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E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM

THE LITTLE ANNA GOLD MINE

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First published in The Windsor Magazine, December 1907

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-09-05
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I.

Illustration

E was directly between her and the alarm-bell, or she would have pulled it without hesitation, although the train was travelling at sixty miles an hour, and she knew very well that it was the pride of the whole company to run it into Paddington on the stroke of time. As it was, she sprang to her feet and faced him, opening her mouth to scream. It was a corridor train, and surely someone would hear her!

"Don't do that!" he exclaimed sharply. "Listen to me first!"


Illustration

"Listen to me first!"


She was amazed into acquiescence. What right had he, though, to speak as one entitled to command—this man who had so suddenly entered her carriage, and stood there now listening, his head turned backwards, with something of the air of a hunted animal? She recognised him now as a fellow-passenger in the great liner from which she had just landed; but they had never exchanged even a greeting—they had been travelling, indeed, in different parts of the ship—and certainly nothing could excuse an intrusion on her privacy so unwarranted.

"There's a detective on board this train," he said, speaking calmly, and with no evidence of haste. "He wants me! If I'm caught, a good many people will be ruined—and I'm an innocent man! Before God I'm an innocent man! Will you help me? For the sake of the others!"

"Certainly not," she answered. "I know nothing of you, and you have not the slightest right to enter this carriage. Can't you see that it's engaged?"

"That's why I came," he said. "It gives me a better chance. Look at me."

She obeyed. The man was handsome, with fine, strongly-marked features. A trifle hard his face may have been, but there was never a sign of vice there. His physique was splendid. He was dressed as he had been on the boat, shabbily and without care.

"Do I look like a liar?" he asked.

"N—no!" she answered hesitatingly.

"I'm an honest man," he declared, "but I'm up against a gang of thieves. Three times—out West—they tried to murder me. I got the best of it. They're afraid of me now, so they've wriggled the law on their side. It's a false charge they want me on, but they've got the warrant. They know very well that unless I reach London a free man, I shall be too late to checkmate them."

Her terror had passed away. She looked at him thoughtfully.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked.

"The detective is four carriages away now," he said. "He is using his eyes, and asking questions of the passengers. He will be here in something less than three minutes. I want to get underneath your seat and stay there until he has passed. Your rug will be an excellent screen."

"Impossible!" she declared hastily, and with a slight flush in her cheeks; "besides—you couldn't do it. You are too big!"

"It will be a tight fit," he answered, "but you shall see! It can be done! Don't move, please! Only lift the comer of your rug! Thanks!"

It was certainly less than a minute afterwards when the girl found herself disturbed for the second time. A dark, smooth-shaven man opened the door of her carriage. He was accompanied by one of the officials of the train. The girl laid down her book and looked up at him frowning.

"This is an engaged carriage," she said haughtily. "What do you want?"

The man was respectful—even apologetic.

"I am very sorry to intrude upon you, madam," he said, "but I am a detective from Scotland Yard, and it is my duty to search every carriage on this train for a man who is known to be upon it."

"You have eyes, I presume," she said coldly. "You can see that I am alone."

"You have not had a fellow-passenger for any portion of the distance, madam?" the man asked.

She pointed to the oblong strip of paper pasted across the carriage window.

"No one else," she remarked, "has been so impertinent as to disregard that notice. You will see my name there. I am Lord Belfield's daughter, and my father is one of the directors of this line."

The official of the railway company whispered to the detective, who prepared to withdraw.

"I am sorry to have disturbed you, madam," he said. "I presume I need not ask you whether you have seen—"

"No one at all," she answered curtly, taking up her book. "Please close the door carefully."

The two men withdrew. The girl sat quite still, but her heart was beating fast. She scarcely realised as yet what she had done. Then a smothered voice came from somewhere unseen.

"I am very sorry indeed," it said, "to have forced you to say what was not true."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"One does it every day to one's friends," she answered, "in a less worthy cause. One has to, or life would be unendurable. The only question is—whether the cause is really worthy or not."

"Of that," the voice answered, "I shall have the pleasure of convincing you some day."

"Indeed!" she remarked.

"I was at college with your brother—if you are Lord Belfield's daughter," the voice continued. "I shall hope—confound this dust!—to renew my acquaintance with him shortly. Believe me, I shall never forget what you have done for me."

"I have taken you on trust," the girl answered. "I only hope that you have told me the truth. Only I scarcely see now how you are to get away. There will be more detectives at Paddington, I suppose.

