LORD DERRYMERE read the paragraph again, removed his pince-nez and placed them carefully on his Empire writing-table. Then, after a moment's consideration, he pressed the bell that was neatly labelled "Secretary." There was an interval of nearly a minute before Mary Bush came in, to meet the grave scrutiny of eyes, which, whilst they approved her undeniable prettiness, could yet disapprove of the notoriety which had come to her in the past few days, and which had created such intense sensation in the servants' hall of Derrymere House.
Mary stood demurely before the table, book in hand, wondering just what he would say, and what form his injured dignity would take. Or was it about Jimmy he wished to speak? He had made no reference to his discovery, though she had expected one every time she saw him.
"Miss Bush"—he leant back in his chair, fixed his pince-nez on his long nose, and folded his well-manicured hands—"I have been reading, in a cutting from the public press, the story of your remarkable good fortune; and whilst, as a Justice of the Peace, I deprecate, without any reservations whatever, the breach of the law which a lottery involves, yet I must offer you my congratulations upon your success in the Grand National Sweepstake, organised, I understand, on behalf of certain charitable institutions—though whether those charitable institutions benefit to any extent is extremely doubtful....Fifteen thousand pounds!"
Mary smiled uncomfortably.
"Fifteen hundred, Lord Derrymere," she corrected.
With great care his lordship adjusted his glasses and read the cutting again.
"Peer's Secretary wins Fortune in Hospital Lottery," he read. "Girl wins £15,000 by the Victory of Sergeant Mariati."
"Fifteen hundred," said Mary again. "The promoters must have given the wrong figures to the press."
He inclined his head courteously.
"I am sorry," he said simply. "Fifteen thousand pounds is a substantial sum, and would have made a very considerable difference to your—ah—future."
Mary Bush agreed silently, but she knew her employer too well to place any obstacle in the flowing stream of his eloquence.
"In this democratic age," said his lordship, "when we see on every hand the introduction of—ah—plebian blood into the greatest and oldest of the families, it would be contrary to the spirit of the times if I offered any foolish objections to a union on which the heart of my son seems to be irrevocably set. But we are, as you know from your intimate acquaintance with my affairs, an extremely poor family, and I confess that, in contemplating—ah—marriage, I had in mind the possibility of his choice resting upon some wealthy member of the manufacturing class. But fifteen hundred pounds!" He pulled a long face. "I fear..." he shook his head—"I greatly fear.... You have no other prospects?"
"You mean money, Lord Derrymere?" she asked. "I'm afraid I haven't. There are some distant relatives of mine in Australia who are immensely wealthy, and I have an uncle in Russia."
"In Russia?" said Lord Derrymere, interested. "A Bolshevik? I understand those gentlemen have accumulated considerable property—"
"No, he isn't a Bolshevik, and I'm under the impression that he isn't very rich."
She was discreetly silent upon the many stories which had come to her of Uncle Algernon's lurid past. He was one of those relations about whom people never boast, and his continued presence in Russia was, she guessed, due very largely to the lax view which the Soviet officials had taken of the sacred rights of property.
"It is very regrettable," said Lord Derrymere, and she took his nod, rather than the words, for her dismissal.
Jimmy, whose other name was the Viscount Bournvale, was waiting for her in the garden. He was a young man immensely energetic, and though he was possessed of the optimism which is the peculiar gift of youth, he waited for her reappearance with some anxiety.
"What did he say?" he asked.
"It isn't what he said, it's what he suggested," said Mary wearily. "Jimmy, we'll have to be sensible. You're poor, I'm poor—"
"You've got fifteen hundred pounds: that's more than the governor's ever had in one sum for years," suggested Jimmy indignantly. "He wasn't offensive to you, was he?"
She shook her head.
"No, dear, he was just kind and logical and loquacious."
He took her arm, and they paced the long path to the rosary.
"If it had been fifteen thousand pounds, it would have made a difference, Jimmy. I think your father likes me."
"Did he ask about your relations? He's rather keen on relations," asked the gloomy Jimmy.
"I have only one I could have advanced, but oh, Jimmy, he's dreadful!"
Mary Bush had come into the poverty-stricken household of the twelfth Earl of Derrymere as resident-secretary to a peer who had much to say on the Irish Land Act, and said it for four hours a day, in language acceptable to the dullest of the English reviews. In such moments as he could bring his mind from the contemplation of Governmental enormities, Lord Derrymere had vaguely observed the friendship which had grown up between the girl and his heir; but until one momentous evening, when he had walked without knocking into his secretary's office, the exact nature of the relationship had not dawned upon him.
