The Fortunate Wayfarer - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Fortunate Wayfarer ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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A best-selling author of novels, short stories, magazine articles, translations, and plays, Oppenheim published over 150 books. He is considered one of the originators of the thriller genre, his novels also range from spy thrillers to romance, but all have an undertone of intrigue. He was the earliest writer of spy fiction as understood today, and invented the „Rogue Male” school of adventure thrillers that was later exploited by John Buchan and Geoffrey Household. This 1927 old detective story by Oppenheim revisits the plot device of a young man who comes into a large fortune suddenly and explores the class differences between the lower middle, and the upper class.

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Contents

PROLOGUE

BOOK ONE

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 XXIV

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

PROLOGUE

The two men, breathless, swaying with fatigue, their clothes in rags, the bleeding feet of the shorter protruding from a pair of ragged canvas shoes, stood at the end of the wooden pier which skirted one side of the harbour of San Paulo and watched the departure of the small coasting steamer whose last siren had blown as they had pushed their aching way through the streets of the little South American port. The burning sunlight streamed down upon them as it had done all day throughout that terrible journey from the mountains, pitiless, scorching, leaving its fierce heat upon the pavements which they trod so gingerly and turning into hard, white dust the ridges of mud across which they had struggled to the quay. A soldier, on sentry duty–a small, brown man, but with fierce, black moustache–watched them suspiciously. The taller was an Englishman, beyond a doubt; the other might have belonged to any nationality. Some instinct, acquired in the turbulent little district, warned him that these were desperate men.

The Englishman, long and thin, with sun-baked complexion, dark, almost black hair, and eyes of a peculiar shade of light brown, was the first to find words. He spoke slowly and with difficulty, for the breath seemed to come creaking through his dust-clogged lungs. Nevertheless, there was a recognisable quality about his speech.

“He has caught the boat, Solomon. We can do nothing.”

The man addressed, shorter and of thicker build, and, considering the climate, of a remarkable pallor, twice opened his cracked lips without speech. Then, fluently and blasphemously he began to swear. He made use of every foul word in the English language and invented more. When he had finished there were tears in his eyes.

“May his bones rot in hell!” he concluded, with a sob.

They leaned upon each other for support as they watched the miserable tramp steamer, its decks littered with great piles of bananas, go creaking and groaning its way out towards the open sea. The eyes of both were intent upon that little space amidships where a few lengths of white rail betokened the space set aside for passengers. A young man, of medium height, in spotless white ducks and a drooping Panama hat, stepped out of the companion-way and lounged over the rails. Simultaneously they recognised him. They tried to raise their voices, but in vain. The passenger departing upon the steamer waved his hand. He lifted his hat and there was a note of mockery as he called across to them.

“Too late to sec me off, my dear companions. Never mind, I will take the will for the deed. The world is a small place. We shall meet again. Work hard at the mine, and remember my share.”

They shook their fists in silent fury. The steamer was already out of range of their poor attempts at rejoinder. Then there fluttered through the companion-way to the young man’s side a girl, also in white, with wine-black hair, bareheaded, but protected from the sun by a little native parasol. She waved her hand in adieu to the two men, and there was mockery as well as jubilation in her tone.

“You are very stupid thieves,” she cried in Spanish; “robbers without brains. Here is one who is cleverer.”

She clutched at her companion’s arm and clung fondly to it. The taller of the two men upon the quay, the one who up till then had shown the greater restraint, seemed to find in the sound of that voice and the little affectionate gesture a madness which made him forget all his exhaustion, his disreputable, pitiful state. His first impulse seemed to be to throw himself into the sea with some desperate effort at bridging the distance between the rotten plank upon which he stood and that challenging voice. Then he checked himself, looked wildly around, and lurched heavily towards the sentinel soldier. With a strength which, under the circumstances, was amazing he wrenched from the latter’s hand the rifle he was carrying, and stooping down took careful aim at the passengers on the boat. There was a sharp click as he pulled the trigger–nothing more. The magazine of the rifle was empty. The soldier, recovered from his surprise, stepped furiously forward. One hand fell heavily upon the stooping man’s shoulder; with the other he signalled for assistance.

“You are under arrest,” he declared. “You will come with me at once–you and your companion. We go first to the prison.”

The man who had sought to commit a murder stood for a moment as though deaf. His eyes were fixed upon the steamer, now passed outside the harbour, and ploughing its laborious way through the cobalt, oily sea. The figures of the two passengers had disappeared. He fancied still, however, that he could hear an echo–or was it a repetition–of that little mocking laugh. He was to have the same fancy many times in later life.

