Arthur Whately had known very well what it was like to be desperately
poor, and in consequence, when he became so desperately rich that money
ceased to mean anything to him, his pity for the penurious was not
hysterical or exaggerated. He could recall very vividly what it felt
like to have neither tea, dinner nor supper, and to wake in the morning,
stiff and cold as armour, on a bench on the Embankment and see the
ridiculous needle of Cleopatra stonily pointing heavenwards against the
sky, in which the stars were beginning to burn dim at the chilly
approach of day. He had known how icy the feet become when they have
been close clasped all night long in the frayed embraces of gaping
leather, but he had known also how sweet and surprising it is to eat
when food is imperiously demanded by the cravings of long-continued
abstinence, and how ineffably luxurious to get warm when limbs have
ached themselves numb. He would have been willing to confess that
unveneered destitution had its inconveniences, but it was false
sentiment to deny that it had its compensations also.

It was when he was just sixteen that Luck, the great veiled goddess whom
all the world so wisely worships, had paid him her first visit. He had
been hanging about at the covered portico of the Lyceum Theatre one
night watching the well-fed world being lumpily deposited at the doors,
when a silly old pink gentleman, in paying his cabman, dropped a
promising pocket-book in the roadway. For one half-second the boy
deliberated, wondering instinctively (though he had never heard of the
proverb) if honesty was the best policy, in other words, how much the
pocket-book contained, and how much the foolish old gentleman would give
him if he picked it up and returned it. A couple of pence, perhaps, for
he looked a coppery gent.

But the debate lasted scarcely longer than it took the pocket-book to
fall; in a moment his wise decision was made, he had picked it up
(recognizing in that delightful incident the smile of the great
goddess), had dived under the Roman nose of the cab horse, and fled into
the street where a chill, unpleasant rain was falling. Luck still smiled
on him, for the night was foggy, and as soon as he had crossed the
street he dropped into the habitual shuffling pace of the homeless, and
returned to the portico which he had so lately quitted, since it was
theoretically impossible that the thief should do anything so foolish.

The silly old pink gentleman had not yet ceased to gesticulate and
jibber in the direction in which he himself had just vanished, and an
obsequious policeman was apparently taking down all the bad words he
used in a neat notebook. Arthur wondered if he would arrest the old man
for indulging in language redolent of faint praise in a public place.

Meantime, he had thrust the pocket-book–that incarnate smile of the
beneficent goddess–into his shirt, and it slid comfortably down against
his skin, till it was brought to anchor by the string which he had so
strictly tied round his braceless trousers, since pressure in those
regions minimised the abhorrence of vacuum. Then he slouched back to the
Embankment, and with head bowed over his knees as if in sleep, he
counted the tale of his treasure, taking out each item separately, and
screening them from the parental scrutiny of policemen in the cavern of
his hand.

There were two pieces of the fabulous crinkly paper, there were three
sovereigns, and, what was immensely important for immediate purposes, a
couple of shillings, translatable without suspicion into rich fried
fish. One of his trouser pockets was a secure harbourage, and into this
he piloted the golden ship. Then, with a stroke of high wisdom, he
thrust the pocket-book through the interstices of the bench instead of
keeping about him so incriminating a piece of merchandise, and slouched
away, saying good-bye to roofless bedchambers by the sweet Thames-side
for ever.

To-night, as he sat in the great dining-room of his house in Park Lane,
the memory of that divine evening was vividly brought to his mind.
Three friends had dined with him, and as the night proved foggy, they
had abandoned the idea of seeing the most incompletely-clad dancer that
the London County Council had at present licensed, and had decided to
stay at home and play bridge.

“A cold, foggy night, sir,” had been the pronouncement that followed the
butler’s news that the motors were round, and the simple words had
conjured up that wonderful night of his boyhood with the vividness of
hallucination. Bates, too, had a Roman nose, just like the cab horse,
and Bates, by a strange coincidence, had just laid by his plate a couple
of bank-notes and some change, since he had found himself completely
destitute of coin. Had he ever enjoyed himself so much in all these fat
years as on that cold, lean, foggy evening so long ago? Honestly (or
dishonestly) he could not believe that he had. For there had been about
it the one and only and original spice; then for the first time he had
heard the clear call of the great golden goddess. She had called often
since; indeed for years she had never ceased calling, and it was not too
much to say that for years she had been madly and unreasonably in love
with him. He received her with yawns now, like some poor discarded
mistress, but the chilly reception never deterred her. She never noticed
that he was bored, and his indifference seemed but to inflame her

Solid, monotonous good luck had followed him all the days of his life.
Ever since the night when he was sixteen and so happily stole the
pocket-book, all he had touched turned to gold, all he had desired had
been granted him, all his ideals (such as they were) had frozen into
cold suetty facts. Half of the thirteen pounds which were the result of
his original theft had been expended in reach-me-down clothes and
ready-made boots (which, in those happy years, could be purchased by
others than millionaires), for it was symptomatic of him never to grudge
money when it was probably a good investment, and between his natural
smartness of face and carriage and the acquired smartness of his new
clothes, he had at once got a place as hall-boy in an hotel.

He learned to swim in the Chelsea Baths, and August was scarcely begun
when this recreation was turned to solid account, for, being at Margate
on bank holiday, a pleasure-boat conveniently capsized near him, and he
easily rescued the only daughter of a prosperous bookmaker. That
gentleman seemed not to resent the unexpected survival of a rat-faced
child, had given him fifty pounds in cash, and, subsequently, several
racing tips by way of a gilt-edged security for the fifty pounds. These
proved not to be gilt-edged only, but completely covered with pure gold.

Then came the news of possibilities in South Africa, and, gambler as he
was in every drop of blood in his body, he had gone for these with a
thousand pounds to his credit. He threw his thousand pounds at the Rand,
and, as if he had given it a little emetic pill, the Rand belched gold
at him. In ten years (though he had enjoyed those years quite
enormously) the savour of money-making grew stale, and with a brilliant
excursion into American rails, which returned him his fortune more than
doubled, he quitted the speculative arena, and for the last decade and a
half had looked with eyes of incredulous wonder at the extraordinary
gentlemen who continued to go to offices in the city all day long and
industriously accumulate what they did not want.

