The Portfolio of Mines
The Story of a Political Intrigue Arising Out of a Cabinet Appointment
T. B. COSTAIN
MARTIN Headon, M.P., concluded a vigorous address on the topic uppermost in all minds at the time, the conservation of national resources, and sat down amid the profound silence which sometimes follows a really eloquent peroration. The silence was momentary, however; and almost immediately a buzz of conversation spread over the House. Fellow members at neighboring desks leaned over and shook him by the hand with a whispered word of congratulation. He even secured a nod or a smile from various occupants of the opposition benches.
A few minutes afterward, the House having adjourned, he was striding down Wellington Street in company with his friend, Yernon Benson, member for another western constituency.
“You’re as good as chosen for Minister of Mines now,” declared Benson, jubilantly. “That speech puts Barclay out of the running.”
The prediction did not arouse any answering enthusiasm in Headon, M.P. He strode ahead with a sombre frown, hands plunged deep into his overcoat pockets, hat drawn down tightly and shading his face, the very picture of dejection.
“What’s the matter, Martin?” asked Benson. “You look like an undertaker in the last stages of insolvency. Why, man, if I had your prospects my head at the present moment would be in great peril of bumping into Mars. If I were slated for the new portfolio of Mines— “You are more likely to get it than I am,” declared Headon, morosely. “I believe just at this moment I stand the best chance but—something is going to happen to-morrow. One entry for the Portfolio Stakes will be left at the
“What’s wrong?” demanded Benson, regarding his friend sharply.
“I am in rather a fix,” said Headon, “I didn’t intend to bother anyone else with my troubles.
“Perhaps you remember,” he continued, “that I switched my vote in committee on a matter involving the ceding of some western land? It was about three weeks ago. I opposed the matter at first, believing it to be a steal. But a young fellow named Donovan, the local manager for Heatherington & Co., brokers, who was acting as agent for the parties interested, called on me one day and went into the matter thoroughly with me. He convinced me that the deal was a fair one and accordingly I changed my attitude from opposition to support. I am convinced still that I did
right in the matter although some of the members of the committee passed joking remarks at the time about my being bought off.
“I got quite friendly with Donovan after that. He used to drop around and see me every day or so. About a week ago he asked me if I had a couple of hundred dollars that I could risk on a market speculation. He had a straight tip—a cinch on a certain stock—and was getting up a pool. Now, I’ve been right up against it in money matters recently, Benson. It has kept me scratching to make both ends meet. His proposition looked tempting as I had some payments to meet in a few days. I knew the Chief has looked askance at stock gambling since the Allardyce affair, but I decided to take a chance and dug up the two hundred dollars. I paid the money over to Donovan in the office of Heatherington & Co. Two days later —that is, last Wednesday—I got word from Donovan that the market had gone just as he expected and he had closed out the pool at a nice profit. That afternoon I got a check from Heatherington & Co. for five hundred dollars, my share, in the proceeds. The transaction looked perfectly proper so I deposited the check to my account.
“It was the blindness of stupidity on my part not to have seen through it,” he went on, bitterly. “The trick is
quite transparent, and I don’t even suppose it is a new one. This morning’s paper, as you doubtless saw, contained a story hinting that there had been bribery in the western land ease referred to. The article usecl no names but pointed out that several members had switched their votes in committee and hinted that monetary considerations had brought about the change of heart.
“At noon to-day, I got word from Jenkins, the money lender, that the cheque from Heatherington & Co. had come into his hands and that, unless I could settle with him, would be used to expose me. You see it doesn’t require much stretch of the imagination to connect my switch on a land deal engineered by them with the cheque that they gave me. I find that I have nothing to produce to show how I got that cheque.” “Blackmail!” exclaimed Benson, savagely. “And Jabez Jenkins! This is serious, Martin. Anyone who gets into Jenkins’ claws can count himself lucky if he escapes with his hide intact.” “Jenkins values that cheque at $10,000,” went on Headon, speaking in the monotonous tone of one quite resigned to the worst that might happen. “I tried at first to bluff him that I was in a position to prove how I got that
cheque. But it didn’t work. He then threw out the suggestion that if I could not raise the money myself he knew where he could get it. This led around to the offer of the return of the cheque if I would write a letter to the Chief, requesting him not to consider me for the new Portfolio, urging ill health or business matters or any other excuse that I might care to advance.”
Benson whistled softly.
“I begin to perceive that the shadow of one Burton W. Barclay stalks in the wake of Jenkins in this deal,” he said. “It looks bad, Martin. You can’t afford to let the Chief see that cheque under all the circumstances, especially with the newspapers kicking up a dust.”
