He was quoting from a letter which he held in his hand, as he sat at the breakfast table, and, in his agitation, he had quoted aloud. Garratt Skinner looked up from his plate and said:
“Can I help you, Wallie?”
Hine flushed red and stammered out: “No, thank you. I must run up to town this morning—that’s all.”
“Sylvia will drive you into Weymouth in the dog-cart after breakfast,” said Garratt Skinner, and he made no further reference to the journey. But he glared at the handwriting of the letter, and then with some perplexity at Walter Hine. “You will be back this evening, I suppose?”
“Rather,” said Walter Hine, with a smile across the table at Sylvia; but his agitation got the better of his gallantry, and as she drove him into Weymouth, he spoke as piteously as a child appealing for protection. “I don’t want to go one little bit, Miss Sylvia. But between gentlemen. Yes, I mustn’t forget that. Between gentlemen.” He clung to the phrase, finding some comfort in its reiteration.
“You have given me your promise,” said Sylvia. “There will be no cards, no bets.”
Walter Hine laughed bitterly.
“I shan’t break it. I have had my lesson. By Jove, I have.”
Walter Hine traveled to Waterloo and drove straight to the office of Mr. Jarvice.
“I owe some money,” he began, bleating the words out the moment he was ushered into the inner office.
Mr. Jarvice grinned.
“This interview is concluded,” he said. “There’s the door.”
“I owe it to a friend, Captain Barstow,” Hine continued, in desperation. “A thousand pounds. He has written for it. He says that debts of honor between gentlemen—” But he got no further, for Mr. Jarvice broke in upon his faltering explanations with a snarl of contempt.
“Barstow! You poor little innocent. I have something else to do with my money than to pour it into Barstow’s pockets. I know the man. Send him to me to-morrow, and I’ll talk to him—as between gentlemen.”
Walter Hine flushed. He had grown accustomed to deference and flatteries in the household of Garratt Skinner. The unceremonious scorn of Mr. Jarvice stung his vanity, and vanity was the one strong element of his character. He was in the mind hotly to defend Captain Barstow from Mr. Jarvice’s insinuations, but he refrained.
“Then Barstow will know that I draw my allowance from you, and not from my grandfather,” he stammered. There was the trouble for Walter Hine. If Barstow knew, Garratt Skinner would come to know. There would be an end to the deference and the flatteries. He would no longer be able to pose as the favorite of the great millionaire, Joseph Hine. He would sink in Sylvia’s eyes. At the cost of any humiliation that downfall must be avoided.
His words, however, had an immediate effect upon Mr. Jarvice, though for quite other reasons.
“Why, that’s true,” said Mr. Jarvice, slowly, and in a voice suddenly grown smooth. “Yes, yes, we don’t want to mix up my name in the affair at all. Sit down, Mr. Hine, and take a cigar. The box is at your elbow. Young men of spirit must have some extra license allowed to them for the sake of the promise of their riper years. I was forgetting that. No, we don’t want my name to appear at all, do we?”
Publicity had no charms for Mr. Jarvice. Indeed, on more than one occasion he had found it quite a hindrance to the development of his little plans. To go his own quiet way, unheralded by the press and unacclaimed of men—that was the modest ambition of Mr. Jarvice.
“However, I don’t look forward to handing over a thousand pounds to Captain Barstow,” he continued, softly. “No, indeed. Did you lose any of your first quarter’s allowance to him besides the thousand?”
Walter Hine lit his cigar and answered reluctantly:
“All of it?”
“Oh no, no, not all of it.”
Jarvice did not press for the exact amount. He walked to the window and stood there with his hands in his pockets and his back toward his visitor. Walter Hine watched his shoulders in suspense and apprehension. He would have been greatly surprised if he could have caught a glimpse at this moment of Mr. Jarvice’s face. There was no anger, no contempt, expressed in it at all. On the contrary, a quiet smile of satisfaction gave to it almost a merry look. Mr. Jarvice had certain plans for Walter Hine’s future—so he phrased it with a smile for the grim humor of the phrase—and fate seemed to be helping toward their fulfilment.
