Liberty, October 23, 1926
“WHATEVER is the matter, Sigsbee?” said Mrs. Waddington, annoyed.
Sigsbee H. seemed to be wrestling with acute mental agitation. He was staring at his daughter with protruding eyes.
“Did you say you were going to sell that necklace?” he stammered.
“Oh, be quiet, Sigsbee!” said Mrs. Waddington. “What does it matter whether she sells the necklace or not? It has nothing to do with the argument. The point is that this misguided girl is proposing to throw herself away on a miserable, paint-daubing, ukelele-playing artist . . .”
“He doesn’t play the ukelele. He told me so.”
“. . . when she might, if she chose, marry a delightful man with a fine old English title who would . . .”
Mrs. Waddington broke off. There had come back to her the memory of that scene in Madame Eulalie’s office.
Molly seized the opportunity afforded by her unexpected silence to make a counter-attack:
“I wouldn’t marry Lord Hunstanton if he were the last man in the world.”
“Honey,” said Sigsbee H. in a low, pleading voice, “I don’t think I’d sell that necklace if I were you.”
“Of course I shall sell it. We shall need the money when we are married.”
“You are not going to be married,” said Mrs. Waddington, recovering. “I should have thought any right-minded girl would have despised this wretched Finch. Why, the man appears to be so poor-spirited that he didn’t even dare to come here and tell me this awful news. He left it to you . . .”
“George was not able to come here. The poor pet has been arrested by a policeman.”
“Ha!” cried Mrs. Waddington triumphantly. “And that is the sort of man you propose to marry! A jail-bird!”
“Well, I think it shows what a sweet nature he has. He was so happy at being engaged that he suddenly stopped at Fifty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue and started giving away dollar bills to everybody who came by. In about two minutes there was a crowd stretching right across to Madison Avenue, and the traffic was blocked for miles, and they called out the police reserves, and George was taken away in a patrol-wagon, and I telephoned to Hamilton Beamish to go and bail him out and bring him along here. They ought to arrive at any moment.”
“MR. HAMILTON BEAMISH and Mr. George Finch,” said Ferris in the doorway. And the nicely graduated way in which he spoke the two names would have conveyed at once to any intelligent listener that Hamilton Beamish was an honored guest, but that he had been forced to admit George Finch—against all the promptings of his better nature—because Mr. Beamish had told him to.
“Here we are,” said Hamilton Beamish cheerily. “Just in time, I perceive, to join in a jolly family discussion.”
Mrs. Waddington looked bleachingly at George, who was trying to hide behind a gate-leg table. For George Finch was conscious of not looking his best. Nothing so disorders the outer man as the process of being arrested and hauled to the coop by a posse of New York gendarmes.
George’s collar was hanging loose from its stud; his waistcoat lacked three buttons; and his left eye was oddly discolored where a high-minded officer, piqued by the fact that he should have collected crowds by scattering dollar bills, and even more incensed by the discovery that he had scattered all he possessed and had none left, had given him a hearty buffet in the patrol-wagon.
“There is no discussion,” said Mrs. Waddington. “You do not suppose I am going to allow my daughter to marry a man like that.”
“Tut-tut!” said Hamilton Beamish. “George is not looking his best just now, but a wash and brush-up will do wonders. What is your objection to George?”
Mrs. Waddington was at a momentary loss for a reply. Anybody, suddenly questioned as to why one disliked a slug or a snake or a black-beetle, might find it difficult on the spur of the moment to analyze and dissect one’s prejudice. Mrs. Waddington looked on her antipathy to George Finch as one of those deep, natural, fundamental impulses which the sensible person takes for granted. Broadly speaking, she objected to George because he was George. It was, as it were, his essential Georgeness that offended her. But, seeing that she was expected to be analytical, she forced her mind to the task.
“He is an artist.”
“So was Michael Angelo.”
“I never met him.”
“He was a very great man.”
Mrs. Waddington raised her eyebrows.
“I completely fail to understand, Mr. Beamish, why, when we are discussing this young man here with the black eye and the dirty collar, you should persist in diverting the conversation to the subject of a perfect stranger like this Mr. Angelo.”
“I merely wished to point out,” said Hamilton Beamish stiffly, “that the fact that he is an artist does not necessarily damn a man.”
