The Rockingham coup encounters an embarrassing obstacle, and a young man falls in love
JAMES MICHAEL CORBIE
The story: At his palatial lodge on Burnt Island in the Northern Canadian Province of Huron. John Rockingham, the great Canadian financier, is entertaining Sir Peter Tarne and Lord Moundell, international financiers. They are making plans to control the mineral wealth of Canada.
Rockingham's manager, LeGresley. arrives by air. LeGresley states that his prospector at Black Lake has sent him ¡cord that a big gold strike has been made there; that all the best claims hare been staked by a man named Paulson, acting Jar the Queen's Town firm of Street and Richmond. The conspirators plot to secure this property.
Richard Armstrong, junior partner of Street and Richmond, is carrying ore samples from Black Lake by airplane when he is forced down at Burnt Island. There he meets Rockingham's niece and confidential secretary, Alyce Weldon. She accompanies him track toQueen’s Town and they become quite friendly.
Rockingham asks Alyce to invite Armstrong to a party she is giving because Armstrong may become useful to him, and Alyce does so.
LeGresley, on behalf of Rockingham, seeks to buy the Black Ijikc mines. His offer refused, he proposes a big loan to Street and Richmond, his idea being that the market will break presently and when they cannot repay the loan he will secure the mines. This loan, however, is also declined for the time being.
BY THE end of August the world had apparently gone market-mad. Everywhere, men and women of all ages were plunging wildly into the maelstrom of the markets, counting on finding sudden fortunes. The feverish epidemic of speculation had spread so fast that even the very machinery of the exchanges could not cope with the
fast rising volume of trades. Brokers’ offices in every city were crammed with seething crowds, and each succeeding day saw prices climb to new and spectacular levels. Fabulous fortunes were being made overnight; money flowed freely from the cornucopia of market opportunity. The world moved in a saturnalia of spending, with every class and condition of mankind indulging in the orgies. Extravagance became the ordinary rule of life; the luxuries of yesterday were the necessities of today. A riot of speculation had swept over the country, and there were few who dared to read the riot act.
In Queen’s Town, the mining market had more than reacted to the general conditions that obtained elsewhere. Never before had such an avalanche of trading been experienced. Records were broken, day by day. Even the humblest of penny stocks moved upward so rapidly that it became difficult to keep hourly track of their progress. Milling mobs thronged the board rx>ms; and the staff of every brokerage house in the city worked in eight-hour shifts, day and night, in a frantic endeavor to keep abreast of the flood of business.
Armstrong was tired. He had spent an unusually strenuous week-end at the office, toiling, with every other member of the staff, in a grim endeavor to overtake an accumulated mass of work which the wild activity of the market had created. On top of that. Monday had been another day of sensational trading, and he had been prisoned by the multitudinous duties that the turmoil of a boiling market forced upon him.
Yet, as he sat in the crowded drawing-room of Rockingham’s city home that evening, he felt glad that he had accepted Alyce Weldon’s invitation, after all. It had taken him some time to make up his mind, but finally his eager desire to see her again had overcome the scruples that urged him to decline. He had been welcomed with a warm and friendly greeting; he had listened to the music of a master; and now for the moment he could relax and, forgetting the commonplace grind of daily duties, indulge in a few daydreams.
Costello had just finished a superb rendition of Chiokoff’s New Nocturne, and almost reluctantly Armstrong had roused himself from the spell which the magical music had cast over him. He could see, on the other side of the room, the red-gold hair and perfect profile of his hostess as she st(xxi chatting with some late arrivals. Here and there among the guests he recognized men whom previously he had known by name only; men of wealth, of standing, of eminence in their respective callings. As the last murmur of applause died away, the usual hum of conversation arose.
Armstrong, sitting alone in a window recess, was content to watch the animated scene with a detached interest. He had his own visions and his own dreams to keep him company.
Quite suddenly, Alyce Weldon herself materialized beside him. and so unexpected was her voice that he started.
"This will never do,” she said rebukingly; "sitting all alone like this. I can see I have been neglecting my duties.”
He protested: “Really. Miss Weldon, I have been enjoying the music."
"Yes. but I haven’t been lonely. My thoughts have kept me company.”
She laughed very softly. "Should I offer you the proverbial penny?" she asked, a touch of mischief in her voice.
“Not for sale.” he asserted, looking at her, "but I’ll give them to you.”
Her eves fell before his steady gaze, but she answered him
lightly. “You must have a very generous nature. I am quite impatient—” She paused provocatively.
“I was thinking of some one,” he told her, “who had a hunch one day.”
She did not look up. “Isn’t that a foolish occupation?” she asked quietly.
He watched her as he answered. “Maybe; but I find it a delightful one.”
Her eyes were still hidden. “That,” she scoffed, “is no excuse for being foolish.”
TUTE WAS embarrassed at the implied rebuke, but she turned abruptly to him, and to his surprise laid her hand on his arm.
“You look tired. Mr. Armstrong,” she said with some concern in her voice. “I expect you have been working day and night since you came back.”
Dick laughed. “Well, these are strenuous days. Miss Weldon. Everybody seems to be playing the market.” “And I suppose you are frightfully busy as a consequence?”
“ ‘Busy’ is hardly the word. We’re submerged. And this wild epidemic seems to be still spreading.”
Her eyes showed her interest. “And how long do you think it will last?” she asked him.
Armstrong smiled uncertainly. “Who can tell? Every day you imagine that the peak is reached, and next morning prices rise again to wreck your reputation as a judge of the market. Of course, it can't last. Common sense tells one that.”
