A BID FOR FORTUNE OR; DR. NIKOLA'S VENDETTA

By GUY ­BOO­TH­BY

Au­thor of “Dr. Ni­ko­la,” “The Beau­ti­ful White De­vil,” etc., etc.

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The Pro­ject Gu­ten­berg EBook of A Bid for For­tu­ne, by Guy ­Boo­th­by

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Tit­le: A Bid for For­tu­ne or Dr. Ni­ko­la’s ­Ven­det­ta

Au­thor: Guy ­Boo­th­by

Re­lease Da­te: May 29, 2007 [E­Book #21640]

Lan­gua­ge: En­glish

Pro­du­ced by Ma­ri­lyn­da Fra­ser-­Cun­lif­fe, Ma­ry Mee­han and the On­line Dis­tri­bu­ted Proo­frea­ding Team at http://www.pgdp.­net

Ori­gi­nal­ly pu­bli­shed ­by:

WARD, LOCK & CO., LI­­MI­­TED ­­LON­­DON, MEL­­BOURNE AND TO­­RON­­TO 1918

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PART I

PROLOGUE

The ma­­na­­ger of the new Im­­pe­­rial Re­s­­tau­­rant on the Thames Em­­bank­­ment went in­­to his luxu­­rious pri­­vate of­­fice and shut the door. Ha­­ving done so, he ­­first scrat­­ched his chin re­­flec­­ti­­ve­­ly, and then took a let­­ter from the ­­dra­­wer in which it had re­­po­­sed for more than two months and per­u­sed it ­­ca­­re­­ful­­ly. Though he was not aware of it, this was the thir­­tieth time he ­­had read it since break­­fast that mor­­ning. And yet he was not a whit ­­nea­­rer un­­ders­­tan­­ding it than he had been at the be­­gin­­ning. He tur­­ned it o­­ver and scru­­ti­­ni­­zed the ba­­ck, where not a si­­gn of wri­­ting was to be ­­seen; he held it up to the win­­dow, as if he might hope to dis­­co­­ver ­­so­­me­­thing from the wa­­ter-­­mark; but there was no­­thing in ei­­ther of the­­se ­­places of a na­­ture cal­­cu­­la­­ted to set his trou­­bled mind at re­s­t. Then he ­­took a ma­­gni­­ficent re­­pea­­ter watch from his waist­­coat po­­cket and glan­­ced at the dial; the hands stood at half-­­past se­­ven. He im­­me­­dia­­te­­ly threw the let­­ter on the ta­­ble, and as he did so his an­xie­­ty found re­­lief in ­­word­s.

It’s real­­ly the most ex­­tra­or­­di­­na­­ry af­­fair I ever had to do wi­­th,” he ­­re­­mar­­ked. “And as I’ve been in the bu­­si­­ness just three-­and-­­thir­­ty years at ele­­ven a.m. next Mon­­day mor­­ning, I ought to know so­­me­­thing about it. I on­­ly hope I’ve done right, that’s all.”

As he spo­ke, the chief book­kee­per, who had the treble ad­van­tage of being ­tall, pret­ty, and just eight-­and-­twen­ty years of age, en­te­red the room. She no­ti­ced the open let­ter and the look upon her chief’s fa­ce, and her ­cu­rio­si­ty was pro­por­tio­na­te­ly ex­ci­ted.

You seem wor­­ried, Mr. Mc­­Pher­­son,” she said ten­­der­­ly, as she put down the pa­­pers she had brought in for his ­­si­­gna­­ture.

You have just hit it, Miss O’Sul­­li­­van,” he ans­­we­­red, pu­­shing them ­­far­­ther on to the table. “I am wor­­ried about ma­­ny thing­s, but ­­par­­ti­­cu­­lar­­ly about this ­­let­­ter.”

He han­ded the epistle to her, and she, being de­si­rous of im­pres­sing him ­with her bu­si­ness ca­pa­bi­li­ties, read it with os­ten­ta­tious care. But it ­was no­ti­ceable that when she rea­ched the si­gna­ture she too tur­ned ba­ck ­to the be­gin­ning, and then de­li­be­ra­te­ly read it over again. The ma­na­ger ­ro­se, cros­sed to the man­tel­pie­ce, and rang for the head wai­ter. Ha­ving ­re­lie­ved his fee­lings in this way, he sea­ted him­self again at his ­wri­ting-­ta­ble, put on his glas­ses, and sta­red at his com­pa­nion, whi­le ­wai­ting for her to s­peak.

