The Agreeable Company
THE AGREEABLE COMPANY.
CARFEW was a man who attracted money to him by the exercise of one set of qualities, and repelled it by the employment of another set.
Money in Carfew's hands was inflammable. It went up with the flare and the roar of a kerosene refinery after the president's son—new from college, but strange to the business—had dropped his cigarette end in the basement.
Carfew came to the Grand Western Hotel with six thousand golden sovereigns standing to bis credit in the L. & S. Bank.
He came in a taxicab, with a worn portmanteau and a cheque-book, and he spent a glorious week of life tearing out the little pink slips till they were all exhausted.
After which he got another cheque-book.
In the meantime he had got another portmanteau, a remarkable wardrobe, and the reputation of being an American bank robber.
"For," argued the gorgeous German hall-porter of the Grand Western, "he could not his money with such profusion spend if he had it honestly acquired."
Carfew was indifferent to the opinion of the hall-porter, being in that stage of superiority which allowed him to wear heliotrope socks without shame.
People came to see him—people who wanted to render him invaluable services. Some wished to lead him to the private road which cuts off ten miles of the dreary path to fortune; some had ideas that only wanted money.
These latter Carfew laughed to oblivion, for he had ideas of his own—and money.
His money enabled him to indulge his taste in his own particular ideas, which ran in the direction of the Burlington Arcade, and took expression in artistic cravats and socks that spoke for themselves.
It is a grand thing to be rich, to be able to write "pay bearer five thousand pounds" without running the risk of being arrested.
His vices were inexpensive. He did not drink, he was no epicure, he loved fresh air and taxicabs. Theatres could not cost him more than three guineas a week, for of all the vices to which men are victims, he was least troubled by the greatest—he had no friends.
He was dressing for dinner one night, when the valet announced a visitor.
"Show him up," said Carfew.
There came to him a tall, cadaverous man, with a profusion of hair and a certain untidiness of dress which usually marked the unsuccessful genius.
"Carfew?" he demanded.
The young man nodded.
"Your hand," demanded the other briefly. "Your name I know—I have heard of you. My name is Septimus."
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Septimus," said Carfew formally. "And what goods can we show you this evening?"
Carfew wanted amusement; he could spare this unpromising stranger at least half an hour.
"You don't mind my dressing?" he asked, as he lazily adjusted his tie before the glass.
"Not at all—not at all," said Mr. Septimus, with a fine sweep of his hand. "A busy man—I am no hog."
He seemed pleased with the negative illustration, and repeated in a whisper that he was no hog.
"Mr. Carfew," the visitor went on, "I have heard of you. You are the man who negotiated the sale of a certain patent, receiving as your share of the sale many thousands of pounds."
"That's true," said Carfew modestly; "I am best known, perhaps, as Carfew the Inventor."
"I do not know you as Carfew the Inventor," said the seedy man deliberately. "You have a title to fame more wonderful, more extraordinary, more far-reaching for humanity; you have attracted the attention of three men of gifts. Sir, will you honour us with your company this night?"
"My dear chap," said Carfew reproachfully, "to-night! Now, be reasonable."
"To-night," said the weird-looking visitor dramatically. "It is not unreasonable, believe me."
He was very earnest, so earnest that Carfew looked at him more closely. His clothes were old and stained, his cuffs were frayed and not over-clean, his neck was innocent of collar; a black silk cravat clumsily tied in a bow left a space of scraggy throat between neckband and neckwear.
He had two days' growth of beard, and yet there was an undefinable air of refinement about him which puzzled the young man. His hands, long, thin, and white, were scrupulously tended.
"We're rather at cross purposes," said Carfew kindly. "I would do anything to oblige you except"—he was on the point of saying, "lending you money," but instinct arrested the speech—"except commit myself to a promise that I might not be able to fulfil. Now, exactly what is it you want?"
The man clicked his lips impatiently.
"I want nothing—absolutely nothing," be said, with a shade of annoyance in his voice. "I have no single desire in the world; there is no material wish which, if money could fulfil, would remain unsatisfied. Look here."
