«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
"Impossible," Charles answered. "Y see, the limit is a ou meridian of longitude. There's no getting over that. Can't pretend to deny it. No buying over the sun! No bribing the instruments! Besides, we drew the line ourselves. We've only one way out of it, Sey. Amalgamate! Amalgamate!" Charles is a marvellous man! The very voice in which he murmured that blessed word "Amalgamate!" was in itself a poem.
"Capital!" I answered. "Say nothing about it, and join forces with Craig-Ellachie."
Charles closed one eye pensively.
That very same evening came a telegram in cipher from our chief engineer on the territory of the option: "Y oung Granton has somehow given us the slip and gone home.
We suspect he knows all. But we have not divulged the secret to anybody."
"Seymour," my brother-in-law said impressively, "there is no time to be lost. I must write this evening to Sir David—I mean to My Lord. Do you happen to know where he is stopping at present?" "The Morning Post announced two or three days ago that he was at Glen-Ellachie," I answered.
"Then I'll ask him to come over and thrash the matter out with me," my brother-in-law went on. "A very rich reef, they say. I must have my finger in it!" We adjourned into the study, where Sir Charles drafted, I must admit, a most judicious letter to the rival capitalist. He pointed out that the mineral resources of the country were probably great, but as yet uncertain. That the expense of crushing and milling might be almost prohibitive. That access to fuel was costly, and its conveyance difficult. That water was scarce, and commanded by our section. That two rival companies, if they happened to hit upon ore, might cut one another's throats by erecting two sets of furnaces or pumping plants, and bringing two separate streams to the spot, where one would answer. In short—to employ the golden word—that amalgamation might prove better in the end than competition; and that he advised, at least, a conference on the subject.
I wrote it out fair for him, and Sir Charles, with the air of a Cromwell, signed it.
"This is important, Sey," he said. "It had better be registered, for fear of falling into improper hands. Don't give it to Dobson; let Césarine take it over to Fowlis in the dogcart."
It is the drawback of Seldon that we are twelve miles from a railway station, though we look out on one of the loveliest firths in Scotland.
Césarine took it as directed—an invaluable servant, that girl! Meanwhile, we learned from the Morning Post next day that young Mr. Granton had stolen a march upon us. He had arrived from Africa by the same mail with our agent's letter, and had joined his father at once at Glen-Ellachie.
Two days later we received a most polite reply from the opposing interest. It ran after this fashion:— "CRAIG-ELLACHIE LODGE, "GLEN-ELLACHIE, INVERNESS-SHIRE.
"DEAR SIR CHARLES VANDRIFT—Thanks for yours of the 20th. In reply, I can only say I fully reciprocate your amiable desire that nothing adverse to either of our companies should happen in South Africa. With regard to your suggestion that we should meet in person, to discuss the basis of a possible amalgamation, I can only say my house is at present full of guests—as is doubtless your own—and I should therefore find it practically impossible to leave GlenEllachie. Fortunately, however, my son David is now at home on a brief holiday from Kimberley; and it will give him great pleasure to come over and hear what you have to say in favour of an arrangement which certainly, on some grounds, seems to me desirable in the interests of both our concessions alike. He will arrive to-morrow afternoon at Seldon, and he is authorised, in every respect, to negotiate with full powers on behalf of myself and the other directors.
With kindest regards to your wife and sons, I remain, dear Sir Charles, yours faithfully, "CRAIG-ELLACHIE."
"Cunning old fox!" Sir Charles exclaimed, with a sniff.
"What's he up to now, I wonder? Seems almost as anxious to amalgamate as we ourselves are, Sey." A sudden thought struck him. "Do you know," he cried, looking up, "I really believe the same thing must have happened to both our exploring parties. They must have found a reef that goes under our ground, and the wicked old rascal wants to cheat us out of it!" "As we want to cheat him," I ventured to interpose.
Charles looked at me fixedly. "Well, if so, we're both in luck," he murmured, after a pause; "though we can only get to know the whereabouts of their find by joining hands with them and showing them ours. Still, it's good business either way. But I shall be cautious—cautious."
"What a nuisance!" Amelia cried, when we told her of the incident. "I suppose I shall have to put the man up for the night—a nasty, raw-boned, half-baked Scotchman, you may be certain."
On Wednesday afternoon, about three, young Granton arrived. He was a pleasant-featured, red-haired, sandywhiskered youth, not unlike his father; but, strange to say, he dropped in to call, instead of bringing his luggage.
"Why, you're not going back to Glen-Ellachie to-night, surely?" Charles exclaimed, in amazement. "Lady Vandrift will be sodisappointed! Besides, this business can't be arranged between two trains, do you think, Mr. Granton?" Young Granton smiled. He had an agreeable smile— canny, yet open.
