Leland Thorpe, Contemporaneous Notation (subsequently marked Confidential: Legal Workproduct). Impromptu meeting — Incorporated Law Society — Office of Sir Giles Crichton
14 March 1916, 10.30 am.
To say I had not attempted to stop the entry of the woman would be a severe misrepresentation of the fact, in that I did arise, and in objecting most strenuously that she did not have an appointment, neither officially – as entered in the calendar – or unofficially – as set by verbal inclusion, by Sir Giles – I of course refrained from placing my hands, or by way of use of my body, to touch or interfere with her progress toward, and in the opening of, Sir Giles’s office door. Or in that I had any foreknowledge of her or of the nature of the meeting that was to transpire, and any suggestion or statement that I did is a falsehood and without merit. In having been allowed by Sir Giles to remain in his office once the intrusion had been made, I am witness to the following events, and so do make this contemporaneous account to record and preserve an actuate accounting of the meeting.
As I have stated previously, the woman – for at the time of her unsolicited entrance into my ante-room, she was unknown to me – strode with a seeming ease of familiarly, as if she both knew the environs and was familiar with them, as she purposefully entered into my ante-room. There was in her bearing evidence of sophistication and the obvious grace and poise of the aristocracy, as she progressed straight-way, in an oddly leisurely, but purposeful stride, and unbidden opened the door to Sir Giles’s office.
“I must say, Charity, is rather profitable.” She said (I capitalize charity, for as she said it so seemed) with but a slight glance about Sir Giles private office. “I have heard the living need it more than the dead.”
“Yes. Quite.” Sir Giles said as he arose from his desk, his eyes glancing askance to myself, as if to ascertain who and for what purpose she had entered his office.
“Sorry, sir. She just marched in.” I offered in reply.
“I know it is a very busy morning, I myself had to deal with an estate agent.” She proceeded towards Sir Giles desk, “Unexpectedly. Trifling little details — especially as I had thought them to have been settled; but alas, miscommunication, or so they said. In any event, it is now with my solicitors.”
It was an amazing performance I must say, from the moment she arrived, captivating not only the eye, expensively dressed, in the latest fashion, a dress of lustrous teal silk, throat free, beneath the open cerulean blue coat; its long sweeping hem an inch above the heel of the slipper (rather than a boot for the morning), with its beaded button across the vamp. She dominated the eye and the introduction. The two of us stood watching her in the slightest of pauses, as she came to stand before Sir Giles desk, beginning to ever so slowly remove a glove: – “I find the law fascinating. The arcana of the phrasing, the subtle nuance, every word in precision, with its distinct meaning, ever so arranged, or in some instances, improvidently, placed within a paragraph. A single and or a or, or a comma, not to mention the semi-colon, having such significance. Meaning – interpterion. Which of course, you are very much aware, being a high priest of the legal congregation – the Law Society.”
“May I be of service,” Sir Giles was capable of interjecting.
She smiled, pulling free the opposite glove to reveal her long, slender fingers, “I have come to be of service to you, Sir Giles.”
“I see.” His interest piqued.
“Remarkable as it is, from its conception, Coldfall House Charitable Trust as had the most astounding good fortune to have increased its accounts, portfolios, as well as its reputation, year after year.” Her accent was of the Transvaal, but there were as well some odd infections of the Parisienne.
“It has so been blessed.”
“Until — this year.” She graced the chair before his desk.
Sir Giles nodded, “Donations – as the war as progressed – from anyone’s imaginings of that fateful day in August – are now widely solicited by an array of institutions and charitable organization. And in a time of severe constrictions upon capital.” He resumed his seat behind the desk, “Everywhere one looks. It has dealt a blow. The conflict. Not only to industrials and factories, but to workshops that once made everything from walking sticks, to fancy stationery, fine furniture, and lovely hats and fashionable dresses. The trade in sugar and other commodities have been nationalized: their profits capped. Businessmen’s hands tied with regulation. Capital that once flowed easily through Europe, now reduced to but merely a trickle – and of that, most international transactions are no longer through Lombard Street but have been moved now to New York. And yet, our need, here at Coldfall Charitable has not reduced – but only multiplied. Charwomen who once scrubbed the whole host of London offices, for the mere pittance they once received, now find their services are reduced or are no longer required. Their family incomes diminished or entirely removed. Their children left to fend for themselves or go hungry. Nonessential war time factories closed, their machines gone silent, casting hundreds of workers free upon the mercy of the streets – which are merciless. What work there is – owing to the tide of emergency, is horrid. Harsh working conditions. Low rates of pay, and long hours. And those that have work, particularly in the East End, in those garment workshops and clothing factories now in need of needlework to meet the seemingly never-ending need for khaki, are over worked and sweated. And so, the need for donations has ever increased – and those from who we can seek funds find themselves with many avenues to address.”