“I can get you out of this scrape, no doubt,” said Jarvice, turning back to his table. “The means I must think over, but I can do it. Only there’s a condition. You need not be alarmed. A little condition which a loving father might impose upon his only son,” and Mr. Jarvice beamed paternally as he resumed his seat.
“What is the condition?” asked Walter Hine.
“That you travel for a year, broaden your mind by visiting the great countries and capitals of Europe, take a little trip perhaps into the East and return a cultured gentleman well equipped to occupy the high position which will be yours when your grandfather is in due time translated to a better sphere.”
Mr. Jarvice leaned back in his chair, and with a confident wave of his desk ruler had the air of producing the startling metamorphosis like some heavy but benevolent fairy. Walter Hine, however, was not attracted by the prospect.
“But—” he began, and at once Mr. Jarvice interrupted him.
“I anticipate you,” he said, with a smile. “Standing at the window there, I foresaw your objection. But—it would be lonely. Quite true. Why should you be lonely? And so I am going to lay my hands on some pleasant and companionable young fellow who will go with you for his expenses. An Oxford man, eh? Fresh from Alma Mater with a taste for pictures and statuettes and that sort of thing! Upon my word, I envy you, Mr. Hine. If I were young, bless me, if I wouldn’t throw my bonnet over the mill, as after a few weeks in La Ville Lumière you will be saying, and go with you. You will taste life—yes, life.”
And as he repeated the word, all the jollity died suddenly out of the face of Mr. Jarvice. He bent his eyes somberly upon his visitor and a queer inscrutable smile played about his lips. But Walter Hine had no eyes for Mr. Jarvice. He was nerving himself to refuse the proposal.
“I can’t go,” he blurted out, with the ungracious stubbornness of a weak mind which fears to be over-persuaded. Afraid lest he should consent, he refused aggressively and rudely.
Mr. Jarvice repressed an exclamation of anger. “And why?” he asked, leaning forward on his elbows and fixing his bright, sharp eyes on Walter Hine’s face.
Walter Hine shifted uncomfortably in his chair but did not answer.
“And why can’t you go?” he repeated.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Oh, surely,” said Mr. Jarvice, with a scarcely perceptible sneer. “Come now! Between gentlemen! Well?”
Walter Hine yielded to Jarvice’s insistence.
“There’s a girl,” he said, with a coy and odious smile.
Mr. Jarvice beat upon his desk with his fists in a savage anger. His carefully calculated plan was to be thwarted by a girl.
“She’s a dear,” cried Walter Hine. Having made the admission, he let himself go. His vanity pricked him to lyrical flights. “She’s a dear, she’s a sob, she would never let me go, she’s my little girl.”
Such was Sylvia’s reward for engaging in a struggle which she loathed for the salvation of Walter Hine. She was jubilantly claimed by him as his little girl in a money-lender’s office. Mr. Jarvice swore aloud.
“Who is she?” he asked, sternly.
A faint sense of shame came over Walter Hine. He dimly imagined what Sylvia would have thought and said, and what contempt her looks would have betrayed, had she heard him thus boast of her goodwill.
“You are asking too much, Mr. Jarvice,” he said.
Mr. Jarvice waved the objection aside.
“Of course I ask it as between gentlemen,” he said, with an ironical politeness.
“Well, then, as between gentlemen,” returned Walter Hine, seriously. “She is the daughter of a great friend of mine, Mr. Garratt Skinner. What’s the matter?” he cried; and there was reason for his cry.
It had been an afternoon of surprises for Mr. Jarvice, but this simple mention of the name of Garratt Skinner was more than a surprise. Mr. Jarvice was positively startled. He leaned back in his chair with his mouth open and his eyes staring at Walter Hine. The high color paled in his face and his cheeks grew mottled. It seemed that fear as well as surprise came to him in the knowledge that Garratt Skinner was a friend of Walter Hine.
“What is the matter?” repeated Hine.