"Without doubt," the voice answered calmly, "but I shall not be there."

"You mean that you will leave the train." she demanded. "But we do not stop until we reach Paddington."

"I have one more risk to run," the voice answered. "I am going to leave the train before we get to Paddington."

"You will be killed," she answered. "We are going at sixty miles an hour."

"If my calculations are correct," he answered, "we shall be passing over Castle Rising Bridge in a minute or two. Directly afterwards there is a very sharp curve, where we have to slow down, under the regulations, to ten miles an hour. That is where I am going to jump."

She looked out into the darkness and shivered a little. After all, it seemed a forlorn sort of hope.

"Wouldn't it be better to face this charge against you—you say that you are innocent—than run such a risk?" she asked. "You might so easily be badly hurt or killed."

He laughed a little hoarsely. He was almost choked with the dust.

"I'll face the charge right enough—later on," he answered, "hut I have a little matter to attend to first—rather an urgent matter. Ah!"

The train was slackening speed a little. The man's voice was clearer now. He seemed to lie preparing for a move.

"Do you mind letting down the window and looking out?" he asked. "You should be able to see the lights of Castle Rising Bridge."

She did as he asked, and the carriage was filled with the rush of the cold night air.

"I can see them," she said. "They are just ahead."

"Thank you," he answered. "One thing more, please. Will you look out into the corridor and see if there is anyone there?"

She obeyed him and returned to her seat.

"There is no one in sight," she announced.

"I am coming out," he said. "Don't be startled, please."

She lifted up the rug and drew back into her corner. The train had slackened speed considerably—now they were crossing the Viaduct. The man, a dusty, dishevelled-looking object, had crept out from his hiding-place, and was leaning out of the window with his hand upon the handle. But first he turned and faced her, and, notwithstanding his appearance, she liked the look of him and she liked his tone.

"I shall never forget this," he said. "Some day I shall try to tell you how grateful I am."

Before she could find words to answer him he was out upon the footboard. Clinging to the outside rail, he carefully closed the door. Then she saw him balance himself deliberately, and, with scarcely a moment's hesitation, spring. With straining eyes she leaned out of the carriage window and gazed into the darkness. Was it her fancy, or was there indeed some undistinguishable object lying on the embankment side where he had jumped? She fancied, with a curious sense of relief, that she saw it move. Then the train, gradually gathering speed, rushed on into the night.


II.

ELEVEN men were gathered together in a small apartment leading out of the boardroom of the Cannon Street Hotel. They were standing about in twos and threes, and a general air of excitement, not unmingled with apprehension, was apparent amongst every one of them. There was also obvious another somewhat curious circumstance. These eleven men had the air of being divided into opposite camps. Several conversations were being carried on in undertones. Suspicious glances were passing backwards and forwards. Aloof from them all stood one, by far the most distinguished-looking person there. He was tall and elderly, with grey heard and moustache, carefully, even precisely, dressed. He held a roll of papers in his hand, which he seemed to be studying with grave and anxious attention. This was Lord Belfield, chairman of the Little Anna Gold Mine. The men by whom he was surrounded were his fellow-directors. The people who were rapidly filling the larger room outside were the shareholders in the Company.

A man detached himself from one of the little groups and approached Lord Belfield. He was a man of medium height, sallow, and inclined to be stout. He had a nose which betrayed his Semitic origin, and the full red lips of his race. His keen, little eyes were alight with a somewhat furtive expression. His voice when he spoke was obsequious.

"A very full meeting, my lord," he remarked. "The people are trooping in. Pretty nearly every shareholder in the mine will be represented."

"Ah!" Lord Belfield replied only by a monosyllable. His eyes seemed to be travelling over the head of the man who had addressed him.

"A pretty easy task for your Lordship, I think," the latter continued. "I've been talking to some of the larger shareholders, and they're as keen as mustard on the sale."

"Indeed!" Lord Belfield answered drily. "I wish I could say the same."

"But, really, your Lordship," the man protested with outstretched hands, "I am surprised to hear you talk so—on the eve of the meeting, too. Why, think what it means for all these poor people? They hold shares in what has been proved to be a worthless mine. Their money was lost. Then comes this offer. Fifteen shillings for every pound share! Why, it is wonderful, wonderful! What can there be that your Lordship finds to be dissatisfied with?"

