"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mender of destinies: Oppenheim's General Besserly

Oppenheim's stories about General Besserly changed over time. In the early stories of volume one, he lives in a Monte Carlo hotel and seems perilously close to being a scrupulous money lender.
In volume two, he lives in a chateau with a full retinue of servants.
"Business for Father" is a strange and hilarious story from the second volume.

by E. Phillips Oppenheim. 1939

The great Domiloff himself, the dictator of all Monte Carlo, touched Besserley on the arm as he was watching a crowded roulette-table in the Sporting Club. Besserley strolled away with him.
"I would not have disturbed you, General, if you had been playing seriously," he said, "but there is a fellow in the bar who wants to meet you particularly, and I think he might interest you. He has one of the quaintest notions I ever heard of—wants to open a bureau here in the Principality to sell stocks and shares."
"Doesn't sound good," Besserley remarked.
"Well, I like to be civil to everyone to start with," Domiloff went on, "and he certainly has nice manners. He has a daughter with him—a quiet little thing, but plays excellent tennis."
"Unusual appendage for a sharepusher," Besserley, who was not in the best of tempers, observed.
"I do not know that he is that," his companion reflected doubtfully. "He looks more like a clergyman on holiday than anything."
Besserley was himself somewhat impressed by the agreeable and well-dressed stranger who was presently introduced to him as Mr. Homfret. He was a middle-aged man of pleasant and cultivated speech. His hair was beginning to turn grey, but he carried himself well and had rather the air of one who had lived an out-of-door life. His features were certainly good and there was nothing in the least sinister in his expression. The three men talked for a few minutes on indifferent subjects, then Domiloff was called away and Homfret, with some slight show of nervousness, drew his chair a little nearer to his companion's.
"I have only been here a few days, General," he said, "but everyone has told me that if one wants to know anything about Monte Carlo or the Riviera generally, you are the man to go to. I have an idea at which Baron Domiloff laughs, but I still believe in it."
"Let's hear it," Besserley suggested.
"Well, I don't claim to be a philanthropist," Homfret began, "but the idea did come to me first thinking about others. You know, you see so many of these young fellows coming down here, and old ones, too, for that matter, and they win heavily and then go away beggars, their holiday spoilt and hating the place. You know why, I suppose?"
"They go on playing," Besserley ventured.
"You've got it first time," his companion assented with a pleased smile. "That's just it, General. If people had the sense to leave off when they have made a good win and get away with it, they would have a chance of keeping their money and being the better for it. Now, I was in the bank here when I first came down and they have a room there which is connected up with London and New York, and a dozen clients sitting around just like an ordinary American bucket shop. Well, that showed me that there were plenty of people here who think of making money apart from the gambling side of it. I have a little capital and it occurred to me it would be quite a scheme to open a small business as a dealer in bonds and watch here for these fellows who have had a pretty good win, go to them and persuade them, on the spot, to invest their money."
Besserley smiled.
"You would find it a little difficult, I think," he remarked.
"I'm not so sure," was the eager reply. "That feeling of wanting to go on playing is not so strong when you have first touched money and made a win. My idea is that a good many people would be very glad to put their money somewhere where they couldn't get at it for a time and by degrees the desire to play again would wear off."
"It is not such a bad scheme," Besserley, whose temper was a little improved by a whisky and soda, admitted. "I can imagine people of sound common sense like you or myself being attracted by it. I don't know about these youngsters, though. By the by, is the young lady looking for you?"
"My daughter," Mr. Homfret said, rising to his feet and beckoning.
She came across to their table. She was still in tennis kit, a quiet but attractive-looking girl, with beautiful eyes and a slim, athletic figure. Besserley liked the humorous curve of her lips and her complete naturalness. She sat down between them and asked for a lemon squash, spoke for a few minutes of the tennis, then turned to Besserley with a smile. She was very much better looking when she smiled.
"Has Father been trying to sell you any bonds?" she asked.
"Not yet," Besserley replied. "Is he likely to?"
