MoboReader > Literature > Bones in London

   Chapter 4 THE PLOVER LIGHT CAR

Bones in London By Edgar Wallace Characters: 28375

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The door of the private office opened and after a moment closed. It was, in fact, the private door of the private office, reserved exclusively for the use of the Managing Director of Schemes Limited. Nevertheless, a certain person had been granted the privilege of ingress and egress through that sacred portal, and Mr. Tibbetts, yclept Bones, crouching over his desk, the ferocity of his countenance intensified by the monocle which was screwed into his eye, and the terrific importance of his correspondence revealed by his disordered hair and the red tongue that followed the movements of his pen, did not look up.

"Put it down, put it down, young miss," he murmured, "on the table, on the floor, anywhere."

There was no answer, and suddenly Bones paused and scowled at the half-written sheet before him.

"That doesn't look right." He shook his head. "I don't know what's coming over me. Do you spell 'cynical' with one 'k' or two?"

Bones looked up.

He saw a brown-faced man, with laughing grey eyes, a tall man in a long overcoat, carrying a grey silk hat in his hand.

"Pardon me, my jolly old intruder," said Bones with dignity, "this is a private--" Then his jaw dropped and he leant on the desk for support. "Not my-- Good heavens!" he squeaked, and then leapt across the room, carrying with him the flex of his table lamp, which fell crashing to the floor.

"Ham, you poisonous old reptile!" He seized the other's hand in his bony paw, prancing up and down, muttering incoherently.

"Sit down, my jolly old Captain. Let me take your overcoat. Well! Well! Well! Give me your hat, dear old thing-dear old Captain, I mean. This is simply wonderful! This is one of the most amazin' experiences I've ever had, my dear old sportsman and officer. How long have you been home? How did you leave the Territory? Good heavens! We must have a bottle on this!"

"Sit down, you noisy devil," said Hamilton, pushing his erstwhile subordinate into a chair, and pulling up another to face him.

"So this is your boudoir!" He glanced round admiringly. "It looks rather like the waiting-room of a couturière."

"My dear old thing," said the shocked Bones, "I beg you, if you please, remember, remember--" He lowered his voice, and the last word was in a hoarse whisper, accompanied by many winks, nods, and pointings at and to a door which led from the inner office apparently to the outer. "There's a person, dear old man of the world-a young person-well brought up--"

"What the--" began Hamilton.

"Don't be peeved!" Bones's knowledge of French was of the haziest. "Remember, dear old thing," he said solemnly, wagging his inky forefinger, "as an employer of labour, I must protect the young an' innocent, my jolly old skipper."

Hamilton looked round for a missile, and could find nothing better than a crystal paper-weight, which looked too valuable to risk.

"'Couturière,'" he said acidly, "is French for 'dressmaker.'"

"French," said Bones, "is a language which I have always carefully avoided. I will say no more-you mean well, Ham."

Thereafter followed a volley of inquiries, punctuated at intervals by genial ceremony, for Bones would rise from his chair, walk solemnly round the desk, and as solemnly shake hands with his former superior.

"Now, Bones," said Hamilton at last, "will you tell me what you are doing?"

Bones shrugged his shoulders.

"Business," he said briefly. "A deal now and again, dear old officer.

Make a thousand or so one week, lose a hundred or so the next."

"But what are you doing?" persisted Hamilton.

Again Bones shrugged, but with more emphasis.

"I suppose," he confessed, with a show of self-deprecation which his smugness belied, "I suppose I am one of those jolly old spiders who sit in the centre of my web, or one of those perfectly dinky little tigers who sit in my jolly old lair, waiting for victims.

"Of course, it's cruel sport"-he shrugged again, toying with his ivory paper-knife-"but one must live. In the City one preys upon other ones."

"Do the other ones do any preying at all?" asked Hamilton.

Up went Bones's eyebrows.

"They try," he said tersely, and with compressed lips. "Last week a fellow tried to sell me his gramophone, but I had a look at it. As I suspected, it had no needle. A gramophone without a needle," said Bones, "as you probably know, my dear old musical one, is wholly useless."

"But you can buy them at a bob a box," said Hamilton.

