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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 25
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The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 25 Post by :YUMGAL01 Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2181

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The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 25

CHAPTER XXV

About three-thirty on the following afternoon, in the grounds devoted to the much advertised Red Cross Sale, that eminent comedian, Mr. Joseph Bobby, mounted to the temporary rostrum which had been erected for him at the rear of one of the largest tents, amidst a little storm of half facetious applause. He repaid the general expectation by gazing steadfastly at a few friends amongst the audience in his usual inimitable fashion, and by indulging in a few minutes of gagging chaff before he proceeded to business. A little way off, a military band was playing popular selections. The broad avenues between the marquees were crowded with streams of pretty women in fancy dresses, and mankind with a little money in his pocket was having a particularly uneasy time. There was nothing to distinguish this from any other of the Red Cross fetes of the season, except, perhaps, its added magnificence.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the comedian began, "I am here to sell by auction the boxes at the Alhambra Theatre for to-night, when, as you know, there will be the greatest performance ever given by the largest number of star artistes--myself included. Owing to a slight difference of opinion with the management, who, as you are probably aware, ladies and gentlemen, are the thickest-headed set of blighters in existence--" Loud cries of "No!" from the managing director in the front row.

"--I have only the four large boxes to dispose of. I shall start with Box B. Who will make me an offer for Box B? Who will offer me, say, twenty-five guineas to start the bidding?"

Half-a-dozen offers were immediately made, and Box B was disposed of for thirty-five guineas. Boxes C and D fetched a little more.

"We now come," the auctioneer concluded impressively, "to the _piece de resistance_, if I may so call it. Box A is--well, you all know Box A, ladies and gentlemen, so I will simply say that it is the best box in the house. It will hold all the friends any man breathing has any use for. It would hold the largest family who ever received the Queen's bounty. Box A is one of those elastic boxes, ladies and gentlemen, which have no limit. You can fill it chock full, and if the right person knocks at the door there will still be room for another. Who will start the bidding at forty guineas?"

"I will give you fifty," Jocelyn Thew said, promptly raising his hand.

The auctioneer leaned forward, expecting to see a familiar face. He saw instead a very distinguished-looking and remarkably well-turned-out stranger, smiling pleasantly at him from the front row of the audience.

"You are a man, sir," the former declared warmly. "You are giving me a good push off. Fifty guineas is bidden, ladies and gentlemen, for Box A."

"I'll go to fifty-five," a well-known racing man called out from the rear. "Not a penny more, Joe, so don't get faking the bidding."

The comedian assumed an air of grieved surprise.

"That from you I did not expect, Mr. Mason," he said. "However, that you may have no cause for complaint, I am prepared to knock Box A down to you for fifty-five guineas, barring any advance."

"Sixty," Jocelyn Thew bid.

The auctioneer noted the advance with thanks. Then he looked towards the betting man, who shook his head. The auctioneer, who was rather wanting to get away, raised his hammer with an air of finality.

"Going at sixty guineas, then."

"Sixty-five," a new bidder intervened.

The comedian, with his hammer already poised in the air, paused in some surprise. A clean-shaven man in dark grey clothes and a bowler hat, a man who had somehow the air of being a little out of his element in this galaxy of pleasure seekers, caught his eye.

"Sixty-five you said, sir. Very good. Going at sixty-five."

"Seventy," Jocelyn Thew bid.

"Seventy-five."

"Eighty."

"Eighty-five."

"Ninety."

"Ninety-five."

"One hundred guineas," Jocelyn Thew bid, turning with a good-natured smile to glance at his opponent.

The auctioneer drew himself up. The contest had begun to interest him. Every one in the room was standing on tiptoe to watch.

"One hundred guineas is bid by my friend in the front," he declared. "A very princely offer. Shall I knock it down at that?"

One hundred and twenty was promptly bidden by the newcomer. Jocelyn Thew smiled up at the auctioneer.

"Well," he said, "I've invited my party so I suppose I'll have to stick to it. I'll make it a hundred and fifty."

"A hundred and sixty."

"A hundred and seventy-five."

"Two hundred."

"Two hundred and fifty."

The comedian's flow of badinage had ceased. An intense silence reigned in the marquee. He, in common with many of the others, was beginning to recognise a note of something unusual in this duel.

