Colonel Copp’s Finesse
Frank E. Verney
COLONEL COPP was a little man with a benevolent head of white hair, a red cherubic countenance, and one of the astutest minds in the city. The dinners which he was in the habit of giving at the Hotel Cecil, where he had a suberb suite, were absolute epochs in lavish hospitality and gastronomic excellence. In fact, they made of the little American Colonel’s name a synonym for magnificence; and in every place where a newspaper was read “Copp” became a household word. It was not so well known that one of Colonel Copp’s mottoes was, “A good appearance covers a multitude of deficiencies,” and the few who were aware of it did not appear to recognize the significant applicability of the maxim to the splendor of the Colonel’s entertainments. This seeming obtuseness was probably due largely to the American’s personality, which radiated confidence and respect. He was the sort of man that appeared born to be a trustee and custodian of other people’s purses. Therefore, it can easily be understood that with such assets the Colonel had many opportunities of making money which the ordinary man had not.
One morning, while all the clubs were busy talking of a wonderful “aeroplane dinner” which Colonel Copp had given the previous evening in the courtyard of the Cecil, the Colonel himself was seated in an easy-chair in one of his rooms, smoking a cigar and examining his pass-book. The aroma of the leaf was excellent, and, so far as one could judge from the placid expression of the Colonel’s face, the contents of the book might have been equally satisfactory.
As a mater of fact, the Colonel’s current account was in a condition best des-
cribed as delicate. All the money he could get together of his own and his friends’ he was putting in a great Canadian railway scheme for tapping a big section of the wheat belt, the development of which had hitherto been held up for want of adequate means of transport. This railway was destined to make fabulous profits, and, incidentally, a multimillionaire of its chairman and chief shareholder. The money which Colonel Copp did not put into this railway he put into his famous repasts, which gave him a renown above bankers' references, and a circle of moneyed acquaintances able, and even anxious, to share in the financial operations of a man in obvious possession of the touch of Midas.
So on the morning following the renowned banquet the Colonel found himself facing a difficulty. It was only the third of the month, two more dinners were arranged for, and the sum of one hundred and fifty pounds only was in hand. The Colonel decided that it was up to him to make some money quickly in a way which would not interfere with other interests.
After a few moments’ silent thought the Colonel rose, put his pass-book into a despatch box, which he carefully locked and carried to his safe. As he shut the safe he uttered audibly the conclusion of his train of thought. “Yes,” he said, in the tone of a man who thinks he has an answer to a puzzle: “I think I will take a country place.”
Half an hour later the Colonel, immaculately groomed as usual, got down from a taxi at the office of Messrs. Right, Hank & Futley, the eminent estate agents.
The clerk to whom he handed his card escorted him immediately to the private office of the senior partner.
Mr. Right greeted the Colonel as a man who gave dinners at twenty guineas a head should be greeted.
“We received your message, sir,” he went on, “from the Llotel Cecil, and l think we have exactly the house to suit you.”
“I believe you have,” replied the Colonel. “As a matter of fact, it is your advertisement of the Duke of Belsire’s place that caused me to call.”
“It is the finest mansion in England,” began the agent, with professional glibness and more than professional warmth. “Early Norman, perfect preservation, magnif-”
“Yes, yes,” interrupted the Colonel. “May I trouble you to show me the plans?”
“Certainly, sir; no trouble.”
Mr. Right rang the bell.
“Bring me the Belsire Abbey drawings, please,” said he to the clerk who answered the summons.
The Colonel turned to the agent. “By the way,” he remarked, “I gather that this is the first time the Abbey has been let.”
“Yes. The Duke is much attached to the place, and spends most of his time there. The country is a first-class sporting one, you know. Now he has medical orders to spend the next three years in a semi-tropical zone, with the alternative of the family vault.”
“Really!” said the Colonel. “I had no idea he was so ill. He is a wealthy man, isn’t he?”
The agent smiled. “Well, sir, I don’t know whether you would consider him wealthy, but his rent-roll is reputed at fifty thousand a year.”
The clerk knocked and entered.
“Here are the plans, sir.”
“I wonder at the Duke’s letting the place,” said Colonel Copp, as he bent over the drawings.
