep me on. Mr. Petheram was very nice about
it."

"Who's Mr. Petheram?"

"Mr. Petheram's everything. He calls himself the editor, but he's really
everything except office-boy, and I expect he'll be that next week.
When I started with the paper, there was quite a large staff. But it got
whittled down by degrees till there was only Mr. Petheram and myself. It
was like the crew of the 'Nancy Bell.' They got eaten one by one, till
I was the only one left. And now I've gone. Mr. Petheram is doing the
whole paper now."

"How is it that he can't get anything better to do?" Roland said.

"He has done lots of better things. He used to be at Carmelite House,
but they thought he was too old."

Roland felt relieved. He conjured up a picture of a white-haired elder
with a fatherly manner.

"Oh, he's old, is he?"

"Twenty-four."

There was a brief silence. Something in the girl's expression stung
Roland. She wore a rapt look, as if she were dreaming of the absent
Petheram, confound him. He would show her that Petheram was not the only
man worth looking rapt about.

He rose.

"Would you mind giving me your address?" he said.

"Why?"

"In order," said Roland carefully, "that I may offer you your former
employment on 'Squibs.' I am going to buy it."

After all, your man of dash and enterprise, your Napoleon, does have
his moments. Without looking at her, he perceived that he had bowled
her over completely. Something told him that she was staring at him,
open-mouthed. Meanwhile, a voice within him was muttering anxiously, "I
wonder how much this is going to cost."

"You're going to buy 'Squibs!'"

Her voice had fallen away to an awestruck whisper.

"I am."

She gulped.

"Well, I think you're wonderful."

So did Roland.

"Where will a letter find you?" he asked.

"My name is March. Bessie March. I'm living at twenty-seven Guildford
Street."

"Twenty-seven. Thank you. Good morning. I will communicate with you in
due course."

He raised his hat and walked away. He had only gone a few steps, when
there was a patter of feet behind him. He turned.

"I--I just wanted to thank you," she said.

"Not at all," said Roland. "Not at all."

He went on his way, tingling with just triumph. Petheram? Who was
Petheram? Who, in the name of goodness, was Petheram? He had put
Petheram in his proper place, he rather fancied. Petheram, forsooth.
Laughable.

A copy of the current number of 'Squibs,' purchased at a book-stall,
informed him, after a minute search to find the editorial page, that the
offices of the paper were in Fetter Lane. It was evidence of his exalted
state of mind that he proceeded thither in a cab.

Fetter Lane is one of those streets in which rooms that have only just
escaped being cupboards by a few feet achieve the dignity of offices.
There might have been space to swing a cat in the editorial sanctum of
'Squibs,' but it would have been a near thing. As for the outer office,
in which a vacant-faced lad of fifteen received Roland and instructed
him to wait while he took his card in to Mr. Petheram, it was a mere
box. Roland was afraid to expand his chest for fear of bruising it.

The boy returned to say that Mr. Petheram would see him.

Mr. Petheram was a young man with a mop of hair, and an air of almost
painful restraint. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and the table before
him was heaped high with papers. Opposite him, evidently in the act of
taking his leave was a comfortable-looking man of middle age with a
red face and a short beard. He left as Roland entered and Roland was
surprized to see Mr. Petheram spring to his feet, shake his fist at
the closing door, and kick the wall with a vehemence which brought down
several inches of discolored plaster.

"Take a seat," he said, when he had finished this performance. "What can
I do for you?"

Roland had always imagined that editors in their private offices were
less easily approached and, when approached, more brusk. The fact was
that Mr. Petheram, whose optimism nothing could quench, had mistaken him
for a prospective advertiser.

"I want to buy the paper," said Roland. He was aware that this was an
abrupt way of approaching the subject, but, after all, he did want to
buy the paper, so why not say so?

Mr. Petheram fizzed in his chair. He glowed with excitement.

"Do you mean to tell me there's a single book-stall in London which has
sold out? Great Scott, perhaps they've all sold out! How many did you
try?"

"I mean buy the whole paper. Become proprietor, you know."

Roland felt that he was blushing, and hated himself for it. He ought to
be carrying this thing through with an air. Mr. Petheram looked at him
blankly.

"Why?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know," said Roland. He felt the interview was going all
wrong. It lacked a stateliness which this kind of interview should have
had.

"Honestly?" said Mr. Petheram. "You aren't pulling my leg?"

Roland nodded. Mr. Petheram appeared to struggle with his conscience,
and finally to be worsted by it, for his next remarks were limpidly
honest.

"Don't you be an ass," he said. "You don't know what you're letting
yourself in for. Did you see that blighter who went out just now? Do you
know who he is? That's the fellow we've got to pay five pounds a week to
for life."

"Why?"

"We can't get rid of him. When the paper started, the proprietors--not
the present ones--thought it would give the thing a boom if they had
a football competition with a first prize of a fiver a week for life.
Well, that's the man who won it. He's been handed down as a legacy from
proprietor to proprietor, till now we've got him. Ages ago they tried
to get him to compromise for a lump sum down, but he wouldn't. Said he
would only spend it, and preferred to get it by the week. Well, by the
time we've paid that vampire, there isn't much left out of our profits.
That's why we are at the present moment a little understaffed."

A frown clouded Mr. Petheram's brow. Roland wondered if he was thinking
of Bessie March.

"I know all about that," he said.

"And you still want to buy the thing?"

"Yes."

"But what on earth for? Mind you, I ought not to be crabbing my own
paper like this, but you seem a good chap, and I don't want to see you
landed. Why are you doing it?"

"Oh, just for fun."

"Ah, now you're talking. If you can afford expensive amusements, go
ahead."

He put his feet on the table, and lit a short pipe. His gloomy views on
the subject of 'Squibs' gave way to a wave of optimism.

"You know," he said, "there's really a lot of life in the old rag yet.
If it were properly run. What has hampered us has been lack of capital.
We haven't been able to advertise. I'm bursting with ideas for booming
the paper, only naturally you can't do it for nothing. As for editing,
what I don't know about editing--but perhaps you had got somebody else
in your mind?"

"No, no," said Roland, who would not have known an editor from an
office-boy. The thought of interviewing prospective editors appalled
him.

"Very well, then," resumed Mr. Petheram, reassured, kicking over a heap
of papers to give more room for his feet. "Take it that I continue as
editor. We can discuss terms later. Under the present regime I have been
doing all the work in exchange for a happy home. I suppose you won't
want to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar? In other words, you would
sooner have a happy, well-fed editor running about the place than a
broken-down wreck who might swoon from starvation?"

"But one moment," said Roland. "Are you sure that the present
proprietors will want to sell?"

"Want to sell," cried Mr. Petheram enthusiastically. "Why, if they know
you want to buy, you've as much chance of getting away from them without
the paper as--as--well, I can't think of anything that has such a poor
chance of anything. If you aren't quick on your feet, they'll cry on
your shoulder. Come along, and we'll round them up now."

He struggled into his coat, and gave his hair an impatient brush with a
note-book.

"There's just one other thing," said Roland. "I have been a regular
reader of 'Squibs' for some time, and I particularly admire the way in
which the Woman's Page----"

"You mean you want to reengage the editress? Rather. You couldn't do
better. I was going to suggest it myself. Now, come along quick before
you change your mind or wake up."

Within a very few days of becoming sole proprietor of 'Squibs,' Roland
began to feel much as a man might who, a novice at the art of steering
cars, should find himself at the wheel of a runaway motor. Young Mr.
Petheram had spoken nothing less than the truth when he had said that
he was full of ideas for booming the paper. The infusion of capital into
the business acted on him like a powerful stimulant. He exuded ideas at
every pore.

Roland's first notion had been to engage a staff of contributors. He was
under the impression that contributors were the life-blood of a weekly
journal. Mr. Petheram corrected this view. He consented to the purchase
of a lurid serial story, but that was the last concession he made.
Nobody could accuse Mr. Petheram of lack of energy. He was willing, even
anxious, to write the whole paper himself, with the exception of the
Woman's Page, now brightly conducted once more by Miss March. What he
wanted Roland to concentrate himself upon was the supplying of capital
for ingenious advertising schemes.

"How would it be," he asked one morning--he always began his remarks
with, "How would it be?"--"if we paid a man to walk down Piccadilly in
white skin-tights with the word 'Squibs' painted in red letters across
his chest?"

