Hopitutuqaiki

The Hopi School

PO Box 56
Hotevilla, Arizona 86030

928-734-2433
www.hopischool.net

Scholar’s Library


Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Test

Title: A Gentleman of Leisure
Author: Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Gentleman of Leisure" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                         A GENTLEMAN OF LEISURE


                            P. G. WODEHOUSE


              First published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd 1921

                   Copyright 1921 by P. G. Wodehouse
                          All rights reserved



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I. JIMMY MAKES A BET                                                 7
  II. THE NEW PYRAMUS AND THISBE                                      15
  III. MR. McEACHERN                                                  21
  IV. MOLLY                                                           26
  V. A THIEF IN THE NIGHT                                             30
  VI. AN EXHIBITION PERFORMANCE                                       36
  VII. GETTING ACQUAINTED                                             42
  VIII. AT DREEVER                                                    48
  IX. A NEW FRIEND AND AN OLD ONE                                     53
  X. JIMMY ADOPTS A LAME DOG                                          60
  XI. AT THE TURN OF THE ROAD                                         65
  XII. MAKING A START                                                 74
  XIII. SPIKE’S VIEWS                                                 82
  XIV. CHECK, AND A COUNTER MOVE                                      87
  XV. MR. McEACHERN INTERVENES                                        95
  XVI. A MARRIAGE HAS BEEN ARRANGED                                  101
  XVII. JIMMY REMEMBERS SOMETHING, AND HEARS SOMETHING ELSE          110
  XVIII. THE LOCHINVAR METHOD                                        118
  XIX. ON THE LAKE                                                   124
  XX. A LESSON IN PIQUET                                             131
  XXI. LOATHSOME GIFTS                                               138
  XXII. HOW TWO OF A TRADE DID NOT AGREE                             141
  XXIII. FAMILY JARS                                                 147
  XXIV. THE TREASURE-SEEKER                                          157
  XXV. EXPLANATIONS AND AN INTERRUPTION                              164
  XXVI. STIRRING TIMES FOR SIR THOMAS                                171
  XXVII. A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE                               176
  XXVIII. SPENNIE’S HOUR OF CLEAR VISION                             185
  XXIX. THE LAST ROUND                                               190
  XXX. CONCLUSION                                                    198


                                   TO
                           DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS
                                  WHO
                             MANY YEARS AGO
                                 PLAYED
                                “JIMMY”
                       IN THE DRAMATIZED VERSION
                             OF THIS NOVEL



                                 ★ 1 ★
                          _Jimmy Makes a Bet_


The main smoking-room of the Strollers’ Club had been filling for the
last half-hour, and was now nearly full. In many ways the Strollers’,
though not the most magnificent, is the pleasantest club in New York.
Its ideals are those of the Savage Club—comfort without pomp—and it is
given over after eleven o’clock at night mainly to the Stage. Everybody
is young, clean-shaven, and full of conversation—and the conversation
strikes a purely professional note.

Everybody in the room on this July night had come from the theatre. Most
of those present had been acting, but a certain number had been to the
opening performance of the latest better-than-“Raffles” play. There had
been something of a boom that season in dramas whose heroes appealed to
the public more pleasantly across the footlights than they might have
done in real life. In the play which had opened tonight Arthur Mifflin,
an exemplary young man off the stage, had been warmly applauded for a
series of actions which, performed anywhere except in the theatre, would
certainly have debarred him from remaining a member of the Strollers’ or
any other club. In faultless evening dress, with a debonair smile on his
face, he had broken open a safe, stolen bonds and jewellery to a large
amount, and escaped without a blush of shame via the window. He had
foiled a detective through four acts and held up a band of pursuers with
a revolver. A large audience had intimated complete approval throughout.

“It’s a hit all right,” said somebody through the smoke.

“These imitation ‘Raffles’ plays always are,” grumbled Willett, who
played bluff fathers in musical comedy. “A few years ago they would have
been scared to death of putting on a show with a criminal hero. Now, it
seems to me, the public doesn’t want anything else. Not that they know
what they do want,” he concluded mournfully.

_The Belle of Boulogne_, in which Willett sustained the role of Cyrus K.
Higgs, a Chicago millionaire, was slowly fading away on a diet of free
passes, and this possibly prejudiced him.

Raikes, the character-actor, changed the subject. If Willett once got
started on the wrongs of the ill-fated _Belle_, general conversation
would become impossible. Willett, denouncing the stupidity of the
public, was purely a monologue artiste.

“I saw Jimmy Pitt at the show,” said Raikes. Everybody displayed
interest.

“Jimmy Pitt? When did he come back? I thought he was in England?”

“He came on the _Mauretania_, I suppose. She docked this morning.”

“Jimmy Pitt?” said Sutton, of the Majestic Theatre. “How long has he
been away? Last I saw of him was at the opening of _The Outsider_, at
the Astor. That’s a couple of months ago.”

“He’s been travelling in Europe, I believe,” said Raikes. “Lucky beggar
to be able to. I wish I could.”

Sutton knocked the ash off his cigar.

“I envy Jimmy,” he said. “I don’t know any one I’d rather be. He’s got
much more money than any man, except a professional plute, has any right
to. He’s as strong as an ox. I shouldn’t say he’d ever had anything
worse than measles in his life. He’s got no relations. And he isn’t
married.”

Sutton, who had been married three times, spoke with some feeling.

“He’s a good chap, Jimmy,” said Raikes. “Which considering he’s an
Englishman——”

“Thanks,” said Mifflin.

“How’s that? Oh, beg pardon, Arthur; I keep forgetting that you’re one,
too.”

“I’ll tattoo a Union Jack on my forehead tomorrow.”

“It’ll improve you,” said Raikes. “But about Jimmy. He’s a good chap,
which—considering he’s an Englishman—is only what you might have
expected. Is that better, Arthur?”

“Much,” said Mifflin. “Yes, Jimmy is a good chap—one of the best. I’ve
known him for years. I was at school and Cambridge with him. He was
about the most popular man at both. I should say he had put more
deadbeats on their legs again than half the men in New York put
together.”

“Well,” growled Willett, whom the misfortunes of _The Belle_ had soured,
“what’s there in that? It’s mighty easy to do the philanthropist act
when you’re next door to a millionaire.”

“Yes,” said Mifflin warmly; “but it’s not so easy when you’re getting
thirty dollars a week on a newspaper. When Jimmy was a reporter on the
_News_ there used to be a whole crowd of fellows just living on him. Not
borrowing an occasional dollar, mind you, but living on him—sleeping on
his sofa and staying to breakfast. It made me mad. I used to ask him why
he stood it. He said there was nowhere else for them to go, and he
thought he could see them through all right. Which he did, though I
don’t see how he managed it on thirty dollars a week.”

“If a man’s fool enough to be an easy mark——” began Willett.

“Oh, stop it,” said Raikes. “We don’t want anybody knocking Jimmy here.”

“All the same,” said Sutton, “it seems to me that it was darned lucky
that he came into that money. You can’t keep open house for ever on
thirty a week. By the way, Arthur, how was that? I heard it was his
uncle.”

“It wasn’t his uncle,” said Mifflin. “It was by way of being a romance
of sorts, I believe. Fellow who had been in love with Jimmy’s mother
years ago. Went to Australia, made a fortune, and left it to Mrs. Pitt
or her children. She had been dead some time when that happened. Jimmy,
of course, hadn’t a notion of what was coming to him, when suddenly he
got a solicitor’s letter, asking him to call. He rolled round, and found
that there was about five hundred thousand dollars waiting for him to
spend it.”

Jimmy Pitt had now definitely ousted _Love, the Cracksman_, as a topic
of conversation. Everybody present knew him. Most of them had known him
in his newspaper days; and though every man there would have perished
rather than admit it, they were grateful to Jimmy for being exactly the
same to them now that he could sign a cheque for half a million as he
had been on the old thirty-a-week basis. Inherited wealth, of course,
does not make a young man nobler or more admirable; but the young man
does not always know this.

“Jimmy’s had a queer life,” said Mifflin. “He’s been pretty nearly
everything in his time. Did you know he was on the stage before he took
up newspaper work? Only in touring companies, I believe. He got tired of
it, and dropped it. That’s always been his trouble. He wouldn’t settle
down to anything. He studied Law at the ’Varsity, but he never kept it
up. After he left the stage he moved all over the States without a cent,
picking up any odd job he could get. He was a waiter once for a couple
of days, but they sacked him for breaking plates. Then he got a job in a
jeweller’s shop. I believe he’s a bit of an expert on jewels. And
another time he made a hundred dollars by staying three rounds against
Kid Brady, when the Kid was touring the country after he got the
championship away from Jimmy Garwin. The Kid was offering a hundred to
anyone who could last three rounds with him. Jimmy did it on his head.
He was the best amateur of his weight I ever saw. The Kid wanted him to
take up scrapping seriously. But Jimmy wouldn’t have stuck to anything
long enough in those days. He’s one of the gipsies of the world. He was
never really happy unless he was on the move, and he doesn’t seem to
have altered since he came into his money.”

“Well, he can afford to keep on the move now,” said Raikes. “I wish I——”

“Did you ever hear about Jimmy and——” Mifflin was beginning, when the
Odyssey of Jimmy Pitt was interrupted by the opening of the door and the
entrance of Ulysses in person.

Jimmy Pitt was a young man of medium height, whose great breadth and
depth of chest made him look shorter than he really was. His jaw was
square and protruded slightly; and this, combined with a certain
athletic jauntiness of carriage and a pair of piercing brown eyes very
much like those of a bull-terrier, gave him an air of aggressiveness
which belied his character. He was not aggressive. He had the good
nature as well as the eyes of a bull-terrier. He also possessed, when
stirred, all the bull-terrier’s dogged determination.

There were shouts of welcome.

“Holloa, Jimmy!”

“When did you get back?”

“Come and sit down. Plenty of room over here.”

“Where is my wandering boy to-night?”

“Waiter! What’s yours, Jimmy?”

Jimmy dropped into a seat and yawned.

“Well,” he said, “how goes it? Halloa, Raikes! Weren’t you at _Love, the
Cracksman_? I thought I saw you. Halloa, Arthur! Congratulate you. You
spoke your piece nicely.”

“Thanks,” said Mifflin. “We were just talking about you, Jimmy. You came
on the _Mauretania_, I suppose?”

“She didn’t break the record this time,” said Sutton.

A somewhat pensive look came into Jimmy’s eyes.

“She came much too quick for me,” he said. “I don’t see why they want to
rip along at that pace,” he went on hurriedly. “I like to have a chance
of enjoying the sea air.”

“I know that sea air,” murmured Mifflin.

Jimmy looked up quickly.

“What are you babbling about, Arthur?”

“I said nothing,” replied Mifflin suavely.

“What did you think of the show to-night, Jimmy?” asked Raikes.

“I liked it. Arthur was fine. I can’t make out, though, why all this
incense is being burned at the feet of the cracksman. To judge by some
of the plays they produce now, you’d think that a man had only to be a
successful burglar to become a national hero. One of these days we shall
have Arthur playing Charles Peace to a cheering house.”

“It is the tribute,” said Mifflin, “that boneheadedness pays to brains.
It takes brains to be a successful cracksman. Unless the grey matter is
surging about in your cerebrum, as in mine, you can’t hope——”

Jimmy leaned back in his chair and spoke calmly, but with decision.

“Any man of ordinary intelligence,” he said, “could break into a house.”

Mifflin jumped up and began to gesticulate. This was heresy.

“My dear old son, what absolute——”

“I could,” said Jimmy, lighting a cigarette.

There was a roar of laughter and approval. For the past few weeks,
during the rehearsals of _Love, the Cracksman_, Arthur Mifflin had
disturbed the peace at the Strollers’ with his theories on the art of
burglary. This was his first really big part, and he had soaked himself
in it. He had read up the literature of burglary. He had talked with
detectives. He had expounded his views nightly to his brother Strollers,
preaching the delicacy and difficulty of cracking a crib till his
audience had rebelled. It charmed the Strollers to find Jimmy, obviously
of his own initiative, and not to be suspected of having been suborned
to the task by themselves, treading with a firm foot on the expert’s
favourite corn within five minutes of their meeting.

“You!” said Arthur Mifflin, with scorn.

“Me—or, rather, I!”

“You! Why, you couldn’t break into an egg unless it was a poached one.”

“What’ll you bet?” said Jimmy.

The Strollers began to sit up and take notice. The magic word “bet”,
when uttered in that room, had rarely failed to add a zest to life. They
looked expectantly to Arthur Mifflin.

“Go to bed, Jimmy,” said the portrayer of cracksmen. “I’ll come with you
and tuck you in. A nice, strong cup of tea in the morning, and you won’t
know there has ever been anything the matter with you.”

A howl of disapproval rose from the company. Indignant voices accused
Arthur Mifflin of having a yellow streak. Encouraging voices urged him
not to be a quitter.

“See! They scorn you!” said Jimmy. “And rightly. Be a man, Arthur.
What’ll you bet?”

Mr. Mifflin regarded him with pity.

“You don’t know what you’re taking on, Jimmy,” he said. “You’re half a
century behind the times. You have an idea that all a burglar needs is a
mask, a blue chin, and a dark lantern. I tell you he requires a highly
specialised education. I’ve been talking to these detective fellows, and
I know. Now, take your case, you worm. Have you a thorough knowledge of
chemistry, physics, toxicology——?”

“Of course I have.”

“Electricity and microscopy?”

“You have discovered my secret.”

“Can you use an oxyacetylene blow-pipe?”

“I never travel without one.”

“What do you know about the administration of anaesthetics?”

“Practically everything. It is one of my favourite hobbies.”

“Can you make soup?”

“Soup?”

“Soup,” said Mr. Mifflin firmly.

Jimmy raised his eyebrows.

“Does an architect make bricks?” he said. “I leave the rough,
preliminary work to my corps of assistants. They make my soup.”

“You mustn’t think Jimmy’s one of your common cracksmen,” said Sutton.
“He’s at the top of his profession. That’s how he made his money. I
never did believe that legacy story.”

“Jimmy,” said Mr. Mifflin, “couldn’t crack a child’s money-box. Jimmy
couldn’t open a sardine-tin.” Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.

“What’ll you bet?” he said again. “Come on, Arthur; you’re earning a
very good salary. What’ll you bet?”

“Make it a dinner for all present,” suggested Raikes, a canny person who
believed in turning the wayside happenings of life, when possible, to
his personal profit.

The suggestion was well received.

“All right,” said Mifflin. “How many of us are there? One, two, three,
four. Loser buys a dinner for twelve.”

“A good dinner,” interpolated Raikes softly.

“A good dinner,” said Jimmy. “Very well. How long do you give me,
Arthur?”

“How long do you want?”

“There ought to be a time limit,” said Raikes. “It seems to me that an
expert like Jimmy ought to be able to manage it at short notice. Why not
to-night? Nice, fine night. If Jimmy doesn’t crack a crib to-night, it’s
up to him. That suit you, Jimmy?”

“Perfectly.”

Willett interposed. Willett had been endeavouring to drown his sorrows
all the evening, and the fact was a little noticeable in his speech.

“See here,” he said; “how’s J-Jimmy going to prove he’s done it?”

“Personally, I can take his word,” said Mifflin.

“That be h-hanged for a tale. Wha-what’s to prevent him saying he’s done
it, whether he has or not?”

The Strollers looked uncomfortable. However, it was Jimmy’s affair.

“Why, you’d get your dinner in any case,” said Jimmy. “A dinner from any
host would smell as sweet.”

Willett persisted with muddled obstinacy.

“Thash—thash not point. It’s principle of thin. Have thish thing square
and ’bove-board, I say. Thash what I say.”

“And very creditable to you being able to say it,” said Jimmy cordially.
“See if you can manage ‘Truly rural.’”

“What I say is this. Jimmy’s a fakir. And what I say is, what’s prevent
him saying he’s done it when hasn’t done it?”

“That’ll be all right,” said Jimmy. “I’m going to bury a brass tube with
the Stars and Stripes in it under the carpet.”

“Thash quite shfactory,” said Willett, with dignity.

“Or, a better idea,” said Jimmy, “I’ll carve a big J on the inside of
the front door. Well, I’m off home. Anybody coming my way?”

“Yes,” said Mifflin. “We’ll walk. First nights always make me as jumpy
as a cat. If I don’t walk my legs off I shan’t get to sleep to-night at
all.”

“If you think I’m going to help you walk your legs off, my lad, you’re
mistaken. I propose to stroll gently home and go to bed.”

“Every little helps,” said Mifflin. “Come along.”

“You want to keep an eye on that man Jimmy, Arthur,” said Sutton. “He’d
sand-bag you and lift your watch as soon as look at you. I believe he’s
Arsène Lupin in disguise.”



                                 ★ 2 ★
                      _The New Pyramus and Thisbe_


The two men turned up the street. They walked in silence. Arthur Mifflin
was going over in his mind such outstanding events of the evening as he
remembered—the nervousness, the relief of finding that he was gripping
his audience, the growing conviction that he had made good—while Jimmy
seemed to be thinking his own private thoughts. They had gone some
distance before either spoke.

“Who is she, Jimmy?” asked Mifflin.

Jimmy came out of his thoughts with a start.

“What’s that?”

“Who is she?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes, you do! The sea air. Who is she?”

“I don’t know,” said Jimmy simply.

“You don’t know? Well, what’s her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Doesn’t the _Mauretania_ still print a passenger list?”

“She does.”

“And you couldn’t find out her name in five days?”

“No.”

“And that’s the man who thinks he can burgle a house!” said Mifflin
despairingly.

They had arrived now at the building on the second floor of which was
Jimmy’s flat.

“Coming in?” said Jimmy.

“Well, I was rather thinking of pushing on as far as the park. I tell
you, I feel all on wires.”

“Come in and smoke a cigar. You’ve got all night before you if you want
to do Marathons. I haven’t seen you for a couple of months. I want you
to tell me all the news.”

“There isn’t any. Nothing happens in New York. The papers say things do,
but they don’t. However, I’ll come in. It seems to me that you’re the
man with the news.”

Jimmy fumbled with his latch-key.

“You’re a bright sort of burglar,” said Mifflin disparagingly. “Why
don’t you use your oxyacetylene blow-pipe? Do you realise, my boy, that
you’ve let yourself in for buying a dinner for twelve hungry men next
week? In the cold light of the morning, when Reason returns to her
throne, that’ll come home to you.”

“I haven’t done anything of the sort,” said Jimmy, unlocking the door.

“Don’t tell me you really mean to try it.”

“What else did you think I was going to do?”

“But you can’t. You would get caught for a certainty. And what are you
going to do then? Say it was all a joke? Suppose they fill you full of
bullet-holes? Nice sort of fool you’ll look appealing to some outraged
householder’s sense of humour, while he pumps you full of lead with a
Colt!”

“These are the risks of the profession. You ought to know that, Arthur.
Think what you went through to-night.”

Arthur Mifflin looked at his friend with some uneasiness. He knew how
entirely reckless he could be when he had set his mind on accomplishing
anything. Jimmy, under the stimulus of a challenge, ceased to be a
reasonable being, amenable to argument. And in the present case he knew
that Willett’s words had driven the challenge home. Jimmy was not the
man to sit still under the charge of being a “fakir,” no matter whether
his accuser had been sober or drunk.

Jimmy, meanwhile, had produced whisky and cigars, and was lying on his
back on the lounge, blowing smoke rings at the ceiling.

“Well?” said Arthur Mifflin at length.

“Well? What?”

“What I meant was, is this silence to be permanent, or are you going to
begin shortly to amuse, elevate, and instruct? Something’s happened to
you, Jimmy. There was a time when you were a bright little chap, a
fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. Where be your gibes
now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont
to set the table in a roar when you were paying for the dinner? You
remind me more of a deaf-mute celebrating the Fourth of July with
noiseless powder than anything else on earth. Wake up, or I shall go.
Jimmy, we were boys together. Tell me about this girl—the girl you loved
and were idiot enough to lose.”

Jimmy drew a deep breath.

“Very well,” said Mifflin complacently; “sigh if you like—it’s better
than nothing.”

Jimmy sat up.

“Yes, dozens of times,” said Mifflin.

“What do you mean?”

“You were just going to ask me if I had ever been in love, weren’t you?”

“I wasn’t, because I know you haven’t. You have no soul. You don’t know
what love is.”

“Have it your own way,” said Mifflin resignedly.

Jimmy bumped back on to the sofa.

“I don’t either,” he said. “That’s the trouble.”

Mifflin looked interested.

“I know,” he said. “You’ve got that strange premonitory fluttering, when
the heart seems to thrill within you like some baby bird singing its
first song, when——”

“Oh, shut up!”

“When you ask yourself timidly, ‘Is it? Can it really be?’ and answer
shyly, ‘No. Yes. I believe it is.’ I’ve been through it dozens of times.
It is a recognised early symptom. Unless prompt measures are taken it
will develop into something acute. In these matters stand on your Uncle
Arthur. He knows.”

“You make me tired,” said Jimmy briefly.

“You have our ear,” said Mifflin kindly. “Tell me all.”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“Don’t lie, James.”

“Well, practically nothing.”

“That’s better.”

“It was like this.”

“Good!”

Jimmy wriggled himself into a more comfortable position and took a sip
from his glass.

“I didn’t see her till the second day out.”

“I know that second day out. Well?”

“We didn’t really meet at all.”

“Just happened to be going to the same spot, eh?”

“As a matter of fact, it was like this. Like a fool, I’d bought a
second-class ticket.”

“What? Our young Rockerbilt Astergould, the boy millionaire, travelling
second-class! Why?”

“I had an idea it would be better fun. Everybody’s so much more cheery
in the second cabin. You get to know people so much quicker. Nine trips
out of ten I’d much rather go second.”

“And this was the tenth?”

“She was in the first cabin,” said Jimmy.

Mifflin clutched his forehead.

“Wait!” he cried. “This reminds me of something—something in
Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet? No. I’ve got it!—Pyramus and Thisbe.”

“I don’t see the slightest resemblance.”

“Read your _Midsummer Night’s Dream_. ‘Pyramus and Thisbe,’ says the
story, ‘did talk through the chink of a wall,’” quoted Mifflin.

“We didn’t.”

“Don’t be so literal. You talked across a railing.”

“We didn’t.”

“Do you mean to say you didn’t talk at all?”

“We didn’t say a single word.”

Mifflin shook his head sadly.

“I give you up,” he said. “I thought you were a man of enterprise. What
did you do?”

Jimmy sighed softly.

“I used to stand and smoke against the railing opposite the barber’s
shop, and she used to walk round the deck.”

“And you used to stare at her?”

“I would look in her direction sometimes,” corrected Jimmy, with
dignity.

“Don’t quibble! You stared at her. You behaved like a common
rubber-neck, and you know it. I am no prude, James, but I feel compelled
to say that I consider your conduct that of a libertine. Used she to
walk alone?”

“Generally.”

“And now you love her, eh? You went on board that ship happy, careless,
heart-free. You came off it grave and saddened. Thenceforth for you the
world could contain but one woman, and her you had lost.”

He groaned in a hollow and bereaved manner, and took a sip from his
glass to buoy him up.

Jimmy moved restlessly on the sofa.

“Do you believe in love at first sight?” he asked fatuously. He was in
the mood when a man says things the memory of which makes him wake up
hot all over for nights to come.

“I don’t see what first sight’s got to do with it,” said Mifflin.
“According to your own statement, you stood and glared at the girl for
five days without stopping for a moment. I can quite imagine that you
might glare yourself into love with anyone by the end of that time.”

“I can’t see myself settling down,” said Jimmy thoughtfully. “And until
you feel that you want to settle down, I suppose you can’t be really in
love.”

“I was saying practically that about you at the club just before you
came in. My somewhat neat expression was that you were one of the
gipsies of the world.”

“By George, you’re quite right!”

“I always am.”

“I suppose it’s having nothing to do. When I was on the _News_ I was
never like this.”

“You weren’t on the _News_ long enough to get tired of it.”

“I feel now I can’t stay in a place more than a week. It’s having this
money that does it, I suppose.”

“New York,” said Mifflin, “is full of obliging persons who will be
delighted to relieve you of the incubus. Well, James, I shall leave you.
I feel more like bed now. By the way, I suppose you lost sight of this
girl when you landed?”

“Yes.”

“Well, there aren’t so many girls in the United States. Only twenty
million. Or is it forty million? Something small. All you’ve got to do
is to search about a bit. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Mr. Mifflin clattered down the stairs. A minute later the sound of his
name being called loudly from the street brought Jimmy to the window.
Mifflin was standing on the pavement below, looking up.

“Jimmy?”

“What’s the matter now?”

“I forgot to ask. Was she a blonde?”

“What?”

“Was she a blonde?” yelled Mifflin.

“No,” snapped Jimmy.

“Dark, eh?” bawled Mifflin, making night hideous.

“Yes,” said Jimmy, shutting the window.

“Jimmy! I say, Jimmy!”

The window went up again.

“Well?”

“I prefer blondes myself.”

“Go to bed!”

“Very well. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Jimmy withdrew his head, and sat down on the chair Mifflin had vacated.
A moment later he rose and switched off the light. It was pleasanter to
sit and think in the dark. His thoughts wandered off in many channels,
but always came back to the girl on the _Mauretania_. It was absurd, of
course. He didn’t wonder that Arthur Mifflin had treated the thing as a
joke. Good old Arthur! Glad he had made a success. But was it a joke?
Who was it said that the point of a joke was like the point of a
needle—so small that it is apt to disappear entirely when directed
straight at oneself? If anybody else had told him such a limping romance
he would have laughed himself. Only when you are the centre of a
romance, however limping, you see it from a different angle. Of course,
told baldly, it was absurd. He could see that. But something right at
the back of his mind told him that it was not altogether absurd. And
yet—— Love didn’t come like that—in a flash. You might just as well
expect a house to spring into being in a moment. Or a ship. Or an
automobile. Or a table. Or a—— He sat up with a jerk. In another instant
he would have been asleep.

He thought of bed, but bed seemed a long way off—the deuce of a way.
Acres of carpet to be crawled over, and then the dickens of a climb at
the end of it. Besides undressing. Nuisance—undressing. That was a nice
dress that girl had worn on the fourth day out. Tailor-made. He liked
tailor-mades. He liked all her dresses. He liked her. Had she liked him?
So hard to tell if you don’t get a chance of speaking. She was dark.
Arthur liked blondes. Arthur was a fool! Good old Arthur! Glad he had
made a success! Now he could marry if he liked. If he wasn’t so
restless. If he didn’t feel that he couldn’t stop more than a day in any
place. But would the girl have him? If they had never spoken it made it
so hard to——

At this point he fell asleep.



                                 ★ 3 ★
                            _Mr. McEachern_


At the time when Jimmy slept in his chair, previous to being aroused
from his slumbers by the invasion of Spike, a certain Mr. John
McEachern, Captain of Police was seated in the parlour of his up-town
villa, reading. He was a man built on a large scale. Everything about
him was large—his hands, his feet, his shoulders, his chest, and
particularly his jaw—which even in his moments of calm was aggressive,
and which stood out, when anything happened to ruffle him, like the ram
of a battleship. In his patrolman days, which had been passed mainly on
the East Side, this jaw of his had acquired a reputation from Park Row
to Fourteenth Street. No gang-fight, however absorbing, could retain the
undivided attention of the young blood of the Bowery when Mr.
McEachern’s jaw hove in sight, with the rest of his massive person in
close attendance. He was a man who knew no fear, and he had gone through
disorderly mobs like an east wind.

But there was another side to his character. In fact, that other side
was so large that the rest of him, his readiness in combat and his zeal
in breaking up public disturbances, might be said to have been only an
offshoot. For his ambition was as large as his fist and as aggressive as
his jaw. He had entered the Force with the single idea of becoming rich,
and had set about achieving his object with a strenuous vigour that was
as irresistible as his mighty locust-stick. Some policemen are born
grafters, some achieve graft, and some have graft thrust upon them. Mr.
McEachern had begun by being the first, had risen to the second, and for
some years now had been a prominent member of the small and
hugely-prosperous third-class, the class which does not go out seeking
graft, but sits at home and lets graft come to them.

Though neither his name nor his financial methods suggested it, Mr.
McEachern was by birth an English gentleman. His complete history would
take long to write. Abridged, it may be told as follows. His real name
was John Forrest, and he was the only son of one Eustace Forrest, at one
time a major in the Guards. His only other relative was Edward,
Eustace’s elder brother, a bachelor. When Mrs. Eustace died, four years
after the marriage, the widower, having spent eighteen months at Monte
Carlo working out an infallible system for breaking the bank, to the
great contentment of M. Blanc and the management in general, proceeded
to the gardens, where he shot himself in the orthodox way, leaving many
liabilities, no assets, and one son.

Edward, by this time a man of substance in Lombard Street, adopted John,
and sent him to a series of schools, beginning with a kindergarten and
ending with Eton.

Unfortunately, Eton had demanded from John a higher standard of conduct
than he was prepared to supply, and a week after his eighteenth birthday
his career as an Etonian closed prematurely. Edward Forrest thereupon
delivered his ultimatum. John could choose between the smallest of small
posts in his uncle’s business and £100 in bank-notes, coupled with the
usual hand-washing and disowning. John had reached out for that money
almost before the words had left his uncle’s mouth. He left for
Liverpool that day and for New York on the morrow.

He spent his hundred pounds, tried his hand without success at one or
two odd jobs, and finally fell in with a friendly policeman, who,
observing the young man’s physique, which even then was impressive,
suggested that he should join the Force. The policeman, whose name was
O’Flaherty, having talked the matter over with two other policemen whose
names were O’Rourke and Muldoon, strongly recommended that he should
change his name to something Irish, the better to equip him for his new
profession. Accordingly, John Forrest ceased to be and Patrolman J.
McEachern was born.

In his search for wealth he had been content to abide his time. He did
not want the trifling sum which every New York policeman acquires. His
object was something bigger, and he was prepared to wait for it. He knew
that small beginnings were an annoying but unavoidable preliminary to
all great fortunes. Probably Captain Kidd had started in a small way.
Certainly Mr. Rockefeller had. He was content to follow in the footsteps
of the masters.

A patrolman’s opportunities of amassing wealth are not great. Mr.
McEachern had made the best of a bad job. He had not disdained the
dollars which came as single spies rather than in battalions. Until the
time should arrive when he might angle for whales he was prepared to
catch sprats.

Much may be done, even on a small scale, by perseverance. In those early
days Mr. McEachern’s observant eye had not failed to notice certain
pedlars who obstructed the traffic, divers tradesmen who did the same by
the pavement, and restaurant-keepers not a few with a distaste for
closing at one o’clock in the morning. His researches in this field were
not unprofitable. In a reasonably short space of time he had put by the
$3,000 which were the price of his promotion to detective-sergeant. He
did not like paying $3,000 for promotion, but there must be sinking of
capital if an investment is to prosper. Mr. McEachern “came across”, and
climbed one more step up the ladder.

As detective-sergeant he found his horizon enlarged. There was more
scope for a man of parts. Things moved more rapidly. The world seemed
full of philanthropists anxious to “dress his front” and do him other
little kindnesses. Mr. McEachern was no churl. He let them dress his
front; he accepted the little kindnesses. Presently he found that he had
$15,000 to spare for any small flutter that might take his fancy.
Singularly enough, this was the precise sum necessary to make him a
captain.

He became a captain. And it was then that he discovered that El Dorado
was no mere poet’s dream, and that Tom Tiddler’s Ground, where one might
stand picking up gold and silver, was as definite a locality as Brooklyn
or the Bronx. At last, after years of patient waiting, he stood like
Moses on the mountain, looking down into the Promised Land. He had come
to where the big money was.

The book he was reading now was the little note-book in which he kept a
record of his investments, which were numerous and varied. That the
contents were satisfactory was obvious at a glance. The smile on his
face, and the reposeful position of his jaw were proof enough of that.
There were notes relating to house property, railroad shares, and a
dozen other profitable things. He was a rich man.

This was a fact which was entirely unsuspected by his neighbours, with
whom he maintained somewhat distant relations, accepting no invitations
and giving none. For Mr. McEachern was playing a big game. Other eminent
buccaneers in his walk of life had been content to be rich men in a
community where moderate means were the rule. But about Mr. McEachern
there was a touch of the Napoleonic. He meant to get back into
society—the society of England. Other people have noted the fact—which
had impressed itself very firmly on the policeman’s mind—that between
England and the United States there are 3,000 miles of deep water. In
the United States he would be a retired police-captain; in England an
American gentleman of large and independent means with a beautiful
daughter.

That was the ruling impulse in his life—his daughter Molly. Though, if
he had been a bachelor, he would certainly not have been satisfied to
pursue a humble career aloof from graft; on the other hand, if it had
not been for Molly he would not have felt, as he gathered in his
dishonest wealth, that he was conducting a sort of Holy War. Ever since
his wife had died, in his detective-sergeant days, leaving him with a
year-old daughter, his ambitions had been inseparably connected with
Molly.

All his thoughts were on the future. This New York life was only a
preparation for the splendours to come. He spent not a dollar
unnecessarily. When Molly was home from school they lived together
simply and quietly in the small house which Molly’s taste made so
comfortable. The neighbours, knowing his profession and seeing the
modest scale on which he lived, told each other that here, at any rate,
was a policeman whose hands were clean of graft. They did not know of
the stream that poured week by week and year by year into his bank, to
be diverted at intervals into the most profitable channels. Until the
time should come for the great change, economy was his motto. The
expenses of his home were kept within the bounds of his official salary.
All extras went to swell his savings.

He closed his book with a contented sigh and lit another cigar. Cigars
were his only personal luxury. He drank nothing, ate the simplest food,
and made a suit of clothes last for quite an unusual length of time; but
no passion for economy could make him deny himself smoke.

He sat on, thinking. It was very late, but he did not feel ready for
bed. A great moment had arrived in his affairs. For days Wall Street had
been undergoing one of its periodical fits of jumpiness. There had been
rumours and counter-rumours, until finally from the confusion there had
soared up like a rocket the one particular stock in which he was most
largely interested. He had unloaded that morning, and the result had
left him slightly dizzy. The main point to which his mind clung was that
the time had come at last. He could make the great change now at any
moment that suited him.

He was blowing clouds of smoke and gloating over this fact when the door
opened, admitting a bull-terrier, a bulldog, and in the wake of the
procession a girl in a kimono and red slippers.



                                 ★ 4 ★
                                _Molly_


“Why, Molly,” said the policeman, “what are you doing out of bed? I
thought you were asleep.”

He placed a huge arm round her and drew her on to his lap. As she sat
there his great bulk made her seem smaller than she really was. With her
hair down, and her little red slippers dangling half a yard from the
floor, she seemed a child. McEachern, looking at her, found it hard to
realise that nineteen years had passed since the moment when the
doctor’s raised eyebrows had reproved him for his monosyllabic reception
of the news that the baby was a girl.

“Do you know what the time is?” he said. “Two o’clock.”

“Much too late for you to be sitting here smoking,” said Molly severely.
“How many cigars do you smoke a day? Suppose you had married some one
who wouldn’t let you smoke!”

“Never stop your husband smoking, my dear. That’s a bit of advice for
you when you’re married.”

“I’m never going to marry. I’m going to stop at home and darn your
socks.”

“I wish you could,” he said, drawing her closer to him. “But one of
these days you’re going to marry a prince. And now run back to bed. It’s
much too late——”

“It’s no good, father dear. I couldn’t get to sleep. I’ve been trying
hard for hours. I’ve counted sheep till I nearly screamed. It’s Rastus’s
fault; he snores so.”

Mr. McEachern regarded the erring bulldog sternly.

“Why do you have the brutes in your room?”

“Why, to keep the boogaboos from getting me of course. Aren’t you afraid
of the boogaboos getting you? But you’re so big, you wouldn’t mind.
You’d just hit them. And they’re not brutes—are you, darlings? You’re
angels, and you nearly burst yourselves with joy because auntie had come
back from England, didn’t you? Father, did they miss me when I was gone?
Did they pine away?”

“They got like skeletons. We all did.”

“You?”

“I should say so.”

“Then why did you send me away?”

“I wanted you to see the country. Did you like it?”

“I hated being away from you.”

“But you liked the country?”

“I loved it.”

McEachern drew a breath of relief. The only possible obstacle to the
great change did not exist.

“How would you like to go back to England, Molly?”

“To England. When I’ve just come home?”

“If I went, too?”

Molly twisted round so that she could see his face better.

“There’s something the matter with you, father. You’re trying to say
something, and I want to know what it is. Tell me quick, or I’ll make
Rastus bite you!”

“It won’t take long, dear. I’ve been lucky in some investments while you
were away, and I’m going to leave the Force, and take you over to
England and find a prince for you to marry—if you think you would like
it.”

“Father! It’ll be perfectly splendid!”

She kissed him.

“What are you looking so thoughtful about, father?”

“Molly, I want to tell you something I have never told you before. I am
English. I only took the name McEachern because they thought it would
help me in the Force. Our real name is Forrest.”

“Father! But why haven’t you ever told me before?”

“I was afraid you might ask questions and find out things.”

She looked quickly at him.

“I was sent to America,” he went on, “because I was expelled from school
for stealing.”

There was a silence. She caught the arm that was round her waist and
gave it a little squeeze.

“What does it matter what you did when you were only a boy?” she said.

He did not look at her. There was a dull flush on his cheeks.

“We’ll go home, Molly,” he said. “I had a place in society over there
till I threw it away, and, by Heaven, I’m going to get it back for you.
You shall have a fair show, whatever I may have done. We shall not take
the old name again. None of the return of the black sheep for me! I
won’t have people looking down on you because your father——”

“But, father dear, it was so long ago. What does it matter? Who would
remember?”

“Never mind. I couldn’t risk it. They might say what they pleased about
me, but you’re going to start fair. Who’s to recognise me after all
these years? I’m just John McEachern from America, and if anybody wants
to know anything about me, I’m a man who has made money on Wall
Street—and that’s no lie—and has come over to England to spend it.”
Molly gave his arm another squeeze. Her eyes were wet.

“Father dear,” she whispered, “I believe you’ve been doing it all for
me. You’ve been slaving away for me ever since I was born, stinting
yourself and saving money just so that I could have a good time later
on.”

“No, no!”

“It’s true,” she said. She turned on him with a tremulous laugh. “I
don’t believe you’ve had enough to eat for years. I believe you’re all
skin and bone. Never mind. To-morrow I’ll take you out and buy you the
best dinner you’ve ever had out of my own money. We’ll go to the Ritz,
and you shall start at the top of the menu and go straight down till
you’ve had enough.”

“That will make up for everything. And now don’t you think you ought to
be going to bed? You’ll be losing all that color you got on the ship.”

“Soon. Not just yet. I haven’t seen you for such ages.” She pointed at
the bull-terrier. “Look at Tommy, standing there and staring. He can’t
believe I’ve really come back. Father, there was a man on the
_Mauretania_ with eyes exactly like Tommy’s—all brown and bright—and he
used to stand and stare just like Tommy’s doing.”

“If I had been there,” said her father wrathfully, “I’d have knocked his
head off.”

“No, you wouldn’t, because I’m sure he was really a very nice young man.
He had a chin rather like yours, father. Besides, you couldn’t have got
at him to knock his head off, because he was travelling second-class.”

“Second-class? Then you didn’t talk with him?”

“We couldn’t. You wouldn’t expect him to shout at me across the railing!
Only whenever I walked round the deck he seemed to be there.”

“Staring?”

“He may not have been staring at me. Probably he was just looking the
way the ship was going, and thinking of some girl in New York. I don’t
think you can make much of a romance out of it, father.”

“I don’t want to, my dear. Princes don’t travel in the second cabin.”

“He may have been a prince in disguise.”

“More likely a commercial traveller,” grunted Mr. McEachern.

“Commercial travellers are often quite nice.”

“Princes are nicer.”

“Well, I’ll go to bed and dream of the nicest one I can think of. Come
along, dogs. Stop biting my slipper, Tommy. Why can’t you behave like
Rastus? Still, you don’t snore, do you? Aren’t you going to bed soon,
father? I believe you’ve been sitting up late and getting into all sorts
of bad habits while I’ve been away. I’m sure you have been smoking too
much. When you’ve finished that cigar you’re not even to think of
another till to-morrow. Promise!”

“Not one!”

“Not one. I’m not going to have my father getting like the people you
read about in the magazine advertisements. You don’t want to feel sudden
shooting pains, do you?”

“No, my dear.”

“And have to take some awful medicine?”

“No.”

“Then promise.”

“Very well, my dear. I promise.”

As the door closed he threw away the stump he was smoking, and remained
for a few moments in thought.

Then he drew another cigar from his case, lit it, and resumed the study
of the little note-book.



                                 ★ 5 ★
                         _A Thief in the Night_


How long the light had been darting about the room like a
very-much-enlarged firefly Jimmy did not know. It seemed to him like
hours, for it had woven itself into an incoherent waking dream of his;
and for a moment, as the mists of sleep passed away from his brain, he
fancied that he was dreaming still. Then sleep left him, and he realised
that the light, which was now moving slowly across the bookcase, was a
real light.

That the man behind it could not have been there long was plain, or he
would have seen the chair and its occupant. He seemed to be taking the
room step by step. As Jimmy sat up noiselessly, and gripped the arms of
the chair in readiness for a spring, the light passed from the bookcase
to the table. Another foot or so to the left, and it would have fallen
on Jimmy.

On it came. From the position of the ray Jimmy could see that the
burglar was approaching on his side of the table. Though, until that
day, he had not been in the room for two months, its geography was
clearly stamped on his mind’s eye. He knew almost to a foot where his
visitor was standing. Consequently when, rising swiftly from the chair
he made a football dive into the darkness, it was no speculative dive.
It had a conscious aim, and it was not restrained by any uncertainty as
to whether the road to the burglar’s knees was clear or not.

His shoulder bumped into a human leg. His arms closed instantaneously on
it and pulled. There was a yelp of dismay and a crash. The lantern
bounced away across the room and wrecked itself on the roof of the
steam-heater. Its owner collapsed in a heap on top of Jimmy.

Jimmy, underneath at the fall, speedily put himself uppermost with a
twist of his body. He had every advantage. The burglar was a small man,
and had been taken very much by surprise, and any fight there might have
been in him in normal circumstances had been shaken out of him by the
fall. He lay still, not attempting to struggle.

Jimmy half rose and, pulling his prisoner by inches to the door, felt up
the wall till he found the electric-light button.

