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According to Upsidonian ideas, this unfortunate man had certainly been
brought to a pass of great misery. He lived in a large and handsome
mansion surrounded by some acres of ground, and kept up an imposing
establishment.

I was shown into a library very richly furnished, but in far better
taste than any of the rooms I had been in on my visits that morning. The
effect was somewhat spoiled to my eye by a plain deal-topped table and
three or four Windsor chairs, which were mixed up with the rest of the
furniture; but tears came into my eyes - or should have done - when I
reflected that these were probably the few articles that Mr. Hobson had
been able to save from the wreck of his fortunes, and must be very dear
to him as reminders of his former simple and happy life. Probably they
would have to go soon, for he would not be able to take up room with
them which might be filled with more expensive articles.

I was sitting in one of the Windsor chairs when Mr. Hobson came into the
room. He was a dejected-looking man of middle age, with refined features
and courteous manners, and my heart leapt as I thought of the solace I
was about to bring to his over-burdened mind.

"Mr. Hobson," I said, coming at once to the point, "I have heard your
sad story, and I have come to offer you some small relief. I am prepared
to accept from you the sum of twenty thousand pounds, and I hope that
with this assistance you will be able to make a fresh start and get free
of your difficulties."

His thin face, already beginning to fill out from the course of high
feeding to which he had been brought, flushed eagerly, and his eyes
brightened, but sank immediately to their previous unhappy dullness.

"You are very kind, Mr. Howard," he said, "but I am beyond help, I fear.
I could not hold out any hope of asking you to repay me. My spirit is
broken. Nothing goes right with me. A week ago I might have accepted
such relief, and promised to take back the money when times were
brighter. But they will never be brighter for me. I could not even use
the interest you would pay me for a sum of twenty thousand pounds."

"But I don't want to pay the money back, and I don't want to pay any
interest," I assured him. "I am not a money borrower. I have a good deal
less than I know what to do with, and nothing will give me greater
pleasure than to receive twenty thousand pounds, or even thirty
thousand, as a free gift from you. We should keep the transaction
entirely to ourselves, and nobody outside need know anything about it at
all."

He stared at me in amazement, and then suddenly broke down altogether,
and sobbed. "Oh, it is too much!" he cried. "Who are you, that you come
as a messenger of hope, when nothing but ruin and darkness seemed to
surround me? And why do you do it?"

These were rather awkward questions. "Never mind that," I said.
"Everybody has his own axe to grind, and I assure you that you will
oblige me as much as I shall oblige you by presenting me with twenty
thousand pounds, or even thirty thousand, as I said. Yes, we will make
it thirty thousand. You shall write me a cheque at once - to bearer - and
I will go straight to the bank and get the money."

When I had overcome his resistance, which wasted a lot of time, he told
me that he could not write me a cheque as every penny that came in was
reinvested at once, in a mad effort to lose it. "But if you are really
serious," he said, "I can give you stocks and shares to the amount you
so generously mention, and you can realize on them, or keep them on the
chance of going down if you like, which they might do for you but will
never do for me."

I was a little disappointed, but it made it easier for me in one way,
for I could pretend that I hoped the securities would show a downward
movement; and it also made it easier for him. Before we had completed
our business, Mr. Hobson had almost persuaded himself that he was doing
me a good turn in presenting me with the shares, which he said were
bound to lose me a large fortune if I could hold on to them long enough;
and I encouraged him to believe that I _should_ hold on to them with
that end in view.

It ended in my accepting thirty-five thousand one pound shares in the
Mount Lebanon gold mine, the purchase of which had been the chief cause
of Mr. Hobson's downfall.

"I bought them at a low figure," he said. "I had been told that the reef
would peter out immediately. But I had no sooner bought them than they
found another still richer one, and they have been paying forty per cent
ever since. They now stand at about eighty shillings, but I do believe
that the end is in sight, and they may come down with a run any day. If
only I could have stuck to them! But, oh, Mr. Howard, how can I ever
thank you? With this burden removed, I shall be able to right myself by
degrees. I shall be a new man."

He looked it already. His eyes sparkled, and he held his head erect. But
when he suggested calling his wife to thank me for all I had done, I
rose and said I must be going.