Bones's face fell.

"Can you really?" he demanded. "You are not pulling my leg, or anything? That's what the other fellow said. I do a little gambling," Bones went on, "not on the Stock Exchange or on the race-course, you understand, but in Exchanges."

"Money Exchanges?"

Bones bowed his head.

"For example," he said, "to-day a pound is worth thirty-two francs, to-morrow it is worth thirty-four francs. To-day a pound is worth four dollars seventy-seven--"

"As a matter of fact, it is three dollars ninety-seven," interrupted

Hamilton.

"Ninety-seven or seventy-seven," said Bones irritably, "what is four shillings to men like you or me, Hamilton? We can well afford it."

"My dear chap," said Hamilton, pardonably annoyed, "there is a difference of four shillings between your estimate and the rate."

"What is four shillings to you or me?" asked Bones again, shaking his head solemnly. "My dear old Ham, don't be mean."

There was a discreet tap on the door, and Bones rose with every evidence of agitation.

"Don't stir, dear old thing," he pleaded in a husky whisper. "Pretend not to notice, dear old Ham. Don't be nervous-wonderful young lady--"

Then, clearing his throat noisily, "Come in!" he roared in the tone that a hungry lion might have applied to one of the early Christian martyrs who was knocking by mistake on the door of his den.

In spite of all injunctions, Hamilton did look, and he did stare, and he did take a great deal of notice, for the girl who came in was well worth looking at. He judged her to be about the age of twenty-one. "Pretty" would be too feeble a word to employ in describing her. The russet-brown hair, dressed low over her forehead, emphasized the loveliness of eyes set wide apart and holding in their clear depths all the magic and mystery of womanhood.

She was dressed neatly. He observed, too, that she had an open book under her arm and a pencil in her hand, and it dawned upon him slowly that this radiant creature was-Bones's secretary!

Bones's secretary!

He stared at Bones, and that young man, very red in the face, avoided his eye.

Bones was standing by the desk, in the attitude of an after-dinner speaker who was stuck for the right word. In moments of extreme agitation Bones's voice became either a growl or a squeak-the bottom register was now in exercise.

"Did-did you want me, young miss?" he demanded gruffly.

The girl at the door hesitated.

"I'm sorry-I didn't know you were engaged. I wanted to see you about the Abyssinian--"

"Come in, come in, certainly," said Bones more gruffly than ever. "A new complication, young miss?"

She laid a paper on the desk, taking no more notice of Hamilton than if he were an ornament on the chimney-piece.

"The first instalment of the purchase price is due to-day," she said.

"Is it?" said Bones, with his extravagant surprise. "Are you certain, young miss? This day of all days-and it's a Thursday, too," he added unnecessarily.

The girl smiled and curled her lip, but only for a second.

"Well, well," said Bones, "it's a matter of serious importance. The cheque, jolly old young miss, we will sign it and you will send it off. Make it out for the full amount--"

"For the three thousand pounds?" said the girl.

"For the three thousand pounds," repeated Bones soberly. He put in his monocle and glared at her. "For the three thousand pounds," he repeated.

She stood waiting, and Bones stood waiting, he in some embarrassment as to the method by which the interview might be terminated and his secretary dismissed without any wound to her feelings.

"Don't you think to-morrow would do for the cheque?" she asked.

"Certainly, certainly," said Bones. "Why not? To-morrow's Friday, ain't it?"

She inclined her head and walked out of the room, and Bones cleared his throat once more.

"Bones--"

The young man turned to meet Hamilton's accusing eye.

"Bones," said Hamilton gently, "who is the lady?"

"Who is the lady?" repeated Bones, with a cough. "The lady is my secretary, dear old inquisitor."

"So I gather," said Hamilton.

"She is my secretary," repeated Bones. "An extremely sensible young woman, extremely sensible."

"Don't be silly," said Hamilton. "Plenty of people are sensible. When you talk about sensible young women, you mean plain young women."

"That's true," said Bones; "I never thought of that. What a naughty old mind you have, Ham."

He seemed inclined to change the subject.

