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

This eBook is for the use of anyone any­whe­re at no cost and wit­h al­most no re­st­ric­tions what­so­e­ver. You may copy it, gi­ve it away or re-u­se it un­der the terms of the Pro­ject Gu­ten­berg Li­cen­se in­clu­ded with this eBook or on­line at www.­gu­ten­ber­g.org

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