"Since you have asked me, Mr. Salmond," Lord Belfield answered stiffly, "I am dissatisfied with the proposal for two reasons. First, because I have pledged my word over and over again to the people who are assembling outside that the mine was a valuable property. I have begged them to hold on to their shares. And now, in proposing that they should part with them at a loss of five shillings, I am eating my words. And, secondly, because the offer itself is entirely incomprehensible, coming as it does from a syndicate of shrewd men. I am forced to the conclusion that there is something behind it all which I, at any rate, do not understand."

Mr. Salmond stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned forward in a confidential attitude.

"Your Lordship," he said, "we've all been deceived about the mine—even the cleverest of us. I'm losing five shillings a share myself on ten thousand of 'em, and thundering lucky I think myself to be able to get out at that. There's no market, as you know, and to pocket fifteen shillings for pound shares in a rotten mine, is about the best get-out I ever knew."

"Can you tell me this?" Lord Belfield asked, looking the financier in the face. "Why are Lewis and his friends offering to buy them at fifteen shillings? These men are not fools."

Mr. Salmond shrugged his shoulders.

"Heaven knows," he answered. "Of course, if there's any stuff in the mine at all, it's a good amalgamation. They can work it from their side more cheaply than we could."

"But, according to Brendon, there is no stuff in the mine at all," Lord Belfield said. "Lewis and his friends must have seen his report."

"Well, we're not on the earth to look after Lewis," Salmond answered. "Guess he can do that for himself. Our duty is, on the information we have, to do the best for our shareholders. I imagine they won't hesitate long when you tell them about it."

Lord Belfield sighed.

"I imagine not," he answered.

Salmond strolled away. Another man, who had been talking to a group in the corner, detached himself, and coming over, whispered in his ear.

"Any trouble with the old man?"

"He's all right," Salmond answered. "He doesn't like it, but he hasn't tumbled. It'll go through like winking."

Lord Belfield looked at the clock.

"I think, gentlemen," he said, "that our time is up. If you will be so good as to follow me."

The little body of men took their places upon the platform. Lord Belfield was received with a burst of vociferous applause—the others for the most part in silence. With very few preliminaries the meeting commenced.

Reports and minutes were duly read. In a few words Lord Belfield then explained the reason for calling this extraordinary meeting of the Little Anna Gold Mine. Six years ago the Company had been floated under the most favourable auspices. To-day the mine was quoted as the worst failure on record. Lord Belfield alone had never lost faith in it. At each successive meeting he had contrived to inspire the shareholders with his own confidence, and in consequence the shares had been held until there was no market for them. At his own expense Lord Belfield had sent out a mining expert of unquestionable honesty only six months ago. His report had been received within the last few days, and it was little short of disastrous. Almost simultaneously had come an offer from a small syndicate who owned the adjoining mine, to buy up the Little Anna at fifteen shillings a share. On the face of it, an amazing offer.

Questions were asked, of course, and Lord Belfield was hard pushed. Did he or did he not recommend the sale? To recommend it was to abandon finally the position which he had maintained for six years, and Lord Belfield was a proud man. To fail to do so was to take the responsibility on his own shoulders of inducing these people who had trusted him perhaps to lose every penny of their investment.

Mr. Salmond begged leave to make a few remarks, and he advocated the sale in eloquent words of common-sense. It was not their business if this Syndicate were prepared to offer more than their property was worth. Let them take the money and be thankful. It was an offer not to be dallied with. At any moment it might be withdrawn. They were offered fifteen shillings for pound shares, shares which on the market were not even quotable. Why should there be a single second's hesitation?

There was some applause, and then calls for Lord Belfield, who rose to his feet slowly.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I have always told you that I believed our mine to be a valuable property. Results, and the report of an expert in whom I personally have every confidence, seem to have proved the contrary. It is hard for me to say more than this. Everything that I know, you know. I myself am the largest shareholder amongst you, and all that I can say is this: What this meeting decides to do, I shall do! If you say 'Sell,' I am with you. If you say 'Wait,' I am content to do the same."

Lord Belfield had scarcely resumed his seat when, in obedience apparently to a gesture from Mr. Salmond, an elderly man rose from the body of the audience.

"With the chairman's permission," he said, "I should like to ask him a question."

Lord Belfield bent forward in a listening attitude.

"The question, sir, is simply this," the man continued. "You have contented yourself with merely placing before us a proposition which on the face of it seems to like a most favourable one. Another of our directors from the platform has warmly urged its acceptance. You, sir, have apparently adopted a neutral attitude. Now, I wish to ask you, sir, if you are in possession of any facts connected with the mine unknown to us, and if not, why you do not advocate the acceptance of this offer as warmly as Mr. Salmond has done?"