"And now, dear old son," said Bones, with a brisk return to his what-can-I-do-for-you air, "to business! You've come, dear old thing, to consult me."

"You're surprisingly right," said Hamilton.

"Well," said Bones, trying three drawers of his desk before he could find one that opened, "have a cigar, and let us talk."

Hamilton took the proffered weed and eyed it suspiciously.

"Is this one that was given to you, or one that you bought?" he demanded.

"That, my jolly old officer," said Bones, "is part of a job lot that I bought pretty cheap. I've got a rare nose for a bargain--"

"Have you a rare nose for a cigar, that's the point?" asked Hamilton, as he cut off the end and lit it gingerly.

"Would I give you a bad cigar?" asked the indignant Bones. "A gallant old returned warrior, comrade of my youth, and all that sort of thing! My dear old Ham!"

"I'll tell you in a minute," said Hamilton, and took two draws.

Bones, who was no cigar smoker, watched the proceedings anxiously.

Hamilton put the cigar down very gently on the corner of the desk.

"Do you mind if I finish this when nobody's looking?" he asked.

"Isn't it all right?" asked Bones. "Gracious heavens! I paid fifty shillings a hundred for those! Don't say I've been done."

"I don't see how you could be done at that price," said Hamilton, and brushed the cigar gently into the fireplace. "Yes, I have come to consult you, Bones," he went on. "Do you remember some eight months ago I wrote to you telling you that I had been offered shares in a motor-car company?"

Bones had a dim recollection that something of the sort had occurred, and nodded gravely.

"It seemed a pretty good offer to me," said Hamilton reflectively. "You remember I told you there was a managership attached to the holding of the shares?"

Bones shifted uneasily in his chair, sensing a reproach.

"My dear old fellow--" he began feebly.

"Wait a bit," said Hamilton. "I wrote to you and asked you your advice. You wrote back, telling me to have nothing whatever to do with the Plover Light Car Company."

"Did I?" said Bones. "Well, my impression was that I advised you to get into it as quickly as you possibly could. Have you my letter, dear old thing?"

"I haven't," said Hamilton.

"Ah," said Bones triumphantly, "there you are! You jolly old rascal, you are accusing me of putting you off--"

"Will you wait, you talkative devil?" said Hamilton. "I pointed out to you that the prospects were very alluring. The Company was floated with a small capital--"

Again Bones interrupted, and this time by rising and walking solemnly round the table to shake hands with him.

"Hamilton, dear old skipper," he pleaded. "I was a very busy man at that time. I admit I made a mistake, and possibly diddled you out of a fortune. But my intention was to write to you and tell you to get into it, and how I ever came to tell you not to get into it-well, my poor old speculator, I haven't the slightest idea!"

"The Company--" began Hamilton.

"I know, I know," said Bones, shaking his head sadly and fixing his monocle-a proceeding rendered all the more difficult by the fact that his hand never quite overtook his face. "It was an error on my part, dear old thing. I know the Company well. Makes a huge profit! You can see the car all over the town. I think the jolly old Partridge--"

"Plover," said Hamilton.

"Plover, I mean. They've got another kind of car called the Partridge," explained Bones. "Why, it's one of the best in the market. I thought of buying one myself. And to think that I put you off that Company! Tut, tut! Anyway, dear old man," he said, brightening up, "most of the good fish is in the sea, and it only goes bad when it comes out of the sea. Have you ever noticed that, my dear old naturalist?"

"Wait a moment. Will you be quiet?" said the weary Hamilton. "I'm trying to tell you my experiences. I put the money-four thousand pounds-into this infernal Company.

"Eh?"

"I put the money into the Company, I tell you, against your advice.

The Company is more or less a swindle."

Bones sat down slowly in his chair and assumed his most solemn and business-like face.

"Of course, it keeps within the law, but it's a swindle, none the less. They've got a wretched broken-down factory somewhere in the North, and the only Plover car that's ever been built was made by a Scottish contractor at a cost of about twice the amount which the Company people said that they would charge for it."

"What did I say?" said Bones quietly. "Poor old soul, I do not give advice without considering matters, especially to my dearest friend. A company like this is obviously a swindle. You can tell by the appearance of the cars--"

"There was only one car ever made," interrupted Hamilton.

