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   Chapter 11 A STUDENT OF MEN

Bones in London By Edgar Wallace Characters: 24250

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mr. Jackson Hyane was one of those oldish-looking young men to whom the description of "man about town" most naturally applied. He was always well-dressed and correctly dressed. You saw him at first nights. He was to be seen in the paddock at Ascot-it was a shock to discover that he had not the Royal Enclosure badge on the lapel of his coat-and he was to be met with at most of the social functions, attendance at which did not necessarily imply an intimate acquaintance with the leaders of Society, yet left the impression that the attendant was, at any rate, in the swim, and might very well be one of the principal swimmers.

He lived off Albemarle Street in a tiny flat, and did no work of any kind whatever. His friends, especially his new friends, thought he "had a little money," and knew, since he told them, that he had expectations. He did not tell them that his expectations were largely bound up in their credulity and faith in his integrity. Some of them discovered that later, but the majority drifted out of his circle poorer without being wiser, for Mr. Hyane played a wonderful game of piquet, and seemed to be no more than abnormally lucky.

His mother had been a Miss Whitland, his father was the notorious

Colonel Hyane, who boasted that his library was papered with High Court

writs, and who had had the distinction of being escorted from Monte

Carlo by the police of the Principality.

Mr. Jackson Hyane was a student of men and affairs. Very little escaped his keen observation, and he had a trick of pigeon-holing possibilities of profit, and forgetting them until the moment seemed ripe for their exploitation. He was tall and handsome, with a smile which was worth at least five thousand pounds a year to him, for it advertised his boyish innocence and enthusiasm-he who had never been either a boy or enthusiastic.

One grey October day he put away his pass-book into a drawer and locked it, and took from a mental pigeon-hole the materials of an immature scheme. He dressed himself soberly and well, strolled down into Piccadilly, and calling a cab, drove to the block of City buildings which housed the flourishing business of Tibbetts and Hamilton, Limited.

The preliminaries to this invasion had been very carefully settled. He had met Miss Marguerite Whitland by "accident" a week before, had called at her lodgings with an old photograph of her father, which he had providentially discovered, and had secured from her a somewhat reluctant acceptance of an invitation to lunch.

Bones looked up from his desk as the debonair young man strolled in.

"You don't know me, Mr. Tibbetts," said Jackson Hyane, flashing his famous smile. "My name is Hyane."

It was his first meeting with Bones, but by no means the first time that Jackson had seen him.

"My dear old Hyane, sit down," said Bones cheerfully. "What can we do for you?"

Mr. Hyane laughed.

"There's nothing you can do for me, except to spare your secretary for an hour longer than she usually takes."

"My secretary?" said Bones quickly, and shot a suspicious glance at the visitor.

"I mean Miss Whitland," said Hyane easily. "She is my cousin, you know. My mother's brother was her father."

"Oh, yes," said Bones a little stiffly.

He felt a sense of the strongest resentment against the late Professor Whitland. He felt that Marguerite's father had played rather a low trick on him in having a sister at all, and Mr. Hyane was too keen a student to overlook Bones's obvious annoyance.

"Yes," he went on carelessly, "we are quite old friends, Marguerite and I, and you can't imagine how pleased I am that she has such an excellent job as this."

"Oh, yes," said Bones, clearing his throat. "Very nice old-very good typewriter indeed, Mr. Hyane … very nice person … ahem!"

Marguerite, dressed for the street, came in from her office at that moment, and greeted her cousin with a little nod, which, to the distorted vision of Bones, conveyed the impression of a lifelong friendship.

"I have just been asking Mr. Tibbetts," said Hyane, "if he could spare you for an extra hour."

"I am afraid that can't--" the girl began.

"Nonsense, nonsense!" said Bones, raising his voice as he invariably did when he was agitated. "Certainly, my dear old-er-my dear young-er-certainly, Miss Marguerite, by all means, take your cousin to the Zoo … I mean show him the sights."

He was patently agitated, and watched the door close on the two young people with so ferocious a countenance that Hamilton, a silent observer of the scene, could have laughed.

Bones walked slowly back to his desk as Hamilton reached for his hat.

"Come on, Bones," he said briskly. "It's lunch time. I had no idea it was so late."

But Bones shook his head.

"No, thank you, dear old thing," he said sadly. "I'd rather not, if you don't mind."