Down the wooden quay, in the broad glare of the pitiless sun, the two men were marched along towards the foul little prison at the back of the market, a rendezvous, to tell the truth, not altogether unfamiliar to them. Before they reached it, there was a moment’s delay, owing to the blocking of the narrow street by a mule wagon. The taller man gripped his companion suddenly by the shoulder and raised his hand.

“Swear,” he ordered, “that wherever we may meet him, one of us alone or both together, he shall suffer death–or those things that are worse than death.”

For a moment the depths of his earnestness, the restrained passion of his deliberately spoken words, lent him a touch of dignity–something which robbed his threat of any touch of melodrama. His companion moistened his cracked lips. Some sound, which resembled more than anything a croak, escaped from his throat. It was unintelligible, but it was enough.

The same two men, Victor Porle and Solomon Graunt, were lunching together, one morning, some fifteen years later, in a business men’s club on the twentieth storey of a great down-town New York building. They had been allotted a window table, from which was easily visible the far-reaching and impressive panorama of the river, with its tangled masses of shipping, its gigantic ferryboats, its screaming tugs, the huge liner which at that moment was being slowly towed out into the channel–the whole touched to splendour by the March sunshine. The two men gazed downward with thoughtful eyes. Each had changed in his way, since the morning of that weary tramp along the quay of San Paulo towards the prison building, but on the whole, time had dealt kindly with them. They were attired now in the well-cut business clothes of the typical New Yorker, and each seemed to have imbibed something of the alertness of the metropolis in which they had lived for the last ten years. Solomon Graunt had increased in girth until his figure was almost tubby and the pallor of the city had replaced the sunburn of South America; but his grey-green eyes, although unpleasant, were keen and bright. Victor Porle had preserved with his slenderness of figure that air of distinction which seemed always to separate him a little in class from his companion, but his mouth had grown, if anything, more sinister in its curve and his expression more evil. The firm of Porle and Graunt had become fairly well known in New York as importing fruit brokers from the South. Their business, wound up that day, had been a highly successful undertaking, although there were a few knowing ones who smiled at the name of the firm and the description of their activities. Perhaps they had reason. Messrs. Porle and Graunt had certainly not confined their operations to the importing of fruit.

“In one hour,” Solomon Graunt murmured, his eyes fixed upon the tugs, straining like gnats to move, a foot at a time, the great liner, “we too shall be on our way down the river.”

“In one hour,” his companion repeated.

They lunched exceedingly well, although they drank nothing but iced water. Victor Porle looked down at the magnificent prospect with a frown upon his forehead. His regular features and slightly hooked nose gave him an almost scholarly appearance. He raised his glass.

“We drink our farewell to New York,” he said. “Do you realise, Solomon, my friend, that in less than a dozen years we have made, almost honestly, a great fortune in this wonderful city?”

Solomon Graunt nodded. There was a scowl upon his face though, a reminiscent glitter in his eyes.

“I realise that, and very grateful I am,” he acknowledged. “New York has done us well. For the moment, however, I was thinking–once we were very nearly broken, Victor.”

“Once,” the other admitted softly, “we touched bottom. God, shall I ever forget the agony of that day, the misery of the night in prison, the fleas, our feet, the fever!”

“There is something to come for that,” Solomon muttered.

“There is most surely something to come,” Victor Porle agreed as he called for the check.

They left New York in leisurely and dignified fashion. Those days belonged to the past when they had slipped away from great centres quietly and anxiously. Prosperity had smiled upon them. In every way their retirement, the winding up of their affairs, the closing down of the firm, had been above suspicion. They walked the gangway with firm steps and watched the detectives on the quay-side with a smile. As though by common consent, they commenced their journey in the same fashion; arranged their clothes in the commodious stateroom which they shared, secured a table for two in the dining room, promenaded the deck for an hour and afterwards waited feverishly amongst a little throng for the opening of the bar–an event, for them, full of amazing significance. After dinner they sat out on the deck veranda, ignoring their coffee, forgetting their cigars, but drinking liqueur brandy, to the astonishment of the steward, out of large-sized wineglasses. Finally, towards the close of the evening, they made their way out on deck, and found two chairs in a retired corner where the wind roared past them in gusts and the sound of the throbbing engines compelled them to draw close together.

