Ancestor Jorico - William J. Locke - ebook

Ancestor Jorico ebook

William J. Locke

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Opis

The „Ancestor Jorico,” the man who wants this, was in his prime a slave owner and a pirate, and yet in his older years lived a supposedly quiet, pious life of modest means. So what happened to all his wealth? And what does the hidden treasure map from Trinidad mean?

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Liczba stron: 452

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Contents

CHAPTER I

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 XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER I

I suppose, after all, I had better tell this story myself, the story of Toby and his three cousins, all descendants of a dreadful old gentleman, one Captain John Gregory Jorico, who died in 1830. It is mainly, however, the story of Toby, Major Wilfrid Tobin Boyle, D.S.O., M.C., and of Jones, his body-servant through whom Romance entered into Toby’s disgruntled post-war life.

The story, such as it is, might reasonably be entitled “A Family Affair.” I, who speak, am more or less of the Family, though not descended from Ancestor Jorico, and so is my cousin, Lady Jane Crowe, who plays an important part in the narrative. It is only, however, because I have shared in a common, mild adventure, and, as a patient and fairly amiable old buffer, have listened to the confidences, confessions, grievances, hopes and rigmaroles of nearly everybody concerned, that I dare bring myself into the story at all. I needn’t do it, of course; but you must bear with me while I try to do things in my own way.

So I must tell you first, very briefly, something about myself–“declare my authority,” as the winning opener of a jack-pot must do in the game of poker.

I am Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Forester, K.C.B., et cetera. I have a wife and two daughters who have nothing whatever to do with the story, and so you won’t hear much of them. I am just a retired professional soldier, living on scraps. I cannot say that I’m comfortably off. I was discussing ways and means the other day with an old decayed fellow warrior, and he shouted: “Dammit, sir, no gentleman these days is comfortably off. It’s a contradiction in terms.”

At any rate, I must supplement my slender income. The pen, though perhaps not really mightier than the sword, is more useful than the poor darned old steel thing that can’t be pulled out of its scabbard for rust. So I write a bit. I write for anybody or anything, from the “Quarterly Review” to “Home Chat.” I’m not proud. A couple of years or so ago I published a novel–about Burma in the early days when I was a subaltern. Everyone said it was a jolly good novel. I think it was myself, seeing that, up to date, I’ve received two hundred and seventy-three pounds, seventeen and sixpence in royalties.

You see, I’m explaining myself as fast as I can.

Now Toby comes in.

“When are you going to write another novel, sir?”

“As soon as I can get an idea for one,” said I.

If you think you can go out into the hedgerows, no matter how figurative the word may be, and pick ideas like blackberries, you’re mistaken. You might just as well have asked me to find and engender an idea for the conversion of the paper on which I am writing into a negotiable million-pound bank-note.

“What about our little Jorico stunt?” said Toby. “It’s quite a tale.”

“Quite,” said I. “You were always a resourceful chap.”

He had been on my staff during the war, after wounds and gas and what-not had knocked him out of the trenches, and I had found him full of brains and enthusiasm. Besides, he was a sort of second cousin or half-nephew of mine, by marriage–I never can exactly determine which–and I had known him, off and on, since he was born.

“It might be a good yarn,” said Toby. “And I and all the rest of us will be only too happy to put you wise on details.”

“Very good of you,” said I. “I’ll think about it.”

Well, I have thought about it, and the following pages are the result of my investigation of the affairs of people which were influenced by the will of a slave-trading, buccaneering, piratical old sea captain, John Gregory Jorico, who died about a hundred years ago.

It was the fascination of Jones, however, that finally led to my momentous decision.

I don’t know whom to explain first, Toby or Jones. Toby in the war was a very gallant soldier. He was messing about in an Art School when the war came. But he held a subaltern’s commission in a fine Territorial Regiment. His keenness, in the days when the prospect of a European war seemed an absurdity to both the fat bourgeoisie and the intellectual doctrinaires of England, opened my heart to the boy. I would say to him: “Why the devil don’t you get somehow into the Regular Army?” But it was a question of family ways and means, and, also, there was the artistic side of him.

As far as ever I’ve been able to make out Toby, his conception of Valhalla would be the cleaving, for all eternity, of enemies from helm to chine with one hand, while with the other he drew pictures of young Valkyrie in engaging attitudes and diaphanous costume. He never inhabited a dug-out in France without papering it with the joy of all that was alien to the mud and blood in which the males of the race had to wallow.

You see, I have to explain a double-sided Toby: an essential soldier and a youth captivated by an artistic facility in portraying draped and undraped female loveliness. He had an individual line, and a wonderful sense of drapery. I have some of his early drawings which, uncomfortably off though I am, I wouldn’t sell for any money. But at heart–and this I know; for not only do I love the boy, but as a professional who commanded a division in France with no discredit, may therefore claim the privilege of expert judgment–Toby was a soldier and nothing else but a soldier.

I repeat that I knew him as a keen Territorial before the war. As far as the hideous phantasmagoria, which was the mind of a man in high command during the war, allowed, I followed his career. If he hadn’t been knocked out he would have had his battalion. You may call it favouritism, nepotism–what you will–but when a hard-driven General of Division wants a smart fellow on his staff and finds a divinely-created member of his family waiting for a job, he would be a criminally conscientious lunatic not to send for him. That is how Toby and I became real friends.

