Long Odds

Chapter XVI

Ways and Means

Marcus Clarke


THERE IS, as a rule, no greater official dandy than your rising young diplomatist; that is, in his official surroundings. Looking at them in the abstract, there is not much apparent dandyism in foolscap paper, large envelopes marked with the inevitable O.H.M.S., and in the concomitant red tape. But it is astonishing how much can be got out of them in the hands of one up to the work, and with the aid of polished mahogany, green baize, morocco, brightly burning coals, and burnished fire-irons. And no one understood these things better than the private secretary of Lord Nantwich.

Preaching, as is the fashion, liberal ideas, no one could have been more personally aristocratic, more internally strong in his hatred of the profanum vulgus. So far as his own feelings were concerned, he would keep them outside the magic ring, till their hearts were cold with expectant waiting! He had, too, all the impressive manner of conscious information on points utterly beyond the general public, so earnestly cultivated by young diplomatists. It came naturally to him, that “I really-can’t-tell-you-any- more” sort of manner, that so many strive in vain to attain. Perfectly well dressed, in the hands of a tailor whom he could trust, and who returned the compliment, always selfpossessed and unruffled, Rubert Dacre was, as Lord Nantwich had often boasted, a jewel of a private secretary. A man to be trusted with official secrets. A man to be consulted on occasional knotty points of official bye-play. A man to be sought after, and when found, made a note of, in any case requiring delicate diplomatic handling on the part of a subordinate officer. A man with broad moral shoulders for a superior’s faults to rest upon; and, above all, a man not likely to bring forward his own merits into undue or premature prominence. A man, in fact, perfectly willing to play second fiddle until the leader’s baton was within his grasp, but then only too likely to fling it at the çi devanl leader’s head. He looked it all—every bit of it—on the morning after the dinner, sitting in his private office, with the surroundings of official dandyism around him in every shape. He had come down to the office at his usual time. He had done an hour’s writing with his usual ease and rapidity, had sorted and arranged a variety of correspondence, and while Bob Calverly was being driven to his office, sat back in a comfortable but intensely official arm-chair, his head resting against the back, and his hands clasped tightly behind his head. The important part of his official work was done, and he was thinking. Not so far as outward appearance went, unpleasantly thinking; those who did not know the man’s real nature might have surmised the reverse, for the eyes were full of their usual calm indifference, and the mouth as inclined to smile as ever.

“I wonder,” so ran his thoughts, “what, setting aside any romantic feeling for either of the two women evidently concerned, can be made out of this Chatteris business. Surely something. Let me take a dioramic, or rather dramatic, view of the situation and the characters. The first is striking, and the latter important. Enter first, Mr. Saville Chatteris; well, well; it requires very little reflection to tell me what sort of a part his is. Then enter Lieutenant Fred Chatteris, who, however, exit so soon that he is not worth thinking about. Then enter Mr. Cyril Chatteris and Mr. Bob Calverly, and about these two I am not half so easy in my mind, for they are evidently the lovers of the piece. As for the women, there is Lady Loughborough, dangerous, but perfectly manageable; Kate Ffrench, charming, but with a tendency to perverted ideas in the direction of her affections; and, last of all, the soubrette, or rather—for she is a cut above that—the little thing who so confidingly calls herself Mrs. Chatteris. By Jove! I knew Master Cyril was a sly dog enough, but I really didn’t think he had the pluck, or the nous either, for an affair of that kind. Hang me!” muttered the secretary, half aloud, as one of his hands was unclasped and fell carelessly on his knee, “if I think he has, even now. She was very confident about it, too, coming down to his office in that way after him. A sign of intense conscious innocence or equally intense utter shamelessness, which of the two remains to be seen. The fellow is no fool; and he must have seen that the other girl loves him. I thought, when I caught them in the library, that she had refused him, but I have seen other things since, and I am inclined to think now that it was nothing of the kind. No, I don’t think Master Cyril would stand a bad chance there at all; and surely, with such a prize as that in view, he wouldn’t run any risk of getting into a scrape, even with such a pretty girl as the little claimant to the honour of his name. Honour, indeed!—I’m not a woman, thank heaven! but I wouldn’t if I were one, be his wife for something. Touching Mr. Bob Calverly, he’s in love in that quarter, too, but the odds are awfully long against him. Of Kate Ffrench, herself, my only feeling at present is one of curiosity as to her probable fortune. She is a nice girl, and would do uncommonly well with a little good training, and that’s what neither of the other two are up to giving her. He’s not a bad fellow, the Australian; but not much of a hand, I should say, at that sort of work. Not, by any means, a bad sort of fellow. Well in, too;—well in. I wonder whether he would bleed under a judicious lancet. That last pull into me was a trifle heavier than I thought, and unless something comes off at Chester, it will be a hard squeeze with ‘your obedient servant, Rupert Dacre.’”

