Bones in London/Bones hits back
IT may be said of Bones that he was in the City, but not of it. Never once had he been invited by the great and awe-inspiring men who dominate the finance of the City to participate in any of those adventurous undertakings which produce for the adventurers the fabulous profits about which so much has been written. There were times when Bones even doubted whether the City knew he was in it.
He never realised his own insignificance so poignantly as when he strolled through the City streets at their busiest hour, and was unrecognised even by the bareheaded clerks who dashed madly in all directions, carrying papers of tremendous importance.
The indifference of the City to Mr. Tibbetts and his partner was more apparent than real. It is true that the great men who sit around the green baize cloth at the Bank of England and arrange the bank rate knew not Bones nor his work. It is equally true that the very important personages who occupy suites of rooms in Lombard Street had little or no idea of his existence. But there were men, and rich and famous men at that, who had inscribed the name of Bones in indelible ink on the tablets of their memory.
The Pole Brothers were shipbrokers, and had little in common, in their daily transactions, with Mr. Harold de Vinne, who specialised in industrial stocks, and knew little more about ships than could be learnt in an annual holiday trip to Madeira. Practically there was no bridge to connect their intellects. Sentimentally, life held a common cause, which they discovered one day, when Mr. Fred Pole met Mr. Harold de Vinne at lunch to discuss a matter belonging neither to the realms of industrialism nor the mercantile marine, being, in fact, the question of Mr. de Vinne leasing or renting Mr. Pole's handsome riverside property at Maidenhead for the term of six months.
They might not have met even under these circumstances, but for the fact that some dispute arose as to who was to pay the gardener. That matter had been amicably settled, and the two had reached the coffee stage of their luncheon, when Mr. de Vinne mentioned the inadvisability—as a rule—of discussing business matters at lunch, and cited a deplorable happening when an interested eavesdropper had overheard certain important negotiations and had most unscrupulously taken advantage of his discovery.
"One of these days," said Mr. de Vinne between his teeth, "I'll be even with that gentleman." (He did not call him a gentleman.) "I'll give him Tibbetts! He'll be sorry he was ever born."
"Tibbetts?" said Mr. Fred Pole, sitting bolt upright. "Not Bones?"
The other nodded and seemed surprised.
"You don't know the dear fellow, do you?" he asked, only he did not use the expression "dear fellow."
"Know him?" said Mr. Fred, taking a long breath. "I should jolly well say I did know him. And my brother Joe knows him. That fellow——"
"That fellow——" began Mr. de Vinne, and for several minutes they talked together in terms which were uncomplimentary to Augustus Tibbetts.
It appeared, though they did not put the matter so crudely, that they had both been engaged in schemes for robbing Bones, and that in the pursuance of their laudable plans they had found themselves robbed by Bones.
Mr. de Vinne ordered another coffee and prepared to make an afternoon of it. They discussed Bones from several aspects and in various lights, none of which revealed his moral complexion at its best.
"And believe me," said Mr. de Vinne at the conclusion of his address for the prosecution, "there's money to be made out of that fellow. Why, I believe he has three hundred thousand pounds."
"Three hundred and forty thousand," said the more accurate Mr. Fred.
"A smart man could get it all," said Harold de Vinne, with conviction. "And when I say a smart man, I mean two smart men. I never thought that he had done anybody but me. It's funny I never heard of your case," he said. "He must have got the best of you in the early days."
Mr. Fred nodded.
"I was his first"—he swallowed hard and added—"mug!"
Mr. de Vinne pulled thoughtfully at his black cigar and eyed the ceiling of the restaurant absent-mindedly.
"There's nobody in the City who knows more about Tibbetts than me," he said. He was weak on the classical side, but rather strong on mathematics. "I've watched every transaction he's been in, and I think I have got him down fine."
"Mind you," said Fred, "I think he's clever."
"Clever!" said the other scornfully. "Clever! He's lucky, my dear chap. Things have just fallen into his lap. It's mug's luck that man has had."
Mr. Fred nodded. It was an opinion which he himself had held and ruminated upon.