“Then, you think a break will come soon?”
“It must. Miss Weldon, it must. These are all inflated prices.” He glanced at her questioningly. “What does your uncle think about it?”
Her hands made a gesture of implied ignorance. “It is hard to say what he really does think. Mr. Armstrong.” "But Mr. LeGresley is very bullish.”
“Mr. LeGresley is not my uncle,” she retorted laughingly. “I should have thought you were more of an authority on market conditions.”
“I?” he queried in surprise, "I know more about—” “Gold mines?” she interjected, and her eyes smiled at him. “Tell me, how is your Black Lake find developing?” He glanced at her, but her eyes were apparently watching something on the other side of the room
"It looks very promising, Miss Weldon.” he replied casually. “We think it will develop into a big thing.”
She turned to him again. “What will you do with it? Sell?”
He hesitated before replying. “That is something for Mr. Street to settle," he answered as indifferently as possible. “And, I suppose, he hasn’t made up his mind yet?” “Well,” Dick said cautiously, “it's early yet to make any decision on such an important matter, isn’t it?”
"I suppose it is, but I’ll be interested to know what his decision is for your sake.” She jumped to her feet. “I must run,” she explained lightly. "There’s some one I simply must talk to. I shall see you before you leave.” And she was gone.
For a while Armstrong sat there, thoughtfully. Somehow, he could not understand her apparent interest in his affairs. To assume that that interest was a personal one was to brand himself a presumptuous fool. It was not likely that she. Rockingham’s niece and heiress, could consider him in any other light than that of a mere acquaintance. Why. they had only met once before. She was merely being polite to him; that was it. But the thought kept recurring: Why was she so curious about Black Lake? Fie remembered her keen interest when they talked of it at Burnt Island. But she had said, and he remembered it with a sudden thrill that she was interested "for his sake.”
He watched her as she moved among her guests. What a wonderful girl she was. She attracted him irresistibly. He snapped his head back. “Better not be too much of an idiot,” he thought, somewhat bitterly. He would cut it out. But some imp inside him added. “If you can.”
THE room seemed to be getting hot; that was the worst of these summer parties. He glanced through the opened window door beside him. A glorious evening; warm, inviting. The moonlight fell upon the garden outside, turning it into a shadowy land of make-believe. The fancy came to him that perhaps he had been living in such a domain since he met Alyce Weldon at Burnt Island. He slipped quietly through the door.
The scent of dew-drenched flowers came to him, and the witchery of the night struck deep into his being. He had stepped into a place of peace and calm and rest. The terraced path invited him, and he strolled idly along, lost in the serenity of the moment. A stone seat against the wall of the house attracted him. He sat down. The restfulness of the spot made him sleepy and his head slipped back against the wall. He was very tired. He dozed.
Far off, in his dream, he heard the murmur of men’s voices. What was it they were saying? He could not hear, but it seemed that they were talking about him. Then, suddenly, the dream faded. With a start he woke, every nerve tingling. He had heard his name mentioned quite clearly. He looked around. There was no one in sight; the moonlight streamed calmly down on the flower-scented garden. Then he understood. The voices were coming from an opened window above his head. Curious, he thought, that any one should be talking of him. He started to rise, but a word from the window froze him into the similitude of a statue.
“What are you afraid of? Street?” The deep dominant voice came clearly through the window.
Dick waited for the answer. He was no eavesdropper, but there was something strange about this.
“I’m not afraid of any one, but this means ruin, ruin for all of them.”
The voice was agitated, and Dick, sitting there in the stillness outside, thought he had heard it before. The deep voice chuckled, almost evilly.
“Of course it does, but what do a few brokers matter when millions are at stake?”
The querulous voice again. “But Street’s been useful. He saved us a lot of worry when he took over the Rutherford
“Rubbish,” the deep voice boomed.
“What’s it matter if he cleaned up forty messes for you?”
The deep voice interrupted savagely.
“Listen, Pairker,” it threatened. ’Tve told you what I want, and no cursed brokers are going to stop it.”
A moment’s silence, and Rockingham’s voice rumbled again.
“We’re playing for too big a stake to”
It seemed to Armstrong that he woke abruptly from a trance.
He could listen no longer. Without being conscious of movement, he rose to his feet and stumbled away. Somehow his brain seemed numb.
Surely, he had not dreamed this? He shivered, stopped uncertainly and went on. He could not think clearly. He must get away to think.
Passing the window door into the lounge, he walked blindly round the house to the entrance, passed in, collected his hat and coat, and went out to find his car. His move-
ments were automatic. Not until he was nearly home did he remember that he had not bade his hostess good night. He slept little that night.
W 7TTH the morning came a greater perplexity. Admit’ ’ ting that what he had heard implied danger, even disaster, for his firm, he felt, curiously enough, a certain disappointment in himself. From the standpoint of his own code of conduct, he had been guilty of listening surreptitiously to a confidential conversation in the house where he was an invited guest. His conscience criticized his conduct. He was no better than a common eavesdropper; and yet the gravity of the words he had heard and the implication that he was forced to attach to them seemed to justify his action. He had not sought to listen, it had been an incident beyond his control; but was he justified in speaking about it to others? His first reaction had been, of course, to get hold of Street at once and tell him. Now he was not so sure. Perhaps he could handle the matter himself. He thought grimly that it would be a herculean task; if it were possible for him even to attempt it. What could he do, single-handed, against a man like Rockingham? The thought of David and Goliath came to his mind, and he had to smile at the idea of Richard Armstrong in the rôle of David.
