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First published in The Ludgate, London, July 1899

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HE Secretary's morning suit was of a dark grey tweed with a green check in it, and his speech was the speech of Inverness that had been watered down by many years of business employment in town.

His little room was full of the noises of the outside world, but he abated in no degree the speed and regularity of his writing, though at times the rumble of a heavy van would move him to a momentary exasperation. When the noises became unbearable he would grind his heel into the carpet and lick the flap of the envelope that he had just addressed, with a savage sweep of the tongue. These demonstrations of annoyance were infrequent, as he prided himself very much on the repose of his manners, and, moreover, had one morning discovered to his horror that the Turkey carpet, which had been most expensive, was, in the portion that lay beneath his secretaire, becoming extremely threadbare.

As he wrote there was a knock at the door, and one of the male servants of the house entered in a discreet manner.

The Secretary swung himself round in his chair.

"And where," he said, "is Mr. Cormorant's answer to my letter?"

"He desired me to tell you," answered the man, "that when the weariness of the morning had left him he would presently see you, and talk with you in person of the matters dealt with in your note."

"The impudent scoundrel!" began the Secretary, rising from his seat; "I will go to him myself. That will do, Johnson," he continued, and, as soon as he was alone, sat down again. His first impulse had been to immediately seek out Mr. Cormorant, and demand from him an instant consideration of the letter; but on second thoughts he reflected that his sound business arguments would be, without doubt, worsted by the pleasantries of Mr. Cormorant, and that probably many disreputable artistic people would also be present to assist at his discomfiture.

Mr. Philip Mundell, Secretary and part proprietor of Belvedere Mansions, had risen from a very modest beginning to a state of prosperity that almost fulfilled his greatest expectations. After a brief career as office boy to a dishonest and truculent solicitor in Inverness, he had run away to London, where, after many unpleasant vicissitudes, he had at length become the Secretary of a small City club. The duties of a Secretary suited him, and from that day he had never sought any other class of employment. In the many different clubs that he had managed, he had gained a wide experience of men and manners; and when, at last, his savings amounted to so respectable a total that they enabled him to find a part of the capital, and become Manager and Secretary of the new residential buildings known as Belvedere Mansions, it would have been difficult to find a man more suited to the post.

At first the prospects of the new undertaking confirmed the most extravagant hopes of the directors. The building was conveniently and pleasantly situated, and the comforts of the flats that it contained charmed every prospective tenant. The culinary and domestic arrangements were in every way excellent, and the large staff of servants had been carefully selected by the indefatigable Mr. Mundell himself. Applications for sets of rooms were very numerous, and after a few short weeks every flat contained its bachelor. Mr. Mundell went very gleefully about his business, and when he chose to visit some of the clubs that he had been connected with in former years, he would often surprise his acquaintances by the cheery liberality with which he invited them to refreshments.

FOR a time all went well, and Mr. Mundell wrote often to his friends in Dingwall and Inverness, telling them of the little green brougham carriage that he was about to buy, and of the great society that he was privileged, in a sense, to be a member of. The monthly accounts were settled with amazing regularity, and the high scale of charges fixed by the management had elicited a grumble from no single tenant.

It was at the end of the fifth month that the tenant of Flat No. C3--Mr. Charles Cormorant--requested that he might be allowed to defer the payment of his bill for a few days. He was, he stated in a pleasant note to the Secretary, suffering from a temporary financial embarrassment, consequent on being over-confident in loans to his friends.

Mr. Cormorant had been one of the earliest tenants of the Mansions, and had indeed been the means of bringing several others to the establishment, so that he was very agreeable to Mr. Mundell; and the two men would often sit together in the little office discussing the rumours of the town, and the truly excellent flavour of the Secretary's whisky. It was, therefore, with a gracious movement of dissent that Mr. Mundell waved aside the proffered postdated cheque, and assured Mr. Cormorant that the time of payment was his to choose, and that Belvedere Mansions would never be inhospitable to a gentleman of so agreeable a disposition and so rounded an experience.


The two men would often sit together in the little office.

At the end of the sixth month, however, and also the seventh, the Secretary had failed to discover Mr. Cormorant's cheque among the little pile that lay before him; and when three of the gentlemen whom he had been so proud to welcome as Mr. Cormorant's friends, also prayed that their inability to be prompt in their payments might be for the moment excused, Mr. Mundell was unable to persuade himself that his generosity was altogether well considered.

Nor had other signs been wanting that the conduct of Belvedere Mansions was not as peaceful as of old. Mr. Mundell had been not infrequently disturbed in the early hours of the morning by the riotous departure of belated guests, and not a few of the more sedate inhabitants had lodged complaints about the inconvenience caused to them by the boisterous behaviour of Mr. Cormorant and his friends.

Mr. Cormorant was an artist more decadent in his art than his manners. He painted very delicate designs on many rare and unusual textures, but it was his habit to be frequently intoxicated on the most commonplace of liquors. Of the friends whom he had introduced to the Mansions some were artists, some writers, and some masters of conversation, and they all professed, by their works and by the punctilio of their rooms, to be very refined indeed.

Mr. Mundell would delight, when he visited them in their flats, to see the profusion of exotic flowers, and the number of bottles of strange drinks that stood upon the sideboard. Their pleasant manners, the delightful way in which they would tell of an esclandre, and the pity and contempt that they affected for toilers in the ordinary walks of life, made them in Mr. Mundell's bourgeois mind persons of a world quite apart. Accordingly, when on one occasion the chance opening of a door discovered Mr. Esmè Vaun, the novelist, and Mr. Alfred Leaf, who drew on ivory, drinking bitter beer out of large flagons, and reading the works of an American humourist, he suppressed a feeling of astonishment and pain.

IT was, however, shortly after the noted author, Mr. Caradoc Milnes, came at Mr. Comorant's suggestion to live in Belvedere Mansions, that Mr. Mundell became possessed of a real uneasiness. With Mr. Milnes came his father, John Fiddeyment Milnes, or as his familiars lovingly called him, "Uncle Fiddeyment." It was impossible to withstand the influence of the cheery old gentleman, and the young decadents, who had hitherto observed a most decorous conduct, would frequently scandalise the other inhabitants of the Mansions by merrily assisting Uncle Fiddeyment in his most extravagant humours. It had been necessary to discharge the lift porter for drunkenness, since Uncle Fiddeyment, who disliked solitude, but was seldom tidy enough to accompany his son to the elegant parties that he affected, would, when left alone in the evenings, place a chair by the lift, and summoning the porter by the electric bell, regale the honest fellow with jovial tales and strong drink, to the marked displeasure of those waiting below.


