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Old 10-21-2012
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Col. Valentinian Col. Valentinian is offline
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can anyone give me advice on their opinions on which strategy is best for the union, strong defence or all out attack?
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Old 09-16-2016
JoeH7777 JoeH7777 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Col. Valentinian View Post
can anyone give me advice on their opinions on which strategy is best for the union, strong defence or all out attack?
I'm fighting on the union side and finding fairly good success with a strong offence.
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A MASTER
OF DECEPTION





By

Richard Marsh

Author of "Twin Sisters," "The Lovely Mrs. Blake,"
"The Interrupted Kiss," etc., etc.





With a Frontispiece by
DUDLEY TENNANT





CASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD
London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne
1913






CONTENTS




CHAPTER
1. The Inclining of a Twig.
2. His Uncle And His Cousin.
3. Rodney Elmore the First.
4. The Three Girls and the Three Telegrams.
5. Stella.
6. Gladys.
7. Mary.
8. By The 9.10: The First Part of the Journey.
9. The Second.
10. In the Carriage--Alone.
11. The Stranger.
12. Marking Time.
13. Spreading His Wings.
14. Business First, Pleasure Afterwards.
15. Mabel Joyce.
16. Thomas Austin, Senior.
17. The Acting Head of the Firm.
18. The Perfect Lover.
19. The Few Words at the End of the Evening.
20. The First Line of an Old Song.
21. The Dead Man's Letter.
22. Philip Walter Augustus Parker.
23. Necessary Credentials.
24. Lovers Parting.
25. Stella's Betrothal Feast.
26. Good Night.
27. The Gentleman's Departure and the Lady's Explanation.
28. A Conspiracy of Silence.





A MASTER OF DECEPTION





CHAPTER I

THE INCLINING OF A TWIG

When Rodney Elmore was eleven years old, placards appeared on the walls announcing that a circus was coming to Uffham. Rodney asked his mother if he might go to it. Mrs. Elmore, for what appeared to her to be sufficient reasons, said "No." Three days before the circus was to come he went with his mother to Mrs. Bray's house, a little way out of Uffham, to tea. The two ladies having feminine mysteries to discuss, he was told to go into the garden to play. As he went he passed a little room, the door of which was open. Peeping in, as curious children will, something on a corner of the mantelpiece caught his eye. Going closer to see what it was, he discovered that there were two half-crowns, one on the top of the other. The desire to go to the circus, which had never left him, gathered sudden force. Here were the means of going. Whipping the two coins into the pocket of his knickerbockers, he ran from the room and into the garden.
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Froggy Froggy is offline
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During the remainder of the afternoon the half-crowns were a burden to him. Not because he was weighed down by a sense of guilt; but because he feared that their absence would be discovered; that they would be taken from him; that he would be left poor indeed. He kept down at the far end of the garden, considering if it would not be wiser to conceal them in some spot from which he would be able to retrieve them at the proper time. But Mrs. Bray's was at, what to him was, a great distance from his own home; he might not be able to get there again before the eventful day. When the maid came to fetch him in the coins were still in his pocket; they were still there when he left the house with his mother.