Roland thought it would certainly not be.

"Good sound advertising stunt," urged Mr. Petheram. "You don't like it?
All right. You're the boss. Well, how would it be to have a squad of
men dressed as Zulus with white shields bearing the legend 'Squibs?' See
what I mean? Have them sprinting along the Strand shouting, 'Wah! Wah!
Wah! Buy it! Buy it!' It would make people talk."

Roland emerged from these interviews with his skin crawling with modest
apprehension. His was a retiring nature, and the thought of Zulus
sprinting down the Strand shouting "Wah! Wah! Wah! Buy it! Buy it!" with
reference to his personal property appalled him.

He was beginning now heartily to regret having bought the paper, as
he generally regretted every definite step which he took. The glow of
romance which had sustained him during the preliminary negotiations had
faded entirely. A girl has to be possessed of unusual charm to continue
to captivate B, when she makes it plain daily that her heart is the
exclusive property of A; and Roland had long since ceased to cherish any
delusion that Bessie March was ever likely to feel anything but a
mild liking for him. Young Mr. Petheram had obviously staked out an
indisputable claim. Her attitude toward him was that of an affectionate
devotee toward a high priest. One morning, entering the office
unexpectedly, Roland found her kissing the top of Mr. Petheram's head;
and from that moment his interest in the fortunes of 'Squibs' sank to
zero. It amazed him that he could ever have been idiot enough to have
allowed himself to be entangled in this insane venture for the sake
of an insignificant-looking bit of a girl with a snub-nose and a poor
complexion.

What particularly galled him was the fact that he was throwing away good
cash for nothing. It was true that his capital was more than equal to
the, on the whole, modest demands of the paper, but that did not alter
the fact that he was wasting money. Mr. Petheram always talked buoyantly
about turning the corner, but the corner always seemed just as far off.

The old idea of flight, to which he invariably had recourse in any
crisis, came upon Roland with irresistible force. He packed a bag, and
went to Paris. There, in the discomforts of life in a foreign country,
he contrived for a month to forget his white elephant.

He returned by the evening train which deposits the traveler in London
in time for dinner.

Strangely enough, nothing was farther from Roland's mind than his
bright weekly paper, as he sat down to dine in a crowded grill-room near
Piccadilly Circus. Four weeks of acute torment in a city where nobody
seemed to understand the simplest English sentence had driven 'Squibs'
completely from his mind for the time being.

The fact that such a paper existed was brought home to him with the
coffee. A note was placed upon his table by the attentive waiter.

"What's this?" he asked.

"The lady, sare," said the waiter vaguely.

Roland looked round the room excitedly. The spirit of romance gripped
him. There were many ladies present, for this particular restaurant
was a favorite with artistes who were permitted to "look in" at their
theaters as late as eight-thirty. None of them looked particularly
self-conscious, yet one of them had sent him this quite unsolicited
tribute. He tore open the envelope.

The message, written in a flowing feminine hand, was brief, and Mrs.
Grundy herself could have taken no exception to it.

"'Squibs,' one penny weekly, buy it," it ran. All the mellowing effects
of a good dinner passed away from Roland. He was feverishly irritated.
He paid his bill and left the place.

A visit to a neighboring music-hall occurred to him as a suitable
sedative. Hardly had his nerves ceased to quiver sufficiently to allow
him to begin to enjoy the performance, when, in the interval between two
of the turns, a man rose in one of the side boxes.

"Is there a doctor in the house?"

There was a hush in the audience. All eyes were directed toward the box.
A man in the stalls rose, blushing, and cleared his throat.

"My wife has fainted," continued the speaker. "She has just discovered
that she has lost her copy of 'Squibs.'"

The audience received the statement with the bovine stolidity of an
English audience in the presence of the unusual.

Not so Roland. Even as the purposeful-looking chuckers-out wended their
leopard-like steps toward the box, he was rushing out into the street.

As he stood cooling his indignation in the pleasant breeze which had
sprung up, he was aware of a dense crowd proceeding toward him. It was
headed by an individual who shone out against the drab background like a
good deed in a naughty world. Nature hath framed strange fellows in her
time, and this was one of the strangest that Roland's bulging eyes had
ever rested upon. He was a large, stout man, comfortably clad in a suit
of white linen, relieved by a scarlet 'Squibs' across the bosom. His
top-hat, at least four sizes larger than any top-hat worn out of a
pantomime, flaunted the same word in letters of flame. His umbrella,
which, tho the weather was fine, he carried open above his head, bore
the device "One penny weekly".

The arrest of this person by a vigilant policeman and Roland's dive into
a taxicab occurred simultaneously. Roland was blushing all over. His
head was in a whirl. He took the evening paper handed in through
the window of the cab quite mechanically, and it was only the strong
exhortations of the vendor which eventually induced him to pay for it.
This he did with a sovereign, and the cab drove off.

He was just thinking of going to bed several hours later, when it
occurred to him that he had not read his paper. He glanced at the
first page. The middle column was devoted to a really capitally written
account of the proceedings at Bow Street consequent upon the arrest
of six men who, it was alleged, had caused a crowd to collect to the
disturbance of the peace by parading the Strand in the undress of Zulu
warriors, shouting in unison the words "Wah! Wah! Wah! Buy 'Squibs.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Young Mr. Petheram greeted Roland with a joyous enthusiasm which the
hound Argus, on the return of Ulysses, might have equalled but could
scarcely have surpassed.

It seemed to be Mr. Petheram's considered opinion that God was in His
Heaven and all was right with the world. Roland's attempts to correct
this belief fell on deaf ears.

"Have I seen the advertisements?" he cried, echoing his editor's first
question. "I've seen nothing else."

"There!" said Mr. Petheram proudly.

"It can't go on."

"Yes, it can. Don't you worry. I know they're arrested as fast as we
send them out, but, bless you, the supply's endless. Ever since the
Revue boom started and actors were expected to do six different parts in
seven minutes, there are platoons of music-hall 'pros' hanging about
the Strand, ready to take on any sort of job you offer them. I have a
special staff flushing the Bodegas. These fellows love it. It's meat and
drink to them to be right in the public eye like that. Makes them feel
ten years younger. It's wonderful the talent knocking about. Those
Zulus used to have a steady job as the Six Brothers Biff, Society
Contortionists. The Revue craze killed them professionally. They cried
like children when we took them on.

"By the way, could you put through an expenses cheque before you go?
The fines mount up a bit. But don't you worry about that either. We're
coining money. I'll show you the returns in a minute. I told you we
should turn the corner. Turned it! Blame me, we've whizzed round it on
two wheels. Have you had time to see the paper since you got back? No?
Then you haven't seen our new Scandal Page--'We Just Want to Know, You
Know.' It's a corker, and it's sent the circulation up like a rocket.
Everybody reads 'Squibs' now. I was hoping you would come back soon. I
wanted to ask you about taking new offices. We're a bit above this sort
of thing now."

Roland, meanwhile, was reading with horrified eyes the alleged corking
Scandal Page. It seemed to him without exception the most frightful
production he had ever seen. It appalled him.

"This is awful," he moaned. "We shall have a hundred libel actions."

"Oh, no, that's all right. It's all fake stuff, tho the public doesn't
know it. If you stuck to real scandals you wouldn't get a par. a week.
A more moral set of blameless wasters than the blighters who constitute
modern society you never struck. But it reads all right, doesn't it? Of
course, every now and then one does hear something genuine, and then it
goes in. For instance, have you ever heard of Percy Pook, the bookie? I
have got a real ripe thing in about Percy this week, the absolute limpid
truth. It will make him sit up a bit. There, just under your thumb."

Roland removed his thumb, and, having read the paragraph in question,
started as if he had removed it from a snake.

"But this is bound to mean a libel action!" he cried.

"Not a bit of it," said Mr. Petheram comfortably. "You don't know Percy.
I won't bore you with his life-history, but take it from me he doesn't
rush into a court of law from sheer love of it. You're safe enough."

       *       *       *       *       *

But it appeared that Mr. Pook, tho coy in the matter of cleansing his
scutcheon before a judge and jury, was not wholly without weapons of
defense and offense. Arriving at the office next day, Roland found a
scene of desolation, in the middle of which, like Marius among the ruins
of Carthage, sat Jimmy, the vacant-faced office boy. Jimmy was
reading an illustrated comic paper, and appeared undisturbed by his
surroundings.

