The Day of Uniting/Chapter 10

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

pp. 30–33

CHAPTER X.

Lord Harry Weltman was a singular example of how a man may achieve success in spite of the most hampering disadvantages. The story of the poor and comparatively humble office boy who starts life with a shilling, and by the application of his genius to his employer's affairs, rises to such heights that he is in a position to make his former master a small allowance to keep him from starvation, is a common enough instance in the biographies of the great. But Lord Harry Weltman had succeeded in spite of the fact that he was the third son of an impecunious duke.

Handicapped by his aristocratic associations, he had outraged the feelings of his lordly family by going into business at eighteen and had built up one of the largest industries in Great Britain. He was the part inventor and the complete exploiter of the “Stael Six,” a motor car that had made history. He had gradually drawn into his control other motor-car firms, and as his wealth increased, had bought up huge blocks of land which his discerning eye had marked for future townships.

There was scarcely a great city throughout the kingdom, on the outskirts of which he had not acquired land, and his purchases were justified, for it was in the direction of his holdings that the towns invariably grew.

At forty-eight he was a multimillionaire, the pride and envy of his ducal brother. At fifty-six he was a cabinet minister. He was a hard man, and the mention of his name at a labor meeting was invariably received with groans. His inclusion in the cabinet had been one of the most courageous acts of the prime minister's life, and for a while seriously imperiled his administration.

Weltman was a stickler for his pound of flesh. He ground from his workmen the very last ounce of energy for which he paid them. Rent day for his cottagers was a day of judgment, for inexorable were his demands, and inevitable were the consequences of nonpayment.

He was a just man and justice and popularity can never go hand in hand. In one respect he baffled his detractors. If he demanded his rents on the day and the hour they were due, his tenants were better treated in the matter of repairs and hygienic equipment than were most. And their rents were reasonably low. If he fought strikes, he also fought the disease which is so prevalent in congested industrial areas. His factories were planned for the safety and comfort of his workers; no safeguard which science could suggest or knowledge install had been left unplaced. His mines were the best equipped in the country, and the living conditions of the miners infinitely superior in comfort to their fellows employed in other mines.

The office of Weltman's Consolidated Industries, through which holding company Lord Harry controlled his interests, was in Throgmorten Street; an unpretentious building of three floors. Since his elevation to cabinet rank Lord Harry had paid very few visits to the City, but on the morning of Kendrick's death he descended from his electric brougham at the door and was ushered into the little office which he occupied when he had occasion to give his personal attention to his multifarious investments.

The general secretary, a man who had grown gray in his service, and who had never ceased to be nervous in his presence, met him at the door and led the way to the sanctum. Lord Harry lounged in, took off his gloves leisurely, his eyes all the time upon the neat pile of papers on his desk.

“You have made the summaries, Johnson?” he asked, in his harsh voice.

“Yes, my lord,” said the gray Johnson. “I have set all the properties, their rents, et cetera, in one list. This,” he pointed to the other pile, “is the set salary sheets summarized as your lordship suggested.”

Lord Harry grunted something and sat at the table. “And this is the power of attorney.” He took up a sheet of paper. “Bring in two witnesses.”

Two scared clerks appeared and when Lord Harry had signed the instrument, they attested their names and were dismissed with a nod,

“Now understand, Johnson, what I am doing. The day after to-morrow is pay day, and every man employed by me is to receive the equivalent of three years' salary, by way of a bonus, If he has not been in my employ three years, then he will receive a bonus equivalent to the salary which he has already drawn. This applies to the office staff. So far as you are concerned, you will draw a check for yourself equivalent to fifteen years' salary.”

“Oh, my lord——” began the flustered Johnson.

“Don't interrupt, please,” snapped Lord Harry. 'I also asked you to prepare an omnibus deed of gift, setting forth the names of all my tenants and their properties. I am transferring my cottages to their present tenants.”

“I have it here, my lord.” Mr. Johnson found the document and laid it before Lord Harry with a trembling hand. “I hope your lordship won't mind my saying that this extraordinary generosity on your part takes my breath away. Your lordship realizes that this will cost you the greater part of a million and a half.”

“I am worth about three times that, am I not?” asked Lord Harry. “The only worry I have in my mind,” he said thoughtfully, as he looked out of the window, “is whether I am giving enough. You see, Johnson, I have been working very hard and very uselessly, it seems to me. After a man has sufficient food to eat, and a roof over his head, a car to ride in, and sufficient for his living and pleasure, the additional money is dead money unless it is employed for the general benefit. I am going to give eight thousand people a great deal of happiness, Johnson. If I thought that it would double their happiness by doubling the grant I made them, I should certainly double it.”

He brought his head round and met Johnson's bewildered look, and a little smile played at the corners of his thin lips.