On the eventful day his mother had to go to London. Before she went she told Rodney that she had given the servant money to take him to the circus. This was rather a blow to the boy, since he found himself possessed of money which, for its intended purpose, was useless. He had hidden the half-crowns up the chimney in his bedroom. Aware that it might not be easy to explain how he came to be the owner of so much cash, there they remained for quite a time. So far as he knew, nothing was said by Mrs. Bray about the money which had gone; certainly no suspicion attached to him.
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Later he went to a public school. During the third term he went with the school bicycle club for a spin. The master in charge had a spill. As he fell some coins dropped out of his pocket. Rodney, who was the only one behind him, saw a yellow coin roll into a rut at the side of the road. Alighting, he pressed his foot on it, so that it was covered with earth. Then, calling to the others, who, unconscious of what had happened, were pedalling away in front, he gave first aid to the injured. The master had fallen heavily on his side. He had sprained something which made it difficult for him to move. A vehicle was fetched, which bore him back to school, recovery having first been made of the coins which had been dropped. It was only later he discovered that a sovereign was missing. The following day a search-party went out to look for it, of which Rodney Elmore was a member. They found nothing. As they were starting back Rodney perceived that his saddle had worked loose. He stayed behind to tighten it. When he spurted after the others the sovereign was in his pocket. Mr. Griffiths was reputed to be poor. It was Elmore who suggested that a subscription should be started to reimburse him for his loss. When Mr. Griffiths heard of the suggestion--while he laughingly declined to avail himself of the boy's generosity--he took Elmore's hand in a friendly grip. Then he asked the lad if he would oblige him by going on an errand to the village. While he was on the errand Rodney changed the sovereign, which he would have found it difficult to do in the school.
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At the end of the summer term in his last year Elmore was invited by a schoolboy friend named Austin to spend part of the holidays with him in a wherry on the Broads. Mrs. Elmore told him that she would pay his fare and give him, besides, a small specified sum which she said would be sufficient for necessary expenses. Her ideas on that latter point were not those of her son. Rodney's notions on such subjects were always liberal. Good at books and games, he was one of the most popular boys in the school. Among other things, he was captain of cricket. At the last match of the season he played even unusually well, carrying his bat through the innings with nearly two hundred runs to his credit, having given one of the finest displays of hard hitting and good placing the school had ever seen. He was the hero of the day; owing to his efforts his side had won. Flushed with victory, with the plaudits of his admirers still ringing in his ears, he strolled along a corridor, cricket-bag in hand. He passed a room, the door of which was open. A room with an open door was apt to have a fatal fascination for Rodney Elmore; if opportunity offered, he could seldom refrain from peeping in. He peeped in then. On a table was a canvas bag, tied with a string. He recognised it as the bag which contained the tuck-shop takings. Since the tuck-shop had had a busy day, the probability was that the bag held quite a considerable sum. He had been wondering where the money was coming from to enable him to cut a becoming figure during his visit to Austin. Stepping quickly into the room, he emptied the canvas bag into his cricket-bag; then, going out again as quickly as he had entered, he continued his progress.
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He was on his way to one of the masters, named Rumsey, who edited the school magazine, his object being to hand him a corrected proof of certain matter which was to appear in the forthcoming issue. He took the proof out of his cricket-bag, which he opened in the master's presence. Having stayed to have a chat, he returned with Mr. Rumsey along the corridor. As they went they saw one of the school pages come hurriedly out of the room in which, as Rodney was aware, there was an empty canvas bag. Mr. Rumsey commented on the speed at which the youth was travelling.

"Isn't that young Wheeler? He seems in a hurry. I wish he would always move as fast."

"Perhaps he's tearing off on an errand for Mr. Taylor."

As he said this Rodney carelessly swung his cricket-bag, being well aware that the coins within were so mixed up with his sweater, pads, gloves, and other accessories that they were not likely to make their presence audible. At the end of the corridor they encountered Mr. Taylor himself. Mark Taylor was fourth form master and manager of the tuck-shop. Nodding, he went quickly on. Mr. Rumsey was going one way, Rodney the other. They lingered at the corner to exchange a few parting words. Suddenly Mr. Taylor's voice came towards them down the corridor.

"Rumsey! Elmore! Who's been in my room?"

"Been in your room?" echoed Mr. Rumsey. "How should I know?" Then added, as if it were the result of a second thought: "We just saw Wheeler come out."

"Wheeler?" In his turn, Mr. Taylor played the part of echo. "He just came rushing past me; I wondered what his haste meant. You saw him come out of my room? Then---- But he can't have done a thing like that!"

"Like what? Anything wrong?"

"There seems to be something very much wrong. Do you mind coming here?"

Retracing their steps, Mr. Rumsey and Elmore joined the agitated Mr. Taylor in his room. He made clear to them the cause of his agitation.

"You see this bag? It contained to-day's tuck-shop takings--more than ten pounds. I left it, with the money tied up in it, on the table here while I went to Perrin to fetch a memorandum I'd forgotten. Now that I've returned, I find the bag lying on my table empty and the money apparently gone. That's what's wrong, and the question is, who has been in my room since I left it?"
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"As I told you, Elmore and I just saw Wheeler making his exit rather as if he were pressed for time."

"And I myself just met him scurrying along, and wondered what the haste was about; he's not, as a general rule, the fastest of the pages. The boy has a bad record; there was that story about Burge minor and his journey money, and there have been other tales. If he was in my room----"

"Perhaps he was sent on an errand to you."

"I doubt it, from the way he was running when I met him. And, so far from stopping when he saw me, if anything, he went faster than ever. It looks very much as if----"

He stopped, leaving the sentence ominously unfinished.

"Master Wheeler may be a young rip, but surely he wouldn't do a thing like that."

This was Rodney, who notoriously never spoke ill of anyone. Mr. Taylor touched on his well-known propensity.

"That's all very well, Elmore; but you'd try to find an excuse for a man who snatched the coat off your back. This is a very serious matter; ten pounds are ten pounds. The best thing is for you to bring Wheeler here, and we'll have it out with him at once."

Rodney started off to fetch the page. It was some little time before he returned. When he did he was without his cricket-bag, and gripped the obviously unwilling page tightly by the shoulder. That the lad's mind was very far from being at ease Mr. Taylor's questions quickly made plain.

"Wheeler, Mr. Rumsey and Mr. Elmore just saw you coming out of my room. What were you doing here?"