"I should have said car," said the unperturbed Bones. "The very appearance of it shows you that the thing is a swindle from beginning to end. Oh, why did you go against my advice, dear old Ham? Why did you?"

"You humbug!" said the wrathful Hamilton. "You were just this minute apologising for giving me advice."

"That," said Bones cheerfully, "was before I'd heard your story. Yes,

Ham, you've been swindled." He thought a moment. "Four thousand pounds!"

And his jaw dropped.

Bones had been dealing in large sums of late, and had forgotten just the significance of four thousand pounds to a young officer. He was too much of a little gentleman to put his thoughts into words, but it came upon him like a flash that the money which Hamilton had invested in the Plover Light Car Company was every penny he possessed in the world, a little legacy he had received just before Bones had left the Coast, plus all his savings for years.

"Ham," he said hollowly, "I am a jolly old rotter! Here I've been bluffing and swanking to you when I ought to have been thinking out a way of getting things right."

Hamilton laughed.

"I'm afraid you're not going to get things right, Bones," he said. "The only thing I did think was that you might possibly know something about this firm."

At any other moment Bones would have claimed an extensive acquaintance with the firm and its working, but now he shook his head, and Hamilton sighed.

"Sanders told me to come up and see you," he said. "Sanders has great faith in you, Bones."

Bones went very red, coughed, picked up his long-plumed pen and put it down again.

"At any rate," said Hamilton, "you know enough about the City to tell me this-is there any chance of my getting this money back?"

Bones rose jerkily.

"Ham," he said, and Hamilton sensed a tremendous sincerity in his voice, "that money's going to come back to you, or the name of Augustus Tibbetts goes down in the jolly old records as a failure."

A minute later Captain Hamilton found himself hand-shook from the room. Here for Bones was a great occasion. With both elbows on the desk, and two hands searching his hair, he sat worrying out what he afterwards admitted was the most difficult problem that ever confronted him.

After half an hour's hair-pulling he went slowly across his beautiful room and knocked discreetly on the door of the outer office.

Miss Marguerite Whitland had long since grown weary of begging him to drop this practice. She found it a simple matter to say "Come in!" and Bones entered, closing the door behind him, and stood in a deferential attitude two paces from the closed door.

"Young miss," he said quietly, "may I consult you?"

"You may even consult me," she said as gravely.

"It is a very curious problem, dear old Marguerite," said Bones in a low, hushed tone. "It concerns the future of my very dearest friend-the very dearest friend in all the world," he said emphatically, "of the male sex," he added hastily. "Of course, friendships between jolly old officers are on a different plane, if you understand me, to friendships between-I mean to say, dear old thing, I'm not being personal or drawing comparisons, because the feeling I have for you--"

Here his eloquence ran dry. She knew him now well enough to be neither confused nor annoyed nor alarmed when Bones broke forth into an exposition of his private feelings. Very calmly she returned the conversation to the rails.

"It is a matter which concerns a very dear friend of yours," she said suggestively, and Bones nodded and beamed.

"Of course you guessed that," he said admiringly. "You're the jolliest old typewriter that ever lived! I don't suppose any other young woman in London would have--"

"Oh, yes, they would," she said. "You'd already told me. I suppose that you've forgotten it."

"Well, to cut a long story short, dear old Miss Marguerite," said Bones, leaning confidentially on the table and talking down into her upturned lace, "I must find the whereabouts of a certain rascal or rascals, trading or masquerading, knowingly or unknowingly, to the best of my knowledge and belief, as the--" He stopped and frowned. "Now, what the dickens was the name of that bird?" he said. "Pheasant, partridge, ostrich, bat, flying fish, sparrow-it's something to do with eggs. What are the eggs you eat?"

"I seldom eat eggs," said the girl quietly, "but when I do they are the eggs of the common domestic fowl."

"It ain't him," said Bones, shaking his head. "No, it's-I've got it-Plover-the Plover Light Car Company."

The girl made a note on her pad.