It’s ve­­ry fun­­ny,” she said. “Ve­­ry fun­­ny in­­deed!”

It’s the most ex­­tra­or­­di­­na­­ry com­­mu­­ni­­ca­­tion I have ever re­­cei­­ved,” he ­­re­­plied with convic­­tion. “You see it is writ­­ten from Cuya­­ba, Bra­­zil. The ­­date is three months ago to a day. Now I have ta­­ken the trouble to find out where and what Cuya­­ba is.”

He made this confes­sion with an air of conscious pri­de, and ha­ving do­ne ­so, laid him­self back in his chair, stuck his thumbs in­to the arm­ho­les of his waist­coat, and loo­ked at his fair su­bor­di­nate for ap­pro­val. Nor ­was he des­ti­ned to be di­sap­poin­ted. He was a ba­che­lor in pos­ses­sion of a s­nug in­co­me, and she, be­sides being pret­ty, was a la­dy with a keen eye ­to the main ­chance.

And where is Cuya­ba?” she as­ked ­hum­bly.

Cuya­­ba,” he re­­plied, rol­­ling his tongue with consi­­de­­rable re­­lish round ­­his un­­cons­­cious mis­­pro­­nun­­cia­­tion of the na­­me, “is a town al­­most on the ­­wes­­tern or Bo­­li­­vian bor­­der of Bra­­zil. It is of mo­­de­­rate si­­ze, is ­­si­­tua­­ted on the banks of the ri­­ver Cuya­­ba, and is consi­­de­­ra­­bly connec­­ted ­­with the fa­­mous Bra­­zi­­lian Dia­­mond ­­Field­s.”

And does the wri­­ter of this let­­ter li­­ve ­­the­­re?”

I can­­not say. He writes from the­­re—­­that is en­ough for us.”

And he or­­ders din­­ner for four—­­he­­re, in a pri­­vate room over­­loo­­king the ­­ri­­ver, three months ahead—­­punc­­tual­­ly at eight o’clo­­ck, gives you a list of the things he wants, and even ar­­ranges the de­­co­­ra­­tion of the table. ­­Says he has ne­­ver seen ei­­ther of his three friends be­­fo­­re; that one of ­­them hails from (here she consul­­ted the let­­ter again) Hang-­­chow, ano­­ther ­­from Bloem­­fon­­tein, while the third re­­si­­des, at pre­­sent, in En­­gland. Ea­­ch one is to present an or­­di­­na­­ry vi­­si­­ting card with a red dot on it to the ­­por­­ter in the hall, and to be shown to the room at once. I don’t un­­ders­­tand it at all.”

The ma­na­ger pau­sed for a mo­ment, and then said de­li­be­ra­te­ly,—”­Hang-­chow is in Chi­na, Bloem­fon­tein is in Sou­th A­fri­ca.”

What a won­­der­­ful man you are, to be sur­e, Mr. Mc­­Pher­­son! I ne­­ver can think how you ma­nage to car­ry so much in your ­head.”

There spoke the true wo­man. And it was a move in the right di­rec­tion, ­for the ma­na­ger was sus­cep­tible to her gentle in­fluen­ce, as she had oc­ca­sion to k­now.

At this junc­ture the head wai­ter ap­pea­red upon the sce­ne, and took up a ­po­si­tion just in­side the door­way, as if he were afraid of in­ju­ring the ­car­pet by co­ming ­far­ther.

Is No. 22 rea­­dy, ­­William­s?”

Quite rea­­dy, sir. The wine is on the ice, and co­ok tells me he’ll be ­­rea­­dy to dish punc­­tual to the ­­mo­­ment.”

The let­­ter says, ‘no elec­­tric light; candles with red shades.’ Have you ­­put on those shades I got this ­­mor­­ning?”

Just seen it done this ve­­ry mi­­nu­­te, ­­sir.”

