Chapter XIII. Business First.
 

The manager at Messrs. Drummond, Coutts and Barclay's, Limited, received Colonel Kelmscott with distinguished consideration. A courteous, conciliatory sort of man, that manager, with his close-shaven face and his spotless shirt-front.

"Five minutes, my dear sir?" he exclaimed, with warmth, motioning his visitor blandly into the leather-covered chair. "Half an hour, if you wish it. We always have leisure to receive our clients. Any service we can render them, we're only too happy."

"But this is a very peculiar bit of business," Colonel Kelmscott answered, humming and hawing with obvious hesitation. "It isn't quite in the regular way of banking, I believe. Perhaps, indeed, I ought rather to have put it into the hands of my solicitor. But, even if you can't manage the thing yourself, you may be able to put me in the way of finding out how best I can get it managed elsewhere."

The manager bowed. His smile was a smile of genuine satisfaction. Colonel Kelmscott of Tilgate was in a most gracious humour. The manager, with deference, held himself wholly at his client's disposition.

So the Colonel proceeded to unfold his business. There were two young men, now knocking about town, of the names of Guy and Cyril Waring--the one a journalist, the other a painter--and they had rooms in Staple Inn, Holborn, which would doubtless form a sufficient clue by which to identify them. Colonel Kelmscott desired unobtrusively to know where these young men banked--if indeed they were in a position to keep an account; and when that was found out, he wished Messrs. Drummond, Coutts and Barclay, Limited, to place a sum of money at their bankers to their credit, without mentioning the name of the person so placing it, as well as to transmit to them a sealed envelope, containing instructions as to the use to be made of the money in question.

The manager nodded a cautious acquiescence. To place the money to the credit of the two young men, indeed, would be quite in their way. But to send the sealed envelope, without being aware of its contents, or the nature of the business on which it was despatched, would be much less regular. Perhaps the Colonel might find some other means of managing without their aid that portion of the business arrangement.

The Colonel, for his part, fell in readily enough with this modest point of view. It amply sufficed for him if the money were paid to the young men's credit, and a receipt, forwarded to him in due course, under cover of a number, to the care of the bankers.

"Very well," the manager answered, rubbing his hands contentedly. "Our confidential clerk will settle all that for you. A most sagacious person, our confidential clerk. No eyes, no ears, no tongue for anything but our clients' interests."

The Colonel smiled, and sat a little longer, giving further details as the precise amount he wished sent, and the particular way he wished to send it--the whole sum to be, in fact, twelve thousand pounds, amount of the purchase money of the Dowlands farms, whereof only six thousand had as yet been paid down; and that six thousand he wished to place forthwith to the credit of Cyril Waring, the painter. The remaining six thousand, to be settled, as agreed, in five weeks' time, he would then make over under the self-same conditions to the other brother, Guy Waring, the journalist. It had gone a trifle too cheap, that land at Dowlands, the Colonel opined; but still, in days like these he was very glad, indeed, to find a purchaser for the place at anything like its value.

"I think a Miss Ewes was the fortunate bidder, wasn't she?" the manager asked, just to make a certain decent show of interest in his client's estate.

"Yes, Miss Elma Ewes of Kenilworth," the Colonel answered, letting loose for a moment his tongue, that unruly member. "She's the composer, you know--writes songs and dances; remotely connected with Reginald Clifford, the man who was Governor of some West Indian Dutch-oven--St. Kitts, I think, or Antigua--he lives down our way, and he's a neighbour of mine at Tilgate. Or rather she's connected with Mrs. Clifford, the Governor's wife, who was one of the younger branch, a Miss Ewes of Worthing, daughter of the Ewes who was Dean of Dorchester. Elma's been a family name for years with all the lot of Eweses, good, bad, or indifferent. Came down to them, don't you know, from that Roumanian ancestress."

"Indeed," the manager answered, now beginning to be really interested--for the Cliffords were clients too, and it behoves a banker to know everything about everybody's business. "So Mrs. Clifford had an ancestress who was a Roumanian, had she? Well, I've noticed at times her complexion looked very southern and gipsy-like--distinctly un-English."

"Oh, they call it Roumanian," Colonel Kelmscott went on in a confidential tone, roping his white moustache, and growing more and more conversational; "they call it Roumanian, because it sounds more respectable; but I believe, if you go right down to the very bottom of the thing, it was much more like some kind of Oriental gipsy. Sir Michael Ewes, the founder of the house, in George the Second's time, was ambassador for awhile at Constantinople. He began life, indeed, I believe, as a Turkey merchant. Well, at Pera one day, so the story goes--you'll find it all in Horace Walpole's diary--he picked up with this dark-skinned gipsy-woman, who was a wonderful creature in her way, a sort of mesmeric sorceress, who belonged to some tribe of far eastern serpent charmers. It seems that women of this particular tribe were regularly trained by the men to be capering priestesses--or fortune-tellers, if you like--who performed some extraordinary sacred antics of a mystical kind, much after the fashion of the howling dervishes. However that may be, Sir Michael, at any rate, pacing the streets of Pera, saw the woman that she was passing fair, and fell in love with her outright at some dervish entertainment. But being a very well-behaved old man, combining a liking for Orientals with a British taste for the highest respectability, he had the girl baptized and made into a proper Christian first; and then he married her off-hand and brought her home with him as my Lady Ewes to England. She was presented at Court, to George the Second; and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu stood her sponsor on the occasion."

