ELL-MEANING chappies at the club sometimes amble up to me and tap me on the wish-bone, and say “Reggie, old top,”—my name’s Reggie Pepper—“you ought to get married, old man.” Well, what I mean to say is, it’s all very well, and I see their point and all that sort of thing; but it takes two to make a marriage, and to date I haven’t met a girl who didn’t seem to think the contract was too big to be taken on. One and all, they have tied a can to me and requested me to stand aside and let the rest of the waiting line get action. Well, if you see what I mean, after a few years of this sort of thing, a fellow gets discouraged; and nowadays I’m rather by way of being the stern, soured man who’s jolly well fed up with the sex. If any girl wants to marry me now, she has got to come after me with a rope.
Looking back, it seems to me that I came nearer to getting over the home-plate with Ann Selby than with most of the others. In fact, but for circumstances over which I had no dashed control, I am inclined to think that we should have brought it off: and I’m bound to say that, now that what the poet chappie calls the first fine frenzy has been on the ice for awhile and I am able to consider the thing calmly, I am deuced glad we didn’t. She was one of those strong-minded girls, and I hate to think of what she would have done to me. The other day I saw the fellow she did marry. I was at the club-window, meditatively sipping something or other, when a Woman’s Suffrage procession came along; and there, in the very first rank, carrying an enormous banner and looking licked to a splinter, he marched; and the sight gave me such a turn,—thinking, don’t you know, that it might have been me, that I had to press the bell and have two more in rapid succession.
At the time, though, I was frightfully in love, and, for quite a while after she definitely gave me the mitten, I lost my stroke at golf so completely that a child could have given me a stroke a hole and got away with it. I was all broken up, and I contend to this day that I was dashed badly treated.
Let me give you what they call the data.
ONE day I was lunching with Ann, and was just proposing to her as usual, when, instead of simply refusing me, as she generally did, she fixed me with a thoughtful eye and kind of opened her heart.
“Do you know, Reggie, I am in doubt.”
“Give me the benefit of it,” I said. Which I maintain was pretty good on the spur of the moment, but didn’t get a hand. She simply ignored it, and went on.
“Sometimes,” she said, “you seem to me entirely vapid and brainless; at other times you say or do things which suggest that there are possibilities in you; that, properly stimulated and encouraged, you might overcome the handicap of large private means and do something worth while. I wonder if that is simply my imagination?” She watched me very closely as she spoke.
“Rather not. You’ve absolutely summed me up. With you beside me, stimulating and all that sort of rot, don’t you know, I should show a flash of speed which would astonish you.”
“I wish I could be certain.”
“Take a chance on it.”
She shook her head.
“I must be certain. Marriage is such a gamble. I have just been staying with my sister Hilda and her husband——”
“Dear old Harold Bodkin. I know him well. In fact, I’ve a standing invitation to go down there and stay as long as I like. Harold is one of my best pals. Harold is a corker. Good old Harold is——”
“I would rather you didn’t eulogize him, Reggie. I am extremely angry with Harold. He is making Hilda perfectly miserable.”
“What on earth do you mean? Harold wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s one of those dreamy, sentimental chumps who——”
“It is precisely his sentimentality which is at the bottom of the whole trouble. You know, of course, that Hilda is not his first wife?”
“That’s right. His first wife died about five years ago.”
“He still cherishes her memory.”
“Very sporting of him.”
“Is it! If you were a girl, how would you like to be married to a man who was always making you bear in mind that you were only number two in his affections; a man whose idea of a pleasant conversation was a string of anecdotes illustrating what a dear woman his first wife was; a man who expected you to upset all your plans if they clashed with some anniversary connected with his other marriage?”
“That does sound pretty rotten. Does dear old Harold do all that?”
“That’s only a small part of what he does. Why, if you will believe me, every evening at seven o’clock he goes and shuts himself up in a little room at the top of the house, and meditates.”
“What on earth does he do that for?”
“Apparently his first wife died at seven in the evening. There is a portrait of her in the room; I believe he lays flowers in front of it. And Hilda is expected to greet him on his return with a happy smile.”
