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The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (Algernon Blackwood) online
THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE SECRETARY IN NEW YORK
"Now I am completely at your service," he said pleasantly; "you must, of course, know, Mr. Shorthouse, that one cannot be too careful in matters of this kind--especially," he went on, speaking very slowly and impressively, "in dealing with a man like my former partner, whose mind, as you doubtless may have discovered, is at times very sadly affected."
Shorthouse made no reply to this. He felt that the other was watching him as a cat watches a mouse.
"It is almost a wonder to me," Garvey added, "that he is still at large. Unless he has greatly improved it can hardly be safe for those who are closely associated with him."
The other began to feel uncomfortable. Either this was the other side of the story, or it was the first signs of mental irresponsibility.
"All business matters of importance require the utmost care in my opinion, Mr. Garvey," he said at length, cautiously.
"Ah! then, as I thought, you have had a great deal to put up with from him," Garvey said, with his eyes fixed on his companion's face. "And, no doubt, he is still as bitter against me as he was years ago when the disease first showed itself?"
Although this last remark was a deliberate question and the questioner was waiting with fixed eyes for an answer, Shorthouse elected to take no notice of it. Without a word he pulled the elastic band from the blue envelope with a snap and plainly showed his desire to conclude the business as soon as possible. The tendency on the other's part to delay did not suit him at all.
"But never personal violence, I trust, Mr. Shorthouse," he added.
"I'm glad to hear it," Garvey said in a sympathetic voice, "very glad to hear it. And now," he went on, "if you are ready we can transact this little matter of business before dinner. It will only take a moment."
He drew a chair up to the desk and sat down, taking a pair of scissors from a drawer. His companion approached with the papers in his hand, unfolding them as he came. Garvey at once took them from him, and after turning over a few pages he stopped and cut out a piece of writing at the bottom of the last sheet but one.
Holding it up to him Shorthouse read the words "Joel Garvey" in faded ink.
"There! That's my signature," he said, "and I've cut it out. It must be nearly twenty years since I wrote it, and now I'm going to burn it."
He went to the fire and stooped over to burn the little slip of paper, and while he watched it being consumed Shorthouse put the real papers in his pocket and slipped the imitation ones into the bag. Garvey turned just in time to see this latter movement.
"I'm putting the papers back," Shorthouse said quietly; "you've done with them, I think."
"Certainly," he replied as, completely deceived, he saw the blue envelope disappear into the black bag and watched Shorthouse turn the key. "They no longer have the slightest interest for me." As he spoke he moved over to the sideboard, and pouring himself out a small glass of whisky asked his visitor if he might do the same for him. But the visitor declined and was already putting on his overcoat when Garvey turned with genuine surprise on his face.
"You surely are not going back to New York to-night, Mr. Shorthouse?" he said, in a voice of astonishment.
"I've just time to catch the 7.15 if I'm quick."
"But I never heard of such a thing," Garvey said. "Of course I took it for granted that you would stay the night."