He tried to piece the fragments together. Obviously, Rockingham was scheming some apparently big plan, and, just as obviously, that plan involved the possible ruin of his firm as well as others. But what was the purpose behind the plan? He remembered suddenly LeGresley’s visit to Street and the curious feeling he had had that there was more behind LeGresley’s offer than was apparent. Could there possibly be any connection between LeGresley’s visit and Rockingham’s threatening scheme? Somehow, he would have to get more information.
And then, with a start, the figure of Alyce Weldon entered his mental picture. Had she a place in this tangled web? She had seemed particularly interested in the Black Lake find. Ah ! that might have something to do with it; perhaps that was what Rockingham was after. He felt elated that he had connected the two things, and instantly became despondent again.
Rockingham had offered to buy the claims, but Street had rejected the pro¡x)sal.
Maybe they were trying to get them in some other way. But, he felt, that wasn’t the whole of the story. He sensed instinctively that there was something more sinister lurking in the background.
He brooded over the matter as he went down to the office.
It was the inevitable custom for him to confer with Street, in the latter’s office, every morning before the day’s work got under way. He would have liked to have made an exception this morning, but Street called him in at once to settle some matter of administrative routine. Dick took the opportunity to put a question to his chief.
“Are you still as keen as ever on the LeGresley loan proposition?” he asked.
Street looked up, somewhat surprised. “I certainly am,” he replied, definite emphasis in his voice. “What makes you ask?"
Dick hesitated. “There’s something behind it,” he said seriously, “and I wish I knew what it is.”
Street started to laugh, but checked himself as he saw how very serious Armstrong was. Street had a real respect for his junior partner’s judgment; he had learned by experience that Dick’s intuitions were usually to be trusted.
“I think you’re way off the track this time, Dick,” he said. "After all, they may as well use their money profitably, and they will certainly have gcxxl security if they loan it on a fifty per cent basis. It’s to their advantage to have a house like ours directly connected with them for trading purposes.”
“But,” urged Dick, "why should they so suddenly offer us a million-dollar loan, when we have had difficulty getting half that amount at the bank?"
“That’s their business surely,” retorted Street patiently. “Believe me, their offer comes at a most opportune moment.”
“Yes,” agreed Dick instantly; “immediately after the Black Lake strike.”
Street shot a shrewd glance at his younger colleague.
“I never thought of that." he said meditatively, “but it’s a coincidence. Nothing to it. I’m sure."
“I’m not so sure,” retorted Dick quickly. “I fancy there’s a connection, and I’ll lind it yet.”
Street’s face broke into one of his famous smiles, and his eyes twinkled.
“Well, good hunting, Dick,” he laughed, and picked up the topmost letter on his desk.
Dick walked to the door, feeling a little foolish. But he could not restrain one parting shot.
"Maybe you’ll find that in this instance we’re the hunted and not the hunters.”
He walked to his own office, and another day’s work began.
SIR Peter Tarne had once been described as combining the rapacious greed of a Sir I lenry Morgan with the courtly manners of a Lord Chesterfield.
In building up his colossal wealth, he had acquired a reputation for ruthlessness which amounted almost to a tradition. The industrial amalgamations uixm which his fortune was founded had been effected with an utter disregard of minority interests, and his rise to financial domination was marked by a contemptuous indifference to the fate of those unfortunate enough to stand in his way. In the big industrial and financial centres of Europe, his name was feared even more than it was hated; for there was scarcely any part of that continent unfamiliar with his merciless methods.
The man himself was little known. He had cast about himself a veil of mystery which he had found as useful as it was baffling to his enemies. No one, meeting him for the first time, would ever associate this quiet and reserved Englishman with the Tame whose
financial might was felt throughout the Old World. For Sir Peter Tarne had the features and bearing of the true patrician. Invariably he dressed with scrupulous, even fastidious, carefulness; he spoke with the cultured accents of Eton and Oxford; and he was distinguished at all times by a suavity of manner that recalled the stately courtesy of the eighteenth century. Apart from his financial operations, he looked upon life with a cynical detachment, as if it amused him rather more than it interested him.
His association w'ith lord Moundell only extended back a few years, but in that time they had, by the use of their combined resources, vastly increased the scope of their ojx*rations and the total of their wealth. So carefully had they concealed their actual alliance, however, that only a favored few knew that they were working together. And of these few, John Rockingham was now one.
But it was a surprised Rockingham who heard Sir Peter's cool voice on the phone one morning in mid-August. He had imagined Tarne to be in England, or at least on his way to rejoin lord Moundell in London. For a moment he thought that Sir Peter was calling him from the other side, but he was quickly corrected. Tarne was speaking from the Royal Wessex, Queen’s Town’s latest and newest luxurious hotel. Yes, he had arrived that morning, on his way to Quebec, and would be glad to see his friend Rockingham. Eleven o’clock w'ould suit him very well. Perhaps they could lunch together in his suite? That would lx* excellent.
As he hung up the receiver. Rockingham wondered if Sir Peter’s unexpected visit implied any possibility of a change of policy or of a change in plan. The thought irritated him. As far as he was concerned, there would lx no change now. It had been agreed that he was to be in complete charge of operations, and he would tolerate no interference. Apart from that, he would be glad to see Tarne again. He might get some useful information, and Sir Peter would be glad to know that the plan was developing satisfactorily. So would lord Moundell when Tarne relayed the information to him.
Tarne was busy with a couple of very efficient-looking secretaries as Rockingham was announced. He rose, smiling a welcome.
