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The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (Algernon Blackwood) online
THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE SECRETARY IN NEW YORK
The sins of his employer's early years did not concern him, however. The man was kind and just, if eccentric; and Shorthouse, being in New York, did not probe to discover more particularly the sources whence his salary was so regularly paid. Moreover, the two men had grown to like each other and there was a genuine feeling of trust and respect between them.
"I hope it's a pleasant communication, sir," he said in a low voice.
"Quite the reverse," returned the other, fingering the paper nervously as he stood in front of the fire. "Blackmail, I suppose."
"Precisely." Mr. Sidebotham's cigar was not burning well; he struck a match and applied it to the uneven edge, and presently his voice spoke through clouds of wreathing smoke.
"There are valuable papers in my possession bearing his signature. I cannot inform you of their nature; but they are extremely valuable _to me_. They belong, as a matter of fact, to Garvey as much as to me. Only I've got them--"
"Garvey writes that he wants to have his signature removed--wants to cut it out with his own hand. He gives reasons which incline me to consider his request--"
"And you would like me to take him the papers and see that he does it?"
"And bring them back again with you," he whispered, screwing up his eyes into a shrewd grimace.
"And bring them back again with me," repeated the secretary. "I understand perfectly."
Shorthouse knew from unfortunate experience more than a little of the horrors of blackmail. The pressure Garvey was bringing to bear upon his old enemy must be exceedingly strong. That was quite clear. At the same time, the commission that was being entrusted to him seemed somewhat quixotic in its nature. He had already "enjoyed" more than one experience of his employer's eccentricity, and he now caught himself wondering whether this same eccentricity did not sometimes go--further than eccentricity.
"I cannot read the letter to you," Mr. Sidebotham was explaining, "but I shall give it into your hands. It will prove that you are my--er--my accredited representative. I shall also ask you not to read the package of papers. The signature in question you will find, of course, on the last page, at the bottom."
There was a pause of several minutes during which the end of the cigar glowed eloquently.
"Circumstances compel me," he went on at length almost in a whisper, "or I should never do this. But you understand, of course, the thing is a ruse. Cutting out the signature is a mere pretence. It is nothing. _What Garvey wants are the papers themselves._"
The confidence reposed in the private secretary was not misplaced. Shorthouse was as faithful to Mr. Sidebotham as a man ought to be to the wife that loves him.
The commission itself seemed very simple. Garvey lived in solitude in the remote part of Long Island. Shorthouse was to take the papers to him, witness the cutting out of the signature, and to be specially on his guard against any attempt, forcible or otherwise, to gain possession of them. It seemed to him a somewhat ludicrous adventure, but he did not know all the facts and perhaps was not the best judge.
The two men talked in low voices for another hour, at the end of which Mr. Sidebotham drew up the blinds, opened the registers and unlocked the door. Shorthouse rose to go. His pockets were stuffed with papers and his head with instructions; but when he reached the door he hesitated and turned.
"Well?" said his chief.
Shorthouse looked him straight in the eye and said nothing.
"The personal violence, I suppose?" said the other. Shorthouse bowed.