Mr. Jarvice was a florid person in his looks and in his dress. It was in accordance with his floridness that he always retained the gold band about his cigar while he smoked it. He was a man of middle age, with thick, black hair, a red, broad face, little bright, black eyes, a black mustache and rather prominent teeth. He was short and stout, and drew attention to his figure by wearing light-colored trousers adorned with a striking check. From Victoria Station he drove at once to his office in Jermyn Street. A young and wizened-looking clerk was already at work in the outer room.
“I will see no one this morning, Maunders,” said Mr. Jarvice as he pressed through.
“Very well, sir. There are a good number of letters,” replied the clerk.
“They must wait,” said Mr. Jarvice, and entering his private room he shut the door. He did not touch the letters upon his table, but he went straight to his bureau, and unlocking a drawer, took from it a copy of the Code Napoléon. He studied the document carefully, locked it up again and looked at his watch. It was getting on toward one o’clock. He rang the bell for his clerk.
“Maunders,” he said, “I once asked you to make some inquiries about a young man called Walter Hine.”
“Do you remember what his habits were? Where he lunched, for instance?”
Maunders reflected for a moment.
“It’s a little while ago, sir, since I made the inquiries. As far as I remember, he did not lunch regularly anywhere. But he went to the American Bar of the Criterion restaurant most days for a morning drink about one.”
“Oh, he did? You made his acquaintance, of course?”
“Well, you might find him this morning, give him some lunch, and bring him round to see me at three. See that he is sober.”
At three o’clock accordingly Mr. Walter Hine was shown into the inner room of Mr. Jarvice. Jarvice bent his bright eyes upon his visitor. He saw a young man with very fair hair, a narrow forehead, watery blue eyes and a weak, dissipated face. Walter Hine was dressed in a cheap suit of tweed much the worse for wear, and he entered the room with the sullen timidity of the very shy. Moreover, he was a little unsteady as he walked, as though he had not yet recovered from last night’s intoxication.
Mr. Jarvice noted these points with his quick glance, but whether they pleased him or not there was no hint upon his face.
“Will you sit down?” he said, suavely, pointing to a chair. “Maunders, you can go.”
Walter Hine turned quickly, as though he would have preferred Maunders to stay, but he let him go. Mr. Jarvice shut the door carefully, and, walking across the room, stood over his visitor with his hands in his pockets, and renewed his scrutiny. Walter Hine grew uncomfortable, and blurted out with a cockney twang—
“Maunders told me that if I came to see you it might be to my advantage.”
“I think it will,” replied Mr. Jarvice. “Have you seen this morning’s paper?”
“On’y the ‘Sportsman’.”
“Then you have probably not noticed that your cousin, John Lattery, has been killed in the Alps.” He handed his newspaper to Hine, who glanced at it indifferently.
“Well, how does that affect me?” he asked.
“It leaves you the only heir to your uncle, Mr. Joseph Hine, wine-grower at Maçon, who, I believe, is a millionaire. Joseph Hine is domiciled in France, and must by French law leave a certain portion of his property to his relations, in other words, to you. I have taken some trouble to go into the matter, Mr. Hine, and I find that your share must at the very least amount to two hundred thousand pounds.”
“I know all about that,” Hine interrupted. “But as the old brute won’t acknowledge me and may live another twenty years, it’s not much use to me now.”
“Well,” said Mr. Jarvice, smiling suavely, “my young friend, that is where I come in.”
Walter Hine looked up in surprise. Suspicion followed quickly upon the surprise.
“Oh, on purely business terms, of course,” said Jarvice. He took a seat and resumed gaily. “Now I am by profession—what would you guess? I am a money-lender. Luckily for many people I have money, and I lend it—I lend it upon very easy terms. I make no secret of my calling, Mr. Hine. On the contrary, I glory in it. It gives me an opportunity of doing a great deal of good in a quiet way. If I were to show you my books you would realize that many famous estates are only kept going through my assistance; and thus many a farm laborer owes his daily bread to me and never knows his debt. Why should I conceal it?”
Mr. Jarvice turned toward his visitor with his hands outspread. Then his voice dropped.