A hard squeeze indeed. Harder, perhaps, than anyone, looking at the self satisfied, self-reliant face of the young secretary would imagine. Rupert Dacre was not a man to let Gath and Askelon generally know of his grievances; but there were one or two among the initiated who could have told a little about the pencilled mysteries of his last season’s betting-book. There are many men, who, without being known in the ring, or at the corner, as household words, go in for a good deal of serious betting; and Rupert Dacre had been one of these. Bell’s Life had not, certainly, chronicled his losses; no “Peeping Tom,” or touting “Nimrod, of the Field, had ever hinted at his having dropped heavily on anything. But there had been a few bills done by him in the city. Bills done by a man known to be possessed of no great fortune or expectations; accepted by men whose names were not—Rupert was wise then—very prominently before the world, and discounted by other men whose ideas of lawful interest were tolerably commensurate with their appreciation of the risk. Bills received, too, at higher rates of interest, some still unpaid, and with not much hope of cash coming in to take them up.

He was not an extravagant man, by any means, for all his luxurious lodgings, and perfect dressing; but his income was small, his official salary moderate, and his expectations almost below zero. What wonder, then, if he, too, on that morning had his troubles buzzing about his ears, in spite of his calm eyes, smiling mouth, and easy lounging attitude. Charley Ryle could have told something about him too. Could have given some reason, perhaps, for a sudden knitting of the eyebrows, and tightening of the lip, as the calm eyes fell for a moment on a note lying on the table, bearing that individual’s signature, and addressed to Rupert Dacre, Esq. He has taken it up in his hand, and we can read it over his shoulder.

“DEAR SIR.”

“Confound his familiarity!” mutters Dacre, as his eye runs over the letter, “it will be ‘dear Dacre’ soon, I suppose.”

Your renewed bill for £470 falls due on the 3rd of next month. I need scarcely remind you of the necessity for taking it up, as I have too much cash out just now to renew again.

        Yours faithfully, CHARLES RYLE.

“Who the deuce can I go to now?” again muttered the secretary, throwing the letter into the fire, as he heard a rapid footstep coming up the stairs. I wonder if Cyril—but he’s no good unless I can get him under my thumb. Catch Master Cyril helping anyone unless forced. Perhaps that Australian fellow might do a trifle. They say he has got lots of money. Anyhow he drops it readily enough. Suppose we try——”

“Mr. Robert Calverly wishes to see you, sir,” said a messenger, quietly opening the door, and putting in an official head in the most officially humble manner.

“Show him in,” said Dacre, mechanically assisting the destruction of the letter by a vicious dig at the fire, and the next minute he was shaking hands with the man to whom he had thought of applying the pecuniary lancet of friendly bill-backing.

“Ah! Calverly, my dear fellow, how are you? A little seedy after last night, eh? I don’t feel quite the thing myself. That room in Jermyn-street that we know of is the very devil for gas and headache.”

“I am seedy,” replied Bob, feeling very nearly as awkward with the fashionable secretary as he had done with the goodnatured man of business. He took a chair, however, and tried to look as comfortable as everything about him.