"I don't know how long you have known him. He has just taken up the idea that he would like to sell bonds or shares to people who have been winning at the tables, and whenever he has a new idea he can't as a rule keep away from it. Can you, Dad?"
"This is scarcely the place to discuss such a matter," her father admitted, "unless I had been introduced to General Besserley as a large winner. Then I think I should be acting the part of a philanthropist if I tried to persuade him to exchange his mille notes for gold bonds."
"I am not sure that you are likely to be very popular with the authorities here—Baron Domiloff, for instance," the girl observed. "From what I have seen of them I think they like to keep the money in the family."
"I think so, too," Besserley agreed. "I am rather surprised at Domiloff taking an interest in it, anyway."
"I don't think it will ever come to anything—like a good many of my father's ideas. He is always trying something new, you know, General Besserley.... Is that your Château that one can just catch a glimpse of up in the mountains above the Gourdon Gorges?"
"That's where I live," he admitted.
"You are a long way away from all the life and excitement of this place," she remarked a little wistfully.
"Monte Carlo is very attractive," Besserley said, "but it is a good place to get away from sometimes. Besides, I do some work in my spare time."
"My daughter is quite an artist," Mr. Homfret confided. "She divides her time between tennis and sketching."
"Two very agreeable occupations. You are well-situated here for both: heaps of picturesque places to visit and the best tennis in the world."
"That's why I would rather like Dad to open up his old bond-shop," the girl observed. "I would much prefer to stay here than go back to New York."
"You're not American, are you?" Besserley asked.
"Her mother was an American," Mr. Homfret explained. "We have just been to New York on a visit. I am English on one side and Canadian on the other. Irish-Canadian, that is to say."
"I think you will need a little of the Irish optimism if you start with your scheme of selling bonds here, Mr. Homfret," Besserley warned him. "I have been thinking it over. I don't believe your scheme would be a great success."
Mr. Homfret seemed honestly disappointed. His face fell.
"I'm sorry you feel that way about it, General," he regretted.
"Well, I hope it comes off, anyway," Besserley said. "I am sure you and your daughter would be very welcome residents here. I hear the young lady's tennis is really good."
"It's not good enough for these people," she confessed. "I have lost both my sets to-day. There's my partner looking grumpy as usual. I don't suppose he will even speak to me. They say he hates being beaten."
Besserley looked round and raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"Well, he's not often beaten," he remarked. "If you were playing with George Brand, you were right up in the top circles."
The young man paused as he passed up the room. He smiled at the girl and exchanged a word or two with Besserley.
"Got over our defeat yet?" she asked.
"Got over it? I should say so," was the prompt reply. "I never played worse. Felt thoroughly ashamed of myself afterwards. I suppose you know, sir," he added, turning to Mr. Homfret, "that your daughter is a very fine player."
"I have been told that she is good," her father admitted.
"She's much better than good. We were playing against the best combination Monte Carlo can put up, and they only just beat us because I was out of form. We'll have our revenge another time, I hope, Miss Homfret."
"And I was actually going to ask you to play with me," Besserley observed, as the young man passed on.
"Don't be silly," she begged. "I'll play with you any time you like—unless you are really bad, and I don't think you would be."
"Why not?"
She looked at him for a moment appraisingly.
"You don't seem to me the sort of person who would do things at all, if you did them badly.... Dad, could I have a few hundred francs for roulette?"
Mr. Homfret sighed. He felt for his pocket-book and handed across three notes.
"All I can spare, my dear, until after dinner."
"If I win," she promised as she rose and, with a smile at Besserley, prepared to depart, "I'll buy a bond."
"I like your daughter, Mr. Homfret," Besserley said, watching her retreating figure.
Mr. Homfret nodded a little absently.
"She is a good girl," he acknowledged. "A little outspoken. I'm afraid you don't think much of my scheme, though?"