"I want you to get the best men in London to search out this Company. If necessary, get two private detectives, or even three. Set them to work at once, and spare no expense. I want to know who's running the company-I'd investigate the matter myself, but I'm so fearfully busy-and where their offices are. Tell the detectives," said Bones, warming to the subject, "to hang around the motor-car shops in the West End. They're bound to hear a word dropped here and there, and--"

"I quite understand," said the girl.

Bones put out his lean paw and solemnly shook the girl's hand.

"If," he said, with a tremble in his voice, "if there's a typewriter in London that knows more than you, my jolly old Marguerite, I'll eat my head."

On which lines he made his exit.

Five minutes later the girl came into the office with a slip of paper.

"The Plover Motor Car Company is registered at 604, Gracechurch Street," she said. "It has a capital of eighty thousand pounds, of which forty thousand pounds is paid up. It has works at Kenwood, in the north-west of London, and the managing director is Mr. Charles O. Soames."

Bones could only look at her open-mouthed.

"Where on earth did you discover all this surprising information, dear miss?" he asked, and the girl laughed quietly.

"I can even tell you their telephone number," she said, "because it happens to be in the Telephone Book. The rest I found in the Stock Exchange Year Book."

Bones shook his head in silent admiration.

"If there's a typewriter in London--" he began, but she had fled.

An hour later Bones had evolved his magnificent idea. It was an idea worthy of his big, generous heart and his amazing optimism.

Mr. Charles O. Soames, who sat at a littered table in his shirt-sleeves, was a man with a big shock of hair and large and heavily drooping moustache, and a black chin. He smoked a big, heavy pipe, and, at the moment Bones was announced, his busy pencil was calling into life a new company offering the most amazing prospects to the young and wealthy.

He took the card from the hands of his very plain typist, and suppressed the howl of joy which rose to his throat. For the name of Bones was known in the City of London, and it was the dream of such men as Charles O. Soames that one day they would walk from the office of Mr. Augustus Tibbetts with large parcels of his paper currency under each arm.

He jumped up from his chair and slipped on a coat, pushed the prospectus he was writing under a heap of documents-one at least of which bore a striking family likeness to a county court writ-and welcomed his visitor decorously and even profoundly.

"In re Plover Car," said Bones briskly. He prided himself upon coming to the point with the least possible delay.

The face of Mr. Soames fell.

"Oh, you want to buy a car?" he said. He might have truly said "the car," but under the circumstances he thought that this would be tactless.

"No, dear old company promoter," said Bones, "I do not want to buy your car. In fact, you have no cars to sell."

"We've had a lot of labour trouble," said Mr. Soames hurriedly.

"You've no idea of the difficulties in production-what with the

Government holding up supplies-but in a few months--"

"I know all about that," said Bones. "Now, I'm a man of affairs and a man of business."

He said this so definitely that it sounded like a threat.

"I'm putting it to you, as one City of London business person to another City of London business person, is it possible to make cars at your factory?"

Mr. Soames rose to the occasion.

"I assure you, Mr. Tibbetts," he said earnestly, "it is possible. It wants a little more capital than we've been able to raise."

This was the trouble with all Mr. Soames's companies, a long list of which appeared on a brass plate by the side of his door. None of them were sufficiently capitalised to do anything except to supply him with his fees as managing director.

Bones produced a dinky little pocket-book from his waistcoat and read his notes, or, rather, attempted to read his notes. Presently he gave it up and trusted to his memory.

"You've got forty thousand pounds subscribed to your Company," he said. "Now, I'll tell you what I'm willing to do-I will take over your shares at a price."

Mr. Soames swallowed hard. Here was one of the dreams of his life coming true.

"There are four million shares issued," Bones went on, consulting his notebook.

"Eh?" said Mr. Soames in a shocked voice.

Bones looked at his book closer.

"Is it four hundred thousand?"

"Forty thousand," said Mr. Soames gently.

"It is a matter of indifference," said Bones. "The point is, will you sell?"

The managing director of the Plover Light Car Company pursed his lips.

"Of course," he said, "the shares are at a premium-not," he added quickly, "that they are being dealt with on 'Change. We have not troubled to apply for quotations. But I assure you, my dear sir, the shares are at a premium."

Bones said nothing.