"Two hundred and fifty guineas is a very handsome sum for the box," he said, leaning forward. "Perhaps some arrangement could be made, Mr. ----"

"My name is Jocelyn Thew. The two hundred and fifty guineas bid is mine. I have the notes here ready."

The auctioneer turned towards the other bidder appealingly.

"I am acting under instructions," the latter said, "and I am not at liberty to make any arrangements to share the box."

"In that case, the bid against you at the present moment is two hundred and fifty guineas," the auctioneer told him. "Of course, the more money we get, the better--the Red Cross can do with it--but it seems to me that the present bid is adequate. If no arrangement is possible, however, I must continue the auction."

"Two hundred and seventy-five guineas."

"Three hundred," Jocelyn Thew replied coolly. "One moment, Mr. Bobby."

He leaned forward and whispered in the comedian's ear. The latter nodded and turned to the rival bidder.

"Do you understand, sir," he enquired, "that this is strictly a cash affair? I must have notes for the amount at the conclusion of the sale."

"You will have to wait until I get them, then," was the anxious reply. "I only brought two hundred and fifty with me."

The comedian shook his head.

"There can be no question of waiting," he decided. "If two hundred and fifty guineas is all that you have with you, then the box must go to the other gentleman for three hundred guineas."

"If we'd only thought of mentioning the matter of cash before," Jocelyn Thew said pleasantly, "it seems to me that I might have saved a little money. However, I don't grudge it to the cause."

There was a little murmur of applause, and before any further word could be said, the auctioneer's hammer dropped. Jocelyn Thew stepped up to his side and counted out three hundred guineas in notes, receiving in return the admission ticket for the box. The comedian shook hands with him.

"A very generous contribution, sir," he declared. "I shall do myself the pleasure of remembering it to-night."

Jocelyn Thew made some suitable reply and strolled leisurely off, his eyes searching everywhere for his unsuccessful rival. He found him at last in the main avenue, on his way to the principal exit, and touched him on the shoulder.

"One moment, sir," he begged.

The young man paused. When he saw who his interlocutor was, however, he attempted to hurry on.

"You will excuse me," he began, "I am pressed for time."

"I will walk with you as far as the gate," Jocelyn Thew said. "I am very curious concerning your bidding for Box A. Can't you let me know for whom you were trying to buy it? It is possible that I might feel inclined to resell."

"My instructions were to buy the box by auction, and to go up to five hundred pounds for it," was the somewhat hesitating reply. "I am unfortunately not in a position to divulge the name of my client."

"You can at least tell me your own name, or the name of the firm whom you represent?"

The young man quickened his pace.

"I can tell you nothing," he said firmly. "Good afternoon!"

Jocelyn Thew strolled thoughtfully back, made a few purchases wherever he was accosted, but had always the air of a man who is seeking to solve some problem. Issuing from one of the tents, he came suddenly face to face with Katharine and her brother.

"You are too late for the auction," the latter declared, as they shook hands, "and you wouldn't have got your box, anyhow. Do you know what it fetched?"

"Three hundred guineas," Jocelyn Thew replied with a smile. "I bought it at that."

They both stared at him.

"For three hundred guineas?" Richard repeated.

"I was rather lucky to get it at that. There was an anonymous bidder who fortunately hadn't got the cash with him, or I gathered that he was willing to go to a great deal more."

They stood for a moment in silence. Katharine laughed a little nervously.

"What does it mean?" she asked.

"A little obstinacy on the part of a millionaire, I suppose," Jocelyn Thew replied carelessly. "By-the-by, if it suits you we will meet at the theatre this evening, instead of dining. I know that you will like to have a little time alone with your brother, as he is off to-night, Miss Beverley, and I have a business friend coming in to see me about dinner time. I shall be in the box, awaiting you, say at half-past eight. You'll be close to Charing Cross, won't you, Richard, and you won't have to leave until ten o'clock?"

"That's all right," the young man agreed. "It's a jolly good send-off for me."

Jocelyn Thew made his farewells and strolled down one of the narrow avenues which led to the exit. About half-way down, he came suddenly face to face with Nora and Crawshay. They all three stood together, talking, for a few moments. Suddenly Crawshay, who appeared to see some one in the crowd, turned away. "Will you excuse me for one moment, Miss Sharey?" he said. "Perhaps Mr. Thew will take care of you."

