Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Page Straight From Victoria Chatham #apagefromstraightfrom

On Borrowed Time
Victoria Chatham

 Lord Randolph Buxton’s old friend, Pinkerton Agent Stuart Montgomery is a long way from his San Francisco home. But his arrival on their doorstep piques the curiosity of both Randolph and his wife, Lady Serena.
Montgomery is investigating an aircraft development company. Four partners have died in suspicious circumstances. Of the two remaining partners one is the owner and the other an old friend of Serena’s. Montgomery thinks time is running out for these two and is sure she and Randolph can help him solve his case. His one reservation in requesting their help is that he fears they will have to face an old adversary, someone who once attacked Randolph and left him for dead.
Randolph is more than ready to assist Montgomery, but Serena has her doubts. How much danger is Sir Hilary really in? Will Randolph’s life be put at risk again? And, most worrying of all, Montgomery shows a side of himself she never suspected, a side she must keep from Randolph at all costs.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Serena shook her head. “No, it’s not. You helped save my husband’s life in Cold Creek and I can’t thank you enough for that. And please, do call me Serena. I feel we know each other well enough to forgo the formalities.” 

She sat down again on the arm of Randolph’s chair, aware of an undercurrent of expectation between the three of them. The moment Randolph sprinted up the terrace steps to greet their visitor she sensed that Montgomery must have some purpose, a purpose yet to show its face. 

Her stomach clenched as she took a breath and as calmly as she could asked, “So why are you really here, Mr. Montgomery?” 

“It’s Stuart.” Montgomery returned the first name courtesy Serena offered him, but there was a hint of hesitancy in his voice as he added, “I’m here to ask for your help.” 

“Well, you know you can rely on us to help in any way we can.” Randolph lifted his glass in a cheerful salute. 

Serena’s heart lurched at such a sweeping statement. She shot Randolph a warning glance and tried to control the censure in her voice. “Careful, my darling, you may want to revise that decision when Stuart tells us what he’s working on.” 

After a moment’s thought Randolph asked, “So whatever it is has to do with aeronautics?” 
Montgomery nodded. “An aircraft development company, to be exact. The company is owned by Hiram R. Stillwater whose very loose connection with the Wright brothers sparked his interest in the possibilities of flying. He gathered a group of associates with similar interests together to raise money for his project, but the terms of the contract were odd to say the least.” 

“In what way?” Serena’s raised eyebrow emphasized her question. 

“If one of the partners died, his shares were then distributed between the remaining partners rather than going to the deceased’s family.” 

“Oh.” Serena thought for a moment. “You mean like a tontine.” 

“A what?” Her comment puzzled Montgomery. 

“A tontine,” Serena repeated. “It’s a type of investment plan devised ages ago by a Neopolitan banker, Lorenzo de Tonti. Actually, he didn’t really invent it, only modified it from other types of investment schemes of the time. Each investor pays into the plan and gets an annual dividend on his or her capital, with the shares going to the remaining partners as they die.”

“Serena, there are times when you astound me,” Randolph admitted. “However did you discover that fact?” 

Serena waved her hand at the stacks of books around them and smiled. “There is a world of information lining these walls. I read it a while ago when I was looking for something else. The thing about a tontine is, whoever remains gets the whole pot.” 

“That sounds exactly the same as with Stillwater’s business.” Montgomery stroked his chin as he mulled the thought over. “There were six investors, now there are only two left. Stillwater himself and Sir Hilary Blenkinsop-Brown.” 

“Hilly?” Serena opened her eyes wide in surprise. 

“You know him?” Montgomery asked. 

“We hunted together with the Quorn and Berkeley and . . .” Serena stopped, noticing for the first time the calculating gleam in Montgomery’s eyes. “But you knew that, didn’t you?” 

“I must admit, Sir Hilary did mention your name but I thought it better at that stage to not disclose our association.” 

“Why ever not?” 

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Margaret Tanner said...

Great post. It certainly caught my interest. I am a history buff from way back.

Sheila Claydon said...

I always learn something new when I read one of Victoria's books. The concept of a tontine is not only very interesting, it's a lovely word. Funny how some words just sound good,

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