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19: Sport


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« on: March 18, 2023, 01:06:05 am »

"L'amour du mieux t'aura interdit le bien."

"Do I look as if I had come out of Paris in a balloon?" said John Turner, in answer to my suggestion that he had made use of a method of escape at that time popular. "No, I left by the Creteil gate, without drum or trumpet, or anything more romantic than a laissez-passer signed by Favre. There will be the devil to pay in Paris before another week has passed, and I am not going to disburse."

"In what way will he want paying?" I asked.

"Well," answered John Turner, dragging at the knees of his trousers, which garments invariably incommoded his stout legs, "Well, the Government of National Defence is beginning to show that it has been ill-named. Before long they will be replaced by a Government of National Ruin. The ass in the streets is wanting to bray in the Hôtel de Ville, and will get there before he has finished."

"You are well out of it," said I, "and do not seem to have suffered by the siege."

"Next to being a soldier it is good to be a banker in time of war," said Turner, pulling down his waistcoat, which, indeed, had been in no way affected by the privations currently reported to be the lot of the besieged Parisians.

"What about Miste?" he added, abruptly.

"I have seen his back again, I do not believe the man has a face."

And I told my astute friend of my failure to catch Charles Miste at the Bank of England.

"Truth is," commented the banker, "that Monsieur Miste is an uncommonly smart rogue. You must be careful---when he does show you his face, have a care. And if you take my advice you will leave this little business to the men who know what they are about. It is not every one who knows the way to tackle a fellow carrying a loaded revolver. By the way, do you carry such a thing yourself?"

"Never had one in my life."

"Then buy one," said Turner. "I always wear one---in a pocket at the back, where neither I nor any one else can get at it. Sorry you could not come to luncheon," he continued. "I wanted to have a long talk with you."

He settled himself in the large arm-chair, which he completely filled. I like a man to be bulky in his advancing years.

"Take that chair," he said, "and this cigar. I suppose you want something to drink. Waiter, take this gentleman's order. You young fellows cannot smoke without drinking, nowadays---horrid bad habit. Waiter, bring me the same."

When we were alone, John Turner sat smoking and looking at me with beady, reflective eyes.

"You know, Dick," he said at length, "I have got you down in my will."

"Thanks---but you will last my time."

"Then it is no good, you think?" he inquired, with a chuckle.

"Not much."

"You want it now?" he suggested.

"No."

"Your father's son," commented my father's friend. "Stubborn and rude. A true Howard of Hopton. I have got you down in my will, however, and I'm going to interfere in your affairs. That is why I sent for you."

I smoked and waited.

"I take it," he went on in his short and breathless way, "that things are at a standstill somewhat in this position. If you marry Isabella Gayerson, you will have with her money, which is a tidy fortune, four thousand a year. If you don't have the young woman, you can live at Hopton, but without a sou to your name. You want to marry Mademoiselle, who thinks you are too old and too big a scoundrel. That is Mademoiselle's business. Giraud junior is also in love with Mademoiselle Lucille, who would doubtless marry him if he had the wherewithal. In the mean time she is coy---awaiting the result of your search. You are seeking Giraud's money, so that he may marry Mademoiselle of the bright eyes---you understand that, I suppose?"

"Thoroughly."

"That is all right. It is best to have these affairs clearly stated. Now, why the devil do you not ask Isabella to marry you----"

"To begin with, she would not have me," I interrupted.

"Nice girl, capable of a deep and passionate affection---I know these quiet women---two thousand five hundred a year."

"She wouldn't have me."

"Then ask her, and when she has refused you, fight the validity of your father's will."

"But she might not refuse me," said I. "She hates me, though! I know that. There is no one on earth with such a keen scent for my faults."

"Ye---es," said Turner slowly. "Well?"

"She might think it her duty to accept me on account of the will."

"Have you ever known a woman weigh duty against the inclination of her own heart?"

"I know little about women," replied I, "and doubt whether you know more."

"That is as may be. And you wouldn't marry Isabella for two thousand a year?"

"Not for twenty thousand," replied I, half in my wineglass.

"Virtuous young man! Why?"

I looked at Turner and laughed.

"A slip of a French girl," he muttered contemptuously. "No bigger round than the calf of my leg."

And I suppose he only spoke the truth.

He continued thus to give me much good advice, to which, no doubt, had I been prudent, I should have listened with entire faith. But my friend, like other worldly wiseacres, had many theories which he himself failed to put into practice. And as he spoke there was a twinkle in his eye, and a tone of scepticism in his voice, as if he knew that he was but whistling to the wind.

Then John Turner fell to abusing Miste and Giraud and the late poor Vicomte as a parcel of knaves and fools.

"Here am I," he cried, "with a bundle of my signatures being hawked about the world by a thief, and cannot stop one of them. Every one knows that my paper is good; the drafts will be negotiated from pillar to post like a Bank of England note, and the account will not be closed for years."