It was Victor Porle who commenced the conversation. There was a menacing glitter in his hard, brown eyes.

“The time has come now, Solomon,” he said, “when we should speak of this matter which is taking us to England.”

“It has indeed come,” was the ready assent. “For many years we have been silent. We had other things to think of. Poor men can do nothing in this world. We both realised that, Victor,”

The latter’s tone was full of gentle self-satisfaction.

“We realised it, and we acted accordingly,” he admitted. “We were a little bold, perhaps, but success has justified our efforts. We are wealthy men.”

“And bearing that in mind,” Solomon Graunt pronounced, watching his companion furtively, “we must remember that the risks of life are no more for us.”

“There is our task,” Porle observed tonelessly.

“I shall not flinch,” the other assured him. “Still, what I say is, let us remember this: crime is a necessity to the poor; it is only a luxury to the rich. There are other ways,”

Victor Porle made no reply. There was, in those hard eyes, as he looked seawards, a gleam of that lust for murder which had shone in them when he had snatched the weapon from the little brown soldier. Presently his companion continued.

“Fifteen years. It is a long time. Supposing he is dead?”

“He is not dead. I have no fear of that.”

There was a brief silence. Then for the first time for fifteen years the name of the woman passed Victor Porle’s lips.

“It may be that Laurita is dead,” he continued. “She was never strong, and the life at San Paulo was hard. If she is not dead, by now she will be ugly. If the child has lived, she will be seventeen years old. An interesting age, Solomon!”

“A wonderful age!”

“I have heard you yourself declare that at seventeen a girl is more beautiful than at any time before or after.”

Solomon Graunt smiled slowly–a smile that was almost a leer. The curve of his lips was unpleasant; his teeth were irregular and of bad colour.

“You have some scheme already,” he enquired; “something hatching in that wonderful brain of yours?”

“Not yet. Before one strikes one must know who is left and in what condition of life they are placed.”

“And then?”

Victor Porle smiled indulgently.

“I know what you are fearing, Solomon,” he said. “You think that in England I shall make use of the same methods I might have employed at San Paulo or up in the mountains. That is not my idea. To kill quickly is not my conception of vengeance. It is too merciful a thing. There are other ways. When we have found him, we will sit down and reflect. His nerves will not be as good as they were, Solomon. Of that I am well assured. I can see him sitting in a house of fear, shivering and waiting. That is better than the speedy bullet. Some day or other he knows that something will arrive because he knows what manner of men we are, but be will not know when or how. It will be better like that.”

“Wonderful!” his companion murmured approvingly.

“There will be the girl too. You remember the little baby. He was fond of her. That feeling may have grown. Fortunately I have kept all my documents. Laurita and I were married in the English Settlement Church at San Paulo. It was a ridiculous whim of hers, but in a fortunate moment I consented. The child was baptised there. The English law is very fair. If I insist, until she is twenty-one, she must come to me. Stop! There is another idea which presents itself. Seventeen is your favourite age, Solomon, How would you like to be my son-in-law?”

“If the child is as beautiful as her mother was,” Solomon Graunt replied, with an unpleasant brightness at the eyes, “I shall not refuse.”

There was a long silence. Victor Porle was lost in what, seemed to be a pleasant reverie.

“There is just one thing,” he said at last. “To sit at a man’s gates and fill him with fear is good. It is good too to keep the doomed man waiting for his punishment, never knowing when it may fall. But the cat, after it has played with the mouse, kills in the end. When the safe time comes, Solomon, I think that he will die with my hand upon his throat.”

Conversation was becoming more and more difficult. The strains of the distant orchestra were almost drowned by the rushing of the wind, and promenaders had vanished. A shower of spray broke at their feet, reminding the two men that they were on the windward side of the ship. They rose and buffeted their way along the deck to the smoking-room. A game of poker was being played in a distant corner. Solomon Graunt moved involuntarily towards it. His companion laid a hand warningly upon his arm.

“We watch only,” he whispered. “It is no longer necessary.”

Solomon Graunt hesitated. He had recognised the face of a New York banker and from long experience He knew it was a game of suckers–just such a game as had produced for him and his partner the thousand dollars with which they bad commenced business. Victor Porle led him on one side to a couple of vacant seats.

“Solomon,” he said, “the first part of our task is finished–very marvellously finished. We have wealth. The second part lies before us. Any sort of trouble might interfere.”

Solomon Graunt sighed. Even in that moment, though, his mind travelled backward to the quay at San Paulo and he was resigned.

