“So have you been merely amused,” I reminded him.
“Not since that look I saw her give him, old chap. I know she wants him, only not why she wants him. And Charley, you know—well, of course, poor Charley’s a banker, just a banker and no more; and a banker is merely the ace in the same pack where the drummer is the two-spot. Our American civilization should be called Drummer’s Delight—and there’s nothing in your fire-eater to delight a drummer: he’s a gentleman, he’ll be only so-so rich, and he’s away back out of the lime-light, while poor old Charley’s a bounder, and worth forty millions anyhow, and right in the centre of the glare. How should he see any danger in John?”
“I wonder if he hasn’t begun to?”
“Well, perhaps. He and Hortense have been ‘talking business’; I know that. Oh—and why do you think she said he must go to New York? To make a better deal for the fire-eater’s phosphates than his fuddling old trustee here was going to close with. Charley said that could be arranged by telegram. But she made him go himself! She’s extraordinary. He’ll arrive in town to-morrow, he’ll leave next day, he’ll reach here by the Southern on Saturday night in time for our Sunday yacht picnic, and then something has got to happen, I should think.”
Here was another key, unlocking a further piece of knowledge for me. I had not been able to guess why Hortense should be keeping Charley “on”; but how natural was this policy, when understood clearly! She still needed Charley’s influence in the world of affairs. Charley’s final service was to be the increasing of his successful rival’s fortune. I wondered what Charley would do, when the full extent of his usefulness dawned upon him; and with wonder renewed I thought of General Rieppe, and this daughter he had managed to beget. Surely the mother of Hortense, whoever she may have been, must have been a very richly endowed character!