And let me see, there was one other thing.” He took the let­­ter from the ­­chief book­­kee­­per’s hand and glan­­ced at it. “Ah, yes, a por­­ce­­lain sau­­cer, and a small jug of new milk upon the man­­tel­­piece. An ex­­tra­or­­di­­na­­ry ­­re­­quest, but has it been at­­ten­­ded ­­to?”

I put it there my­­self, ­­sir.”

Who ­­wait?”

Jo­­nes, Ed­­mund­s, Brooks, and ­­Tom­­kins.”

Ve­­ry good. Then I think that will do. Stay! You had bet­­ter tell the ­­hall por­­ter to look out for three gent­­le­­men pre­­sen­­ting plain vi­­si­­ting ­­cards with a lit­tle red spot on them. Let Brooks wait in the hall, and w­­hen they ar­­rive tell him to show them straight up to the ­­room.”

It shall be do­­ne, ­­sir.”

The head wai­ter left the room, and the ma­na­ger stret­ched him­self in his ­chair, yaw­ned by way of sho­wing his im­por­tan­ce, and then said ­so­lemn­ly,—

I don’t be­­lieve they’ll any of them turn up; but if they do, this Dr. ­­Ni­­ko­­la, whoe­­ver he may be, won’t be able to find fault with my ar­­ran­­ge­­ments.”

Then, lea­ving the dus­ty high road of Bu­si­ness, he and his com­pa­nion ­wan­de­red in the sha­dy bridle-­paths of Lo­ve—­to the end that when the ­chief book­kee­per re­tur­ned to her own de­part­ment she had for­got­ten the s­trange din­ner par­ty about to take place ups­tairs, and was bu­si­ly en­ga­ged upon a cal­cu­la­tion as to how she would look in white sa­tin and o­range blos­som­s, and, that set­tled, fell to won­de­ring whe­ther it was ­true, as Miss Joy­ce, a su­bor­di­na­te, had been heard to de­cla­re, that the ­ma­na­ger had once shown him­self par­tial to a cer­tain wi­dow with re­pu­ted ­sa­vings and a share in an ex­ten­sive egg and dai­ry ­bu­si­ness.

At ten mi­nutes to eight pre­ci­se­ly a han­som drew up at the steps of the ­ho­tel. As soon as it stop­ped, an un­der­si­zed gent­le­man, with a clean ­sha­ven coun­te­nan­ce, a ca­no­ni­cal cor­po­ra­tion, and bow leg­s, dres­sed in a ­de­ci­ded­ly cle­ri­cal garb, aligh­ted. He paid and di­schar­ged his cab­man, and then took from his ti­cket po­cket an or­di­na­ry white vi­si­ting card, w­hich he pre­sen­ted to the gold-­la­ced in­di­vi­dual who had ope­ned the a­pron. The lat­ter, ha­ving no­ted the red spot, cal­led a wai­ter, and the ­re­ve­rend gent­le­man was im­me­dia­te­ly es­cor­ted ups­tairs.

Hard­ly had the at­ten­dant time to re­turn to his sta­tion in the hall, ­be­fore a se­cond cab made its ap­pea­ran­ce, clo­se­ly fol­lo­wed by a third. Out of the se­cond jum­ped a tall, ac­ti­ve, well-­built man of about thir­ty years of age. He was dres­sed in eve­ning dress of the la­test fa­shion, and ­to conceal it from the vul­gar ga­ze, wore a large In­ver­ness cape of hea­vy ­tex­ture. He al­so in his turn han­ded a white card to the por­ter, and, ­ha­ving done so, pro­cee­ded in­to the hall, fol­lo­wed by the oc­cu­pant of the ­last cab, who had clo­se­ly co­pied his example. This in­di­vi­dual was al­so in eve­ning dress, but it was of a dif­ferent stamp. It was old-­fa­shio­ned and had seen much use. The wea­rer, too, was tal­ler than the or­di­na­ry run of men, while it was no­ti­ceable that his hair was snow-­whi­te, and that ­his face was dee­ply pit­ted with small­pox. Af­ter dis­po­sing of their hats and coats in an ante-­room, they rea­ched room No. 22, where they found the gent­le­man in cle­ri­cal cos­tume pa­cing im­pa­tient­ly up and ­down.