He thrust his hand into the baggy pocket of his Inverness, and drew out an untidy bundle of papers.
"You think I am a needy adventurer," he said, and it was apparent that his anger was rising; "you imagine that I have come here with some hare-brained scheme——"
"My dear sir!" said Carfew, somewhat embarrassed by the truth of the man's utterance.
"You think this—bah!"
He flung the bundle of papers into the air; they scattered on bed and floor. One fell at Carfew's feet.
"My dear chap," he expostulated, as he stooped to pick it up, "you're only——"
He stopped suddenly, for the paper he held was a Bank of England note for one hundred pounds.
There was no doubt whatever as to its genuineness.
And the floor was covered with them.
There was round dozen on the floor, two or three on the eiderdown which covered the bed, two on the dressing-table.
Carfew, bewildered, hastened to collect them.
"Money," said the strange visitor bitterly—"money! Do we live for nothing but money? Is that the be-all and end-all of things? Is that the ultimate aim of humanity? Take it—keep it! Add it to your pony store. Tell your friends that Septimus of the Agreeable Company made you a present of it!"
He hitched his worn cloak round his shoulders and flung open the door.
"Au revoir!" he said haughtily. "We are not likely to meet again."
He was half-way down the corridor before Carfew recovered from his surprise.
"Hi, come back!"
Carfew darted down the corridor and caught the man by the arm.
"Come back, come back, for Heaven's sake!" he begged. "You mustn't go away and leave me with this money. I don't want the beastly stuff."
"Do you mean that?"
There was suspicion in the strangers frowning glance.
"Absolutely. Just give me a minute."
Reluctantly the man returned, and a reluctantly he took the notes from Carfew's hand and stuffed them into his pocket.
"Count them," said the anxious young man; "one might have gone astray."
"What matters?" responded Septimus carelessly. "I shall be little worse off. Let the man who finds it keep it."
Carfew gazed on him in awe, and for the first time a faint smile played round the thin lips of the seedy visitor.
"I think," he said quietly, "you are a little astonished at my indifference to money—perhaps you think it is an affectation. The truth is, money is of the least importance to me and to the Agreeable Company. For every sovereign you possess, I have probably three hundred. That would make, me more than a millionaire, wouldn't it?"
He smiled again pityingly.
"Money does not count, believe me," he said seriously. "There are three men in the Agreeable Company, and if you were to add their fortunes together, they would— But I will only say that I am the poorest of the trio."
Again there was that odd little mannerism, for he repeated, speaking to himself in a voice which was scarcely more than a whisper: "The poorest of the trio—the poorest of the trio!"
Now, Carfew was by every instinct a journalist. His very faults might be traced to this quality, for he would jump at the shadow of a "story," and miss the bone of probability.
And here, indeed, was a story—the Agreeable Company of millionaires!
"If you could tell me exactly the object of your visit," he said, "and just how I can serve you, I am quite willing to accompany you to-night."
Septimus leant forward eagerly, his eyes shining. "Are you really? Now, that is good of you! I want you to meet Decimus. You will adore Decimus. He is a man after your own heart—a brain ingenious, terrifically introspective, and with the idea."
Carfew, dazed by his tremendous character of the unknown Decimus, could only nod his head.
"The idea is the thing," the stranger went on. "I can see by your eyes that you think I am a little mad—perhaps more than a little. You think we are all a little mad!" Carfew blushed guiltily. "Ah, you do! But you shall see."
He rose, hitched up his cloak again, and smiled.
"It is now twenty-three minutes past seven by your new watch."
Carfew started and pulled out his new chronometer hastily; it was exactly twenty-three minutes past seven.
"How on earth——" he began.
The stranger was amused.
"Simple, very simple. You have a new watch—all young men who suddenly acquire wealth have new watches—and new watches keep perfect time. I know it is twenty-three minutes past because it is exactly eight minutes since the clock struck the quarter after. I know it is eight minutes because I have counted four hundred and eighty seconds. One-half of my brain is counting all the time. But that is beside the point. It is now twenty-six minutes past seven. Will you meet me in front of the National Gallery at nine o'clock?"