“Right as usual,” he agreed. “We will play cribbage together and drink. The time, after all, is short. In six days we shall be in England,”

“A straight game?” Victor Porle asked, shuffling the pack of cards which he had ordered, and suddenly throwing into the air in most amazing fashion, four aces.

Solomon Graunt sighed enviously.

“You were always too clever for me,” he admitted. “We will play the straight game.”

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I

It was just an impulse for which at the time he did not take the trouble to account, even to himself, which induced Martin Barnes, the Eastern Counties representative of the firm of Shrives and Welshman of Bermondsey, to leave the commercial room, the atmosphere of which suddenly irritated him, to refuse an invitation to accompany a rival traveller to a picture show and to wander out alone into the streets of the old cathedral town where he was spending two or three days in pursuit of his business. It was further a craving for solitude, to which he was at rare and unexpected moments subject, which led him to turn from the backbone of the city and plunge into the network of dark, mysterious streets in the neighbourhood of the cathedral. He was not at the time conscious of any expectation of or desire for adventure. His impulse proceeded simply from the fact that he was weary of the flamboyant peregrinations in which the evenings of his days of travel were usually spent, of the company of his night-by-night associates, with whom he never felt entirely in sympathy, of the flirtations of an hour, harmless enough but cloying, continually offered in the more crowded places. It was so he came to Ash Hill.

He sauntered down the cobbled way certainly with no idea of finding anywhere in its murky recesses fortune or even anything unusual. High and majestic above the red-tiled roofs of the dwelling houses on his right, the cathedral spire arose, imminent, and in the gloom gigantic. He paused to look more closely at its impressive outline, and, taking out a packet of Virginian cigarettes from his pocket, selected and lit one. The chiming of the hour suddenly broke the deep stillness of the place, and after listening approvingly to the mellow notes he strolled on his way, his hands in his pockets, his tweed cap a little on the back of his head, the cigarette dangling from his lips. The character of the street puzzled him. On one side were dwelling houses of an ordinary type enough; on the other, the side nearer the cathedral, after passing a straggling, silent warehouse and an entry which led cathedral-wards he had come to a building which with its long, level line of windows, its impressive, yet secluded air, seemed singularly placed in so retired a neighbourhood. From the middle of the street, he stepped on to the pavement to examine more closely the nail-studded door, wondering at its massiveness, its fine carving, and curious about the great coat of arms surmounting it. Whilst he stood there, his foot almost advanced on the flawlessly clean white step, the door which he was studying was abruptly opened from inside and the most unmistakable butler who ever donned the livery of his class looked enquiringly out into the darkness. Martin Barnes was distinctly taken aback, the more so because he was conscious that he was being scrutinised with an interest, almost an eagerness, for which he could conceive no explanation. He himself felt like a suddenly convicted trespasser.

“I didn’t ring or anything,” he explained. “I was just admiring the door.”

“Will you step inside, please,” the butler invited. The young man stared at him.

“Why should I?” he demanded. “I don’t know any one here. I was only admiring the door.”

The butler opened it an inch or two wider. Before him now Martin looked down a vista of white-flagged hall, unexpectedly spacious, walls hung with sombrely framed oil paintings, a great oak staircase and beyond, a stained-glass window.

“My orders were to admit you,” the man replied patiently.

Martin Barnes hesitated. Perhaps at that moment there was kindled in his imagination some spark of that love of adventure of which he certainly gave evidence in later life. He stepped into the hall and waited whilst the heavy door was closed behind him.

“Will you come this way, sir?”

With the sober, dignified gait of his class, the butler lead the way down the hall, threw open the door of a room on the left, and stood at one side to allow Martin to enter. In a single phrase he placed the visitor.

“The young man, my lord,” he announced.

The door closed behind him, and Martin gasped. It was a room such as he had never seen before–a dining-room panelled from wainscotting to ceiling in ancient black oak, for the most part unrelieved but with here and there an oil painting let in, surmounted by a shaded electric light. At a round table four men had apparently been dining. There were decanters of wine and wonderful glass standing upon the polished table, dishes of fruit and nuts, and a profusion of flowers. The four men all wore dinner-clothes and possessed the air of having just concluded some heated discussion. The obvious host of the party, who was immediately facing Martin, was a thin, rather shrivelled-looking man with very carefully brushed, sandy-grey hair, eyes which for his apparent age were still remarkably bright, and a fretful mouth. On his right and left were men of ordinary type enough; one clean-shaven, with a thoughtful and clever face, the other elderly with grey beard and spectacles.