Uncle Fiddeyment would regale the porter
with jovial tales and strong drink.

THE sum of Mr. Mundell's tenants was completed by several Members of Parliament, a considerable number of gentlemen engaged in the production of serious literature, and a few stockbrokers, who were absent every day at the City, and every evening at the "Empire."

These worthy folk frequently suffered rude shocks as they passed to and from their rooms, and the chance encounter with a band of decadents, following Uncle Fiddeyment in a gambol through the passages, or the eruption of a sudden and dreadful noise from behind a closed door, would send them at once to compose a most indignant letter to the secretary. It was after the discovery of the head waiter and one of the upper housemaids, made up by Mr. Cormorant as Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Eliza Brownrigg, dancing with Uncle Fiddeyment in the dim corridors of the fourth floor, that Mr. Robert Iron, the noted medievalist, gave up his flat. He left after many bitter remarks as to the correct discipline of a residential hotel, and establishing himself in a suite of underground chambers, beneath the important library of which he was secretary, became presently a convert to socialism.

IN this way Mr. Mundell came to be on the horns of a most hazardous dilemma. He stood in danger of losing the serious tenants, who were the staple of his enterprise and he yet conceived a reluctance to employ harshness against those who had made him privy to their society.

As he sat that morning in his little plainly-furnished room, the Secretary was not pleasant to look at. He was a man of forty or upwards, thin, but very square of shoulder, and his long neck, that came out stiffly from an open collar, carried a face in which the wolf and the fox struggled for mastery. Months of anxiety had chased all kindliness from his mind, and he was now fully determined to be rid of Mr. Cormorant at all hazards. Several of the Members of Parliament had followed Mr. Iron's departure, while Mr. Cormorant grew every month more prodigal in his orders, and more fertile in his excuses for postponing payment. The crisis had been reached the night before, when the Secretary, aroused from his sleep by a great clamour in the artist's flat, had gone himself to insist that it should cease, and entering unannounced, had been seized by a tall powerful man, of a Napoleonic cast of countenance, who rising suddenly out of the smoke, had hurled him incontinently into the corridor.

The memory of his experience lay sore upon the Secretary in the morning, and his note to Mr. Cormorant had demanded an apology, and an instant settlement of accounts. He was by nature little of a coward, but the prospect of conveying himself a definite order of dismissal to the artist was one over which he found it impossible to be comfortable. A knock at the door interrupted his reflections, and a gentleman, whose voice proclaimed him a German no less loudly than his features a Jew, and whose age may have been twenty-eight, entered in an accustomed manner, and wished Mr. Mundell a good morning.

"You are very happy, Mr. Birnbaum, in your arrival," said the Secretary. "Here is a matter in which I wish your help, and a problem which I promise you we shall not find easy to solve."

Mr. Francis Birnbaum was assistant-secretary of Belvedere Mansions, and though Mr. Mundell, in the first elation of the friendship of his artistic tenants, had affected a considerable condescension in his dealings with the young man, he had of late discovered in him a clever and valuable ally.

"The matter," continued Mr. Mundell, "in which I shall be glad of your aid is one which concerns very nearly the future of Belvedere Mansions. I believe that you are yourself interested to the extent of a few shares in this enterprise, so that you will be the more willing to help one who has the major part of his fortune at stake, in an affair which affects the future welfare of us both."

Mr. Birnbaum bowed his assent, and the Secretary pushed a heap of papers across the table towards him.

"You will see," he continued, "that Mr. Herbert Glass, M.P., Mr. Donckersly, and the Reverend Peter Knollys have to-day given a month's notice, pretending in each instance the same reason, namely that the disturbances created by Mr. Cormorant and his friends have made Belvedere Mansions a place in which a gentleman of reputation can no longer live. You will also note that Mr. Cormorant has now been our debtor for six months, during which period his bills have nearly always been the largest in the establishment. Now the scandal of a public eviction might do infinite damage to the good fame of the Mansions, and such a course of action must be, if possible, avoided. We must therefore endeavour to discover some means of inducing Mr. Cormorant to leave his flat without having recourse to the majesty of the law."

The secretary paused, and looked enquiringly at his assistant.

Mr. Francis Birnbaum was a pale, undersized little man with an eager and crafty expression. It was his humour to wear a heavy moustache and to belong to a Volunteer corps, and in the bosom of his family at Fulham he affected a flavour of Lord Roberts at home. The tailor, in the City, who made clothes for the little mean man, knowing his type, always sent home parcels addressed, "Captain Birnbaum." Be that as it may, no moustache or single eye-glass could disguise the fact of Mr. Birnbaum's parentage. His soft, yellowish nose and greedy, sensual lips proclaimed him unerringly for what he was, the dirty little continental Jew, of a mixed breed.

He deliberated for a few seconds before he answered.

"You have, I believe, tried the experiment of ordering the servants to refuse him meals and drink?"

"I have," said the Secretary, "but since it has always been his practice to dine from home, and ignore entirely the meal of breakfast, that measure has only affected his friends who occasionally sleep in his flat, and who so find no means of satisfying the morning hunger. As for drinks, the pernicious influence of Mr. Fiddeyment Milnes has aided him in procuring them from the servants despite my orders. I confess that, at present, I see no way of ridding myself of this troublesome tenant, yet done it must be, or the reputation of Belvedere Mansions will shortly be irretrievably lost."

"I will speak quite frankly," said Mr. Birnbaum, "and avow myself to be in this matter a man of few scruples, for I most cordially detest Mr. Cormorant. I will stick at nothing that will rid us of the fellow, and I think I am right, Mr. Mundell, in supposing that you are not a man to be difficult over trifles in an affair that may save your fortune."

The secretary half-turned his head, and looked fixedly into his companion's face. Mr. Birnbaum bore the scrutiny with composure, and, leaning back in his chair, seemed to invite his superior to continue. No word was spoken for a few moments, each man trying hard to gauge the intentions of the other. Then the Secretary broke the silence, talking more rapidly, and with a slight uneasiness.