Carfew did not hesitate.
"I will," he said.
Septimus stood at the door.
"If you have any nervousness, if you are in any way afraid of the consequences of your adventure, I shall not complain if you come armed."
And, with a profound bow, he departed.
Carfew went down to dinner in a condition of mind which it would be difficult to analyse.
He had embarked on that variety of enterprise which is dear to a young man's heart—the enterprise which has the necessary envelopment of mystery, and the end of which could not be surmised.
He finished his dinner in half the time it usually took, hurried back to his room and changed into a tweed suit. The night was damp and chilly. It offered him an excuse for wearing an overcoat and a soft felt hat, which the remarkable character of the interview justified.
Prompt to the minute he took his stand by the steps leading up to the National Gallery. The clocks were striking nine, when a big motor-car, driven slowly from the direction of Pall Mall, drew up, and the stranger got out.
By the light of a street standard, Carfew recognised him, though he might have been excused if he had not.
For now Septimus was a radiant being. Dressed in an evening-suit of perfect cut, his long hair trimmed and brushed, his lean, intellectual face innocent of scrubbiness, he was the pattern of propriety.
He came quickly toward Carfew, and held out his hand.
"I am one minute late," he said; "these clocks are slow."
Carfew suddenly realised his own wilful shabbiness.
"I am afraid I have changed my kit," he said, and felt unaccountably sheepish.
"Please don't bother," he said, and held open the door of the car. "Decimus is no hog, either."
Carfew sank back into the luxurious cushions as the car glided noiselessly across Trafalgar Square, and tried to adjust his whirling thoughts.
"I suppose," said his companion, who seemed possessed of a fiendish power which allowed him to read men's minds, "that you are mentally quoting Mr. Pickwick when he found himself in the middle of the night chasing the electric Jingle and the erring sister of Mr. Wardle."
He had put off his eccentric style of address with his seedy costume, and Carfew noted that his voice was soft and cultured. All the extravagance of attitude and language had disappeared. He spoke easily, fluently of men and things, the news of the day, touching lightly on politics, merely observing that the trend of recent legislation seemed to be in the direction of Socialism. He thought that such legislation was bad for property. It did not affect him, he said; all his money was fluid capital. This was an astonishing statement, for Carfew had never heard of a man whose wealth was so placed.
"I lend money," the other explained—"short loans, you know. It means a quick profit. I would not do this but for Octavius, who is the mortal enemy of laziness. He says that idle money does more mischief than idle men. What a brain that man has—what a brain!"
It was a return of the old enthusiasm, and Carfew waited, but Septimus said no more.
The car had crossed Westminster Bridge, had passed through the tangle of traffic at the Elephant and Castle, sped swiftly along the gloomy stretch of the New Kent Road into the bustle of the Old Kent Road.
Not another word said Septimus, and Carfew was content to engage himself with his own thoughts. They were climbing the steep hill that leads to Blackheath when Septimus again spoke.
"I have only one request to make to you," he said, "and that is that you do not make any mention of the Straits Settlements to Decimus."
"The——?" asked Carfew, not a little bewildered.
"The Straits Settlements," said the other calmly. "It is the one subject upon which I fear the otherwise perfectly-poised brain of the good Decimus is not too delicately adjusted."
It seemed a subject easy to avoid, and Carfew said as much. The other nodded gravely.
The car flew up the steep hill, turned to the right, and began skirting the heath. Half-way round it slowed and turned into some grounds through two gaunt gates, along a short, dark avenue of trees, and pulled up before the gloomy door of a big house.
There was no light in any window; even the hall was in darkness.
The two men descended, and Septimus, mounting the steps, rang the bell—Carfew heard its far-away tinkle.
They waited a little time before the door was opened. The only light in the hall was the candle held by the man who had admitted them.
As the door closed upon them, Carfew became conscious of the magnificence of the servitor who held the light.
