A Man of Mark - Anthony Hope - ebook
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If you are a fan of classic action-adventure stories who loved Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, A Man of Mark should be right up your alley. Set amidst a political uprising in the fictional country of Aureataland, this fast-paced romp is a rip-roaring read.Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, better known as Anthony Hope (9 February 1863 – 8 July 1933), was an English novelist and playwright. He was a prolific writer, especially of adventure novels but he is remembered predominantly for only two books: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau (1898). These works, "minor classics" of English literature, are set in the contemporaneous fictional country of Ruritania and spawned the genre known as Ruritanian romance, works set in fictional European locales similar to the novels. Zenda has inspired many adaptations, most notably the 1937 Hollywood movie of the same name.

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A MAN OF MARK

BY

ANTHONY HOPE

Copyright © 2018 by Anthony Hope.

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organiza- tions, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Book and Cover design by Sheba Blake Publishing

First Edition: April 2018

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER I.5

CHAPTER II.

CHAPTER III.

CHAPTER IV.

CHAPTER V.

CHAPTER VI.

CHAPTER VII.

CHAPTER VIII.

CHAPTER IX.

CHAPTER X.

CHAPTER XI.

CHAPTER XII.

CHAPTER XIII.

CHAPTER XIV.

CHAPTER XV.

CHAPTER I.

THE MOVEMENT AND THE MAN.

In the year 1884 the Republic of Aureataland was certainly not in a flourishing condition. Although most happily situated (it lies on the coast of South America, rather to the north--I mustn't be more definite), and gifted with an extensive territory, nearly as big as Yorkshire, it had yet failed to make that material progress which had been hoped by its founders. It is true that the state was still in its infancy, being an offshoot from another and larger realm, and having obtained the boon of freedom and self-government only as recently as 1871, after a series of political convulsions of a violent character, which may be studied with advantage in the well-known history of "The Making of Aureataland," by a learned professor of the Jeremiah P. Jecks University in the United States of America. This profound historian is, beyond all question, accurate in attributing the chief share in the national movement to the energy and ability of the first President of Aureataland, his Excellency, President Marcus W. Whittingham, a native of Virginia. Having enjoyed a personal friendship (not, unhappily, extended to public affairs) with that talented man, as will subsequently appear, I have great pleasure in publicly indorsing the professor's eulogium. Not only did the President bring Aureataland into being, but he molded her whole constitution. "It was his genius" (as the professor observes with propriety) "which was fired with the idea of creating a truly modern state, instinct with the progressive spirit of the Anglo-Saxon race. It was his genius which cast aside the worn-out traditions of European dominion, and taught his fellow-citizens that they were, if not all by birth, yet one and all by adoption, the sons of freedom." Any mistakes in the execution of this fine conception must be set down to the fact that the President's great powers were rather the happy gift of nature than the result of culture. To this truth he was himself in no way blind, and he was accustomed to attribute his want of a liberal education to the social ruin brought upon his family by the American Civil War, and to the dislocation thereby produced in his studies. As the President was, when I had the honor of making his acquaintance in the year 1880, fifty years old if he was a day, this explanation hardly agrees with dates, unless it is to be supposed that the President was still pursuing his education when the war began, being then of the age of thirty-five, or thereabouts.

Starting under the auspices of such a gifted leader, and imbued with so noble a zeal for progress, Aureataland was, at the beginning of her history as a nation, the object of many fond and proud hopes. But in spite of the blaze of glory in which her sun had risen (to be seen duly reflected in the professor's work), her prosperity, as I have said, was not maintained. The country was well suited for agriculture and grazing, but the population--a very queer mixture of races--was indolent, and more given to keeping holidays and festivals than to honest labor. Most of them were unintelligent; those who were intelligent made their living out of those who weren't, a method of subsistence satisfactory to the individual, but adding little to the aggregate of national wealth. Only two classes made fortunes of any size, Government officials and bar-keepers, and even in their case the wealth was not great, looked at by an English or American standard. Production was slack, invention at a standstill, and taxation heavy. I suppose the President's talents were more adapted to founding a state in the shock and turmoil of war, than to the dull details of administration; and although he was nominally assisted by a cabinet of three ministers and an assembly comprising twenty-five members, it was on his shoulders that the real work of government fell. On him, therefore, the moral responsibility must also rest--a burden the President bore with a cheerfulness and equanimity almost amounting to unconsciousness.

