JOB POTTER cannot by any stretch of imagination be called a euphonious name, but in the case of a capitalist a little thing like this is excusable. Betwee_otter the millionaire and the Hon. Augustus Vansittart, the dude, the gul_as a wide one. There were, however, reasons for the friendship between them.
A common-looking little man was Potter, but shrewd withal. There was nothin_olid to be obtained from Vansittart. Only there was a Mrs. Potter, away i_ngland, ambitious for social distinction, and Vansittart might be used as _ever. Vansittart was quite ready to respond. The dinners given by Potter a_he Royal Banner, Chicago, were quite poems in their way. They were dinin_ogether this evening.
"This," Potter remarked, "is my last business trip to America. A couple o_onths more and I return home to settle down."
"Ditto," responded the exquisite Augustus. "I haven't seen my people since _as a lad. They—er—sent me over here. And now I've come into money, don't yo_now. Accounts for my being here. Gad, it's worth something to have a Bon_treet coat on again. All the same, the Bishop is a nuisance."
"What Bishop?" Potter asked interestedly.
"His Grace of Croydon. Sort of connection. Came out here for his health. So _rranged to meet 'em here and go home together. They arrive to-morrow. Gues_hey won't recognise me. And it's a good job Lady Ella's along."
"And who may Lady Ella be?"
Potter rang the title sonorously.
"Niece, old chap. Regular beauty, and a flier. But don't worry. I shal_ertainly tell them how kind you have been to me, and if you like, when the_o come, I'll get the old man and Ella to come and dine with you."
Potter beamed. If he played his cards right, here was a fine opening for th_ntroduction to capital S Society for which Mrs. Potter yearned. More for a_dvertisement of this kind than anything else, he had bought the "Rosy Cross"
"Delighted," he said. "I'll show Lady Ella the 'Rosy Cross.' Women lov_iamonds. Suppose you saw by the papers I'd bought the stone?"
Vansittart succumbed to a yawn.
"Yes," he drawled; "you syndicate chaps will be after the earth next."
"It's a pretty stone," Potter said parenthetically. "Like to see it?"
Vansittart nodded, but did not enthuse, although the famous gem known as the
"Rosy Cross" was exciting a deal of interest just at present. The stone, o_ather a cluster of stones, long and twisted like a snake, was supposed t_ave been found in California, but good judges declared it to be a stole_razilian treasure brought to that favoured spot, buried and dug up again s_s to give the yarn local colour.
Roughly speaking, the stones might have been worth £100,000—as a matter o_act, they might have fetched double that. Potter brought the curio from hi_djacent bedroom, for they were dining privately, and handed it to Vansittart.
"Pretty little thing, isn't it?" he asked complacently.
Vansittart boiled up enough enthusiasm to say _yes_. Had Potter only known ho_ear he stood to being shot in cold blood and robbed of his treasure then an_here, he would have looked less satisfied. Vansittart, otherwise Felix Gryde, lighted another cigarette with the air of a man who regards life as to_iolent an exercise.
"Put the thing up," he said. "Think I'll go to bed; I'm tired to death. Le_ou know when the Bishop and Lady Ella come along."
* * * * *
Three days later Potter was flustered and delighted to hear that the Righ_everend the Bishop of Croydon had arrived with Lady Ella, and would th_illionaire mind if they dined with him on the Friday? Their eastern trai_eft on the Monday morning, so there was not much time.
It need hardly be said that Potter was delighted. The manager of the Roya_anner was interviewed, and departed with _carte blanche_ and a promise of n_uibbling over the bill if everything was "done up to the 'ilt."
Thereupon a suite of rooms were actually transformed for the occasion. A bed- chamber was specially furnished for Lady Ella, also a dressing-room for th_ishop, to say nothing of a drawing-room where after the amber wine had cease_o foam her ladyship should dazzle the men with her beauty and dispense t_hem coffee and sweet smiles.
"Blow the expense," said Potter; "these are the nobs I'm after. I'll giv_hese toffs something to talk about when they get home. Lord, won't Maria b_leased when she hears all about it!"
The appointed time came and with it Lady Ella and the Bishop. They wer_racious and pleasant to the last degree. Before the evening was over Potte_elt that Lady Ella had no equal in the wide world. A woman so beautiful an_o fascinating had never before crossed his limited horizon.
She was elusive as a dream and fascinating as Ninon. An instinctive knowledg_f the genuine was amongst Potter's many gifts—an expert in precious stones i_orn, not made—and he knew that Lady Ella rang true. Without any previou_nowledge of patrician dames, he would at once have recognised and resente_ny attempt to pass off a counterfeit article.
Lady Ella was gracious and friendly. She appeared to recognise Potter as o_er own world, and at the same time conveyed to his senses in an incense-lik_ay the wide difference between them.
Potter found Lady Ella and himself drifting apart from the others. The Bisho_ppeared to be wrapped up in Vansittart, Lady Ella became confidential. It wa_ot long before she had found out all about Maria.
"Bolton Gardens," she said sweetly; "I don't remember meeting your wif_nywhere, Mr. Potter. I must get the Duchess to call."
This was a little vague, but none the less delightful. Potter was curious t_now what duchess, but he asked no questions.
"You will be glad to get home, Lady Ella," he said.
"In a way, yes. All the same I am delighted with America. But the dear Bisho_s a terrible responsibility. Nervous prostration, you know."
Potter glanced at the Bishop and expressed his sympathy. Despite his handsom_ace and dignified bearing the Bishop looked anything but strong.
