REX BRUNELL drummed on the table with carefully polished fingernails.
"Pinero," he said, "has aptly described a capitalist as a pawnbroker with an imagination. Now, I regard that as essentially true. I have had considerable experience with the fraternity in question, and incidentally I have been ruined by one of them. I can afford to tell you men this now, because I am about to get my own back—and more. I never met a capitalist yet who was not a nervous man, or one blessed with a good digestion. Goldmark is no exception to the rule."
James Goldmark smiled. The great man was entertaining a select circle of friends in his suite of rooms at the Majestic Hotel. There were four of them, all intimates of Rex Brunell, all of them with fingers more or less scarred by contact with high finance. "A fool and his money are soon parted," Goldmark said cynically. "Brunell was bound to lose his money. It struck me that I might as well have it as anybody else."
A laugh greeted this sally. It was quite characteristic of Goldmark. He grinned behind his glasses, his teeth were taut over the inevitable black cigar. A waiter came into the dining-room and laid a card on the table before Goldmark.
"I'll get you to excuse me one moment," the capitalist said, and vanished.
The smoke-laden air seem to clarify as the door closed upon Goldmark. Three pairs of glittering eager eyes were turned upon Brunell. He waved his hand carelessly.
"Patience," he said. "No explanation is needed. That man was going to make our fortunes. Instead of which he has practically beggared the lot of us. He is not in the least ashamed of himself. He has used us as a blind to deceive others. In a less effete civilisation than ours we should shoot him and pitch his black, attenuated carcase into the Thames. Now we dine with him instead. After all, it is only a question of financial methods. Goldmark adopts them and we don't. Therefore he gets the best of us. Now, I object to be ruined on principle. We all do, in fact. Therefore we are going to adopt his methods. I have thought it all out, and that is why we are here to-night. Watch me, play up to my lead, and all will be well. Hush! For the moment let us dissemble."
Goldmark returned to the dining-room again, followed by a dapper little man with a waxed moustache and a wonderfully groomed exterior. He brought the genuine Parisian flavour with him.
"It was not me, but you, that this gentleman wanted to see, Brunell," the financier explained. "The waiter delivered the card to me by mistake. I explained to Dr. Chassier that any friend of yours was a friend of mine. Doctor, a glass of champagne?"
"This is a pleasant surprise," Brunell cried. "Regan and Powell and Hartigan, this is my friend Dr. Chassier, of Paris University. I need not remind you that he is the great authority on the eye. Of his reputation I say nothing, because it speaks for itself. Now, this is kind of you, Chassier. I hope you have not come merely because I mentioned that certain unpleasant symptoms of mine "
"Well, partly," the doctor admitted with a smile. "The astigmatism you mentioned—nothing serious, of course, but still... I am glad to hear that you have dropped the cigarettes."
"Tobacco is bad in certain circumstances?" Goldmark asked. "Do have a glass of champagne."
The expert began to talk, at first quietly, till he warmed to his subject. It was "shop" of the kind that this neurotic age takes to so kindly. He spoke of the marvels of his branch of surgical science. He had them all quivering before long as to what particular form of ocular weakness they were suffering from. Goldmark sprawled across the table, puffing at his black cigar.
"Ugh! How it gets on one's nerves!" he shuddered. "I hope you chaps won't laugh at me, but those funny little globular discs that come flashing before one's eyes at times—"
"A pawnbroker with an imagination," Brunell murmured. "My dear fellow, I don't feel in the least like laughing. Anything wrong with the eyes— To think of it! And Chassier told me that I should lose my sight if I didn't chuck the cigarettes."
Goldmark laid down his cigar, gazed at it, and took it up again.
"Of course that is all bosh," he said uneasily.
"By no means, my dear sir," Chassier said gravely. "Cases of smoker's blindness are by no means uncommon. I had one case the other day—a man retired from your Guards. He came to me so far gone that I nearly paralysed him with strychnine. I had to. There were times when he could not rise from his bed. It was a long struggle, but I cured him. Another week later—"
Chassier shrugged his shoulders. The room had suddenly grown strangely silent. Goldmark pitched his cigar into the fireplace. He was pale and anxious; a little bead stood on his forehead.