“My dear Rockingham,” he said cordially, pushing forward a chair, “it is good of you to come down. I’m practically through.” He gave his two aides a few final terse instructions and waved them from the room. “You are surprised to see; me back so soon?”
“Well, I understood you were to follow' Moundell to England immediately,” Rockingham answered, “but I’m glad to see you again. Why didn’t you wire me you were coming?”
Tarne smiled somewhat soberly. “No offense to you, Rockingham,” he explained, “but the less people know’ of my movements just now, the better. I’ve had a lot to do lately."
“I think I can understand that,” Rockingham said, nodding in understanding. "To keep in touch with all your
But Tarne raised his hand to interrupt. “Not that, so much as a special job I’ve been tackling. A big job.too; and in one way it may connect with your plans.”
Rockingham shot an enquiring glance at him, but said nothing. Sir Peter lit another cigarette before continuing.
“Your New York agent Thompson, isn’t it?—told me you were here this week, so that.is really why I came this way round. 1 wanted to have a chat with you, Rockingham. Incidentally, how are your plans developing?"
“Everything is shaping up well,” said Rockingham. “I thought we might get IoGresley dowrn here later for a conference.”
Sir Peter made a gesture of indifference. "If you like, of course, but the matter is in your hands, you know, and frankly. I’m content to leave it there.”
TF ROCKINGHAM felt in any way relieved, he did not show it. He looked questioningly at his companion. "What’s on your mind?” he asked bluntly, and Sir Peter appeared amused at the form of the question. But he paused reflectively before answering.
"Nominally,” he said at length, “I’ve been in New' York these past weeks negotiating a working agreement with the Gundleheims on the Mesopotamia options. Actually, I’ve been busy devising a new way of playing an old game." He chuckled quietly, and Rockingham looked at him curiously. "An old game:1'’ he queried.
“One of the oldest games in the world,” Tarne rejoined, his eyes twinkling. “It’s called ‘spoiling the Egyptians.’ “A-ah.” Rockingham's protracted exclamation indicated sudden enlightenment. "I think I know what you mean. The simple Briton tackles the shrewd Yankee in his own “—market. Exactly. It’s a pleasure to talk to you, my dear fellow. I perceive we are going to work well together.” Tame spoke quite sincerely, and Rockingham smiled, not displeased at the compliment.
Sir Peter rose, and strode quietly up and down the room. “You understand we don’t want anybody butting in. as you say over here. I have been very careful to cover my tracks, and I don’t think the New York crowd know what we’re up to. Of course, I’ve just been setting the stage, as it were. The real play will be made from now on.”
Rockingham grinned appreciatively. "A big short interest, gradually acquired?”
“Of course. It’s the opportunity of a generation,” Tarne declared with quiet emphasis. “We’re going to play it carefully, and I think we’ll show New York something in the end.”
"Another quiet Moundell-Tarne move, I suppose?” Rockingham surmised aloud. “How far—”
He stopped suddenly, for Tarne was staring at him in astonishment.
“Good heavens, man, no!” Tarne exclaimed. “It’s a bigger thing than a personal play.” He stopped beside Rockingham’s chair. “This is London’s own move. I’m merely acting as the agent for the real crowd there; the Bank of England crowd. Don’t you read the newspapers?” He paused, as if choosing his words. “If you do, you know that our Government has suggested to the States a postponement of war debt payments, to be followed by a general conference to discuss the whole matter. Washington, of course, refused --at all events, that’s the real meaning of their reply. So effete old England decides to take a hand in the New York market, and take enough out of it to pay them, literally, in their own coin. Believe me, these wise Americans will get the surprise of their lives when the crash comes.”
"And that will come when?” Rockingham exhibited some anxiety as he asked the question.
Tarne spread out his hands in a characteristic gesture.
“That is what I want to speak to you about. It will have some bearing on your plans, naturally. If present indications count for anything—I mean by that, if my information is correct—the present market will last for another month or two; say, two months.”
“That will bring us to the end of September,” commented Rockingham, “and Moundell was right.”
Sir Peter nodded. “I look for the break within a week or two of that time,” he said slowly. “This market can’t last any longer than that, even if it were left to itself.”
“I suppose you have good reasons for being so definite?” Rockingham asked.
“Plenty of them,” declared Sir Peter tersely, “but we’ll need all that time to complete our play.” He turned again to Rockingham, his face serious. “This is no personal move,” he said solemnly. “This is the biggest play we’ve ever made—and we’re acting for England.” He seemed intensely earnest. “The little plays that you or I may make are trifling matters, Rockingham. This is something far more than a matter of personal advantage.”
HE WALKED up and down the room slowly, his hands clasped behind his back. He came to a stop by Rockingham’s side and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“I’ve a mission for you,” he declared in earnest tones. “We want no other concerted interests interfering; that is ♦why I’m here to see you today. I’m putting it up to you to watch things here. We can’t stop personal plays, naturally, but—no organized, competitive, combination play from Canada! Can you take care of that?”
“I can.” Rockingham’s voice was grave but definite. “You can leave that matter in my hands.”
There was a satisfied gleam in the other’s eyes.
“I knew it, old man, and that’s one load off my mind.” He paused, and in lighter tone continued. “Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t play a hand for yourself. Naturally, you will want to. Only, don’t overplay your hand. You understand?”
Rockingham nodded. “Perfectly,” he said, and Tarne turned away, satisfied. He crossed to a door and summoned a secretary from the adjoining room.
“Take this cable to Lord Moundell, and get it off immediately. Use the personal code. ‘Rockingham agrees to watch Canadian position respecting the Passion Play.’” He gave a chuckle as the man went out.