"He's gorn," he observed, looking up as Roland entered.

"What do you mean?" Roland snapped at him. "Who's gone and where did he
go? And besides that, when you speak to your superiors you will rise and
stop chewing that infernal gum. It gets on my nerves."

Jimmy neither rose nor relinquished his gum. He took his time and
answered.

"Mr. Petheram. A couple of fellers come in and went through, and there
was a uproar inside there, and presently out they come running, and I
went in, and there was Mr. Petheram on the floor knocked silly and the
furniture all broke, and now 'e's gorn to 'orspital. Those fellers 'ad
been putting 'im froo it proper," concluded Jimmy with moody relish.

Roland sat down weakly. Jimmy, his tale told, resumed the study of his
illustrated paper. Silence reigned in the offices of 'Squibs.'

It was broken by the arrival of Miss March. Her exclamation of
astonishment at the sight of the wrecked room led to a repetition of
Jimmy's story.

She vanished on hearing the name of the hospital to which the stricken
editor had been removed, and returned an hour later with flashing eyes
and a set jaw.

"Aubrey," she said--it was news to Roland that Mr. Petheram's name was
Aubrey--"is very much knocked about, but he is conscious and sitting up
and taking nourishment."

"That's good."

"In a spoon only."

"Ah!" said Roland.

"The doctor says he will not be out for a week. Aubrey is certain it was
that horrible book-maker's men who did it, but of course he can prove
nothing. But his last words to me were, 'Slip it into Percy again this
week.' He has given me one or two things to mention. I don't understand
them, but Aubrey says they will make him wild."

Roland's flesh crept. The idea of making Mr. Pook any wilder than he
appeared to be at present horrified him. Panic gave him strength, and
he addressed Miss March, who was looking more like a modern Joan of Arc
than anything else on earth, firmly.

"Miss March," he said, "I realize that this is a crisis, and that we
must all do all that we can for the paper, and I am ready to do anything
in reason--but I will not slip it into Percy. You have seen the effects
of slipping it into Percy. What he or his minions will do if we repeat
the process I do not care to think."

"You are afraid?"

"Yes," said Roland simply.

Miss March turned on her heel. It was plain that she regarded him as a
worm. Roland did not like being thought a worm, but it was infinitely
better than being regarded as an interesting case by the house-surgeon
of a hospital. He belonged to the school of thought which holds that it
is better that people should say of you, "There he goes!" than that they
should say, "How peaceful he looks".

Stress of work prevented further conversation. It was a revelation to
Roland, the vigor and energy with which Miss March threw herself into
the breach. As a matter of fact, so tremendous had been the labors of
the departed Mr. Petheram, that her work was more apparent than real.
Thanks to Mr. Petheram, there was a sufficient supply of material in
hand to enable 'Squibs' to run a fortnight on its own momentum. Roland,
however, did not know this, and with a view to doing what little he
could to help, he informed Miss March that he would write the Scandal
Page. It must be added that the offer was due quite as much to prudence
as to chivalry. Roland simply did not dare to trust her with the Scandal
Page. In her present mood it was not safe. To slip it into Percy would,
he felt, be with her the work of a moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Literary composition had never been Roland's forte. He sat and stared at
the white paper and chewed the pencil which should have been marring its
whiteness with stinging paragraphs. No sort of idea came to him.

His brow grew damp. What sort of people--except book-makers--did things
you could write scandal about? As far as he could ascertain, nobody.

He picked up the morning paper. The name Windlebird [*] caught his eye.
A kind of pleasant melancholy came over him as he read the paragraph.
How long ago it seemed since he had met that genial financier. The
paragraph was not particularly interesting. It gave a brief account of
some large deal which Mr. Windlebird was negotiating. Roland did not
understand a word of it, but it gave him an idea.

[*] He is a character in the Second Episode, a fraudulent financier.

Mr. Windlebird's financial standing, he knew, was above suspicion. Mr.
Windlebird had made that clear to him during his visit. There could be
no possibility of offending Mr. Windlebird by a paragraph or two about
the manners and customs of financiers. Phrases which his kindly host had
used during his visit came back to him, and with them inspiration.

Within five minutes he had compiled the following

    WE JUST WANT TO KNOW, YOU KNOW

    WHO is the eminent financier at present engaged upon one of his
    biggest deals?

    WHETHER the public would not be well-advised to look a little
    closer into it before investing their money?

    IF it is not a fact that this gentleman has bought a first-class
    ticket to the Argentine in case of accidents?

    WHETHER he may not have to use it at any moment?

After that it was easy. Ideas came with a rush. By the end of an hour
he had completed a Scandal Page of which Mr. Petheram himself might have
been proud, without a suggestion of slipping it into Percy. He felt that
he could go to Mr. Pook, and say, "Percy, on your honor as a British
book-maker, have I slipped it into you in any way whatsoever?" And Mr.
Pook would be compelled to reply, "You have not."

Miss March read the proofs of the page, and sniffed. But Miss March's
blood was up, and she would have sniffed at anything not directly
hostile to Mr. Pook.

       *       *       *       *       *

A week later Roland sat in the office of 'Squibs,' reading a letter. It
had been sent from No. 18-A Bream's Buildings, E.C., but, from Roland's
point of view, it might have come direct from heaven; for its contents,
signed by Harrison, Harrison, Harrison & Harrison, Solicitors, were to
the effect that a client of theirs had instructed them to approach him
with a view to purchasing the paper. He would not find their client
disposed to haggle over terms, so, hoped Messrs. Harrison, Harrison,
Harrison & Harrison, in the event of Roland being willing to sell, they
could speedily bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion.

Any conclusion which had left him free of 'Squibs' without actual
pecuniary loss would have been satisfactory to Roland. He had conceived
a loathing for his property which not even its steadily increasing sales
could mitigate. He was around at Messrs. Harrison's office as soon as a
swift taxi could take him there. The lawyers were for spinning the thing
out with guarded remarks and cautious preambles, but Roland's methods of
doing business were always rapid.

"This chap," he said, "this fellow who wants to buy 'Squibs,' what'll he
give?"

"That," began one of the Harrisons ponderously, "would, of course,
largely depend----"

"I'll take five thousand. Lock, stock, and barrel, including the present
staff, an even five thousand. How's that?"

"Five thousand is a large----"

"Take it or leave it."

"My dear sir, you hold a pistol to our heads. However, I think that our
client might consent to the sum you mention."

"Good. Well, directly I get his check, the thing's his. By the way, who
is your client?"

Mr. Harrison coughed.

"His name," he said, "will be familiar to you. He is the eminent
financier, Mr. Geoffrey Windlebird."



THE DIVERTING EPISODE OF THE EXILED MONARCH

Fifth of a Series of Six Stories [First published in _Pictorial Review_,
September 1916]


The caoutchouc was drawing all London. Slightly more indecent than the
Salome dance, a shade less reticent than ragtime, it had driven the
tango out of existence. Nor, indeed, did anybody actually caoutchouc,
for the national dance of Paranoya contained three hundred and
fifteen recognized steps; but everybody tried to. A new revue, "Hullo,
Caoutchouc," had been produced with success. And the pioneer of the
dance, the peerless Maraquita, a native Paranoyan, still performed it
nightly at the music-hall where she had first broken loose.

The caoutchouc fascinated Roland Bleke. Maraquita fascinated him more.
Of all the women to whom he had lost his heart at first sight, Maraquita
had made the firmest impression upon him. She was what is sometimes
called a fine woman.

She had large, flashing eyes, the physique of a Rugby International
forward, and the agility of a cat on hot bricks.

There is a period of about fifty steps somewhere in the middle of the
three hundred and fifteen where the patient, abandoning the comparative
decorum of the earlier movements, whizzes about till she looks like a
salmon-colored whirlwind.

That was the bit that hit Roland.

Night after night he sat in his stage-box, goggling at Maraquita and
applauding wildly.

One night an attendant came to his box.

"Excuse me, sir, but are you Mr. Roland Bleke? The Senorita Maraquita
wishes to speak to you."

He held open the door of the box. The possibility of refusal did not
appear to occur to him. Behind the scenes at that theater, it was
generally recognized that when the Peerless One wanted a thing, she got
it--quick.