"I am glad," he said, "to find that you share my detestation of the man Cormorant. I will own that I was, at first, won by the superficial charm of his address, but, of late, his apish tricks and unprincipled conduct have filled me with a loathing that will excuse in my own mind any rigour that may be necessary. So far, Mr. Birnbaum, nothing has arisen in my career that has compelled me to be other than a man of peace, but in this case I am ready to adopt any scheme that you, or both of us, may evolve."

The assistant rested his elbows on the table, and as he spoke his eyes were half-closed, and there were wrinkled lines round his mouth.

"I have been, in my time," he said, "connected with the turf, and I have never entirely lost sight of a few friends, whose assistance might be extremely useful in such a case as this. Cormorant is, I believe, inclined to be indiscriminate in his evening wanderings, and the hint of an unusual adventure would be sufficient to bring him willingly into the society of my friends. It would not be expensive, and should he return, which I doubt, the fact that the management of Belvedere Mansions were the authors of his abduction would never transpire. There would, of course, be no bloodshed."

"I have already canvassed that idea," said the Secretary, after a pause, "and have been compelled to dismiss it, since I feel sure that he would contrive to make his escape, and, on his return, would consider, by reason of his suspicions of our complicity, that he was more than ever entitled to indulge, at our expense, his appetite for drink and fantastic behaviour. Besides, he would so exaggerate and glorify the events of his capture, and the ingenuity of his escape, that his friends would make a hero of him, and, every night, Belvedere Mansions would be full of the disreputables of town, seeking to offer him their drunken congratulations. Should Cormorant, or that dirty old rascal Fiddeyment Milnes, be able to prove our share in the action, they would become such a millstone round our necks as would inevitably sink us to the bottom of an ocean of ruin. No," continued the secretary, wearily, "there must be no question of his re-appearance. I am desperate, and you may suggest what you will."

"I understand you perfectly, Mr. Mundell," said the assistant, "and I am rejoiced at your last words, we can now talk as men whose intentions are one, and I would suggest that my friends are people who would, if necessary, entirely preclude the possibility of any return. It would be more expensive, but much more satisfactory."

"Murder," said Mr. Mundell. "Of course I was afraid it would have to come to that. Well I suppose we must make up our minds to do it, but not with the assistance of your friends, who, worthy gentlemen as they doubtless are, might not be able in a period of financial depression to resist the opportunity for blackmail. I confess that is a contingency that inspires me with the liveliest horror. No, Birnbaum, this thing must be carried out by you and me alone. Let us hatch the plot, I look to you for suggestions."


"Murder," said Mr. Mundell. "Of course
I was afraid it would have to come to that."

"I think," said the little Jew, "that though I have no reason to fear an eavesdropper in this room, yet I would rather be sure of the matter. Let us take a stroll to the Park; the business of the streets may lend us ideas."

After a few minutes' absence he came back with his hat and coat, and walked with Mr. Mundell to the lift. The iron railings were open, and the secretary was about to step through the doorway when he saw to his horror that the car was not there, and that a deep black tunnel yawned almost directly underneath his feet. He recovered himself hastily, and slamming the gate pressed the bell button angrily. "Really Mr. Birnbaum," he said, "your new porter is most careless. I might have met my death in that trap."

The lift in the hands of a new porter descended swiftly and stopped with a jerk that threw both men against the sides of the car. While the secretary had been loudly rating the porter during the descent, Mr. Birnbaum had been very silent, but as the two men passed through the hall he might have been seen talking rapidly to his companion.

In the doorway they encountered the vast bulk of Uncle Fiddeyment, who saluted them with a bland and spacious smile.

"They tell me," said Mr. Birnbaum, as they stepped out into the street, "that that shabby old gentleman is one of the best known celebrities of town, yet I cannot but think that his humour of being intoxicated at the Lyceum Theatre on first nights, is, to mention one instance only, presuming too much on the licence extended to the great."

Uncle Fiddeyment took some letters from the rack, and exchanging a happy pleasantry with John Bol the porter, was carried swiftly to the fourth floor. The healthy exercise of the morning walk always put the old gentleman in a delightful temper, and dismissing from his mind with a light laugh the unpleasant contents of the bills that he had found in the rack, he made one or two sparkling epigrams, which were hastily copied down by his son Caradoc who was seated at the writing table, and sauntered out in search of Mr. Cormorant, whose flat was close by. He found the artist dressed in a suit of flannel pyjamas and a coarse Inverness great coat, seated in front of a large unfinished picture called "The Badger." He had begun this seven years ago, and every morning on rising from his bed he made strong resolutions to finish it at once. He seldom attempted his real work till late at night, when with the aid of correctly disposed candles and the right degree of intoxication he found that grotesque ideas came to him very readily.

The studio was a large bare room, with at one end a tall window giving on to Jermyn Street, and at the other a mirror of exceptional size, before which the decadents would often rehearse their poses before going out to tea parties in Sloane Street. There was little furniture except a large table covered with bottles and glasses, and the yellow paper on the walls was unspoiled by pictures save where, over the mantelpiece, hung a pastel called "Boys Drinking Brandy." This was Mr. Cormorant's most cherished possession. He had painted it one summer at Calais, where he was staying with his friend, Ernest Advowson, and the most tempting offers from American amateurs of the bizarre had never induced him to sell it. He would often sit and look at it and think pleasantly of his own misspent boyhood.

Mr. Cormorant was a man of about thirty years of age, slight, with a delicately-moulded figure. His eyes were of a watery blue, and his smile was very winning. He wore a fair moustache, and his hair was reddish and rather untidy. He looked gloomy, and shivered a little as he sat, palette in hand, staring vacantly at the big canvas. The morning was always a bad time for him, and it was with a look of genuine pleasure that he welcomed Uncle Fiddeyment.

"I'm so pleased to see you," he said. "I really don't feel in the humour for work this morning, so bring a chair to the fire and look at this letter that I have just received. That impertinent secretary has been really most insulting. It appears that he came up here at some period of last evening, and that some one threw him out, I think it must have been Arrogant, but I'm sure I can't remember--at any rate the fellow says he was hurt and insulted. He has also some foolish notion about my rent being overdue, it is really most unfortunate."

"St. James's is no place for Scotchmen," said Uncle Fiddeyment, as he tossed the letter into the grate. "Please do not let us talk of Mr. Mundell, it would make me dull for a day. I have just left Caradoc; he is working, and smoking too many cigarettes; they only make him stupid, and he is so cross. Decadence in the morning is like Brighton on the August Bank Holiday, very cheap and nasty, but he will try it, he is so conscientious. You and I have never been conscientious, Cormorant, so you shall dress, and we will lunch with Caradoc, and then take a walk in Piccadilly. Caradoc is going to tea with Mrs. Levity, but we will drink absinthe in the Café Royal and watch the players taking an intelligent interest in dominoes."

