Easy Street Experts/The Gamble in Ghi

Easy Street Experts—The Gamble in Ghi (1923)
by Bertram Atkey
[# Easy Street Experts] Extracted from Blue Book magazine, June 1923, pp. 154–162. Title illustration may be omitted.

“The Gamble in Ghi” describes a surprising adventure of two competent exponents of the art of living by one’s wits.

3889724Easy Street Experts—The Gamble in Ghi1923Bertram Atkey

Easy Street Experts

This latest exploit of our gentlemen adventurers, “The
Gamble in Ghi,” is one of the most amusing ever described
by the famous author of the Winnie O’Wynn stories.

By Bertram Atkey

IT was the Honorable John Brass who, rather idly, had begun the unprofitable discussion in which he and his corrugated-souled partner Colonel Clumber were engaged one evening before dinner.

“It's no easy matter to pick out the champion of 'em when you meet so many,” he murmured, following the random train of thought, no doubt, inspired by his second sherry and bitters, and turned to his partner.

“What do you say, Squire? Who do you reckon is about the biggest fool you ever met?” he inquired.

It was a question that invited one of those bludgeony responses which the Colonel regarded as airy repartee, and he was inclined to be facetious.

“D'ye want the truth?” he demanded with a hardish grin. “I take it you're asking for the straight truth, aren't you?”

The Honorable John stared fixedly at him.

“Truth?” he repeated vaguely, carefully side-stepped the point and looked serious.

“Sense is what I want, Squire,” he said.

“Sense, hey?” the Colonel laughed. “You don't go the right way about getting it, then. Is there any sense in a man—a man of the world—deliberately sitting down to think out who is the biggest fool he ever met? What does it matter who it is? What good is it to you to know? Supposing he—whoever he is—is a fool: what of it? It's his worry, not ours. As a matter of fact, everybody is a bit of a fool.”

“That's true—you're right there,” agreed the Honorable John rather acidly.

“Its the way men are built. But there are all sorts of fools; don't let that fact get past you. They vary. There are good fools and bad fools—and noble-minded fools—”

“Yes, and feeble-minded fools and damned fools,” interrupted the Honorable John.

“Yes, damned fools particularly,” snapped his partner, and turned to his evening paper.

But the Honorable John was unsatisfied.

“There's a verse in the Bible that says a fool and his money are soon parted,” he continued, “and it's about time we made a little money. Does that convey anything to you?” he asked.

The Colonel put down his paper and stared curiously at his partner.

“You're not yourself, old man,” he said. “When we want to make money, we don't want to hunt for a man who's a fool—we want to hunt for a man with some money.”

Mr. Brass nodded.

“That's true—all of it. I'm not myself. I'm hungry. Pass the sherry.”

He constructed another apéritif and drank it. Then, apparently feeling more like himself, he settled back in his chair.

“We don't need money—as money,” he said. “I know it. But what we do need, Squire, is to keep up the habit of always having a few hooks out after it. The poacher that sets no wires catches no hares; the hawker that doesn't holler out, sells very few wares—dammy, that's poetry, and it's true, too!”

Here Sing, the Honorable John's valet, cook and all-round perfect pack-mule, slid in to intimate that the car was ready to take them to the Astoritz, that yawning waste-paper money receptacle and haunt of fashion and all-but-fashion at which the two old rascals usually dined when they dined out, and so they dropped the matter as a subject of conversation.

BUT that it remained in the Honorable John's mind was evident when, some hours later, they strolled out of the great hotel, and having blandly approved of the weather, decided to stroll quietly home.

“I suppose, taking one thing with the other, that there are very few people in this village of London who need ready money less than we do,” said Mr. Brass. “And if it wasn't for the discipline of the idea, I should be the last man of all the millions here ever to allow the thought of it to cross my mind. I'm not a purse-proud man. Few men think less of money than I do—but few men dread poverty more. Money, as money, means less than nothing to me. After all, what is it?” He puffed reflectively at a cigar that had cost almost as much as it would have been worth if composed of ten-shilling notes. “What is it, this money? Tokens—just that—mere tokens. Each representing a certain proportion of somebody's labor, skill, thought or knowledge: that's all it amounts to. It ain't having it does a man good—though I'll admit it does him no harm, at least not me: it's the getting it that brightens up his wits—polishes him up.”

