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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lighted Way - Chapter 29. Count Sabatini Visits
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The Lighted Way - Chapter 29. Count Sabatini Visits Post by :markbc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2864

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The Lighted Way - Chapter 29. Count Sabatini Visits


There was an air of subdued excitement about the offices of Messrs. Samuel Weatherley & Company from nine until half-past on the following morning. For so many years his clerks had been accustomed to see Mr. Weatherley stroll in somewhere about that time, his cigar in his mouth, his silk hat always at the same angle, that it seemed hard for them to believe that this morning they would not hear the familiar footstep and greeting. Every time a shadow passed the window, heads were eagerly raised. The sound of the bell on the outside door brought them all to their feet. They were all on tiptoe with expectation. The time, however, came and passed. The letters were all opened, and Mr. Jarvis and Arnold were occupying the private office. Already invoices were being distributed and orders entered up. The disappearance of Mr, Weatherley was a thing established.

Mr. Jarvis was starting the day in a pessimistic frame of mind.

"You may take my word for it, Chetwode," he said solemnly to his companion, after he had finished going through the letters, "that we shall never see the governor again."

Arnold was startled.

"Have you heard anything?" he asked.

Mr. Jarvis admitted gloomily that he had heard nothing.

"It's my belief that nothing more will be heard," he added, "until his body's found."

"Rubbish!" Arnold declared. "Mr. Weatherley wasn't the sort of man to commit suicide."

Mr. Jarvis looked around the office as though he almost feared that the ghost of his late employer might be listening.

"It is my belief," he said impressively, "that we none of us knew the sort of man Mr. Weatherley was, or rather the sort of man he has become since his marriage."

"I don't see what marriage with Mrs. Weatherley could have had to do with his disappearance," Arnold remarked.

Mr. Jarvis looked foolishly wise from behind his gold-rimmed spectacles.

"You haven't had the opportunity of watching the governor as I have since his marriage," he declared. "Take my advice, Chetwode. You are not married, I presume?"

"I am not," Arnold assured him.

"Nor thinking of it?"

"Nor thinking of it," Arnold repeated.

"When the time comes," Mr. Jarvis said, "don't you go poking about in any foreign islands or places. If only the governor had left those smelly European cheeses to take care of themselves, he'd be sitting here in his chair at this moment, smoking a cigar and handing me out the orders. You and I are, so to speak, in a confidential position now, Chetwode, and I am able to say things to you about which I might have hesitated before. Do you know how much the governor has spent during the last year?"

"No idea," Arnold replied. "Does it matter?"

"He has spent," Mr. Jarvis announced, solemnly, "close upon ten thousand pounds."

"It sounds like a good deal," Arnold admitted, "but I expect he had saved it."

"Of course he had saved it," Mr. Jarvis admitted; "but what has that to do with it? One doesn't save money for the pleasure of spending it. Never since my connection with the firm has Mr. Weatherley attempted to spend anything like one half of his income."

"Then I should think it was quite time he began," Arnold declared. "You are not going to suggest, I suppose, that financial embarrassments had anything to do with Mr. Weatherley's disappearance?"

Mr. Jarvis started. To him the suggestion sounded sacrilegious.

"My dear Chetwode," he said, "you must indeed be ignorant of the resources of the firm when you make such a suggestion! I simply wished to point out that after his marriage Mr. Weatherley completely changed all his habits. It is not well for a man of his age to change his habits.... God bless my soul, here is an automobile stopping outside. If it should be Mr. Weatherley come back!"

They both hurried eagerly to the window. The automobile, however, which had drawn up outside, was larger and more luxurious than Mr. Weatherley's. Count Sabatini, folding up his newspaper, made a leisurely descent. The cashier looked at him curiously.

"Wonder who it is," he remarked. "Looks like some sort of a foreigner."

"It is Mrs. Weatherley's brother," Arnold told him.

Mr. Jarvis was deeply interested. A moment later a card was brought in.

"Gentleman wishes to see Mr. Chetwode."

"You can show him in," Arnold directed.

Sabatini was already upon the threshold. He carried his gray Homburg hat in his hand; he seemed to bring with him a subtle atmosphere of refinement. The perfection of his clothes, the faint perfume from his handkerchief, his unusual yet unnoticeable tie--these things were a cult to himself. The little array of clerks, through whose ranks he had passed, stared after him in wonder.