“ ‘Passion Play’ describes it rather well, I think, don’t you?” and Rockingham smiled in pleased agreement.
For a little while neither spoke. Sir Peter stood by the window, watching incuriously a lake boat coming slowly down the harbor. Rockingham sat quietly in his chair, occupied with his own thoughts. Suddenly Tarne turned and picked up a newspaper from the writing table.
“I see your papers are full of that Black Lake discovery,” he said, waving the paper in his hand. "It seems to have precipitated a real old-time gold rush.”
Rockingham roused himself. “That was to be expected, following a find like that,” he commented. “There are hundreds starving up there now, and the claims they’ve staked aren’t worth a tinker’s dam.”
“I suppose your friend—what’s his name?”
“I suppose he’s got the property tied up all right?”
“He thinks he has; but now we’ve sewn him up, too.”
Sir Peter cocked an eye. “Injunctions and all that sort of thing?”
“It will take him a year to get clear title to those claims. Lane, who is our counsel, is nobody’s fool when it comes to matters of that kind.”
"Street has had offers, I suppose?”
“I’m not so sure. Of course, with all this noise about the strike, I guess the New York people have been investigating,
but I don’t think any of them have made him a real offer. Now, with the options tied up, a sale would be mighty difficult. In any case, it doesn’t matter.”
“Why?” Sir Peter’s query was quite pointed.
"Because LeGresley fixed it so that we would get first chance to buy—not that we intend to, of course. By the way, I’d like to get LeGresley down here for half an hour, if you don’t mind. He’s got all the details of the matter we’re really interested in.”
Tarne handed him the phone. “By all means, if you wish,” he said amiably. “Do you want to phone him?”
FIFTEEN minutes later, a secretary announced LeGresley’s arrival. Sir Peter greeted him warmly. At Burnt Island, he had appraised LeGresley immediately and correctly as a “safe” man; a quality, in Tarne’s opinion, every bit as valuable as high ability or long experience.
“Sir Peter is here on his way to Quebec,” Rockingham explained, “and I wanted to give him an outline of our progress. You have everything at your fingertips, Henri, so I thought it would be better for you to come down.”
“Just a moment,” Sir Peter intervened. “I am sure you can carry out your plans without advice from me. Of course. I’m interested in hearing what you are doing.” LeGresley bowed his appreciation. “As far as I can see,” he said smoothly, “our plans are moving forward perfectly. The only thing I’m afraid of is this market.”
Rockingham glanced interrogatively at Tame, and Sir Peter broke in.
“You mean your market may crack before you are ready?” LeGresley nodded. “Yes—if New York breaks. Under ordinary conditions, we could support our. market here if that were all, but any break on the big board would be bound to react instantly. If New York boils over—”
“It won’t boil over yet,” Sir Peter broke in reassuringly. “I give it a couple of months more.”
LeGresley was obviously relieved. “Then we don’t have to worry,” he declared. “All we have to do is to wait for the break. This market is made to our order if it lasts long enough. Two months is plenty for me.”
“We can figure on that.” It was Rockingham who spoke. “Carry on, Henri.”
But LeGresley hesitated. “There’s another thing,” he said thoughtfully, “and I only heard of it this morning. There’s some trouble looming up in the West. One of the big brokers may find himself in a jam there, and that may start something.”
“What do you mean?” Rockingham asked quickly. “Who is playing the fool out there?”
But LeGresley paid no immediate attention to the question. “It’s easy enough to manage things here, but who is going to control those long-distance officials?” he demanded, as of the world in general.
“What province are you talking about?” asked Rockingham almost impatiently.
“Altobia. Apparently, the department out there is looking for trouble. They seized Montgomery’s books today—” Rockingham was on his feet. “The devil they did ! Does Parker know about it?”
“I guess so. His man, Dodge, passed the word to me. I don’t know what it may mean, but I hope to high heaven they’re not going to force matters. It may be dangerous.” “Tell me,” Sir Peter’s calm voice interjected, “who is Montgomery?”
“Montgomery, Hill and Company are the biggest mining brokers in Canada,” explained LeGresley. “They have offices from coast to coast; carry many millions of shares on their books.” He shook his head. "I’ve wired our man in Dalgerton for details. Perhaps it may not amount to anything but a scare.”
“Well, I’ll get hold of Parker as soon as I get back,” said Rockingham as he sat down again. “He’ll have to do something whether he likes it or not. However, go on with your story, Henri.”
“We’ve had no trouble with the banks. They’re curtailing their brokers’ loans now; they’ll call them at the proper time. That’s arranged. By the wray, Parker issued instructions this week for a general audit of every house on the mining exchange as we suggested. But he’s been giving them pretty broad hints to start covering their short positions.” He turned to Rockingham. “Did you know that?”
HERE was a dangerous gleam in Rockingham’s eyes.
“I did not,” he said savagely. “He had better w'atch his step. We don’t wrant any premature action. I’ll talk to him about that.”
“It’s ridiculous,” added LeGresley bitterly. “At present prices they’ll ruin themselves if they try to cover. Of course they won’t, but he doesn’t know what—”
“He will do,” declared Rockingham, interrupting. “I’ll take good care of that.”
LeGresley nodded, satisfied, and changed the subject.