The fourth member of the party was much younger than any of the others, good-looking in an insignificant way but with pallid complexion, somewhat small features and a distinctly cynical mouth. They all four studied the newcomer with a curiosity which seemed to him entirely inexplicable, and which succeeded in rendering him to the last degree self-conscious. He stood twirling his tweed cap in his fingers, looking about him in perplexity–a tall, broad-shouldered young man, with pleasant face, mildly freckled complexion, a good mouth and jaw, eyes from which a gleam of humour was seldom absent, and a mass of light-coloured hair which grew too thickly to lend itself readily to control. His other features were without any special distinction, but were not displeasing. His carriage, under ordinary circumstances, repaid him for a good many hours spent in the gymnasium.

“I say, what am I here for?” he asked, finding words at last. “I was just passing down the street when the door opened and I was told to come in. I don’t know any of you. I haven’t any business here.”

The man whom Martin had rightly divined to be host rose to his feet. He was taller than he had seemed when seated and his voice, notwithstanding its slight drawl, was unexpectedly pleasant.

“You are here at my special request,” he announced. “I am exceedingly obliged to you for coming. Permit me to introduce myself. My name is Ardrington. Will you take a seat and drink a glass of wine with us?”

Martin hesitated for a moment, then moved slowly forward. The man on his host’s left-hand side rose and drew up a chair in which the newly arrived guest uneasily seated himself.

“My apologies are due to you for this interference with your evening, and also an explanation which I shall presently offer,” the host of the party continued. “Pray, let me fill your glass, Mr.––by the bye, what is your name?”

“Barnes–-Martin Barnes.”

“Mr. Martin Barnes–excellent! And now to commence our acquaintance, which I trust may be a lasting one, let me ask you a great favour. Would you mind extinguishing that cigarette which appears to be of a brand with which I am not familiar, until after you have drunk your wine.”

The young man looked around helplessly. His neighbour on the left relieved him of the objectionable cigarette and dropped it gingerly into a bowl of flowers.

“Later,” his host proceeded, “it would interest me to have your opinion of that wine. For the immediate present you would, I daresay, like to know the reason why I have engaged in such an unusual effort to secure the pleasure of your company this evening.”

Martin toyed with his wineglass and took further note of his fellow guests in somewhat dazed fashion. He had an instinct for such matters and he realised quite well that, these men were of a different class from any with whom he had been previously associated.

“I should like to know what it all means, if you don’t mind, Mr.–Mr.–Ardrington,” he confessed.

“Lord Ardrington,” the man on his left prompted in a whisper.

“That is of no consequence,” the person so designated declared. “Here then is my explanation. Permit me to make you known to the rest of the company. Mr. Martin Barnes, whom under the circumstances we will call ‘The Fortunate Wayfarer’–Doctor Helsby on my right here, my physician–Mr. Bordon, by your side, my lawyer–and facing me, a young man known very well in certain circles of modern life, as Gerry Garnham, but more formally designated the Honourable Gerald Garnham–my nephew and the heir to my estates.”

“Is all this part of the joke?” the young man in question sneered.

“You are very hard to convince, my dear Gerald,” his uncle complained, “but I can assure you that the joke does not exist. The only person in a position to extract any element of humour from to-night’s proceedings will be myself. Now, my dear Mr.–Mr. Barnes, let me further confide to you the somewhat distressing information that in all probability within a week from this date I shall be dead. You will find no one here likely to dispute my statement–my doctor, less than any one. You are probably too sensible a young man to have made an intimate study of the peerage and you are therefore not aware that, for a twelfth holder of the title, I am singularly devoid of relatives. My nephew, the young man opposite, is my heir. Lord Ardrington he most certainly will be, and by no possible means can I rob him of the title, but in these, probably the last days of my life, I find myself forced to remember that in every possible manner my graceless nephew has displeased and angered me.”

The Honourable Gerald kept silent with an evident effort at self-restraint. His uncle sighed as though a little disappointed that he had failed to elicit a retort.

“Look here, we don’t seem to be getting on,” Martin Barnes ventured. “I still don’t see why I’m here or how all this concerns me.”