“Why doesn’t she kick?”
“I have been trying to persuade her to, but she won’t. Most women are doormats, and Hilda’s one of them. She just pretends she doesn’t mind. She has a nervous, sensitive temperament, and the thing is slowly crushing her. Don’t talk to me of Harold!”
CONSIDERING that she had started him as a topic, I thought this pretty unjust. I didn’t want to talk of Harold. I wanted to talk about myself.
“Well, what has all this got to do with your not wanting to marry me?” I said.
“Nothing, except that it is an illustration of the risks a woman runs when she marries a man of a certain type.”
“Great Scott! You surely don’t class me with Harold?”
“Yes, in a way you are very much alike. You have both always had large private means, and have never had the wholesome discipline of work; and consequently you have never had to exercise your brains. A man who has never done that is an unknown quantity; he may do anything absurd and irritating.”
“But, dash it, Harold, on your showing, is an absolute nut. Why should you think that I would be anything like that?”
“There’s always the risk.”
A hot idea came to me.
“Look here, Ann,” I said, “suppose I do something which proves that I’m not the total chump you consider me, how about it then? Suppose I pull off some stunt which only a deuced brainy chappie could get away with? Would you marry me then?”
“Certainly. What do you propose to do?”
“Do! What do I propose to do! Why, I propose—well, to be absolutely frank, at the moment I don’t quite know.”
“You never will know, Reggie. You’re one of the idle rich, and your brain, if you ever had one, has atrophied. Better not worry yourself, trying to think. Go on sitting in your club-window, watching the traffic and sucking a cane.”
Well, that seemed to me to put the lid on it. I didn’t mind a heart-to-heart talk, but this was mere abuse. I changed the subject.
“What would you like after that fish?” I said coldly.
You know how it is when you get an idea. For a while it sort of simmers inside you, and then suddenly it sizzles up like a rocket, and there you are, right up against it. That’s what happened now. I went away from that luncheon, vaguely determined to pull off some stunt which would prove that I was right there with the gray matter, but without any clear notion of what I was going to do. Side by side with this in my mind was the case of dear old Harold. When I wasn’t brooding on the stunt, I was brooding on Harold. I was fond of the good old lad, and I hated the idea of his slowly wrecking the home purely by being a chump. And all of a sudden the two things clicked together like a couple of chemicals, and there I was with a corking plan for killing two birds with one stone,—putting one across that would startle and impress Ann, and at the same time healing the breach between Harold and Hilda.
IT was like this: I happened to be passing a big candy shop, and in an idle sort of way I recalled that old yarn they pitch to you when you’re a kid, about how they make certain that the people who sell the stuff don’t go pinching the stock. You know the stunt. When a new hand is taken on in a candy-shop, the boss tells him or her to go right ahead and help himself. “This is the life,” says the new hand, and proceeds to cut a wide swath through the stuff. By the end of a week he has had all the candy he wants in a life-time, and wouldn’t touch so much as an marsh-mallow if you offered him a handsome reward.
And I had hardly brooded over this yarn for more than a minute or so, when something seemed to say to me, “This is the dope for dear old Harold.”
You see what I mean? My idea was that, in a case like this, it’s no good trying opposition. What you want is to work it so that the chappie quits of his own accord. You want to egg him on to overdoing the thing till he gets so that he says to himself, “Enough! Never again!” That was what was going to happen to Harold.
When you’re going to do a thing, there’s nothing like making a quick start. I wrote to Harold straight away, proposing myself for a visit; and Harold wrote back telling me to come right along.
Harold and Hilda lived alone in a large house on Long Island. I believe they did a good deal of entertaining at times, but on this occasion I was the only guest. The only other person of note in the place was Ponsonby, the butler, whom Harold had imported at great expense from England. It was a quiet little party, but it suited me all right.