LUNCH with the two Milnes was always a serious business, since, while the rules of decadence forbade the exhibition of a hearty appetite at breakfast time, they made no stipulations about lunch, and the young gentlemen of Belvedere Mansions were accustomed to set about it very earnestly indeed. Mr. Caradoc Milnes was in the happiest of moods. He had found that the three epigrams which Uncle Fiddeyment had let drop earlier in the morning were sufficient material for the construction of a whole chapter, and he had just finished it with, he assured himself, even more than his accustomed brilliancy.

With flow of wine and wit the afternoon passed rapidly away. It was about four o'clock when Mr. Caradoc Milnes' hansom was announced, and after his two friends had assured him that the set of his frock-coat and the arrangement of his hair were quite perfect, he was driven rapidly towards Mayfair.

Mr. Cormorant and Uncle Fiddeyment walked slowly up St. James' Street in the direction of Piccadilly. They were both wearing long dun-coloured overcoats, Uncle Fiddeyment walking with a firm and youthful step while the artist limped a little in his progress. At the corner of Old Bond Street they met the Secretary and Mr. Birnbaum, who responded nervously to their polite salutations.

The Café Royal was full, and many of the most famous decadents of town were present to celebrate the hour of the absinthe. Uncle Fiddeyment and Mr. Cormorant passed slowly down the room, bowing to their intimates on every side, and sat down at last at a table near the opening into Glasshouse Street. A few sips of the opalescent liquid and the merry clink and clatter of the restaurant soon brought the two men into the happiest of moods, and Mr. Cormorant began to detail with great vivacity many ingenious schemes for solving the question of his pecuniary embarrassment. His chief hopes, he told Uncle Fiddeyment, were centered in an old aunt that he had, Lady Elizabeth Tittle, who enjoyed the possession of a large income and a fine house in Pont Street, and who had a passion for doing good among the middle classes. It was owing to her bounty, he said, and there was a trace of emotion in his voice, that he had been enabled to pursue his artistic studies in Paris and Vienna, since his father, who was an engineer retired on a pension, affected an abhorrence for any class of design that did not deal with the construction of railway bridges and aqueducts.


She had a passion for doing good among the middle classes.

"I have spent many terrible hours," said Mr. Cormorant, "in accompanying Aunt Tittle to the great meetings which are her especial delight; I have inspected to the minutest sanitary detail the prodigiously ugly building which she has erected for the better housing of unmarried solicitors, and I have even gone so far as to design a cover for the magazine published by her pet church, which was returned by the Vicar with a most impolite note. She is," pursued Mr. Cormorant, with the air of a scientist discussing some interesting phenomenon, "a most worthy lady, and her opinions are frequently referred to by the upper clergy. It was my fortune to introduce to her a retired gutta-percha merchant, who desired to spend the remainder of his life and immense wealth in the laudable endeavour to provide journalists with an university education. This, I am bound to say, failed, owing to the lamentable ingratitude of the journalists, who would cash the cheques provided them for the purpose of proceeding to Oxford, and with the money conduct unseemly revels in Fleet Street and the Strand. The few who did go were sent down almost immediately, and the directors of the fund received a pathetic letter, signed by the heads of twenty-three colleges and halls, praying them to send no more journalists. However, he was not discouraged by his failure, and my aunt has since found the honest fellow so painstaking and capable a partner in the majority of her ambitious schemes that she has always extended towards me the warmest affection. Widespread as are her charities, they do not consume her entire income, and I feel no reluctance in acquainting her with the rigour of my circumstances, and do not doubt that she will readily accede to my request for a little ready money. She has told me that I am her sole heir. She will leave nothing to charity, since she believes that no committee could possibly administer her fortune in the satisfactory manner that she has done herself. The thought of her thousands being dribbled away by incompetent management would prevent her, she declares, from resting quietly in her grave. But I fear I bore you," and Mr. Cormorant, who had been talking fluently in a clear and melodious voice, came to a sudden stop as he noticed with real concern that Uncle Fiddeyment was fumbling nervously with his glass. Hastily summoning the waiter, he continued.

"We have time for another absinthe. After that we will dine at a little restaurant that I know, near Portland Place. The proprietor is a man of infinite spirit and an appreciator of my art. There will be no necessity for immediate payment, and he will be delighted to meet you."

"Cormorant," said the old gentleman, as with practised hand he sent the little stream of water splashing on to the sugar, "your Aunt interests me immensely, and I am not in the least bored. How soon do you propose to negotiate the loan?"

"To-morrow night," answered the artist, "She is going to a meeting on the better understanding of the meat-tea as a social force, and I am to sit with her on the platform. It is one of my less irksome duties, and I confess that I am not unwilling to go, for I like to watch the sea of earnest, upturned faces. Aunt Tittle is a very convincing denouncer; she was a great deal in America as a girl and studied under the best preachers. When she is at her best the younger members of the audience are often moved to tears, nor can I myself ever listen to her remarks about Brigham Young without a choky sensation in the throat. After the performance she is coming back to my flat for supper--by the way I must rely on your aid in the matter of getting something to eat and drink, the servants are beginning to obey that ridiculous Secretary's orders, and positively deny me food. Aunt Tittle has never seen my flat, her days are so taken up with good works that she has no time to waste on nephews, so she is going to be unconventional and come at night. I shall behave very nicely at the meeting, and at supper I shall lead the talk to money matters. That, Uncle Fiddeyment is all my plot, and now let us go to dinner. I must go home and work directly afterwards."

Just then a little ugly man, like a monkey in a turn-down collar and spectacles, came across the room, and greeting the two men warmly, asked them to dine with him and go on to his box at the Empire. Mr. Cormorant and Uncle Fiddeyment accepted eagerly and they all went out of the restaurant together.


MEANWHILE, the secretary and Mr. Birnbaum had finished their walk, and about five o'clock in the afternoon were comfortably seated before a blazing fire in Mr. Mundell's dining room. There was no light save what came from the fire, and the two men's faces were thrown into sharp relief as they looked towards the grate. They were talking slowly and composedly to each other, but the secretary's eyes were rather bright, and his assistant's hands trembled a little as he folded and unfolded his fingers across his knee. A large brown paper parcel lay upon the hearth-rug between them.