Wheeler, looking everywhere but at his questioner, hesitated; then stammered out a lame reply.

"I--I was looking for you, sir."

"For me? What did you want with me? Why did you not say you wanted me when you met me just now?"

Wheeler could not explain; he was tongue-tied. Mr. Taylor went on:

"When I went I left this bag on the table full of money. As you were the only person who entered the room during my absence, I want you to tell me how the bag came to be empty when I returned?"

"The bag was empty when I came in here," blurted out Wheeler. "I particularly noticed."

To that tale he stuck--that the bag was empty when he entered the room. His was a lame story. It seemed clear that he had gone into the room with intentions which were not all that they might have been--possibly meaning to pilfer from the bag, which he knew was there. The discovery that the bag was empty had come upon him with a shock; he had fled. As was not altogether unnatural, his story was not believed. The two masters accused him point-blank of having emptied the bag himself. A formal charge of theft would have been made against him had it not been for his tender years, also partly because of the resultant scandal, perhaps still more because not a farthing of the money was ever traced to his possession, or, indeed, to anyone else's. What had become of it was never made clear. Wheeler, however, was dismissed from his employment with a stain upon his character which he would find it hard to erase.
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Rodney Elmore had an excellent time upon the Broads, towards which the tuck-shop takings, in a measure, contributed. The Austins, who were well-to-do people, had a first-rate wherry; on it was a lively party. There were two girls--Stella Austin, Tom Austin's sister, and a friend of hers, Mary Carmichael. Elmore, who was nearly nineteen, had already had more than one passage with persons of the opposite sex. He had a curious facility in gaining the good graces of feminine creatures of all kinds and all ages. When he went he left Stella Austin under the impression that he cared for her very much indeed; while, although conscious that Tom Austin, believing himself to be in love with Mary Carmichael, regarded her as his own property, he was aware that the young lady liked him--Rodney Elmore--in a sense of which his friend had not the vaguest notion. Altogether his visit to the Austins was an entire success; he had won for himself a niche in everyone's esteem before they parted.

When he was twenty Rodney Elmore entered an uncle's office in St. Paul's Churchyard. Soon after he was twenty-one his mother died. On her deathbed she showed an anxiety for his future which, under other circumstances, he would have found almost amusing. "Rodney," she implored him, "my son, my dear, dear boy, promise me that you will keep honest; that, under no pressure of circumstances, you will stray one hair's breadth from the path of honesty."

This, in substance, though in varying forms, was the petition which she made to him again and again, in tones which, as the days, and even the hours, went by, grew fainter and fainter. He did his best to give her the assurance she required, smilingly at first, more seriously when he perceived how much she was in earnest.

"Mother, darling," he told her, "I promise that I'll keep as straight as a man can keep. I'll never do anything for which you could be ashamed of me. Have you ever been ashamed of me?"

"No, dear, never. You've always been the best, cleverest, truest, most affectionate son a woman could have. Never once have you given me a moment's anxiety. God keep you as you have always been--above all, God keep you honest."

"Mother," he said in earnest tones, which had nearly sunk to a whisper, "God helping me, and He will help me, I swear to you that I will never do a dishonest thing, never! Nor a thing that is in the region of dishonesty. Don't you believe me, darling?"

"Of course, dear, I believe you--I do! I do!"

It was with some such words on her lips that she died; yet, even as she uttered them, he had a feeling that there was a look in her eyes which suggested both fear and doubt. In the midst of his heart-broken grief the fact that there should have been such a look struck him as good.





CHAPTER II

HIS UNCLE AND HIS COUSIN
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HIS UNCLE AND HIS COUSIN

Mrs. Elmore's income died with her. She had sunk her money in an annuity because, as she had explained to Rodney, that enabled her to give him a much better education than she could have done had they been constrained to live on the interest produced by her slender capital. But her son was not left penniless. She had bought him an annuity, to commence when he was twenty-one, of thirty shillings a week, to be paid weekly, and had tied it up in such a way that he could neither forestall it nor use it as a security on which to borrow money. As clerk to his uncle he received one hundred pounds a year. Feeling that he could no longer reside in Uffham, he sold the house, which was his mother's freehold, and its contents, the sale producing quite a comfortable sum. So, on the whole, he was not so badly off as some young men.