"It is luck—sheer luck," continued Mr. de Vinne. "And if we'd been clever, we'd have cleaned him. We'll clean him yet," he said, stroking his chin more thoughtfully than ever, "but it's got to be done systematically."
Mr. Fred was interested. The possibility of relieving a fellow-creature of his superfluous wealth by legitimate means, and under the laws and rules which govern the legal transfer of property, was the absorbing interest of his life.
"It has got to be done cleverly, scientifically, and systematically," said Mr. de Vinne, "and there's no sense in jumping to a plan. What do you say to taking a bit of dinner with me at the Ritz-Carlton on Friday?"
Mr. Fred was very agreeable.
"I'll tell you the strength of Bones," said de Vinne, as they left the restaurant. "He was an officer on the West Coast of Africa. His boss was a man named Sanders, who's left the Service and lives at Twickenham. From what I can hear, this chap Tibbetts worships the ground that Sanders walks on. Evidently Sanders was a big bug in West Africa."
On Friday they resumed their conversation, and Mr. de Vinne arrived with a plan. It was a good plan. He was tremulous with pride at the thought of it, and demanded applause and approval with every second breath, which was unlike him.
He was a man of many companies, good, bad, and indifferent, and, reviewing the enterprises with which his name was associated, he had, without the slightest difficulty, placed his finger upon the least profitable and certainly the most hopeless proposition in the Mazeppa Trading Company. And nothing could be better for Mr. de Vinne's purpose, not, as he explained to Fred Pole, if he had searched the Stock Exchange Year Book from cover to cover.
Once upon a time the Mazeppa Trading Company had been a profitable concern. Its trading stores had dotted the African hinterland thickly. It had exported vast quantities of Manchester goods and Birmingham junk, and had received in exchange unlimited quantities of rubber and ivory. But those were in the bad old days, before authority came and taught the aboriginal natives the exact value of a sixpenny looking-glass.
No longer was it possible to barter twenty pounds' worth of ivory for threepennyworth of beads, and the flourishing Mazeppa Trading Company languished and died. Its managers had grown immensely wealthy from their peculations and private trading, and had come home and were occupying opulent villas at Wimbledon, whilst the new men who had been sent to take their places had been so inexperienced that profits fell to nothing. That, in brief, was the history of the Mazeppa Trading Company, which still maintained a few dilapidated stores, managed by half-castes and poor whites.
"I got most of the shares for a song," confessed Mr. de Vinne. "In fact, I happen to be one of the debenture-holders, and stepped in when things were going groggy. We've been on the point of winding it up—it is grossly over-capitalised—but I kept it going in the hope that something would turn up."
"What is the general idea?" asked Mr. Fred Pole, interested.
"We'll get a managing director," said Mr. de Vinne solemnly. "A man who is used to the handling of natives, a man acquainted with the West Coast of Africa, a man who can organise."
"Bones?" suggested Mr. Fred.
"Bones be—jiggered!" replied de Vinne scornfully. "Do you think he'd fall for that sort of thing? Not on your life! We're not going to mention it to Bones. But he has a pal—Sanders; you've heard of him. He's a commissioner or something on the West Coast, and retired. Now, my experience of a chap of that kind who retires is that he gets sick to death of doing nothing. If we could only get at him and persuade him to accept the managing directorship, with six months a year on the Coast, at a salary of, say, two thousand a year, conditional on taking up six or seven thousand pounds' worth of shares, what do you think would happen?"
Mr. Fred's imagination baulked at the problem, and he shook his head.
"I'll tell you what would happen," said Mr. de Vinne. "It happened once before, when another pal of Bones got let in on a motor car company. Bones fell over himself to buy the shares and control the company. And, mind you, the Mazeppa looks good. It's the sort of proposition that would appeal to a young and energetic man. It's one of those bogy companies that seem possible, and a fellow who knows the ropes would say straight away: 'If I had charge of that, I'd make it pay.' That's what I'm banking on."
"What are the shares worth?" said Fred.