There was one such here to-night, a great, round, dark man with yellow
hair, the colour of a London fog. He took a grudged month’s holiday in
the year, but otherwise sat in an office with his ear to a telephone and
his mouth to a speaking-tube. Perhaps it amused him, for certainly there
was always in his eye a remote twinkle, as if he had constant grounds
for private mirth, and Arthur Whately had often suspected him of being a
secret humourist. Yet in the ordinary commerce of social life none was
so heavy or so commonplace. He and his wife were social climbers of
pathetic industry, who gave parties that tried to be smart and only
succeeded in being garish. Yet there was that secret twinkle in his

The same good luck had dogged Arthur Whately in affairs more intimate
to his happiness than gold. He had married the woman whom he adored, and
just when his adoration had cooled and she was beginning to bore him to
extinction, she had run away with somebody else. He had wanted the
particular house in which he now sat, and the owner had died just when
his demise was most convenient, leaving his affairs in unutterable
confusion, and his executors were delighted to sell everything. He had,
again, in artistic spheres, conceived a violent passion for the pictures
of Giovanni Bollini, and an impecunious peer, foreseeing that income
taxes and death duties were swelling like inflated footballs, had sold
him his priceless collection, which now hung round the walls of his
dining-room. Finally, on this particular evening, when he felt very much
disinclined to go out, Providence had sent a fog to serve as an excuse
for stopping in. And yet bridge was rather a stale affair. There was a
certain intellectual pleasure in thwarting other people, but it was not
much fun being clever when the rest were, comparatively speaking, such

His private band had been assembled in the gallery of the ballroom, in
case music was required, but they had been dismissed, since the four
went straight from the dining-room into the fan-room, where a card-table
was laid out. These fans were famous, and had once been the property of
Marie Antoinette and other ladies, whose goods had been disposed of
after their death by their executors or executioners, and Arthur Whately
had acquired them at immense expense during the year of his married life
to please his wife.

Shortly after he divorced her, an attempt had been made by a burglar to
steal them, but an ingenious device, invented by himself after his
wife’s departure, had impeded the idea, for anyone entering the fan-room
after the apparatus had been set caused merry peals of electric bells to
break out in the rooms of the butler, footmen, odd man and other
able-bodied persons, and the intended burglar had been caught
fan-handed. But his confession that the late Mrs. Whately had
commissioned him to attempt this job so interested Arthur Whately that
he took no proceedings with regard to him, except to give him supper.
His wife, simultaneously, rose considerably in his estimation; he had
not known she had so much blood in her.

The fan-room overlooked the Park, and regardless of possible
interpretations Arthur Whately had straw permanently put down in the
roadway to deaden the noise of traffic. There had been a ruffle with the
vestry on the subject of this straw. Men with pitchforks came and took
it up. But as often as they took it up he had it renewed, and by now it
had become as much a feature of Park Lane as the omnibuses. Occasionally
a policeman, new to the beat and fired by professional enthusiasm, would
question the straw-strewers, but the mystic whisper, “A friend of Mr.
Whately’s,” had the forcefulness and wit of brevity about it.

The game was tepid; not even his opponent’s remarkable and reiterated
revoke in no-trumps really warmed it, and Arthur Whately was glad when
his guests departed, for, unaccustomed as he was to brooding over
imaginary troubles or dulling his very acute brain with the narcotic
poisoning of self-analysis, he was a little anxious about himself
to-night, and was glad of a quiet hour before going to bed to examine
the cause of his disquietude. It was still early when they left, for
there was a dance somewhere to which the two ladies with the
irrepressible enthusiasm of advanced middle-age were going on, while the
financier was going home. On the doorstep he confided to his host that
his name was to appear next morning among the peerages given in honour
of the King’s Birthday, and Arthur Whately supposed he was going to seek
the privacy of his own study to practise writing his new name, which was
to be Peebles, in memory of pleasure.

He adjusted the bell-pealing apparatus in the fan-room, and retired to
his own sitting-room, which adjoined his bedroom. Half a dozen exquisite
Watteaus decorated the walls, and the bureau which stood opposite the
door was from the effects of the unfortunate Queen of France. Often and
often he had thrilled at the thought that she had sat there and written
those little ill-spelled notes in her sprawling hand, but to-night he
would not have cared if he had found her sitting there in person.

_Tædium vitæ_, the weariness, the boredom of success, which poisons the
lives of emperors and scratch golfers, had laid its heavy hand on him.
He had poached the world like an egg. But he could find no salt….

So it was that which ailed him. Often of late he had found he had little
zest for this pursuit or that, but it had not struck him till this
moment that the whole affair was flat. And yet it was not himself, so he
felt, that was to blame. He was still but a year or two past fifty,
handsome and healthy, and his powers of enjoyment he knew were undimmed,
provided only he could find something to exercise them on. In himself he
was eager, alert, longing for excitement, but to do the same thing over
and over again did not excite him; the early years of hunger and
struggle and achievement had accustomed him to a high level of emotion.
He wanted to burn, not to smoulder quietly away, as most people were
content to do.

Indeed, he had done everything he could think of. He had loved and
married, and been bored, and had no intention of tempting the _ennui_ of
domesticity again. Nor had he any tastes for the more irregular
pleasures of the senses; they were all poached and saltless. Material
possessions, of course, had ceased to interest him, since he was
completely surrounded with all that he thought most exquisite in the
world of art, and to accumulate for the mere sake of accumulation seemed
to him an exhibition of pig-trough greed. And it was so easy; he could
buy anything that was for sale. Perhaps if Mr. Morgan or some insatiable
hoarder owned a desirable piece or picture and would not part with it at
any price, he might find a secret rapture in attempting to steal it,
just as his wife had done with the fans, but otherwise the act of
acquisition had become too easy to be any longer agreeable.

