Liberty, December 25, 1926
IT had taken George some considerable time to establish connection with the Waddington home at Hempstead; but he had done it at last, only to be informed that Molly did not appear to be on the premises. She had driven up in her two-seater, a Swedish voice gave him to understand, but after remaining in the house a short while had driven off again.
“Fine!” said George.
A yeasty feeling of pleasure and good will toward his species filled him as he hung up the receiver. If Molly had started back for New York, he might expect to see her at any moment now. His heart swelled; and the fact that he was in the unfortunate position of being a fugitive from justice, and the additional fact that the bloodhound of the law most interested in his movements was probably somewhere very close at hand, entirely escaped him. Abandoning the caution that should have been the first thought of one situated as he was, he burst into jovial song.
George, who had been climbing toward a high note, came back to earth again, chilled and apprehensive. His first impulse was to dash for his bedroom and hide under the bed—a thing he knew himself to be good at. Then his intelligence asserted itself and panic waned. Only one man of his acquaintance could have addressed him as “Hey, Pinch!”
“Is that Mr. Waddington?” he murmured, opening the door of the sitting-room and peering in.
“Sure it’s Mr. Waddington.” The reek of a lively young cigar assailed George’s nostrils. “Don’t you have any lights in this joint?”
“Are there any policemen about?” asked George in a conspiratorial undertone.
“There’s one policeman down in young Beamish’s apartment,” replied Mr. Waddington, with a fruity chuckle. “He’s just sold me all his holdings in the Finer and Better Motion Picture Company of Hollywood, California, for three hundred smackers, and I’ve come here to celebrate. Set up the drinks,” said Mr. Waddington.
George switched on the light. If the enemy was in as distant a spot as Hamilton Beamish’s apartment, prudence might be relaxed.
“ ’At’s right,” said Mr. Waddington, welcoming the illumination. He was leaning against a bookshelf, with his hat on the back of his head and a cigar between his lips. “I’ve got a smart business head, Pinch,” he said, shooting the cigar from due east to due west with a single movement of his upper lip. “I’m the guy with the big brain.”
Although all the data which he had been able to accumulate in the course of their acquaintanceship went directly to prove the opposite, George was not inclined to combat the statement. He had weightier matters to occupy him than an academic discussion of the mentality of this poor fish.
“I found that girl,” he said.
“The girl who stole the necklace. And I’ve got the necklace.”
He had selected a subject that gripped. Mr. Waddington’s eyes widened.
“You don’t say!”
“Here it is.”
“Gimme!” said Mr. Waddington.
George dangled the necklace undecidedly.
“I think I ought to hand it over to Molly.”
“You’ll hand it over to me,” said Mr. Waddington with decision. “I’m the head of the family, and from now on I act as such. Too long, Pinch, have I allowed myself to be trampled beneath the iron heel and generally kicked in the face with spiked shoes, if you get my meaning. I now assert myself. Starting from today and onward through the years till my friends and relatives gather about my bier and whisper, ‘Doesn’t he look peaceful?’ what I say goes.
“Gimme that necklace. I intend to have it reset or something. Either that, or I shall sell it and give Molly the proceeds. In any case, and be that as it may, gimme that necklace!”
George gave it him. There was a strange new atmosphere of authority about Sigsbee H. tonight that made one give him things when he asked for them.
“Pinch,” said Mr. Waddington.
“Finch,” said George.
“GEORGE,” said a voice at the window, speaking with a startling abruptness that caused Mr. Waddington to jerk his cigar into his eye.
A wave of emotion poured over George.
“Molly! Is that you?”
“Yes, darling. Here I am.”
“How quick you’ve been.”
“Though it seems hours since you went away.”
“Does it really, precious?”
Mr. Waddington was still shaken.
“If I had been told that any daughter of mine would come and bark at me from behind like that,” he said querulously, “I would not have believed it.”
“Oh, father! There you are. I didn’t see you.”
“There,” said Mr. Waddington, “is right. You nearly scared the top of my head off.”
“Molly, my angel,” said George vibrantly. “Fancy your really being with me once more!”
“Yes, Georgie darling. And what I wanted to say was, I believe there’s somebody in your sleeping-porch.”
“I’m sure I heard voices.”
THE news that there was somebody in his sleeping-porch caused George to seethe with pique and indignation. It seemed to him that the entire population of New York had come to look on his sleeping-porch as a public resort. No sooner had he ejected one batch of visitors than another took its place.
With a wordless exclamation, he rushed out upon the roof, closely followed by Molly and her father. Molly was afraid he would get hurt; Sigsbee H. was afraid he would not. It had been a big night for Sigsbee H. Waddington, and he did not want it to end tamely.
