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    Chapter 3

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    Chapter 3
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    The Head of the Creiths

    Ferdinand Carston, ninth Earl of Creith, was a thin, querulous man, whose dominant desire was a negative one. He did not want to be bothered. He had spent his life avoiding trouble, and his deviations had led him into strange places. His "paper" was held by half a score of moneylenders, his mortgages were on the books of as many banks. He did not wish to be bothered by farm bailiffs and factors, or by tenant farmers. He could not be worried with the choice of his agents, and most of them did not bother to render him accurate accounts. From time to time he attempted to recover his heavy liabilities by daring speculations, and as he could not be troubled with the business of investigating their soundness, he usually returned to the well-worn path that led to the little moneylenders' offices that infest Sackville and Jermyn streets.

    And then there came into his orbit a most obliging financier who handsomely accepted the task of settling with troublesome banks and clamouring Shylocks. Lord Creith was grateful. Deuced grateful. He sold the reversionary rights in the Creith estates, and not only discharged at one sweep all his liabilities, but touched real money.

    He was in his library, examining with interest Tattersall's Sale Catalogue, when his guest came in unannounced.

    "Hullo, Hamon!" he said without any great geniality. "Had breakfast?"

    "Joan had breakfast out," said Hamon curtly.

    "Did she?" asked Creith, looking at him over his glasses and at a loss to continue, yet feeling that something was expected of him he added: "Did she?"

    Hamon pulled up a chair and seated himself at the opposite side of the writing-table.

    "Have you ever thought what will happen when you die?" he asked.

    Lord Creith blinked quickly.

    "Never thought of it, Hamon, never thought of it. I've been a good churchman, though the tithes are an infernal nuisance--I suppose I'll go up to heaven with the best of 'em."

    "I'm not thinking about your spiritual future," said Mr. Hamon. "I'm thinking about Creith."

    "The title goes to Joan--it descends that way in our family," said his lordship, biting the end of a pen-holder. "But why bother me about these details, my dear fellow? If Joan wants to preserve the estate she'll marry you, and I've no objection. We've had some devilish queer people in our family before, and I daresay we shall go on having devilish queer people. My great great grandmother had a wooden leg."

    Mr. Ralph Hamon overlooked the uncomplimentary reference, and was not prepared to encourage a discussion on the deficiencies of Lord Creith's ancestors.

    "If Joan doesn't want to marry me?" he said. "I suppose you've some influence?"

    Lord Creith took off his glasses deliberately.

    "With Joan? Bless your life, she doesn't take the slightest notice of anything I say! And very properly. I'm about the worst adviser that anybody could have. She'll do what she likes. Her dear and blessed mother was the same. Don't bother me now, my dear good fellow."

    "But suppose Joan refuses me point blank?" persisted the other.

    Lord Creith's smile was broad and bland.

    "Then, my dear boy, you're finished!"

    Hamon bit off the end of a cigar deliberately, as Lord Creith looked significantly at the door.

    "You must have some influence, Creith," he said doggedly. "Talk to her."

    The older man leaned back in his chair, obviously bored, as obviously resigned to boredom.

    "I'll speak to her," he said. "Oh, by the way, that farm you wanted, you can't have. I find that the mortgage was foreclosed by the Midland Bank a month ago, and the property has been sold to that queer fish, James Lexington Morlake. Though why the dickens he wants it----"

    "Morlake!"

    Creith looked up in surprise. The sallow face of Mr. Ralph Hamon was puckered, his slit of a mouth was parted in amazement and anger.

    "Morlake--no--James Lexington Morlake? Does he live near here? Is he the man you were talking about the other day--you said he was an American...."

    He fired the questions in rapid succession, and Lord Creith closed his eyes wearily.

    "I don't know who he is ... though I mentioned his name--what is the matter with you, Hamon?"

    "Nothing," said the other harshly, "only----" He turned the subject. "Will you speak to Joan?" he asked curtly, and stalked out of the library.

    Joan was in her room when the maid came for her, and short as was the space of time elapsing between the summons and the answering, Lord Creith was again absorbed in his catalogue.

    "Oh, Joan ... yes, I wanted to see you about something. Yes, yes, I remember. Be as civil as you can to Hamon, my dear."

    "Has he been complaining?"

    "Good Lord, no!" said Lord Creith. "Only he has an idea that he would like to marry you. I don't know how you feel about it?"

    "Do you wish me to tell you?" she asked, and his lordship shook his head vigorously.

    "I don't think so--not if it's going to bother me. Of course, you know I've sold everything ... house, land and the place in London?"

    "To Mr. Hamon?"

    He nodded.

    "Everything," he said. "If you don't marry him, there will only be the bit of money I have when I--er--step off, if you forgive the vulgarity."

    "I gathered that," she said.

    "Of course, your grandmother's money comes to you when you are twenty-four. Happily, I haven't been able to touch that, though I tried very hard--very hard! But those lawyers are cute fellows, deuced cute! Now what about marrying this fellow Hamon?"

    She smiled.

    "I thought you wouldn't," said her father with satisfaction. "That is all I wanted you for ... oh, yes, do you know this man Morlake?"

    If he had been looking at her he would have been startled by the pink flush that came to her face. But his eyes were already on the catalogue.

    "Why?"

    "I mentioned his name to Hamon--never saw a man get more annoyed. What is Morlake?"

    "A man," she said laconically.

    "How interesting!" said his lordship, and returned to his sale list.
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