Ch. 4 of _An African millionaire_ (1897)
by Grant Allen
THE EPISODE OF THE TYROLEAN CASTLE
WE went to Meran. The place was practically decided for us
by Amelia's French maid, who really acts on such occasions
as our guide and courier.
She is such a clever girl, is Amelia's French maid.
Whenever we are going anywhere, Amelia generally asks (and
accepts) her advice as to choice of hotels and furnished
villas. Cesarine has been all over the Continent in her
time; and, being Alsatian by birth, she of course speaks
German as well as she speaks French, while her long
residence with Amelia has made her at last almost equally at
home in our native English. She is a treasure, that girl;
so neat and dexterous, and not above dabbling in anything on
earth she may be asked to turn her hand to. She walks the
world with a needle-case in one hand and an etna in the
other. She can cook an omelette on occasion, or drive a
Norwegian cariole; she can sew, and knit, and make dresses,
and cure a cold, and do anything else on earth you ask her.
Her salads are the most savoury I ever tasted; while as for
her coffee (which she prepares for us in the train on long
journeys), there isn't a chef de cuisine at a West-end club
to be named in the same day with her.
So, when Amelia said, in her imperious way, 'Cesarine, we
want to go to the Tyrol--now--at once--in mid-October; where
do you advise us to put up?'--Cesarine answered, like a
shot, 'The Erzherzog Johann, of course, at Meran, for the
'Is he ... an archduke?' Amelia asked, a little staggered
at such apparent familiarity with Imperial personages.
'Ma foi! no, madame. He is an hotel--as you would say in
England, the "Victoria" or the "Prince of Wales's"--the most
comfortable hotel in all South Tyrol; and at this time of
year, naturally, you must go beyond the Alps; it begins
already to be cold at Innsbruck.'
So to Meran we went; and a prettier or more picturesque
place, I confess, I have seldom set eyes on. A rushing
torrent; high hills and mountain peaks; terraced vineyard
slopes; old walls and towers; quaint, arcaded streets; a
craggy waterfall; a promenade after the fashion of a German
Spa; and when you lift your eyes from the ground, jagged
summits of Dolomites: it was a combination such as I had
never before beheld; a Rhine town plumped down among green
Alpine heights, and threaded by the cool colonnades of
I approved Cesarine's choice; and I was particularly glad
she had pronounced for an hotel, where all is plain sailing,
instead of advising a furnished villa, the arrangements for
which would naturally have fallen in large part upon the
shoulders of the wretched secretary. As in any case I have
to do three hours' work a day, I feel that such additions to
my normal burden may well be spared me. I tipped Cesarine
half a sovereign, in fact, for her judicious choice.
Cesarine glanced at it on her palm in her mysterious,
curious, half-smiling way, and pocketed it at once with a
'Merci, monsieur!' that had a touch of contempt in it. I
always fancy Cesarine has large ideas of her own on the
subject of tipping, and thinks very small beer of the modest
sums a mere secretary can alone afford to bestow upon her.
The great peculiarity of Meran is the number of schlosses
(I believe my plural is strictly irregular but very
convenient to English ears) which you can see in every
direction from its outskirts. A statistical eye, it is
supposed, can count no fewer than forty of these
picturesque, ramshackled old castles from a point on the
Kuchelberg. For myself, I hate statistics (except as an
element in financial prospectuses), and I really don't know
how many ruinous piles Isabel and Amelia counted under
Cesarine's guidance; but I remember that most of them were
quaint and beautiful, and that their variety of architecture
seemed positively bewildering. One would be square, with
funny little turrets stuck out at each angle; while another
would rejoice in a big round keep, and spread on either side
long, ivy-clad walls and delightful bastions. Charles was
immensely taken with them. He loves the picturesque, and
has a poet hidden in that financial soul of his. (Very
effectually hidden,though, I am ready to grant you.) From
the moment he came he felt at once he would love to possess
a castle of his own among these romantic mountains.
