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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Man Of Mark - Chapter 6. Mourons Pour La Patrie!
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A Man Of Mark - Chapter 6. Mourons Pour La Patrie! Post by :Marc_Meole Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :3310

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A Man Of Mark - Chapter 6. Mourons Pour La Patrie!

CHAPTER VI. MOURONS POUR LA PATRIE!

The next week was a busy one for me. I spent it in scraping together every bit of cash I could lay my hands on. If I could get together enough to pay the interest on the three hundred thousand dollars supposed to be invested in approved securities,--really disposed of in a manner only known to his Excellency,--I should have six months to look about me. Now, remaining out of my "bonus" was _nil_, out of my "reserve fund" ten thousand dollars. This was enough. But alas! how happened it that this sum was in my hands? Because I had borrowed five thousand from the bank! If they wouldn't let their own manager overdraw, whom would they? So I overdrew. But if this money wasn't back before the monthly balancing, Jones would know! And I dared not rely on being able to stop his mouth again. When I said Johnny Carr was the only honest man in Aureataland I forgot Jones. To my grief and annoyance Jones also was honest, and Jones would consider it his duty to let the directors know of my overdraft. If once they knew, I was lost, for an overdraft effected privately from the safe by the manager is, I do not deny it, decidedly irregular. Unless I could add five thousand dollars to my ten thousand before the end of the month I should have to bolt!

This melancholy conclusion was reenforced and rendered demonstrable by a letter which arrived, to crown my woes, from my respected father, informing me that he had unhappily become indebted to our chairman in the sum of two thousand pounds, the result of a deal between them, that he had seen the chairman, that the chairman was urgent for payment, that he used most violent language against our family in general, ending by declaring his intention of stopping my salary to pay the parental debt. "If he doesn't like it he may go, and small loss." This was a most unjustifiable proceeding, but I was hardly in a position to take up a high moral attitude toward the chairman, and in the result I saw myself confronted with the certainty of beggary and the probability of jail. But for this untoward reverse of fortune I might have taken courage and made a clean breast of my misdoings, relying on the chairman's obligations to my father to pull me through. But now, where was I? I was, as Donna Antonia put it, very deep in indeed. So overwhelmed was I by my position, and so occupied with my frantic efforts to improve it, that I did not even find time to go and see the signorina, much as I needed comfort; and, as the days went on, I fell into such despair that I went nowhere, but sat dismally in my own rooms, looking at my portmanteau, and wondering how soon I must pack and fly, if not for life, at least for liberty.

At last the crash came. I was sitting in my office one morning, engaged in the difficult task of trying to make ten into fifteen, when I heard the clatter of hoofs.

A moment later the door was opened, and Jones ushered in Colonel McGregor. I nodded to the colonel, who came in with his usual leisurely step, sat himself down, and took off his gloves. I roused myself to say:

"What can I do for you, colonel?"

He waited till the door closed behind Jones, and then said:

"I've got to the bottom of it at last, Martin."

This was true of myself also, but the colonel meant it in a different sense.

"Bottom of what?" I asked, rather testily.

"That old scamp's villainy," said he, jerking his thumb toward the Piazza and the statue of the Liberator. "He's very 'cute, but he's made a mistake at last."

"Do come to the point, colonel. What's it all about?"

"Would you be surprised to hear," said the colonel, adopting a famous mode of speech, "that the interest on the debt would not be paid on the 31st?"

"No, I shouldn't," said I resignedly.

"Would you be surprised to hear that no more interest would ever be paid?"

"The devil!" I cried, leaping up. "What do you mean, man?"

"The President," said he calmly, "will, on the 31st instant, _repudiate the national debt_!"

I had nothing left to say. I fell back in my chair and gazed at the colonel, who was now employed in lighting a cigarette. At the same moment a sound of rapid wheels struck on my ears. Then I heard the sweet, clear voice I knew so well saying:

"I'll just disturb him for a moment, Mr. Jones. I want him to tear himself from work for a day, and come for a ride."

She opened my door, and came swiftly in. On seeing the colonel she took in the position, and said to that gentleman:

"Have you told him?"

"I have just done so, signorina," he replied.

I had not energy enough to greet her; so she also sat down uninvited, and took off her gloves--not lazily, like the colonel, but with an air as though she would, if a man, take off her coat, to meet the crisis more energetically.

At last I said, with conviction:

"He's a wonderful man! How did you find it out, colonel?"

"Had Johnny Carr to dine and made him drunk," said that worthy.

"You don't mean he trusted Johnny?"

"Odd, isn't it?" said the colonel. "With his experience, too. He might have known Johnny was an ass. I suppose there was no one else."