“There is only one thing I hide, and that, Mr. Hine, is the easiness of the terms on which I advance my loans. I must hide that. I should have all my profession against me were it known. But you shall know it, Mr. Hine.” He leaned forward and patted his young friend upon the knee with an air of great benevolence. “Come, to business! Your circumstances are not, I think, in a very flourishing condition.”
“I should think not,” said Walter Hine, sullenly. “I have a hundred and fifty a year, paid weekly. Three quid a week don’t give a fellow much chance of a flutter.”
“Three pounds a week. Ridiculous!” cried Mr. Jarvice, lifting up his hands. “I am shocked, really shocked. But we will alter all that. Oh yes, we will soon alter that.”
He sprang up briskly, and unlocking once more the drawer in which he kept his copy of the Code Napoléon, he took out this time a slip of paper. He seated himself again, drawing up his chair to the table.
“Will you tell me, Mr. Hine, whether these particulars are correct? We must be business-like, you know. Oh yes,” he said, gaily wagging his head and cocking his bright little eyes at his visitor. And he began to read aloud, or rather paraphrase, the paper which he held:
“Your father inherited the same fortune as your uncle, Joseph Hine, but lost almost the entire amount in speculation. In middle life he married your mother, who was—forgive me if I wound the delicacy of your feelings, Mr. Hine—not quite his equal in social position. The happy couple then took up their residence in Arcade Street, Croydon, where you were born on March 6, twenty-three years ago.”
“Yes,” said Walter Hine.
“In Croydon you passed your boyhood. You were sent to the public school there. But the rigorous discipline of school life did not suit your independent character.” Thus did Mr. Jarvice gracefully paraphrase the single word “expelled” which was written on his slip of paper. “Ah, Mr. Hine,” he cried, smiling indulgently at the sullen, bemused weakling who sat before him, stale with his last night’s drink. “You and Shelley! Rebels, sir, rebels both! Well, well! After you left school, at the age of sixteen, you pursued your studies in a desultory fashion at home. Your father died the following year. Your mother two years later. You have since lived in Russell Street, Bloomsbury, on the income which remained from your father’s patrimony. Three pounds a week—to be sure, here it is—paid weekly by trustees appointed by your mother. And you have adopted none of the liberal professions. There we have it, I think.”
“You seem to have taken a lot of trouble to find out my history,” said Walter Hine, suspiciously.
“Business, sir, business,” said Mr. Jarvice. It was on the tip of his tongue to add, “The early bird, you know,” but he was discreet enough to hold the words back. “Now let me look to the future, which opens out in a brighter prospect. It is altogether absurd, Mr. Hine, that a young gentleman who will eventually inherit a quarter of a million should have to scrape through meanwhile on three pounds a week. I put it on a higher ground. It is bad for the State, Mr. Hine, and you and I, like good citizens of this great empire, must consider the State. When this great fortune comes into your hands you should already have learned how to dispose of it.”
“Oh, I could dispose of it all right,” interrupted Mr. Hine with a chuckle. “Don’t you worry your head about that.”
Mr. Jarvice laughed heartily at the joke. Walter Hine could not but think that he had made a very witty remark. He began to thaw into something like confidence. He sat more easily on his chair.
“You will have your little joke, Mr. Hine. You could dispose of it! Very good indeed! I must really tell that to my dear wife. But business, business!” He checked his laughter with a determined effort, and lowered his voice to a confidential pitch. “I propose to allow you two thousand pounds a year, paid quarterly in advance. Five hundred pounds each quarter. Forty pounds a week, Mr. Hine, which with your three will make a nice comfortable living wage! Ha! Ha!”
“Two thousand a year!” gasped Mr. Hine, leaning back in his chair. “It ain’t possible. Two thou—here, what am I to do for it?”
“Nothing, except to spend it like a gentleman,” said Mr. Jarvice, beaming upon his visitor. It did not seem to occur to either man that Mr. Jarvice had set to his loan the one condition which Mr. Walter Hine never could fulfil. Walter Hine was troubled with doubts of quite another kind.
“But you come in somewhere,” he said, bluntly. “On’y I’m hanged if I see where.”