OF course, if Harold had been an ordinary sort of chappie, what I had come to do would have been a pretty big order. I don’t mind many things, but I do hesitate to dig into my host’s most intimate private affairs. But Harold was such a simple-minded Johnnie, so grateful for a little sympathy and advice, that my job wasn’t so very difficult.
It wasn’t as if he minded talking about Amelia, which was his first wife’s name. The difficulty was to get him to talk of anything else. I began to understand what Ann meant by saying it was tough on Hilda.
A child ought to have been able to see that it was beginning to jar on her; but dear old Harold was more like a child with water on the brain than anything else. He was pure chump, clean through. I have a pretty wide circle of friends, the majority of them more or less daffy, but good old Harold was unique in my experience.
As an instance of the sort of fellow he was,—the first night I was down there, I was roused out of a refreshing sleep at about four o’clock or some such frightful hour, and found Harold standing by my bedside.
“Sh!” he said. “Don’t make a noise. Come on!”
I was out of bed with an Indian club in one hand and a poker in the other before he could speak again. As we legged it through the house in our bare feet, I tried to keep in mind all I’d ever been told about burglars not shooting except as a last resort. We got on to the top floor, and up a ladder through a trap-door onto the roof, and I was just bracing myself for the conflict and hoping they were small burglars, when he grabbed me by the arm.
I jumped a foot, and looked where he pointed. I could not see anything.
“Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Isn’t what wonderful?”
“The dawn, man! Look at it! All pink!”
And then we went back to bed again.
That was Harold.
I’m bound to say the old boy was clay in my hands. People call me a chump, but Harold was a super-chump, and I did what I liked with him. The second morning of my visit, after breakfast, he grabbed me by the arm.
“This way, Reggie. I’m just going to show old Reggie Amelia’s portrait, dear.”
THERE was a little room all by itself on the top floor. He explained to me that it had been his studio. At one time Harold used to do a bit of painting in an amateur way.
“There!” he said, pointing at the portrait. “I did that myself, Reggie. It was away being cleaned when you were here last. It’s like dear Amelia, isn’t it?”
I suppose it was, in a way. At any rate, you could recognize the likeness when you were told who it was supposed to be.
He sat down in front of it, and gave it the thoughtful once over.
“Do you know, Reggie, old top, sometimes, when I sit here, I feel as if Amelia were back again.”
“It would be a bit awkward for you if she was.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, old lad, you happen to be married to someone else.”
A look of child-like enthusiasm came over his face.
“Reggie, I wouldn’t talk about this to anyone else but you,” he began. It’s my experience that the fellows who begin by saying that are always the chappies who, if they couldn’t get anyone else to tell their most intimate private affairs to, would rush out and buttonhole the traffic cop. I’m convinced that poor old Harold talked Amelia to everyone he got within speaking distance of. It wasn’t his fault; it was just the way he was built. “But you are such an old pal,” he went on, “that it’s different with you. Reggie, I want to tell you how splendid Hilda is. Lots of other women might object to my still cherishing Amelia’s memory, but Hilda has been so nice about it from the beginning. She understands so thoroughly.”
I hadn’t much breath left after that, but I used what I had to say: “She doesn’t object?”
“Not a bit,” said Harold. “It makes everything so pleasant.”
When I had recovered a bit, I said, “What do you mean by everything?”
“Well,” he said, “for instance, I come up here every evening at seven and—er—think for a few minutes.”
“A few minutes!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, a few minutes isn’t long.”
“But I always have my cock-tail at a quarter past.”
“You could postpone it.”
“And Ponsonby likes us to start dinner at seven-thirty.”
“What on earth has Ponsonby to do with it?”
“Well, he likes to get off by nine, you know. I think he goes off and plays bowls at the road-house. You see, Reggie, old man, we have to study Ponsonby a little. He’s always on the verge of giving notice—in fact, it was only by coaxing him on one or two occasions that we got him to stay on—and he’s such a treasure that I don’t know what we should do if we lost him. But, if you think that I ought to stay longer—?”
“Certainly I do. You ought to do a thing like this properly, or not at all.”
“It’s a frightful risk, but in future we’ll dine at eight.”
