Sunday, December 29, 2013

BONES IN LONDON by Edgar Wallace - Part II






CHAPTER  VII


DETECTIVE  BONES



Mr. Harold de Vinne was a large man, who dwelt at the dead end of a massive cigar.

He was big and broad-shouldered, and automatically jovial. Between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. he had earned the name of "good fellow," which reputation he did his best to destroy between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
He was one of four stout fellows who controlled companies of imposing stability—the kind of companies that have such items in their balance sheets as "Sundry Debtors, £107,402 12_s_. 7_d_." People feel, on reading such airy lines, that the company's assets are of such magnitude that the sundry debtors are only included as a careless afterthought.

Mr. de Vinne was so rich that he looked upon any money which wasn't his as an illegal possession; and when Mr. Augustus Tibbetts, on an occasion, stepped in and robbed him of £17,500, Mr. de Vinne's family doctor was hastily summoned (figuratively speaking; literally, he had no family, and swore by certain patent medicines), and straw was spread before the temple of his mind.

A certain Captain Hamilton, late of H.M. Houssas, but now a partner in the firm of Tibbetts & Hamilton, Ltd., after a short, sharp bout of malaria, went off to Brighton to recuperate, and to get the whizzy noises out of his head. To him arrived on a morning a special courier in the shape of one Ali, an indubitable Karo boy, but reputedly pure Arab, and a haj, moreover, entitled to the green scarf of the veritable pilgrimage to Mecca.
Ali was the body-servant of Augustus Tibbetts, called by his intimates "Bones," and he was arrayed in the costume which restaurateurs insist is the everyday kit of a true Easterner—especially such Easterners as serve after-dinner coffee.

Hamilton, not in the best of tempers, malaria leaves you that way, and dazzled by this apparition in scarlet and gold, blinked.

"O man," he said testily in the Arabic of the Coast, "why do you walk-in-the world dressed like a so-and-so?" (You can be very rude in Arabic especially in Coast Arabic garnished with certain Swahili phrases.)

"Sir," said Ali, "these garmentures are expressly designated by Tibbetti. Embellishments of oriferous metal give wealthiness of appearance to subject, but attract juvenile research and investigation."

Hamilton glared through the window on to the front, where a small but representative gathering of the juvenile research committee waited patiently for the reappearance of one whom in their romantic fashion they had termed "The Rajah of Bong."

Hamilton took the letter and opened it. It was, of course, from Bones, and was extremely urgent. Thus it went:
"DEAR OLD PART.,—Ham I've had an offer of Browns you know the big big Boot shop several boot shop all over London London. Old Browns going out going out of the business Sindicate trying to buy so I niped in for 105,000 pounds got lock stock and barrill baril. Sindicate awfully sore awfully sore. All well here except poor young typewrighter cut her  finger slicing bread doctor says not dangerous."

Hamilton breathed quickly. He gathered that Bones had bought a boot-shop, even a collection of boot-shops, and he was conscious of the horrible fact that Bones knew nothing about boots. He groaned. He was always groaning, he thought, and seldom with good reason.

Bones was in a buying mood. A week before he had bought The Weekly Sunspot, which was "A Satirical Weekly Review of Human Affairs." The possibilities of that purchase had made Hamilton go hot and moisty. He had gone home one evening, leaving Bones dictating a leading article which was a violent attack on the Government of the day, and had come in the following morning to discover that the paper had been resold at a thousand pounds profit to the owners of a rival journal which described itself as "A Weekly Symposium of Thought and Fancy."

But Boots … and £105,000 …!

This was serious. Yet there was no occasion for groaning or doubt or apprehension; for, even whilst Hamilton was reading the letter, Bones was shaking his head violently at Mr. de Vinne, of the Phit-Phine Shoe Syndicate, who had offered him £15,000 profit on the turn-over. And at the identical moment that Hamilton was buying his ticket for London, Bones was solemnly shaking hands with the Secretary of the Phit-Phine Shoe Syndicate (Mr. de Vinne having violently, even apoplectically, refused to meet Bones) with one hand, and holding in the other a cheque which represented a profit of £17,500. It was one of Bones's big deals, and reduced Hamilton to a condition of blind confidence in his partner…. Nevertheless….

A week later, Bones, reading his morning paper, reached and passed, without receiving any very violent impression, the information that Mr. John Siker, the well-known private detective, had died at his residence at Clapham Park. Bones read the item without interest. He was looking for bargains, an early morning practice of his because the buying fever was still upon him.

Hamilton, sitting at his desk, endeavouring to balance the firm's accounts from a paying-in book and a cheque-book, the counterfoils of which were only occasionally filled in, heard the staccato "Swindle ! … Swindle !" and knew that Bones had reached the pages whereon were displayed the prospectuses of new companies.

He had the firm conviction that all new companies were founded on frauds and floated by criminals. The offer of seven per cent. debenture stock moved him to sardonic laughter. The certificates of eminent chartered accountants brought a meaning little smile to his lips, followed by the perfectly libellous statement that "These people would do anything for money, dear old thing."

Presently Bones threw down the paper.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," he said, and walked to the door of the outer office, knocked upon it, and disappeared into the sanctum of the lady whom Bones never referred to except in terms of the deepest respect as his "young typewriter !"

"Young miss," he said, pausing deferentially at the door, "may I come in ?"

She smiled up at him, a proceeding which was generally sufficient to throw Bones into a pitiful condition of incoherence. But this morning it had only the effect of making him close his eyes as though to shut out a vision too radiant to be borne.

"Aren't you well, Mr. Tibbetts ?" she asked quickly and anxiously.

"It's nothing, dear old miss," said Bones, passing a weary and hypocritical hand across his brow. "Just a fit of the jolly old staggers. The fact is, I've been keeping late hours,  in fact, dear young miss," he said huskily, "I have been engaged in a wicked old pursuit, yes, positively naughty…."

"Oh, Mr. Tibbetts" she was truly shocked "I'm awfully sorry ! You really shouldn't drink, you're so young…."

"Drink !" said the hurt and astounded Bones. "Dear old slanderer ! Poetry !"

He had written sufficient poetry to make a volume, poems which abounded in such rhymes as "Marguerite," "Dainty feet," "Sweet," "Hard to beat," and the like. But this she did not know.

By this time the girl was not only accustomed to these periodical embarrassments of Bones, but had acquired the knack of switching the conversation to the main line of business.

"There's a letter from Mr. de Vinne," she said.

Bones rubbed his nose and said, "Oh !"

Mr. de Vinne was on his mind rather than on his conscience, for Mr. de Vinne was very angry with Bones, who, as he had said, had "niped" in and had cost Mr. de Vinne £17,500.

"It is not a nice letter," suggested the girl.

"Let me see, dear young head-turner," said Bones firmly.

The letter called him "Sir," and went on to speak of the writer's years of experience as a merchant of the City of London, in all of which, said the writer, he had never heard of conduct approaching in infamy that of Augustus Tibbetts, Esquire.
"It has been brought to my recollection" (wrote the infuriated Mr. de Vinne) "that on the day you made your purchase of Browns, I dined at the Kingsway Restaurant, and that you occupied a table immediately behind me. I can only suppose that you overheard a perfectly confidential" (heavily underscored) "conversation between myself and a fellow-director, and utilised the information thus disgracefully acquired."
"Never talk at meals, dear old typewriter," murmured Bones. "Awfully bad for your jolly young tum for your indigestion, dear young keytapper."

The letter went on to express the writer's intention of taking vengeance for the "dishonest squeeze" of which he had been the victim.

Bones looked at his secretary anxiously. The censure of Mr. de Vinne affected him not at all. The possible disapproval of this lady filled him with dire apprehension.

"It's not a nice letter," said the girl. "Do you want me to answer it ?"

"Do I want you to answer it ?" repeated Bones, taking courage. "Of course I want you to answer it, my dear old paper-stainer and decorator. Take these words."

He paced the room with a terrible frown.

"Dear old thing," he began.

"Do you want me to say 'Dear old thing' ?" asked the girl.

"No, perhaps not, perhaps not," said Bones. "Start it like this: 'My dear peevish one..."

The girl hesitated and then wrote down: "Dear Sir."

"'You are just showing your naughty temper,'" dictated Bones, and added unnecessarily, "t-e-m-p-e-r."

It was a practice of his to spell simple words.

"You are just showing your naughty temper," he went on, "and I simply refuse to have anything more to do with you. You're being simply disgusting. Need I say more ?" added Bones.

The girl wrote: "Dear Sir, No useful purpose would be served either in replying to your letter of today's date, or re-opening the discussion on the circumstances of which you complain."

Bones went back to his office feeling better. Hamilton left early that afternoon, so that when, just after the girl had said "Good night," and Bones himself was yawning over an evening paper, and there came a rap at the door of the outer office, he was quite alone.

"Come in !" he yelled, and a young man, dressed in deep mourning, eventually appeared through the door sacred to the use of Miss Marguerite Whitland.

"I'm afraid I've come rather late in the day."

"I'm afraid you have, dear old thing," said Bones. "Come and sit down, black one. Deepest sympathy and all that sort of thing."

The young man licked his lips. His age was about twenty-four, and he had the appearance of being a semi-invalid, as, indeed, he was.

"It's rather late to see you on this matter," he said, "but your name was only suggested to me about an hour ago."

Bones nodded. Remember that he was always prepared for a miracle, even at closing time.

"My name is Siker," said the visitor.

"And a jolly good name, too," said Bones, dimly conscious of the fact that he had heard this name mentioned before.

"You probably saw the account of my father's death. It was in this morning's newspaper, though he died last week," said Mr. Siker.

Bones screwed up his forehead.

"I remember that name," he said. "Now, let me think. Why, of course, Siker's Detective Agency."

It was the young man's turn to nod.

"That's right, sir," he said. "John Siker was my father. I'm his only son."

Bones waited.

"I've heard it said, Mr. Tibbetts," said the young man "at least, it has been represented to me that you are on the look-out for likely businesses that show a profit."

"That's right," agreed Bones; "that show me a big profit," he added.

"Well, Siker's Detective Agency has made two thousand a year clear for twenty years," said the young man.

"We've got one of the best lists of clients in the kingdom, and almost every big business man in the City is on our list. With a little more attention than my father has been able to give to it for the last two years, there's a fortune in it."

Bones was sitting upright now, his eyes shining. The amazing possibilities of such an acquisition were visible to his romantic eye.

"You want to sell it, my poor old Sherlock?" he demanded, then, remembering the part he was called upon to play, shook his head. "No, no, old thing. Deeply sorry and all that sort of thing, but it can't be done. It's not my line of business at all, not," he added, "that I don't know a jolly sight more about detectivising than a good many of these clever ones. But it's really not my game. What did you want for it ?"

"Well," said the young man, hesitating, "I thought that three years' purchase would be a bargain for the man who bought it."

"Six thousand pounds," said Bones.

"Yes," agreed the other. "Of course, I won't ask you to buy the thing blindfolded. You can put the accounts in the hands of your lawyer or your accountant, and you will find that what I have said is true that my father took two thousand a year out of his business for years. It's possible to make it four thousand. And as to running it, there are three men who do all the work or, rather, one, Hilton, who's in charge of the office and gives the other fellows their instructions."

"But why sell it, my sad old improvidence ?" said Bones. "Why chuck away two thousand a year for six thousand cash ?"

"Because I'm not well enough to carry it on," said young Mr. Siker, after a moment's hesitation. "And, besides, I can't be bothered. It interferes, with my other profession, I'm a musician."

"And a jolly good profession, too," said Bones, shaking hands with him across the table. "I'll sleep on this. Give me your address and the address of your accountants, and I'll come over and see you in the morning."
Hamilton was at his desk the next morning at ten o'clock. Bones did not arrive until eleven, and Bones was monstrously preoccupied. When Hamilton saluted him with a cheery "Good morning," Bones returned a grave and non-committal nod. Hamilton went on with his work until he became conscious that somebody was staring at him, and, looking up, caught Bones in the act.

"What the devil are you looking at ?" asked Hamilton.

"At your boots," was the surprising reply.

"My boots?" Hamilton pulled them back through the kneehole of the desk and looked at them. "What's the matter with the boots ?"

"Mud-stains, old carelessness," said Bones tersely. "You've come from
Twickenham this morning."

"Of course I've come from Twickenham. That's where I live," said

Hamilton innocently. "I thought you knew that."

"I should have known it," said Bones, with great gravity, "even if I hadn't known it, so to speak. You may have observed, my dear Hamilton, that the jolly old mud of London differs widely that is to say, is remarkably different. For instance, the mud of Twickenham is different from the mud of Balham. There's what you might call a subtle difference, dear junior partner, which an unimaginative old rascal like you wouldn't notice. Now, the mud of Peckham," said Bones, waving his forefinger, "is distinguished by a certain darkness "

"Wait a bit," said Hamilton. "Have you bought a mud business or something ?"

"No," said Bones.

"And yet this conversation seems familiar to me," mused Hamilton.

"Proceed with your argument, good gossip."

"My argument," said Bones, "is that you have Twickenham mud on your boots, therefore you come from Twickenham. It is evident that on your way to the station you stopped to buy a newspaper, that something was on your mind, something made you very thoughtful something on your jolly old conscience, I'll bet !"

"How do you know that ?" asked Hamilton.

"There's your Times on the table," said Bones triumphantly, "unopened."

"Quite true," said Hamilton; "I bought it just before I came into the office."

"H'm !" said Bones. "Well, I won't deceive you, dear old partner. I've bought Siker's."

Hamilton put down his pen and leaned back in his chair.

"Who's Siker's ?"

"Siker's Detective Agency," began Bones, "is known from one end "

"Oh, I see. Whew !" whistled Hamilton. "You were doing a bit of detecting !"

Bones smirked.

"Got it at once, my dear old person," he said. "You know my methods "

Hamilton's accusing eye met his, and Bones coughed.

"But what on earth do you expect to do with a detective agency, Bones?" asked Hamilton, strolling across and lighting a cigarette. "That's a type of business there isn't any big demand for. And how is it going to affect you personally ? You don't want your name associated with that sort of thing."

Bones explained. It was a property he could "sit on." Bones had always been looking for such a business. The management was capable of carrying on, and all that Bones need do was to sit tight and draw a dividend.
As to his name, he had found a cunning solution to that difficulty.

"I take it over, by arrangement with the lawyer in the name of 'Mr. Senob,' and I'll bet you won't guess, dear old Ham, how I got that name !"

"It's 'Bones' spelt backwards," said Hamilton patiently. "You tried that bit of camouflage on me years ago."
Bones sniffed disappointedly and went on.

For once he was logical, brief in his explanation, and convincing. Yet Hamilton was not altogether convinced. He was waiting for the inevitable "but," and presently it came.

"But of course I'm not going to leave it entirely alone, old Ham," said Bones, shrugging his shoulders at the absurdity of such a suggestion.

"The business can be doubled if a man with a capable, up-to-date conception of modern crime "

Hamilton made a hooting noise, derisive and insulting.

"Meaning you ?" he said, at the conclusion of his lamentable exhibition.

"Meaning me, Ham, my fat old sceptic," said Bones gently. "I don't think, dear old officer, you quite realise just what I know about criminal investigation."

"You silly ass," said Hamilton, "detective agencies don't criminally investigate. That's done by the real police. Detective agencies are merely employed by suspicious wives to follow their husbands."

"Exactly," said Bones, nodding. "And that is just where I come in. You see, I did a little bit of work last night rather a pretty little bit of work." He took a slip of paper from his pocket. "You dined at the Criterion at half-past eight with a tall, fair lady, a jolly old dear she was too, old boy, and I congratulate you most heartily, named Vera."

Hamilton's face went red.

"You left the restaurant at ten past nine, and entered cab No. 667432. Am I right, sir?"

"Do you mean to tell me," exploded Hamilton, "that you were watching me ?"

Bones nodded.

"I picked you up, old thing, outside the Piccadilly Tube. I shadowed you to the theatre. I followed you home. You got a taxi No. 297431 and you were an awful long time before you got out when you reached the lady's destination an awful long time," said Bones emphatically. "What you could find to talk about after the cab had drawn up at the dear old ancestral home of Vera "

"Bones," said Hamilton awfully. "I think you've gone far enough."

"I thought you'd gone a bit too far, dear old thing, I did really," said Bones, shaking his head reprovingly. "I watched you very carefully."

He danced, with a little squeak of joy, into the office of his beautiful secretary, leaving a very red and a pardonably annoyed Hamilton breathing heavily.

Bones went to the office of Siker's Detective Agency early the next morning. He went, it may be remarked in passing, though these details can only be interesting to the psychologist, wearing the darkest of his dark suits and a large black wideawake hat. There was a certain furtiveness in his movements between the taxicab and the entrance of the office, which might suggest to anybody who had taken the trouble to observe him that he was an escaping bank-robber.

Siker's had spacious offices and a small staff. Only Hilton, the manager, and a clerk were in when Bones presented his card. He was immediately conducted by Mr. Hilton to a very plain inner office, surrounded with narrow shelves, which in turn were occupied by innumerable little deed boxes.

Mr. Hilton was a sober-faced man of fifty-five, sallow and unhappy.

His tone was funereal and deliberate, his eyes steady and remorseless.

"Sit down, Mr. Senob," he said hollowly. "I have a message from the lawyers, and I presume I am welcoming to this establishment the new proprietor who has taken the place of my revered chief, whom I have faithfully served for twenty-nine years."

Bones closed his eyes and listened as to an address of welcome.

"Personally," said Mr. Hilton, "I think that the sale of this business is a great mistake on the part of the Siker family. The Sikers have been detectives for four generations," he said with a relish of an antiquarian. "George Siker first started work as an investigator in 1814 in this identical building. For thirty-five years he conducted Siker's Confidential Bureau, and was succeeded by his son James the grandfather of the late John George for twenty-three years "

"Quite so, quite so," said Bones. "Poor old George ! Well, well, we can't live for ever, dear old chief of staff. Now, the thing is, how to improve this jolly old business."

He looked around the dingy apartment without enthusiasm.

Bones had visitors that morning, many visitors. They were not, as he had anticipated, veiled ladies or cloaked dukes, nor did they pour into his discreet ears the stories of misspent lives.

There was Mr. Carlo Borker, of Borker's Confidential Enquiry Bureau, a gross man in a top hat, who complained bitterly that old man Siker had practically and to all intents and purposes offered him an option of the business years ago.

It was a one-sided conversation.

"I says to him: 'Siker, if you ever want to sell out' … He says to me: 'Borker, my boy, you've only to offer me a reasonable figure' … I says to him: 'Now, Siker, don't ever let anybody else get this business….'"