"Jimmy, I'm glad, really glad, we've been such good pals, and I'm even glad he saw you kissing me; but, dear boy, we've come to the end, and you'll marry something in the brewing trade, and I'll—I'll"—she choked—"go back to find another amiable gentleman who splits his infinitives..."
He took her in his arms and kissed her.
"Mary," he said solemnly, "I've got a hunch that fate is working for us—and fifteen hundred pounds is a lot of money. Did you get it?"
"I got the cheque this morning," she said miserably. "Oh, Jimmy, do you think it is worth while buying any tickets for the Derby?"
Fate indeed was working, but in a manner that Mary Bush could not guess, for she knew nothing of Mr. Abraham Hoke, that world-wanderer, so could hardly be expected to appreciate his immeasurable sense of humour.
Abraham Hoke came swinging along Tchistoproudsky Boulevard at peace with the world, though he had no reason to be, by all civilised reckoning. His lean face was tanned to the colour which furniture-dealers describe as fumed oak, the little lines which seamed his face were many, his hair, powdered grey, was tidily brushed under the rusty green hat which sat jauntily on the side of his head, his soiled clothes were white with the dust of the road to Skatchka, and a black-rimmed monocle was fixed in his eye.
As he walked he swung a sagging panama cane jauntily and sang a song about women. He did not hum it, he sang it, loudly enough to attract attention to himself, but not so loud as would excuse the warning and the admonition which trembled on the lips of that unenlightened Red police agent who watched the eccentric figure with a smile which was half a frown.
Behind Mr. Abraham Hoke and his assurance, as he cheerfully footed it along the broad boulevard, was the wide world and the experience thereof—more immediately in his rear was the Skatchka and a racehorse called Grom, which unaccountably failed to win.
Hoke had invested all that he possessed—a trifle of 5,000,000 roubles—upon the equine traitor. When he saw the gaudy jacket of Grom toiling in the rear of the field, he waited some time for a miracle to happen, and then, remarking that providence was fighting on the side of the moneyed classes, he tore up his pari-mutuel ticket and said, "Nitchevo," which is Russian for "never mind."
He stood head and shoulders taller than the average man, and gave the observer the impression that he was thin. But the average man's coat would have split over Abraham Hoke's broad shoulders, and the average man's sleeve would have come to a little below his elbows.
From time to time as he walked, casting an occasional and approving glance at the Kremlin's bulk, he would take his monocle from his eye, and, with glass daintily poised, and head swaying from side to side, conduct an invisible orchestra, to the consternation of sober passersby, who stopped to look after him, crossing themselves as they realised his madness.
Yet they were no more sober than he, be it known. God had given Abraham Hoke, tramp of the world, a glad heart and a sunny mind, and though half the detectives in Europe knew him by repute, though many men, from the Chief of Police at Tomsk to the genial Commissioner O'Hara of Seattle, desired most passionately to meet him, none grudged him credit for his joy in life.
He crossed Miasnitskaya, singing a sinful song about a peasant who came to worship at the shrine of St. Inokentiy and met a girl en route. Fortunately for the morals of Moscow, he trolled his lay in that peasant Russian which is not met this side of Lake Baikal.
He was hungry long before he reached his destination, which was an inexpensive house in the Prospekt, rented by Mr. Algernon Bush, though at that time, for diplomatic reasons, he was known as the Senhor Dom Jerome Xavier de Castro y Pembalino of Paraguay.
HE was sitting at his big carved oak writing-table when Hoke entered, and might have been a successful stockbroker, if one judged him by his neat but expensive attire and the single pearl which, with a thin gold watch-guard, represented his stock of visible jewellery.,
He looked up with a smile as Hoke came in, and motioned to a deep leather chair by the side of the desk.
"Ha, Hoke!" His voice was pitched high, and he had a little nasal twang not unpleasant to hear. "You are late—but I'll forgive you. I want you to do something for me, and it will be worth your while."
"Material advantage, as opposed to the balm of an untroubled mind," said A.B. Hoke, "I have never sought. In the language of my young friend Tillett, I demand the right to live without the distressin' after-effects which accompany the too strenuous employment of my voluntary muscular system; for the moment, I hunger."