"How are you, my young friend?" he asked, smiling at Arnold. "Immersed in business, I suppose?"

"We are very busy, naturally," Arnold answered. "Please come in and sit down."

Sabatini laid his hat and stick upon the table and commenced leisurely to draw off his gloves.

"This is Mr. Jarvis, who has been Mr. Weatherley's right-hand man for a great many years," Arnold said, introducing him; "Count Sabatini, Mr. Weatherley's brother-in-law."

Mr. Jarvis shook hands solemnly.

"I am glad to know you, sir," he declared. "I have not had the pleasure of seeing much of Mrs. Weatherley, but my connection with the firm is a very old one."

"Is there any news," asked Sabatini, "of our esteemed friend?"

Mr. Jarvis shook his head mournfully.

"There is no news," he announced. "I am afraid, sir, that it will be a long time before we do hear any news. If your business is with Mr. Chetwode, Count Sabatini," he added, "I will ask you to excuse me. I have plenty to do in the warehouse. If there is any information I can give you on behalf of your sister or yourself, I shall be very happy to come back if you will send for me."

He bustled out, closing the door after him. Sabatini looked around with a faint smile, as though his surroundings amused him. He then carefully deposited his gloves with his hat, selected the most comfortable chair, and seated himself.

"So this is where the money is coined, eh?" he remarked. "It is fortunate that I have discovered the place, for I need some."

Arnold smiled.

"We haven't had time to do much coining yet."

"Supposing I want five hundred pounds, could I have it?" Sabatini asked.

Arnold shook his head.

"Certainly not," he replied, "unless you had cheeses to sell us for it, or bacon. Messrs. Weatherley & Company are provision merchants, not money-lenders."

"You have the control of the finances, haven't you?"

"To a certain extent, I have," Arnold admitted.

"Now how much is there in that safe, I wonder?" Sabatini asked.

"About thirteen hundred pounds--perhaps even more than that," Arnold told him.

Sabatini withdrew the hand which had been fumbling in his pocket. Arnold looked suddenly into the muzzle of a small, shining revolver.

"It was very foolish of you to give me that information," Sabatini said. "You have not forgotten our long conversation, I trust? I expounded to you most carefully the creed of my life. Five hundred pounds, if you please," he added, politely.

"Not one ha'penny," Arnold answered, seating himself upon the table and folding his arms.

"I'll give you until I count three," Sabatini announced, in a still, cold voice.

"You can give me as long as you like," Arnold retorted, pleasantly.

Sabatini very deliberately counted three and pulled the trigger of his revolver. There was a slight click. He looked down the muzzle of the weapon and, with a little sigh, thrust it back into his pocket.

"This appears to be one of my failures," he declared. "Lend me five shillings, then," he added. "I really came out without any silver and I must keep up my reputation. I positively cannot leave this office without loot of some sort."

Arnold handed his visitor two half-crowns, which the latter put gravely into his pocket.

"Come and lunch with me to-day at my rooms," he invited. "Lady Blennington and Fenella will be there. If you bring with you a sufficient appetite, you may get value for your five shillings. It is the only way you will ever get it back."

"Then I must resign myself to being robbed," Arnold answered. "We haven't time, nowadays, for luncheon parties. On the whole, I think I should be justified in putting the amount down to petty cash. I might even debit Mrs. Weatherley's account with it."

Sabatini took out his cigarette case.

"You will forgive me?" he said. "In your offices, I believe, it is not the custom, but I must confess that I find your atmosphere abominable. Last night I saw Fenella. She told me of your disagreement with her and your baseless suspicions. Really, Chetwode, I am surprised at you."

"'Suspicions' seems scarcely the word," Arnold murmured.

Sabatini sighed.

"You are such a hideously matter-of-fact person," he declared. "Fenella should have seen your attitude from the humorous point of view. It would have appealed to me very much indeed."

"I am sorry if your sister misunderstood anything that I said," Arnold remarked, a little awkwardly.

"My dear fellow," Sabatini continued, "there seems to have been very little ground for misunderstanding. Fenella was positively hurt. She says that you seem to look upon us as a sort of adventurer and adventuress--people who live by their wits, you understand, from hour to hour, without character or reputation. She is quite sure, in her own mind, that you believe Mr. Weatherley's absence to be due to our secret and criminal machinations."