Then there was ex-Inspector Stellingworth, of Stellingworth's Detective Corps, a gloomy man, who painted in the blackest colours the difficulties and tragedies of private investigation, yet seemed willing enough to assume the burden of Siker's Agency, and give Bones a thousand pounds profit on his transaction.

Mr. Augustus Tibbetts spent three deliciously happy days in reorganising the business. He purchased from the local gunsmith a number of handcuffs, which were festooned upon the wall behind his desk and secured secretly since he did not think that the melancholy Mr. Hilton would approve a large cardboard box filled to the brim with adjustable beards of every conceivable hue, from bright scarlet to mouse colour.

He found time to relate to a sceptical Hamilton something of his achievements.

"Wonderful case to-day, dear old boy," he said enthusiastically on the third evening. "A naughty old lady has been flirting with a very, very naughty old officer. Husband tremendously annoyed. How that man loves that woman !"

"Which man ?" said Hamilton cynically.

"I refer to my client," said Bones not without dignity.

"Look here, Bones," said Hamilton with great seriousness, "do you think this is a very nice business you are in ? Personally, I think it's immoral."

"What do you mean immoral ?" demanded the indignant Bones.

"Prying into other people's lives," said Hamilton.

"Lives," retorted the oracular Bones, "are meant to be pried into, dear old thing. An examination of jolly old motives is essential to scientific progress. I feel I am doing a public duty," he went on virtuously, "exposing the naughty, chastising the sinful, and all that sort of thing."

"But, honestly," said Hamilton persistently, "do you think it's the game to chase around collecting purely private details about people's goings on ?"

"Certainly," said Bones firmly, "certainly, dear old thing. It's a public duty. Never let it be written on the fair pages of Thiggumy that a Tibbetts shrank back when the call of patriotism all that sort of thing you know what I mean ?"

"I don't," said Hamilton.

"Well, you're a jolly old dense one," said Bones. "And let me say here and now" he rammed his bony knuckles on the table and withdrew them with an "Ouch !" to suck away the pain "let me tell you that, as the Latin poet said, 'Ad What's-his name, ad Thiggumy.' 'Everything human's frightfully interesting' !"

Bones turned up at his detective office the next morning, full of zeal, and Hilton immediately joined him in his private office.

"Well, we finish one case to-day, I think," said Hilton with satisfaction. "It has been very hard trailing him, but I got a good man on the job, and here's the record."

He held in his hand a sheaf of papers.

"Very good," said Bones. "Excellent ! I hope we shall bring the malefactor to justice."

"He's not exactly a malefactor," demurred Hilton. "It is a job we were doing for one of our best clients."

"Excellent, excellent!" murmured Bones. "And well we've done it, I'm sure." He leant back in his chair and half closed his eyes. "Tell me what you have discovered."

"This man's a bit of a fool in some ways," said Hilton.

"Which man, the client ?"

"No, the fellow we've been trailing."

"Yes, yes," said Bones. "Go on."

"In fact, I wonder that Mr. de Vinne bothered about him."

"De Vinne ?" said Bones sitting up. "Harold de Vinne, the moneyed one ?"

"That's him. He's one of our oldest customers," said Hilton.

"Indeed," said Bones, this time without any enthusiasm at all.

"You see, a man did him in the eye," explained Mr. Hilton, "swindled him, and all that sort of thing. Well, I think we have got enough to make this chap look silly."

"Oh, yes," said Bones politely. "What have you got ?"

"Well, it appears," said Hilton, "that this chap is madly in love with his typist."

"Which chap ?" said Bones.

"The fellow who did Mr. de Vinne in the eye," replied the patient Mr. Hilton. "He used to be an officer on the West Coast of Africa, and was known as Bones. His real name is Tibbetts."

"Oh yes," said Bones.

"Well, we've found out all about him," continued Hilton. "He's got a flat in Jermyn Street, and this girl of his, this typist girl, dines with him. She's not a bad-looking girl, mind you."

Bones rose to his feet, and there was in his face a terrible look.

"Hilton," he said, "do you mean that you have been shadowing a perfectly innocent man and a charming, lovely old typewriter, that couldn't say 'Goo' to a boose ?"

Bones was pardonably agitated.

"Do you mean to tell me that this office descends to this low practice of prying into the private lives of virtuous gentlemen and typewriters? Shame upon you, Hilton!" His voice shook. "Give me that report!" He thrust the report into the fire. "Now call up Mr. Borker, and tell him I want to see him on business, and don't disturb me, because I am writing a letter."

He pulled a sheet of paper from his stationery rack and wrote furiously. He hardly stopped to think, he scarcely stopped to spell. His letter was addressed to Mr. de Vinne, and when, on the following day, Mr. Borker took over the business of Siker's Agency, that eminent firm of investigators had one client the less.


CHAPTER  VIII

A  COMPETENTE  JUDGE  OF  POETRY




There were times when Mr. Cresta Morris was called by that name; there were other moments when he was "Mr. Staleyborn." His wife, a placid and trusting woman, responded to either name, having implicit faith in the many explanations which her husband offered to her, the favourite amongst them being that business men were seldom known by the names they were born with.

Thus the eminent firm of drapers Messrs. Lavender & Rosemary were, or was in private life one Isadore Ruhl, and everybody knew that the maker of Morgan's Superfatted Soap "the soap with foam" was a certain member of the House of Lords whose name was not Morgan.

Mrs. Staleyborn, or Morris, had a daughter who ran away from home and became the secretary to Augustus Tibbetts, Managing Director of Schemes Limited, and there were odd moments of the day when Mrs. Staleyborn felt vaguely uneasy about her child's future. She had often, indeed, shed tears between five o'clock in the afternoon and seven o'clock in the evening, which as everybody knows, is the most depressing time of the day.

She was, however, one of those persons who are immensely comforted by the repetition of ancient saws which become almost original every time they are applied, and one of these sayings was "Everything is for the best." She believed in miracles, and had reason, for she received her weekly allowance from her erratic husband with monotonous regularity every Saturday morning.

This is a mere digression to point the fact that Mr. Morris was known by many names. He was called "Cress," and "Ike," and "Tubby," and "Staley," according to the company in which he found himself.

One evening in June he found himself in the society of friends who called him by names which, if they were not strictly original, were certainly picturesque. One of these companions was a Mr. Webber, who had worked more swindles with Morris than had any other partner, and the third, and most talkative, was a gentleman named Seepidge, of Seepidge & Soomes, printers to the trade.

Mr. Seepidge was a man of forty-five, with a well-used face. It was one of those faces which look different from any other angle than that from which it is originally seen. It may be said, too, that his colouring was various.

As he addressed Mr. Morris, it varied between purple and blue. Mrs. Morris was in the habit of addressing her husband by endearing titles. Mr. Seepidge was not addressing Mr. Morris in a way which, by any stretch of imagination, could be described as endearing.

"Wait a bit, Lew," pleaded Mr. Morris. "Don't let's quarrel. Accidents will occur in the best of regulated families."

"Which you're not," said the explosive Mr. Seepidge, violently. "I gave you two hundred to back Morning Glory in the three o'clock race. You go down to Newbury with my money, and you come back and tell me, after the horse has won, that you couldn't get a bookmaker to take the bet!"

"And I give you the money back," replied Mr. Morris.

"You did," reported Mr. Seepidge meaningly, "and I was surprised to find there wasn't a dud note in the parcel. No, Ike, you double-crossed me. You backed the horse and took the winnings, and come back to me with a cock-and-bull story about not being able to find a bookmaker."

Mr. Morris turned a pained face to his companion.

"Jim," he said, addressing Mr. Webber, "did you ever in all your born days hear a pal put it across another pal like that? After the work we've done all these years together, me and Lew, why, you're like a serpent in the bush, you are really !"

It was a long time, and there was much passing of glasses across a lead-covered bar, before Mr. Seepidge could be pacified, the meeting took place in the private bar of "The Bread and Cheese," Camden Town, but presently he turned from the reproachful into the melancholy stage, explained the bad condition of business, what with the paper bills and wages bills he had to pay, and hinted ominously at bankruptcy.

In truth, the firm of Seepidge was in a bad way. The police had recently raided the premises and nipped in the bud a very promising order for five hundred thousand sweepstake tickets, which were being printed surreptitiously, for Mr. Seepidge dealt in what is colloquially known as "snide printing."

Whether Mr. Cresta Morris had indeed swindled his partner of many crimes, and had backed Morning Glory at a remunerative price for his own profit, is a painful question which need not be too closely examined. It is certain that Seepidge was in a bad way, and as Mr. Morris told himself with admirable philosophy, even if he had won a packet of money, a thousand or so would not have been sufficient to get Mr. Seepidge out of the cart.

"Something has got to be done," said Mr. Cresta Morris briskly.

"Somebody," corrected the taciturn Webber. "The question is, who ?"

"I tell you, boys, I'm in a pretty bad way," said Seepidge earnestly. "I don't think, even if I'd backed that winner, I could have got out of trouble. The business is practically in pawn; I'm getting a police inspection once a week. I've got a job now which may save my bacon, if I can dodge the 'splits' an order for a million leaflets for a Hamburg lottery house. And I want the money, bad ! I owe about three thousand pounds."

"I know where there's money for asking," said Webber, and they looked at him.

His interesting disclosure was not to follow immediately, for they had reached closing-time, and were respectfully ushered into the street.

"Come over to my club," said Mr. Seepidge.

His club was off the Tottenham Court Road, and its membership was artistic. It had changed its name after every raid that had been made upon it, and the fact that the people arrested had described themselves as artists and actresses consolidated the New Napoli Club as one of the artistic institutions of London.

"Now, where's this money ?" asked Seepidge, when they were seated round a little table.

"There's a fellow called Bones " began Mr. Webber.

"Oh, him!" interrupted Mr. Morris, in disgust. "Good Heavens! You're not going to try him again !"

"We'd have got him before if you hadn't been so clever," said Webber.

"I tell you, he's rolling in money. He's just moved into a new flat in Devonshire Street that can't cost him less than six hundred a year."

"How do you know this ?" asked the interested Morris.

"Well," confessed Webber, without embarrassment, "I've been working solo on him, and I thought I'd be able to pull the job off myself."

"That's a bit selfish," reproached Morris, shaking his head. "I didn't expect this from you, Webbie."

"Never mind what you expected," said Webber, unperturbed. "I tell you I tried it. I've been nosing round his place, getting information from his servants, and I've learned a lot about him. Mind you," said Mr. Webber, "I'm not quite certain how to use what I know to make money. If I'd known that, I shouldn't have told you two chaps anything about it. But I've got an idea that this chap Bones is a bit sensitive on a certain matter, and Cully Tring, who's forgotten more about human men than I ever knew, told me that, if you can get a mug on his sensitive spot, you can bleed him to death. Now, three heads are better than one, and I think, if we get together, we'll lift enough stuff from Mr. Blinking Bones to keep us at Monte Carlo for six months."

"Then," said Mr. Seepidge impressively, "let us put our 'eads together."

In emotional moments that enterprising printer was apt to overlook the box where the little "h's" were kept.

Bones had indeed moved into the intellectual atmosphere of Devonshire Street. He had hired a flat of great beauty and magnificence, with lofty rooms and distempered walls and marble chimney-pieces, for all the world like those rooms in the catalogues of furniture dealers which so admirably show off the fifty-pound drawing-room suite offered on the easiest terms.

"My dear old thing," he said, describing his new splendours to Hamilton, "you ought to see the jolly old bathroom !"

"What do you want a bath for?" asked Hamilton innocently. "You've only got the place for three years."

"Now, dear old thing, don't be humorous," said Bones severely. "Don't be cheap, dear old comic one."

"The question is," said Hamilton, "why the dickens do you want a new flat? Your old flat was quite a palatial establishment. Are you thinking of setting up housekeeping?"

Bones turned very red. In his embarrassment he stood first upon one leg and then the other, lifting his eyebrows almost to the roof of his head to let in his monocle, and lifted them as violently to let it out again.

"Don't pry, don't pry, dear old Ham," he said testily. "Great Heavens and Moses! Can't a fellow take a desirable flat, with all modern conveniences, in the most fashionable part of the West End, and all that sort of thing, without exciting the voice of scandal, dear old thing? I'm surprised at you, really I am, Ham. I am, Ham," he repeated. "That sounds good," he said, brightening up. "Am Ham !"

"But what is the scheme?" persisted Hamilton.

"A bargain, a bargain, dear old officer," said Bones, hurriedly, and proceeded to the next business.

That next business included the rejection of several very promising offers which had arrived from different directors of companies, and people. Bones was known as a financier. People who wanted other people to put money into things invariably left Bones to the last, because they liked trying the hard things first. The inventor and patentee of the reaping machine that could be worked by the farmer in his study, by means of push keys, was sure, sooner or later, to meet a man who scratched his chin and said:

"Hard luck, but why don't you try that man Tibbetts? He's got an office somewhere around. You'll find it in the telephone book. He's got more money than he knows what to do with, and your invention is the very thing he'd finance."

As a rule, it was the very thing that Bones did not finance.

Companies that required ten thousand pounds for the extension of their premises, and the fulfilment of the orders which were certain to come next year, drafted through their secretaries the most wonderful letters, offering Bones a seat on their board, or even two seats, in exchange for his autograph on the south-east corner of a cheque. These letters usually began somehow like this:

"At a moment when the eyes of the world are turned upon Great Britain, and when her commercial supremacy is threatened, it behoves us all to increase production…." And usually there was some reference to "the patriotic duty of capital."

There was a time when these appeals to his better nature would have moved Bones to amazing extravagance, but happily that time was before he had any money to speak about.

For Bones was growing in wisdom and in wiliness as the days passed. Going through the pile of correspondence, he came upon a letter which he read thoughtfully, and then read again before he reached to the telephone and called a number. In the City of London there was a business-like agency which supplied him with a great deal of useful information, and it was to these gentlemen that he addressed his query: "Who are Messrs. Seepidge & Soomes?"

He waited for some time with the receiver at his ear, a far-away look in his eyes, and then the reply came:

"A little firm of printers run by a rascal named Seepidge, who has been twice bankrupt and is now insolvent. His firm has been visited by the police for illegal printing several times, and the firm is in such a low condition that it has a job to pay its wages bill."

"Thank you," said Bones. "Thank you, dear old commercial guardian. What is the business worth?"

"It's worth your while to keep away from it," said the humorous reply, and Bones hung up the receiver.

"Ham, old dear," he said, and Hamilton looked up. "Suppose," said Bones, stretching out his legs and fixing his monocle, "suppose, my jolly old accountant and partner, you were offered a business which was worth" -he paused "which was worth your while keeping away from it, that's a pretty good line, don't you think, old literary critic ?"

"A very good line," said Hamilton calmly; "but you have rather a loud-speaking telephone, and I think I have heard the phrase before."

"Oh, have you?" said Bones by no means abashed. "Still, it's a very good line. And suppose you were offered this printing business for fifteen thousand pounds, what would you say ?"

"It depends on who was present," said Ham, "and where I was. For example, if I were in the gorgeous drawing-room of your wonderful flat, in the splendid presence of your lovely lady wife to be..."

Bones rose and wagged his finger.

"Is nothing sacred to you, dear old Ham?" he choked. "Are the most tender emotions, dear old thing, which have ever been experienced by any human being "

"Oh, shut up," said Hamilton, "and let's hear about this financial problem of yours."

Bones was ruffled, and blinked, and it was some time before he could bring himself back to sordid matters of business.

"Well, suppose this jolly old brigand offered you his perfectly beastly business for fifteen thousand pounds, what would you do ?"

"Send for the police," said Hamilton.

"Would you now ?" said Bones, as if the idea struck him for the first time. "I never have sent for the police you know, and I've had simply terrible offers put up to me."

"Or put it in the waste-paper basket," said Hamilton, and then in surprise: "Why the dickens are you asking all these questions ?"

"Why am I asking all these questions?" repeated Bones. "Because, old thing, I have a hump."

Hamilton raised incredulous eyebrows.

"I have what the Americans call a hump."

"A hump ?" said Hamilton, puzzled. "Oh, you mean a 'hunch.'"

"Hump or hunch, it's all the same," said Bones airily. "But I've got it."

"What exactly is your hunch ?"

"There's something behind this," said Bones, tapping a finger solemnly on the desk. "There's a scheme behind this there's a swindle there's a ramp. Nobody imagines for one moment that a man of my reputation could be taken in by a barefaced swindle of this character. I think I have established in the City of London something of a tradition," he said.

"You have," agreed Hamilton. "You're supposed to be the luckiest devil that ever walked up Broad Street."

"I never walk up Broad Street, anyway," said Bones, annoyed. "It is a detestable street, a naughty old street, and I should ride up it or, at least, I shall in a day or two."

"Buying a car ?" asked Hamilton, interested.

"I'll tell you about that later," said Bones evasively, and went on:

"Now, putting two and two together, you know the conclusion I've reached ?"

"Four ?" suggested Hamilton.

Bones, with a shrug ended the conversation then and there, and carried his correspondence to the outer office, knocking, as was his wont, until his stenographer gave him permission to enter. He shut the door, always a ceremony, behind him and tiptoed toward her.

Marguerite Whitland took her mind from the letter she was writing, and gave her full attention to her employer.

"May I sit down, dear young typewriter ?" said Bones humbly.

"Of course you can sit down, or stand up, or do anything you like in the office. Really," she said, with a laugh, "really, Mr. Tibbetts, I don't know whether you're serious sometimes."

"I'm serious all the time, dear old flicker of keyboards," said Bones, seating himself deferentially, and at a respectful distance.

She waited for him to begin, but he was strangely embarrassed even for him.

"Miss Marguerite," he began at last a little huskily, "the jolly old poet is born and not "

"Oh, have you brought them?" she asked eagerly, and held out her hand.

"Do show me, please !"

Bones shook his head.

"No, I have not brought them," he said. "In fact, I can't bring them yet."

She was disappointed, and showed it.

"You've promised me for a week I should see them."

"Awful stuff, awful stuff !" murmured Bones disparagingly. "Simply terrible tripe !"

"Tripe ?" she said, puzzled.

"I mean naughty rubbish and all that sort of thing."

"Oh, but I'm sure it's good," she said. "You wouldn't talk about your poems if they weren't good."

"Well," admitted Bones, "I'm not so sure, dear old arbitrator elegantus, to use a Roman expression, I'm not so sure you're not right. One of these days those poems will be given to this wicked old world, and—then you'll see."

"But what are they all about ?" she asked for about the twentieth time.

