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Title: Chick
Author: Edgar Wallace
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0801251.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2008
Date most recently updated: October 2008

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Chick
Author: Edgar Wallace





CONTENTS:

I    Chick
II   For One Night Only
III  A Writ of Summons
IV   Spotting the Lady
V    Chick, Waiter
VI   A Lesson in Diplomacy
VII  The First Dispatch
VIII The Oilfield
IX   In the Public Eye
X    Courage
XI   The Man from Toulouse
XII  The Beating of the Middle-Weight




CHAPTER I - CHICK


Mr. Jonas Stollingham was station-master, head porter, local switchman,
ticket-collector, and dispatch clerk at Pelborough Halt. He was also
Chief of the Information Bureau. He was an aged man, who chewed tobacco
and regarded all innovation as a direct challenge to Providence. For this
reason he spoke of aeroplanes, incubators, mechanical creamers,
motor-cars, and vaccination with a deep growling "Ah!" Such intangible
mysteries as wireless telegraphy he dismissed as the invention of the
newspapers.

Jonas knew most of the happenings which had occurred within twenty-five
miles of Pelborough Halt during the past forty-seven years. He could tell
you the hour and the day that Tom Rollins was run over by a hay-cart, and
the number of eggs laid at Poolford Farm on a record day. He knew the
Vicar's family skeleton, and would rattle the same on the slightest
encouragement. He had had time in his life to form very definite ideas
about most subjects, since only four trains stopped at Pelborough Halt on
weekdays and half that number on Sundays.

It was a cold, moist Sunday in January that the 10.57 "up" discharged a
solitary passenger, and Jonas moved toward him with a gathering frown.

"Where's your ticket?" he demanded.

The passenger, who carried no baggage, dived into the pockets of his worn
overcoat, and, increasing the pace of his search till Jonas could hardly
follow his movements, he patted and prodded successively his trousers,
waistcoat, and jacket pockets.

"If you ain't got a ticket, you've got to pay," said the hopeful Jonas.
"You ain't supposed to keep me waiting here all day. I'm only doing the
company a favour by being here at all on Sunday."

He was disappointed when the young man produced a piece of pasteboard,
and scrutinized it suspiciously as the train moved out.

"Date's all right," he confessed.

"Mr. Stollingham--er--is my--er--uncle well?"

Mr. Stollingham fixed his steel-rimmed spectacles nearer his eyes.

"Hullo!" he greeted. "Mr. What's-your-name?"

"Beane," murmured the youth apologetically. "Charles Beane. You remember
I was here for a month."

"I know ye." Jonas chewed accusatively, his rheumy eyes on the passenger.

"The old doctor ain't well." He emphasized the negative with some
satisfaction. "Lots of people round here don't think he's all there." He
tapped his forehead. "He thinks he's a dook. I've known fellows to be
took off to the lunytic asylum for less. Went down to Parliament last
month, didn't he?"

"I believe he did," said "Chick" Beane. "I didn't see him."

"Asked to be made a lord! If that ain't madness, what is it?"

"It may be measles," said Chick gravely. "The doctor had an attack last
year."

"Measles!" The contempt of Jonas was always made visible as well as
audible. "We don't like your uncle's goings-on; it's bringin' the village
down If a man's a lord, he's born so. If he ain't, he ain't. It's the
same with these air'planes. Was we intended to fly? Was we born with
wings? Suppose them crows over there started to chew terbaccer like a
human bein', wouldn't the law stop it?"

"But chewing tobacco isn't human, Mr. Stollingham--it's nasty! Good
morning!"

He left the station-master gazing after him with a baneful stare.

Charles Beane had never had any other name than "Chick." It had been
given to him as a child by one of his father's "helps." For Chick was
born at Grafton, in the State of Massachusetts, whither his male parent
had gone as a young man to seek the fortune which rural England had
denied to a gentleman-farmer. There he had married and died two years
after his wife, and Chick, at the age of seven, had been brought to
England by an aunt, who, on passing from this world to a better, had left
him to the care of another aunt.

Chick saw life as a panorama of decaying aunts and uncles. Until he was
fifteen he thought that mourning was the clothing that little boys were,
by the English law, compelled to wear. Hence, too, he took a cheerful
view of dissolution which often sounded callous. He had the kindest of
hearts, but he who had seen the passing of mother and father, three
aunts, one uncle, and a cousin, without human progress being perceptibly
affected, could hardly take quite so serious a view of such matters as
those to whom such phenomena are rare.

Chick appeared a little more than medium height and weight. Both
impressions were deceptive. His trick of bending forward when he spoke
gave him the slightest stoop, and his loose carriage favoured the
illusion. Nor was he deaf; that strained look and bent head was his
apology for troubling people with his presence and conversation. This
also was innocent and unconscious deception. Many people mistook his
politeness for humility, his fear of hurting people's feelings for sheer
awe and shyness.

He was not shy, though few believed this. His characteristic was a
certain bald frankness which could be disconcerting. The art which is
comprehended in the word "diplomacy" was an esoteric mystery to him. He
was painfully boyish, and the contours of the face, the rather high
cheek-bones, the straight small nose, the big forehead and the baby-blue
eyes, no less than his untidy yellow hair, belonged to the sixth form,
though the average boy of the sixth is better acquainted with a razor and
lather brush than was Chick.

The way to Pelborough Abbey lay through the village of that name. The
bell of the parish church was tolling mournfully, and in consequence the
straggling street was as crowded as could be. He walked quickly past the
curious worshippers and turned into the dilapidated gate of the Abbey, a
large and ugly cottage which at some time had been painted white. Once a
veritable abbey had stood on the very spot where Josephus Beane had laid
the foundations of his house. A few blocks of masonry, weed-covered and
weathered, until the very outlines of the dressing had vanished, remained
to testify to the labours of the forgotten monks.

An untidy servant opened the door and smirked at the visitor.

"He's in bed," she said cheerfully. "Some say that he'll never get out
again. But, lor, he's always makin' people liars. Why, last winter he was
took so bad that we nearly got a doctor to him!"

"Will you tell him I'm here, please?" said Chick gently.

The room into which he was ushered was on the ground floor, and normally
was Dr. Beane's library. The walls were hidden behind book-shelves; a
large and aged table was literally piled with papers, pamphlets, and
deed-boxes, books and scattered manuscript. Over the mantelpiece was a
brilliant coat-of-arms which always reminded Chick of a public-house
sign.

Into this literary workshop had been insinuated a narrow high bed with
four polished posts and a canopy. Supported by large pillows, the slips
of which had not been changed for a week, lay a man of sixty-five--a
grim, square-jawed, unshaven man, who, with a stiff cardboard pad on his
doubled-up knees, was writing as Chick appeared.

The invalid's face took a turn for the worse at the sight of the figure
in the doorway.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" he growled.

Chick came cautiously into the room and put his hat down on a chair.
"Yes, sir, it's me. I hope you're better."

The old doctor snorted and shifted in his bed. "I suppose you know I'm
not long for this world, eh?" he scowled up under his tremendous
eyebrows. "Eh?" he repeated.

"No, sir, I don't think you are," said Chick agreeably, "but I'm sure a
gentleman of your experience won't mind that?"

Dr. Beane swallowed and blinked.

"I am very glad you are alive today, sir," Chick hastened to add, feeling
that perhaps he had better say all the nice things he could think of
whilst he had the opportunity.

"You are, are you?" breathed the doctor.

"Oh, yes, sir," Chick was eager to help. "I don't, of course, like coming
to Pelborough, because you are usually so very disagreeable, owing, I
often think, to your age and your--er--infirmity." He looked down at the
speechless invalid with solemn eyes. "Were you ever crossed in love,
sir?"

Dr. Beane could only stare.

"One reads in books that such things happen, though, of course, it may be
sheer invention on the part of the novelists, who aren't always quite
correct in their facts--unintentionally, I am sure--"

"Will you shut up?" bellowed the sick man. "You're annoying me, sir!
You're exasperating me, sir! Confound you, I'll outlive you, sir, by
twenty years!"

The old man almost hissed the words, and Chick shook his head.

"I am sure it is possible," he agreed, "but of course it is against the
law of average--we know a great deal about that in the insurance
business. Are you insured, sir?"

Dr. Beane was sitting bolt upright in bed now, and he was terribly calm.

"Boy," he said awfully, "I am not insured." And Chick looked grave.

"One ought to insure," he said; "it is the most unselfish thing one can
do. One ought to think of one's relations."

"Confound you, sir! You're my only relation!" wailed the doctor.

Chick was silent. That idea had never struck him.

"Isn't there anybody who is fond of you?" he asked, and added
regretfully: "No, I suppose there isn't."

Dr. Beane swung his legs out of bed.

"Get out, sir--I'm going to dress, sir--into the garden--go to the
devil!"

Chick did not go into the garden. It was cold out of doors. He went
instead to the big vaulted kitchen, where Anna, cook and housekeeper to
the doctor for twenty-five years, was preparing the invalid's midday
meal.

"How did you find him, sir?" asked Anna. She was a stout, heavy woman,
who breathed with difficulty.

"I found him in bed," said Chick. "Could you make me some coffee,
please?"

Anna filled the kettle and put it on the fire, shaking her head.

"It's my opinion, Mr. Charles, that this here lord nonsense is killing
the old gentleman."

There was a furious ring of the bell, and Anna waddled from the kitchen,
to return with a face expressive of amazement.

"He's up," she gasped, "and he wants you, Mr. Charles." Here the bell
rang again, and Chick bolted back to the library.

The doctor was sitting up in an arm-chair before the fire. Placed within
reach were those familiar scrap-books, the contents of which had poisoned
one summer holiday for him.

"Come in! What did you run away for? I suppose that's the infernal
American blood in your system--never still! Never in repose! Hustle,
hustle, hustle!"

Chick opened his mouth to protest against a desire for rapid movement of
any kind, and shut it again.

"Sit down!" The doctor pointed fiercely at a chair. "You know that I've
been fighting these brainless Law Lords over the peerage? Of course you
know it--the newspapers have been full of it! We shall have the Lords'
decision in a week. The scoundrels!"

Dr. Beane had spent thirty years of his life in a vain endeavour to
establish his claim to the extinct Marquisate of Pelborough. He had
dissipated a handsome competence in lawyers' fees, genealogical
researches, and had not hesitated at demanding from the Home Secretary an
exhumation order to test a theory. The Secretary of State had shown less
hesitation in refusing. It was Dr. Beane's hobby, his obsession, his one
life passion. Chick groaned within himself. The one hope he had cherished
was that the precarious condition of his uncle's health would have
precluded all possibility of argument on the doctor's fatal illusion.

Dr. Beane lifted up and opened one of the large scrap-books. "The basis
of the claim is the relationship of Sir Harry Beane to Martha, the
Countess of Morthborough. Is that clear to you?"

"No, sir," said Chick patiently, but truthfully.

"Then you're a fool, sir!" thundered the invalid. "You're a dolt and a
dunderhead! It's that infernal American blood in you, sir--nothing more
or less! Do you understand that the Countess of Morthborough was a sister
of Sir Harry Beane, who died in 1534?"

"I'm sure you're right, sir," said Chick handsomely.

"That is the crux of the whole problem." Dr. Beane tapped the scrap-book
violently. "Martha, Countess of Morthborough, had two daughters. Do you
know what she did with 'em?"

"Sent them to school, sir?" suggested Chick. At first he had it on the
tip of his tongue to say, "Poisoned them," because that was the sort of
thing that unnatural parents did to their children in the Dark Ages.

"Sent them to school!" sneered the doctor, "No, you jackass! She married
'em off to the two sons of the Marquis of Pelborough. Jane, the eldest
daughter, died without issue; Elizabeth, the younger, had a son, who
eventually became Marquis of Pelborough."

The room was warm, and Chick experienced a pleasant sensation of ease and
restfulness. He closed his eyes.

"...upon that fact I argued my claim to the House of Lords..."

"Certainly," murmured Chick.

It was summer, and the doctor's garden was a patchwork of gorgeous
colours. And Gwenda was walking with him...

"My father often said--Confound you, sir, you're asleep!"

It was by the most amazing effort of will that Chick opened his eyes.

"I heard you, sir," he said a little huskily. "One was called Jane, and
one was called Elizabeth. They both married the Marquis of Beane."

Ten minutes later he was on his way to Pelborough Halt, ejected with a
fury and originality of expletive that had jerked him wide-awake. A
providential ejection as it proved, for the railway times had been
altered, and Chick had to sprint, or he would have lost the only down
train of the day.

Jonas thrust him into a third-class carriage with unnecessary violence.

"You ain't stayed long?" he said inquiringly. "Ain't your uncle bright
enough to see you?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Stollingham," said Chick, as the train began to move; "he's
very bright--very!"

He sank back into the seat of the carriage with a long sigh of relief,
and gave himself up to the real problem of life--a problem which centred
about the future of Mrs. Gwenda Maynard. The more urgent was this problem
since the last time he had seen her--which was on the previous night--it
was as she was coming out of Mrs. Shipmet's room with a queer drawn look
in her face.

Mrs. Shipmet called her own drawing-sitting-room her "senctum," and for
quite a long time Chick thought that "senctum" was French for
"counting-house." It was in the "senctum" that the boarders paid their
just debts, a ceremony which was enveloped in an atmosphere of mystery,
largely due to the child-like credulity of Mrs. Shipmet's paying guests,
all of whom cherished the illusion that they had been received on terms
which, in comparison with their fellow-boarders, were ruinously
favourable.

Since they had pledged themselves to secrecy, at Mrs. Shipmet's serious
request, and also, presumably, because they feared that the disclosure of
the lady's philanthropy was liable to cause a riot, if it were revealed,
the weekly ritual of settlement was carried out behind closed doors.

"May I see you a moment, Mrs. S.?" a boarder would ask in low tones.

"Certainly, Miss G. Will you step into the senctum?"

And the door would close behind them, and Mrs. Shipmet would stand
smiling inquiringly, one hand, waist-high, resting upon the palm of the
other.

And when the boarder produced his purse, Mrs. Shipmet would start in
surprise, as though sordid money was the last thing in the world she was
expecting to hear about. Nevertheless, she would take the cash, though
she invariably said:

"Oh, but you shouldn't have troubled; to-morrow would have done. H'm!"

She always said "H'm!" at the end of things.

The ritual which was observed in the senctum was one of two varieties,
either that which has been described, or else...

Picture Mrs. Shipmet with an expressionless face, save that her eyebrows
were unusually arched; imagine a slow inclination of the head, such as a
judge will sometimes give when a murderer says "Not guilty!" and at the
end...

"I'm awfully sorry, Mr.--er." She always forgot their names in these
circumstances, "but my expenses are very heavy, and I have a big bill to
meet on Monday, and I'm afraid I must ask you to vacate your room."

From such an interview had Gwenda Maynard come on the Saturday night.

Chick did not see her on his return from Pelborough until the afternoon,
when Acacia Lodge was nearly empty. The young ladies and gentlemen who
were guests of Mrs. Shipmet invariably had engagements on Sunday
afternoons, and those who were too old for the thrill and glories of love
either went to church or to bed.

"Mrs. Maynard"--Chick came eagerly from the sitting-room and intercepted
the girl in the hall--"I'm sorry I missed you; I didn't get back until
after lunch."

She smiled a greeting, but the smile was a little strained. "Hello,
Chick!" she said, squeezing his arm. "I looked for you before I went out.
How is your uncle?"

"He's very--robust," Chick could think of no better words. "You're not
going up to your room, are you?" he asked anxiously.

She shook her head. "I don't know where I'm going. Chick," she said, and
laughed. "Do you want to go out?"

He nodded. "If you're not busy," he said, and she hesitated. "It isn't
raining," he urged.

"All right." She turned on her heel and walked through the door into the
street, and Chick followed.

Mrs. Shipmet's boarding establishment was situated in the residential
district of Brockley, and all properly constituted persons who "went out"
gravitated instinctively to the Hilly Fields, which are to Brockley what
Hampstead Heath is to London and Central Park to New York.

They strode out together toward the magnetic fields, and the girl did not
speak for some time.

She was pretty and slight, and Acacia Lodge had voted her "vivacious" in
the days when the sensational advent of a real actress had set all the
boarders the agreeable task of analysing her charm. Her popularity had
not been maintained at the high level it reached during the first week
following her arrival. The men she had subsequently snubbed--and with
good cause--decided that she suffered from swelled head. The girls she
had momentarily eclipsed set their lips tightly together and looked at
one another significantly when her name cropped up in conversation. For
Gwenda wore a wedding ring; she was immensely pretty, and she made no
reference to her husband.

"Chick," said the girl suddenly, as they turned on to the tar path
leading to the hill, "I'm going!"

Chick stood stock still and turned pale.

"Going, Mrs.--I mean Gwenda?" He pronounced her name a little fearfully.
"Where?"

Gwenda shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, Chick, but Mrs. Shipmet
told me that she would want my room. I owe three weeks' rent."

Chick looked at her in amazement. "Do you really?" he asked in a hushed
voice.

"Yes, I do really," she said savagely. "I had to buy a lot of clothes for
this new piece at the Strand-Broadway. Solburg makes you buy your own
things, and, Chick, now I've got 'em"--she gulped back a sob--"Solburg
talks of not putting mo into the show! There is another girl whose father
knows a lord, and this Lord Chenney has asked Solburg to give her the
part."

"Let us sit down," said Chick, a little overcome. "But isn't he obliged
to let you act Gwenda?"

She sat down on an empty bench, and he took his place by her side.

"No, Chick," she said. "I have a contract, but what is the use of my
fighting him? I can only smile and hang on for something else. He is too
powerful a man to sue. I should be barred by almost every management."

Chick was stunned. He had guessed the tragedy in the air when he had seen
her face on the Saturday night. And this news was a tremendous blow to
him. She was the first woman he had ever met on terms of equality--the
first girl who had not giggled at him or been rude to him-his first and
his greatest comrade, and she was going out of his life.

Suddenly a brilliant thought struck him.

"Mrs.--Gwenda," he said excitedly, "three weeks is only seven pounds ten!
I've got over thirty pounds in the bank! Good gracious, fancy my
forgetting that!"

She looked at him for a long time, till the tears came up and overflowed,
to Chick's horror.

"You queer, dear boy," she said softly, and shook her head. "No, Chick,
my dear, I can't take your money. I'm very, very grateful, you dear old
Chick!"--and she swallowed hard.

"Why do you call me a boy, Gwenda?" he asked. "I'm a year older than you.
Of course I know that you're a married lady, but that doesn't make you
older."

She smiled as she dabbed her eyes.

"I feel a million years older than you, Chick. Now tell me about your
uncle."

"When are you going?" asked the young man doggedly.

"Next Saturday. I must say Mrs. Shipmet is fairly reasonable. I have paid
next week's board in advance. I can't expect her to keep me for nothing.
If I had got the part in this new play--" She shook her head. "What is
the use of blubbing?" she said impatiently. "I'm getting silly. And here
is that awful creature Terrance. I don't want him to see that my eyes are
red."

Mr. Fred Terrance described himself as a man of the world. This proud
title carried with it the right to wear highly decorative linen and
neckwear which nearly harmonized in colour with his socks. He was
invariably referred to as "Mr. Fred," and, in addition to his
worldliness, he sustained the difficult role of born humorist. He was one
of those--indeed, the first--who discovered in Gwenda Maynard a person
too big for her boots.

Now he sauntered across the grass, being superior to urgent notices
warning him off, swinging his malacca cane and puffing at a large cigar.

"Hello, Chick! Did you enjoy yourself?"

Chick looked up slowly.

"No," he said.

Terrance was looking at the girl with curious eyes.

"What on earth is the matter, eh?" he asked. "Crying! Come, come, this
will never do! What is it all about? As a man of the world--"

"I don't think you had better stay," said Chick in that grave tone of
his, as the man of the world prepared to seat himself.

"Eh? Why not?"

"Because we don't want to talk to you," said Chick simply.

Though they had lived together in the same house for eight months, Mr.
Terrance had never come to grips with Chick, and the very simplicity of
the reply took his breath away.

"Another thing, Mr. Terrance, I should like to say is this," Chick went
on. "I am not called 'Chick' except by my very near friends."

"Oh, indeed!" said Mr. Terrance, breathing heavily and growing redder and
redder of face. "And whilst we are on the subject of what you like and
what you don't like, you young puppy--"

It is no exaggeration to say that Chick was terrified.

"I'm very sorry you're annoyed, Mr. Terrance..." he began, but the man of
the world overwhelmed him with words.

"You keep a civil tongue in your head, my friend," he said, his voice
growing louder and louder, to Chick's embarrassment, "I've got a few
things I could say about you! Where do you go every Tuesday and Friday,
hey? Perhaps Missis Maynard would like to know that." He emphasized
Gwenda's title.

And this being a good line on which to make his exit, he stalked into the
gathering gloom, only to return as a much better peroration occurred to
him.

"You're the kind of sneaking, snivelling humbug that breaks women's
hearts," he said, "and if Missis Maynard had any sense, she'd keep away
from you."

The youth glared after him speechless.

"Shucks!" said Chick at last. It was the one word which he had carried
with him from the State of Massachusetts.

The girl was laughing softly. "Oh, you heart-breaker!" she mocked.

"But--but I'm not," said the indignant Chick. "I've never broken
anybody's heart in my life!"

She was laughing aloud now and rose suddenly.

"It is cold, Chick," she said. "Let us go back to the menagerie."

They did not go back to Acacia Lodge immediately, and when they did
return they met Mrs. Shipmet in the hall, and she favoured them with a
smile, the cordiality of which was so adjusted that Chick should not feel
reproved or the girl encouraged.

Before he went to bed that night Chick was invited into the "senctum."

Mrs. Shipmet closed the door carefully behind him.

"I'm sure you won't mind my saying, Mr. Beane, that looking upon you as I
do, as my own son, I think you're very unwise being seen so much about
with an actress."

"With Mrs. Maynard?" asked Chick in surprise.

Mrs. Shipmet nodded.

"You're young," she explained, "and sus--er--sus--er--easily influenced.
An actress is naturally used to admiration, and doesn't mean all she
says. I can't stand by and see your heart broken, Mr. Beane."

"Oh, my heart?" said Chick, relieved. "My heart isn't broken, Mrs.
Shipmet. Thank you very much. Good night!"

"I only speak to you for your good," said Mrs. Shipmet, one hand on the
handle. "I speak as a mother."

Chick looked at her oddly. "As my mother or her mother, Mrs. Shipmet?" he
asked.

"As yours!"

Mrs. Shipmet made haste to disclaim any maternal sympathies with her
unprofitable boarder.

Chick nodded.

"I think she wants a mother more than I," he said simply. "I'm awfully
sorry she owes you money. I think you would feel nicer to her if she was
out of debt."

He left Mrs. Shipmet feeling--as she afterwards said--"very hurt."

Chick received from the executors of his father a sum equivalent to two
pounds ten shillings a week, which, added to the two pounds fifteen
shillings he received from Leither and Barns, enabled him to live, if not
riotously, at least without anxiety.

His work hours were from 9.30 in the morning to 5.30 in the afternoon,
except on Saturdays, when the office closed at 12, to allow Mr.
Leither--there was no Barns--to get away for his golf, and the work was
not exhausting. Mainly Chick's task was to bombard incautious people who
had answered Mr. Leither's advertisements with literature and
form-letters. It was work which, as Mr. Leither had often pointed out, a
child could do, or a very small and ragged boy. He always insisted upon
the sartorial deficiencies of his mythical boy.

On the Monday morning he was carpeted before his chief for a grievous
error of the week before. In sending a "follow up" letter to a gentleman
who had inquired about a workman's compensation policy, he had sent a
"Though-you-have-not-answered-our-earlier-communication" when he should
have dispatched a "We-are-delighted-to-hear-from-you" epistle. For the
client in question had written.

Mr. Leither, who was a stout, careless man generally covered with
cigarette ash, shook his ponderous head in despair as Chick came in.

"This work a child could do," he said tragically, after he explained the
crime, "or a little ragged boy off the streets! And yet you! I'm
surprised at you, Beane! Now, don't let it occur again."

"I didn't let it last time, sir," said Chick. "It just occurred."

"That will do," said Mr. Leither, flicking the ash of his cigarette on to
his waistcoat.

But Chick lingered.

"Mr. Leither, you know Solburg, the theatrical person?" he asked.

Mr. Leither frowned.

"Yes, I know him," he said, "but he's not a good life, Beane. He has
heart trouble."

"I'm not thinking about him from an insurance point of view," said Chick.
"The fact is, Mr. Leither, I'm interested in a young lady who is an
actress."

His employer looked at him with wonder and respect. At the same time he
shook his head.

"I'm old enough to be your father, Beane," he said soberly, "and whilst I
do not wish to put myself in a false position by acting in loco
parentis--which is a Latin phrase meaning in the place of your parents--I
say to you: Don't do it!--Actresses are all very well on the stage, but a
young man like you ought to see 'em there. It's better for your peace of
mind, Beane."

Chick had already made his desperate resolution, and was not to be turned
aside by his chief's pardonable misconception.

"This young lady was in Solburg's company," he went on. "She has been
rehearsing six weeks, and now she is going to be put out because Lord
Chenney's daughter knows a girl who wants the part."

He recited this a little breathlessly.

"Lord Chenney is insured with the Commercial and Legal Company," murmured
Mr. Leither. "I tried to get him to take a policy with the Peninsular
Company. He's a first-class life, if ever there was one."

"Do you think it would be any use my seeing Mr. Solburg? In fact, Mr.
Leither," said Chick a little hoarsely, "could you give me an
introduction?"

Mr. Leither shook his head.

"Give it up, Beane, give it up," he said, with unusual kindness. "It will
be a wrench at first, but you're young."

Chick arrested his protest, and Mr. Leither went on:

"If you want to meet him, I'll give you a letter of introduction. You
might give him particulars of the Short Policy system--we might get him
in under Schedule D."

Chick did not tell the girl of this interview with the "theatrical
person." It had been a surprisingly pleasant experience. Mr. Solburg was
a man of the world, too, a smiling Hebrew gentleman with a heart which he
admitted was as big as his body, and a sense of humour. He had been
frankness itself. Mrs. Maynard was a fine actress, but the influence
which Lord Chenney had exercised was oblique. Mr. Solburg had apparently
three 'angels'--he spoke of them as such--and Chick's first impression,
that Mr. Solburg was an intensely religious man, was dissipated when the
manager explained that an 'angel' was a "backer," and that a "backer" was
one who affords financial assistance to the producers of a play. It was
to please his "backers," who were flattered by the lordly interest, that
he had given Miss Moran the part he had planned for Mrs. Maynard.

"No, my dear boy, I don't mind your coming. You're Mrs. Maynard's
brother, are you--or her son, perhaps?"

Mr. Solburg had lived so many years in an environment where nothing was
as it appeared, and men and women successfully defied the appearance of
age, that he was not greatly impressed by Chick's indignant denial.

"They all look young, my boy," said Mr. Solburg. "Why, I've had chorus
girls in my touring companies who had grandchildren!"

It was not a happy week for Chick. All his spare time was employed in the
scrutiny of theatrical journals and in cutting out likely advertisements.
These he put into an envelope and left in the rack for Gwenda, a
proceeding which afforded Mr. Terrance much amusement, and made the meal
hour a very trying one for Chick, for Mr. Fred had his reputation of
humorist to maintain, and into his wit had crept a note of malice. Chick
did not worry about these passages when the girl was not present.

On the Saturday evening, when, as he knew, Gwenda's boxes were packed
ready for carriage to the room she had taken in Bloomsbury, and when she
herself sat at his side through the "high tea," the badinage became
unbearable.

"I suppose we shall see less of Chick now that Mrs. Maynard is going,"
said Mr. Fred to the table at large. "He'll be hanging round the stage
door of the Broadway every night--except Tuesday and Friday!"

He winked, and then, with an exaggerated start of surprise:

"Oh no, he won't! You're not playing at the Broadway in the next piece,
are you, Mrs. Maynard?"

"I'm not," said the girl calmly, buttering her bread.

"Ah, that explains many things!" said Mr. Fred, with a significant nod.
"Well, Mrs. Maynard, you'll soon be in another play, and be able to pay
everybody."

Gwenda flushed and made a movement as if to rise, but it was Chick who
got up.

"Mr. Fred," he said gently, "could you give me a minute of your time?"

Mr. Fred smiled.

"Say it here, Chick," he said.

But Chick shook his head and walked to the door, and Mr. Fred, with a
smile, followed.

The passage was empty, and the street-door was open, Chick was standing
outside.

"If you've got anything to say, say it here. I'm not going to catch a
cold."

"Come outside!"

Chick's voice was peremptory.

"What the dickens do you mean?" demanded Mr. Fred wrathfully, as he joined
the other.

Smack! The back of Chick's hand struck him across the face. Terrance
stood dumbfounded for a moment, and then lunged out with all his
strength.

The only light was that which came from the hall, but it was enough.
Chick sidestepped and took the blow over his shoulder. Once, twice he
drove to the body, and each time his fist got home. It was a favourite
opening of his.

Mr. Fred gasped and staggered, and like lightning Chick brought up his
left. Mr. Fred did not see it--he did not even feel it.

His first conscious impression was of being pulled to his feet and
shaken.

"You wanted to know where I spend my Tuesdays and Fridays," said Chick;
"now I'll tell you. At the Polytechnic, training for a lightweight
competition."

Mr. Fred said nothing. He went up to his room a little groggily, and
Chick returned to the table. He was neither agitated nor angry. He even
glanced at the letter rack as he passed, and, seeing an envelope
addressed to himself, took it with him into the dining-room.

Gwenda looked up anxiously as he came in. Chick could order nerve and
muscle, but the flow of his blood was beyond his control, and he was
pale.

"Mr. Fred is not coming back to tea," he smiled at Mrs. Shipmet, and
opened his letter.

The girl looked. His knuckles were raw and bleeding.

"Chick," she said under her breath, "what has happened?" But Chick was
staring at the letter in his hand. It was from the Vicar of Pelborough:

"...He died quite peacefully. I think the shock of the news must have
been responsible. The letter enclosed from the Clerk of the Committee,
announcing that Dr. Beane's claim to the extinct peerage of Pelborough
had been recognized, was, I know, totally unexpected by your uncle. May I
offer at once my condolences for your loss and congratulate you upon the
honour to which your lordship has succeeded..."

Chick got unsteadily to his feet, still gripping the letter, and went out
into the hall, where the telephone was. He turned the pages of the
directory with a shaking hand, and presently gave a number.

The girl had followed him from the room, and was a silent audience,

"Is that Mr. Solburg?" asked Chick, and Gwenda gasped. "I want you to put
Mrs. Maynard in that part--yes, give her the part you took away from
her."

"Who is that speaking?" asked Solburg's voice, and Chick tried to keep
his own voice steady.

"It is the Marquis of Pelborough speaking," he said.



CHAPTER II - FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY


"Good morning," said Chick cheerfully, as he hung up his hat and walked
to his writing-table.

His three fellow-clerks and the lady typist were already at their desks,
and their eyes had scarcely left the door.

"Good morning," they all said in gruff unison.

There had been a long and serious discussion that morning in the office.
Bennett, the head clerk, was admittedly a Socialist, a Communist, and a
believer in the theory of violence, yet it was Bennett who had insisted
that Chick should be addressed as "my lord."

"Personally," he said, "I regard titles as a ridiculous survival of class
privilege, but Chick Beane has always been respectful to me, and I regard
him as a comrade and an ornament to the proletariat."

"Bit formal, isn't it?" demurred the ledger-clerk. "I mean to say, we
can't very well treat him as an equal if we 'my lord' him."

"What about saying 'sir' to him?" suggested Miss Commers, the typist.

But "sir" was vetoed as impinging upon the privileges of their employer.
So that it was agreed that they should studiously avoid calling him
anything.

Chick noted the flowers on the desk--they were snowdrops--and stopped to
sniff their faint fragrance.

Mr. Leither was also an early arrival, for he had read the tremendous
news in the evening newspaper.

"City Clerk Succeeds to Marquisate of Pelborough.

"Successful claimant to an extinct peerage dies, and title goes to a
young insurance agent."

He had given (by telegram, the reply to which was prepaid) a somewhat
grudging permission for Chick to be present at his uncle's funeral. He
had never dreamt that such an amazing romance lay behind the ceremony.

He, too, waited in his office, the door of which was left ajar so that he
should know when his lordly subordinate arrived.

Chick sat at his desk, unlocked the drawers, and took out his
form-letters. The funeral of his eccentric uncle had not saddened him; it
was a far greater tragedy that he should be obliged to dispose of Dr.
Beane's domestic staff and place the contents of the house in the hands
of a local auctioneer. There had been an unpleasant day of sorting the
doctor's personal papers, and Chick began to understand faintly how
absorbing an interest this peerage had been to his uncle. He came back to
work with a sense of relief. Fortune he had none. The doctor was living
on an annuity, and had left something under five hundred pounds.

The cottage, and the land on which it stood--and which Chick refused to
sell--might be worth another five hundred pounds, and that was all.

He had hardly taken up his pen before the untidy Mr. Leither walked from
his bureau, a cigarette drooping from his lips, his waistcoat speckled
grey with ash.

"Morning, Pelborough," he said, almost defiantly.

Chick stared and grinned. He had not grown accustomed to his noble title,
and Mr. Leither was the first man who had addressed him as though he were
a railway station.

"Good morning, sir," said Chick.

Mr, Leither coughed.

"The sad event was duly carried out?" he asked. "In fact, the late
Marquis is--er--interred?"

"The doctor--oh, yes, the Marquis, of course," said Chick hastily. "Yes,
sir, that is all over,"

Mr. Leither coughed again.

"Can I see you a moment--er--Pelborough?"

Chick's heart sank.

"Have I made another mistake, sir?" he said. "I was very careful about
the work on Saturday."

Mr. Leither regarded him with pain.

"Mistake, my--er--dear Pelborough?" he reproached him. "Of course not!
How absurd! Come in."

The insurance agent closed the door behind him.

"Sit down--er--Pelborough. What wage-fees are you getting, my boy?"

"Fees--oh, you mean wages? Two pounds fifteen a week."

"Ridiculous!" murmured Mr. Leither. "Preposterous! Tut, tut. Of course
that is absurd for a man of your position, my--er--dear Pelborough."

He paced the room with determined strides.

"I've been giving your position here a great deal of thought lately. Your
work is highly specialized, Pelborough, never forget that!"

Chick gasped. Was this the man who, only four days ago, had reminded him
that the work he performed could be done, and better done, by a child,
and a ragged child at that?

"I've been thinking things over," said Mr. Leither, lighting another
cigarette, "and I've come to" this conclusion--this business is growing,
but it isn't growing fast enough. We are losing 'lives' that we ought to
get. There are scores of members of the aristocracy who can't be got at,
Pelborough. Good lives--first-class lives. Now, I'll tell you what,
Pelborough. A partnership!"

"A partnership?" said Chick. "Are you taking a partner, Mr. Leither?"

Mr. Leither inclined his head.

"What about my obliterating myself, turning this little business into a
company--the Marquis of Pelborough's Insurance Agency, eh?"

Chick scratched his nose thoughtfully.

"I don't see exactly how you could do that, Mr. Leither," he said. "I
have no money."

"Money!" said the scornful agent. "Money! I've got the money, my boy. You
have the influence. Now, what do you say?"

Chick shook his head.

"I'm not clever enough, Mr. Leither, and I certainly have no influence.
It's very kind of you, but I can't see how I could help you."

"Think it over, Pelborough." Mr. Leither screwed himself up to clapping
the noble back of the new Marquis. "Think it over, my dear boy, and come
and lunch with me at one o'clock."

But Chick had a luncheon engagement which he would not have missed for
the world.

"Not your--er--actress friend?" asked Mr. Leither; and when Chick
admitted that it was his actress friend, Mr, Leither smiled with meaning.

Gwenda Maynard was an actress and an employed actress, to her joy and
relief. If she was no longer a fellow-boarder of Chick's, that was no
fault of his obliging landlady, Mrs. Shipmet, who had literally begged
her to forget that so sordid a matter as an arrear of rent should come
between two people who (in Mrs. Shipmet's own words) "had always been the
best of friends, I'm sure--h'm!"

But Gwenda knew better than any, better than the delighted Chick, that
Mrs. Shipmet's change of front was due to the fear that she would also
lose Chick and the advertisement which the Marquis of Pelborough would
bring to her boarding establishment. And, in truth, Chick had already
composed, in his mind, the letter, announcing his forthcoming departure
from Brockley.

Gwenda was obdurate. She had had the offer of a room in Doughty Street,
Bloomsbury. A woman acquaintance of hers had a flat there, and the girl
had accepted the offer gratefully.

"I've a wonderful room, Chick," she said enthusiastically after their
greeting, "and Maggie Bradshaw has the most gorgeous baby! His name is
Samuel, and you'd adore him."

They lunched in style at the Holborn Restaurant, and the meal was an
unusually extravagant one for Chick.

"What happened after I left?" asked the girl. "Don't forget that I
haven't seen you since Saturday; you were a dear to come all the way to
Bloomsbury with me."

"What happened?" said Chick, trying hard to remember. "I don't exactly
know, When I got back, they were all waiting up for me, and Mrs. Shipmet
was awfully kind, and took me into the senctum and asked me if I would
like a glass of wine. That was kind, too, although I don't drink wine.
She must have thought I was a bit upset."

"Very probably," said Gwenda dryly, "And what did they call you?"