“Have your gun ready,” advised Sigsbee H., keeping well in the rear.
George reached the door of the sleeping-porch, and smote it a lusty blow.
“Hi!” he cried. He twisted the handle. “Good heavens, it’s locked!”
From the upper window, softened by distance, came a pleading voice.
“I say! I say! I say!” called Lord Hunstanton. “I say, whoever you are, dear old soul, let us out, would you mind?”
George ground his teeth.
“What do you mean, ‘whoever you are’? I’m George Finch, and that sleeping-porch belongs to me.”
“Good old George! Hunstanton speaking. Let us out, George, old top, like the sportsman you are!”
“What are you doing in there?”
“A policeman locked us in. And a blighter of a butler, after promising to undo the door, told some thin story about not being able to find the key, and legged it with all our available assets. So play the man, dear old George, and blessings will reward you. Also and moreover, by acting promptly you will save the life of my dear good friend and hostess here, who has been hiccoughing for some little time, and is, I rather fancy, on the point of hysterics.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Is Mrs. Waddington in there with you?”
“Is she not, laddie!”
George drew in his breath sharply.
“Mother,” he said reproachfully, through the keyhole, “I had not expected this!”
Sigsbee H. Waddington uttered a fearful cry.
“My wife! In there! With a man with a toothbrush mustache! Let me talk to them!”
“Who was that?” asked Lord Hunstanton.
“Mr. Waddington,” replied George, as a scream rent the air.
“I say, George, old man,” queried his lordship anxiously, “what do you do when a woman starts turning blue and making little bubbling noises?”
Sigsbee H., finding that a man of his stature could not hope to speak to any advantage through the window unless he stood on something, had darted across the roof and was now returning with one of the potted shrubs in his arms. The wildness of his eyes, and the fact that even in this supreme moment he had gone on puffing at his cigar, gave him a striking resemblance to a fire-breathing dragon. He bumped the tub down and, like a man who rises on stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things, elevated himself upon it.
THIS brought him nicely within range of the window and enabled him to push Lord Hunstanton in the face, which was all to the good. His lordship staggered back, leaving the way clear for the injured man to gaze upon his erring wife.
“Ha!” said Sigsbee H. Waddington.
“I can explain everything, Sigsbee!”
Mr. Waddington pshawed.
“Nerve,” he said, “in its proper place and when there’s not too much of it, I admire. But when a woman has the crust to disparage the morals of one of the finest young fellows who ever came out of the golden West, and then I happen to pop into New York on important business and find her closeted with a man with a toothbrush mustache, and she has the audacity to say she can explain everything——”
Here Mr. Waddington paused to take in breath.
“It’s living in this soul-destroying East that does it,” proceeded Mr. Waddington, having refilled his thoracic cavities. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, that——”
“But, Sigsbee, I couldn’t help it. A policeman locked us in.”
“What were you doing up here, anyway?”
“I came to see what that Finch was doing. And I heard him in here talking to an abandoned creature.”
Mr. Waddington directed a questioning gaze at George.
“Have you been talking to any abandoned creatures tonight?”
“Of course he hasn’t!” cried Molly indignantly.
“I have spoken with no one of the opposite sex,” said George, with dignity, “except the girl who stole the necklace. And that was a purely business discussion which would not have brought a blush to the cheek of the sternest critic.”
“You hear?” said Mr. Waddington.
“No, I don’t,” said Mrs. Waddington.
“Well, take it from me that this splendid young man from the West is as pure as driven snow. So now let’s hear from you once more. Why did the policeman lock you in?”
“We had a misunderstanding.”
“Well, I—er—happened to throw a little pepper in his face.”
“Sweet artichokes of Jerusalem! Why?”
“He found me in Mr. Finch’s apartment and wanted to arrest me.”
Mr. Waddington’s voice grew cold and grim.
“Indeed?” he said. “Well, this finishes it! If you can’t live in the East without spending your time throwing pepper at policemen, you’ll come straight out with me to the West before you start attacking them with hatchets. That is my final and unalterable decision. Come West, woman, where hearts are pure, and there try to start a new life.”
“I will, Sigsbee, I will.”
“You bet your permanent henna hair-wash you will!”
“I’ll buy the transportation tomorrow.”
“No, sir!” Mr. Waddington with a grand gesture nearly overbalanced the tub on which he stood. “I will buy the transportation tomorrow. You will be interested to learn that, owing to commercial transactions resulting from the possession of a smart business head, I am now once more an exceedingly wealthy man and able to buy all the transportation this family requires and to run this family as it should be run. I’m the big noise now. Yes, me—Sigsbee Horatio.”