"At a small premium," said Mr. Soames hopefully.

Bones made no reply.

"At a half a crown premium," said Mr. Soames pleadingly.

"At par," said Bones, in his firmest and most business-like tones.

The matter was not settled there and then, because matters are not settled with such haste in the City of London. Bones went home to his office with a new set of notes, and wired to Hamilton, asking him to come on the following day.

It was a great scheme that Bones worked out that night, with the aid of the sceptical Miss Whitland. His desk was piled high with technical publications dealing with the motor-car industry. The fact that he was buying the Company in order to rescue a friend's investment passed entirely from his mind in the splendid dream he conjured from his dubious calculations.

The Plover car should cover the face of the earth. He read an article on mass production, showing how a celebrated American produced a thousand or a hundred thousand cars a day-he wasn't certain which-and how the car, in various parts, passed along an endless table, between lines of expectant workmen, each of whom fixed a nut or unfixed a nut, so that, when the machine finally reached its journey's end, it left the table under its own power.

Bones designed a circular table, so that, if any of the workmen forgot to fix a bar or a nut or a wheel, the error could be rectified when the car came round again. The Plover car should be a household word. Its factories should spread over North London, and every year there should be a dinner with Bones in the chair, and a beautiful secretary on his right, and Bones should make speeches announcing the amount of the profits which were to be distributed to his thousands of hands in the shape of bonuses.

Hamilton came promptly at ten o'clock, and he came violently. He flew into the office and banged a paper down on Bones's desk with the enthusiasm of one who had become the sudden possessor of money which he had not earned.

"Dear old thing, dear old thing," said Bones testily, "remember dear old Dicky Orum-preserve the decencies, dear old Ham. You're not in the Wild West now, my cheery boy."

"Bones," shouted Hamilton, "you're my mascot! Do you know what has happened?"

"Lower your voice, lower your voice, dear old friend," protested Bones.

"My typewriter mustn't think I am quarrelling."

"He came last night," said Hamilton, "just as I was going to bed, and knocked me up." He was almost incoherent in his joy. "He offered me three thousand five hundred pounds for my shares, and I took it like a shot."

Bones gaped at him.

"Offered you three thousand five hundred?" he gasped. "Good heavens!

You don't mean to say--"

Consider the tragedy of that moment. Here was Bones, full of great schemes for establishing a car upon the world's markets, who had in his head planned extensive works, who saw in his mind's eye vistas of long, white-covered festive boards, and heard the roar of cheering which greeted him when he rose to propose continued prosperity to the firm. Consider also that his cheque was on the table before him, already made out and signed. He was at that moment awaiting the arrival of Mr. Soames.

And then to this picture, tangible or fanciful, add Mr. Charles O. Soames himself, ushered through the door of the outer office and standing as though stricken to stone at the sight of Bones and Hamilton in consultation.

"Good morning," said Bones.

Mr. Soames uttered a strangled cry and strode to the centre of the room, his face working.

"So it was a ramp, was it?" he said. "A swindle, eh? You put this up to get your pal out of the cart?"

"My dear old--" began Bones in a shocked voice.

"I see how it was done. Well, you've had me for three thousand five hundred, and your pal's lucky. That's all I've got to say. It is the first time I've ever been caught; and to be caught by a mug like you--"

"Dear old thing, moderate your language," murmured Bones.

Mr. Soames breathed heavily through his nose, thrust his hat on the back of his head, and, without another word, strode from the office, and they heard the door slam behind him. Bones and Hamilton exchanged glances; then Bones picked up the cheque from the desk and slowly tore it up. He seemed to spend his life tearing up expensive cheques.

"What is it, Bones? What the dickens did you do?" asked the puzzled

Hamilton.

"Dear old Ham," said Bones solemnly, "it was a little scheme-just a little scheme. Sit down, dear old officer," he said, after a solemn pause. "And let this be a warning to you. Don't put your money in industries, dear old Captain Hamilton. What with the state of the labour market, and the deuced ingratitude of the working classes, it's positively heartbreaking-it is, indeed, dear old Ham."

And then and there he changed the whole plan and went out of industrials for good.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares