“I thought that you might be interested in the news about the Duke, sir,” he said respectfully.
“What news, Grooton?” I asked, stretching out my hand for the paper.
“You will find a leading article on the second page, sir, and another in the money news. It reads quite extraordinary, sir.”
I opened the paper eagerly. I read every word of the leading article, which was entitled “Noblesse Oblige,” and all the paragraphs in the money column. What I read did not surprise me in the least when once I had read the circumstances. It was just what I should have expected from the Duke. It seemed that he had lent his name to the prospectus of a company formed for the purpose of working some worthless patent designed to revolutionize the silk weaving trade. The Duke’s reason for going on the Board was purely philanthropic. He had hoped to restore an ancient industry in a decaying neighbourhood. The whole thing turned out to be a swindle. One angry shareholder stated plainly at the meeting that he had taken his shares on account of the Duke’s name upon the prospectus, and hinted ugly things. The Duke had risen calmly in his place. He assured them that he fully recognized his responsibilities in the matter. If the person who had last spoken was in earnest when he stated that the Duke’s name had induced him to take shares in this company, then he was prepared to relieve him of those shares at the price which he had paid for them. Further, if there was any other persons who were able honestly to say that the name of the Duke of Rowchester upon the prospectus had induced them to invest their money in this concern, his offer extended also to them.
There were roars of applause, wild enthusiasm. It was magnificent, but the lowest estimate of what it would cost the Duke was a hundred thousand pounds.
I put down the paper, and my cheeks were flushed with enthusiasm. I think that if the Duke had been there at that moment I could have kissed his hand. I passed with much less interest to the letter which Grooton had brought in with the paper. It was from a firm of solicitors in Lincoln’s Inn, and it informed me, in a few precise sentences, that they had the authority of their client, Sir Michael Trogoldy, to pay me yearly the sum of five hundred pounds.
Friend or enemy?
There came no summons from Rowchester, and I dined alone. I must have dozed over my after-dinner cigarette, for at first that soft rapping seemed to come to me from a long way off. Then I sat up in my chair with a start. My cigarette had burnt out, my coffee was cold. I had been asleep, and outside some one was knocking at my’ front door.
I had sent Grooton to the village with letters, and I was alone in the place. I sprang from my chair just as the handle of the door was turned and a woman stepped quietly in. She was wrapped from head to foot in a long cloak, and she was thickly veiled. But I knew her at once. It was Mrs. Smith-Lessing.