Left alo­ne, the tal­lest of the trio, who for want of a bet­ter title we ­may call the Best Dres­sed Man, took out his wat­ch, and ha­ving glan­ced at it, loo­ked at his com­pa­nions. “Gent­le­men,” he said, with a slight A­me­ri­can ac­cent, “it is three mi­nutes to eight o’clock. My name is Eas­to­ver!”

I’m glad to hear it, for I’m most un­­com­­mon­­ly hun­­gry,” said the next ­­tal­­lest, whom I have al­­rea­­dy des­­cri­­bed as being so mar­­ked by di­­sease. “­­My name is ­­Pren­­der­­gast!”

We on­­ly wait for our friend and host,” re­­mar­­ked the cle­­ri­­cal gent­­le­­man, as if he felt he ought to take a share in the conver­­sa­­tion, and then, as an af­­ter­­thought, he conti­­nued, “My name is ­­Bax­­ter!”

They shook hands all round with mar­ked cor­dia­li­ty, sea­ted them­sel­ves a­gain, and took it in turns to exa­mine the ­clock.

Have you ever had the plea­­sure of mee­­ting our host be­­fo­­re?” as­­ked Mr. ­­Bax­­ter of Mr. ­­Pren­­der­­gast.

Ne­­ver,” re­­plied that gent­­le­­man, with a shake of his head. “Pe­r­­haps Mr. Eas­­to­­ver has been mo­­re ­­for­­tu­­na­­te?”

Not I,” was the brief re­­join­­der. “I’ve had to do with him off and on ­­for lon­­ger than I care to re­­ckon, but I’ve ne­­ver set eyes on him up to ­­date.”

And where may he have been the first time you heard from ­­him?”

In Na­­sh­­vil­­le, Ten­­nes­­see,” said Eas­­to­­ver. “Af­­ter that, Ta­­hu­­pa­­pa, New ­­Zea­­land; af­­ter that, Pa­­pee­­te, in the So­­cie­­ty Is­­land­s; then Pe­­kin, Chi­­na. And you?”

First ti­­me, Brus­­sels; se­­cond, Monte Vi­­deo; third, Man­­da­­lay, and then the Gold Coast, Afri­­ca. It’s your turn, Mr. ­­Bax­­ter.”

The cler­gy­man glan­ced at the ti­me­piece. It was exact­ly eight o’clock. “­First ti­me, Ca­bul, Af­gha­nis­tan; se­cond, Ni­j­ni Nov­go­rod, Rus­sia; third, ­Wil­can­nia, Dar­ling Ri­ver, Aus­tra­lia; four­th, Val­pa­rai­so, Chi­li; fif­th, ­Na­ga­sa­ki, ­Ja­pan.”

He is evi­­dent­­ly a great tra­­vel­­ler and a most mys­­te­­rious ­­per­­son.”

He is more than that,” said Eas­­to­­ver with convic­­tion; “he is late for ­­din­­ner!”

Pren­der­gast loo­ked at his ­watch.

That clock is two mi­­nutes fast. Hark, there goes Big Ben! Eight exact­­ly.”

As he spoke the door was thrown open and a voice an­noun­ced “Dr. ­Ni­ko­la.”

The three men sprang to their feet si­mul­ta­neous­ly, with ex­cla­ma­tions of as­to­nish­ment, as the man they had been dis­cus­sing made his ap­pea­rance.

It would take more time than I can spare the sub­ject to give you an a­de­quate and in­clu­sive des­crip­tion of the per­son who en­te­red the room at ­that mo­ment. In sta­ture he was slight­ly above the or­di­na­ry, his ­shoul­ders were broad, his limbs per­fect­ly sha­ped and plain­ly mus­cu­lar, ­but ve­ry slim. His head, which was ma­gni­fi­cent­ly set upon his shoul­ders, ­was ador­ned with a pro­fu­sion of glos­sy black hair; his face was ­des­ti­tute of beard or mous­ta­che, and was of oval shape and hand­so­me ­moul­ding; while his skin was of a dark olive hue, a co­lour whi­ch ­har­mo­ni­zed well with his pier­cing black eyes and pear­ly teeth. His hand­s and feet were small, and the grea­test dan­dy must have ad­mit­ted that he ­was ir­re­proa­cha­bly dres­sed, with a neat­ness that bor­de­red on the ­pu­ri­ta­ni­cal. In age he might have been any­thing from eight-­and-­twen­ty to ­for­ty; in rea­li­ty he was thir­ty-­three. He ad­van­ced in­to the room and ­wal­ked with out-­stret­ched hand di­rect­ly across to where Eas­to­ver was s­tan­ding by the ­fi­re­place.