“If we know when the break is likely to come on the big market—and you say it’s safe for two months yet—we can bring our plans to a head to coincide. Save a lot of trouble to us, of course. We won’t have to crack our ow’n market the first time. New York will do it for us. Then we can
Continued on page 34
Continued from page 22
start.” He turned to Tame. "I’ve got a lot of scheduled information as to detail I can show you if you would like to see it, but—” Sir Peter laughed. "I'm quite sure I won’t trouble you, and I hope the West doesn’t become too wild. You’re doing well, and I’ll tell Moundell so. Shall we have lunch? You’ll stay, LeGresley, I hope?”
He turned to the phone as his secretary entered with the early afternoon editions of the local papers. He took a glance at them and handed one, without comment, to Rockingham. Splashed across the front page, in big red letters he saw :
“ALTOBIA SEIZES MONTGOMERY BOOKS-ARRESTS MAY BE IMMINENT.”
He flung the paper down on the table. "Darn it.” he cried savagely, "what’s Parker doing? Can’t he stop this nonsense?” “If he can’t,” LeGresley interjected, “we must find some one who can.”
"That’s not so easy as you may think,” Rockingham objected with a troubled frown. But LeGresley glanced at him oddly.
"How about young Armstrong?” he suggested deliberately.
"Armstrong?” Rockingham’s surprise was almost ludicrous. "What does—”
"Wait a minute.” LeGresley was in earnest. "I know something about that young man. He’s been out there on Street’s affairs a good few times, and I hear he’s pretty popular with the officials. Incidentally, he did a mighty good job there for Street—and he’s no fool.”
Rockingham looked thoughtfully at his colleague.
"There may be something in what you say,” he reflected. “It might work, at that.” "I rather think.” said LeGresley, "he could do more to smooth things down than any representation by an official. He’s pretty shrewd.”
Rockingham stood for a moment, thinking. Then he seized the phone, and asked for his home number.
"Hello, is Miss Weldon . . . Oh. is that you. Alyce? . . . Yes, can you get your friend, Armstrong, to come out tonight?. . . Oh, he’s coming, eh? All right; I want to see him . . . Fine; good-by.”
He turned to LeGresley with a broad grin. "That’s quite an idea of yours. Henri. I’ll talk to Armstrong at the house tonight if Alyce will let me.”
And Sir Peter Tarne wondered why both men laughed.
* pHEY wandered into the rose garden 4just as twilight deepened into dusk. 'Hie magic shadows of the evening gathered round them, and the stillness of the coming night fell upon them. A crescent moon hung in an empurpled sky. and a vagrant breeze stirred lazily in tree and bush and clustered flower. Afar, like a smother of nearer stars, twinkled the distant lights of the city.
As things forgotten were the crowd and clamor of peopled streets, the fret and the flurry of the faded day, and the shouting and the stir of the market places. I lere. in a place of enchantment, the "tides of the world were still.”
By the low stone bench, where the roses ended, they stopped. Quietly, Alyce sat down. Armstrong stood for a while, regarding almost reverently the loveliness of her. The black dress she wore seemed part of the night itself, but from one white shoulder her Spanish shawl had fallen, baring the infection of its molded beauty. To Dick she seemed at that moment some lovely unreality, some fragile creation of a dream which a wakening would banish into nothingness. He drew in his breath sharply as she looked up to speak to him. Her eyes were strangely shining, as if they sought unseen things afar off; looking not at him but beyond, into the distances.
She spoke very softly. "Dick, it is strange that only night can bring beauty like this.
It seems too lovely to be real.” Her eyes
came slowly back from the far-away; she looked around her. “I hate to think the day will banish it.”
He watched her, enthralled. "The day brings its quota of beauty, too,” he suggested gently.
"In a way, I suppose,” she admitted, and he marvelled at her earnestness, "but the day bares everything that is ugly—dry patch, dying bush, fading flower; things that are hidden now-. I think the secret of beauty is external; a covering that hides all imperfections, like night or distance.”
Dick smiled at her daringly. "Does that argument apply to persons as well as to places?” he enquired boldly.
She dimpled in the moonlight. "Dick, you are making fun of me. I know exactly what you mean. Well, if you want to know, a pretty frock does help a lot.”
"Exactly,” he declared triumphantly, "and your argument falls to pieces.”
"Oh. no,” she exclaimed, "it doesn’t. Many a beautiful frock has hidden a pair of knock-knees.” She made a face at him, and they laughed together. He sat down on the seat beside her, and lighted a cigarette carefully. “Of course,” he said with the air of debating a serious matter, “a beautiful gown serves beauty best when it enhances beauty. That should be its real mission in life rather than to aid ugliness.”
“Can that possibly be intended as a compliment?” she asked demurely.
Intently, Dick watched the distant lights. Something held him from looking into her face.
“I am clumsy tonight,” he said.
Her hand sought his arm. He felt the almost imperceptible pressure as she rested it there, and his pulse quickened with the thrill of it. He gestured toward the shadowy loveliness around them.
‘All this was fashioned for you, for the time and the place of our meeting,’ ’’ he quoted. His voice was low, even wistful. "A place of enchantment fit even for you.” "Dick,” she whispered, "perhaps there may be a fairer place, if only we can find it.” He was silent. She drew the shawl around her shoulders, and it seemed to Dick that she shivered.
"And,” she added softly, "it may be a place of fulfillment.”
He turned sharply and looked long into her eyes.
"Alyce,” he breathed tensely, “do you think we could find that place together?”
She turned her face away slowly, looking down.
"I—I do not know. Perhaps I hope.” With a sudden movement, she was on her feet. “Shall we go in, now? It is getting cold.”
Without a word Dick rose, and together they turned toward the house.