The man sat down. Lord Belfield rose slowly up.

"I must admit," he said, "that the question seems a reasonable one. I have absolutely no information connected with the mine which you do not also possess. The sole reason for my hesitation is that I do not understand this offer, coming as it does from a body of shrewd men. If the mine is worth fifteen shillings to them, why not to us?"

The man rose up again promptly.

"I maintain," he said, "that we must deal with this matter on the proven facts. The Syndicate who have made the offer own the adjoining mine, and it may be that they have some scheme in their minds connected with the amalgamation which they believe will prove remunerative. I only hope, for their sakes, that it may prove so. I beg to move that this meeting accepts the offer in question, and that our directors are at once empowered to take the legal steps necessary to dispose of our property."

The speaker had scarcely resumed his seat when, from a remote corner of the room, a young man, with his left arm in a sling, and limping along with the aid of a stick, made his way deliberately towards the platform. All eyes were turned towards him. Mr. Salmond half rose in his seat, and an astonishing change took place in his expression. He waved his hand towards the back of the hall. An uproar at once arose.

"Turn him out!"

"Order! Order!"

"Sit down!"

Half-a-dozen men, who looked more like prize-fighters than anything else, came rapidly across the room. But the young man had already engaged Lord Belfield's attention and was whispering earnestly in his ear. Mr. Salmond sprang to his feet and waved on the advancing men. The room resounded with whistles and cat-calls. No one seemed to know exactly what was happening, but a subtle air of excitement was throbbing in the little space directly around the platform, and Mr. Salmond himself was the centre of a little group of whispering, pale-faced men, who had sprung up from their chairs. One of them had reached out to seize the interrupter, when Lord Belfield suddenly realised what was happening. He held out both hands, and dragged the young man up on to the platform. Then covering him with his own body, he rose to his feet and faced the meeting.

Roars of applause were mingled with all manner of disturbing noises. The men who had made for the interrupter, now safely upon the platform, halted and looked inquiringly at Mr. Salmond. He, on his part, seemed to be consulting in agitated whispers with one or two of the other directors. Facing the meeting was Lord Belfield, with a slight flush on his cheeks and a curious gleam in his eyes. He was evidently moved by some strong excitement.

"I must have order!" he shouted, and his voice rose above the din. "I have an important communication to make. I ask those of you who are genuine shareholders in this Company to see that order is restored."

After that the interrupters were surrounded by an angry mob and hustled back to their places. Very soon a breathless silence reigned. The young man turned to face them, leaning on his stick. He had a healthy, sunburnt face, excellent features, and a pleasant smile. But across his cheek was a recent scar, and the arm in the sling seemed to be giving him pain.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "Lord Belfield has asked me to say a few words to you, and I'm going to say them quickly, because so many people have tried to prevent my ever reaching here to say them at all. I've just come back from your mine. In case I'm not allowed to go on, I'll say this, anyhow. Don't sell your shares—not for any price!"


Illustration

"Don't sell your shares—not for any price!"


There was some symptoms of a renewal of the disturbance. Mr. Salmond came whispering breathless words in Lord Belfield's ear, and was pushed sternly back. There was confusion on the platform and rapt expectancy amongst the audience. Mr. Salmond, standing up now, seemed to be beckoning to somebody in the body of the room. A movement towards the platform, however, on the part of one or two of the men who looked suspiciously like professional prize-fighters, was indignantly frustrated.

"I myself," the young man continued, speaking now easily enough, and with the accent of a well-bred Englishman, "know nothing about mines or mining. I was out in the Rockies a few months ago, after big game, with a party of friends, when I had a letter from my old friend, Douglas Brendon, telling me that he was out to report upon your mine, and if it wasn't too far out of my way, would I look him up on my way east. Well, our train—we'd about finished our tour—passed within forty miles of Johnson City, so I got off there alone, bought a horse, and started off to look Brendon up. I found him—by chance—in a lonely log-hut on the far side of your mine, with a bullet-wound through his lungs, and apparently bleeding to death."

The young man paused for a moment, and the silence which reigned in the room was so intense that the roar of the traffic outside came faintly through the half-opened windows; one even could hear the burring of the incandescent lights around the walls. It was a strange thing this, the intrusion of tragedy into a bare business room, crowded with a motley throng of business-men, of clerks and stockbrokers. There were some there, however, who seemed to recognise it swiftly enough, amongst them the man Salmond, who leaned forward in his chair with livid face. If, indeed, there were guilty men upon that platform, a child could have pointed them out in those few minutes.