"You could tell the symptoms at a glance?" he asked. "In my case, for instance?"
The specialist nodded. He crossed the room and touched Goldmark on the forehead and chin with the tips of his long white fingers. The gesture was typically professional. The sleek dark head of the capitalist was turned up to the light as Chassier lifted an eyelid.
"Heavens!" he muttered under his breath. "Man alive, but there is—Still—"
Goldmark caught the whispered words. They gripped his heart; he was suffocating. The room swam round him, the damp beads broke out on his face like a gentle rain.
"A pawnbroker with an imagination," Brunell repeated.
"Nothing of the sort," Chassier said drily. "There is no imagination here. Monsieur Goldmark, I should like to make a little test. There are certain things— drugs—that I always carry with me... Just a spot or two in a glass of water. No ill effect, I assure you... Merely to exaggerate certain features, so that I may be better able to judge of your—er—"
Goldmark watched the clear yellow drops measured into a champagne glass like a man who dreams.
"Is it as bad as all that?" he asked piteously.
"I have expressed no opinion," Chassier said professionally. "Please to drink this."
When Goldmark came to himself again, he was in a darkened room. He was conscious of the fact that he was still in possession of his sight, much as if he were seeing things under water. Everything was waved and blurred; stagnant things seemed to be in slow motion. In a way his surroundings were familiar; he was in his own arm-chair in his sitting-room at the hotel; he could dimly make out the outline of the table. This gripping paroxysm of fear passed presently; his scattered thoughts were growing coherent. What were they saying about all this in the City?
"Is there anybody here?" he asked.
"I am here," the voice of Chassier responded. "There is nothing to be alarmed about."
"I must have fainted," Goldmark groaned. "What is the matter with my eyes? And where are the others?"
"Well, they went home last night, of course. I asked them to leave me here. Your eyes will be quite normal, say, in a day or two. I had to use belladonna at once. Not a whisper of this has got out, of course. We thought that you would prefer it. But you'll have to cut those cigars off altogether. Another week or two, and you would be beyond my assistance. A pipe, now—"
"Never mind that," Goldmark cried. "I gather that I have been here all night. What time is it now?"
"About two o'clock on Wednesday afternoon."
"Good Heavens! I should have been in the City at ten. My people there will think that I have gone mad. Have they been here? Are any inquiries being made?"
"Your secretary called you up, of course. Several other inquiries, as a matter of fact. It seemed to me to be discreet to put them off. You are supposed to be suffering from acute gastritis brought about by eating some impregnated oysters. The people here are under the impression that I am a doctor who was specially summoned to attend you. I have had great financiers in my hands before, therefore I have taken special pains to disguise the truth. If your enemies in the City get hold of this—"
"By Heavens, I should be ruined!" Goldmark groaned. "They'd be at my throat in a moment. If anything happens to the Santa Anna group of mines just now, I'm done. I may not be able to see, but, by Jove, I can do business! Push my chair over to the telephone, please. I must call up Gregory."
Chassier raised no objection. So long as the patient made no use of his eyes, all would be well. Possibly they might have to be bandaged for a day or two, but, at any rate, they would be saved. Goldmark worried at the handle of the telephone savagely, and the reply came at length.
"Give me 99976 London Wall," he said. "What? Oh, yes! Is that you, Gregory. Here's a precious nice mess. Something gone wrong with my eyes. What? Told me I was smoking too many cigars. Well, that's just what Dr. Chassier, of Paris, says. Lucky thing for me he happened to be in London. I've got to stay in a darkened room for a day or two, though nobody knows it but yourself. Supposed to be suffering from acute gastritis. For Heaven's sake, keep this to yourself! What? What? Rather serious this is. I can only just hear what you say. See Razuli as to those mines. You might get 'em up at least two points before closing-time. Keep the game going till Saturday, when that matter over the Mexican concession is settled. Mind I am posted from time to time during the day. And tell everybody that I shall be in the City certain to-morrow."