AS THEY reached the stone-flagged terrace, they saw John Rockingham step through the window door of the lounge, and stand, his tall figure sharply silhouetted against the glow from the room behind him, looking toward the faint lights of the city which still gleamed through the dark of the gathered night. Seeing him thus, erect and motionless, Dick felt again that strange sense of implied power which seemed to radiate from the man. Indubitably, Rockingham possessed some subtle force that seemed to give him a definite dominance over men. Dick’s thoughts turned swiftly to that conversation he had overheard, almost on this very spot. The perplexity and grave doubts that assailed him then swept over him once more with added strength. Again he was searching for the motive behind this man’s apparent friendliness, not only with him, but with his chief.
Quite suddenly the thought came to him that he was, himself, but playing a very minor part in some grim drama of which he knew neither the beginning nor the end but in which the man by the door was the leading actor. A flush of swift resentment swept over him at his own impotence to take a greater part in the play, the very plot of which was as yet hidden from him. Curiously enough, he felt at the same time a little anxious. Was he being drawn into a position where circumstance might force him into a double disloyalty? He glanced at Alyce at his side, and still his doubts deepened. With a weary movement of his shoulders he tried to throw for the moment his misgivings from him. There would be other times when he could attempt to fit the puzzle pieces together.
As though she sensed his momentary abstraction, Alyce looked at him curiously.
"Cold, Dick, or is some one trampling on your grave?” she asked lightly.
He tossed his cigarette into the bushes beyond the terrace. Suddenly he felt courageous.
"Neither,” he said quietly. “I was trying to solve a mystery.”
"A mystery? It sounds thrilling. Tell me about it.”
"It has to do with money and a man, and why, having more than enough, he still wants more.”
"The attribute of acquisitiveness unduly developed,” she suggested helpfully.
“Even when it involves the ultimate ruin of others?” he rejoined quickly. “Others who regard him as a friend?”
She glanced at him sharply. "Is this a new form of mental exercise, Dick?” she
asked, a new note in her voice. “You seem quite serious. Don’t tell me you are going to write a play?”
"That would be a little beyond my power,” he answered abruptly. “I have no flair for devising plots. It’s hard enough to be a player.”
She laughed somewhat queerly. “Probably Shakespeare was right and we all are play-acting.” There was the faintest catch in her voice as she spoke.
Before Dick could answer, Rockingham came forward to meet them. He shook hands with Armstrong.
“Sorry I didn’t see you when you arrived. I had a visitor and he kept me talking in the library.” There w:as a tw'inkle in his eye as he continued. “I hope Alyce has been looking after you?”
"Has Sir Peter—” It was Alyce speaking, and Dick caught the quick glance that flashed from her uncle as she checked herself. Curious, he thought, and wondered idly who Sir Peter might be and why the necessity for silence about his visit. Well, it was none of his business.
“A wonderful evening, sir,” he broke in with an instinctive desire to shelter her from embarrassment. "Miss Weldon and I—” "Alyce to you, Dick, alw'ays,” interposed the girl gratefully.
Even Rockingham smiled at the emphasis in her voice, and now it was Dick’s turn to feel embarrassed.
“Er—Alyce and I Were debating—” “Mystery plots,” she interrupted again, and Dick had an idea that she was warning him. “Why men make money, and the evil deeds they do to make it.” Her laugh sounded a little forced, and her uncle looked at Dick, a query in his glance.
"Don’t you want to make money, Armstrong?” he asked, and smiled at the absurdity of his own question.
Dick w'as prompt in his reply. “Of course I do, sir,” he asserted. “I want to make as much as I can, but not—” He hesitated. "But not—?” Rockingham prompted.
It was Alyce w'ho answered. “Not if he hurts any one in doing it, he means,” she said; a little maliciously, Dick thought.
"DOCKINGHAM laughed aloud and slapped the younger man on the shoulder.
“And you a partner in a mining broker’s firm?” he cried jestingly. "Why, I thought you fellows had perfected the only method for the painless extraction of other people's money.”
The thrust irritated Dick, and he was quick to show' it.
“That may be true of some houses, sir.” he retorted, “but we prefer to give our clients a straight deal.” He didn’t care whether Rockingham liked it or not.
Apparently the big man was not offended. "That’s the way to talk, young man,” he exclaimed heartily. "I like loyalty. You work for a good house.”
“ ‘The Street called straight,’ ” quoted Alyce wickedly, and all three of them had to smile.
Again Dick was conscious of a feeling that combined doubt, resentment and indecision. There was something inimical in the air—he was sure of it—and yet both Rockingham and Alyce were accepting him as a welcome guest. He was uneasy, in spite of Rockingham's apparent heartiness. For that matter, Alyce’s own attitude troubled him.
They had drifted into a close friendship, and she had plainly showed him that she liked his companionship. They had discovered a common bond of interest in many things. She was frankly interested in his work and his career. More than once she had hinted at a wider sphere of fortune awaiting him through her uncle’s influence.
It had been her suggestion that they drop formality of address between them.
He had fallen in love w’ith her, utterly and irrevocably, and he knew' that she was quite aw'are of it. As to the possibility of
reciprocation on her part, he was uncertain. Sometimes he wondered at his own temerity in thinking of it; at other times, he fancied that she regarded him as more than a friend. Tonight, for instance, they had drawn closer and there had been a near approach to an understanding. She had shown him clearly that she welcomed his attention and desired his company. And yet there was some indiscernible barrier between them. There were other things that worried him, too; her queer questionings, and her somewhat malicious attitude at times. Despite his remembrance of this past hour in the garden with her, he could not stifle the thought that behind all this lay graver issues. Deeply in love as he was, he felt both disquieted and intrigued. It was something of a quaint predicament to be in, he thought grimly, and as yet he could see no way out.