"What did they call me?" repeated Chick, "Oh, I think they called me 'my
lord' or something. It was very embarrassing, because all the people I
didn't like were the most friendly. Even Mr. Fred came down and said it
was an honour to be hit in the jaw by me, which, of course, is stupid."

He looked at the girl thoughtfully,

"Gwenda, I must leave Mrs, Shipmet. She wants to give me her best
bedroom, and I really can't afford it. Couldn't I come to your place?"

The girl's eyes danced with laughter.

"You might come and live with the infant Samuel," she said solemnly.
"Margaret talks of taking another boarder."

Chick nearly leapt out of his chair in his excitement.

"That would be fine," he said. "And are you really working, Gwenda?"

She nodded.

"I am playing the part of Lady Verity. Chick," she said suddenly, "Mr.
Solburg wants to see you."

Chick looked a little uncomfortable.

"I suppose he thought it was awful nerve on my part to call him up last
Saturday and ask him to give you that engagement," he said. "I don't know
what made me do it."

"I know," said the girl softly. "It was because you're the kindest boy
that ever lived, and I got the engagement, too."

She did not tell him that Miss Moran, who had had the part which had been
taken away from her, had been stricken with influenza, and that accounted
for Solburg's change of front.

"I want you to promise me something, Chick."

"I'll promise you anything, Mrs.--Gwenda," said Chick. "When can I come
to Doughty Street?"

"As soon as you like," she answered. "This is what I want you to
promise," she went on. "Don't do anything that Mr. Solburg asks you until
you have seen me."

Chick stared at her.

"What could he ask me, Gwenda?"

"I don't know," said the girl, "but you promise."

"Of course I promise," said Chick. "This has been a tremendously exciting
day for me. Do you know what happened this morning?"

She shook her head.

"I was offered a partnership!"

"With Mr. Leither?" she said, trying to keep a straight face, for she had
seen Mr. Leither, and knew the trials which Chick had undergone at the
hands of his employer.

"It's a fact," said Chick. "You wouldn't believe it, would you? I thought
I should astonish you. I never thought that Mr. Leither was such a kind
soul. He's always been a little strict with me, and only the other day,
in his joking way, he told me a little boy could do the work better than
I. And yet he offered me a partnership right off, without any expense to
myself."

"Wonderful," said the girl. "And did you accept?"

Chick shook his head.

"No," he said. "I didn't think I was up to the job. You see, I don't know
very much about this insurance business, and it rather bores me. Under
those circumstances it wouldn't have been fair for me to accept Mr.
Leither's offer."

"Why do you think he offered it to you?" she asked.

Chick considered,

"I suppose it is because I had come into this title," he said, "and he
thought that I couldn't afford to keep it up. There's a tremendous lot of
kindness in the world, Gwenda, in people whom you'd never suspect, too.
It makes me go all choky when I think about it."

She looked at him long and earnestly.

"You make me go all choky at times," she said quietly. "Now eat your
lunch, and afterwards we'll go over to Doughty Street and interview
Maggie."

Maggie proved to be a tall, attractive, red-haired girl, who smoked
cigarettes all the time and had a grievance against Fate. She was not
completely attired when Chick made his appearance, but Chick was seldom
embarrassed. Even the unusual sight of a pretty lady in a pink
dressing-gown did not so much as surprise him. He had the trick of
accepting what he found, which is half the secret of happiness.

"Maggie, this is Mr. Beane," said Gwenda, to Chick's astonishment. He had
almost forgotten that his name was ever Beane.

"How are you?" said Maggie carelessly. "Take a chair, Mr.
What's--your--name--Mr.--er--"

"This is the gentleman I spoke of, Maggie. Do you think he might have the
bed-sitting-room on the next floor?"

The house in which Maggie Bradshaw lived was divided into two
maisonnettes, and Maggie had mentioned casually that the people below
her--a middle-aged couple--had a room to spare, but could not offer
board. Chick would take this room and board with Maggie. Not an ideal
compromise, but one which had its advantages.

"If he can stand the society of two old married ladies," said Maggie
humorously, "to say nothing of that kid of mine, he can come."

A queer little sound made her turn her head and groan.

"I'll bring him," said Gwenda. She ran out of the room and came back
nursing a small red-haired baby, who was chewing as much of his hand as
his mouth could accommodate. He jerked his eyes round in the queer way
that babies have, first to the window and the fascinations of the bright
light, then to Chick, and Chick grinned and held out his arms.

"You like babies, eh?" said Maggie. "Well, that's one satisfaction."

"Like them?" said Chick, holding the infant Samuel scientifically. "Good
gracious, yes! Everybody likes babies!"

"Then I'm a freak," said Maggie Bradshaw, "for I loathe them."

Chick nearly dropped the child in his amazement.

"You don't like other babies?" he said incredulously.

"I don't like any of them," said Maggie. She fumbled in a yellow box,
produced a cigarette, and puffed a curl of smoke in the air. "I suppose
I'm an unnatural mother. Judging by your face, I'm a monster," she
smiled. "A baby to you is just a lovely little creature to amuse and pet.
To me he is one large piece of iron roped to my ankle."

The baby's soft cheek was against Chick's ear, and suddenly the child
chuckled, a cooing little laugh, as though he had understood the woman's
speech and was enjoying the humour of it.

"Mrs. Bradshaw is joking," smiled Gwenda, to whom this view was no new
one.

She liked the girl. They had played together in the provinces, and Gwenda
had been one of the witnesses of Maggie's wedding to a temperamental
young actor. The marriage had not been a success. Mr. Bradshaw was
touring Australia, and sending very occasional money for the support of
his family. They had not understood one another; they both admitted that.
They also admitted at their last interview that the marriage had been a
mistake, and at the end Mr. Bradshaw had wept and made an impressive exit
to Australia. Mrs. Bradshaw might have made as imposing an exit, but for
the bit of iron.

"I'm not joking," said Maggie, She took the baby from Chick's arms,
smiled in his face, but the infant Samuel was scrutinizing her, his head
first on one side and then on the other, with a wholly expressionless
face. "You think because I feed Sam and look after him, and dress him as
well as I can, and don't beat him or drop him out of the window, that I'm
necessarily fascinated, but you're wrong, Gwenda, my love. I've got to
play the game with him, but I can see him wearing me out and making an
old woman of me."

The infant Samuel emitted a piercing yell, and then drew back his head
and stared, as though he expected some startling result.

"Take him, Gwenda; the little beggar is hungry."

It was Chick who took the child. He had been a holder of babies ever
since he could remember; the satin softness of their skins, the
loveliness of their little wet mouths pressed against his cheek, the
touch of their fairy hands, was unadulterated pleasure to him.

"When do you think of moving in?" asked Mrs. Bradshaw, coming back with a
feeding-bottle.

"On Saturday," suggested Chick.

The woman nodded.

"Give him that, Gwenda," she said. "Look at the little glutton."

The infant Samuel was straining away from Chick, his little round arms
outstretched, his fingers working convulsively.

"I'll show you your room, Mr. Beane."

The room was infinitely better than his room at Brockley, the position
much more central--and there were Gwenda and Samuel.

On his way to the Strand he stopped at a telephone booth to ask
permission from Mr. Leither to take extra time for his luncheon. That
permission was readily, even playfully, given.

"He's a wonderful fellow, is Mr. Leither," said Chick, shaking his head
in astonishment. "I think I've been judging him rather harshly, Gwenda."
Gwenda did not answer.

Chick had never been at "the back of the stage" before. His interview
with Mr. Solburg had taken place at the gentleman's office in the Strand.
He was now to find him in his native element--a man of Jove-like power,
before whom actors and actresses, many of whom were people of title (in
the play), and one at least a sanguinary villain, who stopped at nothing
and feared nobody (on the stage), trembled and grew confused.

He was sitting in the deserted stalls, watching three people talk at one
another in inaudible tones. Chick would have lingered on the cold stage,
lit only by one batten, to watch this rehearsal, but the girl led him by
the arm through the pass-door into the stalls.

Mr. Solburg greeted him with no more effusion than on their last meeting.

"Sit down, my lord, will you?" he asked. And then, addressing the
stage-fold: "You ought to be farther down stage, Mr. Trevelyn, when you
make the speech about the baby, and you, Miss Walters, should be farther
to the o.p. side...That's right. Not too far, please; there will be a
window there with garden backing."

"Where's the baby?" whispered Chick, a little overawed.

"It is in the property-room, having its nose fixed," said Gwenda in the
same tone; and Chick started violently, until he saw her twitching lips.

"Now go on from where Miss Walters comes in," commanded Mr. Solburg.

Miss Walters came in and was greeted by Mr. Trevelyn, but what they said
to one another Chick could not hear.

"I wish they'd speak up," he whispered, and Gwenda smiled.

"They're only 'walking through' the parts," she said, "just to get their
actions right."

"Never seen a rehearsal before, m'lord?" asked Solburg over his shoulder.

"No, sir," said Chick.

"This isn't a real run through," explained Solburg, half twisting round
(they sat behind him). "We are just 'walking' a few of the scenes. Now,
Mrs. Maynard, this is where you go on."

Gwenda was no more audible than her fellow-players. She was corrected
twice by Mr. Solburg, to Chick's surprise and disgust.

"Cross to left down stage, Mrs. Maynard. No, no, down stage in front of
Miss Walters. That's right. You ought to be near the door. Stop! Put a
chair there, somebody, to indicate the door."

He took a cigar-case from his pocket and offered it to Chick.

"Don't smoke cigars? You're wise." Solburg was regarding the stage
seriously and intently. "How would you like to be an actor, my lord?"

"Me?" said Chick in surprise.

"You," nodded Solburg. "Just a small but important part. I could get the
author to write one in. You'd only have a few lines to say, and you
wouldn't be on the stage ten minutes."

Chick was laughing softly.

"Do you like the idea?" asked Mr. Solburg, turning abruptly so that his
good-humoured face was within a few inches of Chick's. "You'd be near
your friend Mrs. Maynard, and the salary would be twenty--no, twenty-five
pounds a week for eight performances."

"No," said Chick. "It's awfully kind of you, Mr. Solburg, and I guess the
reason which prompts you. But I'm not an actor, and I should be keeping
out of employment some person who was."

Solburg frowned.

"No, you wouldn't," he said. "But that's by the way. Will you think it
over?"

Chick shook his head.

"I couldn't," he said definitely, and Mr. Solburg smiled.

"I think you're wise," he said. It was his pet tag, and usually he was
sincere when he said it. "Only, if you feel like accepting another offer
that's bigger, come to me and give me the chance of giving you as much."

"I shan't go on the stage," said Chick, "and I don't suppose anybody else
will be interested in me to the extent of offering me so wonderful a
salary."

Again Mr. Solburg looked round.

"My dear boy," he said, with a half-smile that made his strongly Hebraic
face almost sinister, "they won't offer it for your good--they'll want to
exploit you, as I do. That's frank, isn't it? Frankness is my best vice.
They'll want you to appear because you're a nine days' wonder, a romance,
and because the Marquis of Pelborough would look wonderful in the cast.
That's why I wanted you--and because you're a good lad, too, if I may
take the liberty, my lord!"

Chick nodded vigorously. He felt behind the offer a generosity and
sincerity which deprived him of speech.

"Come into the theatre when you like," said Solburg. "I'll put your name
on the door and stage-door. You can go on the stage when you like. Come
to dinner with me one night, when I've got this production off my mind,
and I'll point out to you every crook and mug who is likely to get at
you. And, believe me, Lord Pelborough, they will come after you!"

"Thank you, I will, Mr. Solburg," said Chick gratefully.

"I think you're wise," said Mr. Solburg.

It was nearly four o'clock when Chick reached his office--he was in a
panic when he saw the time by the post-office clock. But, bless you, if
Chick had not returned until six, he would have earned no more than an
indulgent smile. It is true that the ledger-clerk was a little
disappointed that the new Marquis had returned from lunch perfectly
sober, for he was a patron of the pictures, and was strong for a
dissolute nobility.

Before he left that night, Chick informed the chief clerk that he was
changing his address.

"Quite right," said that worthy man. "Ritz Hotel, I suppose?
Eh--comrade?"

"Not exactly--comrade," said Chick gravely, and went back to Brockley to
break the news.

Mrs. Shipmet, the good hostess of Acacia Lodge, was arrayed in her best,
for she had had an important day. Hitherto her acquaintance with modern
journalism had been restricted. She looked upon newspaper reading as a
lazy practice, mostly indulged in by bad servants and out-of-work
boarders. If she approved of newspapers at all, it was because they came
in handy to line the larder shelves, or were very necessary for kindling
the drawing-room fire.

And now the painstaking and reliable character of news collection was
revealed to her. All day long she had sat in her "senctum" and had spoken
with respectable young men, many of them, to all appearances, gentlemen,
and these reporters had made notes in quaint wild scrawls, which Mrs.
Shipmet knew at once was shorthand, and had treated her with the respect,
and even reverence, which is due to important personages.

She had told all she knew about Chick--his manners, habits, recreations,
tastes in literature, art and science. He was "more like a son" than a
lodger, she told them all, and his accession to the title "had not
altogether surprised her." She left the impression that that was the good
fortune which was very likely to overtake anybody who was "more like a
son" to her.

She saw Chick from afar off, and was at the door to meet him.

"Good evening, my lord," She would have curtsied, but wasn't quite sure
how it was done in these days. "And did you enjoy your visit?" she asked
tactlessly,

"I seldom enjoy funerals," said Chick, and the lady became appropriately
sad.

"We've all got to come to it," she said, shaking her head mournfully.

"So I've noticed," said Chick, with a smile. "I want to see you, Mrs.
Shipmet."

Mrs. Shipmet had her suspicions, which were soon to be confirmed. She led
the way a little majestically to the "senctum."

"I'm going to other lodgings nearer my office," said Chick. "I have been
thinking of this move for some time."

"Indeed?" said Mrs. Shipmet, implying her doubt. "I hope Mrs. Maynard
hasn't persuaded you against your better judgment, Mr.--I mean, my lord?"
Chick smiled.

"I don't see how I could be persuaded against my better judgment, Mrs.
Shipmet," he said. "And speaking of Mrs. Maynard, she has sent you this
cheque."

He laid an envelope on the table. Mrs. Shipmet sniffed at it. Though she
had never seen a dishonoured cheque in her life, she always regarded
payment by this instrument as "unsatisfactory." She looked her
dissatisfaction.

"I can't expect your lordship to stay on in my humble dwelling," she
said, with an asperity of tone which discredited her disparaging
reference, "the more so as what I might term the chief attraction has
departed and is no more seen."

It was a peculiarity of Mrs. Shipmet that when she was ruffled, her
language took on a Biblical character. Chick's blue eyes fixed and held
her.

"I was sorry Mrs. Maynard had gone," he said, "and if she had stayed, I
don't think I should have thought of leaving. I hope you aren't cross,
Mrs. Shipmet?"

She said something about having done her best for him; he had always had
the best of everything, and it seemed rather hard that he should be
dragged away.

"When are you thinking of leaving, sir--my lord?" she asked.

"Now," said Chick laconically.

He had not intended leaving for a week. Mrs. Shipmet wept, and Chick
packed.

His landlady so far recovered, on his departure, as to ask his approval
of a new business card she had drafted, at the head of which was to
appear (in gold letters) the words:

"Under the distinguished patronage of and highly recommended by The Most
Honourable the Marquis of Pelborough, K.G."

"What is K.G.?" asked Chick curiously.

"Knight of the Garter," said the landlady.

"But I'm not!" protested Chick. "And what's all this stuff about 'Most
Honourable'? Really, Mrs. Shipmet, I think you're very kind, but that
Most Honourable makes me very uncomfortable. I've always tried to be
honourable, but it is rather cheap, isn't it, boasting?"

It was explained to him that 'Most Honourable' was the customary prefix
to his title, just as "Honourable" and "Right Honourable" go before the
names of certain politicians, statesmen, and peers of lower rank. He
approved the testimonial, striking out only the dignity to which he had
not attained.

His fellow-guests brought him their autograph books, and he signed "Chick
Pelborough" until it was pointed out to him that members of the nobility
only signed their title-names, whereupon he flourished "Pelborough" under
certain moral maxims which were favourites of his.

It was late when his taxi reached Doughty Street, and he began to wonder
if the household was in bed. After much ringing, Maggie appeared, still
in her dressing-gown.

"Hullo!" she said in surprise. "I thought you weren't coming for a week.
Have they chucked you out?"

She showed the way up to her sitting-room.

"Gwenda isn't back from the theatre yet," she said. "They are having
their first dress rehearsal to-night." She looked at Chick dubiously.
"I'd better go and see the people downstairs about your room," she said.
"You like Sam, don't you?" she asked suddenly.

"I'm very fond of little babies," admitted Chick, and she looked at him
strangely.

Chick found it difficult to analyse his feelings in regard to Maggie
Bradshaw. She was rather over-powering, a tall, strongly-built girl, with
a big mop of red hair, about which he had spoken enthusiastically to
Gwenda, without, however, evoking any very hearty response. She was
good-looking in a heavy way. Her features were too bold. Too bold--that
was the quality in her which checked his liking.

"Yes," she said thoughtfully, "you're a kind sort of kid--maybe...yes..."

She did not attempt to fill up the blanks in her speech, but went
downstairs to Chick's new landlord.

She came back in ten minutes and handed him a key.

"Your room is facing the entrance," she said. "They've put your trunk
inside, so you can't mistake your little cell. Do you want to see your
new home? They won't be in bed for hours yet, and Mr. Worthing said he'd
wait up for you."

She told him that his new landlord was a lawyer's clerk, and that his
wife was inclined towards spiritualism.

"Otherwise, they're ideal people," she said, and went on to talk about
Gwenda. Here she was fascinating to Chick. She was the first person he
had ever met who knew his friend or was anxious to talk about her. Maggie
knew surprisingly little of Gwenda's early life, as it proved.

"She's never mentioned her husband to me," said Maggie, "and, Heaven
knows, I've spoken enough about my little bit of trouble. Sometimes I
think Mr. Gwenda Maynard must be in gaol, she's so cheery."

Gwenda and she had met when they were both playing in the same touring
show.

"That was when I met my doom," said Maggie grimly. "You think I'm
heartless, Mr. Beane, and I suppose I am, but do you know what Samuel
means? It means that I've had to turn down the best offer that I've ever
had--to play my old part in Princess Zelia. It opens in New York next
month, and there's a contract waiting for me to sign and steamer
reservation already made. I've got to go and see Brancsome to-morrow and
tell him that I'm engaged by Samuel and Co. to play the heavy mother in
the great boarding-house drama 'Chained by the Leg.'" She laughed and
threw her cigarette into the fire, and it was at that moment that
Gwenda's key turned in the lock.

"Chick!" she said in amazement. "Whatever are you doing here?"

"He has been driven from home," said Maggie, looking at the clock, "and
this is where Samuel gets his night-cap."

Chick helped the girl off with her coat and gave a resume of the events
of the evening.

"So you told her you left because I'd gone, did you?" said Gwenda. "How
lovely you are, Chick! Yes, it has been a trying night. Solburg made us
do one scene over and over again until I could have screamed."

She drew a long sigh.

"Well, you're here, anyway. Has Maggie been discussing the duties and
responsibilities of motherhood?"

"I'm sorry for Mrs. Bradshaw," said Chick.

"Be professional and call her Maggie," smiled Gwenda. "But you're sorry
for everybody, Chick."

"I'm sorry for Samuel, of course," he confessed, "but I sort of see her
point of view." He wrinkled his forehead in thought. "I wish one could
buy babies," he said, "the same as you can buy cats and canaries."

"Don't make Maggie an offer, or she'll give him to you," warned Gwenda,
bubbling with laughter. "Chick, you ought to run a creche! And talking of
infants reminds me that Solburg has had a youthful reporter with him all
the evening. Solburg is a good sort, and I think he was splendid to you
this afternoon; but he has queer ideas about things, and he'll do almost
anything for an advertisement. He always runs some stunt for the first
night of a show."

"When is your first night?" asked Chick.

She shook her head.

"I shan't tell you, and I don't want you to know, so please don't read
the newspapers for a day or two. I'd be scared to death if you were in
front."

Mr. Solburg's passion for publicity was revealed the next morning. Chick,
who had passed a restless night, owing to the strangeness of his
surroundings, got up early and rang the bell of the upper maisonette
before half-past eight.

To his surprise, Maggie was up and dressed.

"Rather a shock to see me without my dressing-gown, eh?" she laughed.
"Come along up and have breakfast. Gwenda has something to show you."

The something was a newspaper wherein was announced that "for one night
only the Marquis of Pelborough would make his first appearance on any
stage" in the Society drama Tangled Lives.

"The Marquis is expected to be one of the guests assembled in the great
ballroom scene."

Gwenda held the paper whilst he read the lines aloud.

"That is Solburg," she said viciously. "I knew he was planning something
of the sort."

"But I'm not going!" said the indignant Chick. "Of course I shan't
appear."

"Of course you won't," said Gwenda scornfully. "But everybody in the
audience will be pointing out one or the other supers on the stage and
saying 'There's the Marquis,' and that is all Solburg wants. The next day
he will say that, owing to an indisposition, you couldn't appear. He'll
have had his advertisement, and that is all that will matter. It is too
bad."

How "bad" it was, Chick discovered when he turned up at Leither's.
Although the hour was early, the office was besieged by reporters. Had
Chick waited and seen them, his denial would have been printed. Instead,
a warning--which was not intended as a warning--delivered by the
ledger-clerk, who was waiting on the mat, sent him hurriedly to the
nearest telephone station, there to call up Mr. Leither and implore him
to get rid of the Press-men. Which Mr. Leither did, in his blandest
manner, by admitting the truth of the paragraph. For Mr. Leither
represented a category which was in direct opposition to the Shipmet
school, and believed implicitly in the printed word.

"I'm sorry, my boy--my dear Pelborough," he said, when Chick had stolen
furtively into the office, the first furtive act of his life. "Seemed
true enough. Why shouldn't you go on the stage, my dear boy? It is a very
respectable profession. I have had several good 'lives' from the stage. I
negotiated one policy for ten thousand pounds."

"Mr. Solburg's won't be a good life, if I see him this morning," said
Chick, with some heat.

"He never was a good life, my dear Pelborough," said Mr. Leither gravely.

Chick's position in the office was now an alarming one. As an
insignificant dispatcher of "follow-up" letters and guardian of the
day-book, he had found work which was well within his grasp, and did not
make any very severe demands upon his abilities. But the day-book had
been handed over to the ledger-clerk, and the addressing of envelopes had
been taken in hand by the typist. There was apparently no work for Chick
to do, except to sit still whilst Mr. Leither patted him from time to
time, or respond when addressed as "my dear Pelborough." Many more people
came to call upon the insurance agent than had ever called before. They
spoke to Mr. Leither, but they looked at Chick. This did not bother the
new peer. What did worry him was that when he discovered something useful
to do, the thing he was doing was taken from his hands by his colleagues.

It was "Excuse me, I'll fill that ink-pot," or "Pardon me, let me change
that blotting-paper," until Chick in despair was driven to drawing
figures on his blotting-pad. Even then the office stood round and admired
audibly.

He dined that night with Maggie alone. She was very serious, and he
thought she had been weeping. It must have been her interview with
Brancsome, the agent, and the refusal of the tempting contract. He
remembered that and sympathized with her.

"Gwenda won't be home to dinner, of course," she said, and Chick wondered
why she said "of course." Perhaps the rehearsals would be longer and more
tedious today. He had intended, in spite of her admonition, discovering
when the new play was to be produced, but the matter had slipped from his
mind.

"You think I'm an awful creature, don't you?" asked Maggie for the third
time during the meal.

"I never think people are really awful," said Chick. "When I was learning
to box, the first thing I was taught was to have a very high opinion of
the people I had to meet--and they were queer fellows, too. If I don't
think badly of them, why should I think badly of you? It is a pity you
don't love Samuel."

"Have some more potatoes," said Maggie almost roughly.

After the meal was finished and cleared away, Maggie came back to the
little dining-room, where Chick had settled himself to read, and to his
astonishment she was dressed for going out.

"Do you mind listening for baby? I shall be gone for an hour," she asked.
"I don't suppose he'll wake until eleven, so don't go in to him, please."

Chick smiled.

"I'll listen with both ears," he said.

She went to the door, hesitated, and came back; then, before Chick could
realize what she was doing, she stooped and kissed him.

"You're a good boy," she said, and was gone before he could find speech.

"Gosh!" said Chick at last, for nobody more attractive than a maiden aunt
had ever kissed him.

He read his book--it was Prescott's Peru--stopping now and again to
tiptoe to the door of Maggie's room (he afterwards discovered that he had
really been listening at the kitchen door) and to creep back to his
chair. It was nearly ten o'clock when he realized that Maggie had been
gone a long time. And with that realization came a faint and fretful
howl. He jumped up, located the sound, and went into the right room, to
discover Samuel blinking strangely and making queer noises.

"What is the matter, old top?" asked Chick, picking him up in his arms.
But Samuel continued to behave strangely. And then, looking round for a
bottle, Chick saw the letter propped up against one of the ornaments on
the mantelshelf. He carried the baby nearer and read:

"I am going to leave Samuel. Look after him. I must earn money--this flat
has put me hopelessly in debt. Look after Samuel, please. I will send
money. I shall not return for six months. Please look after Samuel; it
breaks my heart to leave him. There is," (should be 'are,' thought Chick)
"twenty pounds on my dressing-table. The furniture can be sold to pay the
tradesmen. Look after Samuel. Maggie."

"My sacred aunt!" breathed Chick, and then his attention was violently
jerked to Samuel. The little man was red in the face, and Chick laid him
face downwards across his knees and rubbed his back. But Samuel was not
appeased. A thin hair-raising shriek advertised his discomfort, and Chick
snatched him up again. What should he do? He was certain Samuel was ill,
and he could not go for a doctor. He found a shawl and wrapped Samuel
tight. His landlady was out; Chick must take the child himself to
discover a doctor--no simple matter in a strange neighbourhood.

Fortune was with him, for he picked up an empty taxi almost at the door.
Under the influence of the taxi's jolting progress, Samuel's shrieks died
to a whimper. Though the night was cold, and Chick had neither greatcoat
nor hat, he was moist with fear.

A policeman directed him to a doctor's house, and suggested a hospital.
The doctor was out, and Chick grew moister. Gwenda! She would understand.
He directed the taxi to the Strand.

He got out of the cab at the stage door of the Strand-Broadway, and
nobody stopped him as he went cautiously down the dark stairs to the door
which he knew led to the stage. And now, dodging the heavy sets, he came
to the wings, and Samuel howled piteously.

Thank goodness, there was Gwenda! The rehearsal was in full swing, all
the lights were blazing, and she occupied the stage alone. What was more,
she was looking in his direction, made up, too, with painted face and
blackened eyebrows. He tried to attract her attention, and apparently
succeeded, for she stretched out her arms, and her intense vibrant voice
called:

"Give me the child! Give me the child!"

Chick could not know that she was appealing to the stage soldiers who had
taken her stage baby.

As the elegant Mr. Trevelyn, sneering heavily, came through the canvas
door to mock her, Chick bolted from the wings. Samuel had got his head
clear of the shawl and was looking wide-eyed at the bright lights.

"Maggie's gone!" said Chick hoarsely, "and Samuel's swallowed something!"

He heard the gasp from a thousand throats, and turned his head to the
footlights. Beyond them was a sea of pink faces and white shirt-fronts.
It was the first night of Tangled Lives, and he had made his first
appearance before an audience.

"Moses!" said Chick, as the curtain dropped.



CHAPTER III - A WRIT OF SUMMONS


Had the eminent author of Tangled Lives foreseen that at the conclusion
of his third act there would arrive on the stage, a little blinded by the
glare of the lights, more than a little worried for the child of tender
years he bore in his arms, no less a personage than the Most Honourable
the Marquis of Pelborough, who, having arrived, would blunder into the
very thrill of a carefully devised finish, he could not have written
words that better fitted the situation when Chick stumbled on to the
stage of the Strand-Broadway Theatre, holding the infant Samuel in his
arms. For these were the lines:

Lady Verity (appealingly): Give me the child! Give me the child!

Count Robing: You shall never see him again! Ha, ha, ha!

(Enter Flemming hurriedly: he bears a child in his arms.)

Flemming: You lie! The child is here!

(Curtain.)

The eminent author, it is true, did not suggest that the mother of the
child had bolted, or that the infant himself had swallowed a foreign
body, as Chick, obtruding a vital fact into the realms of dramatic
fiction, stated so definitely. Let the curtain of the Strand-Broadway
fall; let the dramatic critics gather together in the bar, puzzled by the
"comedy finish" to a tragic scene; let Mr. Solburg, that important
manager, stroll to the back of the stage, shaking with internal laughter,
and realizing that he has a big story to give to the newspaper men the
next morning, and let Chick be hurried back to Doughty Street for a
feeding-bottle and the wherewithal to fill it, whilst an aged dresser
hushes the infant, and then let Chick's diary bridge a gulf.

Saturday 30th.--Became a marquis.

Monday 1st.--Buried my uncle.

Wednesday 3rd.--Appeared on stage; adopted baby.

Thursday 4th.--Salary raised to £5 a week.

Four dramatic days in an amazing week.

Hitherto Chick's life had run smoothly, if not normally. The work of an
insurance clerk with a limited income is governed by a ready-made
routine. His uncle's endless petitions to the House of Lords that the
ancient Marquisate of Pelborough should be revived in his favour. Chick
had regarded so indulgently that his attitude was almost one of
indifference. It was the mild contempt of youth for the foibles and fads
of the aged. And lo! a miracle had happened. The Lords had endorsed the
claim of Dr. Beane, and the old man had been literally shocked to death,
leaving an earnest youth to the enjoyment of the title.

On the night of his involuntary appearance in drama Chick could not
sleep. He turned the matter over in his mind. He was a marquis, a peer of
the realm, a descendant of kings and great warriors. He had an uneasy
sense of responsibility without the slightest idea of how that
responsibility could be met.

His landlord, the lawyer's clerk, had given him permission to read any of
the books which filled half a dozen shelves in the dining-room.

At three o'clock Chick turned on the light and padded softly into the
little dining-room in search of knowledge and guidance. Perhaps there was
a book about lords. There were, in fact, half a dozen, but they were
novels. He skimmed through several of these and discovered that there
were two distinct brands. There was one kind which was old and stately
and held his head high, and there was another which indulged in betting
and behaved abominably to his lady friends. Chick carried the books back
and renewed his search.

He found what he wanted in a well-worn encyclopaedia, sitting on the edge
of his bed. Under "Marquis" he discovered that he ranked nearly as high
as a duke.

"Je-hos-o-phat!" said Chick aloud.

"The mantle is scarlet, with three and a half doublings of ermine."

What mantle, he wondered? And what was a "doubling"? He was thrilled to
read that "one of the earliest creations of this title was that conferred
upon Charles, Earl of Steffield, who was created Marquis of Pelborough by
Richard III."

He put the book back on the shelf and went to sleep, and was awakened by
a little maid-servant, who brought him a cup of coffee at half-past
seven. With daylight came a sense of the problems which he had dismissed
the night before.

Gwenda was up and his breakfast was being laid when he rang the bell, and
it was she who admitted him.

"Good morning, Chick! Have you seen the newspapers?" she asked, when he
sat down to breakfast.

Chick started guiltily.

"No, I haven't. They haven't said anything about my bringing Samuel to
you?" he demanded hoarsely.

"They haven't," said the grim Gwenda, "but they will!"

"How is Samuel?"

She smiled. "He slept like a young angel. Chick, what are we to do with
him?"

"I told you last night, Gwenda," said Chick doggedly. "I'm going to adopt
him till his mother comes back."

"And what about this flat?" asked Gwenda, with great patience.

"I'll pay all her bills, and we'll keep the flat going." Chick was very
definite and business-like this morning, thought the girl. "I have enough
money to do that."

But the adoption was to prove a bigger and more complicated business than
he had thought. It meant the engagement of a nurse, and the nurse must
also act as housekeeper, chaperon, and friend of Gwenda's, or the dream
menage he had planned tumbled to pieces. Gwenda put no obstacles in the
way, as well she might, for the position was an awkward one for her. It
involved the adoption of Samuel by her, and not by Chick at all.

The gods were very good to Chick that day. The first visit at a servants'
registry produced Mrs. Orlando Phibbs. It even produced her in the flesh,
for Mrs. Phibbs was on the premises when the girl called. At first sight
Gwenda was not impressed, Mrs. Phibbs was big and majestic. She had large
and imposing features and a double chin, and she listened to Gwenda's
requirements, rather haltingly stated, with a calm detachment which was
very chilling. And then Gwenda had an inspiration. She told the whole
story of Maggie and Samuel, and the ultroneous adoption by Chick, and as
she progressed, the ponderous dignity of Mrs. Phibbs relaxed and a broad
smile humanized her forbidding face.

"My dear," she said briskly, "I think this is my job."

She was the widow of a doctor, and had been a nurse in her youth. Her
husband--this she said with the greatest calmness--had drunk himself to
death, leaving a number of "debts of honour" which gave her infinite
satisfaction to repudiate, four tickets in the Calcutta Sweepstake, and a
house so cleverly mortgaged that the doctor would undoubtedly have ended
his days in prison had his fraud been discovered in time. She revealed
these details on their way back to the flat.

"I'm not a decayed gentlewoman, and don't think of me as one," Mrs.
Phibbs warned her. "I'm troubled with a sense of humour and an occasional
'go' of rheumatism."

Samuel, who had been left in the care of his self-appointed guardian,
adopted Mrs. Phibbs with acclamation.

And Mrs. Phibbs was truly wonderful. She settled herself in the room of
Samuel's fugitive mother, took control of the girl whom Maggie had
employed, and ordered Chick to give notice to his landlord and occupy the
room which had been originally designed for him.

"Propriety!" said Mrs. Phibbs scornfully. "I've a son in the Army who
could eat that boy! What is his name, by the way?"

"The Marquis of Pelborough," said Gwenda.

Mrs. Phibbs stopped her work.

"The Marquis of--oh, yes! I read something about it in the papers. He is
the boy who inherited the title from an uncle. Phew!" Mrs. Phibbs
whistled shrilly but musically. "An interesting household, Mrs. Maynard.
Your husband doesn't live here?"

Gwenda shook her head. "I think it would be best if I told you about my
marriage," she said, and evidently the explanation she gave for her
husband's absence was wholly satisfactory. "Chick--Lord
Pelborough--doesn't know, and I don't want him to know," she said. "I've
never told anybody but you, and it is strange that I should take you into
my confidence."

Chick was exactly an hour and a half late in reaching his office. He had
telephoned Mr. Leither, and that obliging man had told him to take the
day; but Chick was beginning to feel conscience-stricken, and had
resolved that this irregularity of conduct must cease forthwith. He went
so far as to seek an interview with his employer and to suggest that this
lost time should be deducted from his wages, but Mr. Leither pooh-poohed
the suggestion.

"You take these things too seriously, my dear Pelborough," he said
genially. "By the way, I have raised your salary to five pounds a week.
It is wholly inadequate "--he shrugged his shoulders--"and I must lighten
the work for you, Pelborough, I really must. After today your desk will
be in my room. I can't have you out there with the clerks--that will
never do."

Chick heard of this new arrangement with dismay, and endeavoured to
discover what his duties would be. Apparently they began and ended by his
looking as ornamental and important as possible, and interviewing
possible clients.

"There's one thing I'd like to speak to you about," said Mr. Leither, in
some discomfort of mind. "What about clothes?"

"Clothes?" said the puzzled Chick.

"I have the best tailor in the world," said Mr. Leither extravagantly.
Chick thought that he was not a good advertisement for that excellent
tradesman, but said nothing. "Suppose you go along and order half a dozen
suits. A dress-suit--have you got a dress-suit, Pelborough?"

"No, I haven't," admitted Chick.

"You ought to have." Mr. Leither shook his head. "What about shirts and
boots and things? My dear Pelborough, you really must dress up to your
station. Now, look at me." Chick looked at him, and thought he had never
seen a man upon whom the ingenuity of tailor and cutter were so patently
wasted. "Suppose I came here dressed like a ragamuffin--not that you are
a ragamuffin, my dear Pelborough; that is a little figure of speech--what
chance should I have of inspiring confidence in 'lives'?"

It was a new thought for Chick, and he carried his trouble to Gwenda, for
now he went home to lunch.

"I think he's right," said the girl. "But, Chick dear, you must buy your
own clothes. You cannot be under an obligation to Mr. Leither."

"Of course I'll buy my own clothes," said Chick in surprise. "He wasn't
suggesting that he should pay for them."

"I rather think he was," smiled the girl.

The question of clothes was to come into greater prominence than Chick or
the girl supposed or imagined.

The following morning a letter reached him, readdressed from Brockley--a
large white envelope and bulky. It was addressed to "The Most Honourable
the Marquis of Pelborough, etc." What those etceteras meant were revealed
in the contents of the communication.

"To Our Right Trusty and Well-Beloved Charles, Marquis of Pelborough,
Earl of Steffield, Viscount Morland, Baron Pelborough in the County of
Westshire, Baron Slieve, Master of Kollochbach, etcetera.