“Everything shall be made clear directly,” Lord Ardrington promised. “I am not a rich man, Mr. Martin Barnes; I am, in fact for my rank in life, a singularly poor one, but such money as I have to leave, I am determined shall not benefit that young man who is now looking at me so murderously from the other end of the table. I have no near relatives unless you place in that category an adopted daughter, who is already provided for, and I have decided, therefore, to dispose of certain monies which would otherwise come into the estate, by deed of gift. Mr. Bordon, if you please.”

The lawyer drew reluctantly from his pocket and placed upon the table a thick sealed packet.

“Inside that,” Lord Ardrington continued, pointing towards it, “are bank notes to the value of eighty thousand pounds. Not a large sum, Mr. Barnes, but I trust you will agree with me a very pleasant sum to own. To pick up the trend of our conversation, you will remember that I told you of my intention to dispose of some portion of my estate by deed of gift. But to whom? I imagine perhaps that I may be an old man grown out of touch with the times, but the regrettable fact remains that there is scarcely one of my few relatives with whom I am on speaking terms with the exception of a niece who flatly refuses to accept anything from me. I come to consider the question of charity. Mr. Barnes, I have been an unflinching opponent of all charitable institutions throughout my life. Hospitals, I have always argued, should be State-endowed. I will not, however, open up that question, as I do not wish to trespass for too long upon your patience. I have found myself faced with this fact: I know of no living person, nor have I interest in any institution, which I would care to have profit by this sum of money.”

Martin Barnes was listening in earnest now. In a state of strain, his face gave evidence of qualities more or less latent. Its pallor became him. The tenseness of his expression gave emphasis to his not unattractive features. His eyes, though light in colour, were singularly bright and clear.

“All my life,” the speaker proceeded, “I have been called a farceur. In my last few hours I have determined to live up to my reputation, I have instructed my lawyer to bring here in bank notes that portion of my property of which I desire to dispose–or shall I say, that I desire to keep from the covetous hands of my nephew. Some half an hour ago I announced to these gentlemen my intention of presenting that sum by deed of gift to the first person whose footsteps I should hear passing down the street.”

Lord Ardrington paused and sipped his wine deliberately, raised the richly cut glass towards the light, studied it for a moment and drank the remainder of its contents. Meanwhile not a word had been spoken. Martin Barnes was scarcely conscious of his own physical whereabouts. The power of speech was denied him. His whole attention was rivetted upon the man by his side. Afterwards, when he tried to remember how he had felt during these amazing moments, it seemed to him that his attention was unduly and almost ludicrously absorbed by trifles. He remembered, for instance, an Italian signet ring with a dark green stone and small coronet which Lord Ardrington was wearing, remembered wondering at the beautiful shape of his hands and his carefully polished finger nails, the careless yet inimitable arrangement of his black tie, his black onyx studs and links; all these things so in accord with the environment of the room seemed to him suddenly vital and admirable. He found himself cloudily speculating as to whether, if he himself possessed that eighty thousand pounds, he could ever imbibe its remote but alluring atmosphere.

“The money,” Lord Ardrington concluded, “is there, and you, Mr. Martin Barnes, have had the fortune–mark you, I say the ‘fortune,’ for the future alone will show whether it is good or ill–to pass–I wonder why?–down this remote thoroughfare. You are accordingly seated at my table and will presently depart with that packet of notes in your possession. I notice that you continue dumb. The situation is doubtless confusing to you. Might I venture an enquiry as to your present means and condition?”

The young man listened to his own voice as one listens to the speech of a stranger.

“I am a commercial traveller,” he confided. “I come to Norwich every six weeks on business–Shrives and Welshman in Bermondsey. They pay me five pounds a week and a commission. I have no other money. I don’t understand this. It’s some sort of a joke, of course,”

“Mr. Barnes,” he said, “before we go further, I insist upon your telling me what you think of that wine.”

Martin sipped it obediently. His reply, however, lacked all enthusiasm.

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s good, I suppose. What does it matter? I never tasted anything like it before.”

As though in obedience to an unspoken wish of his host’s, he raised the glass once more to his lips and set it down empty. A faint tinge of colour stole into his cheeks. He felt the glow of the wine in his veins.

“You spoke the truth,” Lord Ardrington approved. “You have never tasted anything like it. It is port of an 1868 vintage, which had lain undisturbed in my cellars since it was laid down in 1870. A revelation to you, I hope, Mr. Barnes?”

“How much longer is this damned foolery going to last?” the Honourable Gerald Garnham asked softly, but in a voice quivering with latent fury.

His uncle extended his hand.

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.