He snapped out of his brief reverie to find both Rockingham and Alyce regarding him a little questioningly. Confused for the moment, he started to stammer something, but Alyce slipped her hand in his arm and led him toward the house.
“I think this young man could do with a drink,” she suggested gaily, and her uncle nodded appreciatively.
“I think I would like one myself,” he agreed. “In any case, I want to have a chat.”
They passed through the lounge to the library, and there, to Dick’s surprise, Alyce bade him good night.
“You’ll be talking here till all hours,” she said, holding out her hand, “so I think I’ll go to bed. Good night, Dick.”
ROCKINGHAM carefully closed the ' door as she left them and waved Dick to a seat, while he brought over decanter and siphon to the little table by the fire. Dick, with a casual air, lit a cigarette and wondered what was coming. It was the first time he had been alone with Rockingham; indeed, it was the first opportunity he had had of studying the man at such close range. Singularly, he did not feel in the least perturbed; rather, he welcomed the chance of talking to the big man. It might be that some careless word would give him another clue to help him solve the mystery which occupied his thoughts. His host passed him a glass well filled, and sank down into a chair beside him.
“How are things going with your firm?” he commenced abruptly. “Are you increasing your business?”
“We are certainly busy,” Dick replied, “and our business is growing fast.” Rockingham seemed pleased. “I’m very glad to hear it,” he said, "and I hope you’ll continue to expand. I guess it keeps you well occupied personally, doesn’t it?”
Dick smiled somewhat ruefully. “Really, I ought to be working now. We’re running the staff in eight-hour shifts.”
"I guess you deserve a respite anyhow,” rejoined Rockingham genially. “It will do you good to get an hour or so away from the rush.”
Neither spoke for a few' seconds. Then Rockingham asked another question, and Dick felt it coming almost before he spoke.
“What are you doing about Black Lake?” he questioned sharply.
“Still hanging on to it, sir,” Dick answered carefully. “Frankly, we seem to have run into some difficulties.”
“I heard that some one or other was trying to tie up your claims. Not much possibility of any one doing that, is there?”
“I hardly think so, but our lawyers are looking after it. Mr. Street seems quite satisfied there will be no difficulty.” “Good!” Rockingham appeared quite glad. “Does Street still intend to hold it?” “I do not think he has any intention of selling. If he did sell, he would give Mr. LeGresley the first chance of purchase.” “Sure of that?”
“That is my understanding.” Rockingham nodded his satisfaction.
“Tell me,” he asked, changing the subject, “how are your Western branches working out? Doing well?”
“Very, sir,” said Dick definitely. “Tlie Dalgerton branch particularly. We have some fairly big accounts out there.”
Rockingham lit a fresh cigar. “Let me see,” he said thoughtfully, “hasn’t Parker a brother out there?”
“Yes. He is a client of ours; quite a large account.”
“Had any trouble with him?”
“Not particularly, but he might easily ! lose a lot of money if the market suddenly ! dropped. Besides, the Parkers have got that | North Peak oil property out there to look after.”
“I know it,” said Rockingham briefly. “Isn’t Street backing that?”
"Yes,” Dick said, nodding, “but it’s a one-sided deal.”
“You mean, they got the better of the bargain?”
Dick w'as emphatic in his agreement, and Rockingham astutely changed the conversation again.
“What do you think about the Montgomery matter?” he asked.
Dick smiled. “I’ve been expecting some j action or other out there, as far as they are concerned,” he said deliberately. “You see,
I happen to know—”
“You’ve been out there yourself quite a bit, haven’t you?” Rockingham interrupted. “Quite a few' times, sir.”
Rockingham leaned forward in his chair and lowered his voice, confidentially.
“Then you are the very man I want to talk to.” He paused thoughtfully. “Listen, Armstrong, do you think this action in Dalgerton may lead to trouble?”
“Quite easily, unless something is done to stop it.”
Dick’s look was expressive. “I wouldn’t like to say, unless I were out there, if anything can be done.”
“But if anything happened to Montgomery Hill, w'ould that bring your firm into any danger there?”
“I don’t think so. However, the chief wants me to go out there and make sure.” Rockingham smiled. “Gan you make sure?” he asked.
“Well, sir, at least I can try.”
“Good boy. When are you leaving for Dalgerton?”
“Tomorrow night, I expect,’’ Dick answered, though not very cheerfully.
Rockingham appeared to lx considering something.
“It might be as well,” he said at length, “to see if anything can be done to call the hounds off Montgomery Hill. It might save you brokers
The phone bell interrupted him. He lifted the receiver, listened, and beckoned Armstrong to speak.
“For you,” he explained.
Dick, in turn, listened without speaking. Then, with a sharp “at once” he set the phone dowm and turned to Rockingham. His face w'as grave.
“That was Mr. Street calling me.” he said. “He wants me to leave for Dalgerton tonight. Bland is waiting to fly me to Sudborough. I can overtake the Gontinental there.”
“Why this sudden haste?” Rockingham was tensely curious. “What’s the matter?” “They seized our books at Dalgerton late this afternoon.”
He turned to the door, but Rockingham held him back. “Where are you going from here?” he asked.
“To see the chief before I leave,” Dick answered, a little surprised at the question.
“Good. I’ll phone him.” And Rockingham hurried Dick into his coat and hat.
As Dick’s car wrent tearing tow'ard the city, Rockingham talked, long and earnestly, to Matthew Street over the phone.
To be Continued