He was a footman of imposing proportions. Clean-shaven, with a quiet dignity of mien, he wore a livery such as the personal attendant of a reigning monarch might have adopted. His coat was of royal blue velvet, thickly laced with gold, his breeches were of white satin, his stockings of rose-pink silk. On his feet he wore the shiniest of patent shoes, adorned with jewelled buckles that flashed back the light of the candle as only diamonds can. His hair was powdered white, the whitest of snowy ruffles were at his wrists, the most snowy of cravats at his throat: across his breast he wore a string of medals such as the domestics of royal households wear.
Carfew noted the blue and white of the British House, the yellow and scarlet of Spain, the diagonal stripe of the German, the green and yellow of Austria.
"Messieurs Decimus and Octavins await your Excellencies," said the man, and his voice had exactly the quality of humility which his office demanded.
He handed his coat to the man, and Carfew followed suit.
Now, it must be said of Carfew that he was not easily overcome by outward show. He was by instinct and training a journalist, and no journalist permits himself to be impressed. Yet there was something awe-inspiring in the spectacle of that gorgeous lackey in the unfurnished hall.
The dim light of the candle accentuated the desolation of the place. A huge black stairway led to the upper floors. The hall itself was innocent of chair or table, yet the candlestick in the footman's white hand was of silver and most beautifully designed.
The footman led the way along the passage till they came to a door which evidently opened into a room at the rear of the house.
He knocked, and a gruff, grumpy voice said: "In!"
The man opened the door and entered.
"Mr. Carfew and Monsieur Septimus!" he announced.
Carfew followed him.
The room, unlike the hall, was furnished, but such furniture!
It proclaimed its origin loudly.
It was frantically, garishly new, it was painfully common. "Hire purchase" written on every stick of it, from the saddle-bag suite to the fumed oak sideboard.
In the centre was a table draped by a blood-red cloth, and at this table, one on either side, were two men, who rose as Carfew entered. The first was stout, a fact emphasised by his costume, for he wore tight-fitting evening-dress, with black satin knickers and black silk stockings. He was clean-shaven, and his white hair was brushed smoothly back from a low forehead.
"Mr. Carfew," he said courteously, and extended a fat hand that blazed with brilliant rings, "this is indeed an honour."
His voice was a musical growl, and as he spoke, he blinked continuously as one whose vision is slightly defective.
"My comrade Octavius," he introduced, and the second man bowed without offering his hand.
He was a man of middle height, and wore conventional evening-dress. His face was thin and peaked, and a pair of rimless glasses sat on the high bridge of his long nose.
His mouth was thin and tightly pressed and bis appearance was not improved by the fact that his head was clipped a closely as any convict's.
"Honour!" he repeated automatically, and, without removing bis eyes from Carfew, put his hand behind him and groped for a chair.
"Sit down, sit down," said Septimus, the most human of the three, Carfew thought.
There was an awkward pause as the young man took his place at the table.
Again the only light was that afforded by candles. There were seven candles, and they were inserted in a golden candelabra that stood in the centre of the table.
Carfew observed that whilst the stout Decimus and his guide gave their whole attention to him in the subsequent conversation, the melancholy Octavius stared steadily, uneasily, almost apprehensively at the burning tapers.
"Mr. Carfew"—the stout man clasped his glittering hands together and leant forward over the table—he sat opposite to Carfew—"you may wonder why we have sought you out, and why we have invited you to our poor dwelling?"
Carfew nodded, and Decimus repeated the nod. So, too, did Septimus, and even the other man absently jerked his head. Decimus smoothed a newspaper cutting that lay under his hand.
"I read," he said, "that great interest has been created in City circles by a deal which the brilliant young journalist, Felix Carfew—I am quoting the cutting—made on behalf of Colonel Withington, the inventor. The paragraph goes on to say—
"‘The advent of a financial genius is an event which should not be passed unnoticed. We understand that Mr. Carfew cleared a profit of twenty thousand pounds on the transaction.’"
He folded up the paper and looked at Carfew, and the financial genius nodded again, without shame.