“There is no need,” retorted Mrs. Waddington with even greater stiffness, “to use bad language.”
“Besides, George is a rotten artist.”
“Rotten to the core, no doubt.”
“I mean,” said Hamilton Beamish, flushing slightly at the lapse from the English Pure into which emotion had led him, “he paints so badly that you can hardly call him an artist at all.”
“Is that so?” said George, speaking for the first time, and speaking nastily.
“I am sure George is one of the cleverest artists living,” cried Molly.
“He is not,” thundered Hamilton Beamish. “He is an incompetent amateur.”
“Exactly!” said Mrs. Waddington. “And consequently can never hope to make money.”
Hamilton Beamish’s eyes lit up behind their spectacles.
“Is that your chief objection?” he asked.
“Is what my chief objection?”
“That George has no money?”
“But . . .” began George.
“Shut up!” said Hamilton Beamish. “I ask you, Mrs. Waddington, would you give your consent to this marriage if my friend George Finch were a wealthy man?”
“It is a waste of time to discuss such . . .”
“Possibly I would.”
“Then allow me to inform you,” said Hamilton Beamish triumphantly, “that George Finch is an exceedingly wealthy man. His uncle Thomas, whose entire fortune he inherited two years ago, was Finch, Finch, Finch, Butterfield & Finch, the well known corporation law firm. George, my boy, let me congratulate you. Mrs. Waddington has withdrawn her objections.”
Mrs. Waddington snorted, but it was the snort of a beaten woman, outgeneraled by a superior intelligence.
“But . . .”
“No.” Hamilton Beamish raised his hand. “You cannot go back on what you said. You stated in distinct terms that, if George had money, you would consent to the marriage.”
“And, anyway, I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” said Molly. “Because I am going to marry him, no matter what anybody says.”
Mrs. Waddington capitulated.
“Very well! I am nobody, I see. What I say does not matter in the slightest.”
“Mother!” said George reproachfully.
“Mother!” echoed Mrs. Waddington, starting violently.
“Now that everything is so happily settled, of course I regard you in that light.”
“Oh, do you?” said Mrs. Waddington.
“Oh, I do,” said George.
Mrs. Waddington sniffed unpleasantly.
“I have been overwhelmed and forced into consenting to a marriage of which I strongly disapprove,” she said, “but I may be permitted to say one word. I have a feeling that this wedding will never take place.”
“What do you mean?” said Molly. “It will take place. Why shouldn’t it?”
Mrs. Waddington sniffed again.
“Mr. Finch,” she said, “though a very incompetent artist, has lived for a considerable time in the heart of Greenwich Village and mingled daily with Bohemians of both sexes and questionable morals. . . .”
“What are you hinting?” demanded Molly.
“I am not hinting,” replied Mrs. Waddington with dignity. “I am saying. And what I am saying is this. Do not come to me for sympathy if this Finch of yours turns out to have the sort of moral code which you might expect in one who deliberately, and of his own free will, goes and lives near Washington Square. I say again that I have a presentiment that this marriage will never take place. I had a similar presentiment regarding the wedding of my sister-in-law and a young man named John Porter. I said, ‘I feel that this wedding will never take place.’ And events proved me right. John Porter, at the very moment when he was about to enter the church, was arrested on a charge of bigamy.”
George uttered protesting noises.
“But my morals are above reproach.”
“So you say.”
“I assure you that, as far as women are concerned, I can scarcely tell one from another.”
“Precisely,” replied Mrs. Waddington, “what John Porter said when they asked him why he had married six different girls.”
Hamilton Beamish looked at his watch.
“Well, now that everything is satisfactorily settled . . .”
“For the moment,” said Mrs. Waddington.
“Now that everything is satisfactorily settled,” proceeded Hamilton Beamish, “I will be leaving you. I have to get back and dress. I am speaking at a dinner of the Great Neck Social and Literary Society tonight.”
The silence that followed his departure was broken by a question from Sigsbee H. Waddington.
“Molly, my dear,” said Sigsbee H. “Touching on that necklace. . . . Now that this splendid young fellow turns out to be very rich, you will not want to sell it, of course?”