THE tub tilted sideways, and the speaker staggered into the arms of Officer Garroway, who had come up to the roof to see how his prisoners were getting on and was surprised to find himself plunged into the middle of what appeared to be a debating society.
The policeman eyed him coldly. The fever of dislike he had felt toward this man had passed, but he could never look on him as a friend. Moreover, Mr. Waddington, descending from the tub, had stamped heavily on his right foot, almost the only portion of his anatomy that had up till then come unscathed through the adventures of the night.
“What’s all this?” inquired Officer Garroway.
His eye fell upon George, and he uttered that low, sinister growl which is heard only from the throats of leopards seeking their prey, tigers about to give battle, and New York policemen who come unexpectedly upon the men who have thrown tablecloths over them and hit them in the eye.
“So there you are!” said Officer Garroway.
He poised his night stick in his hand and moved softly forward. Molly flung herself in his path with a cry.
“Miss,” said the policeman courteously, as was his wont in the presence of the sex, “oblige me by getting to hell out of here.”
THE policeman wheeled sharply. Only one man in the world would have been able to check his dreadful designs at that moment, and that man had now joined the group. Clad in a sweater and a pair of running shorts, Hamilton Beamish made a strangely dignified and picturesque figure as he stood there with the moonlight glinting on his horn-rimmed spectacles. He wore soft shoes with rubber soles and he was carrying a pair of dumb-bells. Hamilton Beamish was a man who lived by schedule, and not all that he had passed through that day could blur his mind to the fact that this was the hour at which he did his before-retiring dumb-bell exercises.
“What is the trouble, Garroway?”
“Well, Mr. Beamish——”
Confused voices interrupted him:
“He was trying to murder George.”
“He’s got my wife locked up in this room.”
“Darned fresh guy!”
“George didn’t do a thing to him.”
“My wife only threw a little pepper in his face.”
Hamilton Beamish raised a compelling dumb-bell.
“Please, please! Garroway, state your case.”
He listened attentively.
“Unlock that door,” he said, when all was told.
The policeman unlocked the door. Mrs. Waddington, followed by Lord Hunstanton, emerged. Lord Hunstanton eyed Mr. Waddington warily and sidled with an air of carelessness toward the stairway. Accelerating his progress as he neared the door, he vanished abruptly. Lord Hunstanton was a well bred man who hated a fuss, and every instinct told him that this was one. He was better elsewhere, he decided.
“STOP that man!” ejaculated Officer Garroway. He turned back, with a darkening brow. “Now he’s gone!” he said somberly. “And he was wanted by the police.”
“You are mistaken, Garroway,” said Hamilton Beamish. “That was Lord Hunstanton, a personal acquaintance of mine.”
“You knew him, Mr. Beamish?”
“Do you know her?” asked the policeman, pointing to Mrs. Waddington.
“And him?” said Officer Garroway, indicating George.
“He is one of my best friends.”
The policeman heaved a dreary sigh. He relapsed into silence, baffled.
“The whole affair,” said Hamilton Beamish, “appears to have been due to a foolish misunderstanding. This lady, Garroway, is the stepmother of this young lady here, to whom Mr. Finch should have been married today. There was some little trouble, I understand from Mr. Waddington, and she was left with the impression that Mr. Finch’s morals were not all they should have been. Later, facts came to light that convinced her of her error, and she hastened to New York to seek Mr. Finch out and tell him that all was well and that the marriage would proceed with her full approval. That is correct, Mrs. Waddington?”
Mrs. Waddington gulped. For a moment her eye seemed about to assume its well known expression of a belligerent fish. But her spirit was broken. She was not the woman she had been. She had lost the old form.
“Yes—yes. That is to say—I mean yes,” she replied huskily.
“You called at Mr. Finch’s apartment with no other motive than to tell him this?”
“None—or, rather—no, none!”
“In fact, to put the thing in a nutshell, you wished to find your future son-in-law and fold him in a mother-in-law’s embrace. Am I right?”
This time the pause before Mrs. Waddington found herself able to reply was more marked. She gazed at George Finch long and lingeringly. Then she spoke.
“Quite right,” she said huskily.
“Excellent,” said Hamilton Beamish. “So you see, Garroway, that Mrs. Waddington’s reasons for being in the apartment where you found her were wholly admirable. That clears up that point.”
“It doesn’t clear up why she threw pepper in my face.”
Hamilton Beamish nodded.