"He knew," said the signorina, "anyone else in the place would betray him; he knew Johnny wouldn't if he could help it. He underrated your powers, colonel."

"Well," said I, "I can't help it, can I? My directors will lose. The bondholders will lose. But how does it hurt me?"

The colonel and the signorina both smiled gently.

"You do it very well, Martin," said the former, "but it will save time if I state that both Signorina Nugent and myself are possessed of the details regarding the--" (The colonel paused, and stroked his mustache.)

"The second loan," said the signorina.

I was less surprised at this, recollecting certain conversations.

"Ah! and how did you find that out?" I asked.

"She told me," said the colonel, indicating his fair neighbor.

"And may I ask how you found it out, signorina?"

"The President told me," said that lady.

"Did you make him drunk?"

"No, not drunk," was her reply, in a very demure voice, and with downcast eyes.

We could guess how it had been done, but neither of us cared to pursue the subject. After a pause, I said:

"Well, as you both know all about it, it's no good keeping up pretenses. It's very kind of you to come and warn me."

"You dear, good Mr. Martin," said the signorina, "our motives are not purely those of friendship."

"Why, how does it matter to you?"

"Simply this," said she: "the bank and its excellent manager own most of the debt. The colonel and I own the rest. If it is repudiated, the bank loses; yes, but the manager, and the colonel, and the Signorina Nugent are lost!"

"I didn't know this," I said, rather bewildered.

"Yes," said the colonel, "when the first loan was raised I lent him one hundred thousand dollars. We were thick then, and I did it in return for my rank and my seat in the Chamber. Since then I've bought up some more shares."

"You got them cheap, I suppose?" said I.

"Yes," he replied, "I averaged them at about seventy-five cents the five-dollar share."

"And what do you hold now, nominally?"

"Three hundred thousand dollars," said he shortly.

"I understand your interest in the matter. But you, signorina?"

The signorina appeared a little embarrassed. But at last she broke out:

"I don't care if I do tell you. When I agreed to stay here, he (we knew whom she meant) gave me one hundred thousand dollars. And I had fifty thousand, or thereabouts, of my own that I had--"

"Saved out of your salary as a prima donna," put in the colonel.

"What does it matter?" said she, flushing; "I had it. Well, then, what did he do? He persuaded me to put it all--the whole one hundred and fifty thousand--into his horrid debt. Oh! wasn't it mean, Mr. Martin?"

The President had certainly combined business and pleasure in this matter.

"Disgraceful!" I remarked.

"And if that goes, I am penniless--penniless. And there's poor aunt. What will she do?"

"Never mind your aunt," said the colonel, rather rudely. "Well," he went on, "you see we're in the same boat with you, Martin."

"Yes; and we shall soon be in the same deep water," said I.

"Not at all!" said the colonel.

"Not at all!" echoed the signorina.

"Why, what on earth are you going to do?"

"Financial probity is the backbone of a country," said the colonel. "Are we to stand by and see Aureataland enter on the shameful path of repudiation?"

"Never!" cried the signorina, leaping up with sparkling eyes. "Never!"

She looked enchanting. But business is business; and I said again:

"What are you going to do?"

"We are going, with your help, Martin, to prevent this national disgrace. We are going--" he lowered his voice, uselessly, for the signorina struck in, in a high, merry tone, waving her gloves over head and dancing a little _pas seul on the floor before me, with these remarkable words:

"Hurrah for the Revolution! Hip! hip! hurrah!"

She looked like a Goddess of Freedom in her high spirits and a Paris bonnet. I lost my mental balance. Leaping up, I grasped her round the waist, and we twirled madly about the office, the signorina breaking forth into the "Marseillaise."

"For God's sake, be quiet!" said McGregor, in a hoarse whisper, making a clutch at me as I sped past him. "If they hear you! Stop, I tell you, Christina!"

The signorina stopped.

"Do you mean me, Colonel McGregor?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, "and that fool Martin, too."

"Even in times of revolution, colonel," said I, "nothing is lost by politeness. But in substance you are right. Let us be sober."

We sat down again, panting, the signorina between her gasps still faintly humming the psalm of liberty.

"Kindly unfold your plan, colonel," I resumed. "I am aware that out here you think little of revolutions, but to a newcomer they appear to be matters requiring some management. You see we are only three."

"I have the army with me," said he grandly.

"In the outer office?" asked I, indulging in a sneer at the dimensions of the Aureataland forces.

"Look here, Martin," he said, scowling, "if you're coming in with us, keep your jokes to yourself."