“Yes, I think I shall. I never liked it much. It’s too showy. I shall sell it and buy something very nice with the money for George. A lot of diamond pins, or watches, or motorcars, or something. And whenever we look at them we will think of you, daddy dear.”
“Thanks,” said Mr. Waddington huskily. “Thanks.”
“Seldom in my life,” observed Mrs. Waddington, coming abruptly out of the brooding coma into which she had sunk, “have I had a stronger presentiment than the one to which I alluded just now.”
“Oh, mother!” said George.
HAMILTON BEAMISH, gathering up his hat in the hall, became aware that something was pawing at his sleeve.
“Say!” said Sigsbee H. in a hushed undertone. “Say, listen!”
“Is anything the matter?”
“You bet your tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles something’s the matter,” whispered Sigsbee H. urgently. “Say, listen. Can I have a word with you? I want your advice.”
“I’m in a hurry.”
“How long will you be before you start out for this Hoboken clam-bake of yours?”
“The dinner of the Great Neck Social and Literary Society, to which I imagine you to allude, is at eight o’clock. I shall motor down, leaving my apartment at twenty minutes past seven.”
“Then it’s no good trying to see you tonight. Will you be home tomorrow?”
“Right!” said Sigsbee H.
* * *
“SAY, listen!” said Sigsbee H. Waddington.
“Proceed,” said Hamilton Beamish.
“I’m all attention.”
“Say, listen!” said Mr. Waddington.
Hamilton Beamish glanced at his watch impatiently. Even at its normal level of imbecility, the conversation of Sigsbee H. Waddington was apt to jar upon his critical mind, and now, it seemed to him, the other was plumbing depths which even he had never reached before.
“I can give you seven minutes,” he said. “At the end of that period of time, I must leave you. I am speaking at a luncheon of the Young Women Writers of America.”
“Say, listen!” said Sigsbee H. “I’ve gone and got myself into the devil of a jam.”
“A position of embarrassment?”
“You said it!”
“State nature of same,” said Hamilton Beamish, looking at his watch again.
Mr. Waddington glanced quickly and nervously over his shoulder.
“It’s like this. You heard Molly say yesterday she was going to sell those pearls.”
“Well, say, listen!” said Mr. Waddington, lowering his voice and looking apprehensively about him once more. “They aren’t pearls!”
“What are they, then?”
Hamilton Beamish winced.
“You mean imitation stones?”
“That’s just what I do mean. What am I going to do about it?”
“Perfectly simple. Bring an action against the jeweler who sold them to you as genuine.”
“But they were genuine then. You don’t seem to get the position.”
“I do not.”
Sigsbee H. Waddington moistened his lips.
“Have you ever heard of the Finer and Better Motion Picture Company of Hollywood, Cal.?”
“Kindly keep to the point. My time is limited.”
“This is the point. Some time ago a guy who said he was a friend of mine tipped me off that this company was a wow.”
“A winner. He said it was going to be big and advised me to come in on the ground floor. The chance of a lifetime, he said it was.”
“Well?” said Hamilton Beamish.
“Well, I hadn’t any money—not a cent. Still, I didn’t want to miss a good thing like that, so I sat down and thought. I thought and thought and thought. And then suddenly something seemed to say to me, ‘Why not?’ That pearl necklace, I mean. There it was, you get me, just sitting and doing nothing and I only needed the money for a few weeks till this company started to clean up and . . . Well, to cut a long story short, I sneaked the necklace away, had the fake stones put in, sold the others, bought the stock, and there I was, so I thought, all hotsy-totsy.”
“Hotsy-totsy. It seemed to me that I was absolutely hotsy-totsy.”
“And what has caused you to revise this opinion?”
“Why, I met a man the other day who said these shares weren’t worth a bean. I’ve got ’em here. Take a look at them.”
HAMILTON BEAMISH scrutinized the documents with distaste.
“The man was right,” he said. “When you first mentioned the name of the company, it seemed familiar. I now recall why. Mrs. Henrietta Byng Masterson, the president of the Great Neck Social and Literary Society, was speaking to me of it last night. She also had bought shares and mentioned the fact with regret. I should say at a venture that these of yours are worth possibly ten dollars.”
“I gave fifty thousand for them.”