The Colonel stopped abruptly in the middle of Piccadilly, and looked his partner in the eye.

“You are giving me the earache,” he said firmly, “with your tokens! Why can't you leave it alone? You aren't hard up, are you? Well, why not drop it and leave it alone. I can't understand you. Here you are, getting on, a man with loads of ready money and with no more than about ten years to live, if that—”

“Ten years!” The Honorable John looked excessively startled. His heavy jaw fell—but he said no more, for at that moment two people passed, one of them a lady talking very quickly.

“Your share will be what you like to make it—five thousand—anything—” said she to her companion, a portly gentleman of color.

THE partners forthwith forgot their amiable little discussion and stared after the couple until they were lost in the crowd that forever flutters and flows about Piccadilly throughout the evening.

“Did you get that?” muttered the Honorable John. “It was Mirza Khan.”

“Yes, yes. I recognized him, the fat scoundrel! But who was the lady?”

“Why, Mrs. Paradix Dix!” said the senior partner heavily. He pondered for a few moments.

“We must go into this at once,” he said. “Why, she was offering him five thousand pounds! Like that!” He flicked the ash from his cigar. “Never heard of such a thing in my life! Five thousand! And Mirza's never so much as rung us up!”

He hailed a taxi. Plainly he was extremely disconcerted. So, indeed, was the Colonel, but he concealed it better.

“After all, Mirza may think it's no business of ours. It may be a private deal of his own,” he suggested.

“What's that? No business of ours!” snapped Mr. Brass. “Five thousand pounds—like that—offered to a friend of ours for something or other! No business of ours! If Mirza thinks that, I guess the sooner he slips whatever he thinks with into reverse gear, the better for all concerned! I'm surprised at the man. I've always considered him loyal to us—but I don't understand this. I don't understand it at all—and I don't like it.”

He leaned back, rather sulkily, thinking. The Colonel chuckled in the shadows. He knew his partner too well to argue. It was evident that the very idea of Mirza Khan's getting “five thousand—like that”—cut the Honorable John to the quick, particularly when it was coming from, or via a lady who, as the partners were very well aware, was as crooked as the street called Straight.

It was true that Mirza was a friend of theirs, and that on various occasions he and they had engineered certain little coups, but they had no control over him; nor did they own the copyright in him or the royal master for whom he worked as confidential body servant, secretary and private fetcher-and-carrier—the sportive, London-loving Rajah of Jolapore.

But then, Mr. Brass was a sensitive man. And nothing hurt him more than to see five thousand sliding past him so silently and swiftly that he could not slip the gaff into it before it got out of his reach.

WHEN I think of what we have gone through together, Mirza,” said the Honorable John sadly through the telephone a little later, “when I turn over in my mind the little affairs that we have doped out together, when I recollect the good turns I've done for you and the Rajah, I don't mind admitting that it hurts me—and my old partner—to see a man we regarded as a close friend and a pal we thought was loyal for life—yes, I say loyal for life—plotting and planning to deliberately skin us for five monkeys—two thousand, five hundred good bones! Our share of this five thousand! Still, that's how it goes, Mirza, my lad. Turn down your old pals when they're no further use to you—yes, turn 'em down, I say—can't you hear?—turn 'em down and keep 'em down! And skin 'em out of their share! That's the way of the world. We know. Everybody's doing it.”