"Don't quarrel, gentlemen," said the signorina. "It's waste of time. Tell him the plan, colonel, while I'm getting cool."

I saw the wisdom of this advice, so I said:

"Your pardon, colonel. But won't this repudiation be popular with the army? If he lets the debt slide, he can pay them."

"Exactly," said he. "Hence we must get at them before that aspect of the case strikes them. They are literally starving, and for ten dollars a man they would make Satan himself President. Have you got any money, Martin?"

"Yes," said I, "a little."

"How much?"

"Ten thousand," I replied; "I was keeping it for the interest."

"Ah! you won't want it now."

"Indeed I shall--for the second loan, you know."

"Look here, Martin; give me that ten thousand for the troops. Stand in with us, and the day I become President I'll give you back your three hundred thousand. Just look where you stand now. I don't want to be rude, but isn't it a case of--"

"Some emergency," said I thoughtfully. "Yes, it is. But where do you suppose you're going to get three hundred thousand dollars, to say nothing of your own shares?"

He drew his chair closer to mine, and, leaning forward, said:

"He's never spent the money. He's got it somewhere; much the greater part, at least."

"Did Carr tell you that?"

"He didn't know for certain; but he told me enough to make it almost certain. Besides," he added, glancing at the signorina, "we have other reasons for suspecting it. Give me the ten thousand. You shall have your loan back, and, if you like, you shall be Minister of Finance. We practically know the money's there; don't we, signorina?"

She nodded assent.

"If we fail?" said I.

He drew a neat little revolver from his pocket, placed it for a moment against his ear, and repocketed it.

"Most lucidly explained, colonel," said I. "Will you give me half an hour to think it over?"

"Yes," he said. "You'll excuse me if I stay in the outer office. Of course I trust you, Martin, but in this sort of thing--"

"All right, I see," said I. "And you, signorina?"

"I'll wait too," she said.

They both rose and went out, and I heard them in conversation with Jones. I sat still, thinking hard. But scarcely a moment had passed, when I heard the door behind me open. It was the signorina. She came in, stood behind my chair, and, leaning over, put her arms round my neck.

I looked up, and saw her face full of mischief.

"What about the rose, Jack?" she asked.

I remembered. Bewildered with delight, and believing I had won her, I said:

"Your soldier till death, signorina."

"Bother death!" said she saucily. "Nobody's going to die. We shall win, and then--"

"And then," said I eagerly, "you'll marry me, sweet?"

She quietly stooped down and kissed my lips. Then, stroking my hair, she said:

"You're a nice boy, but you're not a good boy, Jack."

"Christina, you won't marry him?"

"Him?"

"McGregor," said I.

"Jack," said she, whispering now, "I hate him!"

"So do I," I answered promptly. "And if it's to win you, I'll upset a dozen Presidents."

"Then you'll do it for me? I like to think you'll do it for me, and not for the money."

As the signorina was undoubtedly "doing it" for her money, this was a shade unreasonable.

"I don't mind the money coming in--" I began.

"Mercenary wretch!" she cried. "I didn't kiss you, did I?"

"No," I replied. "You said you would in a minute, when I consented."

"Very neat, Jack," she said. But she went and opened the door and called to McGregor, "Mr. Martin sees no objection to the arrangement, and he will come to dinner to-night, as you suggest, and talk over the details. We're all going to make our fortunes, Mr. Jones," she went on, without waiting for any acceptance of her implied invitation, "and when we've made ours, we'll think about you and Mrs. Jones."

I heard Jones making some noise, incoherently suggestive of gratification, for he was as bad as any of us about the signorina, and then I was left to my reflections. These were less somber than the reader would, perhaps, anticipate. True, I was putting my head into a noose; and if the President's hands ever found their way to the end of the rope, I fancied he would pull it pretty tight. But, again, I was immensely in love, and equally in debt; and the scheme seemed to open the best chance of satisfying my love, and the only chance of filling my pocket. To a young man life without love isn't worth much; to a man of any age, in my opinion, life without money isn't worth much; it becomes worth still less when he is held to account for money he ought to have. So I cheerfully entered upon my biggest gamble, holding the stake of life well risked. My pleasure in the affair was only marred by the enforced partnership of McGregor. There was no help for this, but I knew he wasn't much fonder of me than I of him, and I found myself gently meditating on the friction likely to arise between the new President and his minister of finance, in case our plans succeeded. Still the signorina hated him, and by all signs she loved me. So I lay back in my chair, and recalled my charmer's presence by whistling the hymn of liberty until it was time to go to lunch, an observance not to be omitted even by conspirators.

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