"The sea voyage ought to set him up," he said.
"That is just what I am afraid of," Lady Ella murmured. "The racket an_onfusion of a long railway journey tries my poor uncle terribly. Constan_est and quietness are absolutely essential to him. It was our mistake—w_hought the change and bustle would work wonders. I am so sorry we did no_ccept the Prince's offer, and use his steam yacht to cross the Atlantic. If _ould get a special car to take us from here to New York I should feel easier; really I feel quite capable of pawning my jewels to do so. But that i_mpossible."
"You would feel more satisfied yourself?"
"Well, no. My nerves need no bracing, and I am looking forward to my trip o_he cars. But the Bishop does not care for company, and the expense of _pecial car—if I could only borrow one of those belonging to those travellin_merican millionaires. The rest of the voyage could be nothing. But I a_alking nonsense."
Potter smiled. He saw a way to clinch the matter of the apochryphal duches_nd the friendly call at Bolton Gardens. Mi1lionaires have so man_sychological moments from whence to pluck solid opportunities.
"You've come to the right shop," he began. "I mean that I can procure for yo_he very thing you require. You have perhaps heard of the Pullman built fo_uke Alexis when he was doing America."
Lady Ella had. It had been specially designed for a Tartar prince desirous o_ew channels for the dissipation of his fortune before Monaco came in stil_ore handy for the purpose.
"She was a dream, they tell me," said Lady Ella. "After the prince sho_imself she was purchased by some billionaire. Do you know her?"
"Rather," Potter chuckled. "I bought her. Always travelling from place t_lace I find it a great advantage to run my own Pullman car. The last thre_ourneys here I have made in the saloon. Anyway, she's here now doing nothin_or the next few months, and if you like to take the car to New York and giv_he Bishop the quiet he requires, why take her and welcome, say I."
Lady Ella was touched, deeply touched by this friendly offer. She did not sa_hat Augustus had suggested the idea. At first she could not consent to hea_nything of the kind. Then she began to struggle between proper pride and he_uty towards the Bishop. Should she allow sentiment to stand in the way of _an who by common consent must be the next Primate?
"Uncle shall decide," she said, "but in any case, Mr. Potter, we shall neve_e able to repay you this great service. Uncle, what do you think Mr. Potte_ays?"
The Bishop protested. He could not dream of such a thing, he said. His whit_lim hands were upraised against the temptress. No, he would suffer i_ilence, he would fight against his nervousness and conquer. Nothing coul_nduce him to listen to such a suggestion, and then, five minutes later, lik_yron's fair frail one in that most delightful of all epics:
Swearing he would ne'er consent—consented.
Potter was quite touched to see the change in the Bishop. That good man ha_vidently fought hard against the dread anticipation of the uncongenia_ourney. His kindly face became all smiles, he checked himself humming a_peratic fragment. Potter glowed with the consciousness of a kindly actio_ell done. Besides, the Primate might one day come and dine in Bolton Gardens.
"Positively, I am ashamed of myself," said the Bishop. "But I am not going t_e selfish. Is there anything we can do in return? I feel that nothing coul_epay you for this—er—stupendous kindness. Mr. Potter, I verily believe tha_ou have saved my reason."
Potter expressed his delight. He began to dream of himself as Lcrd Potter an_f Maria as leading a salon in Bolton Gardens.
"You can't do much," he chuckled, only you might keep your eye on th_xpressmen on the journey. I'm going to send the 'Rosy Cross' to my bankers b_our train."
Lady Ella was deeply interested. Earlier in the evening she had examined an_dmired that wonderful stone. She declared herself to be thrilled. "You shan'_ose it if I can help it," she said.
"Good-night, Mr. Potter!"
* * * * *
During the next day and a-half Vansittart found it necessary to leave hi_elatives to their own devices in Chicago. Had they seen and watched hi_ovements they would have been both interested and puzzled. By the nex_vening he was some four hundred miles by mail express along the line. Ther_e alighted with some cases, which he proceeded to place in a buggy awaitin_im. Then he drove off through the lonely country alone. Presently he struc_he railway-track again at a point where some scrub growing from a deep stil_art hung close to the edge of the rails. The work took some two hours, but a_ength it was finished. When Vansittart had completed his task, some sixt_eet of the scrub was covered by a strong spongy net, such as acrobats use_hen fired from cannons, and such-like engaging occupations. Vansittar_egarded the thing with satisfaction. The perspiration poured down his face.
But he had not finished yet. Some ten miles nearer to Chicago, in an equall_esolate spot, stood a cluster of tall trees, one of which Vansittar_roceeded to climb with some large brass instrument in his hand. This wa_othing more or less than a powerful oil lamp, which was fixed presently an_ighted.
"There!" Vansittart muttered, in a self-satisfied tone, "I calculate that wil_urn for fifty-six hours; and nobody is likely to come along and disturb it.
If they do, so much the worse for Potter. If all goes well and he does mee_ith an accident here, he won't come to any harm. And what a pleasant time th_ishop and Lady Ella will have afterwards."
Vansittart returned to his horses and drove back to the depot where he ha_lighted. There was some time to wait for a western train, but it came a_ength; and long before Chicago was astir, the adventurer was back again. A_reakfast-time the Honourable Augustus Vansittart lounged into the privat_partment of his Grace of Croydon in his most used-up condition.
"You look as if you had been working hard," Lady Ella laughed.