“I never smoke here myself,” went on Dacre, “but that is no reason why you should not. You will find some fine cigars in that box on the table behind you. At least they ought to be good; old Nantwich smokes them, and he is no bad judge.”

But Bob declined smoking for once. He was new to borrowing, this young man, even from his own set, and the feeling that he had come to do something like it, was very nearly as unpleasant in Westminster as it had been in Austin Friars.

A second or so more of silence. Both men were thinking of the same subject, and both looked at the fire, deriving an equal amount of consolation therefrom. At last Dacre led off.

“Well, Calverly, I’m very glad to see you, but as this is my office, and not my private house, you will, I am sure, excuse my asking in what way I can serve you? Surely you can have no political business? Besides”—with a bland smile—“we don’t go in for the ‘colonies’ here. The other street for that work. But even there I may be of some use to you.”

Had a colonial appointment been in Rupert Dacre’s gift at the moment, and had his visitor been the possessor of anything approaching to a decent amount of “ready,” who can say that there might not have been a little case of jobbery to be growled at. These things are done sometimes, though men still prate of political honesty and fair dealing. For the moment, indeed, Rupert was half inclined to believe he had made a good guess at his new friend’s object, and his heart beat high. But only to be undeceived too soon. Only to be baulked at the fence of circumstances, before which so many “bold riders” have been pounded. Bob Calverly had no inclination to ask for a colonial appointment, and still less had he any money to part with just at that moment. He looked at the fire for a moment again, and saw nothing, looked into the unmoved face of his diplomatic acquaintance and saw; if possible, less. It was very clear that the only way to get anything out of Mr. Rupert Dacre was to ride at him straight. In matters of money, men of fashion are very like men of business. A trifle harder sometimes; and Bob saw by the secretary’s manner that the best plan was to come to the point at once. And he did so only in time to prevent a similar move on the part of the secretary.

“Look here, Dacre,” he said, leaning forward in his chair, and speaking with more emphasis than the town-bred diplomat had been accustomed to, “I am in a deuce of a mess. Bogged, in fact. Not a regular breakdown, of course,” he went on, as, in spite of all his training, Dacre’s face underwent a sudden phantasmagorian change. “Only a bog for the time; but it’s over the axles, and unless I can get a pull out, I shall be more inconvenienced than I care to say.”

The metaphorical resumé of Mr. Robert Calverly’s financial position would have been certainly more intelligible to a bushman who had, during his sojourn in the antipodean land of contretemps, “gone in” for bullock-driving, than it was to the private secretary of Lord Nantwich. But it was clear enough for that gentleman to understand that the bleeding of Mr. Robert Calverly was an operation not likely to come off on that occasion, and that assistance would be asked, instead of offered. He was equal to the emergency, however, as he always had been. No one had ever heard of Rupert Dacre as a particularly dashing man in any particular line, by flood or field; but more than one man had expressed a decided opinion that Rupert was all there in a pinch. And he was so now. Another man might have been nonplussed, overpowered, at the sudden change in the rôle he was called upon to play, but not so with him. Like lightning, there flashed through his mind all he had heard or seen in connection with Robert Calverly, his relationship to Sir Valentine Yoicks, the wealthy landowner of Loamshire, who had been heard more than once to say that “Bob was as fine a fellow as ever crossed a horse;” his father’s much-talked-of wealth and position in a land where both had influence, as they have everywhere; his certainty of succeeding to something more than a good fortune; and last, but not least, the many ways in which he could be useful to that person most to be considered in such a case—Mr. Rupert Dacre. The secretary had made up his mind almost as soon as Calverly had finished speaking, and Bob reaped the benefit of it. Had the young Australian been a younger son, with nothing in esse or posse, Dacre would have paused before giving a direct refusal until he had thoroughly decided that the petitioner could be of no possible use to him at some time or other. In this case the odds were very long in favour of the petitioner, and Dacre answered accordingly. Answered with a slight, very slight, assumption of the blasé and paternal manner that conduced so strongly to his influence in male society.