"But how did it all turn out?" the manager asked, with an air of intelligent historical interest.

"Turn out? Well, it turned out in a thumping big family of thirteen children," the Colonel answered; "most of whom, happily for the father, died young, But the five who survived, and who married at last into very good connections, all had one peculiarity, which they transmitted to all their female descendants. Very odd these hereditary traits, to be sure. Very singular! Very singular!"

"Ah, to be sure," the manager answered, turning over a pile of letters. "And what was the hereditary trait handed down, as you say, in the family of the Roumanian lady?"

"Why, in the first place," the Colonel continued, leaning back in his chair, and making himself perfectly comfortable, "all the girls of the Ewes connection, to the third and fourth generation, have olive-brown complexions, creamy and soft, but clear as crystal. Then again, they've all got most extraordinary intuition--a perfectly marvellous gift of reading faces. By George, sir," the Colonel exclaimed, growing hot and red at the memory of that afternoon on the Holkers' lawn, "I don't like to see those women's eyes fixed upon my cheek when there's anything going on I don't want them to know. A man's transparent like glass before them. They see into his very soul. They look right through him."

"If the lady who founded the family habits was a fortune-teller," the manager interposed, with a scientific air, "that's not so remarkable; for fortune-tellers must always be quick-witted people, keen to perceive the changes of countenance in the dupes who employ them, and prompt at humouring all the fads and fancies of their customers, mustn't they?"

"Quite so," the Colonel echoed. "You've hit it on the nail. And this particular lady--Esmeralda they call her, so that Elma, which is short for Esmeralda, understand, has come to be the regular Christian name among all her women descendants--this particular lady belonged to what you might call a caste or priestly family, as it were, of hereditary fortune-tellers, every one of whose ancestors had been specially selected for generations for the work, till a kind of transmissible mesmeric habit got developed among them. And they do say," the Colonel went on, lowering his voice a little more to a confidential whisper, "that all the girls descended from Madame Esmeralda--Lady Ewes of Charlwood, as she was in England--retain to this day another still odder and uncannier mark of their peculiar origin; but, of course, it's a story that would be hard to substantiate, though I've heard it discussed more than once among the friends of the family."

"Dear me! What's that?" the manager asked, in a tone of marked curiosity.

"Why, they do say," the Colonel went on, now fairly launched upon a piece of after-dinner gossip, "that the eastern snake-dance of Madame Esmeralda's people is hereditary even still among the women of the family, and that, sooner or later, it breaks out unexpectedly in every one of them. When the fit comes on, they shut themselves up in their own rooms, I've been told, and twirl round and round for hours like dancing dervishes, with anything they can get in their hands to represent a serpent, till they fall exhausted with the hysterical effort. Even if a woman of Esmeralda's blood escapes it at all other times, it's sure to break out when she first sees a real live snake, or falls in love for the first time. Then the dormant instincts of the race come over her with a rush, at the very dawn of womanhood, all quickened and aroused, as it were, in the general awakening."

"That's very curious!" the manager said, leaning back in his chair in turn, and twirling his thumbs, "very curious indeed; and yet, in its way, very probable, very probable. For habits like those must set themselves deep in the very core of the system, don't you think, Colonel? If this woman, now, was descended from a whole line of ancestresses, who had all been trained for their work into a sort of ecstatic fervour, the ecstasy and all that went with it must have got so deeply ingrained--"

"I beg your pardon," the Colonel interrupted, consulting his watch and seizing his hat hastily--for as a Kelmscott, he refused point-blank to be lectured--"I've an appointment at my club at half-past three, and I must not wait any longer. Well, you'll get these young men's address for me, then, at the very earliest possible opportunity?"

The manager pocketed the snub, and bowed his farewell. "Oh, certainly," he answered, trying to look as pleased and gracious as his features would permit. "Our confidential clerk will hunt them up immediately. We're delighted to be of use to you. Good morning. Good morning."

And as soon as the Colonel's back was turned, the manager rang twice on his sharp little bell for the confidential clerk to receive his orders.

Mr. Montague Nevitt immediately presented himself in answer to the summons.

"Mr. Nevitt," the manager said, with a dry, small cough, "here's a bit of business of the most domestic kind--strict seal of secrecy, not a word on any account. Colonel Kelmscott of Tilgate wants to know where two young men, named Guy and Cyril Waring, keep their banking account, if any; and, as soon as he knows, he wishes to pay in a substantial sum, quite privately, to their credit."

Mr. Montague Nevitt bowed a bow of assent; without the faintest sign of passing recognition. "Guy and Cyril Waring," he repeated to himself, looking close at the scrap of paper his chief had handed him; "Guy and Cyril Waring, Staple Inn, Holborn. I can find out to-day, sir, if you attach any special and pressing importance to promptitude in the matter."