Everything wanted salt, but that was the fault of the objective world.
He, subjectively, had as good an appetite as on the entranced and
canonized evening when he stole the pocket-book of the silly pink man,
that unconscious founder of his fortunes, who, vastly sillier than ever,
had dined with him only last week, and had had a fatal apoplectic
seizure immediately afterwards.

To-night he almost cursed his memory for his foolishness thirty-five
years ago, for it was that theft which had led to this weariness. If
only the poor pink departed had caught him and given him a taste of
gaol, Arthur Whately felt that he might now be rapturously pursuing the
thrilling hazardous paths of the hardened criminal, to whom every house
is a possible crib to be cracked, every jewel in a woman’s necklace a
week of delirium and drunken debauch. But where is the fun of stealing
if you already own more than you can possibly want?

In his mind he swiftly ran through the ten commandments, and found, as
he had feared, that it would not give him the slightest pleasure to
break any of them. There might be a little excitement about bearing
false witness against your neighbour, but then that would entail
appearing in a law court and listening to the pitiful humour of some
fussy judge. As for the rest of the commandments, they suggested nothing
amusing. There was nothing to be done with the fifth, because his father
and mother had been dead for years; the sixth implied blood and
violence, and violence was foreign to his nature. But for a moment he
lingered over the picture of strangling Lord Peebles and burying him in
the straw in Park Lane. There was something grotesquely attractive in
the notion, but probably the coroner’s jury would give their verdict
that he had been strangled by natural causes, and that death had been
accelerated by the immediate prospect of a peerage.

He himself had thrice been offered a peerage, once by the Liberals, once
by the Conservatives, and once prospectively by the Labour Party. His
invariable answer had been that previous engagements prevented him
accepting their kind invitation. That had amused him at the time; now it
seemed deplorably witless. But could he not devise something for Lord
Peebles that should spoil his pleasure? Why should Lord Peebles have
that secret twinkle in his eye? Why should he, at his age, be still
enjoying life? Whately felt a murderous impulse towards his friend’s

But he could think of nothing, and with a sigh he took up a copy of that
unique journal which is so justly famed for chronicling that which has
not occurred and prophesying that which will not possibly happen, and
scarcely glancing at the leader, probably inspired by Ananias, and the
fashionable intelligence, certainly gleaned by Sapphira, he turned to
the more reliable records of the police courts. There had been a brutal
murder–apparently the transgression of the sixth commandment was not
wholly unattractive to people less tiresomely fastidious than
himself–and a certain blameless archdeacon whom he knew slightly had,
after the receipt of a series of threatening letters, to which answers
were requested to be sent (accompanied by stout remittances) to A. M.,
Martin’s Library, Wardour Street, reluctantly taken proceedings against
the blackmailer, who had been rewarded with five years of enforced

Arthur Whately wondered whether he himself would have the courage to
prosecute a blackmailer. Probably not; with his wealth it would be
easier to satisfy the most rapacious. It was brave of the archdeacon;
no doubt his artificially fostered sense of duty sustained him.

His thoughts wandered on as he stared at the newspaper. Would he himself
ever have the courage to blackmail anyone else? It must be the most
exciting game, and to play it successfully would demand an extraordinary
amount of intuition and knowledge of human nature. All depended on the
character of your proposed victim. It would be as hopeless to try to
extract money with threats out of some men, however scarlet the secrets
of which you had possessed yourself, as, singlehanded, to extract a
lion’s teeth. Others, no doubt, would equally certainly yield at once to
the most veiled menace….

Suddenly the paper which he held began to rustle with the involuntary
tremor of the hand that held it, and an eager excitement shot up like
the light of a petroleum-soaked beacon in his dulled eye. He need no
longer seek for agitation. He had found, when he least expected it, the
answer to his fruitless appeals to the universe to supply him with
interest. In the excitement of the moment he poured a liberal dose of
whisky into a tumbler, but next minute poured it back. He had to keep
his head cool; artificial stimulant only led to subsequent reaction and
torpidity of thought. But through the prison bars his spirit grasped
hands with the archdeacon’s victim. He would certainly blackmail

There were two questions to settle. Whom should he blackmail, and what
had his victim done? A moment’s incisive thought told him that the
second question, as to what the supposed crime had been, was alien and
superfluous. The poor man need not have done anything. He need only be
told that the events which occurred between, say, August 2 and August 10
of the year before last were known to his persecutor. All else depended
on the selection of a suitable victim. If an unsuitable subject was
chosen, one whose life (could such be found) was of virtue so
monstrously Spartan, that he would not mind the events of August 2 to
10, or those of any other date, being known, it was clearly impossible
to proceed. On the other hand, if his life was so voluminous a catalogue
of crime that there were terrible affairs in every week of it, a
notified period like this would create no particular impression.

Yes, it was the character of the victim that must be studied if the
æsthetic blackmailer was to have any fun, for, of course, in the case of
Arthur Whately, the mere extraction of two or three hundred pounds
(thousands, perhaps, if his prey was wealthy) meant nothing at all. And
the largest ingredient in the fun would be the uncertainty as to how the
victim would behave, whether he would take proceedings or pay. He must
therefore be cast in no iron mould; there would be little sport in
writing just one letter and then being sent to join the poor worm so
grindingly crushed by the heel of the valiant archdeacon, nor, on the
other hand, would there be any zest in the punctual receipts of cheques
whenever demanded. He had to think of somebody not too good and not too
bad, not too brave and yet not pigeon-livered. For a while his mind
hovered, singing like a skylark in the exultation of this absorbing
preoccupation, then suddenly it dropped to earth again. There was none
so fit as Lord Peebles.