The slow day dragged on, with frequent calls on the telephone. A nurse appeared presently and brought Goldmark food. She read the City article from The Times to him in a clear pleasant voice; she put him to bed in due course, with the intimation that she was close at hand in case he needed anything.
"It's all very good of you, doctor," Goldmark groaned. "You won't find me haggling over your fees when the time comes for payment. What a lucky thing it was that you happened to look up Brunell! Another week, and it would have been too late!"
"Another week, and it would have been too late," Chassier said gravely.
"Well, I am grateful," Goldmark replied. "On the whole, I'm not doing so badly. I never appreciated the telephone as I have done the last two days. Keeps me in constant touch with Gregory. Rather bad instrument, but I can just make out what he says. Odd thing is that he can hear me distinctly."
"A not uncommon peculiarity of telephones," Chassier replied. "Anyway, you can comfort yourself with the assurance that you are making rapid progress towards recovery. When you wake up to-morrow morning, you will be able to make out objects in this room quite distinctly. I shall come and ser you before the evening. I have another delicate operation to perform."
The telephone went utterly wrong about five o'clock, and Goldmark grizzled for the rest of the evening. It was quite early when the nurse insisted upon putting Goldmark to bed, followed by the administration of a medicine that filled him with a feeling of sublime contentment. He turned over contentedly and fell asleep. What did all the mines in the world matter to him just then?
A golden bath of sunshine filled the bedroom as Goldmark awoke in the morning. The blind was up as Goldmark turned round with a clear view before him. The queer sensation had gone from his eyes; familiar objects had assumed their proper proportions.
As a matter of fact, there was not one familiar object to be seen. Here was a strange bed in a strange room sparely furnished. On a chair Goldmark's clothes lay neatly folded. Here were his boots and frock coat and top hat together with a change of linen. On the dining table was all that was necessary for the toilette, including one of his own clean collars. Here also was his breakfast flanked by a Thermos flask of hot coffee. On the bed lay a copy of The Times as yet unfolded.
In his pyjamas Goldmark sprang from the bed and rushed into the sitting-room. There was nothing there but a table and arm-chair, together with the telephone in the corner. The rest of the house was empty. Down in the basement was the other end of the telephone into which Goldmark had been speaking for the past two days.
Now, what had happened to him? How had those fellows managed it, and why? How had they contrived to move him from the Majestic in the dead of the night and bring him to this desolated house?
Possibly that day's Times might throw a light on the darkness. It did.
THE STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE
OF MR. JAMES GOLDMARK
Little doubt is now expressed that Mr. Goldmark has been the victim of some accident, or that he has deliberately made away with himself. Since he so mysteriously vanished from the Majestic Hotel on the night of Wednesday last, nothing has been seen or heard of him. Nobody saw him leave the hotel, and no letter has come from him. It is hardly necessary to say that this remarkable mystery has created something like a panic in the City, especially in the mining market. Taking advantage of Mr. Goldmark's absence, the bears for the last two days have kept up a vigorous attack on the Santa Anna group, so that the stock was quoted yesterday as low as 11 3⁄4, after which it suddenly declined to 7 3⁄16, which price was freely offered by the bears—a striking contrast to the prices of Monday last. Scotland Yard is silent in the matter, and up to the time of going to press has nothing to communicate.
Jabez Goldmark was a man of nerves and imagination, nevertheless he kept his head at that crisis. He shaved, in cold water, without so much as a scratch, and partook of an excellent breakfast. He was so far awake to the situation that he subsequently took his cigar-case from his pocket and lighted one of the big black weeds.
He would very much liked to have met Dr. Chassier at that moment. He stifled his regrets as he stepped into a taxi and drove Citywards.
The cool and immaculate Gregory nearly fell off his padded chair as Goldmark strode into his office. The latter poured out a tornado of questions.