“I am very glad, indeed, that you have come to me in this way, Calverly,” he said—“very glad; indeed, I might almost say, flattered. Now listen, old fellow”—the white hand was laid very gently on the Australian’s knee— “listen, and don’t be offended. Is it money you want, or advice?”

“A little of both,” answered Bob, completely made easy by the other’s frankness of tone and manner. “I will tell you exactly how it is.”

And in a few words he repeated to Dacre the case he had so unsuccessfully made out to Mr. Fleece.

Dacre saw it all in a moment. The agent’s scruples, Calverly’s position, and how he might turn it to his own ends.

“I could easily ask Sir Valentine for the money,” said Bob, “but the old fellow has been so kind, and, to tell you the truth, Dacre—I dare say you have heard something of my family history—I don’t think my father would fancy my going to him.”

“I can easily understand that,” he replied with his airiest diplomatic smile. “We see so much of that in our line. The fact is, Calverly, you just want to raise the money for the time, and will be able to set it all straight out of your next trans-oceanic budget?”

“Just so,” replied Bob.

“Well, you have been frank with me, and I will be so with you. I can’t lend you the money myself, for the best of reasons, that I have not got it.” Bob’s face fell. There was just a glimmering of an unpromising look-out in this instance, too. Rupert saw the fallen countenance in a moment, and smiled blandly, as he went on,

“What a deliciously Arcadian fellow you are, Calverly. Surely you never expected that I had fifteen hundred pounds to spare?”

“Candidly speaking, I didn’t,” said Bob, more truthfully than politely. “At least, I didn’t at first. It was your manner made me think you were going to offer what after all I had no right to ask. I came here more to ask your advice than anything else, and my excuse for doing that must be my utter strangeness in London.”

“Of course, my dear fellow”—with a smile more paternally blasť than ever—“and I am more flattered at your doing that than if you had asked me for money. I can assure you I am. Money I can’t give you—advice I can. Will you take it?”

“Will I not?”

“Well, then, oh! my Meliboeus of the colonies, listen. It must be known to you, as well as to most young men—even though their interests and pursuits are of a pastoral and, therefore, innocent nature,—that men, like theatres, are often filled with what is technically called ‘paper.’ ”

A metaphor rather beyond Bob, who didn’t answer.

“In other words,” went on Rupert, “when a man hasn’t money, and his friends are in the same predicament, what can they do?”

“Do a bill, I suppose,” replied Calverly, whose inexperience by no means amounted to positive ignorance.

“Just so. Their joint efforts are applied to the sending up of an aerial messenger, or, as the city men say, the ‘flying of a kite.’ That is what I should suggest to you. I can’t lend you what I have not got—money, but I can and will lend you my name, which I flatter myself will be good for fifteen hundred pounds.”

Flattery, indeed, Mr. Rupert Dacre; that is, unless well backed, as it was likely to be in the present instance.

To Bob, however, the speaker had uttered the words of truth, and, above all, of the most generous kindness.

“I’m sure I can’t say how much I am obliged to you, old fellow,” he almost stammered, in the excess of his gratitude. “If ever you—if ever you—”

“Of course,” replied the still paternally smiling secretary, “of course, my dear boy, if ever I want the same, you’ll be ready. I knew that without your saying it. And, now, doesn’t it strike you, Calverly, that the sooner we get over this matter the better?”

“The sooner the better for me,” said Bob, his old gaiety coming back to him. “But where shall we go—to the city?”

“Well, I don’t think we’ll patronise the city. I always prefer doing business with the West End when I can. Are there not children of the lost tribes who have pitched their tents amongst us?”

Bob suddenly stopped himself in his task of pulling on his glove, and looked at his accommodating acquaintance.

“Children of the lost tribes! You don’t mean Jews, Dacre?”

“Well, I don’t in this instance. I merely applied the term to money-lenders generally. But why do you ask? Have you objection to the financial Hebrew?”

“Yes, I have,” said Bob. “I’ve made a solemn vow never to have anything to do with them. I wouldn’t borrow anything from a Jew under any circumstances.”