Mr. Eas­­to­­ver, I feel cer­­tain,” he said, fixing his glit­­te­­ring eyes upon the man he ad­­dres­­sed, and al­­lo­­wing a cu­­rious smile to play upon his ­­face.

That is my na­­me, Dr. Ni­­ko­­la,” the other ans­­we­­red with evident sur­­prise. “­­But how on earth can you dis­­tin­­guish me from your other ­­guests?”

Ah! it would sur­­prise you if you knew. And Mr. Pren­­der­­gast, and Mr. ­­Bax­­ter. This is de­­light­­ful; I hope I am not late. We had a col­­li­­sion in the Chan­­nel this mor­­ning, and I was al­­most afraid I might not be up to ­­time. Din­­ner seems rea­­dy; shall we sit down to it?” They sea­­ted ­­them­­sel­­ves, and the meal com­­men­­ced. The Im­­pe­­rial Re­s­­tau­­rant has ear­­ned an en­­viable re­­pu­­ta­­tion for doing things well, and the din­­ner that night ­­did not in any way de­­tract from its lustre. But, de­­light­­ful as it all ­­was, it was no­­ti­­ceable that the three guests paid more at­­ten­­tion to ­­their host than to his ex­­cellent me­nu. As they had said be­fore his ar­ri­val, they had all had dea­lings with him for se­ve­ral years, but what ­those dea­lings were they were ca­re­ful not to des­cribe. It was more than ­pos­sible that they hard­ly li­ked to re­mem­ber them ­them­selves.

When cof­fee had been ser­ved and the ser­vants had wi­th­drawn, Dr. Ni­ko­la ­rose from the ta­ble, and went across to the mas­sive si­de­board. On it s­tood a bas­ket of ve­ry cu­rious shape and work­man­ship. This he ope­ned, and as he did so, to the as­to­nish­ment of his guests, an en­or­mous cat, as ­black as his mas­ter’s coat, lea­ped out on to the floor. The rea­son for the sau­cer and jug of milk be­ca­me e­vident.

Sea­ting him­self at the table again, the host fol­lo­wed the example of his ­guests and lit a ci­gar, blo­wing a cloud of smoke luxu­rious­ly through his ­de­li­ca­te­ly chi­sel­led nos­trils. His eyes wan­de­red round the cor­nice of the room, took in the pic­tures and de­co­ra­tions, and then came down to ­meet the faces of his com­pa­nions. As they did so, the black cat, ha­ving ­fi­ni­shed its meal, sprang on to his shoul­der to crouch the­re, wat­ching the three men through the cur­ling smoke drift with its green blin­king, ­fien­dish eyes. Dr. Ni­ko­la smi­led as he no­ti­ced the ef­fect the ani­mal had u­pon his ­guests.

Now shall we get to bu­­si­­ness?” he said ­­brisk­­ly.

The others al­most si­mul­ta­neous­ly kno­cked the ashes off their ci­gars and ­brought them­selves to at­ten­tion. Dr. Ni­ko­la’s dain­ty, lan­guid man­ner ­see­med to drop from him like a cloak, his eyes brigh­te­ned, and his ­voi­ce, when he spo­ke, was clean cut as chi­sel­led ­sil­ver.

You are doubt­­less an­xious to be in­­for­­med why I sum­­mo­­ned you from all ­­parts of the globe to meet me here to-­­night? And it is ve­­ry na­­tu­­ral you ­­should be. But then, from what you know of me, you should not be ­­sur­­pri­­sed at any­­thing I ­­do.”