"Greeting. WHEREAS Our Parliament for arduous and urgent affairs
concerning Us the State and defence of Our said United Kingdom and the
Church is now met at Our City of Westminster. We strictly enjoining
command you upon the faith and allegiance by which you are bound to Us
that considering the difficulty of the said affairs and dangers impending
(waiving all excuses) you be personally present at our aforesaid
Parliament with Us and with the Prelates Nobles and Peers of our said
Kingdom to treat and give your counsel upon the affairs aforesaid. And
this as you regard Us and Our honour and the safety and defence of the
said United Kingdom and Church and dispatch of the said affairs in nowise
do you omit. Witness Ourself at Westminster...etc...etc..."

"What does that mean?" he gasped. They were at breakfast, the three, and
Samuel, in a bright scarlet dressing-gown was sitting in a baby-chair in
the background, chewing a spoon. "I don't know any of these people."

"Which people?" asked Gwenda.

"This Earl of Steffield, and Viscount Morland, and Baron
What's-his-name..."

But Gwenda was helpless with laughter.

"Chick, you silly dear, you're all those people," she said. "They're your
secondary titles."

"Gosh!" said Chick. "Am I really?"

"Of course you are. When you grow up and you have children, you will give
the second title to your son. He will be Earl of Steffield."

"But does this mean I've got to go to the House of Lords?"

Gwenda nodded. "I was wondering how long it would be before you were
summoned. Yes, Chick, you are now one of our hereditary legislators."

"H'm!" said Chick. "I'll drop in this afternoon and get it over."

She was still laughing.

"Oh, Chick, you can't drop in at the House of Lords and get things over,"
she said, dropping her hand on his shoulder and shaking him gently. "The
thing is to be done with ceremony. You had better write and say that you
will take your seat next Monday, and I'll find out what you have to do."

"But couldn't I just call in, and say 'How do you do?' and come away?"
said the worried Chick, "I don't want to waste any time. I've been rather
unfair to Mr. Leither, and we've got a man coming on Monday afternoon who
is pretty certain to take out a big policy, and Mr. Leither will want me
to tell him all about the schedules."

She explained that the introduction of a new Lord in Parliament was
something of a ceremonial, and that night, when he met her at the
stage-door to bring her home, she gave him particulars which terrified
him.

"I've been talking to Mr. Solburg," she said, "and really Solburg is much
nicer than I thought he was. He hasn't said anything to the Press, Chick,
about your appearance in the third act of Tangled Lives. He said the play
is going so well that it doesn't want any extra advertisement. You'll
have to get an hour off to-morrow and lunch with Mr. Solburg."

The lunch was at a club in Mayfair of which Mr. Solburg was a member, and
the beauty of the room, the smartness of the lunchers, and the general
air of luxury which prevailed, struck Chick dumb.

"No, I shouldn't advise you to be a member here, my lord," said the frank
Mr. Solburg. "You're pretty safe so long as you have no money, but there
are men and women in this room who would find a way of pawning your
title."

He pointed out one or two notorieties. Very respectable persons they
seemed, thought Chick, and was amazed to discover that they lived on the
border-line of rascality.

"That fellow over there works the American liners," said Mr. Solburg.
"He's the son of a lord, and an 'honourable', but he's the decoy duck
that brings the other birds to the slaughter."

"But why are you a member of this dreadful club?" asked Chick,
astonished.

"They don't bother me," said the comfortable Solburg.

"They would bother me," said Chick, "and this is the place I should
certainly avoid if I had money--which, thank Heaven, I haven't."

"I think you're wise," said Mr. Solburg.

After lunch he drove him in his big car to make a call on Stainers, the
famous theatrical costumiers.

"We can do the robe," said Mr. Stainer, who was of Mr. Solburg's
nationality. "Real ermine, Mr. Solburg. It was used by "--he mentioned
the name of a great actor manager--"but the coronet we have to hire from
Fillings of Bury Street, and they'll want a deposit."

"Make me responsible," said Solburg, "but get a good coronet, and see
that it fits his lordship."

With due solemnity Mr. Stainer measured the size of Chick's head, and
that night robe and coronet were delivered at Doughty Street, and Chick
tried them on before an admiring audience.

The coronet had been made for a larger head than Chick's, but Gwenda,
with folded paper and a few quick stitches, managed to make it fit. Chick
surveyed himself sombrely in the glass, His scarlet mantle trailed on the
ground, his big ermine cape smothered him, but the sight of the coronet
on his head, with its pearls and its strawberry leaves, hypnotized him.

"Gosh!" he said at last.

It was a word which adequately expressed his emotions.

"I look like a king, Gwenda. I shan't be mistaken for anybody like that,
shall I?" he asked in alarm.

"Don't be silly, Chick. Of course you won't."

"But am I to walk through the streets all dressed up?" asked Chick in
horror. "Of course I could go by bus or take a taxi, but they would laugh
at me," protested Chick. "Couldn't I go in, and carry this thing in my
hand and my robes over my arm, just to show 'em that I'd got 'em?"

"You dress at the House of Lords," smiled the girl. "Chick, you're being
crazy."

Gwenda took complete charge of the arrangements. That afternoon she went
to the House of Lords, and after passing the scrutiny of numerous
officials, having interviewed the Yeoman Usher, and the Secretary to the
Great Chamberlain, and the Usher of the Black Rod, and the
Sergeant-at-Arms, and the Gold Stick in Waiting, and divers other high
but very courteous officials, she secured the interview she wanted, and
came back to Chick, flushed with excitement.

"Chick, you're to be introduced to the House by two Lords," she said,
"and you can 'robe'--that is what they call it--in a special room, and
you have to walk up the floor of the House and take the oath and shake
hands with the Lord Chancellor."

"You're pulling my leg, Gwenda," said Chick, going pale.

"And Monday will be such a good day," she went on enthusiastically.
"There is to be a big debate on the Child Workers Bill, and everybody
will be there to see you."

Chick closed his eyes and breathed heavily.

"And here are the names of the people who will introduce you--such nice
men. Chick--Lord Felthinton and the Earl of Mansar. They've read all
about you, and they say they'll be delighted to do anything for you."

"Phew!" said Chick, looking helplessly from side to side.

"Rubbish!" said the practical Mrs. Phibbs. "Anybody would think you were
going to an execution, Chick." (At his earnest request she had adopted
this style of address,)

"Couldn't it be put off for a week?" said the agonized Chick. "We're
awfully busy on Mondays."

"You're going on Monday," insisted Gwenda firmly. "Now, Chick, don't let
us have any argument about this, and I think you ought to wear a Court
suit. I'm going to ask Mr. Solburg about it."

The week passed all too quickly, but as the fatal day came nearer, Chick
grew more and more resigned.

On the Sunday night he sat reading with Gwenda and the watchful Mrs.
Phibbs. Samuel had retired for the night, and the long silence was broken
only by the rustling of Chick's newspaper and the click of Mrs. Phibbs's
knitting-needles. There was something in Gwenda's pose that was
unexpectedly comforting to Chick. He watched her for some time over the
top of his newspaper. He thought she was the most beautiful woman in the
world, and certainly Gwenda Maynard was pretty. Her face had a delicacy
of moulding which he had never seen in other women's faces. Her eyes were
big and shadowy, and held a mystery which to the boy was insoluble.

"Gwenda," he said, "I've been thinking."

She raised her head from her book.

"I've been thinking about the importance of everybody except me," he
said.

She put down her book.

"It is rather good at times to be impressed by a sense of one's own
nothingness," she said, "but not for you, Chick. You are going to be a
big factor in life."

He shook his head.

"I was reading the political news," he said. "I've never read it before,
and never realized the power of the Government. Why, Gwenda, it can do
anything! It could shut up your theatre or--or--"

"What makes you think all this, Chick?" asked the girl.

"I don't know, only it seems so ridiculous that a fellow like me should
have the nerve to go into Parliament, and that's what it amounts to."

She laughed, stretching out her hand to his and gripping it in her cool
palm.

"You'll be a big man yet, dear," she said. "You'll make and break
Governments like that!" She snapped her disengaged fingers.

"Goodness?" said Chick fearfully. "I hope not!"

Chick faced the day of days a little wanly. He would not have had any
breakfast, but Gwenda insisted, and he absolutely refused any lunch--he
said it would choke him.

The coronet and robes were packed in a suit-case, and Chick insisted upon
travelling to the House of Lords by bus. He said it was less conspicuous.
The girl had received from one of his lordly sponsors a ticket admitting
her to the gallery, to watch the ceremony, and she went with him.

He was reminded of a great cathedral he had once visited. He could not
remember where or in what circumstances, but the place had left just such
an impression as was now revived. He felt it would not be decent to talk
above a whisper in these high vaulted corridors, broad and spacious. The
stone walls were decorated with pictures of historical events, at every
half a dozen paces was a marble pedestal surmounted by the bust of a
dead-and-gone Parliamentarian, and now and again a life-sized statue of
some statesman who had made or mangled history. It was as though he moved
through a large and splendid tomb.

The feet of hurrying men sounded hollowly as they crossed or recrossed
the marble floor of the big lobby. The sing-song voice of an attendant
wailed unintelligible names; there was a loud whisper of sound, for here
the members of the Commons interviewed their constituents.

The entrance to the House of Lords opened from this lobby, and lay at the
end of a broad vestibule, the walls of which were also covered by
historical paintings.

Chick's heart was in his mouth as he approached the first of many
policemen--there seemed hundreds of these courteous men.

"Lord Pelborough? Yes, my lord, I will show your lordship the way."

Chick clung on to the battered suit-case in which the borrowed vestments
of his nobility were packed, and Gwenda and he followed the officer until
they came to another policeman, who took them in charge and finally
piloted them to where the sponsors were waiting.

Chick regarded them with awe and reverence. One was tall and bent, a man
of forty-five, with a keen, intellectual face. He wore an eye-glass and
was fashionably attired. Chick regretted bitterly that he had not
followed Mr. Leither's advice and arrayed himself in something more
striking than a blue serge suit. The second was young, plump and rosy,
and had a tiny moustache.

"This is the Marquis of Pelborough," said Gwenda.

The elder man held out his hand. "I'm very glad to meet you. Lord
Pelborough," he said, with a little smile. "I've read a lot about you."

"Yes, sir--my lord, I mean," said Chick huskily.

"And this is the Earl of Mansar." He introduced the rosy young man, who
grinned amiably.

"It's an awful fag coming down here all dolled up, isn't it?" he said.
"But, bless you, these old devils are so blind they wouldn't notice you
if you came in your pyjamas!"

"Take Lord Pelborough to the robing-room, Mansar. The Lord Chancellor
takes his seat at three. You've got about ten minutes."

Chick was led away as one to the scaffold, but under the cheering
influence of the volatile Mansar, who discoursed eloquently, and without
stopping to take breath, upon the weather, the horrible condition of the
roads, and the mistake of adopting a Parliamentary career. Chick began to
take an interest.

What followed was like a dream. He was dimly conscious of being draped in
his long scarlet robe, and of Lord Mansar and an attendant fixing the
coronet.

"Keep it straight, dear old thing," murmured his lordship. "It's inclined
to go a bit raffishly over your right eye. That's right!"

Chick was led to the lobby. The girl had disappeared.

Lord Felthinton fixed his eye-glass and reviewed the new peer with
approval.

"As a matter of fact. Lord Pelborough," he said, "you should be
introduced by two marquises; but there isn't a marquis in the House
today, and you'll have to be content with the escort of inferiors."

Chick dimly remembered that Gwenda had told him that Lord Felthinton was
one of the richest landowners in England, and during the time of waiting
he tried very politely to turn the conversation to land, about which he
knew nothing more than that it was the substance on which houses were
built. His mouth was dry, and when he spoke his utterance was thick and
sounded like that of somebody else speaking.

An official came through the swing-doors, an elderly gentleman who wore a
chain about his neck and was dressed in knee-breeches and Court coat. He
murmured something and Felthinton nodded.

"Come on, Pelborough," said Mansar. "Buck up! Have you got the summons?"

Chick produced it from his trousers pocket with a trembling hand.

"Off we go," said Mansar cheerfully.

That walk up the red-carpeted floor was the worst part of the dream.
Chick was dimly conscious that to the left and right of him were men who
were clothed in the garments of civilization. He was horribly conscious
that he was fantastically attired. He stood before the table, a peer on
either side of him, and signed his name with a trembling hand, and
repeated that he would "bear true allegiance...heirs and successors..."
and then he was led to a bewigged figure sitting on a broad divan, and
the figure solemnly rose, took off his three cornered hat, and shook
hands with him.

The next thing that Chick really remembered was being in the robing-room
with the Earl of Mansar, and that young man was smiling broadly.

"Dear old thing, you were wonderful!" he said ecstatically. "You were
simply amazing."

"I was," said Chick. "I amazed myself to such an extent that I don't know
whether I'm alive or dead."

"You're alive all right. Get your nightie off, put the strawberry leaves
into the bag. Come along, and we'll listen to this debate."

"But I'm not going back again," said Chick in alarm.

"Yes, you are," said Mansar calmly. "Your young lady has gone into the
gallery, and I told her that I was bringing you back to listen to the
spouters."

Chick mopped his wet brow.

"I've an awful lot of work to do," he said.

"Come along," said Mansar, grasping him by the arm.

This time their entry into the House was unnoticed. Mansar piloted him to
a leather bench to the right of the Lord Chancellor, and Chick, all
unwittingly, found himself supporting the Government. He did not know
that he was supporting the Government, and it would not have worried him
much if he had.

Now he was calmer he had a better opportunity of examining the House. It
was a beautiful chamber, he thought, all gilt and crimson. The people who
occupied the benches did not seem as if they were made to match. They
were, in the main, elderly men, and their attention was concentrated upon
a very stout, tall gentleman who stood by the table and expounded the
views of the Government upon a Bill which was evidently under discussion.

Presently he sat down, and another rose. Chick noted mentally that,
however violently these men might oppose one another's opinions, they
invariably referred to each other as "the noble lord." Once or twice the
wigged figure on the divan--which he was to learn was called the
Woolsack--interposed in the debate, and there was an exchange of heated
courtesies. They addressed him of the divan as "My Lord Chancellor."

Once Chick looked up at the gallery and caught Gwenda's eye. Her face was
glowing with pride, and he smiled up at her.

Then through a fog of words, through the drone of the prosy and the fire
of the eloquent, came an understanding of the subject which was being
discussed, It was an amendment to a Bill which raised the age at which
children could be employed, and Chick forgot the House of Lords, forgot
the girl in the gallery, forgot his own nervousness and embarrassment,
and listened intently, nodding to every sentiment which he approved,
shaking his head violently when a very pompous gentleman, who sat behind
him, insisted that the children of the working classes were better
employed in a factory than wasting their time at school in a vain
endeavour to assimilate knowledge which could not be of any use to them
in after-life.

Then there was a pause. The last speaker sat down, and the Lord
Chancellor threw a glance from left to right. It was at that moment that
Chick decided that he would go out and wait for Gwenda. He rose and
instantly found himself the focus of all eyes.

"Lord Pelborough." said the Lord Chancellor in sepulchral tones, and
Chick turned to him quickly.

"Yes, sir--my lord, I mean," he said.

"--has the floor."

Chick looked at the floor and then at the figure on the divan.

"You've got to make a speech!" hissed Mansar's voice, and Chick blinked.

So it was compulsory for a new member to speak? He did not know that by
rising and nodding in his friendly way to the Lord Chancellor he had
sought the opportunity.

"As a matter of fact," said Chick, "I was going."

There was a low murmur of "Order! Order!" at this breach of the rules of
debate.

"But," Chick went on, rubbing his chin nervously, "I quite agree with the
stout gentleman over there." He nodded to the representative of the
Government who was in charge of the Bill.

"The noble lord refers to the Under-Secretary of State," said the Lord
Chancellor.

"Thank you very much, sir--Lord Chancellor, I mean," said Chick. "I
didn't know his name, but I quite agree with most of the things he said.
I'm quite sure he must be a gentleman with boys of his own."

"The noble lord will be interested to learn that I am a bachelor," said
the smiling Secretary, as he rose.

"You surprise me," said Chick earnestly, "but I can assure you that what
you have said is perfectly true."

The House did not laugh, it stared in silence, and Chick, blissfully
unconscious of the hundred conventions he broke, of all the rules of
debate he outraged, of all the ancient customs which he was treading
under foot, went on in his easy conversational tone, his hands in his
pockets, his pink face turned to the taciturn Chancellor.

He had never spoken in public, but the vocal paralysis which comes to the
amateur orator did not affect him. At first his speech was halting, his
sentences inclined to jumble, but presently he forgot that he was in the
Supreme Legislature, forgot everything but that these ordinary-looking
men were listening and wanted to hear what he had to say. Chick had lived
amongst the people and had been a witness of their struggles and heroism.
He had fought with weedy, ill-nourished boys who had acquired men's
voices and men's vocabulary. And he knew what education meant, and why
the public schoolboy spoke another language from the child thrown out on
to the world to fend for himself and gain his education at
street-corners. He had strong views formed in secret and never before
expressed.

"The difference between the illiterate general labourer and the skilled
artisan is the two years you snip from his schooling," was one of the
phrases he used, and one afterwards employed by the educationists as
their watchword.

Gwenda watched and listened dumbfounded. Here was a Chick she had never
suspected, eloquent and convincing.

Suddenly he realized his position and faltered. The tremendous setting of
the House overwhelmed him, and he stopped.

"That's all," he said huskily and sat down.

Amidst a murmur which was half approval, half dissent, something
happened--a bell rang, and the members rose and moved out of the House.
Chick found himself detached from Mansar and moving toward the lobby.

"Yes or no, my lord?" asked an official at the barrier.

"No, thank you," said Chick hastily. "I never drink."

He thought that the refreshments were provided, and followed into the
lobby indicated by the attendant's hand. A lot of men came into the room,
and they were talking. Two or three, who seemed surprised to see him
there, came and spoke to him, but mostly they were concerned as to
whether the Government would or would not be defeated on the amendment.
Most of them thought it would be a close thing. Presently they all, for
no reason at all, trooped out of the lobby and back to the House, and
Chick found himself following sheepishly.

He caught sight of Mansar, who took him by the arm.

"This is going to be a close thing, old chap," he said, "and your speech
was a corker!"

"Which is close? What is it?" asked the mystified Chick.

"Hush!" said Mansar.

Two men walked to the table, there was an exchange of words, and suddenly
a roar of cheering.

Mansar sat open mouthed.

"The Government is defeated by one vote," he said. And then, a horrible
suspicion seizing upon him: "You didn't vote for the age limit to be
reduced, did you?"

"No," said the indignant Chick. "I haven't voted at all."

A light dawned upon Lord Mansar. "Which way did you go? To the 'Aye'
lobby or the 'No'?"

"I don't know which," said Chick. "A man asked me 'Yes or No?' and I said
'No.' I thought he was offering me a drink."

"And you went into the 'No' lobby!" said Lord Mansar heatedly. "You
spouted in favour of the Government measure, and you voted for the
infernal amendment! Confound it, Pelborough, your vote defeated the
Government!"



CHAPTER IV - SPOTTING THE LADY


Lord Pelborough (C.U.) said that he could not agree with the noble lord
(Lord Kinsoll) when he said that children were better occupied in a
factory than in school. He spoke as a father. It was nonsense. (Order,
order.)

"The Lord Chancellor: The noble lord is not in order. The term he
employed is not a parliamentary expression.

"Lord Pelborough apologized to Their Lordships' House. He would not like
to see his son in a factory.

"If Their Lordships' House agreed to this amendment, they would have
reason to be ashamed. (Order, order.)"

Chick glared, fascinated, at the paragraph. It occurred in the
Parliamentary Report of The Times newspaper.

"Did I say all that?" he asked hollowly.

Gwenda nodded.

"All that and more," she quoted. "Chick, you were delicious! I was so
excited up there in the gallery, that I thought I should faint!"

"I felt like fainting too," admitted Chick ruefully. "Fancy their
reporting me! Why--why it almost makes me real! Gosh!"

In another part of the newspaper he might have read in the summary of
proceedings a more extensive reference to himself. The writer retold the
romantic story of the young insurance clerk who had inherited a great
title, and who had neither estate nor private income, who, in fact,
remained a working man.

There were other diligent students of politics that morning.

Chick, getting to the office on time, was greeted by the socialistic head
clerk with something like enthusiasm.

"Splendid, my lord, splendid!" he whispered, and made grimaces in the
direction of Mr. Leither's room, thereby indicating that another body
blow had been delivered at the employing classes.

"Er--yes," said Chick. "Good morning."

Mr. Leither, so far from resenting this attack upon his kind, and
apparently abandoning all his plans for engaging the "ragged little boy"
of whom Chick had heard so much, to do his work, and to do it better, was
both tolerant and approving.

"A very excellent speech, Pelborough," he beamed. "I didn't realize my
prospective partner was an orator. You tickled 'em, my boy, you tickled
em!

"I didn't see any of them laughing, sir," said Chick.

That morning, at his earnest request, he was given some work to do. It
suited Mr. Leither well enough that he whom he termed his prospective
partner, should go back to his outer office. He had found on his arrival
that a long-distance call had been put through and urgent instructions
left that he should call on Babbacome Jarviss, M.B.E., a man for whom Mr.
Leither had every respect. For Mr. Leither had made much money from him.

The "M.B.E." which followed the name of Mr. Babbacome Jarviss had a
certain significance. Mr. Jarviss had made hundreds of thousands, nay,
millions, of fuses, shell-cases, bombs and divers other articles employed
in war. He had sold the British Government blankets and sheets, boots,
butter and bacon. He had rushed to the aid of the American Government
with beds, belts, packing-cases and barrels. He had succoured France with
leggings and horseshoes, and comforted Italy with coal tar, potatoes and
mosquito netting.

Mr. Jarviss often admitted that he had practically won the war. And his
reward had been the very last class of the most-generally-bestowed order.

It is true that Mr. Babbacome Jarviss had acquired in the course of the
war a large and noble edifice in the Georgian style, standing in its own
park-like grounds. That he who began the war as a contractor in a small
way, celebrated the armistice driving round his estate in a splendid
motor-car. It is beyond dispute that he made large, some say excessive
profits, and had a cash balance of something over a million after he had
bought his Georgian home, standing amidst delightful scenery.

As a matter of fact, he found some difficulty in getting his name put
forward for an M.B.E., for he was without friends.

Mr. Jarviss had a wife who drove about the country-side in motor-saloon
lined with pink crepe-de-Chine, which was Mrs. Jarviss' idea of extreme
gentility. The third member of his household was Minnie Jarviss, his
daughter and heiress. Minnie was a highly-coloured young woman with a
weakness for purple raiment. She was not pretty. When she smiled she
looked like a Beauty of Labrador; when she did not smile she looked like
nothing on earth. She had high cheek-bones and a broad face, her hair was
lank and mouse-coloured, but since it is ordained that no woman should
regard herself as being entirely without attraction, Minnie prided
herself upon a mysterious quality called "charm." It had nothing to do
with the golden lucky pig with ruby eyes, or the four-leafed clover in
emeralds or even the diamond "13" that dangled from her bracelet. She
wasn't quite sure what it was. She had heard people say of girls who were
without good looks: "Oh yes...but she has charm!" and had arrived at the
conclusion that "charm" was Nature's invariable compensation for
plainness.

Her father had dreams for her and bought Hatterway Hall from the last of
the Hatterway family with the idea of giving her opportunities which
Wimbledon had denied. He gave a great ball in her honour and invited the
local gentry. By the oddest coincidence, the local gentry were engaged,
or ill, or travelling abroad, and, "whilst thanking Mr. Babbacome Jarviss
for his kind invitation," regretted their inability to accept the same.

Mr. Jarviss was regretting his expensive purchase when chance and a
powerful motor vehicle carried him to the village of Pelborough, some
fifty miles distant. The name had a familiar ring and he knew why when
the landlord of the "Pelborough Arms" old him the story of Dr. Beane's
amazing accession to the peerage.

"Marquis of Pelborough," said Mr. Jarviss thoughtfully, "and hasn't a
cent! H'm!"

He drove home by the shortest route, went to the room which the
furnishers had stocked with brand-new books and had christened the
library, and sought information from back numbers of newspapers.

"In the employ of Mr. Leither, the well-known insurance agent," he read,
and whistled.

There had been times during the war when it had not been expedient to
tender for contracts in his own name. Mr. Leither, in consideration of
one-half per cent commission, had been his agent in these transactions,
and in consequence was under some obligation to him. He put a telephone
call through to London, but by this time Mr. Leither had already left his
office. The call next morning was a trifle too early, but he had not long
to wait before his sometime agent came through.

"Yes, he's here," said Mr. Leither, lowering his voice; "in fact, he's in
the next room, Mr. Jarviss."

"What's he like?" asked Jarviss.

"Oh, he's--well, he's like anybody else," was the unsatisfactory reply.

"Young?"

"Oh yes."

"Married?"

"No, good heavens, no!"

Mr. Jarviss considered deeply.

"Could you get him up here for a couple of days, Leither?"

"Yes, I could," replied the other after cogitation. "I could send him up
on insurance business..."

"Well, send him today," instructed the plutocrat, "and listen, Leither,
you might tell him the tale about me, my money and what I'm worth, see!"

"Certainly," said Leither, not quite sure yet what was behind all this.

"There's a couple of hundred thousand pounds for my son-in-law."

"Oh!" said Leither, understanding, "I get you."

"And five per cent commission for anybody who introduces the business,
eh?" said the magnate jocularly.

"I get you, Mr. Jarviss...yes...yes...I understand. I'll pack him off, if
not today, to-morrow."

Mr. Jarviss hung up his receiver. He had paved the way, a million and
charm must do the rest. Especially heavy was the obligation laid upon
charm. He reread the morning newspaper.

"Bit of a speech-maker, too," he said with satisfaction.

Chick had other matters than legislation to occupy his mind. Samuel, that
amazing infant, had shown an embarrassing affection for him that morning.
He had nursed the baby for a quarter of an hour before he went to work,
and Samuel strenuously resisted the attempts, first of Gwenda, and then
of the enticing Mrs. Phibbs, to take him away from his custody. Possibly
Sam had developed a sense of social value. Mrs. Phibbs suggested, as
much.

"He warns a Marquis to nurse him, does he?" she demanded of the squalling
child, but Sam was not in the mood for humour. His wail pursued Chick
down the stairs, and on returning to lunch, he was alarmed to discover
that the baby had hardly stopped whimpering since.

At the sight of Chick, the child's head parted in a smile.

The Marquis of Pelborough sat at the window with his charge, and all that
time Samuel behaved like a Christian. But on the first attempt of Mrs.
Phibbs to relieve the lordly nursemaid, Sam emitted a yell which
attracted the attention of everything living and hearing in Doughty
Street. All these exhibitions of friendship and peevishness might be
excused on the score of inaccurate dietary, but in the evening Sam was
more fretful and even Chick could not wholly pacify him.

Gwenda and Mrs. Phibbs held a consultation, after the discovery of small
red spots on Sam's fat chest, and a doctor, hastily summoned, but
somewhat tardily obeying that summons, took one glance at the little
spots which had multiplied into a hundred, said "Measles" simply and
cold-bloodedly, adding that it might be German measles, but there was no
reason for worrying.

Gwenda received the tragic news on her return from the theatre.

"It's terrible, isn't it?" said Chick in an awe-stricken voice.

"I don't know that it's very terrible," smiled Gwenda cheerfully. "All
children have measles."

"Ought we to get a nurse?" asked Chick.

"Rubbish!" It was the practical Mrs. Phibbs, entering at that moment, who
supplied the answer. "What do you want a nurse for?"

Nevertheless, Chick did not sleep soundly that night. He experienced all
the responsibilities and fears of parenthood, and saw the hair-raising
possibilities of his guardianship, as he had never done before.

On the second day of Samuel's attack, when the most encouraging reports
came from the doctor, without any visible or substantial reason, Chick
arranged to lunch with Gwenda in the Strand. She had to attend a
rehearsal of a touring company which was taking Tangled Lives on the
road.

"I'm going into Gloucestershire," said Chick without any preliminary,
"and I shall be away for two or three days, Gwenda."

She nodded.

"That's very good news, Chick. I think you ought to take a little
holiday. What is the occasion?"

"One of our clients," said Chick, with comical importance, "wishes to be
supplied with particulars of a new insurance policy which has lately been
issued by the 'London, New York and Paris' Company, and Mr. Leither wants
me to go up and tell this gentleman all about it."

"But will it take you two or three days. Chick?" said the girl, looking
at him quickly, but thinking rather of Mr. Leither. "Who is the man?"

"He's a gentleman who made a lot of money in the war, a very generous
man," recited Chick.

"Who told you all this?"

"Mr. Leither," nodded Chick. "Why, I'm told that this Mr. Jarviss is
going to settle two hundred thousand pounds upon his son-in-law!"

"Oh yes," said Gwenda softly, "and who is his son-in-law?"

"I don't know," said the innocent Chick, shaking his head. "I expect he's
some lucky fellow--that is," he added, "if the girl is nice."

Gwenda looked at him curiously.

"Suppose the girl wasn't nice. Chick?"

"She must be nice, or he wouldn't want to marry her," said Chick gravely.

Gwenda looked down on the tablecloth, and twiddled with the wedding-ring
on her finger.

"I wonder what qualities you regard as being nice in a girl?" she
asked--a fatal question, as she ought to have known,

"Well--" hesitated Chick, "if she's like you, Gwenda; if she's pretty and
has a lovely mind..."

"Yes, yes," said Gwenda hastily. "I know what you mean. Not like me.
Chick, but like you think I am. Well, when are you going?"

"I was going this afternoon," said Chick.

She nodded.

"Perhaps, Chick," she said after a long silence, "this son-in-law of Mr.
Jarviss is marrying her because Mr. Jarviss is giving him two hundred
thousand pounds."

Chick stared.

"You don't really mean that? Do you know them?"

"I don't know them," said the girl, "but I know people."

Chick shook his head.

"I shouldn't think so, Gwenda I suppose there must have been cases like
that; but, after all, any man would be willing to marry any nice girl,
whether she was rich or poor. The big thing is to get the right girl,
isn't it?"

Gwenda bit her lips. "I suppose so," she said.

Chick had an interview with his employer before he left.

"Now, my dear Pelborough," said Mr. Leither, with the inevitable slap on
the back--Chick was prepared for it now, and braced himself to meet the
assault--"you're going to have a very good time in my dear friend
Jarviss's house. What a man he is, Pelborough!" he went on ecstatically.
"What a host! What a generous friend! Two hundred thousand pounds for his
son-in-law!"

"I hope he deserves it, sir," said the Marquis of Pelborough.

"I'm sure he does," said Leither. "What a lot one could do with two
hundred thousand--a million dollars, ten million francs at the present
rate--£10,000 a year invested at five per cent. All for the son-in-law!"

"What is his name?" asked Chick interested.

Mr. Leither coughed.

"Well, I don't know that there is a son-in-law, yet--in fact, I don't
know whether Miss Jarviss is engaged. What a wonderful girl she is!"

Now Mr. Leither had never seen Minnie or he would have turned the
conversation then and there.

"What eyes!" he apostrophized. "What a dainty little figure of a girl..."

"She must be very pretty," said Chick, when his superior had exhausted
his superlatives. "Shall we insure her too?"

Chick arrived at his destination to find that Mr. Jarviss himself had
done him the honour of meeting him. The honour went no further.

Mr. Jarviss was the kind of man who felt that he was losing three points
if he admitted that any other individual in the world was his superior.
Therefore his manner to Chick was brusque, and he ventured upon no
courtesy of title. His conscious role was that of "rough diamond," a role
which goes with "pot luck," and "taking people as you find them!"

"We haven't made any preparations for you, old man," he said; "you'll
have to pig in somehow."

"Certainly," said Chick, having visions of sleeping over a stable. "I
thought Mr. Leither had wired you I was coming."

"Oh yes, he said you were coming. What do you think of the car, eh?"

They stood at the top of the slope running down to the station road, by
the side of which three or four cars were parked.

"I like it very much," said Chick. "There are a lot of people who don't
like Fords, but I'm told they are--"

"Not that one," said Mr. Jarviss annoyed, "the other one, that big one!
The chassis alone cost me three thousand!"

Chick made appropriate but genuine sounds of wonder and amazement.

"I want you to meet my daughter," said Mr. Jarviss as they drove up the
hill which Hatterway Hall crowned. "She is a very nice girl."

"So I'm told," said Chick politely. "And engaged to be married, too, I
congratulate you, Mr. Jarviss."

Mr. Jarviss turned to look at him.

"It may seem an indelicate moment to approach that subject, when a young
lady is standing on the threshold of her life," Chick went on, blissfully
unconscious of anything save that he was doing his duty, "but don't you
think it would be a wise provision for her to take out an insurance
policy? There is one in particular which I can recommend." He fumbled in
his pockets. "It insures against illness, accidents and death. It has
also the advantage," he prattled on, "of insuring the life of the first
child for the period of nine years."

"Oh, it does, does it?" breathed Mr. Jarviss, recovering himself. "What
makes you think that Minnie is engaged?"

"I understood so," stammered Chick, realizing that he had made an error.
"I'm awfully sorry if I've let out Mr. Leither's secret."

"If it was anybody's secret it would be mine." growled Mr. Jarviss.

"I am sure it would," murmured Chick.

"She's a very nice girl, is that girl of mine." repeated the proud
father, shaking his head, as though he were a little overcome by the
thought of her virtues.

"Yes, I am told so." Chick was in a hurry to remove the memory of his
solecism. "Very pretty, if I may be allowed to say so. It must be rather
jolly, Mr. Jarviss, to be the father of a very pretty girl."

"Well--you wouldn't call her pretty at first sight," said Mr. Jarviss
hurriedly. He also was anxious to remove any wrong impression. "She's got
what I should call 'charm'."

"Ah!" said Chick wisely.

"And charm is better than looks."

"I'm sure it is," said Chick, nodding. "And most good-looking people are
charming, aren't they?"

He smiled benevolently upon his impatient host. "I suppose when I've a
family I shall be modest about my children; it's the Chinese custom,
isn't it? I read something in the paper about it the other day."

"What this country wants "--Mr. Jarviss was not interested in China--"are
unions, if I may employ the term, between the strong healthy daughters of
the people and the proud and effete aristocracy."

"I'm sure you're right," said Chick earnestly. "I'm rather a democrat,
Mr. Jarviss, and in my heart of hearts I've never recognized aristocracy,
except the aristocracy of genius. I've often thought, as I've gone into
the country, what a pity it is that all these beautiful girls are
condemned to live their lives in little villages, away from the
opportunities--"

"I'm not talking about beautiful girls who live in villages," almost
snarled Mr. Jarviss. "I'm talking about my daughter."

Chick smiled politely.

"You will have your joke, Mr. Jarviss," he said, "which reminds me that I
have brought all the schedules you wished to see, and Mr. Leither thinks
that Schedule 'A' of the policy which the new London and Paris Company
are issuing will just suit your case."

"I don't want to talk about insurance. I'm interested in discussing
marriages between the aristocracy and what I might call the wealthy, the
very wealthy," he said emphatically, "middle classes. I'm going to give
two hundred thousand pounds to the young gentleman who marries my
daughter. How's that for a nest-egg?"

"I think you're very generous," said Chick warmly. "It is one of the most
generous gifts--marriage portions is the word, isn't it?--I've ever read
about. But, of course, you know your son-in-law, and I'm sure you would
not take the risk of putting all that money in the hands of a
spendthrift, Mr. Jarviss. I'd rather like to meet him."

"I hope you will," said Mr. Jarviss grimly, as the car drew up before the
door of Hatterway Hall.

He piloted his guest into a big oak-panelled hall, and a girl who was
sitting in a picturesque attitude reading a book, rose with a start and
tripped to meet him.

Chick regarded her with interest. Probably a friend of the family, he
thought, and mentally noted that emerald green does not suit a
too-blooming countenance.

She smiled, first at Chick and then at her father.

"A foreigner," thought Chick, blinking.

"This is my daughter. Lord Pelborough," said Mr. Jarviss, and Chick's
hand, which was half-way out, stopped dead, his jaw dropped, and he
peeked forward in his short-sighted way.

"Your--your daughter," he stammered.

"This is Minnie. Minnie, I hope you'll make Lord Pelborough's visit a
comfortable one."

"Why, of course I will, papa," she said with that arch smile of hers.

Chick blinked again.

Whilst three footmen piloted, escorted or carried Chick's bag up to his
room, she slipped her arm in his with girlish confidence and led him
through a great big pillared room, which reminded him of the approach to
the Lords' Lobby, into a drawing-room which had been furnished as a
compromise between the conflicting tastes of Minnie and her mother. There
must have been six hundred articles in the room, ranging from an
oxidized-silver fire set to a purple cushion on a pink settee, and they
all said "Hullo" at once, and Chick was almost deafened.

Dinner was a meal which he will remember all his life. Mr. Jarviss
belonged to that order of hosts who believe that the beginning and end of
hospitality consists of filling your guest with food.

"Now, come on. Lord Pelborough, you must have another bit of this
pheasant, I insist." Or: "Mother, Lord Pelborough is eating nothing!"

"John, give Lord Pelborough some more lamb."

Chick made valiant efforts to present a clean plate, but every time he
succeeded a new meal was placed in front of him. He rose somewhat
unsteadily from the table, feeling like that grotesque figure which is
employed to advertise somebody's pneumatic tyres.

"Now, my boy, go and smoke your cigarette on the terrace."

"Thank you, I'm not smoking," said Chick.

"Well, take your coffee out on to the terrace."

"Isn't it rather cold?" asked Chick in surprise, but apparently in
preparation for his arrival (though this was not the case) that portion
of the terrace to which he was invited had been enclosed by glass and was
centrally heated.