"Aren't you coming to lunch?" asked Hamilton, astonished.

Bones shook his head.

"No, dear old boy," he said hollowly. "Ask the girl to send me up a stiff glass of soda-water and a biscuit-I don't suppose I shall eat the biscuit."

"Nonsense!" said Hamilton. "Half an hour ago you were telling me you could eat a cart-horse."

"Not now, old Ham," said Bones. "If you've ordered it, send it back.

I hate cart-horses, anyway."

"Come along," wheedled Hamilton, dropping his hand on the other's shoulder. "Come and eat. Who was the beautiful boy?"

"Beautiful boy?" laughed Bones bitterly. "A fop, dear old Ham! A tailor's dummy! A jolly old clothes-horse-that's what he was. I simply loathe these people who leap around the City for a funeral. It's not right, dear old thing. It's not manly, dear old sport. What the devil did her father have a sister for? I never knew anything about it."

"They ought to have told you," said Hamilton sympathetically. "Now come and have some food."

But Bones refused. He was adamant. He would sit there and starve. He did not say as much, but he hinted that, when Hamilton returned, his famished and lifeless form would be found lying limply across the desk. Hamilton went out to lunch alone, hurried through his meal, and came back to find Bones alive but unhappy.

He sat making faces at the table, muttering incoherent words, gesticulating at times in the most terrifying manner, and finally threw himself back into his deep chair, his hands thrust into his trousers pockets, the picture of dejection and misery.

It was three o'clock when Miss Marguerite Whitland returned breathless, and, to Bones's jealous eye, unnecessarily agitated.

"Come, come, dear old miss," he said testily. "Bring your book. I wish to dictate an important letter. Enjoyed your lunch?"

The last question was asked in so threatening a tone that the girl almost jumped.

"Yes-no," she said. "Not very much really."

"Ha, ha!" said Bones, insultingly sceptical, and she went red, flounced into her room, and returned, after five minutes, a haughty and distant young woman.

"I don't think I want to dictate, dear old-dear young typewriter," he said unhappily. "Leave me, please."

"Really, my dear Bones," protested Hamilton, when the girl had gone back, scarlet-faced to her office, "you're making a perfect ass of yourself. If a girl cannot go to lunch with her cousin--"

Bones jumped up from his chair, shrugged his shoulders rapidly, and forced a hideous grin.

"What does it matter to me, dear old Ham?" he asked. "Don't think I'm worried about a little thing like a typewriter going out to lunch. Pooh! Absurd! Tommy rot! No, my partner, I don't mind-in fact, I don't care a--"

"Jot," said Hamilton, with the gesture of an outraged bishop.

"Of course not," said Bones wildly. "What does it matter to me? Delighted that young typewriter should have a cousin, and all that sort of thing!"

"Then what the dickens is the matter with you?" asked Hamilton.

"Nothing," said Bones, and laughed more wildly than ever.

Relationships between Mr. Augustus Tibbetts, Managing Director of Schemes Limited, and Miss Marguerite Whitland, his heaven-sent secretary, were strained to the point of breaking that afternoon. She went away that night without saying good-bye, and Bones, in a condition of abject despair, walked home to Devonshire Street, and was within a dozen yards of his flat, when he remembered that he had left his motor-car in the City, and had to take a cab back to fetch it.

"Bones," said Hamilton the next morning, "do you realise the horrible gloom which has come over this office?"

"Gloom, dear old Ham?" said the dark-eyed Bones. He had spent the night writing letters to Marguerite, and had exhausted all the stationery in sight in the process. "Gloom, old thing! Good gracious, no! Nobody is gloomy here!"

"I can tell you somebody who is," said Hamilton grimly. "That unfortunate girl you've been barking at all the morning--"

"Barking at her?" gasped Bones. "Gracious Heavens, I haven't betrayed my worried condition of mind, dear old thing? I thought I hid it rather well."

"What on earth are you worried about?" asked Hamilton, and Bones shrugged.

"Oh, nothing," he said. "Nothing at all. A little fever, dear old thing, contracted in the service of King-God bless him!-and country."

Hamilton's words had this effect, that he brightened visibly, and for the rest of the morning was almost normal. His spirits took a quick downward turn at five minutes to one, when the debonair Mr. Hyane appeared most unexpectedly.