His hand trembled for the pen that was mightier than the sword, and
after a few moments’ concentrated thought, he dashed off these cold,
cruel lines, which would serve as the basis for attack:

MY LORD,–While congratulating your lordship on the well-deserved
honour which the King has paid you, I feel it my duty to let your
lordship know that the events which took place between August 2 and
August 10 of the year before last are completely in the possession
of the undersigned, and are supported by documentary evidence of
such sort that nobody who saw it could ever doubt its authenticity.
I am prepared to give up to you all such papers as are in my
possession for the sum of £2,000.

I am a poor man, and a desperate one, but am strictly honourable in
all business matters such as this, and on receipt of that sum _in
gold_ I will strictly carry out my obligations. Should your
lordship take no notice of this communication or refuse to comply
with my request, the whole affair will be made public.

I am well aware that I put myself within reach of the law in thus
addressing you, but I would ask your lordship carefully to consider
the results to yourself if you prosecute me. The circumstances of
which I am possessed will then all come out, and while it matters
very little to me whether I pass the next few years in prison or
not, I think that the consequences to you will not be so lightly
regarded by self and family. You have a great deal to lose; I have

Kindly communicate with me at Martin’s Library, Wardour Street, by
to-day week at latest. Having no club or settled address at
present, I call there daily for letters and occasional
parcels.–Faithfully yours,


In obedience to the business-like qualities which had raised him to the
position of multi-millionaire his mind instantly went into committee
over details. It was but very rarely that he employed his own hand in
writing, for his correspondence was entirely dealt with by secretaries
and typewriters, but it would be well to disguise his ordinary
caligraphy. Or, stop–there was a safer way, and the next minute the
Remington typewriter which stood in the corner of the room was opened
and gleamed with bared keys. He was no adept at this clattering
finger-exercise, but after a few abortive trials he made a clumsy
transcript of the letter, and directed an envelope by the same
mechanical device.

Already the cautious instincts of the habitual criminal had awoke in
him, and after replacing the cover on the typewriter he carefully burned
both his manuscript draft and the insane gibberish of his first typed
attempts, and opening his window let the blackened ashes float down into
the straw-covered roadway. It would never do, again, to let the
incriminating document lie among the other letters for post, and he hid
it below the shirts in a wardrobe drawer in his bedroom in order to post
it himself at some central letter-box next morning after verifying the
existence of Martin’s Library. Then, since it was already very late, he
went to bed with eager anticipation for the morrow and many morrows.

The next week was full of delightful interests; it passed in a spasm of
absorbing moments, and he was astonished and disgusted at himself for
not having entered sooner on a course of blackmail. True artist that he
was, he did not pay constant visits to Martin’s Library, as soon as it
was possible that there might be an answer to his letter, and ask if
there was anything for George Loring, but with a higher æstheticism,
preferred to taste the delights of suspense, and determined not to make
any inquiries till the notified week had elapsed. But he could not avoid
haunting Wardour Street, picturing to himself with artistic gusto his
official visit to the library. Once only was the flesh too strong, and,
though the week of grace had not yet expired, he could not resist the
temptation of entering the library.

The shop was empty, and, somewhat to his disappointment, showed no lines
of filled and fitted shelves, as he had hoped. He had imagined the smell
of leather bindings, bookcases full of venerable volumes of the fathers,
a dignified and courtly librarian. Instead, he found a small deal
counter, on which were displayed the more odious of penny publications,
and a stout old woman of comfortable appearance looked up from her
knitting as he entered. But behind her–and his heart beat quicker at
the sight–were rows of capacious pigeon-holes, each initialled with a
letter of the alphabet. But, even as she asked him in a hoarse, fruity
voice what she could do for him, he called on his finer instincts again,
and instead of asking if there happened to be anything for George
Loring, contented himself with buying “Society Pars” and “Frivol and
Fashion.” With these prints in his hand, he left the shop without even
looking at letter L.

But after all, perhaps, the commonplace sordidness of the establishment
was of greater artistic value than his preconceived idea of it; it was a
grimmer affair like this; it was more piquant, more trenchant that
white-faced men, trembling and unmanned by the possibility of dreadful
disclosures coming to light, should bring their forfeits to this
ordinary little establishment, that their unseen and terrible persecutor
should ask for letters from a comfortable old lady over a dingy deal

Hardly had he emerged when there drove by a motor in which, of all
people, Lord Peebles was sitting, who waved an absent welcome to him. He
saw at once how dangerous had been his visit. Supposing he had asked for
letters for George Loring and had staggered out of the shop with a
scarcely manageable parcel of gold, to encounter such a meeting, it was
distinctly within the bounds of possibility that that nobleman would
connect him with George Loring. His blood ran cold at the thought, and
yet it was a pleasing shiver which at once suggested a further
precaution, delightful in the devising. A disguise was imperatively

He hailed a taxicab and spent an enraptured afternoon. George Loring had
probably done this sort of thing before, and it might be supposed that
though poor and desperate, he retained from the fruits of his last crime
clothes of a flashy and ill-fitting description. Such as he would
certainly wear a gaudy check suit and cheap patent leather boots. His
tie, of the Brussels carpet type, would assuredly be pinned with
something too magnificent to be possibly valuable; detachable cuffs and
dicky, a hat with a furrow in it would complete his detestable array.
Arthur Whately himself was clean shaven and solidly English in face; a
moustache and imperial, therefore, suggesting a Polish conjurer were
indicated. These must be of convincing make, incapable of detection; and
a visit to an expensive perruquier’s, with a brilliant tale of a
fancy-dress ball, made the last visit of a thrilling afternoon. And that
night, when the great house in Park Lane was silent, and the electrical
apparatus in the fan-room adjusted, a figure, appalling to contemplate,
strutted and pirouetted before the big looking-glass in his locked

All this, so exquisite to his pleasure-jaded palate, was but the
material aspect of his adventure. Far sweeter and more recondite was the
psychical honey of it. For, two days after George Loring had sent his
letter, Lord Peebles telephoned to know whether Arthur Whately would
play golf with him, and though he detested and despised the game, he
gave an enthusiastic affirmative, and drove down with him to the
Mid-Surrey links at Richmond. Certainly Lord Peebles looked worried and
anxious, and the grey streak above his ears seemed to the vigilant eye
of his friend to have assumed greater prominence.