"Are you coming, sir?" asked Chick.

"I'll be along presently," said the diplomatic Jarviss. "You run away, my
boy."

Chick was incapable of running anywhere. He waddled into the
superconservatory and sank with a sigh of relief into a large divan
chair. The "terrace" was untenanted, but from nowhere in particular came
Minnie Jarviss, and sat charmingly on the arm of his chair. Chick rose.

"Oh, please don't get up. Lord Pelborough," she smiled. "I'm quite
comfortable."

"Let me get you a chair," said Chick.

"You're a very naughty boy," said Minnie charmingly; "now sit down where
you were."

Chick, out of sheer politeness, obliged her. When her arm fell carelessly
upon his shoulders, he winced. When he felt the whole weight of her
leaning towards him he shivered.

"You are a funny boy," she said less charmingly than before. "Why don't
you keep still?"

"Perhaps if I got you that chair you would prefer it?" said Chick,
looking round desperately in the hope that the lady's mother or father
would appear to relieve him from an embarrassing situation. But the
lady's mother was playing patience in the large and vociferous
drawing-room, and the lady's father was in his library, hoping for the
best.

Chick tried his own best to turn the conversation into the ways of
insurance. He was worried because he had not had an opportunity to
discuss Schedule "A" with her father, and endeavoured to interest the
girl in the fascinating possibilities of the policy he had outlined on
the way from the station.

"Don't be silly, silly, silly!" she said, tweaking his ear, an operation
which made Chick shrink back into the chair. "I'm not going to be married
yet awhile, at least I don't think so."

"I thought you were engaged, Miss Jarviss?"

"Not yet," she said playfully. "Mr. Right hasn't come along yet, and if
Lord Right has come along, he hasn't asked me."

"Is he a lord?" asked Chick, interested.

But she wouldn't tell him. She asked him to guess. She gave him three
guesses, in fact, and to be on the safe side, he started with the Lord
Chancellor. Apparently that noble lord was unknown to the Jarvisses, for
she asked him if he was the horrid man who put all those dreadful income
taxes upon the profited classes.

"That's one guess," she said: "two more."

But Chick gave it up.

"I think you're silly," said Miss Jarviss, "but perhaps you're so rich
that you don't want two hundred thousand pounds."

"Me?" said Chick in amazement. "Nobody wants to give me two hundred
thousand;" and then the horror of the situation dawned upon him, and he
could have swooned. He got up, pale with consternation and amazement.

"I--I wouldn't marry anybody," he almost squeaked, "not if they had
millions and millions of pounds! I think it's a dreadful idea, marrying
people for money. I wouldn't marry the most beautiful woman in the
world--for money."

"I didn't ask you," said Miss Jarviss defiantly, "I didn't ask you, you
conceited devil, so there! A man like you ought to be poisoned! Coming
here giving yourself airs...without a penny in your pocket...upsetting a
girl..." She wept her way to the comfort of her mamma.

The next hour contained sixty agonizing minutes. When he met Mr. Jarviss
again that great man was even more brusque, was in fact rude.

Chick crept up to his room that night miserable, and meeting the girl in
the corridor, she fixed him with such a basilisk glare that he bolted
into his room and locked his door.

The next morning when they brought his tea, it had a funny taste; it was
like tea and yet it was not like tea, and he remembered all the stories
he had read of women's vengeance. Hell, he knew, had no terrors like a
woman scorned. He left his cup half empty.

The interview after breakfast with Mr. Jarviss was conducted mainly by
himself. That gentleman sat glumly behind his solid oak table and
grumbled his replies in monosyllables.

When the train pulled out of the station, Chick was a very grateful young
man. He knew he had failed his employer, but even that did not worry him
so much as the increasing fear which the peculiarly tasting tea had
aroused. He was feeling strange too; there was a singing in his ears, and
his head buzzed with queer noises. His throat was parched, his lips were
dry, and he went hot and cold alternately.

"She's poisoned me!" murmured Chick aghast, and added as he recalled his
responsibilities, "I wish I'd taken an insurance myself!"

A week later a large angry man stalked into Mr. Leither's office, and,
without knocking, flounced into the room where that amiable and untidy
man was sitting.

"Why, Mr. Jarviss, this is an unexpected pleasure!" said Leither in
surprise.

"Pleasure be blowed!" growled Jarviss. "That infernal pup of yours, Lord
What's-his-name, by gad, the young brute...!"

Mr. Leither's eyebrows rose.

"I haven't seen him since his return. Of course you know--"

"Know! I know more about him than I want to know, Leither," said the
infuriated man.

Mr. Leither's jaw dropped. The vision of a five per cent. commission
faded in the dim distance.

"Didn't he give her his pledge?" he asked romantically.

"His pledge!" roared the other. "No, my daughter is ill! Where is he
now?"

Mr. Leither shook his head.

"He's in bed--with German measles," he said.

Mr. Jarviss staggered back.

"So that's how she caught it!" he wailed.



CHAPTER V - CHICK, WAITER


Gwenda Maynard turned into the Park. The crocuses and the daffodils were
out, and the first tender green of spring was showing against the dingy
brown of the lilac bushes, but none of these pleasant sights brought her
to the loneliness of Hyde Park on a chilly afternoon in March.

Her problem was an unusual one. She had the care and responsibility of
two children. From the first of these, Master Samuel Bradshaw, aged
eleven months, she was soon to be relieved, for his mother had sent her a
frantic cable on her arrival in New York, begging her to devise some
method by which the child could be sent to her. Gwenda proved her
capability by discovering a nurse who was returning to the United States
on the Aquitania, and Samuel's box, so to speak, was already packed.

The second of the children had no frantic mother to demand him--for which
Gwenda was secretly glad--and into what was a guardianship she had
drifted, although Chick was her senior by eighteen months.

He was a responsibility, because by the oddest trick of fortune this
youthful insurance clerk had inherited a great title--and nothing else.

Gwenda was looking to the future, and the future she studied was Chick's.
She had few illusions; five years spent on every variety of stage, from
the "fit-up" company to the more decorous society of a West End theatre,
had left her faith in men and women an attenuated thing. Five years of
struggle, of fierce, unrelenting battle against forces as grimly
determined and merciless, had brought to her the cold, early morning
sanity of view which comes to those who have wakened from dreams.

Her friends said that the circle of gold on her finger stood for a
tragedy, but the closest of them had received no hint from her as to what
that tragedy was. She never spoke of her husband, but some people
believed that he was not very far away. She conveyed the impression that
he was somewhere in the background, and there were managers who believed
that they knew him.

Chick never asked--but he wouldn't. He accepted her with her mystery, her
secrets, and all that went before, and was content to worship and adore
her in his own clean way. Chick's love was like rock crystal, shaped and
unchangeable. Crystal clear and transparent, it was part of his life, and
he never disguised it.

With this Gwenda was content and grateful. She gave the boy all that he
needed, but was desperately conscious that she must give him more than he
recognized as necessary.

She looked at the watch on her wrist. It was three o'clock, and her
appointment was for half-past. But since she did not know the house, and
might experience some difficulty in finding it, she changed her direction
and walked towards Knightsbridge. She walked slowly, and was so engrossed
in her thoughts that the half-hour passed like five minutes. It was a
little after the time when she pressed the bell of a flat in
Knightsbridge.

A man-servant opened the door and showed her into a big and smoky room,
evidently a man's study, and an out-of-door man's at that, for the walls
were covered with trophies of hunt and stalk.

She had hardly time to look around when a young man came in. He smiled
broadly as he took her hand.

"Will you talk here, or would you rather go into the drawing-room? My
sister is dressing."

"Here will do very well, Lord Mansar," she smiled. "You didn't mind my
'phoning you yesterday--I haven't upset your arrangements for today?"

"Not a bit," said the Earl boisterously, which was not true. He had
forgone a hunting fixture and a hunt ball, but this she could not know.
"You want to speak about our young friend the Marquis--Lord Pelborough?"

She nodded.

"You understand his position," she said. "I almost said social position,"
she smiled. "Chick is employed by an insurance agent, and he receives a
salary of five pounds a week."

He nodded.

"And yet there isn't a man in this town," she went on quietly, "who is a
kindlier gentleman than this boy."

"I liked him," said Lord Mansar, nodding.

"I don't know much about nobility," the girl went on, "but I feel that
Chick has a responsibility to you and to your kind. I'm not afraid of
Chick falling into bad hands, because his natural honesty will keep him
clear of anything questionable, but attempts will be made to exploit him,
and, indeed, Mr. Leither, his present employer, is doing something of
that sort already. Now, Lord Mansar," she said earnestly, "can you
suggest any method by which Chick could take a place which would be
creditable to him and to the order he represents?"

Mansar rubbed his chin, and frowned. He was not used to problems of any
character, and this was so remarkable a problem that for a moment he was
confounded.

"It's a question of money," he said at last, "and really I can't think of
any way by which Pelborough can make good. He cannot go into any of the
Services, because he hasn't been prepared. Anyway, the Services are not
paying propositions."

He looked at the girl thoughtfully.

"He might marry well," he said, and wondered whether he was committing a
faux pas, but Gwenda only nodded.

"I have thought of that," she said.

Lord Mansar was silent.

"Have you any suggestion you could offer?" he said at last. "Because,
frankly, I have none."

"The only idea I had in my mind," said the girl, hesitating, "was that
you might possibly help him by--well, by bringing him out."

"Bringing him out?" said the puzzled Mansar.

"You might help him to meet the right people," said the girl desperately.

"Oh, I see!" A light dawned upon the Earl of Mansar, and a broad smile
illuminated his cherubic face. "I'll arrange that with all the pleasure
in life, Mrs. Maynard. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll get him an
invitation to a dance. You know Mrs. Krenley?"

"I'm afraid I don't," laughed Gwenda.

"I thought everybody knew her," said Mansar, in surprise. "She knows all
the best people in London. I'll get her to send an invitation to
Pelborough. I don't know what good those people can do him," he added a
little ruefully; "they haven't been very serviceable to me. But you may
be sure, Mrs. Maynard, I will do whatever I can. His lordship is no
relation to you, I presume?"

Gwenda shook her head.

"I dare say you find it difficult to understand how I come into the
business at all," she said quietly. "I am, as I explained to you before,
engaged at the Broadway Theatre. Chick and I became acquainted by reason
of our staying in the same boarding-house; there is no other
relationship, actual or prospective," she said emphatically, and Lord
Mansar nodded.

To those people who troubled to think about the matter at all, the
Honourable Mrs. Krenley was something of an enigma. George Krenley was
the son of one poor peer and the brother of another who, if anything, was
slightly more impecunious. He had married, before the War, a member of
the ultra-smart set, who brought to her husband no other dowry than was
represented by an expensive wardrobe, the reputation of being the best
bridge player in London and a most expensive circle of acquaintances. Yet
after a few years of their married life the Krenleys were acknowledged as
the leaders of the smartest society in the Metropolis. They leased a
magnificent house in Bickley Square, they entertained largely and
generously, and maintained a mansion in Somerset, and did all this
apparently on the six hundred a year which Krenley drew from his mother's
estate.

Two mornings after Gwenda had interviewed Lord Mansar, Mrs. Krenley sat
in her boudoir, smoking a cigarette and looking thoughtfully at a letter
which lay on her lap. She was a good-looking woman of thirty, and
somewhat of a contrast to her stout, plain husband, who was sitting on a
low divan amusing her brother with a pack of cards.

"Do you know Pelborough?" she asked, looking up from the letter.

Gregory Boyne, who was a florid edition of his sister, shook his head.

"Pelborough?" he said slowly. "I seem to remember the same. Yes. He's the
shopwalker Marquis, isn't he? The fellow they were talking about the
other day at the club?"

"He has no money," grunted Krenley, shuffling the cards. "Why do you ask,
Lu?"

"Mansar wants me to invite him to our dance on Friday."

Boyne's lips curled. "We don't want that kind of chap here," he said.
"Why, the fellow's a hooligan! You'd be the laughing-stock of London,
Lu."

She was looking thoughtfully at him, tapping the letter on the palm of
her hand.

"Our people might be interested to see him," she said. "It would give
them something to talk about Besides--"

"Besides what?" asked Krenley huskily. His voice at this early hour of
the morning was invariably husky.

"If I wrote and told Mansar I could not invite the boy, I hardly know
what excuse I could make," she said. "It isn't like a dinner, where every
place is fixed. One more or less at a dance doesn't really matter."

"Write to him telling him point-blank that we don't want the bounder,"
said her brother carelessly, and he heard her laugh.

"Would Mansar come?" she asked significantly, and Boyne twisted in his
chair to face her.

"I hadn't thought of that," he said. "I don't think we'd better choke off
Mansar."

"And he doesn't want much choking off," interrupted Krenley. "You've got
to play that fish with a master hand, Lu."

Mrs. Krenley nodded.

"That is what I think. How much did he lose last time, Bob?"

"Seven thousand," said her husband promptly. "It's a flea-bite to him. If
I had known that he was getting scared, he'd have lost more. No, I should
write him a nice polite little note, if I were you, Lu, telling him to
bring along his Marquis. I should choose that night for a real big coup.
Mansar's worth a million if he's worth a penny, and he's the kind of
fellow who'd honour any cheque he signed--even if he was drunk when he
signed it," he added significantly.

Chick had heard the news without enthusiasm.

"It will be wonderful for you. Chick," said Gwenda, her eyes shining.
"You'll meet all your own kind of people."

They were at breakfast when she had received the letter from Lord Mansar
enclosing Mrs. Krenley's invitation to Chick.

"I don't like parties very much," said Chick disconsolately, "but if you
think I ought to go, Gwenda--why, there's nothing more to be said. What
time does it begin?"

"At ten o'clock," said Gwenda, reading the invitation.

Chick frowned.

"At ten o'clock at night?" he said incredulously. "That will be keeping
them up late, won't it?" He thought awhile. "I'd better go half an hour
before," he said. "It would look more polite."

"You'll go about half an hour late," said the girl decisively. "Can you
dance, Chick?" To her amazement he replied in the affirmative.

"The instructor at the Polytechnic is very keen on our dancing," he said
apologetically. "It helps in the footwork."

"The footwork?" she repeated.

"Yes," and Chick explained. He had been to dancing lessons at the
Polytechnic--apparently everything was to be learnt at the
Polytechnic--and dancing is a useful accomplishment in a boxer.

"And did you really dance with real girls?" asked Gwenda, her eyes bright
with laughter.

"Yes," admitted Chick. "I never looked at 'em, but I spoke to one or
two."

Gwenda laughed.

"You're the queerest boy in the world, Chick," she said. And then, more
briskly: "What are we going to do about your dress-clothes?"

"Dress-clothes," said Chick, panic-stricken. "Have I to dress up?"

She nodded. "Haven't you a dress-suit?" she asked in dismay.

Chick had nothing so grand.

After business hours that day she met him, and they made a tour of those
emporia which make a feature of ready-to-wear clothing. It was
surprisingly easy to fit Chick. It almost seemed as if the reach-me-down
tailors of the world had decided that the standard shape, length, and
breadth of dress-clothing should be based upon Chick's physique.

Although the dance did not begin till ten, Chick was dressed at half-past
five. Dressing for a dance, he discovered, involved a larger outlay than
he had imagined. There were shirts and studs, silk socks--or socks that
had the appearance of silk--patent shoes, and a crush hat (the latter
begged by the practical Gwenda from the wardrobe mistress at the
theatre), and a very extra special white silk scarf.

For three hours Chick sat on the edge of the chair in the little flat,
awaiting the hour of his trial with the pained expression of one who was
anticipating the hour of his execution, and when at last he reached the
big door of the house in Bickley Square and saw the footmen, the stream
of beautiful ladies and most elegant men passing through the portals, he
had an urgent desire to run home.

He strolled along the pavement, wondering exactly what he ought to do. He
thought there should have been a ticket or some tangible proof of his
bond fides. If he could have walked up the steps and presented a square
of pasteboard to the foot-man, he would have felt more comfortable. Half
of his troubles ended when Lord Mansar descended from an electric
brougham and, catching him by the arm, whisked him into the house. Before
he knew what had happened, Chick found himself bowing stiffly to a
beautiful lady and holding her jewelled hand.

"Glad to meet you, Lord Pelborough," she said sweetly. "I've heard so
much about you."

Chick, who had prepared a little speech expressing his thanks for the
invitation, was almost immediately dismissed as Mrs. Krenley welcomed
another guest.

"Now, Pelborough, what are you going to do?"

Mansar took his arm and led him into the big ballroom, which was filled
by two-stepping couples, Mansar's cheeks were a little flushed, for he
had dined remarkably well.

"I'll just sit down," stammered Chick, "and look at the dancing. What
time can I go?"

Mansar laughed.

"My dear old thing, you're not here yet, and if you run away before
you've made a few useful acquaintances, I'll never forgive you. Come
along." He seized Chick's arm and hurried him to a queer-looking man who
offered him a limp hand.

"This is Lord Pr-sh-n-m." (It might have been "Mir-kr-sh," or some such
name; Chick never remembered.) He was a Cabinet Minister, and a very
important person. He was so important that he didn't look twice at
Chick--indeed, it is doubtful if he looked once. He was a thin-faced man
with pale eyes and a heavily-wrinkled forehead.

From him Chick was led to Mr. "Sesewsur" (or it might have been Mr.
"Snigulun"). Chick made a most heroic effort this time to catch the name,
but did not succeed. Every person he met seemed to be attached to a title
which defied the ear, titles which were jumbles of consonants and vowels
and nasal sounds.

"And now, old thing," said Lord Mansar, patting him on the back, "I'll
leave you. I'm going up-stairs to play. Do you play?"

Chick smiled and shook his head.

"I used to be able to play 'God save the King' with one finger," he began,
and Mansar departed in a tempest of laughter.

Chick found a chair and sat down. He enjoyed the music and the movement,
and nobody troubled him. People looked curiously at the forlorn figure,
and wondered who he was, and what excuse there might be for his presence.
But nobody, not even the unrememberable ladies and gentlemen to whom he
had been introduced, came near him. After a while he got a little bored,
and followed the heated dancers from the room, being curious to know
where they went. He discovered a buffet, and a footman with a large tray
handed him a glass containing liquor of a golden hue. It looked rather
like ginger ale, and tasted like cider, but at the first gulp he
spluttered. It was a frothy, gaseous drink that went up into his head and
gave him a tingling, suffocating sensation in his nose.

"Is that alcohol?" he gasped.

"No, sir, champagne," said the footman.

Chick nodded. He did not like to hand back the glass, but he had no
intention of drinking the fiery potion. After awhile he managed to slip
the glass on to a side-board, and strolled away guiltily.

All sorts of people were going upstairs. At first Chick did not like to
follow them, because he thought they might be personal friends of the
hostess who had the run of the house, but after awhile he summoned up
courage to explore the upper floor.

In a big saloon above the ballroom some thirty people, men and women,
were gathered round a green baize table, in the centre of which was a
small roulette wheel. He watched, fascinated, whilst real money, though
not in very large quantities, was thrown on one of the numbered squares
or little oblong spaces inscribed with foreign words.

"Gambling!" said Chick in amazement, and looked uneasily at the door,
through which at any moment, he felt, a detachment of police might enter.
He was to learn later that a mild flutter at roulette was one of the
attractions of Mrs. Krenley's parties.

After awhile even this thrill passed, and Chick strolled out on to the
landing, where it was cooler than in the heated room. He stood with his
back to the wall, his hands clasped in front of him, wondering how he
could get the crush hat and the overcoat which he had so confidingly
handed to a footman on his arrival.

He felt very lonely, very "out of it." He was a stranger in a strange
land, and did not speak the language of these gay people, who addressed
one another by their Christian names. He had almost made up his mind to
make a furtive inspection of the footmen in order to discover the
custodian of the hat and coat, when a door at the farther end of the
landing opened, and a tall, florid man came out. He looked round and
beckoned Chick, and Chick, most anxious for diversion, obeyed the summons
with alacrity.

"Go down to the butler," said Mr. Gregory Boyne, "and bring up half a
dozen quarts of Pommery--tell him it is for Mr. Boyne. Hurry!"

"Certainly," said Chick, and went down the stairs more cheerfully than he
had come up, for at least he had found a momentary occupation. He was
being useful, and he felt more in the swing. They were treating him as an
equal, he thought, making him one of them.

He found the butler in the buffet-room, a stout, imposing man.

"Six bottles of Pommery, sir? Certainly. For Mr. Boyne, I think you
said."

Chick nodded.

"I will send a waiter up with them."

"Don't bother," said Chick; "I'll take them."

The butler looked at him knowingly.

"All right, sir," he said, with a smile. And Chick went up the stairs,
now happily deserted, with three large bottles under each arm.

He knocked at the door, and after awhile he heard a key turned, and it
was opened by Boyne.

"Come in," he said. "You had better stay here and open these bottles."

The room was a comparatively small one. Under a silver electrolier was a
round green table, and seated about it were five men. Mr. Boyne, when he
returned, was the sixth.

"Now open a bottle quick," said Boyne in a low voice, "and see that that
gentleman's glass is kept filled."

Chick peered at "that gentleman," who sat half turned to him, and to his
amazement he discovered it was Mansar.

"And look here, waiter," said Boyne in the same tone.

"Eh?" said the startled Chick.

"Don't interrupt, confound you!" snapped Boyne. "You must serve Mr.
Krenley and myself from that bottle." He pointed to a large magnum on the
sideboard. "It is ginger ale. You understand?"

"Excuse me," began Chick, anxious that he should not be admitted under
any false pretences, and realizing that he had been mistaken for one of
the hired waiters. "I should like to say--"

"I know what you'd like to say, but you'll get a tenner extra; all you
have to do is to keep your mouth shut and that glass full."

"Yes, sir," said Chick feebly. Suddenly he had realized the enormous
discredit of being mistaken for a waiter, and he prayed that he could
elude the gaze of Lord Mansar. His lordship, however, was fully occupied
and wholly absorbed in the game.

The bright pink which Chick had seen in his cheeks was now a brick red,
his voice was thick, and his actions a little unsteady. Chick refilled
the glass at his elbow and stood behind him, watching.

They were playing a game with which he was not familiar, but which he
afterwards learnt was chemin de fer. A half an hour's observation
produced several convictions in Chick's mind. The first and the most
obvious of these was that Lord Mansar was losing very heavily, the
second, that he lost most heavily when he held the bank; the third, and
not the least startling of his discoveries was that whenever Lord Mansar
took the bank, the cards were shuffled and handed to him by either Mr,
Krenley or Mr, Boyne.

The game was played with one pack of cards, and Chick noticed that as
Lord Mansar, at the end of a very unsuccessful bank, picked up a nine of
clubs, which had been his undoing, he left the wet impress of his thumb
on the white surface of the card, for he had been handling, a little
unsteadily, a glass of champagne immediately before. When it came round
to his turn to be banker again, by an odd coincidence the card he turned
was a nine of clubs, which had not the wet imprint of his thumb. Chick
drew a long breath.

"My luck is diabolical," said his lordship, with an unsteady laugh, as he
affixed his signature to an IOU for eighteen hundred pounds. "How much
have I lost, Boyne?"

"Oh, not a great deal," said Boyne soothingly, as he added the IOU to a
number of others. "We'll have a settling-up when this is finished, and
you can give me a cheque."

"How much have I lost?" insisted the young man, with drunken gravity.

"Play on," smiled Krenley. "I've lost as much as you, Mansar. You've got
as many of my IOU's as you have of Mansar's, haven't you, Gregory?"

Mr, Boyne nodded, and the game went on.

Chick was watching so intently that once Boyne had to kick his foot to
remind him that Mansar's glass was empty.

"I'm finished," said Mansar, after a further disaster. He rose shakily
from the table, put his hand to his hip pocket, and took out a
cheque-book. "How much is it?"

"Twenty-seven thousand pounds," said Boyne, who had been totalling up the
IOU's on a piece of paper.

"What?" Lord Mansar stared at him.

"Twenty-seven thousand pounds," repeated Boyne calmly. "You've had a lot
of bad luck, old man."

The shock half-sobered Mansar. For a moment he looked at the other, then
he sat down again at the table.

"I see," he said quietly. "Will somebody give me a pen and ink?"

They handed him a fountain pen, and rapidly he wrote the cheque.

"Thank you," said Boyne. But before his hand closed on the slip of paper
it was snatched away. He turned round, open mouthed, to see the "waiter"
calmly tearing the cheque into shreds. Mansar saw it, and recognized the
young man.

"Why--why, Pelborough," he stammered, "what the devil are you doing?"

"I'm tearing up a cheque," said Chick, with his queer little smile.

"But my dear chap, that's outrageous. You ought not to--"

"I'm tearing up your cheque, Lord Mansar, because you have been cheated."

"Oh, indeed?" It was Boyne who spoke. "That's a pretty serious accusation
to make, but I suppose that a guttersnipe--"

"Hold hard," said Mansar. "He wouldn't make that charge without some
reason. What do you mean, Pelborough?"

"I don't know anything about this game," said Chick, "but I think you are
under the impression that you played with one pack of cards. As a matter
of fact, it has been played with fourteen, to my knowledge."

"What do you mean?"

"Every time it was your turn to be banker--that's the word, isn't it?"
said Chick, "that fellow "--he pointed to Boyne--"changed the cards. He
took a new one from his pocket and passed the old one to that fellow on
his right. I'll bet he has still some packs in his pocket."

There was a deadly silence, which Boyne broke.

"You don't believe--" he began.

"Let me see your pockets," said Mansar.

"Do you know what you re asking?" It was Krenley who interrupted. The
other two men were silent, and Chick had long since recognized that they
were the mere padding of the party, probably confederates of Boyne.

"I know what I'm asking," said Mansar. "Lord Pelborough has made a charge
that is a very easy matter for you to meet."

"And do you seriously expect me to turn out my pockets?" sneered the
florid man.

"That is exactly what I expect you to do," replied Mansar quietly. "If
Lord Pelborough is mistaken, I will give you a cheque for the amount I
have lost, and offer you every reparation that a gentleman can offer to
one whom he has grossly insulted, for I am inclined to associate myself
with Lord Pelborough."

"If you expect that I am going to allow you to search me, you've made a
mistake," said Boyne furiously.

"Take off your coat."

It was Chick's cool voice.

Boyne looked at him for a moment, and then, with a roar of rage, sprang
at the slim figure. He was a head taller than his intended victim, and
almost twice as heavy. But Chick was a scientist--probably the greatest
fighter at his weight in England. He took that queer dancing side-step of
his, and brought his left and right to the body. Boyne staggered, and
before he could recover himself, Chick's smashing left struck him on the
point, and he went down with a thud that shook the room. Chick bent over
him and put his hand in his pockets, and there before the startled gaze
of Mansar he produced, like a conjurer extracting articles from an
apparently empty receptacle, pack after pack, neatly and dexterously
bound together by rubber bands.

Chick went downstairs with Mansar, and Mrs. Krenley followed them into
the night.

"You've behaved disgracefully to my brother, Lord Mansar," she said,
lowering her voice that the waiting chauffeur might not hear, "and as for
the street arab you have brought with you--"

"Mrs. Krenley,"--Mansar's voice was like ice--"the word of this street
arab will be sufficient to drive you out of decent society."

Mrs. Krenley went back to her desk with a pained expression on her face.
Upstairs, attended by his brother-in-law and his satellites, Mr. Boyne
also had a pained expression, and with better reason.



CHAPTER VI - A LESSON IN DIPLOMACY


The Most Honourable the Marquis of Pelborough sat on the edge of a bed,
sewing a button on his shirt. The threading of the needle had occupied
fully ten minutes, and there had been certain interruptions which
necessitated the concealment of the garment under his pillow, for Chick
Pelborough was in some awe of his housekeeper, and was not less
panic-stricken at the possibility of Gwenda Maynard detecting him in this
act of repair.

It was Sunday morning, and the church bells were ringing; but Chick was
an evening churchgoer.

Doughty Street, on Sunday mornings, was usually a place of desolation and
silence, except for the occasional feeble wail of a milkman, or the
hoarse and mysterious cries of newspaper sellers. Therefore the advent of
a motor-car, which stopped at the door, was something of an event. Chick
looked out of the open window, saw that the car was too large for a
doctor's, and wondered who was the tall and smartly-dressed gentleman who
alighted. He returned to his occupation, whistling softly a tune he had
heard at a dance. And as he sewed awkwardly and laboriously, his mind was
busy with his future.

The future was really beginning to worry Chick for the first time. He was
a clerk earning five pounds a week, and had accounted himself comfortably
placed, until the death of an expensive uncle had saddled him with an
ancient title. He knew that a marquis clerk in the office of an insurance
broker was something of a social monstrosity, and every day brought a new
sense of discomfort. And Gwenda expected something better of him, too;
that added to his distress. He felt that he was disappointing the pretty
actress who was striving so wholeheartedly to put him on his feet.

In the course of those Sunday morning reparations Chick did most of his
serious thinking, and of late his thoughts had centred round and about
Gwenda Maynard. He wondered what her husband was like, and found it
almost impossible to think of her with a husband at all. She had been
distrait and absent-minded lately, and he wondered why. There was
something on her mind, Chick knew. Perhaps it had to do with a letter
which had been sent on to her from the theatre--a letter in a blue
envelope. It had come at breakfast, and at the sight of the writing
Gwenda had gone white. Chick felt it was from her husband, and his heart
was hard against the man who could hurt her.

He put down his shirt, biting off the cotton in the approved style, and,
still with his attention on the locked door, poured some water in a basin
and began to wash his two silk handkerchiefs. He was in the midst of it
when a knock came to the door.

"Chick!" said an urgent voice.

"Yes, Gwenda?"

Chick hastily squeezed the water from the handkerchiefs, threw them under
the bed, wiped his hands imperfectly, and unlocked the door.

"Why do you always lock your door on Sunday morning?" asked Gwenda, and
her eyes, roving to the bed, saw the shirt and, what was more damning,
the threaded needle which Chick had stuck in the pillow.

"Chick, you've been sewing on buttons!" she said accusingly. "You know
Mrs. Phibbs or I will always do that for you."

"I'm sorry, Gwenda, really," said Chick incoherently, "but the button
came off, and I didn't want to trouble--"

"There is somebody to see you," said Gwenda, cutting short his
explanation.

"To see me?" said Chick in surprise.

"Lord Mansar," said the girl.

Chick gaped.

"Put on your coat, Chick. And whatever have you been doing with your
hands?"

She walked across to the bed, picked up the handkerchiefs, and shook her
head.

"Really, Chick, you're incorrigible," she reproached him, "Do you want me
to go to Lord Mansar and tell him you can't see him because it is washing
day? Now wipe your hands, turn down the collar of your coat, and brush
your hair."

The Marquis of Pelborough meekly obeyed.

Lord Mansar rose, as they came into the room, and offered his hand.

"I'm an awful rotter not to have come before," he said apologetically,
"but the fact is, I was so heartily ashamed of myself that I couldn't
have seen you even if I'd been willing. Besides, I didn't know your
address until yesterday."

"Chick enjoyed the dance, Lord Mansar," said Gwenda. "It was awfully nice
of Mrs. Krenley to have him there."

"Oh, very nice," said Mansar grimly, a hard little smile on his cherubic
face. "Didn't Pelborough tell you?"

"He only told me he had a very pleasant evening," said the girl, in
wonder. "What happened?"

Mansar told her the story of that night, and did not minimize the extent
of his own folly.

"So you see, Mrs. Maynard," he said, "Chick's introduction to Society was
not attended with the happiest circumstances."

"But, Chick," said the girl in amazement, "you did not tell me!"

Chick was very red and more than a little embarrassed.

"I had a letter from Mrs. Krenley yesterday," said Mansar. "She was full
of excuses and explanations, and begged me to go there again and bring
you, Chick. I should imagine there's something preparing for you,
something with boiling oil in it. Now, Mrs. Maynard "--he looked at the
girl with a light of amusement in his eyes--"you asked me to do something
for Pelborough."

"Did you, Gwenda?" gasped Chick, in amazement, and it was her turn to
flush,

"Yes, Chick," she said quietly. "I saw Lord Mansar and asked him if he
would find an opening for you. You can't stay in your present job very
much longer; it is not the position you should be occupying."

Chick had already reached that conclusion, but he said nothing.

"An idea occurred yesterday to me," Mansar went on. "I was lunching with
Sir John Welson, who is one of the Under-Secretaries at the Foreign
Office. And I think I can find you a job, Pelborough--Chick you call him,
don't you?" he smiled at the girl. "Well, I'm going to call you Chick,
too, and, by Jove, you're the most wiry Chick that was ever served up on
a Park Lane table!"

The joke amused him immensely, and when he recovered himself he went on:
"The only thing that may lose you the job is that you have one very
unfortunate deficiency--at least, I'm afraid you have--otherwise I could
get you an appointment as an extra Foreign Office Messenger without any
difficulty."

Chick's jaw dropped. "I don't think I'd like that." he said. "It would
mean wearing a uniform, or something, wouldn't it?"

"Not exactly," said the other drily. "I'm not referring to the gentlemen
in buttons who run errands. A Foreign Office Messenger is a sort of
King's Messenger."

"That would be splendid, wouldn't it, Chick?" said the girl, her eyes
shining.

Chick scratched his head thoughtfully.

"It means about four or five hundred a year, travelling expenses, and a
pretty soft time," Mansar went on, "only--and here I come to the big
drawback--you'd have to speak French and have a knowledge of some other
language."

The girl's hopes faded.

"Of course, you could learn, but it would take you some months--" began
Mansar.

"I can speak French," said Chick.

Gwenda stared at him.

"Really, Chick," she said, "you're the most surprising person."

"And I know quite a lot of Spanish," said the amazing Chick almost
guiltily.

"Wherever did you acquire these accomplishments?" asked the girl.

"At the Polytechnic," said Chick in a tone that suggested that he had
explained everything.

The next afternoon he met Lord Mansar by arrangement in Whitehall. He
sent a note to his office explaining that he would not be able to attend
that day, and Mr. Leither, who had lured several possible clients to the
office on the understanding that they would meet the marquis clerk, was
pardonably annoyed.

It was a busy morning for Chick and for the girl. From nine o'clock, when
the big stores open, until lunch-time, Chick had tramped and ridden on
omnibuses round London submissively with Gwenda. He had tried on
ready-made morning suits, he had stared with horror at the reflection of
himself in a top hat, he had tried on gloves which bothered him, and had
fought with collars which threatened to choke him, and he went back to
the flat with a flushed and triumphant Gwenda, a parcel under each of his
arms and a hat-box dangling by a string from his finger.

"There's too much clothing about this marquis business, Gwenda, isn't
there?" he asked doubtingly.

"Clothing maketh the man," quoth Gwenda.

"It maketh a marquis, anyway," said Chick, without enthusiasm.

Arrayed in a costume which he firmly believed drew down upon his head the
derision and contempt of all civilized people who wore soft hats and soft
collars, he met Mansar, and was relieved to discover that that young
gentleman, too, was similarly, if not so newly, attired.

"You'll like Welson," said Mansar, as they were sitting in a large and
solemn waiting-room, their cards having been taken into the sanctum of
the Under-Secretary. "He's a queer old devil, but really not half a bad
sort. He's by far the most important man in the Foreign Office."

"What does he do?" asked Chick.

Mansar was nonplussed.

"I'm blessed if I know," he said. "What do any of these johnnies do? They
just sit round and fund papers and things, and conduct the foreign
politics of the country."

"I shouldn't have to do anything of that, should I?" asked Chick, in
alarm.

"I don't think so," said Mansar gravely.

A few minutes afterwards they were shown into a very high-ceilinged room
with a very large marble mantelpiece, an enormous desk, and a
comparatively small old man, who peered up at them over his glasses as
they entered.

"Hallo, Mansar!" he said. "Sit down. Is this your friend Lord
Pelborough?"

Chick offered a large glove at the end of his arm--it didn't seem like
his--and solemnly shook the hand of the Under-Secretary.

Sir John scrutinized him keenly, and then, taking a large form out of a
large drawer--everything seemed overgrown at the Foreign
Office--proceeded to fill up particulars.

Chick gave his name in a hushed voice and his place of residence.

Presently Sir John's pen poised over the column which was headed
"school."

"Eton?" he asked, looking up.

"Yes, thank you, sir," said Chick gratefully. "I lunched quite early."

"Sir John wants to know where you were educated," said Mansar gently, and
Chick gave the name of a school which was wholly unfamiliar to the
Under-Secretary.

"This is not a very remunerative post: your lordship quite understands
that? Nor is the position a permanent one," said Sir John, leaning back
in his chair and taking off his glasses, the better to see the candidate.
"But it is unnecessary to tell you that your office is a very important
one."

He opened another drawer and took out a small book,

"Here are some instructions which you had better digest," he said. "And
now, sir, I do not think that we shall be in need of your services for a
week. You had better report for duty on Friday."

He rang a bell, and his secretary came in.

"Show Lord Pelborough Major Stevens's old room."

In this simple way did Chick pass into the service of his country and
become a cog in the wheel of Foreign Office administration.

It was a sad blow for Mr. Leither when Chick broke the news,

"I am sorry, very sorry, Pelborough," he said, shaking his head. "After
all these years of association, it seems almost a tragedy to lose you.
The Foreign Office, I think you said?"

Chick nodded.

"Yes, sir."

"H'm!" mused Mr. Leither. "You will be brought into contact with some
very important people, Pelborough, some very important lives,
Pelborough," he said. "Never forget that there is a half-commission
waiting for all the business you introduce."