"I have been to Clarkson's," said Mr. Birnbaum, bending down to untie the strings of the package, "and I think I have got everything. Here is the uniform and here are the beard and eyebrows, I didn't bother about a wig. I tried the make-up in my room, and really the disguise is most complete." He produced a commissionaire's braided coat and trousers, almost exactly similar to those worn by the lift porter in Belvedere Mansions, and laid them on the table. Then he handed Mr. Mundell a short black beard which the latter fingered uneasily.

"Put the things on in the bedroom," he said, "and then walk in here quickly, so that I can judge the effect."

Mr. Birnbaum disappeared through the door and the secretary lit the burners of the chandelier. In a very few minutes Mr. Birnbaum walked rapidly into the room, assuming the military bearing that his volunteer drills had taught him. The transformation was quite startling, and the additional hair on the face and the tight-fitting coat made the little Jew almost distinguished. The heavy eyebrows lent a brilliance to his eyes and the black beard and side-whiskers toned down the prominence of his nose.

"Excellent," said Mr. Mundell, "quite excellent. You had better take the things to your room now, while I ring for John Bol and give him a holiday; he can go to-night about ten, and you can take on the lift at once."

Mr. Mundell explained briefly to the porter that the management, being desirous of not over-working their servants, had decided to give him a week's holiday. The worthy fellow mumbled his astonished thanks, and retired at once to wire to his widowed mother in Cornwall announcing his speedy arrival to pay a long-promised visit.

AT half-past twelve that night Mr. Cormorant left Romano's and walked slowly towards Trafalgar Square, joyously humming little snatches of French songs that he had learnt in Quartier Latin days. The bars were disgorging their guests through all the length of the Strand, and Mr. Cormorant's progress was constantly interrupted by the noisy greetings of friends who were standing in groups at the doorways. He was alone, as Uncle Fiddeyment, in whom a good dinner produced an instant desire for sleep, had gone home two hours earlier. He reached Belvedere Mansions about one o'clock, and as he walked jauntily up the long half-lit hall, which was quite empty, despite his troubles, no man in London was happier than he.

A light shone through the lift door, which was open, and Mr. Cormorant turned quickly into the opening. His outstretched foot met no floor, and he was only saved from falling among the wheels that were whirling just below by clutching at the iron railing and wrenching himself back into the hall. The lift was not there, and the light that had deceived him shone from a lantern fixed against the damp stone wall of the shaft.

Almost immediately the car dropped with a loud rattle, and he found himself staring into the face of a heavy-browed, black-bearded man, dressed in a commissionaire's uniform, who glared at him wildly and mumbled an apology. For a few seconds they stood looking at one another, and a horrible sickly feeling came over Mr. Cormorant as he realised the dreadful death that he had so narrowly escaped. Then, very slowly, and without a word of reproach to the porter for his carelessness, he turned and walked quietly up the stairs. When he reached his own room, he sank back in a chair feeling dazed and terrified, while the dreadful picture of the black pit with its whirling wheels, that glistened as the flickering rays of the lantern met their oily surface, made constant menace before his eyes.

As soon as he had in a measure recovered from the shock, he could think more calmly, and the idea began to form slowly in his brain that there was something very suspicious in the whole matter. He never remembered the lift door to have been left open before, and that a lantern should have been hung to the wall without any ulterior design, seemed to him to be in the last degree improbable. Again, the fact of the new porter's evident uneasiness and a strange familiarity in the man's face that he could not account for, brought the sure conviction to him that he had very nearly been the victim of a foul plot. He knew that his presence in the Mansions was extremely obnoxious to the management, but he could never believe that dislike would lead the Secretary into a deliberate attempt upon his life. He determined to find Uncle Fiddeyment and ask his advice upon the matter.

Once more the clatter of the lift disturbed the silence of the house as he walked along the passage, and he reached the door that opened into the shaft just as Mr. Caradoc Milnes stopped out of the car. The porter's hand was stretched out to pull back the gate, and Mr. Cormorant's eye caught the glitter of a strangely-fashioned ring which he recognised at once as having often seen worn by Mr. Birnbaum, the assistant-secretary. In a flash he realised the situation, and the familiarity of the man's face was explained. The porter was Mr. Birnbaum himself, disguised with a beard and whiskers, and the occurrence of the open door and the lantern, was part of a deliberate attempt on his life. Mr. Cormorant shivered as the remembrance of his stumble over the edge of the pit, and the shrieking fall of the car came back to him with terrible distinctness, and clutching at Mr. Milnes' arm, he pleaded a sudden faintness. Leaning heavily on the young gentleman, he passed with him into his flat.

Mr. Milnes was in the highest of spirits, for he had spent a most delightful evening, without forgetting a single epigram that he had prepared, and two publishers and a whole room-full of distinguished people had laughed continually at his pleasant witticisms. He was genuinely disturbed at Mr. Cormorant's distress, and after hearing a brief version of the sad story, readily acceded to his proposal of waking Uncle Fiddeyment and thoroughly discussing the matter.

In another ten minutes, the old gentleman was comfortably installed in an armchair by the fireside, and with a long glass at his elbow and an opium-tainted cigarette between his lips, was gravely listening to Mr. Cormorant's recital of the affair of the lift, and his subsequent discovery of the wicked plot. He looked very dignified and distinguished, and as the firelight threw fantastic shadows across his kindly face and great massive brow, many of his young friends who were accustomed to regard the old man as a mere figure of fun, would have been startled to see how firm and steadfast an expression a real emotion could lend his countenance to wear.

"There is no doubt at all. Cormorant," he said, as the artist concluded his story, "that a dastardly attempt has been made upon your life. The porter John Bol told me, on my return earlier this evening, that the Secretary had very suddenly given him a holiday and insisted that he should start within a few hours. He had even made him a present of some money for his railway fare, and this most certainly confirms your suspicions. The Secretary and his creature, that detestable little Jew Birnbaum, have concocted this plot between them, for you have not, I believe, paid your rent for some months. Moreover, I have been given to understand by Lumsden, the head waiter, who is confidential to me, that several of the men who have recently left the Mansions have pretended the reason that the noise made by yourself and your friends made a further stay insupportable. So, for these very trivial and ridiculous reasons--that Scotch criminal Mundell and his assistant have determined to get you out of the way."

