Chapter 5




AN UNUSUAL ERRAND


Arnold arrived at the office the next morning punctually at five minutes to nine, and was already at work when Mr. Jarvis appeared ten minutes later.

"Gayety's not upset you, then, eh?" the latter remarked, divesting himself of his hat and overcoat.

"Not at all, thanks," Arnold answered.

"Nice house, the governor's, isn't it?"

"Very nice indeed."

"Good dinners he gives, too," continued Mr. Jarvis. "Slap-up wines, and the right sort of company. Must have been an eye-opener for you."

Arnold nodded. He was not in the least anxious to discuss the events of the previous evening with Mr. Jarvis. The latter, however, came a little nearer to him. He took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and wiped them carefully.

"Now I should like to know," he said, "exactly how Mrs. Weatherley struck you?"

"She appeared to me to be a singularly charming and very beautiful lady," Arnold replied, writing quickly.

Mr. Jarvis was disappointed.

"She's good-looking enough," he admitted. "I can't say that I've seen much of her, mind you, but she gave me the impression of a woman who wasn't above using the powder-puff. She drove down here with the governor one day, and to look at her you'd have thought she was a princess come among the slums."

"She was born abroad," Arnold remarked. "I dare say this atmosphere would seem a little strange to her."

"Sort of half a foreigner, I've understood," Mr. Jarvis continued. "Speaks English all right, though. I can't help thinking," he went on, "that the governor would have done better to have married into one of our old city families. Nothing like them, you know, Chetwode. Some fine women, too. There's Godson, the former Lord Mayor. He had four daughters, and the governor might have had his pick."

"Here he comes," Arnold remarked, quietly.

Mr. Jarvis took the hint and went off to his work. A moment or two later, Mr. Weatherley arrived. He passed through the office and bestowed upon every one his customary salutation. At Arnold's desk he paused for a moment.

"Feeling all right this morning, young man?" he inquired, striving after a note of patronage which somehow or other eluded him.

"Quite well, thank you, sir."

"You found the evening pleasant, I hope? Didn't lose any money at bridge, eh?"

"Mrs. Weatherley was good enough to take on the stakes, sir," Arnold replied. "As a matter of fact, I believe that we won. I enjoyed the evening very much, thank you."

Mr. Weatherley passed on to his office. Jarvis waited until his door was closed.

"So you played bridge with Mrs. Weatherley, eh?" he remarked.

"I did," Arnold admitted. "Have you noticed the shrinkage of weight in these last invoices?"

Mr. Jarvis accepted the papers which his junior passed him, and departed into the warehouse. Arnold was left untroubled with any more questions. At half-past twelve, however, he was sent for into Mr. Weatherley's private office. Mr. Weatherley was leaning back in his chair and he had the air of a man who has come to a resolution.

"Shut the door, Chetwode," he ordered.

Arnold did as he was bidden.

"Come up to the desk here," he was further instructed. "Now, listen to me," Mr. Weatherley continued, after a moment's pause. "You are a young man of discretion, I am sure. My wife, I may say, Chetwode, thought quite highly of you last night."

Arnold looked his employer in the face and felt a sudden pang of sympathy. Mr. Weatherley was certainly not looking as hale and prosperous as a few months ago. His cheeks were flabby, and there was a worried look about him which the head of the firm of Weatherley & Co. should certainly not have worn.

"Mrs. Weatherley is very kind, sir," he remarked. "As to my discretion, I may say that I believe I am to be trusted. I should try, of course, to justify any confidence you might place in me."

"I believe so, too, Chetwode," Mr. Weatherley declared. "I am going to trust you now with a somewhat peculiar commission. You may have noticed that I have been asked to speak privately upon the telephone several times this morning."

"Certainly, sir," Arnold replied. "It was I who put you through."

"I am not even sure," Mr. Weatherley continued, "who it was speaking, but I received some communications which I think I ought to take notice of. I want you accordingly to go to a certain restaurant in the west-end, the name and address of which I will give you, order your lunch there--you can have whatever you like--and wait until you see Mr. Rosario. I dare say you remember meeting Mr. Rosario last night, eh?"

"Certainly, sir. I remember him quite well."

"He will not be expecting you, so you will have to sit near the door and watch for him. Directly you see him, you must go to him and say that this message is from a friend. Tell him that whatever engagement he may have formed for luncheon, he is to go at once to the Prince's Grill Room and remain there until two o'clock. He is not to lunch at the Milan--that is the name of the place where you will be. Do you understand?"

"I understand perfectly," Arnold assented. "But supposing he only laughs at me?"

"You will have done your duty," Mr. Weatherley said. "There need be no mystery about the affair. You can say at once that you are there as the result of certain telephone messages addressed to me this morning, and that I should have come myself if it had been possible. If he chooses to disregard them, it is his affair entirely--not mine. At the same time, I think that he will go."

"It seems an odd sort of a thing to tell a perfect stranger, sir," Arnold remarked.

Mr. Weatherley produced a five-pound note.

"You can't go into those sort of places without money in your pocket," he continued. "You can account to me for the change later, but don't spare yourself. Have as good a lunch as you can eat. The restaurant is the Milan Grill Room on the Strand--the café, mind, not the main restaurant. You know where it is?"

"Quite well, sir, thank you."

Mr. Weatherley looked at his employee curiously.

"Have you ever been there, then?" he inquired.

"Once or twice, sir," Arnold admitted.

"Not on the twenty-eight shillings a week you get from me!"

"Quite true, sir," Arnold assented. "My circumstances were slightly different at the time."

Mr. Weatherley hesitated. This young man's manner did not invite confidences. On the other hand, he was genuinely curious about him.

"What made you come into the city, Chetwode?" he inquired. "You don't seem altogether cut out for it--not that you don't do your work and all that sort of thing," he went on, hastily. "I haven't a word of complaint to make, mind. All the same, you certainly seem as though you might have done a little better for yourself."

"It is the fault of circumstances, sir," Arnold replied. "I am hoping that before long you will find that I do my work well enough to give me a better position."

"You are ambitious, then?"

The face of the young man was suddenly grim.

"I mean to get on," he declared. "There were several years of my life when I used to imagine things. I have quite finished with that. I realize that there is only one way by means of which a man can count."

Mr. Weatherley nodded ponderously.

"Well," he said, "let me see that your work is well done, and you may find promotion is almost as quick in the city as anywhere else. You had better be off now."

"I trust," Arnold ventured, as he turned toward the door, "that Mrs. Weatherley is quite well this morning?"

"So far as I know, she is," Mr. Weatherley replied. "My wife isn't usually visible before luncheon time. Continental habits, you know. I shall expect you back by three o'clock. You must come and report to me then."

Arnold brushed his hat and coat with extra care as he took them down from the peg.

"Going to lunch early, aren't you?" Mr. Jarvis remarked, looking at the clock. "Not sure that we can spare you yet. Smithers isn't back."

"I am going out for the governor," Arnold replied.

"What, to the bank?" Mr. Jarvis asked.

Arnold affected not to hear. He walked out into the street, lit a cigarette, and had his boots carefully polished at London Bridge Station. Then, as he had plenty of time, he took the train to Charing Cross and walked blithely down the Strand. Freed from the routine of his office work, he found his mind once more full of the events of last night. There was so much that he could not understand, yet there was so much that seemed to be leading him on towards the land of adventures. He found himself watching the faces in the Strand with a new interest, and he laughed to himself as he realized what it was. He was looking all the time for the man whose face he had seen pressed to the window-pane!




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