Two of Yeovil’s London clubs, the two that he had been accustomed to frequent, had closed their doors after the catastrophe. One of them had perished from off the face of the earth, its fittings had been sold and its papers lay stored in some solicitor’s office, a tit-bit of material for the pen of some future historian. The other had transplanted itself to Delhi, whither it had removed its early Georgian furniture and its traditions, and sought to reproduce its St. James’s Street atmosphere as nearly as the conditions of a tropical Asiatic city would permit. There remained the Cartwheel, a considerably newer institution, which had sprung into existence somewhere about the time of Yeovil’s last sojourn in England; he had joined it on the solicitation of a friend who was interested in the venture, and his bankers had paid his subscription during his absence. As he had never been inside its doors there could be no depressing comparisons to make between its present state and aforetime glories, and Yeovil turned into its portals one afternoon with the adventurous detachment of a man who breaks new ground and challenges new experiences.
He entered with a diffident sense of intrusion, conscious that his standing as a member might not be recognised by the keepers of the doors; in a moment, however, he realised that a rajah’s escort of elephants might almost have marched through the entrance hall and vestibule without challenge. The general atmosphere of the scene suggested a blend of the railway station at Cologne, the Hotel Bristol in any European capital, and the second act in most musical comedies. A score of brilliant and brilliantined pages decorated the foreground, while Hebraic-looking gentlemen, wearing tartan waistcoats of the clans of their adoption, flitted restlessly between the tape machines and telephone boxes. The army of occupation had obviously established a firm footing in the hospitable premises; a kaleidoscopic pattern of uniforms, sky-blue, indigo, and bottle-green, relieved the civilian attire of the groups that clustered in lounge and card rooms and corridors. Yeovil rapidly came to the conclusion that the joys of membership were not for him. He had turned to go, after a very cursory inspection of the premises and their human occupants, when he was hailed by a young man, dressed with strenuous neatness, whom he remembered having met in past days at the houses of one or two common friends.
Hubert Herlton’s parents had brought him into the world, and some twenty-one years later had put him into a motor business. Having taken these pardonable liberties they had completely exhausted their ideas of what to do with him, and Hubert seemed unlikely to develop any ideas of his own on the subject. The motor business elected to conduct itself without his connivance; journalism, the stage, tomato culture (without capital), and other professions that could be entered on at short notice were submitted to his consideration by nimble-minded relations and friends. He listened to their suggestions with polite indifference, being rude only to a cousin who demonstrated how he might achieve a settled income of from two hundred to a thousand pounds a year by the propagation of mushrooms in a London basement. While his walk in life was still an undetermined promenade his parents died, leaving him with a carefully-invested income of thirty-seven pounds a year. At that point of his career Yeovil’s knowledge of him stopped short; the journey to Siberia had taken him beyond the range of Herlton’s domestic vicissitudes.
The young man greeted him in a decidedly friendly manner.
“I didn’t know you were a member here,” he exclaimed.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been in the club,” said Yeovil, “and I fancy it will be the last. There is rather too much of the fighting machine in evidence here. One doesn’t want a perpetual reminder of what has happened staring one in the face.”
“We tried at first to keep the alien element out,” said Herlton apologetically, “but we couldn’t have carried on the club if we’d stuck to that line. You see we’d lost more than two-thirds of our old members so we couldn’t afford to be exclusive. As a matter of fact the whole thing was decided over our heads; a new syndicate took over the concern, and a new committee was installed, with a good many foreigners on it. I know it’s horrid having these uniforms flaunting all over the place, but what is one to do?”
Yeovil said nothing, with the air of a man who could have said a great deal.
“I suppose you wonder, why remain a member under those conditions?” continued Herlton. “Well, as far as I am concerned, a place like this is a necessity for me. In fact, it’s my profession, my source of income.”
“Are you as good at bridge as all that?” asked Yeovil; “I’m a fairly successful player myself, but I should be sorry to have to live on my winnings, year in, year out.”
“I don’t play cards,” said Herlton, “at least not for serious stakes. My winnings or losings wouldn’t come to a tenner in an average year. No, I live by commissions, by introducing likely buyers to would-be sellers.”
“Sellers of what?” asked Yeovil.
“Anything, everything; horses, yachts, old masters, plate, shootings, poultry-farms, week-end cottages, motor cars, almost anything you can think of. Look,” and he produced from his breast pocket a bulky note-book illusorily inscribed “engagements.”
“Here,” he explained, tapping the book, “I’ve got a double entry of every likely client that I know, with a note of the things he may have to sell and the things he may want to buy. When it is something that he has for sale there are cross-references to likely purchasers of that particular line of article. I don’t limit myself to things that I actually know people to be in want of, I go further than that and have theories, carefully indexed theories, as to the things that people might want to buy. At the right moment, if I can get the opportunity, I mention the article that is in my mind’s eye to the possible purchaser who has also been in my mind’s eye, and I frequently bring off a sale. I started a chance acquaintance on a career of print-buying the other day merely by telling him of a couple of good prints that I knew of, that were to be had at a quite reasonable price; he is a man with more money than he knows what to do with, and he has laid out quite a lot on old prints since his first purchase. Most of his collection he has got through me, and of course I net a commission on each transaction. So you see, old man, how useful, not to say necessary, a club with a large membership is to me. The more mixed and socially chaotic it is, the more serviceable it is.”
“Of course,” said Yeovil, “and I suppose, as a matter of fact, a good many of your clients belong to the conquering race.”