So that was something accomplished. I knew Harold pretty well, and I had the feeling that, if this Amelia business could be made to inconvenience him, it wouldn’t be long before he came to the conclusion that it was a trifle tough on Hilda. There’s nothing like a little discomfort for injecting sense into the sort of fellow old Harold was.
It seemed to me that there was a suspicion of a cloud on Ponsonby’s shining morning face, when the news was broken to him that for the future he couldn’t unleash himself on the local bowling talent as early as usual, but he made no kick, and the new order of things began.
My next offensive movement I attribute to a flash of absolute genius.
I was glancing through a photograph album in the drawing-room before lunch, when I came upon a face which I vaguely remembered. It was one of those wide, flabby faces, with bulging eyes, and something about it struck me as familiar. I consulted Harold, who came in at that moment.
“That?” said Harold. “That’s Percy.”
He gave a slight shudder.
“Amelia’s brother, you know. An awful fellow. I haven’t seen him for years.”
THEN I placed Percy. I had met him once or twice in the old days, and I had a brain-wave. Percy! He was the card to play. I remembered him well now,—a stupendous blighter! Percy was everything that poor old Harold disliked most. He was hearty at breakfast, a confirmed back-slapper, a fellow whose only topic of conversation was baseball, a man who prodded you in the chest when he spoke to you. I recollected quite clearly that Harold had never been able to stand him at any price.
“You haven’t seen him for years!” I said in a shocked voice.
“Thank heaven!” said Harold devoutly.
I put down the photograph-album, and looked at him in a deuced serious way.
“Then it’s high time you asked him to come here.”
“Reggie, old man, you don’t know what you are saying. You can’t remember Percy. I wish you wouldn’t say these things, even in fun.”
“I’m not saying it in fun. Of course, it’s none of my business, but you have paid me the compliment of confiding in me about Amelia, and I feel justified in speaking. All I can say is that, if you cherish her memory as you say you do, you show it in a very strange way. How you can square your neglect of Percy with your alleged devotion to Amelia’s memory, beats me. It seems to me that you have no choice. You must either drop the whole thing and admit that your love for her is dead, or else you must stop this infernal treatment of her favorite brother. You can’t have it both ways.”
HE looked at me like a hunted stag. “But, Reggie, old man! Percy! He asks riddles at breakfast.”
“I don’t care.”
“Hilda can’t stand him.”
“What of it?”
“The last time I saw him, he talked for nearly half an hour about somebody’s home-run.”
“It doesn’t matter. You must invite him. It’s not a case of what you like or dislike. It’s your duty.”
He struggled with his feelings for a bit.
“Very well,” he said in a crushed sort of voice.
At dinner that night he said to Hilda:
“I’m going to ask Amelia’s brother Percy down to spend a few days. It is so long since we have seen him.”
Hilda didn’t answer at once. She looked at him in rather a curious sort of way, I thought.
“Very well, dear,” she said.
I was deuced sorry for the poor girl, but I felt like a surgeon. She would be glad later on, for I was convinced that in a very short while poor old Harold must crack under the strain, especially after I had put across the coup which I was meditating for the very next evening.
It was, so to speak, the culminating coup of my campaign. I had been watching Harold pretty closely, and I could see that the alteration in his schedule had not been without its effects. A man who has been in the habit for years of taking a cocktail at a quarter past seven suffers terribly if you suddenly deprive him of it. I speak from experience. When I used to go and stay with my uncle,—the one who left me all his money,—I never got a look at one. He was a teetotaller, and, if you wanted anything to put an edge on you before a meal, it had to be grape juice. So I could take a line through my own sufferings and arrive at a fairly close estimate of what Harold was feeling.
I had him weak. With my next move I hoped to administer the knock-out.
It was quite simple. Simple, that is to say, in its working, but a devilish brainy thing for a chappie to have thought out. If Ann had really meant what she had said at lunch that day, and was prepared to stick to her bargain and marry me as soon as I showed a burst of intelligence, she was mine. There wasn’t a thing to it. I had only to think of it, and the air became heavy with the scent of orange blossoms, and invisible organs starting playing “The Voice That Breathed O’er Eden.”