“I hope your lordship doesn't mind my asking you, but is this matter to be made public?”

Lord Harry nodded.

“I want our people to know as soon as possible, and I can think of no better way than through the public press. Moreover”—he hesitated—“I may induce other employers to do the same. I think I could, too,” he added slowly. “Now let me have the deed of gift.”

Again the two clerks were brought in and the document was signed and witnessed. Then Lord Harry got up from his chair and looked round the office.

“I've had some very interesting times in this office, Johnson. I suppose you have, too?”

“Yes, my lord, I've had some very happy times here,” admitted Mr. Johnson, and Lord Harry wondered what happiness there could be in servitude.

Two hours later every newspaper throughout the country had the story. The labor journals had only one explanation for this munificence of Lord Harry Weltman, and issued the placard which Jimmy saw.

He read the two columns from start to finish and then tucked the paper away by the side of the seat. Weltman had certainly gone mad, but it was a very pleasant and admirable form which his derangement took.

Delia was standing under the porch when he drove up and she looked worried.

“I've had a note from father saying he will not be home to-night.” She laughed, in spite of herself. “It is queer how easily I'm calling the priory 'home.' I almost feel that I lived here all my life.”

“To which I could make an admirable rejoinder,” said Jimmy.

“Well, don't,” she said promptly.

“Where is your father staying?” he asked her, taking her arm and leading her into the garden.

“At our house in Camberwell,” she replied. “He says he will stay there when he is not at the office. He has so much work to do that he will not have time to come to Blackheath. Did you talk to the prime minister?”

He nodded.

“And what did he say about that poor gentleman?”

“Kendrick? Nothing. He asked me whether you knew.”

“I?” she said in surprise.

“Apparently he knows that you and your father are my guests. I told him that you knew nothing and had seen nothing.”

She was silent.

“I'm becoming so confused,” she said at last. “I feel that something very dreadful is happening. I know the death of poor Mr. van Roon was terrible in itself, and so was that awful—awful——” her lips trembled and she shivered, but she mastered her distress, and went on steadily. “But they seem to me to be incidents in a bigger and a more catastrophic disaster. Tell me, Mr. Blake”—she looked him straight in the eyes—“is there any likelihood of war?”

He shook his head.

“So far as I know we are at peace with the world,” he said. “I can't imagine there is going to be a war. In many ways I wish there were; it would be something definite.”

She nodded. “That is how I feel.”

They paced the gravel path in silence. She walked with her hands clasped behind her, her eyes on the ground.

“The plant has nothing to do with the trouble?” she said, apropos of nothing.

“The plant?”

“Don't you remember, Mr. Maggerson brought a plant. I asked father if he had heard anything about a strange plant which Mr. Maggerson brought home from Mexico. “He told me that Mr. Maggerson had not brought a specimen to England. It had died on the voyage and was thrown overboard by a steward.”

“I always thought that was too fantastic a theory,” said Jimmy, but he was rather glad that the mysterious plant had been disposed of.

“But isn't the whole thing fantastic?” she asked. “Isn't it fantastic that a man like your cousin, who hadn't a single enemy in the world, should be butchered almost within sight of your house? Isn't it fantastic that Mr. Kendrick, who was a deeply religious man, should have taken his own life?”

Jimmy could not answer this. The whole thing was maddening. There was no thread which led anywhere.

“Isn't it fantastic that my father should be brought into this matter?” she added.

“That isn't fantastic at all,” said Jimmy quietly. “Your father happens to be the foreman compositor of a firm of government printers. The fact that they also print scientific work is a coincidence. It is natural, therefore, that he should be in the business, if not of it. No, Delia, even Ferdie Ponter doesn't think that that is fantastic.”

She looked at him quickly.

“Ponter? That is the name of the house for whom father works. You know the son, don't you?”

Jimmy told her of his conversation with Ferdie at the club.

“He isn't a bad fellow; really he's quite a plucky kid. I must have somebody with me in this.”

She stopped dead and looked at him in perplexity.

“You must have somebody with you?” she repeated slowly. “Why? What are you doing?”

“I'm going to find who killed Gerald van Roon and why Kendrick shot himself. I'm going to discover the mystery of the——” He stopped himself in time. He was on the point of revealing all he knew about the Warden's Lodge.

“The mystery of what?”

“One or two minor mysteries,” he said, carelessly. “They've all got to be cleared up. I can foresee, Delia, that I shall come through this crisis a very high-class intelligence officer.”

“Suppose you don't come through?” She asked the question quietly.

The idea had never occurred to Jimmy before.

“Do you imagine that people who did not hesitate to kill your cousin, and who drove a cabinet minister to suicide, would think twice before they removed you?”

Jimmy scratched his nose.

