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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Prince Of Sinners - Part 1 - Chapter 10. A Tempting Offer
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A Prince Of Sinners - Part 1 - Chapter 10. A Tempting Offer Post by :bambito Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1138

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A Prince Of Sinners - Part 1 - Chapter 10. A Tempting Offer

PART I CHAPTER X. A TEMPTING OFFER

The small boy brought in the card and laid it on Brooks' desk with a flourish.

"He's outside, sir--in Mr. Barton's room. Shall I show him in?"

Brooks for a moment hesitated. He glanced at a letter which lay open upon the desk before him, and which he had read and re-read many times. The boy repeated his inquiry.

"Yes, of course," he answered. "Show him in at once."

Lord Arranmore, more than usually immaculate, strolled in, hat in hand, and carefully selecting the most comfortable chair, seated himself on the other side of the open table at which Brooks was working.

"How are you, Brooks?" he inquired, tersely. "Busy, of course. An aftermath of work, I suppose."

"A few months ago," Brooks answered, "I should have considered myself desperately busy. But after last week anything ordinary in the shape of work seems restful."

Lord Arranmore nodded.

"I must congratulate you, I suppose," he remarked. "You got your man in."

"We got him in all right," Brooks assented. "Our majority was less than we had hoped for, though."

Lord Arranmore shrugged his shoulders.

"It was large enough," he answered, "and after all it was a clear gain of a seat to your party, wasn't it?"

"It was a seat which we Radicals had a right to," Brooks declared. "Now that the storm of Imperialism is quieting down and people are beginning to realize that matters nearer home need a little attention, I cannot see how the manufacturing centres can do anything save return Radicals. We are the only party with a definite home policy."

Lord Arranmore nodded.

"Just so," he remarked, indifferently. "I needn't say that I didn't come here to talk politics. There was a little matter of business which I wished to put before you."

Brooks looked up in some surprise.

"Business!" he repeated, a little vaguely.

"Yes. As you are aware, Mr. Morrison has had the control of the Enton estates for many years. He was a very estimable man, and he performed his duties so far as I know quite satisfactorily. Now that he is dead, however, I intend to make a change. The remaining partners in his firm are unknown to me, and I at once gave them notice of my intention. Would you care to undertake the legal management of my estates in this part of the world?"

Brooks felt the little colour he had leave his cheeks. For a moment he was quite speechless.

"I scarcely know how to answer, or to thank you, Lord Arranmore," he said at last. "This is such a surprising offer. I scarcely see how you can be in earnest. You know so little of me."

Lord Arranmore shrugged his shoulders.

"Really," he said, "I don't see anything very surprising in it. Morrisons have a large practice, and without the old man I scarcely see how they could continue to give my affairs the attention they require. You, on the other hand, are only just starting, and you would be able to watch over my interests more closely. Then--although I cannot pretend that I am much influenced by sentimental reasons--still, I knew your father, and the strangeness of our few years of life as neighbours inclines me to be of service to you provided I myself am not the sufferer. As to that I am prepared to take the risk. You see mine is only the usual sort of generosity--the sort which provides for an adequate quid pro quo. Of course, if you think that the undertaking of my affairs would block you in other directions do not hesitate to say so. This is a matter of business between us, pure and simple."

Brooks had recovered himself. The length of Lord Arranmore's speech and his slow drawl had given him an opportunity to do so. He glanced for a moment at the letter which lay upon his desk, and hated it.

"In an ordinary way, Lord Arranmore," he answered, "there could be only one possible reply to such an offer as you have made me--an immediate and prompt acceptance. If I seem to hesitate, it is because, first--I must tell you something. I must make something--in the nature of a confession."

Lord Arranmore raised his eyebrows, but his face remained as the face of a Sphinx. He sat still, and waited.

"On the occasion of my visit to you," Brooks continued, "you may remember the presence of a certain Mr. Lacroix? He is the author, I believe, of several books of travel in Western Canada, and has the reputation of knowing that part of the country exceedingly well."

Brooks paused, but his visitor helped him in no way. His face wore still its passive expression of languid inquiry.

"He spoke of his visit to you," Brooks went on "in Canada, and he twice reiterated the fact that there was no other dwelling within fifty miles of you. He said this upon his own authority, and upon the authority of his Indian guide. Now it is only a few days ago since you spoke of my father as living for years within a few miles of you."

Lord Arranmore nodded his head thoughtfully.

"Ah! And you found the two statements, of course, irreconcilable. Well, go on!"

Brooks found it difficult. He was grasping a paperweight tightly in one hand, and he felt the rising colour burn his cheeks.

"I wrote to Mr. Lacroix," he said.

"A perfectly natural thing to do," Lord Arranmore remarked, smoothly.

And his answer is here!

"Suppose you read it to me," Lord Arranmore suggested.

Brooks took up the letter and read it.

"TRAVELLERS' CLUB, December 10.

"DEAR SIR,

"Replying to your recent letter, I have not the slightest hesitation in reaffirming the statement to which you refer. I am perfectly convinced that at the time of my visit to Lord Arranmore on the bank of Lake Quo, there was no Englishman or dwelling-place of any sort within a radius of fifty miles. The information which you have received is palpably erroneous.

"Why not refer to Lord Arranmore himself? He would certainly confirm what I say, and finally dispose of the matter.

"Yours sincerely,

"VICTOR LACROIX."

"A very interesting letter," Lord Arranmore remarked. "Well?"

Brooks crumpled the letter up and flung it into the waste-paper basket.