"These interesting facts," Decimus went on, speaking slowly and deliberately, "appeared in The South-West Herald, and I do not doubt that you wrote the paragraph yourself."
Carfew felt himself blushing, and was annoyed.
"I do not doubt," Decimus proceeded gravely, "that twenty thousand pounds was a pardonable exaggeration, and that you made no more than six thousand pounds out of the transaction."
Carfew wriggled uncomfortably, but was saved the embarrassment of an immediate reply by Octavius, who, with sudden acerbity, demanded—
"Must we have seven candles?"
"I think so," said Decimus gently.
"Seven candles all burning at once?" asked the other, with a show of irritation.
"It is a big room, Octavius," soothed Septimus.
"These candles cost twopence each," the obstinate Octavius protested. "Fourteenpence! Can't I put one put?"
"I think we will keep the whole burning, if you will allow us," said Decimus firmly.
Octavius muttered something about "ruin," and continued his gloomy survey of the candelabra.
"If you will allow me to say so," said Carfew, "I can't see how the authorship of that paragraph or the truth of its contents——"
"Has anything to do with me, eh?" Decimus smiled broadly. He had a large face, and Nature had afforded him generous provision for making his amusement visible. "That may not be apparent to you, Mr. Carfew."
He was intensely earnest of a sudden.
"Mr. Carfew, if I handed you securities for a million and a half pounds—securities which I could realise, and you could realise in twenty-four hours—would you undertake to initiate on our behalf a daily newspaper?"
To say that Carfew was stricken dumb with the proposal is to adequately convey his emotions; that which would deprive him of speech was no ordinary proposal.
And it was the dream of Carfew's life to initiate a London newspaper. It is the dream of every well-balanced journalist's life.
There is no journal that was ever printed that the average newspaper man could not improve upon. And the million and a half pounds!
Why, one could do anything with that sum! One could produce a paper that would influence Olympians, The best writers of the day and hour would write for it; its columns could be filled with the genius, the wisdom, and the wit of the language. There should be a Blowitz in every capital; he would make exorbitant charges to advertisers.
"Would I undertake it?" he said huskily. "Yes, I think I would."
Octavius, staring the flames of the candles out of countenance, spoke without relaxing his attention.
"Would he undertake to steadfastly castigate—you know?"
He nodded mysteriously.
Septimus looked at Decimus imploringly.
"May we say it?" he asked.
Decimus frowned and pursed his lips.
"Yes," he said, with a touch of bitterness in his voice.
"Would you undertake to show up the Straits Settlements Affair?" asked Septimus in a whisper.
Darker and darker grew the cloud on the brow of stout Decimus.
"I can't bear it," he said harshly. "Do not use those words again, I beg of you—say 'S.S.' I thought I was strong enough. Don't do it, Sep—don't do it, dear lad!"
Me covered his face with his hands.
"My dear Decimus," said the other, greatly concerned, "I'm so sorry! I am a brute!"
It was some time before Decimus recovered his self-possession.
"The question we have to ask you," said Septimus, speaking quickly, "is this: If we hand you to-morrow the sum of one and a half million pounds, are you prepared to found and edit such a paper? Secondly, will you undertake that such a journal shall be in the hands of the public three months from to-day?"
"I am," said Carfew, with the alacrity of a small boy offered his first ride on a locomotive.
"This candle is quite unnecessary," interrupted the distressed Octavius; "let me, I beg of you, extinguish it."
He raised a little snuffer imploringly.
"Seven candles!" he muttered, with an angry sniff. "It is a monstrous waste!" Then of a sudden he checked himself. "Security," he said shortly, and turned his head to his companion—"ask him about security."
"My dear Octavius!" Decimus was reproachful.
"It is an elementary safeguard, an elementary precaution," persisted the other doggedly. "He may be a man of substance—he may not be. A million and a half is a lot of money; people would say that we were mad, not knowing about the S.S. I insist upon some form of security."
"I protest!" Decimus was very angry, but Carfew had now recovered his grip of the situation.