The yellow glow which flooded the room disclosed a short, stocky youth
of obviously Bowery extraction. A shock of vivid red hair was the first
thing about him that caught the eye. A poet would have described it as
Titian. Its proprietor’s friends and acquaintances probably called it
“carrots”. Looking up at Jimmy from under this wealth of crimson was a
not unpleasing face. It was not handsome certainly, but there were
suggestions of a latent good-humour. The nose had been broken at one
period of its career, and one of the ears was undeniably of the
cauliflower type; but these are little accidents which may happen to any
high-spirited young gentleman. In costume the visitor had evidently been
guided rather by individual taste than by the dictates of fashion. His
coat was of rusty-black, his trousers of grey, picked out with stains of
various colours. Beneath the coat was a faded red-and-white sweater. A
hat of soft felt lay on the floor by the table.

The cut of the coat was poor, and the sit of it spoiled by a bulge in
one of the pockets. Diagnosing this bulge correctly, Jimmy inserted his
hand and drew out a dingy revolver.

“Well?” he said, rising.

Like most people, he had often wondered what he should do if he were to
meet a burglar; and he had always come to the conclusion that curiosity
would be his chief emotion. His anticipations had proved perfectly
correct. Now that he had abstracted his visitor’s gun he had no wish to
do anything but engage him in conversation. A burglar’s life was
something so entirely outside his experience. He wanted to learn the
burglar’s point of view. Incidentally, he reflected with amusement, as
he recalled his wager, he might pick up a few useful hints.

The man on the floor sat up and rubbed the back of his head ruefully.

“Gee!” he muttered. “I t’ought some guy had t’rown de building at me.”

“It was only little me,” said Jimmy. “Sorry if I hurt you at all. You
really want a mat for that sort of thing.”

The man’s hand went furtively to his pocket. Then his eye caught sight
of the revolver, which Jimmy had placed on the table. With a sudden dash
he seized it.

“Now den, boss!” he said, between his teeth.

Jimmy extended his hand towards him and unclasped it. Six cartridges lay
in the palm.

“Why worry?” he said. “Sit down and let us talk of life.”

“It’s a fair cop, boss,” said the man resignedly.

“Away with melancholy,” said Jimmy. “I’m not going to call the police.
You can go whenever you like.”

The man stared.

“I mean it,” said Jimmy. “What’s the trouble? I’ve no grievance. I wish,
though, if you haven’t any important engagement, you would stop and talk
awhile first.”

A broad grin spread itself across the other’s face. There was something
singularly engaging about him when he grinned.

“Gee! If youse ain’t goin’ to call de cops, I’ll talk till de chickens
roost again.”

“Talking, however,” said Jimmy, “is dry work. Are you a teetotaller?”

“What’s dat? Me? On your way, boss!”

“Then you’ll find a pretty decent whisky in that decanter. Help
yourself. I think you’ll like it.”

A musical gurgling, followed by a contented sigh, showed that the
statement had been tested and proved correct.

“Cigar?” asked Jimmy.

“Me fer dat,” assented his visitor.

“Take a handful.”

“I eats dem alive,” said the marauder jovially, gathering in the spoils.

Jimmy crossed his legs.

“By the way,” he said, “let there be no secrets between us. What’s your
name? Mine is Pitt—James Willoughby Pitt.”

“Mullins is my monaker, boss. Spike, dey calls me.”

“And you make a living at this sort of thing?”

“Not so bad.”

“How did you get in here?”

Spike Mullins grinned.

“Gee! Ain’t de window open?”

“If it hadn’t been?”

“I’d a’ busted it.”

Jimmy eyed him fixedly.

“Can you use an oxyacetylene blow-pipe?” he demanded.

Spike was on the point of drinking. He lowered his glass and gaped.

“What’s dat?” he said.

“An oxyacetylene blow-pipe.”

“Search me,” said Spike blankly. “Dat gets past me.”

Jimmy’s manner grew more severe.

“Can you make soup?”

“Soup, boss?”

“He doesn’t know what soup is,” said Jimmy despairingly. “My good man,
I’m afraid you have missed your vocation. You have no business to be
trying to burgle. You don’t know the first thing about the game.”

Spike was regarding him with furtive disquiet over his glass. Till now
the red-haired one had been very well satisfied with his methods, but
criticism was beginning to sap his nerve. He had heard tales of masters
of his craft who made use of fearsome implements such as Jimmy had
mentioned; burglars who had an airy acquaintanceship, bordering on
insolent familiarity, with the marvels of science; men to whom the
latest inventions were as familiar as his own jemmy was to himself.
Could this be one of that select band? Jimmy began to take on a new
aspect in his eyes.

“Spike,” said Jimmy.

“Huh!”

“Have you a thorough knowledge of chemistry, physics——”

“On your way, boss!”

“Toxicology——”

“Search me!”

“Electricity and microscopy?”

“Nine, ten. Dat’s de finish. I’m down and out.”

Jimmy shook his head sadly.

“Give up burglary,” he said. “It’s not in your line. Better try
poultry-farming.”

Spike twiddled his glass, abashed.

“Now I,” said Jimmy airily, “am thinking of breaking into a house
to-night.”

“Gee!” exclaimed Spike, his suspicions confirmed at last. “I t’ought
youse was in de game, boss. Sure, you’re de guy dat’s onto all de
curves. I t’ought so all along.”

“I should like to hear,” said Jimmy amusedly, as one who draws out an
intelligent child, “how you would set about burgling one of those
up-town villas. My own work has been on a somewhat larger scale and on
the other side of the Atlantic.”

“De odder side?”

“I have done as much in London as anywhere else,” said Jimmy. “A great
town, London. Full of opportunities for the fine worker. Did you hear of
the cracking of the new Asiatic Bank in Lombard Street?”

“No, boss,” whispered Spike. “Was dat you?”

“The police would like an answer to the same question,” he said
self-consciously. “Perhaps you heard nothing of the disappearance of the
Duchess of Havent’s diamonds?”

“Was dat——?”

“The thief,” said Jimmy, flicking a speck of dust from his coat-sleeve,
“was discovered to have used an oxyacetylene blow-pipe.”

The rapturous intake of Spike’s breath was the only sound that broke the
silence. Through the smoke his eyes could be seen slowly widening.

“But about this villa,” said Jimmy. “I am always interested even in the
humblest sides of the profession. Now, tell me, supposing you were going
to break into a villa, what time of night would you do it?”

“I always t’inks it’s best either late like dis or when de folks is in
at supper,” said Spike respectfully.

Jimmy smiled a faint, patronizing smile, and nodded.

“Well, and what would you do?”

“I’d rubber around some to see isn’t dere a window open somewheres,”
said Spike diffidently.

“And if there wasn’t?”

“I’d climb up de porch and into one of de bedrooms,” said Spike, almost
blushing. He felt like a boy reading his first attempts at original
poetry to an established critic. What would this master cracksman, this
polished wielder of the oxyacetylene blow-pipe, this expert in
toxicology, microscopy, and physics, think of his callow outpourings?

“How would you get into the bedroom?”

Spike hung his head.

“Bust de catch wit me jemmy,” he whispered shamefacedly.

“Burst the catch with your jemmy?”

“It’s de only way I ever learned,” pleaded Spike.

The expert was silent. He seemed to be thinking. The other watched his
face humbly.

“How would youse do it, boss?” he ventured timidly, at last.

“Eh?”

“How would youse do it?”

“Why, I’m not sure,” said the master graciously, “whether your way might
not do in a case like that. It’s crude, of course, but with a few
changes it would do.”

“Gee, boss! Is dat right?” queried the astonished disciple.

“It would do,” said the master, frowning thoughtfully. “It would do
quite well—quite well.”

Spike drew a deep breath of joy and astonishment. That his methods
should meet with approval from such a mind!

“Gee!” he whispered. As who should say, “I am Napoleon.”



                                 ★ 6 ★
                      _An Exhibition Performance_


Cold reason may disapprove of wagers, but without a doubt there is
something joyous and lovable in the type of mind which rushes at the
least provocation into the making of them, something smacking of the
spacious days of the Regency. Nowadays the spirit seems to have deserted
England. When Mr. Lloyd George became Premier of Great Britain no
earnest forms were to be observed rolling pea-nuts along the Strand with
a toothpick. When Mr. George is dethroned it is improbable that any
Briton will allow his beard to remain unshaved until his pet party
returns to office. It is in the United States that the wager has found a
home. It is characteristic of some minds to dash into a wager with the
fearlessness of a soldier in a forlorn hope, and, once in, to regard it
almost as a sacred trust. Some men never grow up out of the schoolboy
spirit of “daring”.

To this class Jimmy Pitt belonged. He was of the same type as the man in
the comic opera who proposed to the lady because somebody bet him he
wouldn’t. There had never been a time when a challenge, a “dare”, had
not acted as a spur to him. In his newspaper days life had been one long
series of challenges. They had been the essence of the business. A story
had not been worth getting unless the getting were difficult.

With the conclusion of his newspaper life came a certain flatness into
the scheme of things. There were times, many times, when Jimmy was
bored. He hungered for excitement, and life appeared to have so little
to offer. The path of the rich man was so smooth, and it seemed to lead
nowhere. This task of burgling a house was like an unexpected treat to a
child. With an intensity of purpose which should have touched his sense
of humour, but which, as a matter of fact, did not appeal to him as
ludicrous in any way, he addressed himself to the work. The truth was
that Jimmy was one of those men who are charged to the brim with force.
Somehow the force had to find an outlet. If he had undertaken to collect
birds’ eggs, he would have set about it with the same tense energy.

Spike was sitting on the edge of his chair, dazed but happy, his head
still buzzing from the unhoped-for praise. Jimmy looked at his watch. It
was nearly three o’clock. A sudden idea struck him. The gods had
provided gifts—why not take them?

“Spike!”

“Huh?”

“Would you care to come and crack a crib with me now?”

“Gee, boss!”

“Would you?”

“Surest t’ing you know, boss.”

“Or, rather,” proceeded Jimmy, “would you care to crack a crib while I
come along with you? Strictly speaking, I am here on vacation, but a
trifle like this isn’t real work. It’s this way,” he explained. “I’ve
taken a fancy to you, Spike, and I don’t like to see you wasting your
time on coarse work. You have the root of the matter in you, and with a
little coaching I could put a polish on you. I wouldn’t do this for
every one, but I hate to see a man bungling who might do better! I want
to see you at work. Come right along and we’ll go up-town and you shall
start in. Don’t get nervous. Just work as you would if I were not there.
I shall not expect too much. Rome was not built in a day. When we are
through I will criticise a few of your mistakes. How does that suit
you?”

“Gee, boss! Great! And say, I knows just de places. A friend of mine
puts me wise to it. Leastways, I didn’t know he was me friend, but I
falls for him now. It’s a——”

“Very well, then. One moment, though.”

He went to the telephone. Before he had left New York on his travels,
Arthur Mifflin had been living at an hotel near Washington Square. It
was probable that he was still there. He called up the number. The
night-clerk was an old acquaintance of his.

“Hullo, Dixon!” said Jimmy, “is that you? I’m Pitt. Pitt. Yes. I’m back.
How did you guess? Yes, very pleasant, thanks. Has Mr. Mifflin come in
yet? Gone to bed? Never mind, ring him up, will you? Thanks.” Presently
the sleepy and outraged voice of Mr. Mifflin spoke at the other end of
the line.

“What’s wrong? Who the devil’s that?”

“My dear Arthur! Where you pick up such expressions I can’t think. Not
from me.”

“Is that you, Jimmy? What in the name of——”

“Heavens! what are you kicking about? The night’s yet young. Arthur,
touching that little arrangement we made—cracking that crib, you know.
Are you listening? Have you any objection to my taking an assistant
along with me? I don’t want to do anything contrary to our agreement,
but there’s a young fellow here who’s anxious that I should let him come
along and pick up a few hints. He’s a professional all right. Not in our
class, of course, but quite a fair rough workman. He——Arthur! Arthur!
These are harsh words! Then am I to understand you have no objection?
Very well. Only don’t say later on that I didn’t play fair. Good night.”

He hung up the receiver and turned to Spike.

“Ready?”

“Ain’t youse goin’ to put on your gum-shoes, boss?”

Jimmy frowned reflectively, as if there was something in what this
novice suggested. He went into the bedroom, and returned wearing a pair
of thin patent leather shoes.

Spike coughed tentatively.

“Won’t youse need your gun?” he hazarded.

Jimmy gave a short laugh.

“I work with my brains, not guns,” he said. “Let us be going.”

There was a taxi-cab near by, as there always is in New York. Jimmy
pushed Spike in.

The luxury of riding in a taxi-cab kept Spike dumb for several miles. At
One Hundred and Fiftieth Street Jimmy stopped the cab and paid the
driver, who took the money with that magnificently aloof air which
characterizes the taxi-chauffeur. A lesser man might have displayed some
curiosity about the ill-matched pair. The chauffeur, having lit a
cigarette, drove off without any display of interest whatsoever. It
might have been part of his ordinary duties to drive gentlemen in
evening clothes and shock-headed youths in parti-coloured sweaters about
the city at three o’clock in the morning.

“We will now,” said Jimmy, “stroll on and prospect. It might excite
comment if we drove up to the door. It is up to you, Spike. Lead me to
this house you mentioned.”

They walked on, striking eastward out of Broadway. It caused Jimmy some
surprise to find that much-enduring thoroughfare extended as far as
this. It had never occurred to him before to ascertain what Broadway did
with itself beyond Times Square. He had spent much of his time abroad,
in cities where a street changes its name every hundred yards or so
without any apparent reason.

It was darker now that they had moved from the centre of things, but it
was still far too light for Jimmy’s tastes. He was content, however, to
leave matters entirely in his companion’s charge. Spike probably had his
method for evading publicity on these occasions.

Spike, meanwhile, plodded steadily onwards. Block after block he passed,
until finally the houses began to be more scattered.

At length he stopped outside a fair-sized detached house. As he did so a
single rain-drop descended with a splash on the nape of Jimmy’s neck. In
another moment the shower had begun—jerkily at first, then, as if
warming to its work, with the quiet persistence of a shower-bath.

“Dis is de place, boss,” said Spike.

From a burglar’s point of view it was an admirable house. It had no
porch, but there was a handy window only a few feet from the ground.
Spike pulled from his pocket a small bottle and a piece of coarse paper.

“What’s that?” inquired Jimmy.

“Treacle, boss,” said Spike deferentially.

He poured the contents of the bottle on to the paper, which he pressed
firmly against the window-pane. Then, drawing out a short steel
instrument, he gave the paper a sharp tap. The glass beneath broke,
though the sound was almost inaudible. The paper came away with the
glass attached, then Spike inserting his hand in the opening, shot back
the catch and softly pushed up the window.

“Elementary,” said Jimmy; “elementary, but quite neat.”

There was now a shutter to be negotiated. This took longer, but in the
end Spike’s persuasive methods prevailed.

Jimmy became quite cordial.

“You have been well grounded, Spike,” he said. “And, after all, that is
half the battle. The advice I give to every novice is, ‘Learn to walk
before you try to run.’ Master the A B C of the craft first. With a
little careful coaching you will do. Just so. Pop in.”

Spike climbed cautiously over the sill, followed by Jimmy. The latter
struck a match and found the electric light switch. They were in a
parlour furnished and decorated with surprising taste. Jimmy had
expected the usual hideousness, but here everything, from the wall-paper
to the smallest ornaments, was wonderfully well selected.

Business, however, was business. This was no time to stand admiring
artistic efforts in room-furnishing. There was that big J to be carved
on the front door. If ’twere done, then ’twere well ’twere done quickly.

He was just moving to the door, when from some distant part of the house
came the bark of a dog. Another joined in. The solo became a duet. The
air was filled with their clamour.

“Gee!” cried Spike.

The remark seemed more or less to sum up the situation.

“’Tis sweet,” says Byron, “to hear the watch-dog’s honest bark.” Jimmy
and Spike found two watch-dogs’ honest barks cloying. Spike intimated
this by making a feverish dash for the open window. Unfortunately for
the success of this manoeuvre, the floor of the room was covered, not
with a carpet, but with tastefully scattered rugs, and underneath these
rugs it was very highly polished. Spike, treading on one of these
islands, was instantly undone. No power of will or muscle can save a man
in such a case. Spike skidded. His feet flew from under him. There was a
momentary flash of red hair, as of a passing meteor. The next moment he
had fallen on his back with a thud which shook the house, and probably
the rest of Manhattan Island as well. Even in that crisis the thought
flashed across Jimmy’s mind that this was not Spike’s lucky night.

Upstairs the efforts of the canine choir had begun to resemble the “A
che la morte” duet in _Il Trovatore_. Particularly good work was being
done by the baritone dog.

Spike sat up, groaning. Equipped though he was by nature with a skull of
the purest and most solid ivory, the fall had disconcerted him. His
eyes, like those of Shakespeare’s poet, rolling a fine frenzy, did
glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven. He passed his fingers
tenderly through his vermilion hair.

Heavy footsteps were descending the stairs. In the distance the soprano
dog had reached A in alto and was holding it, while his fellow-artiste
executed runs in the lower register.

“Get up!” hissed Jimmy. “There’s somebody coming! Get up, you idiot,
can’t you?”

It was characteristic of Jimmy that it never even occurred to him to
desert the fallen one and depart alone. There was once an Italian
convict who, in planning a jail-breaking, assigned to his brother felons
such duties as shooting the governor and strangling the warders,
reserving for himself the task of making “da gran’ escape”. Jimmy was
the exact opposite of this strategist. Spike was his brother-in-arms. He
would as soon have thought of deserting him as a sea-captain would have
abandoned his ship.

Consequently, as Spike, despite all exhortations, continued to remain on
the floor, rubbing his head and uttering “Gee!” at intervals in a
melancholy voice, Jimmy resigned himself to fate, and stood where he
was, waiting for the door to open.

It opened the next moment as if a cyclone had been behind it.



                                 ★ 7 ★
                          _Getting Acquainted_


A cyclone entering the room is apt to alter the position of things. This
one shifted a footstool, a small chair, a rug, and Spike. The chair
struck by a massive boot, whirled against the wall. The footstool rolled
away. The rug crumpled up and slid. Spike, with a yell, leaped to his
feet, slipped again, fell, and finally compromised on an all-fours
position, in which attitude he remained, blinking.

While these stirring acts were in progress there was the sound of a door
opening upstairs, followed by a scuttering of feet and an appalling
increase in the canine contribution to the current noises. The duet had
now taken on quite a Wagnerian effect.

There raced into the room first a white bull-terrier, he of the soprano
voice, and—a bad second—his fellow-artiste, the baritone, a massive
bulldog, bearing a striking resemblance to the big man with the
revolver.

And then, in theatrical parlance, the entire company “held the picture”.
Up-stage, with his hand still on the door, stood the large householder;
down-stage Jimmy. Centre, Spike and the bulldog, their noses, a couple
of inches apart, inspected each other with mutual disfavour. On the
extreme O.P. side the bull-terrier, who had fallen foul of a wickerwork
table, was crouching with extended tongue and rolling eyes, waiting for
the next move.

The householder looked at Jimmy. Jimmy looked at the householder. Spike
and the bulldog looked at each other. The bull-terrier distributed his
gaze impartially around the company.

“A typical scene of quiet American home-life,” murmured Jimmy.

The man with the pistol glowered.

“Hands up, you devils!” he roared, pointing a mammoth revolver.

The two marauders humoured his whim.

“Let me explain,” said Jimmy pacifically, shuffling warily round in
order to face the bull-terrier, who was now strolling in his direction
with an ill-assumed carelessness.

“Keep still, you blackguard!”

Jimmy kept still. The bull-terrier, with the same abstracted air, was
beginning a casual inspection of his right trouser-leg.

Relations between Spike and the bulldog, meanwhile, had become more
strained. The sudden flinging up of the former’s arms had had the worst
effect on the animal’s nerves. Spike, the croucher on all-fours, he
might have tolerated; but Spike, the semaphore, inspired him with
thoughts of battle. He was growling in a moody, reflective manner. His
eye was full of purpose.

It was probably this that caused Spike to look at the householder. Till
then he had been too busy to gaze elsewhere, but now the bulldog’s eye
had become so unpleasant that he cast a pathetic glance up at the man by
the door.

“Gee!” he cried, as he did so. “It’s de boss! Say, boss, call off de
dawg. It’s sure goin’ to nip de old head of me.”

The other lowered his revolver in surprise.

“So it’s you, is it, you limb of Satan?” he remarked. “I thought I had
seen that damned red head of yours before. What are you doing in my
house?”

Spike uttered a moan of self-pity.

“Boss,” he cried, “I’ve had a raw deal. Dere’s bin coarse work goin’ on.
Listen! It’s dis way. Honest, I didn’t know dis was where you lived. A
fat Swede—Ole Larsen his monaker is—tells me dis house belongs to a
widder-loidy what lives here all alone, and has all kinds of silver and
all dat, and she’s down Sout’ visiting, so dat de house is empty. Gee,
I’m onto his curves now. I’m wise. Listen, boss. Him and me starts a
scrappin’ last week over somet’in, and I t’inks he’s got it in bad for
me, because I puts it all over him. But t’ree days ago up he comes and
says, ‘Let’s be fren’s,’ and puts me wise on dis joint. I’ll soak it to
dat Swede! Dis was what he was woikin’ for. He knows you lives here, and
he t’inks to put me in bad wit youse. It’s a raw deal, boss!”

The big man listened to this sad tale of Grecian gifts in silence. Not
so the bulldog, which growled ominously from start to finish. Spike
glanced nervously in its direction.

“De dawg,” he persisted uneasily. “Won’t you call on de dawg, boss?”

The big man stooped and grasped the animal’s collar, jerking him away.

“The same treatment,” suggested Jimmy, with approval, “would also do a
world of good to this playful and affectionate animal—unless he is a
vegetarian, in which case don’t bother.”

The householder glowered at him.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“My name,” began Jimmy, “is——”

“Say,” said Spike, “he’s a champion burglar, boss——”

“Eh!” he said.

“He’s a champion burglar from de odder side. He sure is. From Lunnon.
Gee, he’s de guy! Tell him about the bank you opened, and de jools you
swiped from de duchess, and de what-d’ye-call-it blow-pipe.”

It seemed to Jimmy that Spike was showing a certain want of tact. When
you are discovered by a house-holder—with revolver—in his parlour at
half-past three in the morning, it is surely an injudicious move to lay
stress on your proficiency as a burglar. The householder may be supposed
to take it for granted. The side of your character which should be
advertised in such a crisis is the non-burglarious. Allusion should be
made to the fact that as a child you attended Sunday-school regularly,
and to what the curate said when you took the Divinity prize. The idea
should be conveyed to the householder’s mind that, if let off with a
caution, your innate goodness of heart will lead you to reform and avoid
such scenes in future.

With some astonishment, therefore, Jimmy found that these revelations,
so far from prejudicing the man with the revolver against him, had
apparently told in his favour. The man behind the gun was regarding him
rather with interest than disapproval.

“So you’re a crook from London, are you?”

Jimmy did not hesitate. If being a crook from London was a passport into
citizens’ parlours in the small hours, and, more particularly, if it
carried with it also a safe-conduct out of them, Jimmy was not the man
to refuse the _role_. He bowed.

“Well, you’ll have to come across now you’re in New York. Understand
that. And come across good.”

“Sure, he will,” said Spike, charmed that the tension had been relieved
and matters placed upon a pleasant and business-like footing. “He’ll be
good. He’s next to de game, sure.”

“Sure,” echoed Jimmy courteously. He did not understand; but things
seemed to be taking a turn for the better, so why disturb the harmony?

“Dis gent,” said Spike respectfully, “is boss of de cops. A
police-captain,” he corrected himself.

A light broke upon Jimmy’s darkness. He wondered he had not understood
before. He had not been a newspaper-man in New York for a year without
finding out something of the inner workings of the police force. He saw
now why the other’s manner had changed.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said. “We must have a talk together one of
these days.”

“We must,” said the police-captain significantly.

“Of course, I don’t know your methods on this side, but anything that’s
usual——”

“I’ll see you at my office. Spike Mullins will show you where it is.”

“Very well. You must forgive this preliminary informal call. We came in
more to shelter from the rain than anything.”

“You did, did you?”

Jimmy felt that it behoved him to stand on his dignity. The situation
demanded it.

“Why,” he said, with some hauteur, “in the ordinary course of business I
should hardly waste time over a small crib like——”

“It’s banks for his,” murmured Spike rapturously. “He eats dem alive.
And jools from duchesses.”

“I admit a partiality for jewels and duchesses,” said Jimmy. “And now,
as it’s a little late, perhaps we had better—— Ready, Spike? Good night,
then. Pleased to have met you.”

“I’ll see you at my office.”

“I may possibly look in. I shall be doing very little work in New York,
I fancy. I am here merely on a vacation.”

“If you do any work at all,” said the policeman coldly, “you’ll look in
at my office, or you’ll wish you had when it’s too late.”

“Of course, of course. I shouldn’t dream of omitting any formality that
may be usual. But I don’t fancy I shall break my vacation. By the way,
one little thing. Have you any objection to my carving a ‘J’ on your
front door?”

The policeman stared.

“On the inside. It won’t show. It’s just a whim of mine. If you have no
objection.”

“I don’t want any of your——” began the policeman.

“You misunderstand me. It’s only that it means paying for a dinner. I
wouldn’t for the world——”

The policeman pointed to the window.

“Out you get,” he said abruptly. “I’ve had enough of you. And don’t you
forget to come to my office.”

Spike, still deeply mistrustful of the bulldog Rastus, jumped at the
invitation. He was through the window and out of sight in the friendly
darkness almost before the policeman had finished speaking. Jimmy
remained.

“I shall be delighted——” he had begun, when he stopped. In the doorway
was standing a girl—a girl whom he recognized. Her startled look told
him that she too had recognized him.

Now for the first time since he had set out from his flat that night in
Spike’s company Jimmy was conscious of a sense of the unreality of
things. It was all so exactly as it would have happened in a dream. He
had gone to sleep thinking of this girl, and here she was. But a glance
at McEachern brought him back to earth. There was nothing of the
dream-world about the police-captain.

The policeman, whose back was towards the door, had not observed the
addition to the company. Molly had turned the handle quietly and her
slippered feet made no sound. It was the amazed expression on Jimmy’s
face that caused him to look towards the door.

“Molly!”

She smiled, though her face was still white. Jimmy’s evening clothes had
reassured her. She did not understand how he came to be there, but
evidently there was nothing wrong. She had interrupted a conversation,
not a conflict.

“I heard the noise and you going downstairs, and I sent the dogs down to
help you, father,” she said. “And then, after a little while, I came
down to see if you were all right.”

Mr. McEachern was perplexed. Molly’s arrival had put him in an awkward
position. To denounce him as a cracksman was impossible. Jimmy knew too
much about him. The only real fear of the policeman’s life was that some
word of his moneymaking methods might come to his daughter’s ears.

Quite a brilliant idea came to him.

“A man broke in, my dear,” he said. “This gentleman was passing and saw
him.”

“Distinctly,” said Jimmy. “An ugly-looking customer!”

“But he slipped out of the window and got away,” concluded the
policeman.

“He was very quick,” said Jimmy. “I think he may have been a
professional acrobat.”

“He didn’t hurt you, father?”

“No, no, my dear.”

“Perhaps I frightened him,” said Jimmy airily.

Mr. McEachern scowled furtively at him.

“We mustn’t detain you, Mr.——”

“Pitt,” said Jimmy. “My name is Pitt.” He turned to Molly. “I hope you
enjoyed the voyage.”

The policeman started.

“You know my daughter?”

“By sight only, I’m afraid. We were fellow-passengers on the
_Mauretania_. Unfortunately I was in the second cabin. I used to see
your daughter walking the deck sometimes.”

Molly smiled.

“I remember seeing you—sometimes.”

McEachern burst out:

“Then you——”

He stopped and looked at Molly. Molly was bending over Rastus, tickling
him under the ear.

“Let me show you the way out, Mr. Pitt,” said the policeman shortly. His
manner was abrupt, but when one is speaking to a man whom one would
dearly love to throw out of the window abruptness is almost unavoidable.

“Perhaps I should be going,” said Jimmy.

“Good night, Mr. Pitt,” said Molly.

“I hope we shall meet again,” said Jimmy.

“This way, Mr. Pitt,” growled McEachern, holding the door.

“Please don’t trouble,” said Jimmy. He went to the window, and, flinging
his leg over the sill, dropped noiselessly to the ground.

He turned and put his head in at the window again.

“I did that rather well,” he said pleasantly. “I think I must take up
this sort of thing as a profession. Good night.”



                                 ★ 8 ★
                              _At Dreever_


In the days before the Welshman began to expend his surplus energy in
playing Rugby football he was accustomed, whenever the monotony of his
everyday life began to oppress him, to collect a few friends and make
raids across the border into England, to the huge discomfort of the
dwellers on the other side. It was to cope with this habit that Dreever
Castle, in Shropshire, came into existence. It met a long-felt want. In
time of trouble it became a haven of refuge. From all sides people
poured into it, emerging cautiously when the marauders had disappeared.
In the whole history of the castle there is but one instance recorded of
a bandit attempting to take the place by storm, and the attack was an
emphatic failure. On receipt of a ladleful of molten lead, aimed to a
nicety by one John, the Chaplain—evidently one of those sporting
parsons—this warrior retired, done to a turn, to his mountain
fastnesses, and is never heard of again. He would seem, however, to have
passed the word round among his friends, for subsequent raiding parties
studiously avoided the castle, and a peasant who had succeeded in
crossing its threshold was for the future considered to be “home” and
out of the game.

Such was Dreever in the olden times. To-day the Welshman having calmed
down considerably, it had lost its militant character. The old walls
still stood, grey, menacing, and unchanged, but they were the only link
with the past. The castle was now a very comfortable country-house,
nominally ruled over by Hildebrand Spencer Poyns de Burgh John Hannasyde
Coombe-Crombie, twelfth Earl of Dreever (“Spennie” to his relatives and
intimates), but in reality the possession of his uncle and aunt, Sir
Thomas and Lady Julia Blunt.

Spennie’s position was one of some embarrassment. At no point in their
history had the Dreevers been what one might call a parsimonious family.
If a chance presented itself of losing money in a particularly wild and
futile manner, the Dreever of the period had invariably sprung at it
with the vim of an energetic bloodhound. The South Sea Bubble absorbed
£200,000 of good Dreever money, and the remainder of the family fortune
was squandered to the ultimate farthing by the sportive gentleman who
had held the title in the days of the Regency, when Watier’s and the
Cocoa Tree were in their prime, and fortunes had a habit of disappearing
in a single evening. When Spennie became Earl of Dreever there was about
eighteenpence in the old oak chest.

This is the point at which Sir Thomas Blunt breaks into Dreever history.
Sir Thomas was a small, pink, fussy, obstinate man, with a genius for
trade and the ambition of a Napoleon, probably one of the finest and
most complete specimens of the
came-over-Waterloo-Bridge-with-half-a-crown-in-my-pocket-and-now-look-at-me
class of millionaire in existence. He had started almost literally with
nothing. By carefully excluding from his mind every thought except that
of making money, he had risen in the world with a gruesome persistence
which nothing could check. At the age of fifty-one he was chairman of
Blunt’s Stores, Ltd., a member of Parliament, silent as a wax figure,
but a great comfort to the party by virtue of liberal contributions to
its funds, and a knight. This was good, but he aimed still higher; and,
meeting Spennie’s aunt, Lady Julia Coombe-Crombie, just at the moment
when, financially, the Dreevers were at their lowest ebb, he had
effected a very satisfactory deal by marrying her, thereby becoming as
one might say, the chairman of Dreever, Ltd. Until Spennie should marry
money, an act on which his chairman vehemently insisted, Sir Thomas held
the purse, and, except in minor matters ordered by his wife, of whom he
stood in uneasy awe, had things entirely his own way.

One afternoon, a year after the events recorded in the preceding
chapter, he was in his private room, looking out of the window. The view
from that window was very beautiful. The castle stood on a hill, the
lower portion of which, between the house and the lake, had been cut
into broad terraces. The lake itself, with its island with the little
boathouse in the centre, was a glimpse of Fairyland.

But it was not altogether the beauty of the view that had drawn Sir
Thomas to the window. He was looking at it more because the position
enabled him to avoid his wife’s eye; and, just at the moment, he was
rather anxious to avoid his wife’s eye. A somewhat stormy board meeting
was in progress, and Lady Julia, who constituted the board of directors,
had been heckling the chairman. The point under discussion was one of
etiquette, and in matters of etiquette Sir Thomas felt himself at a
disadvantage.

“I tell you, my dear,” he said to the window, “I am not easy in my
mind.”

“Nonsense!” snapped Lady Julia. “Absurd! Ridiculous!”

Lady Julia Blunt, when conversing, resembled a Maxim gun more than
anything else.

“But your diamonds, my dear?”

“I can take care of them.”

“But why should you have the trouble? Now, if we——”

“It’s no trouble.”

“When we were married there was a detective——”

“Don’t be childish, Thomas. Detectives at weddings are quite customary.”

“But——”

“Bah——”

“I paid twenty thousand pounds for that rope of pearls,” said Sir Thomas
obstinately. Switch things on to a cash basis and he was more himself.

“May I ask if you suspect any of our guests of being criminals?”
inquired Lady Julia, frostily.

Sir Thomas looked out of the window. At the moment the sternest censor
could have found nothing to cavil at in the movements of such of the
house-party as were in sight. Some were playing tennis, some clock golf,
and others were smoking.

“Why not,” he began.

“Of course. Absurd! Quite absurd!”

“But the servants. We have engaged a number of new servants lately.”

“With excellent recommendations.”

Sir Thomas was on the point of suggesting that the recommendations might
be forged, but his courage failed him. Julia was sometimes so abrupt in
these little discussions. She did not enter into his point of view. He
was always a trifle inclined to treat the castle as a branch of Blunt’s
Stores. As proprietor of the stores he had made a point of suspecting
everybody, and the results had been excellent. In Blunt’s Stores you
could hardly move in any direction without bumping into a gentlemanly
detective efficiently disguised. For the life of him Sir Thomas could
not see why the same principle should not obtain at Dreever. Guests at a
country house do not as a rule steal their host’s possessions, but then
it is only an occasional customer at a store who goes in for shop
lifting. It was the principle of the thing, he thought. Be prepared
against every emergency. With Sir Thomas Blunt suspiciousness was almost
a mania. He was forced to admit that the chances were against any of his
guests exhibiting larcenous tendencies, but, as for the servants, he
thoroughly mistrusted them all except Saunders, the butler. It had
seemed to him the merest prudence that a detective from a private
inquiry agency should be installed at the castle while the house was
full. Somewhat rashly he had mentioned this to his wife, and Lady
Julia’s critique of the scheme had been terse and unflattering.

“I suppose,” said Lady Julia sarcastically, “you will jump to the
conclusion that this man whom Spennie is bringing down with him to-day
is a criminal of some sort?”

“Eh? Is Spennie bringing a friend?”

There was not a great deal of enthusiasm in Sir Thomas’s voice. His
nephew was not a young man whom he respected very highly. Spennie
regarded his uncle with nervous apprehension, as one who would deal with
his shortcomings with vigour and severity. Sir Thomas, for his part,
looked on Spennie as a youth who would get into mischief unless he had
an eye fixed on him. So he proceeded to fix that eye.

“I had a wire from him just now.”

“Who is his friend?”

“He doesn’t say. He just says he’s a man he met in London.”

“H’m!”

“And what does ‘H’m!’ mean?” demanded Lady Julia.

“A man can pick up strange people in London,” said Sir Thomas
judicially.

“Nonsense.”

“Just as you say, my dear.”

Lady Julia rose.

“As for what you suggest about the detective, it is, of course,
absolutely absurd.”

“Quite so, my dear.”

“You mustn’t think of it.”

“Just as you say, my dear.”

Lady Julia left the room.

What followed may afford some slight clue to the secret of Sir Thomas
Blunt’s rise in the world. It certainly suggests singleness of purpose,
which is one of the essentials of success.

No sooner had the door closed behind Lady Julia than he went to his
writing-table, took pen and paper, and wrote the following letter:

“To the Manager, Wragge’s Detective Agency, Holborn Bars, London, E.C.

“Sir,—With reference to my last of the 28th ult., I should be glad if
you would send down immediately one of your best men. Am making
arrangements to receive him. Kindly instruct him to present himself at
Dreever Castle as applicant for position of valet to myself. I will see
and engage him on his arrival, and further instruct him in his
duties.—Yours faithfully, Thos. Blunt.

“P.S.—I shall expect him to-morrow evening. There is a good train
leaving Paddington at 2.15.”

He read it over and put in a couple of commas, then placed it in an
envelope, and lit a cigar with the air of one who can be checked—yes,
but vanquished, never.



                                 ★ 9 ★
                     _A New Friend and an Old One_


On the night of the day on which Sir Thomas Blunt wrote his letter to
Wragge’s, Jimmy Pitt was supping at the Savoy.

If you have the money and the clothes, and do not object to being turned
out into the night just as you are beginning to enjoy yourself, there
are few things pleasanter than supper at the Savoy Hotel, London. But as
Jimmy sat there, eyeing the multitude through the smoke of his
cigarette, he felt, despite all the brightness and glitter, that this
was a flat world and that he was very much alone in it.

A little over a year had passed since the merry evening at
Police-Captain McEachern’s. During that time he had covered a good deal
of new ground. His restlessness had reasserted itself. Somebody had
mentioned Morocco in his hearing, and a fortnight later he was in Fez.

Of the principals in that night’s drama he had seen nothing more. It was
only when walking home on air, rejoicing over the strange chance which
had led to his finding and having speech with the lady of the
_Mauretania_—he had reached Fifty-Ninth Street—that he realised that he
had also lost her. It suddenly came home to him that not only did he not
know her address, but was also ignorant of her name. Spike had called
the man with the revolver “boss” throughout—only that and nothing more.
Except that he was a police captain, Jimmy knew as little about him as
he had done before their meeting. And Spike, who held the key to the
mystery, had vanished. His acquaintances of that night had passed out of
his life like figures in a waking dream. As far as the big man with the
pistol was concerned, this did not distress him. He had only known that
massive person for about a quarter of an hour, but to his thinking that
was ample. Spike he would have liked to have met again, but he bore the
separation with fortitude. There remained the girl of the ship, and she
had haunted him with unfailing persistence during every one of the three
hundred and eighty-four days which had passed since their meeting.

It was the thought of her that had made New York seem cramped. For weeks
he had patrolled the more likely streets, the Park, and Riverside Drive
in the hope of meeting her. He had gone to the theatres and restaurants,
but with no success. Sometimes he had wandered through the Bowery on the
chance of meeting Spike. He had seen red heads in profusion, but none
that belonged to his young disciple in the art of burglary. In the end
he had wearied of the search, and, to the disgust of Arthur Mifflin and
his other friends of the Strollers’, had gone out again on his
wanderings. He was greatly missed, especially by that large section of
his circle which was in a perpetual state of wanting a little to see it
through till Saturday. For years Jimmy had been to these unfortunates a
human bank on which they could draw at will. It offended them that one
of those rare natures which are always good for two dollars at any hour
of the day should be allowed to waste itself on places like Morocco and
Spain—especially Morocco, where, by all accounts, there were brigands
with almost a New York sense of touch.

They argued earnestly with Jimmy. They spoke of Raisuli and Kaid
Maclean. But Jimmy was not to be stopped. The gadfly was vexing him, and
he had to move.

For a year he had wandered, realising every day the truth of Horace’s
philosophy for those who travel—that a man cannot change his feelings
with his climate, until finally he had found himself, as every wanderer
does, at Charing Cross.

At this point he had tried to rally. This running away, he told himself,
was futile. He would stand still and fight the fever in him.

He had been fighting it now for a matter of two weeks, and already he
was contemplating retreat. A man at lunch had been talking about Japan——

Watching the crowd, Jimmy had found his attention attracted chiefly by a
party of three a few tables away. The party consisted of a girl, rather
pretty; a lady of middle-age and stately demeanour, plainly her mother;
and a light-haired, weedy young man in the twenties. It had been the
almost incessant prattle of this youth and the peculiarly high-pitched,
gurgling laugh which shot from him at short intervals which had drawn
Jimmy’s notice upon them. And it was the curious cessation of both
prattle and laugh which now made him look again in their direction.

The young man faced Jimmy; and Jimmy, looking at him, could see that all
was not well. He was pale. He talked at random.

Jimmy caught his eye. There was a hunted look in it.

Given the time and the place, there were only two things which could
have caused that look. Either the light-haired young man had seen a
ghost, or he had suddenly realised that he had not enough money to pay
the bill.

Jimmy’s heart went out to the sufferer. He took a card from his case,
scribbled the words, “Can I help?” on it, and gave it to a waiter to
take to the young man, who was now in a state bordering on collapse.

The next moment the light-haired one was at his table, talking in a
feverish whisper.

“I say,” he said, “it’s frightfully good of you, old chap; it’s
frightfully awkward. I’ve come out with too little money. I hardly like
to——. You’ve never seen me before——”

“Don’t rub in my misfortunes,” pleaded Jimmy. “It wasn’t my fault.”

He placed a £5 note on the table.

“Say when,” he said, producing another.

“I say, thanks fearfully,” the young man said. “I don’t know what I’d
have done.” He grabbed at the note. “I’ll let you have it back
to-morrow. Here’s my card. Is your address on your card? I can’t
remember. Oh, by Jove, I’ve got it in my hand all the time.” The
gurgling laugh came into action again, freshened and strengthened by its
rest. “Savoy Mansions, eh? I’ll come round to-morrow. Thanks frightfully
again, old chap. I don’t know what I should have done.”

“It’s been a treat,” said Jimmy deprecatingly.

The young man flitted back to his table, bearing the spoil. Jimmy looked
at the card he had left. “Lord Dreever,” it read, and in the corner the
name of a well-known club. The name Dreever was familiar to Jimmy. Every
one knew of Dreever Castle, partly because it was one of the oldest
houses in England, but principally because for centuries it had been
advertised by a particularly gruesome ghost-story. Every one had heard
of the secret of Dreever, which was known only to the Earl and the
family lawyer, and confided to the heir at midnight on his twenty-first
birthday. Jimmy had come across the story in corners of the papers all
over the States, from New York to Onehorseville, Iowa. He looked with
interest at the light-haired young man—the latest depository of the
awful secret. It was popularly supposed that the heir, after hearing it,
never smiled again: but it did not seem to have affected the present
Lord Dreever to any great extent. His gurgling laugh was drowning the
orchestra. Probably, Jimmy thought, when the family lawyer had told the
light-haired young man the secret, the latter’s comment had been, “No,
really? By Jove, I say, you know!”

Jimmy paid his bill and got up to go.

It was a perfect summer night—too perfect for bed. Jimmy strolled on to
the Embankment, and stood leaning over the balustrade, looking across
the river at the vague, mysterious mass of buildings on the Surrey side.