“It’s nothing,” replied Mr. Jarvice, hastily. “The heat, that is all.” He crossed the room, and throwing up the window leaned for a few moments upon the sill. Yet even when he spoke again, there was still a certain unsteadiness in his voice. “How did you come across Mr. Garratt Skinner?” he asked.
“Barstow introduced me. I made Barstow’s acquaintance at the Criterion Bar, and he took me to Garratt Skinner’s house in Hobart Place.”
“I see,” said Mr. Jarvice. “It was in Garratt Skinner’s house that you lost your money, I suppose.”
“Yes, but he had no hand in it,” exclaimed Walter Hine. “He does not know how much I lost. He would be angry if he did.”
A faint smile flickered across Jarvice’s face.
“Quite so,” he agreed, and under his deft cross-examination the whole story was unfolded. The little dinner at which Sylvia made her appearance and at which Walter Hine was carefully primed with drink; the little round game of cards which Garratt Skinner was so reluctant to allow in his house on a Sunday evening, and from which, being an early riser, he retired to bed, leaving Hine in the hands of Captain Barstow and Archie Parminter; the quiet secluded house in the country; the new gardener who appeared for one day and shot with so surprising an accuracy, when Barstow backed him against Walter Hine, that Hine lost a thousand pounds; the incidents were related to Mr. Jarvice in their proper succession, and he interpreted them by his own experience. Captain Barstow, who was always to the fore, counted for nothing in the story as Jarvice understood it. He was the mere creature, the servant. Garratt Skinner, who was always in the background, prepared the swindle and pocketed the profits.
“You are staying at the quiet house in Dorsetshire now, I suppose. Just you and Garratt Skinner and the pretty daughter, with occasional visits from Barstow?”
“Yes,” answered Hine. “Garratt Skinner does not care to see much company.”
Once more the smile of amusement played upon Mr. Jarvice’s face.
“No, I suppose not,” he said, quietly. There were certain definite reasons of which he was aware, to account for Garratt Skinner’s reluctance to appear in a general company. He turned back from the window and returned to his table. He had taken his part. There was no longer either unsteadiness or anger in his voice.
“I quite understand your reluctance to leave your new friends,” he said, with the utmost friendliness. “I recognize that the tour abroad on which I had rather set my heart must be abandoned. But I have no regrets. For I think it possible that the very object which I had in mind when proposing that tour may be quite as easily effected in the charming country house of Garratt Skinner.”
He spoke in a quiet matter-of-fact voice, looking benevolently at his visitor. If the words were capable of another and a more sinister meaning than they appeared to convey, Walter Hine did not suspect it. He took them in their obvious sense.
“Yes, I shall gain as much culture in Garratt Skinner’s house as I should by seeing picture-galleries abroad,” he said eagerly, and then Mr. Jarvice smiled.
“I think that very likely,” he said. “Meanwhile, as to Barstow and his thousand pounds. I must think the matter over. Barstow will not press you for a day or two. Just leave me your address—the address in Dorsetshire.”
He dipped a pen in the ink and handed it to Hine. Hine took it and drew a sheet of paper toward him. But he did not set the pen to the paper. He looked suddenly up at Jarvice, who stood over against him at the other side of the table.
“Garratt Skinner’s address?” he said, with one of his flashes of cunning.
“Yes, since you are staying there. I shall want to write to you.”
Walter Hine still hesitated.
“You won’t peach to Garratt Skinner about the allowance, eh?”
“My dear fellow!” said Mr. Jarvice. He was more hurt than offended. “To put it on the lowest ground, what could I gain?”
Walter Hine wrote down the address, and at once the clerk appeared at the door and handed Jarvice a card.
“I will see him,” said Jarvice, and turning to Hine: “Our business is over, I think.”
Jarvice opened a second door which led from the inner office straight down a little staircase into the street. “Good-by. You shall hear from me,” he said, and Walter Hine went out.
Jarvice closed the door and turned back to his clerk.
“That will do,” he said.