They were alone.

With no protective footlights between himself and her, Roland came to
the conclusion that he had made a mistake. It was not that she was any
less beautiful at the very close quarters imposed by the limits of
the dressing-room; but he felt that in falling in love with her he had
undertaken a contract a little too large for one of his quiet, diffident
nature. It crossed his mind that the sort of woman he really liked was
the rather small, drooping type. Dynamite would not have made Maraquita
droop.

For perhaps a minute and a half Maraquita fixed her compelling eyes on
his without uttering a word. Then she broke a painful silence with this
leading question:

"You love me, _hein_?"

Roland nodded feebly.

"When men make love to me, I send them away--so."

She waved her hand toward the door, and Roland began to feel almost
cheerful again. He was to be dismissed with a caution, after all. The
woman had a fine, forgiving nature.

"But not you."

"Not me?"

"No, not you. You are the man I have been waiting for. I read about you
in the paper, Senor Bleke. I see your picture in the 'Daily Mirror!' I
say to myself, 'What a man!'"

"Those picture-paper photographs always make one look rather weird,"
mumbled Roland.

"I see you night after night in your box. Poof! I love you."

"Thanks awfully," bleated Roland.

"You would do anything for my sake, _hein_? I knew you were that kind
of man directly I see you. No," she added, as Roland writhed uneasily
in his chair, "do not embrace me. Later, yes, but now, no. Not till the
Great Day."

What the Great Day might be Roland could not even faintly conjecture. He
could only hope that it would also be a remote one.

"And now," said the Senorita, throwing a cloak about her shoulders, "you
come away with me to my house. My friends are there awaiting us. They
will be glad and proud to meet you."

       *       *       *       *       *

After his first inspection of the house and the friends, Roland came to
the conclusion that he preferred Maraquita's room to her company. The
former was large and airy, the latter, with one exception, small and
hairy.

The exception Maraquita addressed as Bombito. He was a conspicuous
figure. He was one of those out-size, hasty-looking men. One suspected
him of carrying lethal weapons.

Maraquita presented Roland to the company. The native speech of Paranoya
sounded like shorthand, with a blend of Spanish. An expert could
evidently squeeze a good deal of it into a minute. Its effect on the
company was good. They were manifestly soothed. Even Bombito.

Introductions in detail then took place. This time, for Roland's
benefit, Maraquita spoke in English, and he learned that most of those
present were marquises. Before him, so he gathered from Maraquita, stood
the very flower of Paranoya's aristocracy, driven from their native land
by the Infamy of 1905. Roland was too polite to inquire what on earth
the Infamy of 1905 might be, but its mention had a marked effect on the
company. Some scowled, others uttered deep-throated oaths. Bombito
did both. Before supper, to which they presently sat down, was over,
however, Roland knew a good deal about Paranoya and its history. The
conversation conducted by Maraquita--to a ceaseless _bouche pleine_
accompaniment from her friends--bore exclusively upon the subject.

Paranoya had, it appeared, existed fairly peacefully for centuries under
the rule of the Alejandro dynasty. Then, in the reign of Alejandro the
Thirteenth, disaffection had begun to spread, culminating in the Infamy
of 1905, which, Roland had at last discovered, was nothing less than the
abolition of the monarchy and the installation of a republic.

Since 1905 the one thing for which they had lived, besides the
caoutchouc, was to see the monarchy restored and their beloved Alejandro
the Thirteenth back on his throne. Their efforts toward this end
had been untiring, and were at last showing signs of bearing fruit.
Paranoya, Maraquita assured Roland, was honeycombed with intrigue. The
army was disaffected, the people anxious for a return to the old order
of things.

A more propitious moment for striking the decisive blow was never likely
to arrive. The question was purely one of funds.

At the mention of the word "funds," Roland, who had become thoroughly
bored with the lecture on Paranoyan history, sat up and took notice.
He had an instinctive feeling that he was about to be called upon for
a subscription to the cause of the distressful country's freedom.
Especially by Bombito.

He was right. A moment later Maraquita began to make a speech.

She spoke in Paranoyan, and Roland could not follow her, but he gathered
that it somehow had reference to himself.

As, at the end of it, the entire company rose to their feet and extended
their glasses toward him with a mighty shout, he assumed that Maraquita
had been proposing his health.

"They say 'To the liberator of Paranoya!'" kindly translated the
Peerless One. "You must excuse," said Maraquita tolerantly, as a bevy
of patriots surrounded Roland and kissed him on the cheek. "They are so
grateful to the savior of our country. I myself would kiss you, were it
not that I have sworn that no man's lips shall touch mine till the royal
standard floats once more above the palace of Paranoya. But that will be
soon, very soon," she went on. "With you on our side we can not fail."

What did the woman mean? Roland asked himself wildly. Did she labor
under the distressing delusion that he proposed to shed his blood on
behalf of a deposed monarch to whom he had never been introduced?

Maraquita's next remarks made the matter clear.

"I have told them," she said, "that you love me, that you are willing
to risk everything for my sake. I have promised them that you, the
rich Senor Bleke, will supply the funds for the revolution. Once more,
comrades. To the Savior of Paranoya!"

Roland tried his hardest to catch the infection of this patriotic
enthusiasm, but somehow he could not do it. Base, sordid, mercenary
speculations would intrude themselves. About how much was a good,
well-furnished revolution likely to cost? As delicately as he could, he
put the question to Maraquita.

She said, "Poof! The cost? La, la!" Which was all very well, but hardly
satisfactory as a business chat. However, that was all Roland could get
out of her.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next few days passed for Roland in a sort of dream. It was the kind
of dream which it is not easy to distinguish from a nightmare.

Maraquita's reticence at the supper-party on the subject of details
connected with the financial side of revolutions entirely disappeared.
She now talked nothing but figures, and from the confused mass which
she presented to him Roland was able to gather that, in financing
the restoration of royalty in Paranoya, he would indeed be risking
everything for her sake.

In the matter of revolutions Maraquita was no niggard. She knew how the
thing should be done--well, or not at all. There would be so much for
rifles, machine-guns, and what not: and there would be so much for the
expense of smuggling them into the country. Then there would be so much
to be laid out in corrupting the republican army. Roland brightened a
little when they came to this item. As the standing army of Paranoya
amounted to twenty thousand men, and as it seemed possible to corrupt
it thoroughly at a cost of about thirty shillings a head, the obvious
course, to Roland's way of thinking was to concentrate on this side of
the question and avoid unnecessary bloodshed.

It appeared, however, that Maraquita did not want to avoid bloodshed,
that she rather liked bloodshed, that the leaders of the revolution
would be disappointed if there were no bloodshed. Especially Bombito.
Unless, she pointed out, there was a certain amount of carnage, looting,
and so on, the revolution would not achieve a popular success. True, the
beloved Alejandro might be restored; but he would sit upon a throne
that was insecure, unless the coronation festivities took a bloodthirsty
turn. By all means, said Maraquita, corrupt the army, but not at the
risk of making the affair tame and unpopular. Paranoya was an emotional
country, and liked its revolutions with a bit of zip to them.

It was about ten days after he had definitely cast in his lot with the
revolutionary party that Roland was made aware that these things were a
little more complex than he had imagined. He had reconciled himself to
the financial outlay. It had been difficult, but he had done it. That
his person as well as his purse would be placed in peril he had not
foreseen.

The fact was borne in upon him at the end of the second week by the
arrival of the deputation.

It blew in from the street just as he was enjoying his after-dinner
cigar.

It consisted of three men, one long and suave, the other two short,
stout, and silent. They all had the sallow complexion and undue
hairiness which he had come by this time to associate with the native of
Paranoya.

For a moment he mistook them for a drove of exiled noblemen whom he
had not had the pleasure of meeting at the supper-party; and he waited
resignedly for them to make night hideous with the royal anthem. He
poised himself on his toes, the more readily to spring aside if they
should try to kiss him on the cheek.

"Mr. Bleke?" said the long man.

His companions drifted toward the cigar-box which stood open on the
table, and looked at it wistfully.

"Long live the monarchy," said Roland wearily. He had gathered in the
course of his dealings with the exiled ones that this remark generally
went well.

On the present occasion it elicited no outburst of cheering. On the
contrary, the long man frowned, and his two companions helped themselves
to a handful of cigars apiece with a marked moodiness.

