Jasper undressed and went to bed

Jasper undressed and went to bed, and slept as soundly as men of his peculiar caliber do sleep, while Scrivell was standing[118] at the corner of a street in Covent Garden, with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the entrance to King’s Hotel. A little after nine Jasper awoke, had his bath, dressed, went out, got some breakfast, and sat down to work, and for the time being forgot—actually forgot—that such an individual as Stella Etheridge existed.
That was the secret of his power, that he could concentrate his attention on one subject to the absolute abnegation of all others.
Several visitors put in an appearance on business, Jasper opening the door by means of a wire which drew back the handle, without moving.
At about half-past twelve someone knocked. Jasper opened the door, and a tall, fashionably-dressed young gentleman entered.
It was a certain Captain Halliday, who had been one of the guests at Wyndward Hall on the first night of our introduction there.
Captain Halliday was a man about town; one who had been rich, but who had worked very hard to make himself poor—and nearly succeeded. He was a well-known man, and a member of a fast club, at which high play formed the chief amusement.
Jasper knew him socially, and got up—a thing he did not often do—to shake hands.
“How do you do?” he said, motioning him to a chair. “Anything I can do for you?”
It was generally understood by Jasper’s acquaintances that Jasper’s time was money, and they respected the hours devoted by him to business.
Captain Halliday smiled.
“You always come to the point, Adelstone,” he replied. “Yes, I want a little advice.”
Jasper sat down and clasped his hands over his knee; they were very white and carefully-kept hands.
“Hope I may be able to give it to you. What is it?”
“Well look here,” said the captain, “you don’t mind my smoking a cigarette, do you? I can always talk better while I am smoking.”
“Not at all—I like it,” said Jasper.
“But the lady clients?” said the captain, with a little contraction of the eyelids, which was suspiciously near a wink.
“I don’t think they mind,” said Jasper. “They are generally too occupied with their own business to notice. A light?” and he handed the wax tapers which stood on his desk for sealing purposes.
The captain lighted his cigarette slowly. It was evident that the matter upon which he required advice was delicate, and only to be attacked with much deliberation.
“Look here!” he began; “I’ve come upon rather an awkward business.”
Jasper smiled. It not unfrequently happened that his clients came to him for money, and not unfrequently he managed to find some for them—of course through some friend, always[119] through some friend “in the City,” who demanded and obtained a tolerably large interest.
Jasper smiled, and wondered how much the captain wanted, and whether it would be safe to lend it.
“What is it?” he said.
“You know the Rookery?” asked the captain.
Jasper nodded.
“I was there the other night—I’m there every night, I’m afraid,” he added; “but I am referring to the night before last——”
“Yes,” said Jasper, intending to help him. “And luck went against you, and you lost a pile.”
“No, I didn’t,” said the captain; “I won a pile.”
“I congratulate you,” said Jasper, with a cool smile.
“I won a pile!” said the captain, “from all round; but principally from a young fellow—a mere boy, who was there as a visitor, introduced by young Bellamy—know young Bellamy?”
“Yes, yes,” said Jasper—he was very busy. “Everybody knows Bellamy. Well!”
“Well, the young fellow—I was awfully sorry for him, and tried to persuade him to turn it up, but he wouldn’t. You know what youngsters are when they are green at this confounded game?”
Jasper nodded again rather more impatiently. Scrivell would be back directly, and he was anxious to hear the result of his scrutiny.
“Luck went with him at first, and he won a good deal, but it turned after a time and I was the better by a cool hundred and fifty; I stopped at that—it was too much as it was to win from a youngster, and he gave me his I O U.”
The captain paused and lit another cigarette.
“Next morning, being rather pressed—did I tell you I went home with Gooch and one or two others and lost the lot?” he broke off, simply.
Jasper smiled.
“No, you did not mention it, but I can quite believe it. Go on.”
“Next morning, being rather pressed—I wanted to pay my own I O U’s—I looked him up to collect his.”
“And he put you off, and you want me to help you,” said Jasper, smiling behind his white hand.
“No, I don’t. I wish you’d hear me out,” said the captain, not unnaturally aggrieved by the repeated interruption.
“I beg your pardon!” said Jasper. “I thought I should help to bring you to the point. But, there, tell it your own way.”
“He didn’t refuse; he gave me a bill,” said the captain; “said he was sorry he couldn’t manage the cash, but expecting me to call had got a bill ready.”
“Which you naturally declined to accept from a perfect stranger,” said Jasper.
“Which I did nothing of the sort,” said the captain, coolly. “It was backed by Bellamy, and that was good enough for me. Bellamy’s name written across the back, making himself responsible for the money, if the young fellow didn’t pay.”
[120]
“I understand what a bill is,” said Jasper, with a smile.