The other pushed a bell, and an untidy man appeared. "Bring some sandwiches and drink," said Bush.
"Continually bring the sandwiches," added A. B. Hoke in a murmur.
He sat in silence till the man came back with a tray and laid some rough-hewn sandwiches on a little table.
"I give you this," said Bush, when the man had gone. "After, you will have sufficient money to provide for yourself."
"I am no porcine hog," said A.B. Hoke, as be diluted his whisky. "The greed for gold an' lust for power, which serves but to swell the surplus of the incorruptible Commissioner of National Wealth, are not for me. I demand only of the world that it serves me as a habitation an' free foodery, an' in the pursuance of my hobby I have crossed lands where the foot of white man would never tread if there was a railway handy."
Bush was content that he should babble on. Leaning back in his padded chair, he stroked his small black moustache and listened.
"Years ago," said Mr. Hoke reminiscently, "I found myself in the western side of Thibet—me an' a chink named Li, himself a lover of Nature, and a born financier. I will not at the moment discuss the chain of adventurous circumstances which brought us to the inhospitable plateau, or the remarkable happenin's which preceded our arrival at Dras, en route for the Zoji Pass an' the far-famed glories of Kashmir."
He paused, and for a moment was lost in thought.
"As one who has said me jooli to the Grand Lama—though you'd discredit that statement as vergin' on the borderline of boastfulness—as one who has roosted under the lee of Nangar Parbat, that hogback of crystal heaven, and has, moreover, pigged it with the Ladaki, the Chatrali, and other disgustin' products of the trans-Himalayan territories, I am entitled to advance the opinion that there are easier ways of acquirin' pice."
"I'm going to give you an easier," said Mr. Bush. "When I heard you had drifted into Moscow, I thought 'Here is the very man!'"
"And I am." Mr. Hoke spoke through sandwich. "Far be it from me to pry into your domestic affairs—but there is a musical tinkle to your conversation. Have you, for the fourteenth time, sold rolling-stock to the deluded rulers of this land? That you are alive is more than remarkable. Did not Horace Sellermein, a German but a gentleman, perish miserably at the hands of Commissary K, to whose spouse he sold the veritable Crown jewels for a paltry billion?"
Mr. Bush shifted uneasily.
"I've had a pull," he said, "and now I have a push. The big fellow at the Kremlin, who was behind me, was shot last week for bribery and theft. I have twenty-four hours to leave Russia, and my capital could, with luck, be converted into ten pounds English."
Hoke stared at him.
"This imposing mansion...?"
"Was lent by my friend," said Bush. "I'm going to England. Read this."
He passed a newspaper cutting across the table, and Hoke read.
"Mary Bush," he said, as he handed back the paper.
"Fifteen thousand pounds, and I'm one of her two relatives." Mr. Bush was impressive. "My only relation, if I cut out my brother Joshua. And I have cut him out, Hoke! There is a man worth a million—he has so much money that he's ill with it, and yet he allows his own brother to battle with dirty-necked Russkis for his daily bread."
"Dirty-necked they may be, but with soap at a million roubles a cake, cleanliness is swank," said Hoke philosophically. "But what is the graft?"
Mr. Algernon Bush folded up the paper and put it in his pocket.
"Fifteen thousand pounds is a lot of money," he said. "Mary is my niece. I am a man of the world—can advise her in the matter of investments. You get me, Hoke? There's a monkey for you in this. You've got to come and brag for me. You're the friend who can tell her about my estates in... "
"Trans-Caucasia?" suggested Hoke helpfully.
"Anywhere... it means a week's work, and there's a monkey in it, as I said..."
"Monkeys have no appeal to one who has observed their restless habits," said Hoke firmly. "Swindles of a general character appeal to one of my nimbleness of wit and wealth of vocabulary, but swindles involving gentle ladies—no!"
"Look here"—Bush sprang up, and with two rapid strides placed himself between Hoke and the door—"I have asked you to make five hundred, with no risk."
"Prince of true hearts," said Hoke courteously, "no risk! What of the untroubled pool of conscience into which you are throwin' half a brick! What of the mud of self-despisery you are stirrin' with the rod of temptation! No—K-N-O-U-G-H—No! Robbery is a pastime, an occasional fatal accident, a hobby, but a robbery of babes-in-arms—no! I take my leave."
With a bow he made for the door.
"No, you don't," growled Bush. "You dog! You miserable continental sneak-thief! You're going to do as I tell you—"
Hoke shrugged his shoulders.