His voice was very bitter indeed. “I suppose we're old-fashioned, Mirza. Can't keep up with these modern ideas. But—wait a minute, let me speak—we're loyal to you, my lad. And it wasn't so much to reproach you about this five thousand that I rang you up; it was to warn you to be careful how you mix yourself up with these professional crooks. I don't suppose you're aware of it, Mirza, but as we don't want to see you soaked for five years or so in Portland Prison, I've really rung up to tell you that the lady you're negotiating with is wanted by the police on certainly one serious charge of kidnaping,—she and her husband,—and no doubt a good many more. That's all, Mirza. I've no doubt you were shadowed all the evening by a regular Scotland Yard man—but that's your own affair, like the five thousand. Only I thought it would be the right thing to warn you. Well, good-by, Mirza, old man—we wish you luck; we quite understand you want to keep these little plums to yourself, but— Hey? Don't talk so fast. You don't want to get excited. Hey?”

FOR some time Mr. Brass listened in silence. But presently, with a brief word of agreement, he rung off and turned to his partner, beaming.

“He's coming round as fast as his feet can push him,” said the old rascal. “He's nervous and anxious. Dame Dix is after a concession from the Rajah. She's acting for somebody who wants to create a ghi monopoly in Jolapore.”

“Ghi?” said the Colonel. “What the devil is ghi?”

“It's a kind of native butter—pretty awful stuff, I understand. It's about the only kind of fat they get. Must be a sort of margarine substitute.”

“Well, but who's going to eat that? The consumer—in this country—can eat most things (the poor devil's got to), but this ghi will about finish him off!” said the Colonel. “Margarine substitute! There's no such thing! How can there be? Margarine is a word that's as big as the sky—it covers a multitude of garbage—everything from ordinary electrified, solidified castor oil upward. What hope is there for any substitute for that?”

Mr. Brass reached for the brandy.

“You've got me guessing, Squire. Perhaps Mirza will know.”

And Mirza did.

WITHIN a quarter of an hour he arrived—as blackly glossy as ever.

“How do you do yourselves, my dear sirs?” he greeted them. “By thee gods, my dear misters, you have put winds up veree breezily. There iss pretty serious misapprehension between us fellows, yess, indeed, sars. Yess, thanks, I will partake of little brandy. Then I will explain whole situation. There iss not any cause to look asquince att my loyaltee to you. Thee transaction is onlee att stage of preliminary negotiations! I was extremely well aware off necessity to consult you—later on, I assure you, oah, yess.”

He took a cigar and settled down to tell them his version of what he obviously believed they already knew. It was a plain tale devoid of any serious complexity.

It appeared that a certain Major Vernon Haigh-Vernon and his wife (for so the couple of whom the partners had recognized one as Mrs. Paradix Dix appeared to have rechristened themselves) were anxious to secure from the Rajah of Jolapore a permit or concession to have and to hold in the state of Jolapore the sole rights to establish a business dealing with the edible fats produced there. Merely that and nothing more! The concession-seekers represented by Mr. Dix were prepared to purchase at a fair price all the ghi or native butter produced throughout the state, refine and purify it, and in its vastly improved condition, resell it to the consumers. It looked, on the face of it, to be the sort of proposal which one might expect from a moonstruck philanthropist with a large sum of money in the bank and a considerably larger sum in his mind.

But since it was so very plainly a scheme which would benefit the natives of Jolapore far more than the promoters, clearly it was not reasonable that much money could be offered to the Rajah for his consent. Indeed, the pair offered no money to the Rajah, who, they pretended to believe would, for the sake of his people, welcome the arrival of the philanthropic fats-purifier and his machinery with open arms. But by an odd chance Mrs. Dix had recently come into possession of some tolerably vivid love-letters written to a friend of hers, one Miss Lesly Larchmont, a year or so before, by the Rajah, who was a lover of love—as was only to be expected from the descendant of a long line of kings whose two aims in life appeared consistently to have been to fight all men—so great was their courage—and to love all ladies—so tender were their hearts. And since the lady in question had left England permanently for America, there was no reason why the letters should not be returned to the Rajah, who probably would like to have them back.