"About twopence net," replied the other brutally. "I'll tell you frankly that I'd run this business myself if I thought there was any chance of my succeeding. But if Bones finds all the shares in one hand, he's going to shy. What I'm prepared to do is this. These shares are worth twopence. I'm going to sell you and a few friends parcels at a shilling a share. If nothing happens, I'll undertake to buy them back at the same price."
A week later Hamilton brought news to the office of Tibbetts and Hamilton, Limited.
"The chief is going back to the Coast."
Bones opened his mouth wide in astonishment.
"Back to the Coast?" he said incredulously. "You don't mean he's chucking jolly old Twickenham?"
"He's had an excellent offer from some people in the City to control a trading company. By the way, did you ever hear of the Mazeppa Company?"
Bones shook his head.
"I've heard of Mazeppa," he said. "He was the naughty old gentleman who rode through the streets of Birmingham without any clothes."
"If I had your knowledge of history," he said despairingly, "I'd start a bone factory. You're thinking of Lady Godiva, but that doesn't matter. No, I don't suppose you've heard of the Mazeppa Company; it did not operate in our territory."
Bones shook his head and pursed his lips.
"But surely," he said, "dear old Excellency hasn't accepted a job without consulting me?"
Hamilton made derisive noises.
"He fixed it up in a couple of days," he said, after a while. "It doesn't mean he'll be living on the Coast, but he'll probably be there for some months in the year. The salary is good—in fact, it's two thousand a year. I believe Sanders has to qualify for directorship by taking some shares, but the dear chap is enthusiastic about it, and so is Patricia. It is all right, of course. Sanders got the offer through a firm of solicitors."
"Pooh!" said Bones. "Solicitors are nobody."
He learnt more about the company that afternoon, for Sanders called in and gave a somewhat roseate view of the future.
"The fact is, Bones, I am getting stale," he said, "and this looks like an excellent and a profitable occupation."
"How did you get to hear about it, Excellency?". asked Bones.
His attitude was one of undisguised antagonism. He might have been a little resentful that the opportunity had come to Sanders through any other agency than his own.
"I had a letter from the solicitors asking me if the idea appealed to me, and recalling my services on the Coast," said Sanders. "Of course I know very little about the Mazeppa Trading Company, though I had heard of it years gone past as a very profitable concern. The solicitors were quite frank, and told me that business had fallen off, due to inexperienced management. They pointed out the opportunities which existed—the possibilities of opening new stations—and I must confess that it appealed to me. It will mean hard work, but the salary is good."
"Hold hard, Sir and Excellency," said Bones. "What did you have to put up in the way of shares?"
Sanders flushed. He was a shy man, and not given to talking about his money affairs.
"Oh, about five thousand pounds," he said awkwardly. "Of course, it's a lot of money; but even if the business isn't successful, I have a five-year contract with the company, and I get more than my investment back in salary."
That night Bones stayed on after Hamilton had left, and had for companion Miss Marguerite Whitland, a lady in whose judgment he had a most embarrassing faith. He had given her plenty of work to do, and the rhythmical tap-tap of her typewriter came faintly through the door which separated the outer from the inner office.
Bones sat at his desk, his chin in his hand, a very thoughtful young man, and before him was a copy of the latest evening newspaper, opened at the Stock Exchange page. There had been certain significant movements in industrial shares—a movement so interesting to the commentator upon Stock Exchange doings that he had inserted a paragraph to the effect that:
"The feature of the industrial market was the firmness of Mazeppa Trading shares, for which there was a steady demand, the stock closing at 19s. 9d. Mazeppa shares have not been dealt in within the House for many years, and, in fact, it was generally believed that the Company was going into liquidation, and the shares could be had for the price of the paper on which they were printed. It is rumoured in the City that the Company is to be reconstructed, and that a considerable amount of new capital has been found, with the object of expanding its existing business."
Bones read the paragraph many times, and at the conclusion of each reading returned to his reverie. Presently he rose and strolled into the office of his secretary, and the girl looked up with a smile as Bones seated himself on the edge of her table.
"Young miss," he said soberly, "do you ever hear anybody talking about me in this jolly old City?"