"What are they about ?" said Bones slowly and thoughtfully. "They're about one thing and another, but mostly about my er friends. Of course a jolly old poet like me, or like any other old fellow, like Shakespeare, if you like to go from the sublime to the ridiculous has fits of poetising that mean absolutely nothing. It doesn't follow that if a poet like Browning or me writes fearfully enthusiastically and all that sort of thing about a person… No disrespect, you understand, dear old miss."

"Quite," she said, and wondered.

"I take a subject for a verse," said Bones airily, waving his hand toward Throgmorton Street. "A 'bus, a fuss, a tram, a lamb, a hat, a cat, a sunset, a little flower growing on the river's brim, and all that sort of thing any old subject, dear old miss, that strikes me in the eye you understand?"

"Of course I understand," she said readily. "A poet's field is universal, and I quite understand that if he writes nice things about his friends he doesn't mean it."

"Oh, but doesn't he ?" said Bones truculently. "Oh, doesn't he, indeed?

That just shows what a fat lot you know about it, jolly old Miss Marguerite. When I write a poem about a girl..."

"Oh, I see, they're about girls," said she a little coldly.

"About a girl," said Bones, this time so pointedly that his confusion was transferred immediately to her.

"Anyway, they don't mean anything," she said bravely.

"My dear young miss" Bones rose, and his voice trembled as he laid his hand on the typewriter where hers had been a second before "my dear old miss," he said, jingling with the letters "a" and "e" as though he had originally put out his hand to touch the keyboard, and was in no way surprised and distressed that the little hand which had covered them had been so hastily withdrawn, "I can only tell you..."

"There is your telephone bell," she said hurriedly. "Shall I answer it ?" And before Bones could reply she had disappeared.

He went back to his flat that night with his mind made up. He would show her those beautiful verses. He had come to this conclusion many times before, but his heart had failed him. But he was growing reckless now. She should see them priceless verses, written in a most expensive book, with the monogram "W.M." stamped in gold upon the cover. And as he footed it briskly up Devonshire Street, he recited:

  "O Marguerite, thou lovely flower,
  I think of thee most every hour,
  With eyes of grey and eyes of blue,
  That change with every passing hue,
  Thy lovely fingers beautifully typing,
  How sweet and fragrant is thy writing !
He thought he was reciting to himself, but that was not the case.

People turned and watched him, and when he passed the green doorway of Dr. Harkley Bawkley, the eminent brain specialist, they were visibly disappointed.

He did not unlock the rosewood door of his flat, but rang the silver bell.

He preferred this course. Ali, his Coast servant, in his new livery of blue and silver, made the opening of the door something only less picturesque than the opening of Parliament. This intention may not have been unconnected with the fact that there were two or three young ladies, and very young at that, on the landing, waiting for the door of the opposite flat to open.

Ali opened the door. The lower half of him was blue and silver, the upper half was Oxford shirt and braces, for he had been engaged in cleaning the silver.

"What the deuce do you mean by it ?" demanded Bones wrathfully. "Haven't I given you a good uniform, you blithering jackass? What the deuce do you mean by opening the door, in front of people, too, dressed like a...a...dashed naughty boy ?"

"Silverous forks require lubrication for evening repast," said Ali reproachfully.

Bones stalked on to his study.

It was a lovely study, with a carpet of beautiful blue. It was a study of which a man might be proud. The hangings were of silk, and the suite was also of silk, and also of blue silk. He sat down at his Louis XVI. table, took a virgin pad, and began to write. The inspiration was upon him, and he worked at top speed.

"I saw a little bird, a little bird, a little bird, floating in the sky," he wrote. "Ever so high ! Its pretty song came down, down to me, and it sounded like your voice the other afternoon at tea, at tea. And in its flite I remembered the night when you came home to me."

He paused at the last, because Marguerite Whitland had never come home to him, certainly not at night. The proprieties had to be observed, and he changed the last few lines to: "I remember the day when you came away to Margate on the sea, on the sea."

He had not seen his book of poems for a week, but there was a blank page at the end into which the last, and possibly the greatest, might go. He pulled the drawer open. It was empty. There was no mistaking the fact that that had been the drawer in which the poems had reposed, because Bones had a very excellent memory.
He rang the bell and Ali came, his Oxford shirt and braces imperfectly hidden under a jersey which had seen better days.

"Ali" and this time Bones spoke rapidly and in Coast Arabic "in this drawer was a beautiful book in which I had written many things."

Ali nodded.

"Master, that I know, for you are a great poet, and I speak your praises whenever I go into the café, for Hafiz did not write more beautifully than you."

"What the dooce," spluttered Bones in English, "do you mean by telling people about me eh, you scoundrel ? What the dooce do you mean by it, you naughty old ebony ?"

"Master," said All "eulogistic speechification creates admiration in common minds."

He was so unruffled, so complacent, that Bones, could only look at him in wonder. There was, too, about Ali Mahomet a queer look of guilty satisfaction, as of one who had been surprised in a good act.

"Master," he said, "it is true that, contrary to modest desires of humble poets, I have offered praises of your literature to unauthorised persons, sojourning in high-class café 'King's Arms,' for my evening refreshment. Also desiring to create pleasant pleasure and surprise, your servant from his own emoluments authorised preparation of said poems in real print work."

Bones gasped.

"You were going to get my things printed? Oh, you … oh, you…."

Ali was by no means distressed.

"Tomorrow there shall come to you a beautiful book for the master's surprise and joyousness. I myself will settle account satisfactorily from emoluments accrued."

Bones could only sit down and helplessly wag his head. Presently he grew calmer. It was a kindly thought, after all. Sooner or later those poems of his must be offered to the appreciation of a larger audience. He saw blind Fate working through his servitor's act. The matter had been taken out of his hands now.

"What made you do it, you silly old josser ?" he asked.

"Master, one gentleman friend suggested or proffered advice, himself being engaged in printery, possessing machines "

A horrible thought came into Bones's head.

"What was his name ?" he asked.

Ali fumbled in the capacious depths of his trousers pocket and produced a soiled card, which he handed to Bones. Bones read with a groan:

  MESSRS. SEEPIDGE & SOOMES,
    Printers to the Trade.
Bones fell back in the padded depths of his writing chair.

"Now, you've done it," he said hollowly, and threw the card back again.

It fell behind Ali, and he turned his back on Bones and stooped to pick up the card. It was a target which, in Bones's then agitated condition, he could scarcely be expected to resist.

* * * * *

Bones spent a sleepless night, and was at the office early. By the first post came the blow he had expected a bulky envelope bearing on the flap the sign-manual of Messrs. Seepidge & Soomes. The letter which accompanied the proof enclosed merely repeated the offer to sell the business for fifteen thousand pounds.

"This will include," the letter went on, "a great number of uncompleted orders, one of which is for a very charming series of poems which are now in our possession, and a proof-sheet of which we beg to enclose."

Bones read the poems and they somehow didn't look as well in print as they had in manuscript. And, horror of horrors, he went white at the thought they were unmistakably disrespectful to Miss Marguerite Whitland ! They were love poems. They declared Bones's passion in language which was unmistakable. They told of her hair which was beyond compare, of her eyes which rivalled the skies, and of her lips like scarlet strips. Bones bowed his head in his hands, and was in this attitude when the door opened, and Miss Whitland, who had had a perfect night and looked so lovely that her poems became pallid and nauseating caricatures, stepped quietly into the room.
"Aren't you well, Mr. Tibbetts ?" she said.

"Oh, quite well," said Bones valiantly. "Very tra-la-la, dear old thing, dear old typewriter, I mean."

"Is that correspondence for me ?"

She held out her hand, and Bones hastily thrust Messrs. Seepidge &
Soomes's letter, with its enclosure, into his pocket.

"No, no, yes, yes," he said incoherently. "Certainly why not this is a letter dear old thing about a patent medicine I have just taken I am not all I was a few years ago old age is creeping on me and all that sort of stuff shut the door as you go in."

He said this without a comma or a full-stop. He said it so wildly that she was really alarmed.

Hamilton arrived a little later, and to him Bones made full confession.

"Let's see the poems," said Hamilton seriously.

"You won't laugh ?" said Bones.

"Don't be an ass. Of course I won't laugh, unless they're supposed to be comic," said Hamilton. And, to do him justice, he did not so much as twitch a lip, though Bones watched his face jealously.

So imperturbable was Hamilton's expression that Bones had courage to demand with a certain smugness:

"Well, old man, not so bad ? Of course, they don't come up to Kipling, but I can't say that I'm fearfully keen on Kipling, old thing. That little one about the sunset, I think, is rather a gem."

"I think you're rather a gem," said Hamilton, handing back the proofs.
"Bones, you've behaved abominably, writing poetry of that kind and
leaving it about. You're going to make this girl the laughing-stock of
London."

"Laughing-stock ?" snorted the annoyed Bones. "What the dickens do you mean, old thing? I told you there are no comic poems. They're all like that."

"I was afraid they were," said Hamilton. "But poems needn't be comic," he added a little more tactfully, as he saw Bones's colour rising, "they needn't be comic to excite people's amusement. The most solemn and sacred things, the most beautiful thoughts, the most wonderful sentiments, rouse the laughter of the ignorant."

"True, true," agreed Bones graciously. "And I rather fancy that they are a little bit on the most beautiful side, my jolly old graven image. All heart outpourings you understand, but no, you wouldn't understand, my old crochety one. One of these days, as I've remarked before, they will be read by competent judges … midnight oil, dear old thing, at least, I have electric light in my flat. They're generally done after dinner."

"After a heavy dinner, I should imagine," said Hamilton with asperity.

"What are you going to do about it, Bones?"

Bones scratched his nose.

"I'm blessed if I know," he said.

"Shall I tell you what you must do ?" asked Hamilton quietly.

"Certainly, Ham, my wise old counsellor," said the cheerful Bones.

"Certainly, by all means, Why not ?"

"You must go to Miss Whitland and tell her all about it."

Bones's face fell.

"Good Heavens, no !" he gasped. "Don't be indelicate, Ham! Why, she might never forgive me, dear old thing ! Suppose she walked out of the office in a huff ? Great Scotland ! Great Jehoshaphat ! It's too terrible to contemplate !"

"You must tell her," said Hamilton firmly. "It's only fair to the girl to know exactly what is hanging over her."

Bones pleaded, and offered a hundred rapid solutions, none of which were acceptable to the relentless Hamilton.

"I'll tell her myself, if you like," he said. "I could explain that they're just the sort of things that a silly ass of a man does, and that they were not intended to be offensive even that one about her lips being like two red strips. Strips of what carpet ?"

"Don't analyse it, Ham, lad, don't analyse it !" begged Bones. "Poems are like pictures, old friend. You want to stand at a distance to see them."

"Personally I suffer from astigmatism," said Hamilton, and read the poems again. He stopped once or twice to ask such pointed questions as how many "y's" were in "skies," and Bones stood on alternate feet, protesting incoherently.

"They're not bad, old boy ?" he asked anxiously at last. "You wouldn't say they were bad ?"

"Bad," said Hamilton in truth, "is not the word I should apply."

Bones cheered up.

"That's what I think, dear ex-officer," he smirked. "Of course, a fellow is naturally shy about maiden efforts, and all that sort of thing, but, hang it all, I've seen worse than that last poem, old thing."

"So have I," admitted Hamilton, mechanically turning back to the first poem.

"After all" Bones was rapidly becoming philosophical "I'm not so sure that it isn't the best thing that could happen. Let 'em print 'em ! Hey ? What do you say ? Put that one about young Miss Marguerite being like a pearl discovered in a dustbin, dear Ham, put it before a competent judge, and what would he say ?"

"Ten years," snarled Hamilton, "and you'd get off lightly !"

Bones smiled with admirable toleration, and there the matter ended for the moment.

It was a case of blackmail, as Hamilton had pointed out, but, as the day proceeded, Bones took a more and more lenient view of his enemy's fault. By the afternoon he was cheerful, even jocose, and, even in such moments as he found himself alone with the girl, brought the conversation round to the subject of poetry as one of the fine arts, and cunningly excited her curiosity.

"There is so much bad poetry in the world," said the girl on one such occasion, "that I think there should be a lethal chamber for people who write it."

"Agreed, dear old tick-tack," assented Bones, with an amused smile. "What is wanted is, well, I know, dear old miss. It may surprise you to learn that I once took a correspondence course in poetry writing."

"Nothing surprises me about you, Mr. Tibbetts," she laughed.

He went into her office before leaving that night. Hamilton, with a gloomy shake of his head by way of farewell, had already departed, and Bones, who had given the matter very considerable thought, decided that this was a favourable occasion to inform her of the amusing efforts of his printer correspondent to extract money.

The girl had finished her work, her typewriter was covered, and she was wearing her hat and coat. But she sat before her desk, a frown on her pretty face and an evening newspaper in her hand, and Bones's heart momentarily sank. Suppose the poems had been given to the world ?

"All the winners, dear old miss?" he asked, with spurious gaiety.

She looked up with a start.

"No," she said. "I'm rather worried, Mr. Tibbetts. A friend of my step-father's has got into trouble again, and I'm anxious lest my mother should have any trouble."

"Dear, dear !" said the sympathetic Bones. "How disgustingly annoying!
Who's the dear old friend ?"

"A man named Seepidge," said the girl, and Bones gripped a chair for support. "The police have found that he is printing something illegal. I don't quite understand it all, but the things they were printing were invitations to a German lottery."

"Very naughty, very unpatriotic," murmured the palpitating Bones, and then the girl laughed.

"It has its funny side," she said. "Mr. Seepidge pretended that he was carrying out a legitimate order a book of poems. Isn't that absurd ?"

"Ha, ha !" said Bones hollowly.

"Listen," said the girl, and read:

"The magistrate, in sentencing Seepidge to six months' hard labour, said that there was no doubt that the man had been carrying on an illegal business. He had had the effrontery to pretend that he was printing a volume of verse. The court had heard extracts from that precious volume, which had evidently been written by Mr. Seepidge's office-boy. He had never read such appalling drivel in his life. He ordered the confiscated lottery prospectuses to be destroyed, and he thought he would be rendering a service to humanity if he added an order for the destruction of this collection of doggerel."

The girl looked up at Bones.

"It is curious that we should have been talking about poetry to-day, isn't it ?" she asked. "Now, Mr. Tibbetts, I'm going to insist upon your bringing that book of yours to-morrow."

Bones, very flushed of face, shook his head.

"Dear old disciple," he said huskily, "another time … another time … poetry should be kept for years … like old wine…"

"Who said that?" she asked, folding her paper and rising.

"Competent judges," said Bones, with a gulp.



CHAPTER  IX

THE LAMP THAT NEVER WENT OUT


"Have you seen her ?" asked Bones.

He put this question with such laboured unconcern that Hamilton put down his pen and glared suspiciously at his partner.

"She's rather a beauty," Bones went on, toying with his ivory paper-knife.

"She has one of those dinky bonnets, dear old thing, that makes you feel awfully braced with life."

Hamilton gasped. He had seen the beautiful Miss Whitland enter the office half an hour before, but he had not noticed her head-dress.

"Her body's dark blue, with teeny red stripes," said Bones dreamily, "and all her fittings are nickel-plated"

"Stop !" commanded Hamilton hollowly. "To what unhappy woman are you referring in this ribald fashion ?"

"Woman !" spluttered the indignant Bones. "I'm talking about my car."

"Your car ?"

"My car," said Bones, in the off-handed way that a sudden millionaire might refer to "my earth."

"You've bought a car ?"

Bones nodded.

"It's a jolly good 'bus," he said. "I thought of running down to
Brighton on Sunday."

Hamilton got up and walked slowly across the room with his hands in his pockets.

"You're thinking of running down to Brighton, are you ?" he said. "Is it one of those kind of cars where you have to do your own running ?"

Bones, with a good-natured smile, also rose from his desk and walked to the window.

"My car," he said, and waved his hand to the street.

By craning his neck, Hamilton was able to get a view of the patch of roadway immediately in front of the main entrance to the building. And undoubtedly there was a car in waiting a long, resplendent machine that glittered in the morning sunlight.

"What's the pink cushion on the seat ?" asked Hamilton.

"That's not a pink cushion, dear old myoptic," said Bones calmly; "that's my chauffeur, Ali ben Ahmed."

"Good lord !" said the impressed Hamilton. "You've a nerve to drive into the City with a sky-blue Kroo boy."

Bones shrugged his shoulders.

"We attracted a certain amount of attention," he admitted, not without satisfaction.

"Naturally," said Hamilton, going back to his desk. "People thought you were advertising Pill Pellets for Pale Poultry. When did you buy this infernal machine ?"

Bones, at his desk, crossed his legs and put his fingers together.

"Negotiations, dear old Ham, have been in progress for a month," he recited.

"I have been taking lessons on the quiet, and to-day proof !" He took out his pocket-book and threw a paper with a lordly air towards his partner. It fell half-way on the floor.

"Don't trouble to get up," said Hamilton. "It's your motor licence.
You needn't be able to drive a car to get that."

And then Bones dropped his attitude of insouciance and became a vociferous advertisement for the six-cylinder Carter-Crispley ("the big car that's made like a clock"). He became double pages with illustrations and handbooks and electric signs. He spoke of Carter and of Crispley individually and collectively with enthusiasm, affection, and reverence.

"Oh !" said Hamilton, when he had finished. "It sounds good."

"Sounds good !" scoffed Bones. "Dear old sceptical one, that car…"

And so forth.

All excesses being their own punishment, two days later Bones renewed an undesirable acquaintance. In the early days of Schemes, Ltd., Mr. Augustus Tibbetts had purchased a small weekly newspaper called the Flame. Apart from the losses he incurred during its short career, the experience was made remarkable by the fact that he became acquainted with Mr. Jelf, a young and immensely self-satisfied man in pince-nez, who habitually spoke uncharitably of bishops, and never referred to members of the Government without causing sensitive people to shudder.

The members of the Government retaliated by never speaking of Jelf at all, so there was probably some purely private feud between them.
Jelf disapproved of everything. He was twenty-four years of age, and he, too, had made the acquaintance of the Hindenburg Line. Naturally Bones thought of Jelf when he purchased the Flame.

From the first Bones had run the Flame with the object of exposing things. He exposed Germans, Swedes, and Turks which was safe. He exposed a furniture dealer who had made him pay twice for an article because a receipt was lost, and that cost money. He exposed a man who had been very rude to him in the City. He would have exposed James Jacobus Jelf, only that individual showed such eagerness to expose his own shortcomings, at a guinea a column, that Bones had lost interest.

His stock of personal grievances being exhausted, he had gone in for a general line of exposure which embraced members of the aristocracy and the Stock Exchange.

If Bones did not like a man's face, he exposed him. He had a column headed "What I Want to Know," and signed "Senob." in which such pertinent queries appeared as:

"When will the naughty old lord who owns a sky-blue motor-car, and wears pink spats, realise that his treatment of his tenants is a disgrace to his ancient lineage ?"