WHAT it came to was that, if dear old Harold enjoyed meditating in front of Amelia’s portrait, he was jolly well going to have all the meditating he wanted, and a bit over, for my simple scheme was to lurk outside till he had gone into the little room on the top floor, and then, with the aid of one of those jolly little wedges which you use to keep windows from rattling, see to it that the old boy remained there till they sent out search-parties.
There wasn’t a flaw in my reasoning. When Harold didn’t roll in at the sound of the dinner-gong, Hilda would take it for granted that he was doing an extra bit of meditating that night, and her pride would stop her sending out a hurry-call for him. As for Harold, when he found that all was not well with the door, he would probably yell with considerable vim. But it was odds against anyone hearing him. As for me, you might think that I was going to suffer owing to the probable postponement of dinner. Not so, but far otherwise, for on the night I had selected for the coup I was dining out at the neighboring inn with my old college chum, Freddie Meadowes. It is true that Freddie wasn’t going to be within fifty miles of the place on that particular night, but they weren’t to know that.
Did I describe the peculiar isolation of that room on the top floor, where the portrait was? I don’t think I did. It was, as a matter of fact, the only room in those parts, for, in the days when he did his amateur painting, old Harold was strong on the artistic seclusion business and hated noise, and his studio was the only room in use on that floor.
In short, to sum up, the thing was a cinch.
PUNCTUALLY at ten minutes to seven I was in readiness on the scene. There was a recess with a curtain in front of it a few yards from the door, and there I waited, fondling my little wedge, for Harold to walk up to allow the proceedings to start. It was almost pitch-dark, and that made the time of waiting seem longer. Somehow it’s always more of a job waiting in the dark. I didn’t dare to strike a light and look at my watch, but I knew Harold was always on time, so there wasn’t any necessity.
Presently—I seemed to have been there much longer than ten minutes—I heard steps approaching. They came past where I stood, and went on into the room. The door closed, and I hopped out and sprinted up to it, and the next moment I had the good old wedge under the wood,—as neat a job as you could imagine. And then I strolled downstairs, and toddled off to the inn.
I didn’t hurry over my dinner, partly because the browsing and sluicing at the inn was really astonishingly good for a road-house and partly because I wanted to give Harold plenty of time for meditation. I suppose it must have been a couple of hours or more when I finally turned in at the front door.
Somebody was playing the piano in the drawing-room. I hesitated for a moment whether to go in or not. It could only be Hilda who was playing, and I had doubts as to whether Hilda wanted company just then,—mine, at any rate.
EVENTUALLY I decided to risk it, for I wanted to hear the latest about dear old Harold, so in I went, and it wasn’t Hilda at all; it was Ann Selby.
“Hello,” I said. “I didn’t know you were coming down here.”
It seemed so odd, don’t you know, as it hadn’t been more than ten days or so since her last visit.
“Good evening, Reggie,” she said.
Have you ever noticed that, when things have been happening, you can nearly always tell it in the way a person wishes you good evening or good morning? I remember once, when I was a kid, smashing a valuable Dresden China figure in my uncle’s study overnight. Next day, when I came down to breakfast, he said, “Good morning, Reginald!” and, if you’ll believe me, I was out of the house and up a tree before he had time even to touch the fringe of the Dresden China topic. I knew, don’t you know! It was the same now,—only the emotion I spotted in the words wasn’t wrath or resentment or whatever it is that makes an old gentleman weighing two hundred pounds leg it like a mustang of the prairie after a kid of ten and try to put one or two across him with an oak walking-stick; it was triumph. And what Ann had to be triumphant about I couldn’t see.
“What’s been happening?” I asked.
“How do you know anything has been happening?”
“I guessed it.”
SHE played a bar or two of “See the Conquering Hero Comes” with the soft pedal down, then swung round on the music stool and smiled happily.