The Rajah, Mirza explained, would be glad to have them back—his affections were centered upon quite another-lady at the moment; and rather than run any risk of the letters getting into the hands of the Lady of the Day, he would quite readily submit to the comparatively mild blackmail and grant the concession in return for the letters to the Lady of Yesterday. Indeed, it would be a good act—for he would destroy the slightly erotic evidence of a somewhat hectic episode, and like a human and benevolent king, he would secure a never-failing supply of pure and toothsome fat for his folk. Mirza, of course, had not allowed the Dix couple to imagine things were so easy. He had carefully kept them apart from the Rajah, and had made difficulties—great difficulties. He had shown them that the granting of such a concession was totally impossible, unheard of, unimaginable and—again—impossible. He had explained to the Dixes that, undeniably a brave man though he was, he dared not put such a proposal before his master.

So that night Mrs. Dix, with an offer of five thousand pounds for himself when the concession was granted, had endeavored to stimulate his undeniable bravery sufficiently to interest himself in the matter. He had promised to give it his consideration; and, as he carefully explained, had always been his intention, he had come round to chat the matter over with his old friends and comrades.

HE concluded his story and his brandy almost simultaneously, and deftly replenishing his glass, lay back in his chair beaming upon the partners and permitting them to do the thinking which such a curious state of affairs clearly called for.

The Honorable John summed up.

“Evidently the concession is valuable to somebody, for no man is going to go out of his way to erect a ghi-purifying factory in Jolapore for amusement. It's not an amusing business,” he added, with truth. “And anybody who'll hand the Rajah those letters can have the concession—that's clear, isn't it, Mirza? So we'd better make a note that we shall require those letters. We can see to that—a job for Sing. You know where the Dix birds roost, I suppose, Mirza? I've no doubt they stole the letters, anyway—they're a very sharp and shifty pair of crooks, Mirza, with a weakness for pictures—painted ones, not movies. Then we've got to find out how valuable the concession is, get it ourselves, and sell it to the person who wants to buy it.”

He frowned.

“Though how the devil it can be valuable, I—” His face cleared as he thought of something.

“That'll be all right, Mirza,” he said. “Forget it, now. Just keep the Dixes dangling along, and we'll see to the rest. We shall be wanting their address, and that'll be about all.”

They stared a little, but John did not explain further.

I will dope out this little strategy,” he said spaciously. “Let it go at that, and—pass the brandy, Mirza, my lad. It's a good brandy and it's a pity to let it stand idle.”

ON the following day, at an hour just comfortably in advance of the mid-day clangor of the luncheon-gong, the limousine of the partners rolled smoothly along the great avenue leading to Brillingham Castle in Hampshire, once the property of Lord Brillingham, but no longer so. It had passed into the possession—per mortgagees—of the great American lard king, Mr. Henry Le Hay, who, with his wife, was a friend of Messrs. Brass and Clumber—the partners having rendered them very great, though expensive services on more than one occasion. And the description of what this money-mammoth was, as furnished to the partners by his wife when they first met, being crisp yet comprehensive, may bear repetition.

“They call him 'Lard' Le Hay in the States because he is lard, really. He's quite the lard czar. Probably there is never a time when he owns less than seventy per cent of all the lard in America. I don't know what your cook pays for lard now, but I do know that if my husband cared to say 'Sky lard!' to his people, the price would rise throughout the world.”

It was Mr. Le Hay, a small, laconic, unobtrusive man, whose advice concerning ghi the Honorable John proposed to collect.

The Le Hays were in residence, though without guests, and welcomed the partners in their usual hospitable way.

There was a brief séance, with apéritifs, in Lard Le Hay's study, pending lunch; and straightway Mr. Brass put his problem to the expert in fats.

“There's a little thing we want to learn something about, Le Hay,” said he, looking fondly through his glass against the sunlight.

“Shoot!” said the little man.

John shot.