This was one of James Jacobus Jelf's contributed efforts. It happened on this particular occasion that there was only one lord in England who owned a sky-blue car and blush-rose spats, and it cost Bones two hundred pounds to settle his lordship.

Soon after this, Bones disposed of the paper, and instructed Mr. Jelf not to call again unless he called in an ambulance an instruction which afterwards filled him with apprehension, since he knew that J. J. J. would charge up the ambulance to the office.

Thus matters stood two days after his car had made its public appearance, and Bones sat confronting the busy pages of his garage bill.
On this day he had had his lunch brought into the office, and he was in a maze of calculation, when there came a knock at the door.

"Come in !" he yelled, and, as there was no answer, walked to the door and opened it.

A young man stood in the doorway a young man very earnest and very mysterious none other than James Jacobus Jelf.

"Oh, it's you, is it ?" said Bones unfavourably "I thought it was somebody important."

Jelf tiptoed into the room and closed the door securely behind him.

"Old man," he said, in tones little above a whisper, "I've got a fortune for you."

"Dear old libeller, leave it with the lift-man," said Bones. "He has a wife and three children."

Mr. Jelf examined his watch.

"I've got to get away at three o'clock, old man," he said.

"Don't let me keep you, old writer," said Bones with insolent indifference.
Jelf smiled.

"I'd rather not say where I'm going," he volunteered. "It's a scoop, and if it leaked out, there would be the devil to pay."

"Oh !" said Bones, who knew Mr. Jelf well. "I thought it was something like that."

"I'd like to tell you, Tibbetts," said Jelf regretfully, "but you know how particular one has to be when one is dealing with matters affecting the integrity of ministers."

"I know, I know," responded Bones, wilfully dense, "especially huffy old vicars, dear old thing."

"Oh, them !" said Jelf, extending his contempt to the rules which govern the employment of the English language. "I don't worry about those poor funny things. No, I am speaking of a matter you have heard about G.?" he asked suddenly.

"No," said Bones with truth.

Jelf looked astonished.

"What !" he said incredulously. "You in the heart of things, and don't know about old G.?"

"No, little Mercury, and I don't want to know," said Bones, busying himself with his papers.

"You'll tell me you don't know about L. next," he said, bewildered.

"Language !" protested Bones. "You really mustn't use Sunday words, really you mustn't."

Then Jelf unburdened himself. It appeared that G. had been engaged to
L.'s daughter, and the engagement had been broken off….

Bones stirred uneasily and looked at his watch.

"Dispense with the jolly old alphabet," he said wearily, "and let us get down to the beastly personalities."

Thereafter Jelf's conversation condensed itself to the limits of a human understanding. "G" stood for Gregory, Felix Gregory; "L" for Lansing, who apparently had no Christian name, nor found such appendage necessary, since he was dead. He had invented a lamp, and that lamp had in some way come into Jelf's possession. He was exploiting the invention on behalf of the inventor's daughter, and had named it, he said this with great deliberation and emphasis "The Tibbetts-Jelf Motor Lamp."

Bones made a disparaging noise, but was interested.

The Tibbetts-Jelf Lamp was something new in motor lamps. It was a lamp which had all the advantages of the old lamp, plus properties which no lamp had ever had before, and it had none of the disadvantages of any lamp previously introduced, and, in fact, had no disadvantages whatsoever. So Jelf told Bones with great earnestness.

"You know me, Tibbetts," he said. "I never speak about myself, and I'm rather inclined to disparage my own point of view than otherwise."

"I've never noticed that," said Bones.

"You know, anyway," urged Jelf, "that I want to see the bad side of anything I take up."

He explained how he had sat up night after night, endeavouring to discover some drawback to the Tibbetts-Jelf Lamp, and how he had rolled into bed at five in the morning, exhausted by the effort.

"If I could only find one flaw!" he said. "But the ingenious beggar who invented it has not left a single bad point."

He went on to describe the lamp. With the aid of a lead pencil and a piece of Bones's priceless notepaper he sketched the front elevation and discoursed upon rays, especially upon ultra-violet rays.

Apparently this is a disreputable branch of the Ray family. If you could only get an ultra-violet ray as he was sneaking out of the lamp, and hit him violently on the back of the head, you were rendering a service to science and humanity.

This lamp was so fixed that the moment Mr. Ultra V. Ray reached the threshold of freedom he was tripped up, pounced upon, and beaten until he (naturally enough) changed colour!

It was all done by the lens.

Jelf drew a Dutch cheese on the table-cloth to Illustrate the point.

"This light never goes out," said Jelf passionately. "If you lit it to-day, it would be alight to-morrow, and the next day, and so on. All the light-buoys and lighthouses around England will be fitted with this lamp; it will revolutionise navigation."

According to the exploiter, homeward bound mariners would gather together on the poop, or the hoop, or wherever homeward bound manners gathered, and would chant a psalm of praise, in which the line "Heaven bless the Tibbetts-Jelf Lamp" would occur at regular intervals.

And when he had finished his eulogy, and lay back exhausted by his own eloquence, and Bones asked, "But what does it do?" Jelf could have killed him.

Under any other circumstances Bones might have dismissed his visitor with a lecture on the futility of attempting to procure money under false pretences. But remember that Bones was the proprietor of a new motor-car, and thought motor-car and dreamed motor-car by day and by night. Even as it was, he was framing a conventional expression of regret that he could not interest himself in outside property, when there dawned upon his mind the splendid possibilities of possessing this accessory, and he wavered.

"Anyway," he said, "it will take a year to make."

Mr. Jelf beamed.

"Wrong !" he cried triumphantly. "Two of the lamps are just finished, and will be ready to-morrow."

Bones hesitated.

"Of course, dear old Jelf," he said, "I should like, as an experiment, to try them on my car."

"On your car ?" Jelf stepped back a pace and looked at the other with very flattering interest and admiration. "Not your car! Have you a car?"

Bones said he had a car, and explained it at length. He even waxed as enthusiastic about his machine as had Mr. Jelf on the subject of the lamp that never went out. And Jelf agreed with everything that Bones said. Apparently he was personally acquainted with the Carter-Crispley car. He had, so to speak, grown up with it. He knew its good points and none of its bad points. He thought the man who chose a car like that must have genius beyond the ordinary. Bones agreed. Bones had reached the conclusion that he had been mistaken about Jelf, and that possibly age had sobered him (it was nearly six months since he had perpetrated his last libel). They parted the best of friends. He had agreed to attend a demonstration at the workshop early the following morning, and Jelf, who was working on a ten per cent. commission basis, and had already drawn a hundred on account from the vendors, was there to meet him.

In truth it was a noble lamp very much like other motor lamps, except that the bulb was, or apparently was, embedded in solid glass. Its principal virtue lay in the fact that it carried its own accumulator, which had to be charged weekly, or the lamp forfeited its title.

Mr. Jelf explained, with the adeptness of an expert, how the lamp was controlled from the dashboard, and how splendid it was to have a light which was independent of the engine of the car or of faulty accumulators, and Bones agreed to try the lamp for a week. He did more than this: he half promised to float a company for its manufacture, and gave Mr. Jelf fifty pounds on account of possible royalties and commission, whereupon Mr. Jelf faded from the picture, and from that moment ceased to take the slightest interest in a valuable article which should have been more valuable by reason of the fact that it bore his name.

Three days later Hamilton, walking to business, was overtaken by a beautiful blue Carter-Crispley, ornamented, it seemed from a distance, by two immense bosses of burnished silver. On closer examination they proved to be nothing more remarkable than examples of the Tibbett-Jelf Lamp.

"Yes," said Bones airily, "that's the lamp, dear old thing. Invented in leisure hours by self and Jelf. Step in, and I'll explain."

"Where do I step in," asked Hamilton, wilfully dense "into the car or into the lamp ?"

Bones patiently smiled and waved him with a gesture to a seat by his side. His explanation was disjointed and scarcely informative; for Bones had yet to learn the finesse of driving, and he had a trick of thinking aloud.

"This lamp, old thing," he said, "never goes out, you silly old josser, why did you step in front of me ? Goodness gracious! I nearly cut short your naughty old life" (this to one unhappy pedestrian whom Bones had unexpectedly met on the wrong side of the road) "never goes out, dear old thing. It's out now, I admit, but it's not in working order, Gosh ! That was a narrow escape ! Nobody but a skilled driver, old Hamilton, could have missed that lamp-post. It is going to create a sensation; there's nothing like it on the market, whoop !"

He brought the car to a standstill with a jerk and within half an inch of a City policeman who was directing the traffic with his back turned to Bones, blissfully unconscious of the doom which almost overcame him.

"I like driving with you, Bones," said Hamilton, when they reached the office, and he had recovered something of his self-possession. "Next to stalking bushmen in the wild, wild woods, I know of nothing more soothing to the nerves."

"Thank you," said Bones gratefully. "I'm not a bad driver, am I?"

"'Bad' is not the word I should use alone," said Hamilton pointedly.

In view of the comments which followed, he was surprised and pained to receive on the following day an invitation, couched in such terms as left him a little breathless, to spend the Sunday exploiting the beauties of rural England.

"Now, I won't take a 'No,'" said Bones, wagging his bony forefinger. "We'll start at eleven o'clock, dear old Ham, and we'll lunch at what-you-may-call-it, dash along the thingummy road, and heigho! for the beautiful sea-breezes."

"Thanks," said Hamilton curtly. "You may dash anywhere you like, but
I'm dashed if I dash with you. I have too high a regard for my life."

"Naughty, naughty!" said Bones, "I've a good mind not to tell you what
I was going to say. Let me tell you the rest. Now, suppose," he said
mysteriously, "that there's a certain lady, a jolly old girl named
Vera, ha, ha !"

Hamilton went red.

"Now, listen, Bones," he said; "we'll not discuss any other person than ourselves."

"What do you say to a day in the country ? Suppose you asked Miss
Vera"

"Miss Vera Sackwell," replied Hamilton a little haughtily, "if she is the lady you mean, is certainly a friend of mine, but I have no control over her movements. And let me tell you, Bones, that you annoy me when"

"Hoity, toity !" said Bones. "Heaven bless my heart and soul ! Can't you trust your old Bones ? Why practise this deception, old thing ? I suppose," he went on reflectively, ignoring the approaching apoplexy of his partner, "I suppose I'm one of the most confided-in persons in London. A gay old father confessor, Ham, lad. Everybody tells me their troubles. Why, the lift-girl told me this morning that she'd had measles twice! Now, out with it, Ham !"

If Hamilton had any tender feeling for Miss Vera Sackwell, he was not disposed to unburden himself at that moment. In some mysterious fashion Bones, for the first time in his life, had succeeded in reducing him to incoherence.

"You're an ass, Bones !" he said angrily and hotly. "You're not only an ass, but an indelicate ass! Just oblige me by shutting up."

Bones closed his eyes, smiled, and put out his hand.

"Whatever doubts I had, dear old Ham," he murmured, "are dispelled.
Congratulations !"

That night Hamilton dined with a fair lady. She was fair literally and figuratively, and as he addressed her as Vera, it was probably her name. In the course of the dinner he mentioned Bones and his suggestion. He did not tell all that Bones had said.

The suggestion of a day's motoring was not received unfavourably.

"But he can't drive," wailed Hamilton. "He's only just learnt."

"I want to meet Bones," said the girl, "and I think it a most excellent opportunity."

"But, my dear, suppose the beggar upsets us in a ditch? I really can't risk your life."

"Tell Bones that I accept," she said decisively, and that ended the matter.

The next morning Hamilton broke the news.

"Miss Sackwell thanks you for your invitation, Bones."

"And accepts, of course?" said Bones complacently. "Jolly old Vera."

"And I say, old man," said Hamilton severely, "will you be kind enough to remember not to call this lady Vera until she asks you to?"

"Don't be peevish, old boy, don't be jealous, dear old thing. Brother-officer and all that. Believe me, you can trust your old Bones."

"I'd rather trust the lady's good taste," said Hamilton with some acerbity.

"But won't it be a bit lonely for you, Bones?"

"But what do you mean, my Othello?"

"I mean three is a pretty rotten sort of party," said Hamilton.

"Couldn't you dig up somebody to go along and make the fourth?"

Bones coughed and was immensely embarrassed.

"Well, dear old athlete," he said unnecessarily loudly, "I was thinking of asking my er..."

"Your er, what ? I gather it's an er," said Hamilton seriously, "but which er?"

"My old typewriter, frivolous one," said Bones truculently. "Any objection?"

"Of course not," said Hamilton calmly. "Miss Whitland is a most charming girl, and Vera will be delighted to meet her."

Bones choked his gratitude and wrung the other's hand for fully two minutes.

He spent the rest of the week in displaying to Hamilton the frank ambitions of his mind toward Miss Marguerite Whitland. Whenever he had nothing to do which seemed most of the day he strolled across to Hamilton's desk and discoursed upon the proper respect which all right-thinking young officers have for old typewriters. By the end of the week Hamilton had the confused impression that the very pretty girl who ministered to the literary needs of his partner, combined the qualities of a maiden aunt with the virtues of a grandmother, and that Bones experienced no other emotion than one of reverential wonder, tinctured with complete indifference.

On the sixty-fourth lecture Hamilton struck.

"Of course, dear old thing," Bones was saying, "to a jolly old brigand like you, who dashes madly down from his mountain lair and takes the first engaging young person who meets his eye "

Hamilton protested vigorously, but Bones silenced him with a lordly gesture.

"I say, to a jolly old rascal like you it may seem, what is the word?"

"'Inexplicable,' I suppose, is the word you are after," said Hamilton.

"That's the fellow; you took it out of my mouth," said Bones. "It sounds inexplicable that I can be interested in a platonic, fatherly kind of way in the future of a lovely old typewriter."

"It's not inexplicable at all," said Hamilton bluntly. "You're in love with the girl."

"Good gracious Heavens !" gasped Bones, horrified. "Ham, my dear old boy. Dicky Orum, Dicky Orum, old thing!"

Sunday morning brought together four solemn people, two of whom were men, who felt extremely awkward and showed it, and two of whom behaved as though they had known one another all their lives.

Bones, who stood alternately on his various legs, was frankly astounded that the meeting had passed off without any sensational happening. It was an astonishment shared by thousands of men in similar circumstances. A word of admiration for the car from Vera melted him to a condition of hysterical gratitude.

"It's not a bad old 'bus, dear old Miss Vera," he said, and tut-tutted audibly under his breath at his error. "Not a bad old 'bus at all, dear old, young friend. Now I'll show you the gem of the collection."

"They are big, aren't they ?" said Vera, properly impressed by the lamps.
"They never go out," said Bones solemnly. "I assure you I'm looking forward to the return journey with the greatest eagerness I mean to say, of course, that I'm looking forward to the other journey I don't mean to say I want the day to finish, and all that sort of rot. In fact, dear old Miss Vera, I think we'd better be starting."

He cranked up and climbed into the driver's seat, and beckoned Marguerite to seat herself by his side. He might have done this without explanation, but Bones never did things without explanation, and he turned back and glared at Hamilton.

"You'd like to be alone, dear old thing, wouldn't you?" he said gruffly. "Don't worry about me, dear old lad. A lot of people say you can see things reflected in the glass screen, but I'm so absorbed in my driving"

"Get on with it!" snarled Hamilton.

It was, nevertheless, a perfect day, and Bones, to everybody's surprise, his own included, drove perfectly. It had been his secret intention to drive to Brighton; but nobody suspected this plan, or cared very much what his intentions had been, and the car was running smoothly across Salisbury Plain.
When they stopped for afternoon tea, Hamilton did remark that he thought Bones had said something about Brighton, but Bones just smiled. They left Andover that night in the dusk; but long before the light had faded, the light which was sponsored by Mr. Jelf blazed whitely in the lamp that never went out. And when the dark came Bones purred with joy, for this light was a wonderful light. It flooded the road ahead with golden radiance, and illuminated the countryside, so that distant observers speculated upon its origin.

"Well, old thing," said Bones over his shoulder, "what do you think of the lamps?"

"Simply wonderful, Bones," agreed Hamilton. "I've never seen anything so miraculous. I can even see that you're driving with one hand."

Bones brought the other hand up quickly to the wheel and coughed. As for Miss Marguerite Whitland, she laughed softly, but nobody heard her.

They were rushing along a country road tree-shaded and high-hedged, and
Bones was singing a little song when the light went out.

It went out with such extraordinary unexpectedness, without so much as a warning flicker, that he was temporarily blinded, and brought the car to a standstill.

"What's up, Bones?" asked Hamilton.

"The light, dear old thing," said Bones. "I think the jolly old typewriter must have touched the key with her knee."

"Indeed?" said Hamilton politely; and Bones, remembering that the key was well over on his side of the car, coughed, this time fiercely.

He switched the key from left to right, but nothing happened.

"Most extraordinary!" said Bones.

"Most," said Hamilton.

There was a pause.

"I think the road branches off a little way up I'll get down and see
which is the right road to take," said Bones with sudden cheerfulness.
"I remember seeing the old signpost before the er lamp went out.
Perhaps, Miss Marguerite, you'd like to go for a little walk."

Miss Marguerite Whitland said she thought she would, and they went off together to investigate, leaving Hamilton to speculate upon the likelihood of their getting home that night.

Bones walked ahead with Marguerite, and instinctively their hands sought and found one another. They discovered the cross-roads, but Bones did not trouble to light his match. His heart was beating with extraordinary violence, his lips were dry, he found much difficulty in speaking at all.

"Miss Marguerite," he said huskily, "don't think I'm an awful outsider and a perfect rotter, dear old typewriter."

"Of course I don't," she said a little faintly for Bones's arm was about her.
"Don't think," said Bones, his voice trembling, "that I am a naughty old philanderer; but somehow, dear old miss, being alone with you, and all that sort of stuff "

And he bent and kissed her, and at that moment the light that never went out came on again with extraordinary fierceness, as though to make up for its temporary absence without leave.

And these two young people were focused as in a limelight, and were not only visible from the car, but visible for miles around.
"Dear me!" said Bones.

The girl said nothing. She shaded her eyes from the light as she walked back. As for Bones, he climbed into the driver's seat with the deliberation of an old gentleman selecting a penny chair in the park, and said, without turning his head:

"It's the road to the left."

"I'm glad," said Hamilton, and made no comment even when Bones took the road to the right.

They had gone a quarter of a mile along this highway when the lamp went out. It went out with as unexpected and startling suddenness as before. Bones jingled the key, then turned.

"You wouldn't like to get out, dear old Ham, and have a look round, would you?"