"Perhaps," Jocelyn Thew observed, as he watched Crawshay disappear, "you need some taking care of, eh, Nora?"

She shrugged her shoulders. Her eyes sought his. She looked at him defiantly.

"Well," she exclaimed, "London's a dull place all alone. So's life."

"I am not interfering in your choice of residence or companionship," he replied, "although it seems strange that you, whom I think I may call my friend, should choose to amuse yourself with the one person in life who is my open enemy, the one man who has sworn to bring about my downfall."

"There isn't any man in the world will ever do that," she declared, "and you know it. You are afraid of no one. You've no cause to be."

"That may be true," he agreed, "but since we have the opportunity of these few moments' conversation, Nora, there is one thing I wish to say to you. I place no embargo upon your friendship with Mr. Crawshay. I do not presume to dictate to you even as to the subjects of your conversation with him. Tell him what pleases you. Talk to him about me, if you will--you will find him always interested. But there is one thing. If your lips should ever breathe a word of that other name of mine, or of those other things connected with my personal history of which you know, I warn you, Nora, that it will be a very bad day for you. It will be the one unforgivable thing, and I never forgive." Nora shivered, although the afternoon sun was streaming down upon them. Her cheeks were a little paler.

"No," she murmured, "I know that. You would never forgive. You are as hard as the rocks. All the time since I have known you, I have tried to soften you ever so little, just because I was fool enough to like you, fool enough to believe that it was just suffering which had made you what you are. That belongs to the past. When I think of you now, my heart is like a stone, because I know that there is no love in you, nor any of those other things for which a woman craves. I should be very sorry indeed, Jocelyn Thew, for any woman who ever cared for you, and for her own sake I pray very much that there is no one at the present moment who does."

A light breeze was blowing over the place. They were standing a little apart, in the shadow of a tree, and the hum of conversation and laughter, the noisy appeals of the vendors of flowers and other trifles, the strident voices from a distant stage, the far-off strains of swaying music, seemed blended together in an insistent and not inharmonious chorus. Jocelyn Thew stood as though listening to them for a moment. His eyes were following a tall figure in white, walking, a little listlessly by her brother's side. When he spoke, his tone was unusually soft.

"I always told you what you seem to have discovered, Nora," he said. "I always told you that behind the driving force of my life was much hate but no love, nor any capacity for love. That may not have been my fault. If we were in another place," he went on, "I somehow feel that I might tell you what I have never told anybody else--the real story that lay behind the things you know of, things the memory of which was brought back to me only last night. Even now that may come, but for the present, Nora, remember. What you know of me that lies behind that curtain, must never pass your lips."

"I promise," she murmured. "Here comes Mr. Crawshay."

Jocelyn Thew raised his hat, smiled at Nora and strolled away. He smiled also a little to himself, but not so pleasantly. The man from whom Crawshay had just parted, and with whom he had been in close conversation, was the man who had been bidding against him for Box A at the Alhambra that night.

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The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 26 The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 26

The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 26
CHAPTER XXVIFrom six o'clock until half an hour before the time fixed for the commencement of the performance, a steady crowd of people elbowed and pushed their way that night into the cheaper parts of the Alhambra Music-hall. Soon afterwards, the earliest arrivals presented themselves at the front of the house. Brightman and Crawshay arrived together, and made their way at once to the manager's office, the former noticing, with a little glint of recognition which amounted to scarcely more than a droop of the eyes, two or three sturdy looking men who had the appearance of being a little unused
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The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 24 The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 24

The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 24
CHAPTER XXIVCaptain Richard Beverley, on his way through the hotel smoking room to the Savoy bar, stopped short. He looked at the girl who had half risen from her seat on the couch with a sudden impulse of half startled recognition. Her little smile of welcome was entirely convincing. "Why, it's Nora Sharey!" he exclaimed. "Nora!" "Well, I am glad you've recognised me at last," she said, laughing. "I tried to make you see me last night in the restaurant, but you wouldn't look." He seemed a little dazed, even after he had saluted mechanically, held her hand for a moment
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