“He is doing so, really,” replied Right, “because he feels, reasonably enough, that with a tenant in residence the place inside and out would suffer less than if closed up and left to servants.”
“Now, Mr. Right,” said the Colonel, “I take it that I could have immediate posession?”
“Certainly. There is nothing to prevent that.”
“Very well. Then will you kindly arrange for some responsible person to take me over the place to-morrow? I do not like wasting time, and if the place suits me, I’d like to fix things right away.”
“Yes,” said Right, with business-like proptitude; “the Duke’s private agent, who is, as it happens, a sort of cousin of his Grace, will be there.”
“My secretary will inform you in the morning of the train I shall travel by,” concluded the Colonel, as he took up his hat.
When Mr. Right returned from seeing the Colonel into his cab he called to one of his staff :
“Wilson, ring up the hotel where Mr. Bellairs is staying and ask him to come and see me at once.”
“Very good, sir.”
In about twenty minutes the Duke of Belsire’s agent arrived and was taken into the private office.
“Ah! How do you do, Mr. Bellairs? I was fortunate in catching you before you left your hotel.”
“The Abbey, 1 suppose?” queried Bellairs, as he took the indicated seat.
“Yes. I believe I’ve found a tenant.”
“What! Already? I’d no idea househunting Croesuses were so common.”
“They’re not—although the prospective occupant of the Abbey belongs to that genus. His name is Colonel Copp.”
“Really the Colonel Copp?” said Bellairs interestedly.
Right nodded assent.
“That’s something like ! He’ll make an excellent tenant—unless he should want to give an aquatic banquet in the picture gallery,” said Bellairs rather irresponsibly.
“In my opinion,” said Mr. Right, “Colonel Copp is one of -the very few parvenus who really could be trusted with the Abbey. Now as to the point. The Colonel wishes to be shown over the place tomorrow. I will telegraph to your office in Belsire the time of the Colonel’s arrival. You will perhaps have one of the Abbey broughams to meet him. I will have the agreement and copy drawn up and post it to you to-night. You will then be able to clinch the bargain. Americans like hustling methods, and we must not let the Colonel slip through our fingers.”
“He’ll have all the agents in the country after him when it is known that he is looking for a place,” remarked Bellairs.
“Exactly. In the agreement I shall leave the price open. You can fill it in when agreed on.”
“Eight thousand per annum,” stated Bellairs, “is the Duke’s figure.”
“I think,” said Mr. Right, “that if the Colonel fancies the Abbey, he will not question ten thousand. You understand.”
“I see,” said Bellairs, with a sententious smile.
The next morning at 11.35 Colonel Copp stepped out of a first-class carriage onto the small platform of Belsire station.
He was the only passenger, and Bellairs, who was waiting at the ticket gate, walked forward and introduced himself.
“Messrs. Right, Hank & Futley wired that you were coming on this train, sir. I have one of the Abbey carriages to take us up.”
“It is very kind of you,” said the Colonel.
“It will take,” said Bellairs, as they seated themselves in the brougham, “several hours to look over the place thoroughly ; and the stables and shooting-”
“I am afraid we must get it done quicker than that,” said the Colonel. “I am a very busy man, Mr. Bellairs. Two hours is all I can spare. I guess you can describe things on the way up.”
The drive, which lay chiefly through the estate, occupied half an hour. Bellairs was fluent on fish, fur, and feather, and the Colonel an intelligent listener. Listening was a virtue he cultivated. It paid.
When they had passed through the lodge gates the Colonel remarked on the shaven sward beneath the spreading park trees.
“Yes,” answered Bellairs; “the Duke thinks as much of his place as he would of a wife—more perhaps. It is on record that the nearest his Grace ever came to the dock of a criminal court was when he discovered one of the house-party guests playing on the tennis lawns in spiked cricket boots.”
“Here we are,” said Bellairs at length, as the carriage rounded a magnificent Italian fountain and drew up in front of the chief entrance hall of the Abbey.
“There is only one thing,” said the Colonel, as he and his cierone stood in the great hall after their round of inspection : “to suit me, the place would require another room, which the Abbey has not get.”