"Oh no," he said frankly. "I didn't mean to go back. I've put up at the inn. I have my wife with me, you know—and, I wasn't invited."
Amelia was of opinion, when we told her this episode, that David Granton wouldn't stop at Seldon because he was an Honourable. Isabel was of opinion he wouldn't stop because he had married an unpresentable young woman somewhere out in South Africa. Charles was of opinion that, as representative of the hostile interest, he put up at the inn, because it might tie his hands in some way to be the guest of the chairman of the rival company. And I was of opinion that he had heard of the castle, and knew it well by report as the dullest country-house to stay at in Scotland.
However that may be, young Granton insisted on remaining at the Cromarty Arms, though he told us his wife would be delighted to receive a call from Lady Vandrift and Mrs. Wentworth. So we all returned with him to bring the Honourable Mrs. Granton up to tea at the Castle.
She was a nice little thing, very shy and timid, but by no means unpresentable, and an evident lady. She giggled at the end of every sentence; and she was endowed with a slight squint, which somehow seemed to point all her feeble sallies. She knew little outside South Africa; but of that she talked prettily; and she won all our hearts, in spite of the cast in her eye, by her unaffected simplicity.
Next morning Charles and I had a regular debate with young Granton about the rival options. Our talk was of cyanide processes, reverberatories, pennyweights, waterjackets. But it dawned upon us soon that, in spite of his red hair and his innocent manners, our friend, the Honourable David Granton, knew a thing or two. Gradually and gracefully he let us see that Lord Craig-Ellachie had sent him for the benefit of the company, but that he had come for the benefit of the Honourable David Granton.
"I'm a younger son, Sir Charles," he said; "and therefore I have to feather my nest for myself. I know the ground. My father will be guided implicitly by what I advise in the matter.
We are men of the world. Now, let's be businesslike. You want to amalgamate. Y wouldn't do that, of ou course, if you didn't know of something to the advantage of my father's company—say, a lode on our land—which you hope to secure for yourself by amalgamation. Very well; I can make or mar your project. If you choose to render it worth my while, I'll induce my father and his directors to amalgamate. If you don't, I won't. That's the long and the short of it!" Charles looked at him admiringly.
"Y oung man," he said, "you're deep, very deep—for your age. Is this candour—or deception? Do you mean what you say? Or do you know some reason why it suits your father's book to amalgamate as well as it suits mine? And are you trying to keep it from me?" He fingered his chin. "If I only knew that," he went on, "I should know how to deal with you."
Young Granton smiled again. "Y ou're a financier, Sir Charles," he answered. "I wonder, at your time of life, you should pause to ask another financier whether he's trying to fill his own pocket—or his father's. Whatever is my father's goes to his eldest son—and Iam his youngest."
"Y are right as to general principles," Sir Charles ou replied, quite affectionately. "Most sound and sensible. But how do I know you haven't bargained already in the same way with your father? Y may have settled with him, and ou be trying to diddle me."
The young man assumed a most candid air. "Look here," he said, leaning forward. "I offer you this chance. Take it or leave it. Doyou wish to purchase my aid for this amalgamation by a moderate commission on the net value of my father's option to yourself—which I know approximately?" "Say five per cent," I suggested, in a tentative voice, just to justify my presence.
He looked me through and through. "Ten is more usual," he answered, in a peculiar tone and with a peculiar glance.
Great heavens, how I winced! I knew what his words meant. They were the very words I had said myself to Colonel Clay, as the Count von Lebenstein, about the purchase-money of the schloss—and in the very same accent. I saw through it all now. That beastly cheque! This was Colonel Clay; and he was trying to buy up my silence and assistance by the threat of exposure!
My blood ran cold. I didn't know how to answer him. What happened at the rest of that interview I really couldn't tell you. My brain reeled round. I heard just faint echoes of "fuel" and "reduction works." What on earth was I to do? If I told Charles my suspicion—for it was only a suspicion—the fellow might turn upon me and disclose the cheque, which would suffice to ruin me. If I didn't, I ran a risk of being considered by Charles an accomplice and a confederate.
The interview was long. I hardly know how I struggled through it. At the end young Granton went off, well satisfied, if it was young Granton; and Amelia invited him and his wife up to dinner at the castle.
Whatever else they were, they were capital company.
They stopped for three days more at the Cromarty Arms.
And Charles debated and discussed incessantly. He couldn't quite make up his mind what to do in the affair;
and I certainly couldn't help him. I never was placed in such a fix in my life. I did my best to preserve a strict neutrality.