“It’s so good of you to ask me to play,” said Whately as they started.
“I am a wretched performer, and I know your prowess.”

“Oh, I expect we shall have a very even match, a very even match,” said
the other. “And I needed a day off, though it is not Saturday. But there
has been some worrying business lately, and I wanted to get into the
country and forget all about it. Very worrying business.”

Whately’s eye gleamed secretly; these worries fed his soul.

“Indeed, I am sorry to hear that,” he said.

“Thank you, thank you. A purely private affair. Don’t let us talk of it.
Pretty the country looks. What’s that river we are crossing?”

“The River Thames,” said Whately almost tremulously.

“Perhaps,” said Lord Peebles.

He cleared his throat. “The Thames,” he began, and then changed the
subject to something amazingly foreign to that topic.

“It is strange how one’s memory plays tricks with one,” he said. “A
couple of days ago I was trying–quite idly–to recollect where I spent
the early days of August the summer before last, and was totally unable
to recall what I had been doing. My wife remembers that we went to
Scotland on the 11th, but she, too, has quite forgotten what we did just
before. She inclines to think that I was paying some visits without her.

Arthur Whately laughed in a sprightly, rallying manner.

“Ah, ah,” he said, “she is probably right, eh? Trust a wife’s memory, my
dear fellow, on that sort of point.”

“No doubt she is right,” returned the other, “but it is strange that we
can neither of us recollect where I went.”

“Perhaps you never told her,” said Whately gaily. “But come, dismiss
those evasive topics. Let the past bury its dead. It is only the present
that is truly ours.”

They had arrived at the club-house, and Whately stepped out, followed by
the heavier-footed peer. It was almost too good to be true, that by
sheer accident he had lighted on days that seemed hard to account for,
and, treading on air, he hurried into the dressing-room, where, in
momentary privacy, he was forced to indulge in a few toe-pointing capers
of delight. And, after all, though the emotions with which he had
supplied his friend were of anxious and ominous description, still,
emotions after all, of whatever sort, are the salt of life, and here was
a new one for him, something with a strong flavour about it. But he
could afford to be generous, since he himself was being so richly
entertained, and he did not grudge him one pang of the worry and anxiety
inseparable from his position.

Arthur Whately’s golf was generally of the most wayward description; he
cut balls savagely to point and topped them _ventre à terre_ into
cavernous bunkers, while Lord Peebles played a dreadfully steady game,
that, as a rule, walked arm-in-arm with bogey round the links. But
to-day a strange upset of form took place, for while Lord Peebles
seemed unable to hit any ball in the requisite direction or with the
requisite force, Arthur Whately, by virtue of the inscrutable laws that
govern golf, performed with incredible excellence, and not unnaturally
concluded that blackmailing is very good for the eye. Not for years had
he felt so keenly the zest and ecstasy of living, and while watching his
unfortunate opponent digging his ball out of tussocks of rank grass and
eviscerating bunkers, he planned many similar adventures for the future.
He felt as if he had awoke at last to his true nature; by accident he
was a millionaire and the architect of his own colossal fortune, but by
instinct and birth he seemed to be an æsthetic criminal. And the
discovery had come upon him, though late, yet not too late. There might
be many ecstatic years in store for him yet.

The days of that enchanted week passed slowly, and each moment that
brought him nearer Friday morning, when he would don his atrocious
disguise and visit Martin’s Library, brought him no nearer any firm
conjectures as to what he should find there. It so happened that he met
his victim several times in the course of the week, and if, as on the
occasion of their golf match, his mental and physical aspect seemed to
indicate that he would assuredly lack the courage of the archdeacon and
obediently pay his fine, on other occasions he showed a calmness and
control that was consistent with more aggressive proceedings. To
Whately’s knowledge he transacted during that week a very difficult and
intricate financial undertaking that caused certain bankers in Berlin to
curse his acumen, and later he won the Mid-Surrey monthly medal, which
looked as if his aberration had been only temporary. And the uncertainty
and suspense thrilled and fascinated his persecutor.

* * * * *

It was about twelve o’clock on the Friday morning that a dejected
four-wheeler stopped opposite Martin’s Library, and the ambulatory
population of Wardour Street, accustomed to all manner of
eccentricities, looked with wonder at the garish figure that emerged.
Two hours before, Arthur Whately had set off from Park Lane with a small
portmanteau and had driven to the Charing Cross Hotel, having adjusted
moustache and imperial with the aid of a small looking-glass in the cab,
and had taken a room for a widower of the name of George Loring, paying
for one night’s habitation. There he had effected his change of clothes
and left the valise containing the outer garments of Arthur Whately, at
present in a state of suspended existence.

He entered the library with a strutting martial air, and, as once
before, the comfortable old lady looked up from her knitting and asked
how she could serve him.

“I have called for letters and parcels for Mr. George Loring,” said
Whately in a falsetto voice, which was the result of diligent practice.
But a glance at pigeon-hole L showed him that it was empty….

“Yes, parcel and letter for Mr. George Loring,” said the old dame, “but
the parcel was too big to put in the pigeon-hole, let alone lifting it.
So I put them together somewhere. Deary me, now, where was it?”

“This is a strange way to conduct a public library,” said Whately,
forgetting all about the assumed falsetto, “that the librarian should
not know where she has deposited the property of her subscribers. Mr.
Martin would be far from pleased. I am pressed for time, madam. Business
in the city—-”

The old lady turned slowly round and beamed on him.

“And if I wasn’t sitting on it all the time,” she said, “just for
safety, as you may say. There, young man, you’ll find it heavy, and
there’s sixpence to pay.”

“A most reasonable charge, madam,” said Whately. “And–and can you tell
me who left the parcel–what he looked like?”

She nodded at him.

“Such a fur coat I never see,” she said, “and his motor fair stopped the
traffic. I didn’t take much account of his face, though I would swear to
a beard.”