He must have been standing there for some time, his thoughts far away,
when a voice spoke at his elbow.

“I say. Excuse me, have you—Halloa!”

It was his light-haired lordship of Dreever.

“I say, by Jove! Why, we’re always meeting!”

A tramp on the bench close by stirred uneasily in his sleep as the
gurgling laughter ripped the air.

“Been looking at the water?” inquired Lord Dreever. “I have. I often do.
Don’t you think it sort of makes a chap feel—oh, you know. Sort of—I
don’t know how to put it.”

“Mushy?” said Jimmy.

“I was going to say poetical. Suppose there’s a girl——”

He paused and looked down at the water. Jimmy was with him there. There
was a girl.

“I saw my party off in a taxi,” continued Lord Dreever, “and came down
here for a smoke. Only I hadn’t a match. Have you?”

Jimmy handed over his match-box. Lord Dreever lit a cigar, and fixed his
gaze once more on the river.

“Ripping it looks,” he said.

Jimmy nodded.

“Funny thing,” said Lord Dreever. “In the daytime the water here looks
all muddy and beastly. Damn depressing, I call it. But at night——” He
paused. “I say,” he went on, after a moment, “did you see the girl I was
with at the Savoy?”

“Yes,” said Jimmy.

“She’s a ripper,” said Lord Dreever devoutly.

On the Thames Embankment, in the small hours of a summer morning, there
is no such thing as a stranger. The man you talk with is a friend, and
if he will listen—as, by the etiquette of the place, he must—you may
pour out your heart to him without restraint. It is expected of you.

“I’m fearfully in love with her,” said his lordship.

“She looked a charming girl,” said Jimmy.

They examined the water in silence. From somewhere out in the night came
the sound of oars, where the police-boat moved on its patrol.

“Does she make you want to go to Japan?” asked Jimmy suddenly.

“Eh?” said Lord Dreever, startled. “Japan?”

Jimmy adroitly abandoned the position of confidant and seized that of
confider.

“I met a girl a year ago. Only really met her once, and even then—oh,
well. Anyway, it’s made me so restless that I haven’t been able to stay
in one place for more than a month on end. I tried Morocco, and had to
quit. I tried Spain, and that wasn’t any good either. The other day I
heard a fellow say that Japan was a pretty interesting sort of country.
I was wondering whether I wouldn’t give it a trial.”

Lord Dreever regarded this travelled man with interest.

“It beats me,” he said wonderingly. “What do you want to leg it about
the world like that for? What’s the trouble? Why don’t you stay where
the girl is?”

“I don’t know where she is.”

“Don’t know?”

“She disappeared.”

“Where did you see her last?” asked his lordship, as if Molly were a
mislaid penknife.

“New York.”

“But how do you mean, disappeared? Don’t you know her address?”

“I don’t even know her name.”

“But dash it all, I say, I mean! Have you ever spoken to her?”

“Only once. It’s rather a complicated story. At any rate, she’s gone.”

Lord Dreever said that it was a rum business. Jimmy conceded the point.

“Seems to me,” said his lordship, “we’re both in the cart.”

“What’s your trouble?”

“Oh, well, it’s only that I want to marry one girl, and my uncle’s dead
set on my marrying another.”

“Are you afraid of hurting your uncle’s feelings?”

“It’s not so much hurting his feelings. It’s—oh, well, it’s too long to
tell now. I think I’ll be getting home. I’m staying at our place in
Eaton Square.”

“How are you going? If you’ll walk I’ll come some of the way with you.”

“Right you are. Let’s be pushing along, shall we?”

They turned up into the Strand, and through Trafalgar Square into
Piccadilly. Piccadilly has a restful aspect in the small hours. Some men
were cleaning the road with water from a long hose. The swishing of the
torrent on the parched wood was musical.

Just beyond the gate of Hyde Park, to the right of the road, stands a
cabman’s shelter. Conversation and emotion had made Lord Dreever
thirsty. He suggested coffee as a suitable conclusion to the night’s
revels.

“I often go in here when I’m up in town,” he said. “The cabbies don’t
mind. They’re sportsmen.”

The shelter was nearly full when they opened the door. It was very warm
inside. A cabman gets so much fresh air in the exercise of his
professional duties that he is apt to avoid it in private life. The air
was heavy with conflicting scents. Fried onions seemed to be having the
best of the struggle for the moment, though plug tobacco competed
gallantly. A keenly analytical nose might also have detected the
presence of steak and coffee.

A dispute seemed to be in progress as they entered.

“You don’t wish you was in Russher,” said a voice.

“Yus, I do wish I was in Russher,” retorted a shrivelled mummy of a
cabman who was blowing patiently at a saucerful of coffee.

“Why do you wish you was in Russher?” asked the interlocutor,
introducing a Massa Bones and Massa Johnsing touch into the dialogue.

“Because you can wade over yer knees in bla-a-ad there,” said the mummy.

“In wot?”

“In bla-a-ad—ruddy bla-a-ad. That’s why I wish I wos in Russher.”

“Cheery cove that,” said Lord Dreever. “I say, can you give us some
coffee?”

“I might try Russia after Japan,” said Jimmy meditatively.

The lethal liquid was brought. Conversation began again. Other experts
gave their views on the internal affairs of Russia. Jimmy would have
enjoyed it more if he had been less sleepy. His back was wedged
comfortably against the wall of the shelter, and the heat of the room
stole into his brain. The voices of the disputants grew fainter and
fainter.

He had almost dozed off when a new voice cut through the murmur and woke
him. It was a voice he knew, and the accent was a familiar accent.

“Gents, excuse me.”

He looked up. The mists of sleep shredded away. A ragged youth with a
crop of fiery red hair was standing in the doorway, regarding the
occupants of the shelter with a grin, half whimsical, half defiant.

Jimmy recognized him. It was Spike Mullins.

“Excuse me,” said Spike Mullins, “is dere any gent in dis bunch of
professional beauts wants to give a poor orphan dat suffers from a
painful toist something to drink? Gents is courteously requested not to
speak all in a crowd.”

“Shet that blanky door,” said the mummy cabman sourly.

“And ’op it,” added his late opponent. “We don’t want none of your sort
’ere.”

“Den you ain’t my long-lost brudders, after all,” said the newcomer
regretfully. “I t’ought youse didn’t look handsome enough for dat. Good
night to youse, gents.”

“Shet that door, can’t yer, when I’m tellin’ yer!” said the mummy, with
increased asperity.

Spike was reluctantly withdrawing when Jimmy rose.

“One moment,” he said.

Never in his life had Jimmy failed to stand by a friend in need. Spike
was not, perhaps, exactly a friend, but even an acquaintance could rely
on Jimmy when down in the world. And Spike was manifestly in that
condition.

A look of surprise came into the Bowery boy’s face, followed by one of
stolid woodenness. He took the sovereign which Jimmy held out to him
with a muttered word of thanks, and shuffled out of the room.

“Can’t see what you wanted to give him anything for,” said Lord Dreever.
“Chap’ll only spend it getting tight.”

“Oh, he reminded me of a man I used to know.”

“Did he? Barnum’s what-is-it, I should think,” said his lordship. “Shall
we be moving?”



                                 ★ 10 ★
                       _Jimmy Adopts a Lame Dog_


A black figure detached itself from the blacker shadows and shuffled
stealthily to where Jimmy stood on the doorstep.

“That you, Spike?” asked Jimmy, in a low voice.

“Dat’s right, boss.”

“Come on in.”

He led the way up to his rooms, switched on the electric light, and shut
the door. Spike stood blinking at the sudden glare. He twirled his
battered hat in his hands. His red hair shone fiercely.

Jimmy inspected him out of the corner of his eye, and came to the
conclusion that the Mullins finances must be at a low ebb. Spike’s
costume differed in several important details from that of the ordinary
well-groomed man about town. There was nothing of the _flâneur_ about
the Bowery boy. His hat was of the soft black felt fashionable on the
East Side of New York. It was in poor condition, and looked as if it had
been up too late the night before. A black tail-coat, burst at the
elbows and stained with mud, was tightly buttoned across his chest, this
evidently with the idea of concealing the fact that he wore no shirt—an
attempt which was not wholly successful. A pair of grey flannel trousers
and boots, out of which two toes peeped coyly, completed the picture.

Even Spike himself seemed to be aware that there were points in his
appearance which would have distressed the editor of the _Tailor and
Cutter_.

“’Scuse these duds,” he said. “Me man’s bin an’ mislaid de trunk wit me
best suit in. Dis is me number two.”

“Don’t mention it, Spike,” said Jimmy. “You look a perfect _matinee_
idol. Have a drink?”

Spike’s eyes gleamed as he reached for the decanter. He took a seat.

“Cigar, Spike?”

“Sure. T’anks, boss.”

Jimmy lit his pipe. Spike, after a few genteel sips, threw off his
restraint and finished the rest of his glass at a gulp.

“Try another?” suggested Jimmy.

Spike’s grin showed that the idea had been well received.

Jimmy sat and smoked in silence for a while. He was thinking the thing
over. He felt like a detective who has found a clue. At last he would be
able to discover the name of the _Mauretania_ girl. The discovery would
not take him very far, certainly, but it would be something. Possibly
Spike might even be able to fix the position of the house they had
broken into that night.

Spike was looking at him over his glass with silent admiration. This
flat, which Jimmy had rented for a year, in the hope that the possession
of a fixed abode might help to tie him down to one spot, was handsomely,
even luxuriously, furnished. To Spike every chair and table in the room
had a romance of its own as having been purchased out of the proceeds of
that New Asiatic Bank robbery, or from the revenue accruing from the
Duchess of Havent’s jewels. He was dumb with reverence for one who could
make burglary pay to this extent. In his own case the profession had
rarely provided anything more than bread and butter and an occasional
trip to Coney Island.

Jimmy caught his eye, and spoke.

“Well, Spike,” he said. “Curious that we should meet like this?”

“De limit,” agreed Spike.

“I can’t imagine you three thousand miles from New York. How do you know
the cars still run both ways on Broadway?”

A wistful look came into Spike’s eyes.

“I t’ought it was time I give old Lunnon a call. T’ings was getting too
fierce in Noo York. De cops was layin’ for me. Dey didn’t seem like as
if they had any use for me. So I beat it.”

“Bad luck,” said Jimmy.

“Fierce,” agreed Spike.

“Do you know, Spike,” said Jimmy, “I spent a great deal of time before I
left New York looking for you.”

“Gee, I wish you’d found me. And did youse want me to help on some lay,
boss?”

“Well, no, not that. Do you remember that night we broke into that house
up-town—the police-captain’s house?”

“Sure.”

“What was his name?”

“What, de cop’s? Why, McEachern, boss.”

“Mac what? How do you spell it?”

“Search me,” said Spike, simply.

“Say it again. Fill your lungs and enunciate slowly and clearly. Be
bell-like. Now.”

“McEachern.”

“Ah! And where was the house? Can you remember that?”

Spike’s forehead wrinkled.

“It’s gone,” he said at last. “It was somewheres up some street up de
town.”

“That’s a lot of help,” said Jimmy. “Try again.”

“It’ll come back some time, boss, sure.”

“Then I’m going to keep an eye on you till it does. Just for the moment
you’re the most important man in the world to me. Where are you living?”

“Me? Why, in de Park. Dat’s right. One of dem swell detached benches wit
a southern exposure.”

“Well, unless you prefer it, you needn’t sleep in the Park any more. You
can pitch your moving tent with me.”

“What, here, boss?”

“Unless we move.”

“Me fer dis,” said Spike, rolling luxuriously in his chair.

“You’ll want some clothes,” said Jimmy. “We’ll get those to-morrow.
You’re the sort of figure they can fit off the peg. You’re not too tall,
which is a good thing.”

“Bad t’ing for me, boss. If I’d bin taller I’d have stood for being a
cop, and bin buying a brown-stone house on Fifth Avenue by this. It’s de
cops makes de big money in little old Manhattan, dat’s who it is.”

“The man who knows!” said Jimmy. “Tell me more, Spike. I suppose a good
many of the New York force do get rich by graft?”

“Sure. Look at old man McEachern.”

“I wish I could. Tell me about him, Spike. You seemed to know him pretty
well.”

“Me? Sure. Dere wasn’t a worse grafter dan him in de bunch. He was out
for the dough all the time. But, say, did youse ever see his girl?”

“What’s that?” said Jimmy sharply.

“I seen her once.” Spike became almost lyrical in his enthusiasm. “Gee,
she was a bird. A peach for fair. I’d have left me happy home for her.
Molly was her monaker. She——”

Jimmy was glaring at him.

“Drop it!” he cried.

“What’s dat, boss?” said Spike.

“Cut it out!” said Jimmy savagely.

Spike looked at him amazed.

“Sure,” he said, puzzled, but realising that his words had not pleased
the great man.

Jimmy chewed the stem of his pipe irritably, while Spike, full of
excellent intentions, sat on the edge of his chair drawing sorrowfully
at his cigar and wondering what he had done to give offence.

“Boss?” said Spike.

“Halloa!”

“Boss, what’s doin’ here? Put me next to de game. Is it de old lay?
Banks and jools from duchesses! You’ll be able to let me sit in on de
game, won’t you?”

“I’d quite forgotten I hadn’t told you about myself, Spike. I’ve
retired.”

The horrid truth sank slowly into the other’s mind.

“Say! What’s dat, boss? You’re cuttin’ it out?”

“That’s it. Absolutely.”

“Ain’t youse swiping no more jools?”

“Not me.”

“Nor usin’ de what’s-its-name blow-pipe?”

“I have sold my oxyacetylene blow-pipe, given away my anaesthetics, and
am going to turn over a new leaf and settle down as a respectable
citizen.”

Spike gasped. His world had fallen about his ears. His excursion with
Jimmy, the master cracksman, in New York had been the highest and
proudest memory of his life, and now that he had met him again in
London, he had looked forward to a long and prosperous partnership in
crime. He was content that his own share in the partnership should be
humble. It was enough for him to be connected, however humbly, with such
a master. He had looked upon the richness of London, and he had said
with Blucher, “What a city to loot!”

And here was his idol shattering his visions with a word.

“Have another drink, Spike,” said the Lost Leader sympathetically. “It’s
a shock to you, I expect.”

“I t’ought, boss——”

“I know, I know. These are life’s tragedies. I’m very sorry for you; but
it can’t be helped.”

Spike sat silent, with a long face. Jimmy slapped him on the shoulder.

“Cheer up,” he said. “How do you know that living honestly may not be
splendid fun? Numbers of people do it, you know, and enjoy themselves
tremendously. You must give it a trial, Spike.”

“Me, boss? What, me too?”

“Rather. You’re my link with——I don’t want to have you remembering that
address in the second month of a ten-year spell at Dartmoor. I’m going
to look after you, Spike, my son, like a lynx. We’ll go out together and
see life. Buck up, Spike! Be cheerful! Grin!”

After a moment’s reflection the other grinned, howbeit faintly.

“That’s right,” said Jimmy. “We’ll go into society, Spike, hand in hand.
You’ll be a terrific success in society. All you have to do is to look
cheerful, brush your hair, and keep your hands off the spoons, for in
the best circles they invariably count them after the departure of the
last guest.”

“Sure,” said Spike, as one who thoroughly understood this sensible
precaution.

“And now,” said Jimmy, “we’ll be turning in. Can you manage sleeping on
the sofa one night? Some fellows would give their bed up to you.
However, I’ll have a bed made up for you to-morrow.”

“Me!” said Spike. “Gee! I’ve been sleepin’ in de Park all de last week.
Dis is to de good, boss.”



                                 ★ 11 ★
                       _At the Turn of the Road_


On the morning after the meeting at the Savoy when Jimmy, having sent
Spike off to the tailor’s, was dealing with a combination of breakfast
and lunch at his flat, Lord Dreever called.

“Thought I should find you in,” observed his lordship. “Well, laddie,
how goes it? Having breakfast? Eggs _and_ bacon! Great Scot, I couldn’t
touch a thing!”

The statement was borne out by his looks. The son of a hundred earls was
pale, and his eyes were markedly fish-like.

“A fellow I’ve got stopping with me—taking him down to Dreever with me
to-day—man I met at the club—fellow named Hargate. Don’t know if you
know him? No? Well, he was still up when I got back last night, and we
stayed up playing pills—he’s rotten at pills; something frightful; I
give him thirty—till five this morning. I feel frightfully cheap.
Wouldn’t have got up at all, only I’m due to catch the two-fifteen down
to Dreever. It’s the only good train.”

He dropped into a chair.

“Sorry you don’t feel up to breakfast,” said Jimmy, helping himself to
marmalade. “I am generally to be found among those lining up when the
gong goes. I’ve breakfasted on a glass of water and a bag of bird-seed
in my time. That sort of thing makes you ready to take whatever you can
get. Seen the papers?”

“Thanks.”

Jimmy finished his breakfast and lit a pipe. Lord Dreever laid down the
paper.

“I say,” he said, “what I came round about was this. What have you got
on just now?”

Jimmy had imagined that his friend had dropped in to return the
five-pound note he had borrowed, but his lordship maintained a complete
reserve on the subject. Jimmy was to discover later that this weakness
of memory where financial obligations were concerned was a leading trait
in Lord Dreever’s character.

“To-day, do you mean?” said Jimmy.

“Well, in the near future. What I mean is, why not put off that Japan
trip you spoke about and come down to Dreever with me?”

Jimmy reflected. After all, Japan or Dreever, it made very little
difference. And it would be interesting seeing a place about which he
had read so much.

“That’s very good of you,” he said. “You’re sure it will be all right?
It won’t be upsetting your arrangements?”

“Not a bit. The more the merrier. Can’t you catch the two-fifteen? It’s
fearfully short notice.”

“Heavens, yes. I can pack in ten minutes. Thanks very much.”

“Stout fellow. There’ll be shooting and all that sort of rot. Oh! by the
way, are you any good at acting? I mean, I believe there are going to be
private theatricals of sorts. A man called Charteris is getting them up.
Cambridge man; belongs to the Footlights. Always getting up theatricals.
Rot, I call it; but you can’t stop him. Do you do anything in that
line?”

“Put me down for what you like, from Emperor of Morocco to Confused
Noise Without. I was on the stage once. I’m particularly good at
shifting scenery.”

“Good for you. Well, so long. Two-fifteen from Paddington, remember.
I’ll meet you there. I’ve got to go and see a fellow now.”

“I’ll look out for you.”

A sudden thought occurred to Jimmy. Spike! He had forgotten Spike for
the moment. It was vital that the Bowery boy should not be lost sight of
again. He was the one link with the little house somewhere beyond One
Hundred and Fiftieth Street. He could not leave the Bowery boy at the
flat. A vision rose in his mind of Spike alone in London with Savoy
Mansions as a base for his operations. No; Spike must be transplanted to
the country. He could not seem to see Spike in the country. His boredom
would probably be pathetic. But it was the only way.

Lord Dreever facilitated matters.

“By the way, Pitt,” he said, “you’ve got a man of sorts, of course? One
of those frightful fellows who forget to pack your collars! Bring him
along, of course.”

“Thanks,” said Jimmy. “I will.”

The matter had scarcely been settled when the door opened and revealed
the subject of discussion. Wearing a broad grin of mingled pride and
bashfulness, and looking very stiff and awkward in one of the brightest
tweed suits ever seen off the stage, Spike stood for a moment in the
doorway to let his appearance sink into the spectator; then advanced
into the room.

“How do dese strike you, boss?” he inquired genially, as Lord Dreever
gaped in astonishment at this bright being.

“Pretty nearly blind, Spike,” said Jimmy. “What made you get those? We
use electric light here.”

Spike was full of news.

“Say, boss, dat clothing-store’s a willy wonder, sure. De old mug what
showed me round give me de frozen face when I came in foist. ‘What’s
doin’?’ he says. ‘To de woods wit you! git de hook!’ But I hands out de
plunks you give me, an’ tells him how I’m here to get a dude suit, an’
gee! if he don’t haul out suits by de mile. Give me a toist, it did,
watching him. ‘It’s up to youse,’ says de mug. ‘Choose somet’ing. You
pays de money, an’ we does de rest.’ So I says dis is de one, and I put
down de plunks, an’ here I am, boss.”

“I noticed that, Spike,” said Jimmy. “I could see you in the dark.”

“Don’t you like de duds, boss?” inquired Spike anxiously.

“They’re the last word,” said Jimmy. “You’d make Solomon in all his
glory look like a tramp cyclist.”

“Dat’s right,” agreed Spike. “Dey’se de limit.”

And, apparently oblivious to the presence of Lord Dreever, who had been
watching him in blank silence since his entrance, the Bowery boy
proceeded to execute a mysterious shuffling dance on the carpet.

This was too much for the overwrought brain of his lordship.

“Good-bye, Pitt,” he said; “I’m off. Got to see a man.”

Jimmy saw him to the door.

Outside, Lord Dreever placed the palm of his right hand on his forehead.

“I say, Pitt,” he said.

“Halloa!”

“Who the devil’s that?”

“Who? Spike? Oh, that’s my man.”

“Your man! Is he always like that?—I mean going on like a frightful
music-hall comedian, dancing, you know? And, I say, what on earth
language was that he was talking? I couldn’t understand one word in
ten.”

“Oh, that’s American—the Bowery variety.”

“Oh! Well, I suppose it’s all right if you understand it. I can’t. By
Gad!” he broke off, with a chuckle, “I’d give something to see him
talking to old Saunders, our butler at home. He’s got the manners of a
duke.”

“Spike should revise those,” said Jimmy.

“What do you call him?”

“Spike.”

“Rummy name, isn’t it?”

“Fashionable in the States; short for Algernon.”

“He seemed pretty chummy.”

“That’s his independent bringing-up. They’re all like that in America.”

“Jolly country.”

“You’d love it.”

“Well, so long.”

“So long.”

On the bottom step Lord Dreever halted.

“I say, I’ve got it!”

“Good for you; got what?”

“Why, I knew I’d seen that chap’s face somewhere before, only I couldn’t
place him. I’ve got him now. He’s the Johnny who came into the shelter
last night—chap you gave a quid to.”

Spike’s was one of those faces which, without being essentially
beautiful, stamp themselves on the memory.

“You’re quite right,” said Jimmy. “I was wondering if you would
recognise him. Would you prefer a cigar or a cocoanut? The fact is, he’s
a man I once employed over in New York, and when I came across him over
here he was so evidently wanting a bit of help that I took him on again.
As a matter of fact I needed somebody to look after my things, and Spike
can do it as well as anybody else.”

“I see. Not bad my spotting him, was it? Well, I must be off. Good-bye.
Two-fifteen at Paddington. Meet you there. Book for Dreever if you’re
there before me.”

“Right. Good-bye.”

Jimmy returned to the dining-room. Spike, who was examining as much as
he could of himself in the glass, turned round with his wonted grin.

“Say, who’s de gazebo, boss? Ain’t he de mug youse was wit last night?”

“That’s the man. We’re going down with him to the country to-day, Spike,
so be ready.”

“On your way, boss. What’s dat?”

“He has invited us to his country house, and we’re going.”

“What? Bote of us?”

“Yes. I told him you were my servant. I hope you aren’t offended.”

“Nit. What’s dere to be offended at, boss?”

“That’s all right. Well, we’d better be packing. We have to be at the
station at a quarter to two.”

“Sure.”

“And, Spike.”

“Yes, boss?”

“Did you get any other clothes besides what you’ve got on?”

“Nit. What do I want wit more dan one dude suit?”

“I approve of your rugged simplicity,” said Jimmy, “but what you’re
wearing is a town suit, excellent for the Park or the Marchioness’s
Thursday crush, but essentially metropolitan. You must get something
else for the country, something dark and quiet. I’ll come and help you
choose it, now.”

“Why, won’t dis go in de country?”

“Not on your life, Spike. It would unsettle the rustic mind. They’re
fearfully particular about that sort of thing in England.”

“Dey’s to de bad,” said the baffled disciple of Beau Brummell, with deep
discontent.

“And there’s just one thing more, Spike. I know you’ll excuse me
mentioning it. When we’re at Dreever Castle you will find yourself
within reach of a good deal of silver and other things. Would it be too
much to ask you to forget your professional instincts? I mentioned this
before in a general sort of way, but this is a particular case.”

“Ain’t I to get busy at all, den?” queried Spike.

“Not so much as a salt-spoon,” said Jimmy firmly. “Now we’ll whistle a
cab and go and choose you some more clothes.”

Accompanied by Spike, who came within an ace of looking almost
respectable in new blue serge (“small gent’s”—off the peg), Jimmy
arrived at Paddington with a quarter of an hour to spare. Lord Dreever
appeared ten minutes later, accompanied by a man of about Jimmy’s age.
He was tall and thin, with cold eyes and tight, thin lips. His clothes
fitted him in the way clothes do fit one man in a thousand. They were
the best part of him. His general appearance gave one the idea that his
meals did him little good, and his meditations rather less. He had
practically no conversation.

This was Lord Dreever’s friend Hargate—the Hon. Louis Hargate. Lord
Dreever made the two acquainted; but even as they shook hands Jimmy had
an impression that he had seen the man before, but where or in what
circumstances he could not remember. Hargate appeared to have no
recollection of him, so he did not mention the matter. A man who has led
a wandering life often sees faces which come back to him later on,
absolutely detached from their context. He might merely have passed Lord
Dreever’s friend in the street. But Jimmy had an idea that the other had
figured in some episode which at the moment had had an importance.

What that episode was had escaped him. He dismissed the thing from his
mind. It was not worth harrying his memory about.

Judicious tipping had secured them a compartment to themselves. Hargate,
having read the evening paper, went to sleep in the far corner. Jimmy
and Lord Dreever, who sat opposite one another, fell into a desultory
conversation.

At Reading Lord Dreever’s remarks took a somewhat intimate turn. Jimmy
was one of those men whose manner invites confidences. His lordship
began to unburden his soul of certain facts relating to the family.

“Have you ever met my Uncle Thomas?” he inquired. “You know Blunt’s
Stores? Well, he’s Blunt. It’s a company now, but he still runs it. He
married my aunt. You’ll meet him at Dreever.”

Jimmy said he would be delighted.

“I bet you won’t,” said the last of the Dreevers, with candour. “He’s a
frightful man—the limit. Always fussing round like a hen. Gives me a
fearful time, I can tell you. Look here, I don’t mind telling you—we’re
pals—he’s dead set on my marrying a rich girl.”

“Well, that sounds all right. There are worse hobbies. Any particular
rich girl?”

“There’s always one. He sticks me on to one after another. Quite nice
girls, you know, some of them, only I want to marry somebody else—that
girl you saw me with at the Savoy.”

“Why don’t you tell your uncle?”

“He’d have a fit. She hasn’t a penny. Nor have I, except what I get from
him. Of course, this is strictly between ourselves.”

“Of course.”

“I know everybody thinks there’s money attached to the title; but there
isn’t—not a penny. When my Aunt Julia married Sir Thomas the whole
frightful show was pretty well in pawn. So you see how it is.”

“Ever think of work?” asked Jimmy.

“Work?” said Lord Dreever reflectively. “Well, you know, I shouldn’t
mind work, only I’m dashed if I can see what I could do. I shouldn’t
know how. Nowadays you want a fearful specialised education, and so on.
Tell you what, though, I shouldn’t mind the Diplomatic Service. One of
these days I shall have a dash at asking my uncle to put up the money. I
believe I shouldn’t be half bad at that. I’m rather a quick sort of chap
at times you know. Lots of fellows have said so.”

He cleared his throat modestly, and proceeded.

“It isn’t only my Uncle Thomas,” he said; “there’s Aunt Julia too. She’s
about as much the limit as he is. I remember when I was a kid she was
always sitting on me. She does still. Wait till you see her. Sort of
woman who makes you feel that your hands are the colour of tomatoes and
the size of legs of mutton, if you know what I mean. And talks as if she
were biting at you. Frightful!”

Having unburdened himself of which criticism, he yawned, leaned back,
and was presently asleep.

It was about an hour later that the train, which had been taking itself
less seriously for some time, stopping at all stations of quite minor
importance, and generally showing a tendency to dawdle, halted again. A
board with the legend “Dreever” in large letters showed that they had
reached their destination.

The station-master informed Lord Dreever that her ladyship had come to
meet the train in the motor car, and was now waiting in the road
outside.

Lord Dreever’s jaw fell.

“Oh, Lord!” he said. “She’s probably motored in to get the afternoon
letters. That means she’s come in the runabout, and there’s only room
for two of us in that. I forgot to write that you were coming, Pitt. I
only wired about Hargate. Dash it, I shall have to walk.”

His fears proved correct. The car at the station-door was small. It was
obviously designed to seat four only.

Lord Dreever introduced Hargate and Jimmy to the statuesque lady in the
tonneau, and then there was an awkward silence.

At this point Spike came up, chuckling amiably, with a magazine in his
hand.

“Gee!” said Spike. “Say, boss, de mug what wrote dis piece must have bin
livin’ out in de woods. Say, dere’s a gazebo who wants to swipe de
heroine’s jools what’s locked in a drawer. So dis mug—what do you t’ink
he does?” Spike laughed shortly, in professional scorn. “Why——”

“Is this gentleman a friend of yours, Spennie?” inquired Lady Julia
politely, eyeing the red-haired speaker coldly.

“It’s——”

He looked appealingly at Jimmy.

“It’s my man,” said Jimmy. “Spike,” he added, in an undertone, “to the
woods. Chase yourself. Fade away.”

“Sure,” said the abashed Spike. “Dat’s right. It ain’t up to me to come
buttin’ in. Sorry, boss. Sorry, gents. Sorry, loidy. Me for the tall
grass.”

“There’s a luggage cart of sorts,” said Lord Dreever, pointing.

“Sure,” said Spike, affably. He trotted away.

“Jump in, Pitt,” said Lord Dreever. “I’m going to walk.”

“No, I’ll walk,” said Jimmy. “I’d rather. I want a bit of exercise.
Which way do I go?”

“Frightfully good of you, old chap,” said Lord Dreever. “Sure you don’t
mind? I do bar walking. Right-O! You keep straight on.”

Jimmy watched them out of sight and started to follow at a leisurely
pace. It certainly was an ideal afternoon for a country walk. The sun
was just hesitating whether to treat the time as afternoon or evening.
Eventually it decided that it was evening and moderated its beams. After
London the country was deliciously fresh and cool. Jimmy felt an
unwonted content. It seemed to him just then that the only thing worth
doing in the world was to settle down somewhere with three acres and a
cow and become pastoral.

There was a marked lack of traffic on the road. Once he met a cart and
once a flock of sheep with a friendly dog. Sometimes a rabbit would dash
out into the road, stop to listen, and dart into the opposite hedge, all
hind-legs and white scut. But except for these he was alone in the
world.

And gradually there began to be borne in upon him the conviction that he
had lost his way.

It is difficult to judge distance when one is walking but it certainly
seemed to Jimmy that he must have covered five miles by this time. He
must have mistaken the way. He had certainly come straight; he could not
have come straighter. On the other hand, it would be quite in keeping
with the cheap substitute which served the Earl of Dreever in place of a
mind that he should have forgotten to mention some important turning.
Jimmy sat down by the roadside.

As he sat there came to him from down the road the sound of a horse’s
feet trotting. He got up. Here was somebody at last who would direct
him.

“Halloa!” he said. “Accident? And, by Jove, a side-saddle!”

Jimmy stopped the horse, and led it back the way it had come. As he
turned the bend in the road he saw a girl in a riding-habit running
towards him. She stopped running when she caught sight of him, and
slowed down to walk.

“Thank you ever so much,” she said, taking the reins from him. “Dandy,
you naughty old thing!”

Jimmy looked at her flushed, smiling face, and stood staring. It was
Molly McEachern.



                                 ★ 12 ★
                            _Making a Start_


Self-possession was one of Jimmy’s leading characteristics, but for the
moment he found himself speechless. This girl had been occupying his
thoughts for so long that—in his mind—he had grown very intimate with
her. It was something of a shock to come suddenly out of his dreams and
face the fact that she was in reality practically a stranger. He felt as
one might with a friend whose memory has been wiped out. It went against
the grain to have to begin again from the beginning after all the time
they had been together.

A curious constraint fell upon him.

“Why, how do you do, Mr. Pitt?” she said, holding out her hand.

Jimmy began to feel better. It was something that she remembered his
name.

“It’s like meeting somebody out of a dream,” said Molly. “I have
sometimes wondered if you were real. Everything that happened that night
was so like a dream.”

Jimmy found his tongue.

“You haven’t altered,” he said; “you look just the same.”

“Well,” she laughed, “after all, it’s not so long ago, is it?”

He was conscious of a dull hurt. To him it had seemed years. But he was
nothing to her—just an acquaintance, one of a hundred. But what more, he
asked himself, could he have expected? And with the thought came
consolation. The painful sense of having lost ground left him. He saw he
had been allowing things to get out of proportion. He had not lost
ground. He had gained it. He had met her again and she remembered him.
What more had he any right to ask?

“I’ve crammed a good deal into the time,” he explained. “I’ve been
travelling about a bit since we met.”

“Do you live in Shropshire?” asked Molly.

“No. I’m on a visit—at least, I’m supposed to be; but I’ve lost the way
to the place, and I am beginning to doubt if I shall ever get there. I
was told to go straight on. I’ve gone straight on, and here I am, lost
in the snow. Do you happen to know whereabouts Dreever Castle is?”

She laughed.

“Why,” she said, “I’m staying at Dreever Castle myself.”

“What?”

“So the first person you meet turns out to be an experienced guide.
You’re lucky, Mr. Pitt.”

“You’re right,” said Jimmy slowly; “I am.”

“Did you come down with Lord Dreever? He passed me in the car just as I
was starting out. He was with another man and Lady Julia Blunt. Surely
he didn’t make you walk?”

“I offered to walk. Somebody had to. Apparently he had forgotten to let
them know he was bringing me.”

“And then he misdirected you! He’s very casual, I’m afraid.”

“Inclined that way, perhaps.”

“Have you known Lord Dreever long?”

“Since a quarter-past twelve last night.”

“Last night!”

“We met at the Savoy, and later on the Embankment. We looked at the
river together and told each other the painful stories of our lives, and
this morning he called and invited me down here.”

Molly looked at him with frank amusement.

“You must be a very restless sort of person,” she said. “You seem to do
a great deal of moving about.”

“I do,” said Jimmy. “I can’t keep still. I’ve got the go-fever, like the
man in Kipling’s book.”

“But he was in love.”

“Yes,” said Jimmy; “he was. That’s the bacillus, you know.”

She shot a quick glance at him. He became suddenly interesting to her.
She was at the age of dreams and speculations. From being merely an
ordinary young man with rather more ease of manner than the majority of
the young men she had met, he developed in an instant into something
worthy of closer attention. He took on a certain mystery and romance.
She wondered what sort of a girl it was that he loved. Examining him in
the light of this new discovery, she found him attractive. Something
seemed to have happened to put her in sympathy with him. She noticed for
the first time a latent forcefulness behind the pleasantness of his
manner. His self-possession was the self-possession of the man who had
been tried and has found himself.

At the bottom of her consciousness, too, there was a faint stirring of
some emotion, which she could not analyse, not unlike pain. It was
vaguely reminiscent of the agony of loneliness which she had experienced
as a small child on the rare occasions when her father had been busy and
distrait and had shown her by his manner that she was outside his
thoughts. This was but a pale suggestion of that misery, but
nevertheless there was a resemblance. It was a rather desolate, shut-out
sensation, half resentful.

It was gone in a moment. But it had been there. It had passed over her
heart as the shadow of a cloud moves across a meadow in the summer-time.

For some moments she stood without speaking. Jimmy did not break the
silence. He was looking at her with an appeal in his eyes. Why could she
not understand? She must understand.

But the eyes that met his were those of a child.

As they stood there the horse, which had been cropping in a perfunctory
manner at the short grass by the roadside, raised his head and neighed
impatiently. There was something so human about the performance that
Jimmy and the girl laughed simultaneously. The utter materialism of the
neigh broke the spell. It was a noisy demand for food.

“Poor Dandy!” said Molly. “He knows he’s near home, and he knows it’s
his dinner-time.”

“Are we near the castle, then?”

“It’s a long way round by the road, but we can cut across the fields.
Aren’t these English fields and hedges just perfect? I love them! Of
course I loved America, but——”

“Have you left New York long?” asked Jimmy.

“We came over here about a month after you were at our house.”

“You didn’t spend much time there, then?”

“Father had just made a good deal of money in Wall Street. He must have
been making it when I was on the _Mauretania_. He wanted to leave New
York, so we didn’t wait. We were in London all the winter. Then we went
over to Paris. It was there we met Sir Thomas Blunt and Lady Julia. Have
you met them? They are Lord Dreever’s uncle and aunt.”

“I’ve met Lady Julia.”

“Do you like her?”

Jimmy hesitated.

“Well, you see——”

“I know. She’s your hostess, but you haven’t started your visit yet, so
you’ve just got time to say what you really think of her before you have
to pretend she’s perfect.”

“Well——”

“I detest her,” said Molly crisply. “I think she’s hard and hateful.”

“Well, I can’t say she struck me as a sort of female Cheeryble Brother.
Lord Dreever introduced me to her at the station. She seemed to bear it
pluckily, but with some difficulty.”

“She’s hateful,” repeated Molly. “So is he—Sir Thomas, I mean. He’s one
of those fussy, bullying little men. They both bully poor Lord Dreever
till I wonder he doesn’t rebel. They treat him like a schoolboy. It
makes me wild. It’s such a shame. He’s so nice and good-natured. I am so
sorry for him.”

Jimmy listened to this outburst with mixed feelings. It was sweet of her
to be so sympathetic; but was it merely sympathy? There had been a ring
in her voice and a flush on her cheek which had suggested to Jimmy’s
sensitive mind a personal interest in the down-trodden peer. Reason told
him that it was foolish to be jealous of Lord Dreever. A good fellow, of
course, but not to be taken seriously. The primitive man in him, on the
other hand, made him hate all Molly’s male friends with an unreasoning
hatred. Not that he hated Lord Dreever. He liked him. But he doubted if
he could go on liking him for long if Molly were to continue in this
sympathetic strain.

His affection for the absent one was not put to the test. Molly’s next
remark had to do with Sir Thomas.

“The worst of it is,” she said, “father and Sir Thomas are such friends.
In Paris they were always together. Father did him a very good turn.”

“How was that?”

“It was one afternoon just after we arrived. A man got into Lady Julia’s
room while we were all out except father. Father saw him go into the
room, and suspecting something was wrong, went in after him. The man was
trying to steal Lady Julia’s jewels. He had opened the box where they
were kept, and was actually holding her rope of diamonds in his hand
when father found him. It’s the most magnificent thing I ever saw. Sir
Thomas told father he gave a hundred thousand dollars for it.”

“But surely,” said Jimmy, “hadn’t the management of the hotel a safe for
valuables?”

“Of course they had; but you don’t know Sir Thomas. He wasn’t going to
trust any hotel safe. He’s the sort of man who insists on doing
everything in his own way, and who always imagines he can do things
better for himself than anyone else can do them for him. He had had this
special box made, and would never keep the diamonds anywhere else.
Naturally the thief opened it in a minute. A clever thief would have no
difficulty with a thing like that.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, the man saw father and dropped the jewels, and ran off down the
corridor. Father chased him a little way, but, of course, it was no
good; so he went back and shouted and rang every bell he could see and
gave the alarm, but the man was never found. Still, he left the
diamonds. That was the great thing, after all. You must look at them
to-night at dinner. They really are wonderful. Are you a judge of
precious stones at all?”

“I am, rather,” said Jimmy; “in fact, a jeweller I once knew told me I
had a natural gift in that direction. And so, of course, Sir Thomas was
pretty grateful to your father?”

“He simply gushed. He couldn’t do enough for him. You see, if the
diamonds had been stolen I’m sure Lady Julia would have made Sir Thomas
buy her another rope just as good. He’s terrified of her, I’m certain.
He tries not to show it; but he is. And besides having to pay another
hundred thousand dollars, he would never have heard the last of it. It
would have ruined his reputation for being infallible and doing
everything better than anybody else.”

“But didn’t the mere fact that the thief got the jewels and was only
stopped by a fluke from getting away with them do that?”

Molly bubbled with laughter.

“She never knew. Sir Thomas got back to the hotel an hour before she
did. I’ve never seen such a busy hour. He had the manager up and
harangued him, and swore him to secrecy—which the poor manager was only
too glad to agree to, because it wouldn’t have done the hotel any good
to have it known. And the manager harangued the servants, and the
servants harangued each other, and everybody talked at the same time,
and father and I promised not to tell a soul; so Lady Julia doesn’t know
a word about it to this day. And I don’t see why she ever should; though
one of these days I’ve a good mind to tell Lord Dreever! Think what a
hold he would have over them! They’d never be able to bully him again.”

“I shouldn’t,” said Jimmy, trying to keep a touch of coldness out of his
voice. This championship of Lord Dreever, however sweet and admirable,
was a little distressing.

She looked up quickly.

“You don’t think I really meant to, do you?”

“No, no,” said Jimmy hastily. “Of course not.”

“Well, I should think so!” said Molly indignantly. “After I promised not
to tell a soul about it.”

Jimmy chuckled.

“It’s nothing,” he said, in answer to her look of inquiry.

“You laughed at something.”

“Well,” said Jimmy apologetically, “it’s only—it’s nothing really—only
what I meant is, you have just told one soul a good deal about it,
haven’t you?”

Molly turned pink. Then she smiled.

“I don’t know how I came to do it,” she declared. “It rushed out of its
own accord. I suppose it is because I know I can trust you.”

Jimmy flushed with pleasure. He turned to her and half halted, but she
continued to walk on.

“You can,” he said; “but how do you know you can?”

“Why,” she said—she stopped for a moment, and then went on hurriedly,
with a touch of embarrassment—“why, how absurd! Of course I know. Can’t
you read faces? I can. Look,” she said, pointing, “now you can see the
castle. How do you like it?”

They had reached a point where the fields sloped sharply downward. A few
hundred yards away, backed by woods, stood the grey mass of stone which
proved such a kill-joy of old to the Welsh sportsman during the peasant
season. Even now it had a certain air of defiance. The setting sun lit
up the waters of the lake. No figures were to be seen moving in the
grounds. The place resembled a palace of sleep.

“Well!” said Molly.

“It’s wonderful!”

“Isn’t it? I’m so glad it strikes you like that. I always feel as if I
had invented everything round here. It hurts me if people don’t
appreciate it.”

They went down the hill.

“By the way,” said Jimmy, “are you acting in these theatricals they are
getting up?”

