The Saturday Evening Post, June 14, 1924
HAD Flick waited a minute longer before taking her cab, she would have perceived Judson returning baffled from the chase. Even in his Harvard days, when he was young and lissom, athletic feats had never been in Judson’s line; and nowadays a twenty-yard dash was about the limit of his sprinting capacity. This being in the nature of a special occasion, he had extended himself to a matter of fifty yards before admitting defeat; but at that point his legs and lungs had united in a formal protest too vigorous to be overruled.
But, though checked, Judson was not checkmated. Even as he paused, doubled up and gasping, with his back against the friendly railings of the Embankment Gardens, an idea had come to him. When—or if—he got his breath back again he would return to Tilbury House and there acquire certain information. He was now on his way to put this scheme into action.
The commissionaire was still out having his breath of air when he reached the familiar vestibule. In his seat there sat a boy in buttons—not the one with whom Judson had had the little unpleasantness, but another and more likable looking lad. To him Judson addressed himself.
“Say, listen!” said Judson.
“Sir?” said the infant courteously.
Judson bent nearer and lowered his voice.
“I want to know Mr. Pyke’s private address.”
The boy shook his head, and into his manner there crept the dawning of a new austerity.
“Ain’t allowed to give private addresses.”
Judson had hoped not to be compelled to call up his last line of reserves, but it seemed unavoidable. From the slender store in his trousers pocket he produced a shilling and a sixpence. He held them up in silence. The boy wavered.
“It’s against the rules,” he said wistfully.
Judson spoke no word, but he clinked the coins meditatively in his hand. The little fellow’s agitation visibly increased.
“What d’you want to know it for?” he quavered.
Judson, with masterly strategy, dropped the shilling, allowed it to roll in a wide circle, then picked it up and clinked it once more against the sixpence. The boy was but flesh and blood; he stole to the foot of the stairs and listened intently for a moment; then, creeping back, whispered in Judson’s ear.
The money changed hands and Judson took his departure.
IT WAS nearly half-past seven when Flick returned to Holly House. She had driven in her cab to the Savoy Hotel and there, in one of the writing rooms, had remained for a considerable period of time, most of which was spent in chewing a pen and staring straight in front of her. Eventually, seizing a sheet of note paper, she had dashed down a few lines and without stopping to reread them had sealed the envelope and posted it in the lobby. Then, feeling oddly uplifted, she had walked composedly out and taken an Underground train to Wimbledon. She felt defiant but calm. Her heart sang rebel songs as she walked up the drive, songs as old and dangerously intoxicating as the spring itself.
Mrs. Hammond came out of the drawing-room as she was crossing the hall.
“How late you are, Felicia. Be quick and dress. Your Uncle George and Roderick are coming to dinner at eight.”
This was news to Flick.
“Are they?” she said.
“Surely Roderick told you,” said Mrs. Hammond. “It was settled on the telephone just after lunch. It is the only night your uncle can manage, as he is obliged to go to Paris tomorrow and expects to be away at least a week. The Bagshotts and one or two other people are coming. Very strange, Roderick saying nothing about it to you.”
“He left me in rather a hurry,” said Flick. “I suppose he would have mentioned it if he had not been unexpectedly interrupted.”
“Poor Roderick! I suppose he is kept very busy,” said Mrs. Hammond. “How was the dear boy?”
“Agile?” Mrs. Hammond stared. “What do you mean?”
Flick stopped at the foot of the stairs.
“Aunt Frances,” she said, “I’ve something to tell you. I am not going to marry Roderick. I have written to him breaking off the engagement.”
WHILE the stirring events just recorded were in progress in and about the headquarters of the Mammoth Publishing Company at Tilbury House, Bill West had been sitting in markedly gloomy meditation on the little balcony which ran outside the dining room of his flat in the Prince of Wales Road, Battersea. He had come out here because the silent reproach in the lovely eyes of the twelve photographs of Alice Coker in the sitting room had proved after a while too much for his sensitive conscience to endure. The disappearance of Judson had left him ill at ease and apprehensive, filling him with a guilty sense of having failed in his duty as a guardian; and the photographs, staring at him like so many accusing angels, deepened this feeling.