“A great friend of ours, the Rajah of Jolapore, is being bothered by some people for a concession which will give them the control—both buying and selling—of all the native butter produced in Jolapore—his kingdom. Ghi, they call it—though why the devil they should I don't know. Now, the Rajah would let us have the concession for a reasonable figure, but before we buy it,—for resale-—we'd like to know something about it.”

HENRY LE HAY nodded approval, and the Honorable John proceeded to give details of the nature of the concession required by Mr. and Mrs. Paradix Dix, presumably for some “client” or other.

“What we don't understand is this: if a man buys ghi, which is pretty cheap, how the devil can he clean it and purify it and sell it back at a profit to people who can hardly afford it in its first condition?” demanded John.

The lips of the lard czar twitched a little.

“Well, how can a firm afford to sell lard in the can for less per pound than it costs them on the hog?” he asked.

The partners reflected, and their faces cleared suddenly.

“I see,” said Mr. Brass, frankly. “You add fifteen ounces of paraffin wax or some inexpensive dope of the kind to one ounce of hog-lard, stick it in a can and label it 'Refined Lard.' Very refined—huh? Ha-ha! Must make a note of your lard, Le Hay. Steer clear of it, hey?”

Henry Le Hay flushed slightly.

We don't do that,” he said. “I was thinking of another firm. But you can take it that as a general rule there's a lot more in a can of lard than ever came out of a hog.”

“And a good deal that came from a horse, hey? Not to mention other things!” chuckled Mr. Brass. “Well, well, that's the maker's funeral—or the consumer's; anyway, it's not ours.”

But Mr. Le Hay did not appear to hear him. The lard czar was thinking—thinking hard. They saw that, and left him to think while they constructed further apéritifs. In a moment he rose, and with a word of excuse, left them for a moment. He wished to see his secretary, it appeared.

He was back almost at once.

“This concession—” he said. “The figures relating to ghi and ghi-authorities are small—small but interesting. With the right plant, a clever modern firm could buy ghi for X money per ton, refine it, and resell it for X money per ton.”

“Well, but there would be no profit in that.”

Lard Le Hay smiled.

“No, but there would be a surplus of about twenty per cent pure ghi left in your hands out of each ton. With treatment, this could be transformed into delicious dairy butter—American, Canadian, English, Danish, any kind of fresh butter for which there is a high-priced demand. Or lard, or anything else.”

Mr. Brass turned a little pale.

“A man never knows what he's eating, nowadays,” he said. “Damn this science, I say. However—business is business.”

“Yep,” said Le Hay. “I will buy the concession. I wish to take hold of the ghi industry. It might be made worth while. The modern fats business is a very intricate business, and there's a place for ghi in it. How much?”

“Twelve thousand pounds, and a few shares in the company—say nine thousand,” said John promptly.

LE HAY nodded.

“It's a deal,” he said, and forthwith dropped the subject and began to talk about his little godson Victor Beauray—that same laddy whom Messrs. Brass and Clumber had retrieved when he had been kidnaped by none other than Mr. Paradix Dix.

But the Honorable John seemed strangely even morbidly, fascinated by fats.

“You know, Le Hay,” he said quite sincerely, “I've got a great admiration for a man like you. You've got such a lamp out for possibilities. You do things in a big way. You don't haggle. There must be a heap of money in these fats.”

Le Hay nodded.

“Yep,” he said, “there is. You don't need to be afraid I've paid you too much for this concession.” He smiled, a dry little smile. “It will pay me hundreds of thousands sterling. Fats are like wheat—vital. That's the joker. They call me the Lard Czar—but lard's only a branch of the business. All fats interest me. All I want is the fatty base—and I don't care whether it comes off a tree, or off a hog, out of the ground or out of the sea—I don't care whether it grows foliage, fur, fins or feathers: I can make anything you like of it, from pure full-cream dairy butter, right down to cart-grease—including explosives.”

“Good Lord!” said the Honorable John, shocked. “I've been paying three shillings and sixpence a pound for dairy butter, specially made. What guarantee have I got that it's genuine?”