"I shouldn't put much money into it, if I were you," Besserley replied. "I think the banks here absorb what little inclination there is towards speculation, and I'm not quite sure that Domiloff would encourage his clients to put their winnings into stocks and shares."
"He seemed rather in favour of the scheme when I talked to him about it," Homfret observed.
His companion's eyes twinkled.
"Perhaps he doesn't take you seriously. You wait until some of his satellites come and tell him that the three or four thousand pounds the young man won the night before has gone into tobacco bonds, or something of that sort, that you have sold him, and the young man's gone home because he hasn't any more ready money! There would be the deuce to pay then, I can tell you."
"You really think so?" Mr. Homfret sighed. "Well, I don't know. I should like to try it, anyway. I wasn't thinking of going in for any particular expense," he went on a little wistfully. "I happen to have a fair number of bonds and some very sound shares and I could sell those and deliver them without having to go to the expense of an office."
Besserley stared at him for a moment through narrowed eyelids. There was a shadow of almost childish disappointment on the man's face.
"Well, we must mark you down a winner some day and see how you get on with him," he remarked not unkindly. "I must be getting on, Mr. Homfret. I won't say good-by. One is always meeting in this place."
He strolled off with a little nod of farewell. He met Domiloff stepping out of the lift and paused to have a few words with him.
"Your friend rather puzzles me," he observed. "He and his daughter, too. Do you know anything about them?"
"Not I," Domiloff confessed. "I only know that the girl seems a well-mannered, straight little thing. A very good-looking woman she will be when she grows up. Homfret is quite a decent fellow, too."
"Has he been in any business or anything?" Besserley asked. "He talks about these bonds and shares in a very simple sort of way."
"I thought so, myself," Domiloff agreed. "If I knew him a little better I should be inclined to hint to him that the selling of these things outside a stockbroker's office is not a very popular profession just now. Shall I see you later? De Hochepierre's dinner to-night, you know."
Besserley shook his head.
"I'm going back home," he confided. "I mean to have a few days' quiet work, if I can."
Besserley spent the first two days of his absence from Monte Carlo in the fashion he loved. He rose early, swam in his pool, was massaged by a professional whom he kept upon his staff, took his petit déjeuner on the crazy pavement outside the Chalet, sipped his coffee and lit his cigarette in the warm spring sunshine and worked steadily until an hour before luncheon. Then he walked round the estate, inspected the growth of his vines, interested himself in the gardens and passed his judgment upon some doubtful timber in one of the higher plantations. He lunched alone, also at the table outside the Chalet—frugally but still in luxury. For half an hour afterwards, he dozed in the sunshine, then he worked for a couple of hours, played squash with his secretary until the light went, swam once more for a quarter of an hour, changed for dinner and lingered over his wine, watching the fading away of the landscape, the glimmering of the lights and the paling of the world as the rim of the moon came up from behind the mountains. Afterwards, he dictated several letters, read the French and English papers and a few chapters of a popular novel and smoked his final pipe, strolling about in the gardens where the night flowers had begun to unfold their petals. At half past ten he rang for his servant and retired for the night, sleeping, as usual, until well after dawn without a break. On the third day, however, there came an unexpected interruption. He was working exceedingly well that morning when there was a knock at the door and Henri presented himself. Besserley swung round frowning.
"Against orders, Henri," he admonished him sternly.
The butler extended his hands.
"But, Monsieur, it was difficult," he explained. "Outside the gates, for most of the morning, a young lady has been sketching. A short while ago she applied to the gatekeeper for permission to come a little way into the grounds—the light had changed and she wanted to finish her sketch from a different angle. Naturally, the man refused. Mademoiselle wrote her name on a piece of drawing-paper and asked that it be brought to you. She said that she was an acquaintance."
Henri produced the paper. Besserley glanced at the name scrawled across the sheet in large but firm characters:
Mary Homfret
He nodded.
"She can come in," he told the man. "Tell Jean that he was quite right, but the young lady can be admitted. Do not disturb me again."