'Seldon!' he exclaimed contemptuously. 'They call Seldon a
castle! But you and I know very well, Sey, it was built in
1860, with sham antique stones, for Macpherson of Seldon, at
market rates, by Cubitt and Co., worshipful contractors of
London. Macpherson charged me for that sham antiquity a
preposterous price, at which one ought to procure a real
ancestral mansion. Now, these castles are real. They are
hoary with antiquity. Schloss Tyrol is Romanesque--tenth or
eleventh century.' (He had been reading it up in Baedeker.)
'That's the sort of place for me!--tenth or eleventh
century. I could live here, remote from stocks and shares,
for ever; and in these sequestered glens, recollect, Sey, my
boy, there are no Colonel Clays, and no arch Madame
As a matter of fact, he could have lived there six weeks,
and then tired for Park Lane, Monte Carlo Brighton.
As for Amelia, strange to say, she was equally taken with
this new fad of Charles's. As a rule she hates everywhere
on earth save London, except during the time when no
respectable person can be seen in town, and when modest
blinds shade the scandalised face of Mayfair and Belgravia.
She bores herself to death even at Seldon Castle, Rossshire,
and yawns all day long, in Paris or Vienna. She is a
confirmed Cockney. Yet, for some occult reason, my amiable
sister-in-law fell in love with South Tyrol. She wanted to
vegetate in that lush vegetation. The grapes were being
picked; pumpkins hung over the walls; Virginia creeper
draped the quaint gray schlosses with crimson cloaks; and
everything was as beautiful as a dream of Burne-Jones's. (I
know I am quite right in mentioning Burne-Jones, especially
in connection with Romanesque architecture, because I heard
him highly praised on that very ground by our friend and
enemy, Dr. Edward Polperro.) So perhaps it was excusable
that Amelia should fall in love with it all, under the
circumstances; besides, she is largely influenced by what
Cesarine says, and Cesarine declares there is no climate in
Europe like Meran in winter. I do not agree with her. The
sun sets behind the hills at three in the afternoon, and a
nasty warm wind blows moist over the snow in January and
However, Amelia set Cesarine to inquire of the people at
the hotel about the market price of tumbledown ruins, and
the number of such eligible family mausoleums just then for
sale in the immediate neighbourhood. Cesarine returned with
a full, true, and particular list, adorned with flowers of
rhetoric which would have delighted the soul of good old
John Robins. They were all picturesque, all Romanesque, all
richly ivy-clad, all commodious, all historical, and all the
property of high well-born Grafs and very honourable
Freiherrs. Most of them had been the scene of celebrated
tournaments; several of them had witnessed the gorgeous
marriages of Holy Roman Emperors; and every one of them was
provided with some choice and selected first-class murders.
Ghosts could be arranged for or not, as desired; and
armorial bearings could be thrown in with the moat for a
moderate extra remuneration.
The two we liked best of all these tempting piles were
Schloss Planta and Schloss Lebenstein. We drove past both,
and even I myself, I confess, was distinctly taken with
them. (Besides, when a big purchase like this is on the
stocks, a poor beggar of a secretary has always a chance of
exerting his influence and earning for himself some modest
commission.) Schloss Planta was the most striking
externally, I should say, with its Rhine-like towers, and
its great gnarled ivy-stems, that looked as if they
antedated the House of Hapsburg; but Lebenstein was said to
be better preserved within, and more fitted in every way for
modern occupation. Its staircase has been photographed by
We got tickets to view. The invaluable Cesarine procured
them for us. Armed with these, we drove off one fine
afternoon, meaning to go to Planta, by Cesarine's
recommendation. Half-way there, however, we changed our
minds, as it was such a lovely day, and went on up the long,
slow hill to Lebenstein. I must say the drive through the
grounds was simply charming. The castle stands perched (say
rather poised, like St. Michael the archangel in Italian
pictures) on a solitary stack or crag of rock, looking down
on every side upon its own rich vineyards. Chestnuts line
the glens; the valley of the Etsch spreads below like a
The vineyards alone make a splendid estate by the way;
they produce a delicious red wine, which is exported to
Bordeaux, and there bottled and sold as a vintage claret
under the name of Chateau Monnivet. Charles revelled in the
idea of growing his own wines.