I first set foot in Aureataland in March, 1880, when I was landed on the beach by a boat from the steamer, at the capital town of Whittingham. I was a young man, entering on my twenty-sixth year, and full of pride at finding myself at so early an age sent out to fill the responsible position of manager at our Aureataland branch. The directors of the bank were then pursuing what may without unfairness be called an adventurous policy, and, in response to the urgent entreaties and glowing exhortations of the President, they had decided on establishing a branch at Whittingham. I commanded a certain amount of interest on the board, inasmuch as the chairman owed my father a sum of money, too small to mention but too large to pay, and when, led by the youthful itch for novelty, I applied for the post I succeeded in obtaining my wish, at a salary of a hundred dollars a month. I am sorry to say that in the course of a later business dealing the balance of obligation shifted from the chairman to my father, an unhappy event which deprived me of my hold on the company and seriously influenced my conduct in later days. When I arrived in Aureataland the bank had been open some six months, under the guidance of Mr. Thomas Jones, a steady going old clerk, who was in future to act as chief (and indeed only) cashier under my orders.

I found Whittingham a pleasant little city of about five thousand inhabitants, picturesquely situated on a fine bay, at the spot where the river Marcus debouched into the ocean. The town was largely composed of Government buildings and hotels, but there was a street of shops of no mean order, and a handsome square, called the "Piazza 1871," embellished with an equestrian statue of the President. Round about this national monument were a large number of seats, and, hard by, a café and band stand. Here, I soon found, was the center of life in the afternoons and evenings. Going along a fine avenue of trees for half a mile or so, you came to the "Golden House," the President's official residence, an imposing villa of white stone with a gilt statue of Aureataland, a female figure sitting on a plowshare, and holding a sword in the right hand, and a cornucopia in the left. By her feet lay what was apparently a badly planed cannon ball; this, I learned, was a nugget, and from its presence and the name of the palace, I gathered that the president had once hoped to base the prosperity of his young republic on the solid foundation of mineral wealth. This hope had been long abandoned.

I have always hated hotels, so I lost no time in looking round for lodgings suitable to my means, and was fortunate enough to obtain a couple of rooms in the house occupied by a Catholic priest, Father Jacques Bonchrétien. He was a very good fellow, and, though we did not become intimate, I could always rely on his courtesy and friendly services. Here I lived in great comfort at an expense of fifty dollars a month, and I soon found that my spare fifty made me a well-to-do man in Whittingham. Accordingly I had the entrée of all the best houses, including the Golden House, and a very pleasant little society we had; occasional dances, frequent dinners, and plenty of lawn tennis and billiards prevented me feeling the tedium I had somewhat feared, and the young ladies of Whittingham did their best to solace my exile. As for business, I found the bank doing a small business, but a tolerably satisfactory one, and, if we made some bad debts, we got high interest on the good ones, so that, one way or another, I managed to send home pretty satisfactory reports, and time passed on quietly enough in spite of certain manifestations of discontent among the population. These disturbing phenomena were first brought prominently to my notice at the time when I became involved in the fortunes of the Aureataland national debt, and as all my story turns on this incident, it perhaps is a fit subject for a new chapter.

CHAPTER II.

A FINANCIAL EXPEDIENT.

When our branch was established at Whittingham there had been an arrangement made between ourselves and the Government, by the terms of which we were to have the Government business, and to occupy, in fact, much that quasi-official position enjoyed by the Bank of England at home. As a quid pro quo, the bank was to lend to the Republic the sum of five hundred thousand dollars, at six per cent. The President was at the time floating a loan of one million dollars for the purpose of works at the harbor of Whittingham. This astute ruler had, it seemed, hit on the plan of instituting public works on a large scale as a corrective to popular discontent, hoping thereby not only to develop trade, but also to give employment to many persons who, if unoccupied, became centers of agitation. Such at least was the official account of his policy; whether it was the true one I saw reason to doubt later on. As regards this loan, my office was purely ministerial. The arrangements were duly made, the proper guarantees given, and in June, 1880, I had the pleasure of handing over to the President the five hundred thousand dollars. I learned from him on that occasion that, to his great gratification, the balance of the loan had been taken up.

"We shall make a start at once, sir," said the President, in his usual confident but quiet way. "In two years Whittingham harbor will walk over the world. Don't be afraid about your interest. Your directors never made a better investment."

I thanked his Excellency, accepted a cigar, and withdrew with a peaceful mind. I had no responsibility in the matter, and cared nothing whether the directors got their interest or not. I was, however, somewhat curious to know who had taken up the rest of the loan, a curiosity which was not destined to be satisfied for some time.

The works were begun and the interest was paid, but I cannot say that the harbor progressed rapidly; in fact, I doubt if more than one hundred thousand dollars ever found their way into the pockets of contractors or workmen over the job. The President had some holes dug and some walls built; having reached that point, about two years after the interview above recorded he suddenly drew off the few laborers still employed, and matters came to a dead stop.