"Death to the monarchy," corrected the long man coldly. "And," he added
with a wealth of meaning in his voice, "to all who meddle in the affairs
of our beloved country and seek to do it harm."

"I don't know what you mean," said Roland.

"Yes, Senor Bleke, you do know what I mean. I mean that you will be
well advised to abandon the schemes which you are hatching with the
malcontents who would do my beloved land an injury."

The conversation was growing awkward. Roland had got so into the habit
of taking it for granted that every Paranoyan he met must of necessity
be a devotee of the beloved Alejandro that it came as a shock to him
to realize that there were those who objected to his restoration to
the throne. Till now he had looked on the enemy as something in the
abstract. It had not struck him that the people for whose correction
he was buying all these rifles and machine-guns were individuals with a
lively distaste for having their blood shed.

"Senor Bleke," resumed the speaker, frowning at one of his companions
whose hand was hovering above the bottle of liqueur brandy, "you are a
man of sense. You know what is safe and what is not safe. Believe me,
this scheme of yours is not safe. You have been led away, but there
is still time to withdraw. Do so, and all is well. Do not so, and your
blood be upon your own head."

"My blood!" gasped Roland.

The speaker bowed.

"That is all," he said. "We merely came to give the warning. Ah, Senor
Bleke, do not be rash. You think that here, in this great London of
yours, you are safe. You look at the policeman upon the corner of the
road, and you say to yourself 'I am safe.' Believe me, not at all so is
it, but much the opposite. We have ways by which it is of no account the
policeman on the corner of the road. That is all, Senor Bleke. We wish
you a good night."

The deputation withdrew.

Maraquita, informed of the incident, snapped her fingers, and said
"Poof!" It sometimes struck Roland that she would be more real help in a
difficult situation if she could get out of the habit of saying "Poof!"

"It is nothing," she said.

"No?" said Roland.

"We easily out-trick them, isn't it? You make a will leaving your money
to the Cause, and then where are they, _hein_?"

It was one way of looking at it, but it brought little balm to Roland.
He said so. Maraquita scanned his face keenly.

"You are not weakening, Roland?" she said. "You would not betray us
now?"

"Well, of course, I don't know about betraying, you know, but still----.
What I mean is----"

Maraquita's eyes seemed to shoot forth two flames.

"Take care," she cried. "With me it is nothing, for I know that your
heart is with Paranoya. But, if the others once had cause to suspect
that your resolve was failing--ah! If Bombito----"

Roland took her point. He had forgotten Bombito for the moment.

"For goodness' sake," he said hastily, "don't go saying anything to
Bombito to give him the idea that I'm trying to back out. Of course you
can rely on me, and all that. That's all right."

Maraquita's gaze softened. She raised her glass--they were lunching at
the time--and put it to her lips.

"To the Savior of Paranoya!" she said.

"Beware!" whispered a voice in Roland's ear.

He turned with a start. A waiter was standing behind him, a small, dark,
hairy man. He was looking into the middle distance with the abstracted
air which waiters cultivate.

Roland stared at him, but he did not move.

That evening, returning to his flat, Roland was paralyzed by the sight
of the word "Beware" scrawled across the mirror in his bedroom. It had
apparently been done with a diamond. He rang the bell.

"Sir?" said the competent valet. ("Competent valets are in attendance at
each of these flats."--_Advt._)

"Has any one been here since I left?"

"Yes, sir. A foreign-looking gentleman called. He said he knew you, sir.
I showed him into your room."

The same night, well on in the small hours, the telephone rang. Roland
dragged himself out of bed.

"Hullo?"

"Is that Senor Bleke?"

"Yes. What is it?"

"Beware!"

Things were becoming intolerable. Roland had a certain amount of
nerve, but not enough to enable him to bear up against this sinister
persecution. Yet what could he do? Suppose he did beware to the extent
of withdrawing his support from the royalist movement, what then?
Bombito. If ever there was a toad under the harrow, he was that toad.
And all because a perfectly respectful admiration for the caoutchouc
had led him to occupy a stage-box several nights in succession at the
theater where the peerless Maraquita tied herself into knots.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was an air of unusual excitement in Maraquita's manner at their
next meeting.

"We have been in communication with Him," she whispered. "He will
receive you. He will give an audience to the Savior of Paranoya."

"Eh? Who will?"

"Our beloved Alejandro. He wishes to see his faithful servant. We are to
go to him at once."

"Where?"

"At his own house. He will receive you in person."

Such was the quality of the emotions through which he had been passing
of late, that Roland felt but a faint interest at the prospect of
meeting face to face a genuine--if exiled--monarch. The thought did flit
through his mind that they would sit up a bit in old Fineberg's office
if they could hear of it, but it brought him little consolation.

The cab drew up at a gloomy-looking house in a fashionable square.
Roland rang the door-bell. There seemed a certain element of the prosaic
in the action. He wondered what he should say to the butler.

There was, however, no need for words. The door opened, and they were
ushered in without parley. A butler and two footmen showed them into a
luxuriously furnished anteroom. Roland entered with two thoughts
running in his mind. The first was that the beloved Alejandro had got an
uncommonly snug crib; the second that this was exactly like going to see
the dentist.

Presently the squad of retainers returned, the butler leading.

"His Majesty will receive Mr. Bleke."

Roland followed him with tottering knees.

His Majesty, King Alejandro the Thirteenth, on the retired list, was a
genial-looking man of middle age, comfortably stout about the middle
and a little bald as to the forehead. He might have been a prosperous
stock-broker. Roland felt more at his ease at the very sight of him.

"Sit down, Mr. Bleke," said His Majesty, as the door closed. "I have
been wanting to see you for some time."

Roland had nothing to say. He was regaining his composure, but he had a
long way to go yet before he could feel thoroughly at home.

King Alejandro produced a cigaret-case, and offered it to Roland,
who shook his head speechlessly. The King lit a cigaret and smoked
thoughtfully for a while.

"You know, Mr. Bleke," he said at last, "this must stop. It really must.
I mean your devoted efforts on my behalf."

Roland gaped at him.

"You are a very young man. I had expected to see some one much older.
Your youth gives me the impression that you have gone into this affair
from a spirit of adventure. I can assure you that you have nothing to
gain commercially by interfering with my late kingdom. I hope, before
we part, that I can persuade you to abandon your idea of financing this
movement to restore me to the throne.

"I don't understand--er--your majesty."

"I will explain. Please treat what I shall say as strictly confidential.
You must know, Mr. Bleke, that these attempts to re-establish me as a
reigning monarch in Paranoya are, frankly, the curse of an otherwise
very pleasant existence. You look surprized? My dear sir, do you know
Paranoya? Have you ever been there? Have you the remotest idea what sort
of life a King of Paranoya leads? I have tried it, and I can assure
you that a coal-heaver is happy by comparison. In the first place, the
climate of the country is abominable. I always had a cold in the head.
Secondly, there is a small but energetic section of the populace whose
sole recreation it seems to be to use their monarch as a target for
bombs. They are not very good bombs, it is true, but one in, say, ten
explodes, and even an occasional bomb is unpleasant if you are the
target.

"Finally, I am much too fond of your delightful country to wish to leave
it. I was educated in England--I am a Magdalene College man--and I have
the greatest horror of ever being compelled to leave it. My present life
suits me exactly. That is all I wished to say, Mr. Bleke. For both our
sakes, for the sake of my comfort and your purse, abandon this scheme of
yours."

       *       *       *       *       *

Roland walked home thoughtfully. Maraquita had left the royal residence
long before he had finished the whisky-and-soda which the genial monarch
had pressed upon him. As he walked, the futility of his situation came
home to him more and more. Whatever he did, he was bound to displease
somebody; and these Paranoyans were so confoundedly impulsive when they
were vexed.

For two days he avoided Maraquita. On the third, with something of the
instinct which draws the murderer to the spot where he has buried the
body, he called at her house.

She was not present, but otherwise there was a full gathering. There
were the marquises; there were the counts; there was Bombito.

He looked unhappily round the crowd.

Somebody gave him a glass of champagne. He raised it.

"To the revolution," he said mechanically.

There was a silence--it seemed to Roland an awkward silence. As if he
had said something improper, the marquises and counts began to drift
from the room, till only Bombito was left. Roland regarded him with some
apprehension. He was looking larger and more unusual than ever.