“But,” began Bellairs, “you will pardon me. Surely there is enough-”
“As you were going to observe, Mr. Bellairs, there is plenty of room in the Abbey for any one, but my requirements are peculiar. I want a very large apartment as a special banqueting-chamber.”
Bellairs smiled reminiscently.
“Now, the hall in which we are standing would not well lend itself to any other guise. For instance, the dinner I gave the other day-”
“I understand, sir,” said Bellairs, smilingly. “An aeroplane scene in a Norman hall would be like a fairy pantomine on a torpedo boat. But could not one of the state drawing-rooms be used?”
“I am afraid not; for the same reason. Now, the billiard-room, which you tell me has just been added, is the most likely, but that will be required for its original purpose.”
“Well, sir,” said Bellairs, anxious to lose no chance. “'ha\e you any other suggestion?”
“What I propose,” said the Colonel, “is to build the room.”
Bellair’s face showed that he was rather startled at the idea.
“I should,” the Colonel went on, “make the addition entirely at my own expense —it would not cost the Duke a dollar. The plans, of course, would be made by a leading architect.”
Bellairs realized that the suggestion was reasonable enough. It was no extraordinary thing for a tenant to make an addition to a place. Many landlords would jump at an opportunity of getting a wing added gratuitously.
The Colonel offered his cigar-case. “If you are a connoisseur of Havanas, you will like these. I bought the whole crop.”
Bellairs took one, and thought of Right’s warning, “We must not let him slip through our fingers.” Looking at his watch, he said: “If there is nothing else you wish to see. Colonel Copp, and you are agreeable, we will drive back into Belsire, and I will get on the telephone to Mr. Right, and put your suggestion to him. I
believe be has discretionary powers. He could quickly communicate with the Duke if necessary. He is staying at Claridge’s, preparing for his journey.”
“Very well,” said the Colonel. “We had better waste no time. The point must be settled at once, for 1 have several agents coming to see me in the morning.”
They departed immediately.
When Bellairs’ office was reached, he told his clerk to get a call through to London. As soon as the Colonel was comfortably seated, the agent produced the agreement.
“Yes,” said the Colonel, after a perusal; “that seems quite in order. The matter of the addition is the essential point. It may be that I shall take some other way out of the difficulty, but I must have permission to erect the room if I think it desirable.”
It was not long before the clerk opened the door, with the information that London was “through.”
“Will you be good enough to excuse me a moment, Colonel Copp? Mr. Right, 1 expect, is on.”
Bellairs went to the room where was the telephone.
“Is that Mr. Right? . . . Good!
Colonel Copp is in the office at the present moment. I’ve shown him over the Abbey, and he is very pleased with it, but he thinks he may require to build on another room. . . . Yes? . . . Yes, that
is what I said to him. He wants it chiefly for freak dinners, and that sort of thing. . . . No, it must be settled now. If
not, we shall lose him.”
At the other end of the wire, Right was thinking rapidly. The Colonel was actually waiting to sign the agreement. He wanted to add to the Abbey. The addition would be an asset to the landlord. In most cases, he would not have hesitated. He decided quickly.
“Tell him,” he said along the wire, “yes. Fill in the top price, and get the agreement signed. I will see if I can interview the Duke and inform him what I have done. If he should object—which is unlikely—we can explain to the Colonel. He seems a very good sort, and we can work him all right.”
“Very good,” answered Bellairs. “I’ll bring the agreement up to town this evening.”
Bellairs went back to the Colonel “Mr. Right agrees to your wishes, sir, in the matter of the addition.”
The Colonel nodded, and said briskly, “Very well. All that remains is the agreement.”
Bellairs brought the documents to the table and rapidly filled in the figures.
The Colonel made no comment on the amount. He did not appear to consider it worth notice.
Bellairs inwardly congratulated himself upon his deal.
“You had better add,” said the Colonel, as he took up a pen, “ ‘The tenant to be at full liberty to add a room to his own purpose and convenience, if he so desires.’ ”
Bellairs inserted the clause on each of the agreements. The signatures were then attached and duly witnessed by the clerk, and the Colonel became the tenant of Belsire Abbey.
The business concluded, the Colonel pocketed his agreement and rose. “I shall just be in time for my train,” he said, leading the way out of the office.