"Now it is understood that nobody knows about this," I said. "And please
don't thank me any more. I know what I am doing, and I assure you I am
very pleased to have these Mount Lebanons."

I shook hands with him, and got out of the house as quickly as he and
the servants would let me.

I was a little frightened by what I had done. After intending to accept
only twenty thousand pounds, I had promised to take over shares worth
about seven times that amount, if I realised on them at their present
figure; and I knew that I should be considered to have committed an act
of sheer lunacy if it came to the ears of Mr. Perry or Edward. Besides,
I could hardly get used to the idea all at once that I had suddenly
become a rich man, and feared some stroke of fate that would, after all,
deprive me of my well-gotten wealth.

I had had to give Herman Eppstein's name as the stockbroker who would
arrange the transfer, as he was the only one I knew. There was some risk
that he would give me away, but I thought I should be able to impose
secrecy on him, as he had not struck me as a man of much independence of
character. At any rate, I must risk it. I decided to call on him that
afternoon, and now made my way back to Magnolia Hall for luncheon.




CHAPTER XXV


An unpleasant surprise awaited me. I was informed by Mr. Blother, who
came in answer to my ring at the bell, while I waited by the open
door,[33] that Lord Potter had called while I was out, with an inspector
of police, for the purpose of taking my finger-prints, and would return
sometime in the afternoon.

"What infernal impudence!" I said, as Mr. Blother showed me into the
morning-room, preparatory to informing Mrs. Perry that I had returned.
"I certainly shan't stay in."

"Oh, but you must," he said, "or they can have you up. Potter is dying
to get at you. I gave him a piece of my mind this morning, but I can't
say that it made much impression on him. I know Potter of old; we were
at the university together. He is arrogance personified. He pretended
not to know me this morning, and asked me a lot of questions about my
master and mistress - as to how they spent their money, and whether there
was any difficulty about keeping up the household bills to the proper
figure. I told him plainly that if he had taken on the job of an
inspector he had no right to come without his uniform, and if he hadn't
the accounts of this house were no affair of his. The impudence of his
pretending that he thought the Perrys were ordinary rich people whose
house he could go in and out of just as it pleased him! I would not even
take his name into them, and he went away without having got much change
out of _me_. You stand up to him when he comes this afternoon. Satisfy
the police that you had nothing to do with the burglary, and don't let
him see that you are annoyed with him for putting them on to you. You
will score off him best if you ignore him altogether. Well, I will tell
Mrs. Perry that you are here. Mr. Howard, is it not? I don't think you
gave me a card."

When the necessary formalities had been gone through, and I had taken my
place at the luncheon-table, I asked what right Lord Potter had to
accompany the police in their duties, and to make himself obnoxious to
anyone whom he happened to dislike.

"None," said Mr. Perry emphatically.

But Mrs. Perry said: "Well, he is a member of the House of Lords. As
such, he might consider it his duty to look into anything that he
thought was going wrong."

"As a member of the House of Lords," said Mr. Perry didactically, "he
has a share in making laws which we all have to obey. It is not part of
his duty to administer them."

"I beg your pardon," said Lord Arthur. "I don't like Potter, but I must
stand up for him there. It _is_ his duty as a member of the ruling class
to interest himself in public behaviour. The House of Lords has been
shorn of much of its powers, but the influence of its members remains."

"As the son of a peer, my dear Arthur," said Mr. Perry, "you are quite
right to stand up for your order, and if every peer were like your
father there would be no objection to their claiming such rights as Lord
Potter, for instance, claims - to have free entry into every house, in
order that he may satisfy himself that its occupants are behaving
themselves as they should do. But we are a democratic country, and, as
things stand now, such a claim as that must be resisted, however
reasonable it may have been a hundred years ago."

"I don't know that I altogether agree with you there, Perry," said Mr.
Blother. "I admit that it is intolerable that such a man as Potter
should force an entrance into _your_ house, however you may choose to
live. But you would hardly object to a peer entering the establishment
of a man, let us say, like Bolster - an admitted member of the lower
classes."

