Chapter XXXIII.
 

When George Wentworth received this message, he read it several times over before its full meaning dawned upon him. Then he paced up and down his room, and gave way to his feelings. His best friends, who had been privileged to hear George's vocabulary when he was rather angry, admitted that the young man had a fluency of expression which was very more terse than proper. When the real significance of the despatch became apparent to him, George outdid himself in this particular line. Then he realized that, however consolatory such language is to a very angry man, it does little good in any practical way. He paced silently up and down the room, wondering what he could do, and the more he wondered the less light he saw through the fog. He put on his hat and went into the other room.

'Henry,' he said to his partner, 'do you know anybody who would lend me twenty thousand pounds?'

Henry laughed. The idea of anybody lending that sum of money, except on the very best security, was in itself extremely comic.

'Do you want it to-day?' he said.

'Yes, I want it to-day.'

'Well, I don't know any better plan than to go out into the street and ask every man you meet if he has that sum about him. You are certain to encounter men who have very much more than twenty thousand pounds, and perhaps one of them, struck by your very sane appearance at the moment, might hand over the sum to you. I think, however, George, that you would be more successful if you met the capitalist in a secluded lane some dark night, and had a good reliable club in your hand.'

'You are right,' said George. 'Of course, there is just as much possibility of my reaching the moon as getting that sum of money on short notice.'

'Yes, or on long notice either, I imagine. I know plenty of men who have the money, but I wouldn't undertake to ask them for it, and I don't believe you would. Still there is nothing like trying. He who tries may succeed, but no one can succeed who doesn't try. Why not go to old Longworth? He could let you have the money in a moment if he wanted to do so. He knows you. What's your security? What are you going to do with it--that eternal mine of yours?'

'Yes, that "eternal mine"; I want it to be mine. That is why I need the twenty thousand pounds.'

'Well, George, I don't see much hope for you. You never spoke to old Longworth about it, did you? He wasn't one of the men you intended to get into this company?'

'No, he was not. I wish he had been. He would have treated us better than his rascally nephew has done.'

'Ah, that immaculate young man has been playing you tricks, has he?'

'He has played me one trick, which is enough.'

'Well, why don't you go and see the old man, and lay the case before him? He treats that nephew as if he were his son. Now, a man will do a great deal for his son, and perhaps old Longworth might do something for his nephew.'

'Yes; but I should have to explain to him that his nephew is a scoundrel.'

'Very well; that is just the kind of explanation to bring the twenty thousand pounds. If his nephew really is a scoundrel, and you can prove it, you could not want a better lever than that on the old man's money-bags.'

'By Jove!' said Wentworth, 'I believe I shall try it. I want to let him know, anyhow, what sort of man his nephew is. I'll go and see him.'

'I would,' said the other, turning to his work.

And so George Wentworth, putting the cablegram in his pocket, went to see old Mr. Longworth in a frame of mind in which no man should see his fellow-man. He did not wait to be announced, but walked, to the astonishment of the clerk, straight through into Mr. Longworth's room. He found the old man seated at his desk.

'Good-day, Mr. Wentworth,' said the financier cordially.

'Good-day,' replied George curtly. 'I have come to read a cable despatch to you, or to let you read it.'

He threw the paper down before the old gentleman, who adjusted his spectacles and read it. Then he looked up inquiringly at Wentworth.

'You don't understand it, do you?' said the latter.

'I confess I do not. The Longworth in this telegram does not refer to me, does it?'

'No, it does not refer to you, but it refers to one of your house. Your nephew, William Longworth, is a scoundrel!'

'Ah!' said the old man, placing the despatch on the desk again, and removing his glasses, 'have you come to tell me that?'

'Yes, I have. Did you know it before?'

'No, I did not,' answered the old gentleman, his colour rising; 'and I do not know it now. I know you say so, and I think very likely you will be glad to take back what you have said. I will at least give you the opportunity.'

'So far from taking it back, Mr. Longworth, I shall prove it. Your nephew formed a partnership with my friend Kenyon and myself to float on the London market a certain Canadian mine.'

'My dear sir,' broke in the old gentleman, 'I have no desire to hear of my nephew's private speculations; I have nothing to do with them. I have nothing to do with your mine. The matter is of no interest whatever to me, and I must decline to hear anything about it. You are, also, if you will excuse my saying so, not in a fit state of temper to talk to any gentleman. If you like to come back here when you are calmer, I shall be very pleased to listen to what you have to say.'

'I shall never be calmer on this subject. I have told you that your nephew is a scoundrel. You are pleased to deny the accusation.'

'I do not deny it; I merely said I did not know it was the case, and I do not believe it, that is all.'