"It would have been a most dreadful death," said Caradoc Milnes. "Conceive the fall among the wheels and the crushing blow of the lift, oh horrible! The idea has quite taken the taste of Mrs. Merrilee's delightful supper out of my mouth."

"They will certainly try again, or invent some new trap," said Mr. Cormorant. "What am I to do?"

"It would be capital to push the Secretary in himself," said Uncle Fiddeyment, "but I doubt it could be managed, and our suspicions hardly justify an appeal to the police."

"It is so hard," said Mr. Cormorant, "for I am sure that my aunt would have given me some money; at any rate she will not live very long, and I am the heir. I have the best prospects of being presently a rich man, and am I to go in fear of my life? It is very hard indeed."

Caradoc Milnes sat bolt upright and struck a sounding blow on the table. "Cormorant," he said, "do you love your Aunt?"

"I have an excellent respect for her," said Mr. Cormorant in a surprised tone, "but I could not really love any one so dreadfully inartistic."

"Then," said the young gentleman, in a voice that trembled with emotion, "she must be the victim of the trap, you must push her in, Cormorant, you must push her in."

As he said this, a bright happy light came into the young man's eyes. He looked extremely young and ingenuous, and smiled with all the glee of a schoolboy who has hit on some clever plan for deceiving a master. There was no pose now in Caradoc Milne's manner, he was frankly, absurdly happy, as he leant back laughing towards his father and his friend, and waiting for their approval of his plot. The brilliancy of the idea had taken immediate power of speech from the other two; they sat spellbound and gazed reverentially at Caradoc Milnes.

Uncle Fiddeyment was the first to break the silence; the grave and serious bearing that had characterised his attention to Mr. Cormorant's story gave place in a flash to an abandon of laughter and the solemn lines that had held down the corners of his mouth twitched into an ecstasy of merriment. Mr. Cormorant's heart was too full for words, but there was a wonderful gratitude in his eyes as he ran to Caradoc Milnes and wrung his hand again and again. The young gentleman jumped to his feet.

"Father," he shouted, "Champagne! The Roederer '84, we have still a few bottles left, and can they fall in a worthier cause than the pledging of Charles Cormorant's future happiness. This shall be a great night, let us drink in the dawn of the day that is so heavy with fate for us."

The wine foamed merrily into the glasses, and, standing in front of the fireplace with his two friends on either side, Mr. Cormorant, in a firm, manly voice, proposed the health of the trap of Belvedere Mansions. They sat long in eager debate, and the Roederer gave place to some wonderful Waterloo-year brandy, while Mr. Cormorant built studios in the air, and Caradoc invited all the charming people that he knew to stay in them.

When at last Uncle Fiddeyment had definitely settled the details and the furniture of Mr. Cormorant's two great ateliers in Buda-Pesth and Paris, when Caradoc had composed the letter bidding the guests to the inaugural feast, and when Mr. Cormorant himself had made a grotesque design for the menu cards, they saw that day was even now upon them. The curtains of the dark were shaken by the birth pangs of the morning, which was preparing to leap into light. Through the windows the grey light crept slowly, laying cold fingers on the disorder of their revel. The stealthy on-coming of dawn chilled them, and the merriment died from them, as the relentless machinery of the world banished the night. They began to speak of rest and sleep, to fit them for the business that was to do; the sickness of departed merriment was on them all, and the creeping morning was very ghastly. Suddenly a sparrow lighted on the window ledge and began to make small noises. The fat little bird amused Uncle Fiddeyment, who began to laugh. As his chuckles filled the room, the most charming change came over the scene. The sun appeared, the shadows shrivelled up and whisked up the chimney or under the door, and bright sunshine filled the room.

"Let us," said Uncle Fiddeyment, smacking his great hand on his thigh, "let us go to the Westminster baths and swim for half-an-hour; we shall need cool heads for this night's work. Come Cormorant, come Caradoc, the sun bids us forth, the streets will be glorious with the joy of the morning, and we shall be the three merriest men in all London."

They clattered down the staircase, and when they reached the passage, Uncle Fiddeyment waved his hand and flung a merry jest at the lift door, "Misdirected Engine of Death," he cried, "today you should be hung with garlands, for to-day you shall be the proud instrument of Charles Cormorant's glorious future." So they passed out into the street, arm in arm, very happily, smiling to each other as they went.


They passed into the street, arm in arm.

* * * * *

THE sight of Mr. Cormorant walking alive and well into Mr. Milnes' flat had been too much for Mr. Birnbaum.

Slamming and bolting the gates of the lift, he had consigned all later arrivals to the labour of the stairs, and had made his way quickly to the Secretary, who was anxiously awaiting him in his office. Tearing off his beard and eye-brows, he stamped his foot in uncontrollable rage.

"I have failed," he hissed, "failed by a cursed yard; the brute is unharmed; if he had dared to come up with me in the lift I believe I would have beat the life out of him with my hands."

The Secretary was sitting in an ecstasy of nervous excitement. It was obvious that he had been drinking heavily, and his eyes were red and dilated, with deep encircling furrows puckered up all round them. For an hour he had sat thus, a prey to the most conflicting emotions, now confident, now terrified, now torn by the bitterest hatred, his long fingers beating an endless devil's tattoo on the table before him. He rose as Mr. Birnbaum entered and raised a warning finger. "Quiet, man," he said, "it can't be helped; we shall catch him to-morrow night; I'll tie a string across the doorway and then he will not be able to help stumbling in."

"By the Lord above," said the Jew, "I swear that within two days I will kill Charles Cormorant," and gathering up the parts of his disguise that he had thrown down he adjusted them hastily and walked sulkily to his own rooms.

ALL that day Uncle Fiddeyment and Caradoc Milnes were inseparable companions to Mr. Cormorant. Towards the evening he became very agitated, and it required all Uncle Fiddeyment's most sparkling epigrams and Caradoc's liveliest conversation to keep him steadfast to his purpose. About six o'clock, while they were strolling in Piccadilly, he had a very severe attack of nervousness and had to be hurried into St. James' restaurant. As soon as he was inside the door he rested his elbows on the counter of the American bar, and burying his face between his hands wept bitterly, to the marked consternation of the bar-tender. He allowed himself at last to be led to a seat, and began between his sobs to relate several touching anecdotes of his childhood and the many kindnesses shown to him by his aunt. A lady who was sitting near, was greatly moved, and offered him her richly chased silver smelling-bottle. The pungent fumes revived Mr. Cormorant a little, and he begged his friends to excuse him his momentary weakness.