"Edward would," said Tom. "He said the other day that however rich a man
was he ought to be free from interference in his own house."

"Oh, but Edward is an advanced Socialist," said Lord Arthur. "He would
deny that a peer was any better than anybody else."

"You would not go so far as to say, I suppose," said Mr. Blother, still
addressing Mr. Perry, and at the same time handing him a mayonnaise of
salmon, "that the House of Lords did not know what was good for the
people - the common people, I mean - better than they know themselves?"

"I should deny," said Mr. Perry, "that each member of the peerage knew
better than each member of the proletariat what was best for him."

"If that is the case," said Lord Arthur, in some excitement, "I beg to
give you a month's notice, Mr. Perry. I can cope with Edward, but if
_you_ are going to preach revolutionary views it is time I looked out
for another situation. I only took service here because my father said
that your political views were sound at bottom, although you went
farther than he approved of in many ways."

"Oh, dear Lord Arthur!" said Mrs. Perry in her pleasant sensible voice,
"you know that you mustn't take everything that my husband says
literally. I am sure that he only means that peers who have no official
position should be careful how they exercise their rights over other
people."

"Quite so," said Mr. Perry, and went on to explain that noblemen like
Lord Blueberry, who accepted a post under Government, even if it were
not actually one of inspection, were going the right way to work.

"As a postman," he said, "Victor Blueberry gains entrance to all the
houses on his round in a way that cannot upset anybody, and none of
those whom he visits can object to his making any investigations that he
may wish to make, in the course of his duty, on their way of living. And
the same is true of Hugh Rumborough, when he takes round their greens,
although he is not in so strong a position because he is not an
official. I only say that with the onward march of democracy it is no
longer wise for a peer to pursue his investigations harshly."

This seemed to satisfy Lord Arthur, who withdrew his notice, and left
the room for a time to compose himself.

Later on, when Mr. Blother had also left us to ourselves, Mr. Perry
said: "Of course one has to be careful how one expresses one's self
before Arthur. He doesn't see that what may be unobjectionable in
certain cases would be indefensible if it were acted upon everywhere. At
one time a peer of the realm had the right to make his will prevail over
everybody beneath his own rank; but the right has fallen into disuse,
and is now only exercised in the case of those who are not in a position
to resent it. Arthur would, no doubt, admit that it would be an
intolerable state of affairs if _any_ peer took to interfering with
_any_ commoner, whatever position he might hold; and that if it were
done to any extent, the right would have to be taken away. It is only by
exercising it carefully, and, as I say, on those who are not in a
position to resent it, that the peers can expect to keep it at all."

"Then I understand," I said, "that Lord Potter, as a peer, really has
the right to come and interfere with me, although he holds no official
position."

"If you refuse to acknowledge his right," said Mr. Perry, "as _I_
certainly do, if he tries to force himself into this house he will not
find any tribunal in the country that will punish you for it."

Miriam and I went into her garden after luncheon. When we had shut the
gate and were alone together in that green and shady retreat, I took her
sweet face between my hands and kissed it.

"They have been saying all sorts of things about me," I said. "Do you
believe them?"

She looked me straight in the eyes, and laughed. "What, that you are not
quite right in your head?" she asked.

"Well, that was Edward's idea. Blother inclines to the opinion that I
was drunk."

"Mr. Blother is a very silly old man," said Miriam, "and dear old Edward
is so taken up with his own affairs that one need never pay much
attention to what _he_ says. But, John - truly now - you are not teasing
me about England? You _can_ find your way there and it _is_ as nice as
you say it is?"

"Of course I can find my way there. I only wish I could go and find it
now, this minute, and take you with me."

She sighed. We were now sitting on the garden-seat. "I almost wish you
could," she said. "I should like to get off all the bother of the
wedding. I dread that more than anything."

"Why?" I asked, in some surprise. "I thought everything was going to be
as simple as possible."

"Well, father says now that he thinks we _must_ have a rich wedding, and
ask all our friends amongst the lower classes. I should like them to
come, of course, because a lot of them are real friends; but I do hate
the idea of a regular rich wedding."