“Yes. Are you the other man they were going to get? That’s why Lord
Dreever went up to London, to see if he couldn’t find somebody. The man
who was going to play one of the parts had to go back to London on
business.”

“Poor brute!” said Jimmy. It seemed to him at that moment that there was
only one place in the world where a man might be even reasonably happy.
“What sort of part is it? Lord Dreever said I should be wanted to act.
What do I do?”

“If you’re Lord Herbert, which is the part they wanted a man for, you
talk to me most of the time.”

Jimmy decided that the piece had been well cast.

The dressing-gong sounded just as they entered the hall. From a door on
the left there emerged two men—a big one and a little one—in friendly
conversation. The big man’s back struck Jimmy as familiar.

“Oh, father!” Molly called. And Jimmy knew where he had seen the back
before.

“Sir Thomas,” said Molly, “this is Mr. Pitt.”

The little man gave Jimmy a rapid glance—possibly with the object of
detecting his more immediately obvious criminal points; then, as if
satisfied as to his honesty, became genial.

“I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Pitt—very glad,” he said. “We have been
expecting you for some time.”

Jimmy explained that he had lost his way.

“Exactly. It was ridiculous that you should be compelled to
walk—perfectly ridiculous. It was gross carelessness of my nephew not to
let us know that you were coming. My wife told him so in the car.”

“I bet she did,” said Jimmy to himself. “Really,” he said aloud, by way
of lending a helping hand to a friend in trouble, “I preferred to walk.
I have not been on a country road since I landed in England.” He turned
to the big man and held out his hand. “I don’t suppose you remember me,
Mr. McEachern. We met in New York.”

“You remember the night Mr. Pitt scared away our burglar, father?” said
Molly.

Mr. McEachern was momentarily silent. On his native asphalt there are
few situations capable of throwing the New York policeman off his
balance. In that favoured clime _savoir-faire_ is represented by a
shrewd blow of the fist, and a masterful stroke with the truncheon
amounts to a satisfactory repartee. Thus shall you never take a
policeman of Manhattan without his answer. In other surroundings Mr.
McEachern would have known how to deal with the young man whom with such
good reason he believed to be an expert criminal. But another plan of
action was needed here. First and foremost of all the hints on etiquette
which he had imbibed since he entered this more reposeful life came this
maxim, “Never make a scene.” Scenes, he had gathered, were of all things
what polite society most resolutely abhorred. The natural man in him
must be bound in chains. The sturdy blow must give way to the honeyed
word. A cold “Really!” was the most vigorous retort that the best
circles would countenance.

It had cost Mr. McEachern some pains to learn this lesson, but he had
done it.

He shook hands and gruffly acknowledged the acquaintanceship.

“Really, really!” chirped Sir Thomas amiably. “So you find yourself
among old friends, Mr. Pitt.”

“Old friends,” echoed Jimmy, painfully conscious of the ex-policeman’s
eyes, which were boring holes in him.

“Excellent, excellent! Let me take you to your room. It is just opposite
my own. This way.”

They parted from Mr. McEachern on the first landing, but Jimmy could
still feel those eyes. The policeman’s stare had been of the sort which
turns corners, goes upstairs, and pierces walls.



                                 ★ 13 ★
                            _Spike’s Views_


Nevertheless, it was in a very exalted frame of mind that he dressed for
dinner. It seemed to him that he had awakened from a sort of stupor.
Life, so grey yesterday, now appeared full of colour and possibilities.
Most men who, either from choice or necessity, have knocked about the
world for any length of time are more or less fatalists. Jimmy was an
optimistic fatalist. He had always looked on fate not as a blind
dispenser at random of gifts good and bad, but rather as a benevolent
being with a pleasing bias in his favour. He had almost a Napoleonic
faith in his star. At various periods of his life—notably at the time
when, as he had told Lord Dreever, he had breakfasted on birdseed—he had
been in uncommonly tight corners, but his luck had always extricated
him. It struck him that it would be an unthinkable piece of bad
sportsmanship on Fate’s part to see him through so much and then to
abandon him just as he had arrived in sight of what was by far the
biggest thing of his life. Of course, his view of what constituted the
biggest thing in life had changed with the years. Every ridge of the
Hill of Supreme Moments in turn had been mistaken by him for the summit;
but this last, he felt instinctively, was genuine. For good or bad,
Molly was woven into the texture of his life. In the stormy period of
the early twenties he had thought the same of other girls, who were now
mere memories as dim as those of figures in a half-forgotten play. In
their case his convalescence had been temporarily painful, but brief.
Force of will and an active life had worked the cure. He had merely
braced himself up and firmly ejected them from his mind. A week or two
of aching emptiness, and his heart had been once more in readiness—all
nicely swept and done up—for the next lodger.

But in the case of Molly it was different. He had passed the age of
instantaneous susceptibility. Like a landlord who had been cheated by
previous tenants, he had become wary. He mistrusted his powers of
recuperation in case of disaster. The will in these matters, just like
the mundane “bouncer”, gets past his work. For some years now Jimmy had
had a feeling that the next arrival would come to stay, and he had
adopted, in consequence, a gently defensive attitude towards the other
sex. Molly had broken through this, and he saw that his estimate of his
willpower had been just. Methods which had proved excellent in the past
were useless now. There was no trace here of that dimly-consoling
feeling of earlier years that there were other girls in the world. He
did not try to deceive himself. He knew that he had passed the age when
a man can fall in love with any one of a number of types.

This was the finish, one way or the other. There was no second throw.
She had him. However it might end, he belonged to her.

There are few moments in a man’s day when his brain is more
contemplative than during that brief space when he is lathering his face
preparatory to shaving. Flying the brush, Jimmy reviewed the situation.
He was perhaps a little too optimistic. Not unnaturally he was inclined
to look upon his luck as a sort of special train which would convey him
without effort to Paradise. Fate had behaved so exceedingly handsomely
up till now. By a series of the most workmanlike miracles it had brought
him to the point of being Molly’s fellow-guest at a country-house. This,
as Reason coldly pointed out a few moments later, was merely the
beginning; but to Jimmy, thoughtfully lathering, it seemed the end. It
was only when he had finished shaving and was arranging his tie that he
began to perceive that there were obstacles in his way—and sufficiently
big obstacles at that.

In the first place, Molly did not love him. And, he was bound to admit,
there was no earthly reason why she ever should. A man in love is seldom
vain about his personal attractions. Also, her father firmly believed
him to be a master-burglar.

“Otherwise,” said Jimmy, scowling at his reflection in the glass,
“everything’s splendid.”

He brushed his hair sadly.

There was a furtive rap at the door.

“Halloa?” said Jimmy. “Yes?”

The door opened slowly. A grin, surmounted by a mop of red hair,
appeared round the edge of it.

“Halloa, Spike! Come in. What’s the matter?”

The rest of Mr. Mullins entered the room.

“Gee, boss, I wasn’t sure dis was your room. Say, who do you t’ink I
nearly bumped me coco against out in de corridor downstairs? Why, old
man McEachern, de cop. Dat’s right!”

“Yes?”

“Sure. Say, what’s he doin’ on dis beat? I pretty near went down and out
when I seen him. Dat’s right. Me breath ain’t got back home yet.”

“Did he recognise you?”

“Did he! He starts like an actor on top de stoige when he sees he’s up
against de plot to ruin him, an’ he gives me de fierce eye.”

“Well?”

“I was wondering was I on Third Avenue, or was I standing on me coco, or
what was I doin’ anyhow. Den I slips off and chases meself up here. Say,
boss, what’s de game? What’s old man McEachern doin’ stunts dis side
for?”

“It’s all right, Spike. Keep calm. I can explain. He has retired—like
me. He’s one of the handsome guests here.”

“On your way, boss! What’s dat?”

“He left the Force just after that merry meeting of ours when you
frolicked with the bulldog. He came over here and butted into society.
So here we are again, all gathered together under the same roof, like a
jolly little family party.”

Spike’s open mouth bore witness to his amazement.

“Den——” he stammered.

“Yes?”

“Den what’s he goin’ to do?”

“I couldn’t say. I’m expecting to hear shortly. But we needn’t worry
ourselves. The next move’s with him. If he wants to comment on the
situation he won’t be backward. He’ll come and do it.”

“Sure. It’s up to him,” agreed Spike.

“I’m quite comfortable. Speaking for myself, I’m having a good time. How
are you getting along downstairs?”

“De limit, boss. Honest, it’s to de velvet. Dere’s old gazebo, de
butler, Saunders his name is, dat’s de best ever at handing out long
woids. I sits and listens. Dey calls me Mr. Mullins down dere,” said
Spike with pride.

“Good. I’m glad you’re all right. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t
have an excellent time here. I don’t think that Mr. McEachern will try
to have us turned out, after he’s heard one or two little things I have
to say to him—just a few reminiscences of the past which may interest
him. I have the greatest affection for Mr. McEachern—I wish it was
mutual—but nothing he can say is going to make me stir from here.”

“Not on your life,” agreed Spike. “Say, boss, he must have got a lot of
plunks to be able to butt in here. And I know how he got dem, too. Dat’s
right. I comes from little old New York meself.”

“Hush, Spike; this is scandal!”

“Sure!” said the Bowery boy, doggedly, safely started now on his
favourite subject. “I knows, and youse knows, boss. Gee! I wish I’d bin
a cop. But I wasn’t tall enough. Dey’s de fellers wit de big bank-rolls!
Look at dis old McEachern. Money to boin a wet dog wit he’s got, and
never a bit of woik for it from de start to de finish. An’ look at me,
boss.”

“I do, Spike; I do.”

“Look at me. Getting busy all de year round, woiking to beat de band——”

“In prisons oft,” said Jimmy.

“Sure t’ing. And chased all roun’ de town. And den what? Why, to de bad
at de end of it all. Say, it’s enough to make a feller——”

“Turn honest!” said Jimmy. “That’s it, Spike—reform. You’ll be glad some
day.”

Spike seemed to be doubtful. He was silent for a moment; then, as if
following up a train of thought, he said:

“Boss, dis is a fine big house.”

“I’ve seen worse.”

“Say, couldn’t we——?”

“Spike!” said Jimmy warningly.

“Well, couldn’t we?” said Spike doggedly. “It ain’t often youse butts
into a dead easy proposition like dis one. We shouldn’t have to do a
t’ing excep’ git busy. De stuff’s just lying about, boss.”

“I shouldn’t wonder.”

“Aw, it’s a waste to leave it.”

“Spike,” said Jimmy. “I warned you of this. I begged you to be on your
guard, to fight against your professional instincts. Be a man! Crush
them. Try to occupy your mind. Collect butterflies.”

Spike shuffled in gloomy silence.

“’Member dose jools you swiped from de Duchess?” he said, musingly.

“The dear Duchess!” murmured Jimmy. “Ah, me!”

“And de bank you busted?”

“Those were happy days, Spike.”

“Gee!” said the Bowery boy.

He paused. “Dat was to de good,” he said wistfully.

Jimmy arranged his tie at the mirror.

“Dere’s a loidy here,” continued Spike, addressing the chest of drawers,
“dat’s got a necklace of jools what’s worth a hundred t’ousand plunks.
Honest, boss—a hundred t’ousand plunks. Saunders told me that—de old
gazebo dat hands out de long woids. I says to him ‘Gee!’ and he says,
‘Surest t’ing you know.’ A hundred t’ousand plunks!”

“So I understand,” said Jimmy.

“Shall I rubber around and find out where is dey kept, boss?”

“Spike,” said Jimmy, “ask me no more. All this is in direct
contravention of our treaty respecting keeping our fingers off the
spoons. You pain me. Desist.”

“Sorry, boss. But dey’ll be willy-wonders, dem jools. A hundred t’ousand
plunks! Dat’s going some, ain’t it? What’s dat dis side?”

“Twenty thousand pounds.”

“Gee! Can I help you wit de duds, boss?”

“No, thanks, Spike. I’m through now. You might just give me a brush
down, though. No, not that. That’s a hair-brush. Try the big black one.”

“Dis is a boid of a dude suit,” observed Spike, pausing in his labours.

“Glad you like it, Spike. Rather _chic_, I think.”

“It’s de limit. Excuse me, how much did it set you back, boss?”

“Something like twelve guineas, I believe. I could look up the bill and
let you know.”

“What’s dat—guineas? Is that more dan a pound?”

“A shilling more. Why these higher mathematics?”

Spike resumed his brushing.

“What a lot of dude suits youse could get,” he observed meditatively,
“if you had dem jools.” He became suddenly animated. He waved the
clothes-brush. “Oh, you boss!” he cried. “What’s eatin’ you? Aw, it’s a
shame not to. Come along, you boss. Say, what’s doin’? Why ain’t you
sittin’ in at de game? Oh, you boss!”

Whatever reply Jimmy might have made to this impassioned appeal was
checked by a sudden bang on the door. Almost immediately the handle
turned.

“Gee!” cried Spike. “It’s de cop.”

Jimmy smiled pleasantly.

“Come in, Mr. McEachern,” he said, “come in. Journeys end in lovers
meeting. You know my friend Mr. Mullins, I think? Shut the door and sit
down, and let’s talk of many things.”



                                 ★ 14 ★
                      _Check, and a Counter Move_


Mr. McEachern stood in the doorway, breathing heavily. As the result of
a long connection with evildoers, the ex-policeman was somewhat prone to
harbour suspicions of those round about him, and at the present moment
his mind was aflame. Indeed, a more trusting man might have been excused
for feeling a little doubtful as to the intentions of Jimmy and Spike.
When McEachern had heard that Lord Dreever had brought home a casual
London acquaintance, he had suspected as a possible drawback to the
visit the existence of hidden motives on the part of the unknown. Lord
Dreever, he had felt, was precisely the sort of youth to whom the
professional bunco-steerer would attach himself with shouts of joy.
Never, he had assured himself, had there been a softer proposition than
his lordship since bunco-steering became a profession.

When he found that the strange visitor was Jimmy Pitt, his suspicions
had increased a thousandfold.

And when, going to his room to get ready for dinner, he had nearly run
into Spike Mullins in the corridor, his frame of mind had been that of a
man to whom a sudden ray of light reveals the fact that he is on the
brink of a black precipice. Jimmy and Spike had burgled his house
together in New York; and here they were, together again, at Dreever
Castle. To say that the thing struck McEachern as sinister is to put the
matter badly. There was once a gentleman who remarked that he smelt a
rat and saw it floating in the air. Ex-Constable McEachern smelt a
regiment of rats, and the air seemed to him positively congested with
them.

His first impulse had been to rush to Jimmy’s room there and then; but
he had learned society’s lessons well. Though the heavens might fall, he
must not be late for dinner, so he went and dressed, and an obstinate
tie put the finishing touches to his wrath.

Jimmy regarded him coolly, without moving from the chair in which he had
seated himself. Spike, on the other hand, seemed embarrassed; he stood
first on one leg and then on the other, as if he were testing the
respective merits of each and would make a definite choice later on.

“You scoundrels!” growled McEachern.

Spike, who had been standing for a few moments on his right leg, and
seemed at last to have come to a decision, hastily changed to the left,
and grinned feebly.

“Say, youse won’t want me any more, boss?” he whispered.

“No; you can go, Spike.”

“You stay where you are, you red-headed devil!” said McEachern tartly.

“Run along, Spike,” said Jimmy.

The Bowery boy looked doubtfully at the huge form of the ex-policeman,
which blocked access to the door.

“Would you mind letting my man pass?” said Jimmy.

“You stay——” began McEachern.

Jimmy got up and walked round him to the door, which he opened. Spike
shot out like a rabbit released from a trap. He was not lacking in
courage, but he disliked embarrassing interviews, and it struck him that
Jimmy was the man to handle a situation of this kind. He felt that he
himself would only be in the way.

“Now we can talk comfortably,” said Jimmy, going back to his chair.

McEachern’s deep-set eyes gleamed and his forehead grew red, but he
mastered his feelings.

“And now——” he said.

He stopped.

“Yes?” asked Jimmy.

“What are you doing here?”

“Nothing at the moment.”

“You know what I mean. Why are you here—you and that red-headed devil,
Spike Mullins?”

He jerked his head in the direction of the door.

“I am here because I was very kindly invited to come by Lord Dreever.”

“I know you.”

“You have that privilege. Seeing we only met once, it’s very good of you
to remember me.”

“What’s your game? What do you mean to do?”

“To do? Well, I shall potter about the garden, you know, and shoot a
bit, perhaps, and look at the horses, and think of life, and feed the
chickens— I suppose there are chickens somewhere about—and possibly go
for an occasional row on the lake. Nothing more. Oh, yes, I believe they
want me to act in some theatricals.”

“You’ll miss those theatricals. You’ll leave here to-morrow.”

“To-morrow? But I’ve only just arrived, dear heart.”

“I don’t care about that. Out you go to-morrow. I’ll give you till
to-morrow.”

“I congratulate you,” said Jimmy. “One of the oldest houses in England.”

“What do you mean?”

“I gathered from what you said that you had bought the castle. Isn’t
that so? If it still belongs to Lord Dreever, don’t you think you ought
to consult him before revising his list of guests?”

McEachern looked at him steadily. His manner became quieter.

“Oh! you take that tone, do you?”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘that tone’. What tone would you take if
a comparative stranger ordered you to leave another man’s house?”

McEachern’s massive jaw protruded truculently in the manner which had
scared good behaviour into brawling East Siders.

“I know your sort,” he said. “I’ll call your bluff. And you won’t get
till to-morrow, either—it’ll be now.”

“‘Why should we wait for the morrow? You are queen of my heart
to-night,’” murmured Jimmy encouragingly.

“I’ll expose you before them all. I’ll tell them everything.”

Jimmy shook his head.

“Too melodramatic,” he said. “Sort of ‘I call on Heaven to judge between
this man and me’ kind of thing. I shouldn’t. What do you propose to
tell, anyway?”

“Will you deny that you were a crook in New York?”

“I will. I was nothing of the kind.”

“What?”

“If you’ll listen, I can explain.”

“Explain!” The other’s voice rose again. “You talk about explaining, you
scum, when I caught you in my own parlour at three in the morning,
you——”

The smile faded from Jimmy’s face.

“Half a minute,” he said.

It might be that the ideal course would be to let the storm expend
itself and then to explain quietly the whole matter of Arthur Mifflin
and the bet which had led to his one excursion into burglary. But he
doubted it. Things—including his temper—had got beyond the stage of
quiet explanations. McEachern would most certainly disbelieve his story.
What would happen after that he did not know. A scene, probably—a
melodramatic denunciation, at the worst, before the other guests; at the
best, before Sir Thomas alone. He saw nothing but chaos beyond that. His
story was thin to a degree, unless backed by witnesses, and his
witnesses were three thousand miles away. Worse, he had not been alone
in the policeman’s parlour. A man who is burgling a house for a bet does
not usually do it in the company of a professional burglar well known to
the police.

No; quiet explanations must be postponed. They could do no good, and
would probably lead to his spending the night and the next few nights at
the local police-station. And even if he were spared that fate, it was
certain that he would have to leave the castle.

Leave the castle and Molly! He jumped up. The thought had stung him.

“One moment,” he said.

McEachern stopped.

“Well?”

“You’re going to tell them that?” asked Jimmy.

“I am.”

“Are you also going to tell them why you didn’t have me arrested that
night?” he said.

McEachern started. Jimmy planted himself in front of him and glared up
into his face. It would have been hard to say which of the two was the
angrier. The policeman was flushed, and the veins stood out on his
forehead. Jimmy was in a white heat of rage. He had turned very pale,
and his muscles were quivering. Jimmy in this mood had once cleared a
Los Angeles bar-room with the leg of a chair in the space of two and a
quarter minutes by the clock.

“Are you?” he demanded. “Are you?”

McEachern’s hand, hanging at his side, lifted itself hesitatingly. The
fingers brushed against Jimmy’s shoulder. Jimmy’s lips twitched.

“Yes,” he said, “do it! Do it, and see what happens! By God! if you put
a hand on me I’ll finish you. Do you think you can bully me? Do you
think I care for your size?”

McEachern dropped his hand. For the first time in his life he had met a
man who, instinct told him, was his match and more. He stepped back a
pace.

Jimmy put his hands in his pockets and turned away. He walked to the
mantelpiece and leaned his back against it.

“You haven’t answered my question,” he said. “Perhaps you can’t!”

McEachern was wiping his forehead and breathing quickly.

“If you like,” said Jimmy, “we’ll go down to the drawing-room now, and
you shall tell your story and I’ll tell mine. I wonder which they will
think the more interesting? Damn you!” he went on, his anger rising once
more, “what do you mean by it? You come into my room and bluster and
talk big about exposing crooks. What do you call yourself, I wonder? Do
you realise what you are? Why, poor Spike’s an angel compared with you!
He did take chances. He wasn’t in a position of trust. You——”

He stopped.

“Hadn’t you better get out of here, don’t you think?” he said curtly.

Without a word McEachern walked to the door and went out.

Jimmy dropped into a chair with a deep breath. He took up his
cigarette-case, but before he could light a match the gong sounded from
the distance.

He rose and laughed rather shakily. He felt limp. “As an effort to
conciliating papa,” he said, “I’m afraid that wasn’t much of a success.”

It was not often that Mr. McEachern was visited by ideas—he ran rather
to muscle than to brain—but he had one that evening during dinner. His
interview with Jimmy had left him furious, but baffled. He knew that his
hands were tied. Frontal attack was useless; to drive Jimmy from the
castle would be out of the question. All that could be done was to watch
him while he was there, for he had never been more convinced of anything
in his life than that Jimmy had wormed his way into the house-party with
felonious intent. The appearance of Lady Julia at dinner wearing the
famous rope of diamonds supplied an obvious motive. The necklace had an
international reputation. Probably there was not a prominent thief in
England or on the Continent who had not marked it down as a possible
prey. It had already been tried for once. It was big game—just the sort
of lure which would draw the type of criminal he imagined Jimmy to be.

From his seat at the farther end of the table he looked at the jewels as
they gleamed on their wearer’s neck. They were almost too ostentatious
for what was, after all, an informal dinner. It was not a rope of
diamonds—it was a collar. There was something Oriental and barbaric in
the overwhelming display of jewellery. It was a prize for which a thief
would risk much.

The conversation becoming general with the fish, was not of a kind to
remove from his mind the impression made by the sight of the gems. It
turned on burglary. Lord Dreever began it.

“Oh, I say,” he said. “I forgot to tell you, Aunt Julia; No. 6 was
burgled the other night.”

No. 6A Eaton Square was the family’s London house.

“Burgled!” said Sir Thomas.

“Well, broken into,” said his lordship, gratified to find that he had
got the ear of his entire audience. Even Lady Julia was silent and
attentive. “Chap got through the scullery window about one o’clock in
the morning.”

“And what did you do?” inquired Sir Thomas.

“Oh, I—er— I was out at the time,” said Lord Dreever. “But something
frightened the feller,” he went on hurriedly, “and he made a bolt for it
without taking anything.”

“Burglary,” said a young man whom Jimmy subsequently discovered to be
the drama-loving Charteris, leaning back and taking advantage of a
pause, “is the hobby of the sportsman and the life-work of the
avaricious.”

He took a little pencil from his waistcoat pocket and made a rapid note
on his cuff.

Everybody seemed to have something to say on the subject. One young lady
gave it as her opinion that she would not like to find a burglar under
her bed. Somebody also had heard of a fellow whose father had fired at
the butler under the impression that he was a house-breaker, and had
broken a valuable bust of Socrates. Lord Dreever had known a man at
college whose brother wrote lyrics for musical comedy, and had done one
about a burglar’s best friend being his mother.

“Life,” said Charteris, who had had time for reflection, “is a house
which we all burgle. We enter it uninvited, take all that we can lay
hands on, and go out again.”

He scribbled “Life—house—burgle” on his cuff and replaced the pencil.

“This man’s brother I was telling you about,” said Lord Dreever, “says
there’s only one rhyme in the English language to ‘burglar,’ and that’s
‘gurgler’—unless you count ‘pergola.’ He says——”

“Personally,” said Jimmy, with a glance at McEachern, “I have rather a
sympathy for burglars. After all, they are one of the hardest-working
classes in existence. They toil while everybody else is asleep. Besides,
a burglar is only a practical Socialist. People talk a lot about the
redistribution of wealth. The burglar goes out and does it. I have found
burglars some of the decentest criminals I have ever met.”

“I despise burglars!” ejaculated Lady Julia, with a suddenness which
stopped Jimmy’s eloquence as if a tap had been turned off. “If I found
one coming after my jewels and I had a pistol I’d shoot him.”

Jimmy met McEachern’s eye, and smiled kindly at him. The ex-policeman
was looking at him with the gaze of a baffled but malignant basilisk.

“I take very good care no one gets a chance at your diamonds, my dear,”
said Sir Thomas, without a blush. “I have had a steel box made for me,”
he added to the company in general, “with a special lock—a very
ingenious arrangement, quite unbreakable, I imagine.”

Jimmy, with Molly’s story fresh in his mind, could not check a rapid
smile. Mr. McEachern, watching him intently, saw it. To him it was fresh
evidence, if any had been wanted, of Jimmy’s intentions, and of his
confidence of success. McEachern’s brow darkened. During the rest of the
meal tense thought rendered him more silent even than was his wont at
the dinner-table. The difficulty of his position was, he saw, great.
Jimmy, to be foiled, must be watched, and how could he watch him?

It was not until the coffee arrived that he found an answer to the
question. With his first cigarette came the idea. That night, in his
room, before going to bed, he wrote a letter. It was an unusual letter,
but singularly enough, almost identical with one Sir Thomas Blunt had
written that very morning.

It was addressed to the Manager of Dodson’s Private Inquiry Agency, of
Bishopsgate Street, E.C., and ran as follows:

“Sir,— On receipt of this, kindly send down one of your smartest men.
Instruct him to stay at the village inn in the character of American
seeing sights of England and anxious to inspect Dreever Castle. I will
meet him in the village and recognise him as old New York friend, and
will then give him further instructions.— Yours faithfully, J.
McEachern.

“P.S.— Kindly not send a rube, but a really smart man.”

This brief but pregnant letter cost him some pains in its composition.
He was not a ready writer, but he completed it at last to his
satisfaction. There was a crisp purity in the style which pleased him.
He sealed up the envelope and slipped it into his pocket. He felt more
at ease now. Such was the friendship that had sprung up between Sir
Thomas Blunt and himself as the result of the jewel episode in Paris
that he could count with certainty on the successful working of his
scheme. The grateful knight would not be likely to allow any old New
York friend of his preserver to languish at the village inn. The
sleuth-hound would at once be installed at the castle, where,
unsuspected by Jimmy, he would keep an eye on the course of events. Any
looking after that Mr. James Pitt might require might safely be left in
the hands of this expert.

With considerable fervour Mr. McEachern congratulated himself on his
astuteness. With Jimmy above stairs and Spike below, the sleuth-hound
would have his hands full.



                                 ★ 15 ★
                       _Mr. McEachern Intervenes_


Life at the castle during the first few days of his visit filled Jimmy
with a curious blend of emotions, mainly unpleasant. Fate, in its
pro-Jimmy capacity, seemed to be taking a rest. In the first place, the
part allotted to him was not that of Lord Herbert, the character who
talked to Molly most of the time. The instant Charteris learned from
Lord Dreever that Jimmy had at one time actually been on the stage
professionally, he decided that Lord Herbert offered too little scope
for the new man’s talents.

“Absolutely no good to you, my dear chap,” he said. “It’s just a small
dude part. He’s simply got to be a silly ass.”

Jimmy pleaded that he could be a sillier ass than anybody living; but
Charteris was firm.

“No,” he said. “You must be Captain Browne—true acting part, the biggest
in the piece, full of fat lines. Spennie was to have played it, and we
were in for the worst frost in the history of the stage. Now you’ve come
it’s all right. Spennie’s the ideal of Lord Herbert. He’s simply got to
be himself. We’ve got a success now, my boy. Rehearsal after lunch.
Don’t be late.”

And he had gone off to beat up the rest of the company.

From that moment Jimmy’s troubles began. Charteris was a young man in
whom a passion for the stage was ineradicably implanted. It mattered
nothing to him during these days that the sun shone, that it was
pleasant on the lake, and that Jimmy would have given five pounds a
minute to be allowed to get Molly to himself for half an hour every
afternoon. All he knew or cared about was that the local nobility and
gentry were due to arrive at the castle a week from that day, and that
very few of the company even knew their lines. Having hustled Jimmy into
the part of Captain Browne, he gave his energy free play. He conducted
rehearsals with a vigour which occasionally almost welded the rabble he
was coaching into something approaching coherency. He painted scenery
and left it about—wet—and people sat on it; he nailed up horseshoes for
luck, and they fell on people. But nothing daunted him; he never rested.

“Mr. Charteris,” said Lady Julia rather frigidly, after one energetic
rehearsal, “is indefatigable. He whirled me about!”

It was, perhaps, his greatest triumph, properly considered, that he had
induced Lady Julia to take a part in his piece; but to the born
organiser of amateur theatricals no miracle of this kind is impossible,
and Charteris was one of the most inveterate organisers in the country.
There had been some talk—late at night in the billiard-room—of his being
about to write in a comic footman _role_ for Sir Thomas, but it had
fallen through; not, it was felt, because Charteris could not have
hypnotised him into undertaking it, but rather because Sir Thomas was
histrionically unfit.

Mainly as a result of the producer’s energy Jimmy found himself one of a
crowd, and disliked the sensation. He had not experienced much
difficulty in mastering the scenes in which he appeared; but
unfortunately those who appeared with him had. It occurred to Jimmy
daily, after he had finished “running through the lines” with a series
of agitated amateurs, male and female, that for all practical purposes
he might just as well have gone to Japan. In this confused welter of
rehearsers his opportunities of talking with Molly were infinitesimal.
And worse, she did not appear to mind. She was cheerful, and apparently
quite content to be engulfed in a crowd. Probably, he thought with some
melancholy, if she met his eye, and noted in it a distracted gleam, she
put it down to the same cause which made other eyes in the company gleam
distractedly during that week.

Jimmy began to take a thoroughly jaundiced view of amateur theatricals,
and of these amateur theatricals in particular. He felt that in the
electric flame department of the infernal regions there should be a
special gridiron, reserved exclusively for the man who invented these
performances, so diametrically opposed to the true spirit of
civilisation. At the close of each day he cursed Charteris with
unfailing regularity.

There was another thing that disturbed him. That he should be unable to
talk with Molly was an evil, but a negative evil. It was supplemented by
one that was positive. Even in the midst of the chaos of rehearsals he
could not help noticing that Molly and Lord Dreever were very much
together. Also—and this was even more sinister—he observed that both Sir
Thomas Blunt and Mr. McEachern were making determined efforts to foster
this state of affairs.

Of this he had sufficient proof one evening when, after scheming and
plotting in a way that had made the great efforts of Machiavelli and
Richelieu seem like the work of raw novices, he had cut Molly out from
the throng and carried her off for the alleged purpose of helping him
feed the chickens. There were, as he had suspected, chickens attached to
the castle. They lived in a little world of noise and smells at the back
of the stables. Bearing an iron pot full of a poisonous-looking mash,
and accompanied by Molly, he had felt, for perhaps a minute and a half,
like a successful general. It is difficult to be romantic when you are
laden with chicken-feed in an unwieldy iron pot, but he had resolved
that that portion of the proceedings should be brief—the birds should
dine that evening on the quick-lunch principle—then to the more fitting
surroundings of the rose-garden. There was plenty of time before the
hour of the sounding of the dressing-gong. Perhaps even a row on the
lake——

“What-ho!” said a voice.

Behind them, with a propitiatory smile on his face, stood his lordship
of Dreever.

“My uncle told me I should find you out here. What have you got there,
Pitt? Is this what you feed them on? I say, you know, queer coves, hens!
I wouldn’t touch the stuff for a fortune. What? Looks to me poisonous.”

He met Jimmy’s eye and stopped. There was that in Jimmy’s eye that would
have stopped an avalanche. His lordship twiddled his fingers in pink
embarrassment.

“Oh, look!” said Molly. “There’s a poor little chicken out there in the
cold. It hasn’t had a morsel. Give me the spoon, Mr. Pitt. Here, chick,
chick! Don’t be silly, I’m not going to hurt you. I’ve brought you your
dinner.”

She moved off in pursuit of the solitary fowl, which had edged nervously
away. Lord Dreever bent towards Jimmy.

“Frightfully sorry, Pitt, old man,” he whispered feverishly. “Didn’t
want to come. Couldn’t help it. He sent me out.” He half looked over his
shoulder. “And,” he added rapidly, as Molly came back, “the old boy’s at
his bedroom window now, watching us through his opera-glasses!”

The return journey to the house was performed in silence—on Jimmy’s part
in thoughtful silence. He thought hard, and had been thinking ever
since.

He had material for thought. That Lord Dreever was as clay in his
uncle’s hands he was aware. He had not known his lordship long, but he
had known him long enough to realise that a backbone had been carelessly
omitted from his composition. What his uncle directed that would he do.
The situation looked bad to Jimmy. The order, he knew, had gone out that
Lord Dreever was to marry money, and Molly was an heiress. He did not
know how much Mr. McEachern had amassed in his dealings with New York
crime, but it could not but be something considerable. Things looked
black.

Then he had a reaction. He was taking too much for granted. Lord Dreever
might be hounded into proposing to Molly, but what earthly reason was
there for supposing that Molly would accept him? He declined even for an
instant to look upon Spennie’s title in the light of a lure. Molly was
not the girl to marry for a title. He endeavoured to examine impartially
his lordship’s other claims. He was a pleasant fellow, with—to judge on
short acquaintanceship—an undeniably amiable disposition. That much must
be conceded. But against this must be placed the equally undeniable fact
that he was also, as he would have put it himself, a most frightful ass.
He was weak. He had no character. Altogether, the examination made Jimmy
more cheerful. He could not see the light-haired one, even with Sir
Thomas Blunt shoving behind, as it were, accomplishing the knight’s
ends. Shove he never so wisely, Sir Thomas could never make a Romeo out
of Spennie Dreever.

It was while sitting in the billiard-room one night after dinner,
watching his rival play a hundred up with the silent Hargate, that Jimmy
came definitely to this conclusion. He had stopped to watch more because
he wished to study his man at close range than because the game was
anything out of the common as an exposition of billiards. As a matter of
fact, it would have been hard to imagine a worse game. Lord Dreever, who
was conceding twenty, was poor, and his opponent an obvious beginner.
Again, as he looked on, Jimmy was possessed of an idea that he had met
Hargate before. But once more he searched his memory and drew blank. He
did not give the thing much thought, being intent on his diagnosis of
Lord Dreever, who, by a fluky series of cannons, had wobbled into the
forties, and was now a few points ahead of his opponent.

Presently, having summed his lordship up to his satisfaction, and grown
bored with the game, Jimmy strolled out of the room. He paused outside
the door for a moment, wondering what to do. There was bridge in the
smoking-room, but he did not feel inclined for bridge. From the
drawing-room there came sounds of music. He turned in that direction,
then stopped again. He came to the conclusion that he did not feel
sociable. He wanted to think. A cigar on the terrace would meet his
needs.

He went up to his room for his cigar-case. The window was open. He
leaned out. There was almost a full moon, and it was very light out of
doors. His eye was caught by a movement at the farther end of the
terrace, where the shadow was. A girl came out of the shadow, walking
slowly....

Not since early boyhood had Jimmy descended stairs with such a rare
burst of speed. He negotiated the nasty turn at the end of the first
flight at quite a suicidal pace. Fate, however, had apparently wakened
up again and resumed business, for he did not break his neck. A few
moments later he was out on the terrace, bearing a cloak which he had
snatched up _en route_ in the hall.

“I thought you might be cold,” he said, breathing quickly.

“Oh, thank you,” said Molly. “How kind of you!” He put it round her
shoulders. “Have you been running?”

“I came downstairs rather fast.”

“Were you afraid the boogaboos would get you?” she laughed. “I was
thinking of when I was a small child. I was always afraid of them. I
used to race downstairs when I had to go to my room in the dark, unless
I could persuade some one to hold my hand all the way there and back.”

Her spirits had risen with Jimmy’s arrival. Things had been happening
that worried her. She had gone out onto the terrace to be alone. When
she heard his footsteps she had dreaded the advent of some garrulous
fellow-guest, full of small talk. Jimmy, somehow, was a comfort—he did
not disturb the atmosphere. Little as they had seen of each other,
something in him—she could not say what—had drawn her to him. He was a
man, she felt instinctively, she could trust.

They walked on in silence. Words were pouring into Jimmy’s mind, but he
could not frame them. He seemed to have lost the power of coherent
thought.

Molly said nothing. It was not a night for conversation. The moon had
turned terrace and garden into a fairyland of black and silver. It was a
night to look and listen and think.

They walked slowly up and down. As they turned for the second time
Molly’s thoughts formed themselves into a question. Twice she was on the
point of asking it, but each time she checked herself. It was an
impossible question. She had no right to put it, and he had no right to
answer. Yet something was driving her on to ask it.

It came out suddenly, without warning.

“Mr. Pitt, what do you think of Lord Dreever?”

Jimmy started. No question could have chimed in more aptly with his
thoughts. Even as she spoke he was struggling to keep himself from
asking her the same thing.

“Oh, I know I ought not to ask,” she went on. “He’s your host and you’re
his friend, I know. But——”

Her voice trailed off. The muscles of Jimmy’s back tightened and
quivered, but he could find no words.

“I wouldn’t ask any one else. But you’re—different somehow. I don’t know
what I mean—we hardly know each other—but——”

She stopped again, and still he was dumb.

“I feel so alone,” she said very quietly, almost to herself. Something
seemed to break in Jimmy’s head. His brain suddenly cleared. He took a
step forward.

A huge shadow blackened the white grass. Jimmy wheeled round. It was
McEachern.

“I have been looking for you, Molly, my dear. I thought you must have
gone to bed.”

He turned to Jimmy and addressed him for the first time since their
meeting in the bedroom.

“Will you excuse us, Mr. Pitt?”

Jimmy bowed and walked rapidly towards the house. At the door he stopped
and looked back. The two were standing where he had left them.



                                 ★ 16 ★
                     _A Marriage has been Arranged_


Neither Molly nor her father had moved or spoken while Jimmy was
covering the short strip of turf that ended at the stone steps of the
house. McEachern stood looking down at her in grim silence. His great
body against the dark mass of the castle wall seemed larger than ever in
the uncertain light. To Molly there was something sinister and menacing
in his attitude. She found herself longing that Jimmy would come back.
She was frightened. Why, she could not have said. It was as if some
instinct told her that a crisis in her affairs had been reached, and
that she needed him. For the first time in her life she felt nervous in
her father’s company. Ever since she was a child she had been accustomed
to look upon him as her protector, but now she was afraid.

“Father!” she cried.

“What are you doing out here?”

His voice was tense and strained.

“I came out because I wanted to think, father dear.”

She thought she knew his moods, but this was one that she had never
seen. It frightened her.

“Why did he come out here?”

“Mr. Pitt? He brought me a wrap.”

“What was he saying to you?”

The rain of questions gave Molly a sensation of being battered. She felt
dazed and a little mutinous. What had she done that she should be
assailed like this?

“He was saying nothing,” she said, rather shortly.

“Nothing! What do you mean? What was he saying? Tell me!”

Molly’s voice shook as she replied.

“He was saying nothing,” she repeated. “Do you think I’m not telling you
the truth, father? He had not spoken a word for ever so long. We just
walked up and down. I was thinking, and I suppose he was, too. At any
rate, he said nothing. I—I think you might believe me.”

She began to cry quietly. Her father had never been like this before. It
hurt her.

McEachern’s manner changed in a flash. In the shock of finding Jimmy and
Molly together on the terrace he had forgotten himself. He had had
reason to be suspicious. Sir Thomas Blunt, from whom he had just parted,
had told him a certain piece of news which had disturbed him. The
discovery of Jimmy with Molly had lent an added significance to that
piece of news. He saw that he had been rough. In a moment he was by her
side, his great arm round her shoulder, petting and comforting her as he
had done when she was a child. He believed her word without question,
and his relief made him very tender. Gradually the sobs ceased. She
leaned against his arm.

“I’m tired, father,” she whispered.

“Poor little girl. We’ll sit down.”

There was a seat at the end of the terrace. He picked her up as if she
had been a baby and carried her to it. She gave a little cry.

“I didn’t mean I was too tired to walk,” she said, laughing tremulously.
“How strong you are, father! If I were naughty you could take me up and
shake me till I was good, couldn’t you?”

“Of course; and send you to bed, too, so you be careful, young woman.”

He lowered her to the seat. Molly drew the cloak closer round her and
shivered.

“Cold, dear?”

“No.”

“You shivered.”

“It was nothing; yes, it was,” she went on quickly.

“It was. Father, will you promise me something?”

“Of course. What?”

“Don’t ever, ever be angry with me like that again, will you? I couldn’t
bear it—really I couldn’t. I know it’s stupid of me, but it hurt. You
don’t know how it hurt.”

“But my dear——”

“Oh, I know it’s stupid. But——”

“But, my darling, it wasn’t so. I was angry, but it wasn’t with you.”

“With——. Were you angry with Mr. Pitt?”

McEachern saw that he had travelled too far. He had intended that
Jimmy’s existence should be forgotten for the time being—he had other
things to discuss; but it was too late now. He must go forward.

“I didn’t like to see you out here alone with Mr. Pitt, dear,” he said.
“I was afraid——”

He saw that he must go still farther forward. It was more than awkward.
He wished to hint at the undesirability of an entanglement with Jimmy
without admitting the possibility of it. Not being a man of nimble
brain, he found this somewhat beyond his powers.

“I don’t like him,” he said briefly. “He’s crooked.”

Molly’s eyes opened wide. The colour had gone from her face.

“Crooked, father?”

McEachern perceived that he had travelled very much too far, almost to
disaster. He longed to denounce Jimmy, but he was gagged. If Molly were
to ask the question that Jimmy had asked in the bedroom—that fatal,
unanswerable question! The price was too great to pay.

He spoke cautiously, vaguely, feeling his way.

“I couldn’t explain to you, my dear—you wouldn’t understand. You must
remember, my dear, that out in New York I was in a position to know a
great many queer characters—crooks, Molly. I was working among them.”

“But, father, that night at our house you didn’t know Mr. Pitt. He had
to tell you his name.”

“I didn’t know him—then,” said her father slowly; “but—but——” He paused.
“But I made inquiries,” he concluded, with a rush, “and found out
things.”

He permitted himself a long, silent breath of relief. He saw his way
now.

“Inquiries?” said Molly. “Why?”

“Why?”

“Why did you suspect him?”

A moment earlier the question might have confused McEachern, but not
now. He was equal to it. He took it in his stride.