“None,” said Mr. Le Hay with quiet satisfaction. “The base for that butter—unless you saw it made—may have come out of a whale or a petroleum-well or grown on a vine or coconut palm. You never know!”

“Well, let's change the subject,” said the Honorable John.

“Sure—lunch is ready.”

They went to it. Mr. Brass quietly but firmly declined butter at lunch, but did pretty well otherwise—pretty well.

PROVIDED, by Mirza Khan, with the address of the Dix pair—a quiet, though small and unobtrusive flat in Westminster—it was a matter of the utmost simplicity for the partners, aided by Sing, to call round one afternoon, watch the couple go out, and then quietly to “make an entry,” find the letters and finally to make an exit, leaving no trace.

Nor did it appear likely to prove anything but an easy task to exchange the letters for the concession. The partners contented themselves with handing the letters to Mirza and informing the dusky crook that four thousand pounds cash and three thousand shares in Le Hay's new Indian Ghi Company awaited him upon receipt of the concession.

“Thatt will be matter for speedee completion, my dear sars,” chuckled Mirza, and departed, no doubt to slip a sharp spur into the Rajah's legal representatives.

“A little bale of the happiest money we have collected for some time,” said the Honorable John cheerfully, as Mirza departed. “And though I say it myself, it reflects great credit on my talent for neatness.”

For once the Colonel good-humoredly agreed. There was nothing the Colonel liked better than a little “happy” money now and again—provided no personal effort on his part was needed to get it.

But it was not to be quite so easy as they fancied—a fact which was made clear to them some four days later when Mirza Khan, extremely agitated, rang up to warn them of an impending visit from “a gentleman off veree aggressive manner named Barnard Croucher, who,” gabbled Mirza, had just put him in a shockingly comfortless position—“positive bed off thorns, oah yess,”—by calling on the Rajah with a packet of letters identical in every respect with those acquired from the Dix brace, saying that he had found them in his wife's possession, and that he had come from New York with the fixed resolve of collecting one of two things—either:

(1) A satisfactory explanation of the circumstances which caused the writer to write them; or,

(2) The last drop of blood in the writer's body.

“Thee Dix letters are forgeries off most reprehensible nature,” said Mirza, “and His Highness will be angeree—”

“That'll be all right, Mirza,” said the Honorable John, who feared not man nor devil. “I'll take care of B. C. Did he see the Rajah?”

“Certainlee not att all,” cried Mirza, horrified. “That would be peretty calamitous dénouement, by Jove! I should lose my job with extremely swift rapidity iff M. Croucher were ever permitted to make scenes with His Highness—I exercised diplomatic trick, and told thiss man that you were the writer of thee love-letters to hiss wife—and he is now coming in swift taxi to see you. I am perfectlee confident that'll be all raight,” said Mirza.

“Why, damn your eyes—” began the Honorable John furiously, but Mirza had intelligently rung off. He knew, none better, that now Mr. Brass had the particulars of that love-affair of the Rajah's at his finger-tips, he was to be relied upon to deal with the situation. But also he knew that probably he would be in no very pleasant mood until the affair was concluded.

“It's all very fine,” grumbled the Honorable John as he made his way to the sideboard for irrigation materials, “and Mirza's a very good sort—so's the Rajah; but why the devil I should be saddled with all the results of his love-affairs—and none of the love, mind you,—I don't see.”

The Colonel laughed heartily.

“Well, you always were a full-blooded flirt—” he began. “If not with this particular mignonne, with some other—and—”

BUT here Sing, his eyes glittering, entered to announce Mr. Barnard Croucher, a thin, tall, fair young gentleman, with pale hair and hot eyes. A careless observer would have decided that the gentleman was dangerously angry—but Mr. Brass, who, on these occasions, was far from being a careless observer, decided he was merely simulating anger. In his hand he held a bundle of letters.

“Your name Brass?” he demanded with a rasping accent and a scowl. He slid his disengaged hand into a side pocket in a most menacing manner.