Henri disappeared. Besserley turned back to his work. Somehow or other, things did not go quite so smoothly. The second interruption was almost welcome. He heard a light step on the crazy pavement and turned his head to see the girl standing outside. He rose at once to his feet.
"May I come in?" she asked.
"Of course," he answered. "I meant to have come out and paid my respects before you left."
She entered the room, a portfolio under her arm.
"Sit down," Besserley invited. "Too early for tea, isn't it? Anything else you would like?"
"Not just now, thank you."
She leaned back in a corner of the divan. The pose might almost have been a studied one, for it displayed to their full advantage the delicate, shapely lines of her figure. Her hands were clasped behind her head. Her eyes travelled round the little room with interest.
"Father all right?" Besserley enquired.
"In excellent health, I believe," she answered. "Is this where you work?"
He nodded.
"I almost live here," he confided.
She was silent for a moment but he realized that she was looking steadily across at him with a faint smile upon her lips. It was a queer sort of smile but it did nothing to disturb the beauty of her mouth.
"Tennis going strong?"
She ignored his question.
"You can go on with your work, if you like," she said. "I am content to rest for a few minutes. I like this room."
He swung his chair round and looked at his half-finished sentence. Somehow or other, however, the thread of his thoughts seemed broken. He struggled with an idea and then discarded it. Presently, his meditations were interrupted by a slight sound. He turned round. The girl was leaning even farther back in her corner and she was laughing softly. It was quite a musical sound but somehow it disturbed him.
"You are funny," she murmured. "Come and sit here."
Her hand tapped the place by her side. Besserley looked at her with slightly upraised eyebrows. There was no answering smile upon his lips.
"Thank you," he said. "I prefer to remain where I am. When you are sufficiently rested to return to your work I shall be ready then to continue mine."
"Difficult," she sighed. "You are going to be difficult."
His voice became very quiet. An enemy of his had once said that the only time he was afraid of Besserley was when he whispered.
"Will you tell me why you have come here, young lady?" he asked.
"On business," she answered.
"Father's business."
"I'm listening."
"He wants money."
"Money doesn't grow on this countryside," he told her.
"Well, Father wants some money very badly and we neither of us have any. We thought that you might like to buy my sketch."
"Where is it?"
"In the portfolio there—the top one."
He crossed the room, opened the portfolio and took out the sketch. He glanced at it for a moment. Then he returned to his place, tore it in half and dropped the pieces in the waste-paper basket. His action did not seem to disturb her in the least.
"You don't want to buy it?"
"Why not?"
"Because you haven't the faintest idea of sketching."
"You are very disappointing," she said. "Will you buy some of Father's bonds—just a hundred thousand francs' worth?"
"Certainly not," he replied. "Why should I?"
"They're quite good bonds."
"I should be inclined to doubt it."
She sighed.
"Really, you are very difficult," she repeated. "I don't think that the bonds are very good, though. The only man Father tried to sell some to wanted to have him sent to prison."
He looked away for fear she should notice the twitching of his lips.
"General Besserley," she began again.
"You are not very affectionate, are you?"
"Not very."
"I have just come from America," she sighed, "where things are so different. You don't even go to petting parties, I suppose?"
"If they really exist," he replied, "I cannot imagine a more loathsome form of entertainment."
"You wouldn't like to come and sit on the divan here and look into my eyes and tell me just what you thought about them?"
"I can tell you from here," he assured her, "that you have beautiful eyes. For the rest, I have a valet de chambre who has a great reputation for the sort of performances to which you seem to be dimly alluding. Shall I ring for him?"