"Why, yes," she said in surprise.
"Fearfully complimentarily, dear old miss?" asked Bones carelessly, and the girl's colour deepened.
"I don't think it matters what people say about one, do you?"
"It doesn't matter to me," said Bones, "so long as one lovely old typewriter has a good word for poor old Bones." He laid his hand upon hers, and she suffered it to remain there without protest. "They think I'm a silly old ass, don't they?"
"Oh, no," she said quickly, "they don't think that. They say you're rather unconventional."
"Same thing," said Bones. "Anybody who's unconventional in business is a silly old ass."
He squeezed the hand under his, and again she did not protest or withdraw it from his somewhat clammy grip.
"Dear old darling——" began Bones, but she stopped him with a warning finger.
"Dear old typewriter," said Bones, unabashed, but obedient, "suppose something happened to the clever old Johnny who presides over this office—the brains of the department, if I may be allowed to say so?"
"Captain Hamilton?" said the girl in surprise.
"No, me," said Bones, annoyed. "Gracious Heavens, dear old key-tapper, didn't I say me?"
"Something happen to you?" she said in alarm. "Why, what could happen to you?"
"Suppose I went broke?" said Bones, with the comfortable air of one who was very unlikely to go broke. "Suppose I had terrific and tremendous and cataclysmic and what's-the-other-word losses?"
"But you're not likely to have those, are you?" she asked.
"Not really," said Bones, "but suppose?"
She saw that, for once, when he was speaking to her, his mind was elsewhere, and withdrew her hand. It was a fact that Bones did not seem to notice the withdrawal.
"Poor old Bones, poor old mug!" said Bones softly. "I'm a funny old devil."
The girl laughed.
"I don't know what you're thinking about," she said, "but you never strike me as being particularly funny, or poor, or old, for the matter of that," she added demurely.
Bones stooped down from the table and laid his big hand on her head, rumpling her hair as he might have done to a child.
"You're a dear old Marguerite," he said softly, "and I'm not such a ditherer as you think. Now, you watch old Bones." And, with that cryptic remark, he stalked back to his desk.
Two days after this he surprised Hamilton.
"I'm expecting a visitor to-day, old Ham," he said. "A Johnny named de Vinne."
"De Vinne?" frowned Hamilton. "I seem to know that name. Isn't he the gentleman you had the trouble with over the boots?"
"That's the jolly old robber," said Bones cheerfully. "I've telegraphed and asked him to come to see me."
"About what?" demanded Hamilton.
"About two o'clock," said Bones. "You can stay and see your old friend through, or you can let us have it out with the lad in camera."
"I'll stay," said Hamilton. "But I don't think he'll come."
"I do," said Bones confidently, and he was justified in his confidence, for at two o'clock to the second Mr. de Vinne appeared.
He was bright and cheerful, even genial to Bones, and Bones was almost effusive in his welcome.
"Sit down there in the most comfortable chair, happy old financier," he said, "and open your young heart to old Bones about the Mazeppa Trading Company."
Mr. de Vinne did not expect so direct an attack, but recovered from his surprise without any apparent effort.
"Oh, so you know I was behind that, do you? How the dickens did you find out?"
"Stock Exchange Year Book, dear old thing. Costs umpteen and sixpence, and you can find out everything you want to know about the directors of companies," said Bones.
"By Jove! That's clever of you," said de Vinne, secretly amused, for it was from the Year Book that he expected Bones to make the discovery.
"Now, what's the game, old financial gentleman?" asked Bones. "Why this fabulous salary to friend Sanders and selling this thousands of pounds worth of shares, eh?"
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"My dear chap, it's a business transaction. And really, if I thought you were going to interrogate me on that, I shouldn't have come. Is Mr. Sanders a friend of yours?" he asked innocently.
"Shurrup!" said Bones vulgarly. "You know jolly well he's a friend of mine. Now, what is the idea, young company promoter?"
"It's pretty obvious," replied de Vinne, taking the expensive cigar which Bones had imported into the office for the purpose. "The position is a good one——"
"Half a mo'," said Bones. "Do you personally guarantee Mr. Sanders's salary for five years?"