Y oung Granton, it turned out, was a most agreeable person; and so, in her way, was that timid, unpretending South African wife of his. She was naively surprised Amelia had never met her mamma at Durban. They both talked delightfully, and had lots of good stories—mostly with points that told against the Craig-Ellachie people. Moreover, the Honourable David was a splendid swimmer. He went out in a boat with us, and dived like a seal. He was burning to teach Charles and myself to swim, when we told him we could neither of us take a single stroke; he said it was an accomplishment incumbent upon every true Englishman.
But Charles hates the water; while, as for myself, I detest every known form of muscular exercise.
However, we consented that he should row us on the Firth, and made an appointment one day with himself and his wife for four the next evening.
That night Charles came to me with a very grave face in my own bedroom. "Sey," he said, under his breath, "have you observed? Have you watched? Have you any suspicions?" I trembled violently. I felt all was up. "Suspicions of whom?" I asked. "Not surely of Simpson?" (he was Sir Charles's valet).
My respected brother-in-law looked at me contemptuously.
"Sey," he said, "are you trying to take me in? No, not of Simpson: of these two young folks. My own belief is— they're Colonel Clay and Madame Picardet."
"Impossible!" I cried.
He nodded. "I'm sure of it."
"How do you know?" "Instinctively."
I seized his arm. "Charles," I said, imploring him, "do nothing rash. Remember how you exposed yourself to the ridicule of fools over Dr. Polperro!" "I've thought of that," he answered, "and I mean to ca' caller." (When in Scotland as laird of Seldon, Charles loves both to dress and to speak the part thoroughly.) "First thing to-morrow I shall telegraph over to inquire at Glen-Ellachie; I shall find out whether this is really young Granton or not;
meanwhile, I shall keep my eye close upon the fellow."
Early next morning, accordingly, a groom was dispatched with a telegram to Lord Craig-Ellachie. He was to ride over to Fowlis, send it off at once, and wait for the answer. At the same time, as it was probable Lord CraigEllachie would have started for the moors before the telegram reached the Lodge, I did not myself expect to see the reply arrive much before seven or eight that evening.
Meanwhile, as it was far from certain we had not the real David Granton to deal with, it was necessary to be polite to our friendly rivals. Our experience in the Polperro incident had shown us both that too much zeal may be more dangerous than too little. Nevertheless, taught by previous misfortunes, we kept watching our man pretty close, determined that on this occasion, at least, he should neither do us nor yet escape us.
About four o'clock the red-haired young man and his pretty little wife came up to call for us. She looked so charming and squinted so enchantingly, one could hardly believe she was not as simple and innocent as she seemed to be. She tripped down to the Seldon boat-house, with Charles by her side, giggling and squinting her best, and then helped her husband to get the skiff ready. As she did so, Charles sidled up to me. "Sey," he whispered, "I'm an old hand, and I'm not readily taken in. I've been talking to that girl, and upon my soul I think she's all right. She's a charming little lady. We may be mistaken after all, of course, about young Granton. In any case, it's well for the present to be courteous. A most important option! If it's really he, we must do nothing to annoy him or let him see we suspect him."
I had noticed, indeed, that Mrs. Granton had made herself most agreeable to Charles from the very beginning.
And as to one thing he was right. In her timid, shrinking way she was undeniably charming. That cast in her eye was all pure piquancy.
We rowed out on to the Firth, or, to be more strictly correct, the two Grantons rowed while Charles and I sat and leaned back in the stern on the luxurious cushions. They rowed fast and well. In a very few minutes they had rounded the point and got clear out of sight of the Cockneyfied towers and false battlements of Seldon.
Mrs. Granton pulled stroke. Even as she rowed she kept up a brisk undercurrent of timid chaff with Sir Charles, giggling all the while, half forward, half shy, like a school-girl who flirts with a man old enough to be her grandfather.
Sir Charles was flattered. He is susceptible to the pleasures of female attention, especially from the young, the simple, and the innocent. The wiles of women of the world he knows too well; but a pretty little ingénue can twist him round her finger. They rowed on and on, till they drew abreast of Seamew's island. It is a jagged stack or skerry, well out to sea, very wild and precipitous on the landward side, but shelving gently outward; perhaps an acre in extent, with steep gray cliffs, covered at that time with crimson masses of red valerian. Mrs. Granton rowed up close to it.
"Oh, what lovely flowers!" she cried, throwing her head back and gazing at them. "I wish I could get some! Let's land here and pick them. Sir Charles, you shall gather me a nice bunch for my sitting-room."
Charles rose to it innocently, like a trout to a fly.
"By all means, my dear child, I—I have a passion for flowers;" which was a flower of speech itself, but it served its purpose.