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There was just one drop of alloy in the perfect contentment with which the Marquis contemplated his new prospects, and that was contained in a telephone message from Mr. Wadham, Junior, which he received upon the afternoon of David's call upon the Duchess.
"I must apologise for troubling your lordship," Mr. Wadham began. "I know your objection to the telephone, but in this instance it was quite impossible to send a message."
"I accept your apology and am listening," the Marquis declared graciously. "Be so good as to speak quite slowly, and don't mumble."
Mr. Wadham, Junior, cleared his throat before continuing. He was a little proud of his voice, although its rise and fall was perhaps more satisfactory from the point of view of a Chancery Court than from one who expected to gather the sense of every syllable.
"I am ringing up your lordship," he continued, "concerning the large batch of shares in the Pluto Oil Company of Arizona, which you entrusted to us for safe keeping, and for deposit with the bank against the advance required last Monday."
"I can hear you perfectly," the Marquis acknowledged suavely. "Pray continue."
"Your lordship's bankers sent for me this morning," Mr. Wadham went on, "in connection with these shares. They thought it their duty to point out, either through us or by communication with you direct, that according to the advice of a most reliable broker, their commercial value is practically nil."
"Is what?" the Marquis demanded.
"Nil—nix—not worth a cent," Mr. Wadham, Junior, proclaimed emphatically.
The Marquis, in that slang phraseology which he would have been the first to decry, never turned a hair. He had not the least intention, moreover, of permitting his interlocutor at the other end of the telephone even a momentary sensation of triumph.
"You can present my compliments to the manager," he said, "and tell him that the value of the shares in question does not concern either him or his brokers. In any case, they could not possibly have any information concerning the company, as it is only just registered and has not yet commenced operations. You understand me, Mr. Wadham?"
"Perfectly, your lordship," was the smooth reply. "The fact remains, however, that the brokers do know something about the company and the persons interested in it, and that knowledge, I regret to say, is most unfavourable. We felt it our duty, therefore, to pass on these facts."
"I am exceedingly obliged to you for your anxieties on my behalf," the Marquis declared. "My legal interests are, I am quite sure, safe in your hands. My financial affairs—my outside financial affairs, that is to say—I prefer to keep under my own control. I might remind you that these shares are supported, and came into my hands, in fact, through the agency of Mr. David Thain, the great financier."
There was a moment's pause.
"I had not forgotten the fact," Mr. Wadham admitted diffidently, "and it certainly seems improbable that Mr. Thain would introduce a risky investment to your lordship within a few weeks of his arrival in this country. At the same time, we feel compelled, of course, to bring to your notice the broker's report."
"Quite so," the Marquis acquiesced. "Kindly let the people concerned know that I am acting in this matter upon special information. Good-day, Mr. Wadham. My compliments to your father."
So the conversation terminated, but the Marquis for the remainder of that day felt as though just the shadow of a cloud rested upon his happiness. Twice he stared at the address of David's rooms, which occupied a prominent place upon his study table, but on both occasions he resisted the impulse to seek him out and obtain the reassurance he needed. He buried himself instead in a Review.
Letitia came in to see him on the way back from her aunt's tea party. The Marquis carefully made a note of his place and laid down his periodical.
"You found your aunt well, I trust, dear?"
"Oh, she was all right," Letitia replied. "She had an irritating lot of callers there, though."
Her father nodded sympathetically.
"The extraordinary habit which people in our rank of life seem to have developed lately for making friends outside their own sphere is making Society very difficult," he declared. "Members of our own family are, I am afraid, amongst the transgressors. Whom did you meet this afternoon?"
Letitia mentioned a few names listlessly.
"And Mr. Thain," she concluded.
Her father betrayed his interest.
"Mr. Thain was there, eh? I understood that he was much averse to paying calls."
"He looked as though he had been roped in," Letitia observed, "and aunt was all over herself, apologising to him for having other people there. She wanted to consult him, it seems, about something or other, and she turned him over to me until she was ready."
"And you," the Marquis enquired, with questioning sympathy, "were perhaps bored?"
"Not bored, exactly—rather irritated! I think I am like you, in some respects, father," Letitia went on, smoothing out her gloves. "I prefer to find my intimates within the circle of our own relatives and connections. A person like Mr. Thain in some way disturbs me."
"That," the Marquis regretted, "is unfortunate, as he is likely to be our neighbour at Mandeleys."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Oh, it is of no consequence," she replied. "I shall never feel the slightest compunction in anything I might do or say to him. If he pays more for Broomleys than it is worth, he has the advantage of our countenance, which I imagine, to a person in his position, makes the bargain equal. Mr. Thain does not seem to me to be one of those men who would part with anything unless he got some return."
"Money, nowadays," the Marquis reflected, pressing the tips of his fingers together, "is a marvellously revitalising influence. People whose social position is almost, if not quite equal to our own, have even taken it into the family through marriage."
Letitia's very charming mouth twitched. Her lips parted, and she laughed softly. Nothing amused her more than this extraordinary blindness of her father to actual facts—such, for instance, as the Lees' woollen mills!
"I do hope," she remarked, "that you are not thinking of offering me up, dad, on the altar of the God of Dollars?"
"My dear child," the Marquis protested, "I can truthfully and proudly say that I am acquainted with no young woman of your position in connection with whom such a suggestion would be more sacrilegious. I have sometimes hoped," he went on, "that matters were already on the eve of settlement in another direction."
"I don't know, I'm sure," Letitia answered thoughtfully. "I sometimes think that I have a great many more feelings, dad, than the sole remaining daughter of the Right Honourable Reginald Thursford, Marquis of Mandeleys, ought to possess. The fact is, there are times when I can't stand Charlie anywhere near me, and as to discussing any subject of reasonable interest, well, he can only see anything from his own point of view, and that is always wrong."
"You and he, then," the Marquis observed, "appear to share—or rather to possess every essential for domestic happiness. The constant propinquity in which married people of the middle and lower classes are forced to live is no doubt responsible, in many cases, for the early termination of their domestic happiness."
"I always thought the middle classes were horribly virtuous," Letitia yawned. "However!—Thursday night, dad. You are dining out, aren't you?"
"Thursday night," the Marquis repeated, telling for the hundredth time, with bland ease, the falsehood which had almost ceased to have even the intention to deceive. "Yes, I dine at my club to-night, dear."
She bent over and kissed his forehead.
"Remember, my dear," he enjoined, "that I do not wish you to develop any feelings of positive dislike towards Mr. Thain. Such people have their uses in the world. We must not forget that."
Letitia laughed at him understandingly, but she closed the door in silence.
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