“Of course I come in, my young friend,” replied Jarvice, frankly. “I or my executors. For we may have to wait a long time. I propose that you execute in my favor a post-obit on your uncle’s life, giving me—well, we may have to wait a long time. Twenty years you suggested. Your uncle is seventy-three, but a hale man, living in a healthy climate. We will say four thousand pounds for every two thousand which I lend you. Those are easy terms, Mr. Hine. I don’t make you take cigars and sherry! No! I think such practices almost reflect discredit on my calling. Two thousand a year! Five hundred a quarter! Forty pounds a week! Forty-three with your little income! Well, what do you say?”
Mr. Hine sat dazzled with the prospect of wealth, immediate wealth, actually within his reach now. But he had lived amongst people who never did anything for nothing, who spoke only a friendship when they proposed to borrow money, and at the back of his mind suspicion and incredulity were still at work. Somehow Jarvice would be getting the better of him. In his dull way he began to reason matters out.
“But suppose I died before my uncle, then you would get nothing,” he objected.
“Ah, to be sure! I had not forgotten that point,” said Mr. Jarvice. “It is a contingency, of course, not very probable, but still we do right to consider it.” He leaned back in his chair, and once again he fixed his eyes upon his visitor in a long and silent scrutiny. When he spoke again, it was in a quieter voice than he had used. One might almost have said that the real business of the interview was only just beginning.
“There is a way which will save me from loss. You can insure your life as against your uncle’s, for a round sum—say for a hundred thousand pounds. You will make over the policy to me. I shall pay the premiums, and so if anything were to happen to you I should be recouped.”
He never once removed his eyes from Hine’s face. He sat with his elbows on the arms of his chair and his hands folded beneath his chin, quite still, but with a queer look of alertness upon his whole person.
“Yes, I see,” said Mr. Hine, as he turned the proposal over in his mind.
“Do you agree?” asked Jarvice.
“Yes,” said Walter Hine.
“Very well,” said Jarvice, all his old briskness returning. “The sooner the arrangement is pushed through, the better for you, eh? You will begin to touch the dibs.” He laughed and Walter Hine chuckled. “As to the insurance, you will have to get the company’s doctor’s certificate, and I should think it would be wise to go steady for a day or two, what? You have been going the pace a bit, haven’t you? You had better see your solicitor to-day. As soon as the post-obit and the insurance policy are in this office, Mr. Hine, your first quarter’s income is paid into your bank. I will have an agreement drawn, binding me on my side to pay you two thousand a year until your uncle’s death.”
Mr. Jarvice rose as if the interview was ended. He moved some papers on his table, and added carelessly—“You have a good solicitor, I suppose?”
“I haven’t a solicitor at all,” said Walter Hine, as he, too, rose.
“Oh, haven’t you?” said Mr. Jarvice, with all the appearance of surprise. “Well, shall I give you an introduction to one?” He sat down, wrote a note, placed it in an envelope, which he left unfastened, and addressed it. Then he handed the envelope to his client.
“Messrs. Jones and Stiles, Lincoln’s Inn Fields,” he said. “But ask for Mr. Driver. Tell him the whole proposal frankly, and ask his advice.”
“Driver?” said Hine, fingering the envelope. “Hadn’t I ought to see one of the partners?”
Mr. Jarvice smiled.
“You have a business head, Mr. Hine, that’s very clear. I’ll let you into a secret. Mr. Driver is rather like yourself—something of a rebel, Mr. Hine. He came into disagreement with that very arbitrary body the Incorporated Law Society, so,—well his name does not figure in the firm. But he is Jones and Stiles. Tell him everything! If he advises you against my proposal, I shall even say take his advice. Good-morning.” Mr. Jarvice went to the door and opened it.
“Well, this is the spider’s web, you know,” he said, with the good-humored laugh of one who could afford to despise the slanders of the ill-affected. “Not such a very uncomfortable place, eh?” and he bowed Mr. Fly out of his office.
He stood at the door and waited until the outer office closed. Then he went to his telephone and rang up a particular number.
“Are you Jones and Stiles?” he asked. “Thank you! Will you ask Mr. Driver to come to the telephone”; and with Mr. Driver he talked genially for the space of five minutes.
Then, and not till then, with a smile of satisfaction, Mr. Jarvice turned to the unopened letters which had come to him by the morning post.