“Yes – the world is full of hardship and misery.” She sat poised before him, “But, charity is not at all the business of Coldfall House, Sir Giles. It never was. Its business is the making of profits. True in the first months of the war, there came the blow to London’s economy; but Coldfall, ever at its business, had had the foresight to find gold in the trading of those commodities that would suddenly become precious in the industry of war. Nitrate of soda, tallow, copra, palm oil and byrites. As well as the astute purchases of closed factories, workshops, that would need to be converted to munitions, needlework, the manufacturing of military products, in a far more protracted war. Far more protracted, than anyone had quite imagined upon its declaration. The manufacturing of bandoliers, jackets, belts, haversacks, horse rugs, mess-tin covers, needle-cases, ration bags, sleeping bags, uniforms, shaving brushes, gloves, kit bags, hairbrushes, leather goods, bulk timber for bridgework, and even as I am told, mahogany sheeting for aeroplanes. What a treasure trove. And what such good fortune. It would seem almost as if amongst those employed within Coldfall House, there were those somewhere assiduously hidden away, at work with spirit boards and tarot cards – divining the need in buying up cheap property, to make quick conversion to provide tempering for the rising tide of the industry of war.”
There was but a brief moment of silence; they looked at one another.
Before she continued, “And what good fortune for you Sir Giles, in having the foresight to have purchased Pope, Hatcher & Sons, a rather small, nearly obscure, publishing house, specializing in religious, spiritualist, and some rather astoundingly apocalyptic pamphlets – which has so recently found a growing fortune in War journalism. War periodicals. Magazines. Novels. I even hear, you are investing in the film industry of Wardour Street. What with the growing civic need for war escapism.”
Sir Giles sat in contemplation. They both now sitting in silence.
“And yourself?” he asked after a long moment, “A headline? Precisely, which broadsheet do you represent?”
“I, myself, I am rather demure, when it comes to the finding of my name in some column inch.” She replied.
“And that would be?”
“Lady Hélène Beltham?’ Sir Giles seemed to recognize the name.
“I must say, I was contemplating establishing an association with Coldfall House — but then, starting seven weeks ago, all of its good fortune seemed to be running rather thin.” She sighed, “M. LeBloc, a rather odious man, to say the least, but he was exceeding blessed with a sizeable fortune. His father – on the other hand was quite charming. Had a passion for long-legged, myopic young girls. Gregarious – I remember one night after the opera— suffice it to say, his son did not inherit the father’s personality. Only his money. Which he increased at the gaming tables. Seeming blessed by God. Dice, roulette, baccarat, you choose the game. He could not lose. Until – God stopped smiling. M. LeBloc’s younger brother inherited what was left of the estate. Not much at all. After his brother had stepped away from a bad night at the tables and placed a Browning to his temple. Sadly, to say. It would seem, God’s become rather tight lipped as well when it comes to Coldfall House these last several months.”
There was a pause of silence between them.
“Oh—by all appearances it would seem, rather myopically, that all the industries of the engine built for profiteering on the war are firing—” She then continued. “But oddly, it seems, revenues have not only begun to fall short in certain accounts, but are unseemly fast dwindling in various offshore clandestine ones as well.”
“If that were true – you would seem to be particularly well informed.” Sir Giles replied calmly.
“That’s the key to my success.” She told him, “To be well informed – as I don’t play dice. Well, on occasion. Which is why I am here.”
“Yes, why are you here?”