It was a vexatious matter for so distinguished a banker to be mixed in, and I could give him but little comfort. While I was still with him, however, a letter was brought to me which enlightened us somewhat. This communication was from my agent Sander, and bore the Brussels postmark.

"This Miste," he wrote, "is no ordinary scoundrel, but one who will want most careful treatment, or we shall lose the whole amount. I have now arrived at the conclusion that he has two accomplices, and one of these in London; for I am undoubtedly watched, and my movements are probably reported to Miste. Yourself and Monsieur Giraud are doubtless under surveillance also. I am always on Miste's heels, but never catch him up. It seems quite clear, from the inconsequence of his movements, that he is endeavouring to meet an accomplice, but that my presence so close upon his heels repeatedly scares them apart. He receives letters and telegrams at the Poste Restante, under the name of Marcel. So close was I upon his track, that at Bruges I caused him to break his appointment by a few hours only. He sent off a telegram, and made himself scarce only two hours before my arrival. This is a large affair, and we must have great patience. In the mean time, I think it probable that Miste will not endeavour to cash any more drafts. He only wants sufficient for current expenses, and will probably endeavour to negotiate the whole amount to some small foreign government in guise of a loan."

"That is what he will do," affirmed John Turner. "Persia or China or a needy South American state."

It pleased me at times to think that I could guess Lucille's thoughts, and indeed she made it plain at this time that she cherished some grudge against me. It was, I suppose, only natural that she should suspect me of lukewarmness in a search which, if successful, would inevitably militate to my own discomfiture. Alphonse Giraud was doubtless awaiting, with a half-concealed impatience, the moment when he might honourably press his suit. Thus, Charles Miste held us all in the hollow of his hand, and the news I had received was as important to others as to myself.

I therefore hurried to Hyde Park Street, and had the good fortune to find all the party within. I made known the contents of Sander's letter, adding thereto, for the benefit of the ladies, John Turner's comments and my own suspicions.

"We shall catch him yet!" cried Alphonse, forgetting in the excitement of the moment the dignified reserve which had of late stood between us. "Bravo, Howard! we shall catch him yet."

He wrung my hand effusively, and then, remembering himself, glanced at Isabella, as I thought, and lapsed into attentive and suspicious silence.

Having made my report I withdrew, and at the corner of the street was nearly run over by a private hansom cab, at that time a fashionable vehicle among men about town. I caught a glimpse of a courteous gloved hand, and Mr. Devar's face wreathed in the pleasantest of smiles.

"You omitted to tell me at what hour you dine," was the remark with which Mr. Devar made his entrance. He refused to accept a chair, and took his stand on the hearth-rug without monopolising the fire, and with perfect ease and a word for every one.

"As I drove here I passed your friend Mr. Howard," he said presently, and Isabella said "Ah!"

"Yes, and he looked somewhat absorbed."

Mr. Devar waited, and after a pause, kindly continued to interest himself in so unworthy a subject.

"Did you not tell me," he remarked, "that Mr. Howard is engaged on some---er---quixotic enterprise---the search for a fortune he has lost?"

"The fortune is Monsieur Giraud's," said the lady of the house.

Devar turned to Alphonse with a bow appropriately French.

"Then I congratulate Monsieur on his---possibilities."

His manner of speech was suggestive of a desire to conceal a glibness which is usually accounted a fault.

"And I hope that Mr. Howard's obvious absorption was not due to---discouragement."

"On the contrary," answered Isabella, "Mr. Howard has just given us a most hopeful report."

"Has he caught the thief?"

"No; but his agent, a Mr. Sander, writes from Brussels that he has traced the thief to the Netherlands, and there seems to be some probability that he will be taken."

"My experience of thieves," said Mr. Devar airily, "has been small. But I imagine they are hard to take when they once get away. Mr. Howard is, I fear, wasting his time."

Isabella answered nothing to this, though her pinched lips seemed to indicate a doubt whether such a waste was in reality going forward.

"Our neighbour's enterprise usually appears to be a waste of time, does it not?" he said, with the large tolerance of a man owning to many failings.

Alphonse shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands with a gesture of helplessness, further accentuated by the bandage on his wrist.

"I do not so much want to catch the thief as to possess myself of the money," he said.

"You are charitable, Monsieur Giraud."

"No---I am poor."

Devar laughed in the pleasantest manner imaginable.

"And of course," he said, indicating the Frenchman's maimed hand, which was usually in evidence, "you are unable to undertake the search yourself?"

"As yet."

"Then you intend ultimately to join in the chase---you are a great sportsman, I hear?"

The graceful compliment was not lost upon Alphonse, who beamed upon his interlocutor.

"In a small way---in a small way," he answered. "Yes, when they strike a really good scent I shall follow, wounds or no wounds."

At this Mr. Devar expressed some concern, and made himself additionally agreeable. He refused still to be seated, saying that he had but come to ascertain the dinner hour on the following Thursday. Nevertheless, he prolonged his stay and made himself vastly fascinating.

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