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The Adventurer
by [?]

In this language–which, of course, takes some little learning–Lionel Norwood had long been an expert. The advertisement which he was now reading was unusually elaborate:

“Lost, in a taxi between Baker Street and Shepherd’s Bush, a gold-mounted umbrella with initials ‘J. P.’ on it. If Ellen will return to her father immediately all will be forgiven. White spot on foreleg. Mother very anxious and desires to return thanks for kind enquiries. Answers to the name of Ponto. Bis dat qui cito dat.”

What did it mean? For Lionel it had no secrets. He was reading the revelation by one of his agents of the skeleton in Lord Fairlie’s cupboard!

Lord Fairlie was one of the most distinguished members of the Cabinet. His vein of high seriousness, his lofty demeanour, the sincerity of his manner endeared him not only to his own party, but even (astounding as it may seem) to a few high-minded men upon the other side, who admitted, in moments of expansion which they probably regretted afterwards, that he might, after all, be as devoted to his country as they were. For years now his life had been without blemish. It was impossible to believe that even in his youth he could have sown any wild oats; terrible to think that these wild oats might now be coming home to roost.

“What do you require of me?” he said courteously to Lionel, as the latter was shown into his study.

Lionel went to the point at once.

“I am here, my lord,” he said, “on business. In the course of my ordinary avocations”–the parliamentary atmosphere seemed to be affecting his language–“I ascertained a certain secret in your past life which, if it were revealed, might conceivably have a not undamaging effect upon your career. For my silence in this matter I must demand a sum of fifty thousand pounds.”

Lord Fairlie had grown paler and paler as this speech proceeded.

“What have you discovered?” he whispered. Alas! he knew only too well what the damning answer would be.

Twenty years ago,” said Lionel, “you wrote a humorous book.”

Lord Fairlie gave a strangled cry. His keen mind recognized in a flash what a hold this knowledge would give his enemies. Shafts of Folly, his book had been called. Already he saw the leading articles of the future:–

“We confess ourselves somewhat at a loss to know whether Lord Fairlie’s speech at Plymouth yesterday was intended as a supplement to his earlier work, Shafts of Folly, or as a serious offering to a nation impatient of levity in such a crisis….”

“The Cabinet’s jester, in whom twenty years ago the country lost an excellent clown without gaining a statesman, was in great form last night….”

“Lord Fairlie has amused us in the past with his clever little parodies; he may amuse us in the future; but as a statesman we can only view him with disgust….”

“Well?” said Lionel at last. “I think your lordship is wise enough to understand. The discovery of a sense of humour in a man of your eminence—-“

But Lord Fairlie was already writing out the cheque.