Very handsomely he paid Chick up to the end of the week, and would have
given him a bonus on account of future business, but this Chick would not
hear of.

The Lord of Pelborough left the insurance office with a little sigh of
relief, boarded a passing bus, and went home to break the news to Gwenda.

He had not failed to notice that morning that Gwenda was more preoccupied
than usual, and not so ready as she generally was to enter
whole-heartedly into his affairs. He thought that the cause of her
trouble was revealed during the evening meal, but in this he was
mistaken.

"Chick," she said suddenly, without any preliminary, "I am giving up my
part in the play."

"What?" said the startled Chick, "Giving up your part?" She nodded. "But
I thought the play was a great success? The papers all praised it."

"It is a success," she said quietly, "but I--I am leaving. And I'm a
success, too, I suppose, but I'm tired of the part."

Chick patted her hand.

"Poor old girl!" he said sympathetically. (He had never done such a thing
before.) "That means that you'll have to start those wretched rehearsals
all over again?"

"If I get a job," she said. "It is very difficult to get on in London,
you know. Chick, and if I hadn't had the influence of the Marquis of
Pelborough,"--she smiled--"I don't think I should have got this,"

Chick frowned and turned a troubled face to her.

"What win you do if you can't get a job in London?"

"I shall have to go in a touring company," she said.

"That means you'll leave the flat?" said Chick, in dismay.

"For a little time. But you'll be able to afford to keep it on; you'll be
quite a moneyed man." She tried to smile, but failed dismally.

"Phew!" said Chick, and leant back in his chair. "That's dreadful news!"

"Anyway," she said, with an attempt at gaiety, "I shan't be leaving
London just yet. And you're not to worry about it. Chick. I'm almost
sorry I told you."

"I had to know sooner or later," said Chick. "Gwenda, you always leave
your engagements suddenly, don't you? That nice Jewish gentleman told me.
Aren't you well?"

She laughed as she rose. Passing him, she dropped her hand on his
shoulder, and he took it in his and pressed it to his lips.

"Don't do that, Chick!" she cried, and snatched her hand away.

He stared at her in amazement.

"I'm sorry," he said and went very red. "I--I didn't mean anything,
Gwenda."

"Of course you didn't. Chick." Her face was white and her lips were
trembling. "It was just silly of me. You want some more tea," she said,
and took the cup away from him.

But Chick was not to be deflected from his indiscretion.

"You know how I love you, Gwenda," he said simply. "It was only love that
made me do that."

"I know, Chick," she said, not looking at him. "You love me--as you would
love a sister."

Chick rumpled his hair.

"I suppose I do," he said, but there was doubt in his voice. "But never
having had a sister, I can't exactly compare things. I love babies, too,
but it isn't the same kind of love. Gwenda," he asked suddenly, and he
never knew why he asked the question, "where is your husband?"

It was so unlike Chick--Chick the reticent, the delicate, the tender, to
ask a question which well might have been brutal.

"My husband?" she faltered. "Why--why. Chick, do you ask that?"

"I'm blessed if I know," said Chick, "only I've thought a lot about him
lately. I woke up in the middle of the night with a scared feeling that
maybe he'll come along and take you away one of these days."

"Don't let that worry you," she said, after a long interval of silence.
She stood by the table, twisting the plain gold band about her finger
absentmindedly. "And now let us talk about something else."

The week that followed was one of great anxiety for the Marquis of
Pelborough. He reported for duty on Friday, according to instructions,
and expected to be immediately taken into the Under-Secretary's room. He
found that reporting meant no more than signing a book; he did not even
go to his room, being informed by a uniformed messenger that his services
were not required for that day.

Another letter came for Gwenda that week, and Chick, going into the
dining-room one day, saw her hastily conceal a blue paper she was
reading, and there were tears in her eyes. He did not ask the cause,
pretending not to have noticed the occurrence, but he was worried for the
rest of the day.

Although he was not expected to make any length of stay at the Foreign
Office, he discovered that there was no objection to his occupying the
very small room of his predecessor. The furniture consisted of one chair
and one table, a fender, a pair of tongs, a poker, a coal-scuttle. It was
a nice quiet room for study, Chick discovered, and he tackled with the
outward appearance of ferocity, the intricacies of the Spanish grammar.

One day Gwenda met Lord Mansar in Bond Street. His car was passing her
when she caught his eye. He signalled her to wait, and came running back.

"How is Chick getting on?"

"That is the very question I was going to ask you," she smiled.

He thought she looked a little pinched, and less pretty than usual.

"I think he'll be a success," said Mansar. "I was talking to Sir John
Welson yesterday."

"What does Sir John think?"

Mansar hesitated.

"Well, frankly, he thought that Chick was rather callow."

"In fact, rather a fool," suggested the girl, with a little smile.
"They're all wrong about Chick; there is nothing of the fool about him."

"Of course, he isn't subtle--" began Lord Mansar, but she shook her head,

"You are quite wrong there, Lord Mansar," she said quietly. "Apart from
the fact that there's nothing quite so subtle as honesty, he has a fund
of shrewdness which sometimes amazes me. You never quite know what is
going on in his mind. I've seen him manoeuvre our housekeeper, Mrs.
Phibbs, into doing things she didn't want to do, and I used to think that
it was just his transparent simplicity which moved her. I don't think so
now."

She was on her way home when Mansar had met her, and now he insisted upon
driving her to Doughty Street.

Gwenda did not accept services readily, but she was a little tired, a
little dispirited, and for the moment was eager for the society of
somebody who would take her out of herself.

"I saw Chick the other day in Whitehall," Mansar said, as they were
driving along Piccadilly, "looking as solemn as an owl and carrying a
great leather portfolio under his arm. He looked as though he had been
entrusted with the secrets of the Cabinet!"

Gwenda laughed.

"There was nothing more startling in his portfolio than two Spanish
grammars," she said. "Chick bought it as a compromise between a leather
bag and a satchel."

Mansar took his leave of her reluctantly. Gwenda had an appeal beyond her
visible charm; her sincerity and her sane, clear outlook on life had made
a greater impression upon the young man than he cared to admit even to
himself.

"I hear you have left the stage?" he said at parting.

Gwenda nodded. "I left on Saturday. That doesn't necessarily mean that I
am leaving the stage," she said, and changed the subject.

That same evening Chick was unexpectedly detained at the Foreign Office.
To his terror, he was summoned to Sir John Welson's room at the moment
when he had put away his grammars and his sheets of notes, and was
preparing to go home.

Sir John also was on the point of departure.

"How are you shaping, Lord Pelborough?" he asked.

"Very well, sir," said Chick respectfully.

"Studying the gentle art of diplomacy, I hope?" said Sir John, who was in
a good humour. "Well, my boy, the art of diplomacy can be summed up in a
sentence. Always make your opponent feel that he's getting the best of
you. That is the beginning and end of diplomacy. By the way, I want you
to stay on until eight o clock to-night. The Minister may have some
important dispatches to go to Paris."

Chick was thrilled. The fact that his travelling kit consisted of the
clothes he wore and a top hat did not worry him. Later he learnt to keep
in his room a travelling bag, ready packed. Fortunately, the Minister
decided that the Paris trip was unnecessary that night, and Chick was
released, a little disappointed, at a quarter to eight.

He had sent a wire to Gwenda, telling her that he might not be home that
night, so he did not hurry home. It was nine o'clock when he turned into
Doughty Street, his portfolio under his arm, his tall hat rakishly on the
side of his head--it was dark, or Chick would never have dared such
secret raffishness--his mind fully occupied with the recitation of a
hundred Spanish idioms which he had committed to his memory during the
past few days.

When he came to the house, he was surprised to see the door open and Mrs.
Orlando Phibbs standing in the doorway with a shawl over her shoulders.

"Hallo, Mrs. Phibbs!" said Chick, in astonishment. "Are you looking for
anybody?"

"No, Chick," she said in a low voice; "only Mrs. Maynard has a visitor."

"A visitor," said Chick, startled.

"I don't think I should go up. Chick," she said, putting her hand on his
arm. "She asked me to go out. He's said terrible things to her."

Chick's blood went cold.

"Who is it?" he asked huskily.

"Mr. Maynard."

Mrs. Phibbs became a blurred vision to Chick, and the street for a second
swung and swayed.

"Mr. Maynard!" he said, after a long pause. "Her--her husband?"

Before she could reply, there was a sharp little scream from the head of
the stairs, and, without waiting for another second, Chick raced up the
stairs. He came into the dining-room to see Gwenda leaning against the
table, her face drawn and white, her eyes red with weeping. He saw her
quick breathing, and saw, too, that she was rubbing a reddened wrist.

Once in a boxing contest Chick's opponent had deliberately fouled him,
and his heart had been cold with the desire for murder. So he felt now as
he looked on the visitor. He was a man of forty-five, hollow-cheeked and
unshaven. His crooked mouth was twisted in a sneer, his deep-set eyes
were fixed on Gwenda, and for the moment he did not notice Chick.

"If you think you're going to live in luxury whilst I'm starving, you've
made a mistake, Gwenda--" he said. He stopped suddenly and surveyed
Chick. "Who's this?" he growled.

"This is Lord Pelborough," said the girl breathlessly.

He whistled. "A lord, eh! And you told me you had no money! Now, look
here, my girl, you've got to find me the fare to Canada and give me a
little to start on--"

"What is the matter, Gwenda? Is this--your husband?"

She could not speak.

"Oh, Chick, Chick!" she sobbed, and dropped her head on his breast as his
arm came round her.

"Husband!" laughed the visitor. "That's good."

Gwenda drew away from the boy and shook her head.

"He is my brother," she said simply, and the smile that dawned on Chick's
face was seraphic.

"Your brother!" he said softly, and looked at the ill-favoured man almost
benevolently.

The girl dried her eyes and took greater command of her voice.

"He's just come out of prison," she said. "He's my half-brother. If you
want to know why I'm always throwing up my engagements, there's the
reason." She nodded at the man. "For ten years he has dogged me,
following me from theatre to theatre, and the only peace I've had was
when he was in prison."

"Now, look here, Gwenda--" began the man threateningly, but Chick put up
his hand.

"I don't think you had better use that tone," he said gently. "Gwenda,
I'd like to talk to your brother."

She shook her head.

"It's no use, Chick," she said, with a helpless gesture.

Chick's brain was working rapidly. Suddenly, and without another word, he
left them and went straight to his bedroom. In a little cash-box that he
kept in a drawer were fifty pounds which he had taken from the bank to
meet the emergency of sudden travel. He opened the box, took out the
money, and, slipping it into his portfolio, snapped the lock. Then he
came back with the portfolio under his arm.

He heard a murmur of voices before he turned the handle of the door, and
caught the word "Mug," and smiled to himself, for Chick had a very keen
sense of humour.

"I want to talk to your brother, Gwenda; would you mind going into your
room?"

She looked at him.

"What are you going to say, Chick?"

"If you don't mind," he urged, "I should like just a few minutes'
conversation with Mr, Maynard. You see, I haven't much time," he said
apologetically. "I have an important dispatch which I am taking to
Berlin." He touched the portfolio. "I came back to get my money. Do you
think a hundred pounds will be enough for the journey?"

She could only stare at him dumbfounded.

"Will you go to your room, Gwenda?" he asked again, and she nodded.

When she had gone, Chick motioned to a chair,

"Sit down, please, Mr. Maynard," he said. "I am sorry your sister has had
this trouble. Is there anything I could do to induce you to go away?

"You could give me the money," said Mr. Maynard, with his crooked smile.

"That I couldn't possibly do," said Chick firmly. "Why should I help a
man like you? If I gave you money, you would only come back again next
week for more."

"I'll swear to you--" began the man, and again Chick raised his hand. He
had at times the dignity of an archbishop.

"Please don't swear," he said, "and please don't get angry," he added, as
the man's face darkened. "I dislike intensely talking about myself, but I
feel that it is only right that I should tell you that I am a
light-weight amateur champion--you could get confirmation of this at the
Polytechnic--and I am supposed to have the most punishing left of any man
of my weight. I hate telling you this," he said awkwardly, "but it will
save such a lot of unpleasantness if I do. You, of course, have just come
out of prison, and you're not in condition. It would be rather like
striking a child. What I am going to suggest to you, Mr. Maynard, is that
you go away for three days and think over my offer to you, which is that
I will allow you a pound a week so long as you do not bother Mrs.
Maynard."

The man would have interrupted him, but Chick went on: "A pound a week
until you find some honest employment. Now, what do you say?"

Chick placed his portfolio on the table.

"I should not be willing to help you to get to Canada," Chick went on,
"even if I could. As a matter of fact, the hundred pounds in that
portfolio is all I have in the house, but that is beside the point, Mr.
Maynard. I like the Canadians, and I do not see why I should inflict a
man of your character upon Canada. Will you accept my offer?"

"No!" snarled the man violently.

"Then I must consult Mrs. Maynard," said Chick. "Will you excuse me for
about ten minutes?"

He left the room and found the girl pacing up and down in a condition
bordering upon hysteria.

"Sit down, Gwenda." His voice was unusually soft. "Is this the man who
has been bothering you all these years?"

She nodded.

"Is that the reason you have left your engagement?"

She nodded again.

"And is he the explanation of your sadness, Gwenda?"

"Yes, Chick," she said in a low voice. "He has been my nightmare for
years. I had a letter from Dartmoor the other day, saying he was being
discharged, and that he was coming to see me. I haven't slept since."

"I understand," said Chick gently.

"What are you going to do. Chick?" she asked. "Are you going to Berlin?
And, Chick, there wasn't a hundred pounds--"

"I know," he replied, to her amazement.

"Have you made a suggestion to him?"

He nodded. "Yes, I have," he said after awhile, "but he hasn't accepted
it, and I didn't expect he would."

His ears had been strained to catch one sound since the moment he left
the room, and now he heard it.

"Sir John Welson told me today that you must always let the other side
think they're getting the best of you, Gwenda," he said. "I have an idea
that your brother is gone."

When they went back to the room they found it was the case. Mr. Maynard
had gone, so also had Chick's portfolio, with fifty pounds and two
Spanish grammars.

"You see, dear," said Chick that night, as he sat by her side at the
table, his hand on hers, "if I'd given him money, he'd have come back. As
he stole the money, he won't come back. He can't go anywhere near you for
fear I shall be with you. Maybe he'll go to Canada and be killed," he
added hopefully.



CHAPTER VII - THE FIRST DISPATCH


The Marquis of Pelborough was not a very earnest student of the
newspapers, except of those pages devoted to sport, and more especially
to the fistic art. There was probably no greater authority in England on
the relative merits of light- and feather-weights than this mild young
man, of whom the great "Kid" Steel had said, in his own simple way: "Dat
guy's gotta foot like a fairy an' a punch like de kick of a broncho."

Chick, as a rule, merely glimpsed the pages containing the troubles of
the hour (and "news," as it is understood in Fleet Street, is only
trouble in some form or other), but one morning his attention was
arrested by a "scareline" to a long paragraph, and he read:

"Following upon the arrest by Inspector Fuller of a number of men who are
believed to be a dangerous gang of international burglars, a widespread
conspiracy, having as its object the issue of forged French and Belgian
bank-notes, has been brought to light.

"The head-quarters of the forgers is in Brussels, and the police have
forwarded to the Foreign Office a number of original documents which
leave no doubt as to the existence of the plot. The names of the chief
movers in this conspiracy are not the least important of the discoveries
made by Inspector Fuller."

"Gosh!" said Chick. "I wonder who they are?"

He was beginning to identify himself with the Foreign Office, and the
fact that the incriminating documents were actually within the walls of
that building gave the news vital importance in his eyes. Did he but
know, he was to be almost as interesting a figure to the leaders of this
easy-money movement as they were to him.

There are certain features of English public life which have been for all
time an insoluble mystery to the foreigner. Few, indeed, are they who can
appreciate the subtle difference between the accolade of knighthood and
the patent of baronetcy. The older titles of the aristocracy have their
exact significance, however. A marquis is a marquis all the world over,
as a certain M. Lihnfelt knew.

There is a pretty little hotel situated on the boulevard of the Botanical
Gardens (to Anglicize the cumbersome title of that thoroughfare) and very
near to the Rue Pierre, and in this hotel lived, in comfort, this same M.
August Lihnfelt. He had no apparent occupation, and was associated with
one of those Government services which President Lincoln once described
as "livings for which one does not work."

He was a tall, broad man, with a large bushy beard, and he wore in the
lapel of his invariable frock-coat a splurge of crimson which was
generally believed to indicate his possession of the Order of Leopold,
but which, in point of fact, suggested no more than that he had at one
period of his chequered career earned the gratitude of a Balkan Prime
Minister, who had bestowed upon him the most minor of the least
considerable decorations which the Bulgarian Government award for small
services rendered.

One day there came to him, in his ornate sitting-room, a code telegram
from London, which took the colour out of his face and made the big hands
that held the telegram shake a little. For an hour he sat stroking his
beard and staring at the disturbing message, and then he rose and,
telephoning for his hired car, drove into Brussels.

He descended at the flower-decked portals of a famous cafe, and, although
the day was warm enough to invite him to a table in the open, he strode
into the dark and somewhat musty interior and, choosing a place at the
far end of the room, ordered an aperitif.

He was joined a few minutes later by Monsieur Bilet, a small thin man
with fierce moustachios, and they talked of the weather and the opening
of the racing season, and of the new opera, until the waiter had
satisfied their needs, and then Monsieur Lihnfelt, without a word of
preliminary, produced the telegram from his pocket and placed it on the
table.

Monsieur Bilet read and understood.

"Apparently Henri was not content with making two thousand good francs a
week," said Monsieur Lihnfelt, without heat, "and he must have mixed
himself up with those American people he wrote to us about."

Monsieur Bilet nodded and twisted his ferocious moustachios.

"I always felt Fertelot was the better of the two," he said, tapping the
cablegram, the sender of which, it was clear, was that same Fertelot.
"What shall we do?" he asked. "Is it to be Germany?"

The bearded man shook his head.

"There is time yet, and the Brussels police will not act until all the
documents are placed in their possession."

To be a successful breaker of the law requires just that amount of calm
and sense of diplomatic values which Monsieur Lihnfelt possessed.

"Suppose they communicate by telegram?"

Monsieur Lihnfelt stroked his beard and smiled.

"In that case, my dear Bilet, the railway stations will be watched, and
we at this moment are under police observation."

He cast his eyes round carelessly. From where he sat he could see through
the big open windows the whole length of the pavement before the cafe.

"No," he said, "we must rest." He beckoned the waiter, who evidently knew
him. "Philip," he said, "are there any telegrams for me?"

"I will see, m'sieur."

He came back in a few minutes with a blue paper.

"I thought so," said Monsieur Lihnfelt, when the waiter had gone. "I
telegraphed to Fertelot to communicate with me here."

He opened the paper.

"All documents are to go to Minister of Interior by Messenger, either
today or to-morrow," ran the dispatch.

Lihnfelt put the telegram away.

"Fertelot is admirable," he said. "I agree with you, Bilet, he is the man
who should have been in control. Henri is a beast and a fool."

At one o'clock the next morning he was awakened from a dreamless
sleep--for men of his calibre practise, for the comfort of themselves,
the doctrine of fatalism--and when he had read the third telegram, he
dressed, left the hotel quietly and went in person to Monsieur Bilet, who
lived, in a more magnificent style than he, at another hotel.

It was not unusual for Monsieur Lihnfelt to call, even in the middle of
the night, and the porter took him up in the elevator to the fifth floor.

Monsieur Bilet, after a little persuasion, opened the door and received
him, revolver in hand.

"I have to be careful," he explained as he locked the door behind the
visitor and put back the revolver under his pillow. "What has happened?"

"Read this."

Monsieur Bilet blinked himself awake and read the telegram with an
impassive face.

"The Foreign Office Messenger leaves for Brussels to-morrow afternoon.
The Marquis of Pelborough has been warned for the service."

"The Marquis of Pelborough?" said Monsieur Lihnfelt thoughtfully. "Then
the Government regard this dispatch as of the highest importance, if they
choose a member of their aristocracy as its bearer."

They looked at one another.

"Who is he?"

Monsieur Lihnfelt shrugged his shoulders.

"He is an aristocrat," he said, "and the English aristocracy is different
to ours, Jules. At the moment we are safe. I called on my friend at the
Bureau of Police this evening."

"Yesterday evening," corrected Monsieur Bilet, who was a stickler for
accuracy. "Well?"

"From his attitude and his manner I am sure that no telegram has been
received. He even discussed with me the news of the conspiracy," said M.
Lihnfelt. "You remember the particulars of this arrest in London were
published in the Independance."

He sat down in the big arm-chair at the end of the bed and pondered
silently.

"It is worth the risk," he said at last.

"What is worth the risk?" asked Monsieur Bilet impatiently. "It seems to
me that our course is indicated, my dear Lihnfelt. There is a train for
Cologne in the morning, and from Cologne it would be simple to work our
way to Bavaria and so to Switzerland. It will be necessary that you
should sacrifice your beard, though it pains me to suggest as much."

Monsieur Lihnfelt rose.

"There is also a train for Ostend in the morning," he said significantly,
"and there we have six industrious friends, who have no more desire to
spend the rest of their lives in prison than you or I, and, believe me,
my dear Jules, your talk of beards and Switzerland is so much nonsense,
for they would find us and bring us back. We can only be convicted if the
personal letters, as I presume they are, written by me to Henri are not
covered."

They looked at one another.

"Very well," said Bilet after a while. "I am in your hands."

On the boat that left Dover for Ostend on the following afternoon was a
very happy little party of three. Chick, the proud bearer of his first
dispatch, would never have dreamt of inviting Gwenda Maynard and her
chaperon to share his adventure, but when he had gone to his chief's room
to receive the precious packet (so covered with red sealing-wax that it
was little short of miraculous that space had been found to write the
address), Sir John Welson had made the suggestion himself.

"You can take your time with this. Lord Pelborough," he said. "We shan't
want you for two or three days. Why don't you take your sister
across--that pretty lady I saw you with in Piccadilly the other day?"

"She's not my sister, sir "--Chick blushed to the roots of his
hair--"and, besides, when I'm on duty--"

"Don't worry about that," smiled Sir John. "You follow my advice, and
take your sister, or aunt, or whoever the lady is. You will find Brussels
delightful."

It is not customary for the head of a great Government Department to
proffer such advice, but Sir John Welson had learnt from Lord Mansar
something of the young man's story. He had previously read in a
newspaper, but in a casual, uninterested way, about this insurance clerk
who had inherited an empty title, but now Chick was becoming a real
person to him.

The doors of a diplomatic career were, of course, closed to him, and the
opportunities which the Foreign Office offered were very few. What could
be done for this impecunious Marquis puzzled Sir John, and it puzzled his
chief, the Foreign Minister, to whom the story had been told. Chick, did
he but know, had been the subject of an informal discussion at a Cabinet
meeting, one of those topics which arise when the serious business has
been disposed of, and the members linger to gossip before they go their
several ways.

In complete ignorance of his growing importance, no less than the sense
of hopelessness that the discussion of his career aroused. Chick, with
his portfolio under his arm, made his way to the nearest telephone and
called up the house in Doughty Street. His flat was not connected, but
the tenants in the flat below, who were in telephonic communication, had
kindly offered the use of their phone whenever an emergency arose, and
this seemed to be such a case. Fortunately Gwenda was home, and she
listened in astonishment to Chick's proposals.

"Go to Brussels?" she said. "How could we, Chick? There isn't time to get
ready. Besides--"

"I want Mrs. Phibbs to come, too," said Chick's eager voice. "Sir John
Welson told me that I could take you, that it would be a good
opportunity!"

In the end Gwenda succumbed, and there followed a rush period of packing
and preparation which eventually resulted in the appearance of that happy
little trio on the broad deck of the Princess Clementine.

Mrs. Phibbs, who had the gift of accommodating herself to all
circumstances, might have been preparing for such a trip for years. But
Gwenda was frankly excited. She was like a child in her eager interest,
for she had not crossed the sea before.

"It is all too wonderful, Chick. I feel as if I am dreaming."

Chick beamed. A queer figure he made, and an object of curiosity to the
other passengers, for he had clung literally and figuratively to his
polished silk hat and his smart swallow-tail coat, and Gwenda, who had a
dim idea that this was the conventional uniform of Government officials,
had not even questioned the propriety of his making a sea voyage in that
garb.

Never before probably had a King's Messenger, wearing the silver chain
and the silver greyhound of his office--he had tucked this out of sight
inside his waistcoat--escorted so happy a party.

Their united capital totalled twenty-five pounds; it seemed a great deal
of money to Chick.

His eyes were fixed on the sea, his heart was peaceful and contented, for
he felt that he was on the way to achievement. The future troubled him
also, and there was some elusive thing which, amidst the chaos of
uncertainty, worried him more than anything else.

"What is the dispatch you are carrying--" began Gwenda, and checked
herself, "Oh, Chick, I'm so sorry! I ought not to ask that question."

Chick beamed again. He had no doubt about the contents of that precious
package.

"I don't know for sure, Gwenda." He dropped his voice lest the secret
should be carried, by the south-westerly breeze that followed them, to
the unconscious criminals. "It is about the bank-note forgeries, I
think."

She nodded, having read the newspaper account of certain arrests.

An hour later they made Ostend. Chick's passport spared him the formality
of a Customs inspection.

"The train for Brussels, milor," said an obsequious official, "is on the
left. It will leave in half an hour."

"Thank you, sir," said Chick, rather awed by the sight of so much gold
lace.

He found a carriage and put Gwenda and Mrs. Phibbs inside, stacked their
limited baggage on the rack, and went to the buffet in search of tea for
them. He was trying to push his way through the crowd before the counter,
when a hand touched him lightly on the shoulder, and he turned to meet a
smartly dressed young man, who removed his hat deferentially.

"Pardon me, milor," said the new-comer in perfect English, "you are Lord
Pelborough, aren't you?"

"Yes," said Chick in surprise,

"I have been sent by the Minister of Finance to meet you. I am the Baron
von Ried."

"Awfully glad to meet you," said Chick awkwardly. "If you can tell me how
I can get some tea--"

The young man smiled.

"Don't worry about that, please," he said. "We have tea prepared for you
at the Hotel Splendide."

"In Ostend?" said Chick in surprise.

"Yes. The Minister is in Ostend; he asked me to intercept you and bring
you along. He is most anxious to receive your dispatch without delay."

Chick scratched his chin.

"I'm glad I met you," he said, "I have some friends here; if you don't
mind, I'll tell them."

"We have already notified them," said the Baron. "They have gone to the
'Splendide'."

Chick looked at him dubiously.

"I think you are mistaken," he said, and accompanied the other back to
the carriage where he had left Gwenda. To his amazement, she had
disappeared, with Mrs. Phibbs and the baggage.

"Do you see?" smiled the Baron.

"I see," said Chick, relieved.

Hugging his precious portfolio, he stepped into the taxi-cab by the side
of his conductor, and the little car bumped and bobbed across the cobbled
roadways about the station and reached the smoother streets of Ostend.

They sped quickly through the town. "Isn't that the 'Splendide'?" said
Chick. He thought he had seen the name on a great white building.

"Oh, no, that is the Ostend 'Splendide'. We are at the Mariakerke
'Splendide'," explained the other. "It is not such a magnificent
building."

The cab was following the road which runs past the racecourse toward
Nieuport, and presently it stopped at an isolated building.

It did not look like an 'Hotel Splendide'; indeed it looked very much
like what it was--the hastily patched wreckage of a house which had been
sadly damaged by British guns in the course of the war. Chick stepped out
and looked at the unprepossessing building with amazement.

"This way, milor," said the Baron, and, after a moment's hesitation,
Chick followed him into an untidy passage. The street door was slammed
behind him, and the Baron opened a second door.

"Will you step in?"

"Wait a moment," said Chick quietly. "What is the game?"

"Will you step in?" said the other, and his voice was no longer suave.

"I think I'll step out," said Chick, and turned.

In a minute the man was on him, his arms flung round him, but Chick was a
past-master in avoiding a clinch. He shook the astonished assailant from
him. Once, twice he struck, and the Baron tumbled on the floor, but
before Chick could reach the door, he was overwhelmed by four men, who
rushed into the room and flung themselves upon him.

In the meantime Gwenda had had an adventure of her own. Chick had
scarcely left the carriage before an amiable-looking man, with a large
moustache, had opened the door. He took off his hat, and his tone was of
the utmost humility.

"Are you accompanying the Marquis of Pelborough, madame?" he asked.

"Yes," said Gwenda in surprise.

"He has met the Minister and has gone to the 'Hotel Splendide', and he
sent me along to bring you after him," said the man.

"He has gone?" said Gwenda incredulously.

"Yes, madame." Monsieur Bilet's eyes had seen the wedding-ring on the
girl's finger. He beckoned a porter.

"Place madame's baggage in the car," he said.

Gwenda was in a dilemma. She realized that if Chick had met the Minister,
she would be an embarrassment to them, and it was quite feasible that he
had gone off, though it was hardly like Chick to go without an
explanation.

She left the carriage, and was driving from the station at the very
moment when Chick had come back with the Baron to discover she was gone.

The man with the large moustache gave the driver directions, and the taxi
was turned in the direction of Knocke, which is in the opposite direction
to Ostend.

Fortunately Gwenda had a strong bump of locality. As the boat came in,
she had noticed that Ostend lay to the south of the harbour, and a
passenger had pointed out the hotels on the front. To reach the
'Splendide' they must turn to the right and not to the left.

She tapped at the window, and the driver stopped.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"To Knocke, madame," he said.

"I want to go to the 'Splendide'," she said, and be seemed surprised.

"Monsieur told me to take you to the 'Grand Hotel', Knocke," he said. And
then, with a shrug of his shoulders and a "Madame knows best," he turned
his car. As he did so, she caught a fleeting glimpse of Chick and a
sallow-faced smiling young man flash past the end of the road, and again
she leant out of the window.

"You can follow that cab," she said. She was amazed when the cab did not
stop at the very obvious entrance of the 'Splendide', but continued.

Her driver would have turned into the hotel, but she stopped him.

"Continue following that cab," she said, and the philosophical chauffeur,
who in his life had had many strange commissions, kept in the track of
Chick's car. The taxi, however, was much slower than the car which
carried Chick, which was soon out of sight. Here, however, the trailing
presented no difficulty, because there was only one road, and, except in
the little villages through which they passed, no side-roads.

They came out of Mariakerke and saw the car standing in front of a
dilapidated house. At once the girl knew that something was wrong. Chick
was carrying dispatches, she realized, and dispatches which might mean
the exposure of men who certainly were desperate, and assuredly would not
hesitate to take the most extreme measures to prevent their falling into
the hands of the authorities. Again she lent out of the window, and this
time her voice was urgent.

"Do not stop," she said, in a low voice. "Pass that cab and continue
until the road turns."

"It is as madame desires," said the chauffeur, who scented a romance and
saw in 'Madame' an ill-used wife who was dogging the footsteps of her
erring husband.

The road took a turn and the cab stopped.

"Where are you going, Gwenda?" asked the older woman. "If there is any
trouble, I'd like to be in it, too."

Gwenda shook her head.

"No. If we both go, there will be nobody to carry a message to the
police. I want you to go straight back, find a police-station, and tell
the police what has happened. I'm quite sure Chick has been abducted."

"What are you going to do?" asked the woman.

"I'll watch." said Gwenda. She waited until the taxi had turned out of
sight, and then followed on foot. She saw that the car that had been
waiting before the house had also turned, and arrived at the bend in time
to see Mrs. Phibbs pass it.

Presently three men came out of the house, closing the door behind them.
One she recognized as the man who had invited her to leave the carriage
and go to the hotel, the other was a tall, bearded man, and the third was
one who had evidently been in an accident, for he kept a handkerchief to
his eyes, and he walked with a limp.

She stood in the shadow of a broken wall and watched them. And then her
heart leapt, for one man carried in his hand the familiar brown-leather
portfolio. He stood for a moment by the side of the car, trying to fit it
into an inside pocket, but the case was too large. He said something to
the man with the big moustache, and they looked at the case. Then the man
with the damaged eye went back into the house and came out with a bag,
which he opened. Into this the portfolio was thrust, and then the car
drove off.

She waited until the car was a speck in the distance on the long white
road, and then she made her cautious way to the house.

At some time or other it had been the villa of a prosperous member of the
Belgian bourgeoisie, and the garden, like those of so many such villas,
was small and was enclosed in a brick wall, breast-high. She picked her
way over a chaos of brick and battered stonework, for she trod the site
of another villa which had almost entirely disappeared under gunfire. The
back of the house was, if anything, more ugly than the front. The
"garden" was a mass of weeds, and the one door leading to the kitchen was
closed, and probably locked.

She looked round to see if she was observed, and then, lifting her skirt,
she climbed the wall and moved toward the house. The door, she found, was
fastened, but the window, looking into a neglected kitchen, which had
evidently not been used since prewar days, was wide open. With some
difficulty--for she was not dressed for such violent exercise--she
climbed through the window into the room. There was no sound, and she
opened a door leading to a gloomy passage. She heard two men talking, and
crept along the passage until she came opposite the door of the room
whence the sound emanated.

Very carefully she turned the handle and opened the door a few inches.
The two men, who were standing in the centre of the room, had their backs
to her, but Chick, a dishevelled figure, his battered top-hat still on
his head--it had probably been thrust there by his derisive captors--sat
in a corner on the floor, his arms and his legs tied, and a stick of wood
between his teeth, the ends being tied behind his head.

Chick saw her and raised his eyes, and at that moment one of the men
turned. He looked at the girl and gasped.

Before she could speak, the two men were on her, a big hand was laid on
her mouth, and she was flung violently against the wall. Chick grew
apoplectic in his attempt to release his hands, but apparently they did
not intend treating her as they had served him.

"Madame will sit down," said the shorter of the men. He spoke in French,
with the guttural intonation of a Flamand. "If madame makes a noise, I
will put something in her mouth to stop her," he added.

Gwenda was cool now. "Take the gag out of that gentleman's mouth," she
said. "If you don't, I will scream! Quick! It is choking him!"

The man hesitated, then, bending over the helpless Messenger, he broke
the string that held the gag.

"What has happened, Chick?" she asked.

"They have taken my portfolio," groaned Chick. "Oh, Gwenda, I'm such a
fool!"

"You will not speak," said the short custodian sharply; he was evidently
the person in authority, "unless you speak in French."

"What are they going to do?" she asked in that language.

"Madame, we are keeping you here for one hour, and then we shall say an
revoir," said the other man. "You will not be hurt, you understand, but
if you give trouble or if you scream, I shall cut your throat."

He said this pleasantly, as one who was promising a favour.

"They have the dispatch?" she asked. She dared not revert to English, for
instinctively she knew he would have no hesitation in keeping his
promise.

"Where is Mrs. Phibbs?" asked Chick, and she hesitated.

"She is waiting for me," she said at last, and then in French: "Chick, do
you remember that song in Gilbert's opera about the man whose life was
not a happy one?"

He frowned,

"Do you mean the pol--" He stopped himself and murmured "Good!"

This conversation had not escaped the notice of the jailers. There was a
short whispered consultation, and suddenly they made a move toward the
girl.

"If you scream, we shall kill you," said the man who had previously made
this threat, and she submitted to the binding process. "Now, my dear," he
said with a leer, "we must stop that little trap of yours."

First he replaced the gag in Chick's mouth, and with a handkerchief,
which he took from Chick's pocket, he gagged the girl.

They whispered together. Chick saw them looking at the girl, and heard
one use a phrase which turned his blood cold, and then they were silent,
listening to the heavy rumble of a motor-car which passed the shuttered
window. When the sound had died away, they talked together again, but
this time not so secretly.

What their plan was, he was not to discover. There came the sound of a
heavy footfall in the passage, the door was kicked open violently, and a
man strode in, and at the sight of the brass buttons and the
long-barrelled revolver in the police commissary's hand, Chick uttered a
prayer of thankfulness.

Later Chick, a little dishevelled, had a consultation with the Chief of
the Police.

"I fear that by this time they are on their way to Brussels," said the
policeman, shaking his head. "We could overtake them in an aeroplane, but
we haven't an aeroplane. We could stop the train and arrest them, but
there, again, how shall we know your lordship's dispatches are intact?"

Nevertheless, a wireless was sent to Ghent on the off-chance.

Messrs. Lihnfelt and Bilet, accompanied by the chief of their Ostend
office--it was afterwards discovered that Ostend was the distributing
centre for forged bank-notes, and not Brussels--were examining the locked
wallet as the train drew into Ghent. Their attempt to cut out the lock
with the simple means at their disposal had not been successful.

"It does not matter," said M. Lihnfelt. "Perhaps it would be better if we
disposed of the portfolio and the papers at one and the same time. We
shall be in Brussels before our friends are released."

"What of Vazyl and Miguiet?" asked the damaged Baron. "And what of me,
Lihnfelt?" He pointed to his injured eye.

"You shall be rewarded, my friend," said M. Lihnfelt. At that moment the
train stopped and the carriage door was opened.

M. Lihnfelt, to whose credit it must be said that he was the first to
recognize the inevitable, put up his hands. "There is no necessity for
violence, m'sieur," he said to the chief of the waiting policemen.

It was late at night when Chick, with his precious packet, hacked with
the ineffective knives of the conspirators, reached the house of the
Minister of Finance, a magnificent palace--like chalet on the outskirts
of Brussels, and the sympathetic Minister himself came down the steps to
welcome the Messenger.

"You have been treated monstrously, milor," he said. "These villains
shall pay. It is an act the most abominable!"