"Lord Arranmore," he said, "I made this inquiry behind your back, and in a sense I am ashamed of having done so. Yet I beg you to put yourself in my position. You must admit that my father's disappearance from the world was a little extraordinary. He was a man whose life was more than exemplary--it was saintly. For year after year he worked in the police-courts amongst the criminal classes. His whole life was one long record of splendid devotion. His health at last breaks down, and he is sent by his friends for a voyage to Australia. He never returns. Years afterwards his papers and particulars of his death are sent home from one of the loneliest spots in the Empire. A few weeks ago you found me out and told me of his last days. You see what I must believe. That he wilfully deserted his wife and son--myself. That he went into lonely and inexplicable solitude for no apparent or possible reason. That he misused the money subscribed by his friends in order that he might take this trip to Australia. Was ever anything more irreconcilable?"

"From your point of view--perhaps not," Lord Arranmore answered. "You must enlarge it."

"Will you tell me how?" Brooks demanded.

Lord Arranmore stifled a yawn. He had the air of one wearied by a profitless discussion.

"Well," he said, "I might certainly suggest a few things. Who was your trustee or guardian, or your father's man of business?

"Mr. Ascough, of Lincoln's Inn Fields."

"Exactly. Your father saw him, of course, prior to his departure from England."

"Yes."

"Well, is it not a fact that instead of making a will your father made over by deed of gift the whole of his small income to your mother in trust for you?"

"Yes, he did that," Brooks admitted.

Lord Arranmore shrugged his shoulders.

"Think that over," he remarked. "Doesn't that suggest his already half-formed intention never to return?"

"It never struck me in that way," Brooks answered. "Yet it is obvious," Lord Arranmore said. "Now, I happen to know from your father himself that he never intended to go to Australia, and he never intended to return to England. He sailed instead by an Allan liner from Liverpool to Quebec under the name of Francis. He went straight to Montreal, and he stayed there until he had spent the greater part of his money. Then he drifted out west. There is his history for you in a few words."

A sudden light flashed in Brooks' eyes.

"He told you that he left England meaning never to return? Then you have the key to the whole thing. Why not? That is what I want to know. Why not?"

"I do not know," Lord Arranmore answered, coolly. "He never told me."

Brooks felt a sudden chill of disappointment. Lord Arranmore rose slowly to his feet.

"Mr. Brooks," he said, "I have told you all that I know. You have asked me a question which I have not been able to answer. I can, however, give you some advice which I will guarantee to be excellent--some advice which you will do well to follow. Shall I go on?"

"If you please!"

"Do not seek to unravel any further what may seem to you to be the mystery of your father's disappearance from the world. Depend upon it, his action was of his own free will, and he had excellent reasons for it. If he had wished you to know them he would have communicated with you. Remember, I was with your father during his last days--and this is my advice to you."

Brooks pointed downward to the crumpled ball of paper.

"That letter!" he exclaimed.

Lord Arranmore shrugged his shoulders.

"I scarcely see its significance," he said. "It is not even my word against Lacroix'. I sent you all your father's papers, I brought back photographs and keepsakes known to belong to him. In what possible way could it benefit me to mislead you?"

The telephone on Brooks' table rang, and for a moment or two he found himself, with mechanical self-possession, attending to some unimportant question. When he replaced the receiver Lord Arranmore had resumed his seat, but was drawing on his gloves.

"Come," he said, "let us resume our business talk. I have made you an offer. What have you to say?"

Brooks pointed to the waste-paper basket.

"I did a mean action," he said. "I am ashamed of it. Do you mean that your offer remains open?"

"Certainly," Lord Arranmore answered. "That little affair is not worth mentioning. I should probably have done the same."

"Well, I am not altogether a madman," Brooks declared, smiling, "so I will only say that I accept your offer gratefully--and I will do my very best to deserve your confidence."

Lord Arranmore rose and stood with his hands behind him, looking out of the window.

"Very good," he said. "I will send for Ascough to come down from town, and we must meet one day next week at Morrisons' office, and go into matters thoroughly. That reminds me. Busher, my head bailiff, will be in to see you this afternoon. There are half-a-dozen leases to be seen to at once, and everything had better come here until the arrangements are concluded."

"I shall be in all the afternoon," Brooks answered, still a little dazed.

"And Thursday," Lord Arranmore concluded, "you dine and sleep at Enton. I hope we shall have a good day's sport. The carriage will fetch you at 6:30. Good-morning."

Lord Arranmore walked out with a little nod, but on the threshold he paused and looked back.

"By the bye, Brooks," he said, "do you remember my meeting you in a little tea-shop almost the day after I first called upon you?"

"Quite well," Brooks answered.

"You had a young lady with you."

"Yes. I was with Miss Scott."

Lord Arranmore's hand fell from the handle. His eyes seemed suddenly full of fierce questioning. He moved a step forward into the room.

"Miss Scott? Who is she?"

Brooks was hopelessly bewildered, and showed it.

"She lives with her uncle in Medchester. He is a builder and timber merchant."

Lord Arranmore was silent for a moment.

"Her father, then, is dead?" he asked.

"He died abroad, I think," Brooks answered, "but I really am not sure. I know very little of any of them."

Lord Arranmore turned away.

"She is the image of a man I once knew," he remarked, "but after all, the type is not an uncommon one. You won't forget that Busher will be in this afternoon. He is a very intelligent fellow for his class, and you may find it worth your while to ask him a few questions. Until Thursday, then."

"Until Thursday," Brooks repeated, mechanically.

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