“Why,” they seemed to ask, “were you so remiss? You were my brother’s keeper. Why did you not bean him with a shoe before he could make his get-away?”
The question was unanswerable. The most rudimentary intelligence should have told him that the course he ought to have pursued was to jump on Judson’s neck, even if it involved diving down two flights of stairs, and thus prevent that earnest young inebriate from galloping out into the heart of London with money in his pocket. Now goodness knew what would happen, or when—and in what shape—the heir of the Cokers would return to the fold.
These Prince of Wales Road balconies are pleasant aeries. From their agreeable eminence you can see over the trees into Battersea Park and revel, if you are in the mood for it, in the delicate green of turf and shooting leaf. You can also see down the road for quite a distance both ways. And so it came about that, just as dusk had begun to fall and the golden lamps shone out in the street below, Bill was aware of a familiar figure tramping along the pavement toward the entrance of Marmont Mansions.
At first he was blankly incredulous. It could not be Judson. Judson must now be miles away, out where the West End begins, slaking a two weeks’ old thirst with cocktails. But the figure came into the light of a lamp, and it was indeed Judson. He entered Marmont Mansions; and Bill, leaving his balcony and hurrying to the front door, could hear him wheezily negotiating the stairs. The flat was on the fifth floor and there was no elevator—two facts of which Judson had frequently and vehemently complained. He arrived now puffing painfully, and for a space was deaf to Bill’s reproaches.
“Eh?” he said eventually.
“I said ‘So here you are!’ ” observed Bill, selecting for repetition one of the milder of his recent remarks.
Judson led the way into the sitting room, where he sank down on the sofa and, as Bill had done earlier in the afternoon, removed his shoes.
“Nail or something,” he explained.
“You’re a nice chap!” said Bill, returning to the attack. Judson was defiant and unashamed.
“As a matter of fact,” he replied stoutly, “I haven’t had even one. To start with, I find that in this infernal country the saloons don’t open till midnight or some ghastly hour. So I couldn’t get a drink at first, and after that I was too busy.”
“Too busy to get a drink!” cried Bill.
He followed his friend, bewildered. Judson had risen from the sofa and proceeded to his bedroom, where he now began to put on another and more congenial pair of shoes.
“Too busy to get a drink?” repeated Bill.
“Well, too preoccupied,” said Judson. He poured out a basin of water, washed his travel-stained face and hands and, moving to the mirror, brushed his hair. “I’ve had a very disturbing afternoon, Bill, ol’ man.”
“How much money have you got on you?”
“Never mind about money, ol’ fellow,” said Judson, waving aside the tactless question. “I want to tell you about my disturbing afternoon.” He lit a cigarette and returned to the sitting room. “Can only stop a minute, Bill,” he said. “Got to go out again in a second.”
Bill laughed a hard laugh.
“Any old time you go out——”
“Must,” said Judson. “Matter that affects my honor. Got to see a fellow and have justice done me.”
“You don’t want justice done you,” said Bill, beginning to doubt his friend’s professions of abstinence. There was a wild look in Judson’s eye and his manner was peculiar. “If they started doing justice to you, you’d be in the penitentiary.”
Judson drew pensively at his cigarette. He seemed not to have heard this opprobrious remark.
“Most disturbing afternoon,” he continued. “You ever read a paper called Society Spice, Bill, ol’ man?”
“No. What about it?”
“Only this,” responded Judson: “There’s a piece in it this week saying that it was Toddy van Riter who founded the Fifth Avenue Silks. Toddy van Riter!” A spine-chilling laugh escaped him. “You know as well as I do, Bill, ol’ man, that a poor fish like Toddy wouldn’t have been able to hit on an idea like that in a million years. I was the little guy that founded those Silks, and I’m not going to have all England thinking I wasn’t. Toddy van Riter!” sneered Judson.