“Well, you’re quite right, as it happens, Reggie. A good deal has been happening.”
She went to the door, and looked out, listening. Then she shut it, and came back.
“Hilda has revolted!”
“Yes, put her foot down—made a stand—refused to go on meekly putting up with Harold’s insane behavior.”
“I don’t understand.”
She gave me a look of pity.
“You always were so dense, Reggie. I will tell you the whole thing from the beginning. You remember what I spoke to you about, one day when we were lunching together? Well, I don’t suppose you have noticed it—I know what you are,—but things have been getting steadily worse. For one thing Harold insisted on lengthening his visits to the top room, and naturally Ponsonby complained. Hilda tells me that she had to plead with him to induce him to stay on. Well, Hilda, poor girl, is so long-suffering that she actually put up with that without a murmur. Then the climax came. I don’t know if you recollect Amelia’s brother Percy? You must have met him when she was alive,—a perfectly unspeakable person with a loud voice and overpowering manners. Suddenly, out of a blue sky, Harold announced his intention of inviting him to stay. It was the last straw. This afternoon I received a telegram from poor Hilda, saying that she was leaving Harold and coming to stay with me, and a few hours later the poor child arrived at my apartment.”
You mustn’t suppose that I stood listening silently to this speech. Every time she seemed to he going to stop for breath I tried to horn in and tell her all these things which had been happening were not mere flukes, as she seemed to think, but parts of a deuced carefully-planned scheme of my own. But you know how it is with girls,—especially if, like Ann, they’re used to speaking in public. They don’t stop for breath; it doesn’t seem to matter to them whether they have any air in their lungs or not; they can keep on talking by sheer will-power. Every time I tried to interrupt, Ann would wave me down, and carry on without so much as a semi-colon.
But at this point I did manage to get a word in.
“I know, I know, I know! I did it all. It was I who suggested to old Harold that he should lengthen the meditations, and insisted on his inviting Percy to stay.”
I HAD hardly got the words out, when I saw that they were not making the hit I had anticipated. She looked at me with an expression of absolute scorn, don’t you know.
“Well, really, Reggie,” she said at last. “I never had a very high opinion of your intelligence, as you know, but this is a revelation to me. What motive you can have had, unless you did it in a spirit of pure mischief——” She stopped, and there was a glare of undiluted repulsion in her eyes. “Reggie! I can’t believe it! Of all the things I loathe most, a practical joker is the worst. Do you mean to tell me you did all this as a practical joke?”
“Great Scott, no! It was like this——”
I paused for a bare second to collect my thoughts, so as to put the thing clearly to her. I might have known what would happen. She dashed in and collared the conversation again.
“Well, never mind. As it happens there is no harm done. Quite the reverse, in fact. Hilda left a note for Harold, telling him what she had done and where she had gone and why she had gone, and Harold found it. The result was that, after Hilda had been with me for some time, in he came in a panic and absolutely grovelled before the dear child. It seems incredible, but he had apparently had no notion that his absurd behavior had met with anything but approval from Hilda. He went on as if he was mad. He was beside himself. He clutched his hair and stamped about the room, and then he jumped at the telephone and called this house up on the long distance, and got Ponsonby on the wire and told him to go straight to the little room on the top floor and take Amelia’s portrait down. I thought that a little unnecessary myself, but he was in such a whirl of remorse that it was useless to try and get him to be rational. So Hilda was consoled, and he calmed down, and we all came down here in the automobile. So you see——”
At this moment the door opened, and in came Harold.
“I say—hello, Reggie, old man,—I say, it’s a funny thing, but we can’t find Ponsonby anywhere.”
THERE are moments in a chappie’s life, don’t you know, when Reason, so to speak, totters, as it were, on its bally throne. This was one of them. The situation seemed somehow to have got out of my grip. I suppose, strictly speaking, I ought, at this juncture, to have cleared my throat and said in an audible tone, “Harold, old top, I know where Ponsonby is.” But somehow I couldn’t. Something seemed to keep the words back. I just stood there and said nothing.