The other laughed.
"Of course not. It is a company matter," he said, "and I should certainly not offer a personal guarantee for the payment of any salary."
"So that, if the company goes bust in six months' time, Mr. Sanders loses all the money he has invested and his salary?"
The other raised his shoulders again with a deprecating smile.
"He would, of course, have a claim against the company for his salary," he said.
"A fat lot of good that would be!" answered Bones.
"Now, look here, Mr. Tibbetts"—the other leaned confidentially forward, his unlighted cigar between his teeth—"there is no reason in the world why the Mazeppa Company shouldn't make a fortune for the right man. All it wants is new blood and capable direction. I confess," he admitted, "that I have not the time to give to the company, otherwise I'd guarantee a seven per cent. dividend on the share capital. Why, look at the price of them to-day——"
Bones stopped him.
"Any fool can get the shares up to any price he likes, if they're all held in one hand," he said.
"What?" said the outraged Mr. de Vinne. "Do you suggest I have rigged the market? Besides, they're not all in one hand. They're pretty evenly distributed."
"Who holds 'em?" asked Bones curiously.
"Well, I've got a parcel, and Pole Brothers have a parcel."
"Pole Brothers, eh?" said Bones, nodding. "Well, well!"
"Come, now, be reasonable. Don't be suspicious, Mr. Tibbetts," said the other genially. "Your friend's interests are all right, and the shareholders' interests are all right. You might do worse than get control of the company yourself."
"I was thinking of that," he said.
"I assure you," said Mr. de Vinne with great earnestness, "that the possibilities of the Mazeppa Trading Company are unlimited. We have concessions from the Great River to the north of the French territory——"
"Not worth the paper they're written on, dear old kidder," said Bones, shaking his head. "Chiefs' concessions without endorsement from the Colonial Office are no good, dear old thing."
"But the trading concessions are all right," insisted the other. "You can't deny that. You understand the Coast customs better than I do. Trading customs hold without endorsement from the Colonial Office."
Bones had to admit that that was a fact.
"I'll think it over," he said. "It appeals to me, old de Vinne. It really does appeal to me. Who own the shares?"
"I can give you a list," said Mr. de Vinne, with admirable calm, "and you'd be well advised to negotiate privately with these gentlemen. You'd probably get the shares for eighteen shillings." He took a gold pencil from his pocket and wrote rapidly a list of names, and Bones took the paper from his hand and scrutinised them.
Hamilton, a silent and an amazed spectator of the proceedings, waited until de Vinne had gone, and then fell upon his partner.
"You're not going to be such a perfect jackass——" he began, but Bones's dignified gesture arrested his eloquence.
"Dear old Ham," he said, "senior partner, dear old thing! Let old Bones have his joke."
"Do you realise," said Hamilton, "that you are contemplating the risk of a quarter of a million? You're mad, Bones!"
"Go down to our broker and buy ten thousand shares in old Mazeppa, Ham," he said. "You'll buy them on the market for nineteen shillings, and I've an idea that they're worth about the nineteenth part of a farthing."
"But——" stammered Hamilton.
"It is an order," said Bones, and he spoke in the Bomongo tongue.
"Phew!" said Hamilton. "That carries me a few thousand miles. I wonder what those devils of the N'gombi are doing now?"
"I'll tell you something they're not doing," said Bones. "They're not buying Mazeppa shares."
There were two very deeply troubled people in the office of Tibbetts and Hamilton. One was Hamilton himself, and the other was Miss Marguerite Whitland. Hamilton had two causes for worry. The first and the least was the strange extravagance of Bones. The second—and this was more serious—was the prospect of breaking to Sanders that night that he had been swindled, for swindled he undoubtedly was. Hamilton had spent a feverish hour canvassing City opinion on the Mazeppa Trading Company, and the report he had had was not encouraging. He had, much against his will, carried out the instructions of Bones, and had purchased in the open market ten thousand shares in the Company—a transaction duly noted by Mr. de Vinne and his interested partner.
"He is biting," said that exultant man over the 'phone. "All we have to do is to sit steady, and he'll swallow the hook!"
It was impossible that Marguerite Whitland should not know the extent of her employer's commitments. She was a shrewd girl, and had acquired a very fair working knowledge of City affairs during the period of her employment. She had, too, an instinct for a swindle, and she was panic-stricken at the thought that Bones was marching headlong to financial disaster. Hamilton had gone home to his disagreeable task, when the girl came from her office and stood, her hands clasped behind her, before the desk of the senior partner.
Bones peered up in his short-sighted way.
"Well, young miss?" he said quietly.
"Mr. Tibbetts," she began a little unsteadily, "I'm going to be very impertinent."
"Not at all," murmured Bones.
"I've been with you for some time now," said the girl, speaking rapidly, "and I feel that I have a better right to talk to you than—than——"
"Than anybody in the whole wide world," said Bones, "and that's a fact, dear young Marguerite."
"Yes, yes," she said hurriedly, "but this is something about business, and about—about this deal which you're going into. I've been talking to Captain Hamilton this afternoon, while you were out, and I know it's a swindle."
"I know that, too," said Bones calmly.
"But," said the puzzled girl, "you are putting all your money into it. Mr. Hamilton said that, if this failed, you might be ruined."
Bones nodded. Outwardly calm, the light of battle shone in his eye.
"It's a gamble, dear young typewriter," he said, "a terrific gamble, but it's going to turn out all right for old Bones."
"But Mr. Hamilton said you can't possibly make anything from the property—that it is derelict and worth practically nothing. Only a tenth of the stores are open, and the trading is——"
"I'm not gambling on the property," he said softly. "Oh, dear, no, young fiancée, I'm not gambling on the property."
"Then what on earth are you gambling on?" she asked, a little piqued.
"On me," said Bones in the same tone. "On poor old silly ass Bones, and I'm coming through!"
He got up and came across to her and laid his big hand on her shoulder gently.
"If I don't come through, I shan't be a beggar. I shall have enough to build a jolly little place, where we can raise cows and horses and vegetables of all descriptions, dear old typewriter. And if I do come through, we'll still have that same place—only perhaps we'll have more cows and a pig or two."
She laughed, and he raised her smiling lips to his and kissed them.
Mr. de Vinne had dined well and had enjoyed an evening's amusement. He had been to the Hippodrome, and his enjoyment had been made the more piquant by the knowledge that Mr. Augustus Tibbetts had as good as placed ten thousand pounds in his pocket. He was a surprised man, on returning to Sloane Square, to discover, waiting in the hall, his unwilling benefactor.
"Why, Mr. Tibbetts," he said, "this is a great surprise."
"Yes," said Bones, "I suppose it is, old Mr. de Vinne." And he coughed solemnly, as one who was the guardian of a great secret.
"Come in," said Mr. de Vinne, more genial than ever. "This is my little den"—indicating a den which the most fastidious of lions would not have despised. "Sit down and have a cigar, old man. Now, what brings you here to-night?"
"The shares," said Bones soberly. "I've been worrying about the shares."
"Ah, yes," said Mr. de Vinne carelessly. "Why worry about them, dear boy?"
"Well, I thought I might lose the opportunity of buying them. I think there's something to be made out of that property. In fact," said Bones emphatically, "I'm pretty certain I could make a lot of money if I had control."
"I agree with you," said the earnest Mr. de Vinne.
"Now the point is," said Bones, "I've been studying that list of yours, and it seems to me that the majority of the two hundred and fifty thousand shares issued are either held by you or by one of the Poles—jolly old Joe or jolly old Fred, I don't know which."
"Jolly old Fred," said Mr. de Vinne gravely.
"Now, if there's one person I don't want to meet to-night, or to-morrow, or any other day," said Bones, "it's Pole."
"There's no need for you to meet him," smiled de Vinne.
"In fact," said Bones, with sudden ferocity, "I absolutely refuse to buy any shares from Fred. I'll buy yours, but I will not buy a single one from Fred."
Mr. De Vinne thought rapidly.
"There's really no reason," he said carelessly. "As a matter of fact, I took over Fred's shares to-night, or the majority of them. I can let you have—let me see"—he made a rapid calculation—"I can let you have a hundred and eighty thousand shares at nineteen and nine."
"Eighteen shillings," said Bones firmly, "and not a penny more."
They wrangled about the price for five minutes, and then, in an outburst of generosity, Mr. de Vinne agreed.
"Eighteen shillings it shall be. You're a hard devil," he said. "Now, shall we settle this in the morning?"
"Settle it now," said Bones. "I've a contract note and a cheque book."
De Vinne thought a moment.
"Why, sure!" he said. "Let's have your note."
Bones took a note from his pocket, unfolded it, and laid it on the table, then solemnly seated himself at Mr. de Vinne's desk and wrote out the cheque.
His good fortune was more than Mr. de Vinne could believe. He had expected Bones to be easy, but not so easy as this.
"Good-bye," said Bones. He was solemn, even funereal.
"And, my friend," thought Mr. de Vinne, "you'll be even more solemn before the month's out."
He saw Bones to the door, slapped him on the back, insisted on his taking another cigar, and stood outside on the pavement of Cadogan Square and watched the rear lights of Bones's car pass out of sight. Then he went back to his study telephone and gave a number. It was the number of Mr. Fred Pole's house, and Fred Pole himself answered the call.
"Is that you, Pole?"
"That's me," said the other, and there was joy in his voice.
"I say, Pole," chuckled de Vinne, "I shall save you a lot of trouble."
"What do you mean?" asked the other.
"I've sold Bones my shares and yours too."
There was a deep silence.
"Did you hear me?" asked de Vinne.
"Yes, I heard you," said the voice, so strange that de Vinne scarcely recognised it. "How many did you sell?" asked Pole.
"A hundred and eighty thousand. I thought I could easily fix it with you."
"What did Bones say to you?"
"He told me he wouldn't do any more business with you."
"Good Heavens!" groaned Pole, and added, "Gracious Heavens!"
"Why, what's the matter?" asked de Vinne quickly, scenting danger.
"That's what he said to me," moaned the other. "Just hang on. I'll be round in a quarter of an hour."
Mr. Fred Pole arrived under that time, and had a dreadful story to unfold. At nine o'clock that evening Bones had called upon him and had offered to buy his shares. But Bones had said he would not under any circumstances——
"Buy my shares?" said de Vinne quickly.
"Well, he didn't exactly say that," said Fred. "But he gave me to understand that he'd rather buy the shares from me than from anybody else, and I thought it was such an excellent idea, and I could fix it up with you on the telephone, so I sold him——"
"How many?" wailed de Vinne.
"A hundred and fifty thousand," said Mr. Fred, and the two men stared at one another.
De Vinne licked his dry lips.
"It comes to this," he said. "Between us we've sold him three hundred and thirty thousand shares. There are only two hundred and fifty thousand shares issued, so we've got to deliver eighty thousand shares that are non-existent or be posted as defaulters."
Another long pause, and then both men said simultaneously, as though the thought had struck them for the first time:
"Why, the fellow's a rogue!"
The next morning they called upon Bones, and they were with him for half an hour; and when they went, they left behind them, not only the cheques that Bones had given them, but another cheque for a most substantial amount as consideration.
That night Bones gave a wonderful dinner-party at the most expensive hotel in London. Sanders was there, and Patricia Sanders, and Hamilton, and a certain Vera, whom the bold Bones called by her Christian name, but the prettiest of the girls was she who sat on his right and listened to the delivery of Bones's great speech in fear and trembling.
"The toast of the evening, dear old friends," said Bones, "is Cupidity and Cupid. Coupled with the names of the Honourable de Vinne and my young and lovely typewriter—my friend and companion in storm and stress, the only jolly old lady, if I may be allowed to say so, that has stirred my young heart"—he caught Patricia Sanders's accusing eye, coughed, and added—"in Europe!"