“I ask you! Toddy!” The cigarette burned his fingers and he threw it into the grate. “I read that while I was on a train in the subway, and I went straight to the place where the rotten rag was published and asked to see the editor. Fellow must have a guilty conscience, because he refused to see me. And when I cornered him on the street a bit later he just shot into a cab and streaked off. But I was too smart for him,” said Judson with a hard chuckle.
“It will be a cold day when any pie-faced scandal-sheet buzzard can make a monkey out of me. I got his home address. I’m going right out now to see him and insist on an apology and retraction in the next issue.”
“You aren’t going to do anything of the sort.”
“I am, believe me!”
Bill tried an appeal to his reason.
“But what does it matter if the man did say Toddy founded the Silks?”
“What does it matter?” Judson’s eyes grew round. He stared at Bill as if questioning his sanity. “What does it matter? Do you think I’m going to have the whole of Europe believing a thing like that? Not while I have my strength!” He laughed witheringly. “I suppose if you were Marconi you’d take it lying down if people went about saying you hadn’t invented the telephone. Well, mustn’t waste time sitting here. See you later.”
Six photographs on the mantelpiece gazed at Bill pleadingly. Three on the whatnot, two on the console table and one on a bracket near the door caught his eye and urged him to be firm.
“Where does this Society Spice man live?” he asked.
“Number 7, Lidderdale Mansions, Sloane Square,” said Judson promptly. He had no need to consult the back of the envelope in his breast pocket, for the address was graven upon his heart. “I’m going there now.”
“You aren’t going there or anywhere,” said Bill firmly, “without me. What do you think”—he choked—“what do you think she would say if I let you run about all over London, getting into trouble?”
Judson followed his sweeping hand in the direction of the mantelpiece, but showed little emotion.
Too few brothers in this world are capable of being melted by a sister’s photograph. But though he appeared unimpressed by the thought of Alice and her possible concern, a certain bias toward prudence did seem to enter his mind.
“Not a bad idea, your coming too,” he admitted. “Quite likely fellow may turn nasty. Then you could sit on his head while I kicked him in the slats. Only way with these birds. Treat ’em rough.”
Bill was cold to this outline of policy.
“There isn’t going to be any rough stuff,” he said firmly, “and you aren’t going to butt in and start anything. You will leave the whole business to me. This sort of affair needs a man with a calm, clear mind. I want you to understand right from the beginning that I am handling this. You stay in the background and leave me to do the talking. No violence!”
“Not if he doesn’t turn nasty. If he does,” said Judson, “we will form a wedge and sail in and disembowel the mutt.”
“He won’t turn nasty. Why should he? He will probably be only too glad to correct an error in his paper.”
“He’d better be!” said Judson grimly.
THE descent through the roof of Holly House and subsequent explosion on the drawing-room carpet of a large bomb would doubtless have caused a certain excitement and dismay among the inmates of that fair home; but such consternation could hardly have been more marked than that which had followed Flick’s announcement that she had broken off her engagement to Roderick Pyke. Sir George, arriving in a luxurious limousine a few minutes after the blow had fallen, was in nice time to join the commission appointed by his sister to inquire into and examine the tragedy.
“She gives no reason!” wailed Mrs. Hammond for the tenth time.
For once in her masterly life this great woman was completely unnerved. Any ordinary disaster she might have coped with, but this was too shattering. The ghastly suddenness of it was perhaps its most appalling feature. No warning, no shadow of a warning, had preceded the blow. Shortly after two o’clock Flick had left the house, thoroughly and completely engaged to Roderick, and at half past seven she had come back with a hard gleam in her blue eyes, freed from all sentimental entanglements. And that was all that Mrs. Hammond or anybody knew; for Flick, as she was now remarking for the eleventh time, gave no reason.
