“It seems, Mr. Jackson, that The Judge has refused not only our article, but also the advertisement of the company. I don’t know much about this side of the affair myself, but Sir Robert asked me if I would come round and see if things couldn’t be arranged.”
“You mean that the man sent you to try and work on me because he knew that I used to be intimate with your family. Well, it is a poor errand and will have a poor end. You can’t—no one on earth can, while I sit in this chair, not even my proprietors.”
There was silence broken at last by Alan, who remarked awkwardly:
“If that is so, I must not take up your time any longer.”
“I said that I would give you a quarter of an hour, and you have only been here four minutes. Now, Alan Vernon, tell me as your father’s old friend, why you have gone to herd with these gilded swine?”
There was something so earnest about the man’s question that it did not even occur to his visitor to resent its roughness.
“Of course it is not original,” he answered, “but I had this idea about flooding the Desert; I spent a furlough up there a few years ago and employed my time in making some rough surveys. Then I was obliged to leave the Service and went down to Yarleys after my father’s death—it’s mine now, you know, but worth nothing except a shooting rent, which just pays for the repairs. There I met Champers-Haswell, who lives near and is a kind of distant cousin of mine—my mother was a Champers—and happened to mention the thing to him. He took it up at once and introduced me to Aylward, and the end of it was, that they offered me a partnership with a small share in the business, because they said I was just the man they wanted.”
“Just the man they wanted,” repeated the editor after him. “Yes, the last of the Vernons, an engineer with an old name in his county, a clean record and plenty of ability. Yes, you would be just the man they wanted. And you accepted?”
“Yes. I was on my beam ends with nothing to do; I wanted to make some money. You see Yarleys has been in the family for over five hundred years, and it seemed hard to have to sell it. Also—also——” and he paused.
“Ever meet Barbara Champers?” asked Mr. Jackson inconsequently. “I did once. Wonderfully nice girl, and very good-looking too. But of course you know her, and she is her uncle’s ward, and their place isn’t far off Yarleys, you say. Must be a connection of yours also.”
Major Vernon started a little at the name and his face seemed to redden.
“Yes,” he said, “I have met her and she is a connection.”
“Will be a big heiress one day, I think,” went on Mr. Jackson, “unless old Haswell makes off with her money. I think Aylward knows that; at any rate he was hanging about when I saw her.”
Vernon started again, this time very perceptibly.
“Very natural—your going into the business, I mean, under all the circumstances,” went on Mr. Jackson. “But now, if you will take my advice, you’ll go out of it as soon as you can.”