But to-night, apparently, Bombito was in genial mood. He came forward
and slapped Roland on the shoulder. And then the remarkable fact came to
light that Bombito spoke English, or a sort of English.

"My old chap," he said. "I would have a speech with you."

He slapped Roland again on the shoulder.

"The others they say, 'Break it with Senor Bleke gently.' Maraquita say
'Break it with Senor Bleke gently.' So I break it with you gently."

He dealt Roland a third stupendous punch. Whatever was to be broken
gently, it was plain to Roland that it was not himself. And suddenly
there came to him a sort of intuition that told him that Bombito was
nervous.

"After all you have done for us, Senor Bleke, we shall seem to you
ungrateful bounders, but what is it? Yes? No? I shouldn't wonder,
perhaps. The whole fact is that there has been political crisis in
Paranoya. Upset. Apple-cart. Yes? You follow? No? The Ministry have
been--what do you say?--put through it. Expelled. Broken up. No more
ministry. New ministry wanted. To conciliate royalist party, that is
the cry. So deputation of leading persons, mighty good chaps, prominent
merchants and that sort of bounder, call upon us. They offer me to be
President. See? No? Yes? That's right. I am ambitious blighter, Senor
Bleke. What about it, no? I accept. I am new President of Paranoya. So
no need for your kind assistance. Royalist revolution up the spout. No
more royalist revolution."

The wave of relief which swept over Roland ebbed sufficiently after an
interval to enable him to think of some one but himself. He was not fond
of Maraquita, but he had a tender heart, and this, he felt, would kill
the poor girl.

"But Maraquita----?"

"That's all right, splendid old chap. No need to worry about Maraquita,
stout old boy. Where the husband goes, so does the wife go. As you say,
whither thou goes will I follow. No?"

"But I don't understand. Maraquita is not your wife?"

"Why, certainly, good old heart. What else?"

"Have you been married to her all the time?"

"Why, certainly, good, dear boy."

The room swam before Roland's eyes. There was no room in his mind
for meditations on the perfidy of woman. He groped forward and found
Bombito's hand.

"By Jove," he said thickly, as he wrung it again and again, "I knew you
were a good sort the first time I saw you. Have a drink or something.
Have a cigar or something. Have something, anyway, and sit down and tell
me all about it."



THE EPISODE OF THE HIRED PAST

Final Story of the Series [First published in _Pictorial Review_,
October 1916]


"What do you mean--you can't marry him after all? After all what? Why
can't you marry him? You are perfectly childish."

Lord Evenwood's gentle voice, which had in its time lulled the House
of Peers to slumber more often than any voice ever heard in the
Gilded Chamber, had in it a note of unwonted, but quite justifiable,
irritation. If there was one thing more than another that Lord Evenwood
disliked, it was any interference with arrangements already made.

"The man," he continued, "is not unsightly. The man is not conspicuously
vulgar. The man does not eat peas with his knife. The man pronounces his
aitches with meticulous care and accuracy. The man, moreover, is worth
rather more than a quarter of a million pounds. I repeat, you are
childish!"

"Yes, I know he's a very decent little chap, Father," said Lady Eva.
"It's not that at all."

"I should be gratified, then, to hear what, in your opinion, it is."

"Well, do you think I could be happy with him?"

Lady Kimbuck gave tongue. She was Lord Evenwood's sister. She spent a
very happy widowhood interfering in the affairs of the various branches
of her family.

"We're not asking you to be happy. You have such odd ideas of happiness.
Your idea of happiness is to be married to your cousin Gerry, whose only
visible means of support, so far as I can gather, is the four hundred
a year which he draws as a member for a constituency which has every
intention of throwing him out at the next election."

Lady Eva blushed. Lady Kimbuck's faculty for nosing out the secrets of
her family had made her justly disliked from the Hebrides to Southern
Cornwall.

"Young O'Rion is not to be thought of," said Lord Evenwood firmly. "Not
for an instant. Apart from anything else, his politics are all
wrong. Moreover, you are engaged to this Mr. Bleke. It is a sacred
responsibility not lightly to be evaded. You can not pledge your
word one day to enter upon the most solemn contract known to--ah--the
civilized world, and break it the next. It is not fair to the man. It is
not fair to me. You know that all I live for is to see you comfortably
settled. If I could myself do anything for you, the matter would be
different. But these abominable land-taxes and Blowick--especially
Blowick--no, no, it's out of the question. You will be very sorry if you
do anything foolish. I can assure you that Roland Blekes are not to be
found--ah--on every bush. Men are extremely shy of marrying nowadays."

"Especially," said Lady Kimbuck, "into a family like ours. What with
Blowick's scandal, and that shocking business of your grandfather
and the circus-woman, to say nothing of your poor father's trouble in
'85----"

"Thank you, Sophia," interrupted Lord Evenwood, hurriedly. "It is
unnecessary to go into all that now. Suffice it that there are adequate
reasons, apart from all moral obligations, why Eva should not break her
word to Mr. Bleke."

Lady Kimbuck's encyclopedic grip of the family annals was a source of
the utmost discomfort to her relatives. It was known that more than one
firm of publishers had made her tempting offers for her reminiscences,
and the family looked on like nervous spectators at a battle while
Cupidity fought its ceaseless fight with Laziness; for the Evenwood
family had at various times and in various ways stimulated the
circulation of the evening papers. Most of them were living down
something, and it was Lady Kimbuck's habit, when thwarted in her
lightest whim, to retire to her boudoir and announce that she was not
to be disturbed as she was at last making a start on her book. Abject
surrender followed on the instant.

At this point in the discussion she folded up her crochet-work, and
rose.

"It is absolutely necessary for you, my dear, to make a good match, or
you will all be ruined. I, of course, can always support my declining
years with literary work, but----"

Lady Eva groaned. Against this last argument there was no appeal.

Lady Kimbuck patted her affectionately on the shoulder.

"There, run along now," she said. "I daresay you've got a headache or
something that made you say a lot of foolish things you didn't mean.
Go down to the drawing-room. I expect Mr. Bleke is waiting there to say
goodnight to you. I am sure he must be getting quite impatient."

Down in the drawing-room, Roland Bleke was hoping against hope that Lady
Eva's prolonged absence might be due to the fact that she had gone to
bed with a headache, and that he might escape the nightly interview
which he so dreaded.

Reviewing his career, as he sat there, Roland came to the conclusion
that women had the knack of affecting him with a form of temporary
insanity. They temporarily changed his whole nature. They made him feel
for a brief while that he was a dashing young man capable of the
highest flights of love. It was only later that the reaction came and he
realized that he was nothing of the sort.

At heart he was afraid of women, and in the entire list of the women of
whom he had been afraid, he could not find one who had terrified him so
much as Lady Eva Blyton.

Other women--notably Maraquita, now happily helping to direct the
destinies of Paranoya--had frightened him by their individuality. Lady
Eva frightened him both by her individuality and the atmosphere of
aristocratic exclusiveness which she conveyed. He had no idea whatever
of what was the proper procedure for a man engaged to the daughter of
an earl. Daughters of earls had been to him till now mere names in the
society columns of the morning paper. The very rules of the game were
beyond him. He felt like a confirmed Association footballer suddenly
called upon to play in an International Rugby match.

All along, from the very moment when--to his unbounded astonishment--she
had accepted him, he had known that he was making a mistake; but he
never realized it with such painful clearness as he did this evening.
He was filled with a sort of blind terror. He cursed the fate which had
taken him to the Charity-Bazaar at which he had first come under the
notice of Lady Kimbuck. The fatuous snobbishness which had made him leap
at her invitation to spend a few days at Evenwood Towers he regretted;
but for that he blamed himself less. Further acquaintance with Lady
Kimbuck had convinced him that if she had wanted him, she would have got
him somehow, whether he had accepted or refused.

What he really blamed himself for was his mad proposal. There had been
no need for it. True, Lady Eva had created a riot of burning emotions in
his breast from the moment they met; but he should have had the sense to
realize that she was not the right mate for him, even tho he might have
a quarter of a million tucked away in gilt-edged securities. Their lives
could not possibly mix. He was a commonplace young man with a fondness
for the pleasures of the people. He liked cheap papers, picture-palaces,
and Association football. Merely to think of Association football in
connection with her was enough to make the folly of his conduct
clear. He ought to have been content to worship her from afar as some
inaccessible goddess.