"I'm afraid you'll think I'm a most awful nuisance, Mr. Tibbetts," he said, "but there are so many things which I must really talk to my cousin about-family affairs, you know."

"Don't apologise," said Bones gruffly.

"I shan't keep her beyond the hour," smiled Mr. Hyane. "I realise that you are a very busy man."

Bones said nothing, and when Marguerite Whitland appeared, he had gained sufficient control of his emotions to indulge in a feeble jest. The girl's face was a study at the sight of her cousin. Hamilton, a disinterested observer, read astonishment, annoyance, and resignation in the wide-opened eyes. Bones, who prided himself upon a working knowledge of physiognomy, diagnosed the same symptoms as conveying a deep admiration combined with the re-awakening of a youthful love.

"Hello, Jackson!" she said coldly. "I didn't expect to see you."

"I told you I would call," he smiled. "I must see you, Marguerite, and

Mr. Tibbetts has been so kind that I am sure he will not mind me--"

"Mr. Tibbetts is not concerned about the manner in which I spend my lunch hour," she said stiffly, and Bones groaned inwardly.

There was a silence which Hamilton had not the heart to break after the two had gone, and it was Bones who uttered the first comment.

"That's that," he said, and his voice was so quiet and normal that

Hamilton stared at him in astonishment.

"Let's have lunch," said Bones briskly, and led the way out.

Not even when Miss Whitland came to him that afternoon and asked for permission to take two days' holiday did his manner change. With a courtesy entirely free from that extravagance to which she had grown accustomed, he acceded to her request, and she was on the point of explaining to him the reason she had so unexpectedly asked for a vacation, but the memory of his earlier manner checked her.

It was a very simple explanation. Jackson Hyane was a very plausible man. Marguerite Whitland had heard something of her erratic cousin, but certainly nothing in his manner supported the more lurid descriptions of his habits. And Mr. Jackson Hyane had begged her, in the name of their relationships, to take a trip to Aberdeen to examine title-deeds which, he explained, would enable her to join with him in an action of the recovery of valuable Whitland property which was in danger of going to the Crown, and she had consented.

The truth was, there had always been some talk in the family of these estates, though nobody knew better than Jackson Hyane how unsubstantial were the claims of the Whitlands to the title. But the Scottish estate had been docketed away

in the pigeon-holes of his mind, and promised to be more useful than he had anticipated.

That afternoon he packed his bag at his flat, put his passport and railway tickets together in his inside pocket, and made his final preparations for departure.

An old crony of his called whilst he was drinking the cup of tea which the housekeeper of the flats had prepared, and took in the situation revealed by the packed suit-cases and the burnt papers in the hearth.

"Hello, Johnny!" he said. "You're getting out, eh?"

Jackson nodded. There was no need to pretend anything with one of his own class.

"Couldn't you square the bank?"

Jackson shook his head.

"No, Billy," he said cheerfully, "I couldn't square it. At this identical moment there are several eminent people in the West End of London who are making applications for warrants."

"Dud cheques, eh?" asked the other thoughtfully. "Well, it had to come, Johnny. You've had a lot of bad luck."

"Atrocious," said Mr. Jackson Hyane. "There's plenty of money in Town, but it's absolutely impossible to get at it. I haven't touched a mug for two months, and I've backed more seconds than I care to think about. Still," he mused, "there's a chance."

His friends nodded. In their circle there was always "a chance," but

he could not guess that that chance which the student of men, Mr.

Jackson Hyane, was banking upon answered indifferently to the name of

Tibbetts or Bones.

At half-past eight that night he saw his cousin off from King's Cross. He had engaged a sleeper for her, and acted the part of dutiful relative to the life, supplying her with masses of literature to while away the sleepless hours of the journey.

"I feel awfully uncomfortable about going away," said the girl, in a troubled voice. "Mr. Tibbetts would say that he could spare me even if he were up to his eyes in work. And I have an uncomfortable feeling at the back of my mind that there was something I should have told him-and didn't."

"Queer bird, Tibbetts!" said the other curiously. "They call him

Bones, don't they?"

"I never do," said the girl quietly; "only his friends have that privilege. He is one of the best men I have ever met."

"Sentimental, quixotic, and all that sort of thing, eh?" said Jackson, and the girl flushed.

"He has never been sentimental with me," she said, but did not deceive the student of men.