Chick unlocked the portfolio and handed the heavily-sealed package to the
Minister, and that worthy gentleman examined it with a puzzled frown.

"And yet, milor," said he, "I cannot understand why these men should have
taken the trouble, for they are not farmers. And if they were farmers,
how could they be interested in swine fever?"

"Swine fever?" gasped Chick, and the Minister was equally astonished.

"Yes, m'sieur," he said. "It is a copy of your new regulations for
dealing with the importation of hogs into Belgium."

Chick's jaw dropped.

"I--I thought it had to do with the forged bank-notes," he stammered, and
the eyebrows of the Financial Minister rose.

"No, no, m'sieur," he said gently. "As to that, we received the
particulars by post this morning. Your assailants were captured. We shall
also capture the gentleman--this Monsieur Lihnfelt who is the organizer
of the forgeries."

Chick smiled slowly. "I think you've caught them both, sir," he said.



CHAPTER VIII - THE OILFIELD


"No, thank you, Joicey," said the Earl of Mansar for the third time, and
the stout, good-looking young man who was his companion began rolling up
the large plan with a pained expression.

It was an interesting chart, with parallelograms and rhomboids of pink
and green, and he had talked himself hoarse in an endeavour to persuade
his sometime comrade into agreement.

"I dare say it is all right," said Mansar, tossing a cigarette into the
extended palm of the Honourable Felix Joicey, "and I know that, so far as
you are concerned, it is all right. There is a lot of oil in
Roumania--though I've never heard that a gusher had gushed in the
Doebnitz region--and as likely as not there is a fortune in the
proposition."

"There are a dozen fortunes," said the enthusiastic Mr. Joicey, and Lord
Mansar nodded.

"I'll take shares, I promise you that," he said, "but I will not join
your board. The fact is, Joicey, I hate the crowd who are running the
company, and that's flat--they couldn't go straight if they were fired
out of a gun."

"Meggison isn't bad," suggested Joicey.

"Meggison isn't as bad as Glion, and that isn't saying much. But if you
came to me and offered me a seat in the court of the Bank of England, I
wouldn't take it if either of those fellows had an account at the Bank."

Mr. Joicey lit his cigarette and his expression was doleful. He had
served with Lord Mansar in the Guards, and had given up his profession as
a soldier to enter the Stock Exchange, and had been fairly successful.

"I'm pretty heavily interested in this," he said, puffing his cigarette
thoughtfully, "and I don't think you'd run much risk. We want a good name
on the board--a name that will impress the small investor. We have to put
the property on the market, for we need big capital."

Lord Mansar drew in his lips and lifted his eyebrows, a grimace which
says, "I'm sorry, but I can't help you," in most languages. Then
unexpectedly he smiled.

"By Jove!" he said softly.

"What?"

"Do you know the Marquis of Pelborough?"

Mr. Joicey frowned. He knew most of the marquises and not a few of the
dukes, but he did not know the Lord of Pelborough.

"Not the fellow whose uncle claimed an extinct peerage--the insurance
clerk?" he asked, suddenly remembering.

Mansar nodded.

"That's the fellow. He has been working at the Foreign Office, but that
job is finishing, and I'm sure I could persuade him to go on the board. A
thousand a year, you said?"

Mr. Joicey rubbed both his chins and looked out of the window.

"At the Foreign Office? He must be a pretty smart fellow. Quite a boy,
isn't he?"

"He looks young," admitted his lordship, "but he is no fool. He's the
cleverest amateur boxer at his weight in England."

Here he touched an ex-heavy-weight public-school champion on a tender
spot.

"I wonder if I've seen him?" mused Joicey. "The best of the light-weights
is a lad I saw box at the Polytechnic gym. He beat young Herberts, the
Eton middle-weight, and gave him ten pounds. 'Chick,' they call him."

Lord Mansar's eyes glistened.

"That's the fellow. Now, be a sportsman, Felix, and shove him on your
board. Glion will fall on the neck of a real live marquis."

"I'll think about it," said Joicey.

Late in the evening, when Mansar was dressing for dinner, he learnt by
telephone that the promoters had agreed, a piece of information which
gave him a double pleasure, since it offered him the opportunity of
breaking the news. And he was not thinking of Chick when he sighed.

The Marquis of Pelborough was sitting, in his shirt-sleeves, playing
dominoes with his housekeeper, when Lord Mansar's rat-tat at the street
door sent him in hasty search after his discarded coat. Gwenda was in her
room, answering a letter which she had received from her late manager,
asking her to return to the part she had dropped. Gwenda had a brother,
now happily in Canada and unlikely to return, a blackmailing, weak and
conscienceless man, who had dogged her footsteps through life and had
brought to a summary conclusion at least three good engagements. With his
passing there had been lifted from her heart a heavy load which she had
borne in secret almost as long as she could remember.

A tap at her door, and Mrs. Phibbs came in.

"Lord Mansar?" said Gwenda in dismay. The least cause for her
embarrassment was her unreadiness to meet a visitor at that hour.
Mansar's attentions had been marked, and whilst she did not doubt either
his sincerity or his honesty, it was distressing to her to find a man she
liked very much developing, against her will and wish, another
relationship.

"I was just on my way to dinner," apologized his lordship, "and I thought
you would not mind my calling in to tell you my news."

"Chick has some news also," smiled the girl ruefully. "His work is ending
at the Foreign Office."

Lord Mansar nodded.

"I know," he said; "Sir John told me a few days ago. He's tremendously
well satisfied with you, Pelborough."

"I suppose he is, sir," said Chick a little glumly. "I was wondering
whether the letter I carried to Madrid--"

"He is perfectly well satisfied with you," said Mansar, "but the man
whose place you filled is returning from Egypt. Welson has put your name
down for the next vacancy, and I think you could be sure of having a
permanent appointment. But I think we can do better than that." He
smiled, and gave the gist of his conversation with Joicey.

"And they have accepted you, Pelborough. I think it will be a good thing
for you."

Chick's face did not display any particular enthusiasm.

"I am rather scared of it," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know what
directors do, and I know nothing whatever about oil. Besides, it almost
seems as though I were becoming a guinea-pig director."

Lord Mansar was startled.

"You're a queer fellow, Pelborough. I should not have thought you knew
what a guinea-pig director was."

Chick smiled in self-depreciation.

"You hear so many things in the City," he said, excusing his own
intelligence. "But if you think. Lord Mansar, that I shan't make a fool
of myself, and it is a job that I ought to take, I'm most grateful to you
for suggesting it."

Mansar was just a little disappointed. Chick disappointed so many people
who were misled by his simplicity into believing that he was mentally
deficient. He gave them the same shock that the modern child administers
to its parents, for Chick was neither dazed nor impressed by the
mechanical toys of life, and saw, through the tin and the paint, the
curled spring which worked them. There is nothing quite so disconcerting
as this, and Lord Mansar might be pardoned his twinge of annoyance when
Chick received the news of his excellent appointment with such
sang-froid.

In truth, Chick was too alarmed to be impressed, and too overwhelmed by
the view of this strange land which he must prospect to be enthusiastic.
Gwenda went down to the door with their visitor. She was conscious of the
chilling effect of Chick's lugubrious face.

"You have been wonderful to Lord Pelborough," she said, "and please don't
think that he isn't very grateful. Chick gets so overburdened by these
opportunities which you give him that he is not quite--"

"I know--I understand," said Lord Mansar with a laugh, "I always forget
that these jobs which a man like myself, who has never felt the need of a
job, would accept so light-heartedly must be almost paralysing to a
fellow like Chick. Besides, I am more than rewarded for any service I
have given," he said meaningly.

He took her hand and held it a while, so long that she gently withdrew
it. There was an awkward silence as they stood on the doorstep, then Lord
Mansar blurted:

"Mrs. Maynard, would you think I was very rude if I asked you a personal
question?"

"I can't imagine you being very rude," she smiled.

"Is your husband dead?"

She shook her head.

"Are you divorced?"

Again she shook her head.

"And is there any prospect of your being divorced?"

"No, Lord Mansar," she said quietly, and he held out his hand again.

"I'm sorry," he said, and Gwenda went upstairs feeling a brute.

Chick received his introduction to Mr. Glion the next morning at ten
o'clock. The place of meeting was a large bare-looking room, furnished
with a long table and half a dozen mahogany chairs. On the distempered
walls were four big charts framed in oak, and these, with a carpet on the
floor, constituted the contents of the room--with this reservation, that
Mr. Bertram Glion was in himself both a furnishing and a decoration. He
was an immensely stout man, who emphasized and underlined his rotundity
by his passion for vivid waistcoats. They were invariably of silk, and
usually figured fantastically.

Mr. Glion told his intimate friends with pride that he designed them
himself, a handsome admission that the responsibility was not to be put
elsewhere. His face was very broad and very red. It could on occasions be
crimson, and here Nature had emphasized his high colour by endowing him
with a small, white moustache and a pair of snowy eyebrows.

He was a very rich man, who had built up his fortune on the faith of a
large number of shareholders, who were in consequence very poor.

The relationship between Mr. Glion and his shareholders is best
illustrated by an hour-glass. Place the hour-glass in its correct
position, and there is only room for sand at one end. In his philosophy
there was no place in the world for rich shareholders and rich company
promoters. One or the other had to acquire wealth, and it was Mr. Glion's
design that he should be the one.

He sat at the farther end of the table, in a large, padded and
comfortable chair, and on his right, less comfortably placed, was his
friend and partner, John Meggison. Meggison could be described as a faded
gentleman. Almost all the attributes of his gentility had faded just a
little. He was a long-faced, taciturn man, who wore pince-nez and spoke
with a certain preciseness. His worn and wearied expression may have been
due to the fact that he had spent his maturity in a vain endeavour to
adapt his sense of honour to the exigencies of Mr. Glion's business.

Mr. Glion pushed back his chair and rose breathlessly to his feet as
Chick was shown in.

"Lord Pelborough, eh? Yes." He looked at Chick and said "Yes" again.

Mr. Meggison also looked at Chick and shook his head slightly. It was
intended to be a signal to his partner that Chick would not do. It was
one of his illusions that Mr. Glion was influenced by his judgment.

"Yes," said Mr. Glion again. "Sit down, Lord Pelborough."

Five minutes later Mr. Glion was waddling round the room with a long
pointer, explaining to Chick, by means of the charts, maps and plans
which hung on the wall, the potentialities of the Doebnitz oilfields.
They were joined a little later by Mr. Joicey, who made up in enthusiasm
all that he lacked in experience, and by lunch-time the four directors of
Doebnitz Oil were seated about a table at Mr. Glion's fiat.

Chick came home to tea a very preoccupied young man, and hung up his tall
hat, looking so sad and depressed that Gwenda was alarmed.

"Are you disappointed, Chick?" she said.

Chick rubbed his nose and looked at her blankly.

"Eh?" he said, rousing himself with a start, "I'm awfully sorry, Gwenda.
Am I disappointed? No, I'm not disappointed, except with myself. It is
such an enormous business, Gwenda. There's a million pounds being
invested in the company, and my name is going on the prospectus, and I've
nothing to do except to go to the office once a month."

She shook him gently by the shoulder.

"My dear soul, there are lots of people who would give their heads to get
that kind of position."

"I suppose they would," said Chick dubiously. "But, Gwenda, do you know
anything about oil?"

"Do I know anything about it?" she said in surprise. "No, of course I
don't; but you needn't be an authority on oil to be a director of an oil
company."

"I suppose not," said Chick.

He had a subscription to a library, and returned the next day with a
number of volumes under his arm. Gwenda, reading their titles and noting
that they all dealt with oil and its production, marvelled a little. She
was beginning to understand Chick, and to know that behind that appealing
helplessness of his was a very definite strength of purpose. The courage
which had brought him again and again to the centre of the ring to take
punishment from the hands of a man who he knew must surely defeat him,
but which nevertheless held him doggedly to the end, was exactly the
courage which made him spend three days and nights in the quietness of
his bedroom confirming a suspicion which had been born of a quick glance
between Glion and his partner.

It was during the luncheon, and Mr. Joicey was speculating upon the
dividends which this undeveloped oilfield would pay. It was a glint from
eye to eye that Chick saw, but it was enough.

A week passed, and he had exhausted the subject of oil, and had exchanged
his books for the only geological survey of Roumania procurable. It was a
small book, but it was in German, and for another three days Chick sat
hunched up with a German-English dictionary by his side, puzzling over
the queer Gothic characters and making elaborate notes in his sprawling
hand.

The prospectus had been issued with what seemed to Lord Mansar to be
indecent haste, and at the first board meeting which Chick attended Mr.
Glion announced that subscriptions were "rolling in." Glion, who had seen
the birth and death of innumerable companies, and had a very large
experience of guinea-pig directors, drove to his handsome house in Hans
Crescent after the meeting, and he was in a boiling rage.

"What is this fellow they've lumbered on to me?" he stormed to the meek
Meggison. "The man is an infernal jackass. By Jove, for two pins I'd
chuck him off the board!"

"He's young," murmured Mr. Meggison.

"Young--be blowed!" exploded Mr. Glion. "Business which ought to have
taken us ten minutes he kept us fooling about with until six o'clock! Did
you notice how he insisted upon reading the engineer's report? Did you
hear what he said about the purchase price and who was getting the
money?"

"He's very young," murmured Mr. Meggison.

"Young!" spluttered the rotund Mr. Glion. "He's got Joicey dissatisfied,
and I'm depending upon Joicey to work the market."

At that moment Mr. Joicey, no longer enthusiastic, was walking with a
gloomy Chick along the Thames Embankment. Chick's tall hat was on the
back of his head, and his hands were thrust into his trousers pockets.

"You know a devil of a lot about oil!" said Joicey testily, for a man
resents the disturbance of his placid optimism. "Where did you learn it
all?"

"I read it up," said Chick.

"Oh, in books," said Mr. Joicey contemptuously.

"Yes," said Chick, "in books. Books told you there was such a place as
Roumania. You've never been there, have you?"

Mr. Joicey admitted he hadn't.

"You made Glion awfully wild," he said after they had walked a few
minutes in silence.

"Did I?" said Chick indifferently. "That's the fat red man, isn't it?"

"That's him," said the product of a great public school. "You rattled him
a bit about the purchase price. Five hundred thousand pounds isn't too
much to pay, if the property is anything like what I think it is."

Chick grunted.

"Who gets the money?" he asked after a while.

"The Southern Oil Syndicate," answered Mr. Joicey uneasily, for he knew
that the Southern Oil Syndicate was another name for Mr. Glion and Mr.
Meggison.

They parted at the point where the one-decker trams dive into a dark
tunnel and climb their way up to Southampton Row, and at parting Chick
dropped his bomb-shell.

"I don't think there is any oil in that property," he said. "Good-bye,
Mr. Joicey."

He left the young man staring after him.

A fortnight later came another report from the engineer in charge of the
boring operations, which Mr. Glion received philosophically.

"Of course we must put down another borehole, gentlemen," he said. "It is
very disappointing, very." He passed his hand wearily across his
forehead. "Others will reap the reward of our labours," he said
virtuously. "We may not get oil for a month, or two months, or two years,
but sooner or later our enterprise will be justified. We will now pass to
the next item on the agenda."

"Wait a minute," said Chick. "In the prospectus you said--"

"Any discussion of the prospectus is out of order," said Mr. Glion in his
capacity as chairman. "We will now pass to the next business."

The following afternoon Chick received a wire asking him to call at Hans
Crescent. Mr. Glion was ill. He was very ill. In proof of which, there he
was in his bed, dressed in resplendent pyjamas, which in all probability
he had designed in the odd moments when he was not designing waistcoats.

"My doctor has told me to give up work at once," he said. "Sit down,
Pelborough. Let them bring you some tea. Or will you have a whisky and
soda?"

Chick would take neither.

Mr, Glion had not achieved success without a profound knowledge of human
nature, and Chick listened fascinated whilst the white moustache wobbled
up and down as Mr. Glion outlined his plan.

"I am getting a bit too old for this, Pelborough," he said. "Here, at the
zenith of my career, I have the most wonderful proposition that any
financier has ever handled, and Anno Domini has floored me! This company
requires the direction of young men, full of the vigour of youth. You
understand me?"

Chick nodded, wondering what was coming next.

"I have been talking it over with Meggison," Mr. Glion went on, "and we
have decided to stand on one side and let you boys run the company,"

"But--but," stammered Chick.

"One moment." Mr. Glion raised his hand with a pained expression. "This
is not a question of doing you a favour, my friend. I must be justified.
People are watching the ravaging effect of--er--Anno Domini, as I said
before, and are chuckling up their sleeves. They think I will fail, but
they do not know that I have at my right hand and at my left,"--he
gesticulated picturesquely toward the window and in the direction of a
Louis Seize cabinet--"two young geniuses--should that be genii? I am
rather hazy on the subject--who will carry the Doebnitz Oilfields to
triumphant success."

And then he outlined his scheme, and Chick listened open-mouthed.

Mr. Glion had a hundred thousand shares. Chick had exactly five hundred,
which had been presented to him to qualify him for the directorship. He
would hand his shares over to Chick at a nominal figure, "say, a
shilling--or even sixpence," suggested Mr. Glion, watching the young
man's face, and was immediately afterwards sorry that he hadn't said
half-a-crown.

And Joicey should become managing director and Chick chairman of the
board. It is doubtful whether Chick would have fallen in with this
arrangement if he had read the scathing article in a respectable
financial paper that morning. Joicey had read it, and was indignant when
he came in answer to Chick's wire urgent. They met in the bare board-room
in Queen Victoria Street, and Joicey's enthusiasm carried the day. The
next morning they received the transfer of two hundred thousand shares
which had been held by Mr. Glion and the philanthropic Mr. Meggison, and,
constituting themselves into a board, they accepted and acknowledged the
resignation of the former chairman and managing director.

And then the trouble began. For months afterwards Chick never saw a
financial newspaper without shutting his eyes and shivering. He leapt in
a night to the eminence of a public character, and a bad character at
that. An independent report of the Doebnitz property had reached London,
and it was less flattering than the engineer's. The post-box was filled
with the letters of anguished and despairing shareholders who had already
paid fifteen shillings on every one-pound share, and Chick felt that he
would grow grey unless something happened.

There was an informal meeting in the little sitting-room at Doughty
Street, and to Gwenda's surprise Lord Mansar attended.

"I've been trying to get you all day, Chick," he said. "You can't imagine
how sick I am that I have let you into this swindle."

Mr. Joicey, looking unusually haggard and baggy about the eyes, for he
had had no sleep for three nights, put down the newspaper cuttings he had
been reading with a groan.

"Well, you were right, Mansar," he said. "The infernal scoundrels! They
have left us to hold the baby."

"I'll come on the board," began Mansar.

"No, you won't," said Chick quietly. "We've got into this trouble through
our own stupidity, and we've got to get out as best we can. It doesn't
affect me, because--"

"It affects you more than anybody," said Mansar quietly. "You are just
making your start, Pelborough, and I thought it was a good start for you.
It is going to be very bad for you to be associated with a swindle of
this kind, and I hate myself for putting you into it."

"Is there no money in the company?" asked Gwenda, who was the fourth
about the little table.

"That's the swindle of it!" said Joicey savagely. "There's over one
hundred and fifty thousand pounds in the bank, and Pelborough and I have
full control of it. It was the money in the bank that was the lure. The
business looked so solvent that we didn't hesitate, did we, Pelborough?"

Chick said nothing. He had done a considerable amount of hesitating, but
had been over-persuaded by his volatile companion.

"But I thought the capital was a million," said the girl.

It was Mansar who explained to her the mysteries of high finance--of
shares allocated in lieu of purchase price, of money actually paid out to
vendors.

"Mr. Glion has his whack," said Chick. "I wonder if we could get it
back?"

Joicey laughed.

"Could you get back a lump of sugar that had been standing in a cup of
hot tea for ten minutes?" he asked. "Could you extract the ink you
dropped on blotting-paper? No, you'll never get anything back from Glion.
The beggar isn't even insurable," he said bitterly, "otherwise we could
get a policy on his life and kill him!"

"He isn't a good life," said Chick, shaking his head, his mind reverting
to the days of his insurance clerkship. "I think he would come under
Schedule H."

The discussion ended, as all previous discussions had finished, without
any definite plan being evolved. Indeed, there was no other plan than the
liquidation of the company.

More satisfactory were the little talks which Mr. Glion had with his
confederate. They occurred in a room panelled in rosewood and illuminated
by soft lights that shone through Venetian glass, lights that were fixed
in solid silver brackets, for Mr. Glion's study had been arranged by a
well-known firm of decorators and furnishers, and he had wisely refrained
from putting forward those suggestions as to colour and shape which had
made his waistcoats famous throughout the City of London.

"They seem to be in trouble," said Mr. Glion as he sipped a long glass of
Moselle. "Did you see the Financial Echo this morning?"

"They weren't exactly nice about us," said Mr. Meggison in his pedantic
way. "The things they say about that boy Pelborough--"

Mr. Glion shook with internal laughter. "There is such a thing in this
world, my dear fellow," he said as he poured himself another libation,
"as being too clever. It has been my experience that when you have
dealings with a fellow who thinks he knows it all, you are on a good soft
proposition."

There came a discreet tap at the door, and his butler entered, carrying a
salver.

"A telegram?" said Mr. Glion, adjusting his glasses.

He opened the buff envelope and extracted two forms filled with writing.

Mr. Meggison, watching him read, saw first a look of astonishment and
then a broad smile dawn slowly on his face.

"There is no answer," he said to the waiting servant, and chuckled, and
his chuckle became a laugh so punctured with coughing that his companion
was seriously alarmed.

"When you are dealing with a fellow who thinks he is clever," repeated
Mr. Glion, when he had recovered his breath, "you are on something for
nothing."

He tossed the telegram across to the other, and Mr. Meggison read:

"We have struck oil at 220 metres, a fine gusher. Evidently oil lies very
deeply here. The prospects are splendid. All the local authorities are
surprised that we have found oil at all."

It was signed "Merrit."

"What the dickens does that mean?" asked Mr. Meggison, surprised, and his
friend began to laugh again.

"I will tell you what that means," he began, when again the door opened
to admit the butler.

"There's a telephone call through for you, sir, from the Marquis of
Pelborough. Will you speak to him?"

"Switch him through," said Mr. Glion, his face creased with good humour.

He winked at the puzzled Mr. Meggison.

"Lost no time, has he?" he chuckled. "Hand that telephone across to me,
will you, Meggison?"

It was Chick's voice that greeted him.

"Yes, yes," said Mr. Glion indulgently, "How do you do. Lord Pelborough?
Yes, I've read the papers...I'm very sorry...No, I'm out of that business
for good. The state of my health makes it imperative that I should rest,
and my doctor has forbidden me to interest myself in any company at
all...Buy back the shares and take control? Nonsense!...You wait, my boy,
for a year or two. You'll have wonderful news from Roumania yet."

He winked again at the other, and was unable to proceed for a moment.

"Oh yes, you bought them all right," he said, answering the anxious
inquiry. "The fact that you and Joicey haven't paid for them makes no
difference. You owe us exactly five thousand pounds. That's exactly two
hundred thousand shares at sixpence. No, we're not going to press you for
payment."

He listened, shaking his head, whilst the sound of Chick's urgent voice
reached Mr. Meggison at the other side of the table.

"I'm sorry. Good night."

He hung up the receiver.

"That is one of the most transparent tricks in the world," he said.

The "phone rang again. He hesitated for a moment, then reached for the
instrument,

"Oh, is that you, Pelborough? No, I'm sure Mr. Meggison wouldn't come
back under any circumstances. He's not well at all. And by the way,
Pelborough, where is Joicey now? In Roumania, is he?" He grinned broadly.
"Thank you, that is all I wanted to know."

He put the receiver down.

"As I was saying, that is one of the most transparent tricks, and it has
been played on me before, but never, I am happy to say, with success. The
wire was sent by Joicey, of course."

"Why should he send it here and not to the office? That exposes the
fake," said Mr. Meggison.

"Not necessarily," corrected Glion. "Merrit has had his orders to send
his wires direct here. No, no "--he held up his glass and admired its
amber contents--"they oughtn't to have tried it on an old bird like me."

Mr. Glion came down to breakfast the next morning in his most amiable
mood. He might have continued the day in that cheerful frame of mind, but
for a paragraph in the stop-press column of the financial paper.

"Valuable finds of oil have been made on the property of the Doebnitz OH
Company."

This puzzled him, and it shook his faith in his own judgment. That faith
was entirely dissipated in the afternoon when the figures at his club
showed Doebnitz Oil at seventeen shillings a share and rising.

Mr. Glion was a man of resource and ingenuity. Ten minutes after reading
the staggering information which the tape machine supplied, he descended
from a taxi at the door of the office in Queen Victoria Street and went
up to the board-room.

He passed through the outer office, where three clerks were busy opening
telegrams from shareholders, cancelling their offers to sell, and
discovered Chick sitting in solitary state in that same luxurious chair
which had been Mr. Glion's. Chick beamed up at the visitor, and Mr. Glion
ordered his face to smile.

"Well, well, my boy," he said, and offered a plump and purple hand, "you
see, I've come as I promised."

The smile left Chick's face.

"As you promised, sir?" he said.

Mr. Glion nodded and sat down.

"As we agreed over the 'phone," he said. "I have come to buy back the
shares you offered me, and very handsome it was of you, my boy. I promise
you that you shall not lose on the transaction."

"I've promised myself that, too, sir," said Chick gently.

"Have you the transfers ready?" asked Mr. Glion, searching for his
fountain pen.

"No, sir--and I am not selling."

The rotund Mr. Glion quivered with surprise and indignation.

"What, sir! After we had agreed that I should take over your stock?"

Chick went to the door and opened it wide.

"Good evening, sir," he said politely.

One of Mr. Glion's greatest assets was an ability to recognize defeat.



CHAPTER IX - IN THE PUBLIC EYE


Sudden affluence affects different people in different ways. The Marquis
of Pelborough had succeeded, through the death of his uncle, to a title
which brought with it nothing more substantial in the shape of estate
than one acre of waste garden and a brick cottage badly in need of
repair. "Chick" Pelborough was less shocked by his accession to the title
than he was by the acquisition to wealth.

"Your future is settled now, Chick," said Gwenda Maynard, at the
conclusion of a family council, in which his housekeeper as by right
participated. "You should buy a nice house in the country and take your
place in Society."

"But I don't want to go into the country," said Chick, aghast at the
prospect. "The country bores me, Gwenda. When I used to go to Pelborough
to see the old doctor, I used to pray for the hour when I could leave."

She shook her head.

"Going to the country for a day to see a crochety old gentleman who
bullied you is quite another matter to living in a beautiful house, with
horses to ride and a car to drive. No, Chick, you've lifted yourself so
far--"

"You have put me where I am, Gwenda," said Chick soberly, "If you hadn't
been behind me, jogging my elbow, I should have made a mess of things.
You don't want me to leave here, do you?" he asked, with a sudden sinking
of heart.

"Here" was a little flat at seventy pounds per annum, no suitable abode
for a man who had sold out his holding in a certain oil company for a
hundred thousand pounds.

The possession of such an incredible sum terrified Chick. It took him the
greater part of a week to get over the feeling that he had been engaged
in a successful swindle, and for another week he fought with an
inclination to restore the money to a gentleman who, believing they were
worthless, had certainly tried to ruin him when he had transferred his
shares to Chick's account.

Gwenda did not instantly answer his question. She wanted Chick to
stay--she had never realized how much he was to her--but the position was
grotesque. She had set out to establish the insurance clerk who had so
unexpectedly fallen into the ranks of the peerage, and she had devoted
her unselfish energies to his advancement. And now that he was fairly on
his feet she shrank from the logical culmination of her plan, and she
hated herself for her cowardice.

"I don't want you to go, you know that, Chick," she said slowly, "only it
isn't right that you should stay."

"Gwenda is talking sense, Lord Pelborough," said the practical Mrs.
Phibbs, nodding her imposing head. "People must work up to the level of
their superiors. Why, you're scared to death of these flibbertigibbet
Society folk, and that isn't right. If you don't go up, Chick, you go
down. My husband surrendered at the first check, and found his way to the
saloon bar. He was one of those people who liked to be looked up to, and
naturally he had to descend pretty far before he reached the admiring
strata."

Mrs. Phibbs very seldom talked about her husband.

"He is dead, isn't he?" asked Chick gently.

"He is," said that brisk woman, "and in Heaven, I hope, though I have my
doubts."

"Besides, Chick," said Gwenda, "we shall have very little time together
here. The play may run for another year, and now that I've gone back to
the cast I shall be fully occupied."

Chick said nothing to this. A few days before he was passing down Bond
Street on the top of a 'bus, and saw Gwenda and Lord Mansar coming from a
tea-shop, and they had driven away in Mansar's car. And on the very next
afternoon he had met them walking in Hyde Park, and Gwenda had seemed
embarrassed.

And it hurt him just a little bit--a queer, aching hurt that took the
colour from the day and left him forlorn and listless.

"We'll postpone our talk until to-morrow," said Gwenda, rising. "Mrs.
Phibbs, I shall be late to-night. Lord Mansar is taking Miss Bellow and
me to supper. You wouldn't care to come, would you, Chick?"

Chick shook his head.

"I'm going to the gym, to punch the bag, Gwenda," he said quietly, and
she thought it was the prospect of leaving which had saddened him.

Chick did not stay long in the gymnasium. The spirit had been taken out
of him, and his instructor watched his puny efforts with dismay,

"You're not losing your punch, m'lord, are you?" he asked anxiously.

"I'm losing something," said Chick, with a sigh. "I don't think I'm in
the mood for practice tonight, sergeant."

He dressed and came out into Langham Place, and he was at a loose end.
Even the cinema had no appeal for him, and he loafed down Regent Street
without having any especial objective.

Nearing the Circus, he turned into a side-street that led to Piccadilly.
And it was here that he saw the girl. To be accurate, he heard her
first--heard a faint, frightened scream, and the thud of her frail body
against the shuttered window of a shop.

It is a peculiarity of men who love ring-craft that they have a horror of
quarrels, particularly street quarrels. Chick always went breathless and
experienced a tightening of the heart at the sight of a street fight. But
this was not a street fight. The man was a wiry youth, somewhat
overdressed; the girl appeared respectable and, on closer inspection,
very pretty.

"You'd do it again, would you?" hissed the man; and then, as his hand
came back. Chick crossed the narrow road, no longer breathless,

"Excuse me," he said, and the girl's assailant suddenly spun round. He
had no intention of spinning round, and he glared at the slim figure that
had appeared from nowhere.

Chick backed slowly to the centre of the asphalted road, and Mr. Arthur
Blanbury (for that was the name of the girl's companion) entirely
misunderstood the significance of the manoeuvre. He thought this
interfering stranger had repented of his intrusion. In truth, Chick
needed exactly three feet of clear space on either flank. This Mr.
Blanbury discovered. Without any preliminary remarks, he drove at Chick
scientifically. Chick took the blow over his left shoulder, and drove
left and right to the body. It was Mr. Blanbury's weak spot, and he drew
off, unguarding his jaw. Chick's left found the point, and Mr. Blanbury
went down, in the language of the ring, "for the count."

You cannot indulge in any form of fistic combat within a hundred yards of
Piccadilly Circus without collecting a crowd or inviting the attention of
an active and intelligent constabulary. A big hand fell on Chick's
shoulder, and he turned to meet the commanding eye of a policeman.

"Suppose you come along with me, old man," said the constable; and Chick,
who had more sense than most people who have found themselves in his
painful situation, did not argue, but allowed himself to be taken to
Marlborough Street Police Station.

"The Marquis of what?" said the station inspector humorously. "What are
you charging him with--drunk?"

But here an unexpected friend arrived in the person of the girl. Until
then Chick had not seen her face. It was a very pretty face, despite its
inherent weakness.

But if she was a stranger to Chick, she was known to the station
inspector, who raised his grey eyebrows at the sight of her.

"Hallo, Miss Farland! What do you want?" he demanded.

And Chick heard the story. She was a shop girl at an Oxford Street store,
and her assailant had been her fiancé. It had been one of those sketchy
engagements which follow chance meetings in the Park. He was very nice
and "gentlemanly," and had treated her like a lady until one night he
revealed his true character. She "lived in" with a hundred other girls,
and it was possible, as he evidently knew, for her to slip down to a door
which communicated with the warehouse and the living quarters
alike--being an emergency exit for the girls in case of fire--and to open
that door to Mr. Blanbury and his associates, to two of whom he
introduced her.

Instead she had communicated with her employer, and the police had
trapped the robbers, with the exception of Mr. Blanbury, of whom she had
not given a very clear description, actuated possibly by sentimental
motives. They had met by accident that night, and Chick had been a
witness to the sequel.

"Very sorry, indeed, my lord," said the inspector cheerfully. "Go back,
Morrison, and pull in that man."

Chick waited in the charge-room until they brought in the somewhat dazed
young man, and after he had disappeared through the door leading to the
cells, he escorted the girl to her shop.

She was grateful, she was silent, being overawed by the knowledge that
her escort was a "lord," but her prettiness was very eloquent, and Chick
went back to Doughty Street with his head in the air and a sense that the
evening had been less dismal than he had anticipated.

He was so cheerful when Gwenda came in, after a prolonged farewell at the
street door--it was not her fault that it lasted more than a second--that
she smiled in sympathy, though she did not feel like smiling.

"I've been locked up," said Chick calmly, as he shuffled his patience
cards.

"Chick!"

"I was arrested and marched to Marlborough Street," said Chick, enjoying
the mild sensation. Then he told her what had happened.

"You splendid dear!" she said, squeezing his hand. "How like you to
interfere! Was she pretty, Chick?"

She was not prepared for his reply or his enthusiasm.

"Lovely!" said Chick, in a hushed voice. "Simply lovely! She's got those
baby eyes that you like so much, Gwenda, and a sort of mouth that you
only see in pictures--like a bud. You wouldn't think she worked in a
shop. I was surprised when she told me. Such a nice young lady,
Gwenda--you'd love her."

"Perhaps I should, Chick," said the girl, a thought coldly. "I never knew
that you were such a connoisseur of feminine charms. Did you like her,
Chick?"

"Rather!" said Chick heartily. "She's not a big girl--she just comes up
to my shoulder. Gwenda "--he hesitated--"couldn't I ask her to come up to
tea one day? I know her name--Millie Farland."

"Certainly," said Gwenda, slowly removing her wrap. "Ask her to come on
Wednesday."

Chick looked surprised.

"But that is your matinee day, and you wouldn't be home," he said.

Gwenda eyed him thoughtfully.

"No," she said. "Ask her to come on Sunday. Anyway, she wouldn't be able
to come any other day than Saturday or Sunday, if she is in an Oxford
Street store, and I want to see her."

Miss Millie Farland was a young lady who enjoyed the fatal experience of
publicity, which is a poison that has before now driven inoffensive
citizens to commit violent crimes. It is possible to reform a drunkard
and cure a dope fiend, but let the unbalanced mentality of unimportant
people confront their names in print, and their cases are for ever
hopeless. Never again will they be happy until they have once more tasted
the fierce thrills of press notices.

Miss Farland had figured in a warehouse robbery. She had given evidence
at the Old Bailey. She had seen herself described as a "heroine," and her
actions eulogized in a paragraph which was headed "Pretty Girl's Smart
Capture of Warehouse Thieves."

She had been photographed entering the court and leaving the court. She
had been similarly portrayed at the local cinematograph theatre, and now
a marquis had fought for her in the open street! A real lord had got
locked up for her and had walked home with her!

There were fifty girls sleeping on her landing at Belham and Sapworth's
and fifty on the landing below. None of them went to bed that night
ignorant of the fact that the Most Honourable The Marquis of Pelborough
had fought for her in Regent Street.

She went down early in the morning to get the newspaper, never doubting
that the amazing adventure would occupy a considerable amount of the
space usually given up to such drivelling subjects as meetings of the
Supreme Council and silly and incomprehensible speeches by the Prime
Minister. She had in her mind's eye seen such great head-lines as
"Marquis Rescues Beautiful Shop-Lady from Brutal Attack," for Miss
Farland had no illusions about her own charms.

And there was no mention of the matter--not so much as a paragraph!

"I expect he kept it out of the papers," she said at the 8.30 rush
breakfast. "Naturally, he wouldn't be mixed up in a scandal, and probably
he didn't want my name mentioned. He's awfully genteel! The way he took
off his hat to me was a fair treat!"

"You'll be a marchioness one of these days, Millie," said an impertinent
apprentice, and Miss Farland, who ranked as a "senior," scorned to answer
the lowly girl.

To a buyer, a lady who, by virtue of her high position, occupied a room
to herself (apprentices sleep four in a room, "seniors" two), she
admitted that she had felt a queer flutter at her heart when his lordship
had looked at her.

"I suppose we shall be seeing you in court again," said the
buyer--"breach of promise and all that sort of thing."

Miss Farland thought it was unlikely. She and his lordship were just
friends. Only that, and no more. Still, the prospect of standing in a
witness-box and having her dress described and her coming in and going
out photographed by a sensation-loving press, did not altogether
displease her.

And then she received a letter from Chick. It was signed in his sprawling
hand "Pelborough," and she was thrilled.

Before the day was over every member of the staff, from the
engaging-manager to the meanest member of the outside staff, knew that
she was invited to tea next Sunday, and that Lord Pelborough hoped that
she was no worse for her alarming experience, and that he thought the
weather was very changeable, and that he was "hers sincerely."