Toby now is thirty-five. I am any age you like. Put it that my earliest memory was threading Noah’s beard with my baby fingers and asking whether the barnacles I found there were good to eat.

I had better begin with Toby.

You see him at a point when the story is about to open in his private office. It was the last kind of office in which anyone would have dreamed of seeing Toby at work. You must see him closing a door on a laugh and a scent of furs, and turning to a softly lit room all discreet greens on floors and windows, with a Louis XV writing-table and Louis XV chairs. Faintly coloured old French prints hung around the walls. It was supposed to be restful to the nerves of women agitated by the realities of a meaningless existence. So had said its investor, Toby’s mother, who had the cynical grain of muse inherent in the character of all great women.

On an ash-tray smouldered the cigarette-end which the departing visitor had left. He threw it into the fire behind his writing-seat, and pressed a bell. A door opened and a trim young woman entered with a pile of typewritten letters. He sat down; glanced through them; signed them.

“That all?”

“Yes, Major Boyle.”

“Thank God!”

“Mrs. Palmer begs me to tell you that the Honourable Mrs. Bemmerton is being fitted and would like to see you.”

“Damn,” said Toby. “What’s the matter?”

The secretary didn’t know. The appointment was entered on the card in front of him. Toby nodded. The secretary gathered up the letters and retired. Toby, referring to the Hon. Mrs. Bemmerton, damned the woman. He rose, rubbed both eyes with the tips of his fingers, a favourite gesture, and grinned helplessly. The forthcoming interview was a commonplace incident in his daily routine; yet custom could not stale his frantic dislike of Mrs. Bemmerton and her kind. They brought out the worst in him, though on the demonstration of that in him which was most suave depended the prosperity of “Palmyre,” and his own livelihood. For “Palmyre,” which, since his mother’s death, he owned and ran, ranked among the first dozen fashionable dressmaking establishments in London. It had branches in Paris, Deauville, Cannes.... Toby in an almost literal sense of the word was its presiding genius. He had the inspired eye for colour, material, line, drapery and all that goes to the creation of feminine costume. He had been unconsciously cultivating the gift during the war, when he covered dug-outs with dreams of female exquisiteness.

“I must look around for a job,” said Toby on demobilization.

“There’s one to your hand,” said his mother, who had manfully built up the business so as to support not only a post-war Toby, but a husband who, having passed most of his life in the service of a great Insurance Company, had retired on a pension of a few hundreds a year. “A job waiting for you. Come into the business and help with the designing.”

As nobody else in London, or Great Britain, or the British Empire, seemed to be clamouring for the services of a demobilized Major of Territorials, Toby fitted up a little studio in the back of the Hanover Street premises and began to earn his living. And now he owned the concern and put all his strength and his brain into its development–and loathed the sight and the sound and the smell of it.

You see, he was the last fellow in the world you would have taken for a man dressmaker. He was an agreeably and attractively brown man. His hair was brown, his skin was light brown, and of that queer texture that encourages brown freckles. His eyes were brown, and the shaggy eyebrows were of a deeper brown. Without being hirsute there was a hint of brown fluff on his hands. He was fairly tall, loosely built; one of those men who look well in any uniform formally pre-arranged–military uniform, tennis or golfing kit, full evening dress–but the most lounging-looking fellow you ever saw in what is called a lounge suit. He could spot with accuracy the imperfections in a woman’s elaborate attire, but he seemed to be unaware that decently dressed men don’t go about with their collar-stud showing above their tie, their socks unsupported by suspenders and the laces straggling disgracefully over their shoes. Not all Jones’s earnest pressing could maintain the crease in the brown material of Toby’s trousers. Many women called him a bear; others, from another feminine point of view, a pet lamb. The latter he regarded with the greater distaste.

His hand felt a pipe in his jacket pocket. He would dearly have loved to fill it, light it, and, thus furnished with masculine attribute, confront the Hon. Mrs. Bemmerton. But gentlemen don’t interview strange ladies pipe in mouth, and Toby was a gentleman before ever he came to be a dressmaker. He was also, by nature, a cheerful gentleman with an ironical twist at the corners of his lips and a quiet gleam of humour in his eyes. I have, however, seen the quiet gleam of humour grow deadly. Warfare is apt to develop that sort of thing.

Toby passed out of his luxurious pseudo-Louis XV office on the first floor and descended to the show room, a sensuous hall of pile carpets, mirrors and women. Women of all sorts. Saleswomen in impeccably unobtrusive black. Women in furs fingering materials. A queenly woman in evening dress, a mannequin, showing off a cloak to two dull-looking elderly women. At the back was a row of fitting cubicles, and at the door of one stood the fitter on the look-out for Toby. He crossed at her beckoning.

The Hon. Mrs. Bemmerton, thin, dark, raddled, stood within surveying herself in the long mirror. She wore an evening dress of dead rose and old gold. She turned as Toby entered.

“I’m glad you’ve come, Major Boyle. Just look at it.”

She spun round.

“I see,” said he.

“It won’t do at all.”

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