“I am the Honorable John Brass,” said Mr. Brass, with dignity, “—to you,” he added.

Mr. Croucher caused something within his pocket to stick out toward Mr. Brass like a man aiming a revolver through the cloth.

“Yes, yes,” said the Honorable John. “I see it, Barnard. Give yourself no anxiety—I notice it. It doesn't distress me, but if it amuses you at all, all right. My servant—the laddy who let you in—has a forty-five trained through the service-hatch on the exact middle of your spine, Barnard, and I don't recommend you to open any bombardment today.”

Mr. Croucher flinched a little, removed his hand with a grunt, and glanced over his shoulder. It was as the Honorable John had said. Sing's unlovely visage loomed behind an immense revolver trained through the serving-hatch.

“Did you write these letters to my wife?” demanded Mr. Croucher. Without letting them out of his possession, he showed them to the Honorable John, who examined them carefully. He was anxious to assure himself that they were replicas of those they had taken from the Dixes—which they were.

“Yes,” he said finally. “I wrote them—and very well written letters they are. Very literal and loving, but I wrote them to Miss Lesly Larchmont, who was working in the revue “Tu-whit! Tu-whool!” then putting people to sleep nightly at the Fantasieum—not to Mrs. Barnard Croucher.”

“Lesly Larchmont was my wife,” growled Mr. Croucher.

“She didn't advertise it,” replied Mr. Brass: “What are you going to do about it?”

“I want satisfaction!”

“Help yourself,” said John.

Barnard seemed slightly nonplused.

“She oughta told you who she was,” he complained.

“Have you come all the way from New York to tell me what ladies ought to do, Croucher?” inquired the Honorable John. “Good Lord, my lad, I know what they ought to do—and I know what they ought not to do. Dammy, man, don't you ever read your prayer-book? It's in one of the collects for the day—” he went on rather hazily. “We have left undone those things we ought not to have left undone, and what we have done cannot be undone, and so on. You want to read more my lad.

“Now, look here, the best thing you can do—if you will take the advice of an older man—is to forget it. Lesly was a very nice little dame, perfectly well able to take care of herself. Unless I am very much mistaken, she took out of England some thousands of pounds, a good deal of jewelry, some valuable experience, a tame cat called Viscount Ethelred Cynche, son and heir of the Earl of Lopacre, and the fixed intention of divorcing the husband she left in the States—you, I suppose, though we've only got your word for that.”

His keen old eyes were photographing every flicker of Croucher's face, and he had seen enough to relegate him correctly to the class to which he belonged. As he had suspected at the beginning, the man had not come for revenge but for cash. He wanted satisfaction, it was true, but it was the kind of satisfaction that one keeps in one's note-case. In short, Mr. Croucher (though his were probably the Rajah's original letters) was carrying out a little scheme of blackmail, though unfortunately for him, he had chosen the wrong kind of blackmailee.

“And, anyway, are you Lesly's husband?” demanded the Honorable John, suddenly menacing. “If so, let me have a look at your marriage certificate. That's it,” he bawled with vague memories of the theater, “show me your marriage lines.”

He advanced a step. Mr. Croucher, slightly agitated, but scowling, retreated two steps.

“Keep your hands out of your pockets, my lad,” warned the Honorable John. “I'll teach you to blackmail me.”

His hand shot out and gripped Mr. Croucher by the throat, not too harshly, but sufficiently so.

“And now, you amateur blackmailer, we'll have the truth,” he observed. “Don't struggle or you'll strain your throat against my hand. Are you Lesly's husband?”


“Her maid's husband, hey? That's more like it, hey?” Mr. Brass had hit the nail unerringly upon the head.

“Yeh,” gurgled Mr. Croucher.

“Where did you get those letters? From Miss Larchmont's maid?”


“Give 'em up!”

Meekly enough Barnard gave them up—also his revolver—and Mr. Brass released him.

“Give him a drink, old man,” he said good-naturedly to the Colonel, and surveyed the limp Croucher.