"The poor fellow was conscious long enough to tell me what had happened to him," the young man on the platform continued. "He had drawn up three parts of his report, and so far as he had gone it was wholly unfavourable. Then one Sunday morning, on the north end of the mine, near the Great Anna property, he discovered what he described as the most wonderful reef he had ever seen. I don't know anything about mining, as I told you, but I gathered from his few words that it was sufficient to turn the mine into a huge success. He was a little excited about it, and he forgot his usual caution. He spoke about this find to the foreman overseer of the neighbouring mine, who had two of his syndicate over there with him. That same night poor Brendon was shot through the back—and I know by whom!"

A little murmur, like a long, pent-up breath, rippled through the room, but no one spoke. On the platform the men sat like carved images.

"Brendon," the young man continued, "was mad for me to leave him and rush back, for he felt sure that an attempt was going to be made to rob you of your mine. I couldn't do that, however, while there was a chance of his living, so I rigged up a sort of palanquin—I won't go into details—but I took him to the nearest depot. On the way, however, my troubles began. We were shot at twice, and openly attacked by three men once. We got off, but I was obliged to shoot one of these robbers dead. They tried the law then, and got a warrant out. But I landed safely in New York, and Brendon was still alive."

A woman in the crowd went into hysterics. She was thrust roughly from the room and the door closed. Outside they could hear her beating feebly upon the panels, praying for readmission; but no one took any notice.

"We had no sooner got to the hospital," the young man continued, "when I found the police were on my track. Now, of course, I should have preferred to face the thing out, but Brendon was wild for me to get to England and tell your chairman the truth. So I dodged the police and took a second class passage across here, disguised in my servant's clothes. At Plymouth I found English detectives with an extradition warrant—anything, it seemed, to gain a little time. Well, I hid under a seat in the special train up to town, jumped off at the first opportunity, motored up to London, arriving here an hour ago. I drove to your chairman's residence and found that he had come here. I won't tell you how I got into this room, but it cost me a tenner. I hope you'll think it was worth it. There's only one thing more. I've had a cable this morning from the doctor at the hospital, and he says that Brendon is better, and will live, so you'll be able to hear the whole story from him soon. I gather that the remainder of his report was forged, and an attempt has been made to buy your mine. I trust that you will be able to expose the whole rascally business."

The young man turned and whispered to Lord Belfield, and the pent-up feelings of that little crowd suddenly broke loose. They clapped and shouted and yelled; they stood on seats, and broke up the chairs to beat the floor with. Lord Belfield stood up, and somehow or other managed to make himself heard.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I conclude from your demeanour that you are inclined to share my implicit belief in the story you have just been told, and that therefore this meeting may be adjourned. I need not assure you that information will at once be laid in the proper quarters as to the circumstances underlying this disgraceful offer on the part of a certain Syndicate. I very much fear that you will have a just cause for complaint against some of us in whom you have placed your trust. I am afraid, ladies and gentlemen," he added, turning suddenly around and pointing behind, with a gesture that was almost dramatic, "that those empty chairs speak for themselves."

There was a chorus of yells and cat-calls. Upon the platform were five empty chairs.

* * * * *

THE girl stood up to welcome her father and his companion, and something flashed out of her eyes, when she saw who it was, which he never afterwards forgot.

"Esther," her father said earnestly, "I want to present to you a young gentleman—the son of one of my oldest friends, by the by—to whom I personally am under great obligations, and who has just passed through some very remarkable adventures. Raymond, this is my daughter Esther, who arrived only last night from Washington."

She held out her hand, smiling.

"I am so glad to see you again, Mr. Raymond," she said. "I'm afraid that was a terribly hard embankment."

"Not half so bad," he answered, bending over her fingers, "as the floor of my cell would have been if you had not saved me."

They had to explain to Lord Belfield, who departed chuckling, and she led him to a sofa.

"Come and tell me all about it," she begged. "Shall we sit here, or would you prefer the floor?" she added, laughing.

"The same level this time, I think," he answered, sitting by her side. "I'm such a crock!"

"I've been reading the evening paper," she said. "What a wonderful person you are! Do you know that I have five hundred Little Anna shares?"

"They're up to ten, and still rising," he answered.


Illustration

"They're up to ten, and still rising."


"I'm going to be rich," she murmured ecstatically.

He drew a little nearer to her.

"I should like," he said softly, "to take care of those shares for you."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.