Whenever, afterwards, Besserley, who throughout his whole life had avoided hurting animals, women or even anyone of his own sex, thought of that speech, he felt a curious but very humiliating sensation of shame. The girl made no reply. She sat quite still. So far as he could see, she was feeling nothing, resenting nothing. He turned round to his work and laboriously completed a sentence. When he looked round again she was still in her place but her hand was trembling slightly. Her eyes possessed no longer that gleam of laughter which certainly had had its own peculiar attraction. He almost fancied that there was a little quiver now, but a very different sort of quiver, at the corners of her lips. The very fact that he hated himself for his last remark hardened him for a moment. He turned back to his work. Very soon a faint sound disturbed him. Once more he swung his chair around. The divan was empty, although the portfolio still leaned against its side. He stepped across to the window. She was flying down the crazy pavement, running hard with the swift, effortless grace of a young Atalanta, running with her head thrown back and her hands beating the air. He called after her.
"Miss Homfret!"
There was no response. She was in the drive now.
"Mary!" he called at the top of his voice.
There was still no response. He watched her pass through the gate and jump into her little car. Soon there was a coughing, a wheezing and a spiral wreath of blue smoke. The car began to move. Down the steep hill it gathered speed rapidly.
"Hi—Miss Homfret!" he shouted. "Mary!"
The girl never turned her head.
Besserley found the incident, which a complete man of the world would have dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders, lingering in his mind all through the day, disturbing his pleasure in writing, interfering with the zest with which he plunged into the pool for his evening swim, spoiling the flavour of his cocktail, making him think for a moment that his pint bottle of Berncastler Doctor was corked. No one had ever accused him of being a sensitive man, yet he sometimes confessed, to his shame, that he was. He had the feeling of one who has set a heavy heel upon a beautiful butterfly. He woke the next morning with an unpleasant feeling that he had slipped from his place in life, that he had done something of which he was ashamed. Common sense came to his aid. Nevertheless, common sense brought him small consolation. It was another lovely morning when he sat down to his breakfast. The sun was shining with the same brilliance. The cypresses stood stark and still against an even bluer sky. More roses had blossomed since the early morning and the greater heat was carrying an even more delicious perfume from the cedar and pine trees on the westward side of the domain. None of these appeals to the senses seemed to bring their usual satisfaction. Even his after-breakfast pipe was uninspiring. He worked more or less steadily, however, until twelve o'clock, played three games of squash with a sort of bitter energy, took his swim and changed for luncheon, for which his appetite seemed strangely missing. His attempt at a slight doze was a failure. He returned grimly to his work. For once, he was relieved when there came a tap at the door and Henri presented himself.
"There has arrived a gentleman on foot who desires to speak to Monsieur," the servant confided. "His name is difficult and he has no card. It sounded like 'Omfret."
"Fetch him to me at once," Besserley ordered.
The man noted the tone of urgency in his master's voice and hurried away. He reappeared in a few minutes followed by the visitor.
"Monsieur 'Omfret," he announced and discreetly disappeared.
Mr. Homfret had lost his easy bearing and his neat appearance. His clothes were smothered with dust, his collar had wilted and the perspiration was dripping down his face. He sank into a chair without waiting for an invitation. The bag which he had been carrying slipped from his fingers.
"Where is my daughter?" he demanded.
Besserley wasted no words.
"Your daughter visited me yesterday afternoon," he said. "She stayed less than half an hour, and left at four o'clock to return to Monte Carlo."
Mr. Homfret's lips began to twitch. His blue eyes were very round indeed.
"That is not true!" he exclaimed. "She has not arrived at the hotel. She has not returned. I waited up all night. She is here."
"Don't be a fool, Mr. Homfret," Besserley said. "You can search for her wherever you like—the Château and this Chalet are at your disposition. I tell you that your daughter left in her car at about four o'clock yesterday afternoon."
"But her car—haven't you heard?"
"I have heard nothing."
"The car is at the bottom of the precipice on the road down. I saw a small crowd as I came up. They told me it was the car of a young lady who had been to the Château."
"My God!" Besserley exclaimed.
"There was a garde-champêtre standing in the road," Homfret went on. "He told me that the car was empty when it went over the side. He also told me that he met a young lady on foot walking towards the main road. That must have been Mary."
"I know nothing of her except that she left here in the car," Besserley declared. "I dare say I was a little annoyed with her. She wanted me to buy a worthless sketch for a hundred thousand francs, or if not, to promise to buy some of your bonds."