“Well, it’s lucky for you,” answered the secretary, with a sneer he could not repress, “that I happen to know an accommodating Christian; for, generally speaking, the proud descendant of Abraham is the only man who can supply the money on the terms we require it. Are you ready?”

“Quite,” said Bob, and they went down stairs.

“Charlie Ryle,” of Jermyn street, and Charles Ryle, Esq., of Hampton court, were two different persons in one respect at least. “Charlie Ryle” always took money; Charles Ryle, Esq., lent it, that is to the initiated.

“It’s no good going to Jermyn-street, Bob,” said Dacre, as they reached the street. I suppose those nags of yours will run us down to Hampton-court. Is this your cabby? Jump in my boy. Limmer’s.”

Mr. Bob Calverly’s nags were equal to the occasion, and it was not long before the two gentlemen were shown into Mr. Charles Ryle’s “study”—a handsome, but slightly overfurnished room, with bookcase too evidently seldom opened, comfortable reading chairs, a most orthodox writing-table, and a bureau positively redolent of cheque books.

Mr. Charles Ryle made his appearance almost before they had time to look round the room.

“Ah! Mr. Dacre,” he said, “glad to see you, uncommonly. What good wind blows you here? Too late for luncheon. But not too late for a bottle of that tipple you tried last time. Allow me to ring the bell.”

A pleasant-looking man enough, this ringer of the hospitable bell and suggester of the exhilarating “tipple;” tall, stout, rubicund, and cheery-faced, and yet one at whose door lay the ruin of more young fellows than the good angel of truth would like to count. He had a wife and children, too—though none of his “city” friends had ever seen them—was kind in his domestic relations, and even went to church, and put money in the plate. The clergyman at Hampton-court spoke very well of Mr. Ryle, and had the most unlimited confidence in the respectability of his “business in the city.” Of the fifty or so who did doubt, none lived in Hampton-court, and had they done so, they would probably have soon found excellent reasons for holding their tongues.

The bell was answered, “tipple” was brought, cigars were produced and lighted. Mr. Ryle’s cigars were more than respectable if his business was not.

“Capital nags those of yours, Mr. Dacre,” said the host, in the midst of a general conversation.

Rupert Dacre was a great deal too ’cute to come to the point at once.

“I wish they were mine, Ryle. Havn’t you seen Mr. Calverly driving them about town?”

Charles Ryle, Esquire, had most certainly seen Mr. Calverly driving them about town. Charlie Ryle had seen Mr. Calverly in his own rooms in Jermyn-street. He had heard, too, of Mr. Calverly at Limmer’s, and knew quite as much of the young Australian’s position as Rupert was likely to tell him. He had got up his “business in the city,” and his house at Hampton-court, through that very useful habit of knowing all he could about everybody.

“Ah, Mr. Calverly’s, are they?” he said, with a smile. “Deuced good steppers, I should say. But I suppose you’re too well used to good cattle, Mr. Calverly, to think them anything very wonderful?”

“Oh, they are good enough,” said Bob, who was more anxious to see the ascension of his kite than to hear the praises of his horses.

“Good enough to take us back to town in time for dinner, old fellow,” said Dacre; “for I intend to dine with you, and, therefore, Ryle, the sooner we finish our business with you the better.”

“Ah! business,” said the man of respectability; “what a head you have for business, Mr. Dacre. I thought you had come to have a quiet look at the place, and might stop to dinner.”

“Can’t, indeed, or should be most happy,” answered Rupert, with some truth, for Ryle’s cook was known to be a good one, and his cellar unimpeachable; but it was not his game that Bob should see too much of the money-lender. It might weaken his own influence.

“Well, I know you of old, Mr. Dacre,” said Ryle; “if you won’t you won’t. What can I do for you?”

“Nothing,” said Dacre, “for me. For Mr. Calverly you can write a cheque for fifteen hundred pounds. I will back his bill.”