"No, Bones," said Hamilton drily. "We're quite comfortable."

"You wouldn't like to get down, my jolly old typewriter?"

"No, thank you," said Miss Marguerite Whitland with decision.

"Oh!" said Bones. "Then, under the circumstances, dear old person, we'd all better sit here until "

At that moment the light came on. It flooded the white road, and the white road was an excellent wind-screen against which the bending head of Bones was thrown into sharp relief.

The car moved on. At regular intervals the light that never went out forsook its home-loving habits and took a constitutional. The occupants of the ear came to regard its eccentricities with philosophy, even though it began to rain, and there was no hood.

On the outskirts of Guildford, Bones was pulled up by a policeman, who took his name because the lights were too bright. On the other side of Guildford he was pulled up by another policeman because he had no light at all. Passing through Kingston, the lamp began to flicker, sending forth brilliant dots and dashes, which continued until they were on Putney Common, where the lamp's message was answered from a camp of Boy Scouts, one signalman of the troop being dragged from his bed for the purpose, the innocent child standing in his shirt at the call of duty.

"A delightful day," said Hamilton at parting that night. (It was nearly twelve o'clock.) "I'm sorry you've had so much trouble with that lamp, Bones. What did you call it?"

"I say, old fellow," said Bones, ignoring the question, "I hope, when you saw me picking a spider off dear old Miss Marguerite's shoulder, you didn't er think anything ?"

"The only thing I thought was," said Hamilton, "that I didn't see the spider."
"Don't stickle, dear old partner," said Bones testily. "It may have been an earwig. Now, as a man of the world, dear old blasé one, do you think I'd compromise an innocent typewriter? Do you think I ought to " He paused, but his voice was eager.

"That," said Hamilton, "is purely a question for the lady. Now, what are you going to do with this lamp. Are you going to float it?"

Bones scowled at the glaring headlight.

"That depends whether the naughty old things float, Ham," he said venomously. "If you think they will, my old eye-witness, how about tyin' a couple of bricks round 'em before I chuck 'em in. What ?"



CHAPTER  X

THE  BRANCH  LINE



Not all the investments of Bones paid dividends. Some cost him money.
Some cost him time. Some, and they were few, cost him both.

Somewhere in a marine store in London lie the battered wrecks of what were once electro-plated motor-lamps of a peculiar and, to Bones, sinister design.

They were all that was left of a great commercial scheme, based upon the flotation of a lamp that never went out.

On a day of crisis in Bones's life they had gone out, which was bad. They had come on at an inconvenient moment, which was worse, since they had revealed him and his secretary in tender attitudes. And Bones had gone gaily to right the wrong, and had been received with cold politeness by the lady concerned.

There was a week of gloom, when Bones adopted towards his invaluable assistant the air and manner of one who was in the last stages of a wasting disease. Miss Marguerite Whitland never came into Bones's office without finding him sitting at his desk with his head in his hands, except once, when she came in without knocking and Bones hadn't the time to strike that picturesque attitude.

Indeed, throughout that week she never saw him but he was swaying, or standing with his hand before his eyes, or clutching on to the edge of a chair, or walking with feeble footsteps; and she never spoke to him but he replied with a tired, wan smile, until she became seriously alarmed, thinking his brain was affected, and consulted Captain Hamilton, his partner.

"Look here, Bones, you miserable devil," said Hamilton, "you're scaring that poor girl. What the dickens do you mean by it ?"

"Scaring who ?" said Bones, obviously pleased. "Am I really? Is she fearfully cut up, dear old thing ?"

"She is," said Hamilton truthfully. "She thinks you're going dotty."

"Vulgarity, vulgarity, dear old officer," said Bones, much annoyed.

"I told her you were often like that," Hamilton went on wilfully. "I said that you were a little worse, if anything, after your last love affair "

"Heavens !" nearly screamed Bones. "You didn't tell her anything about your lovely old sister Patricia ?"

"I did not," said Hamilton. "I merely pointed out to her the fact that when you were in love you were not to be distinguished from one whom is the grip of measles."

"Then you're a naughty old fellow," said Bones. "You're a wicked old rascal. I'm surprised at you! Can't a fellow have a little heart trouble"

"Heart ? Bah !" said Hamilton scornfully.

"Heart trouble," repeated Bones sternly. "I've always had a weak heart."

"And a weak head, too," said Hamilton. "Now, just behave yourself, Bones, and stop frightening the lady. I'm perfectly sure she's fond of you in a motherly kind of way," he added, as he saw Bones's face light up. "And, really, she is such an excellent typist that it would be a sin and a shame to frighten her from the office."

This possibility had not occurred to Bones, and it is likely it had more effect than any other argument which Hamilton could use. That day he began to take an interest in life, stepped gaily into the office and as blithely into his secretary's room. He even made jokes, and dared invite her to tea an invitation which was declined so curtly that Bones decided that tea was an unnecessary meal, and cut it out forthwith.

All this time the business of Schemes Limited was going forward, if not by leaps and bounds, yet by steady progression. Perhaps it was the restraining influence that Hamilton exercised which prevented the leaps being too pronounced and kept the bounds within bounds, so to speak. It was Schemes Limited which bought the theatrical property of the late Mr. Liggeinstein and re-sold those theatres in forty-eight hours at a handsome profit. It was Bones who did the buying, and it was Hamilton who did the selling in this case, to the intense annoyance of Bones, who had sat up the greater part of one night writing a four-act play in blank verse, and arriving at the office late, had discovered that his chance of acting as his own producer had passed for ever.

"And I'd written a most wonderful part for you, dear old mademoiselle," he said sadly to his secretary. "The part where you die in the third act well, really, it brought tears to my jolly old eyes."

"I think Captain Hamilton was very wise to accept the offer of the
Colydrome Syndicate," said the girl coldly.

In his leisure moments Bones had other relaxations than the writing of poetry now never mentioned or four act tragedies. What Hamilton had said of him was true. He had an extraordinary nose for a bargain, and found his profits in unexpected places.

People got to know him quite important people, men who handled millions carelessly, like Julius Bohea, and Important Persons whose faces are familiar to the people of Britain, such as the Right Hon. George Parkinson Chenney. Bones met that most influential member of the Cabinet at a very superior dinner-party, where everybody ate plovers' eggs as though it were a usual everyday occurrence.

And Mr. Parkinson Chenney talked on his favourite subject with great ease and charm, and his favourite subject was the question of the Chinese Concession. Apparently everybody had got concessions in China except the British, until one of our cleverest diplomatists stepped in and procured for us the most amazingly rich coalfield of Wei-hai-tai. The genius and foresight of this diplomatist who had actually gone to China in the Long Vacation, and of his own initiative and out of his own head had evolved these concessions, which were soon to be ratified by a special commission which was coming from China was a theme on which Mr. Parkinson Chenney spoke with the greatest eloquence. And everybody listened respectfully, because he was a great man.

"It is not for me," said Mr. Parkinson Chenney, toying with the stem of his champagne glass and closing his eyes modestly, "I say it is not for me, thank you, Perkins, I will have just as much as will come up to the brim; thank you, that will do very nicely to speak boastfully or to enlarge unduly upon what I regard as a patriotic effort, and one which every citizen of these islands would in the circumstances have made, but I certainly plume myself upon the acumen and knowledge of the situation which I showed."

"Hear, hear !" said Bones in the pause that followed, and Mr. Parkinson
Chenney beamed.

When the dinner was over, and the guests retired to the smoking-room,
Bones buttonholed the minister.

"Dear old right honourable," said Bones, "may I just have a few words in re Chinese coal ?"

The right honourable gentleman listened, or appeared to listen. Then Mr. Parkinson Chenney smiled a recognition to another great man, and moved off, leaving Bones talking.

Bones that night was the guest of a Mr. Harold Pyeburt, a City acquaintance almost, it seemed, a disinterested City acquaintance. When Bones joined his host, Mr. Pyeburt patted him on the back.

"My dear Tibbetts," he said in admiration, "you've made a hit with
Chenney. What the dickens did you talk about ?"

"Oh, coal," said Bones vaguely.

He wasn't quite certain what he had talked about, only he knew that in his mind at dinner there had dawned a great idea. Was Mr. Pyeburt a thought-reader ? Possibly he was. Or possibly some chance word of his had planted the seed which was now germinating so favourably.

"Chenney is a man to know," he said. "He's one of the most powerful fellows in the Cabinet. Get right with him, and you can have a knighthood for the asking."

Bones blushed.

"A knighthood, dear old broker's man?" he said, with an elaborate shrug.

"No use to me, my rare old athlete. Lord Bones, Lord Tibbetts I mean, may sound beastly good, but what good is it, eh ? Answer me that."

"Oh, I don't know," said Mr. Pyeburt. "It may be nothing to you, but your wife "

"Haven't a wife, haven't a wife," said Bones rapidly, "haven't a wife !"

"Oh, well, then," said Mr. Pyeburt, "it isn't an attractive proposition to you, and, after all, you needn't take a knighthood which, by the way, doesn't carry the title of lordship unless you want to.

"I've often thought," he said, screwing up his forehead, as though in the process of profound cogitation, "that one of these days some lucky fellow will take the Lynhaven Railway off Chenney's hands and earn his everlasting gratitude."

"Lynhaven? Where's that ?" asked Bones. "Is there a railway?"

Mr. Pyeburt nodded.

"Come out on to the balcony, and I'll tell you about it," said Pyeburt; and Bones, who always wanted telling about things, and could no more resist information than a dipsomaniac could refuse drink, followed obediently.
It appeared that Mr. Parkinson Chenney's father was a rich but eccentric man, who had a grudge against a certain popular seaside resort for some obscure reason, and had initiated a movement to found a rival town. So he had started Lynhaven, and had built houses and villas and beautiful assembly rooms; and then, to complete the independence of Lynhaven, he had connected that town with the main traffic line by railway, which he built across eight miles of marshland. By all the rules of the game, no man can create successfully in a spirit of vengeance, and Lynhaven should have been a failure. It was, indeed, a great success, and repaid Mr. Chenney, Senior, handsomely.

But the railway, it seemed, was a failure, because the rival town had certain foreshore rights, and had employed those to lay a tramway from their hustling centre; and as the rival town was on the main line, the majority of visitors preferred going by the foreshore route in preference to the roundabout branch line route, which was somewhat handicapped by the fact that this, too, connected with the branch line at Tolness, a little town which had done great work in the War, but which did not attract the tourist in days of peace.

These were the facts about the Lynhaven line, not as they were set forth by Mr. Pyeburt who took a much more optimistic view of the possibilities of the railway than did its detractors but as they really were.

"It's a fine line, beautifully laid and ballasted," said Mr. Pyeburt, shaking his head with melancholy admiration. "All that it wants behind it is a mind. At present it's neglected; the freights and passenger fares are too high, the rolling-stock wants replacing, but the locomotive stock is in most excellent condition."

"Does he want to sell it ?" asked the interested Bones, and Mr. Pyeburt pursed his lips.

"It is extremely doubtful," he said carefully, "but I think he might be approached. If he does want to sell it, and you can take it off his hands "

He raised his own eyebrows with a significant gesture, which expressed in some subtle way that Bones's future was assured.

Bones said he would think the matter over, and he did aloud, in the presence of Hamilton.

"It's a queer proposition," said Hamilton. "Of course, derelict railways can be made to pay."

"I should be general manager," said Bones more thoughtfully still. "My name would be printed on all the posters, of course. And isn't there a free pass over all the railways for railway managers ?"

"I believe there is something of the sort," said Hamilton, "but, on the whole, I think it would be cheaper to pay your fare than to buy a railway to get that privilege."

"There is one locomotive," mused Bones. "It is called 'Mary Louisa.' Pyeburt told me about it just as I was going away. Of course, one would get a bit of a name and all that sort of thing."

He scratched his chin and walked thoughtfully into the office of Miss Marguerite Whitland.

She swung round in her chair and reached for her notebook, but Bones was not in a dictatorial mood.

"Young miss," he asked, "how do you like Sir Augustus ?"

"Sir who ?" she demanded, puzzled.

"Sir Augustus," repeated Bones.

"I think it's very funny," she said.

It was not the answer he expected, and instinctively she knew she had made a mistake.

"Oh, you're thinking about yourself," she said quickly. "Are you going to be a knight, Mr. Tibbetts ? Oh, how splendid !"

"Yes," admitted Bones, with fine indifference, "not bad, dear old miss. I'm pretty young, of course, but Napoleon was a general at twenty-two."

"Are you going back into the Army ?" she asked a little hazily, and had visions of Bones at the War Office.

"I'm talking about railways," said Bones firmly. "Sir Augustus Tibbetts, there, now I've said it !"

"Wonderful !" said the girl enthusiastically, and her eyes shone with genuine pleasure. "I didn't see it in the newspaper, or I would have congratulated you before."

Bones shifted uneasily.

"As a matter of fact, dear old miss," he said, "it has not been gazetted yet. I'm merely speaking of the future, dear old impetuous typewriter and future secretary to the Lynhaven Railway Company, and possibly dear old Lady " He stopped short with one of his audible "tuts."

Happily she could not see the capital "L" to the word "Lady," and missed the significance of Bones's interrupted speech.
He saw Mr. Harold Pyeburt at his office, and Mr. Harold Pyeburt had seen the Right Hon. Parkinson Chenney, and the right honourable gentleman had expressed his willingness to sell the railway, lock, stock, and barrel, for sixty thousand pounds.

"And I advise you", Mr. Pyeburt paused, as he thought of a better word than "disinterestedly" "as a friend, to jump at it. Parkinson Chenney spoke in the highest terms of you. You evidently made a deep impression upon him."

"Who is the jolly old Parkinson's agent ?" asked Bones, and Mr. Harold Pyeburt admitted without embarrassment that, as a matter of fact, he was acting as Parkinson's attorney in this matter, and that was why he had been so diffident in recommending the property. The audacity of the latter statement passed unnoticed by Bones.

In the end Bones agreed to pay ten per cent. of the purchase price, the remainder to be paid after a month's working of the line, if the deal was approved.

"Clever idea of mine, dear old Ham," said Bones. "The Honours List will be out in a month, and I can easily chuck it."

"That's about the eighth fellow who's paid a ten per cent. deposit," said Mr. Chenney to his agent. "I'll be almost sorry if he takes it."

Three weeks later there were two important happenings. The Prime Minister of England, within an hour of leaving for the West of England to take a well-earned rest, summoned to him his right-hand man.

"Chenney," he said, "I really must go away for this rest, and I'm awfully sorry I cannot be on hand to meet the Chinese Commission. Now, whatever you do, you will not fail to meet them at Charing Cross on their arrival from the Continent. I believe they are leaving Paris tomorrow."

"I shall be there," said Parkinson Chenney, with a little smile. "I rather fancy I have managed their coal concession well, Prime Minister."

"Yes, yes," said the Prime Minister, who was not in the mood for handing out bouquets. "And would you run down to Tolness and settle up that infernal commission of inquiry ? They've been asking questions in the House, and I can give no very definite reply. Solebury threatened to force a division when the vote came up. Undoubtedly there's been a great deal of extravagance, but you may be able to wangle a reasonable explanation."

"Trust me, Prime Minister," said Mr. Parkinson Chenney, and left that afternoon by special train for Tolness.

On that very morning Bones, in a pair of overalls and with a rapt expression, stood with his hand on the starting lever of "Mary Louisa," and explained to the secretary of the company she also wore white overalls and sat in the cab of the engine just how simple a matter it was to drive a locomotive.

For two glorious days Bones had driven the regular service between Lynhaven and Bayham Junction, where the lines met. He had come to know every twist and turn of the road, every feature of the somewhat featureless landscape, and the four passengers who travelled regularly every day except Sundays there was no Sunday service were now so familiar to him that he did not trouble to take their tickets.

The Lynhaven Railway system was not as elaborate as he had thought. He had been impressed by the number of railway trucks which stood in the siding at the terminus, but was to discover that they did not belong to the railway, the rolling stock of which consisted of "Mary Louisa," an asthmatic but once famous locomotive, and four weather-beaten coaches. The remainder of the property consisted of a half right in a bay platform at Bayham Junction and the dilapidated station building at Lynhaven, which was thoughtfully situated about two miles from the town.

Nobody used the railway; that was the stark truth borne in upon Marguerite Whitland. She recognised, with a sense of dismay, the extraordinary badness of the bargain which Bones had made. Bones, with a real locomotive to play with he had given the aged engine-driver a week's holiday saw nothing but the wonderful possibilities of pulling levers and making a mass of rusting machinery jerk asthmatically forward at the touch of his hand.

"There are a lot of people," said Bones, affectionately patting a steam pipe, "a lot of people," he said, after sucking his fingers, for the steam was extraordinarily hot, "who think poor old 'Mary Louisa' is done for. Believe me, dear old miss, this locomotive wants a jolly lot of beating, she does really. I haven't tried her full out have I, jolly old stoker ?"

The jolly old stoker, aged seventeen, shook a grimy face.

"And don't you try, neither," he said ominously. "Old George, he never takes her more than quarter speed, he don't."

"Do you hear, dear old miss ?" said Bones triumphantly. "Not more than quarter speed. I tell you I could make enough money out of this engine alone to pay the whole cost of the railway.

"What about giving engine-driving lessons? That's an idea! And what about doing wonderful cinema pictures? That's another idea! Thrilling rescues from the train; jolly old hero struggling like mad on the roof of the carriage; railway collisions, and so forth, and so on."

"You can't have a collision unless you've two engines," said the girl.

"Oh, well," said the optimistic Bones, "we could perhaps borrow an engine from the Great Northern."

He looked down at the girl, then looked at his watch.

"Time to be up and doing, dear old thing," he said, and looked back along the little train. The aged guard was sitting on a barrow, his nodding head testifying to the sleep-giving qualities of Lynhaven air. Bones jerked the whistle, there was an unearthly shriek, and the guard woke up. He looked at his watch, yawned, searched the train for passengers, waved his flag, and climbed into his little compartment.

The engine shrieked again. Bones pulled over the lever gently, and there was a gratifying chuck-chuck-chuck. Bones smiled down at the girl.

"Easy as shelling peas, dear old thing," he said, "and this time I'm going to show you just how she can go."

"Old Joe don't let her go more than quarter speed," said the diminutive stoker warningly.

"Blow old Joe !" said Bones severely. "He's a jolly unenterprising old engine-driver. That's why the naughty old line doesn't pay. The idea of running 'Mary Louisa' at quarter speed!"

He turned to the girl for approval, but she felt that, in the circumstances and with only the haziest knowledge of engineering, it would be wiser to offer no opinion.

Bones pushed the lever a little farther over, and the "Mary Louisa" reeled under the shock.