"Out of my way, beef," he said loftily.
Bush, with an oath, dropped one of his powerful hands on the other's shoulder—only for an instant. Then a big, bony hand gripped him by the throat, a hand as inflexible as steel, and he was swept from Hoke's path. He might have been a feather, so lightly was he tossed aside.
He stood for a moment bewildered, then, with a froth of curses, he sprang to his desk and pulled open a drawer.
"Depress it, depress it, dear lad," said A. B. Hoke gently.
He was holding his revolver so that all Bush saw was the cold, black cavity of the barrel.
"Go in peace, find another side-partner, and enjoy the fruits of your depredations—for A. B. Hoke the long trail to Tiflis, where there are pickings for one who, like myself, has the Koran at my finger-tips."
Still humming his tune, Hoke strutted back the way he had come, halting before the door of the Chief of Foreign Intelligence, where a man can rest awhile and read foreign newspapers a month old, slightly soiled but otherwise entertaining.
An hour later, when Algernon Bush was roping the last of his trunks, Mr. Hoke made an unexpected appearance.
"Well—have you changed your mind?" he asked.
Mr. Hoke smiled sadly.
"Hunger drives with a short rein," he quoted. "I have buried my conscience in synthetic vodka—open the gate of your monkey-house—A. B. Hoke has fallen!"
THREE weeks later Mary Bush came into the library and found Lord Derrymere sitting before a large map. He greeted her with an almost tender smile.
"Good morning, Mary," he said gently. "I have just seen your uncle—an extraordinarily entertaining man! Not perhaps so widely travelled as Colonel Hoke, whose description of his adventures in Thibet should be written—I have just communicated with the editor of Statesmanship, suggesting that the Colonel might very well write a most entrancing series of reminiscences—but one cannot exactly expect a man of Mr. Bush's wealth to have had so varied a career. A rolling stone, as you may have heard, gathers very little moss. I have been studying the position of his concessions in Transcaucasia—you are an extremely fortunate young woman!"
Mary did not reply. Her fortune, in truth, had bewildered her, and the emergence from the obscurity of the Russian mists of a millionaire uncle had taken her breath away.
"His generosity is amazing," mused his lordship, shaking his head in admiration. "You have heard, of course, what he proposes doing—or am I betraying a confidence, I wonder?"
"I can't understand it," said Mary. "I never dreamt Uncle Algernon was a rich man. In fact..." She thought it wiser not to relate what she had thought of her erratic relative. "Yes, he told me last night; he said that his lawyer would bring the deed to-day. It does seem too good to be true!"
"Such things happen," said his lordship seriously. "All along I had some suspicion of this possibility. You will probably recall my words, that he might have accumulated great possessions. I do not, of course, approve of the Russian Government, but there is no doubt that any shrewd man, settled in Russia during the past few years, has had unrivalled opportunities—unrivalled! He tells me that he is investing your money in an oil concession he has obtained from the Government?"
Mary nodded. For some reason, she was not particularly enthusiastic about this investment. She had never possessed so large a sum before, and contemplated its parting with a little sense of dismay, which, in view of all the circumstances, was rather absurd.
"I think you are wise," said Lord Derrymere. "I also am thinking of investing a few hundreds. You are indeed a very lucky girl!"
IN the private sitting-room at the Star and Garter Inn, the one place of entertainment that the village of Derrymere possessed, Mr. Algernon Bush lay moodily in an arm-chair, his hands thrust into his pockets, a frown of discontent upon his placid features.
"Fifteen hundred!" he said bitterly. "Curse these newspapers! It will hardly pay expenses. I did think the old boy would put in a thousand or two, but he hasn't got two sixpences to rub together. Hoke, that 'monkey' is off! It's as much as I shall do to clear expenses, and if I can squeeze out a hundred for you, you'll have something to be thankful for!"
Mr. Hoke stood by the window, whistling softly to himself, his bright eyes searching the road.
"I am content, little friend of the poor," he said, "for monkeys, with their flea-chasing habits, are unpopular with me."
"And why the devil did you suggest that deed of gift? Two hundred thousand! I wonder the size of it didn't scare her—and me without the price of a magnum! The lawyer's fee will cost me the best part of ten pounds," demanded Bush violently. "She'd have parted without all that tomfoolery."
