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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Man Of Mark - Chapter 5. I Appreciate The Situation
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A Man Of Mark - Chapter 5. I Appreciate The Situation Post by :Marc_Meole Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :1268

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A Man Of Mark - Chapter 5. I Appreciate The Situation

CHAPTER V. I APPRECIATE THE SITUATION

The flight of time brought no alleviation to the troubles of Aureataland. If an individual hard up is a pathetic sight, a nation hard up is an alarming spectacle; and Aureataland was very hard up. I suppose somebody had some money. But the Government had none; in consequence the Government employees had none, the officials had none, the President had none, and finally, I had none. The bank had a little--of other people's, of course--but I was quite prepared for a "run" on us any day, and had cabled to the directors to implore a remittance in cash, for our notes were at a discount humiliating to contemplate. Political strife ran high. I dropped into the House of Assembly one afternoon toward the end of May, and, looking down from the gallery, saw the colonel in the full tide of wrathful declamation. He was demanding of miserable Don Antonio when the army was to be paid. The latter sat cowering under his scorn, and would, I verily believe, have bolted out of the House had he not been nailed to his seat by the cold eye of the President, who was looking on from his box. The minister on rising had nothing to urge but vague promises of speedy payment; but he utterly lacked the confident effrontery of his chief, and nobody was deceived by his weak protestations. I left the House in a considerable uproar, and strolled on to the house of a friend of mine, one Mme. Devarges, the widow of a French gentleman who had found his way to Whittingham from New Calendonia. Politeness demanded the assumption that he had found his way to New Caledonia owing to political troubles, but the usual cloud hung over the precise date and circumstances of his patriotic sacrifice. Madame sometimes considered it necessary to bore herself and others with denunciations of the various tyrants or would-be tyrants of France; but, apart from this pious offering on the shrine of her husband's reputation, she was a bright and pleasant little woman. I found assembled round her tea-table a merry party, including Donna Antonia, unmindful of her father's agonies, and one Johnny Carr, who deserves mention as being the only honest man in Aureataland. I speak, of course, of the place as I found it. He was a young Englishman, what they call a "cadet," of a good family, shipped off with a couple of thousand pounds to make his fortune. Land was cheap among us, and Johnny had bought an estate and settled down as a landowner. Recently he had blossomed forth as a keen Constitutionalist and a devoted admirer of the President's, and held a seat in the assembly in that interest. Johnny was not a clever man nor a wise one, but he was merry, and, as I have thought it necessary to mention, honest.

"Hallo, Johnny! Why not at the House?" said I to him. "You'll want every vote to-night. Be off and help the ministry, and take Donna Antonia with you. They're eating up the Minister of Finance."

"All right! I'm going as soon as I've had another muffin," said Johnny. "But what's the row about?"

"Well, they want their money," I replied; "and Don Antonio won't give it them. Hence bad feeling."

"Tell you what it is," said Johnny; "he hasn't got a--"

Here Donna Antonia struck in, rather suddenly, I thought.

"Do stop the gentleman talking politics, Mme. Devarges. They'll spoil our tea-party."

"Your word is law," I said; "but I should like to know what Don Antonio hasn't got."

"Now do be quiet," she rejoined; "isn't it quite enough that he has got--a charming daughter?"

"And a most valuable one," I replied, with a bow, for I saw that for some reason or other Donna Antonia did not mean to let me pump Johnny Carr, and I wanted to pump him.

"Don't say another word, Mr. Carr," she said, with a laugh. "You know you don't know anything, do you?"

"Good Lord, no!" said Johnny.

Meanwhile Mme. Devarges was giving me a cup of tea. As she handed it to me, she said in a low voice:

"If I were his friend I should take care Johnny didn't know anything, Mr. Martin."

"If I were his friend I should take care he told me what he knew, Mme. Devarges," I replied.

"Perhaps that's what the colonel thinks," she said. "Johnny has just been telling us how very attentive he has become. And the signorina too, I hear."

"You don't mean that?" I exclaimed. "But, after all, pure kindness, no doubt!"

"You have received many attentions from those quarters," she said. "No doubt you are a good judge of the motives."

"Don't, now don't be disagreeable," said I. "I came here for peace."

"Poor young man! have you lost all your money? Is it possible that you, like Don Antonio, haven't got a--"

"What is going to happen?" I asked, for Mme. Devarges often had information.

"I don't know," she said. "But if I owned national bonds, I should sell."

"Pardon me, madame; you would offer to sell."

She laughed.