“There, Garroway,” he said, “you have put your finger on the one aspect of Mrs. Waddington’s behavior which was not completely unexceptionable. As regards the pepper, you have, it seems to me, legitimate cause for pique and, indeed, solid grounds for an action for assault and battery. But Mrs. Waddington is a reasonable woman, and will, no doubt, be willing to settle this little matter in a way acceptable to all parties.”
“I will pay him whatever he wants,” cried the reasonable woman. “Anything, anything!”
It was the voice of Sigsbee H. He stood there, forceful and dominant. His cigar had gone out and he was chewing the dry remains aggressively.
“Say, listen!” said Sigsbee H. Waddington. “If there’s any bribing of the police to be done, it’s my place to do it, as the head of the family. Look me up at my little place at Hempstead tomorrow, Gallagher, and we’ll have a talk. You will find me a generous man. Open-handed. Western.”
“Capital,” said Hamilton Beamish. “So everything is happily settled.”
There was not much of Officer Garroway’s face that was not concealed by the bandage and the steak, but on the small residuum there appeared a look of doubt and dissatisfaction.
“And what about this bird here?” he asked, indicating George.
“This individual before me,” corrected Hamilton Beamish. “What about him, Garroway?”
“He soaked me in the eye.”
“No doubt in a spirit of wholesome fun. Where did this happen?”
“Down there in the Purple Chicken.”
“Ah! Well, if you knew that restaurant better, you would understand that that sort of thing is the merest commonplace of everyday life at the Purple Chicken. You must overlook it, Garroway.”
“Very well, Mr. Beamish,” said the policeman resignedly.
Mrs. Waddington was plucking at her husband’s sleeve.
“Sigsbee, dear, I’m starving. I have had nothing to eat since luncheon. There is some wonderful soup in there.”
“Let’s go,” said Sigsbee H. “You coming?” he said to George.
“I thought of taking Molly off somewhere.”
“Oh, no; do come with us, George,” said Mrs. Waddington winningly. She drew closer to him. “George, is it really true that you hit that policeman in the eye?”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, he was trying to arrest me, so I threw a tablecloth over his head and then plugged him a couple of rather juicy ones that made him leave go.”
Mrs. Waddington’s eyes glistened. She put her arm through his.
“George,” she said, “I have misjudged you. I could wish Molly no better husband.”
HAMILTON BEAMISH stood in the moonlight, swinging his dumb-bells. Having done this for a while, he embarked on a few simple setting-up exercises. He stood with his feet some six inches apart, his toes turned slightly out; then, placing his hands on his hips, thumbs back, bent slightly forward from the shoulders—not from the hips. He retracted the lower abdomen, and, holding it retracted, leaned well over to the left side, contracting the muscles of the left side forcibly. He kept his legs straight all the time, his knees stiff. He reversed to the right side and repeated twenty times—ten right, ten left. This exercise was done slowly and steadily, without jerking.
“Aha!” said Hamilton Beamish, relaxing. “Splendid for the transversalis muscle, that, converting it into a living belt which girds the loins. Have you ever given considered thought to the loins, Garroway?”
The policeman shook his head.
“Not that I know of,” he said indifferently. “I’ve seen ’em in the Bronx Zoo.”
Hamilton Beamish eyed him with concern.
“Garroway,” he said, “you seem distrait.”
“If that’s how a feller is when he’s been hit and punched and stepped on and had pepper thrown at him and tablecloths put over his head, I’ve got a swell licence to seem distrait,” replied the policeman bitterly. “And on top of all that, when I thought I had made a cop——”
“Brought about an arrest.”
“——brought about an arrest which would have got me promotion, I find they’re all friends of yours and have to be allowed to make a clean getaway. That’s what jars me, Mr. Beamish.”
Hamilton Beamish patted him on the shoulder.
“Every poet, Garroway, has to learn in suffering before he can teach in song. Look at Keats! Look at Chatterton! One of these days you will be thankful that all this has happened. It will be the making of you. Besides, think of the money you are going to get from Mr. Waddington tomorrow.”
“I’d give it all for one long, cool drink now.”
The policeman looked up. Molly was standing in the window.
“Mr. Garroway,” said Molly, “a most mysterious thing has happened. Mr. Finch has found two large bottles of champagne in his cupboard. He can’t think how they got there, but he says, would you care to come and see whether they are good or not?”
The cloud that had hung about the policeman’s face passed from it as if beneath some magic spell. His tongue came slowly out of his mouth and moved lovingly over his arid lips. His one visible eye gleamed with the light that never was on land or sea.
“Are you with me, Mr. Beamish?” he asked.
“I precede you, Mr. Garroway,” said Hamilton Beamish.