On the contra side he had expensive tastes, practically in every direction. Among other things, he had a partiality for feminine society, mostly of the reputable sort; but a young man is apt to find the society of even a nice girl an expensive luxury. For instance, Mary Carmichael had a voice. Her fond parents, who lived in the country, suffered her to live in town while she was taking singing lessons. Tom Austin, although still an undergraduate at Oxford, made no secret of his feelings for the maiden, a fact which did not prevent Mary going out now and then with Rodney Elmore to dinner at a restaurant, and, afterwards, to a theatre, as, nowadays, young men and maidens do. On these occasions Rodney paid, and where the evening's entertainment of a modern maiden is concerned a five-pound note does not go far. Then, although Miss Carmichael might not have been aware of it, there were others. Among them Stella Austin, who had reasons of her own for believing that Mr. Elmore would give the world to make her his wife, being only kept from avowing his feelings by the fact that he was, to all intents and purposes, a pauper. Since she was the possessor of three or four hundred a year of her own, with the prospect of much more, she tried more than once to hint that, since she would not mind setting up housekeeping on quite a small income, there was no reason why they should wait an indefinite period, till Rodney was a millionaire. But Rodney's delicacy was superfine. While he commended her attitude with an ardour which made the blood grow hot in her veins, he explained that he was one of those men who would not ask a girl to marry him unless he was in a position to keep her in the style a husband should, adding that that time was not so distant as some people might think. In another twelve months he hoped--well, he hoped! As at such moments she was apt to be very close to him, Stella hoped too. The young gentleman was living at the rate of at least five or six hundred a year on an income of a hundred and eighty. He did not bother himself by keeping books, but he quite realised that his expenditure bore no relation to his actual income. Of course, he owed money; but he did not like owing money. It was against his principles. He never borrowed if he could help it, and he objected to being at the mercy of a tradesman. He preferred to get the money somehow, and pay; and, somehow, he got it. Very curious methods that "somehow" sometimes covered. He was fond of cards; liked to play for all sorts of stakes; and, on the whole, he won. His skill in one so young was singular; sometimes, when opportunity offered, it was shown in directions at which one prefers only to hint. His favourite games were bridge, piquet, poker, and baccarat, four games at which a skilful player can do strange things, especially when playing with unsuspicious young men who have looked upon the wine when it was red.

Rodney's dexterity with his fingers was almost uncanny. He could do wonderful card tricks, though he never did them in public, but only for his own private amusement. When reading "Oliver Twist," he had been tickled by the scene in which Fagin teaches his youthful pupils how to pick a pocket. He had made experiments of his own in the same direction upon parties who were not in the least aware of the experiments he was making. His success amused him hugely, while the subjects of his experiments never had the dimmest notion as to how or where their valuables had gone. In very many ways Rodney Elmore obtained sufficient money to enable him to keep his credit at a surprisingly high standard. Everyone spoke well of him; he was a general favourite. Nor was it strange; he looked a likeable fellow--indeed, ninety-nine people out of a hundred liked him at first sight. Over six feet in height, slightly built, he did not look so strong as he was in reality. Straight as an arrow, head held well up, there was something almost feminine in the lightness with which he seemed to move. Many girls and women had told him to his face that he was the best dancer they had ever had for partner. Indeed, in a sense, he flattered his partners, having a knack of making a girl who danced badly think she danced well. He had light brown hair, which seemed as if it had been dusted with golden sand; grey eyes, which, with the pleasantest expression, looked you right in the face; an Englishman's clear skin; mobile lips, which parted on the slightest pretext in a sunny smile; just enough moustache to shade his upper lip. Altogether as agreeable looking a young gentleman as one might hope to meet. And his manners bore out the promise of his appearance. Always cool, easy, self-possessed, ready to perform little services for women, the aged, the infirm, in a fashion which, so far as our present-day young men are concerned, is a little out of date. With the pleasantest voice and trick of speech, no chatterer, it seemed impossible for him to say a disagreeable or an unkind thing either to or of anyone. It was a standing joke among his intimates that, when scandal-mongering was in the air, Elmore would spoil the fun by pointing out the good qualities of those attacked and refusing to see anything else but them. He had ever an excuse to offer for the most notorious sinner. It was not wonderful that everybody liked him. On his part, he seemed incapable of disliking anyone. He might rob his friend of all that he had, but he would not regard him as less his friend on that account. To this rule, so far as he knew, there was only one exception, and as time went on this exception surprised him more and more. There was only one person who he felt sure disliked him, and why he disliked him was beyond his comprehension. This person was the uncle in whose office he was a clerk--Graham Patterson. Mr. Patterson was Mrs. Elmore's brother. Rodney quite understood that his uncle had not offered him the position he held, but had only received him at his mother's particular request. There had been that in his uncle's manner which had struck him as peculiar from the first, as if he were prejudiced against him before they met, regarding him with suspicion and dislike. As, for some reason which he would have liked to have had explained, he had never seen his uncle till he entered his office, his relative's attitude struck him as distinctly odd; but, in his light-hearted way, he told himself that he would gain his uncle's esteem before they had been acquainted long. However, they had been acquainted now nearly three years, and he was conscious that his uncle esteemed him as little as ever. He wondered why.
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