“Of course,” assented the captain, puffing at his cigarette, “Bellamy’s name, mind, which was good enough for me.”
“And for most people.”
“Well, I meant to get some fellow to discount this, get some money for it, you know, but happening to meet Bellamy at the club, it occurred to me that he mightn’t like the bill hawked about, so I asked him if he’d take it up. See?”
“Quite. Whether he’d give you the money for it—the hundred and fifty pounds. I see,” said Jasper. “Well?”
“Well, I put it rather delicately—there was a lot of fellows about—and he didn’t seem to understand me. ‘What bill do you mean, old man?’ he said. ‘I took an oath not to fly any more paper a year ago, and I’ve kept it, by George!'”
Jasper leant forward slightly; the keen, hard look which comes into the eyes of a hound that suddenly scents game, came into his. But this time he did not speak; as was usual with him when interested, he remained silent.
“Well, I flatter myself I played a cool hand,” said the captain, complacently flicking the ash from his cigarette. “I knew the bill was a—a——”
“Forgery,” said Jasper, coldly.
The captain nodded gravely.
“A forgery. But I felt for the poor young beggar, and didn’t want to be hard on him; so I pretended to Bellamy that I’d made a mistake and meant somebody else, and explained that I’d been at the champagne rather freely the other night; and—you know Bellamy—he was satisfied.”
“Well?” said Jasper, in a low voice.
“Well, then I took a cab, and drove to 22 Percival street——”
He paused abruptly, and bit his lip; but Jasper, though he heard the address, and had stamped it, as it were, on his memory, showed no sign of having noticed it, and examined his nails curiously.
“I drove to the young fellow’s rooms, and he confessed to it. Poor young beggar! I pitied him from the bottom of my heart—I did indeed. Wrong, I know. Justice, and example, and all that, you’ll say; but if you’d seen him, with his head buried in his hands, and his whole frame shaking like a leaf, why, you’d have pitied him yourself.”
Jasper put up his hand to his mouth to hide a sneer.
“Very likely,” he said—”most likely. I have a particularly soft heart for—forgers.”
The captain started slightly. It was a horrible word!
“I don’t believe the young beggar meant it, not in cold blood, you know; but he was so knocked of a heap by my dropping down upon him, and so afraid of looking like a welsher that the idea of the bill struck him, and he did it. He swears that Bellamy and he are such chums, that Bellamy wouldn’t have minded.”
“Ah,” said Jasper, with a smile, “the judge and jury will look at that in a different light.”
“The judge and jury! What do you mean?” demanded the[121] captain. “You don’t think I’m going to—what’s-its-name—prosecute?”
“Then what are you here for?” Jasper was going to say, but politely corrected it to “Then what can I do for you?”
“Well, here’s the strange part of the story! I went home to find the bill and tear it up——”
Jasper smiled again, and again hid the delicate sneer.
“But if you’ll believe me, I couldn’t find it! What do you think I’d done with it?”
“I don’t know,” said Jasper. “Lit your cigar with it!”
“No; in a fit of absence of mind—we’ll call it champagne cup and brandy-and-soda!—I’d given it to old Murphy with some other bills in payment of a debt. Think of that! There’s that poor young beggar almost out of his mind with remorse and terror, and that old wretch, Murphy, has got that bill! And if it isn’t got from him he’ll have the law of young—of the boy as sure as Fate is Fate!”
“Yes; I know Murphy,” said Jasper with delicious coolness. “He’d be so wild that he’d not rest satisfied until he’d sent your fast young friend across the herring-pond.”
“But he mustn’t! I should never forgive myself! Think of it, Adelstone! Quite a young boy—a curly-headed young beggar that ought to be forgiven a little thing of this sort!”
“A little thing!” and Jasper laughed.
He also rose and looked as if he had already expended as much of his time as he could afford.
“Well?” he said.
“Well!” echoed the captain. “Now I want you to send for that bill, Adelstone, and get it at once.”
“Certainly,” said Jasper. “I may be permitted to mention that you are doing rather a—well, very injudicious thing? You are losing a hundred and fifty pounds to save your gentleman from—well, departing for that bourne to which he will certainly sooner or later wend. He will get transported sooner or later; a youngster who begins like this always goes on. Why lose a hundred and fifty pounds? But there,” he added, seeing a look of quiet determination on the captain’s honest, if simple, face, “that is your business; mine is to give you advice, and I’ve done it. If you’ll write a check for the amount, I’ll send my clerk over to Murphy’s. He is out at present, but he’ll be back,” looking at the clock, “before you have written the check,” and he handed the captain a pen, and motioned him politely to the desk.
But the captain changed color, and laughed with some embarrassment.