“I recently had the occasion to be involved in a minor transaction involving a member of a small branch of Société Générale. A minor matter of embezzlement. In hindsight, I must admit, the whole of it was far less than the effort expended – as things became rather troublesome towards the conclusion. Or so I had thought until just recently.”
Though she so captivated one’s attention – for the obvious reasons of her fine features (of which I could not fine one in need of critical critique); her figure (well appreciated I am sure by Sir Giles, as well as myself, even somewhat obscured by her long coat); the obvious bearing of her class, and the harmony of her voice (with its fascinating mix of accents) – she expressed that feminine tendency for conversational digression. There were of course points and some vague, but troubling, hints which held, I am sure, Sir Giles curiosity as he sat serenely listening, and slightly bemused, but as to the point of her interruption, it seemed obscure.
“I came into procession of a rather cryptic journal of the unfortunate young bank official, which at the time seemed but some modification to shorthand – “
Upon this I took notice that Sir Giles seemed to sit slightly forward.
“Stenography. Brachygraphy. Tachygraphy. I must admit, it all looks Greek or Chinese to me. But it was less short writing than cryptography, as I have been told – ” She smiled, and in that moment I was more than aware her eyes were keenly observant of Sir Giles reaction. “Amazing. Those lines. The odd symbols. So much like hieroglyphics. You know, the earliest form of cryptography is Egyptian hieroglyphs. Mesopotamian clay tablets. I understand, Hebrew scholars used a simple monoalphabetic substitution cipher.” Her look was suddenly without emotion, “Someone is clandestinely divesting Coldfall – drip by drip, its bleeding . . .
“Pounds, francs, lire, marks, securities . . . all being directed out of Coldfall accounts into various faux investment holdings, which are thus being diverted into some rather obscure financial institutions — and then, seemingly —just fading away. But you know that Sir Giles.”
There was yet another moment of silence between them.
“Why else have you been surreptitiously moving funds. Making investments. Chemin de Fer Impérial Ottoman de Bagdad. The Russo-Asiatic Bank. The Chinese Eastern Railway.” She stated rather than enquired.
“I am quite aware of you reputation Lady Hélène —”
“A Russian bank?” She said with sudden amusement, “I for one hearty believe Russia to be highly unstable.”
“What do you want?”
“As I said, I am here to be of service.”
“There are worlds within worlds, Sir Giles. There is the geopolitical world of governments, whose concerns are economics and geography. There is the world of the rich elites, who fund, and to their whims, direct those governments and their laws. There is the world of the bourgeoisie, who are plicated with their faux status so afforded by the rich elites, and given the illusion of power so speciously bestowed upon them by their governments. And there is the dark subterranean world of organized criminal syndicates, who do not care about politics or geography, or the whims nor directions given by elites, or their laws of social order, imposed to placated the selfish interests of the monomaniac bourgeoisie.”
It was all related so casually.
“I have but recently aligned with a vast organization whose reach is ever extending.”
We both listened as she revealed: —
“There are secret powers at work. Clandestine conspiracies.” Her expression having lost all leisure. “And as such, I am here as a representative. I am corruption without borders.”
“I am equally well aware of the Italian bravata.”
Her smile did not return. “There are far older conspiracies, Sir Giles, as you well know.”
“Quite interesting, Lady Hélène, but I don’t see what any of this has to do —”
“I will be quite blunt. It would appear as if a sanction has been levelled upon Coldfall House. It is being dismantled; we suspect from the very forces that created it. You are the old guard being pushed aside for the new. And as such, you have an opportunity.”
Sir Giles sat; his eyes narrowed in contemplating her.
“As I said, I have recently become affiliated with, shall we say, a competing fraction. What I am offering is the future, Sir Giles. A new world order is being waged. Whether in this war or in another. The time is coming for you to make a decision — and whether you make it not, choses a side.”
“This factionalism, as you say, if it were true, has already found its opposition to be formidable.” Sir Giles replied calmy.
“Varkony and Dolingen?”
Their names hung in the air of a brief silence on both sides of the desk.
Before rather matter-of-factly she replied:
“They have already decided.”
It is be stated at this moment, Sir Giles looked to me, lifted a hand, and I left them in conference.