When the train had left the station, he drove straightaway to Devonshire Street. Bones was in his study, reading, or pretending to read, and the last person he expected to see that evening was Mr. Jackson Hyane. But the welcome he gave to that most unwelcome visitor betrayed neither his distrust nor his frank dislike of the young well-groomed man in evening-dress who offered him his hand with such a gesture of good fellowship.

"Sit down, Mr.-er--" said Bones.

There was a cold, cold feeling at his heart, a sense of coming disaster, but Bones facing the real shocks and terrors of life was a different young man from the Bones who fussed and fumed over its trifles.

"I suppose you wonder why I have come to see you, Mr. Tibbetts," said Hyane, taking a cigarette from the silver box on the table. "I rather wonder why I have the nerve to see you myself. I've come on a very delicate matter."

There was a silence.

"Indeed?" said Bones a little huskily, and he knew instinctively what that delicate matter was.

"It is about Marguerite," said Mr. Hyane.

Bones inclined his head.

"You see, we have been great pals all our lives," went on Jackson

Hyane, pulling steadily at the cigarette-"in fact, sweethearts."

His keen eyes never left the other's face, and he read all he wanted to know.

"I am tremendously fond of Marguerite," he went on, "and I think I am not flattering myself when I say that Marguerite is tremendously fond of me. I haven't been especially fortunate, and I have never had the money which would enable me to offer Marguerite the kind of life which a girl so delicately nurtured should have."

"Very admirable," said Bones, and his voice came to his own ears as the voice of a stranger.

"A few days ago," Mr. Hyane went on, "I was offered a tea plantation for fourteen thousand pounds. The prospects were so splendid that I went to a financier who is a friend of mine, and he undertook to provide the money, on which, of course, I agreed to pay an interest. The whole future, which had been so black, suddenly became as bright as day. I came to Marguerite, as you saw, with the news of my good luck, and asked her if she would be my wife."

Bones said nothing; his face was a mask.

"And now I come to my difficulty, Mr. Tibbetts," said Hyane. "This afternoon Marguerite and I played upon you a little deception which I hope you will forgive."

"Certainly, certainly" mumbled Bones, and gripped the arms of his chair the tighter.

"When I took Marguerite to lunch to-day," said Hyane, "it was to be-married."

"Married!" repeated Bones dully, and Mr. Hyane nodded.

"Yes, we were married at half-past one o'clock to-day at the Marylebone Registry Office, and I was hoping that Marguerite would be able to tell you her good news herself. Perhaps"-he smiled-"it isn't as good news to her as it is to me. But this afternoon a most tragic thing happened."

He threw away his cigarette, rose, and paced the room with agitated strides. He had practised those very strides all that morning, for he left nothing to chance.

"At three o'clock this afternoon I called upon my financier friend, and discovered that, owing to heavy losses which he had incurred on the Stock Exchange, he was unable to keep his promise. I feel terrible, Mr. Tibbetts! I feel that I have induced Marguerite to marry me under false pretences. I had hoped to-morrow morning to have gone to the agents of the estate and placed in their hands the cheque for fourteen thousand pounds, and to have left by the next mail boat for India."

He sank into the chair, his head upon his hands, and Bones watched him curiously.

Presently, and after an effort, Bones found his voice.

"Does your-your-wife know?" he asked.

Jackson shook his head.

"No," he groaned, "that's the terrible thing about it. She hasn't the slightest idea. What shall I tell her? What shall I tell her?"

"It's pretty rotten, old-Mr. Hyane." Bones found his voice after a while. "Deuced rotten for the young miss-for Mrs.-for her."

He did not move from his chair, nor relax his stiff expression. He was hurt beyond his own understanding, frantically anxious to end the interview, but at a loss to find an excuse until his eyes fell upon the clock over the mantelpiece.

"Come back at ten-no, half-past ten, young Mr. … awfully busy now … see you at half-past ten, eh?"

Mr. Hyane made a graceful exit, and left Bones alone with the shattered fragments of great romance.

So that was why she had gone off in such a hurry, and she had not dared to tell him. But why not? He was nothing to her … he would never see her again! The thought made him cold. Never again! Never again! He tried to summon that business fortitude of his, of which he was so proud. He wanted some support, some moral support in this moment of acute anguish. Incidentally he wanted to cry, but didn't.

She ought to have given him a week's notice, he told himself fiercely, than laughed hysterically at the thought. He considered the matter from all its aspects and every angle, and was no nearer to peace of mind when, at half-past ten to the second, Mr. Jackson Hyane returned.