"That's what I liked about him--his sincerity," said Miss Farland to her
assembled friends. "A man like that couldn't tell a lie. That's the
wonderful thing about real gentlemen--they are always sincere."

So she went to tea, and Gwenda was very nice, but very disconcerting,
because Miss Farland's first impression was that Gwenda was his
lordship's young lady. As to Chick, he was his simple, friendly self, and
discussed such matters as the weather and the Cup Tie Final (she was
interested in neither subject) with the greatest freedom.

Presently she overcame her shyness and dispensed with the irritating
little cough which prefixed her every sentence. She even addressed Chick
by that name. Chick went red and choked over his tea, but he liked it.
Gwenda neither went red nor choked, but she hated it.

It took away from the sweetness of the word and, on the lips of the girl,
turned an endearing nickname into a piece of familiarity.

Chick saw her home.

"You will write to me, won't you, Chick?" Millie Farland had the
prettiest pout imaginable. She had tried every one before her mirror, and
this she now wore was undoubtedly super excellent.

"Write?" said the astonished Chick. "Oh--er--yes, of course I'll
write--er--yes. What shall I write about?"

"I want to know how you are, of course. Chick," she said, playing with
the top button of his coat.

"Is it loose?" asked Chick, interested.

"Of course it isn't, you silly boy," she laughed. "But you will write,
won't you? I'm so lonely here, and you've no idea how happy I've been
today--with you," she added, looking up shyly.

Chick had seen that slow uplift of fringed eyelid in a score of cinema
plays, and yet he did not recognize it. She also had seen the movement
and many others. The educative value of the cinema is not properly
appreciated by outsiders.

"What did you think of her?" he asked, as soon as he got back to the
fiat.

"A very, very pretty little girl," said Gwenda.

"Isn't she?" echoed Chick. "Poor little soul, she is so lonely, too. She
loved being here--she asked me to write to her," he added.

Gwenda walked to the window and looked out. "It has started to rain," she
said.

"I know," said Chick. "It was raining when I came in. What can I write to
her about, Gwenda?"

She turned from the window and smiled.

"What a question, Chick!" she said, walking from the room.

"But really--"

"Write to her about oil," said Gwenda at the door, "and about boxing, but
don't write to her about yourself or herself, Chick. That's the advice
of--of an old married woman."

"Gosh!" said Chick. "But suppose she isn't interested in oil?"

But Gwenda had gone.

He tried the next day to write a letter, but discovered the limitations
of correspondence with one whose tastes and interests were a mystery to
him. Fortunately, Miss Farland saved him a great deal of trouble by
writing.

She spelt a trifle erratically, and was prone to underline. Also she had
acquired the habit of employing the note of admiration wherever it was
possible. She had enjoyed herself immensely! She hoped he hadn't got wet!
And wondered if he thought of her last night! She wanted to ask him a
favour! She knew it was cheek! But she felt she must open her heart to
him! A gentleman wanted to marry her! But she did not love him! Could
marriage be happy without love? And so forth, over eight pages.

Gwenda saw him frowning over the letter, and wondered.

It was a little ominous, she thought, that Chick did not communicate any
more of the letter than that it was from "Miss Farland."

The truth was, Chick felt that he was the recipient of a great
confidence, and bound by honour to say no more about the girl's dilemma
than was necessary. For Chick took these matters very seriously. He had a
very great respect for all women, and, being something of an idealist,
the thought that this pretty child might be hurried into matrimony with a
man she did not love both depressed and horrified him.

Therefore, in the quietness of his room, he wrote, and found writing in
these circumstances so easy an exercise that he had written twelve pages
before he realized he had begun. And Chick's letter was about love and
happiness, and the folly of marrying where love was not. He found he
could enlarge upon this subject, and drew from within himself a
philosophy of love which amazed him. There was one passage in his letter
which ran:

"The social or financial position of a man is immaterial. It does not
matter whether I am a marquis or a dustman. It does not matter whether
you work for your living or you are a lady moving in the highest social
circles: If you love me and I love you, nothing else matters."

He posted the bulky envelope, satisfied in his mind that he had set one
pair of feet on the right way. He was staggered the next morning to
receive a reply to his letter, although it could have been delivered only
the previous night, and this time Miss Farland wrote seventeen pages.
Chick's letter had been so helpful! She had never met a man who
understood women as well as he did! On the seventeenth page was a
postscript. Would Chick meet her that night, at half-past eight o'clock,
near the big statue in the Park?

Chick kept the appointment and found her charmingly flustered. There was
no necessity for him to take her arm as they walked up one of the
deserted paths. She saved him the trouble by taking his. Curiously
enough, she made not the slightest reference to the gentleman who desired
to lure her into a loveless marriage. She talked mostly about herself and
what the other girls at the shop thought of her. She admitted that she
was a little superior to the position she held, and spoke of her father,
who was an officer in the Army, and her mother, who was the daughter of a
rural dean.

"A dean who preaches in the country, you know," she explained.

He escorted her back to Oxford Street. She reached her dwelling up a
side-street which was never thickly populated, even in the busiest part
of the day, and she stopped midway between two lamp-posts to say "Good
night."

"You'll see me again, won't you?" she asked plaintively. "You don't know
what a comfort your letters are to me."

And then she put up her red and inviting lips to his, and Chick kissed
her. He had not either the intention or the desire, but there was the
pretty upturned face with the scarlet lips within a few inches of his,
and Chick kissed her.

When Gwenda returned home that night, Chick was waiting up for her--a
very solemn-faced Chick, who did not meet her eye.

"Gwenda," he said a little huskily, "I want to speak to you before you go
to bed."

Her heart went cold. She knew that Chick had gone to meet the girl. She
had seen the voluminous correspondence which had passed, and she was
afraid. She was determined, too. Chick should not sacrifice his future,
his whole career, through the mad infatuation of a moment.

"What is it, Chick?" she asked, sitting down, her hands folded on the
table before her.

"I'm afraid I've behaved rather badly," said Chick, still looking down.

"To whom?" asked Gwenda faintly. There was no need to ask the question at
all.

"To Miss Farland," said Chick.

"Look at me. Chick!" Gwenda's voice was imperative. He raised his eyes to
hers. "When you say you have behaved rather badly, what do you mean? Have
you promised to--to marry her?"

His look of astonishment lifted a heavy weight from her heart.

"To marry her?" he said incredulously. "Of course not. I kissed her,
that's all."

She was smiling, but there were tears in her eyes.

"You silly boy," she said softly. "You gave me a fright. Tell me about
it, Chick."

He was loath to put the incident into words, and felt he was being
disloyal to one whom he described as "this innocent child," but Gwenda's
leading questions brought out the story bit by bit. She was serious when
he told her of the letter he had written, though Chick could see nothing
in that.

What was the letter about?"

"Well, it was mostly about love," said Chick calmly. "You see, dear, this
poor child--"

Gwenda raised her eyes for a second.

"--has had an offer of marriage from a man who, I think, must be very
wealthy, from what she tells me. Unfortunately, she doesn't like him a
little bit, and she wrote to ask me what she should do."

"And did you tell her, Chick?" said Gwenda. "I suppose you haven't a copy
of your letter?"

He shook his head, and she sighed.

"Well, perhaps there was nothing in it," she said. "What are you going to
do, Chick?"

"I think I'd better write to her, when she writes again, and tell her
that I can't see her," said Chick. "I don't want to hurt the poor girl's
feelings, but at the same time I don't want to give her the impression
that I'm fond of her. Of course I am fond of her," he added; "she's such
a pretty little thing, and so lonely."

His resolution not to answer any more of her letters was shaken when she
wrote, as she did the next day, an epistle which occupied both sides of
fourteen sheets of large bank paper.

What had she done to offend him? She had trusted him! What had come
between them?

"Don't answer it. Chick," warned the girl. And Chick groaned.

This letter was followed by others--some frantic, some pleading, some
bearing pointed hints to the Serpentine and hoping he would never forget
the poor girl who had loved him unto death!

"It's worse than the letters from the shareholders," groaned poor Chick.
"Really, I think I ought to answer this one and tell her that I'm--"

"Unless I'm greatly mistaken," said Gwenda, "you'll have a letter to
answer before the next week is over."

And sure enough, on the following Saturday morning came a typed epistle
from Messrs. Bennett and Reeves, who were, amongst other things,
according to the note-head, commissioners of oaths.

They had been instructed by their client, Miss Amelia Farland, to demand
from the noble lord whether he intended fulfilling his promise of
marriage to their client, and, if he did not so intend, would he supply
them with the name of his solicitors?

Poor Chick, a crushed and pallid figure, collapsed into his chair, and
Gwenda took the letter from his hand. There were many eminent firms of
lawyers who would act for Chick, but she knew a theatrical solicitor, a
shrewd man of business, who kept a watchful eye upon the affairs of Mr.
Solburg, and to him she carried the letter and gave as near as possible
an account of the relationship between Chick and the girl.

"Bennett and Reeves," he mused, as he read the letter. "They take on that
kind of work. I'll write them a little note. I don't think your Marquis
will be troubled with this action."

Some time after, Miss Millie Farland entered the offices of her
solicitors, wearing just that expression of silent suffering which would
have photographed so well had there been any photographers waiting in
Bedford Row to snap her.

Mr. Bennett received her with every evidence of cordiality,

"About this action, Miss Farland," he said. "They are going to fight the
case, and they have briefed Sir John Mason. But do you want this case to
go into court? Because, if you do, it is my opinion that you haven't a
leg to stand on. I've been making independent inquiries, and it seems
that Lord Pelborough did nothing more than rescue you from a former lover
of yours,"

"You have his letter," said Miss Farland severely.

"Callow essays on love and marriage," said Mr. Bennett contemptuously,
"Now let us get down to business. Before we can go any farther in this
action you must deposit an amount sufficient to cover the costs. That
will be, let us say, two thousand pounds,"

Miss Farland rose. Afterwards, describing her action, she said that the
man quailed under her glance.

"I see," she said bitterly, "there is one law for the rich and another
for the poor."

"It is the same law," explained Mr. Bennett, "The only difference is that
the poor pay in advance, and the rich pay afterwards."

Miss Farland, addressing a meeting of her sympathizers on Number One
landing that night, expressed her determination to go through with the
matter to the bitter end. Happily she was spared that ordeal, for an
evening or two later, whilst she was strolling with a friend by the side
of that very Serpentine in which she had hinted her young life might be
blotted out, a small boy bather got into difficulties--and Miss Farland
could swim.

The breakfast-room at Belham and Sapworth's crowded round her as she read
the paper in the morning, and feasted their eyes upon a larger headline
than she had ever received: "Pretty Girl's Gallant Rescue in the
Serpentine. Modest Heroine Refuses to Give her Name until the Police
Compelled Her."

Miss Farland drew a happy sigh.



CHAPTER X - COURAGE


The beauty of Monte Carlo has no exact parallel unless it be the beauty
of the Cape Peninsula in the early spring.

The Marquis of Pelborough had never dreamt of such loveliness as he saw
from his bedroom window at the "Hotel de Paris."

The days were sunny, and cool breezes tempered the heat of May. The
season was over; many of the villas that dotted the hill-side were
tenantless, and the more fashionable of the restaurants were shut.
Nevertheless, though a few tables had been closed, the Casino was largely
patronized, and Chick had been a fascinated spectator of play in which
thousands of pounds had changed hands with every turn of the cards.

Gwenda was "resting"; a sore throat and a mild attack of influenza, which
had given Chick the first clear understanding of what she meant to him,
had compelled her to stop work. The hint which the doctor had thrown out
about a more equable climate than that of Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, had
been seized upon by Chick.

"Like where, doctor?" he asked.

"Oh--er--the South of France, or Torquay," said the man of medicines, who
invariably offered these alternatives and left his patients to choose
that which was most convenient to their pockets. Gwenda was all for
Torquay; Mrs. Phibbs, who had never been farther abroad than Brussels,
supported her as in duty bound, and prayed that Chick would not assent.
He neither agreed nor disagreed. One evening he came into the flat and
laid a bulging pocket-case on the table.

"I have arranged the passports and the tickets for Monte Carlo," he said
masterfully. "The sleeping berths are reserved from Calais, and we leave
on Sunday morning."

Gwenda was too weak to argue. Illness is a great disturber of sleeping
routine. Gwenda had dozed through the days and had spent many wakeful and
thoughtful hours in the night.

She had been weak with Chick, postponing the inevitable parting from
sheer selfishness, she thought. Chick could stand alone now. Was there
any time when he could not? Her mind went back to the days when they were
fellow-sufferers at a Brockley boarding-house, she an out-of-work
actress, he an insurance clerk without the faintest idea that his uncle's
petitions to Parliament, that the ancient Marquisate of Pelborough should
be revived, would be granted. And then suddenly the title had been
revived and inherited by Chick, and she had taken in hand the management
of his life.

But had he ever been helpless? She shook her aching head. Chick was
surprisingly efficient. She was deluding herself when she thought she was
necessary to him, and the association must end. She was firm on that
point. Chick was a comparatively rich man now, and it was absurd that he
should share humble quarters with the two women who loved him.

Gwenda's brow puckered.

Mrs. Phibbs had been housekeeper, friend and chaperon, and she adored
Chick.

Gwenda loved him, too, but not as Mrs. Phibbs loved him. That lady's
attitude was maternal; her interest in the young marquis was centred
about his socks and underwear and the state of his digestion. But Gwenda
loved him in another way. She deceived herself and yet saw through the
deception. She accepted Chick's fait accompli meekly. It was a further
excuse for postponing her decision.

She was enchanted with the glories of the Riviera, although she saw it
when the spring sweetness of the coast had matured into the exotic
glories with which the early summer endows the gardens and terraces of
Monte Carlo.

To walk in the garden that faces the Casino, or to sit beneath the
wide-spreading fronds of palms, watching the play of the water as the
gardener drenched the thirsty ground with his huge hose, to stroll along
the terraces facing the blue Mediterranean, or to sit in the cool of the
hotel lounge with its luxurious inviting chairs--these experiences were
sheer delight. And Chick had hired a motor-car, and they had climbed the
mountain road to La Turbie, and explored the ruins of the great tower
which Augustus in his pride had caused to rise on the mountain crest.

Gwenda's health showed a remarkable improvement from the moment she
arrived. Before a week had passed she felt better than she had ever felt
in her life. And with her return to strength she took a more cheerful
view of life, and there seemed no urgent necessity for having that talk
with Chick.

"I'm going into the gambling place," said Chick one afternoon.

"You mean the Rooms, Chick," said Gwenda. "You mustn't say 'gambling' at
Monte Carlo."

Chick scratched his head.

"There are so many things you mustn't do here, Gwenda," he said. "You
mustn't wish a man good luck because it brings him bad luck, and you
mustn't enter the gam--the Rooms, I mean, with the left foot, and if you
spill wine at the table you must dab a little behind your ears. It sounds
like superstition to me."

"It probably is," laughed Gwenda, "And, talking of superstition, I am
going to put my money on No. 24, because it is my birthday!"

Chick was incoherent in his apologies.

"How could you know that it was my birthday?" she smiled, putting her
cool palm over his mouth. "Don't be silly?"

She had an exciting afternoon, for No. 24 turned up exactly twenty-four
times in two hours.

"And I've won twenty-four thousand francs," she said triumphantly. "I'm a
rich woman, Chick, and I'm going to pay you back all I have cost you on
this trip."

Chick's refusal was almost painful in its frenzied vehemence.

For him it was a happy day. The chef at the "Paris," who was surprised at
nothing, received and executed an urgent order to manufacture a birthday
cake, and the dinner was served in their private sitting-room.

The cake, surrounded by twenty-four bedroom candles--there were no others
procurable at short notice--was a success beyond anticipation, and
Chick's heart had been full of happiness and pride, when there had
entered to the feast a most undesirable skeleton.

He was a plump, cherubic skeleton, and Chick, after his first feeling of
resentment, felt heartily ashamed of himself, for he owed a great deal to
the Earl of Mansar.

He was, at any rate, as much of a skeleton to Gwenda, but this Chick did
not know. He had only arrived that afternoon, he explained.

"I heard you were dining en famille, and as I regard myself as one of
you, I knew you wouldn't mind my coming in."

It pained Chick to say he was glad to see his visitor, but he said it.

"No, thank you," said Lord Mansar in answer to Gwenda's invitation. "I
have dined already. What is the occasion of this festivity? Not your
birthday. Chick?"

"It is not my birthday," said Chick quietly, "but Mrs. Maynard's."

It was strange, he thought, how a nice man like Mansar could cast a gloom
over his friends and rob a festivity of its seemingly inextinguishable
gaiety. They had planned to spend the evening together, but the arrival
of their guest left them no alternative but to repair to the inevitable
Rooms.

Chick hated the way Mansar and the girl paired off, leaving him to
entertain Mrs. Phibbs, which meant leaving him alone, for she had
developed a passion for gambling in five-franc pieces. He left that
imposing lady at the roulette table and wandered aimlessly into the
cercle privee in the trail of Gwenda and her escort.

The rich interior of the private club has a soothing effect upon
disturbed nerves, but it failed signally to inspire Chick. Mansar found a
chair for the girl at the trente-et-quarante table, and Chick stood on
the outskirts of the crowd, his hands thrust into his pockets, a look of
settled gloom upon his face, watching the swift passage of money and
counters, and admiring, so far as it was possible for him to admire
anything, the amazing dexterity of the black-coated croupier who turned
the cards.

He loafed into the refreshment-room, ordered a large orangeade (nobody
knows the exquisite value of orangeade until he has drunk it at Monte
Carlo), and, sitting in an arm-chair, he allowed himself to brood. Of
course he had no right whatever to object to Gwenda's friendship, he told
himself, and least of all to her friendship with a man who had not spared
himself in securing Chick's advancement.

What distressed him more than anything else was the fact that Gwenda was
married, and it was not like Gwenda to encourage the attention of a third
party. Chick had a very keen sense of propriety. He was fundamentally
good, not in the cant sense in which the word is so often employed, but
in the greater essentials. His standard of behaviour was a high one, and
the blue of Right and the scarlet of Wrong never merged to produce an
admirable violet in his mind. The longer he sat, the deeper grew his
gloom, and presently, rising with a jerk, he went to the bar.

"Give me a cocktail, please," he said firmly. He had never done more than
put his lips to wine in his life, and he had the illusion that the barman
knew this.

But his request created no sensation. There was a great shaking of metal
bottles, a dribbling of amber fluid into a long-stemmed glass, the plunge
of a cherry, and--

"Five francs," said the bar-keeper.

Chick swallowed something and paid. He held the liquor up to the light,
and it seemed good. He smelt it and appreciated its bouquet. He swallowed
it down with one gulp and held on to the brass-fender before the bar,
incapable of speech. For a second he stopped breathing, and then the fire
of the unaccustomed potion began to radiate.

"Another," said Chick when he had got his breath. This time he sipped the
alluring preparation and found it excellent. The sting had gone from the
fiery liquor. It had a queerly soothing effect which it was difficult to
analyse. His ears felt hot. His face seemed to be burning. He could see
his reflection in the mirror behind the bar, and outwardly there was no
apparent change. He was surprised. "That is a nice cocktail, sir," said
the barman.

Chick nodded.

"Personally, I prefer Clover Club," said the friendly man, wiping down
the counter mechanically.

"Is there any other kind of cocktail?" asked Chick in astonishment.

"Good gracious, yes, sir--there are twenty!"

"What was the name of that one you said?"

"Clover Club, sir."

"Gimme one," said Chick breathlessly.

The new cocktail was of a delicate shade of clouded pink, and frothed
whitely on the top. Chick decided that he would drink nothing but Clover
Club cocktails in the future.

He leant against the bar, because it seemed easier than standing. It was
remarkable how genial he felt toward Mansar, how large and generous was
his view of his forthcoming marriage to Gwenda. He had decided that they
would be married at a very early date, and chuckled at the thought. He
knew that Gwenda had to get rid of her husband somehow or other, but he
could not be bothered to dispose of that encumbrance in detail. He would
just vanish. Pouf! Like that. Chick laughed at the smiling bartender.

"Something I thought about," he said.

"I don't think I should have any more cocktails, if I were you, sir,"
said the bar-tender. "The room is rather hot, and our cocktails are
pretty strong."

"That's all right," said Chick.

He planked down a five-franc piece with unnecessary violence and walked
steadily back to the Rooms, and the bar-keeper, looking after him, shook
his head.

"He can carry it like a gentleman," he said admiringly.

Chick could walk so well that when he came up with Gwenda, who had left
the table, she saw nothing wrong in his appearance. She was more than a
little agitated, but Chick did not notice this. He noticed nothing except
the eccentric movements of the tables, which, for some unknown reason,
were swaying gently up and down as though they were floating upon a
tempestuous ocean.

"Chick, I want to speak to you very importantly," said the girl.

She took his arm, and they walked out of the Casino together. Even when
they were back in their sitting-room she noticed nothing.

"If Lord Mansar doesn't leave Monte Carlo tomorrow, can we go away,
Chick?" she asked.

"Certainly, Gwenda," said Chick, looking at her solemnly.

"You see. Chick "--she was not looking at him--"Lord Mansar rather
likes me and I like him; but I can't marry--you know that. And I wouldn't
marry if I could. You know that, don't you, Chick?"

She raised her eyes to Chick, and he nodded.

"What is the matter. Chick?" she asked.

"Nothing," said Chick loudly.

"Chick," she said, aghast, "you've been drinking!"

"Cocktails!" said Chick impressively. "Clover Club. Not really drunk!"

"Why ever did you do it, Chick?" she wailed, tears in her eyes.

"Miserable" said Chick dolefully. "Very miserable, Gwenda. When you and
Mansar get married--bless you!"

He rose, and the sure foundation of his legs held him erect.

"A very good fellow, Mansar," he said, and walked carefully to the door.

Before he could open it, Gwenda had reached him. She dropped her hands
upon his shoulders.

"Look at me. Chick," she said. "Do you think I should marry Lord Mansar?"

"Very nice fellow," murmured Chick.

"Look at me. Chick. Hold up your head. Is that why you drank?"

"Cocktails are not drink," corrected Chick gravely.

She drew a long breath.

"Go to bed, Chick," she said gently. "I never thought I should be glad to
see you like this, but I am."

The Marquis of Pelborough did not wake in the morning. He emerged from a
condition of painful half-consciousness to a state of even more painful
half-deadliness, and the half of him which was dead was the happier.

To say that his head ached would be to misdescribe his sensations. There
was a tremendous ache where his head had been, and his eyelids seemed to
creak when he opened them. Slowly and cautiously he rose to a sitting
position. As he moved, his brain seemed to be a flag that was flapping in
the breeze. He sat up and looked around. By the side of his bed was a
large bottle of mineral water and a glass. There were also two large
lemons which had been cut in half. Moreover, he discovered, when he had
quenched his raging thirst and the acid bite of the lemon had restored
his sense of taste, that his bath was filled with ice-cold water.

Chick dropped into the bath with a splash and a shiver, turned on the
shower, and emerged a few minutes later feeling as near to normal as a
thumping, thundering heart would allow him to be. He dressed slowly,
facing a very unpleasant situation. He had been drunk. There was no
euphemism for his experience. He faced the ghastly fact in the cold light
of morning without any illusion whatever.

His first sensation was one of surprise that he had accomplished the feat
at the cost of twenty francs. He always thought that drunkenness was most
expensive. When he had recovered from his surprise, his mind went with a
jerk to Gwenda, and he groaned. He remembered having come back to the
hotel with her. Had she cut the lemons for him? He shuddered at the
thought. It was six o'clock, and, save for the street cleaners, the
serene swish of whose brooms came to him, Monte Carlo was a town of the
dead. He stepped out on the balcony and filled his lungs with the fresh
morning air.

What would Gwenda think of him? He remembered enough to know that he had
not made a fool of himself, but it were better that he were the
laughing-stock of Monte Carlo and of all the world than that he should
have disappointed Gwenda.

"Terrible," murmured Chick, "terrible!"

He shook his head, whence the pain had gone, leaving only a queer sawdust
sensation.

A brisk walk toward Cap Martin and back almost completed his cure. Gwenda
was at breakfast with Mrs. Phibbs when he went into the sitting-room, and
she greeted him with her old smile.

"I'm dreadfully sorry, Gwenda--" he began, but she stopped him.

"It was the heat of the room," said Mrs. Phibbs.

Gwenda turned the conversation in the direction of sea-bathing, and Chick
knew that her comments on his behaviour were merely deferred. They proved
to be less severe than he had expected.

"I'll never drink again, Gwenda," he said ruefully, and she squeezed the
arm that was in hers.

"Chick, this is a very favourable moment for a talk I want with you," she
said, as she led the way down the sloping road toward the beach and the
bathing huts. "When we get back to London you must set up an
establishment of your own. No, no, it has nothing to do with what
happened last night," she said, answering his unspoken question. "But
Chick, you can't go on living like this, with Mrs. Phibbs and me. You
realize that yourself, don't you?"

"No," said Chick doggedly. "Of course, if..."--he hesitated--"if you are
changing--I mean if you are--" He stopped, at a loss for the right words.
"I mean, Gwenda," he said bluntly, "if you are setting up an
establishment of your own--why, of course, I understand."

She shook her head.

"I'm not, Chick," she said quietly.

"Then I'm going to stay with you," said Chick, "until--"

"Until when?" she asked, when he paused.

"I don't know," said Chick, shaking his head. "I wish I could ask you
lots of questions." He bit his lip, looking thoughtfully at the white
road at his feet. "Gwenda, you never talk about your husband."

"No, Chick, I never shall," she answered, avoiding his eye.

"Is he nice, Gwenda?"

She made no reply.

"Do you like him?"

She put her arm in his and urged him forward.

"Wait a moment." Chick disengaged himself gently. "Does Lord Mansar know
anything about him?"

"He asked the same questions as you, Chick." she said, "and I gave him
the same reply. That is why he has gone home."

"Gosh!" said Chick, awe-stricken. "Did Lord Mansar--has he--?"

"Did he want me to marry him, Chick? Yes, he did. And I told him I
couldn't and wouldn't."

He gazed at her with his solemn eyes, and then: "Have you any children,
Gwenda?"

This was too much for the girl. Her sense of humour was not proof against
a question which had been asked of her twice within twenty-four hours,
and she burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

Presently she dried her eyes.

"Have you?" he asked again.

"Six," she said solemnly.

"I don't believe you," said Chick.

He wanted to say something, and for once his will failed him. Twice in
the course of their stroll he began with a husky "Gwenda!", only to be
tongue-tied.

They sat on the sands and watched a big white yacht with all its
main-sheet and spinnaker billowing whitely, a dazzling object in the
sunlight, and there was a silence between them which was unusual.

Presently Chick asked:

"Gwenda, will you let me see your wedding ring?"

She hesitated.

"Why do you want to see it, Chick?"

"I just want to see it" said Chick, with an assumption of carelessness.
She slipped the golden circlet from her finger and put it in the palm of
his hand.

There was some writing engraved on the inside.

"May I?" he asked, and again she hesitated.

"Yes, Chick," she said.

The inscription was: "From T. L. M. to J. M."

The letters showed faintly, for the ring had been well worn, and Chick
gave it back to her.

"What is your full name, Gwenda?" he asked, and thinking she had not
heard him he repeated the question.

"Gwenda Dorothy Maynard," she said.

"But, Gwenda, your brother's name was Maynard, too."

She did not reply. Chick was breathing painfully. He found it almost
impossible to keep the quiver from his voice when he spoke, and the
nervous hands that played with the sand were trembling.

"Gwenda--" he began for the third time, but he could not say it.

He knew her secret. That was the thought that filled him with joy, Gwenda
was not married! The ring was her mother's. And then he remembered that
once she had said that a girl on the stage was in a stronger position if
people thought she was married and had a man at her call.

He trod on air for the rest of the day, and his heart was singing gaily.
And yet, when he tried to speak, his vocal chords seemed to become
paralysed. The high confidence which brought him to the edge of
confession deserted him basely and left him an abject, stammering fool.

The girl saw and understood. If she had not she might have made it easier
for Chick to loose the flow of his inhibited speech.

They were in the Rooms that night, Gwenda mildly punting in louis, Mrs.
Phibbs, a determined female, flanked by two large columns of five-franc
counters.

And then Chick had an inspiration. The course he had elected was a
desperate one, but the situation was as desperate.

He drew the girl aside.

"Gwenda, will you go up to the sitting-room in half an hour. There is
something I want you to know--it may shock you, Gwenda."

She nodded gravely and went back to the table. Chick waited to see
whether she was watching him, and then stole stealthily into the
refreshment-room.

"Good evening, sir," said the barman

"A Clover Club," hissed Chick, cutting short the pleasantries of the
tender--"in fact, two Clover Clubs, please."

He swallowed them hastily, and they seemed to have no effect. He was
dumbfounded. Had he so soon acquired the constitution of the seasoned
drinker? He was on the point of ordering the third, when he experienced
the beginnings of that genial glow and sat down to wait for its full
effect. He walked past Gwenda, apparently not noticing her, strode over
to the hotel and went up in the lift to his room. He was feeling good and
as brave as a lion.

Chick's courage had never been called into question. He was a notorious
glutton for punishment, but then Chick had never had the terrifying
experience which now awaited him.

"Gwenda," he said, addressing a great dish of violets which occupied the
centre of the table, "there is something I wish to ask you."

He felt so confident that he wished she would come in at that moment; but
there were still ten minutes before the half-hour expired, and he must
content himself with the violets.

"Gwenda," he said, "there is something I have been trying to tell you. I
know you are not married, and I know that I am not the kind of fellow
that you ought to marry."

This didn't seem quite right, and he started again.

"Gwenda, I've been trying to say something to you all day, and I'm sorry
to say I've been compelled to drink two cocktails in order to work up my
courage, so please don't let me kiss you!"

She was a long time coming, and he felt unaccountably tired. He strayed
into his dark bedroom and lay on the bed.

"Gwenda," he murmured, "I know I'm a rascal to break my word--but,
Gwenda--"

He woke up when the chambermaid brought the tea. She was so accustomed to
meeting, in the course of her professional duties, gentlemen who were
such sticklers for style that they went to bed in evening-dress, that she
made no comment.

When Chick had changed and dressed, he went in to breakfast, and Gwenda's
attitude was just a little distrait.

Chick drew out his chair and sat down.

"I broke my word to you last night, Gwenda," he said huskily. "I told
you--"

"You told me that there was something you wanted me to know, and that it
would shock me. Chick," she said, as she poured out his coffee. "Well, I
know, and I'm shocked."

"What do you know, Gwenda?" he asked, startled.

"That you snore frightfully," said Gwenda coldly.

The silence that followed was chilling.

"I'm going home to-morrow," said the girl.

Chick wriggled in his chair.

"You broke your word to me about--about the bar," she said with a catch
in her voice.

"Did you see me?" he asked, conscience-stricken.

And she nodded.

"But--but why didn't you stop me?" he stammered.

She shot a glance at him that made Chick wither.

"I didn't dream it would make you sleep, you booby," she said scornfully.



CHAPTER XI - THE MAN FROM TOULOUSE


When Jagg Flower was finishing his sentence in the prison at Toulouse,
the authorities allowed him certain books wherewith to improve his mind
and direct him to the higher life. One such book he remembers well. It
opened thus:

"Il y avait une fois vingt-cinq soldats de plomb, tous frères, tous nés
d'une vieille cuillère de plomb. L'arme au bras, la tête droite, leur
uniforme rouge et bleu n'était pas mal du tout."

"This," said Jagg Flower, as he flung the improving book from one end of
the cell to the other, "is what makes prison life in France so immensely
unpopular with the educated classes." Which was duly reported to the
governor.

Because Jagg was on the point of release, that official, who had a kindly
feeling for the long-faced bank robber, sent him one evening a bundle of
English and American newspapers.

"But this," said Jagg, as he opened the Paris edition of The New York
Herald, "is both human and luxurious. Regard you, Francois! Present to
Mister the Governor my felicitations and the renewal of my profound
respect."

Francois, the jailer, grinned admiringly.

On the second day of his reading John Jalgar Flower reached a paragraph
in a London newspaper which made him sit up.

"Kenberry House, which at one time ranked with the stately homes of
England, has been acquired by the Marquis of Pelborough, with whose
romantic career our readers are familiar. A year ago the Marquis was an
insurance clerk in a City office. His uncle, Dr. Josephus Beane, of
Pelborough, laid claim to the peerage, which had been extinct since 1714,
his claim being admitted and the title revived in his favour. It was a
melancholy coincidence that the doctor died on the very day he received a
notification that the peerage had been revived in his favour. The present
Marquis, being the only relative in the tail male--"

"Great snakes!" breathed Mr. Flower. He occupied the remainder of his
sentence developing an idea.

Whatever pretensions Kenberry House had to stateliness had long since
vanished. It was one of those residences for which fire had a fatal
attraction. Its history was a history of successive conflagrations, and
every time it had been rebuilt a little smaller, a little less stately,
so that the battlemented towers and the grim big gate with its
portcullis, which had impressed the peasantry of the Tudor era, had been
replaced by chimney-pots and a very ordinary front door. Kenberry House
was now too big to describe as a villa and too small to justify the
description of mansion.

But the grounds, those glorious sloping meadowlands that ran down to the
bubbling Ken, the old gardens and the ancient elms, remained very much as
they had been when Queen Elizabeth, with her passion for sleeping at
other people's houses, had rested a night on her way to Fotheringay.

Gwenda had read the description of the place in a newspaper
advertisement, and had gone down one Sunday, on her return from the South
of France, to inspect the property. She was enchanted. The house was just
big enough for Chick. The price which was asked was absurdly small: the
property, on the whole, was in a state of good repair.

This was especially the case with the house itself, and it was due to the
excellent condition of the paintwork and the interior decorations
generally that the Marquis of Pelborough found himself hustled out of
London and into his newly-furnished country seat before he quite realized
what was happening.

That he was profoundly miserable goes without saying. Not even the
arrangement which gave him Mrs. Phibbs to organize his household
compensated for the violent disruption of his pleasant life in Doughty
Street. He would lose Gwenda, who had been mother and manager to him, for
she was to take a room in the flat below. Such of the furniture as was
worthy of transference to the stately home was sent down by rail; the
remainder was sold.

Chick had a feeling that he was being abandoned, and dare not let himself
think of what life would be without daily association with Gwenda
Maynard. He could not deny the beauty of his new situation, the quiet and
restfulness of his demesne, nor was he wholly unimpressed by the
discovery that he was the employer of four gardeners, a groom and a
cowman. He was also over-landlord of two farms, and learnt with interest
that, by the terms of an ancient charter granted by the fourth Henry, he
might, if he were so disposed, hang, on a gallows which he must erect at
his own expense, any "cut-throat, cut-purse, or stealer of deer" from
Morton Highgate to Down Wood, these marking the limitations of his
sovereignty. The only bright spot in the situation was that, the run of
her play having ended, Gwenda was free to spend a fortnight as his guest.

"But only a fortnight, Chick. I can't and won't live on your charity."

"It will be dreadful when you are gone, Gwenda," he said plaintively.
"Every day something new is turning up. I had a letter from uncle's
lawyers this morning, asking me for some leases he signed. He owned a
tiny piece of land outside Pelborough, and there's a law case pending
about the present rights of the tenant."

"But you haven't any of your uncle's documents, have you?" she asked in
surprise.

Chick nodded.

"There's a huge boxful," he said, a ray of hope shining amidst the
darkness of his desolation. "Suppose, Gwenda, you stay down here and help
me tabulate the papers? I've never touched them, and this is the second
time the lawyers have written."

He explained that when his uncle had died, and he had disposed of his
property, he had found a trunkful of letters and memoranda mostly dealing
with old Dr. Beane's claim to the peerage of Pelborough, and these had
been supplemented by another mass which he had found in the doctor's desk
and in his old safe.

"I've always meant to sort them out and classify them," he said
penitently, "but I was depending upon your assistance, Gwenda."

"I'll help you," said the girl, with a twinkle in her eye, "but it will
not take more than a fortnight, Chick, and then--"

"Let's be cheerful," said Chick, brightening up. "We'll start on those
papers next Monday."

"We'll start this morning," said the girl, but here Chick struck.

He had not fully explored his property, and he insisted that that day
should be devoted to the purpose. She accompanied him on a tour, and it
was a day of sheer delight.

They sat under the overhanging alders by the side of the little river
which formed one of the boundaries of his property, and then Chick had to
go back to the house for a new fishing-rod he had bought, and another two
hours went whilst they fixed the tackle and taught one another to cast a
fly. It was a case of the blind leading the blind, but they landed one
speckled beauty late in the afternoon, and Kenberry House assumed a new
importance to Chick in consequence.

"Don't go, Gwenda," he said as she got up.

"It is late. Chick," she warned him, "and we've had no tea."

"I know," said Chick. "Just sit down a minute, Gwenda. There was
something I wanted to say to you at Monte Carlo."

"Don't say it, Chick," she said quietly.

She was standing over him, and her hand strayed to his untidy hair.

"But, Gwenda--"

"I know what you were going to tell me, Chick, and I did my best to
encourage you to say it," she said. "I was shameless then, but I have
been ashamed since. I was just fishing for you. Chick, as you fished for
the trout. Oh, I must have been mad!"

He was on his feet now and had dropped his rod, but before he could speak
she stopped him.

"We've had a lovely time, you and I, Chick," she said quietly, "a
beautiful, ideal time, and we are not going to spoil it. You are little
more than a boy--I know you're older than I am, but girls are ever so
much older than men of their age--and you have a big future. You must
marry in your own class, Chick."