"Why does your father think we ought to have one?" I asked. "He seemed
to be pleased that I wasn't a man like Eppstein, and that you were
marrying into your own class."

"Yes, but he says there will be such a lot of talk if we only have our
poor friends. People are always saying that he isn't really in sympathy
with the rich at all. Of course it isn't true, but if we had a rich
wedding, and invited all the rich people and gave them presents, it
would show that he does think more of them than just of pleasing our
poor relations."

"Should we have to give them presents - expensive ones?"

"Yes. They are awfully good. Lots of the women in mother's district have
promised to take jewels. They are quite excited about my marriage, and
would like to see me settled as poorly provided for as possible. Perhaps
it wouldn't be fair to disappoint them. But I do hate it so."

"Well, so do I," I said. "And I should hate to give away a lot of
presents to people who had never done me any harm."

"Dear old boy!" she said affectionately. "Mother rather hates the idea
of it too. But she feels, perhaps, that we _ought_ to think of our rich
friends at a time like this."

"Miriam," I said boldly, "we can't face it. Let us go away together and
get married quietly when we get to England."

The idea seemed to strike her as something rather dreadful and rather
pleasing at the same time. She blushed, but her eyes were bright.

"Oh, we couldn't," she said.

"Yes, we could. Let us go away in a week's time, before all the fuss
begins, and escape it."

"It really would be rather fun!" She was half joking, half in earnest,
but, at any rate, she had admitted the idea into her mind, and gradually
as I pressed her, making light of all difficulties, she began to waver
towards acquiescence, in earnest. What her mother would think was the
chief obstacle.

"I am sure she would be just as relieved as we should at escaping all
the bother," I said. "You could leave her a letter."

"I could come back and see her after we were married."

"Yes, of course. We would come back to Upsidonia whenever we wanted some
more - I mean whenever you wanted to. Oh, Miriam, say yes!"

She did not say yes at once, but she did a little later. She had a great
sense of adventure, and became even excited at the prospect, when she
had once consented to it. We decided to go away together very early in
the morning in a week's time.

FOOTNOTES:

[33] See page 65.




CHAPTER XXVI


As long as I remained in Miriam's garden, I was safe from interruption.
If the police had been waiting to arrest me for a crime, they could not
have got at me, or even summoned me from outside, but must have waited
until I chose to appear.

But when we had made our plans together, I thought I had better go and
see if they had called again, and, if they had, give them my
finger-prints and get it over.

When Miriam and I left her garden and shut the gate behind us, the first
thing we saw was the ragged figure of Lord Potter, who was shuffling
about with his shoulders hunched up and his hands in his pockets,
looking at the flower-beds. Hovering about at some little distance from
him was Mollie, who made excited signs in our direction when she saw us.

Lord Potter saw us at the same time, and came across the lawn with a
very disagreeable expression on his dirty face. "The police are waiting
for you up at the house, sir," he said. "It is just like you to take
refuge in a lady's garden. But if you think you are going to escape me
this time you are much mistaken. Off with you at once! I am not in a
mood to be kept waiting any longer."

He held out his hand towards the house with a commanding gesture, and I
was just about to reply to him, not altogether pacifically, when
Miriam's clear young voice broke in.

"Mollie!" she called, and when Mollie came to her, she said: "Run at
once and fetch Mr. Hobbs and Sir Herbert. Tell them that there is
someone in the garden who has no right to be here."

Mollie ran off, and Lord Potter's face darkened. "Do you know who I am,
Miss Perry?" he asked haughtily. "But of course you do. What is the
meaning of this strange behaviour?"

Miriam turned her shoulder to him, and taking my arm led me towards the
house.

Lord Potter shuffled after us, and said angrily: "Answer me, please!
What do you mean by treating me in this way?"

He was on the other side of Miriam, and his unsavoury presence was
nearer to her than I cared for. I let go of her arm, and pushed in
between them.

"Keep your distance," I said, and trod by mistake - at least - well, trod
will do - on his toe.

My boots were new and strong, and his were in the last stages of
consumption. With a cry of rage and agony, he took the damaged foot in
his hand, and hopped about on the other, while he vented on me a flood
of violent abuse.