“Then your books will show a loss of forty-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety. I am sorry.”
“But what am I to do?”
“Write it off to experience.”
“But hell’s bells! Don’t you understand? What’s going to happen when Molly tries to sell that necklace and it comes out that it’s a fake?”
Hamilton Beamish shook his head. With most of the ordinary problems of life he was prepared to cope, but this, he frankly admitted, was beyond him.
“My wife’ll murder me.”
“I came here, thinking that you would be able to suggest something.”
Hamilton Beamish regarded him sympathetically, but there was no light of encouragement in his eye.
“Short of stealing the necklace and dropping it in the Hudson River, I fear I can think of no solution.”
“You used to be a brainy sort of gink,” said Mr. Waddington reproachfully.
“I still am. But no human brain could devise a way out of this impasse. You can but wait events and trust to Time, the great healer, eventually to mend matters.”
“That’s a lot of help.”
Hamilton Beamish shrugged his shoulders.
Sigsbee H. Waddington regarded the stock certificates malevolently.
“If the stuff’s no good,” he said, “what do they want to put all those dollar signs on the back for? Misleading people! And look at that seal. And all those signatures.”
“I am sorry,” said Hamilton Beamish. He moved to the window and leaned out, sniffing the summer air. “What a glorious day!”
“No, it isn’t,” said Mr. Waddington.
“Have you ever by any chance met Madame Eulalie, Mrs. Waddington’s palmist?” asked Hamilton Beamish dreamily.
“Darn all palmists!” said Sigsbee H. Waddington. “What am I going to do about this stock?”
“I have already told you that there is nothing that you can do, short of stealing the necklace.”
“There must be something. What would you do if you were me?”
“Run away to Europe.”
“But I can’t run away to Europe. I haven’t any money.”
“Then shoot yourself . . . stand in front of a train . . . anything, anything,” said Hamilton Beamish impatiently. “And now I must really go. Good-by.”
“Good-by. Thanks for being such a help.”
“Not at all,” said Hamilton Beamish. “Don’t mention it. I am always delighted to be of any assistance—always.”
He gave a last soulful glance at himself in the mirror and left the room. Mr. Waddington could hear him singing an old French love-song as he waited for the elevator, and the sound seemed to set the seal upon his gloom and despair.
“You big stiff!” said Mr. Waddington morosely.
He flung himself into a chair and gave himself up to melancholy meditation. For a while all he could think of was how much he disliked Hamilton Beamish.
And that idiotic suggestion of his about stealing the necklace! How could he possibly . . . ?
SIGSBEE H. WADDINGTON sat up in his chair. There was a gleam in his eyes. Was it such an idiotic suggestion, after all?
He gazed into the future. At the moment the necklace was in safe custody at the bank, but, if Molly was going to marry this young Finch, it would presumably be taken from there and placed on exhibition among the other wedding presents. So that ere long there would undeniably be a time—say, the best part of a day—when a resolute man with a nimble set of fingers might . . .
Mr. Waddington sank back in his chair again. The light died out of his eyes. Philosophers tell us that no man really knows himself; but Sigsbee H. Waddington knew himself well enough to be aware that he fell short by several miles of the nerve necessary for such an action. Stealing necklaces is no job for an amateur. You cannot suddenly take to it in middle life without any previous preparation. Probably every successful stealer of necklaces underwent rigorous and intensive training from early boyhood, starting with milkcans and bags at railway stations, and working his way up. What was needed for this very delicate operation was a seasoned professional.
And there, felt Sigsbee H. Waddington bitterly, you had in a nutshell the thing that made life so difficult to live—the tragic problem of how to put your hand on the right specialist at the exact moment when you required him. All these reference-books like the Classified Telephone Directory omitted the vital trades—the trades whose members were of assistance in the real crises of life. They told you where to find a Glass Beveler—as if anyone knew what to do with a Glass Beveler when they had got him! They gave you the address of Yeast Producers and Designers of Quilts; but what was the good of a producer of yeast when you wanted someone who would produce a jimmy and break into a house, or of a designer of quilts when what you required was a man who could design a satisfactory scheme for stealing imitation pearls?