“My explanation would look fishy,” said Headon, morosely. “If this matter ever got out I would never be able to convince the public of my innocence. Some would believe me but the great mask are only too ready to believe anything evil of a public man. A cloud of suspicion would rest on me ever afterward. And the Chief would recognize this fact, even if he believed in my innocence himself. The scales are so evenly balanced between Barclay and me that it requires just the smallest influence to send it one way or the other. This would do it. You know the Chief is determined that the members of his cabinet must be above suspicion.
“Well, I have been told to reach a decision by 2 o’clock to-morrow afternoon.”
A lengthy pause ensued while Benson pondered the matter carefully.
“The selection for the portfolio will be announced on Thursday so that gives us three days to work in,” said the latter finally. “There’s only one thing to do. We must hunt up Perry Porter. He may be able to help us straighten this out.”
“Porter, the newspaperman?” asked Headon. _ “Look here, Vernon, if there is one thing we must avoid it is publicity in this matter.”
“We can depend absolutely on Porter,” affirmed Benson. “He is not a newspaperman in the fullest sense of the word. He writes special articles for the magazines and occasionally contributes for the papers. And he knows this city and the people in it from the Chief down. There are secrets locked away in the brain of Peregrine Porter that would turn this old town topsyturvy if he chose to give them out. Some years ago he helped me out in a certain matter. Other members have gone to him since. I tell you his knowledge of the inside workings of official life is uncanny. It is said the Chief has consuited him on occasions. He’s the oracle of Delphi and the Sphinx rolled into one. It has been hinted that he is m the pay of a certain railroad corporation but I’ve never believed that. Come and we’ll hunt him up.”
They found Porter in his rooms on Nepean street. He was a handsome man of about forty years of aee, portly m person, and decidedly polished and urbane m his manner. His dark eyes beamed at times like live coals but gen-
erally were hidden behind half-drooping lids as though their animation were checked by an unconquerable laziness. Which was exactly the case. Porter was a man of singular brilliancy and erudition, who had through sheer lack of ambition elected to play the part of a literary dilettante, making a tolerably good living from his writings, and mixing occasionally in the intrigue of the capital.
He was smoking a hookah when they entered, which he laid aside to greet them. With the solicitude of the perfect host, he had them installed in comfortable chairs and supplied with cigars before he would permit the broaching of the business in hand. Benson then stated their errand and Headon gave a rather more extended and complete account of his difficulties than he had previously vouchsafed to his fellow member. Porter asked a few questions and at the close of the recital pondered the matter carefully a moment or two.
“It is a good thing that you happened to think of me in this connection,” he said, finally. “I know something of the parties concerned. I believe that I can see a little farther into it as a result of this information, than you perhaps have done, Mr. Headon. Are you prepared to let me make some investigations of my own, in my own way? Do you give me carte blanche?”
“Most decidedly,” asserted Headon. “If you can extricate me from the very painful and trying position I now find myself in, I will be everlastingly grateful to you.”
Porter stood up and seemed in the
second to become the very embodiment of energy and force. His former air of lazy indifference fell from him like a cloak. His eyes sparkled with animation, his very movements became brisker and more certain.
“The gratitude should be on my part,” he declared. “I was falling almost into a state of coma, of aggravated ennui, through sheer lack of purpose. You have given me something to do. something that I look forward to with pleasure. To-morrow, I trust, there will be something interesting to tell you.”
“He may not be able to accomplish anything,” said Headon, as they stepped out on the street, “but I feel much more confident somehow. ’ ’
The next day Porter called up Headon on the telephone. “You have an appointment at Jenkins’ house at 2 o’clock this afternoon, have you not?” he asked. “At that hour, call him up and put it off until the next day at the same hour. He may threaten you but bluff him the best way you can. It is absolutely necessary that we procure this delay, and mind you, don’t call him before 2 o’clock.”
Headon followed instructions and arranged with Jenkins to delay the settlement of the matter until the following day.
From that time forward he received no word of any kind ' from Peregrine
Porter and accordingly it was in a very depressed state of mind that he repaired to the house of the old lawyer and money lender at the specified hour on Wednesday. Jabez Jenkins had been lending
money to needy parliamentarians and impecunious civil servants for a quarter of a century and was reputed to have amassed a huge fortune in that time. He was quite unscrupulous in his methods and absolutely merciless so that no one ever anticipated escaping from him, once they got into his power, without paying the full pound of flesh.
He received Headon with a dour glance. A little weazened man, with sunken eyes which glared malevolently from under heavy, overhanging eyebrows, he was not a figure to inspire hope. Headon felt his courage sinking below zero.
“You have decided to sign the document, I suppose,” said Jenkins, reaching for a bundle of papers but never taking his eyes from his visitor’s face.
“Can’t we reach an understanding on this?” asked Headon. “I will guarantee to pay you your price, although it will take some time. I can raise the money, I think.”