'Very well; the moment I begin to show you proof that things are as I say----'

'My dear sir,' cried the elder man, with some heat, 'you are not showing proof. You are merely making assertions, and assertions about a man who is absent--who is not here to defend himself. If you have anything to say against William Longworth, come and say it when he is here, and he shall answer for himself. It is cowardly of you, and ungenerous to me, to make a number of accusations which I am in no wise able to refute.'

'Will you listen to what I have to say?'

'No; I will not.'

'Then, by God, you shall!' and with that Wentworth strode to the door and turned the key, while the old man rose from his seat and faced him.

'Do you mean to threaten me, sir, in my own office?'

'I mean to say, Mr. Longworth, that I have made a statement which I am going to prove to you. I mean that you shall listen to me, and listen to me now!'

'And I say, if you have anything to charge against my nephew, come and say it when he is here.'

'When he is here, Mr. Longworth, it will be too late to say it; at present you can repair the injury he has done. When he returns to England you cannot do so, no matter how much you might wish to make the attempt.'

The old man stood irresolute for a moment, then he sat down in his chair again.

'Very well,' he said, with a sigh; 'I am not so combative as I once was. Go on with your story.'

'My story is very short,' said Wentworth; 'it simply amounts to this: You know your nephew formed a partnership with us in relation to the Canadian mine?'

'I know nothing about it, I tell you,' answered Mr. Longworth.

'Very well, you know it now.'

'I know you say so.'

'Do you doubt my word?'

'I shall tell you more definitely when I hear what you have to say. Go on.'

'Well, your nephew, pretending to aid us in forming this company, did everything to retard our progress. He engaged offices that took a long time to fit up, and which we had at last to take in hand ourselves. Then he left for a week, leaving us no address, and refusing to answer the letters I sent to his office for him. On one pretext or another, the forming of the company was delayed; until at length, when the option by which Mr. Kenyon held the mine had less than a month to run, your nephew went to America in company with Mr. Melville, ostensibly to see and report upon the property. After waiting a certain length of time and hearing nothing from him (he had promised to cable us), Kenyon went to America to get a renewal of the option. This cablegram explains his success. He finds, on going there, that your nephew has secured the option of the mine in his own name, and, as Kenyon says, we are cheated. Now have you any doubt whether your nephew is a scoundrel or not?'

Mr. Longworth mused for a few moments on what the young man had told him.

'If what you say is exactly true, there is no doubt William has been guilty of a piece of very sharp practice.'

'Sharp practice!' cried the other. 'You might as well call robbery sharp practice!'

'My dear sir, I have listened to you; now I ask you to listen to me. If, as I say, what you have stated is true, my nephew has done something which I think an honourable man would not do; but as to that I cannot judge until I hear his side of the story. It may put a different complexion on the matter, and I have no doubt it will; but even granting your version is true in every particular, what have I to do with it? I am not responsible for my nephew's actions. He has entered into a business connection, it seems, with two young men, and has outwitted them. That is probably what the world would say about it. Perhaps, as you say, he has been guilty of something worse, and has cheated his partners. But even admitting everything to be true, I do not see how I am responsible in any way.'

'Legally, you are not; morally, I think you are.'

'Why?'

'If he were your son----'

'But he is not my son; he is my nephew.'

'If your son had committed a theft, would you not do everything in your power to counteract the evil he had done?'

'I might, and I might not. Some fathers pay their sons' debts, others do not. I cannot say what action I should take in a purely imaginary case.'

'Very well; all I have to say is, our option runs out in two or three days. Twenty thousand pounds will secure the mine for us. I want that twenty thousand pounds before the option ceases.'

'And do you expect me to pay you twenty thousand pounds for this?'

'Yes, I do.'

Old Mr. Longworth leaned back in his office chair, and looked at the young man in amazement.

'To think that you, a man of the City, should come to me, another man of the City, with such an absurd idea in your head, is simply grotesque.'

'Then the name of the Longworths is nothing to you--the good name, I mean?'

'The good name of the Longworths, my dear sir, is everything to me; but I fancy it will be able to take care of itself without any assistance from you.'

There was silence for a few moments. Then Wentworth said, in a voice of suppressed anguish:

'I thought, Mr. Longworth, one of your family was a scoundrel; I now wish to say I believe the epithet covers uncle as well as nephew. You have had a chance to repair the mischief a member of your family has done. You have answered me with contempt. You have not shown the slightest indication of wishing to make amends.'

He unlocked the door.

'Come, now,' said old Mr. Longworth, rising, 'that will do, that will do, Mr. Wentworth.' Then he pressed an electric bell, and, when the clerk appeared, he said: 'Show this gentleman the door, please, and if ever he calls here again, do not admit him.'

And so George Wentworth, clenching his hands with rage, was shown to the door. He had the rest of the day to ponder on the fact that an angry man seldom accomplishes his purpose.