“You're full of cheerful thoughts this evening, Delia. Anyway, Ferdie is coming over to sleep to-night,” he said, to change the subject. “I've asked him to come in time for dinner. He plays bezique, so we shall be able to amuse ourselves after you have retired.”

“I'm not going to bed very early, to-night,” she said calmly, “and it will be much easier to tell me what are your plans, than to devise methods for getting rid of me.”

But Jimmy did not accept the invitation.

Ferdie came roaring up the drive in his racing Italia just before dinner, and naturally he brought half a dozen new theories, all of which had to be discussed in the girl's absence. Ferdie was frankly relieved when he discovered that the daughter of his father's foreman was good looking.

“Why, my dear Jimmy,” he said reproachfully, “she's pretty.”

“Did I say she wasn't?” growled Jimmy. “Now, suppose we discuss something else. Have you brought the things I asked you to get?”

“They're in the car,” said Ferdie. “Rope with a large hook, telescopic ladder, two perfectly good electric torches. Shall I bring 'em in?”

“Don't be a fool,” said Jimmy violently. “Let me impress upon you, before we go any farther, Ferdie, that this job is dangerous.”

“So I gathered,” said the complacent youth. “In fact, I've always understood that burglary was the most unhealthy profession a chap could follow.”

“This isn't burglary,” insisted Jimmy.

“It's very much like it,” said Ferdie, “but that doesn't worry me. I'll be over the wall in a jiffy——

“You'll not go over the wall at all,” said Jimmy, emphatically. “I am going over; your job is to keep watch and stow away the ladder so that some cycling policeman doesn't discover it, and stand by in case of accidents.”

“What do you expect to find in the Warden's Lodge?”

“If I had the slightest idea of what I expected, I shouldn't probably attempt to investigate,” said Jimmy.

“Which is jolly cryptic,” nodded Ferdinand and went on to apologize. “Cryptic is a word which I learned last week, old thing; I hope you don't mind my trying it on you.”

Jimmy looked at his watch.

“There is time to go to the garage and transfer those things to my car, which is a little more noiseless than yours. Have you any arms?”

“And legs, old bird,” said Ferdie promptly, “a well-balanced head and a pair of reasonable feet.”

“Firearms, you goop!” snarled Jimmy.

But these Ferdie had not brought.

“You needn't worry,” said Jimmy. “I've a couple of automatics upstairs, and there's plenty of ammunition in the gun room.”

“Do you really anticipate bloodshed?” asked Ferdie hopefully. “I've got a couple of old Mills bombs at home that I brought back from France.”

“And you can keep them at home,” said Jimmy. “I hope there's going to be no shooting, which means that I hope nobody is going to shoot me. If I meet any person who shows the slightest inclination to bring my agreeable life to an end, there'll be a sharp exchange of repartee.”

“Good for you,” said Ferdie, “and I'll dash over the wall and bring your body back, and——

At that moment the door opened and Delia came hurriedly into the study.

“What is wrong?” asked Jimmy quickly.

“Will you come please, Mr. Blake?”

He joined her in the passage. “Has anything happened?”

“I saw Tom Elmers—you remember the man?”

“Saw him; where?”

“He was in the garden,” said the girl. “I saw him going into the shrubbery.”

It was nearly dark, but there was light enough to make a search without the aid of lanterns.

“He looked awful,” she told him. “I don't think you had better go.”

“Did he see you?”

She nodded. “He spoke to me—he—he asked the strangest questions—what had happened to Mr. Maggerson, and——” She covered her face with her hands and shuddered. “He looked dreadful—dreadful,” she whispered. “Please don't go, Mr. Blake.”

But Jimmy was halfway across the garden, heading for the shrubbery. He had no weapons but his hands, and it never occurred to him that he would need them. The first intimation of danger came with a shrill swish from behind him and he leaped forward into a laurel bush. The stick just missed him, and he heard a thud as it struck the ground, and a crack as it broke. Then he turned to grapple with his attacker. In the half light he would not have recognized the man, for Elmers' face was red and more bloated, and the hair about his chin and mouth was long and unkempt. Jim warded the blow the man aimed at him and then gripped him, but only for a second. Jimmy was prepared for the blow but not for the kick that followed. The man's boot struck his shin, and he released his hold; in that moment his assailant had wriggled out of his grip and flown along the path. By the time Jimmy limped up, he was astride the wall.

“I'll get her and I'll get Joe, too! You tell her that! I know all about Joe. I know all about Maggerson!” he yelled.

“You'll know all about me, if you come down here, you swine!” said Jimmy between his teeth, and then stooping quickly, he picked up a stone and flung it, and Mr. Elmers' interest in the Sennett family would have suffered a total eclipse if he had not, with a lightning wriggle, dropped to the other side of the wall.