'Here we could sit,' he cried to Amelia, 'in the most
literal sense, under our own vine and fig-tree. Delicious
retirement! For my part, I'm sick and tired of the hubbub
of Threadneedle Street.'
We knocked at the door--for there was really no bell, but
a ponderous, old-fashioned, wrought-iron knocker. So
deliciously mediaeval! The late Graf Von Lebenstein had
recently died, we knew; and his son, the present Count, a
young man of means, having inherited from his mother's
family a still more ancient and splendid schloss in the
Salzburg district, desired to sell this outlying estate in
order to afford himself a yacht, after the manner that is
now becoming increasingly fashionable with the noblemen and
gentlemen in Germany and Austria.
The door was opened for us by a high well-born menial,
attired in a very ancient and honourable livery. Nice
antique hall; suits of ancestral armour, trophies of
Tyrolese hunters, coats of arms of ancient counts--the very
thing to take Amelia's aristocratic and romantic fancy. The
whole to be sold exactly as it stood; ancestors to be
included at a valuation.
We went through the reception-rooms. They were lofty,
charming, and with glorious views, all the more glorious for
being framed by those graceful Romanesque windows, with
their slender pillars and quaint, round-topped arches. Sir
Charles had made his mind up. 'I must and will have it!' he
cried. 'This is the place for me. Seldon! Pah, Seldon is
a modern abomination.'
Could we see the high well-born Count? The liveried
servant (somewhat haughtily) would inquire of his Serenity.
Sir Charles sent up his card, and also Lady Vandrift's.
These foreigners know title spells money in England.
He was right in his surmise. Two minutes later the Count
entered with our cards in his hands. A good-looking young
man, with the characteristic Tyrolese long black moustache,
dressed in a gentlemanly variant on the costume of the
country. His air was a jager's; the usual blackcock's plume
stuck jauntily in the side of the conical hat (which he held
in his hand), after the universal Austrian fashion.
He waved us to seats. We sat down. He spoke to us in
French; his English, he remarked, with a pleasant smile,
being a negligeable quantity. We might speak it, he went
on; he could understand pretty well; but he preferred to
answer, if we would allow him, in French or German.
'French,' Charles replied, and the negotiation continued
thenceforth in that language, It is the only one, save
English and his ancestral Dutch, with which my
brother-in-law possesses even a nodding acquaintance.
We praised the beautiful scene. The Count's face lighted
up with patriotic pride. Yes; it was beautiful, beautiful,
his own green Tyrol. He was proud of it and attached to it.
But he could endure to sell this place, the home of his
fathers, because he had a finer in the Salzkammergut, and a
pied-a-terre near Innsbruck. For Tyrol lacked just one joy
--the sea. He was a passionate yachtsman. For that he had
resolved to sell this estate; after all, three country
houses, a ship, and a mansion in Vienna, are more than one
man can comfortably inhabit.
'Exactly,' Charles answered. 'If I can come to terms with
you about this charming estate I shall sell my own castle in
the Scotch Highlands.' And he tried to look like a proud
Scotch chief who harangues his clansmen.
Then they got to business. The Count was a delightful man
to do business with. His manners were perfect. While we
were talking to him, a surly person, a steward or bailiff,
or something of the sort, came into the room unexpectedly
and addressed him in German, which none of us understand.
We were impressed by the singular urbanity and benignity of
the nobleman's demeanour towards this sullen dependant. He
evidently explained to the fellow what sort of people we
were, and remonstrated with him in a very gentle way for
interrupting us. The steward understood, and clearly
regretted his insolent air; for after a few sentences he
went out, and as he did so he bowed and made protestations
of polite regard in his own language. The Count turned to
us and smiled. 'Our people,' he said, 'are like your own
Scotch peasants--kind-hearted, picturesque, free, musical,
poetic, but wanting, helas, in polish to strangers.' He was
certainly an exception, if he described them aright; for he
made us feel at home from the moment we entered.