“It’s hard to say, my dear. A man who has had as much to do with crooks
as I have recognises them when he sees them.”

“Did you think Mr. Pitt looked—looked like that?” Her voice was very
small. There was a drawn pinched expression on her face. She was paler
than ever.

He could not divine her thoughts. He could not know what his words had
done—how they had shown her in a flash what Jimmy was to her, and lit up
her mind like a flame, revealing the secret hidden there. She knew now.
The feeling of comradeship, the instinctive trust, the sense of
dependence—they no longer perplexed her. They were signs which she could
read.

And he was crooked!

McEachern proceeded. Relief made him buoyant.

“I did, my dear. I can read him like a book. I’ve met scores of his
sort. Broadway is full of them. Good clothes and a pleasant manner don’t
make an honest man. I’ve run up against a mighty high-toned bunch of
crooks in my day. It’s a long time since I gave up thinking that it was
only the ones with the low foreheads and the thick ears that needed
watching. It’s the innocent Willies who look as if all they could do was
to lead the cotillon. This man Pitt’s one of them. I’m not guessing,
mind you—I know. I know his line, and all about him. I’m watching him.
He’s here on some game. How did he get here? Why, he scraped
acquaintance with Lord Dreever in a London restaurant. It’s the
commonest trick on the list. If I hadn’t happened to be here when he
came I suppose he’d have made his haul by now. Why, he came all prepared
for it! Have you seen an ugly, grinning, red-headed scoundrel hanging
about the place? His valet, so he says. Valet! Do you know who that is?
That’s one of the most notorious Yegg-men on the other side. There isn’t
a policeman in New York who doesn’t know Spike Mullins. Even if I knew
nothing of this Pitt that would be enough. What’s an innocent man going
round the country with Spike Mullins for, unless they are standing in
together at some game? That’s who Mr. Pitt is, my dear, and that’s why,
maybe, I seemed a little put out when I came upon you and him out here
alone together. See as little of him as you can. In a large party like
this it won’t be difficult to avoid him.”

Molly sat staring out across the garden. At first every word had been a
stab. Several times she had been on the point of crying out that she
could bear it no longer, but gradually a numbness succeeded the pain.
She found herself listening apathetically.

McEachern talked on. He left the subject of Jimmy, comfortably conscious
that, even if there had ever existed in Molly’s heart any budding
feeling of the kind he had suspected, it must now be dead. He steered
the conversation away until it ran easily among commonplaces. He talked
of New York, of the preparations for the theatricals. Molly answered
composedly. She was still pale, and a certain listlessness in her manner
might have been noticed by a more observant man than Mr. McEachern.
Beyond that there was nothing to show that her heart had been born and
killed but a few minutes before. Women have the Red Indian instinct; and
Molly had grown to womanhood in those few minutes.

Presently Lord Dreever’s name came up.

It caused a momentary pause, and McEachern took advantage of it. It was
the cue for which he had been waiting.

He hesitated for a moment, for the conversation was about to enter upon
a difficult phase, and he was not quite sure of himself.

Then he took the plunge.

“I have just been talking to Sir Thomas, my dear,” he said. He tried to
speak casually, and as a natural result infused so much meaning into his
voice that Molly looked at him in surprise. McEachern coughed
confusedly. Diplomacy, he concluded, was not his forte. He abandoned it
in favour of directness.

“He was telling me that you had refused Lord Dreever this evening.”

“Yes, I did,” said Molly. “How did Sir Thomas know?”

“Lord Dreever told him.”

Molly raised her eyebrows.

“I shouldn’t have thought it was the sort of thing he would talk about,”
she said.

“Sir Thomas is his uncle.”

“Of course. So he is,” said Molly dryly. “I forgot. That would account
for it, wouldn’t it?”

Mr. McEachern looked at her with some concern. There was a hard ring in
her voice which he did not altogether like. His greatest admirer had
never called him an intuitive man, and he was quite at a loss to see
what was wrong. As a schemer he was perhaps, a little naive. He had
taken it for granted that Molly was ignorant of the manoeuvres which had
been going on, and which had culminated that afternoon in a stammering
proposal of marriage from Lord Dreever in the rose-garden. This,
however, was not the case. The woman incapable of seeing through the
machinations of two men of the mental calibre of Sir Thomas Blunt and
Mr. McEachern has yet to be born. For some considerable time Molly had
been alive to the well-meant plottings of that worthy pair, and had
derived little pleasure from the fact. It may be that woman loves to be
pursued, but she does not love to be pursued by a crowd.

Mr. McEachern cleared his throat and began again.

“You shouldn’t decide a question like that too hastily, my dear.”

“I didn’t—not too hastily for Lord Dreever, at any rate, poor dear.”

“It was in your power,” said Mr. McEachern portentously, “to make a man
happy.”

“I did,” said Molly, bitterly. “You should have seen his face light up.
He could hardly believe it was true for a moment, and then it came home
to him, and I thought he would have fallen on my neck. He did his very
best to look heartbroken—out of politeness—but it was no good. He
whistled most of the way back to the house—all flat, but very
cheerfully.”

“My dear! What do you mean?”

Molly had made the discovery earlier in their conversation that her
father had moods whose existence she had not suspected. It was his turn
now to make a similar discovery regarding herself.

“I mean nothing, father,” she said. “I’m just telling you what happened.
He came to me looking like a dog that’s going to be washed——”

“Why, of course; he was nervous, my dear.”

“Of course. He couldn’t know that I was going to refuse him.”

She was breathing quickly. He started to speak, but she went on looking
straight before her. Her face was very white in the moonlight.

“He took me into the rose-garden. Was that Sir Thomas’s idea? There
couldn’t have been a better setting, I’m sure—the roses looked lovely.
Presently I heard him gulp, and I was so sorry for him. I would have
refused him then, and put him out of his misery, only I couldn’t very
well till he had proposed, could I? So I turned my back and sniffed at a
rose, and then he shut his eyes—I couldn’t see him, but I knew he shut
his eyes—and began to say his lesson.”

“Molly!”

“He did—he said his lesson. He gabbled it. When he had got as far as
‘Well don’t you know, what I mean is, that’s what I wanted to say, you
know,’ I turned round and soothed him. I said, I didn’t love him. He
said, ‘No, no, of course not.’ I said he had paid me a great compliment.
He said, ‘Not at all,’ looking very anxious, poor darling, as if even
then he was afraid of what might come next. But I reassured him, and he
cheered up, and we walked back to the house together, as happy as could
be.”

McEachern put his hand round her shoulder. She winced, but let it stay.
He attempted gruff conciliation.

“My dear, you’ve been imagining things. Of course he isn’t happy. Why, I
saw the young fellow——”

Recollecting that the last time he had seen the young fellow—shortly
after dinner—the young fellow had been occupied in juggling, with every
appearance of mental peace, with two billiard-balls and a box of
matches, he broke off abruptly.

“Father?”

“My dear?”

“Why do you want me to marry Lord Dreever?”

“I think he’s a fine young fellow,” he said, avoiding her eyes.

“He’s quite nice,” said Molly quietly.

McEachern had been trying not to say it. He did not wish to say it. If
it could have been hinted at, he would have done it, but he was not good
at hinting. A lifetime passed in surroundings where the subtlest hint is
a drive in the ribs with a truncheon does not leave a man an adept at
the art. He had to be blunt or silent.

“He’s the Earl of Dreever, my dear.”

He rushed on, desperately anxious to cover the nakedness of the
statement in a comfortable garment of words.

“Why, you see, you’re young, Molly. It’s only natural you shouldn’t look
on these things sensibly. You expect too much of a man. You expect this
young fellow to be like the heroes of the novels you read. When you’ve
lived a little longer, my dear, you’ll see that there’s nothing in it.
It isn’t the hero of the novel you want to marry, it’s the man who’ll
make you a good husband.”

This remark struck Mr. McEachern as so pithy and profound that he
repeated it.

He went on. Molly was sitting quite still, looking into the shrubbery.
He assumed she was listening, but whether she was or not he must go on
talking. The situation was difficult. Silence would make it more so.

“Now, look at Lord Dreever,” he said. “There’s a young man with one of
the oldest titles in England. He could go anywhere and do what he liked,
and be excused for whatever he did because of his name; but he doesn’t.
He’s got the right stuff in him. He doesn’t go racketing around——”

“His uncle doesn’t allow him enough pocket-money,” said Molly, with a
jarring little laugh. “Perhaps that’s why.”

There was a pause. McEachern required a few moments in which to marshal
his arguments once more. He had been thrown out of his stride.

“Father dear, listen,” she said. “We always used to understand each
other so well.” He patted her shoulder affectionately. “You can’t mean
what you say. You know I don’t love Lord Dreever, you know he’s only a
boy. Don’t you want me to marry a man? I love this old place; but surely
you can’t think that it can really matter in a thing like this? You
don’t really mean that about the hero of the novel? I’m not stupid, like
that. I only want—oh, I can’t put it into words; but don’t you see?”

Her eyes were fixed appealingly on him. It only needed a word from
him—perhaps not even a word—to close the gulf which had opened between
them.

He missed the chance. He had had time to think, and his arguments were
ready again. With stolid good humour he marched along the line he had
mapped out. He was kindly and shrewd and practical, and the gulf gaped
wider with every word.

“You mustn’t be rash, my dear—you mustn’t act without thinking in these
things. Lord Dreever is only a boy, as you say, but he will grow. You
say you don’t love him. Nonsense! You like him, you would go on liking
him more and more. And why? Because you could make what you pleased of
him. You’ve got character, my dear. With a girl like you to look after
him, he would go a long way, a very long way. It’s all there; it only
wants bringing out. And think of it, Molly—Countess of Dreever! There’s
hardly a better title in England. It would make me very happy, my dear.
It’s been my one hope all these years to see you in the place where you
ought to be. And now the chance has come. Molly dear, don’t throw it
away.”

She had leaned back with closed eyes. A wave of exhaustion had swept
over her. She listened in a dull dream. She felt beaten. They were too
strong for her. There were too many of them. What did it matter? Why not
give in and end it all and win peace? That was all she wanted—peace now.
What did it all matter?

“Very well, father,” she said listlessly.

McEachern stopped short.

“You’ll do it, dear?” he cried. “You will?”

“Very well, father.”

He stooped and kissed her.

“My own dear little girl,” he said.

She got up.

“I’m rather tired, father,” she said. “I think I’ll go in.”

Two minutes later Mr. McEachern was in Sir Thomas Blunt’s study. Five
minutes later Sir Thomas pressed the bell.

Saunders appeared.

“Tell his lordship,” said Sir Thomas, “that I wish to see him for a
moment. He is in the billiard-room, I think.”



                                 ★ 17 ★
         _Jimmy Remembers Something, and Hears Something Else_


The game between Hargate and Lord Dreever was still in progress when
Jimmy returned to the billiard-room. A glance at the board showed that
the score was seventy—sixty-nine in favour of spot.

“Good game,” said Jimmy. “Who’s spot?”

“I am,” said his lordship, missing an easy cannon. For some reason he
appeared in high spirits. “Hargate’s been going great guns. I was eleven
ahead a moment ago, but he made a break of twelve.”

Lord Dreever belonged to the class of billiard-player to whom a
double-figure break is a thing to be noted and greeted with respect.

“Fluky,” muttered the silent Hargate deprecatingly. This was a long
speech for him. Since their meeting at Paddington Station Jimmy had
seldom heard him utter anything beyond a monosyllable.

“Not a bit of it, dear old son,” said Lord Dreever handsomely. “You’re
coming on like a two-year-old. I shan’t be able to give you twenty in a
hundred much longer.”

He went to a side-table and mixed himself a whisky and soda, singing a
brief extract from musical comedy as he did so. There could be no shadow
of doubt that he was finding life good. For the past few days, and
particularly that afternoon, he had been rather noticeably ill at ease.
Jimmy had seen him hanging about the terrace at half-past five, and had
thought that he looked like a mute at a funeral, but now, only a few
hours later, he was beaming on the world and chirping like a bird.

The game moved jerkily along. Jimmy took a seat and watched. The score
mounted slowly. Lord Dreever was bad, but Hargate was worse. At length,
in the eighties, his lordship struck a brilliant vein. When he had
finished his break his score was ninety-five. Hargate, who had profited
by a series of misses on his opponent’s part, had reached ninety-six.

“This is shortening my life,” said Jimmy, leaning forward.

The balls had been left in an ideal position. Even Hargate could not
fail to make a cannon. He made it.

A close finish to even the worst game is exciting. Jimmy leaned still
farther forward to watch the next stroke. It looked as if Hargate would
have to wait for his victory. A good player could have made a cannon as
the balls lay, but not Hargate. They were almost in a straight line,
with white in the centre.

Hargate swore under his breath. There was nothing to be done. He struck
carelessly at white. White rolled against red, seemed to hang for a
moment, and shot straight back against spot. The game was over.

“Great Scot! What a fluke!” cried the silent one, becoming quite
garrulous at the miracle.

A quiet grin spread itself slowly across Jimmy’s face. He had remembered
what he had been trying to remember for over a week.

At this moment the door opened and Saunders appeared. “Sir Thomas would
like to see your lordship in his study,” he said.

“Eh? What does he want?”

“Sir Thomas did not confide in me, your lordship.”

“Eh? What? Oh, no. Well, see you later, you men.”

He rested his cue against the table and put on his coat. Jimmy followed
him out of the door, which he shut behind him.

“One second, Dreever,” he said.

“Eh? Halloa! What’s up?”

“Any money on that game?” asked Jimmy.

“Why, yes; by Jove! now you mention it, there was—an even fiver.
And—er—by the way, old man, the fact is, just for the moment, I’m
frightfully——. You haven’t such a thing as a fiver anywhere about, have
you? The fact is——”

“My dear fellow, of course. I’ll square up with him now, shall I?”

“Fearfully obliged if you would. Thanks, old man. Pay it you to-morrow.”

“No hurry,” said Jimmy; “plenty more in the old oak chest.”

He went back to the room. Hargate was practising cannons. He was on the
point of making a stroke when Jimmy opened the door.

“Care for a game?” said Hargate.

“Not just at present,” said Jimmy.

Hargate attempted his cannon and failed badly. Jimmy smiled.

“Not such a good shot as the last,” he said.

“No.”

“Fine shot, that other.”

“Fluke.”

“I wonder.”

Jimmy lit a cigarette.

“Do you know New York at all?” he asked.

“Been there.”

“Ever been in the Strollers’ Club?”

Hargate turned his back; but Jimmy had seen his face and was satisfied.

“Don’t know it,” said Hargate.

“Great place,” said Jimmy. “Mostly actors and writers, and so on. The
only drawback is that some pick up queer friends.”

Hargate did not reply. He did not seem interested.

“Yes,” went on Jimmy. “For instance, a pal of mine—an actor named
Mifflin—introduced a man a year ago as a member’s guest for a fortnight,
and this man rooked the fellows of I don’t know how much at billiards.
The old game, you know—nursing his man right up to the end, and then
finishing with a burst. Of course, when that happens once or twice it
may be an accident, but when a man who poses as a novice always manages
by a really brilliant shot——”

Hargate turned round.

“They fired this fellow out,” said Jimmy.

“Look here!”

“Yes?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a dull yarn,” said Jimmy apologetically. “I’ve been boring you. By
the way, Dreever asked me to square up with you for that game, in case
he shouldn’t be back. Here you are.”

He held out an empty hand.

“Got it?”

“What are you going to do?” demanded Hargate.

“What am I going to do?” queried Jimmy.

“You know what I mean. If you’ll keep your mouth shut, and stand in,
it’s halves. Is that what you’re after?”

Jimmy was delighted. He knew that by rights the proposal should have
brought him from his seat, with stern, set face, to wreak vengeance for
the insult, but on such occasions he was apt to ignore the conventions.
His impulse, when he met a man whose code of behaviour was not the
ordinary code, was to chat with him and to extract his point of view. He
felt as little animus against Hargate as he had felt against Spike on
the occasion of their first meeting.

“Do you make much at this sort of game?” he asked.

Hargate was relieved. This was business-like.

“Pots,” he said, with some enthusiasm—“pots I tell you, if you’ll stand
in——”

“Bit risky, isn’t it?”

“Not a bit of it. An occasional accident——”

“I suppose you’d call me one?”

Hargate grinned.

“It must be pretty tough work,” said Jimmy. “You must have to use a
tremendous lot of self-restraint.”

Hargate sighed.

“That’s the worst of it,” he said—“the having to seem a mug at the game.
I’ve been patronised sometimes by young fools who thought they were
teaching me till I nearly forgot myself and showed them what real
billiards was.”

“There’s always some drawback to the learned professions,” said Jimmy.

“But there’s a heap to make up for it in this one,” said Hargate. “Well,
look here; is it a deal? You stand in——”

Jimmy shook his head.

“I guess not,” he said. “It’s good of you, but commercial speculation
never was in my line. I’m afraid you must count me out of this.”

“What! You’re going to tell——”

“No,” said Jimmy, “I’m not. I’m not a vigilance committee. I won’t tell
a soul.”

“Why, then——” began Hargate, relieved.

“Unless, of course,” Jimmy went on, “you play billiards again while
you’re here.”

“But, damn it, man! if I don’t, what’s the good? Look here, what am I to
do if they ask me to play?”

“Give your wrist as an excuse.”

“My wrist?”

“Yes. You sprained it to-morrow after breakfast. It was bad luck. I
wonder how you came to do it? You didn’t sprain it much, but just enough
to stop you playing billiards.”

Hargate reflected.

“Understand?” said Jimmy.

“Oh, very well,” said Hargate sullenly. “But,” he burst out, “if I ever
get a chance to get even with you——”

“You won’t,” said Jimmy. “Dismiss the rosy dream. Get even! You don’t
know me! There’s not a flaw in my armour. I’m a sort of modern edition
of the Stainless Knight. Tennyson drew Galahad from me. I move through
life with almost a sickening absence of sin. But hush! We are
observed—at least, we shall be in another minute—somebody is coming down
the passage. You do understand, don’t you? Sprained wrist is the
watchword.”

The handle turned. It was Lord Dreever, back again from his interview.

“Halloa, Dreever!” said Jimmy. “We’ve missed you. Hargate has been doing
his best to amuse me with acrobatic tricks. But you’re too reckless,
Hargate, old man. Mark my words, one of these days you’ll be spraining
your wrist. You should be more careful. What, going? Good night.
Pleasant fellow, Hargate,” he added, as the footsteps retreated down the
passage. “Well, my lad, what’s the matter with you? You look depressed.”

Lord Dreever flung himself on to the lounge and groaned hollowly.

“Damn! Damn!! Damn!!!” he observed.

His glassy eye met Jimmy’s and wandered away again.

“What on earth’s the matter?” demanded Jimmy. “You go out of here
carolling like a song-bird, and you come back moaning like a lost soul.
What’s happened?”

“Give me a brandy and soda, Pitt, old man, there’s a good chap. I’m in a
fearful hole.”

“Why? What’s the matter?”

“I’m engaged,” groaned his lordship.

“Engaged? I wish you’d explain. What on earth’s wrong with you! Don’t
you want to be engaged? What’s your——”

He broke off as a sudden, awful suspicion, dawned upon him. “Who is
she?” he cried.

He gripped the stricken peer’s shoulder and shook it savagely.
Unfortunately he selected the precise moment when the latter was in the
act of calming his quivering nerve-centres with a gulp of brandy and
soda, and for a space of some two minutes it seemed as if the engagement
would be broken off by the premature extinction of the Dreever line. A
long and painful fit of coughing, however, ended with his lordship still
alive and on the road to recovery.

He eyed Jimmy reproachfully, but Jimmy was in no mood for apologies.

“Who is she?” he kept demanding. “What’s her name?”

“Might have killed me,” grumbled the convalescent.

“Who is she?”

“What? Why, Miss McEachern.”

Jimmy had known what the answer would be; but it was scarcely less of a
shock for that reason.

“Miss McEachern?” he echoed.

Lord Dreever nodded a sombre nod.

“You’re engaged to her?”

Another sombre nod.

“I don’t believe it,” said Jimmy.

“I wish I didn’t,” said his lordship wistfully, ignoring the slight
rudeness of the remark. “But worse luck, it’s true.”

For the first time since the disclosure of the name Jimmy’s attention
was directed to the remarkable demeanour of his successful rival.

“You don’t seem over-pleased,” he said.

“Pleased! Have a fiver each way on ‘pleased’! No, I’m not exactly
leaping with joy.”

“Then what the devil is it all about? What do you mean? What’s the idea?
If you don’t want to marry Miss McEachern, why did you propose to her?”

Lord Dreever closed his eyes.

“Dear old boy, don’t. It’s my uncle.”

“Your uncle?”

“Didn’t I explain it all to you?—about him wanting me to marry? You
know—I told you the whole thing.”

Jimmy stared at him in silence.

“Do you mean to say——” he said slowly.

He stopped. It was a profanation to put the thing into words.

“What, old man?”

Jimmy gulped.

“Do you mean to say you want to marry Miss McEachern simply because she
has money?” he said.

It was not the first time that he had heard of a case of a British peer
marrying for such a reason, but it was the first time that the thing had
filled him with horror. In some circumstances things come home more
forcibly to us.

“It’s not me, old man,” murmured his lordship—“it’s my uncle.”

“Your uncle? Good heavens!” Jimmy clenched his hands despairingly. “Do
you mean to say that you let your uncle order you about in a thing like
this? Do you mean to say you’re such a—such a—such a gelatine-backboned
worm——”

“Old man, I say!” protested his lordship, wounded.

“I’d call you a wretched knock-kneed skunk, only I don’t want to be
fulsome. I hate flattering a man to his face.”

Lord Dreever, deeply pained, half rose from his seat.

“Don’t get up,” urged Jimmy smoothly; “I couldn’t trust myself.”

His lordship subsided hastily. He was feeling alarmed. He had never seen
this side of Jimmy’s character. At first he had been merely aggrieved
and disappointed. He had expected sympathy. Now the matter had become
more serious. Jimmy was pacing the room like a young and hungry tiger.
At present, it was true, there was a billiard-table between them; but
his lordship felt that he could have done with good, stout bars. He
nestled in his seat with the earnest concentration of a limpet on a
rock. It would be deuced bad form, of course, for Jimmy to assault his
host, but could Jimmy be trusted to remember the niceties of etiquette?

“Why the deuce she accepted you I can’t think,” said Jimmy, half to
himself, stopping suddenly and glaring across the table.

Lord Dreever felt relieved. This was not polite, perhaps, but at least
it was not violent.

“That’s what beats me, too, old man,” he said. “Between you and me, it’s
a jolly rum business. This afternoon——”

“What about this afternoon?”

“Why, she wouldn’t have me at any price.”

“You asked her this afternoon?”

“Yes; and it was all right then. She refused me like a bird, wouldn’t
hear of it, came pretty near laughing in my face; and then to-night,” he
went on, his voice squeaky at the thought of his wrongs, “my uncle sends
for me and says she’s changed her mind and is waiting for me in the
morning-room. I go there and she tells me in about three words that
she’s been thinking it over and that the whole fearful thing is on
again. I call it jolly rough on a chap. I felt such a frightful ass, you
know, I didn’t know what to do—whether to kiss her, I mean——”

Jimmy snorted violently.

“Eh?” said his lordship blankly.

“Go on,” said Jimmy, between his teeth.

“I felt a fearful fool, you know. I just said ‘Right-O!’ or
something—dashed if I know what I did say—and legged it. It’s a jolly
rum business, the whole thing. It isn’t as if she wanted me—I could see
that with half an eye—she doesn’t care a hang for me. It’s my belief,
old man,” he said solemnly, “that she’s been badgered into it. I believe
my uncle’s been at her.”

Jimmy laughed shortly.

“My dear man, you seem to think your uncle’s persuasive influence is
universal. I guess it’s confined to you.”

“Well, anyhow, I believe that’s what’s happened. What do you say?”

“Why say anything? There doesn’t seem to be much need.”

He poured some brandy into a glass and added a little soda.

“You take it pretty stiff,” observed his lordship, with a touch of envy.

“On occasions,” said Jimmy, emptying his glass.



                                 ★ 18 ★
                         _The Lochinvar Method_


As Jimmy sat smoking a last cigarette in his bedroom before going to bed
that night Spike Mullins came in. Jimmy had been thinking things over.
He was one of those men who are at their best in a losing game. Imminent
disaster always had the effect of keying him up and putting an edge on
his mind. The news he had heard that night had left him with
undiminished determination, but conscious that a change of method would
be needed. He must stake all on a single throw now. Young Lochinvar
rather than Romeo must be his model. He declined to believe himself
incapable of getting anything that he wanted as badly as he wanted
Molly. He also declined to believe that she was really attached to Lord
Dreever. He suspected the hand of McEachern in the affair, though the
suspicion did not clear up the mystery by any means. Molly was a girl of
character, not a feminine counterpart of his lordship, content meekly to
do what she was told in a matter of this kind. The whole thing puzzled
him.

“Well, Spike?” he said.

He was not too pleased at the interruption. He was thinking, and he
wanted to be alone.

Something appeared to have disturbed Spike. His bearing was excited.

“Say, boss! Guess what. You know dat guy dat come dis afternoon?—de guy
from de village, dat came wit old man McEachern.”

“Galer?” said Jimmy. “What about him?”

There had been an addition to the guests at the castle that afternoon.
Mr. McEachern, walking in the village, had happened upon an old New York
acquaintance of his, who, touring England, had reached Dreever and was
anxious to see the historic castle. Mr. McEachern had brought him
thither, introduced him to Sir Thomas, and now Mr. Samuel Galer was
occupying a room on the same floor as Jimmy’s. He had appeared at dinner
that night, a short, wooden-faced man, with no more conversation than
Hargate. Jimmy had not paid any particular attention to him.

“What about him?” he said.

“He’s a ‘sleut’, boss.”

“A what?”

“A ‘sleut’.”

“A detective?”

“Dat’s right. A fly cop.”

“What makes you think that?”

“T’ink! Why, I can tell dem by deir eyes and deir feet, and de whole of
dem. I could pick out a fly cop from a bunch of a t’ousand. He’s sure a
’nough ‘sleut’ all right, all right. I seen him rubbering at you, boss.”

“At me! Why at me? Why, of course, I see now. Our friend McEachern has
got him in to spy on us.”

“Dat’s right, boss.”

“Of course you may be mistaken.”

“Not me, boss. And, say, he ain’t de only one.”

“What, more detectives? They’ll have to put up ‘House Full’ boards at
this rate. Who’s the other?”

“A mug what’s down in de soivants’ hall. I wasn’t so sure of him at
foist, but now I’m on to his curves. He’s a sleut all right. He’s vally
to Sir Tummas, dis second mug is; but he ain’t no vally! He’s come to
see no one don’t get busy wit de jools. Say, what do youse t’ink of dem
jools, boss?”

“Finest I ever saw.”

“Yes, dat’s right. A hundred thousand plunks dey set him back. Dey’re de
limit, ain’t dey? Say, won’t you really——”

“Spike, I’m surprised at you! Do you know you’re getting a regular
Mephistopheles, Spike? Suppose I hadn’t an iron will, what would happen?
You really must select your subjects of conversation more carefully.
You’re bad company for the likes of me.”

Spike shuffled despondently.

“But, boss——”

Jimmy shook his head.

“It can’t be done, my lad.”

“But it can, boss,” protested Spike. “It’s dead easy. I’ve been up to de
room, and I seen de box what de jools is kept in. Why, it’s de softest
ever! We could get dem as easy as pullin’ de plug out of a bottle. Why,
say, dere’s never been such a peach of a place for gettin’ hold of de
stuff as dis house. Dat’s right, boss. Why, look what I got dis
afternoon, just snoopin’ round and not really trying to get busy at all.
It was just lying about.”

He plunged his hand into his pocket and drew it out again. As he
unclosed his fingers Jimmy caught the gleam of precious stones.

“What the——” he gasped.

Spike was looking at his treasure-trove with an air of affectionate
proprietorship.

“Where on earth did you get those?” asked Jimmy.

“Out of one of de rooms. Dey belonged to one of de loidies. It was de
easiest old t’ing ever, boss. I just went in when dere was nobody
around, and dere dey was on de toible. I never butted into anyt’ing so
soft.”

“Spike!”

“Yes, boss.”

“Do you remember the room you took them from?”

“Sure. It was de foist on de——”

“Then just listen to me for a moment, my bright boy. When we’re at
breakfast to-morrow you want to go to that room and put those things
back—all of them, mind you—just where you found them. Do you
understand?”

Spike’s jaw had fallen.

“Put dem back, boss?” he faltered.

“Every single one of them.”

“Boss!” said Spike plaintively.

“Remember—every single one of them, just where it belongs. See?”

“Very well, boss.”

The dejection in his voice would have moved the sternest to pity. Gloom
had enveloped Spike’s spirit. The sunlight had gone out of his life.

It had also gone out of the lives of a good many other people at the
castle. This was mainly due to the growing shadow of the day of the
theatricals.

For pure discomfort there are few things in the world that can compete
with the final rehearsals of an amateur theatrical performance at a
country house. Every day the atmosphere becomes more heavily charged
with restlessness and depression. The producer of the piece, especially
if he is also the author of it, develops a sort of intermittent
insanity. He plucks at his moustache, if he has one; at his hair, if he
has not. He mutters to himself. He gives vent to occasional despairing
cries. The soothing suavity which marked his demeanour in the earlier
rehearsals disappears.

He no longer says with a winning smile, “Splendid, old man, splendid!
Couldn’t be better. But I think we’ll take that over just once more, if
you don’t mind.” Instead, he rolls his eyes and snaps out, “Once more,
please. This’ll never do. At this rate we might just as well cut out the
show altogether. What’s that? No, it won’t be all right on the night!
Now, then, once more; and do pull yourselves together this time.” After
which the scene is sulkily resumed; and conversation, when the parties
concerned meet subsequently, is cold and strained.

Matters had reached this stage at the castle. Everybody was thoroughly
tired of the piece, and, but for the thought of the disappointment which
(presumably) would rack the neighbouring nobility and gentry if it were
not to be produced, would have resigned their places without a twinge of
regret. People who had schemed to get the best and longest parts were
wishing now that they had been content with First Footman or Giles, a
villager.

“I’ll never run an amateur show again as long as I live,” confided
Charteris to Jimmy, almost tearfully. “It’s not good enough. Most of
them aren’t word-perfect yet.”

“It’ll be all right——”

“Oh, don’t say it’ll be all right on the night.”

“I wasn’t going to,” said Jimmy. “I was going to say it’ll be all right
after the night. People will soon forget how badly the thing went.”

“You’re a nice, comforting sort of man, aren’t you?” said Charteris.

“Why worry?” said Jimmy. “If you go on like this, it’ll be Westminster
Abbey for you in your prime. You’ll be getting brain fever.”

Jimmy himself was one of the few who were feeling reasonably cheerful.
He was deriving a keen amusement at present from the manoeuvres of Mr.
Samuel Galer, of New York. This lynx-eyed man, having been instructed by
Mr. McEachern to watch Jimmy, was doing so with a thoroughness which
would have aroused the suspicions of a babe. If Jimmy went to the
billiard-room after dinner, Mr. Galer was there to keep him company. If,
during the course of the day, he had occasion to fetch a handkerchief or
a cigarette-case from his bedroom, he was sure, on emerging, to stumble
upon Mr. Galer in the corridor. The employees of Dodson’s Private
Inquiry Agency believed in earning their salaries.

Occasionally, after these encounters, Jimmy would come upon Sir Thomas
Blunt’s valet, the other man in whom Spike’s trained eye had discerned
the distinguishing marks of the sleuth. He was usually somewhere round
the corner at these moments, and when collided with apologised with
great politeness. Jimmy decided that he must have come under suspicion
in this case vicariously, through Spike. Spike, in the servants’ hall,
would, of course, stand out conspicuously enough to catch the eye of a
detective on the look out for sin among the servants; and he himself, as
Spike’s employer, had been marked down as a possible confederate.

It tickled him to think that both these giant brains should be so
greatly exercised on his account.

He had been watching Molly closely during these days. So far no
announcement of the engagement had been made. It struck him that
possibly it was being reserved for public mention on the night of the
theatricals. The whole county would be at the castle then. There could
be no more fitting moment. He sounded Lord Dreever, and the latter said
moodily that he was probably right.

“There’s going to be a dance of sorts after the show,” he said, “and
it’ll be done then, I suppose. No getting out of it after that—it’ll be
all over the county. Trust my uncle for that! He’ll get on a table and
shout it, shouldn’t wonder, and it’ll be in the _Morning Post_ next day
and Katie’ll see it. Only two days more! Oh, Lord!”

Jimmy deduced that Katie was the Savoy girl, concerning whom his
lordship had vouchsafed no particulars save that she was a ripper and
hadn’t a penny.

Only two days! Like the Battle of Waterloo, it was going to be a
close-run affair. More than ever now he realised how much she meant to
him, and there were moments when it seemed to him that she, too, had
begun to understand. That night on the terrace seemed somehow to have
changed their relationship. He thought he had got closer to her—they
were in touch. Before she had been frank, cheerful, unembarrassed; now
he noticed a constraint in her manner, a curious shyness. There was a
barrier between them, but it was not the old barrier. He had ceased to
be one of a crowd.

But it was a race against time. The first day slipped by, a blank, and
the second, till now it was but a matter of hours. The last afternoon
had come.

Not even Mr. Samuel Galer, of Dodson’s Private Inquiry Agency, could
have kept a more unflagging watch than did Jimmy during those hours.
There was no rehearsal that afternoon, and the members of the company,
in various stages of nervous collapse, strayed distractedly about the
grounds. First one, then another, would seize upon Molly, while Jimmy,
watching from afar, cursed their pertinacity.

At last she wandered off alone, and Jimmy quitting his ambush, followed.

She walked in the direction of the lake. It had been a terribly hot,
oppressive afternoon. There was thunder in the air. Through the trees
the lake glistened invitingly.

She was standing at the water’s edge when Jimmy came up. Her back was
turned. She was rocking with her foot a Canadian canoe that lay
alongside the bank. She started as he spoke. His feet on the soft turf
had made no sound.

“Can I take you out on the lake?” he said.

She did not answer for a moment. She was plainly confused.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I—I’m waiting for Lord Dreever.”

Jimmy saw that she was nervous. There was tension in the air. She was
looking away from him, out across the lake, and her face was flushed.

“Won’t you?” he said.

“I’m sorry,” she said again.

Jimmy looked over his shoulder. Down the lower terrace was approaching
the long form of his lordship. He walked with pensive jerkiness, not as
one hurrying to a welcome tryst. As Jimmy looked up he vanished behind
the great clump of laurels which stood on the lowest terrace. In another
minute he would appear round them.

Gently, but with extreme despatch, Jimmy placed a hand on either side of
Molly’s waist. The next moment he had swung her off her feet and lowered
her carefully on to the cushions in the bow of the canoe.

Then, jumping in himself with a force that made the boat rock, he loosed
the mooring-rope, seized the paddle and pushed off.



                                 ★ 19 ★
                             _On the Lake_


In making love, as in every other branch of life, consistency is the
quality most to be aimed at. To hedge is fatal. A man must choose the
line of action which he judges to be best suited to his temperament, and
hold to it without deviation. If Lochinvar snatches the maiden up on to
his saddlebow he must continue in that vein. He must not fancy that,
having accomplished the feat, he can resume the episode on lines of
devotional humility. Prehistoric man, who conducted his courtship with a
club, never fell into the error of apologising when his bride complained
of headache.

Jimmy did not apologise. The idea did not enter his mind. He was feeling
prehistoric. His heart was beating fast and his mind was in a whirl, but
the one definite thought that came to him during the first few seconds
of the journey was that he ought to have done this earlier. This was the
right way—pick her up and carry her off and leave uncles and fathers and
butter-haired peers of the realm to look after themselves. This was the
way—alone together in their own little world of water with nobody to
interrupt and nobody to overhear. He should have done it before. He had
wasted precious, golden time hanging about while futile men chatted to
her of things that could not possibly be of interest. But he had done
the right thing at last—he had got her. She must listen to him now. She
could not help listening. They were the only inhabitants of this new
world.

He looked back over his shoulder at the world they had left. The last of
the Dreevers had rounded the clump of laurels, and was standing at the
edge of the water, gazing perplexedly after the retreating canoe.

“These poets put a thing very neatly sometimes,” said Jimmy,
reflectively, as he dug the paddle into the water. “The man who said
‘Distance lends enchantment to the view’, for instance. Dreever looks
quite nice when you see him as far away as this, with a good strip of
water in between.”

Molly, gazing over the side of the boat into the lake, abstained from
feasting her eyes on the picturesque spectacle.

“Why did you do it?” she said, in a low voice.

Jimmy shipped the paddle and allowed the canoe to drift. The ripple of
the water against the prow sounded clear and thin in the stillness. The
world seemed asleep. The sun blazed down, turning the water to flame.
The air was hot with the damp, electric heat that heralds a
thunderstorm. Molly’s face looked small and cool in the shade of her big
hat. Jimmy, as he watched her, felt that he had done well. This was,
indeed, the way.

“Why did you do it?” she said again.

“I had to.”

“Take me back.”

“No.”

He took up the paddle and placed a broader strip of water between the
two worlds, then paused once more.

“I have something to say to you first,” he said.

She did not answer. He looked over his shoulder again. His lordship had
disappeared.

“Do you mind if I smoke?”

She nodded. He filled his pipe carefully and lit it. The smoke moved
sluggishly up through the still air. There was a long silence. A fish
jumped close by, falling back in a shower of silver drops. Molly started
at the sound and half turned.

“That was a fish,” she said, as a child might have done.

Jimmy knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

“What made you do it?” he asked abruptly echoing her own question.

She drew her fingers slowly through the water without speaking.

“You know what I mean. Dreever told me.”

She looked up with a flash of spirit, which died away as she spoke.

“What right?” She stopped and looked away again.

“None,” said Jimmy. “But I wish you would tell me.”

She hung her head. Jimmy bent forward and touched her hand.

“Don’t,” he said. “For Heaven’s sake, don’t! You mustn’t.”

“I must,” she said miserably.

“You shan’t! It’s wicked.”

“I must. It’s no good talking about it—it’s too late.”

“It’s not. You must break it off to-day.”

She shook her head. Her fingers still dabbled mechanically in the water.
The sun was hidden now behind a grey veil, which deepened into a sullen
black over the hill behind the castle. The heat had grown more
oppressive.

“What made you do it?” he asked again.

“Don’t let’s talk about it, please!”

He had a momentary glimpse of her face. There were tears in her eyes. At
the sight his self-control snapped.

“You sha’n’t!” he cried. “It’s ghastly. I won’t let you. You must
understand now—you must know what you are to me. Do you think I shall
let you——”

A low growl of thunder rumbled through the stillness, like the muttering
of a sleepy giant. The black cloud which had hung over the hill had
crept closer. The heat was stifling. In the middle of the lake, some
fifty yards distant, lay the island, cool and mysterious in the
gathering darkness.

He broke off and seized the paddle.

On this side of the island was a boat-house—a little creek, covered over
with boards, and capable of sheltering an ordinary row-boat. He ran the
canoe in just as the storm began, and turned her broadside on so that
they could watch the rain, which was sweeping over the lake in sheets.

He began to speak again, more slowly now.

“I think I loved you from the first day I saw you on the ship—and then I
lost you. I found you again by a miracle, and lost you again; I found
you here by another miracle, but this time I am not going to lose you.
Do you think I am going to stand by and see you taken from me by—by——”

He took her hand.

“Molly, you can’t love him. It isn’t possible. If I thought you did, I
wouldn’t try to spoil your happiness—I’d go away. But you don’t—you
can’t. He’s nothing. Molly!”

“Molly!”

She said nothing, but for the first time her eyes met his, clear and
unwavering. He could read fear in them, fear—not of himself, of
something vague, something he could not guess at. But they shone with a
light which conquered the fear as the sun conquers fire; and he drew her
to him, and kissed her again and again, murmuring incoherently.

Suddenly she wrenched herself away, struggling like some wild thing. The
boat plunged.

“I can’t!” she cried, in a choking voice. “I mustn’t! Oh, I can’t!”

He stretched out a hand and clutched at the rail that ran along the
wall. The plunging ceased. He turned. She had hidden her face, and was
sobbing, quietly, with the forlorn hopelessness of a lost child.

He made a movement towards her, but drew back. He felt dazed.

The rain thudded and splashed on the wooden roof. A few drops trickled
through a crack in the boards. He took off his coat and placed it gently
over her shoulders.

“Molly!”

She looked up with wet eyes.

“Molly dear, what is it?”

“I mustn’t. It isn’t right.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I mustn’t, Jimmy.”

He moved cautiously forward, holding the rail till he was at her side,
and took her in his arms.

“What is it, dear? Tell me.”

She clung to him without speaking.

“You aren’t worrying about him, are you—about Dreever? There’s nothing
to worry about. It’ll be quite easy and simple. I’ll tell him if you
like. He knows you don’t care for him, and besides, there’s another girl
in London that he——”

“No, no; it’s not that.”

“What is it, dear? What’s troubling you?”

“Jimmy——” She stopped.

“Yes?”

“Jimmy, father wouldn’t. Father—father doesn’t——”

“Doesn’t like me?”

She nodded miserably.

A great wave of relief swept over Jimmy. He had imagined—he hardly knew
what he had imagined—some vast, insuperable obstacle, some tremendous
catastrophe whirling them asunder. He could have laughed aloud in his
happiness. So this was it, this was the cloud that brooded over
them—that Mr. McEachern did not like him! The angel, guarding Eden with
a fiery sword, had changed into a policeman with a truncheon.

“He must learn to love me,” he said lightly.

She looked at him hopelessly. He could not see, he could not understand.
And how could she tell him? Her father’s words rang in her brain. He was
“crooked”; he was “here on some game”; he was being watched. But she
loved him—she loved him. Oh, how could she make him understand?

She clung tighter to him, trembling. He became serious again.

“Dear, you mustn’t worry,” he said. “It can’t be helped. He’ll come
round. Once we’re married——”

“No, no! Oh, can’t you understand? I couldn’t—I couldn’t.”

“But, dear,” he said, “you can’t— Do you mean to say— Will that——“(he
searched for a word)—“stop you?” he concluded.

“It must,” she whispered.

A cold hand clutched at his heart. His world was falling to pieces,
crumbling under his eyes.

“But—but you love me,” he said slowly. It was as if he were trying to
find the key to a puzzle.

“I—don’t see——”

“You couldn’t—you can’t. You’re a man—you don’t know—it’s so different
for a man. He’s brought up all his life with the idea of leaving home,
he goes away naturally.”