There was no client waiting at all. Mr. Jarvice had an ingenious contrivance for getting rid of his clients at the critical moment after they had come to a decision and before they had time to change their minds. By pressing a particular button in the leather covering of the right arm of his chair, he moved an indicator above the desk of his clerk in the outer office. The clerk thereupon announced a visitor, and the one in occupation was bowed out by the private staircase. By this method Walter Hine had been dismissed.
Jarvice had the address of Garratt Skinner. But he sat with it in front of him upon his desk for a long time before he could bring himself to use it. All the amiability had gone from his expression now that he was alone. He was in a savage mood, and every now and then a violent gesture betrayed it. But it was with himself that he was angry. He had been a fool not to keep a closer watch on Walter Hine.
“I might have foreseen,” he cried in his exasperation. “Garratt Skinner! If I had not been an ass, I should have foreseen.”
For Mr. Jarvice was no stranger to Walter Hine’s new friend. More than one young buck fresh from the provinces, heir to the great factory or the great estate, had been steered into this inner office by the careful pilotage of Garratt Skinner. In all the army of the men who live by their wits, there was not one to Jarvice’s knowledge who was so alert as Garratt Skinner to lay hands upon the new victim or so successful in lulling his suspicions. He might have foreseen that Garratt Skinner would throw his net over Walter Hine. But he had not, and the harm was done.
Mr. Jarvice took the insurance policy from his safe and shook his head over it sadly. He had seen his way to making in his quiet fashion, and at comparatively little cost, a tidy little sum of one hundred thousand pounds. Now he must take a partner, so that he might not have an enemy. Garratt Skinner with Barstow for his jackal and the pretty daughter for his decoy was too powerful a factor to be lightly regarded. Jarvice must share with Garratt Skinner—unless he preferred to abandon his scheme altogether; and that Mr. Jarvice would not do.
There was no other way. Jarvice knew well that he could weaken Garratt Skinner’s influence over Walter Hine by revealing to the youth certain episodes in the new friend’s life. He might even break the acquaintanceship altogether. But Garratt Skinner would surely discover who had been at work. And then? Why, then, Mr. Jarvice would have upon his heels a shrewd and watchful enemy; and in this particular business, such an enemy Mr. Jarvice could not afford to have. Jarvice was not an impressionable man, but his hands grew cold while he imagined Garratt Skinner watching the development of his little scheme—the tour abroad with the pleasant companion, the things which were to happen on the tour—watching and waiting until the fitting moment had come, when all was over, for him to step in and demand the price of his silence and hold Mr. Jarvice in the hollow of his hand for all his life. No, that would never do. Garratt Skinner must be a partner so that also he might be an accessory.
Accordingly, Jarvice wrote his letter to Garratt Skinner, a few lines urging him to come to London on most important business. Never was there a letter more innocent in its appearance than that which Jarvice wrote in his inner office on that summer afternoon. Yet even at the last he hesitated whether he should seal it up or no. The sun went down, shadows touched with long cool fingers the burning streets; shadows entered into that little inner office of Mr. Jarvice. But still he sat undecided at his desk.
The tour upon the Continent must be abandoned, and with it the journey under canvas to the near East—a scheme so simple, so sure, so safe. Still Garratt Skinner might confidently be left to devise another. And he had always kept faith. To that comforting thought Mr. Jarvice clung. He sealed up his letter in the end, and stood for a moment or two with the darkness deepening about him. Then he rang for his clerk and bade him post it, but the voice he used was one which the clerk did not know, so that he pushed his head forward and peered through the shadows to make sure that it was his master who spoke.
Two days afterward Garratt Skinner paid a long visit to Mr. Jarvice, and that some agreement was reached between the two men shortly became evident. For Walter Hine received a letter from Captain Barstow which greatly relieved him.
“Garratt Skinner has written to me,” wrote the ‘red-hot’ Captain, “that he has discovered that the gardener, whom he engaged for a particular job, is notorious as a poacher and a first-class shot. Under these circumstances, my dear old fellow, the red-hot one cannot pouch your pennies. As between gentlemen, the bet must be considered o-p-h.”