"SHOW HIM in," said Mr Bertram Cody.
He was a little bald man with a gentle voice and the habit of redundancy. He required five minutes to say all that any other man could express in three sentences. Of this fault, if fault it was, he was well aware and made a jest of his weakness.
Fixing his large gold - rimmed spectacles, he peered at the card again -
MR JOHN RENDLE, 194, COLLINS STREET, MELBOURNE
The name meant nothing to Mr Cody. He had known a Rendle in the eighties, a highly respectable tea importer, but the acquaintance was so slight a one that it was hardly likely.
He had been studying a small pocket notebook when the visitor was announced; a red morocco case that had, in addition to diary and writing space, a little pocket for cards, slips for stamps, and a tiny flat purse. He pushed the book under a heap of papers at his hand as the stranger entered.
"Mr Rendle," said a woman's harsh voice in the shadowy part of the room where the door was, and there came out of the gloom a tall, good - looking young man who certainly bore no resemblance to the long - forgotten China merchant.
"Will you sit down?" said Mr Cody gently. "And will you please forgive the semi - darkness in which I live. I find that my eyes are not as good as they were, and the glare of lights produces a very painful effect. This table - lamp, carefully shaded as it is, supplies my needs adequately, though it is insufficient for my visitors. Fortunately, if you will forgive what may appear to you as a rudeness, I receive most of my callers in the daytime."
The visitor had a quick smile, and was evidently a man to whom the semi - darkness of the big, richly - furnished library was in no sense depressing. He groped in the shadows for the chair, which revealed itself by the light on its polished back, and sat down.
"I'm sorry to come at this hour, Mr Cody, but I only arrived yesterday by the Moldavia."
"From China," murmured Mr Cody.
"From Australia - I transhipped at Colombo."
"The Moldavia did not call at Colombo owing to an outbreak of cholera," interrupted Mr Cody, more gently still.
The visitor laughed. "On the contrary, it called, and I and some thirty passengers embarked. The outbreak was reported after we left port. You are confusing the Moldavia with the Morania, which missed the call a week later."
The colour deepened on Mr. Cody's plump face. He was deeply wounded, and in his most tender part, for he had been guilty of an error of fact.
"I beg your pardon," he said in a hushed and humble voice. "I am humiliated to discover that I have made a mistake. It was the Morania - I beg your pardon! The Moldavia had a smooth voyage?"
"No, sir. We ran into the simoon and had three boats carried away - -"
"The two lifeboats on the spar deck and a cutter on the aft deck," nodded Mr Cody. "You also lost a lascar - washed overboard. Forgive me for interrupting you, I am an omnivorous reader."
There was a paused in the conversation here. Mr. Cody, his head on one side, waited expectantly. "Now, perhaps - -?" he suggested, almost timidly. Again the visitor smiled.
"I've called on a curious errand," he said. "I have a small farm near Ten Mile Station - a property which adjoins a station of yours in that part of the world."
Mr Cody nodded slowly. He had many properties in the overseas States: they were profitable investments.
"I have reason to believe that there is gold on your property," Rendle went on. "And I take this view because I am by training an engineer and I know something about metallurgy. Six months ago I made a discovery which, very naturally, I was not anxious to advertise until I was certain of my facts."
He talked lucidly of conglomerate and outcrop, and Bertram Cody listened, nodding his head from time to time. In the course of his description, Mr Rendle unfolded a map on the desk - a small scale map that did not interest Bertram Cody at all.
"My theory is that there is a reef running from here to here… "
When his guest had reached the end of his discourse: "Yes - I know there is gold at Ten Mile Station: the discovery was made by our agent and duly reported to us, so that the fear you had, Mr - er - em - Rendle, that he was keeping his - er - find a secret, had no foundation. There is gold - yes. But not in paying quantities. The matter has already been reported in the newspaper press - um - you would not - have seen that, of course. Nevertheless, I am grateful to you. Human nature is indeed a frail quality, and I cannot sufficiently thank you for your thoughtfulness and - um - the trouble to which you have been put."
"I understand that you bought this property from Lord Selford," asserted Mr Rendle.
The bald man blinked quickly, like a man who was dazzled by a bright light. "From his - er - agents: an eminent firm of lawyers. I forget their names for the moment. His lordship is abroad, you know. I believe that he is difficult to get at." He spread out his plump hands in a gesture of helplessness. "It is difficult! This young man prefers to spend his life in travel. His agents hear of him in Africa - they have a letter from the - um - wild pampas of the Argentine - they send him money to China - an adventurous life, my dear young friend, but unnerving to his - um - relations, if he has relations. I am not sure."
He shook his head and sighed; then, with a start, as though he were for the first time aware that there was an audience to his perturbations, he rose and held out both his hands.
"Thank you for coming," he breathed, and Mr Rendle found his own hand encased in two warm, soft palms. "Thank you for your interest. Life is a brighter place for such disinterestedness."
"Do you ever hear from him?" asked the visitor.
"From - um - his lordship? No, no! He is ignorant of my existence. Oh, dear, no!" He took the visitor's arm and walked with him to the door. "You have a car?" He was almost grateful to his guest for the possession of such an article. "I am glad. It looks like being a stormy night - and it is late. Half past ten, is it not? A safe journey to town!"
He stood under the portico until the rear lights of the car had disappeared behind a clump of rhododendrons that bordered the drive, then he went back into the hall.
The stout, hard woman in black silk, who Dick had thought was Mr Cody's housekeeper, followed her husband into the study and closed the door behind him.
"Who was he?" she asked. Her voice was uneducated, strident, and complaining.
Mr Cody resumed his place behind the heavy writing - table and smiled blissfully as he lowered himself into the padded chair.
"His name is Dick Martin," he said, "and he is a detective."
Mrs Cody changed colour. "Good Gawd! Detective! Bertie, what did he come here for?" She was agitated; the fat, beringed hand that went up to her mouth was trembling. "You're sure?" she quavered.
Mr Cody nodded.
"A clever man - but I expected him. I have at least three photographs of him. I wonder," said Mr Cody softly. "I really wonder!"
He slipped his hand under the heap of papers to find the little notebook, and suddenly his face went pale.
"It's gone - my book and the key - my God! the key!"
He reeled to his feet like a drunken man, blank terror in his face.
"It was when he showed me that map!" he muttered hoarsely. "I'd forgotten that the fellow is an expert thief. Shut that damned door. I want to telephone!"