“But, dear, you couldn’t live at home all your life. Whoever you
married——”

“But this would be different. Father would never speak to me again— I
should never see him again. He would go right out of my life. Jimmy, I
couldn’t. A girl can’t cut away twenty years of her life and start
afresh like that. I should be haunted. I should make you miserable.
Every day a hundred little things would remind me of him, and I
shouldn’t be strong enough to resist them. You don’t know how fond he is
of me, how good he has always been. Ever since I can remember, we’ve
been such friends. You’ve only seen the outside of him, and I know how
different that is from what he really is. All his life he has thought
only of me. He has told me things about himself which nobody else dreams
of, and I know that all these years he has been working just for me.
Jimmy, you don’t hate me for saying this, do you?”

“Go on,” he said, drawing her closer to him.

“I can’t remember my mother—she died when I was quite little—so he and I
have been the only ones, till you came.”

Memories of those early days crowded her mind as she spoke, making her
voice tremble; half-forgotten trifles, many of them, fraught with the
glamour and fragrance of past happiness.

“We have always been together. He trusted me and I trusted him, and we
saw things through together. When I was ill he used to sit up all night
with me, night after night. Once—I’d only got a little fever really, but
I thought I was terribly bad—I heard him come in late and called out to
him, and he came straight in and sat and held my hand all through the
night; and it was only by accident I found out later that it had been
raining, and that he was soaked through. It might have killed him. We
were partners, Jimmy dear. I couldn’t do anything to hurt him now, could
I? It wouldn’t be square.”

Jimmy turned away his head, for fear his face might betray what he was
feeling. He was in a hell of unreasoning jealousy. He wanted her, body
and soul, and every word she said bit like a raw wound. A moment before
and he had felt that she belonged to him; now, in the first shock of
reaction, he saw himself a stranger, an intruder, a trespasser on holy
ground.

She saw the movement, and her intuition put her in touch with his
thoughts.

“No, no!” she cried. “No, Jimmy—not that!”

Their eyes met, and he was satisfied.

They sat there silent. The rain had lessened its force and was falling
now in a gentle shower; a strip of blue sky, pale and watery, showed
through the grey over the hills. On the island close behind them a
thrush had begun to sing.

“What are we to do?” she said at last. “What can we do?”

“We must wait,” he said. “It will all come right. It must. Nothing can
stop us now.”

The rain had ceased. The blue had routed the grey and driven it from the
sky. The sun, low down in the west, shone out bravely over the lake. The
air was cool and fresh.

Jimmy’s spirits rose with a bound. He accepted the omen. This was the
world as it really was, smiling and friendly, not grey, as he had
fancied it. He had won. Nothing could alter that. What remained to be
done was trivial. He wondered how he could ever have allowed it to weigh
upon him.

After a while he pushed the boat out of its shelter on to the glittering
water, and seized the paddle.

“We must be getting back,” he said. “I wonder what the time is? I wish
we could stay out for ever. But it must be late. Molly!”

“Yes?”

“Whatever happens, you’ll break off this engagement with Dreever? Shall
I tell him? I will if you like.”

“No, I will. I’ll write him a note if I don’t see him before dinner.”

Jimmy paddled on a few strokes.

“It’s no good,” he said suddenly; “I can’t keep it in. Molly, do you
mind if I sing a bar or two? I’ve got a beastly voice, but I’m feeling
rather happy. I’ll stop as soon as I can.”

He raised his voice discordantly.

Covertly, from beneath the shade of her big hat, Molly watched him with
troubled eyes. The sun had gone down behind the hills, and the water had
ceased to glitter. There was a suggestion of chilliness in the air. The
great mass of the castle frowned down upon them, dark and forbidding in
the dim light.

She shivered.



                                 ★ 20 ★
                          _A Lesson in Piquet_


Lord Dreever, meanwhile, having left the waterside, lit a cigarette, and
proceeded to make a reflective tour of the grounds. He felt aggrieved
with the world. Molly’s desertion in the canoe with Jimmy did not
trouble him. He had other sorrows. One is never at one’s best and
sunniest when one has been forced by a ruthless uncle into abandoning
the girl one loves and becoming engaged to another to whom one is
indifferent. Something of a jaundiced tinge stains one’s outlook on life
in such circumstances. Moreover, Lord Dreever was not by nature an
introspective young man, but, examining his position as he walked along,
he found himself wondering whether it was not a little unheroic. He came
to the conclusion that perhaps it was.

Of course, Uncle Thomas could make it deucedly unpleasant for him if he
kicked—that was the trouble. If only he had even, say, a couple of
thousand a year of his own, he might make a fight for it. But, dash it!
Uncle Tom could cut off supplies to such a frightful extent, if there
was trouble, that he would have to go on living at Dreever indefinitely,
without so much as a fearful quid to call his own. Imagination boggled
at the prospect. In the summer and autumn, when there was shooting, his
lordship was not indisposed to stay at the home of his fathers. But all
the year round! Better a broken heart inside the radius than a sound one
in the country in the winter.

“But, by gad,” mused his lordship, “if I had as much as a couple—yes,
dash it! even a couple of thousand a year, I’d chance it and ask Katie
to marry me, dashed if I wouldn’t!”

He walked on, drawing thoughtfully at his cigarette. The more he
reviewed the situation, the less he liked it. There was only one bright
spot in it, and that was the feeling that now money must surely get a
shade less tight. Extracting the precious ore from Sir Thomas hitherto
had been like pulling back-teeth out of a bulldog. But now, on the
strength of this infernal engagement, surely he might reasonably be
expected to scatter largesse to some extent.

His lordship was just wondering whether, if approached in a softened
mood, the other might not disgorge something quite big, when a large,
warm rain-drop fell on his hand. From the bushes round about came an
ever-increasing patter. The sky was leaden.

He looked round him for shelter. He had reached the rose-garden in the
course of his perambulations. At the far end was a summer-house. He
turned up his coat-collar and ran.

As he drew near he heard a slow and dirge-like whistling proceeding from
the interior. Plunging in out of breath, just as the deluge began, he
found Hargate seated at the little wooden table with an earnest
expression on his face. The table was covered with cards. Hargate had
not yet been compelled to sprain his wrist, having adopted the
alternative of merely refusing invitations to play billiards.

“Halloa, Hargate!” said his lordship. “Isn’t it coming down, by Jove!”

Hargate glanced up, nodded without speaking, and turned his attention to
the cards once more. He took one from the pack in his left hand, looked
at it, hesitated for a moment, as if doubtful whereabouts on the table
it would produce the most artistic effect, and finally put it face
upwards. Then he moved another card from the table and put it on top of
the other one. Throughout the performance he whistled painfully.

His lordship regarded him with annoyance.

“That looks frightfully exciting,” he said disparagingly. “What are you
playing at? Patience?”

Hargate nodded again—this time without looking up.

“Oh, don’t sit there looking like a frog,” said Lord Dreever irritably.
“Talk, man.”

Hargate gathered up the cards and proceeded to shuffle them in a
meditative manner, whistling the while.

“Oh, stop it!” said his lordship.

Hargate nodded, and stopped.

“Look here,” said Lord Dreever, “this is boring me stiff. Let’s have a
game at something—anything to pass away the time. Hang this rain! We
shall be cooped up here till dinner at this rate. Ever played piquet? I
could teach you in five minutes.”

A look almost of awe came into Hargate’s face—the look of one who sees a
miracle performed before his eyes. For years he had been using all the
large stock of diplomacy at his command to induce callow youths to play
piquet with him, and here was this admirable young man, this pearl among
young men, positively offering to teach him the game. It was too much
happiness. What had he done to deserve this? He felt as a toil-worn lion
might feel if some antelope, instead of making its customary bee-line
for the horizon, were to trot up and insert its head between his jaws.

“I— I shouldn’t mind being shown the idea,” he said.

He listened attentively while Lord Dreever explained at some length the
principles which govern the game of piquet. Every now and then he asked
a question. It was evident that he was beginning to grasp the idea of
the game.

“What exactly is re-piquing?” he asked, as his lordship paused.

“It’s like this,” said his lordship, returning to his lecture.

“Yes, I see now,” said the neophyte.

They began playing. Lord Dreever, as was only to be expected in a
contest between teacher and student, won the first two hands. Hargate
won the next.

“I’ve got the hang of it all right now,” he said complacently. “It’s a
simple sort of game. Make it more exciting, don’t you think, if we
played for something?”

“All right,” said Lord Dreever slowly; “if you like.”

He would not have suggested it himself, but after all, dash it! if the
man simply asked for it—— It was not his fault if the winning of a hand
should have given the fellow the impression that he knew all that there
was to be known about piquet. Of course, piquet was a game where skill
was practically bound to win. But—— After all, Hargate probably had
plenty of money. He could afford it.

“All right,” said his lordship again. “How much?”

“Something fairly moderate. Ten bob a hundred?”

There is no doubt that his lordship ought, at this suggestion, to have
corrected the novice’s notion that ten shillings a hundred was fairly
moderate. He knew that it was possible for a poor player to lose four
hundred points in a twenty minutes’ game, and usual for him to lose two
hundred. But he let the thing go.

“Very well,” he said.

Twenty minutes later Hargate was looking somewhat ruefully at the
score-sheet. “I owe you eighteen shillings,” he said. “Shall I pay you
now, or shall we settle up in a lump after we’ve finished?”

“What about stopping now?” said Lord Dreever. “It’s quite fine out.”

“No; let’s go on. I’ve nothing to do till dinner, and I don’t suppose
you have.”

His lordship’s conscience made one last effort.

“You’d much better stop, you know, Hargate, really,” he said. “You can
lose a frightful lot at this game.”

“My dear Dreever,” said Hargate stiffly, “I can look after myself,
thanks. Of course, if you think you are risking too much, by all
means——”

“Oh, if you don’t mind,” said his lordship, outraged, “I’m only too
frightfully pleased. Only remember I warned you.”

“I’ll bear it in mind. By the way, before we start, care to make it a
sovereign a hundred?”

Lord Dreever could not afford to play piquet for a sovereign a hundred,
or, indeed, to play piquet for money at all; but after his adversary’s
innuendo it was impossible for a young gentleman of spirit to admit the
humiliating fact. He nodded.

“About time, I fancy,” said Hargate, looking at his watch an hour later,
“that we were going in to dress for dinner.”

His lordship made no reply. He was wrapped in thought.

“Let’s see, that’s twenty pounds you owe me, isn’t it?” continued
Hargate. “Shocking bad luck you had.”

They went out into the rose-garden.

“Jolly everything smells after the rain,” said Hargate, who seemed to
have struck a conversational patch. “Freshened everything up.”

His lordship did not appear to have noticed it. He seemed to be thinking
of something else. His air was pensive and abstracted.

“There’s just time,” said Hargate, looking at his watch again, “for a
short stroll. I want to have a talk with you.”

“Oh!” said Lord Dreever.

His air did not belie his feelings. He looked pensive, and he was
pensive. It was deuced awkward, this twenty pounds business.

Hargate was watching him covertly. It was his business to know other
people’s business, and he knew that Lord Dreever was impecunious, and
depended for supplies entirely on a prehensile uncle. For the success of
the proposal he was about to make he relied on this fact.

“Who’s this man Pitt?” asked Hargate.

“Oh, pal of mine,” said his lordship. “Why?”

“I can’t stand the fellow.”

“I think he’s a good chap,” said his lordship. “In fact,” remembering
Jimmy’s Good Samaritanism, “I know he is. Why don’t you like him?”

“I don’t know. I don’t.”

“Oh!” said his lordship indifferently. He was in no mood to listen to
the likes and dislikes of other men.

“Look here, Dreever,” said Hargate, “I want you to do something for me—I
want you to get Pitt out of the place.”

Lord Dreever eyed him curiously.

“Eh?” he said. Hargate repeated his remark.

“You seem to have mapped out quite a programme for me,” said Lord
Dreever.

“Get him out of it,” continued Hargate vehemently. Jimmy’s prohibition
against billiards had hit him hard. He was suffering the torments of
Tantalus. The castle was full of young men of the kind to whom he most
resorted—easy marks, every one—and here he was, simply through Jimmy,
careened like a disabled battleship. It was maddening. “Make him go. You
invited him here. He doesn’t expect to stop indefinitely, I suppose? If
you left, he’d have to, too. What you must do is to go back to London
to-morrow. You can easily make some excuse. He’ll have to go with you.
Then you can drop him in London and come back. That’s what you must do.”

A delicate pink flush might have been seen to spread itself over Lord
Dreever’s face. He began to look like an angry rabbit. He had not a
great deal of pride in his composition, but the thought of the
ignominious _role_ which Hargate was sketching out for him stirred what
he had to its shallow bottom.

Talking on, Hargate managed to add the last straw.

“Of course,” he said, “that money you lost to me at piquet—what was it?
Twenty? Twenty pounds, wasn’t it? Well, we would look on that as
cancelled, of course. That will be all right.”

His lordship exploded.

“Will it?” he cried, pink to the ears. “Will it, by George? I’ll pay you
every frightful penny of it to-morrow—and then you can clear out,
instead of Pitt. What do you take me for, I should like to know?”

“A fool, if you refuse my offer.”

“I’ve a jolly good mind to give you a most frightful kicking.”

“I shouldn’t try if I were you. It’s not the sort of game you’d shine
at. Better stick to piquet.”

“If you think I can’t pay you your rotten money—”

“I do. But if you can, so much the better. Money is always useful.”

“I may be a fool in some ways——”

“You understate it, my dear man.”

“But I’m not a cad.”

“You’re getting quite rosy, Dreever. Wrath is good for the complexion.”

“And if you think you can bribe me, you never made a bigger mistake in
your life.”

“Yes, I did,” said Hargate, “when I thought you had some glimmerings of
intelligence. But if it gives you any pleasure to behave like the
juvenile lead in a melodrama, by all means do. Personally, I shouldn’t
have thought the game would be worth the candle. But if your keen sense
of honour compels you to pay the twenty pounds, all right. You mentioned
to-morrow? That’ll suit me. So we’ll let it go at that.”

He walked off, leaving Lord Dreever filled with that comfortable glow
which comes to the weak man who for once has displayed determination. He
felt that he must not go back from his dignified stand-point. That money
would have to be paid, and on the morrow. Hargate was the sort of man
who could, and would, make it exceedingly unpleasant for him if he
failed. A debt of honour was not a thing to be trifled with.

But he felt quite safe. He knew he could get the money when he pleased.
It showed, he reflected philosophically, how out of evil cometh good.
His greater misfortune, the engagement, would, as it were, neutralise
the loss, for it was ridiculous to suppose that Sir Thomas, having seen
his ends accomplished, and being presumably in a spacious mood in
consequence, would not be amenable to a request for a mere twenty
pounds.

He went on into the hall. He felt strong and capable. He had shown
Hargate the stuff there was in him. He was Spennie Dreever, the man of
blood and iron, the man with whom it was best not to trifle. But it was
really, come to think of it, uncommonly lucky that he was engaged to
Molly. He recoiled from the idea of attempting, unfortified by that
fact, to extract twenty pounds from Sir Thomas for a card debt.

In the hall he met Saunders.

“I have been looking for your lordship,” said the butler.

“Eh? Well, here I am.”

“Just so, your lordship. Miss McEachern entrusted me with this note to
deliver to you in the event of her not being able to see you before
dinner personally, your lordship.”

“Right-O. Thanks.”

He started to go upstairs, opening the envelope as he went. What could
the girl be writing to him about? Surely she wasn’t going to start
sending him love-letters or any of that frightful rot? Deuced difficult
it would be to play up to that sort of thing.

He stopped on the landing to read the note, and at the first line his
jaw fell. The envelope fluttered to the ground.

“Oh, my sainted aunt!” he moaned, clutching at the banisters. “Now I am
in the soup!”



                                 ★ 21 ★
                           _Loathsome Gifts_


There are doubtless men so constructed that they can find themselves
accepted suitors without any particular whirl of emotion. King Solomon
probably belonged to this class, and even Henry VIII must have become a
trifle blasé in time. But to the average man the sensations are complex
and overwhelming. A certain stunned feeling is perhaps predominant.
Blended with this is relief—the relief of a general who has brought a
difficult campaign to a successful end, or a member of a forlorn hope
who finds that the danger is over and that he is still alive. To this
must be added a newly-born sense of magnificence. Our suspicion that we
were something rather out of the ordinary run of men is suddenly
confirmed. Our bosom heaves with complacency, and the world has nothing
more to offer.

With some there is an alloy of apprehension in the metal of their
happiness, and the strain of an engagement sometimes brings with it even
a faint shadow of regret. “She makes me buy things,” one swain, in the
third quarter of his engagement, was overhead to moan to a friend. “Two
new ties only yesterday.” He seemed to be debating within himself
whether human nature could stand the strain.

But, whatever tragedies may cloud the end of the period, its beginning
at least is bathed in sunshine.

Jimmy, regarding his lathered face in the glass as he dressed for dinner
that night, marvelled at the excellence of this best of all possible
worlds.

No doubts disturbed him. That the relations between Mr. McEachern and
himself offered a permanent bar to his prospects he did not believe. For
the moment he declined to consider the existence of the ex-constable at
all. In a world that contained Molly there was no room for other people.
They were not in the picture. They did not exist.

To him, musing contentedly over the goodness of life, there entered, in
the furtive manner habitual to that unreclaimed buccaneer, Spike
Mullins. It may have been that Jimmy read his own satisfaction and
happiness into the faces of others, but it certainly seemed to him that
there was a sort of restrained joyfulness about Spike’s demeanour. The
Bowery boy’s shuffles on the carpet were almost a dance. His face seemed
to glow beneath his crimson hair.

“Well,” said Jimmy, “and how goes the world with young Lord FitzMullins?
Spike, have you ever been best man?”

“What’s dat, boss?”

“Best man at a wedding—chap who stands by the bridegroom with a hand on
the scruff of his neck to see that he goes through with it. Fellow who
looks after everything, crowds the money on to the minister at the end
of the ceremony, and then goes off and marries the first bridesmaid and
lives happily ever after.”

Spike shook his head.

“I ain’t got no use for gettin’ married, boss.”

“Spike the misogynist! You wait, Spike. Some day love will awake in your
heart, and you’ll start writing poetry.”

“I’se not dat kind of mug, boss,” protested the Bowery boy. “I ain’t got
no use for goils. It’s a mutt’s game.”

This was rank heresy. Jimmy laid down the razor from motives of
prudence, and proceeded to lighten Spike’s reprehensible darkness.

“Spike, you’re an ass,” he said. “You don’t know anything about it. If
you had any sense at all, you’d understand that the only thing worth
doing in life is to get married. You bone-headed bachelors make me ill.
Think what it would mean to you, having a wife. Think of going out on a
cold winter’s night to crack a crib, knowing that there would be a cup
of hot soup waiting for you when you got back, and your slippers all
warmed and comfortable. And then she’d sit on your knee, and you’d tell
her how you shot the policeman, and you’d examine the swag together!
Why, I can’t imagine anything cosier. Perhaps there would be little
Spikes running about the house. Can’t you see them jumping with joy as
you slid in through the window and told the great news? ‘Fahzer’s killed
a pleeceman!’ cry the tiny, eager voices. Sweets are served out all
round in honour of the event. Golden haired little Jimmy Mullins, my
godson, gets sixpence for having thrown a stone at a plain clothes
detective that afternoon. All is joy and wholesome revelry. Take my word
for it, Spike, there’s nothing like domesticity.”

“Dere was a goil once,” said Spike, meditatively. “Only I was never her
steady. She married a cop.”

“She wasn’t worthy of you, Spike,” said Jimmy sympathetically. “A girl
capable of going to the bad like that would never have done for you. You
must pick up some nice, sympathetic girl with a romantic admiration for
your line of business. Meanwhile, let me finish shaving, or I shall be
late for dinner. Great doings on to-night, Spike.”

Spike became animated.

“Sure, boss! Dat’s just what——”

“If you could collect all the blue blood that will be under this roof
to-night, Spike, into one vat, you’d be able to start a dyeing works.
Don’t try, though. They mightn’t like it. By the way, have you seen
anything more—of course you have. What I mean is, have you talked at all
with that valet man—the one you think is a detective?”

“Why, boss, dat’s just——”

“I hope, for his own sake, he’s a better performer than my old friend
Galer. That man is getting on my nerves, Spike. He pursues me like a
smell dog. I expect he’s lurking out in the passage now. Did you see
him?”

“Did I! Boss! Why——”

Jimmy inspected Spike gravely.

“Spike,” he said, “there’s something on your mind. You’re trying to say
something. What is it? Out with it.”

Spike’s excitement vented itself in a rush of words.

“Gee, boss! There’s bin doin’s to-night for fair. Me coco’s still
buzzin’. Sure t’ing! Why, say, when I was to Sir Tummas’s dressing-room
dis afternoon——”

“What!”

“Surest t’ing, you know. Just before de storm come on, when it was all
as dark as could be. Well, I was——”

Jimmy interrupted.

“In Sir Thomas’s dressing-room! What——”

Spike looked somewhat embarrassed. He grinned apologetically and
shuffled his feet.

“I’ve got dem, boss,” he said, with a smirk.

“Got them? Got what?”

“Dese.”

He plunged his hand in his pocket and drew forth, in a glittering mass,
Lady Julia Blunt’s rope of diamonds.



                                 ★ 22 ★
                   _How Two of a Trade did not Agree_


“One hundred t’ousand plunks,” murmured Spike, gazing lovingly at them.
“I says to meself, ‘De boss ain’t got no time to be gettin’ after dem
himself. He’s too busy dese days wit jollyin’ along de swells. So it’s
up to me,’ I says, ‘’cos de boss’ll be tickled to deat’, all right, all
right, if we can git away wit dem.’ So I——”

Jimmy gave tongue with an energy which amazed his faithful follower. The
nightmare horror of the situation had affected him much as a sudden blow
in the parts about the waistcoat might have done. But now, as Spike
would have said, he caught up with his breath. The smirk faded slowly
from the other’s face as he listened. Not even in the Bowery, full as it
was of candid friends, had he listened to such a trenchant summing-up of
his mental and moral deficiencies.

“Boss!” he protested.

“That’s just a sketchy outline,” said Jimmy, pausing for breath. “I
can’t do you justice impromptu like this. You’re too vast and
overwhelming.”

“But, boss, what’s eatin’ you? Ain’t youse tickled?”

“Tickled!” Jimmy sawed the air. “Tickled! You lunatic! Can’t you see
what you’ve done?”

“I’ve got dem,” said Spike, whose mind was not readily receptive of new
ideas. It seemed to him that Jimmy missed the main point.

“Didn’t I tell you there was nothing doing when you wanted to take those
things the other day?”

Spike’s face cleared. As he had suspected, Jimmy had missed the point.

“Why, say, boss, yes—sure. But dose was little dinky t’ings. Of course,
youse wouldn’t stand for swipin’ chicken-feed like dem. But dese is
different. Dese di’monds is boids. It’s one hundred thousand plunks fer
dese.”

“Spike!” said Jimmy, with painful calm.

“Huh?”

“Will you listen for a moment?”

“Sure.”

“I know it’s practically hopeless. To get an idea into your head one
wants a proper outfit—drills, blasting-powder, and so on. But there’s
just a chance, perhaps, if I talk slowly. Has it occurred to you,
Spike—my bonny, blue-eyed Spike—that every other man, more or less, in
this stately home of England is a detective who has probably received
instructions to watch you like a lynx? Do you imagine that your
blameless past is a sufficient safeguard? I suppose you think that these
detectives will say to themselves, ‘Now, whom shall we suspect? We must
leave out Spike Mullins, of course, because he naturally wouldn’t dream
of doing such a thing. It can’t be dear old Spike who’s got the stuff.’”

“But, boss,” interposed Spike brightly. “I ain’t! Dat’s right—I ain’t
got it. Youse has!”

Jimmy looked at him with reluctant admiration. After all, there was a
breezy delirium about Spike’s methods of thought which was rather
stimulating when you got used to it. The worst of it was that it did not
fit in with practical, everyday life. Under different conditions—say,
during convivial evenings at Colney Hatch—he could imagine the Bowery
boy being a charming companion. How pleasantly, for instance, such
remarks as that last would while away the monotony of a padded cell!

“But, laddie,” he said, with steely affection, “listen once more.
Reflect! Ponder! Does it not seep into your consciousness that we are,
as it were, subtly connected in this house in the minds of certain bad
persons? Are we not imagined by Mr. McEachern, for instance, to be
working hand in hand like brothers? Do you fancy that Mr. McEachern,
chatting with his tame sleuth-hound over their cigars, will have been
reticent on this point? I think not. How do you propose to baffle that
gentlemanly sleuth, Spike, who, I may mention once again, has rarely
moved more than two yards away from me since his arrival?”

An involuntary chuckle escaped Spike.

“Sure, boss, dat’s all right!”

“All right, is it? Well, well! What makes you think it is all right?”

“Why, say, boss, dose sleuts is out of business.” A merry grin split his
face. “It’s funny, boss! Gee, it’s got a circus skinned! Listen! Deyse
bin an’ arrest each other.”

Jimmy moodily revised his former view. Even in Colney Hatch this sort of
thing would be coldly received. Genius must ever walk alone. Spike would
have to get along without any hope of meeting a kindred spirit, a
fellow-being in tune with his brain-processes.

“Dat’s right,” chuckled Spike. “Leastways, it ain’t.”

“No, no,” said Jimmy soothingly. “I quite understand.”

“It’s dis way, boss. One of dem has bin an’ arrest de odder mug. Dey had
a scrap, each t’inking de odder guy was after de jools, an’ not knowin’
dey was bote sleuts, an’ now one of dem’s bin an’ taken de odder off,
an’”—there were tears of innocent joy in his eyes—“an’ locked him into
de coal-cellar.”

“What on earth do you mean?”

Spike giggled helplessly.

“Listen, boss! It’s dis way. Gee, it beat de band. When it’s all dark,
’cos of de storm comin’ on, I’m in de dressin’-room chasin’ around for
de jool-box, and just as I gets a line on it—gee!— I hears a footstep
coming down de passage, very soft, straight for de door. Was I to de
bad? Dat’s right. I says to meself, ‘Here’s one of de sleut guys what’s
bin and got wise to me, an’ he’s comin’ in to put de grip on me,’ so I
gets up quick, an’ I hides behind a coitain. Dere’s a coitain at de side
of de room. Dere’s dude suits an t’ings hangin’ behind it. I chases
meself in dere, and stands waitin’ for de sleut to come in, ’cos den,
you see, I’m goin’ to try an’ get busy before he can see who I am—it’s
pretty dark ’cos of de storm—an’ jolt him one on de point of de jaw, an’
den, while he’s down an’ out, chase meself fer de soivants’ hall.”

“Yes?” said Jimmy.

“Well, dis guy, he gets to de door and opens it, and I’m just gettin’
ready for one sudden boist of speed when dere jumps out from de room on
de odder side de passage—you know de room—anodder guy, an’ gets de rapid
strangleholt on de foist mug. Say, wouldn’t dat make youse glad you
hadn’t gone to de circus? Honest, it was better dan Coney Island.”

“Go on. What happened then?”

“Day falls to scrappin’ good and hard. Dey couldn’t see me, an’ I
couldn’t see dem, but I could hear dem bumpin’ about and sluggin’ each
odder to beat de band. And by and by one of de mugs puts de odder mug to
de bad, so dat he goes down and takes de count; and den I hears a click.
And I know what dat is. It’s one of de gazebos has put de irons on de
odder gazebo.”

“Call them A and B,” suggested Jimmy.

“Den I hears him—de foist mug—strike a light, ’cos it’s dark dere ’cos
of de storm, an’ den he says, ‘Got youse, have I?’ he says. ‘I’ve had my
eye on you, t’inkin’ youse was up to somet’ing of dis kind. I’ve bin
watchin’ youse!’ I knew de voice. It’s dat mug what calls himself Sir
Tummas’s vally. And de odder——”

Jimmy burst into a roar of laughter.

“Don’t, Spike! This is more than man was meant to stand. Do you mean to
tell me that it is my bright, brainy, persevering friend Galer who has
been handcuffed and locked in the coal-cellar?”

“Sure, dat’s right,” he said.

“It’s a judgment,” said Jimmy delightedly—“that’s what it is. No man has
a right to be such a consummate ass as Galer. It isn’t decent.”

There had been moments when McEachern’s faithful employé had filled
Jimmy with an odd sort of fury, a kind of hurt pride, almost to the
extent of making him wish that he really could have been the desperado
McEachern fancied him. Never in his life before had he sat still under a
challenge, and this espionage had been one. Behind the clumsy watcher he
had seen always the self-satisfied figure of McEachern. If there had
been anything subtle about the man from Dodson’s he could have forgiven
him; but there was not. Years of practice had left Spike with a sort of
sixth sense as regarded representatives of the law. He could pierce the
most cunning disguise. But in the case of Galer even Jimmy could detect
the detective.

“Go on,” he said.

Spike proceeded.

“Well, de odder mug, de one down and out on de floor wit de irons on——”

“Galer, in fact,” said Jimmy. “Handsome, dashing Galer!”

“Sure. Well, he’s too busy catchin’ up wit his breat’ to shoot it back
swift, but after he’s bin doin’ de deep-breathin’ stunt for a while he
says, ‘You mutt,’ he says, ‘youse is to de bad. You’re made a break, you
have. Dat’s right. Surest t’ing you know.’ He puts it different, but
dat’s what he means. ‘I’m a sleut,’ he says. ‘Take dese t’ings
off!’—meanin’ de irons. Does de odder mug, de vally gazebo, give him de
glad eye? Not so’s you could notice it. He gives him de merry ha-ha. He
says dat dat’s de woist tale dat’s ever bin handed to him. ‘Tell it to
Sweeney!’ he says. ‘I knows youse. You woims yourself into de house as a
guest, when youse is really after de loidy’s jools.’ At dese crool woids
de odder mug, Galer, gits hot under de collar. ‘I’m a sure ’nough
sleut,’ he says. ‘I blows into dis house at de special request of Mr.
McEachern, de American gent.’ De odder mug hands him de lemon again.
‘Tell it to de King of Denmark,’ he says. ‘Dis cops de limit. Youse has
enough gall for ten strong men,’ he says. ‘Show me to Mr. McEachern,’
says Galer. ‘He’ll——crouch,’ is dat it?”

“Vouch?” suggested Jimmy. “Meaning give the glad hand to.”

“Dat’s right—vouch. I wondered what he meant at de time. ‘He’ll vouch
for me,’ he says. Dat puts him all right, he t’inks; but no, he’s still
in Dutch, ’cos de vally mug says, ‘Nix on dat! I ain’t goin’ to chase
around de house wit youse, lookin’ for Mr. McEachern. It’s youse for de
coal-cellar, me man, an’ we’ll see what youse has to say when I makes me
report to Sir Tummas.’ ‘Well, dat’s to de good,’ says Galer. ‘Tell Sir
Tummas. I’ll explain to him.’ ‘Not me!’ says de vally. ‘Sir Tummas has a
hard evening’s woik before him, jollyin’ along de swells what’s comin’
to see dis stoige-piece dey’re actin’. I ain’t goin’ to worry him till
he’s good and ready. To de coal-cellar for yours! G’wan!’ and off dey
goes! And I gets busy again, swipes de jools, and chases meself here.”

“Have you ever heard of poetic justice, Spike?” he asked. “This is it.
But in this hour of mirth and good will we must not forget——”

Spike interrupted.

Beaming with honest pleasure at the enthusiastic reception of his
narrative, he proceeded to point out the morals that were to be deduced
therefrom.

“So youse see, boss,” he said, “it’s all to de merry. When dey rubbers
for de jools and finds dem gone, dey’ll t’ink dis Galer guy swiped dem.
Dey won’t t’ink of us.”

Jimmy looked at him gravely.

“Of course,” said he. “What a reasoner you are, Spike! Galer was just
opening the door from the outside, by your account, when the valet-man
sprang at him. Naturally they’ll think that he took the jewels,
especially as they won’t find them on him. A man who can open a locked
safe through a closed door is just the sort of fellow who would be able
to get rid of the swag neatly while rolling about the floor with the
valet. His not having the jewels will make the case all the blacker
against him. And what will make them still more certain that he is the
thief is that he really is a detective. Spike, you ought to be in some
sort of a home, you know.”

The Bowery boy looked disturbed.

“I didn’t t’ink of dat, boss,” he admitted.

“Of course not. One can’t think of everything. Now, if you will just
hand me those diamonds, I will put them back where they belong.”

“Put dem back, boss!”

“What else would you propose? I’d get you to do it, only I don’t think
putting things back is much in your line.”

Spike handed over the jewels. The boss was the boss, and what he said
went. But his demeanour was tragic, telling eloquently of hopes
blighted.

Jimmy took the necklace with something of a thrill. He was a connoisseur
of jewels, and a fine gem affected him much as a fine picture affects
the artistic. He ran the diamonds through his fingers, then scrutinized
them again, more closely this time.

Spike watched him with a slight return of hope. It seemed to him that
the boss was wavering. Perhaps, now that he had actually handled the
jewels, he would find it impossible to give them up. To Spike a diamond
necklace of cunning workmanship was merely the equivalent of so many
“plunks”; but he knew that there were men, otherwise sane, who valued a
jewel for its own sake.

“It’s a boid of a necklace, boss,” he murmured encouragingly.

“It is,” said Jimmy. “In its way I’ve never seen anything much better.
Sir Thomas will be glad to have it back.”

“Den you’re going to put it back, boss?”

“I am,” said Jimmy. “I’ll do it just before the theatricals; there
should be a chance then. There’s one good thing—this afternoon’s affair
will have cleared the air of sleuth-hounds a little.”



                                 ★ 23 ★
                             _Family Jars_


Hildebrand Spencer Poyns de Burgh John Hannasyde Coombe-Crombie, twelfth
Earl of Dreever, was feeling like a toad under the harrow. He read the
letter again, but a second perusal made it no better. Very briefly and
clearly Molly had broken off the engagement. She “thought it best”; she
was “afraid it could make neither of us happy.” All very true, thought
his lordship miserably. His sentiments to a T. At the proper time
nothing he would have liked better. But why seize for this declaration
the precise moment when he was intending, on the strength of the
engagement, to separate his uncle from twenty pounds? That was what
rankled. That Molly could have no knowledge of his sad condition did not
occur to him. He had a sort of feeling that she ought to have known by
instinct. Nature, as has been pointed out, had equipped Hildebrand
Spencer Poyns de Burgh with one of those cheap-substitute minds. What
passed for brain in him was to genuine grey matter what just-as-good
imitation coffee is to real Mocha. In moments of emotion and mental
distress, consequently, his reasoning, like Spike’s, was apt to be in a
class of its own.

He read the letter for the third time, and a gentle perspiration began
to form on his forehead. This was awful. The presumable jubilation of
Katie, the penniless ripper of the Savoy, when he should present himself
to her a free man, did not enter into the mental picture that was
unfolding before him. She was too remote. Between him and her lay the
fearsome figure of Sir Thomas, rampant, filling the entire horizon. Nor
is this to be wondered at. There was probably a brief space during which
Perseus, concentrating his gaze upon the monster, did not see Andromeda;
and a knight of the Middle Ages, jousting in the gentlemen’s singles for
a smile from his lady, rarely allowed the thought of that smile to
occupy his whole mind at the moment when his boiler-plated antagonist
was descending upon him in the wake of a sharp spear.

So with Spennie Dreever. Bright eyes might shine for him when all was
over, but in the meantime what seemed to him more important was that
bulging eyes would glare.

If only this had happened later—even a day later! The reckless
impulsiveness of the modern girl had undone him. How was he to pay
Hargate his money? Hargate must be paid—that was certain; no other
course was possible. Lord Dreever’s was not one of those natures which
fret restlessly under debt. During his early career at college he had
endeared himself to the local tradesmen by the magnitude of the
liabilities he had contracted with them. It was not the being in debt
that he minded, it was the consequences. Hargate, he felt instinctively,
was of a revengeful nature. He had given Hargate twenty pounds’ worth of
snubbing, and the latter had presented the bill. If it were not paid
things would happen. Hargate and he were members of the same club, and a
member of a club who loses money at cards to a fellow-member and fails
to settle up does not make himself popular with the committee.

He must get the money—there was no avoiding that conclusion—but how?

Financially, his lordship was like a fallen country with a glorious
history. There had been a time, during his first two years at college,
when he had revelled in the luxury of a handsome allowance. This was the
golden age, when Sir Thomas Blunt, being, so to speak, new to the job,
and feeling that, having reached the best circles, he must live up to
them, had scattered largesse lavishly. For two years after his marriage
with Lady Julia he had maintained this admirable standard, crushing his
natural parsimony. He had regarded the money so spent as capital sunk in
an investment. By the end of the second year he had found his feet, and
began to look about him for ways of retrenchment. His lordship’s
allowance was an obvious way. He had not to wait long for an excuse for
annihilating it. There is a game called poker, at which a man without
much control over his features may exceed the limits of the handsomest
allowance. His lordship’s face during a game of poker was like the
surface of some quiet pond, ruffled by every breeze. The blank despair
of his expression when he held bad cards made bluffing expensive. The
honest joy that bubbled over in his eyes when his hand was good acted as
an efficient danger-signal to his grateful opponents. Two weeks of poker
had led to his writing to his uncle a distressed but confident request
for more funds; and the avuncular foot had come down with a joyous bang.
Taking his stand on the evils of gambling, Sir Thomas had changed the
conditions of the money-market for his nephew with a thoroughness that
effectually prevented the possibility of his being again led astray by
the fascinations of poker. The allowance vanished absolutely, and in its
place there came into being an arrangement. By this his lordship was to
have whatever money he wished for, but he must ask for it, and state why
it was needed. If the request were reasonable, the cash would be
forthcoming; if preposterous, it would not. The flaw in the scheme, from
his lordship’s point of view, was the difference of opinion which can
exist in the minds of two men as to what the words reasonable and
preposterous may be taken to mean.

Twenty pounds, for instance, would, in the lexicon of Sir Thomas Blunt,
be perfectly reasonable for the current expenses of a man engaged to
Molly McEachern, but preposterous for one to whom she had declined to
remain engaged. It is these subtle shades of meaning which make the
English language so full of pitfalls for the foreigner.

So engrossed was his lordship in his meditations that it was not till a
voice spoke at his elbow that he was aware that Sir Thomas himself was
standing by his side.

“Well, Spennie, my boy,” said the knight. “Time to dress for dinner, I
think. Eh? Eh?”

He was plainly in high good-humour. The thought of the distinguished
company he was to entertain that night had changed him temporarily, as
with some wave of a fairy wand, into a thing of joviality and
benevolence. One could almost hear the milk of human kindness gurgling
and splashing within him. The irony of Fate! To-night—such was his
mood—a dutiful nephew could have come and felt his pockets and helped
himself—if circumstances had been different. Oh, woman, woman, how you
bar us from Paradise!

His lordship gurgled a wordless reply, thrusting the fateful letter
hastily into his pocket. He would break the news anon—soon. Not
yet—later on; in fact, anon.

“Up in your part, my boy?” continued Sir Thomas. “You mustn’t spoil the
play by forgetting your lines. That wouldn’t do.”

His eye was caught by the envelope which Spennie had dropped. A
momentary relapse from the jovial and benevolent was the result. His
fussy little soul abhorred small untidinesses.

“Dear me,” he said, stooping, “I wish people would not drop paper about
the house. I cannot endure a litter.”

He spoke as if somebody had been playing hare-and-hounds and scattering
the scent on the stairs. This sort of thing sometimes made him regret
the old days. In Blunt’s Stores Rule 67 imposed a fine of half a crown
on employés convicted of paper-dropping.

“I——” began his lordship.

“Why”—Sir Thomas straightened himself—“it’s addressed to you!”

“I was just going to pick it up. It’s—er—there was a note in it.”

Sir Thomas Blunt gazed at the envelope again. Joviality and benevolence
resumed their thrones.

“And the feminine handwriting,” he chuckled. He eyed the limp peer
almost roguishly. “I see, I see,” he said. “Very charming. Quite
delightful! Girls must have their little romance. I suppose you two
young people are exchanging love-letters all day? Delightful—quite
delightful! Don’t look as if you were ashamed of it, my boy. I like it.
I think it’s charming.”

Undoubtedly this was the opening. Beyond a question his lordship should
have said at this point, “Uncle, I cannot tell a lie. I cannot even
allow myself to see you labouring under a delusion which a word from me
can remove. The contents of this note are not what you suppose. They run
as follows——”

What he did say was, “Uncle, can you let me have twenty pounds?”

Those were his amazing words. They slipped out. He could not stop them.

Sir Thomas was taken aback for an instant, but not seriously. He started
as might a man who, stroking a cat, receives a sudden but trifling
scratch.

“Twenty pounds, eh?” he said reflectively.

Then the milk of human kindness swept over displeasure like a tidal
wave. This was a night for rich gifts to the deserving.

“Why, certainly, my boy, certainly. Do you want it at once?”

His lordship replied that he did, please; and he had seldom said a thing
more fervently.

“Well, well. We’ll see what we can do. Come with me.”

He led the way to his dressing-room. Like nearly all the rooms at the
castle, it was large. One wall was completely hidden by the curtain
behind which Spike had taken refuge that afternoon.

Sir Thomas went to the dressing-table and unlocked a small drawer.

“Twenty, you said? Five—ten—fifteen—here you are, my boy.”

Lord Dreever muttered his thanks. Sir Thomas accepted the guttural
acknowledgment with a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“I like a little touch like that,” he said.

His lordship looked startled.

“I wouldn’t have touched you,” he began, “if it hadn’t been——”

“A little touch like that letter-writing,” Sir Thomas went on. “It shows
a warm heart. She is a warm-hearted girl, Spennie—a charming,
warm-hearted girl! You’re uncommonly lucky, my boy.”

His lordship, crackling the four bank-notes, silently agreed with him.

“But come, I must be dressing. Dear me, it is very late. We shall have
to hurry. By the way, my boy, I shall take the opportunity of making a
public announcement of the engagement to-night. It will be a capital
occasion for it, I think, perhaps, at the conclusion of the theatricals,
a little speech—something quite impromptu and informal, just asking them
to wish you happiness, and so on. I like the idea. There is an old-world
air about it that appeals to me. Yes.”

He turned to the dressing-table and removed his collar.

“Well, run along, my boy,” he said. “You must not be late.”

His lordship tottered from the room. He did quite an unprecedented
amount of thinking as he hurried into his evening clothes; but the
thought which occurred most frequently was that, whatever happened, all
was well in one way, at any rate. He had the twenty pounds. There would
be something colossal in the shape of disturbances when his uncle
learned the truth. It would be the biggest thing since the San Francisco
earthquake. But what of it? He had the money.

