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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Betrayal - Chapter 26. "Noblesse Oblige"
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The Betrayal - Chapter 26. 'Noblesse Oblige' Post by :Eagle55 Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1675

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The Betrayal - Chapter 26. "Noblesse Oblige"

CHAPTER XXVI. "NOBLESSE OBLIGE"

The Duke selected my most comfortable easy chair and remained silent for several minutes, looking thoughtfully out of the window. Notwithstanding the fresh colour, which he seldom lost, and the trim perfection of his dress, I could see at once that there was a change in him. The lines about his mouth were deeper, his eyes had lost much of their keen brightness. I found myself wondering whether, after all, some suspicion of Lord Blenavon's doings had found its way to him.

"You are well forward with your work, I trust, Mr. Ducaine?" he said at last.

"It is completed, your Grace," I answered.

"The proposed subway fortifications as well as the new battery stations?"

"Yes, your Grace."

"What about the maps?"

"I have done them also to the best of my ability, sir," I answered. "I am not a very expert draughtsman, I am afraid, but these are at least accurate. If you would care to look them over, they are in the library safe."

"And the code word?"

In accordance with our usual custom I scribbled it upon a piece of paper, and held it for a moment before his eyes. Then I carefully destroyed it.

"To-morrow," he said, "perhaps to-night, we have some railway men coming down to thoroughly discuss the most efficient method of moving troops from Aldershot and London to different points, and to inaugurate a fresh system. You had better hold yourself in readiness to come up to the house at any moment. They are business men, and their time is valuable. They will probably want to work from the moment of their arrival until they go."

"Very good, your Grace," I answered.

He turned his head and looked at me for a moment reflectively.

"You remember our conversation at the War Office, Mr. Ducaine?"

"Yes, your Grace."

"I do not wish you to have a false impression as to my meaning at that time," he said coldly. "I do not, I have never, doubted your trustworthiness. My feeling was, and is, that you are somewhat young and of an impetuous disposition for a post of such importance. That feeling was increased, of course, by the fact that I considered your story with reference to the Prince of Malors improbable to the last degree. In justice to you," he continued more slowly, "I must now admit the possibility that your description of that incident may after all be in accordance with the facts. Certain facts have come to my knowledge which tend somewhat in that direction. I shall consider it a favour, therefore, if you will consider my remarks at that interview retracted."

"I thank your Grace very much," I answered.

"With reference to the other matter," he continued, "there my opinion remains unaltered. I do not believe that the papers in the safe were touched after you yourself deposited them there, and I consider your statement to the contrary a most unfortunate one. But the fact remains that you have done your work faithfully, and the Council is satisfied with your services. That being so, you may rely upon it that any feeling I may have in the matter I shall keep to myself."

I would have expressed my gratitude to him, but he checked me.

"There is," he said, "one other, a more personal matter, concerning which I desired a few words with you. I have had a visit from a relative of yours who is also an old friend of my own. I refer to Sir Michael Trogoldy."

I looked at him in amazement. I was, in fact, so surprised that I said nothing at all.

"Sir Michael, it seems, has been making inquiries about you, and learned of your present position," the Duke continued. "He asked me certain questions which I was glad to be able to answer on your behalf. He also entrusted me with a note, which I have here in my pocket."

He produced it and laid it upon the table. I made no movement to take it.

"The details of your family history," the Duke said, "are unknown to me. But if the advice of an old man is in any way acceptable to you, I should strongly recommend you to accept any offer of friendship which Sir Michael may make. He is an old man, and he is possessed of considerable wealth. Further, I gather that you are his nearest relative."

"Sir Michael was very cruel to my mother, sir," I said slowly.

"You have nothing to gain by the harbouring of ancient grievances," the Duke replied. "I have always known Sir Michael as a just if a somewhat stern man. Please, however, do not look upon me in any way as a would-be mediator. My interest in this matter ceases with the delivery of that letter."

The Duke rose to his feet. I followed him to the door.

"In any case, sir," I said, "I am very much obliged to you for your advice and for bringing me this letter."

"By-the-bye," the Duke said, pausing on the threshold, "I fear that we may lose the help of Colonel Ray upon the Council. There are rumours of serious trouble in the Soudan, and if these are in any way substantiated, he will be certainly sent there. Good afternoon, Mr. Ducaine."

"Good afternoon, your Grace."

So he left me, stiff, formal, having satisfied his conscience, though I felt in my heart that his opinion of me, once formed, was not likely to be changed. Directly I was alone I opened my uncle's letter.

"127, GROSVENOR SQUARE,

"LONDON, W.

"DEAR Guy,--

"It has been on my mind more than once during the last few years--ever since, in fact, I heard of you at college--to write and inform myself as to your prospects in life. You are the son of my only sister, although I regret to say that you are the son also of a man who disgraced himself and his profession. You have a claim upon me which you have made no effort to press. Perhaps I do not think the worse of you for that. In any case, I wish you to accept an allowance of which my lawyers will advise you, and if you will call upon me when you are in town I shall be glad to make your acquaintance. I may say that it was a pleasure to me to learn that you have succeeded in obtaining a responsible and honourable post.

"I am, yours sincerely,

"MICHAEL TROGOLDY."

I took pen and paper, and answered this letter at once.

"My DEAR SIR MICHAEL,--

"As I am your nephew, and I understand, almost your nearest relative, I see no reason why I should not accept the allowance which you are good enough to offer me. I shall also be glad to come and see you next time I am in London, if it is your wish.

"Yours sincerely,

"GUY DUCAINE."

Grooton brought in my tea, also a London morning paper which he had secured in the village.

"I thought that you might be interested in the news about the Duke, sir," he said respectfully.

"What news, Grooton?" I asked, stretching out my hand for the paper.

"You will find a leading article on the second page, sir, and another in the money news. It reads quite extraordinary, sir."

I opened the paper eagerly. I read every word of the leading article, which was entitled "Noblesse Oblige," and all the paragraphs in the money column. What I read did not surprise me in the least when once I had read the circumstances. It was just what I should have expected from the Duke. It seemed that he had lent his name to the prospectus of a company formed for the purpose of working some worthless patent designed to revolutionize the silk weaving trade. The Duke's reason for going on the Board was purely philanthropic. He had hoped to restore an ancient industry in a decaying neighbourhood. The whole thing turned out to be a swindle. One angry shareholder stated plainly at the meeting that he had taken his shares on account of the Duke's name upon the prospectus, and hinted ugly things. The Duke had risen calmly in his place. He assured them that he fully recognized his responsibilities in the matter. If the person who had last spoken was in earnest when he stated that the Duke's name had induced him to take shares in this company, then he was prepared to relieve him of those shares at the price which he had paid for them. Further, if there was any other persons who were able honestly to say that the name of the Duke of Rowchester upon the prospectus had induced them to invest their money in this concern, his offer extended also to them.

There were roars of applause, wild enthusiasm. It was magnificent, but the lowest estimate of what it would cost the Duke was a hundred thousand pounds.

I put down the paper, and my cheeks were flushed with enthusiasm. I think that if the Duke had been there at that moment I could have kissed his hand. I passed with much less interest to the letter which Grooton had brought in with the paper. It was from a firm of solicitors in Lincoln's Inn, and it informed me, in a few precise sentences, that they had the authority of their client, Sir Michael Trogoldy, to pay me yearly the sum of five hundred pounds.

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