He made a protesting noise.

"I know it sounds hard and horrid and noveletty, but really behind these
class marriages there is unanswerable logic. If I married you, what would
the world say of me? That I had taken you in hand from the moment you
inherited your title and had kept you so close to me that you never had a
chance of meeting a nice girl. I don't care very much what they think of
me; it's what they think of you that matters. You would be regarded as a
helpless fool who had succumbed to the artfulness of a designing
actress."

She shook her head, but avoided meeting his eyes.

"No, that little dream is ended, Chick. If I loved you even more than I
do, and I don't think that is possible "--her voice shook for a
second--"I could never agree."

"But you've made me what I am," he said huskily.

"I stage-managed you, Chick," she said with a faint smile. "I produced
you in the theatrical sense, and you must think of me as your
impresario."

Chick stooped and picked up the rod, unscrewed it leisurely, and wound
the tackle with exasperating calmness.

"All right, Gwenda," he said, and she felt a twinge of pain that he had
taken his rejection so coolly.

Neither of them spoke as they trudged back to the house, to find the
resigned Mrs. Phibbs sitting beside the tea-table in Chick's new
drawing-room. It was a cheerless evening for the girl. She went up to her
room soon after dinner, and he did not see her again that night.

Once, as he was pacing the lawn, he thought he caught a glimpse of her
figure by the window of her darkened room, but when he called up, there
was no answer.

For Gwenda, that night was the most tragic in her life. Deliberately she
had thrust away something which was more than life itself to her. She
tried to think of him as a boy, but Chick was a man, a sweet and simple
man, and her senior by a year, and the realization that she was putting
him out of her life was an agony almost unendurable.

Chick saw the dark shadows under her eyes at breakfast the next morning,
and the knowledge that she was suffering added to his own wretchedness.

"We will start on those papers this morning, Gwenda," he said gruffly,
and she nodded.

"I don't think I shall be able to help you more than today, Chick," she
said. "I shall have to go back to London to-morrow."

"To-morrow?" said Chick in consternation, and then dropped his eyes.
"Very well," he said.

He was only beginning to understand what the ordeal meant to her. He was
being selfish, considering only his own loss. When they were alone in the
pretty library which Gwenda had furnished with such care, he came
straight to the point.

"My dear," he said, "if you would like to go today, I won't press you to
stay."

It required an effort on his part to say this, a greater effort to
restrain himself when she dropped her head and he saw that she was crying
softly.

"Thank you, Chick," she said.

"There is only one question I'd like to ask, Gwenda. If it weren't for
this beastly title, if we were back again at Brockley and I was working
for my living, would you have said the same?"

She did not speak, and the shake of her head was so gentle that he would
not have noticed it had he not been watching her so closely.

"Now let us see these wretched papers," he said. "Poor old Uncle
Josephus! What a lot of trouble he has given us!"

For the most part the contents of the boxes were copies of letters and
petitions addressed to Parliament. There were, too, records of the
Pelboroughs, written in the doctor's minute handwriting, which traced the
history of the family back to Philip Beane of Tours.

"Will you see Mr. Flower?" asked Mrs. Phibbs, coming in with a card in
her hand.

"Flower?" repeated Chick, frowning. "Is he a reporter?"

A month before, when it had been announced that he had purchased Kenberry
House, he had been dogged by newspaper men.

"No. I asked him that," said Mrs. Phibbs.

Chick took the card, but was no wiser, for Mr. John Jalgar Flower had
modestly omitted both his profession and his address.

"All right. Show him in here. Do you mind, Gwenda?"

She shook her head.

Into the library came a smartly dressed man with a keen, intellectual
face and a pair of good-humoured eyes. He bowed to the girl, then, his
golden teeth showing in an expansive smile, he advanced upon Chick with
an open hand.

"Lord Pelborough?"

"That is my name," said Chick. "Won't you sit down, sir?"

"A delightful place," said Mr. Flower ecstatically. "The most beautiful
country I have been in. The air is invigorating, the attitude of the
natives deferential and even feudalistic. And those wonderful elms along
the drive, Lord Pelborough, they must be at least five hundred years
old!"

"I shouldn't be surprised, sir," said Chick.

He was wondering whether the new-comer was selling mechanical pianos or
electric-lighting plants. The last genial soul who had called "travelled"
in the latter. There had also been three voluble visitors who had
specialized in books, and would have stocked his library if he had given
them the chance.

Mr, Flower looked meaningly at the lady, who he thought was Chick's
secretary.

"I have a very confidential communication to make to you, my lord," he
said.

Gwenda would have risen, but Chick shook his head.

"Unless it is something that a lady should not hear, you need not
hesitate to tell me, sir," he said.

"It deals with a matter which is vital to you, my lord," said Mr. Flower,
with proper impressiveness.

"I think I'd better go," said the girl in a low voice.

Again Chick shook his head. "Let us hear all about it, Mr. Flower," he
said, leaning back in his chair patiently.

But Jagg Flower was not inclined to say what he had to say before a third
person. He said as much. He did not confess that he objected to a
witness, but he intimated that the subject was of so painful a character
that a lady might feel embarrassed.

"Go on," said Chick shortly.

All the girl's faculties had become suddenly alert. Her instinct told her
that the communication was more than ordinarily important to Chick's
welfare.

"I don't think I shall be shocked, Mr. Flower," she said quietly, "but if
I am I can easily go."

Jagg Flower was puzzled. He could not define the relationship between the
two, knowing that the Marquis of Pelborough was not married. "Very well,
then," he said after a moment's deliberation, "I will tell you."

He laid his hat on the floor and took off his gloves. "I am an adventurer
of the world," he began. "In other words, I am a person whose actions
have never been strictly conformable to the written law."

"Good gracious!" said Chick in alarm.

"I tell you this, Lord Pelborough," Mr. Flower went on easily, "because
it is perfectly certain that, after I have made my communication, you
will institute inquiries as to my character and my identity. Let me tell
you that a week ago I came out of prison at Toulouse, where for three
years I have been incarcerated. I was in this particular case a victim of
a brutal and perjurous system, for at the hour I was supposed to be
making an unauthorized entrance into the Credit Foncier, at Marseilles, I
was, in point of fact, robbing an insurance company in Bordeaux. But let
that pass.

"Twelve years ago. Lord Pelborough "--he leant forward and his voice was
very earnest--"I was working the Middle Eastern States of America with a
man who at this moment is in a United States prison "--his utterance was
slow and deliberate--"and that man's name was Joseph or, as I happen to
know, Josephus Beane, and he was the son of Dr. Josephus Beane of
Pelborough."

Chick stared at him. "My uncle was a bachelor."

The other shook his head. "Read these," he said, and took from his pocket
an envelope and tossed it on to the table.

Chick extracted two long slips. The first was a certificate of marriage
between Josephus Beane, student of medicine, and Agnes Cartwright. The
marriage had taken place in Liverpool, and Chick remembered dimly that
his uncle had studied medicine at the Liverpool University. The second
slip, which was also a copy, was a certificate of birth of "Joseph
Pelborough Beane."

"My uncle never told me about his marriage," said Chick steadily.

The other smiled. "He was hardly likely to," he said dryly. "The lady he
married died in an inebriates' home seven years after. The boy, as Joe
has often told me, was brought up by some friends of his mother. It was
one of those marriages which a young man makes in his folly. Joe grew up
to hate his father, and I have reason to believe that his father returned
the hatred with interest. Joe was an adventurer, but, unlike
myself..."--he smiled--"a petty adventurer. He was in prison three times
in England, and would have been in prison for the rest of his life, if he
had not got away to America, where I met him."

"Where is he now?" asked the girl. Her heart was thumping madly, and she
found difficulty in breathing.

"In Sing Sing," was the reply.

Chick did not speak for a long time, and when he did the reason for his
smile was wholly misunderstood by Mr. Flower.

"So really he is the Marquis," he said.

"And you are Mr. Beane," said Flower courteously.

So far his startling news had not produced the agitation which he had
expected.

"And now," he said, "I really must talk to you alone."

Chick nodded, and when the girl rose and left the room, Mr. Flower
followed her, closing the door behind her.

"I am a business man. Lord Pelborough," he said, "for I will call you by
that title, and you are a business man. There's nobody else in the world,
except my poor friend Josephus Beane, who knows your secret."

"My secret?" said Chick, looking up.

"Well, let us say my secret," said Flower good-humouredly. "Let us get
down to business. What is this worth to you?"

"I don't quite understand you," said Chick.

"I am going abroad--to Australia, let us say, I am tired of my roving
life, and I wish to settle in some pleasant spot. Would ten thousand
pounds be an exorbitant sum to ask?"

"I'm afraid I really don't understand you," said Chick. "Do you mean that
I should give you ten thousand pounds?"

"Exactly," smiled Mr. Flower.

"For what?" asked Chick.

The man was staggered. "I thought I had made it clear to your lordship,"
he said gently, "that I am in a position to produce a new Marquis of
Pelborough."

"Produce him," said Chick with a broad smile.

He walked slowly round the desk and came up to the man.

"Produce your Marquis of Pelborough, Mr. Flower," he said, "and I'll give
you the ten thousand pounds."

Mr. Flower collapsed on to the chair, "You mean that you want to give up
the title?"

"That is what I mean," said Chick.

"To give up this house, these beautiful lands?"

Chick smiled. "They are the property of Chick Beane, my friend," he said
almost jovially. "No, I just want to give up the title, and I'm very
grateful to you for having called. Sing Sing, I think you said?"

But the man was speechless.

"When you came I was rather annoyed," said Chick. "I thought you were
selling pianos. I hope you weren't offended."

Mr. Flower shook his head helplessly.

"I can't ask you to stay to lunch," said Chick, "because "--he
hesitated--"if you don't mind my saying so, it wouldn't be nice for a
lady to lunch with a gentleman who has just come out of jail, would it?
But there's an awfully good inn in the village, and there is a telegraph
office."

He frowned thoughtfully at the dazed Mr. Flower.

"I suppose prisoners couldn't receive telegrams in Sing Sing?" he asked.
"I don't know the ways of American prisons, but you will know. Could I
send him a wire telling him he may come along whenever he likes and claim
the title?"

At last Mr. Flower found his voice. "He doesn't know," he said hollowly.
"You're not going to put that into his hands--an ancient title like
the--er--Pelborough marquisate? Remember, Lord Pelborough, that you are
responsible to your ancestors."

"Blow my ancestors!" said Chick. "And if I'm responsible, so is he. Will
you wire for me and let me know in the morning?"

Mr. Jagg Flower had been in many peculiar and unnerving situations, but
he had never paralleled this experience. He walked down the drive,
beneath the shade of those ancient elms which he had so admired, like a
man in a dream.

Chick dashed into the drawing room where the girl was watching the
departure of the visitor. Before she knew what was happening he had taken
her in his arms.

"It is a miracle, Gwenda, a miracle! Isn't it wonderful!"

"But, Chick," she said in horror, "you're not going to accept this man's
bare word? You mustn't do it, Chick!"

She pushed him away.

"Of course I'm going to accept it," chortled Chick. "There is no doubt
about it. Those were copies of certificates. I know all about birth and
marriage certificates. I used to deal with them when I was working for
Leither."

"You're going to allow a jail-bird to take this title?"

"I'll allow any kind of bird to take it," said Chick, catching her hands.
"Don't you see, Gwenda, that the big thing that hurt you has gone? I'm
just Chick Beane. Don't you realize what you said to me yesterday?"

Her hands were trembling in his, and he lifted them to his lips.

Presently she drew them back. "Chick, you have to fight for this title,"
she said. "I am certain there is something wrong. Did he ask you for
money?" she asked quickly.

He nodded. "He said he would shut up about it if I paid him ten thousand
pounds. Of course the poor fellow didn't know any better."

"Perhaps he did, Chick," she said breathlessly. "Perhaps he knew that I
wanted to be the Marchioness of Pelborough!"

Chick was momentarily staggered. "But you don't, Gwenda," he said in
amazement.

She nodded. "Yes, I do. You've got to fight for that title. Chick, just
as hard as you've ever fought in the ring, because if you don't want it,
I do."

He looked at her steadily. "You are not telling the truth, Gwenda," he
said quietly. "You're saying that to spur me on, and I'm not going to be
spurred. I think too much of you to believe that a title has any
attraction for you. I love you too much to believe that."

Her face was white. The eyes that avoided his were bright with tears.
Suddenly she turned and walked quickly from the room. He thought she had
gone up to her room, but he was mistaken. She made straight for the
library. He came in, and found her sitting at the table in the place
where she had been when Mr. Flower had interrupted their search.

"If there are any documents relating to the doctor's marriage, they will
be here," she said.

"Do you think that fellow lied?" asked Chick.

She shook her head. "He expected investigations, he told us that," she
said, "and he wouldn't have forged these copies. I don't think there is
any doubt at all that he spoke the truth. The doctor was married and he
did have a son."

Naturally, when they were searching for something else, the first things
they discovered were the lost leases. It was not until just on midnight
that Gwenda discovered a small locked ledger marked "Accounts of my
practice, 1884." She tried to open the lock and failed.

"There won't be anything there, Gwenda," said Chick.

"You never know," said the girl.

She tried to put her thumb-nail between the leaves, and found they were
glued together. That determined her. A hasty search of their small stock
of tools resulted in the find of a pair of pincers, and the lock was
wrenched off.

Gwenda uttered an exclamation of astonishment. The ledger had at one time
served the purpose for which it was designed, but the doctor had
industriously cut out the centre of the pages, gumming the edges together
to give it the appearance of a book, leaving in the middle a deep cavity
in which lay a blue envelope, innocent of inscription.

It contained two slips of vellum, and one glance at them made her drop
her hands on her lap.

"Oh, Chick!" she said.

"What is it?" asked Chick quickly.

"He did tell the truth! These are the original certificates," she wailed.

"Good egg!" said Chick.

"Don't say that," she said impatiently. "Chick, I could cry!"

There were three other papers in the envelope. The first of these was a
letter in the doctor's handwriting, evidently a copy of one he had sent
to his son.

It was not pleasant reading, for the old man had not minced his words.
The second was a long list of payments, made also in the doctor's hand,
"Payments made in re J. Beane," and the size of the total explained why
Josephus Beane had died a poor man. To this last a newspaper cutting was
pinned, Gwenda did not see it until she had laid the paper down on the
table. She took out the pin, rusty with age, and read the cutting, and as
she read, Chick saw her face change.

"What is it, Gwenda?"

She did not reply, but, folding the cutting, took an envelope from the
stationery rack and enclosed it.

"When is Mr. Flower calling again?" she said softly.

"He promised to come in the morning," said Chick. "What was that cutting,
Gwenda?"

"I'll tell you to-morrow," said the girl.

Mr. Jagg Flower had completely recovered from the shock by the next
morning. He was a shrewd student of men and women, and he realized that
any hope he had of making easy money was centred in the girl. His
inquiries as to the nature of her relationship with Chick had not
produced very illuminating results, but he felt sure that the appeal must
be made to her, if it was to succeed at all, and when he came to Kenberry
House the next morning and found the girl and Chick in the library, he
made no suggestion that his communication was for Chick's private ear.

"I've been thinking over your proposition, Mr. Flower," said Chick.

"I'm glad to hear that, my lord," replied Mr. Flower, relieved. "You
understand that I court the fullest investigations. I have come here
prepared to give you the name of the minister who married the parties,
the address at which the child was born."

"They are all on the certificate, aren't they?" said Chick.

"Well, yes, they are," admitted the other, a little disconcerted. "His
lordship explained to you, Miss Maynard, my suggestion?"

Gwenda nodded. "He has also explained to me his alternative plan," she
said, "namely, that you should produce Josephus Beane, and I quite agree
that ten thousand pounds would be a small price to pay for that miracle."

"I don't get you," said the man.

"You see, Mr. Flower," said the girl sweetly, "when poor Mr. Josephus
Beane was executed at Vermont, Virginia, for the murder of a bank
manager, he rather upset your plans. I've got the paragraph here. I think
it is from The Vermont Observer, and it gives a very full description of
the trial. The bank manager was shot at his home when he was disturbing
two burglars who had broken into the house. One was Mr. Beane, who was
captured. The other was a man who escaped, and for whom there is still a
warrant."

"Good morning," said Mr. Flower, accepting the situation. "I seem to be
wasting my time here. Good day to your lordship," He nodded smilingly to
the dumbfounded Chick. "A beautiful house this, and a lovely country. I'd
give anything to own those old elms of yours."

He paused at the door. "I suppose it is no use asking you to defray my
out-of-pocket expenses?" Chick could only stare at him.

Two hours after Mr. Flower had taken his unobtrusive departure from the
village of Kenberry there arrived, whilst Chick was at lunch, a thick-set
American who claimed an instant audience.

"Sorry to bother you," said the new-comer, wiping his perspiring brow,
"but I understand there's a man in this house, or he was seen coming into
this house this morning, named--well, never mind his name--he's an
American."

"That's true," said Chick. "Mr. Flower."

"Oh, he's given his own name, has he?" said the other with a smile. "Can
I see him?"

"He's been gone some time," said Chick.

"Do you know where he's gone?"

"I haven't the slightest idea. He was staying at 'The Red Lion,' I
believe."

"He's not there now," said the detective. "He told the people, when he
took his grip away, that he was staying with your lordship. That is twice
I've missed him, but the third time pays for all."

"Is he a friend of yours?" asked Chick.

The girl had come from the dining-room, and was an interested listener.

"Friend?" smiled the other. "No, sir. My name's Sullivan. I'm from police
head-quarters, Vermont, and I've an extradition warrant for him. I
arrived at Toulouse Jail an hour after he'd left. He's wanted for a
murder committed twelve years ago--at least, he was one of the two guys
that shot Mr. Stizelhouser. We got one, but the other dodged us. We've
been after him for twelve years, and I guess we'll get him sooner or
later. He's not a friend of yours, I suppose, my lord?"

Chick shook his head. "No," he said. "He was a friend of my cousin's."



CHAPTER XII - THE BEATING OF THE MIDDLE-WEIGHT

There is a sixth sense which all criminals acquire, and which, whilst it
is of the greatest value to them in the active pursuits of their
profession, must invariably bring their careers to a disastrous finish.
It is the sense of immunity. The ostrich is popularly supposed to share
this characteristic, but even if it were true that the ostrich, when
hotly pursued, dives his head into the sand, he at least does not adopt
this suicidal policy except as a last desperate resort.

Mr. Jagg Flower, who had described himself as a gentleman at large, had
been in the habit, throughout his chequered life, of hiding one crime by
committing another, and when, as it occasionally did, the strong hand of
the law came upon his collar and he was retired to a place where, in the
argot of his class, "the dogs did not bite," he regarded his punishment
as both a penance and an atonement, which wiped out all his earlier
indiscretions and produced him to the world, at the conclusion of his
sentence, more or less spotless.

A certain burglary, which had been accompanied by murder, had disfigured
his earlier career; but thanks to the assistance of friends, a swift
voyage to the other side of the Atlantic, and his subsequent arrest and
punishment for a breach of the European laws, he had forgotten that
Vermont, Virginia, was on the map until, in the solitude of his Toulouse
cell, he had read that the Marquis of Pelborough had acquired a country
seat, that his name was originally Beane, and he was the nephew of Dr.
Josephus Beane.

Whereupon Mr. Flower had remembered that an erstwhile companion of his,
one who, indeed, had been a fellow-adventurer in the Vermont enterprise,
was the son of Dr. Josephus Beane, and therefore, had he lived, would be
the holder of the title. Unfortunately, Joe Beane had not lived. The
outraged laws of Virginia had been vindicated, and that dissolute young
man had been electrocuted, regretted by none.

To resurrect him was an easy matter to a man of Mr. Flower's
plausibility, and, having failed in his object to extract money from
Chick Pelborough by a promise of silence, he had accepted his defeat, and
there the matter might have ended.

"That girl was surely a queen," he thought on his way to town.

He harboured none of the malice against her which had brought him in
stealth to Anita Pireau, in Marseilles, to impress upon her the enormity
of the offence she committed when she stood up in the courts and
testified against him. He was so philosophical a man that he could admire
the force which had beaten him. His sense of immunity, however, had
received a jar. He had been uncomfortably reminded that there was at
least one offence which had not been erased by various imprisonments, and
he decided that, on the whole, Holland, in the role of an American
tourist, might offer him a successful livelihood.

For a week he lay low, enjoying the hospitality of a private hotel in
Bloomsbury, and then one of his fraternity, a London "confidence man,"
gave him the first hint that the police were searching for him. He had
only hidden in case Lord Pelborough had communicated with the police, and
when he received the first warning, he attached only that importance to
the search.

Nevertheless, he decided to leave England. He had taken his place in a
first-class carriage on the Harwich boat train, when there appeared at
the open door a thick-set man, whom Mr. Flower recognized before he
spoke.

"Say, Jagg, come a little walk with me, will you?"

Behind the American detective were two obvious London policemen.

"Sure," said Jagg, rising slowly and taking down his bag from the rack.
"I guess you've been having a talk with dear little Gwenda."

The detective had his foot on the carriage floor to enter, when the bag
struck him in the face and sent him floundering back upon the platform.
The next second Jagg Flower pulled open the door on the other side of the
carriage, crossed the rails, mounted a farther platform, and was racing
through the goods yard at Liverpool Street Station before the alarm was
raised.

He slackened his pace to a walk as he came to an open gateway, at which,
in his windowed lodge, a station policeman was sitting. He came out into
High Street, Shoreditch, and mounted a tram which was on the move. At
Islington he changed cars and reached King's Cross. Here a train was on
the point of leaving for the North, and he had time to take a first-class
ticket before it moved out.

So that queen of a girl had set them on to him! Jagg Flower smiled. Women
had betrayed him before, and had been sorry. Given the leisure and the
opportunity, Gwenda--that was her name; he had heard the Marquis address
her--would be sorry, too.

The train's first stop was at Grantham, and there were an unusually large
number of policemen on the platform.

"Gwenda!" said Mr. Jagg Flower softly, as he dropped on to the line on
the side opposite to the platform. He was in one of the last carriages,
and the ground was clear for him. Again he made use of the goods yard and
succeeded in getting clear of the town.

"These English police are surely maligned," said Mr. Flower, as he took
to the open road.

The quietude of Kenberry House was not disturbed by news of Mr. Flower's
peril.

After his unsuccessful attempt at blackmail, he passed out of Chick's
life and his thoughts, representing no more than an exciting interlude.
At one time it seemed that the news he had brought would reshape the life
of the youthful Lord of Pelborough. Chick almost wished it had.

"Chick is a curious man," said Mrs. Phibbs, his housekeeper.

Gwenda's thoughts were running on the same lines, but she was not ready
to agree even with the criticisms offered by such a good friend of theirs
as Mrs. Phibbs.

"Why?" she asked.

"He has so many unexpected moods," said Mrs. Phibbs, putting down her
book and polishing her pince-nez. "He came here in the depth of gloom.
Really he was most depressing, Gwenda. And then the day that very nice
American called I found him capering round the library like a demented
child. And now--"

"Now?" said Gwenda inquiringly.

"Now he's neither one thing nor the other. He's just quiet. I don't
suppose he has spoken a dozen words in the last three meals."

Gwenda had noticed that too. The time was coming for her departure, but
the situation had changed so often that to be consistent now would mean
perpetuating her inconsistency.

Chick's avoidance of any discussion of her future she could understand.
He was trying to help her, but somehow she did not want help in the way
he intended.

"Where is he?" she asked.

"He's fishing."

Gwenda took her mackintosh over her arm and walked across the sloping
meadows toward the river. Chick, she knew, would be in his favourite
spot, a hollow in the river-bank secluded by a screen of trees from wind
and rain and observation.

He turned his head as she came stumbling down the bank, and reached up
his hand to help her.

"Fishing, Chick?" she asked unnecessarily.

"Fishing," agreed Chick, his eyes on the stream.

They sat for a long time without speaking.

"What is the matter with you, Chick?" she demanded.

"Nothing," he said, not turning his head.

"Don't be silly, Chick. Of course there's something the matter. Are you
angry with me?"

He looked at her and smiled. "No, dear, I'm not angry with you," he said.
"Why should I be?"

There was a glint of a silver-grey body, a snap of voracious jaws, and
the fly went under. She watched him curiously as he played the trout.

Chick seemed to have aged in the past two or three months, she thought.
The boy had become a man. He had thickened a little, and the face which
in other days carried a hint of indecision, had grown stronger.

"You have become quite a fisherman," she smiled, as he landed the
struggling trout.

"Haven't I?" he said.

His reply piqued her.

"Don't you want to talk to me, Chick?"

He put down his rod and turned to her, clasping his knee in his hands.

"Gwenda, the last time we were here I talked to you about marriage," he
said quietly, "and you refused because I was a marquis, and people might
think that you were after my title. And then, when I thought I was losing
that title, I talked to you, and you said you would marry me if I kept
it. I dare not talk to you now, Gwenda, because "--he hesitated--"I know
you only said that to make me go after that American fellow and prove he
was wrong."

She was silent.

"There is only one thing I can talk to you about, Gwenda, and that is you
and I," said Chick, and took her hand from her lap and patted it. "You
used to be so much older than I, Gwenda, and now you're so much younger I
feel quite grown-up beside you, but not grown-up enough to do what I
want."

"What is that, Chick?" she said in a voice a little above a whisper.

His arm slipped round her and her head dropped upon his shoulder.

"Just to hug you like this," he said huskily, "and hold you until--until
you behave!"

"This isn't behaving, Chick," she murmured.

His fishing-rod slipped into the water, and he watched it float in the
swift stream,

"You'll lose it," whispered Gwenda, her face against his,

"I can buy another," said Chick, "but I can't buy the minute I'd lose."

Mrs, Phibbs saw them strolling back hand in hand, and did not see
anything extraordinary in the circumstance. And when she detected them
holding hands under the tablecloth at dinner, she thought no more than
that some little quarrel which had occurred, unknown to her, had been
patched up. But when she walked into the library to find a book, and a
sepulchral voice said from the window recess. "Don't turn on the light;
it hurts my eyes, Mrs, Phibbs," she very wisely withdrew, realizing that
something had happened--something for which she had prayed.

At the moment the interruption came, Chick was talking about boxing,
although Mrs, Phibbs would never have guessed this, had the light been
turned on, for amateur champions, when they lecture upon the noble art,
do not find it necessary to sit so close to their audience.

"I'll build a gym. when I can afford it," he said.

"One day I'd like to see you box. Chick," she whispered. There was no
need to speak louder; her ordinary speaking voice would have deafened
him--in the circumstances.

"I don't think you'd like it," he said. He did not shake his head,
because it would have meant shaking two heads--in the circumstances.

"But I should really. Lord Mansar said--please don't shudder, Chick; it
shakes me--Lord Mansar said that you had a 'miraculous left'; your left
arm doesn't feel any different from the other. It is terribly hard, but
so is the right arm. Do you mind me pinching you, or don't you feel it?"

"I'm supposed to hit harder with the left," said Chick. "but I hope
you'll never see me hit with either. Boxing is wonderful for boys. That
is why people shouldn't sneer at these big champions who fight for money.
It seems degrading, but it isn't. It stimulates the little people, the
school-boys and chaps like that, to do a little better."

"What is the use of boxing, Chick? I know it is splendid to be able to
defend yourself, but there's nothing--spiritual in it."

Chick laughed softly.

"Gwenda, the man who loses his temper in the ring is beaten before he
starts; the man who doesn't fight fair is beaten by the people who see
him. Discipline and respect for the laws are spiritual--what's the word?"

"Qualities?" suggested the girl.

"Yes, spiritual qualities. But, darling, let's talk of Monte Carlo. I
never want you to see me fighting; I'd be scared to death."

So they talked about something else until the hall clock struck midnight.

In the midst of the third day of his sublime happiness came a stocky man
whom Chick had seen before. He was not exactly in the same state of
repair as he had been when he had left Kenberry House, for his eye was a
dark purple and the bridge of his nose was heavily plastered.

"Just as I thought I'd got him," he explained to Chick bitterly, "he
threw a forty-pound bag in my face and bolted."

"What makes you think he will come here?" asked Chick.

The interview took place behind the closed doors of his library.

"That's Jagg's way. He's got an idea that you or the lady squealed to the
police," said Detective Sullivan, "and he's a pretty dangerous man.
You've heard of Jagg Flower, my lord? I understand you take an interest
in boxing."

"Jagg Flower!" Chick frowned. "I don't remember his name."

"He'd have made a fortune in the ring if he'd only gone straight--the
finest light--middle we ever had in America, and a dead shot, too," he
added significantly. "He carries a gun. We know that, because when the
English police searched his lodgings in Bloomsbury we found the remains
of a box of cartridges. Now, I'll tell you, my lord, why I've come to
you." He drew his chair nearer to the desk and lowered his voice. "I'm as
sure as anything that he'll return here. The country is closed to him,
and he can't get out, and, naturally enough, he'll come after the people
who have squealed--I mean who have betrayed him. He did the same thing in
France, and he did it once in America. There isn't a meaner fellow in the
world than Jagg."

"He seemed quite nice," said Chick dubiously.

The detective laughed, and related briefly what had happened to Anita
Pireau, a companion of his who had given information to the police.

Chick listened and shivered.

"So you see, sir," said Sullivan, "it is not safe for you to be living in
this house, the only man here."

"How did you know that?" smiled Chick.

"I've a tongue in my head," said the detective good-humouredly. "What I
want to know. Lord Pelborough, is, will you let me sleep in this house
for the next week?"

Chick hesitated.

"I'll have to consult my--my fiancee," he blurted, cherry-red.

Gwenda was inclined to treat the matter lightly, but she had no serious
objections to offer. Mrs. Phibbs, on the other hand, who saw in this a
sinister plot on the part of the detective to have a week's lodging in a
pleasant country village free of all charge, was sceptical.

In the end, Mr. Sullivan's one bag was taken to a room adjoining Chick's.
To relieve them of the embarrassment of his presence, he asked that his
meals might be set in the servants' hall, but Chick insisted upon his
dining with the "family," and he proved to be an entertaining guest.

He had a fund of fascinating stories of crime and criminals, and Chick
learnt of a world of which he had never dreamt, a world of human tigers
that preyed alike upon the weaklings of their own species and upon the
society which had offended them by its prosperity.

"Jagg had a friend named Beane," said Sullivan, on the third night of his
visit, "a weak fool of a fellow. He was an Englishman, too. His father
was a doctor in this country, and he could have occupied any position,
but Joe Beane just naturally hated work. He was pulled in once or twice
in New York for mean little crimes, and then he drifted down to Virginia
and met this fellow Flower."

He went on to describe the erring Beane's career, and Chick listened to
the story of his cousin's life and death without a muscle of his face
moving. It was a curious thought that far away in Virginia, in a
neglected corner of a prison yard, lay one who, if Fate had been kinder,
might have taken his seat in the House of Lords.

After the meal was over, Chick took the girl's arm and led her into the
study.

"I was so sorry for you, dear," she said. "I tried to stop Mr. Sullivan."

Chick shook his head.

"It didn't matter a bit," he said. "Poor old Uncle Josephus! No wonder he
was impatient with me. It must have broken his heart. You're marrying
into a queer family, Gwenda," he said, his arm about her, his hand gently
stroking her face. Then he remembered a half-brother of hers, a slinking
thief of a brother, and when he saw her smile he knew that she had
remembered, too.

He went to bed a little later than usual. He had a number of letters to
write, for Chick, since his adventures in the oil market, had acquired
two directorships--he traced the hand of Lord Mansar in each appointment.

He did not go straight to bed, but wearing a dressing-gown over his
pyjamas he sat on a seat in one of the windows looking out over the
grounds. It was a moonlight night, and he could see almost to the stone
wall that bounded the tiny park. He had not been disturbed by Mr.
Sullivan's ominous prophecy, partly because he did not believe that the
man held him responsible for the attentions of the police, and partly
because he did not know Jagg Flower.

Chick said his prayers, and went to bed and was asleep in a minute. When
he woke, the first grey of dawn was in the sky, and he wondered what had
aroused him to instant wakefulness.

He listened. There was no sound but the distant faint tick of a clock in
the hall below. And yet something must have awakened him. There was no
sound coming from Sullivan's room, so he had evidently slept through the
noise, whatever it was.

He slipped out of bed, pulled on his slippers, and opened the door
softly. The corridor was in darkness, and there was a profound silence.
Tightening the string of his pyjamas, he stepped noiselessly along the
carpeted floor and stopped at Gwenda's room, listening. He was on the
point of returning to his own room, when he heard the faintest of
whispers.

He tried the handle of the door gently, for fear of disturbing her if she
were asleep, but it was locked, and he went along to the door of the
bathroom, from which a second door communicated with Gwenda's room. This
was open, and the door of her room was ajar. He pushed it open with the
same caution.

The room was in darkness, save for the faint light supplied by the dawn,
and he saw standing by Gwenda's bed the figure of a man. His back was
toward Chick, and he was bending over the bed, one hand over the mouth of
the girl, who was lying motionless. There was an electric switch near the
door, and Chick pressed it down.

Instantly the room was flooded with light. The man turned quickly, and
Chick looked into the smiling face of Jagg Flower.

"You did hear, then," said Mr. Flower pleasantly. Chick walked slowly
toward him, heedless of the automatic pistol Flower held in his hand.

"Stop right where you are," said the intruder. Chick looked at the girl.
Her nightdress was torn at the neck, and there was a big ugly scratch on
her white shoulder. His eyes went slowly from her to the man, and then
down to the levelled pistol, and he spoke no word.

Then suddenly he leapt. One hand closed round the wrist of the hand that
held the Browning, the other struck straight at the man's throat a blow
which would have paralysed a less hardy mortal than Jagg Flower. As he
staggered back, there was a crash of glass as Chick sent the pistol
through the window. He never underrated an opponent, and a voice within
him whispered a warning. The man was a middle-weight.

The lightning stab that the smiling Flower aimed at him missed his face.
A second blow he lowered his head to meet, a third quick uppercut met the
air.

Then the slim figure was on him, and in the heart of Chick Pelborough was
cold murder.

The girl, leaning on her hand, watched in horror as Chick's arm swung
left and right so quickly that she could not follow the blows.

"Hands up, Flower!" It was Sullivan in the open door of the dark
bathroom, pistol in hand.

"Leave him alone!" snarled Chick. His lip was cut, and a great red bruise
showed where Jagg Flower's fist had reached him.

"On the whole, I think I will put up my hands," drawled Flower. One eye
was closed, and he bore the marks of his punishment conspicuously. "If I
had known what I know now, I would have tackled you first, young
man--with a hammer."

Chick walked to the table by the side of the girl's bed, and his hand
closed over a blue bottle before she had realized it was there. Then he
faced the man, about whose wrists Sullivan had snapped a pair of American
handcuffs.

"The reason I haven't killed you. Flower," Chick said, his face as white
as death, "is because you're going back to Virginia to be electrocuted.
Mr. Sullivan says that the State will make it a point of honour to get
you to the chair."

He showed the bottle in the palm of his hand, and Mr. Flower was no
longer smiling.

Two people in their dressing-gowns watched through the library window the
departure of Mr. Sullivan and his prisoner. It was six o'clock, and the
house had not been aroused.

"What will happen to him?" asked Gwenda.

"He'll be executed," said Chick. He bit his lip thoughtfully. "I should
like to see it," he said.

"Chick," said the girl reproachfully, "how can you say such a thing?"

She had been awakened in the night by the pressure of Flower's hand on
her face, and had screamed. It was the scream which had awakened Chick,
and which had even aroused the detective.

"I struggled a little. That's when he scratched me." She nursed her
shoulder with a smile. "Oh, really, dear, it is nothing. And I did see
you fight?--you were terrifying!"

Chick smiled uncomfortably,

"Chick, what was that little blue bottle you took from the table by my
bed?" she asked.

"That was nothing, either," smiled Chick.

"But really, what was it? Did Flower bring it?"

"I brought it in myself," said Chick, "Didn't you see me put it down?"

"What was it?" she asked again.

"It was liniment. I thought Mr. Flower might want it."

Later he emptied the contents of the bottle in a secluded part of the
grounds, and watched it smoke and steam, and the grass wither, and he
shivered as he had when the detective had told him of the horrible
vengeance which Jagg Flower had wreaked upon the French girl who had
betrayed him.

Chick really took the most unexpected views, thought Gwenda, when they
were discussing plans in the library that night. She had thought that he,
whose painful shyness had first awakened her interest in him, would
prefer the quietest of weddings, but Chick, to her astonishment, had
vetoed that suggestion.

It was to be at St. Margaret's, Westminster, and was to be a wedding of
the most ostentatious character.

"I'm going to be married so that everybody knows that you're the
Marchioness of Pelborough," he said firmly.

And so they were married one dull October day, and the church was filled
with people in all stations of life, varying from the Lord Chancellor to
the boxing instructor at the Polytechnic.

There was a crowd to see them go in and come out, and on the edge of the
crowd was a very pretty girl who had figured alarmingly in Chick's life.
Miss Farland, the lady in question, wept silently as the newly-married
couple drove away.

"He was engaged to me once," she sobbed to her friends, "but you know
what these lords are. When an actress gets after them--"

She attracted the attention of a press photographer who was just folding
his camera.

"Excuse me," she said, "I was the young lady who was engaged to Lord
Pelborough."

"Fine," said the photographer. "I hope it was a good job. How did you
lose it?"



THE END



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