“Look here,” he said, “look here, Adelstone, it isn’t quite convenient to write a check—confound it! You talk as if I had the old balance at my bankers! I can’t do it. I ask you to lend me the money—see?”
Jasper gave a start of surprise though he felt none. He knew what had been coming.
“I’m very sorry, my dear fellow,” he said. “But I’m afraid I can’t do it. I am very short this morning, and have some[122] heavy matters to meet. I’ve been buying some shares for a client, and am quite cleared out for the present.”
“But,” pleaded the captain, earnestly, more earnestly than he had ever pleaded for a loan on his own account, “but think of the youngster, Adelstone.”
Then Jasper smiled—a hard, cold smile.
“Excuse me, Halliday,” he said, thrusting his hands in his pockets, “but I have been thinking of him, and I can’t see my way to doing this for a young scoundrel——”
“He’s no scoundrel,” said the captain, with a flush.
“A young forger, then, if you prefer it, my dear fellow,” said Jasper, with a cold laugh, “who ought to be punished, if anyone deserves punishment. Why, it is compounding a felony!” he added, virtuously.
“Oh, come!” said the captain, with a troubled smile, “that’s nonsense, you talking like that! I want the matter hushed up, Adelstone.”
“Well, though I don’t agree with you, I won’t argue the matter,” said Jasper, “but I can’t lend you the money to hush it up with, Halliday. If it were for yourself, now——”
There was something in Jasper’s cold face, in his compressed, almost sneering lips, and hard, keen eyes, that convinced the captain any further time expended in endeavoring to soften Jasper Adelstone’s heart would be time wasted.
“Never mind,” he said, “I’m sorry I’ve taken up your time. Good-morning. Of course this is quite confidential, you know, eh?”
Jasper raised his eyebrows and smiled pleasantly.
“My dear Halliday, you are in a lawyer’s office. Nothing that occurs within these walls gets out, unless the client wishes it. Your little story is as safely locked up in my bosom as if you had never told it. Good-morning.”
The captain put on his hat and turned to go, but at that moment the door opened and Scrivell entered.
“I beg pardon,” he said, and drew back, but paused, and, instead of going out, walked up to Jasper’s desk, and laid a piece of paper on it.
Jasper took it up eagerly. There was one line written on it, and it was this:
“22 Percival street!”
Jasper did not start; he did not even change color, but his lips tightened, and a gleam of eagerness shot from his eyes.
With the paper in his hand, he looked up carelessly.
“All right, Scrivell. Oh, by the way, just run after Captain Halliday, and tell him I should like another word with him.”
Scrivell disappeared, and in another minute the captain re-entered.
He still looked rather downcast.
tumblr_o5ezn8n9ol1uqlhgjo2_1280“What is it?” he said, with his hand on the door.
Jasper went and closed it; then he laughed in his quiet, noiseless way.
“I’m afraid you’ll think me a soft kind of lawyer, Halliday, but this story of yours has touched me; it has, indeed!”
[123]
The captain nodded, and dropped into a chair.
“I thought it had,” he said, simply. “Touch anybody, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, yes!” said Jasper, with a sigh. “It’s very wrong, you know—altogether out of the line, but I suppose you’ve set your heart on hushing it up, eh?”
“I have, indeed,” said the captain, eagerly. “And if you knew all you’d say the same.”
“Haven’t you told me all?” said Jasper, quietly. “I don’t mean the boy’s name; you can keep that if you like.”
“No, I don’t mean to conceal anything, if you’ll help me,” said the captain ingenuously. “Of course if you had decided not to, I should have kept dark about his name.”
“Of course,” said Jasper, with a smile; and he glanced at the slip of paper. “Well, perhaps you’d better tell me all, hadn’t you?”
“I think I had,” assented the captain. “Well, the youngster’s name is—Etheridge?”
“Ether—how do you spell it?” asked Jasper, carelessly.
The captain spelt it.
“Not a common name, and he’s anything but a common boy; he’s a handsome youngster, and I couldn’t help pitying him, because he has been left to himself so much—no friends, and all that sort of thing.”
“How’s that?” asked Jasper, with his eyes cast down, a hungry eagerness eating at his heart. There was some mystery after all, then, about the old man!
“Well, it is this way. It seems he’s the son of an old man—a painter, or a writer, or something, who lives away in the country, and who can’t bear this boy near him.”
“Why?” asked Jasper, examining his nails.
“Because he’s like his mother,” said the captain, simply.
“And she——?” said Jasper, softly.
“She ran away with another man, and left her boy behind——”
“I understand.”
“Yes,” resumed the captain. “Usual thing, the husband, this boy’s father, was awfully cut up; left the world and buried himself and sent the boy away, treated him very well, though, all the same; sent him to Eton, and to Cambridge, under the care of a tutor, and that sort of thing, but couldn’t bear to see him. He’s up now for the holidays—the boy, I mean!”