"In re knighthood, dear old miss," said Bones confidentially. His words came jerkily, because the footplate of an outraged locomotive pounding forward at an unaccustomed speed was not a good foundation for continued eloquence. "Rendering the jolly old country a service helping the Cabinet, dear old Chenney awfully fond of me "

"Aren't we going rather fast ?" said the girl, gripping the side of the cab for support.

"Not at all," jerked Bones, "not at all. I am going to show 'em just how this"

He felt a touch on his arm, and looked down at the diminutive stoker.

"There's a lot of sand round here," said the melancholy child; "it won't hurt you to jump I'm going to."

"Jump!" gasped Bones. "What do you mean ? Hey ! Don't do that, you silly young "

But his black-visaged assistant was already poised on the step of the engine, and Bones, looking back, saw him performing somersaults down a sandy slope. Bones looked at the girl in amazement.

"Suicide, dear old miss !" he said in an awed voice. "Terrible !"

"Isn't that a station ?" said the girl, more interested for the moment in her own future.

Bones peered through the windows ahead.

"That's the junction, dear old thing," he said. "This is where we stop her."

He tugged at the lever, but the lever was not to be moved. He tugged desperately, but it seemed the steel bar was riveted in position. The "Mary Louisa" was leaping along at an incredible speed, and less than five hundred yards away was the dead-end of the Bayham platform, into which the Lynhaven train was due to run.

Bones went white and looked at the girl with fearful eyes. He took a swift scrutiny to the left and right, but they had passed out of the sandy country, and any attempt to leave the train now would mean certain destruction.

* * * * *

The Right Honourable Mr. Parkinson Chenney had concluded a very satisfactory morning's work of inspection at Tolness, and had secured all the information he needed to answer any question which might be put to him in Parliament by the best-informed of questioners.

He was lunching with the officers of the small garrison, when a telephone message was brought to him. He read it and smiled.

"Good !" he said. "Gentlemen, I am afraid I have to leave you a little earlier than I expected. Colonel Wraggle, will you see that my special train is ready! I must leave in ten minutes. The Chinese Commission has arrived," he said impressively, "or, rather, it arrives in London this afternoon, and I am deputed by the Prime Minister"

He explained to his respectful audience just what part he had played in securing Chinese Coal Concessions. He made a little speech on the immense value to the Empire in particular and the world in general of these new coalfields which had been secured to the country through the acumen, genius, forethought, and patriotic disinterestedness of the Cabinet.

He would not claim to set any particular merit on his own action, and went on to claim it. By which time his train was ready. It was indeed vital that he should be in London to meet a commission which had shown such reluctance to trade with foreign devils, and had been, moreover, so punctilious in its demand for ceremonious receptions, but he had not the slightest doubt about his ability to reach London before the boat train arrived. He had two and a half hours, and two and a half hours gave him an ample margin of time.

Just before his special rounded the bend which brought it within sight of Bayham Junction the Lynhaven express had reached within a few hundred yards of annihilation. The signalman at Bayham Junction had watched the oncoming rush of Bones's train, and, having a fairly extensive knowledge of the "Mary Louisa" and her eccentricities, he realised just what had happened.

There was only one thing to be done. He could see the smoke from the Cabinet Minister's special rising above the cutting two miles away, and he threw over two levers simultaneously. The first set the points which brought the Lynhaven express on to the main line, switching it from the deadly bay wherein the runaway train would have been smashed to pieces; the second lever set the distant signal against the special. It was a toss-up whether the special had not already passed the distant signal, but he had to take that risk.

Bones, with his arm round the girl, awaiting a noisy and violent dissolution, felt the "Mary Louisa" sway to the right when it should have swayed to the left, heard the clang of the points as he passed them, and drew a long breath when he found himself headed along a straight clear stretch of line. It was some time before he found his voice, and then it was little more than a squeak.

"We're going to London, dear old thing," he said tremulously.

The girl smiled, though her face was deathly pale.

"I thought we were going to heaven," she said.

"Never, dear old thing," said Bones, recovering something of his spirits as he saw the danger past. "Old Bones will never send you there."

The problem of the "Mary Louisa" was still unsettled. She was tearing away like a Flying Dutchman. She was oozing steam at every pore, and, glancing back, Bones saw the agitated countenance of the aged guard thrust through the window. He waved frantically at Bones, and Bones waved genially back again.
He was turning back to make another attempt on the lever, when, looking past the guard, he saw a sight which brought his heart into his mouth. Pounding along behind him, and emitting feathers of steam from her whistle, was an enormous locomotive. Bones guessed there was a train behind it, but the line was too straight for him to see.

"Gracious heavens !" he gasped. "We're being chased !"

He jerked at the lever though it was a moment when he should have left it severely alone, and to his ill-founded joy it moved.

The two trains came to a standstill together ten miles from Bayham Junction, and Bones climbed down into the six-foot way and walked back.

Almost the first person he met was a gesticulating gentleman in a frock coat and with a red face, who, mistaking him for an engine-driver, dismissed him on the spot, threatened him with imprisonment with or without hard labour he did not specify and demanded what the dickens he meant by holding up a Cabinet Minister ?

"Why," chortled Bones, "isn't it my dear friend, Mr. Chenney ?"

"Who are you," snarled Mr. Chenney, "and what do you mean by calling me your dear friend? By Heavens, I'll have you kicked out of this service !"

"Don't you know old Tibbetts ?" cooed Bones. "Well, well, fancy meeting you !"

He held out a grimy hand, which was not taken.

"Tibbetts !" growled the gentleman. "Oh, you are the fool, the gentleman who bought the Lynhaven line, didn't you ?"

"Certainly," said Bones.

"But what is your train doing here ?" asked Mr. Chenney violently. "Don't you realise you are holding up a special ? Great Heavens, man, this is very serious! You are holding up the business of the country !"

The engine-driver of the special came to the rescue.

"There's a switch-over about half a mile further on," he said. "There's not a down train due for an hour. I'll unlock the switch and put you on to the other line, and, after we have passed, you can come on."

"But I don't want to come on, dear old thing," said Bones. "I want to go back."

"Well, that's simple," said the driver.

He it was who piloted the Lynhaven express for another half-mile up the road. He it was who found the switches, unlocked them, telegraphed to the next station to hold up traffic, and he it was, Bones insisted upon this, who brought the "Mary Louisa" along the switch to the down line.

The position was as follows: The "Mary Louisa" was on the down line. Two coaches were between the down and the up line, and the guard's van was exactly on the up line, when the "Mary Louisa" refused to work any further.

Neither the experienced engine-driver, nor Bones, nor the stoker of the special, nor Mr. Chenney, nor the ancient guard, could coax the "Mary Louisa" to move another yard. The Lynhaven express stretched across both lines and made all further progress for traffic impossible.

Three hours later a breakdown gang arrived and towed the "Mary Louisa" and her appendages back to Bayham Junction.

Bones and the girl went back to London by the last train, and Bones was very thoughtful and silent.
But Bones was ever an optimist. The next morning he saw on a newspaper placard: "Birthday Honours. Twenty-two New Knights." And he actually stopped his car, bought a paper, and searched the lists for his name. It was not there.



CHAPTER  XI

A STUDENT OF MEN


Mr. Jackson Hyane was one of those oldish-looking young men to whom the description of "man about town" most naturally applied. He was always well-dressed and correctly dressed. You saw him at first nights. He was to be seen in the paddock at Ascot it was a shock to discover that he had not the Royal Enclosure badge on the lapel of his coat, and he was to be met with at most of the social functions, attendance at which did not necessarily imply an intimate acquaintance with the leaders of Society, yet left the impression that the attendant was, at any rate, in the swim, and might very well be one of the principal swimmers.

He lived off Albemarle Street in a tiny flat, and did no work of any kind whatever. His friends, especially his new friends, thought he "had a little money," and knew, since he told them, that he had expectations. He did not tell them that his expectations were largely bound up in their credulity and faith in his integrity. Some of them discovered that later, but the majority drifted out of his circle poorer without being wiser, for Mr. Hyane played a wonderful game of piquet, and seemed to be no more than abnormally lucky.

His mother had been a Miss Whitland, his father was the notorious Colonel Hyane, who boasted that his library was papered with High Court writs, and who had had the distinction of being escorted from Monte Carlo by the police of the Principality.

Mr. Jackson Hyane was a student of men and affairs. Very little escaped his keen observation, and he had a trick of pigeon-holing possibilities of profit, and forgetting them until the moment seemed ripe for their exploitation. He was tall and handsome, with a smile which was worth at least five thousand pounds a year to him, for it advertised his boyish innocence and enthusiasm he who had never been either a boy or enthusiastic.

One grey October day he put away his pass-book into a drawer and locked it, and took from a mental pigeon-hole the materials of an immature scheme. He dressed himself soberly and well, strolled down into Piccadilly, and calling a cab, drove to the block of City buildings which housed the flourishing business of Tibbetts and Hamilton, Limited.

The preliminaries to this invasion had been very carefully settled. He had met Miss Marguerite Whitland by "accident" a week before, had called at her lodgings with an old photograph of her father, which he had providentially discovered, and had secured from her a somewhat reluctant acceptance of an invitation to lunch.

Bones looked up from his desk as the debonair young man strolled in.

"You don't know me, Mr. Tibbetts," said Jackson Hyane, flashing his famous smile. "My name is Hyane."

It was his first meeting with Bones, but by no means the first time that Jackson had seen him.

"My dear old Hyane, sit down," said Bones cheerfully. "What can we do for you ?"

Mr. Hyane laughed.

"There's nothing you can do for me, except to spare your secretary for an hour longer than she usually takes."

"My secretary ?" said Bones quickly, and shot a suspicious glance at the visitor.

"I mean Miss Whitland," said Hyane easily. "She is my cousin, you know. My mother's brother was her father."

"Oh, yes," said Bones a little stiffly.

He felt a sense of the strongest resentment against the late Professor Whitland. He felt that Marguerite's father had played rather a low trick on him in having a sister at all, and Mr. Hyane was too keen a student to overlook Bones's obvious annoyance.

"Yes," he went on carelessly, "we are quite old friends, Marguerite and I, and you can't imagine how pleased I am that she has such an excellent job as this."

"Oh, yes," said Bones, clearing his throat. "Very nice old, very good typewriter indeed, Mr. Hyane … very nice person … ahem !"

Marguerite, dressed for the street, came in from her office at that moment, and greeted her cousin with a little nod, which, to the distorted vision of Bones, conveyed the impression of a lifelong friendship.

"I have just been asking Mr. Tibbetts," said Hyane, "if he could spare you for an extra hour."

"I am afraid that can't..." the girl began.

"Nonsense, nonsense !" said Bones, raising his voice as he invariably did when he was agitated.

"Certainly, my dear old, er, my dear young, er...certainly, Miss Marguerite, by all means, take your cousin to the Zoo … I mean show him the sights."

He was patently agitated, and watched the door close on the two young people with so ferocious a countenance that Hamilton, a silent observer of the scene, could have laughed.

Bones walked slowly back to his desk as Hamilton reached for his hat.

"Come on, Bones," he said briskly. "It's lunch time. I had no idea it was so late."

But Bones shook his head.

"No, thank you, dear old thing," he said sadly. "I'd rather not, if you don't mind."

"Aren't you coming to lunch ?" asked Hamilton, astonished.

Bones shook his head.

"No, dear old boy," he said hollowly. "Ask the girl to send me up a stiff glass of soda-water and a biscuit, I don't suppose I shall eat the biscuit."

"Nonsense !" said Hamilton. "Half an hour ago you were telling me you could eat a cart-horse."

"Not now, old Ham," said Bones. "If you've ordered it, send it back. I hate cart-horses, anyway."

"Come along," wheedled Hamilton, dropping his hand on the other's shoulder. "Come and eat. Who was the beautiful boy ?"

"Beautiful boy ?" laughed Bones bitterly. "A fop, dear old Ham ! A tailor's dummy! A jolly old clothes-horse, that's what he was. I simply loathe these people who leap around the City for a funeral. It's not right, dear old thing. It's not manly, dear old sport. What the devil did her father have a sister for? I never knew anything about it."

"They ought to have told you," said Hamilton sympathetically. "Now come and have some food."

But Bones refused. He was adamant. He would sit there and starve. He did not say as much, but he hinted that, when Hamilton returned, his famished and lifeless form would be found lying limply across the desk. Hamilton went out to lunch alone, hurried through his meal, and came back to find Bones alive but unhappy.

He sat making faces at the table, muttering incoherent words, gesticulating at times in the most terrifying manner, and finally threw himself back into his deep chair, his hands thrust into his trousers pockets, the picture of dejection and misery.

It was three o'clock when Miss Marguerite Whitland returned breathless, and, to Bones's jealous eye, unnecessarily agitated.

"Come, come, dear old miss," he said testily. "Bring your book. I wish to dictate an important letter. Enjoyed your lunch ?"

The last question was asked in so threatening a tone that the girl almost jumped.

"Yes...no," she said. "Not very much really."

"Ha, ha !" said Bones, insultingly sceptical, and she went red, flounced into her room, and returned, after five minutes, a haughty and distant young woman.

"I don't think I want to dictate, dear old dear young typewriter," he said unhappily. "Leave me, please."

"Really, my dear Bones," protested Hamilton, when the girl had gone back, scarlet-faced to her office, "you're making a perfect ass of yourself. If a girl cannot go to lunch with her cousin "

Bones jumped up from his chair, shrugged his shoulders rapidly, and forced a hideous grin.

"What does it matter to me, dear old Ham ?" he asked. "Don't think I'm worried about a little thing like a typewriter going out to lunch. Pooh ! Absurd ! Tommy rot ! No, my partner, I don't mind in fact, I don't care a..."

"Jot," said Hamilton, with the gesture of an outraged bishop.

"Of course not," said Bones wildly. "What does it matter to me ? Delighted that young typewriter should have a cousin, and all that sort of thing !"

"Then what the dickens is the matter with you ?" asked Hamilton.

"Nothing," said Bones, and laughed more wildly than ever.

Relationships between Mr. Augustus Tibbetts, Managing Director of Schemes Limited, and Miss Marguerite Whitland, his heaven-sent secretary, were strained to the point of breaking that afternoon. She went away that night without saying good-bye, and Bones, in a condition of abject despair, walked home to Devonshire Street, and was within a dozen yards of his flat, when he remembered that he had left his motor-car in the City, and had to take a cab back to fetch it.

"Bones," said Hamilton the next morning, "do you realise the horrible gloom which has come over this office ?"

"Gloom, dear old Ham ?" said the dark-eyed Bones. He had spent the night writing letters to Marguerite, and had exhausted all the stationery in sight in the process. "Gloom, old thing ! Good gracious, no ! Nobody is gloomy here !"

"I can tell you somebody who is," said Hamilton grimly. "That unfortunate girl you've been barking at all the morning"

"Barking at her ?" gasped Bones. "Gracious Heavens, I haven't betrayed my worried condition of mind, dear old thing ? I thought I hid it rather well."

"What on earth are you worried about ?" asked Hamilton, and Bones shrugged.

"Oh, nothing," he said. "Nothing at all. A little fever, dear old thing, contracted in the service of King, God bless him ! and country."

Hamilton's words had this effect, that he brightened visibly, and for the rest of the morning was almost normal. His spirits took a quick downward turn at five minutes to one, when the debonair Mr. Hyane appeared most unexpectedly.

"I'm afraid you'll think I'm a most awful nuisance, Mr. Tibbetts," he said, "but there are so many things which I must really talk to my cousin about family affairs, you know."

"Don't apologise," said Bones gruffly.

"I shan't keep her beyond the hour," smiled Mr. Hyane. "I realise that you are a very busy man."
Bones said nothing, and when Marguerite Whitland appeared, he had gained sufficient control of his emotions to indulge in a feeble jest. The girl's face was a study at the sight of her cousin. Hamilton, a disinterested observer, read astonishment, annoyance, and resignation in the wide-opened eyes. Bones, who prided himself upon a working knowledge of physiognomy, diagnosed the same symptoms as conveying a deep admiration combined with the re-awakening of a youthful love.

"Hello, Jackson !" she said coldly. "I didn't expect to see you."

"I told you I would call," he smiled. "I must see you, Marguerite, and Mr. Tibbetts has been so kind that I am sure he will not mind me "

"Mr. Tibbetts is not concerned about the manner in which I spend my lunch hour," she said stiffly, and Bones groaned inwardly.

There was a silence which Hamilton had not the heart to break after the two had gone, and it was Bones who uttered the first comment.

"That's that," he said, and his voice was so quiet and normal that Hamilton stared at him in astonishment.

"Let's have lunch," said Bones briskly, and led the way out.

Not even when Miss Whitland came to him that afternoon and asked for permission to take two days' holiday did his manner change. With a courtesy entirely free from that extravagance to which she had grown accustomed, he acceded to her request, and she was on the point of explaining to him the reason she had so unexpectedly asked for a vacation, but the memory of his earlier manner checked her.
It was a very simple explanation. Jackson Hyane was a very plausible man. Marguerite Whitland had heard something of her erratic cousin, but certainly nothing in his manner supported the more lurid descriptions of his habits. And Mr. Jackson Hyane had begged her, in the name of their relationships, to take a trip to Aberdeen to examine title-deeds which, he explained, would enable her to join with him in an action of the recovery of valuable Whitland property which was in danger of going to the Crown, and she had consented.

The truth was, there had always been some talk in the family of these estates, though nobody knew better than Jackson Hyane how unsubstantial were the claims of the Whitlands to the title. But the Scottish estate had been docketed away in the pigeon-holes of his mind, and promised to be more useful than he had anticipated.

That afternoon he packed his bag at his flat, put his passport and railway tickets together in his inside pocket, and made his final preparations for departure.

An old crony of his called whilst he was drinking the cup of tea which the housekeeper of the flats had prepared, and took in the situation revealed by the packed suit-cases and the burnt papers in the hearth.

"Hello, Johnny !" he said. "You're getting out, eh ?"

Jackson nodded. There was no need to pretend anything with one of his own class.

"Couldn't you square the bank ?"

Jackson shook his head.

"No, Billy," he said cheerfully, "I couldn't square it. At this identical moment there are several eminent people in the West End of London who are making applications for warrants."

"Dud cheques, eh ?" asked the other thoughtfully. "Well, it had to come, Johnny. You've had a lot of bad luck."

"Atrocious," said Mr. Jackson Hyane. "There's plenty of money in Town, but it's absolutely impossible to get at it. I haven't touched a mug for two months, and I've backed more seconds than I care to think about. Still," he mused, "there's a chance."