“A shrewd observer!” said Whately in his most genial tones, and
staggering out of the shop with his parcel, deposited it on his own toe
as he stepped into the cab. The pain was severe, and for the moment
damped his ecstasy and caused him a loss of self-control.

“Charing Cross Hotel, you old idiot!” was his unjustifiable direction to
his cabman.

As he drove there he tore open the note. It ran as follows:

“DEAR SIR,–You have me completely in your power, and I send the
money you demand. Kindly forward me at once the documentary
evidence you speak of.

Faithfully yours,


Again he felt vaguely disappointed. The fish had given him less play
than he hoped; he had but towed its sulking carcass to land. But, then,
he did not know that there followed him, threading the intricacies of
traffic close behind him, a taxicab in which was sitting a quiet-looking
gentleman with pince-nez. Its destination also appeared to be Charing
Cross Hotel.

The hall porter opened the door of his cab, and Whately indicated his

“Move that into the bureau, if you will be so kind,” he said. “It
contains a–a model, a metal model, and is heavy. I am going upstairs to
change my clothes, and will be down again in ten minutes.”

Less time than that was sufficient for him to resume the habiliments of
Arthur Whately, and stow the apparel of the vanished George Loring in
his bag. His imperial and moustache he still wore, for it was his
intention to use depilatory measures in the cab which took him back to
Park Lane lest the complete transformation might prove too staggering
for the hall porter. This time he himself took the parcel, a wooden box,
clearly, wrapped up in brown paper, to his cab, put it, not on his own
foot, but on the seat opposite, and genially told the driver to take him
to Park Lane. Close behind him followed the taxicab containing the
gentleman with pince-nez, modest, secluded, and unobserved. And from a
few doors off he saw Mr. Arthur Whately, burdened with the parcel he had
brought from Wardour Street, stagger into his own house. His business
seemed to be not yet finished, for having seen him home he drove back to
an office in the City, and was at once taken in to see the head of the
firm. His interview lasted about half an hour, and he left behind him
when he went a very much astonished gentleman, over whose mobile face a
succession of queer secret smiles chased one another like gleams of
sunshine on a cloudy day. Excellent business man though he was, he gave
for the rest of the day but a tepid attention to his work.

Arthur Whately meantime was closeted with his gold. With the aid of a
pair of nail-scissors (for prudence counselled secrecy) he succeeded in
raising the lid of the box, and found it packed inside with smooth,
discreet little sausages of white paper. A couple of these he unfolded,
and from each flowed out a stream of clinking sovereigns. In each were a
round hundred, and the little sausages were twenty in number. He put a
liberal handful of gold in his pocket; he locked the rest into the safe
that stood in the bedroom. And those two thousand pounds were somehow
sweeter to him than his whole unnumbered fortune: they seemed to him the
reward of a cleverness that was more peculiarly his own than that which
had amassed so huge a harvest in South African mines and American
options. They were doubly sweet, for they were both the fruit of secret
criminal processes and had been wrung by terror out of his friend.

He lunched out that day. His soul basked in the heaven of high animal
spirits which had so long been lost to him, and in the stimulus which
the last week had brought to him he felt like a peri who had regained
Paradise. Perhaps reaction would come, but for the present it held
aloof, and in case it did he could always, as he phrased it to himself
as he walked lightly down Bond Street, apply the squeezers again to poor
Peebles. The vocabulary as well as the spirits of a schoolboy had come
back to him; long-forgotten slang tripped off his tongue, and he
examined shop-windows with eager enthusiasm. There was a beautiful
Charles II. rat-tail spoon in a shop of old silver, and he entered and
bought it, paying for it on the spot with fifteen of his newly acquired
sovereigns. The purchase gave him more pleasure than any he had made for
years: it was the fruit of his splendid stroke of blackmail.

At another shop he bought for five pounds a charming figure of a seagull
in Copenhagen china. Lord Peebles had a collection of this pale fabric,
and his friend felt it would be a privilege to add to it. That also was
paid for in gold, and after he had left each shop a quiet man entered
and conferred privately with the proprietor, leaving a companion
outside, who strolled after the millionaire.

Returning home, he sent out a number of invitations for a dinner party
in ten days’ time. A royal princess had intimated that she would like to
dine with him that night, and he included in his invitations Lord and
Lady Peebles, both of whom were snobs of “purest ray serene.” Later on
he would ask them again to some similar function, for he felt that two
such invitations would make full compensation for the anxiety he had
caused. He did not regard the bagatelle of gold; that meant nothing to
either of them. Then after an hour with his beautiful collection of
Greek coins he dressed and went out to dinner.

Lord Peebles was of the party, and the two cut into a table of bridge
afterwards, and played for a couple of hours, with luck distinctly
against the newly created peer. Generally his losses caused him
exquisite agony: being very rich, he could not bear to be ever so little
poorer. But to-night he laid down a couple of ten-pound notes with a

“I pay you, my dear Whately,” he said, “fourteen pounds, is it not? I
wonder if you can give me six.”

Whately could and did.

“You have had the worst of luck,” he observed genially, “but it’s only a
game. By the way, I hope I shall see you and your wife to dinner on the
23rd. I sent you an invitation this evening.”

Lord Peebles took up his change and looked rather carefully at each
sovereign in turn, as if to question its genuineness.

“Curious thing,” he said, “each of these sovereigns is marked. There is
a small capital ‘P’ scratched on the field in front of St. George.”

He passed one over to Whately, who felt as if some warning whistle had
sounded remotely in his ears. But he contrived to speak in his natural
voice, and got up.

“I see,” he said; “I wonder what that means. Bates gave me them just
before I came out.”

“Indeed,” said Lord Peebles negligently. “Yes, the 23rd would be
delightful. Are you going?”

“Yes, I think I shall be off,” said Whately.

