The merchant sat still, but grew whiter and whiter.
“And if on the top of that he gave you all the details of his schame, without even waiting to see if you favoured it or not, he would be more than indiscrate, wouldn’t he? Your own good sinse, me dear sir, will tell you that he would be culpably foolish—culpably so, bedad!”
“Well, sir?” said the old man, in a hoarse voice.
“Well,” continued the major, “I have no doubt that your son told you of the interesting little conversation that we had together. He was good enough to promise that if I went to Russia and pretinded to discover a fictitious mine, I should be liberally rewarded by the firm. I was under the necessity of pointing out to him that certain principles on which me family”—here the major inflated his chest—”on which me family are accustomed to act would prevint me from taking advantage of his offer. He then, I am sorry to say, lost his temper, and some words passed between us, the result of which was that we parted so rapidly that, be jabers! I had hardly time to make him realize how great an indiscretion he had committed.”
The merchant still sat perfectly still, tapping the table with his black ebony ruler.
“Of course, afther hearing a skitch of the plan,” continued the major, “me curiosity was so aroused that I could not help following the details with intherest. I saw the gintleman who departed for Russia— Langworthy, I believe, was his name. Ged! I knew a chap of that name in the Marines who used to drink raw brandy and cayenne pepper before breakfast every morning. Did ye? Of course you couldn’t. What was I talking of at all at all?”
Girdlestone stared gloomily at his visitor. The latter took a pinch of snuff from a tortoise-shell box, and flicked away a few wandering grains which settled upon the front of his coat.
“Yes,” he went on, I saw Langworthy off to Russia. Then I saw your son start for Africa. He’s an interprising lad, and sure to do well there. coelum non animam mutant, as we used to say at Clongowes. He’ll always come to the front, wherever he is, as long as he avoids little slips like this one we’re spaking of. About the same time I heard that Girdlestone & Co, had raised riddy money to the extint of five and thirty thousand pounds. That’s gone to Africa, too, I presume. It’s a lot o’ money to invist in such a game, and it might be safe if you were the only people that knew about it, but whin there are others—”
“Why, me, of course,” said the major. “I know about it, and more be token I am not in the swim with you. Sure, I could go this very evening to the diamond merchants about town and give them a tip about the coming fall in prices that would rather astonish ’em.”
“Look here, Major Clutterbuck,” cried the merchant, in a voice which quivered with suppressed passion, “you have come into possession of an important commercial secret. Why beat about the bush any longer? What is the object of your visit to-day? What is it that you want?”
“There now!” the major said, addressing himself and smiling more amicably than ever. “That’s business. Bedad, there’s where you commercial men have the pull. You go straight to the point and stick there. Ah, when I look at ye, I can’t help thinking of your son. The same intelligent eye, the same cheery expression, the same devil-may-care manner and dry humour—”
“Answer my question, will you?” the merchant interrupted savagely.
“And the same hasty timper,” continued the major imperturbably.
“I’ve forgotten, me dear sir, what it was you asked me.”
“What is it you want?”
“Ah, yes, of course. What is it I want?” the old soldier said meditatively. “Some would say more, some less. Some would want half, but that is overdoing it. How does a thousand pound stroike you? Yes, I think we may put it at a thousand pounds.”
“You want a thousand pounds?”
“Ged, I’ve been wanting it all me life. The difference is that I’m going to git it now.”
“And for what?”
“Sure, for silence—for neutrality. We’re all in it now, and there’s a
fair division of labour. You plan, your son works, I hold me tongue.
You make your tens of thousands, I make my modest little thousand.
We all git paid for our throuble.”