“Nobody seems to have seen anything of him,” said Harold. “I wonder where he can have got to.”
Hilda came in, looking so happy I hardly recognized her. I remember feeling how strange it was that anybody could be happy just then.
“I know,” she said. “Of course! Doesn’t he always go off to the inn and play bowls at this time?”
“Why, of course,” said Harold. “So he does.”
And he asked Ann to play something on the piano. And pretty soon we had settled down to a regular jolly musical evening.
I remember reading a story once of a chappie who murdered another chappie, and, not being quite decided what to do with the body, tied it under the dining-room table, and left it there pending his final decision. I had often wondered how he felt, especially as it happened that he had to give a dinner party in the room where the good old body was. Now I knew. He may have felt a trifle uncomfortable, but he hadn’t anything on me.
Ann must have played a matter of two or three thousand tunes, when Harold got up.
“By the way,” he said, “I suppose he did what I told him about the picture before he went out. Let’s go and see.”
“Oh, Harold, what does it matter?” asked Hilda.
“Don’t be silly, Harold,” said Ann.
I would have said the same, only I couldn’t say anything.
Harold wasn’t to be stopped. He led the way out of the room and upstairs, and we all trailed after him.
We had just reached the top floor, when Hilda stopped, and said “Hark!”
It was a voice.
“Hi!” it said. “Hi!”
Harold legged it to the door of the studio.
FROM within came the voice again, and I have never heard anything to touch the combined pathos, dignity, and indignation it managed to condense into two words.
“What on earth are you doing in there?”
“I came here, sir, in accordance with your instructions on the telephone, and——”
Harold rattled the door.
“The darned thing’s stuck.”
“How on earth did that happen?”
“I could not say, sir.”
“Kick the door, Ponsonby.”
“Very good, sir.”
A restrained kicking made itself heard.
“How can the door have stuck like this?” said Ann.
Somebody—I suppose it was me, though the voice didn’t seem familiar—spoke.
“Perhaps there’s a wedge under it,” said this chappie.
“A wedge? What do you mean?”
“One of those little wedges you use to keep windows from rattling, don’t you know.”
“But why——? . . . You’re absolutely right, Reggie, old man, there is!”
HE yanked it out, and flung the door open, and out came Ponsonby, looking like Lady Macbeth.
“I wish to give notice, sir,” he said, “and I should esteem it a favor if I might go to the pantry and procure some food, as I am extremely hungry.”
And he passed from our midst, with Hilda after him, saying: “But, Ponsonby! Be reasonable, Ponsonby!”
Ann Selby turned on me with a swish.
“Reggie,” she said, “did you shut Ponsonby in there?”
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”
“But why?” cried Harold.
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“But, heavens, man, you must have had a reason.”
“Well, to be absolutely frank, old top, I thought it was you.”
“You thought it was me? But why—what did you want to lock me in for?”
I hesitated. It was a delicate business telling him the idea. And, while I was hesitating, Ann jumped in.
“I can tell you why, Harold. It was because Reggie belongs to that sub-species of humanity known as practical jokers. This sort of thing is his idea of humor.”
“Humor!” said Harold. “Losing us a priceless butler! If that’s your idea of——”
Hilda came back, pale and anxious.
“Harold, dear, do come and help me reason with Ponsonby. He is in the pantry gnawing a cold chicken like a dog, and he only stops to say ‘I give notice!’ Do come and entreat him to take a broad view of the thing.”
“Yes,” said Ann. “Go, both of you. I wish to speak to Reggie alone.”
That’s how I came to lose Ann. At intervals during her remarks I tried to put my side of the case, but it was no good. She wouldn’t listen. And presently something seemed to tell me that now was the time to go to my room and pack. Half an hour later I slid silently into the night.
Wasn’t it Shakespeare or somebody who said that the road to Hell—or words to that effect—was paved with good intentions? If it was Shakespeare, it just goes to prove what they are always saying about him,—that he knew a bit. Take it from one who knows, the old boy was absolutely right.