He drove back to Park Lane, and without setting the pleasant peal of
electric bells in the fan-room, went straight to his bedchamber and got
out the box which had thrilled him with such exquisite pangs of pleasure
that morning. He stripped the paper off sausage after sausage of gold,
until his bed was piled with the precious metal. And on each shining
disc the same ominous discovery met his eye: just in front of St.
George’s head on every one that he took up was scratched a small capital

* * * * *

He slept far from well that night, for his mind, spinning madly like a
whirling top, came into collision with a series of hard angles of
uncomfortable circumstances. He told himself that it was inconceivable
that his friend should have suspected him of the odious crime of
blackmailing, but his friend evidently when paying the ransom had taken
steps to trace its destination, with a view to the apprehension of the
criminal. By a most strange coincidence it was he, Arthur Whately, who
had supplied him with a clue, though he had had the presence of mind to
say that Bates had given him these six pieces of evidence…. Then with
a pang of alarm that made him sit bolt upright in bed, he remembered
that there were four more of them in the shop where they sold china cats
and seagulls, fifteen more in the silversmith’s, where he had bought the
Charles II. spoon, and two others in the hair-cutting establishment in
St. James’s Street, where he had so lightly purchased a safety-razor
and a small indiarubber sponge. At all costs he must repossess himself
of these, and how was that to be done? In this short summer night there
was scarcely time, even if he had had the tools, to make a series of
single-handed burglaries, yet if he did not get those accursed
sovereigns back, he was letting the tap of evidence drip and drip and
drip. What, again, was the use of those nineteen hundred and odd
sovereigns on his bed if he could not put them in circulation without
multiplying the evidence already in existence? The suspense of the last
week, it is true, had been thrilling and delicious, but it appeared now
that there were at least two sorts of suspense, and the other, though
quite as thrilling, was not so pleasant. Sinking into an uneasy slumber,
he dreamed of skilly.

Haggard and unshaven (in spite of the new safety-razor), he was in Bond
Street next morning early, with cheque-book and bank-notes in his
pocket. The shop that dealt in old silver was only just open, and he
went hurriedly in.

“I am Mr. Whately,” he said, “Mr. Whately, of Park Lane. Dear me, that
is a very pretty tankard. A hundred pounds only! Please send it round to
me to No. 93. The fact is, a rather curious thing has happened. I bought
a Charles II. spoon here yesterday afternoon and paid for it in
sovereigns. For certain curious, I may say family, reasons, I very much
want those sovereigns back again. There are sentimental associations
with them, you understand. Could you kindly let me have them back and
take my cheque or bank-notes in exchange?”

The shopman laughed.

“Well, sir, a very curious thing happened here too,” he said brightly.
“You had hardly left the shop when a gentleman came in and asked if I
could let him have any change for some bank-notes. There were your
sovereigns lying in the till, and I gave him them all. I offered him
five more as well, but after examining those he said he did not want
more than fifteen.”

Arthur Whately couldn’t suppress a slight groan.

“That was very precipitate of you,” he said. “What was the gentleman
like? Was it–a stout, dark-faced gentleman with yellowish hair and–and
probably a fur coat?”

“No, sir, a clean-shaven gentleman with a sharp sort of face.”

“Not Peebles,” said Whately to himself, as he skimmed out of the shop.
“It may still only be a coincidence.”

The shop of Danish china was open, and again he told his lame and
unconvincing tale. Here again the fever for gold had run riot yesterday
afternoon, and a gentleman with a big moustache had taken five
sovereigns and left a bank-note. And his scuttling footsteps took him to
the aseptic hairdresser’s.

“I am fighting single-handed against a positive gang of these wretches,”
was his bitter comment.

But the aseptic hairdresser’s was still shut, and after ringing several
wrong bells belonging to different floors, he gave up in despair and
went home to the mocking splendour of No. 93. A fresh-faced stable-boy
was just laying down the straw in the street, whistling as he plied his
nimble pitchfork. Whately wondered whether he would ever whistle again.

For an hour he sat there lost in a scorching desert of barren thought.
Visions of oakum and broad arrows flitted through his disordered mind,
and every now and then he came to himself as some fresh circumstance of
dawning significance rapped on his brain.

Once he hurried upstairs, remembering that the awful attire of George
Loring still lurked in a locked cupboard of his bedroom, and he took the
criminal’s coat and stuffed it in the fire in his sitting-room, with the
intention of burning all that costume which had seemed so exquisitely
humorous. But the coat seemed impervious to flames, and it was not till
a quarter of an hour later that he came downstairs again with roasted
face. Even then there were trousers and shirt and patent leather boots
to get rid of, and trouser buttons and the base metal of his gorgeous
tie-pin would be found amid the ashes. And even when it was all done, he
would only have destroyed one thread of evidence, leaving a network of
imperishable circumstance unimpaired.

Truly there was a dark side to the game on which he had so lightly
embarked, which the callous world could not ever so faintly appreciate,
or would probably but imperfectly sympathize with even if it did.

But for the sake of saving his sanity he had to occupy himself with
something, and after vainly attempting to follow the meaning of a leader
in the _Times_, he began reading, purely as a “sad narcotic exercise,”
the Agony column. And then he fairly bounded from his seat, as the
following met his eye:

“To George Loring. A packet of marked sovereigns, twenty-eight in
number, will be forwarded to the above-named at any address or given to
a messenger who hands to Mr. Arthur Armstrong (resident for this day
only at the Charing Cross Hotel) the sum of £4,000 (four thousand) in
bank-notes or bullion.”

He groaned aloud.

“It spells beggary,” he said to himself, “but I must have those
sovereigns. But let me see first whether twenty-eight is the full tale
of them,” and he snatched up a piece of paper and wrote:

To Lord Peebles 6
Silver Shop 15
Copenhagen China 5
Haircutting place 2


and at that, in spite of the ruinous expense, his heart bounded high
within him. It was wiser not to appear himself (he had, so it struck
him, appeared rather too frequently already), and sending for his
secretary he scrawled a cheque for £4,000, and bade him have it changed
into bank-notes and take it at once to the Charing Cross Hotel. There he
would ask for a certain Mr. Arthur Armstrong, who would give him a
packet containing twenty-eight marked sovereigns.