He named his price in frank terms. His lawyers at Meran
held the needful documents, and would arrange the
negotiations in detail with us. It was a stiff sum, I must
say--an extremely stiff sum; but no doubt he was charging us
a fancy price for a fancy castle. 'He will come down in
time,' Charles said. 'The sum first named in all these
transactions is invariably a feeler. They know I'm a
millionaire; and people always imagine millionaires are
positively made of money.'
I may add that people always imagine it must be easier to
squeeze money out of millionaires than out of other people--
which is the reverse of the truth, or how could they ever
have amassed their millions? Instead of oozing gold as a
tree oozes gum, they mop it up like blotting-paper, and
seldom give it out again.
We drove back from this first interview none the less very
well satisfied. The price was too high; but preliminaries
were arranged, and for the rest, the Count desired us to
discuss all details with his lawyers in the chief street,
Unter den Lauben. We inquired about these lawyers, and
found they were most respectable and respected men; they had
done the family business on either side for seven
They showed us plans and title-deeds. Everything quite en
regle. Till we came to the price there was no hitch of any
As to price, however, the lawyers were obdurate. They
stuck out for the Count's first sum to the uttermost florin.
It was a very big estimate. We talked and shilly-shallied
till Sir Charles grew angry. He lost his temper at last.
'They know I'm a millionaire, Sey,' he said, 'and they're
playing the old game of trying to diddle me. But I won't be
diddled. Except Colonel Clay, no man has ever yet succeeded
in bleeding me. And shall I let myself be bled as if I were
a chamois among these innocent mountains? Perish the
thought!' Then he reflected a little in silence. 'Sey,' he
mused on, at last, 'the question is, are they innocent? Do
you know, I begin to believe there is no such thing left as
pristine innocence anywhere. This Tyrolese Count knows the
value of a pound as distinctly as if he hung out in Capel
Court or Kimberley.'
Things dragged on in this way, inconclusively, for a week
or two. We bid down; the lawyers stuck to it. Sir Charles
grew half sick of the whole silly business. For my own
part, I felt sure if the high well-born Count didn't quicken
his pace, my respected relative would shortly have had
enough of the Tyrol altogether, and be proof against the
most lovely of crag-crowning castles. But the Count didn't
see it. He came to call on us at our hotel--a rare honour
for a stranger with these haughty and exclusive Tyrolese
nobles--and even entered unannounced in the most friendly
manner. But when it came to L. s. d., he was absolute
adamant. Not one kreutzer would he abate from his original
'You misunderstand,' he said, with pride. 'We Tyrolese
gentlemen are not shopkeepers or merchants, We do not
higgle. If we say a thing we stick to it. Were you an
Austrian, I should feel insulted by your ill-advised attempt
to beat down my price. But as you belong to a great
commercial nation--' he broke off with a snort and shrugged
his shoulders compassionately.
We saw him several times driving in and out of the
schloss, and every time he waved his hand at us gracefully.
But when we tried to bargain, it was always the same thing:
he retired behind the shelter of his Tyrolese nobility. We
might take it or leave it. 'Twas still Schloss Lebenstein.
The lawyers were as bad. We tried all we knew, and got no
At last Charles gave up the attempt in disgust. He was
tiring, as I expected. 'It's the prettiest place I ever saw
in my life,' he said; 'but, hang it all, Sey, I won't be
So he made up his mind, it being now December, to return
to London. We met the Count next day, and stopped his
carriage, and told him so. Charles thought this would have
the immediate effect of bringing the man to reason. But be
only lifted his hat, with the blackcock's feather, and
smiled a bland smile. 'The Archduke Karl is inquiring about
it,' he answered, and drove on without parley.
Charles used some strong words, which I will not
transcribe (I am a family man), and returned to England.
For the next two months we heard little from Amelia save
her regret that the Count wouldn't sell us Schloss
Lebenstein. Its pinnacles had fairly pierced her heart.