But Bones had formed one definite conclusion, and had settled upon the action he intended taking. Mr. Hyane, entering the study, saw the cheque book on the desk, and was cheered. Bones had to clear his voice several times before he could articulate.

"Mr. Hyane," he said huskily, "I have been thinking matters out. I am a great admirer of yours-of your-of yours-a tremendous admirer of yours, Mr. Hyane. Anything that made her happy, old Mr. Hyane, would make me happy. You see?"

"I see," said Mr. Hyane, and he had the satisfaction of knowing that he, a student of men, had not misread his victim.

"Fourteen thousand pounds," said Bones, turning abruptly to the desk and seizing his pen. "Make it payable to you?"

"You're too kind," murmured Hyane. "Make it an open cheque, Mr. Tibbetts-I have to pay the agents in cash. These Indian merchants are so suspicious."

Bones wrote the cheque rapidly, marked it "Pay Cash," and initialled the corrections, then tore the slip from the book and handed it to the other.

"Of course, Mr. Tibbetts," said Hyane reverentially, "I regard half this as a loan to me and half as a loan to my dear wife. We shall never forget your kindness."

"Rot!" said Bones. "Nonsense! I hope you'll be happy, and will you tell her--" He swallowed something.

There was a faint tinkle of a bell in the hall, and Ali, his servant, poked an ebony face round the corner of the door.

"Sir," he said, "the telephonic apparatus demands conversation."

Bones was glad of the interruption, and, with a muttered apology to his gratified guest, he strode out into the hall. Ali had accustomed himself to answering the telephone, but this time he had not understood the preliminary inquiry from exchange.

"Hello!" said Bones into the transmitter.

"Who's that?"

At the sound of the voice which answered him he nearly dropped the receiver.

"Is that Mr. Tibbetts?"

"Yes," said Bones hoarsely, and his heart beat a wild rataplan.

"I'm speaking from York, Mr. Tibbetts. I wanted to tell you that the key of the safe is in the drawer of my desk-the top drawer."

"That's all right, dear old-dear Mrs. Hyane."

"What is that you say?" asked the voice sharply.

"Congratulations, dear old missus," said Bones. "Hope you'll be awfully happy on your plantation."

"What do you mean?" asked the voice. "Did you call me Mrs. Hyane?"

"Yes," said Bones huskily.

He heard her laugh.

"How ridiculous you are! Did you really think I would ever marry my cousin?"

"But haven't you?" yelled Bones.

"What-married? Absurd! I'm going to Scotland to see about some family matter."

"You're not-not a Mrs.?" asked Bones emphatically.

"And never will be," said the girl. "What does it all mean? Tell me."

Bones drew a long breath.

"Come back by the next train, young miss," he said. "Let that jolly old family affair go to blazes. I'll meet you at the station and tell you everything."

"But-but--" said the girl.

"Do as you're told, young miss!" roared Bones, and hung up the receiver with a seraphic smile.

The door of his study was a thick one, and it was, moreover, protected from outside noises by a large baize door, and the student of men had heard nothing. Bones strode back into the room with a face so changed that Mr. Hyane could not but observe that something remarkable had happened.

"I'm afraid I'm keeping you up, Mr. Tibbetts," he said.

"Not at all," said Bones cheerfully. "Let's have a look at that cheque

I gave you."

The other hesitated.

"Let me have a look at it," said Bones, and Mr. Hyane, with a smile, took it from his pocket and handed it to the other.

"Half for you and half for her, eh, dear old thing?" said Bones, and tore the cheque in two. "That's your half," he said, handing one portion to Mr. Hyane.

"What the devil are you doing?" demanded the other angrily, but Bones had him by the collar, and was kicking him along the all-too-short corridor.

"Open the door, Ali!" said Bones. "Open it wide, dear old heathen!

Ooff!"

The "Ooff!" was accompanied by one final lunge of Bones's long legs.

At midnight Bones was sitting on the platform at King's Cross, alternately smoking a large pipe and singing tuneless songs. They told him that the next train from York would not arrive until three in the morning.

"That doesn't worry me, old thing. I'll wait all night."

"Expecting somebody, sir?" asked the inquisitive porter.

"Everybody, my dear old uniformed official," said Bones, "everybody!"

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