"I think Mr. Octavius is perfectly justified," he said. "I have security up to six thousand pounds, but beyond that I can promise nothing."
"More than enough, and altogether unnecessary—altogether unnecessary," said Decimus shortly. "You agree, Septimus?"
Carfew's guide nodded.
"I should certainly not have asked Mr. Carfew here if I had any idea that such a thing would have been demanded," he said shortly.
Octavius, in disgrace, returned to a contemplation of the candles, but from his tightly-pressed lips Carfew gathered that the little man was obdurate.
"Let him come to-morrow with six thousand pounds," he said obstinately, "and I will hand him my share."
There was another uncomfortable silence.
"To-morrow night I shall be here," said Carfew, with a smile, and rose.
"It is altogether unnecessary," said Septimus again, rather angrily. "I am humiliated, Octavius—humiliated, Decimus."
He accompanied Carfew from the room.
Near the door stood the gorgeous footman patiently standing, candlestick in hand.
"One moment." Septimus caught the young man by the sleeve and drew him out of hearing.
"If you have any difficulty," he said in a low voice, "cash this." He handed an oblong slip to the other. It bore an almost undecipherable signature, and was a blank cheque on the Bank of England. "Fill in the amount you want up to fifty thousand," he said, "but do not, I beg of you, give a hint to Octavius that I have done this. He is—er—a little eccentric."
Carfew pushed back the cheque smilingly.
"You know the amount I can guarantee," he said. "Thank you a thousand times for your generosity, but it is unnecessary."
"Take it," urged Septimus, and thrust it into Carfew's hand.
To humour him, Carfew accepted the cheque.
In a few minutes he was being driven back to London alone.
His brain was in a whirl; he could not think consecutively. Only he realised that a dream, a wild, extravagant dream, was to be realised. He would call the paper The Monitor. It should be the last word in up-to-date journalism. He would offer the foreign editorship to Macraltan, who had been so decent to him on The Megaphone, He would ask the great G.S.B. to do the dramatic criticism.
It was nearly three o'clock in the morning before he fell asleep. He breakfasted in bed, and in the midst of the meal the waiter told him that a gentleman wish to see him.
"Show him up," said Carfew.
He expected to see Septimus, and was disappointed to find that his visitor was a complete stranger. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a brown, clean-shaven face and a twinkling eye.
Carfew looked at the card the waiter had brought. "T. B.Smith," it ran.
"Well, Mr. Smith?" said Carfew.
The visitor seated himself by the side of the bed.
"Well, Mr. Carfew," he smiled, "they tell me that you are going to organise a big engineering work."
Carfew's puzzled frown was the reply.
"Or a paper, perhaps?" hazarded the other.
"I haven't the slightest idea how you came to know," he said, "or why you should have thought it was an engineering work."
The tall man laughed.
"You have been associated with newspapers and with inventions, you know," he exclaimed. "Anyway, what I want to ask you is, do you want a manager?"
The young man regarded him suspiciously.
"I am afraid matters are not sufficiently advanced," he said coldly, "to justify my making any arrangement with you."
"Aren't they?" Mr. Smith was disappointed, and did not conceal the fact. "I'm sorry. I'm used to managing big affairs. I've had control of a company with a capital of fifty thousand."
Carfew smiled a superior smile at the ceiling.
"My dear old chap," he said tolerantly, "you talk of fifty thousand as though it were all the money in the world. Now, I purpose spending that amount in a month."
He impressed Mr. Smith, and was gratified.
The visitor rose. "I see, sir," he said respectfully, "I'm not much good to you. Yet you might want an assistant. You are very young."
Now, there was nothing that annoyed Carfew more than to be told in a certain tone of voice that he was very young, and that was exactly the tone the visitor adopted.
"I am old enough to know how to spend money," he said shortly.
"I suppose there is no chance?" Mr. Smith said, fingering his broad-brimmed hat. "Perhaps, when the business is settled in a week's time——"
"It will be settled to-day," replied Carfew, "and, as far as you and I are concerned, you may regard it as settled now."