His friends nodded. In their circle there was always "a chance," but he could not guess that that chance which the student of men, Mr. Jackson Hyane, was banking upon answered indifferently to the name of
Tibbetts or Bones.

At half-past eight that night he saw his cousin off from King's Cross. He had engaged a sleeper for her, and acted the part of dutiful relative to the life, supplying her with masses of literature to while away the sleepless hours of the journey.

"I feel awfully uncomfortable about going away," said the girl, in a troubled voice. "Mr. Tibbetts would say that he could spare me even if he were up to his eyes in work. And I have an uncomfortable feeling at the back of my mind that there was something I should have told him and didn't."

"Queer bird, Tibbetts !" said the other curiously. "They call him Bones, don't they ?"

"I never do," said the girl quietly; "only his friends have that privilege. He is one of the best men I have ever met."

"Sentimental, quixotic, and all that sort of thing, eh ?" said Jackson, and the girl flushed.

"He has never been sentimental with me," she said, but did not deceive the student of men.

When the train had left the station, he drove straightaway to Devonshire Street. Bones was in his study, reading, or pretending to read, and the last person he expected to see that evening was Mr. Jackson Hyane. But the welcome he gave to that most unwelcome visitor betrayed neither his distrust nor his frank dislike of the young well-groomed man in evening-dress who offered him his hand with such a gesture of good fellowship.

"Sit down, Mr....er..." said Bones.

There was a cold, cold feeling at his heart, a sense of coming disaster, but Bones facing the real shocks and terrors of life was a different young man from the Bones who fussed and fumed over its trifles.

"I suppose you wonder why I have come to see you, Mr. Tibbetts," said Hyane, taking a cigarette from the silver box on the table. "I rather wonder why I have the nerve to see you myself. I've come on a very delicate matter."

There was a silence.

"Indeed ?" said Bones a little huskily, and he knew instinctively what that delicate matter was.

"It is about Marguerite," said Mr. Hyane.

Bones inclined his head.

"You see, we have been great pals all our lives," went on Jackson Hyane, pulling steadily at the cigarette "in fact, sweethearts."

His keen eyes never left the other's face, and he read all he wanted to know.

"I am tremendously fond of Marguerite," he went on, "and I think I am not flattering myself when I say that Marguerite is tremendously fond of me. I haven't been especially fortunate, and I have never had the money which would enable me to offer Marguerite the kind of life which a girl so delicately nurtured should have."

"Very admirable," said Bones, and his voice came to his own ears as the voice of a stranger.

"A few days ago," Mr. Hyane went on, "I was offered a tea plantation for fourteen thousand pounds. The prospects were so splendid that I went to a financier who is a friend of mine, and he undertook to provide the money, on which, of course, I agreed to pay an interest. The whole future, which had been so black, suddenly became as bright as day. I came to Marguerite, as you saw, with the news of my good luck, and asked her if she would be my wife."

Bones said nothing; his face was a mask.

"And now I come to my difficulty, Mr. Tibbetts," said Hyane. "This afternoon Marguerite and I played upon you a little deception which I hope you will forgive."

"Certainly, certainly" mumbled Bones, and gripped the arms of his chair the tighter.

"When I took Marguerite to lunch today," said Hyane, "it was to be married."

"Married!" repeated Bones dully, and Mr. Hyane nodded.

"Yes, we were married at half-past one o'clock today at the Marylebone Registry Office, and I was hoping that Marguerite would be able to tell you her good news herself. Perhaps" he smiled "it isn't as good news to her as it is to me. But this afternoon a most tragic thing happened."

He threw away his cigarette, rose, and paced the room with agitated strides. He had practised those very strides all that morning, for he left nothing to chance.

"At three o'clock this afternoon I called upon my financier friend, and discovered that, owing to heavy losses which he had incurred on the Stock Exchange, he was unable to keep his promise. I feel terrible, Mr. Tibbetts ! I feel that I have induced Marguerite to marry me under false pretences. I had hoped to-morrow morning to have gone to the agents of the estate and placed in their hands the cheque for fourteen thousand pounds, and to have left by the next mail boat for India."

He sank into the chair, his head upon his hands, and Bones watched him curiously.

Presently, and after an effort, Bones found his voice.

"Does your...your...wife know ?" he asked.

Jackson shook his head.

"No," he groaned, "that's the terrible thing about it. She hasn't the slightest idea. What shall I tell her ? What shall I tell her ?"

"It's pretty rotten, old Mr. Hyane." Bones found his voice after a while. "Deuced rotten for the young miss for Mrs....for her."

He did not move from his chair, nor relax his stiff expression. He was hurt beyond his own understanding, frantically anxious to end the interview, but at a loss to find an excuse until his eyes fell upon the clock over the mantelpiece.

"Come back at ten, no, half-past ten, young Mr. … awfully busy now … see you at half-past ten, eh ?"

Mr. Hyane made a graceful exit, and left Bones alone with the shattered fragments of great romance.
So that was why she had gone off in such a hurry, and she had not dared to tell him. But why not ? He was nothing to her … he would never see her again! The thought made him cold. Never again ! Never again! He tried to summon that business fortitude of his, of which he was so proud. He wanted some support, some moral support in this moment of acute anguish. Incidentally he wanted to cry, but didn't.
She ought to have given him a week's notice, he told himself fiercely, than laughed hysterically at the thought. He considered the matter from all its aspects and every angle, and was no nearer to peace of mind when, at half-past ten to the second, Mr. Jackson Hyane returned.

But Bones had formed one definite conclusion, and had settled upon the action he intended taking. Mr. Hyane, entering the study, saw the cheque book on the desk, and was cheered. Bones had to clear his voice several times before he could articulate.

"Mr. Hyane," he said huskily, "I have been thinking matters out. I am a great admirer of yours, of your, of yours a tremendous admirer of yours, Mr. Hyane. Anything that made her happy, old Mr. Hyane, would make me happy. You see ?"

"I see," said Mr. Hyane, and he had the satisfaction of knowing that he, a student of men, had not misread his victim.

"Fourteen thousand pounds," said Bones, turning abruptly to the desk and seizing his pen. "Make it payable to you ?"

"You're too kind," murmured Hyane. "Make it an open cheque, Mr. Tibbetts, I have to pay the agents in cash. These Indian merchants are so suspicious."

Bones wrote the cheque rapidly, marked it "Pay Cash," and initialled the corrections, then tore the slip from the book and handed it to the other.

"Of course, Mr. Tibbetts," said Hyane reverentially, "I regard half this as a loan to me and half as a loan to my dear wife. We shall never forget your kindness."

"Rot !" said Bones. "Nonsense! I hope you'll be happy, and will you tell her " He swallowed something.
There was a faint tinkle of a bell in the hall, and Ali, his servant, poked an ebony face round the corner of the door.

"Sir," he said, "the telephonic apparatus demands conversation."

Bones was glad of the interruption, and, with a muttered apology to his gratified guest, he strode out into the hall. Ali had accustomed himself to answering the telephone, but this time he had not understood the preliminary inquiry from exchange.

"Hello!" said Bones into the transmitter.

"Who's that ?"

At the sound of the voice which answered him he nearly dropped the receiver.

"Is that Mr. Tibbetts ?"

"Yes," said Bones hoarsely, and his heart beat a wild rataplan.

"I'm speaking from York, Mr. Tibbetts. I wanted to tell you that the key of the safe is in the drawer of my desk, the top drawer."

"That's all right, dear old, dear Mrs. Hyane."

"What is that you say ?" asked the voice sharply.

"Congratulations, dear old missus," said Bones. "Hope you'll be awfully happy on your plantation."

"What do you mean ?" asked the voice. "Did you call me Mrs. Hyane ?"

"Yes," said Bones huskily.

He heard her laugh.

"How ridiculous you are ! Did you really think I would ever marry my cousin ?"

"But haven't you ?" yelled Bones.

"What, married ? Absurd ! I'm going to Scotland to see about some family matter."

"You're not...not a Mrs.?" asked Bones emphatically.

"And never will be," said the girl. "What does it all mean ? Tell me."

Bones drew a long breath.

"Come back by the next train, young miss," he said. "Let that jolly old family affair go to blazes. I'll meet you at the station and tell you everything."

"But...but.." said the girl.

"Do as you're told, young miss !" roared Bones, and hung up the receiver with a seraphic smile.

The door of his study was a thick one, and it was, moreover, protected from outside noises by a large baize door, and the student of men had heard nothing. Bones strode back into the room with a face so changed that Mr. Hyane could not but observe that something remarkable had happened.

"I'm afraid I'm keeping you up, Mr. Tibbetts," he said.

"Not at all," said Bones cheerfully. "Let's have a look at that cheque I gave you."

The other hesitated.

"Let me have a look at it," said Bones, and Mr. Hyane, with a smile, took it from his pocket and handed it to the other.

"Half for you and half for her, eh, dear old thing ?" said Bones, and tore the cheque in two. "That's your half," he said, handing one portion to Mr. Hyane.

"What the devil are you doing ?" demanded the other angrily, but Bones had him by the collar, and was kicking him along the all too short corridor.

"Open the door, Ali !" said Bones. "Open it wide, dear old heathen !  Ooff!"

The "Ooff!" was accompanied by one final lunge of Bones's long legs.

At midnight Bones was sitting on the platform at King's Cross, alternately smoking a large pipe and singing tuneless songs. They told him that the next train from York would not arrive until three in the morning.

"That doesn't worry me, old thing. I'll wait all night."

"Expecting somebody, sir ?" asked the inquisitive porter.

"Everybody, my dear old uniformed official," said Bones, "everybody !"



CHAPTER  XII

BONES  HITS  BACK



It may be said of Bones that he was in the City, but not of it. Never once had he been invited by the great and awe-inspiring men who dominate the finance of the City to participate in any of those adventurous undertakings which produce for the adventurers the fabulous profits about which so much has been written. There were times when Bones even doubted whether the City knew he was in it.
He never realised his own insignificance so poignantly as when he strolled through the City streets at their busiest hour, and was unrecognised even by the bareheaded clerks who dashed madly in all directions, carrying papers of tremendous importance.

The indifference of the City to Mr. Tibbetts and his partner was more apparent than real. It is true that the great men who sit around the green baize cloth at the Bank of England and arrange the bank rate knew not Bones nor his work. It is equally true that the very important personages who occupy suites of rooms in Lombard Street had little or no idea of his existence. But there were men, and rich and famous men at that, who had inscribed the name of Bones in indelible ink on the tablets of their memory.

The Pole Brothers were shipbrokers, and had little in common, in their daily transactions, with Mr. Harold de Vinne, who specialised in industrial stocks, and knew little more about ships than could be learnt in an annual holiday trip to Madeira. Practically there was no bridge to connect their intellects. Sentimentally, life held a common cause, which they discovered one day, when Mr. Fred Pole met Mr. Harold de Vinne at lunch to discuss a matter belonging neither to the realms of industrialism nor the mercantile marine, being, in fact, the question of Mr. de Vinne leasing or renting Mr. Pole's handsome riverside property at Maidenhead for the term of six months.

They might not have met even under these circumstances, but for the fact that some dispute arose as to who was to pay the gardener. That matter had been amicably settled, and the two had reached the coffee stage of their luncheon, when Mr. de Vinne mentioned the inadvisability as a rule of discussing business matters at lunch, and cited a deplorable happening when an interested eavesdropper had overheard certain important negotiations and had most unscrupulously taken advantage of his discovery.

"One of these days," said Mr. de Vinne between his teeth, "I'll be even with that gentleman." (He did not call him a gentleman.) "I'll give him Tibbetts! He'll be sorry he was ever born."

"Tibbetts ?" said Mr. Fred Pole, sitting bolt upright. "Not Bones ?"

The other nodded and seemed surprised.

"You don't know the dear fellow, do you ?" he asked, only he did not use the expression "dear fellow."

"Know him ?" said Mr. Fred, taking a long breath. "I should jolly well say I did know him. And my brother Joe knows him. That fellow..."

"That fellow..." began Mr. de Vinne, and for several minutes they talked together in terms which were uncomplimentary to Augustus Tibbetts.

It appeared, though they did not put the matter so crudely, that they had both been engaged in schemes for robbing Bones, and that in the pursuance of their laudable plans they had found themselves robbed by Bones.

Mr. de Vinne ordered another coffee and prepared to make an afternoon of it. They discussed Bones from several aspects and in various lights, none of which revealed his moral complexion at its best.

"And believe me," said Mr. de Vinne at the conclusion of his address for the prosecution, "there's money to be made out of that fellow. Why, I believe he has three hundred thousand pounds."

"Three hundred and forty thousand," said the more accurate Mr. Fred.

"A smart man could get it all," said Harold de Vinne, with conviction. "And when I say a smart man, I mean two smart men. I never thought that he had done anybody but me. It's funny I never heard of your case," he said. "He must have got the best of you in the early days."

Mr. Fred nodded.

"I was his first" he swallowed hard and added "mug !"

Mr. de Vinne pulled thoughtfully at his black cigar and eyed the ceiling of the restaurant absent-mindedly.

"There's nobody in the City who knows more about Tibbetts than me," he said. He was weak on the classical side, but rather strong on mathematics. "I've watched every transaction he's been in, and I think I have got him down fine."

"Mind you," said Fred, "I think he's clever."

"Clever !" said the other scornfully. "Clever ! He's lucky, my dear chap. Things have just fallen into his lap. It's mug's luck that man has had."

Mr. Fred nodded. It was an opinion which he himself had held and ruminated upon.

"It is luck  sheer luck," continued Mr. de Vinne. "And if we'd been clever, we'd have cleaned him. We'll clean him yet," he said, stroking his chin more thoughtfully than ever, "but it's got to be done systematically."

Mr. Fred was interested. The possibility of relieving a fellow-creature of his superfluous wealth by legitimate means, and under the laws and rules which govern the legal transfer of property, was the absorbing interest of his life.

"It has got to be done cleverly, scientifically, and systematically," said Mr. de Vinne, "and there's no sense in jumping to a plan. What do you say to taking a bit of dinner with me at the Ritz-Carlton on Friday?"

Mr. Fred was very agreeable.

"I'll tell you the strength of Bones," said de Vinne, as they left the restaurant. "He was an officer on the West Coast of Africa. His boss was a man named Sanders, who's left the Service and lives at Twickenham. From what I can hear, this chap Tibbetts worships the ground that Sanders walks on. Evidently Sanders was a big bug in West Africa."

On Friday they resumed their conversation, and Mr. de Vinne arrived with a plan. It was a good plan. He was tremulous with pride at the thought of it, and demanded applause and approval with every second breath, which was unlike him.

He was a man of many companies, good, bad, and indifferent, and, reviewing the enterprises with which his name was associated, he had, without the slightest difficulty, placed his finger upon the least profitable and certainly the most hopeless proposition in the Mazeppa Trading Company. And nothing could be better for Mr. de Vinne's purpose, not, as he explained to Fred Pole, if he had searched the Stock Exchange Year Book from cover to cover.

Once upon a time the Mazeppa Trading Company had been a profitable concern. Its trading stores had dotted the African hinterland thickly. It had exported vast quantities of Manchester goods and Birmingham junk, and had received in exchange unlimited quantities of rubber and ivory. But those were in the bad old days, before authority came and taught the aboriginal natives the exact value of a sixpenny looking-glass.

No longer was it possible to barter twenty pounds' worth of ivory for threepennyworth of beads, and the flourishing Mazeppa Trading Company languished and died. Its managers had grown immensely wealthy from their peculations and private trading, and had come home and were occupying opulent villas at Wimbledon, whilst the new men who had been sent to take their places had been so inexperienced that profits fell to nothing. That, in brief, was the history of the Mazeppa Trading Company, which still maintained a few dilapidated stores, managed by half-castes and poor whites.

"I got most of the shares for a song," confessed Mr. de Vinne. "In fact, I happen to be one of the debenture-holders, and stepped in when things were going groggy. We've been on the point of winding it up, it is grossly overcapitalised, but I kept it going in the hope that something would turn up."

"What is the general idea ?" asked Mr. Fred Pole, interested.

"We'll get a managing director," said Mr. de Vinne solemnly. "A man who is used to the handling of natives, a man acquainted with the West Coast of Africa, a man who can organise."

"Bones?" suggested Mr. Fred.

"Bones be, jiggered !" replied de Vinne scornfully. "Do you think he'd fall for that sort of thing ? Not on your life! We're not going to mention it to Bones. But he has a pal Sanders; you've heard of him. He's a commissioner or something on the West Coast, and retired. Now, my experience of a chap of that kind who retires is that he gets sick to death of doing nothing. If we could only get at him and persuade him to accept the managing directorship, with six months a year on the Coast, at a salary of, say, two thousand a year, conditional on taking up six or seven thousand pounds' worth of shares, what do you think would happen?"

Mr. Fred's imagination baulked at the problem, and he shook his head.

"I'll tell you what would happen," said Mr. de Vinne. "It happened once before, when another pal of Bones got let in on a motor car company. Bones fell over himself to buy the shares and control the company. And, mind you, the Mazeppa looks good. It's the sort of proposition that would appeal to a young and energetic man. It's one of those bogy companies that seem possible, and a fellow who knows the ropes would say straight away: 'If I had charge of that, I'd make it pay.' That's what I'm banking on."

"What are the shares worth?" said Fred.

"About twopence net," replied the other brutally. "I'll tell you frankly that I'd run this business myself if I thought there was any chance of my succeeding. But if Bones finds all the shares in one hand, he's going to shy. What I'm prepared to do is this. These shares are worth twopence. I'm going to sell you and a few friends parcels at a shilling a share. If nothing happens, I'll undertake to buy them back at the same price."

A week later Hamilton brought news to the office of Tibbetts and Hamilton, Limited.

"The chief is going back to the Coast."

Bones opened his mouth wide in astonishment.

"Back to the Coast ?" he said incredulously. "You don't mean he's chucking jolly old Twickenham?"

Hamilton nodded.

"He's had an excellent offer from some people in the City to control a trading company. By the way, did you ever hear of the Mazeppa Company?"

Bones shook his head.

"I've heard of Mazeppa," he said. "He was the naughty old gentleman who rode through the streets of Birmingham without any clothes."

Hamilton groaned.

"If I had your knowledge of history," he said despairingly, "I'd start a bone factory. You're thinking of Lady Godiva, but that doesn't matter. No, I don't suppose you've heard of the Mazeppa Company; it did not operate in our territory."

Bones shook his head and pursed his lips.

"But surely," he said, "dear old Excellency hasn't accepted a job without consulting me?"

Hamilton made derisive noises.