A light step outside the door made his heart stop beating.

"I've just looked in to say good night, Mr.--er--Roland," she said,
holding out her hand. "Do excuse me. I've got such a headache."

"Oh, yes, rather; I'm awfully sorry."

If there was one person in the world Roland despised and hated at that
moment, it was himself.

"Are you going out with the guns to-morrow?" asked Lady Eva languidly.

"Oh, yes, rather! I mean, no. I'm afraid I don't shoot."

The back of his neck began to glow. He had no illusions about himself.
He was the biggest ass in Christendom.

"Perhaps you'd like to play a round of golf, then?"

"Oh, yes, rather! I mean, no." There it was again, that awful phrase. He
was certain he had not intended to utter it. She must be thinking him a
perfect lunatic. "I don't play golf."

They stood looking at each other for a moment. It seemed to Roland that
her gaze was partly contemptuous, partly pitying. He longed to tell her
that, tho she had happened to pick on his weak points in the realm of
sport, there were things he could do. An insane desire came upon him
to babble about his school football team. Should he ask her to feel his
quite respectable biceps? No.

"Never mind," she said, kindly. "I daresay we shall think of something
to amuse you."

She held out her hand again. He took it in his for the briefest possible
instant, painfully conscious the while that his own hand was clammy from
the emotion through which he had been passing.

"Good night."

"Good night."

Thank Heaven, she was gone. That let him out for another twelve hours at
least.

A quarter of an hour later found Roland still sitting, where she had
left him, his head in his hands. The groan of an overwrought soul
escaped him.

"I can't do it!"

He sprang to his feet.

"I won't do it."

A smooth voice from behind him spoke.

"I think you are quite right, sir--if I may make the remark."

Roland had hardly ever been so startled in his life. In the first place,
he was not aware of having uttered his thoughts aloud; in the second, he
had imagined that he was alone in the room. And so, a moment before, he
had been.

But the owner of the voice possessed, among other qualities, the
cat-like faculty of entering a room perfectly noiselessly--a fact which
had won for him, in the course of a long career in the service of the
best families, the flattering position of star witness in a number of
England's raciest divorce-cases.

Mr. Teal, the butler--for it was no less a celebrity who had broken in
on Roland's reverie--was a long, thin man of a somewhat priestly cast of
countenance. He lacked that air of reproving hauteur which many butlers
possess, and it was for this reason that Roland had felt drawn to him
during the black days of his stay at Evenwood Towers. Teal had been
uncommonly nice to him on the whole. He had seemed to Roland, stricken
by interviews with his host and Lady Kimbuck, the only human thing in
the place.

He liked Teal. On the other hand, Teal was certainly taking a liberty.
He could, if he so pleased, tell Teal to go to the deuce. Technically,
he had the right to freeze Teal with a look.

He did neither of these things. He was feeling very lonely and very
forlorn in a strange and depressing world, and Teal's voice and manner
were soothing.

"Hearing you speak, and seeing nobody else in the room," went on the
butler, "I thought for a moment that you were addressing me."

This was not true, and Roland knew it was not true. Instinct told him
that Teal knew that he knew it was not true; but he did not press the
point.

"What do you mean--you think I am quite right?" he said. "You don't know
what I was thinking about."

Teal smiled indulgently.

"On the contrary, sir. A child could have guessed it. You have just
come to the decision--in my opinion a thoroughly sensible one--that your
engagement to her ladyship can not be allowed to go on. You are quite
right, sir. It won't do."

Personal magnetism covers a multitude of sins. Roland was perfectly well
aware that he ought not to be standing here chatting over his and Lady
Eva's intimate affairs with a butler; but such was Teal's magnetism that
he was quite unable to do the right thing and tell him to mind his own
business. "Teal, you forget yourself!" would have covered the situation.
Roland, however, was physically incapable of saying "Teal, you forget
yourself!" The bird knows all the time that he ought not to stand
talking to the snake, but he is incapable of ending the conversation.
Roland was conscious of a momentary wish that he was the sort of man who
could tell butlers that they forgot themselves. But then that sort
of man would never be in this sort of trouble. The "Teal, you forget
yourself" type of man would be a first-class shot, a plus golfer, and
would certainly consider himself extremely lucky to be engaged to Lady
Eva.

"The question is," went on Mr. Teal, "how are we to break it off?"

Roland felt that, as he had sinned against all the decencies in allowing
the butler to discuss his affairs with him, he might just as well go
the whole hog and allow the discussion to run its course. And it was an
undeniable relief to talk about the infernal thing to some one.

He nodded gloomily, and committed himself. Teal resumed his remarks with
the gusto of a fellow-conspirator.

"It's not an easy thing to do gracefully, sir, believe me, it isn't.
And it's got to be done gracefully, or not at all. You can't go to her
ladyship and say 'It's all off, and so am I,' and catch the next train
for London. The rupture must be of her ladyship's making. If some
fact, some disgraceful information concerning you were to come to her
ladyship's ears, that would be a simple way out of the difficulty."

He eyed Roland meditatively.

"If, for instance, you had ever been in jail, sir?"

"Well, I haven't."

"No offense intended, sir, I'm sure. I merely remembered that you had
made a great deal of money very quickly. My experience of gentlemen who
have made a great deal of money very quickly is that they have generally
done their bit of time. But, of course, if you----. Let me think. Do you
drink, sir?"

"No."

Mr. Teal sighed. Roland could not help feeling that he was disappointing
the old man a good deal.

"You do not, I suppose, chance to have a past?" asked Mr. Teal, not very
hopefully. "I use the word in its technical sense. A deserted wife? Some
poor creature you have treated shamefully?"

At the risk of sinking still further in the butler's esteem, Roland was
compelled to answer in the negative.

"I was afraid not," said Mr. Teal, shaking his head. "Thinking it all
over yesterday, I said to myself, 'I'm afraid he wouldn't have one.' You
don't look like the sort of gentleman who had done much with his time."

"Thinking it over?"

"Not on your account, sir," explained Mr. Teal. "On the family's. I
disapproved of this match from the first. A man who has served a family
as long as I have had the honor of serving his lordship's, comes to
entertain a high regard for the family prestige. And, with no offense to
yourself, sir, this would not have done."

"Well, it looks as if it would have to do," said Roland, gloomily. "I
can't see any way out of it."

"I can, sir. My niece at Aldershot."

Mr. Teal wagged his head at him with a kind of priestly archness.

"You can not have forgotten my niece at Aldershot?"

Roland stared at him dumbly. It was like a line out of a melodrama. He
feared, first for his own, then for the butler's sanity. The latter was
smiling gently, as one who sees light in a difficult situation.

"I've never been at Aldershot in my life."

"For our purposes you have, sir. But I'm afraid I am puzzling you. Let
me explain. I've got a niece over at Aldershot who isn't much
good. She's not very particular. I am sure she would do it for a
consideration."

"Do what?"

"Be your 'Past,' sir. I don't mind telling you that as a 'Past' she's
had some experience; looks the part, too. She's a barmaid, and you would
guess it the first time you saw her. Dyed yellow hair, sir," he went on
with enthusiasm, "done all frizzy. Just the sort of young person that a
young gentleman like yourself would have had a 'past' with. You couldn't
find a better if you tried for a twelvemonth."

"But, I say----!"

"I suppose a hundred wouldn't hurt you?"

"Well, no, I suppose not, but----"

"Then put the whole thing in my hands, sir. I'll ask leave off to-morrow
and pop over and see her. I'll arrange for her to come here the day
after to see you. Leave it all to me. To-night you must write the
letters."

"Letters?"

"Naturally, there would be letters, sir. It is an inseparable feature of
these cases."

"Do you mean that I have got to write to her? But I shouldn't know what
to say. I've never seen her."

"That will be quite all right, sir, if you place yourself in my hands. I
will come to your room after everybody's gone to bed, and help you write
those letters. You have some note-paper with your own address on it?
Then it will all be perfectly simple."