Strange to say, she was absolutely infatuated about the
castle. She rather wanted the place while she was there,
and thought she could get it; now she thought she couldn't,
her soul (if she has one) was wildly set upon it. Moreover,
Cesarine further inflamed her desire by gently hinting a
fact which she had picked up at the courier's table d'hote
at the hotel--that the Count had been far from anxious to
sell his ancestral and historical estate to a South African
diamond king. He thought the honour of the family demanded,
at least, that he should secure a wealthy buyer of good
One morning in February, however, Amelia returned from the
Row all smiles and tremors. (She had been ordered
horse-exercise to correct the increasing excessiveness of
Who do you think I saw riding in the Park ?' she inquired.
'Why, the Count of Lebenstein.'
'No!' Charles exclaimed, incredulous.
'Yes,' Amelia answered.
'Must be mistaken,' Charles cried.
But Amelia stuck to it. More than that, she sent out
emissaries to inquire diligently from the London lawyers,
whose name had been mentioned to us by the ancestral firm in
Unter den Lauben as their English agents, as to the
whereabouts of our friend; and her emissaries learned in
effect that the Count was in town and stopping at Morley's.
'I see through it,' Charles exclaimed. 'He finds he's
made a mistake; and now he's come over here to reopen
I was all for waiting prudently till the Count made the
first move. 'Don't let him see your eagerness,' I said.
But Amelia's ardour could not now be restrained. She
insisted that Charles should call on the Graf as a mere
return of his politeness in the Tyrol.
He was as charming as ever. He talked to us with delight
about the quaintness of London. He would be ravished to
dine next evening with Sir Charles. He desired his
respectful salutations meanwhile to Miladi Vandrift and
He dined with us, almost en famille. Amelia's cook did
wonders. In the billiard-room, about midnight, Charles
reopened the subject. The Count was really touched. It
pleased him that still, amid the distractions of the City of
Five Million Souls, we should remember with affection his
'Come to my lawyers,' he said, 'to-morrow, and I will talk
it all over with you.'
We went--a most respectable firm in Southampton Row; old
family solicitors. They had done business for years for the
late Count, who had inherited from his grandmother estates
in Ireland; and they were glad to be honoured with the
confidence of his successor. Glad, too, to make the
acquaintance of a prince of finance like Sir Charles
Vandrift. Anxious (rubbing their hands) to arrange matters
satisfactorily all round for everybody. (Two capital
families with which to be mixed up, you see.)
Sir Charles named a price, and referred them to his
solicitors. The Count named a higher, but still a little
come-down, and left the matter to be settled between the
lawyers. He was a soldier and a gentleman, he said, with a
Tyrolese toss of his highborn head; he would abandon details
to men of business.
As I was really anxious to oblige Amelia, I met the Count
accidentally next day on the steps of Morley's.
(Accidentally, that is to say, so far as he was concerned,
though I had been hanging about in Trafalgar Square for half
an hour to see him.) I explained, in guarded terms, that I
had a great deal of influence in my way with Sir Charles;
and that a word from me---- I broke off. He stared at me
'Commission?' he inquired, at last, with a queer little
'Well, not exactly commission,' I answered, wincing.
'Still, a friendly word, you know. One good turn deserves
He looked at me from head to foot with a curious scrutiny.
For one moment I feared the Tyrolese nobleman in him was
going to raise its foot and take active measures. But the
next, I saw that Sir Charles was right after all, and that
pristine innocence has removed from this planet to other
He named his lowest price. 'M. Ventvorth,' he said, 'I am
a Tyrolese seigneur; I do not dabble, myself, in commissions
and percentages. But if your influence with Sir Charles--we
understand each other, do we not?--as between gentlemen--a
little friendly present--no money, of course--but the
equivalent of say 5 per cent in jewellery, on whatever sum
above his bid to-day you induce him to offer--eh?--c'est
'Ten per cent is more usual,' I murmured.
He was the Austrian hussar again. 'Five, monsieur--or
nothing!' bowed and withdrew. 'Well, five then,' I
answered, 'just to oblige your Serenity.'