"He fixed it up in a couple of days," he said, after a while. "It doesn't mean he'll be living on the Coast, but he'll probably be there for some months in the year. The salary is good in fact, it's two thousand a year. I believe Sanders has to qualify for directorship by taking some shares, but the dear chap is enthusiastic about it, and so is Patricia. It is all right, of course. Sanders got the offer through a firm of solicitors."

"Pooh!" said Bones. "Solicitors are nobody."

He learnt more about the company that afternoon, for Sanders called in and gave a somewhat roseate view of the future.

"The fact is, Bones, I am getting stale," he said, "and this looks like an excellent and a profitable occupation."

"How did you get to hear about it, Excellency ?". asked Bones.

His attitude was one of undisguised antagonism. He might have been a little resentful that the opportunity had come to Sanders through any other agency than his own.

"I had a letter from the solicitors asking me if the idea appealed to me, and recalling my services on the Coast," said Sanders. "Of course I know very little about the Mazeppa Trading Company, though I had heard of it years gone past as a very profitable concern. The solicitors were quite frank, and told me that business had fallen off, due to inexperienced management. They pointed out the opportunities which existed the possibilities of opening new stations and I must confess that it appealed to me. It will mean hard work, but the salary is good."

"Hold hard, Sir and Excellency," said Bones. "What did you have to put up in the way of shares?"

Sanders flushed. He was a shy man, and not given to talking about his money affairs.

"Oh, about five thousand pounds," he said awkwardly. "Of course, it's a lot of money; but even if the business isn't successful, I have a five-year contract with the company, and I get more than my investment back in salary."

That night Bones stayed on after Hamilton had left, and had for companion Miss Marguerite Whitland, a lady in whose judgment he had a most embarrassing faith. He had given her plenty of work to do, and the rhythmical tap-tap of her typewriter came faintly through the door which separated the outer from the inner office.

Bones sat at his desk, his chin in his hand, a very thoughtful young man, and before him was a copy of the latest evening newspaper, opened at the Stock Exchange page. There had been certain significant movements in industrial shares a movement so interesting to the commentator upon Stock Exchange doings that he had inserted a paragraph to the effect that:

"The feature of the industrial market was the firmness of Mazeppa Trading shares, for which there was a steady demand, the stock closing at 19_s_. 9_d_. Mazeppa shares have not been dealt in within the House for many years, and, in fact, it was generally believed that the Company was going into liquidation, and the shares could be had for the price of the paper on which they were printed. It is rumoured in the City that the Company is to be reconstructed, and that a considerable amount of new capital has been found, with the object of expanding its existing business."

Bones read the paragraph many times, and at the conclusion of each reading returned to his reverie.

Presently he rose and strolled into the office of his secretary, and the girl looked up with a smile as Bones seated himself on the edge of her table.

"Young miss," he said soberly, "do you ever hear anybody talking about me in this jolly old City?"

"Why, yes," she said in surprise.

"Fearfully complimentarily, dear old miss ?" asked Bones carelessly, and the girl's colour deepened.

"I don't think it matters what people say about one, do you ?"

"It doesn't matter to me," said Bones, "so long as one lovely old typewriter has a good word for poor old Bones." He laid his hand upon hers, and she suffered it to remain there without protest. "They think I'm a silly old ass, don't they ?"

"Oh, no," she said quickly, "they don't think that. They say you're rather unconventional."

"Same thing," said Bones. "Anybody who's unconventional in business is a silly old ass."

He squeezed the hand under his, and again she did not protest or withdraw it from his somewhat clammy grip.

"Dear old darling " began Bones, but she stopped him with a warning finger.

"Dear old typewriter," said Bones, unabashed, but obedient, "suppose something happened to the clever old Johnny who presides over this office the brains of the department, if I may be allowed to say so?"

"Captain Hamilton?" said the girl in surprise.

"No, me," said Bones, annoyed. "Gracious Heavens, dear old key-tapper, didn't I say me?"

"Something happen to you?" she said in alarm. "Why, what could happen to you?"

"Suppose I went broke ?" said Bones, with the comfortable air of one who was very unlikely to go broke. "Suppose I had terrific and tremendous and cataclysmic and what's the other word losses ?"

"But you're not likely to have those, are you?" she asked.

"Not really," said Bones, "but suppose?"

She saw that, for once, when he was speaking to her, his mind was elsewhere, and withdrew her hand. It was a fact that Bones did not seem to notice the withdrawal.

"Poor old Bones, poor old mug !" said Bones softly. "I'm a funny old devil."

The girl laughed.

"I don't know what you're thinking about," she said, "but you never strike me as being particularly funny, or poor, or old, for the matter of that," she added demurely.

Bones stooped down from the table and laid his big hand on her head, rumpling her hair as he might have done to a child.

"You're a dear old Marguerite," he said softly, "and I'm not such a ditherer as you think. Now, you watch old Bones." And, with that cryptic remark, he stalked back to his desk.

Two days after this he surprised Hamilton.

"I'm expecting a visitor today, old Ham," he said. "A Johnny named de Vinne."

"De Vinne?" frowned Hamilton. "I seem to know that name. Isn't he the gentleman you had the trouble with over the boots?"

"That's the jolly old robber," said Bones cheerfully. "I've telegraphed and asked him to come to see me."

"About what ?" demanded Hamilton.

"About two o'clock," said Bones. "You can stay and see your old friend through, or you can let us have it out with the lad in camera."

"I'll stay," said Hamilton. "But I don't think he'll come."

"I do," said Bones confidently, and he was justified in his confidence, for at two o'clock to the second Mr. de Vinne appeared.

He was bright and cheerful, even genial to Bones, and Bones was almost effusive in his welcome.

"Sit down there in the most comfortable chair, happy old financier," he said, "and open your young heart to old Bones about the Mazeppa Trading Company."

Mr. de Vinne did not expect so direct an attack, but recovered from his surprise without any apparent effort.

"Oh, so you know I was behind that, do you ? How the dickens did you find out ?"

"Stock Exchange Year Book, dear old thing. Costs umpteen and sixpence, and you can find out everything you want to know about the directors of companies," said Bones.

"By Jove ! That's clever of you," said de Vinne, secretly amused, for it was from the Year Book that he expected Bones to make the discovery.

"Now, what's the game, old financial gentleman ?" asked Bones. "Why this fabulous salary to friend Sanders and selling this thousands of pounds worth of shares, eh ?"

The other shrugged his shoulders.

"My dear chap, it's a business transaction. And really, if I thought you were going to interrogate me on that, I shouldn't have come. Is Mr. Sanders a friend of yours?" he asked innocently.

"Shurrup !" said Bones vulgarly. "You know jolly well he's a friend of mine. Now, what is the idea, young company promoter ?"

"It's pretty obvious," replied de Vinne, taking the expensive cigar which Bones had imported into the office for the purpose. "The position is a good one..."

"Half a mo'," said Bones. "Do you personally guarantee Mr. Sanders's salary for five years ?"

The other laughed.

"Of course not. It is a company matter," he said, "and I should certainly not offer a personal guarantee for the payment of any salary."

"So that, if the company goes bust in six months' time, Mr. Sanders loses all the money he has invested and his salary ?"

The other raised his shoulders again with a deprecating smile.

"He would, of course, have a claim against the company for his salary," he said.

"A fat lot of good that would be !" answered Bones.

"Now, look here, Mr. Tibbetts" the other leaned confidentially forward, his unlighted cigar between his teeth "there is no reason in the world why the Mazeppa Company shouldn't make a fortune for the right man. All it wants is new blood and capable direction. I confess," he admitted, "that I have not the time to give to the company, otherwise I'd guarantee a seven per cent. dividend on the share capital. Why, look at the price of them today"

Bones stopped him.

"Any fool can get the shares up to any price he likes, if they're all held in one hand," he said.

"What ?" said the outraged Mr. de Vinne. "Do you suggest I have rigged the market? Besides, they're not all in one hand. They're pretty evenly distributed."

"Who holds 'em?" asked Bones curiously.

"Well, I've got a parcel, and Pole Brothers have a parcel."

"Pole Brothers, eh ?" said Bones, nodding. "Well, well !"

"Come, now, be reasonable. Don't be suspicious, Mr. Tibbetts," said the other genially. "Your friend's interests are all right, and the shareholders' interests are all right. You might do worse than get control of the company yourself."

Bones nodded.

"I was thinking of that," he said.

"I assure you," said Mr. de Vinne with great earnestness, "that the possibilities of the Mazeppa Trading Company are unlimited. We have concessions from the Great River to the north of the French territory"

"Not worth the paper they're written on, dear old kidder," said Bones, shaking his head. "Chiefs' concessions without endorsement from the Colonial Office are no good, dear old thing."

"But the trading concessions are all right," insisted the other. "You can't deny that. You understand the Coast customs better than I do. Trading customs hold without endorsement from the Colonial Office."

Bones had to admit that that was a fact.

"I'll think it over," he said. "It appeals to me, old de Vinne. It really does appeal to me. Who own the shares?"

"I can give you a list," said Mr. de Vinne, with admirable calm, "and you'd be well advised to negotiate privately with these gentlemen. You'd probably get the shares for eighteen shillings." He took a gold pencil from his pocket and wrote rapidly a list of names, and Bones took the paper from his hand and scrutinised them.

Hamilton, a silent and an amazed spectator of the proceedings, waited until de Vinne had gone, and then fell upon his partner.

"You're not going to be such a perfect jackass " he began, but Bones's dignified gesture arrested his eloquence.

"Dear old Ham," he said, "senior partner, dear old thing ! Let old Bones have his joke."

"Do you realise," said Hamilton, "that you are contemplating the risk of a quarter of a million ? You're mad, Bones !"

Bones grinned.

"Go down to our broker and buy ten thousand shares in old Mazeppa, Ham," he said. "You'll buy them on the market for nineteen shillings, and I've an idea that they're worth about the nineteenth part of a farthing."

"But..." stammered Hamilton.

"It is an order," said Bones, and he spoke in the Bomongo tongue.

"Phew !" said Hamilton. "That carries me a few thousand miles. I wonder what those devils of the N'gombi are doing now ?"

"I'll tell you something they're not doing," said Bones. "They're not buying Mazeppa shares."

There were two very deeply troubled people in the office of Tibbetts and Hamilton. One was Hamilton himself, and the other was Miss Marguerite Whitland. Hamilton had two causes for worry. The first and the least was the strange extravagance of Bones. The second, and this was more serious, was the prospect of breaking to Sanders that night that he had been swindled, for swindled he undoubtedly was. Hamilton had spent a feverish hour canvassing City opinion on the Mazeppa Trading Company, and the report he had had was not encouraging. He had, much against his will, carried out the instructions of Bones, and had purchased in the open market ten thousand shares in the Company, a transaction duly noted by Mr. de Vinne and his interested partner.

"He is biting," said that exultant man over the 'phone. "All we have to do is to sit steady, and he'll swallow the hook!"

It was impossible that Marguerite Whitland should not know the extent of her employer's commitments. She was a shrewd girl, and had acquired a very fair working knowledge of City affairs during the period of her employment. She had, too, an instinct for a swindle, and she was panic-stricken at the thought that Bones was marching headlong to financial disaster. Hamilton had gone home to his disagreeable task, when the girl came from her office and stood, her hands clasped behind her, before the desk of the senior partner.

Bones peered up in his short-sighted way.

"Well, young miss ?" he said quietly.

"Mr. Tibbetts," she began a little unsteadily, "I'm going to be very impertinent."

"Not at all," murmured Bones.

"I've been with you for some time now," said the girl, speaking rapidly, "and I feel that I have a better right to talk to you than...than..."

"Than anybody in the whole wide world," said Bones, "and that's a fact, dear young Marguerite."

"Yes, yes," she said hurriedly, "but this is something about business, and about...about this deal which you're going into. I've been talking to Captain Hamilton this afternoon, while you were out, and I know it's a swindle."

"I know that, too," said Bones calmly.

"But," said the puzzled girl, "you are putting all your money into it. Mr. Hamilton said that, if this failed, you might be ruined."

Bones nodded. Outwardly calm, the light of battle shone in his eye.

"It's a gamble, dear young typewriter," he said, "a terrific gamble, but it's going to turn out all right for did Bones."

"But Mr. Hamilton said you can't possibly make anything from the property that it is derelict and worth practically nothing. Only a tenth of the stores are open, and the trading is...”

Bones smiled.

"I'm not gambling on the property," he said softly. "Oh, dear, no, young fiancée, I'm not gambling on the property."

"Then what on earth are you gambling on ?" she asked, a little piqued.

"On me," said Bones in the same tone. "On poor old silly ass Bones, and I'm coming through !"

He got up and came across to her and laid his big hand on her shoulder gently.

"If I don't come through, I shan't be a beggar. I shall have enough to build a jolly little place, where we can raise cows and horses and vegetables of all descriptions, dear old typewriter. And if I do come through, we'll still have that same place, only perhaps we'll have more cows and a pig or two."

She laughed, and he raised her smiling lips to his and kissed them.

Mr. de Vinne had dined well and had enjoyed an evening's amusement. He had been to the Hippodrome, and his enjoyment had been made the more piquant by the knowledge that Mr. Augustus Tibbetts had as good as placed ten thousand pounds in his pocket. He was a surprised man, on returning to Sloane Square, to discover, waiting in the hall, his unwilling benefactor.

"Why, Mr. Tibbetts," he said, "this is a great surprise."

"Yes," said Bones, "I suppose it is, old Mr. de Vinne." And he coughed solemnly, as one who was the guardian of a great secret.

"Come in," said Mr. de Vinne, more genial than ever. "This is my little den" indicating a den which the most fastidious of lions would not have despised. "Sit down and have a cigar, old man. Now, what brings you here to-night?"

"The shares," said Bones soberly. "I've been worrying about the shares."

"Ah, yes," said Mr. de Vinne carelessly. "Why worry about them, dear boy ?"

"Well, I thought I might lose the opportunity of buying them. I think there's something to be made out of that property. In fact," said Bones emphatically, "I'm pretty certain I could make a lot of money if
I had control."

"I agree with you," said the earnest Mr. de Vinne.

"Now the point is," said Bones, "I've been studying that list of yours, and it seems to me that the majority of the two hundred and fifty thousand shares issued are either held by you or by one of the Poles, jolly old Joe or jolly old Fred, I don't know which."

"Jolly old Fred," said Mr. de Vinne gravely.

"Now, if there's one person I don't want to meet tonight, or tomorrow, or any other day," said Bones, "it's Pole."

"There's no need for you to meet him," smiled de Vinne.

"In fact," said Bones, with sudden ferocity, "I absolutely refuse to buy any shares from Fred. I'll buy yours, but I will not buy a single one from Fred."

Mr. De Vinne thought rapidly.

"There's really no reason," he said carelessly. "As a matter of fact, I took over Fred's shares to-night, or the majority of them. I can let you have, let me see" he made a rapid calculation..."I can let you have a hundred and eighty thousand shares at nineteen and nine."

"Eighteen shillings," said Bones firmly, "and not a penny more."

They wrangled about the price for five minutes, and then, in an outburst of generosity, Mr. de Vinne agreed.

"Eighteen shillings it shall be. You're a hard devil," he said. "Now, shall we settle this in the morning ?"

"Settle it now," said Bones. "I've a contract note and a cheque book."

De Vinne thought a moment.

"Why, sure !" he said. "Let's have your note."

Bones took a note from his pocket, unfolded it, and laid it on the table, then solemnly seated himself at Mr. de Vinne's desk and wrote out the cheque.

His good fortune was more than Mr. de Vinne could believe. He had expected Bones to be easy, but not so easy as this.

"Good-bye," said Bones. He was solemn, even funereal.

"And, my friend," thought Mr. de Vinne, "you'll be even more solemn before the month's out."

He saw Bones to the door, slapped him on the back, insisted on his taking another cigar, and stood outside on the pavement of Cadogan Square and watched the rear lights of Bones's car pass out of sight. Then he went back to his study telephone and gave a number. It was the number of Mr. Fred Pole's house, and Fred Pole himself answered the call.

"Is that you, Pole ?"

"That's me," said the other, and there was joy in his voice.

"I say, Pole," chuckled de Vinne, "I shall save you a lot of trouble."

"What do you mean ?" asked the other.

"I've sold Bones my shares and yours too."

There was a deep silence.

"Did you hear me?" asked de Vinne.

"Yes, I heard you," said the voice, so strange that de Vinne scarcely recognised it. "How many did you sell?" asked Pole.

"A hundred and eighty thousand. I thought I could easily fix it with you."

Another silence.

"What did Bones say to you ?"

"He told me he wouldn't do any more business with you."

"Good Heavens !" groaned Pole, and added, "Gracious Heavens!"

"Why, what's the matter ?" asked de Vinne quickly, scenting danger.

"That's what he said to me," moaned the other. "Just hang on. I'll be round in a quarter of an hour."

Mr. Fred Pole arrived under that time, and had a dreadful story to unfold. At nine o'clock that evening Bones had called upon him and had offered to buy his shares. But Bones had said he would not under any circumstances...

"Buy my shares?" said de Vinne quickly.

"Well, he didn't exactly say that," said Fred. "But he gave me to understand that he'd rather buy the shares from me than from anybody else, and I thought it was such an excellent idea, and I could fix it up with you on the telephone, so I sold him "

"How many?" wailed de Vinne.

"A hundred and fifty thousand," said Mr. Fred, and the two men stared at one another.

De Vinne licked his dry lips.

"It comes to this," he said. "Between us we've sold him three hundred and thirty thousand shares. There are only two hundred and fifty thousand shares issued, so we've got to deliver eighty thousand shares that are non-existent or be posted as defaulters."

Another long pause, and then both men said simultaneously, as though the thought had struck them for the first time:

"Why, the fellow's a rogue!"

The next morning they called upon Bones, and they were with him for half an hour; and when they went, they left behind them, not only the cheques that Bones had given them, but another cheque for a most substantial amount as consideration.

That night Bones gave a wonderful dinner-party at the most expensive hotel in London. Sanders was there, and Patricia Sanders, and Hamilton, and a certain Vera, whom the bold Bones called by her Christian name, but the prettiest of the girls was she who sat on his right and listened to the delivery of Bones's great speech in fear and trembling.

"The toast of the evening, dear old friends," said Bones, "is Cupidity and Cupid. Coupled with the names of the Honourable de Vinne and my young and lovely typewriter, my friend and companion in storm and stress, the only jolly old lady, if I may be allowed to say so, that has stirred my young heart" he caught Patricia Sanders's accusing eye, coughed, and added "in Europe !"


THE  END        






Edgar  Wallace





http://www.edgarwallace.org/

http://www.crimetime.co.uk/profiles/edgarwallace.php

http://www.publicbookshelf.com/author/Edgar-Wallace






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