"Tell you all about it later on," he said. "Call it one of my little games, if you like. This affair is going to cost over half a million, but it can't be helped. "We've got to get those shares back to par again, and a few points over. Please 'phone our bankers to come here at once. I'll give the bears something to chew before four o'clock."
Friday, October 19, 19—, was a day long remembered in the City. The sight of Goldmark, cool and stern and immaculate outside the Stock Exchange, gave the bears cold fits. Then there were excursions and alarums, followed by a battle which lasted till three o'clock, and a subsequent flight of the bears, leaving their dead and murdered on the field. Goldmark figured it all out on the back of an old envelope.
"Cost me half a million, all the same," he said. "Only nobody need know that. And it's nobody's business where I have been the last two days. Gregory, ring up Mr. Brunell, and ask him where I can conveniently see him this evening."
"That's all right, sir," Gregory said a few minutes later. "Mr. Brunell will be very pleased to see you at his rooms to dinner this evening at eight o'clock."
Goldmark nodded his approval. At eight o'clock he strode into Brunell's room, to find himself confronted by Regan and Powell and Hartigan, as well as his host.
"I should like," he said quietly—"I should like a little explanation."
"Only natural," Brunell said politely. "I ordered dinner for 8.15 on purpose. We are not going to quarrel over this matter, my dear sir. And you are quite at liberty to make it public if you like. But, unless I am greatly mistaken, you will do nothing of the kind. The last thing in the world you want is for people to laugh at you. Now, you robbed me quite in the way of business, and no doubt enjoyed it. Anyway, I didn't. So I decided to fight you with your own weapons. It seemed to me that if it came to scheming, I could scheme as well as you can. That is why I invented a double for Dr. Chassier, and very well he acted his part. He came on the scene in the most natural manner in the world, and he frightened you very nearly to death. As I am fond of saying, a financier is a pawnbroker with an imagination. You have a most vivid imagination, and I played on it. When the sham Chassier gave you those drops to take, he drugged you. 'Chassier' had a room at the hotel close to yours, and we carried you there. You were placed in a big packing-case and smuggled over to Charing Cross, whence you were fetched to the house where the comedy was played out. Hartigan, who is great at theatricals, acted the part of your nurse. We had only to keep you quiet for a day or two, and the thing was done. As you may imagine, your disappearance created the wildest excitement. All sorts of things were said. You had committed suicide, you had absconded, you could not face your creditors. Your mines hardly needed the efforts of the bears to send them down with a bump. At the lowest point we all bought steadily. We knew that by to-day everything would be up again, and we bought till we could buy no longer. No, you are not going to teach us a lesson, as that flash in your eyes indicates, because we have unloaded already. By the way, how are your eyes feeling? Quite all right again?"
"You are a clever lot!" Goldmark sneered.
"I flatter myself that we are," Brunell said coolly. "That little artistic touch as to the telephone was quite smart. Gave you a telephone, and you could be more or less content. Regan fitted the 'phone, and added a few thicknesses of flannel over the transmitter so as to deaden the voice of Powell, who successfully played the part of your man Gregory. All the time you thought that everything was going well, Gregory was in a cold bath of perspiration over your disappearance. We got our knowledge of the drug business from a doctor whom we carefully pumped for information. I put the belladonna in your eyes, and the sham Chassier—whom you do not know even by sight, though he is one of your victims—administered the sleeping draught that put you all right again. Now, you must admit that all this is infinitely more artistic and civilised than taking you by the scruff of the neck and giving you the thrashing that you so richly deserve, Goldmark. We have got our own back, and a lot more. We have fined you half a million, and, so far as we are concerned, we are quite prepared to let bygones be bygones. What do you say?"
"I could get you five years if I liked!" Goldmark muttered.
"Precisely. The facts are beyond dispute. But are you going to do it? Are you going to let the whole world know how delightfully you have been fooled?"
Goldmark capitulated at discretion.
"Let us go in to dinner," he suggested.
"By all means," Brunell smiled. "Pawnbroker with an imagination, proceed. I've got some special cigars for you to try presently —very strong, but, in the circumstances, I know you won't mind that."