“It concerns a widowed aunt of mine,” he added, “and I cannot tell you
more. Speed and secrecy are essential to save her from ruin.”

The zealous secretary was back within an hour, and with a sob of relief
Whately, when he was alone, opened the packet he brought. Next moment
with a hollow groan he spilled the contents all over the table. The
sovereigns were marked indeed, but each of them had neatly incised on
it, not a “P” but an interrogation mark. Back went the zealous secretary
again to explain that these were not the right ones, and, if necessary,
to implore Mr. Arthur Armstrong, for the sake of his mother, to give up
the others. He was soon home again with the news that Mr. Arthur
Armstrong had already quitted the hotel, leaving no address.

* * * * *

Later on that abject day there arrived a note from Lord Peebles, saying
that it was doubtful whether he could come to dinner on the 23rd.
Events, at present private, might render it impossible. But he would
like a game of golf at Richmond next day if Whately was at liberty.

Again this proposal of a recreation detestable in itself and intolerable
to one with shaking hand and trembling knees! Yet if Peebles had
proposed a game of leap-frog Whately could not be so imprudent as to
refuse, for at all costs he must keep up friendly relations. He had half
a mind (but not the other half) to tell his friend that it was indeed he
who had attempted to blackmail him, for a joke, and that the retaliation
was getting beyond one. But it was not certain as yet that a confession
was necessary; there was nothing to show that Lord Peebles had
identified him with George Loring. It looked like it; it looked
uncommonly like it, but what proof had he? Whately, it is true, had
given him half a dozen of his own marked sovereigns, and no doubt
Peebles knew that he had expended others on Copenhagen china, Charles
II. silver and American articles of toilet, but that was all. It
certainly was a good deal—-

* * * * *

There is no need to dwell on his further anguish. The game of golf was a
cruel parody of sport, and Peebles was in his most pompous mood,
speaking of the House of Lords as “we.” At other times he spoke with
strange persistence of the horrors of English prisons, and mentioned
that he had been appointed visitor to Wormwood Scrubs. Whately did not
know with any accuracy where that was, but Peebles described exactly how
you could get to it. Long-sentence men stayed there.

Another day he would see or think he saw a stranger watching his house.
Sometimes a second would join him, and if one was clean-shaven and the
other had a moustache, Whately’s heart would leap to his throat and
creakingly pulsate there. His appetite failed him; his brushes were full
of shed hair; dew suddenly broke out on his forehead. And seven dreadful
days passed.

Then the end came.

Lord Peebles telephoned to him asking if he could see him on important
business, and of course a welcoming affirmative was given.

“You appear far from well, my dear Whately,” he said, looking anxiously
at him, “far from well. A little dieting, do you think, a little regular
work, a little abstention from alcohol?”

Whately gave a haggard glance out of the window. It was a foggy morning,
and in the roadway he could but faintly distinguish a large black van
which had approached noiselessly over the straw and now stood there. At
that sight there was no longer any doubt in his mind that Peebles had
adopted the ruthless archidiaconal attitude towards blackmailers, and
was going to have him arrested. But harassed and unnerved as he was by a
succession of sleepless nights and nightmare days, he still despised
and refused to parley with the conventional narrowness of his accuser.
Yet Lord Peebles still wore his pleased and secret smile, and it was not
good manners to look like that in the act of committing a friend to a
convict prison. Whately drew himself up and spoke with wonderful
steadiness and dignity.

“I see it’s all up!” he said, “and that I shall soon get all the things
you so feelingly recommend. But after all I had a perfectly amazing week
when I waited for your answer. I don’t deny that you have given me an
awful week, too, or that there are many rather cheerless weeks in front
of me. It’s no use my attempting to explain; you would never understand.
Your soul doesn’t rise above sovereigns.”

Lord Peebles came a step nearer him, looking vexed.

“For those remarks,” he said, “you deserve to be treated as–as you
deserve. You don’t seem to realize that I have had a week of the most
thrilling enjoyment. You think that nobody has a sense of humour except
yourself. That attitude of yours has often annoyed me, for I have a
remarkably keen one, and for pure æsthetic pleasure I have just had the
week of my life. The fact that it was sugared with revenge hardly
enhanced it at all, nor did the fact that whereas you got two thousand
pounds out of me, I got four thousand out of you. You have been like a
monkey dancing on a hot plate. I have been the hot plate.”

Whately was scarcely listening; with chattering teeth he looked at the
huge ominous van in the street, and Lord Peebles followed his gaze.

“You deserve that that van should be Black Maria,” he went on in injured
tones, “to take you to Wormwood Scrubs, where I am visitor.”

“Is–isn’t it?” asked Whately.

Lord Peebles peered into the fog.

“The harmless, necessary pantechnicon,” he said.

Then he subsided into a chair and his great bulk began to shake with
spasms of ungovernable laughter. And gradually the colour came back to
Whately’s face, and shortly after an uncertain smile hovered on his

“And is it all over?” he asked.

Lord Peebles took a small sausage of sovereigns out of his pocket.

“I brought these along with me,” he said, “please count them; they are
all marked, and there are twenty-eight of them. I will exchange them
with those you possess marked with an interrogation point.”

“You shall!” said Whately. “God bless you!”

“I was not certain, when I came here,” continued Lord Peebles,
disregarding this interruption, “whether I should put you out of your
suspense or not, but your haggard and emaciated appearance, my dear
fellow, decided me. Besides, I am two thousand pounds to the good, or
nearly so, for I owe some small sum to detectives. If I did not have
mercy on you, you would probably be too unwell to give your party for
the princess on the 23rd, and I should be sorry to miss that. Otherwise
I might have let you have a week or so more of excitement. I had several
other little notions, little tunes for you to dance to.”

“You shall sit next her,” said Whately with quivering lips.