Towards the evening he became very agitated.

"Courage, my friend," said Uncle Fiddeyment; "you must not be influenced by sentiment. Think of the glorious future, for the time is very near at hand, and so soon as our great affair is concluded we will all three go to Paris and commence the proper spending of this great fortune which has hitherto been so unfortunately misdirected."

The cheery speech lent fresh bravery to Mr. Cormorant, and when at eight o'clock Caradoc and Uncle Fiddeyment waved their handkerchiefs after the rapidly disappearing hansom that was bearing him to Exeter Hall, they knew that, come what might, he would not fail in the honest and straightforward execution of his duty.

IT wanted several minutes to the hour of commencement when Mr. Comorant stood on the steps of Exeter Hall, and suppressing an almost irresistible impulse to fly to Romano's, he made his way to the committee-room.

Lady Elizabeth Tittle, her ample form swathed in a simple gown of black satin, was seated in the midst of a perfect mob of dowagers among whom the attendant clergy flitted like the players in an elaborate game of general post. She wore a simple gold bracelet set with a few emeralds of great value that flashed as she waved her hand in animated conversation with the Dean of Ridgminster, and Mr. Cormorant, when he noticed the familiar stones, decided that they would make a really pretty set of sleeve links. The Lady Elizabeth Tittle was a cheery old thing that one forgave at once for not being young. She had all the charm of fat, a rare quality, and her eyes, albeit they were foolish eyes, wore a genial and kindly expression. Though she was an earnest person, she did not look as if she was an earliest person, and you could hand her the crumpets at an afternoon tea with no twinge of discomfort.

She welcomed Mr. Cormorant with a little squeak of pleasure, and squeezed his hand affectionately between both her mittened palms.

"Oh Charles," she said, in the high pitched voice of the public speaker at bay, "I'm delighted that you've come; you know Mr. Ladbrooke I think; he really thinks that tea with a heavy meal tends to make the middle classes sullen; help me to prove how utterly wrong he is."

Mr. Cormorant was not an authority on tea, but he argued with the Dean in the pleasantest manner in the world, and was deep in a most interesting discussion about the new Altar pictures in Ridgminster Abbey when the Duchess of Salford's butler, who was always retained on these occasions because of his Episcopal manner, announced that the meeting was about to commence.

The dowagers and clergy filed into the hall, and took their seats in a semicircle, like Mr. Burgess' Minstrels, and Mr. Cormorant, sitting by his aunt in the centre of the imposing group, felt, as he placed his white-gloved hands on his knees, that he bore a ridiculous resemblance to Massa Johnson, at the St. James' Hall. The three weary, smokeless, drinkless hours of monotonous oration passed very painfully for him, and as ne heard the cab bells tinkle out in the Strand, and the omnibuses rumble east and west, he thought enviously of the Milnes, father and son, doubtless comfortably established in a merry pub, speculating philosophically about the impending tragedy of the night. He inspected the programme wearily. The list of turns was certainly attractive. Two cabinet ministers, a society actor, some deans, and a host of highly-connected ladies, made a combination that should certainly produce an awed obedience in the assembled representatives of the middle classes. Mr. Cormorant made a pencil mark against the names of the speakers from whom he expected to obtain a little amusement. However, the Bishop of Ledwick, the star of the evening, was painfully dull, and Mr. Herbert Storm, of the King's Theatre, was obviously biased in his remarks by his relation to an eminent tea- and bacon-merchant. It is true that the expulsion of two persons connected with the press, who suffered themselves to be audibly critical, provided a brief interval of excitement, but Mr. Cormorant was unable to suppress a feeling of intense relief when the Rev. Sydney Bagehot dismissed the vast audience with some well-selected quotations from the Old Testament, and a few gracious words of thanks to the president.

He was prominent in the hunt for carriages, and, after a vigorous search, and a hurried visit to Fleming's, was soon seated with the Lady Elizabeth Tittle in the family coach which had been constructed for the coronation of King William IV. The press of vehicles was very great, and the magnificent pair of bays that were the constant envy of Lady Tittle's relations on her husband's side, stamped impatiently as they were wedged between steaming omnibus horses, waiting for the fall of the policeman's imperious hand. There had been some rain during the evening, but now the sky was quickly clearing, and the long finger of the Nelson monument pointed to a bright star-spangled vault. Through the shaggy drift of clouds that still hung over the house-tops, the absinthe-coloured moon peered like a sea-lion's eye, and Mr. Cormorant, as he stared out of the window, was rapidly arranging skyscapes for use in future pictures.

The conversation ran lightly from matters of general philanthropy to those of the family circle, and Mr. Cormorant was arguing in a most convincing manner that his cousin, the Earl of Hanley, who had married his valet's widow, was really a public-spirited gentleman, when the sudden stoppage of the horses and the presence of the heavily-caped footman at the door announced their arrival at Belvedere Mansions.

He jumped out hastily, and while Lady Tittle was still arranging her skirts and furs in the gloom of the carriage, his eye involuntarily sought the upper part of the building. From a corner window of the fourth floor the blind had been drawn a little back, and as the gleam of light shot from the opening across the roadway, Mr. Cormorant knew that Uncle Fiddeyment and Caradoc were waiting anxiously. From a lower window, right above the hall door, he caught a momentary glimpse of a pair of malignant eyes above a heavy black beard, that were watching him intently. He laughed a little as his aunt leant heavily on his arm, and together they walked slowly down the long, dim passage.

The house was absolutely still, and as their feet sank into the heavy carpet there was no sound save the rustle of Lady Tittle's skirts, and the loud ticking of the staircase clock. Then there was a little clicking noise and a distant rumble of wheels turning slowly high up in the building, and Mr. Cormorant knew that the assistant had shut himself into the car, and was poised for his murderous drop through the shaft. A light shone through the lift door, and a faint smell of oil came into the hall, making, it seemed to him, the device so transparent that he remembered with a feeling of great thankfulness, his aunt's extreme short-sightedness.

He did not hesitate for a moment, but leading the way to the door with a firm step, he bowed to Lady Tittle to enter. The old lady walked quickly forward, and catching first one foot and then the other in a wire which had been stretched across the gateway, pitched with a terrified scream into the pit, while, simultaneously, the lights of the lift car leaped into view before Mr. Cormorant's eyes. There was a horrible crunching noise, the screech of stopping wheels, and a black-bearded man, with wildly glittering eyes, rushed through the door, and, stumbling to the opposite wall, buried his face between his hands.