“I understand,” said Jasper, in a low voice. “Quite a story, isn’t it? And”—he paused to throw the piece of paper on the fire—”do you think the boy has communicated with the father ever since?”
“Heaven knows—not unlikely. He said something about telegraphing.”
“Oh, yes; just so,” said Jasper, carelessly. “Well, it will be inconvenient, but I suppose I must do what you want. The sooner we get this over the better,” and he sat down and drew out his check book.
[124]
“Thanks, thanks!” muttered the captain. “I didn’t think a good fellow like you would stand back; I didn’t, indeed!”
“I ought not to do it,” murmured Jasper, with a shake of the head, as he rang the bell.
“Take this letter to Murphy, and wait, Scrivell,” he said.
Scrivell disappeared noiselessly.
“By the way,” said Jasper, “have you mentioned this to any one excepting me?”
“Not to a soul,” replied the captain; “and you bet, I shall not of course.”
“Of course,” said Jasper, with a smile; “it wouldn’t be worth spending a hundred and fifty to hush it up if you did. Mention such a thing to one person—excepting me, of course,”—and he smiled—”and you let the whole world know. Where did you get all this information?”
“From Bellamy, the boy’s chum,” said the captain. “He asked me to look him up occasionally.”
“I see,” said Jasper. “You won’t mind my writing a letter or two, will you?”
“Go on,” said the captain, lighting the fifth cigarette.
Jasper went to a cupboard and brought out a small bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses.
“The generous glow of so virtuous an action—which by-the-way is strictly illegal—suggests something to drink,” he said, with a smile.
The captain nodded.
“I didn’t know you did this sort of thing here,” he said, looking round.
“I don’t as a rule,” said Jasper, with a dry smile. “Will you slip that bolt into the door?”
The captain, greatly enjoying anything in the shape of an irregularity, did as he was bidden, and the two sat and sipped their wine, and Jasper threw off his dry business air and chatted about things in general until Scrivell knocked. Jasper opened the door for him and took an envelope from his hand and carried it to the desk.
“Well?” said the captain, eagerly.
“All right,” said Jasper, holding up the bill.
The captain drew a long breath of relief.
“I feel as if I had done it myself,” he said, with a laugh. “Poor young beggar, he’ll be glad to know he’s to get off scot free.”
“Ah!” said Jasper. “By-the-way, hadn’t you better drop him a line?”
“Right,” exclaimed the captain, eagerly; “that’s a good idea. May I write it here?”
Jasper pushed a sheet of plain paper before him and an envelope.
“Don’t date it from here,” he said; “date it from your lodgings. You don’t want him to know that anybody else knows anything about it, of course.”
“Of course not! How thoughtful you are. That’s the best of[125] a lawyer—always keeps his head cool,” and he drew up a chair, and wrote not in the best of hands or the best of spelling:
“Dear Mr. Etheridge—I’ve got—you know what. It is all right. Nothing more need be said. Be a good boy for the future.”
“Yours truly,
“Harry Halliday.”
“How’s that?” he asked, handing the note to Jasper.
Jasper looked up; he was bending over his desk, apparently writing a letter, and looked up with an absent expression.
“Eh?” he said. “Oh, yes; that will do. Stop though, to set his mind quite at rest, better say that you have destroyed it—as you have, see!” and he took the envelope and held it over the taper until it burnt down nearly to his finger, dropping the remaining fragment on the desk and allowing it to turn and smolder away.
The captain added the line to that effect.
“Now your man can run with it, if you’ll be so good.”
Jasper smiled.
“No,” he said. “I think not. I’ll send a commissionaire.”
He rang the bell and took up the letter.
“Send this by the commissionaire,” he said. “There is no answer. Tell him to give it in and come away.”
“And now I’m off,” said the captain. “I’ll let you have a check in a day or two, Adelstone, and I’m very much obliged to you.”
“All right,” said Jasper, with a slightly absent air as if his mind was already engaged with other matters. “No hurry; whenever it’s convenient. Good-bye!”
He went back to his desk before the captain had left the room, and bent over his letter, but as the departing footsteps died away, he sprang up, locked the door, and drawing a slip of paper from under his blotting pad, held it before him with both hands and looked down at it with a smile of eager triumph.
It was the forged bill. Without a word or gesture he looked at it for a full minute, gloating over it as if it were some live, sentient thing lying in his path and utterly at his mercy; then at last he raised his head, and his lips parted with a smile of conscious power.
“So soon!” he muttered; “so soon! Fate is with me! She is mine! My beautiful Stella! Yes, she is mine, though a hundred Lord Leycesters stood between us!”