His voice drop­ped back in­to its old tone of gentle lan­guor. He drew in a ­great breath of smoke and then sent it slow­ly out from his lips again. ­His eyes were half clo­sed, and he drum­med with one fin­ger on the ta­ble edge. The cat loo­ked through the smoke at the three men, and it see­med ­to them that he grew eve­ry mo­ment lar­ger and more fe­ro­cious. Pre­sent­ly ­his ow­ner took him from his per­ch, and sea­ting him on his knee fell to s­tro­king his fur, from head to tail, with his long slim fin­gers. It was as if he were dra­wing ins­pi­ra­tion for some dead­ly mi­schief from the un­can­ny ­beast.

To pre­­face what I have to say to you, let me tell you that this is by ­­far the most im­­por­­tant bu­­si­­ness for which I have ever re­­qui­­red your ­­help. (Three slow strokes down the centre of the ba­­ck, and one round each ear.) When it first came in­­to my mind I was at a loss who to trust in the mat­­ter. I thought of Ven­­don, but I found Ven­­don was dead. I ­­thought of Brown­­low, but Brown­­low was no lon­­ger fai­­th­­ful. (T­­wo stro­­kes ­­down the back and two on the throat.) Then bit by bit I re­­mem­­be­­red you. I was in Bra­­zil at the time. So I sent for you. You came. So far so ­­good.”

He ro­se, and cros­sed over to the fi­re­place. As he went the cat craw­led ­back to its ori­gi­nal po­si­tion on his shoul­der. Then his voice chan­ged once more to its for­mer bu­si­ness-­li­ke ­tone.

I am not going to tell you ve­­ry much about it. But from what I do tell you, you will be able to ga­­ther a great deal and ima­­gine the re­s­t. To ­­be­­gin wi­­th, there is a man li­­ving in this world to-­­day who has done me a ­­great and las­­ting in­­ju­­ry. What that in­­ju­­ry is is no concern of yours. You would not un­­ders­­tand if I told you. So we’ll leave that out of the ­­ques­­tion. He is im­­men­­se­­ly rich. His cheque for £300,000 would be ­­ho­­nou­­red by his bank at any mi­­nute. Ob­­vious­­ly he is a po­­wer. He has had ­­rea­­son to know that I am pit­­ting my wits against his, and he flat­­ters ­­him­­self that so far he has got the bet­­ter of me. That is be­­cause I am ­­dra­­wing him on. I am ma­­tu­­ring a plan which will make him a poor and a ­­ve­­ry mi­­se­­rable man at one and the same time. If that scheme suc­­ceed­s, and I am sa­­tis­­fied with the way you three men have per­­for­­med the parts I ­­shall call on you to play in it, I shall pay to each of you the sum of £10,000. If it doesn’t suc­­ceed, then you will each re­­ceive a thou­­sand and your ex­­penses. Do you fol­­low ­­me?”

It was evident from their faces that they hung upon his eve­ry ­word.

But, re­­mem­­ber, I de­­mand from you your whole and en­­tire la­­bour. Whi­­le you are ser­­ving me you are mine bo­­dy and soul. I know you are ­­trust­­wor­­thy. I have had good proof that you are—­­par­­don the ex­­pres­­sion—uns­­cru­­pu­­lous, and I flat­­ter my­­self you are silent. What is ­­mo­­re, I shall tell you no­­thing beyond what is ne­­ces­­sa­­ry for the car­­rying out of my sche­­me, so that you could not be­­tray me if you would. Now for ­­my ­­plans!”

He sat down again and took a pa­per from his po­cket. Ha­ving per­used it, he tur­ned to Eas­to­ver.

You will leave at on­­ce—­­that is to say, by the boat on Wed­­nes­­day—­­for ­­Syd­­ney. You will book your pas­­sage to-­­mor­­row mor­­ning, first thing, and ­­join her in Ply­­mouth. You will meet me to-­­mor­­row eve­­ning at an ad­­dress I ­­will send you, and re­­ceive your fi­­nal ins­­truc­­tions. ­­Good-­­night.”

Seeing that he was ex­pec­ted to go, Eas­to­ver ro­se, shook hand­s, and left the room wi­thout a word. He was too as­to­ni­shed to he­si­tate or to say a­ny­thing.