Mr. Cormorant watched his heaving shoulders for a few seconds, and then realising that he was the possessor of two millions of money, mounted the stairs with a free and assured step.

For nearly an hour Uncle Fiddeyment and Caradoc had been sitting in the dining room of their flat, starting at every sound of stopping wheels, and rising continually to watch the street for Mr. Cormorant's coming. At last Uncle Fiddeyment beckoned Caradoc to join him at the window, and the two men saw the foreshortened figures of a stout old lady and a slim man, who limped in his walk, move across the pavement from a carriage, and disappear under the glare of the hall lantern. Then, after a seemingly incredible length of time, they heard footsteps coming quickly down the passage, and the door swung open to admit Mr. Cormorant.

"It is done," he said, with great composure, "Death must have been almost instantaneous; there was only one scream. I think Mr. Birnbaum believes he has killed me; I was standing back in the shadow and he is blubbering down in the hall like a girl, quite unnerved."

"How shocked they will be when they find out their mistake," said Caradoc, "for of course the poor men don't know that now you are very rich; and how pleased the Secretary will be to get your cheque."

"I trust that Mr. Birnbaum will not be put in prison," said Mr. Cormorant; "he has done me the greatest of services. I will, I think, advance him to a position of trust in my household."

Uncle Fiddeyment's laughter rang loud and clear through the room, while he banged with his feet and hands on the table and floor in a pure ecstasy of childish glee, till the glasses all danced on the sideboard, and the white roses fluttered down from the picture of Charles the First and lay in a crumpled heap on the carpet. His great head wagged on his quivering shoulders as he struggled through his uncontrollable mirth to voice his congratulations to Mr. Cormorant. Caradoc Milnes was laughing too, but there was a reserved self-conscious note in his merriment. It was the deprecatory laugh of the genius to his admiring friends, and he patted Mr. Cormorant on the shoulder with a friendly grace as the artist poured out his thanks to the inventor of the great and wonderful scheme.

For a long time they sat talking, and in the joyful flow of mirth and jest and breathless anticipation, the murmur and scurry of the scared, awakened household passed all unnoticed by their heedless ears. High up in one of the topmost floors Mr. Birnbaum whimpered as he watched a heap of hair and cloth flame and sizzle and crumble to ashes in the flaming grate, while downstairs the burly constables tramped the corridors.

In the middle of an hysterical group of maids and tenants, the Secretary, white and trembling, answered the crisp interrogations of a suspicious inspector, shuddering to see the pencils of the reporters tracing rapid hieroglyphics in the pages of their note-books.

NEXT day, while Caradoc Milnes interviewed his tailor in Conduit Street and Uncle Fiddeyment was superintending the packing in Belvedere Mansions, Mr. Cormorant had a long interview with Messrs. Citron and Frost, his aunt's solicitors. Mr. Frost received the young artist in person, and while showing a perfectly sincere sorrow for the lamentable decease of his esteemed client, congratulated Mr. Cormorant warmly on his succession to so magnificent a fortune. He begged that during the necessary formalities for proving the will, Mr. Cormorant would allow him to make any convenient advances of money, and in the misty dawn of the following morning the three conspirators climbed the steep gangway from the deck of the s.s. Tamise to the Quay at Dieppe.

For a month they lived in a little village near the town. Oh! the happy joyous days while Uncle Fiddeyment drank deep at the estaminet, and Mr. Cormorant sketched among the fields or on the plage, and Caradoc went daily to Dieppe to talk with the great folk from St. Petersburg or Paris who came from their villas and hotels to the Casino.


For a month they lived in a little village.

Like all good things their stay was soon ended, and after the postman had brought a letter from Messrs. Citron and Frost to say that all arrangements were completed for Mr. Cormorant's accession to his heritage, Uncle Fiddeyment set once more to the packing, while Caradoc and Cormorant Dade touching adieus to their friends in the town. Ere long, one bright, fair morning, half a hundred handkerchiefs were fluttering at the pier-head as, from the good ship Tamise, the friends waved their farewells and set their faces firmly towards England.

A few days later a tall, angular man, from whose broad shoulders a long neck, sticking out stiffly from a low collar, bore a face in which the wolf and the fox struggled for mastery, stepped into the hall of the Hotel Cecil, and, giving his name as Mr. Mundell, desired to be shown into Mr. Cormorant's presence. He had been exonerated from all blame in the affair of Lady Tittle's death, and many of his old clients, hearing of Mr. Cormorant's departure, had returned to Belvedere Mansions, so that it was with a real pleasure and a pleasant recollection of their earlier friendship that the Secretary hastened to accept Mr. Cormorant's invitation to luncheon. After a little correspondence, Mr. Birnbaum had agreed to enter Mr. Cormorant's service as body servant, and in a few minutes, vested in the magnificent Cormorant liveries, he bowed Mr. Mundell into his master's presence.

Mr. Cormorant, Uncle Fiddeyment, and Mr. Caradoc Milnes, were seated at a table that bore a most elegant lunch, and Uncle Fiddeyment, who was dressed in a beautifully-fitting frock-coat, stretched out his hand with a glad shout of welcome to the Secretary.

The others were no less hearty in their greeting and all four were presently drinking champagne out of the great silver tankards that had been given to an ancestor of Lady Tittle's by the Black Prince himself. They pledged the good luck of Belvedere Mansions, and chatting in the most amiable manner in the world about the event of a month ago, discussed Mr. Cormorant's brilliant future. As good Birnbaum brought pen and ink, and Mr. Cormorant drew a cheque for the exact amount that he owed the Secretary, Uncle Fiddeyment could not restrain his emotion. It was a touching sight.

The shadows had all gone, a new and glorious day had dawned, there was no more ill feeling, and everything was like the ending of some romantic tale. Good Birnbaum himself felt compelled to shed a furtive tear. Never was there a more affecting scene, and in after years it became the dearest reminiscence of the Secretary, who always remained Mr. Cormorant's true, though humble friend.

After a little more champagne had been drunk, the Secretary took a profuse leave, and accompanied by The Young Gentleman, who was walking a distance upon his way, left the Hotel.

Mr. Cormorant sank into a deep sleep.

There was no one there but Uncle Fiddeyment.



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