Jenkins laughed; if a grating, mirthless cachination could be dignified by that term.
“I must have the money now,” he said, with finality.
The ’phone rang at this juncture and Jenkins turned around to answer it. He spoke in a guardedly low tone but Headon caught an occasional word. “Yes . . . You can’t see him . . . Not now. . . . Call again in . . .
Hanging up the receiver with an impatient click, Jenkins turned to the member again and pronounced his ultimatum with increased emphasis.
“This matter must be settled now,” he declared.
And settled it would have been in a very few moments; for Headon had lost all hope of extricating himself from the difficulty at any other price than the relinquishment of his cabiutt aspirations. Before anything could be done, however, the door was shoved open and Porter appeared, ushering in a young lady. He escorted the girl to a chair and then confronted Jenkins who had risen in a belligerent attitude.
“Pardon me for dispensing with the formality of being announced,” said Porter, easily. “I have something very important to discuss with you, Jenkins. But before getting down to business, I must see what is behind this door.”
And before Jenkins could intervene, he had crossed to a door at the other side of the room and thrown it open. It opened on an inner office, containing a few bare articles of furniture, a safe— and a manl
“Come out, Mr. Donovan,” said Porter, bowing. He did not appear in the least surprised at finding the inner room occupied. Headon, however, was not prepared for this contingency and the surprise brought him to his feet.
“This is indeed a happy meeting,” went on Porter. “As a matter of fact T was very anxious that you should be present at this interview, Mr. Donovan.”
Donovan stepped out from the inner office, very red of face and very angry. He allowed his feelinars to subside some-
what, however, when he caught sight of the girl. A flicker of uneasiness showed in his eyes.
The next move came so rapidly that Headon hardly had time to realize what had happened before it was over. Porter crossed to where Donovan stood and suddenly imprisoned both his hands. There was a struggle of a moment’s duration while Porter drew one of the broker’s wrists across the other. Holding them pinioned with his one hand, he threw back Donovan’s coat with the other and drew a large blue envelope out of an inside pocket. This he tossed to Headon.
The member caught the envelope and backed into a corner as Donovan charged forward to recover his purloined property. Porter regained his hold on the latter, however, tackling him securely around the waist.
“Look in the envelope, Mr. Headon,” called Porter, holding the wriggling and furious broker firmly. “Keep your eye on Jenkins. Does it contain two cheques—one your own, the other from Heatherington & Co. to Jabez Jenkins? Good. We now have the prettiest proof of blackmail possible. Stand back, Donovan. You can’t do anything by force.”
With that he released his hold on the broker and stepped back even with Headon, who had put the envelope away in an inside pocket and was buttoning up his coat. The pair of them presented a formidable front; and Donovan, recognizing the futility of attempting to recover the cheques by force, backed off and glared vindictively. Jenkins had reached for the ’phone early in the fracas but seemed reluctant to use it.
“You’ll crawl for this yet,” declared Donovan with concentrated venom. “Call the police, Jenkins. This is robbery!”
“Calm yourself,” counseled Porter. “Don’t bluff at using that ’phone, Jenkins. You are much less anxious for the police to take a hand in this than we are. There’s the door bell. I believe our party will be complete in a minute. ”
A tall, stoop-shouldered man, immaculately clad and with a carnation in his button-hole, was shown in. Headon stared in astonishment as he recognized his rival for the newly-created portfolio, Burton W. Barclay, M.P.
“What’s this, Jenkins?” queried Barclay, sharply. He glanced around the room with a mixture of confusion and suspicion before adding: “You
wanted to see me? I’ll wait until these gentlemen-”
“Don’t run away, Mr. Barclay,” said Porter. “We may need you. In fact I took the liberty of addressing a message to you asking you to come. In order to insure your obeying it, I took the further liberty of representing that our mutual friend, Jenkins, had sent the message. ’ ’
“What’s the meaning of this?” demanded Barclay, his face turning a mottled, angry red. “This impudence is not to be tolerated. If this is a practical joke-”
“It’s a plant 1” declared Donovan. “This thieving penny-a-liner has taken certain documents from me by force, and by the living-”
Porter forestalled him by getting to the ’phone himself, taking it from Jenkins with such force that the old money-lender toppled back into his swivel-chair.
“If you want the police to arbitrate this matter, just say so,” declared Porter. “I’ll call headquarters at once.”
There was silence for a moment, Barclay and Donovan glancing at each other furtively and uneasily. The latter cleared his throat and began.
“I’m at a loss to understand this melodrama,” he said. “From what 1 have heard of you, Porter, I believe you to be quite capable of theft but your actions do not concern me in the least. What object you had in getting me here I don’t know, but I don’t intend to play out this practical joke any further.”