It was shortly after this occurrence that I was honored with an invitation to dine at the Golden House. It was in the month of July, 1882. Needless to say, I accepted the invitation, not only because it was in the nature of a command, but also because the President gave uncommonly good dinners, and, although a bachelor (in Aureataland, at all events), had as well ordered a household as I have ever known. My gratification was greatly increased when, on my arrival, I found myself the only guest, and realized that the President considered my society in itself enough for an evening's entertainment. It did cross my mind that this might mean business, and I thought it none the worse for that.

We dined in the famous veranda, the scene of so many brilliant Whittingham functions. The dinner was beyond reproach, the wines perfection. The President was a charming companion. Though not, as I have hinted, a man of much education, he had had a wide experience of life, and had picked up a manner at once quiet and cordial, which set me completely at my ease. Moreover, he paid me the compliment, always so sweet to youth, of treating me as a man of the world. With condescending confidence he told me many tales of his earlier days; and as he had been everywhere and done everything where and which a man ought not to be and do, his conversation was naturally most interesting.

"I am not holding myself up as an example," he said, after one of his most unusual anecdotes. "I can only hope that my public services will be allowed to weigh in the balance against my private frailties."

He said this with some emotion.

"Even your Excellency," said I, "may be content to claim in that respect the same indulgence as Caesar and Henri Quatre."

"Quite so," said the President. "I suppose they were not exactly--eh?"

"I believe not," I answered, admiring the President's readiness, for he certainly had a very dim notion who either of them was.

Dinner was over and the table cleared before the President seemed inclined for serious conversation. Then he called for cigars, and pushing them toward me said:

"Take one, and fill your glass. Don't believe people who tell you not to drink and smoke at the same time. Wine is better without smoke, and smoke is better without wine, but the combination is better than either separately."

I obeyed his commands, and we sat smoking and sipping in silence for some moments. Then the President said, suddenly:

"Mr. Martin, this country is in a perilous condition."

"Good God, your Excellency!" said I, "do you refer to the earthquake?" (There had been a slight shock a few days before.)

"No, sir," he replied, "to the finances. The harbor works have proved far more expensive than I anticipated. I hold in my hand the engineer's certificate that nine hundred and three thousand dollars have been actually expended on them, and they are not finished--not by any means finished."

They certainly were not; they were hardly begun.

"Dear me," I ventured to say, "that seems a good deal of money, considering what there is to show for it."

"You cannot doubt the certificate, Mr. Martin," said the President.

I did doubt the certificate, and should have liked to ask what fee the engineer had received. But I hastily said it was, of course, beyond suspicion.

"Yes," said he steadily, "quite beyond suspicion. You see, Mr. Martin, in my position I am compelled to be liberal. The Government cannot set other employers the example of grinding men down by low wages. However, reasons apart, there is the fact. We cannot go on without more money; and I may tell you, in confidence, that the political situation makes it imperative we should go on. Not only is my personal honor pledged, but the Opposition, Mr. Martin, led by the colonel, is making itself obnoxious--yes, I may say very obnoxious."

"The colonel, sir," said I, with a freedom engendered of dining, "is a beast."

"Well," said the President, with a tolerant smile, "the colonel, unhappily for the country, is no true patriot. But he is powerful; he is rich; he is, under myself alone, in command of the army. And, moreover, I believe he stands well with the signorina. The situation, in fact, is desperate. I must have money, Mr. Martin. Will your directors make me a new loan?"

I knew very well the fate that would attend any such application. The directors were already decidedly uneasy about their first loan; shareholders had asked awkward questions, and the chairman had found no small difficulty in showing that the investment was likely to prove either safe or remunerative. Again, only a fortnight before, the Government had made a formal application to me on the same subject. I cabled the directors, and received a prompt reply in the single word "Tootsums," which in our code meant, "Must absolutely and finally decline to entertain any applications." I communicated the contents of the cable to Señor Don Antonio de la Casabianca, the Minister of Finance, who had, of course, communicated them in turn to the President.

I ventured to remind his Excellency of these facts. He heard me with silent attention.

"I fear," I concluded, "therefore, that it is impossible for me to be of any assistance to your Excellency."

He nodded, and gave a slight sigh. Then, with an air of closing the subject, he said:

"I suppose the directors are past reason. Help yourself to a brandy and soda."

"Allow me to mix one for you, sir," I answered.

While I was preparing our beverages he remained silent. When I had sat down again he said:

"You occupy a very responsible position here for so young a man, Mr. Martin--not beyond your merits, I am sure."

I bowed.