He slipped it into his waistcoat pocket. He would take it down with him,
and pay Hargate directly after dinner.

He left the room. The flutter of a skirt caught his eye as he reached
the landing. A girl was coming down the corridor on the other side. He
waited at the head of the stairs to let her go down before him. As she
came on to the landing he saw that it was Molly.

For a moment there was an awkward pause.

“Er—I got your note,” said his lordship.

She looked at him, and then burst out laughing.

“You know you don’t mind the least little bit,” she said—“not a scrap.
Now, do you?”

“Well, you see——”

“Don’t make excuses. Do you?”

“Well, it’s like this, you see. I——”

He caught her eye. Next moment they were laughing together.

“No; but look here, you know,” said his lordship. “What I mean is, it
isn’t that I don’t—I mean, look here, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t
be the best of pals.”

“Why, of course there isn’t.”

“No, really, I say? That’s ripping. Shake hands on it.”

They clasped hands; and it was in this affecting attitude that Sir
Thomas Blunt, bustling downstairs, discovered them.

“Aha!” he cried archly. “Well, well, well! But don’t mind me, don’t mind
me!”

Molly flushed uncomfortably; partly because she disliked Sir Thomas even
when he was not arch, and hated him when he was: partly because she felt
foolish; and principally because she was bewildered. She had not looked
forward to meeting Sir Thomas that night. It was always unpleasant
meeting him, but it would be more unpleasant than usual after she had
upset the scheme for which he had worked so earnestly. She had wondered
whether he would be cold and distant or voluble and heated. In her
pessimistic moments she had anticipated a long and painful scene. That
he should be behaving like this was not very much short of a miracle.
She could not understand it.

A glance at Lord Dreever enlightened her. That miserable creature was
wearing the air of a timid child about to pull a large cracker. He
seemed to be bracing himself up for an explosion.

She pitied him sincerely. So he had not told his uncle the news yet! Of
course, he had scarcely had time. Saunders must have given him the note
as he was going up to dress.

However, there was no use in prolonging the agony. Sir Thomas must be
told sooner or later. She was glad of the chance to tell him herself.
She would be able to explain that it was all her doing.

“I’m afraid there’s a mistake,” she said.

“Eh?” said Sir Thomas.

“I’ve been thinking it over, and I came to the conclusion that we
weren’t——Well, I broke off the engagement.”

Sir Thomas’s always prominent eyes protruded still farther. The colour
of his florid face deepened. Suddenly he chuckled.

Molly looked at him amazed. Sir Thomas was indeed behaving unexpectedly
to-night.

“I see it,” he wheezed. “You’re having a joke with me! So this is what
you were hatching as I came downstairs! Don’t tell me! If you had really
thrown him over you wouldn’t have been laughing together like that. It’s
no good, my dear. I might have been taken in if I had not seen you, but
I did.”

“No, no,” cried Molly. “You’re wrong—you’re quite wrong. When you saw us
we were just agreeing that we should be very good friends—that was all.
I broke off the engagement before that. I——”

She was aware that his lordship had emitted a hollow croak, but she took
it as his method of endorsing her statement—not as a warning.

“I wrote Lord Dreever a note this evening,” she went on, “telling him
that I couldn’t possibly——”

She broke off in alarm. With the beginning of her last speech Sir Thomas
had begun to swell, until now he looked as if he were in imminent danger
of bursting. His face was purple. To Molly’s lively imagination his eyes
appeared to move slowly out of his head, like a snail’s. From the back
of his throat came strange noises.

“S-s-so——” he stammered.

He gulped and tried again.

“So this,” he said, “so this—so that was what was in that letter, eh?”

Lord Dreever smiled weakly.

“Eh?” yelled Sir Thomas.

His lordship started convulsively.

“Er—yes,” he said. “Yes, yes—that was it, don’t you know!”

Sir Thomas eyed him with a baleful stare. Molly looked from one to the
other in bewilderment.

There was a pause, during which Sir Thomas seemed partially to recover
command of himself. Doubts as to the propriety of a family row in
mid-stairs appeared to occur to him. He moved forward.

“Come with me,” he said, with awful curtness.

His lordship followed bonelessly. Molly watched them go, and wondered
more than ever. There was something behind this. It was not merely the
breaking-off of the engagement that had roused Sir Thomas. He was not a
just man, but he was just enough to be able to see that the blame was
not Lord Dreever’s. There had been something more. She was puzzled.

In the hall Saunders was standing, weapon in hand, about to beat the
gong.

“Not yet!” snapped Sir Thomas. “Wait!”

Dinner had been ordered especially early that night because of the
theatricals. The necessity for strict punctuality had been straitly
enjoined upon Saunders. At some inconvenience he had ensured strict
punctuality. And now—— But we all have our cross to bear in this world.
Saunders bowed with dignified resignation.

Sir Thomas led the way into his study.

“Be so good as to close the door,” he said.

His lordship was so good.

Sir Thomas backed to the mantelpiece and stood there in the attitude
which for generations has been sacred to the elderly Briton—feet well
apart, hands clasped beneath his coat tails. His stare raked Lord
Dreever like a searchlight.

“Now, sir!” he said.

His lordship wilted before his gaze.

“The fact is, uncle——”

“Never mind the facts. I know them! What I require is an explanation.”

He spread his feet farther apart. The years had rolled back, and he was
plain Thomas Blunt again, of Blunt’s Stores, dealing with an erring
employé.

“You know what I mean,” he went on. “I am not referring to the
breaking-off of the engagement. What I insist upon learning is your
reason for failing to inform me earlier of the contents of that letter.”

His lordship said that somehow, don’t you know, there didn’t seem to be
a chance, you know. He had several times been on the point—but—well,
somehow—— Well, that’s how it was.

“No chance?” cried Sir Thomas. “Indeed! Why did you require that money I
gave you?”

“Oh—er—I wanted it for something.”

“Very possibly. For what?”

“I—the fact is, I owed it to a fellow.”

“Ha! How did you come to owe it?”

His lordship shuffled.

“You have been gambling,” boomed Sir Thomas. “Am I right?”

“No, no! I say, no, no. It wasn’t gambling—it was a game of skill. We
were playing piquet.”

“Kindly refrain from quibbling. You lost this money at cards, then, as I
supposed. Just so.”

He widened the space between his feet. He intensified his glare. He
might have been posing to an illustrator of _The Pilgrim’s Progress_ for
a picture of “Apollyon straddling right across the way”.

“So,” he said, “you deliberately concealed from me the contents of that
letter, in order that you might extract money from me under false
pretences? Don’t speak!” (his lordship had gurgled). “You did! Your
behaviour was that of a—of a——”

There was a very fair selection of evil-doers in all branches of
business from which to choose. He gave the preference to the race-track.

“Of a common welsher,” he concluded. “But I won’t put up with it. No;
not for an instant. I insist upon you returning that money to me here
and now. If you have not got it with you, go and fetch it.”

His lordship’s face betrayed the deepest consternation. He had been
prepared for much, but not for this. That he would have to undergo what,
in his school-days, he would have called a “jaw” was inevitable, and he
had been ready to go through with it. It might hurt his feelings,
possibly, but it would leave his purse intact. A ghastly development of
this kind he had not foreseen.

“But, I say, uncle!” he bleated.

Sir Thomas silenced him with a grand gesture.

Ruefully his lordship produced his little all. Sir Thomas took it with a
snort and went to the door.

Saunders was still brooding statuesquely over the gong.

“Sound it!” said Sir Thomas.

Saunders obeyed him with the air of an unleashed hound.

“And now,” said Sir Thomas, “go to my dressing-room and place these
notes in the small drawer of the table.”

The butler’s calm, expressionless, yet withal observant eye took in at a
glance the signs of trouble. Neither the inflated air of Sir Thomas nor
the punctured-balloon bearing of Lord Dreever escaped him.

“Something hup,” he said to his immortal soul as he moved upstairs.
“Been a fair old, rare old row, seems to me.”

He reserved his more polished periods for use in public. In conversation
with his immortal soul he was wont to unbend somewhat.



                                 ★ 24 ★
                         _The Treasure-Seeker_


Gloom wrapped his lordship about during dinner as with a garment. He
owed twenty pounds; his assets amounted to seven shillings and
fourpence. He thought, and thought again. Quite an intellectual pallor
began to appear on his normally pink cheeks. Saunders silently
sympathetic—he hated Sir Thomas as an interloper, and entertained for
his lordship, under whose father also he had served, a sort of paternal
fondness—was ever at his elbow with the magic bottle; and to Spennie,
emptying and re-emptying his glass almost mechanically, wine, the
healer, brought an idea. To obtain twenty pounds from any one person of
his acquaintance was impossible; to divide the twenty by four and
persuade a generous quartet to contribute five pounds apiece was more
feasible.

Hope began to stir within him again.

Immediately after dinner he began to flit about the castle like a family
spectre of active habits. The first person he met was Charteris.

“Halloa, Spennie!” said Charteris. “I wanted to see you. It is currently
reported that you are in love. At dinner you looked as if you had
influenza. What’s your trouble? For goodness’ sake bear up until the
show’s over. Don’t go swooning on the stage, or anything. Do you know
your lines?”

“The fact is,” said his lordship eagerly, “it’s this way. I happen to
want—— Can you lend me a fiver?”

“All I have in the world at this moment,” said Charteris, “is eleven
shillings and a postage-stamp. If the stamp would be of any use to you
as a start——No? You know, it’s from small beginnings like that great
fortunes are amassed. However——”

Two minutes later Lord Dreever had resumed his hunt.

The path of the borrower is a thorny one, especially if, as in the case
of Spennie, his reputation as a payer-back is not of the best.

Spennie, in his time, had extracted small loans from most of his male
acquaintances, rarely repaying the same. He had a tendency to forget
that he had borrowed half-a-crown here to pay a cab fare and ten
shillings there to settle up for a dinner; and his memory was not much
more retentive of larger sums. This made his friends somewhat wary. The
consequence was that the great treasure-hunt was a failure from start to
finish. He got friendly smiles, he got honeyed apologies, he got earnest
assurances of goodwill; but he got no money, except from Jimmy Pitt.

He had approached Jimmy in the early stages of the hunt and Jimmy, being
in the mood when he would have lent anything to anybody, yielded the
required five pounds without a murmur.

But what was five pounds? The garment of gloom and the intellectual
pallor were once more prominent when his lordship repaired to his room
to don the loud tweeds which, as Lord Herbert, he was to wear in the
first act.

There was a good deal to be said against stealing, as a habit; but it
cannot be denied that, in certain circumstances, it offers an admirable
solution of a financial difficulty, and, if the penalties were not so
exceedingly unpleasant, it is probable that it would become far more
fashionable than it is.

His lordship’s mind did not turn immediately to this outlet from his
embarrassment. He had never stolen before, and it did not occur to him
directly to do so now. There is a conservative strain in all of us. But
gradually, as it was borne in upon him that it was the only course
possible, unless he were to grovel before Hargate on the morrow and ask
for time to pay—an unthinkable alternative—he found himself
contemplating the possibility of having to secure the money by unlawful
means. By the time he had finished his theatrical toilet, he had
definitely decided that this was the only thing to be done.

His plan was simple. He knew where the money was—in the dressing-table
in Sir Thomas’s room. He had heard Saunders instructed to put it there.
What could be easier than to go and get it? Everything was in his
favour. Sir Thomas would be downstairs receiving his guests. The coast
would be clear. Why, it was like finding the money.

Besides, he reflected, as he worked his way through a bottle of Mumm
which he had had the forethought to abstract from the supper-table as a
nerve-steadier, it was not really stealing. Dash it all, the man had
given him the money! It was his own! He had half a mind—he poured
himself out another glass of the elixir—to give Sir Thomas a jolly good
talking to into the bargain. Yes, dash it all!

He pushed on his cuffs fiercely. The British lion was roused.

A man’s first crime is, as a rule, a shockingly amateurish affair. Now
and then, it is true, we find beginners forging with the accuracy of old
hands or breaking into houses with the finish of experts. But these are
isolated cases. The average tyro lacks generalship altogether. Spennie
Dreever may be cited as a typical novice. It did not strike him that
inquiries might be instituted by Sir Thomas when he found the money
gone, and that suspicion might conceivably fall upon himself. Courage
may be born of champagne, but rarely prudence.

The theatricals began at half-past eight with a duologue. The audience
had been hustled into their seats, happier than is usual in such
circumstances, owing to the rumour which had been circulated that the
proceedings were to terminate with an informal dance. The castle was
singularly well constructed for such a purpose. There was plenty of room
and a sufficiency of retreat for those who sat out, in addition to a
conservatory large enough to have married off half the couples in the
country.

Spennie’s idea had been to establish an alibi by mingling with the
throng for a few minutes, and then to get through his burglarious
speciality during the duologue, when his absence would not be noticed.
It might be that if he disappeared later in the evening people would
wonder what had become of him.

He lurked about till the last of the audience had taken their seats. As
he was moving off through the hall a hand fell upon his shoulder.
Conscience makes cowards of us all. Spennie bit his tongue and leaped
three inches into the air.

“Halloa, Charteris!” he said gaspingly.

Charteris appeared to be in a somewhat overwrought condition. Rehearsals
had turned him into a pessimist, and now that the actual moment of
production had arrived his nerves were in a thoroughly jumpy condition,
especially as the duologue was to begin in two minutes and the obliging
person who had undertaken to prompt had disappeared.

“Spennie,” said Charteris, “where are you off to?”

“What—what do you mean? I was just going upstairs.”

“No, you don’t. You’ve got to come and prompt. That fellow Blake has
vanished. I’ll wring his neck! Come along!”

Spennie went reluctantly. Half-way through the duologue the official
prompter returned, with the remark that he had been having a bit of a
smoke on the terrace and that his watch had gone wrong. Leaving him to
discuss the point with Charteris, Spennie slipped quietly away.

The delay, however, had had the effect of counteracting the uplifting
effects of the Mumm. The British lion required a fresh fillip. He went
to his room to administer it. By the time he emerged he was feeling just
right for the task in hand. A momentary doubt occurred to him whether it
would not be a good thing to go down and pull Sir Thomas’s nose as a
preliminary to the proceedings; but he put the temptation aside.
Business before pleasure.

With a jaunty, if somewhat unsteady, step he climbed the stairs to the
floor above, and made his way down the corridor to Sir Thomas’s room. He
switched on the light and went to the dressing-table. The drawer was
locked, but in his present mood Spennie, like Love, laughed at
locksmiths. He grasped the handle and threw his weight into a sudden
tug. The drawer came out with a report like a pistol-shot.

“There!” said his lordship, wagging his head severely.

In the drawer lay the four bank-notes. The sight of them brought back
his grievances with a rush. He would teach Sir Thomas to treat him like
a kid. He would show him!

He was removing the notes, frowning fiercely the while, when he heard a
cry of surprise from behind him.

He turned, to see Molly. She wore the costume of a stage milkmaid, and
her eyes were round with wonder. Leaving her room a few moments earlier,
after dressing for her part, she had almost reached the end of the
corridor that led to the landing when she observed his lordship, flashed
of face and moving like some restive charger, come curveting out of his
bedroom in a dazzling suit of tweeds and make his way upstairs. Ever
since their mutual encounter with Sir Thomas before dinner she had been
hoping for a chance of seeing him alone. She had not failed to notice
his depression during the meal, and her good little heart had been
troubled by the thought that she must have been responsible for it. She
knew that for some reason what she had said about the letter had brought
his lordship into his uncle’s bad books, and she wanted to find him and
say she was sorry.

Accordingly, she had followed him. His lordship, still in the war-horse
vein, had made the pace upstairs too hot, and had disappeared while she
was still half-way up. She had arrived at the top just in time to see
him turn down the passage into Sir Thomas’s dressing-room. She could not
think what his object might be. She knew that Sir Thomas was downstairs,
so it could not be with the idea of a chat with him that Spennie was
seeking the dressing-room.

Faint, yet pursuing, she followed on his trail, and arrived in the
doorway just as the pistol-report of the burst lock rang out.

She stood looking at him blankly. He was holding a drawer in one hand.
Why, she could not imagine.

“Lord Dreever!” she exclaimed.

The sombre determination of his lordship’s face melted into a twisted
but kindly smile.

“Good!” he said, perhaps a trifle thickly. “Good! Glad you’ve come—we’re
pals—you said so—on stairs—b’fore dinner. Very glad you’ve come. Won’t
you sit down?”

He waved the drawer benevolently, by way of making her free of the room.
The movement disturbed one of the bank-notes, which fluttered in Molly’s
direction and fell at her feet.

She stooped and picked it up. When she saw what it was her bewilderment
increased.

“But—but——” she said.

His lordship beamed upon her with a pebble-beached smile of
indescribable goodwill.

“Sit down,” he urged. “We’re pals—no quol with you—you’re good friend.
Quol—Uncle Thomas.”

“But, Lord Dreever, what are you doing? What was that noise I heard?”

“Opening drawer,” said his lordship affably.

“But——” She looked again at what she had in her hand. “But this is a
five pound note.”

“Five pound note,” said his lordship—“quite right. Three more of them in
here.”

Still she could not understand.

“But—— Were you—stealing them?”

His lordship drew himself up.

“No,” he said. “No! Not stealing. No.”

“Then——”

“Like this: before dinner old boy friendly as you please; couldn’t do
enough for me. Touched him for twenty of the best and got away with it.
So far all well. Then met you on stairs. You let cat out of bag.”

“But why? Surely——”

His lordship gave the drawer a dignified wave.

“Not blaming you,” he said magnanimously. “Not your fault—misfortune.
You didn’t know—about letter.”

“About the letter?” said Molly. “Yes; what was the trouble about the
letter? I knew something was wrong directly I had said that I wrote it.”

“Trouble was,” said his lordship, “that old boy thought it was love
letter. Didn’t undeceive him.”

“You didn’t tell him? Why?”

His lordship raised his eyebrows.

“Wanted touch him twenty of the best,” he explained simply.

For the life of her Molly could not help laughing.

“Don’t laugh,” protested his lordship, wounded. “No joke—serious—honour
at stake.”

He removed the three notes and replaced the drawer.

“Honour of the Dreevers!” he added, pocketing the money.

“But, Lord Dreever!” she cried. “You can’t! You mustn’t! You can’t be
going, really, to take that money? It’s stealing! It isn’t yours!”

His lordship wagged a forefinger very solemnly at her.

“That,” he said, “is where you make error. Mine! Old boy gave them to
me.”

“Gave them to you! Then why did you break open the drawer?”

“Old boy took them back again, when he found out about letter.”

“Then they don’t belong to you?”

“Yes. Error! They do. Moral right.”

Molly wrinkled her forehead in her agitation. Men of Lord Dreever’s type
appeal to the motherly instinct of women. As a man his lordship was a
negligible quantity—he did not count; but as a wilful child, to be kept
out of trouble, he had a claim on Molly.

She spoke soothingly.

“But, Lord Dreever——” she began.

“Call me Spennie,” he urged. “We’re pals. You said so—on stairs.
Everybody calls me Spennie, even Uncle Thomas. I’m going to pull his
nose,” he broke off suddenly, as one recollecting a forgotten
appointment.

“Spennie, then,” said Molly. “You mustn’t, Spennie. You mustn’t, really.
You——”

“You look rippin’ in that dress,” he said irrelevantly.

“Thank you, Spennie, dear. But listen.” She spoke as if she were
humouring a rebellious infant. “You really mustn’t take that money. You
must put it back. See, I’m putting this note back. Give me the others,
and I’ll put them in the drawer too. Then we’ll shut the drawer, and
nobody will know.”

She took the notes from him, and replaced them in the drawer. He watched
her thoughtfully, as if he were pondering the merits of her arguments.

“No,” he said suddenly. “No—must have them—moral right! Old boy——”

She pushed him gently away.

“Yes, yes, I know,” she said. “I know it’s a shame that you can’t have
them; but you mustn’t take them. Don’t you see that he would suspect you
the moment he found they were gone? And then you’d get into trouble.”

“Something in that,” admitted his lordship.

“Of course there is, Spennie, dear. I’m so glad you see. There they all
are, safe again in the drawer. Now we can go downstairs again, and——”

She stopped. She had closed the door earlier in the proceedings, but her
quick ear caught the sound of a footstep in the passage outside.

“Quick!” she whispered, taking his hand and darting to the electric
light switch. “Somebody’s coming. We mustn’t be caught here. They’d see
the broken drawer, and you’d get into awful trouble. Quick!”

She pushed him behind the curtain where the clothes hung, and switched
off the light.

From behind the curtain came the muffled voice of his lordship.

“It’s Uncle Thomas. I’m coming out. Pull his nose.”

“Be quiet!”

She sprang to the curtain and slipped noiselessly behind it.

“But, I say——” began his lordship.

“Hush!”

She gripped his arm. He subsided.

The footsteps had halted outside the door. Then the handle turned
softly. The door opened and closed again with hardly a sound.

The footsteps passed on into the room.



                                 ★ 25 ★
                   _Explanations and an Interruption_


Jimmy, like Lord Dreever, had been trapped at the beginning of the
duologue, and had not been able to get away till it was nearly over. He
had been introduced by Lady Julia to an elderly and adhesive baronet,
who had recently spent ten days in New York, and escape had not been won
without a struggle. The baronet, on his return to England had published
a book entitled “Modern America and its People” and it was with regard
to the opinions expressed in this volume that he invited Jimmy’s views.
He had no wish to see the duologue, and it was only after the loss of
much precious time that Jimmy was enabled to tear himself away on the
plea of having to dress. He anathematized the authority on “Modern
America and its People” freely as he ran upstairs.

While the duologue was in progress there had been no chance of Sir
Thomas taking it into his head to visit his dressing-room. He had been,
as his valet detective had observed to Mr. Galer, too busy jollying
among the swells. It would only be the work of a few moments restoring
the necklace to its place. But for the tenacity of the elderly baronet
the thing would have been done by this time. But now there was no
knowing what might not happen—anybody might come along the passage and
see him.

He had one point in his favour: there was no likelihood of the jewels
being required by their owner till the conclusion of the theatricals.
The part which Lady Julia had been persuaded by Charteris to play
mercifully contained no scope for the display of gems.

Before going down to dinner he had locked up the necklace in a drawer.
It was still there, Spike having, apparently, been able to resist the
temptation of recapturing it. He took it out and went into the corridor.
He looked up and down it. There was nobody about. He shut his door and
walked quickly in the direction of the dressing-room.

He had provided himself with a lamp from a bicycle belonging to one of
the grooms. Once inside, having closed the door, he lit this and looked
about him.

Spike had given him minute directions as to the position of the jewel
box. He found it without difficulty. To his untrained eye it seemed
tolerably massive and impregnable, but Spike had evidently known how to
open it without much difficulty. The lid was shut, but it came up
without an effort when he tried to raise it, and he saw that the lock
had been broken.

“Spike’s coming on!” he said.

He was dangling the necklace over the box, preparatory to dropping it
in, when there was a quick rustle at the other side of the room. The
curtain was plucked aside and Molly came out.

“Jimmy!” she cried.

Jimmy’s nerves were always in pretty good order, but at the sight of
this apparition he certainly jumped.

“Great Scot!” he said.

The curtain again became agitated by some unseen force, violently this
time, and from its depths a plaintive voice made itself heard.

“Dash it all,” said the voice, “I’ve stuck!”

There was another upheaval, and his lordship emerged, his yellow locks
ruffled and upstanding, his face crimson.

“Caught my head in a coat or something,” he explained at large. “Halloa,
Pitt!”

Pressed rigid against the wall, Molly had listened with growing
astonishment to the movements on the other side of the curtain. Her
mystification deepened every moment. It seemed to her that the room was
still in darkness. She could hear the sound of breathing; and then the
light of the lantern caught her eye. Who could this be, and why had he
not switched on the electric light?

She strained her ears to catch a sound. For a while she heard nothing
except the soft breathing. Then came a voice that she knew well; and,
abandoning her hiding-place, she came out into the room, and found Jimmy
standing with a lamp in his hand over some dark object in the corner of
the room.

It was a full minute after Jimmy’s first exclamation of surprise before
either of them spoke again. The light of the lamp hurt Molly’s eyes. She
put up a hand to shade them. It seemed to her that they had been
standing like this for years.

Jimmy had not moved. There was something in his attitude which filled
Molly with a vague fear. In the shadow behind the lamp he looked
shapeless and inhuman.

“You’re hurting my eyes,” she said at last.

“I’m sorry,” said Jimmy. “I didn’t think. Is that better?” He turned the
light from her face. Something in his voice and the apologetic haste
with which he moved the lamp seemed to relax the strain of the
situation. The feeling of stunned surprise began to leave her. She found
herself thinking coherently again.

The relief was but momentary. Why was Jimmy in the room at that time?
Why had he a lamp? What had he been doing? The questions shot from her
brain like sparks from an anvil.

The darkness began to tear at her nerves. She felt along the wall for
the switch and flooded the room with light.

Jimmy laid down the lantern and stood for a moment undecided. He had
concealed the necklace behind him. Now he brought it forward and dangled
it silently before the eyes of Molly and his lordship. Excellent as were
his motives for being in that room with the necklace in his hand, he
could not help feeling, as he met Molly’s startled gaze, quite as guilty
as if his intentions had been quite different.

His lordship, having by this time pulled himself together to some
extent, was the first to speak.

“I say, you know, what ho!” he observed, not without emotion. “What?”

Molly drew back.

“Jimmy! You were——. Oh, you can’t have been!”

“Looks jolly like it!” said his lordship judicially.

“I wasn’t,” said Jimmy. “I was putting them back.”

“Putting them back?”

“Pitt, old man,” said his lordship solemnly, “that sounds a bit thin.”

“Dreever, old man,” said Jimmy, “I know it does. But it’s the truth.”

His lordship’s manner became kindly.

“Now, look here, Pitt, old son,” he said. “There’s nothing to worry
about—we’re all pals here—you can pitch it straight to us. We won’t give
you away. We——”

“Be quiet!” cried Molly. “Jimmy!”

Her voice was strained; she spoke with an effort; she was suffering
torments. The words her father had said to her on the terrace were
pouring back into her mind. She seemed to hear his voice now, cool and
confident, warning her against Jimmy, saying that he was crooked. There
was a curious whirring in her head. Everything in the room was growing
large and misty. She heard Lord Dreever begin to say something that
sounded as if some one were speaking at the end of a telephone; and then
she was aware that Jimmy was holding her in his arms and calling to Lord
Dreever to bring water.

“When a girl goes like that,” said his lordship, with an insufferable
air of omniscience, “you want to cut her——”

“Come along!” said Jimmy. “Are you going to be a week getting that
water?”

His lordship proceeded to soak a sponge without further parley; but as
he carried his dripping burden across the room Molly recovered. She
tried weakly to free herself.

Jimmy helped her to a chair. He had dropped the necklace on the floor,
and Lord Dreever nearly trod on it.

“What ho!” observed his lordship, picking it up. “Go easy with the
jewellery!”

Jimmy was bending over Molly. Neither of them seemed to be aware of his
lordship’s presence. Spennie was the sort of person whose existence is
apt to be forgotten. Jimmy had had a flash of intuition. For the first
time it occurred to him that Mr. McEachern might have hinted to Molly
something of his own suspicions.

“Molly, dear,” he said, “it isn’t what you think. I can explain
everything. Do you feel better now? Can you listen? I can explain
everything.”

“Pitt, old boy,” protested his lordship, “you don’t understand. We
aren’t going to give you away. We’re all——”

Jimmy ignored him.

“Molly, listen,” he said.

She sat up.

“Go on, Jimmy,” she said.

“I wasn’t stealing the necklace—I was putting it back. The man who came
to the castle with me, Spike Mullins, took it this afternoon and brought
it to me.”

Spike Mullins! Molly remembered the name.

“He thinks I am a crook—a sort of Raffles. It was my fault. I was a
fool. It all began that night in New York when we met at your house. I
had been to the opening performance of a play called _Love, the
Cracksman_—one of those burglar plays.”

“Jolly good show!” interpolated his lordship chattily. “It was at the
Circle over here. I went twice.”

“A friend of mine, a man named Mifflin, had been playing the hero in it,
and after the show, at the club, he started in talking about the art of
burglary—he’d been studying it—and I said that anybody could burgle a
house. And in another minute it somehow happened that I had made a bet
that I would do it that night. Heaven knows whether I ever really meant
to; but that same night this man Mullins broke into my flat, and I
caught him. We got into conversation, and I worked off on him a lot of
technical stuff I’d heard from this actor friend of mine, and he jumped
to the conclusion that I was an expert. And then it suddenly occurred to
me that it would be a good joke on Mifflin if I went out with Mullins
and did break into a house. I wasn’t in the mood to think what a fool I
was at the time. Well, anyway, we went out, and—well, that’s how it all
happened. And then I met Spike in London, down and out, and brought him
here.”

He looked at her anxiously. It did not need his lordship’s owlish
expression of doubt to tell him how weak his story must sound. He had
felt it even as he was telling it. He was bound to admit that if ever a
story rang false in every sentence it was this one.

“Pitt, old man,” said his lordship, shaking his head, more in sorrow
than in anger, “it won’t do, old top. What’s the point of putting up any
old yarn like that? Don’t you see, what I mean is, it’s not as if we
minded. Don’t I keep telling you we’re all pals here? I’ve often thought
what a jolly good feller old Raffles was—regular sportsman. I don’t
blame a chappie for doing the gentleman burglar touch. Seems to me it’s
a dashed sporting——”

Molly turned on him suddenly, cutting short his views on the ethics of
gentlemanly theft in a blaze of indignation.

“What do you mean?” she cried. “Do you think I don’t believe every word
Jimmy has said?”

His lordship jumped.

“Well, don’t you know, it seemed to me a bit thin. What I mean is——” He
met Molly’s eye.

“Oh, well!” he concluded lamely.

Molly turned to Jimmy.

“Jimmy, of course I believe you—I believe every word.”

“Molly!”

His lordship looked on, marvelling. The thought crossed his mind that he
had lost the ideal wife. A girl who would believe any old yarn a feller
cared to—— If it hadn’t been for Katie—— For a moment he felt almost
sad.

Jimmy and Molly were looking at each other in silence. From the
expression on their faces his lordship gathered that his existence had
once more been forgotten. He saw her hold out her hands to Jimmy. It was
embarrassing for a chap! He looked away.

The next moment the door opened and closed again, and she had gone.

He looked at Jimmy. Jimmy was still apparently unconscious of his
presence.

His lordship coughed.

“Pitt, old man——”

“Halloa!” said Jimmy, coming out of his thoughts with a start. “You
still here? By the way”—he eyed Lord Dreever curiously—“I never thought
of asking before—what on earth are you doing here? Why were you behind
the curtain? Were you playing hide and seek?”

His lordship was not one of those who invent circumstantial stories
easily on the spur of the moment. He searched rapidly for something that
would pass muster, then abandoned the hopeless struggle. After all, why
not be frank? He still believed Jimmy to be of the class of the hero of
_Love, the Cracksman_. There would be no harm in confiding in him. He
was a good fellow, a kindred soul, and would sympathise.

“It’s like this,” he said. And, having prefaced his narrative with the
sound remark that he had been a bit of an ass, he gave Jimmy a summary
of recent events.

“What!” said Jimmy. “You taught Hargate piquet? Why, my dear man, he was
playing piquet like a professor when you were in short frocks. He’s a
wonder at it.”

His lordship stared.

“How’s that?” he said. “You don’t know him, do you?”

“I met him in New York at the Strollers’ Club. A pal of mine, an
actor—this fellow Mifflin I mentioned just now—put him up as a guest. He
coined money at piquet. And there were some pretty useful players in the
place, too. I don’t wonder you found him a promising pupil.”

“Then—then—why, dash it! then he’s a bally sharper?”

“You’re a genius at crisp description,” said Jimmy. “You’ve got him
summed up to rights first shot.”

“I shan’t pay him a bally penny.”

“Of course not. If he makes any objection refer him to me.”

His lordship’s relief was extreme. The more overpowering effects of the
elixir had passed away, and he saw now what he had not seen in his more
exuberant frame of mind—the cloud of suspicion which must hang over him
when the loss of the bank-notes was discovered.

He wiped his forehead.

“By Jove!” he said. “That’s something off my mind! By George, I feel
like a two year old! I say, you’re a dashed good sort, Pitt.”

“You flatter me,” said Jimmy. “I strive to please.”

“I say, Pitt, that yarn you told us just now—the bet and all
that—honestly, you don’t mean to say that was true, was it? I mean—— By
Jove! I’ve got an idea.”

“We live in stirring times!”

“Did you say your actor pal’s name was Mifflin?” He broke off suddenly
before Jimmy could answer. “Great Scot!” he whispered, “what’s that?
Good lord! Somebody’s coming!”

He dived behind the curtain like a rabbit. It had only just ceased to
shake when the door opened and Sir Thomas Blunt walked in.



                                 ★ 26 ★
                    _Stirring Times for Sir Thomas_


For a man whose intentions towards the jewels and their owner were so
innocent, and even benevolent, Jimmy was in a singularly compromising
position. It would have been difficult, even under more favourable
conditions, to have explained to Sir Thomas’s satisfaction his presence
in the dressing-room. As things stood it was even harder, for his
lordship’s last action before seeking cover had been to fling the
necklace from him like a burning coal. For the second time in ten
minutes it had fallen to the carpet, and it was just as Jimmy
straightened himself after picking it up that Sir Thomas got a full view
of him.

The knight stood in the doorway, his face expressing the most lively
astonishment. His bulging eyes were fixed upon the necklace in Jimmy’s
hand. Jimmy could see him struggling to find words to cope with so
special a situation, and he felt rather sorry for him. Excitement of
this kind was bad for a short-necked man of Sir Thomas’s type.

With kindly tact he endeavoured to help him out.

“Good evening,” he said pleasantly.

Sir Thomas stammered. He was gradually nearing speech.

“What—what—what——” he said.

“Out with it,” said Jimmy.

“What——”

“I knew a man once in South Dakota who stammered,” said Jimmy. “He used
to chew dog-biscuit while he was speaking. It cured him, besides being
nutritious. Another good way is to count ten while you’re thinking what
to say, and then get it out quick.”

“You—you blackguard!”

Jimmy placed the necklace carefully on the dressing-table. Then he
turned to Sir Thomas, with his hands in the pockets of his coat. Over
the knight’s head he could see the folds of the curtain quivering
gently, as if stirred by some zephyr. Evidently the drama of the
situation was not lost on Hildebrand Spencer, twelfth Earl of Dreever.

Nor was it lost on Jimmy. This was precisely the sort of situation that
appealed to him. He had his plan of action clearly mapped out. He knew
that it would be useless to tell the knight the true facts of the case.
Sir Thomas was as deficient in simple faith as in Norman blood.

To all appearances this was a tight corner, but Jimmy fancied that he
saw his way out of it. Meanwhile, the situation appealed to him.
Curiously enough, it was almost identical with the big scene in Act III
of _Love, the Cracksman_ in which Arthur Mifflin had made such a hit as
the debonair burglar.

Jimmy proceeded to give his own idea of what the rendering of a debonair
burglar should be. Arthur Mifflin had lit a cigarette, and had shot out
smoke-rings and repartee alternately. A cigarette would have been a
great help here, but Jimmy prepared to do his best without properties.

“So—so it’s you, is it?” said Sir Thomas.

“Who told you!”

“Thief! Low thief!”

“Come, now,” protested Jimmy. “Why low? Just because you don’t know me
over here, why scorn me? How do you know I haven’t got a big American
reputation? For all you can tell, I may be Boston Willie or Sacramento
Sam, or some one. Let us preserve the decencies of debate.”

“I had my suspicions of you. I had my suspicions from the first, when I
heard that my idiot of a nephew had made a casual friend in London. So
this was what you were! A thief, who——”

“I don’t mind personally,” interrupted Jimmy, “but I hope, if ever you
mix with cracksmen, you won’t call them thieves. They are frightfully
sensitive. You see, there’s a world of difference between the two
branches of the profession, and a good deal of snobbish caste prejudice.
Let us suppose that you were an actor-manager. How would you enjoy being
called a super? You see the idea, don’t you? You’d hurt their feelings.
Now, an ordinary thief would probably use violence in a case like this;
but violence, except in extreme cases—I hope this won’t be one of
them—is contrary, I understand, to cracksmen’s etiquette. On the other
hand, Sir Thomas, candour compels me to add that I have you covered.”

There was a pipe in the pocket of his coat. He thrust the stem earnestly
against the lining. Sir Thomas eyed the protuberance apprehensively, and
turned a little pale. Jimmy was scowling ferociously. Arthur Mifflin’s
scowl in Act III had been much admired.

“My gun,” said Jimmy, “is, as you see, in my pocket. I always shoot from
the pocket, in spite of the tailor’s bills. The little fellow is loaded
and cocked. He’s pointing straight at your diamond solitaire. That fatal
spot! No one has ever been hit in the diamond solitaire and survived. My
finger is on the trigger, so I should recommend you not to touch that
bell you are looking at. There are other reasons why you shouldn’t, but
those I will go into presently.”

Sir Thomas’s hand wavered.

“Do, if you like, of course,” said Jimmy agreeably—“it’s your own
house—but I shouldn’t. I am a dead shot at a yard and a half. You
wouldn’t believe the number of sitting haystacks I’ve picked off at that
distance. I simply can’t miss. On second thoughts, I sha’n’t fire to
kill you. Let us be humane on this joyful occasion. I shall just smash
your knees—painful, but not fatal.”

He waggled his pipe suggestively. Sir Thomas blanched. His hand fell to
his side.

“Great!” said Jimmy. “After all, why should you be in a hurry to break
up this very pleasant little meeting? I’m sure I’m not. Let us chat. How
are the theatricals going? Was the duologue a success? Wait till you see
our show. Three of us knew our lines at the dress rehearsal.”

Sir Thomas had backed away from the bell, but the retreat was merely for
the convenience of the moment. He understood that it might be injurious
to press the button just then; but he had recovered his composure by
this time, and he saw that ultimately the game must be his.

Jimmy was trapped.

His face resumed its normal hue. Automatically his hands began to move
towards his coat-tails and his feet to spread themselves. Jimmy noted
with a smile these signs of restored complacency. He hoped ere long to
upset that complacency somewhat.

Sir Thomas addressed himself to making Jimmy’s position clear to him.

“How, may I ask,” he said, “do you propose to leave the castle?”

“Won’t you let me have the motor?” said Jimmy. “But I expect I sha’n’t
be leaving just yet.”

Sir Thomas laughed shortly.

“No,” he said. “No; I fancy not. I am with you there!”

“Great minds,” said Jimmy. “I shouldn’t be surprised if we thought alike
on all sorts of subjects. Just think how you came round to my views on
ringing the bell. In a flash! But what made you fancy that I intended to
leave the castle?”

“I should hardly have supposed that you would be anxious to stay.”

“On the contrary. It’s the one place I have been in in the last two
years that I have felt really satisfied with. Usually I want to move on
after a week. But I could stop here for ever.”

“I am afraid, Mr. Pitt—by the way, an alias, of course?”

“I fear not,” he said. “If I had chosen an alias, it would have been
Tressilyan, or Trevelyan, or something. I call Pitt a poor thing in
names. I once knew a man called Ronald Cheylesmore. Lucky fellow!”

Sir Thomas returned to the point on which he had been about to touch.

“I am afraid, Mr. Pitt, that you hardly realise your position.”

“No?” said Jimmy, interested.

“I find you in the act of stealing my wife’s necklace——”

“Would there be any use in telling you that I was not stealing it, but
putting it back?”

Sir Thomas raised his eyebrows in silence.

“No?” said Jimmy. “I was afraid not. You were saying——”

“I find you in the act of stealing my wife’s necklace,” proceeded Sir
Thomas, “and because for the moment you succeed in postponing arrest by
threatening me with a revolver——”

An agitated look came into Jimmy’s face.

“Great Scott!” he cried. He felt hastily in his pocket. “Yes,” he said;
“as I had begun to fear. I owe you an apology, Sir Thomas,” he went on
with manly dignity, producing the briar. “I am entirely to blame. How
the mistake arose I cannot imagine, but I find it isn’t a revolver after
all.”

Sir Thomas’s cheeks took on a richer tint of purple. He glared dumbly at
the pipe.

“In the excitement of the moment, I suppose——” began Jimmy.

Sir Thomas interrupted. The recollection of his needless panic rankled
within him.

“You—you—you——”

“Count ten!”

“You—what you propose to gain by this buffoonery I am at a loss——”

“How can you say such savage things?” protested Jimmy. “Not buffoonery!
Wit! Esprit! Flow of soul such as circulates daily in the best society.”

Sir Thomas almost leaped towards the bell. With his finger on it, he
turned to deliver a final speech.

“I believe you’re insane,” he cried; “but I’ll have no more of it. I
have endured this foolery long enough. I’ll——”

“Just one moment,” said Jimmy. “I said just now that there were other
reasons besides the revol—well, pipe—why you should not ring that bell.
One of them is that all the servants will be in their places in the
audience, so that there won’t be any one to answer it. But that’s not
the most convincing reason. Will you listen to one more before getting
busy?”

“I see your game. Don’t imagine for a moment that you trick me.”

“Nothing could be further——”

“You fancy you can gain time by talking, and find some way of escape——”

“But I don’t want to escape. Don’t you realise that in about ten minutes
I am due to play an important part in a great drama on the stage?”

“I’ll keep you here, I tell you. You’ll leave this room,” said Sir
Thomas grandly, “over my body.”

“Steeplechasing in the home,” murmured Jimmy. “No more dull evenings.
But listen—do listen. I won’t keep you a minute, and if you want to push
that bell after I’ve finished, you may push it six inches into the wall
if you like.”

“Well?” said Sir Thomas shortly.

“Would you like me to lead gently up to what I want to say, gradually
preparing you for the reception of the news, or shall I——”

The knight took out his watch.

“I shall give you one minute,” he said.

“Heavens, I must hustle! How many seconds have I got now?”

“If you have anything to say, say it.”

“Very well, then,” said Jimmy. “It’s only this. That necklace is a
fraud. The diamonds aren’t diamonds at all. They’re paste!”



                                 ★ 27 ★
                    _A Declaration of Independence_


If Jimmy had entertained any doubts concerning the effectiveness of this
disclosure, they would have vanished at the sight of the other’s face.
Just as the rich hues of a sunset pale slowly into an almost
imperceptible green, so did the purple of Sir Thomas’s cheeks become, in
stages, first a dull red, then pink, and finally take on a uniform
pallor. His mouth hung open. His attitude of righteous defiance had
crumpled. Unsuspected creases appeared in his clothes. He had the
appearance of one who has been caught in the machinery.