"Ah, good girl!" Mr. Homfret murmured, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. "I have them with me in this bag—the bonds——"
"How did you get here from Monte Carlo?" Besserley asked.
"I walked all the way. I had no money. I had not even five francs. This is a very hilly place where you live," Mr. Homfret went on, dabbing his forehead again.
Besserley threw open the door of his very beautifully fitted-up bathroom.
"Go in and bathe your face," he enjoined. "I will order a drink for you."
The exhausted man, hugging his bag, disappeared. When he returned, he fell, with an exclamation of sheer joy, upon the large tumblerful of whisky and soda that stood upon the table. He set down the tumbler half-empty.
"Is this true that your daughter did not return to the hotel last night?" Besserley asked.
"I always speak the truth," was the dignified reply. "I sat up until between two and three o'clock, then I decided that she must be here. I had no money so I had to come on foot. I brought the bonds with me."
"Blast your bonds!" Besserley exclaimed angrily.
He rang the bell.
"Let me have the car here in two minutes, Henri," he ordered.
"I must find my daughter," Mr. Homfret said a little aimlessly. "If she is not here, where can she be?"
"How should I know? We are going to look for her."
Mr. Homfret finished his whisky and soda, picked up his bag and followed his host a few minutes later to where a car stood waiting. They drove down the road to where the little crowd was still collected at the foot of the gorge. The garde-champêtre, who was standing in the road, obeying Besserley's summons saluted and hurried to the car.
"What about the young lady passenger?"
"Ah, I can explain that to Monsieur," the man declared. "On my bicycle I was turning the corner here when a young lady stopped me. She was English. She seemed in distress. She asked me if the autocars passed to Nice. I told her yes. One came at that moment. I helped her in."
"To Nice?" Besserley asked.
"To Nice," the man assented. "Then they came running for me, and I went to look at the car which lies below. It is in many pieces. A woodman told me that Mademoiselle stopped, leaving the engine of the car running, turned the steering wheel, gave a push and hurried off down the road."
Besserley expressed his thanks generously. They drove on to Nice.
"Some of these gold bonds——" Mr. Homfret commenced hopefully.
"Hold your tongue," Besserley interrupted. "You can talk about your bonds when we find out what has become of your daughter."
With the help of a dozen detectives, eagerly placed at General Besserley's disposal by the Chef de la Sûreté of Nice, they found her the next morning at about two o'clock. She was seated upon a stool smoking a cigarette at the bar of a night restaurant of indifferent repute. On the most distant stool from hers, an obvious gigolo was apparently sobbing to himself while he dabbed a towel into a bowl of water and bathed an inflamed eye. On one of the divans a young man was lying who was having first aid from one of the little cocottes of the place. Another man in a corner was eagerly talking to a sympathetic crowd at the top of his voice and continually pointing to the girl. At the sight of Besserley's entrance with Homfret, and the well-known faces of the detectives, there was an ominous hush. The proprietor, a small man with a black moustache, came hurrying forward.
"Voilà la demoiselle of whom you are in search, Monsieur," he said, pointing her out to Besserley. "When they telephoned me from the police I begged them to come and fetch her away. She has given what you call a black eye to our best gigolo, who merely invited her to dance. Well, perhaps he held her a little tightly. Another one of my guests she threw over her shoulder with one of those stage tricks. He lies there on the couch. Then Monsieur Rinaldi, an honoured client of the place, she slap him on the face and pushed him over—all because he asked her to dance! There she sits smoking quietly. One half bottle of wine she has had—no more. She spend nothing. She has upset the whole restaurant. People are afraid to go anywhere near her."
Besserley walked up to her side. She was wearing a pair of blue trousers, a red blouse and a blue handkerchief around her neck. Her expression was exactly as it had been when she had left the Chalet, except that the curve of her mouth seemed to indicate a profound contempt for her surroundings and life in general.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded icily.