Ni­ko­la took ano­ther let­ter from his po­cket and tur­ned to Pren­der­gast. “You will go down to Do­ver to-­night, cross to Pa­ris to-­mor­row mor­ning, and leave this let­ter per­so­nal­ly at the ad­dress you will find writ­ten on it. On Thurs­day, at half-­past two pre­ci­se­ly, you will de­li­ver me an ans­wer in the porch at Cha­ring Cross. You will find suf­fi­cient mo­ney in ­that en­ve­lope to pay all your ex­penses. Now ­go!”

At half-­­past two you shall have your ans­­wer. ­­Good-­­night.”

Good-­­night.”

When Pren­der­gast had left the room, Dr. Ni­ko­la lit ano­ther ci­gar and ­tur­ned his at­ten­tions to Mr. ­Bax­ter.

Six months ago, Mr. Bax­­ter, I found for you a si­­tua­­tion as tu­­tor to the young Mar­­quis of Be­­cken­­ham. You still hold it, I ­­sup­­po­­se?”

I ­­do.”

Is the fa­­ther well dis­­po­­sed to­­ward­s you?”

In eve­­ry way. I have done my best to in­­gra­­tiate my­­self with him. That ­­was one of your ins­­truc­­tions.”

Yes, yes! But I was not cer­­tain that you would suc­­ceed. If the old man is any­­thing like what he was when I last met him he must still be a ­­dif­­fi­­cult per­­son to deal with. Does the boy li­­ke you?”

I ho­­pe ­­so.”

Have you brought me his pho­­to­­graph as I ­­di­­rec­­ted?”

I have. Here it is.”

Bax­ter took a pho­to­graph from his po­cket and han­ded it across the ­table.

Good. You have done ve­­ry well, Mr. Bax­­ter. I am plea­­sed with you. ­­To-­­mor­­row mor­­ning you will go back to York­­shi­­re——”

I beg your par­­don, Bour­­ne­­mouth. His Grace owns a house near ­­Bour­­ne­­mou­­th, which he oc­­cu­­pies du­­ring the sum­­mer ­­months.”

Ve­­ry well—­­then to-­­mor­­row mor­­ning you will go back to Bour­­ne­­mouth and ­­con­­ti­­nue to in­­gra­­tiate your­­self with fa­­ther and son. You will al­­so be­­gin ­­to im­­plant in the boy’s mind a de­­sire for tra­­vel. Don’t let him be­­co­­me a­­ware that his de­­sire has its source in you—­­but do not fail to fos­­ter it all you can. I will com­­mu­­ni­­cate with you fur­­ther in a day or two. Now ­­go.”

Bax­ter in his turn left the room. The door clo­sed. Dr. Ni­ko­la pi­cked up the pho­to­graph and stu­died it.

The li­­ke­­ness is un­­mis­­ta­­ka­­ble—or it ought to be. My friend, my ve­­ry ­­dear friend, We­­the­­rell, my toils are clo­­sing on you. My ar­­ran­­ge­­ments are ­­per­­fec­­ting them­­selves ad­­mi­­ra­­bly. Pre­­sent­­ly, when all is com­­ple­­te, I ­­shall press the le­­ver, the ma­­chi­­ne­­ry will be set in mo­­tion, and you will ­­find your­­self being slow­­ly but sur­e­ly ground in­­to pow­­der. Then you will ­­hand over what I want, and be sor­­ry you thought fit to baulk Dr. ­­Ni­­ko­­la!”

He rang the bell and or­de­red his bill. This du­ty di­schar­ged, he pla­ced the cat back in its pri­son, shut the lid, des­cen­ded with the bas­ket to the hall, and cal­led a han­som. The por­ter in­qui­red to what ad­dress he ­should or­der the cab­man to drive. Dr. Ni­ko­la did not re­ply for a mo­ment, ­then he said, as if he had been thin­king so­me­thing out: “The Green ­Sai­lor pu­blic-­hou­se, East In­dia Do­ck ­Road.”


You can read the rest of “A Bid For For­tu­ne; Or, Dr. Ni­ko­la’s Ven­det­ta” at Open ­Li­bra­ry