"Ah! I see my advice comes too late."

I did not see any need to enlighten her farther. So I passed on to Donna Antonia, who had sat somewhat sulkily since her outburst. I sat down by her and said:

"Surely I haven't offended you?"

"You know you wouldn't care if you had," she said, with a reproachful but not unkind glance. "Now, if it were the signorina--"

I never object to bowing down in the temple of Rimmon, so I said:

"Hang the signorina!"

"If I thought you meant that," said Donna Antonia, "I might be able to help you."

"Do I want help?" I asked.

"Yes," said she.

"Then suppose I do mean it?"

Donna Antonia refused to be frivolous. With a look of genuine distress she said:

"You will not let your real friends save you, Mr. Martin. You know you want help. Why don't you consider the state of your affairs?"

"In that, at least, my friends in Whittingham are very ready to help me," I answered, with some annoyance.

"If you take it in that way," she replied sadly, "I can do nothing."

I was rather touched. Clearly she wished to be of some use to me, and for a moment I thought I might do better to tear myself free from my chains, and turn to the refuge opened to me. But I could not do this; and, thinking it would be rather mean to take advantage of her interest in me only to use it for my own purposes, I yielded to conscience and said:

"Donna Antonia, I will be straightforward with you. You can only help me if I accept your guidance? I can't do that. I am too deep in."

"Yes, you are deep in, and eager to be deeper," she said. "Well, so be it. If that is so I cannot help you."

"Thank you for your kind attempt," said I. "I shall very likely be sorry some day that I repulse it. I shall always be glad to remember that you made it."

She looked at me a moment, and said:

"We have ruined you among us."

"Mind, body, and estate?"

She made no reply, and I saw my return to flippancy wounded her. So I rose and took my leave. Johnny Carr went with me.

"Things look queer, eh, old man?" said he. "But the President will pull through in spite of the colonel and his signorina."

"Johnny," said I, "you hurt my feelings; but, still, I will give you a piece of advice."

"Drive on," said Johnny.

"Marry Donna Antonia," said I. "She's a good girl and a clever girl, and won't let you get drunk or robbed."

"By Jove, that's not a bad idea!" said he. "Why don't you do it yourself?"

"Because I'm like you, Johnny--an ass," I replied, and left him wondering why, if he was an ass and I was an ass, one ass should marry Donna Antonia, and not both or neither.

As I went along I bought the _Gazette_, the government organ, and read therein:

"At a Cabinet Council this afternoon, presided over by his Excellency, we understand that the arrangements connected with the national debt formed the subject of discussion. The resolutions arrived at are at present strictly confidential, but we have the best authority for stating that the measures to be adopted will have the effect of materially alleviating the present tension, and will afford unmixed satisfaction to the immense majority of the citizens of Aureataland. The President will once again be hailed as the saviour of his country."

"I wonder if the immense majority will include me," said I. "I think I will go and see his Excellency."

Accordingly, the next morning I took my way to the Golden House, where I learned that the President was at the Ministry of Finance. Arriving there, I sent in my card, writing thereon a humble request for a private interview. I was ushered into Don Antonio's room, where I found the minister himself, the President, and Johnny Carr. As I entered and the servant, on a sign from his Excellency, placed a chair for me, the latter said rather stiffly:

"As I presume this is a business visit, Mr. Martin, it is more regular that I should receive you in the presence of one of my constitutional advisers. Mr. Carr is acting as my secretary, and you can speak freely before him."

I was annoyed at failing in my attempt to see the President alone, but not wishing to show it, I merely bowed and said:

"I venture to intrude on your Excellency, in consequence of a letter from my directors. They inform me that, to use their words, 'disquieting rumors' are afloat on the exchanges in regard to the Aureataland loan, and they direct me to submit to your Excellency the expediency of giving some public notification relative to the payment of the interest falling due next month. It appears from their communication that it is apprehended that some difficulty may occur in the matter."

"Would not this application, if necessary at all, have been, more properly made to the Ministry of Finance in the first instance?" said the President. "These details hardly fall within my province."

"I can only follow my instructions, your Excellency," I replied.

"Have you any objection, Mr. Martin," said the President, "to allowing myself and my advisers to see this letter?"

"I am empowered to submit it only to your Excellency's own eye."

"Oh, only to my eye," said he, with an amused expression. "That was why the interview was to be private?"

"Exactly, sir," I replied. "I intend no disrespect to the Minister of Finance or to your secretary, sir, but I am bound by my orders."