"I have come to offer you my humble apologies," Besserley told her.
Her eyes searched his face intently, almost passionately. She remained silent. Watching her, he became able to divine the torment which she had been suffering. Her breakdown, when it came, was complete. She drooped her head and then, as though suddenly conscious of her strange attire, she covered her face with both her hands. When she looked up, she was frankly sobbing, absolutely oblivious to the crowd by which they were surrounded.
"Take me out of this awful place," she begged. "I was mad!"
"You seem," he said kindly, as he helped her down from her stool, "to have been doing a little damage here."
"The men were rude to me," she confided. "No man has ever touched me in a familiar way. I cannot bear them to come near! Please take me away."
They passed through the door. The proprietor followed them outside.
"Donnez-moi l'addition de Mademoiselle," Besserley demanded savagely.
"L'addition, Monsieur, ce n'est rien. Qu'elle me fiche le camp. C'est tout ce que je demande!"
Besserley handed him a note.
"Give that to the young dancing man with the black eye," he said, "and here's another for the waiters."
The patron bowed himself away.
"Where are your clothes, child?" Besserley asked.
Her cheeks were scarlet.
"I was mad," she confessed. "When I arrived here I went to the G.F.S. The matron gave me a card to an old lady who let me a room. Here is her address."
She handed him a strip of paper. He passed it to the chauffeur.
"Do you mind going and changing your clothes?" he asked.
"No," she whispered.
The car came presently to a standstill. The chauffeur rang the bell for her and Besserley explained as much of the situation as was necessary to the porter's wife who let down the latch of the door. The girl was back again in ten minutes.
"I shall take you both to Monte Carlo," Besserley announced. "I am sorry I destroyed your sketch, Mary. I shall keep the pieces to remind me in future that I may suffer more myself if I ever lose my temper. I shall give you the hundred thousand francs for it, as a penance."
"Please don't be ridiculous——" she began.
He drew her hand through his arm.
"There, my dear," he said kindly. "You see—a little caress. Now I have something to propose to you. I have a cousin, an elderly lady, who keeps a girls' school near Paris. She has begged me to send her, at once, a junior games mistress. After what I have heard of your tennis and seen of your exploits this evening, I think you would fill the post admirably. You will have to live in. The life is very strict but you will earn quite a nice little income."
She drew a long breath.
"Why, I have been applying for posts as games mistress everywhere," she confided, in a tone so low that it was almost inaudible.
"You have one," he told her. "It is settled. You will leave by the two-o'clock train for Paris this afternoon. When you get up you will find my housekeeper waiting for you at the hotel, say at eleven o'clock. She will bring you a letter to the principal of the school, she will bring you the money for your fare and you will find a little packet for yourself enclosed in the letter which will make your journey easy. When you have arrived at the school you must send me a telegram and I will write to you. Is that clear?"
"It is clear," she whispered.
Mr. Homfret stooped down and picked up his bag.
"You will not forget," he said, "this little matter of the bonds, General?"
The girl looked at him in horrified reproach.
"Father," she insisted, "be quiet, please. Those bonds," she went on, turning to Besserley, "are not only worthless: Some of them, I believe, are forgeries. My father was duped. He paid a great deal of money for them and he suddenly got the idea of coming down here and palming them off on someone else."
Mr. Homfret dropped the bag and covered his face with his hands.
"He has a brother in England, my uncle," Mary went on, "who would look after him if you would send him home. He is a clergyman up in Cumberland, and my father is quite happy when he is there. He was perfectly content with his fishing and his books until that horrible man came along and sold him those bonds."
"I will buy them from your father for five hundred pounds, if he promises to destroy them and return to Cumberland," Besserley proposed.
Mr. Homfret dried his eyes and opened the bag. The window was already let down. He commenced to tear them up until the road all the way to Monte Carlo looked as though a paper-chase had passed. When he had finished the last one he threw the bag out, too.
"This," he declared, "is the only happy moment I have had since that rascal came to the vicarage."

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