That ended the interview.
Carfew was a little puzzled as to how the story of the new venture had leaked out. But he had little time to waste in idle speculation. He saw his banker that morning, drew out the greater part of his balance, and spent the afternoon sketching out the shape and substance of the new journal.
He paid a lightning visit to Fleet Street, and decided that, wherever the temporary offices of the paper should be, the permanent Monitor building should be erected on the island site of the Strand.
He found time to read up the 8traits Settlements, and was surprised to learn that the Government of the colony was a singularly inoffensive one. At nine o'clock the motor called at his hotel.
This time it was Decimus who welcomed and accompanied him.
The reason for the substitution Decimus explained. He felt that he owed Carfew an apology.
"Septimus has told me that he gave you a blank cheque," he explained. "I hope you have used it—I trust you have used it. It was so like Septimus, so delicate, so thoughtful."
"As a matter of fact, I haven't," admitted Carfew. "I never intended using it, though it was most kind of you both."
"Not used it? Sorry—very sorry!" Deciraus shook his head sadly. "I am annoyed with Octavius. He is—how shall I put it in justice to him?—a leetle mean, eh?"
Carfew grinned. Octavius was a mean little skunk, yet his character was consistent with his wealth, if Carfew knew anything about millionaires.
They arrived at the house, and were ushered into the gaunt hall by the identical footman. His uniform was now of orange heavily braided with rich black mohair.
"Ha, you notice Charles, eh?" said Decimus, smiling. "Different uniform every day; that's a fad of Octavy's, dear lad. More expensive than candles, eh?" He chuckled.
He received a warm welcome from Septimus and a chilly one from Octavius now in a condition of abject misery, for two golden candelabras were set on the table, and each had seven candles burning recklessly.
Carfew plunged straight away into business. He produced his rough sketches, his memoranda, the scheme of publication.
They discussed the matter dispassionately. Septimus suggested a correspondent at Constantinople. He would be expensive, but he was worth the money. Decimus would like paper of a certain quality, and Carfew said that it would cost a little more than he had estimated for. Then——
"Guarantees," said the sharp voice of Octavius.
"Take no notice," whispered Decimus. But Carfew put his hand into his inside pocket and produced a roll of notes. He pushed them along the table to Octavius.
"These are my guarantees," he said simply.
Octavius took the roll, smoothed it flat, and counted the notes with great deliberation.
"Six thousand," he said. He held one up to the light. "Good!" he grunted. "I will apply the test."
Carfew met the good-natured smile of Decimus.
"Humour him," whispered the stout man.
Very slowly Octavius rose from the table, and as slowly walked to the door, muttering to himself.
He had no need to open the door. It was opened for him by a tall, strong man, who stepped into the room with a whimsical smile on his face.
"Good evening, gentlemen," said the stranger genially.
Carfew recognised him as the impertinent visitor of the morning.
No word said Septimus, Octavius, or Decimus.
"Pleasant evening," said the smiling intruder. "You know me, Tony!"
Octavius gave a sickly smile.
"I know you, Mr. Smith," he said—"it's a cop!"
"A fair cop," said T. B. Smith, of Scotland Yard, vulgarly. "I want you three. My men have got your gorgeous pal. You've got some money, I think, belonging to this gentleman. Thank you … if you don't mind."
With a dexterity born of practice, he snapped a pair of handcuffs on the delicate wrists of Octavius.
"You're the only dangerous man of the bunch, Tony," said Mr. Smith in extenuation. "Now, then, if you are all ready, I will run you down to Blackheath Hill Station in your own car."
"The fact of it is, Mr. Carfew," explained the detective, "I could have saved you the undesirable publicity of this case, only I did not want to spoil the coup. Those three friends of yours are confidence tricksters. They work for big money, and are always prepared to spend a thousand to get six. They played on your imagination with their mysteries, their millions."
"I am a perfect howling jackass!" said the crestfallen Carfew.
"You are very young," said the detective, and Carfew was unaccountably annoyed.