Mr. Waddington groaned in sheer bitterness of spirit. The irony of things afflicted him sorely. Every day the papers talked about the crime wave; every day a thousand happy crooks were making off in automobiles with a thousand bundles of swag, and yet here he was in urgent need of one of these crooks, and he didn’t know where to look for him.
A deprecating tap sounded on the door.
“Come in!” shouted Mr. Waddington irritably.
He looked up and perceived about seventy-five inches of bony policeman shambling over the threshold.
“I BEG your pardon, sir, if I seem to intrude,” said the policeman, beginning to recede. “I came to see Mr. Beamish. I should have made an appointment.”
“Hey! Don’t go!”
The policeman paused.
“But as Mr. Beamish is not at home . . .”
“Come right in and have a chat. Sit down. My name is Waddington.”
“Mine is Garroway,” replied the officer, bowing courteously.
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Happy to meet you, sir.”
“Have a cigar.”
“I should enjoy it above all things.”
“I wonder where Mr. Beamish keeps them,” said Sigsbee H., rising and rooting about the room. “Ah, here we are. Match?”
“I have a match, thank you.”
Sigsbee H. Waddington had been bemoaning the fact that he did not know where to lay his hand on a crook, and here, sent from heaven, was a man who was probably a walking directory of malefactors.
“I LIKE policemen,” said Mr. Waddington affably.
“That is very gratifying, sir.”
“Always have. Shows how honest I am, ha, ha! If I were a crook, I suppose I’d be scared stiff, sitting here talking to you.” Mr. Waddington drew bluffly at his cigar. “I guess you come across a lot of criminals, eh?”
“It is the great drawback to the policeman’s life,” assented Officer Garroway, sighing. “One meets them on all sides. Only last night, when I was searching for a vital adjective, I was called upon to arrest an uncouth person who had been drinking home-brewed hooch. He soaked me on the jaw, and inspiration left me.”
“Wouldn’t that give you a soft-pine finish!” said Mr. Waddington sympathetically. “But what I was referring to was real crooks. Fellows who get into houses and steal pearl necklaces. Ever meet any of them?”
“I meet a great number. In pursuance of his duty, a policeman is forced against his will to mix with all sorts of questionable people. It may be that my profession biases me, but I have a hearty dislike for thieves.”
“Still, if there were no thieves, there would be no policemen.”
“Very true, sir.”
“Supply and demand.”
Mr. Waddington blew a cloud of smoke.
“I’m kind of interested in crooks,” he said. “I’d like to meet a few.”
“I assure you that you would not find the experience enjoyable,” said Officer Garroway, shaking his head. “They are unpleasant, illiterate men with little or no desire to develop their souls. I make an exception, I should mention, however, in the case of Mr. Mullett, who seemed a nice sort of fellow. I wish I could have seen more of him.”
“Mullett? Who’s he?”
“He is an ex-convict, sir, who works for Mr. Finch in the apartment upstairs.”
“You don’t say! An ex-convict and works for Mr. Finch? What was his line?”
“Inside burglary jobs, sir. I understand, however, that he has reformed and is now a respectable member of society.”
“Still, he was a burglar once?”
There was a silence. Officer Garroway stared thoughtfully at the ceiling.
“Say, listen!” said Mr. Waddington.
“Sir?” said the policeman.
“Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that a wicked person wanted a crook to do a horrible, nefarious job for him, would he have to pay him?”
“Undoubtedly, sir. These men are very mercenary.”
“Pay him much?”
“I imagine a few hundred dollars. It would depend on the magnitude of the crime contemplated, no doubt.”
“A few hundred dollars!”
“Two, perhaps, or three.”
Silence fell once more. Officer Garroway resumed his inspection of the ceiling. What he wanted was something signifying the aspect of the streets of New York, and he had used “sordid” in line two. “Scabrous!” That was the word. He was rolling it over his tongue when he became aware that his companion was addressing him.
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
Mr. Waddington’s eyes were glittering in a peculiar way. He leaned forward and tapped Officer Garroway on the knee.
“Say, listen! I like your face, Larrabee.”
“My name is Garroway, sir.”
“Never mind about your name. It’s your face I like. Say, listen, do you want to make a pile of money?”
“Well, I don’t mind telling you that I’ve taken a fancy to you, and I’m going to do something for you that I wouldn’t do for many people. Have you ever heard of the Finer and Better Motion Picture Company of Hollywood, California?”