In addition to being terrible, the thing was achingly mysterious; and quite half of Mrs. Hammond’s exasperation and fury was due to the fact that she was being excluded from sharing in a secret. She raged impotently; and when Sir George was ushered in by Wace the butler—demurely grave, as only a butler can be when something is up abovestairs—she had just snubbed the unfortunate Sinclair rather ferociously for the second time in three minutes.
Upon receipt of this second rebuff Sinclair Hammond had withdrawn from the discussion. As a rule, so long as people did not interrupt him when he was writing, or attribute to Basius Secundus sentiments which had actually been uttered by Aristides of Smyrna, it was not easy to ruffle Sinclair Hammond. But irritability was in the air tonight, and having twice been requested for goodness’ sake not to talk such nonsense, he retired wounded into a corner and buried himself in a first edition of Robert Burns’ Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, printed by John Wilson, Kilmarnock, 1786, uncut, in the original blue wrappers. How deeply he had been hurt is shown by the fact that even this did not altogether soothe him.
Sir George, taking his place in the debate, was at first as helplessly concerned as anyone. It was he who pointed out the dramatic feature of the affair—to wit, that poor Roderick, who could not possibly have received Flick’s letter yet, might be expected to arrive at any moment in complete ignorance of what had occurred. How, Sir George demanded, was the news to be broken to him?
The question started a train of thought. How also, Mrs. Hammond inquired feverishly, was the scandal to be kept from the half dozen or so of Wimbledon’s elect who had been invited to dine tonight expressly to meet the about-to-be-happy couple? The Wilkinsons from Heath Prospect were coming. The Byng-Jervoises from The Towers were coming. Pondicherry Lodge was contributing Colonel and Mrs. Bagshott. What possible explanation could be made to these leaders of society of Felicia’s absence?
“Felicia’s absence?” Sir George started. “What do you mean, Felicia’s absence?”
“She refuses to come down to dinner!”
“Tell them she’s got a headache,” said Mr. Hammond, glancing up from his Burns.
“Oh, do be quiet, Sinclair!” begged his suffering wife.
Mr. Hammond returned to his reading. Sir George, whose face and bearing had taken on that stiff solemnity which always reminded his employes at Tilbury House so strongly of a stuffed frog, puffed vigorously.
“Refuses to come down to dinner! I never heard of anything so ridiculous! I will speak to her. Send for her at once.”
“It’s no good sending for her,” moaned Mrs. Hammond. “She has locked herself in her bedroom and won’t come out.”
“Which is her room?”
“The second door to the left on the first landing. What are you going to do, George?”
Sir George turned on the threshold.
“I am going to speak to her!” he said.
There was an interval of some three or four minutes. In the drawing-room a tense silence prevailed. Mrs. Hammond sat rigid on her chair. Bob, the Sealyham, slumbered on the rug. Mr. Hammond put down his Burns and, rising, walked to the French windows and threw them open. He stood looking out into the gentle night. The garden slept under the stars and a breeze floated across the lawn. Peace, peace everywhere save in this stricken home.
A distant rumble from above proclaimed that Sir George was still speaking to her.
Presently the rumble ceased. Footsteps descended the stairs. Sir George entered. His face was red and he was breathing a little heavily.
“The girl’s mad,” he announced briefly. “There is nothing to be done for the present but make some excuse to these people who are coming here tonight. Better tell them she’s got a headache.”
“An excellent idea,” said Mrs. Hammond with enthusiasm. “We will.”
“Colonel and Mrs. Bagshott,” proclaimed Wace, the butler, in the doorway. His slightly prominent eyes swept the little group before him with respectful commiseration. “Do the best you can,” his glance seemed to say. “It’s beyond me!”
A TAXICAB drew up at the door of Lidderdale Mansions, Sloane Square. Bill West alighted and spoke through the window.
“You wait here,” said Bill. “I’ll go up and see this man.”
Judson appeared doubtful.
“Well, I don’t know,” he said. “It seems to me this is a business that wants handling. Are you sure you’re equal to it?”