“You will back his bill?” said Ryle, fixing his eyes for a moment full on Dacre’s face, and then as suddenly fixing them on Bob’s; “well, that’s very friendly of you, Mr. Dacre, and I am sure I am very glad to be able to oblige a friend of yours. You won’t grumble at the terms, I suppose? Business is business, you know, Mr. Calverly.”

Mr. Ryle’s house might not be quite so well established as that of Messrs. Fleece, Pack & Co., but his way of doing business was, to Bob’s notions, decidedly more agreeable.

“Well, your terms, Ryle; Mr. Calverly and I are rather new in this way. What are your terms?”

Mr. Ryle’s appreciation of Mr. Rupert Dacre’s newness was so intense that he absolutely laughed over it, as he said, quite as good-humouredly as Mr. Fleece, but with far less apparent ‘cuteness,

“Oh, twenty per cent, including commission; that won’t break you, Mr. Calverly, eh?”

Bob thought himself lucky in the extreme, and warmly denied all chance of any rupture consequent on such a scale of charges.

“Just so! Just so!” went on Mr. Ryle, humming an air from “Il Barbiere,” as he opened a drawer and rapidly wrote a cheque; “there you are, Mr. Calverly. Kindly fill up this bill; draw on Mr. Dacre, he will accept, etcetera, etcetera; and that is over. Three months—twenty per cent.— Robert Calverly—Rupert Dacre. Right, sir; right as the bank. And now, gentlemen, another glass.”

Bob rose to fill his, and so doing, did not notice a rapid movement by which Dacre, who had been apparently scribbling carelessly on a piece of paper, tossed it over to Ryle. Whether by accident or intention, the paper had a stamp on it. Many gentlemen do scribble carelessly even on stamped paper, even diplomatic sentences.

The one more glass was finished, fresh cigars were lighted, and the gentlemen strolled into the porch.

“One moment, Mr. Dacre,” said Ryle, as Bob was buttoning up his great coat; “there is a little matter about a passport for a friend of mine. Perhaps you will give me a little advice about it.”

“Excuse me, Bob,” said Dacre, and he and Ryle re-entered the library.

Ryle’s manner was completely changed now; so changed that, had Bob seen it, he might have preferred Mr. Fleece’s. His eye was very cold and keen, and there was no smile on his lip.

“Safe, I suppose, Mr. Dacre?” he said, looking the secretary steadily in the face.

“You know that as well as I do, Ryle,” said Rupert, returning the look, “or your cheque wouldn’t be in his pocket.”

“Perhaps not, Mr. Dacre,” was the quiet answer. “Is his tether a long one?”

“Long enough; but I daresay you’ll see him again. He is as fond of horses as you are; and if I were to give him a hint of that dark one you’ve been keeping so snug, he would be dropping down here pretty often. He told me the other day he should like to put in a good thing for the Chester. Poor beggar! he’ll learn better some day, I suppose.”

“Under your hands he certainly will, Mr. Dacre; but look here, that horse is for sale with all his engagements. Perhaps Mr. Calverly might buy him; it would suit my book to a T if he did.”

“Shouldn’t wonder,” replied Dacre, carelessly. “I’ll speak to him about it. It’s as good a thing as he could do; for, to do you justice, Ryle, you are about as gentle a Philistine as he could hit upon.”

“So I am,” said Ryle, dryly, leading the way into the hall. “Good-bye, Mr. Dacre, and”—just as they reached the door,— “Oh! by-the-bye, that little renewal of yours is all right; and after adding it on to your note of today, I had better hand you this. Good-bye, Mr. Dacre. Good-bye, Mr. Calverly—a pleasant drive.”

Had any one directly offered Mr. Rupert Dacre a commission for bringing a customer to a money-lender and horse-dealer, a blush might have risen even to the unaccustomed cheek of the imperturbable diplomatist; for all that, “this” was a cheque for three hundred pounds.

“Well,” said Calverly, “that little matter is over—thanks to your kindness. As soon as I have squared up for last night, I am off for Loamshire.”


Long Odds - Contents    |     Chapter XVII - Shows the Cloven Foot


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