“That’s the wonderful thing,” said Mr. Waddington in a sort of ecstasy. “Nobody’s ever heard of it. It isn’t one of those worn-out propositions like the Famous Players that everybody’s sick and tired of. It’s new. And do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to let you have a block of stock in it for a quite nominal figure. It would be insulting you to give it you for nothing, which is what I’d like to do, of course. But it amounts to the same thing. This stock here is worth thousands and thousands of dollars, and you shall have it for three hundred . . . Have you got three hundred?” asked Mr. Waddington, anxiously.
“Yes, sir. I have that sum, but . . .”
MR. WADDINGTON waved his cigar.
“Don’t use that word ‘but’! I know what you’re trying to say. You’re trying to tell me I’m robbing myself. I know I am, and what of it? What’s money to me? The way I look at it is that, when a man has made his pile, like me, and has got enough to keep his wife and family in luxury, the least he can do as a lover of humanity is to let the rest go to folks who’ll appreciate it. Now you probably need money, eh?”
“I certainly do, sir.”
“Then here you are,” said Mr. Waddington, brandishing the bundle of stock certificates. “This is where you get it. You can take it from me that the Finer and Better Motion Picture Company is the biggest thing since Marconi invented the phonograph.”
Officer Garroway took the stock and fondled it thoughtfully.
“It’s certainly very nicely engraved,” he said.
“You bet it is! And look at those dollar signs on the back. Look at that seal. Cast your eye over those signatures. Those mean something. And you know what the motion pictures are. A bigger industry than the beef business. And the Finer and Better is the greatest proposition of them all. It isn’t like other companies. For one thing, it hasn’t been paying out all its money in dividends.”
“No, sir! Not a cent that way.”
“It’s all still there?”
“ALL still there. And, what’s more, it hasn’t released a single picture.”
“All still there?”
“All still there. Lying on the shelves, dozens of them. And then take the matter of overhead expenses, the thing that cripples all these other film companies. Big studios . . . expensive authors under contract . . . high salaried stars . . .”
“All still there?”
“No, sir! That’s the point. They’re not there. The Finer and Better Motion Picture Company hasn’t any of these Rex Beaches and Gloria Swansons eating away its capital. It hasn’t even a studio.”
“Not even a studio?”
“No, sir. Nothing but a company. I tell you it’s big!”
“It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime,” Officer Garroway agreed.
“A dozen lifetimes,” said Mr. Waddington. “And that’s the way to get on in the world—by grabbing your opportunities, Why, what’s a grapefruit but a lemon that saw its chance and made good?” Mr. Waddington paused. He snatched the bundle of stock.
“No!” he said. “No! I can’t let you have it, after all.”
“Oh, but, Mr. Waddington!”
Sigsbee H. Waddington seemed to come out of a trance. He shook himself and stared at the policeman as if he were saying, “Where am I?” He heaved a deep, remorseful sigh.
“Isn’t money the devil!” he said. “Isn’t it terrible the way it saps all a fellow’s principles and good resolutions! Here am I, with millions in the bank, and the first thing you know I’m trying to resist a generous impulse to do a fellow human being, whose face I like, a kindly act. It’s horrible!” He wrenched the bundle from his pocket and threw it to the policeman. “Here, take it before I weaken again. Give me the three hundred quick and let me get away.”
“I don’t know how to thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me, don’t thank me. One-two-three,” said Mr. Waddington, counting the bills. “Don’t thank me at all. It’s a pleasure.”
Undoubtedly there’s a conspiracy on to tie George Finch up in so many knots that you’ll laugh yourself sick watching him squirm out. Another woman enters his life next week.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine had “Finer and Better Motion Pictures Company” (three times on page 34); corrected to “Picture” for consistency.
Magazine had an extraneous closing double quotation mark after ‘but’!
Magazine had “ukelele” twice in this part but “ukulele” in Part 3. UK magazine has “ukelele” the first time (Part 1 of New serial) and “ukulele” the second time (Part 2 of New). UK book has “ukelele” throughout; US book has “ukulele” everywhere. It seems impossible to explain or conform these variants, so we merely describe them.