"You are an exemplary servant, Mr. Martin. But I don't think I need trouble you about it further. Is it a cable?"

He smiled so wickedly at this question that I saw he had penetrated my little fiction. However, I only said:

"A letter, sir."

"Well, gentlemen," said he to the others, "I think we may reassure Mr. Martin. Tell your directors this, Mr. Martin: The Government does not see any need of a public notification, and none will be made. I think we agree, gentlemen, that to acknowledge the necessity of any such action would be highly derogatory. But assure them that the President has stated to you, Mr. Martin, personally, with the concurrence of his advisers, that he anticipates no difficulties in your being in a position to remit the full amount of interest to them on the proper day."

"I may assure them, sir, that the interest will be punctually paid?"

"Surely I expressed myself in a manner you could understand," said he, with the slightest emphasis on the "you." "Aureataland will meet her obligations. You will receive all your due, Mr. Martin. That is so, gentlemen?"

Don Antonio acquiesced at once. Johnny Carr, I noticed, said nothing, and fidgeted rather uneasily in his chair. I knew what the President meant. He meant, "If we don't pay, pay it out of your reserve fund." Alas, the reserve fund was considerably diminished; I had enough, and just enough, left to pay the next installment if I paid none of my own debts. I felt very vicious as I saw his Excellency taking keen pleasure in the consciousness of my difficulties (for he had a shrewd notion of how the land lay), but of course I could say nothing. So I rose and bowed myself out, feeling I had gained nothing, except a very clear conviction that I should not see the color of the President's money on the next interest day. True, I could just pay myself. But what would happen next time? And if he wouldn't pay, and I couldn't pay, the game would be up. As to the original loan, it is true I had no responsibility; but then, if no interest were paid, the fact that I had applied the second loan, _my loan, in a different manner from what I was authorized to do, and had represented myself to have done, would be inevitably discovered. And my acceptance of the bonus, my dealings with the reserve fund, my furnishing inaccurate returns of investments, all this would, I knew, look rather queer to people who didn't know the circumstances.

When I went back to the bank, revolving these things in my mind, I found Jones employed in arranging the correspondence. It was part of his duty to see to the preservation and filing of all letters arriving from Europe, and, strange to say, he delighted in the task. It was part of my duty to see he did his; so I sat down and began to turn over the pile of letters and messages which he had put on my desk; they dated back two years; this surprised me, and I said:

"Rather behindhand, aren't you. Jones?"

"Yes, sir, rather. Fact is, I've done 'em before, but as you've never initialed 'em, I thought I ought to bring 'em to your notice."

"Quite right--very neglectful of me. I suppose they're all right?"

"Yes, sir, all right."

"Then I won't trouble to go through them."

"They're all there, sir, except, of course, the cable about the second loan, sir."

"Except what?" I said.

"The cable about the second loan," he repeated.

I was glad to be reminded of this, for of course I wished to remove that document before the bundle finally took its place among the archives. Indeed, I thought I had done so. But why had Jones removed it? Surely Jones was not as skeptical as that?

"Ah, and where have you put that?"

"Why, sir, his Excellency took that."

"What?" I cried.

"Yes, sir. Didn't I mention it? Why, the day after you and the President were here that night, his Excellency came down in the afternoon, when you'd gone out to the Piazza, and said he wanted it. He said, sir, that you'd said it was to go to the Ministry of Finance. He was very affable, sir, and told me that it was necessary the original should be submitted to the minister for his inspection; and as he was passing by (he'd come in to cash a check on his private account) he'd take it up himself. Hasn't he given it back to you, sir? He said he would."

I had just strength enough to gasp out:

"Slipped his memory, no doubt. All right, Jones."

"May I go now, sir?" said Jones. "Mrs. Jones wanted me to go with her to--"

"Yes, go," said I, and as he went out I added a destination different, no doubt, from what the good lady had proposed. For I saw it all now. That old villain (pardon my warmth) had stolen my forged cable, and, if need arose, meant to produce it as his own justification. I had been done, done brown--and Jones' idiocy had made the task easy. I had no evidence but my word that the President knew the message was fabricated. Up till now I had thought that if I stood convicted I should have the honor of his Excellency's support in the dock. But now! why now, I might prove myself a thief, but I couldn't prove him one. I had convinced Jones, not for my good, but for his. I had forged papers, not for my good, but for his. True, I had spent the money myself, but--

"Damn it all!" I cried in the bitterness of my spirit, "he won about three-quarters of that."

And his Excellency's words came back to my memory, "I make the most of my opportunities."

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