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Till the Clock Stops   By: (1871-1934)

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On a certain brilliant Spring morning in London's City the seed of the Story was lightly sown. Within the directors' room of the Aasvogel Syndicate, Manchester House, New Broad Street, was done and hidden away a deed, simple and commonplace, which in due season was fated to yield a weighty crop of consequences complex and extraordinary.

At the table, pen in hand, sat a young man, slight of build, but of fresh complexion, and attractive, eager countenance, neither definitely fair nor definitely dark. He was silently reading over a document engrossed on bluish hand made folio; not a lengthy document nineteen lines, to be precise. And he was reading very slowly and carefully, chiefly to oblige the man standing behind his chair.

This man, whose age might have been anything between forty and fifty, and whose colouring was dark and a trifle florid, would probably have evoked the epithet of "handsome" on the operatic stage, and in any city but London that of "distinguished." In London, however, you could hardly fail to find his like in one or other of the west end restaurants about 8 p.m.

Francis Bullard, standing erect in the sunshine, a shade over fed looking, but perfectly groomed in his regulation city garb, an enigmatic smile under his neat black moustache as he watched the reader, suggested nothing ugly or mean, nothing worse, indeed, than worldly prosperity and a frank enjoyment thereof. His well kept fingers toyed with a little gold nugget depending from his watch chain his only ornament.

The third man was seated in a capacious leather covered, easy chair by the hearth. Leaning forward, he held his palms to the fire, though not near enough for them to have derived much warmth. He was extremely tall and thin. The head was long and rather narrow, the oval countenance had singularly refined features. The hair, once reddish, now almost grey, was parted in the middle and very smoothly brushed; the beard was clipped close to the cheeks and trimmed to a point. Bluish grey eyes, deepset, gave an impression of weariness and sadness; indeed the whole face hinted at melancholy. Its attractive kindliness was marred by a certain furtiveness. He was as stylishly dressed as his co director, Bullard, but in light grey tweed; and he wore a pearl of price on his tie and a fine diamond on his little finger. His name was Robert Lancaster, and no man ever started life with loftier ideals and cleaner intentions.

At last the young man at the table, with a brisk motion, dipped his pen.

"One moment, Alan," said Bullard, and touched a bell button.

A couple of clerks entered.

"Rose and Ferguson, you will witness Mr. Alan Craig's signature. All right now, Alan!"

The young man dashed down his name and got up smiling.

Never was last will and testament more eagerly, more cheerfully signed. The clerks performed their parts and retired.

Alan Craig seized Bullard's hand. "I'm more than obliged to you," he said heartily, "and to you, too, Mr. Lancaster." He darted over to the hearth.

The oldish man seemed to rouse himself for the handshake. "Of course, it's merely a matter of form, Alan," he said, and cleared his throat; "merely a matter of form. In ordinary times you would have been welcome to the money without a anything of the sort, but at present it so happens "

"Alan quite understands," Bullard interrupted genially, "that in present circumstances it was not possible for us to advance even a trifle like three thousand without something in the way of security merely as a matter of form, as you have put it. We might have asked him to sign a bill or bond; but that method would have been repugnant to you, Lancaster, as it was to me. As we have arranged it, Alan can start for the Arctic without feeling a penny in debt "

"Hardly that," the young man quickly put in... Continue reading book >>

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