When Colonel Copp reached Paddington he took a cab and drove straight to the chambers of Macter, the famous architect.
He found that eminent man in and disengaged. “How can I be of service to you. Colonel Copp?” he said, as he fingered the American’s card.
“I want,” stated Copp, “within two or three days, a plan and design for a banqueting-hall which I wish to build onto a country-place of mine.” ^
“Two or three days,” repeated the architect.
“I shall, of course, pay for any inconvenience.”
“It will be advisable,” said the architect, “for me or one of my staff to see the original building : you probably have the plans of it.”
“I have the plans, certainly, but you can dispense with the view,” said the Colonel. “I want something Eastern—of the Taj Mahal style.”
“Taj Mahal!” ejaculated Macter.
The Colonel continued, “I will send you round a plan of the wall from which it is to abut.”
The architect picked up a pencil. “Will you tell me the ideas you wish carried out, and the size, etc.?”
The Colonel gave the necessary details, and then took his departure.
Macter walked across his room to a sideboard and drew out a decanter and a syphon. “Well, I’m-!” was his toast.
“Minarets in an English park ! However,” he reflected, “he’s got the gold to gild ’em.”
On the fourth day following the Colonel’s call on the architect, Mr. Bellairs was in the office of Messrs. Right. Hank & Futley, discussing with Mr. Right the new tenant of the Abbey.
“I think,” Bellairs was saying, “That the sharpness of the American financier is much over-rated. They are really very easily managed.”
“If,” smugly said Right, looking up from his correspondence, “we had a few clients like the Colonel every day, there would be something in estate agency.”
“And not much trouble either,” laughed Bellairs.
“Come in,” called Right, as a knock came at the door.
“Colonel Copp’s secretary to see you, sir,” said the clerk.
“Show him in.”
“Speak of the devil and his minion appears,” said Bellairs.
The secretary was ushered in.
“Take a seat,” said Right, pleasantly.
“I have come from Colonel Copp,” commenced the secretary, “with the plans of the intended addition to Belsire Abbey. ’
Right took the envelope.
“My chief,” the secretary continued, “is sending down the workmen to-morrow, as he wishes the place prepared without delay.”
Mr. Right was smoothing out the tracings on the table. His companions saw his face suddenly stiffen into an incredulous stare.
“Wha—at?” he burst out, knocking over a pile of books in his excitement. “What on earthDo you mean to
say—— Is this a practical joke?” he demanded quickly, with a glare at the unfortunate secretary.
“I am afraid I do not understand you,” said that gentleman, with some astonishment.
Bellairs looked from one to the other, an expression of uneasy curiosity on his countenance.
“Understand!” shouted Right. He pulled himself up sharply. “This drawing.” he continued in a tone of forced quietness—“has it come direct from Colonel Copp? Has he seen it?”
“My chief sealed it himself,” answered the secretary.
Right rose from his table.
“I will call and see Colonel Copp,” he said. “I need not detain you.”
The secretary bowed and withdrew.
“Look at that,” said Right.
Bellairs took the sheet in his hand. He saw a beautifully-colored perspective drawing of an “Arabian Nights” sort of edifice, with a lofty gilt dome and six delicate spires.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“Do?” answered Right, who was thrusting on his coat. “I am going to tell the old idiot that he can’t nut a place like that against a Norman Abbey.”
A quarter of an hour later he was being shown into Colonel Copp’s business-room at the Cecil.
“How do you do, Mr. Right?” said the Colonel cheerfullv. “You are just in time to join me in a little aperitif
Right was not in the frame of mind for courtesies. “I have called sir,” he began impetuously, “about the plan-”
“Cocktails.” continued the Colonel, “are excellent before dinner, but at lunch-time a mixed French and Italian Vermouth is the nropsition I recommend.”
The entrance of a waiter probably saved Right from consigning aperitifs to a place where they are presumably not customarv. So he smiled in a futile way and said he would take whatever his host took.
When the glasses were on the table the Colonel opened:
“Now. Mr. Right, regarding the plan.
T think Macter has made an excellent design.”
“Are you referring to this?” answered Right, thrusting the perspective sketch in front of Copp.
“That is it.”