Jimmy was a little puzzled. He had expected to check the enemy, to bring
him to reason, but not to demolish him in that way. There was something
in this which he did not understand. When Spike had handed him the
stones, and his trained eye, after a moment’s searching examination, had
made him suspicious, and when, finally, a simple test had proved his
suspicions correct, he was comfortably aware that, though found with the
necklace on his person, he had knowledge which, communicated to Sir
Thomas, would serve him well. He knew that Lady Julia was not the sort
of Lady who would bear calmly the announcement that her treasured rope
of diamonds was a fraud. He knew enough of her to know that she would
demand another necklace, and see that she got it, and that Sir Thomas
was not one of those generous and expansive natures which think nothing
of an expenditure of twenty thousand pounds.

This was the line of thought which had kept him cheerful during what
might otherwise have been a trying interview. He was aware from the
first that Sir Thomas would not believe in the purity of his motives;
but he was convinced that the knight would be satisfied to secure his
silence on the subject of the paste necklace on any terms. He had looked
forward to baffled rage, furious denunciation, and a dozen other
expressions of emotion, but certainly not to collapse of this kind.

The other had begun to make strange, gurgling noises.

“Mind you,” said Jimmy, “it’s a very good imitation—I’ll say that for
it. I didn’t suspect it till I had the thing in my hands. Looking at
it—even quite close—I was taken in for a moment.”

Sir Thomas swallowed nervously.

“How did you know?” he muttered.

Again Jimmy was surprised. He had expected indignant denials and demands
for proof, excited reiteration of the statement that the stones had cost
twenty thousand pounds.

“How did I know?” he repeated. “If you mean what first made me suspect,
I couldn’t tell you; it might have been one of a score of things. A
jeweller can’t say exactly how he gets on the track of faked stones. He
can feel them, he can almost smell them. I worked with a jeweller once;
that’s how I got my knowledge of jewels. But if you mean, can I prove
what I say about this necklace, that’s easy. There’s no deception; it’s
simple. See here. These stones are supposed to be diamonds. Well, the
diamond is the hardest stone in existence—nothing will scratch it. Now,
I’ve got a little ruby out of a pin which I know is genuine. By rights,
then, that ruby ought not to have scratched these stones. You follow
that? But it did. It scratched two of them, the only two I tried. If you
like I can continue the experiment, but there’s no need. I can tell you
straight away what these stones are. I said they were paste, but that
wasn’t quite accurate. They’re a stuff called white jargoon. It’s a
stuff that’s very easily worked. You work it with the flame of a
blow-pipe. You don’t want a full description, I suppose? Anyway, what
happens is that the blow-pipe sets it up like a tonic, gives it
increased specific gravity, and a healthy complexion, and all sorts of
great things of that kind. Two minutes in the flame of a blow-pipe is
like a week at the seaside to a bit of white jargoon. Are you satisfied?
If it comes to that, I suppose you can hardly be expected to be;
convinced is a better word. Are you convinced, or do you hanker after
tests like polarised light and refracting liquids?”

Sir Thomas had staggered to a chair.

“So that was how you knew!” he said.

“That was—” began Jimmy, when a sudden suspicion flashed across his
mind. He scrutinised Sir Thomas’s pallid face keenly.

“Did you know?” he asked.

He wondered that the possibility had not occurred to him earlier.

“By George, I believe you did!” he cried. “You must have done. So that’s
how it happened, is it? I don’t wonder it was a shock when I said I knew
about the necklace.”

“Mr. Pitt!”

“Well?”

“I have something to say to you.”

“I’m listening.”

Sir Thomas tried to rally. There was a touch of the old pomposity in his
manner when he spoke.

“Mr. Pitt, I find you in an unpleasant position——”

Jimmy interrupted.

“Don’t you worry about my unpleasant position,” he said. “Fix your
attention exclusively upon your own. Let us be frank with one another.
You’re in the cart. What do you propose to do about it?”

“I do not understand you,” he began.

“No?” said Jimmy. “I’ll try and make my meaning clear. Correct me from
time to time if I am wrong. The way I size the thing up is as follows:
When you married Lady Julia I gather that it was, so to speak, up to you
to some extent. People knew you were a millionaire, and they expected
something special in the way of gifts from the bridegroom to the bride.
Now you, being of a prudent and economical nature, began to wonder if
there wasn’t some way of getting a reputation for lavishness without
actually cashing up to any great extent. Am I right?”

Sir Thomas did not answer.

“I am,” said Jimmy. “Well, it occurred to you, naturally enough, that a
properly-selected gift of jewellery might work the trick. It only needed
a little nerve. When you give a present of diamonds to a lady she is not
likely to call for polarised light and refracting liquids and the rest
of the circus. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred she will take the
thing on trust. Very well. You trotted off to a jeweller and put the
thing to him confidentially. I expect you suggested paste; but, being a
wily person, he pointed out that paste has a habit of not wearing well.
It is pretty enough when it’s new, but quite a small amount of ordinary
wear and tear destroys the polish of the surface and the sharpness of
the cutting. It gets scratched easily. Having heard this, and reflected
that Lady Julia was not likely to keep the necklace under a glass case,
you rejected paste as too risky. The genial jeweller then suggested
white jargoon, mentioning, as I have done, that after an application or
so of the blow-pipe its own mother wouldn’t know it. If he was a bit of
an antiquary, he probably added that in the eighteenth century jargoon
stones were supposed to be actually an inferior sort of diamond. What
could be more suitable? ‘Make it jargoon, dear heart,’ you cried
joyfully, and all was well. Am I right? I notice that you have not
corrected me so far.”

Whether Sir Thomas would have replied in the affirmative is uncertain.
He was opening his mouth to speak when the curtain at the end of the
room heaved, and Lord Dreever burst out like a cannon-ball in tweeds.

The apparition effectually checked any speech that Sir Thomas might have
been intending to make. Lying back in his chair, he goggled silently at
the new arrival. Even Jimmy, though knowing that his lordship was in
hiding, was taken aback.

His lordship broke the silence.

“Great Scot!” he cried.

Neither Jimmy nor Sir Thomas seemed to consider the observation unsound
or inadequate. They permitted it to pass without comment.

“You old scoundrel!” added his lordship, addressing Sir Thomas; “and
you’re the man who called me a welsher!” There were signs of a flicker
of spirit in the knight’s prominent eyes, but they died away. He made no
reply.

“Great Scot!” moaned his lordship, in a fever of self-pity, “here have I
been all these years letting you give me Hades in every shape and form,
when all the while—— My goodness, if I’d only known earlier!”

He turned to Jimmy.

“Pitt, old man,” he said warmly, “I—dash it—I don’t know what to say. If
it hadn’t been for you—I always did like Americans.”

“I’m not one,” said Jimmy; but his lordship went on, unchecked.

“I always thought it bally rot that that fuss happened in—in—wherever it
was. If it hadn’t been for fellows like you,” he continued, addressing
Sir Thomas once more, “there wouldn’t have been any of that frightful
Declaration of Independence business. Would there, Pitt, old man?”

These were deep problems too spacious for casual examination. Jimmy
shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, I should say Sir Thomas might not have got along with George
Washington, anyhow,” he said.

“Of course not. Well”—his lordship moved towards the door—“I’m off
downstairs to see what Aunt Julia has to say about it all.”

A shudder, as if from some electric shock shook Sir Thomas. He leaped to
his feet.

“Spencer,” he cried, “I forbid you to say a word to your aunt.”

“Oh!” said his lordship. “You do, do you?”

Sir Thomas shivered.

“She would never let me hear the last of it.”

“I bet she wouldn’t. I’ll go and see.”

“Stop!”

“Well?”

Sir Thomas dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief. He dared not
face the vision of Lady Julia in possession of the truth. At one time
the fear lest she might discover the harmless little deception he had
practised had kept him awake at night, but gradually, as the days went
by, and the excellence of the imitation stones had continued to impose
upon her and upon every one else who saw them, the fear had diminished.
But it had always been at the back of his mind. Even in her calmer
moments his wife was a source of mild terror to him. His imagination
reeled at the thought of what depths of aristocratic scorn and
indignation she would plumb in a case like this.

“Spencer,” he said, “I insist that you shall not inform your aunt of
this!”

“What? You want me to keep my mouth shut? You want me to become an
accomplice in this beastly, low-down deception? I like that!”

“The point,” said Jimmy, “is well taken—_noblesse oblige_, and all that
sort of thing. The blood of the Dreevers boils furiously at the idea.
Listen! You can hear it sizzling.”

Lord Dreever moved a step nearer the door.

“Stop!” cried Sir Thomas again. “Spencer!”

“Well?”

“Spencer, my boy, it occurs to me that perhaps I have not always treated
you very well.”

“‘Perhaps!’ ‘Not always!’ Great Scot! I’ll have a fiver each way on both
those. Considering you’ve treated me like a frightful kid practically
ever since you’ve known me, I call that pretty rich. Why, what about
this very night, when I asked you for a few pounds?”

“It was only the thought that you had been gambling——”

“Gambling! How about palming off faked diamonds on Aunt Julia for a
gamble?”

“A game of skill, surely,” murmured Jimmy.

“I have been thinking the matter over,” said Sir Thomas, “and if you
really need the—— Was it not fifty pounds?”

“It was twenty,” said his lordship, “and I don’t need it. Keep it.
You’ll want all you can save for a new necklace.”

His fingers closed on the door-handle.

“Spencer—stop!”

“Well?”

“We must talk this over. We must not be hasty.”

He passed the handkerchief over his forehead.

“In the past, perhaps,” he resumed, “our relations have not been quite——
The fault was mine. I have always endeavoured to do my duty. It is a
difficult task to look after a young man of your age——”

His lordship’s sense of his grievances made him eloquent.

“Dash it all!” he cried. “That’s just what I jolly well complain of. Who
the dickens wanted you to look after me? Hang it! you’ve kept your eye
on me all these years like a frightful policeman! You cut off my
allowance right in the middle of my time at the ’Varsity, just when I
needed it most, and I had to come and beg for money whenever I wanted to
buy a cigarette. I looked a fearful ass I can tell you! Men who knew me
used to be dashed funny about it. I’m sick of the whole bally business.
You’ve given me a jolly thin time all this while, and now I’m going to
get a bit of my own back. Wouldn’t you, Pitt, old man?”

Jimmy, thus suddenly appealed to, admitted that, in his lordship’s
place, he might have experienced a momentary temptation to do something
of the kind.

“Of course,” said his lordship. “Any fellow would.”

“But, Spencer, let me——”

“You’ve soured my life,” said his lordship, frowning a tense, Byronic
frown. “That’s what you’ve done—soured my whole bally life. I’ve had a
rotten time. I’ve had to go about touching my friends for money to keep
me going. Why, I owe you a fiver, don’t I, Pitt, old man?”

It was a tenner, to be finickingly accurate about details, but Jimmy did
not say so. He concluded, rightly, that the memory of the original five
pounds which he had lent Lord Dreever at the Savoy Hotel had faded from
the other’s mind.

“Don’t mention it,” he said.

“But I do mention it,” protested his lordship shrilly. “It just proves
what I say. If I had had a decent allowance it wouldn’t have happened.
And you wouldn’t give me enough to set me going in the Diplomatic
Service. That’s another thing. Why wouldn’t you do that?”

Sir Thomas pulled himself together.

“I hardly thought you qualified, my dear boy.”

His lordship did not actually foam at the mouth, but he looked as if he
might do so at any moment. Excitement and the memory of his wrongs,
lubricated, as it were, by the champagne he had consumed both at and
after dinner, had produced in him a frame of mind far removed from the
normal. His manners no longer had that repose which stamps the caste of
Vere de Vere. He waved his hands.

“I know, I know!” he shouted. “I know you didn’t. You thought me a
fearful fool. I tell you I’m sick of it. And always trying to make me
marry money! Dashed humiliating! If she hadn’t been a jolly sensible
girl you’d have spoiled Miss McEachern’s life as well as mine. You came
very near it. I tell you, I’ve had enough of it. I’m in love! I’m in
love with the rippingest girl in England. You’ve seen her, Pitt, old
top. Isn’t she a ripper?”

Jimmy stamped the absent lady with the seal of his approval.

“I tell you, if she’ll have me, I’m going to marry her.”

The dismay written on every inch of Sir Thomas’s countenance became
intensified at these terrific words. Great as had been his contempt for
the actual holder of the title considered simply as a young man, he had
always been filled with a supreme respect for the Dreever name.

“But, Spencer,” he almost howled, “consider your position! You cannot——”

“Can’t I, by Jove! if she’ll have me; and dash my position! What’s my
position got to do with it? Katie’s the daughter of a general, if it
comes to that. Her brother was at the House with me. If I had a penny to
call my own I’d have asked her to marry me ages ago. Don’t you worry
about my position!”

Sir Thomas croaked feebly.

“Now, look here,” said his lordship, with determination. “Here’s the
whole thing in a jolly old nutshell. If you want me to forget about this
little flutter in fake diamonds of yours you’ve got to pull your socks
up and start in to do things. You’ve got to get me attached to some
Embassy, for a beginning. It won’t be difficult. There’s dozens of old
boys in London who knew the governor when he was alive who will jump at
the chance of doing me a good turn. I know I’m a bit of an ass in some
ways, but that’s expected of you in the Diplomatic Service. They only
want you to wear evening clothes as if you were used to them, and be a
bit of a flier at dancing, and I can fill the bill all right as far as
that goes. And you’ve got to give your jolly old blessing to Katie and
me—if she’ll have me. That’s about all I can think of for the moment.
Now do we go? Are you on?”

“It’s preposterous,” began Sir Thomas.

Lord Dreever gave the door-handle a rattle. He stopped.

“It’s a hold-up all right,” said Jimmy soothingly. “I don’t want to butt
in on a family conclave, but my advice, if asked, would be to unbelt
before the shooting begins. You’ve got something worse than a pipe
pointing at you now. As regards my position in the business, don’t
worry. My silence is thrown in gratis. Give me one loving smile and my
lips are sealed.”

Sir Thomas turned on him.

“As for you——” he cried.

“Never mind about Pitt,” said his lordship. “He’s a dashed good fellow,
Pitt. I wish there were more like him. And he wasn’t pinching the stuff
either. If you had only listened when he tried to tell you, you mightn’t
be in such a frightful hole. He was putting the things back, as he said.
I know all about it. Well, what’s the answer?”

For a moment Sir Thomas seemed on the point of refusal. But just as he
was about to speak his lordship opened the door, and at the movement he
collapsed again.

“I will!” he cried. “I will!”

“Good,” said his lordship, with satisfaction. “That’s a bargain. Coming
downstairs, Pitt, old man? We shall be wanted on the stage in about half
a minute.”

“As an antidote to stage-fright,” said Jimmy, as they went along the
corridor, “little discussions of that kind may be highly recommended. I
shouldn’t mind betting that you feel fit for anything.”

“I feel like a two-year-old,” assented his lordship enthusiastically.
“I’ve forgotten all my part, but I don’t care. I’ll just go on and talk
to them.”

“That,” said Jimmy, “is the right spirit. Charteris will get heart
disease, but it’s the right spirit. A little more of that sort of thing
and amateur theatricals would be worth listening to. Step lively,
Roscius; the stage waits.”



                                 ★ 28 ★
                    _Spennie’s Hour of Clear Vision_


Mr. McEachern sat in the billiard-room smoking. He was alone. From where
he sat he could hear distant strains of music. The more rigorous portion
of the evening’s entertainment, the theatricals, was over, and the
nobility and gentry, having done their duty by sitting through the
performance, were now enjoying themselves in the ballroom. Everybody was
happy. The play had been quite as successful as the usual amateur
performance. The prompter had made himself a great favourite from the
start, his series of duets with Spennie having been especially admired,
and Jimmy, as became an old professional, had played his part with great
finish and certainty of touch, though, like the bloodhounds in the
performance of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” on tour, he had had poor support.
But the audience bore no malice.

No collection of individuals is less vindictive than an audience at
amateur theatricals. It was all over now. Charteris had literally
gibbered in the presence of eye-witnesses at one point in the second
act, when Spennie, by giving a wrong cue, had jerked the play abruptly
into Act III. (where his colleagues, dimly suspecting something wrong,
but not knowing what, had kept it for some two minutes, to the
mystification of the audience); but now even he had begun to forget. As
he two-stepped down the room the lines of agony on his face were
softened. He even smiled.

As for Spennie, the brilliance of his happy grin dazzled all beholders.

He was still wearing it when he invaded the solitude of Mr. McEachern.
In every dance, however greatly he may be enjoying it, there comes a
time when a man needs a meditative cigarette apart from the throng. It
came to Spennie after the seventh item on the programme. The billiard
room struck him as admirably suitable in every way. It was not likely to
be used as a sitting out place, and it was near enough to the ballroom
to enable him to hear when the music of item No. 9 should begin.

Mr. McEachern was glad to see him. In the turmoil following the
theatricals he had been unable to get a word with any of the persons
with whom he most wished to speak. He had been surprised that no
announcement of the engagement had been made at the end of the
performance. Spennie would be able to supply him with information as to
when the announcement might be expected.

Spennie hesitated for an instant when he saw who was in the room. He was
not over-anxious for a _tête-à-tête_ with Molly’s father just then; but
reflecting that after all he, Spennie, was not to blame for any
disappointment that might be troubling the other, he switched on his
grin again and walked in.

“Came in for a smoke,” he explained, by way of opening the conversation.
“Not dancing the next.”

“Come in, my boy, come in,” said Mr. McEachern. “I was waiting to see
you.”

Spennie regretted his entrance. He had supposed that the other had heard
the news of the breaking-off of the engagement. Evidently, from his
manner, he had not. This was a nuisance.

He sat down and lit a cigarette, casting about the while for an
innocuous topic of conversation.

“Like the show?” he inquired.

“Fine,” said Mr. McEachern. “By the way—”

Spennie groaned inwardly. He had forgotten that a determined man can
change the conversation to any subject he pleases by means of those
three words.

“By the way,” said Mr. McEachern, “I thought Sir Thomas—wasn’t your
uncle intending to announce——?”

“Well, yes, he was,” said Spennie.

“Going to declare it during the dancing, maybe?”

“Well—er—no. The fact is, he’s not going to do it at all, don’t you
know.” He inspected the red end of his cigarette closely. “As a matter
of fact, it’s kind of broken off.”

The other’s exclamation jarred on him. Rotten, having to talk about this
sort of thing!

“Broken off?”

Spennie nodded.

“Miss McEachern thought it over, don’t you know,” he said, “and came to
the conclusion that it wasn’t good enough.”

Now that it was said he felt easier. It had merely been the awkwardness
of having to touch on the thing that had troubled him. That his news
might be a blow to McEachern did not cross his mind. He was a singularly
modest youth, and though he realised vaguely that his title had a
certain value in some people’s eyes, he could not understand anyone
mourning over the loss of him as a son-in-law. Katie’s father, the old
general, thought him a fool, and once, during an attack of gout, had
said so.

Oblivious, therefore, to the storm raging a yard away from him, he
smoked on with great contentment, till suddenly it struck him that, for
a presumably devout lover, jilted that very night, he was displaying too
little emotion. He debated swiftly within himself whether he should have
a dash at manly grief, but came to the conclusion that it could not be
done. Melancholy on this maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year,
the day on which he had utterly routed the powers of evil, as
represented by Sir Thomas, was impossible.

“It wouldn’t have done, don’t you know,” he said. “We weren’t suited.
What I mean to say is, I’m a bit of a dashed sort of silly ass in some
ways, if you know what I mean. A girl like Miss McEachern couldn’t have
been happy with me. She wants one of those capable, energetic fellers.”

This struck him as a good beginning—modest but not grovelling. He
continued, tapping quite a respectably deep vein of philosophy as he
spoke.

“You see, dear old top—I mean sir—you see, it’s like this. As far as
women are concerned, fellers are divided into two classes. There’s the
masterful, capable Johnnies and the—er—the other sort. Now, I’m the
other sort. My idea of the happy married life is to be—well, not exactly
downtrodden, but—you know what I mean—kind of second fiddle. I want a
wife”—his voice grew soft and dreamy—“who’ll pet me a good deal, don’t
you know, stroke my hair a lot, and all that. I haven’t it in me to do
the master-in-my-own-house business. For me the silent-devotion
touch—sleepin’ on the mat outside her door, don’t you know, when she
wasn’t feeling well, and bein’ found there in the morning, and being
rather cosseted for my thoughtfulness. That’s the sort of idea. Hard to
put it quite OK., but you know the sort of thing I mean. A feller’s got
to realise his jolly old limitations if he wants to be happy though
married; what? Now, suppose Miss McEachern was to marry me! Great Scot,
she’d be bored to death in a week! Honest. She couldn’t help herself.
She wants a chap with the same amount of go in him that she’s got.”

He lit another cigarette. He was feeling pleased with himself. Never
before had ideas marshalled themselves in his mind in such long and
well-ordered ranks. He felt that he could go on talking like this all
night. He was getting brainier every minute. He remembered reading in
some book somewhere of a girl (or chappie) who had had her (or his)
“hour of clear vision”. This was precisely what had happened now.
Whether it was owing to the excitement of what had taken place that
night, or because he had been keeping up his thinking powers with
excellent dry champagne, he did not know. All he knew was that he felt
on top of his subject. He wished he had had a larger audience. “A girl
like Miss McEachern,” he resumed, “doesn’t want any of the hair-stroking
business. She’d simply laugh at a feller if he asked for it. She needs a
chappie of the Get On or Get Out type—somebody in the six-cylinder
class. And as a matter of fact, between ourselves, I rather think she’s
found him.”

“What?”

Mr. McEachern half rose from his chair. All his old fears had come
surging back.

“What do you mean?”

“Fact,” said his lordship, nodding. “Mind you, I don’t know for certain.
As the girl says in the song, I don’t know, but I guess. What I mean to
say is, they seemed jolly friendly and all that—calling each other by
their Christian names, and so on.”

“Who?”

“Pitt,” said his lordship. He was leaning back, blowing a smoke-ring at
the moment, so did not see the look on the other’s face and the sudden
grip of his fingers on the arms of his chair. He went on with some
enthusiasm.

“Jimmy Pitt!” he said. “Now, there’s a feller. Full of oats to the brim,
and fairly bursting with go and energy. A girl wouldn’t have a dull
moment with a chap like that. You know,” he proceeded confidentially,
“there’s a lot in this idea of affinities. Take my word for it, dear
old—sir. There’s a girl up in London, for instance. Now, she and I hit
it off most amazingly. There’s hardly a thing we don’t think alike
about. For instance, ‘The Merry Widow’ didn’t make a bit of a hit with
her; nor did it with me, yet look at the millions of people who raved
about it. And neither of us like oysters. We’re affinities—that’s why.
You see the same sort of thing all over the place. It’s a jolly queer
business. Sometimes makes me believe in re—in-what’s-its-name—you know
what I mean. All that in the poem, you know. How does it go? ‘When you
were a tiddley-om-pom and I was a thingummajig.’ Dashed brainy bit of
work. I was reading it only the other day. Well, what I mean to say is,
it’s my belief that Jimmy Pitt and Miss McEachern are by way of being
something in that line. Doesn’t it strike you that they are just the
sort to get on together? You can see it with half an eye. You can’t help
liking a feller like Jimmy Pitt. He’s a sport! I wish I could tell you
some of the things he’s done, but I can’t, for reasons; but you can take
it from me he’s a sport. You ought to cultivate him. You’d like him....
Oh, dash it! there’s the music! I must be off. Got to dance this one.”

He rose from his chair and dropped his cigarette into the ash-tray.

“So long,” he said, with a friendly nod. “Wish I could stop, but it’s no
go. That’s the last let-up I shall have to-night.”

He went out, leaving Mr. McEachern seated in his chair, a prey to many
and varied emotions.



                                 ★ 29 ★
                            _The Last Round_


He had only been gone a few minutes when Mr. McEachern’s meditations
were again interrupted. This time the visitor was a stranger to him—a
dark-faced, clean-shaven man. He did not wear evening clothes, so could
not be one of the guests; and Mr. McEachern could not place him
immediately. Then he remembered. He had seen him in Sir Thomas Blunt’s
dressing room. This was Sir Thomas’s valet.

“Might I have a word with you, sir?”

“What is it?” asked McEachern, staring heavily. His mind had not
recovered from the effect of Lord Dreever’s philosophical remarks. There
was something of a cloud on his brain. To judge from his lordship’s
words, things had been happening behind his back; and the idea of Molly
deceiving him was too strange to be assimilated in an instant. He looked
at the valet dully.

“What is it?” he asked again.

“I must apologise for intruding, but I thought it best to approach you
before making my report to Sir Thomas.”

“Your report?”

“I am employed by a private inquiry agency.”

“What?”

“Yes, sir—Wragge’s. You may have heard of us, in Holborn Bars; very old
established, divorce a speciality. You will have seen the
advertisements. Sir Thomas wrote asking for a man, and the governor sent
me down. I have been with the house some years. My job, I gathered, was
to keep my eyes open generally. Sir Thomas, it seemed, had no suspicions
of any definite person. I was to be on the spot just in case, in a
manner of speaking. And it’s precious lucky I was, or her ladyship’s
jewels would have been gone. I’ve done a fair cop this very night.”

He paused, and eyed the ex-policeman keenly. McEachern was obviously
excited. Could Jimmy have made an attempt on the jewels during the
dance? Or Spike?

“Say,” he said, “was it a red headed——?”

The detective was watching him with a curious smile.

“No, he wasn’t red headed. You seem interested, sir. I thought you would
be. I will tell you all about it. I had had my suspicions of this party
ever since he arrived. And I may say that it struck me at the time that
there was something mighty fishy about the way he got into the castle.”

McEachern started. So he had not been the only one to suspect Jimmy’s
motives in attaching himself to Lord Dreever.

“Go on,” he said.

“I suspected that there was some game on, and it struck me that this
would be the day for the attempt, the house being upside down, in a
manner of speaking, on account of the theatricals. And I was right. I
kept near those jewels on and off all day, and presently, just as I had
thought, along comes this fellow. He’d hardly got to the door when I was
on him.”

“Good boy! You’re no rube.”

“We fought for a while, but, being a bit to the good in strength, and
knowing something about the game, I had the irons on him pretty quick,
and took him off and locked him in the cellar. That’s how it was, sir.”

Mr. McEachern’s relief was overwhelming. If Lord Dreever’s statement was
correct, and Jimmy had really succeeded in winning Molly’s affection,
this would be indeed a rescue at the eleventh hour. It was with a _Nunc
Dimittis_ air he felt for his cigar case and extended it towards the
detective. A cigar from his own private case was with him a mark of the
supremest favour and good will—a sort of accolade which he bestowed only
upon the really meritorious few.

Usually it was received with becoming deference, but on this occasion
there was a somewhat startling deviation from routine, for, just as he
was opening the case, something cold and hard pressed against each of
his wrists; there was a snap and a click, and looking up, dazed, he saw
that the detective had sprung back, and was contemplating him with a
grim smile over the barrel of an ugly-looking little revolver.

Guilty or innocent, the first thing a man does, when he finds handcuffs
on his wrists, is to try to get them off. The action is automatic. Mr.
McEachern strained at the steel chain till the veins stood out on his
forehead. His great body shook with rage.

The detective eyed his efforts with some satisfaction. The picture
presented by the other, as he heaved and tugged, was that of a guilty
man trapped.

“It’s no good, my friend,” he said.

His voice brought McEachern back to his senses. In the first shock of
the thing the primitive man in him had led him beyond the confines of
self-restraint. He had simply struggled unthinkingly. Now he came to
himself again.

He shook his manacled hands furiously.

“What does this mean?” he shouted. “What the——”

“Less noise,” said the detective sharply. “Get back!” he snapped, as the
other took a step forward.

“Do you know who I am?” thundered McEachern.

“No,” said the detective. “And that’s just why you’re wearing those
bracelets. Come, now, don’t be a fool, the game’s up; can’t you see
that?”

McEachern leaned helplessly against the billiard-table. He felt weak.
Everything was unreal. Had he gone mad? he wondered.

“That’s right,” said the detective—“stay there. You can’t do any harm
there. It was a pretty little game, I’ll admit. You worked it
well—meeting your old friend from New York and all, and having him
invited to the castle. Very pretty. New York, indeed! Seen about as much
of New York as I have of Timbuctoo. I saw through him.”

Some inkling of the truth began to penetrate McEachern’s consciousness.
He had become so obsessed with the idea that, as the captive was not
Spike, it must be Jimmy, that the possibility of Mr. Galer being the
subject of discussion only dawned upon him now.

“What do you mean?” he cried. “Who is it that you have arrested?”

“Blest if I know. You can tell me that, I should think, seeing he’s an
old Timbuctoo friend of yours. Galer’s the name he goes by here.”

“Galer!”

“That’s the man. And do you know what he had the impudence, the gall, to
tell me? That he was in my own line of business. A detective! He said
you had sent for him to come here.”

He laughed amusedly at the recollection.

“And so he is, you fool. So I did.”

“Oh, you did, did you? And what business had you bringing detectives
into other people’s houses?”

Mr. McEachern started to answer, but checked himself. Never before had
he appreciated to the full the depth and truth of the proverb relating
to the frying-pan and the fire. To clear himself he must mention his
suspicions of Jimmy, and also his reasons for those suspicions. And to
do that would mean revealing his past. It was Scylla and Charybdis.

A drop of perspiration trickled down his temple.

“What’s the good?” said the detective. “Mighty ingenious idea, that,
only you hadn’t allowed for there being a real detective in the house.
It was that chap pitching me that yarn that made me suspicious of you. I
put two and two together. ‘Partners,’ I said to myself. I’d heard all
about you, scraping acquaintance with Sir Thomas and all. Mighty
ingenious. You become the old family friend, and then you let in your
pal. He gets the stuff and hands it over to you. Nobody dreams of
suspecting you, and there you are. Honestly, now, wasn’t that the game?”

“It’s all a mistake——” McEachern was beginning, when the door-handle
turned.

The detective looked over his shoulder. McEachern glared dumbly. This
was the crowning blow, that there should be spectators of his
predicament.

Jimmy strolled into the room.

“Dreever told me you were in here,” he said to McEachern. “Can you spare
me a—— Halloa!”

The detective had pocketed his revolver at the first sound of the
handle—to be discreet was one of the chief articles in the creed of the
young men from Wragge’s Detective Agency—but handcuffs are not easily
concealed. Jimmy stood staring in amazement at McEachern’s wrists.

“Some sort of a round game?” he inquired with interest.

The detective became confidential.

“It’s this way, Mr. Pitt. There’s been some pretty deep work going on
here. There’s a regular gang of burglars in the place. This chap here’s
one of them.”

“What, Mr. McEachern?”

“That’s what he calls himself.”

It was all Jimmy could do to keep himself from asking Mr. McEachern
whether he attributed his downfall to drink. He contented himself with a
sorrowful shake of the head at the fermenting captive. Then he took up
the part of counsel for the defence.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “What makes you think so?”

“Why, this afternoon I caught this man’s pal—the fellow that calls
himself Galer——”

“I know the man,” said Jimmy. “He’s a detective really. Mr. McEachern
brought him down here.”

The sleuth’s jaw dropped limply, as if he had received a blow.

“What?” he said, in a feeble voice.

“Didn’t I tell you——” began Mr. McEachern; but the sleuth was occupied
with Jimmy. That sickening premonition of disaster was beginning to
steal over him. Dimly he began to perceive that he had blundered.

“Yes,” said Jimmy. “Why, I can’t say; but Mr. McEachern was afraid some
one might try to steal Lady Julia Blunt’s rope of diamonds, so he wrote
to London for this man Galer. It was officious, perhaps, but not
criminal. I doubt if, legally, you could handcuff a man for a thing like
that. What have you done with good Mr. Galer?”

“I’ve locked him in the coal-cellar,” said the detective dismally. The
thought of the interview in prospect with the human bloodhound he had so
mishandled was not exhilarating.

“Locked him in the cellar, did you?” said Jimmy. “Well, well, I dare say
he’s very happy there. He’s probably busy detecting black-beetles.
Still, perhaps you had better go and let him out. Possibly if you were
to apologise to him—— Eh? Just as you think—I only suggest. If you want
somebody to vouch for Mr. McEachern’s non-burglariousness, I can do it.
He is a gentleman of private means, and we knew each other out in New
York.”

“I never thought——”

“That,” said Jimmy, with sympathetic friendliness, “if you will allow me
to say so, is the cardinal mistake you detectives make. You never do
think.”

“It never occurred to me——”

He took the key of the handcuffs from his pocket and toyed with it. Mr.
McEachern emitted a low growl. It was enough.

“If you wouldn’t mind, Mr. Pitt,” said the detective obsequiously. He
thrust the key into Jimmy’s hands and fled. Jimmy unlocked the
handcuffs. Mr. McEachern rubbed his wrists.

“Ingenious little things,” said Jimmy.

“I’m much obliged to you,” growled Mr. McEachern, without looking up.

“Not at all—a pleasure. This circumstantial evidence business is the
devil, isn’t it? I knew a man who broke into a house in New York to win
a bet, and to this day the owner of the house thinks him a professional
burglar.”

“What’s that?” said Mr. McEachern sharply.

“Why do I say ‘a man’? Why am I so elusive and mysterious? You’re quite
right. It sounds more dramatic; but, after all, what you want is facts.
Very well. I broke into your house that night to win a bet. That’s the
limpid truth.”

McEachern was staring at him. Jimmy proceeded.

“You are just about to ask—what was Spike Mullins doing with me? Well,
Spike had broken into my flat an hour before, and I took him along with
me as a sort of guide, philosopher, and friend.”

“Spike Mullins said you were a burglar from England.”

“I’m afraid I rather led him to think so. I had been to see the opening
performance of a burglar-play called _Love, the Cracksman_, that night,
and I worked off on Spike some severely technical information I had
received from a pal of mine who played lead in the show. I told you when
I came in that I had been talking to Lord Dreever. Well, what he was
saying to me was that he had met this very actor-man, a fellow called
Mifflin—Arthur Mifflin—in London just before he met me. He’s in London
now, rehearsing for a show that’s come over from America. You see the
importance of this item? It means that if you doubt my story all you
need to do is to find Mifflin—I forget what theatre his play is coming
on at, but you could find out in a second—and ask him to corroborate.
Are you satisfied?”

McEachern did not answer. An hour before he would have fought to the
last ditch for his belief in Jimmy’s crookedness, but the events of the
last ten minutes had shaken him. He felt something of a reaction in
Jimmy’s favour.

“Look here, Mr. McEachern,” said Jimmy, “I wish you would listen quietly
to me for a minute or two. There’s really no reason on earth why we
should be at one another’s throats in this way. We might just as well be
friends. Let’s shake hands and call the fight off. I suppose you know
why I came here to see you?” McEachern did not speak.

“You know that your daughter has broken off her engagement to Lord
Dreever?”

“Then he was right!” said McEachern, half to himself. “It is you?”

Jimmy nodded. McEachern drummed his fingers on the table and stared
thoughtfully at him.

“Is Molly——?” he said, at length. “Does Molly——?”

“Yes,” said Jimmy.

McEachern continued his drumming.

“Don’t think there’s been anything underhand about this,” said Jimmy.
“She absolutely refused to do anything unless you gave your consent. She
said you had been partners all her life, and she was going to do the
square thing by you.”

“She did?” said McEachern eagerly.

“I think you ought to do the square thing by her. I’m not much, but she
wants me. Do the square thing by her.”

McEachern was staring straight in front of him. There was a look in his
eyes which Jimmy had never seen there before—a frightened, hunted look.

“It’s too late,” he burst out. “I’ll be square with her now, but it’s
too late. I won’t stand in her way when I can make her happy. But I’ll
lose her! Oh, my God, I’ll lose her!

“Did you think I had never said to myself,” he went on, “the things you
said to me that day when we met here? Did you think I didn’t know what I
was? Who should know it better than myself? But she didn’t—I’d kept it
from her. I’d sweat for fear she would find out some day. When I came
over here I thought I was safe; and then you came, and I saw you
together. I thought you were a crook—you were with Mullins in New York—I
told her you were a crook.”

“You told her that?”

“I said I knew it. I couldn’t tell her the truth why I thought so. I
said I had made inquiries in New York and found out about you.”

Jimmy saw now. The mystery was solved. So that was why Molly had allowed
them to force her into the engagement with Dreever.

“I see,” he said slowly.

McEachern gripped the table in silence.

“I see,” said Jimmy again. “You mean she’ll want an explanation?”

He thought for a moment.

“You must tell her,” he said quickly. “For your own sake you must tell
her. Go and do it now. Wake up, man!” He shook him by the shoulder. “Go
and do it now. She’ll forgive you. Don’t be afraid of that. Go and look
for her and tell her now.”

McEachern roused himself.

“I will,” he said.

“It’s the only way,” said Jimmy.

McEachern opened the door, then fell back a pace. Jimmy could hear
voices in the passage outside. He recognised Lord Dreever’s.

McEachern continued to back away from the door.

Lord Dreever entered, with Molly on his arm.

“Halloa!” said his lordship, looking round.

“Halloa, Pitt! Here we all are; what?”

“Lord Dreever wanted to smoke,” said Molly.

She smiled, but there was anxiety in her eyes. She looked quickly at her
father and at Jimmy.

“Molly, my dear,” said McEachern huskily, “I want to speak to you for a
moment.”

Jimmy took his lordship by the arm.

“Come along, Dreever,” he said. “You can come and sit out with me. We’ll
go and smoke on the terrace.”

They left the room together.

“What does the old boy want?” inquired his lordship. “Are you and Miss
McEachern——?”

“We are,” said Jimmy.

“By Jove! I say, old chap! Million congratulations and all that sort of
rot, you know!”

His lordship had to resume his duties in the ballroom after a while; but
Jimmy sat on, smoking and thinking.

In the general stillness the opening of the door at the top of the steps
came sharply to his ears. He looked up. Two figures were silhouetted for
a moment against the light, and then the door closed again. They began
to move slowly down the steps.

Jimmy had recognised them. He got up. He was in the shadow; they could
not see him. They began to walk down the terrace. They were quite close
now. Neither was speaking, but presently, when they were but a few feet
away, they stopped. There was the splutter of a match, and McEachern lit
a cigar. In the yellow light his face was clearly visible. Jimmy looked,
and was content.



                                 ★ 30 ★
                              _Conclusion_


The American liner _St. Louis_ lay in the Empress Dock at Southampton,
taking aboard her passengers. All sorts and conditions of men flowed in
an unceasing stream up the gangway.

Leaning over the second-class railing, Jimmy Pitt and Spike Mullins
watched them thoughtfully.

“Well, Spike,” said Jimmy, “your schooner’s on the tide now, isn’t it?
Your vessel’s at the quay. You’ve got some queer-looking
fellow-travellers. Don’t miss the two Cingalese sports and the man in
the turban and baggy breeches. I wonder if they’re airtight? Useful if
he fell overboard.”

“Sure,” said Spike, directing a contemplative eye towards the garment in
question. “He knows his business.”

“I wonder what those men on the deck are writing? They’ve been
scribbling away ever since we came here. Probably society journalists.
We shall see in next week’s papers, ‘Among the second-class passengers
we noticed Mr. “Spike” Mullins looking as cheery as ever.’ It’s a pity
you’re so set on going, Spike. Why not change your mind and stop?”

For a moment Spike looked wistful. Then his countenance resumed its
woodenness. “Dere ain’t no use for me dis side, boss,” he said. “New
York’s de spot. Youse don’t want none of me now you’re married. How’s
Miss Molly, boss?”

“Splendid, Spike, thanks. We’re going over to France by to-night’s boat.

“It’s been a queer business,” said Jimmy, after a pause—“a deuced queer
business. Still, I’ve come very well out of it, at any rate. It seems to
me that you’re the only one of us who doesn’t end happily, Spike. I’m
married. McEachern’s butted into society so deep that it would take an
excavating party with dynamite to get him out of it. Molly—well, Molly’s
made a bad bargain, but I hope she won’t regret it. We’re all going
some, except you. You’re going out on the old trail again—which begins
in Third Avenue and ends in Sing Sing. Why tear yourself away, Spike?”

Spike concentrated his gaze on a weedy young emigrant in a blue jersey,
who was having his eye examined by the overworked doctor, and seemed to
be resenting it.

“Dere’s nuttin’ doin’ dis side, boss,” he said at length. “I want to get
busy.”

“Ulysses Mullins!” said Jimmy, looking at him curiously. “I know the
feeling. There’s only one cure. I sketched it out for you once, but I
doubt if you’ll ever take it. You don’t think a lot of women, do you?
You’re the rugged bachelor.”

“Goils——!” began Spike comprehensively, and abandoned the topic without
dilating on it further.

“Dose were great jools, boss,” said Spike thoughtfully.

“I believe you’re still brooding over them, Spike.”

“We could have got away wit dem, if you’d have stood for it—dead easy.”

“You are brooding over them. Spike, I’ll tell you something which will
console you a little before you start out on your wanderings. It’s in
confidence, so keep it dark. That necklace was paste.”

“What’s dat?”

“Nothing but paste. I spotted it directly you handed them to me. It
wasn’t worth a hundred dollars.”

A light of understanding came into Spike’s eyes. His face beamed with
the smile of one to whom dark matters are made clear.

“So dat’s why you wouldn’t stand for getting away wit it!” he exclaimed.

                            * * * * * * * *

The last voyager had embarked. The deck was full to congestion.

“They’ll be sending us ashore in a minute,” said Jimmy. “I’d better be
moving. Let me know how you’re getting on, Spike, from time to time. You
know the address. And, I say, it’s just possible you may find you want a
dollar or two every now and then—when you’re going to buy another
aeroplane, for instance. Well, you know where to write to for it, don’t
you?”

“T’anks, boss. But dat’ll be all right. I’m goin’ to sit in at anodder
game dis time—politics, boss. A fr’en’ of a mug what I knows has gotten
a pull. He’ll find me a job.”

“Politics!” said Jimmy. “I never thought of that. ‘My brother Dan is an
alderman with a grip on the Seventh Ward!’” he quoted softly. “Why,
you’ll be a boss before you know where you are.”

“Sure,” said Spike, grinning modestly.

“You ought to be a thundering success in American politics,” said Jimmy.
“You’ve got all the necessary qualities.”

A steward passed.

“Any more for the shore?”

“Well, Spike——” said Jimmy.

“Good-bye, boss.”

“Good-bye,” said Jimmy. “And good luck.”

                            * * * * * * * *

The sun had gone behind the clouds. As the ship slid out on its way a
stray beam pierced the greyness.

It shone on a red head.



                          Transcriber’s Notes


—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by
  _underscores_.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Gentleman of Leisure" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home