A secretary, after all, can do a great deal. When it came
to the scratch, I had but little difficulty in persuading
Sir Charles, with Amelia's aid, backed up on either side by
Isabel and Cesarine, to accede to the Count's more
reasonable proposal. The Southampton Row people had
possession of certain facts as to the value of the wines in
the Bordeaux market which clinched the matter. In a week or
two all was settled; Charles and I met the Count by
appointment in Southampton Row, and saw him sign, seal, and
deliver the title-deeds of Schloss Lebenstein. My
brother-in-law paid the purchase-money into the Count's own
hands, by cheque, crossed on a first-class London firm where
the Count kept an account to his high well-born order. Then
he went away with the proud knowledge that he was owner of
Schloss Lebenstein. And what to me was more important
still, I received next morning by post a cheque for the five
per cent, unfortunately drawn, by some misapprehension, to
my order on the self-same bankers, and with the Count's
signature. He explained in the accompanying note that the
matter being now quite satisfactorily concluded, he saw no
reason of delicacy why the amount he had promised should not
be paid to me forthwith direct in money.
I cashed the cheque at once, and said nothing about the
affair, not even to Isabel. My experience is that women are
not to be trusted with intricate matters of commission and
Though it was now late in March, and the House was
sitting, Charles insisted that we must all run over at once
to take possession of our magnificent Tyrolese castle.
Amelia was almost equally burning with eagerness. She gave
herself the airs of a Countess already. We took the Orient
Express as far as Munich; then the Brenner to Meran, and put
up for the night at the Erzherzog Johann. Though we had
telegraphed our arrival, and expected some fuss, there was
no demonstration. Next morning we drove out in state to the
schloss, to enter into enjoyment of our vines and fig-trees.
We were met at the door by the surly steward.
'I shall dismiss that man,' Charles muttered, as Lord of
Lebenstein. 'He's too sour-looking for my taste. Never saw
such a brute. Not a smile of welcome!'
He mounted the steps. The surly man stepped forward and
murmured a few morose words in German. Charles brushed him
aside and strode on. Then there followed a curious scene of
mutual misunderstanding. The surly man called lustily for
his servants to eject us. It was some time before we began
to catch at the truth. The surly man was the real Graf von
And the Count with the moustache? It dawned upon us now.
Colonel Clay again! More audacious than ever!
Bit by bit it all came out. He had ridden behind us the
first day we viewed the place, and, giving himself out to
the servants as one of our party, had joined us in the
reception-room. We asked the real Count why he had spoken
to the intruder. The Count explained in French that the man
with the moustache had introduced my brother-in-law as the
great South African millionaire, while he described himself
as our courier and interpreter. As such he had had frequent
interviews with the real Graf and his lawyers in Meran, and
had driven almost daily across to the castle. The owner of
the estate had named one price from the first, and had stuck
to it manfully. He stuck to it still; and if Sir Charles
chose to buy Schloss Lebenstein over again he was welcome to
have it. How the London lawyers had been duped the Count
had not really the slightest idea. He regretted the
incident, and (coldly) wished us a very good morning.
There was nothing for it but to return as best we might to
the Erzherzog Johann, crestfallen, and telegraph particulars
to the police in London.
Charles and I ran across post-haste to England to track
down the villain. At Southampton Row we found the legal
firm by no means penitent; on the contrary, they were
indignant at the way we had deceived them. An impostor had
written to them on Lebenstein paper from Meran to say that
he was coming to London to negotiate the sale of the schloss
and surrounding property with the famous millionaire, Sir
Charles Vandrift; and Sir Charles had demonstratively
recognised him at sight as the real Count von Lebenstein.
The firm had never seen the present Graf at all, and had
swallowed the impostor whole, so to speak, on the strength
of Sir Charles's obvious recognition. He had brought over
as documents some most excellent forgeries--facsimiles of
the originals--which, as our courier and interpreter, he had
every opportunity of examining and inspecting at the Meran
lawyers.' It was a deeply-laid plot, and it had succeeded to
a marvel. Yet, all of it depended upon the one small fact
that we had accepted the man with the long moustache in the
hall of the schloss as the Count von Lebenstein on his own
He held our cards in his hands when he came in; and the
servant had no given them to him, but to the genuine Count.