"I am sorry," Arnold replied, "if anything I said to your sister has given her that impression. The fact remains, however, that Mrs. Weatherley has declined to give me any explanation of various incidents which were certainly more than bewildering. One cannot help feeling," he went on, after a moment's hesitation, "that if my friendship were of any account to your sister--which, of course, it isn't--she would look at the matter differently."

"My dear Chetwode," Sabatini declared, "my sympathies are entirely with you. The trouble of it is, of course, that the explanations which you demand will probably leave you only the more bewildered. When I came to London," he continued, watching the smoke from his cigarette, "I said to myself, 'In this great black city all hopes of adventure must be buried. Fenella will become a model wife of the _bourgeoisie_. I myself, if I stay, shall probably become director of some city company where they pay fees, give up baccarat for bridge, imbibe whiskey and soda instead of the wine of my country; perhaps, even--who knows?--I may take to myself a wife and live in a villa.' On the contrary, other things have happened. Even here the earth has trembled a little under our feet. Even now we listen for the storm."

"You talk to me always in parables," Arnold protested. "How am I to understand what you mean?"

"You have reason, my young friend," Sabatini admitted calmly. "Ask your questions."

"First of all, then, you know where Mr. Weatherley is!"

Sabatini made a wry face.

"Let us leave this respectable Weatherley out of the case for a moment," he said. "To tell you the truth, I am weary of him. I would speak of ourselves--of my sister and myself and those others. You cannot deny that however wicked you may think us we are at least interesting."

"Have you come here to make fun of me?" Arnold asked quietly.

"Not in the least," Sabatini assured him. "On the contrary, I have come to make friends. My sister is penitent. We have decided to take your discretion for granted. I am here to explain. You want to understand all these things which seem to you so mysterious. Well, ask your questions. What is it that you wish to know?"

"Nothing," Arnold replied. "I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong to speak to your sister as I did. I have a great responsibility here which will occupy all my thoughts. I am going to devote myself to work. The other things do not interest me any longer."

Sabatini smiled.

"My young friend," he murmured, "you may say that to yourself, but it is not true. It is not life for you to buy these articles of food at one price and sell them for another; to hold the profit in your hand and smile. That is what life means in Tooley Street. You could do it for a little time, perhaps, but not for very long."

"It may seem absurd to you," Arnold protested, "but it's my duty for the present, anyhow, and I am going to do it. I shall have to work ten hours a day and I shall have no time for dreams. I am going to stay in the atmosphere I have to live in."

Sabatini shook his head.

"You must have relaxation."

"I can find it," Arnold replied. "I can find it without going so far afield."

Sabatini was silent for a moment. He was a man of few expressions, but he seemed a little disappointed.

"Will you do your duty any the less zealously, do you think," he asked, "because you have friends who take an interest in you?"

Arnold was suddenly conscious of the ungraciousness of his attitude.

"You don't understand!" he exclaimed, a little desperately. "Your world wasn't made for me. I haven't any place in it. My work is here. I can't allow myself always to be distracted. Your sister is the most wonderful person I ever met, and it is one of the greatest pleasures I have ever known to talk to her, even for a few minutes, but I am more at peace with myself and with the world when I am away from her."

There was a gleam of approval in Sabatini's dark eyes. He nodded thoughtfully.

"It is well spoken. My sister chose to marry Samuel Weatherley, and the women of our race have been famous throughout history for their constancy. Must you, my dear young friend, go and hide your head in the sand because a woman is beautiful and chooses to be kind to you? Fenella values your friendship. You have done her a service and you have done me a service. A few nights ago it amused me to feed your suspicions. This morning I feel otherwise. We do not choose, either of us, that you should think of us quite in the way you are thinking now."

Arnold hesitated no longer then. He came and stood by his visitor.

"Since you insist, then," he declared, "I will ask you the questions which I should have asked your sister. That is what you desire?"

"Assuredly," Sabatini assented.

"First then, who killed Rosario?"

"There is a certain directness about your methods," Sabatini said suavely, "which commends itself to me. No one could mistake you for anything but an Englishman."

"Tell me who killed Rosario!" Arnold repeated.

"As you will," Sabatini replied. "Rosario was murdered by a Portuguese Jew--a man of the name of Isaac Lalonde."

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