“You're a damned fine blackmailer, Barnard, my son,” he said. “Take my advice—go home and get a steady job in a laundry. Hey? Sounds good, hey?”

MR. CROUCHER was understood to say that it was-good enough.

“Y'see, laddy, you aren't crook enough for blackmail. Honesty, my lad! Stick to honesty. You can't beat it. East, west, honesty's best. Thats my motto—and I don't mind your sharing it. It's big enough for two. That's it—in a nutshell! Honesty's best. Be honest, and you will eat well and sleep well. Be a crook, and you'll be miserable all your life. Why, I wonder they let you come away alive from the Rajah of Jolapore's house. I am amazed. It's a dangerous business putting these skin games over on dark parties like that, Barnard. And you're only an also-ran, anyway. There's been a better man than you on the business—and he fell down on it, too. D'you know him—a crook named Paradix Dix?”

Croucher nodded sullenly. “I've heard of him.”

“Who is Paradix Dix?” continued the Honorable John. “He had a set of letters like these. Forgeries, hey?”

“Yes sir. Mrs. Dix is Miss Lesly Larchmont's sister.”

I see. And I suppose Miss Larchmont showed the letters to Mrs. Dix, who copied them for her own purposes!”

“Search me! I guess so.”

“Right. Now you can slip it.”

But Mr. Croucher lingered. “Say, how'm I gona get home?” he asked, rather feebly.

Mr. Brass stared at him. “D'ye mean to say you're broke?”

“If liners were two cents a dozen, I couldn't buy as much as a rivet,” wailed Barnard.

The Honorable John handed him a pound note.

“There, my boy,” he said generously. “That'll buy you food for a week—stroll down to Southampton and get a job on a boat going across. A little work will keep you from brooding.” He signaled Sing, who promptly ushered Mr. Croucher out, and as far as they were concerned, into the Never-hever.

CHEERILY the two old wolves settled down to a little refreshment. As Mr. Brass put down his glass, the telephone-bell rang.

It was Mirza.

“Helloah! Iss thatt thee Honorable John Brass? Thee concession has now been signed by His Highness, and if it is perfectlee convenient to you, sars, I am now proposing little visit with same in my possession—if thee correct letters are available.”

His voice was blander than cream.

“Come on then, Mirza,” said the Honorable John. “That crook Croucher has gone—for good. There will be no scandal on his account, tell the Rajah. And we've got both sets of letters—forgeries and originals. Rub that well into His Highness. A little extra sign of his gratitude would be graceful—very graceful indeed!” hinted Mr. Brass.

“Assuredlee! I am world's champion at massage of thatt description!” laughed the black rascal.

AND subsequently he proved it—for an amount which, if it did not double Henry Le Hay's little contribution, made an admirable pendant to it, and left the partners well satisfied. As the Honorable John said: “I regard it as useful money—not too much—in fact, to be frank, rather on the low side. Still, there's plenty more where that came from, and in these matters it doesn't do to be too greedy. I shouldn't care to be a hog about it.”

“No—you wouldn't. I've often noticed you practicing how not to be a hog!” said the Colonel sarcastically.

But the sarcasm passed unnoticed in a sudden anxiety which had suddenly invaded the soul of Mr. Brass.

“And now,” he said, “now what are we going to do about butter? I don't mind admitting that what Le Hay gave away about butter has got me guessing.”

“Ah, well, guess again,” said the Colonel unfeelingly. “You'll have to take what's coming to you—and I shouldn't be surprised if you get a percentage of this ghi in it!”

But he was wrong there—for the Honorable John promptly installed a couple of cows at their country house at Purdston, and regardless of cost, fitted up a personal dairy there that rendered the wares of Hog-Products, Ltd. (President Henry Le Hay) a matter of supreme and permanent indifference to him.

The Honorable John may have been no hog (as he claimed), but he certainly was a gentleman of infinite resource.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1952, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 71 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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