“It’s not a joke. And don’t pretend that you aren’t interested in this little deal. Now I’m going to get right down to cases, so kindly drop that mask of hypocrisy while I explain where we stand.”
“Before proceeding with my explanation,” he continued, “I may state for the benefit of the company that this young lady is Miss Irene Darrow, who has filled the positioq for some time of stenographer to Mr. Donovan. I thought it best to bring her with me as it might be necessary to have her story; though I am hoping this will not be necessary.”
“I have here copies of certain letters now in my possession,” he added. “Look them over, Mr. Barclay. They are copies of letters sent by you to Mr. Donovan in which Mr. Headon’s name is mentioned. Although the phraseology is very guarded, the meaning is clear when interpreted in the light of subsequent events. I have also copies of certain letters sent to you.”
Barclay took the papers and skimmed them through feverishly.
“This is a plot, a packet of lies!” he charged. “I have never seen these letters before. No sane man would put credence in these clumsy forgeries.”
“Do you want to put it to a test?” asked Porter. “I have positive proof that the stock transaction which Donovan persuaded Mr. Headon to go into was a deliberate frame-up. No transaction occurred on the market whatever. His money was accepted and a cheque sent to him as his profit on the deal. When the cheque was returned in the usual way it was held until such time as the bribery rumors could be brought to a head. Then Jenkins here was used to hold that cheque over Headon, as a means of forcing him into seclusion.
“I may add that I traced up the bribery items which appeared in Monday’s morning papers and have secured positive proof that the information was supplied by you, Mr. Barclay. As the final argument, I may inform you that Mr. Headon has in his possession at thé present moment an envelope which I just
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(Continued from page 12.)
found on the person of Donovan here. It contains the cheque which Mr. HeadoD cashed some time ago and another one for five hundred dollars made out Jabez Jenkins and signed by Heatherington & Co. That concludes my case.
“I have a messenger below, awaiting instructions,” he continued, briskly, without giving an opportunity for interruption. “What I suggest is that Mr. Barclay sign this statement that you had prepared for Mr. Headon. After what has transpired we do not feel that Mr. Barclay should continue to aspire to cabinet rank. The messenger will see that it is delivered immediately. We can probably agree then to consider the whole matter closed.”
In five minutes they were out of the house. There had been further parley, but it was evident from the first that Barclay was beaten. He had signed the statement, protesting volubly that he did so under compulsion and threatening reprisals. The letter had been duly forwarded by the messenger.
Later in the afternoon Headon called with his friend Benson at Porter’s rooms to hear his explanation of the case.
“It was quite simple after all,” said the latter. “I knew something of this fellow Donovan. He has figured in several rather shady transactions recently. It turned out that he had been rather careless in his methods and had allowed dangerous letters1 to be filed away. Miss Darrow, who is a shrewd little person, as well as an honest one, became suspicious.’ This facilitated my investigations for I began with her. We found letters from Barclay which gave the strongest kind of evidence of the plot, when viewed in the light of what lias happened since..
“I felt convinced from the first that Jenkins did not hold the incriminating cheque himself for two reasons. In the first place, they would never intrust him with so valuable an asset. He is absolutely unscrupulous and might have turned around and sold them out. In the second place, he would never part with it until he had received his pay; and they were just as certain not to pay him until he had completed his work. On these grounds I felt convinced that some one, probably Donovan, would be in the house when the transaction took place and that Jenkins would merely act as a mouthpiece. When the moment came, the cheque would be sent in to the room. In order to make sure, I visited Jenkins on Tuesday morning on a pretext of borrowing money—getting a prompt and emphatic refusal—and I found that there was an inner office. I became convinced that Donovan would be ensconced there during the interview.
“You were due to see Jenkins at 2 o’clock that afternoon. I had you telephone at that hour and arrange a postponement. In the meantime the house was watched and sure enough Donovan
was seen to enter twenty minutes before the hour set and leave again a few minutes after the hour. Before making my appearance this afternoon, I called up Jenkins and, representing that I was speaking from the office of Heatherington & Co., asked for a word with Donovan. Jenkins told me to call again in twenty minutes. Thus, when I entered the house I was positive that Donovan was in the inner office. In the meantime, Miss Darrow had kept her eyes open and had given me a tip on the blue envelope. A smart girl that. We must get her a new position at once.”
“You can get her a post in the new Department of Mines, Headon,” suggested Benson.
“Depend upon it,” said Headon, fervently, “The best post in the service will be offered to her.”
“In the meantime,” said Porter, “don’t keep that cheque in your possession. If you haven’t already destroyed it, do so at once. And you will never hear anything more of this matter. Just the same I would advise you to keep your eye on your friend Barclay in future.”