When, some hours later, he read over the ten or twelve exceedingly
passionate epistles which, with the butler's assistance, he had
succeeded in writing to Miss Maud Chilvers, Roland came to the
conclusion that there must have been a time when Mr. Teal was a good
deal less respectable than he appeared to be at present. Byronic was
the only adjective applicable to his collaborator's style of amatory
composition. In every letter there were passages against which Roland
had felt compelled to make a modest protest.

"'A thousand kisses on your lovely rosebud of a mouth.' Don't you think
that is a little too warmly colored? And 'I am languishing for the
pressure of your ivory arms about my neck and the sweep of your silken
hair against my cheek!' What I mean is--well, what about it, you know?"

"The phrases," said Mr. Teal, not without a touch of displeasure, "to
which you take exception, are taken bodily from correspondence (which I
happened to have the advantage of perusing) addressed by the late Lord
Evenwood to Animalcula, Queen of the High Wire at Astley's Circus. His
lordship, I may add, was considered an authority in these matters."

Roland criticized no more. He handed over the letters, which, at Mr.
Teal's direction, he had headed with various dates covering roughly a
period of about two months antecedent to his arrival at the Towers.

"That," Mr. Teal explained, "will make your conduct definitely
unpardonable. With this woman's kisses hot upon your lips,"--Mr. Teal
was still slightly aglow with the fire of inspiration--"you have the
effrontery to come here and offer yourself to her ladyship."

With Roland's timid suggestion that it was perhaps a mistake to overdo
the atmosphere, the butler found himself unable to agree.

"You can't make yourself out too bad. If you don't pitch it hot and
strong, her ladyship might quite likely forgive you. Then where would
you be?"

Miss Maud Chilvers, of Aldershot, burst into Roland's life like one
of the shells of her native heath two days later at about five in the
afternoon.

It was an entrance of which any stage-manager might have been proud
of having arranged. The lighting, the grouping, the lead-up--all were
perfect. The family had just finished tea in the long drawing-room.
Lady Kimbuck was crocheting, Lord Evenwood dozing, Lady Eva reading, and
Roland thinking. A peaceful scene.

A soft, rippling murmur, scarcely to be reckoned a snore, had just
proceeded from Lord Evenwood's parted lips, when the door opened, and
Teal announced, "Miss Chilvers."

Roland stiffened in his chair. Now that the ghastly moment had come, he
felt too petrified with fear even to act the little part in which he had
been diligently rehearsed by the obliging Mr. Teal. He simply sat and
did nothing.

It was speedily made clear to him that Miss Chilvers would do all the
actual doing that was necessary. The butler had drawn no false picture
of her personal appearance. Dyed yellow hair done all frizzy was but one
fact of her many-sided impossibilities. In the serene surroundings of
the long drawing-room, she looked more unspeakably "not much good" than
Roland had ever imagined her. With such a leading lady, his drama
could not fail of success. He should have been pleased; he was merely
appalled. The thing might have a happy ending, but while it lasted it
was going to be terrible.

She had a flatteringly attentive reception. Nobody failed to notice her.
Lord Evenwood woke with a start, and stared at her as if she had been
some ghost from his trouble of '85. Lady Eva's face expressed sheer
amazement. Lady Kimbuck, laying down her crochet-work, took one look at
the apparition, and instantly decided that one of her numerous erring
relatives had been at it again. Of all the persons in the room, she
was possibly the only one completely cheerful. She was used to these
situations and enjoyed them. Her mind, roaming into the past, recalled
the night when her cousin Warminster had been pinked by a stiletto in
his own drawing-room by a lady from South America. Happy days, happy
days.

Lord Evenwood had, by this time, come to the conclusion that the festive
Blowick must be responsible for this visitation. He rose with dignity.

"To what are we----?" he began.

Miss Chilvers, resolute young woman, had no intention of standing there
while other people talked. She shook her gleaming head and burst into
speech.

"Oh, yes, I know I've no right to be coming walking in here among a lot
of perfect strangers at their teas, but what I say is, 'Right's right
and wrong's wrong all the world over,' and I may be poor, but I have
my feelings. No, thank you, I won't sit down. I've not come for the
weekend. I've come to say a few words, and when I've said them I'll go,
and not before. A lady friend of mine happened to be reading her Daily
Sketch the other day, and she said 'Hullo! hullo!' and passed it on to
me with her thumb on a picture which had under it that it was Lady Eva
Blyton who was engaged to be married to Mr. Roland Bleke. And when I
read that, I said 'Hullo! hullo!' too, I give you my word. And not being
able to travel at once, owing to being prostrated with the shock, I came
along to-day, just to have a look at Mr. Roland Blooming Bleke, and ask
him if he's forgotten that he happens to be engaged to me. That's all. I
know it's the sort of thing that might slip any gentleman's mind, but I
thought it might be worth mentioning. So now!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Roland, perspiring in the shadows at the far end of the room, felt that
Miss Chilvers was overdoing it. There was no earthly need for all this
sort of thing. Just a simple announcement of the engagement would have
been quite sufficient. It was too obvious to him that his ally was
thoroughly enjoying herself. She had the center of the stage, and did
not intend lightly to relinquish it.

"My good girl," said Lady Kimbuck, "talk less and prove more. When did
Mr. Bleke promise to marry you?"

"Oh, it's all right. I'm not expecting you to believe my word. I've got
all the proofs you'll want. Here's his letters."

Lady Kimbuck's eyes gleamed. She took the package eagerly. She never
lost an opportunity of reading compromising letters. She enjoyed them
as literature, and there was never any knowing when they might come in
useful.

"Roland," said Lady Eva, quietly, "haven't you anything to contribute to
this conversation?"

Miss Chilvers clutched at her bodice. Cinema palaces were a passion with
her, and she was up in the correct business.

"Is he here? In this room?"

Roland slunk from the shadows.

"Mr. Bleke," said Lord Evenwood, sternly, "who is this woman?"

Roland uttered a kind of strangled cough.

"Are these letters in your handwriting?" asked Lady Kimbuck, almost
cordially. She had seldom read better compromising letters in her life,
and she was agreeably surprized that one whom she had always imagined a
colorless stick should have been capable of them.

Roland nodded.

"Well, it's lucky you're rich," said Lady Kimbuck philosophically. "What
are you asking for these?" she enquired of Miss Chilvers.

"Exactly," said Lord Evenwood, relieved. "Precisely. Your sterling
common sense is admirable, Sophia. You place the whole matter at once on
a businesslike footing."

"Do you imagine for a moment----?" began Miss Chilvers slowly.

"Yes," said Lady Kimbuck. "How much?"

Miss Chilvers sobbed.

"If I have lost him for ever----"

Lady Eva rose.

"But you haven't," she said pleasantly. "I wouldn't dream of standing in
your way." She drew a ring from her finger, placed it on the table, and
walked to the door. "I am not engaged to Mr. Bleke," she said, as she
reached it.

Roland never knew quite how he had got away from The Towers. He had
confused memories in which the principals of the drawing-room scene
figured in various ways, all unpleasant. It was a portion of his life
on which he did not care to dwell. Safely back in his flat, however, he
gradually recovered his normal spirits. Indeed, now that the tumult and
the shouting had, so to speak, died, and he was free to take a broad
view of his position, he felt distinctly happier than usual. That Lady
Kimbuck had passed for ever from his life was enough in itself to make
for gaiety.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was humming blithely one morning as he opened his letters; outside
the sky was blue and the sun shining. It was good to be alive. He opened
the first letter. The sky was still blue, the sun still shining.

    "Dear Sir," (it ran).

    "We have been instructed by our client, Miss Maud Chilvers, of the
    Goat and Compasses, Aldershot, to institute proceedings against
    you for Breach of Promise of Marriage. In the event of your being
    desirous to avoid the expense and publicity of litigation, we are
    instructed to say that Miss Chilvers would be prepared to accept
    the sum of ten thousand pounds in settlement of her claim against
    you. We would further add that in support of her case our client
    has in her possession a number of letters written by yourself to
    her, all of which bear strong prima facie evidence of the alleged
    promise to marry: and she will be able in addition to call as
    witnesses in support of her case the Earl of Evenwood, Lady
    Kimbuck, and Lady Eva Blyton, in whose presence, at a recent
    date, you acknowledged that you had promised to marry our client.

    "Trusting that we hear from you in the course of post.
           We are, dear Sir,
                   Yours faithfully,
                            Harrison, Harrison, Harrison, & Harrison."





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Man of Means" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home