"Confidence—establish confidence," murmured Hoke. "And think of the pleasure you gave, the bright flush of joy that suffused her maidenly cheeks; think of the two tender hearts that will be united; think of an ancient home saved from ruin."
Stuff!" snarled the other. "I'm thinking of the cost of stamps—fifty is as much as I shall be able to spare for you, Hoke."
"Fifty is wealth," said Mr. Hoke complacently, "to one who has shared the begging-bowl of the wandering fakir, and has comforted his stomach on the bark of trees—"
"You're a fool, and I was a fool to bring you," growled Mr. Bush.
He made a little sum on the back of an old envelope, and recovered something of his spirits. Fifteen hundred pounds was fifteen hundred, and he had the girl's cheque in his pocket, and at ten o'clock the next morning, when the Troubridge banks opened, that slip of paper, and another which he hoped to receive from an impressed lordship, would be converted into cash.
He was quite cheerful when he drove up to Derrymere House that afternoon, and, in the presence of a lawyer and a fascinated household, fixed his sign and seal to the imposing and involved document through which a well-trained lawyer had gabbled, without apparently stopping to take breath. The girl took the parchment in her hand and gazed at it openmouthed.
"It's really too wonderful!" she gasped. "I can't believe my good fortune, uncle."
He waved aside her thanks.
"My dear, that is very little, compared with what you will one day inherit," he said soberly. "It is, if you will forgive the vulgarity, a fleabite compared with the return you will receive from your investment."
He drove back to the inn, Mr. Hoke preferring to walk. At seven o'clock, when dinner was served, the wanderer had not returned, nor did midnight bring him, and an uneasy Algernon Bush returned from one of his many excursions along the road in a troubled frame of mind.
At ten o'clock the next morning, when Mr. Bush was walking out of the bank, with a rustling pad of notes in his right-hand trousers' pocket and a gleam of satisfaction in his eye, Mr. Abraham Hoke was sitting with the senior partner of Bracken, Thompson, Brown, Smith & Jones, which, as their names will disclose, were an eminent firm of lawyers.
"This," said Mr. Hoke, as he took from a ragged note-case a small slip of paper, "I saw in Moscow: a chance scrutiny of an ancient newspaper—and yet, how providential!"
He read the paragraph with unction:
"'If this should meet the eye of Algernon John Bush, of Sydney, South Australia, will he communicate with Bracken, Thompson, Brown, Smith & Jones, 907 Leadenhall Street, solicitors of Joshua Bush, deceased.'"
The lawyer eyed the odd figure curiously.
"You know where Mr. Bush is—I think you said as much in your letter?"
"Yes, sir, I can tell you within a few yards where he is to be found," said Mr. Hoke.
The lawyer nodded.
"There is nothing more to say than what you already knew a fortnight ago. The amount that Mr. Algernon Bush has inherited is just short of a million pounds. Fortunately for the purposes of administration, most of the money is in cash at the Bank of England. He died in London, as you are probably aware. As to the other question you asked me in your letter, as to whether a deed of gift made by Mr. Bush without the knowledge of his inheritance would be valid, I must reply in the affirmative. He would hardly convey property in a deed of gift unless he possessed—what was the sum?"
"Two hundred thousand pounds," murmured Mr. Hoke.
"Exactly. As I say, if he gave, by deed of gift, that sum, the amount would be immediately recoverable."
Mr. Hoke drew a long sigh.
"I always thought it would be," he said. "Yes, I always thought it would be. And now, could you give me the address of a hard-faced lawyer? The kind of man who would battle with a soulless robber of orphans, and wring from his reluctant mitt, and to the last penny the money he owes her? A lawyer of the world, to whom a shark is the merest goldfish and the clinging tentacles of an octopus are as the tendrils of a passion-flower—in fact, a lawyer?"
Mr. Bracken obliged, and Hoke went down the stairs two at a time, a song in his heart and his everlasting pilgrimage before his eyes.
That night Mr. Bush arrived at his London hotel, en route for the Continent, and found two letters awaiting him. The first was staggering—the second filled him with the deepest melancholy.
"And, dear friend," wrote Hoke, "you'll pay! For the first time in your ill-spent life you have so much money that you can't afford to run away. Ponder well on this—wealth has its responsibilities. The advice of one who has supped with wise men on the slopes of Everest is not to be despised and I wait lest I be called to give evidence of fraud and testify to your ungentleness. Pay, monkey-man."
In the end Mr. Bush paid, but it hurt very much.