“Why, my dear sir,” burst out Right, “it is ridiculous—unthinkable—absolutely out of the question ! It would make the Abbey into a freak, and the Duke the laughing-stock of the country.”
“You astonish me,” remarked the Colonel.
“Astonish ! Excuse me, sir, but can’t you see the utter incongruity of it? Why, it is scarcely possible to imagine a man of Macter’s architectural standing submitting it.”
“Well,” said the Colonel, “I am sorry you do not like it. I may say at once that the design was made specially to suit my requirements, and operations will commence to-morrow.”
Right was staggered. In the face of this decisive statement he did not know what to say.
“My dear sir,” he at last jerked out, “it is impossible. I cannot permit it. The Duke would not allow it.”
The Colonel crossed to his despatch-box, from which he took the Abbey agreement,
“As I have said before, Mr. Right, I am a busy man, and it will perhaps save time if I remind you of this clause.” He read it out: “ ‘The tenant to be at full liberty to add a room to his own purpose and convenience, if he so desires.’ ”
“But,” Right gasped, “it was never expected that your addition would be a monstrosity. The natural inference was that you would make your addition in the original style. You said you would give it to a leading architect. The assumption was that he would have the usual free hand.”
“For the inferences,” said the Colonel, “I am not responsible. For the rest,” he continued, “it is the only type of building which suits my purpose and convenience. Without it, the Abbey is not suitable for me, and without the clause which gives me a right to do as I please in the matter, I should not have taken the place, as you know. Come, come, Mr. Right, you are a business man. You can see that the matter is solely at my discretion. I
have made up my mind, and I can afford to support it.”
“It is impossible,” said Right, doggedly.
“Well, Mr. Right,” said the Colonel, looking at his watch, “my lunch is waiting for me.”
Right had been surveying the situation with swift thought. He was not without common sense, and he could see that Colonel Copp held the control.
“Will you,” he said, “suspend matters for forty-eight hours?”
“I really do not see how I can. My instructions have been given, specifications sent out, etc., and the workmen will arrive at Belsire to-morrow morning. Further, 1 do not see the object of it.”
Right got up from his chair as the Colonel walked towards the door. “Will you be in the hotel this afternoon?” he said.
“I shall be disengaged about six o’clock.” replied the Colonel.
The Colonel went down to the grill room, and the agent left the hotel. Right drove back to his office as quickly as a taxi could take him.
As soon as he got inside the doors he inquired the whereabouts of his partners. They were out at lunch.
“I am going to look for them,” he said to the clerk. “If either Mr. Hank or Mr. Futley should return while I am away, ask him to stay in, as I wish to see them on important business.”
At the first telegraph office he stopped the cab, went in, and sent a lengthy telegram to the Duke of Belsire, Paris.
That afternoon the partners of Messrs. Right, Hank & Futley, estate agents, were inaccessible to the public.
By five o’clock it had been decided that the agreement with the Colonel must be cancelled at any cost.
A furiously-worded telegram from his grace of Belsire was on the table.
“I do not suppose for one moment,” said Futley, an old man with much experience and a well-balanced mind, “that the Duke will do other than disclaim all responsibility. The onus is legally with us. The clause in the agreement should at least have stipulated for our approval of
plans. We’ve worried it out from every aspect, and the only thing to do is to make an offer for cancellation. Whoever loses, it must be done, and at any cost.”
At six o’clock Mr. Right drove to keep his appointment with the Colonel.
At seven o’clock he drove away, plus the cancelled agreement and an invitation to a banquet, of which he did not avail himself, and—minus a check for ten thousand pounds.
When he had gone, the Colonel rang for his secretary. “Harris,” he said, “I have decided, after all, that a country house is unnecessary for me.” As he spoke,
he sealed a long envelope into which had gone a pink slip and a small book. “Give that into the bank in the morning immediately it opens ; and take down this letter to Mr. Macter:
“My Dear Mr. Macter:
“I have pleasure in enclosing a •check for one hundred guineas in payment for sketch and plans submitted yesterday. I have decided not to proceed with the erection at present.
JOB H. COPP.
We pigmies of emotion saw no strife—
His was a calm untouched by sign of pain.
We dreamed not that the making of his life
Had seen dark hours wherein the combat strain Had almost torn his mighty soul in twain.