“Well, you see, they are the people who have got the money,” said Herlton; “I don’t mean to say that the invading Germans are usually people of wealth, but while they live over here they escape the crushing taxation that falls on the British-born subject. They serve their country as soldiers, and we have to serve it in garrison money, ship money and so forth, besides the ordinary taxes of the State. The German shoulders the rifle, the Englishman has to shoulder everything else. That is what will help more than anything towards the gradual Germanising of our big towns; the comparatively lightly-taxed German workman over here will have a much bigger spending power and purchasing power than his heavily taxed English neighbour. The public-houses, bars, eating-houses, places of amusement and so forth, will come to cater more and more for money-yielding German patronage. The stream of British emigration will swell rather than diminish, and the stream of Teuton immigration will be equally persistent and progressive. Yes, the military-service ordinance was a cunning stroke on the part of that old fox, von Kwarl. As a civilian statesman he is far and away cleverer than Bismarck was; he smothers with a feather-bed where Bismarck would have tried to smash with a sledge-hammer.”
“Have you got me down on your list of noteworthy people?” asked Yeovil, turning the drift of the conversation back to the personal topic.
“Certainly I have,” said Herlton, turning the pages of his pocket directory to the letter Y. “As soon as I knew you were back in England I made several entries concerning you. In the first place it was possible that you might have a volume on Siberian travel and natural history notes to publish, and I’ve cross-referenced you to a publisher I know who rather wants books of that sort on his list.”
“I may tell you at once that I’ve no intentions in that direction,” said Yeovil, in some amusement.
“Just as well,” said Herlton cheerfully, scribbling a hieroglyphic in his book; “that branch of business is rather outside my line—too little in it, and the gratitude of author and publisher for being introduced to one another is usually short-lived. A more serious entry was the item that if you were wintering in England you would be looking out for a hunter or two. You used to hunt with the East Wessex, I remember; I’ve got just the very animal that will suit that country, ready waiting for you. A beautiful clean jumper. I’ve put it over a fence or two myself, and you and I ride much the same weight. A stiffish price is being asked for it, but I’ve got the letters D.O. after your name.”
“In Heaven’s name,” said Yeovil, now openly grinning, “before I die of curiosity tell me what D.O. stands for.”
“It means some one who doesn’t object to pay a good price for anything that really suits him. There are some people of course who won’t consider a thing unless they can get it for about a third of what they imagine to be its market value. I’ve got another suggestion down against you in my book; you may not be staying in the country at all, you may be clearing out in disgust at existing conditions. In that case you would be selling a lot of things that you wouldn’t want to cart away with you. That involves another set of entries and a whole lot of cross references.”
“I’m afraid I’ve given you a lot of trouble,” said Yeovil drily.
“Not at all,” said Herlton, “but it would simplify matters if we take it for granted that you are going to stay here, for this winter anyhow, and are looking out for hunters. Can you lunch with me here on Wednesday, and come and look at the animal afterwards? It’s only thirty-five minutes by train. It will take us longer if we motor. There is a two-fifty-three from Charing Cross that we could catch comfortably.”
“If you are going to persuade me to hunt in the East Wessex country this season,” said Yeovil, “you must find me a convenient hunting box somewhere down there.”
“I have found it,” said Herlton, whipping out a stylograph, and hastily scribbling an “order to view” on a card; “central as possible for all the meets, grand stabling accommodation, excellent water-supply, big bathroom, game larder, cellarage, a bakehouse if you want to bake your own bread—”
“Any land with it?”
“Not enough to be a nuisance. An acre or two of paddock and about the same of garden. You are fond of wild things; a wood comes down to the edge of the garden, a wood that harbours owls and buzzards and kestrels.”
“Have you got all those details in your book?” asked Yeovil; “‘wood adjoining property, O.B.K.’”
“I keep those details in my head,” said Herlton, “but they are quite reliable.”
“I shall insist on something substantial off the rent if there are no buzzards,” said Yeovil; “now that you have mentioned them they seem an indispensable accessory to any decent hunting-box. Look,” he exclaimed, catching sight of a plump middle-aged individual, crossing the vestibule with an air of restrained importance, “there goes the delectable Pitherby. Does he come on your books at all?”
“I should say!” exclaimed Herlton fervently. “The delectable P. nourishes expectations of a barony or viscounty at an early date. Most of his life has been spent in streets and squares, with occasional migrations to the esplanades of fashionable watering-places or the gravelled walks of country house gardens. Now that noblesse is about to impose its obligations on him, quite a new catalogue of wants has sprung into his mind. There are things that a plain esquire may leave undone without causing scandalised remark, but a fiercer light beats on a baron. Trigger-pulling is one of the obligations. Up to the present Pitherby has never hit a partridge in anger, but this year he has commissioned me to rent him a deer forest. Some pedigree Herefords for his ‘home farm’ was another commission, and a dozen and a half swans for a swannery. The swannery, I may say, was my idea; I said once in his hearing that it gave a baronial air to an estate; you see I knew a man who had got a lot of surplus swan stock for sale. Now Pitherby wants a heronry as well. I’ve put him in communication with a client of mine who suffers from superfluous herons, but of course I can’t guarantee that the birds’ nesting arrangements will fall in with his territorial requirement. I’m getting him some carp, too, of quite respectable age, for a carp pond; I thought it would look so well for his lady-wife to be discovered by interviewers feeding the carp with her own fair hands, and I put the same idea into Pitherby’s mind.”
“I had no idea that so many things were necessary to endorse a patent of nobility,” said Yeovil. “If there should be any miscarriage in the bestowal of the honour at least Pitherby will have absolved himself from any charge of contributory negligence.”
“Shall we say Wednesday, here, one o’clock, lunch first, and go down and look at the horse afterwards?” said Herlton, returning to the matter in hand.
Yeovil hesitated, then he nodded his head.
“There is no harm in going to look at the animal,” he said.