At that moment Mr. Hobbs and Sir Herbert appeared on the scene. Miriam
stopped and said: "My father has refused to have this man in the house,
and we have just found him walking about in the garden. Will you please
put him outside the gate?"

Lord Potter faced them. "If you dare lay a finger on me," he began - -

But Mr. Hobbs, who thought there was nobody in the world like Miriam,
and would have turned an emperor out of the garden if she had asked him,
laid a large hand on his shoulder, and said: "I don't know who you are,
but you get out of my garden."

Sir Herbert laid his hand on the other shoulder, and between them they
shifted Lord Potter towards the drive, faster than was altogether
convenient to him.

He was so taken aback by this treatment that at first he could only
expostulate violently. But as it continued he began to resist, and then
Sir Herbert, who was an athletic young man, took him by the collar with
one hand and the seat of his trousers with the other, and ran him
forcibly across the lawn.

The sight was so comic that I burst out laughing. Mollie did the same,
jumping and clapping her hands with delight, and Miriam was not long in
following suit. I was delighted to think that Lord Potter could not
possibly help hearing us. The crowning point of the scene was when Tom,
who had a half-holiday that afternoon, ran out of the house with a hand
camera, and succeeded in taking two snapshots of the progression before
it ended at the gate.

Sir Herbert came back grinning, and said: "I have owed his lordship one
for a long time. When I was a boy at school, he got me a swishing for
pea-shooting at him."

As for Lord Potter, he went off down the Culbut Road, without once
turning back; and if ever a man looked like making mischief, he did.

The affair with the police was soon over. I put on a dignified air, and
did all that they asked me to do without making any difficulty about it.
They were actually apologetic before they left, and I was not surprised
when they told me that they had already found and arrested the man who
had committed the burglary, and that it was only because Lord Potter had
insisted that they had worried me over the matter at all. They had been
quite sure all along that I could have had nothing to do with it.

"Lord Potter knew that as well as you did," I said. "I rather wonder - if
I may be permitted to say so - that you should have lent yourselves to
pay off his scores."

They looked a little foolish at that, and one of them said: "We shall
not act on his instructions again. Lord Potter is, no doubt, a very
important personage, but he must not think that he can make use of our
service for his private ends."

"I have just seen him doing the frog's march out of the garden," I said,
"and I expect when you get back you will find him there, wanting to have
some arrests made for assault. He looked like that, as far as I could
judge from his back. You might tell him that photographs were taken of
him, in a position not calculated to add lustre to his name, if they
came to be published. It might be worth his while not to take any
further steps."

The policemen laughed and went away. Whether they gave Lord Potter the
hint or not, neither Mr. Hobbs nor Sir Herbert heard anything further of
their treatment of him.

Later in the afternoon I called on Herman Eppstein at his office, and
arranged for the transfer of the Mount Lebanon shares. He looked grave
when I told him what a large block of them I had taken over, and said
that there had been a distinct upward movement in Mount Lebanons during
the last few days.

"I'm afraid you have bought at a very bad time," he said. "I wish you
had consulted me first. I could 'ave put you on to a better spec than
that. You may get badly 'it. And whatever made you take all your eggs
out of one basket? Why, you'll make a fortune if these 'ere shares do go
up, and what'll the family say to that, eh?"

"I know what I'm doing," I said stiffly.

"And I'll ask you to remember that I'm consulting you professionally,
and in confidence. I should naturally not have come to you if I had had
any fear that you would so far forget yourself as to blab of business
outside your office. No gentleman would allow himself to do such a
thing."

That touched him. "Well, I 'ope I know 'ow to be'ave like a gentleman,"
he said in an injured voice. "Nothing that's said in this room by a
client goes outside it."

"Oh, I knew I was safe enough with you, really," I said carelessly. "I
have proved that by coming here."

Then I gave him my instructions about selling the shares on a certain
date, speaking as if I had information as to some favourable movement
likely to take place before then; and impressed him somewhat with my air
of inside knowledge. I left him fairly confident that he would not give
me away.

The day I had fixed on for selling was the day before Miriam and I had
arranged to leave the country together. I should realise my comfortable


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