"They leave you a pretty free hand, don't they?"

I replied that as far as routine business went I did much as seemed good in my own eyes.

"Routine business? including investments, for instance?" he asked.

"Yes," said I; "investments in the ordinary course of business--discounting bills and putting money out on loan and mortgage over here. I place the money, and merely notify the people at home of what I have done."

"A most proper confidence to repose in you," the President was good enough say. "Confidence is the life of business; you must trust a man. It would be absurd to make you send home the bills, and deeds, and certificate, and what not. Of course they wouldn't do that."

Though this was a statement, somehow it also sounded like a question, so I answered:

"As a rule they do me the compliment of taking my word. The fact is, they are, as your Excellency says, obliged to trust somebody."

"Exactly as I thought. And you sometimes have large sums to place?"

At this point, notwithstanding my respect for the President, I began to smell a rat.

"Oh, no, sir," I replied, "usually very small. Our business is not so extensive as we could wish."

"Whatever," said the President, looking me straight in the face, "whatever may be usual, at this moment you have a large sum--a very respectable sum--of money in your safe at the bank, waiting for investment."

"How the devil do you know that?" I cried.

"Mr. Martin! It is no doubt my fault; I am too prone to ignore etiquette; but you forget yourself."

I hastened to apologize, although I was pretty certain the President was contemplating a queer transaction, if not flat burglary.

"Ten thousand pardons, your Excellency, for my most unbecoming tone, but may I ask how you became possessed of this information?"

"Jones told me," he said simply.

As it would not have been polite to express the surprise I felt at Jones' simplicity in choosing such a confidant, I held my peace.

"Yes," continued the President, "owing to the recent sales of your real property in this country (sales due, I fear, to a want of confidence in my administration), you have at this moment a sum of three hundred thousand dollars in the bank safe. Now (don't interrupt me, please), the experience of a busy life teaches me that commercial reputation and probity depend on results, not on methods. Your directors have a prejudice against me and my Government. That prejudice you, with your superior opportunities for judgment, cannot share. You will serve your employers best by doing for them what they haven't the sense and courage to do for themselves. I propose that you should assume the responsibility of lending me this money. The transaction will redound to the profit of the bank. It shall also," he added slowly, "redound to your profit."

I began to see my way. But there were difficulties.

"What am I to tell the directors?" I asked.

"You will make the usual return of investments and debts outstanding, mortgages, loans on approved security--but you know better than I do."

"False returns, your Excellency means?"

"They will no doubt be formally inaccurate," the President admitted.

"What if they ask for proofs?" said I.

"Sufficient unto the day," said the President.

"You have rather surprised me, sir," I said, "but I am most anxious to oblige you, and to forward the welfare of Aureataland. There are, however, two points which occur to me. First, how am I to be insured against not getting my interest? That I must have."

"Quite so," he interrupted. "And the second point I can anticipate. It is, what token of my gratitude for your timely assistance can I prevail on you to accept?"

"Your Excellency's knowledge of human nature is surprising."

"Kindly give me your attention, Mr. Martin, and I will try to satisfy both your very reasonable requirements. You have $300,000; those you will hand over to me, receiving in return Government six per cent. bonds for that amount, I will then hand back to you $65,000; 45,000 you will retain as security for your interest. In the event of any failure on the part of Aureataland to meet her obligations honorably, you will pay the interest on the whole 300,000 out of that sum. That secures you for more than two years against absolute failure of interest, which in reality you need not fear. Till the money is wanted you will have the use of it. The remaining 20,000 I shall beg of you to accept as your commission, or rather as a token of my esteem. Two hundred thousand absolutely--45,000 as long as Aureataland pays interest! You must admit I deal with you as one gentleman with another, Mr. Martin. In the result, your directors get their interest, I get my loan, you get your bonus. We are all benefited; no one is hurt! All this is affected at the cost of a harmless stratagem."

I was full of admiration. The scheme was very neat, and, as far as the President and myself were concerned, he had been no more than just in pointing out its advantages. As for the directors, they would probably get their interest; anyhow, they would get it for two years. There was risk, of course; a demand for evidence of my alleged investments, or a sudden order to realize a heavy sum at short notice, would bring the house about my ears. But I did not anticipate this contretemps, and at the worst I had my twenty thousand dollars and could make myself scarce therewith. These calculations were quite correct at the moment, but I upset them afterward by spending the dollars and by contracting a tie which made flight from Aureataland a distasteful alternative.

"Well, Mr. Martin," said the President, "do you agree?"

I still hesitated. Was it a moral scruple? Probably not, unless, indeed, prudence and morality are the same thing.

The President rose and put his hand on my shoulder.