That was the one unsolved mystery in the whole adventure.
By the evening's post two letters arrived for us at Sir
Charles's house: one for myself, and one for my employer.
Sir Charles's ran thus:--
'HIGH WELL-BORN INCOMPETENCE,--
'I only just pulled through! A very small slip nearly
lost me everything. I believed you were going to Schloss
Planta that day, not to Schloss Lebenstein. You changed
your mind en route. That might have spoiled all. Happily I
perceived it, rode up by the short cut, and arrived somewhat
hurriedly and hotly at the gate before you. Then I
introduced myself. I had one more bad moment when the rival
claimant to my name and title intruded into the room. But
fortune favours the brave: your utter ignorance of German
saved me. The rest was pap. It went by itself almost.
'Allow me, now, as some small return for your various
welcome cheques, to offer you a useful and valuable present
--a German dictionary, grammar, and phrase-book!
'I kiss your hand.
The other note was to me. It was as follows:--
'DEAR GOOD MR. VENTVORTH,--
'Ha, ha, ha; just a W misplaced sufficed to take you in,
then! And I risked the TH, though anybody with a head on
his shoulders would surely have known our TH is by far more
difficult than our W for foreigners! However, all's well
that ends well; and now I've got you. The Lord has
delivered you into my hands, dear friend--on your own
initiative. I hold my cheque, endorsed by you, and cashed
at my banker's, as a hostage, so to speak, for your future
good behaviour. If ever you recognise me, and betray me to
that solemn old ass, your employer, remember, I expose it,
and you with it to him. So now we understand each other. I
had not thought of this little dodge; it was you who
suggested it. However, I jumped at it. Was it not well
worth my while paying you that slight commission in return
for a guarantee of your future silence? Your mouth is now
closed. And cheap too at the price.--Yours, dear Comrade,
in the great confraternity of rogues,
'CUTHBERT CLAY, Colonel.
Charles laid his note down, and grizzled. 'What's yours,
Sey?' he asked.
'From a lady,' I answered.
He gazed at me suspiciously. 'Oh, I thought it was the
same hand,' he said. His eye looked through me.
'No,' I answered. 'Mrs. Mortimer's.' But I confess I
He paused a moment. 'You made all inquiries at this
fellow's bank?' he went on, after a deep sigh.
'Oh, yes,' I put in quickly. (I had taken good care about
that, you may be sure, lest he should spot the commission.)
'They say the self-styled Count von Lebenstein was
introduced to them by the Southampton Row folks, and drew,
as usual, on the Lebenstein account: so they were quite
unsuspicious. A rascal who goes about the world on that
scale, you know, and arrives with such credentials as theirs
and yours, naturally imposes on anybody. The bank didn't
even require to have him formally identified. The firm was
enough. He came to pay money in, not to draw it out. And
he withdrew his balance just two days later, saying he was
in a hurry to get back to Vienna.'
Would he ask for items? I confess I felt it was an
awkward moment. Charles, however, was too full of regrets
to bother about the account. He leaned back in his easy
chair, stuck his hands in his pockets, held his legs
straight out on the fender before him, and looked the very
picture of hopeless despondency.
'Sey,' he began, after a minute or two, poking the fire,
reflectively, 'what a genius that man has! 'Pon my soul, I
admire him. I sometimes wish----' He broke off and
'Yes, Charles?' I answered.
'I sometimes wish ... we had got him on the Board of the
Cloetedorp Golcondas. Mag--nificent combinations he would
make in the City!'
I rose from my seat and stared solemnly at my misguided
'Charles,' I said, 'you are beside yourself. Too much
Colonel Clay has told upon your clear and splendid
intellect. There are certain remarks which, however true
they may be, no self-respecting financier should permit
himself to make, even in the privacy of his own room, to his
most intimate friend and trusted adviser.'
Charles fairly broke down. 'You are right, Sey,' he
sobbed out. 'Quite right. Forgive this outburst. At
moments of emotion the truth will sometimes out, in spite of
I respected his feebleness. I did not even make it a
fitting occasion to ask for a trifling increase of salary.