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   Chapter 30 A MAN'S SOUL

The Double Life Of Mr. Alfred Burton By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 6295

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The half-yearly directors' meeting of the Menatogen Company had just been held. One by one, those who had attended it were taking their leave. The auditor, with a bundle of papers under his arm, shook hands cordially with the chairman-Alfred Burton, Esquire-and Mr. Waddington, and Mr. Bomford, who, during the absence of the professor in Assyria, represented the financial interests of the company.

"A most wonderful report, gentlemen," the auditor pronounced,-"a business, I should consider, without its equal in the world."

"And still developing," Mr. Waddington remarked, impressively.

"And still developing," the auditor agreed. "Another three years like the last and I shall have the pleasure of numbering at least three millionaires among my acquaintances."

"Shall we-?" Mr. Burton suggested, glancing towards Waddington.

Mr. Waddington nodded, but Mr. Bomford took up his hat. He was dressed in the height of subdued fashion. His clothes and manners would have graced a Cabinet Minister. He had, as a matter of fact, just entered Parliament.

"You will excuse me, gentlemen," he said. "I make it a rule never to take anything at all in the middle of the day."

He took his leave with the auditor.

"Pompous old ass!" Mr. Waddington murmured. "A snob!" Mr. Alfred

Burton declared,-"that's what I call him! Got his eye on a place in

Society. Saw his name in the paper the other day a guest at Lady

Somebody's reception. Here goes, old chap-success to Menatogen!"

Waddington drained his glass.

"They say it's his wife who pushes him on so," he remarked.

Mr. Burton's wine went suddenly flat. He drank it but without enjoyment. Then he rose to his feet.

"Well, so long, Waddington, old chap," he said. "I expect the missis is waiting for me."

Mrs. Burton was certainly waiting for her husband. She was sitting back among the cushions of her Sixty horse-power Daimler, wrapped in a motoring coat of the latest fashion, her somewhat brilliant coloring only partially obscured by the silver-gray veil which drooped from her motor bonnet. Burton took his place beside her almost in silence, and they glided off. She looked at him curiously.

"Meeting go off all right?" she asked, a little sharply.

"Top hole," Mr. Burton replied.

"Then what are you so glum about?" she demanded, suspiciously. "You've got nothing to worry about that I can see."

"Nothing at all," Mr. Burton admitted.

"Very good report of Alfred came second post," Mrs. Burton continued. "They say he'll be fit to enter Harrow next year. And an invitation to dine, too, with Lady Goldstein. We're getting on, Alfred. The only thing now is that country house. I wish we could find something to suit us."

"If we keep on looking," Burton remarked, "we are bound to come across something sooner or later. If not, I must build."

"I'm all for building," Mrs. Burton declared. "I don't care for mouldy old ruins, with ivy and damp places upon the walls. I like something fine and spick and span and handsome, with a tower to it, and a long straight drive that you can see down to the road; plenty of stone work about the wi

ndows, and good square rooms. As for the garden, well, let that come. We can plant a lot of small trees about, and lay down a lawn. I don't care about other folks' leavings in houses, and a lot of trees around a place always did put me off. Have you told him where to go to?"

Burton shook his head.

"I just told him to drive about thirty or forty miles into the country," he said. "It doesn't matter in what direction, does it? We may see something that will suit us."

The car, with its splendid easy motion, sped noiselessly through the suburbs and out into the country. It seemed to Mr. Burton that he must have dozed. He had been up late the night before, and for several nights before that. He was a little puffy about the cheeks and his eyes were not so bright as they had been. He had developed a habit of dozing off in odd places. When he awoke, he sat up with a start. He had been dreaming. Surely this was a part of the dream! The car was going very slowly indeed. On one side of him was a common, with bushes of flaming gorse and clumps of heather, and little ragged plantations of pine trees; and on his right, a low, old-fashioned house, a lawn of velvet, and a great cedar tree; a walled garden with straight, box-bordered paths, a garden full of old-fashioned flowers whose perfume seemed suddenly to be tearing at some newly-awakened part of the man. He sat up. He stared at the little seat among the rose bushes. Surely he was back again, back again in that strange world, where the flavor of existence was a different thing, where his head had touched the clouds, where all the gross cares and pleasures of his everyday life had fallen away! Was it the perfume of the roses, of the stocks, which had suddenly appealed to some dormant sense of beauty? Or had he indeed passed back for a moment into that world concerning which he had sometimes strange, half doubtful thoughts? He leaned forward, and his eyes wandered feverishly among the hidden places of the garden. The seat was empty. Propped up against the hedge was a notice board: "This House to Let."

"What on earth are you staring at?" Mrs. Burton demanded, with some acerbity. "A silly little place like that would be no use to us. I don't know what the people who've been living there could have been thinking about, to let the garden get into such a state. Fancy a nasty dark tree like that, too, keeping all the sun away from the house! I'd have it cut down if it were mine. What on earth are you looking at, Alfred Burton?"

He turned towards her, heavy-eyed.

"Somewhere under that cedar tree," he said, "a man's soul was buried. I was wondering if its ghost ever walked!"

Mrs. Burton lifted the speaking-tube to her lips.

"You can take the next turning home, John," she ordered.

The man's hand was mechanically raised to his hat. Mrs. Burton leaned back once more among the cushions.

"You and your ghosts!" she exclaimed. "If you want to sit there, thinking like an owl, you'd better try and think of some of your funny stories for to-night. You'll have to sit next that stuck-up Mrs. Bomford, and she takes a bit of amusing."

THE END.

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