“If only you keep out of it, I can settle the whole affair in two minutes,” said Bill firmly.
He felt unusually calm and capable as he entered the building. As a rule, it is a nervous task to call upon a perfect stranger and ask favors of him; but Bill felt no diffidence. He looked forward to an amusing chat. It was only when he had gone up a couple of floors in the elevator and was interrogated by the attendant as to where he wished to stop that he remembered that he had omitted to ask Judson the name of the man he had come to interview. A little ruffled by the captious manner of the attendant on being requested to take him down again, after a brief indulgence in what the latter evidently looked upon as a joy ride, he went out to the cab.
“Well?” said Judson eagerly, popping out like a cuckoo out of a clock. “What did he say?”
“I haven’t seen him yet,” Bill explained. “I forgot to ask you what his name is.”
“Look here,” said Judson in an anxious voice, his faith in his ambassador now plainly at zero, “are you sure you’re equal to this? Hadn’t I better push up?”
“You stay here,” said Bill. He had lost that easy calm.
“I have a feeling that you’ll bungle it.”
“Don’t be a chump. What’s his name?”
“Pyke. All right. That’s all I wanted to know.”
He reëntered the elevator and was shot up to the third floor, only to receive another check. If Bill had been a superstitious man he would have realized at this point that the omens were bad and that it would be a wise course to abandon the expedition. A manservant, answering this ring, informed him that Mr. Pyke had gone out.
“Just gone this moment, sir.”
“But I’ve only just come up,” argued Bill. “Why didn’t I meet him?”
“Perhaps Mr. Pyke walked downstairs, sir.”
It seemed a tenable theory. At any rate, the man was gone. Bill, unwilling to trouble the elevator attendant again, walked downstairs himself and, reaching the cab, found Judson in a state bordering on the febrile. Judson was dancing on the pavement.
“I knew you would bungle it!” he cried. “The fellow sneaked out half a second ago. Tried to get into my cab!”
“Tried to get into your cab?”
“Yes; didn’t know there was anybody in it. He peered in, saw me, turned deadly pale, and——” Judson broke off, pointing. “Look! Quick! There he is getting into that taxi over there! Get in! Jump in, you poor fish!”
The affair, which had started out in so orderly and well-planned a manner, was now beginning to take on a hectic aspect which flustered Bill. The jerk with which Judson dragged him into the taxi helped further to disorder his faculties. And when his companion, leaning across him and speaking out of the window, uttered those words familiar to every reader of detective stories—“Follow that cab wherever it goes!”—the enterprise stepped definitely into the ranks of waking nightmares.
To call upon a stranger and ask him civilly to insert in his paper a correction of an inadvertent error is one thing; to hound him about London in cabs, quite another. Bill had a well-regulated man’s dislike of scenes, and it seemed to him that this pursuit could only end in a scene of the most disagreeable nature. Already Judson had begun to babble harsh comments on the man whose taxi, keenly pursued by their own, was moving rapidly down the street toward Sloane Square. It was Judson’s firm belief that the fellow was in the pay of Toddy van Riter. If not, why should he jump ten feet sideways every time they met? Taken by and large, the whole thing looked like a pretty black business to Judson. He seethed with generous indignation and even went so far as to state his intention, should they ever catch up with him, of busting the fellow one on the snoot.
As the moments went by it almost seemed as though these sentiments must have communicated themselves by some sort of telepathy to the man in the other cab, for his taxi went on and on and on. The theory that he was going out to dine somewhere now seemed thin. Would any diner-out dine so far out as this? Already they were well into the Fulham Road and he showed no signs of stopping. They rattled over Putney Bridge. They climbed Putney Hill. And still the taxi in front moved forward. It began to appear absurd even to Bill, reluctant as he was to abandon the common-sense view, that this Pyke could simply be on his way to dinner. It seemed more probable that his intention was to go on till he reached the coast and then jump off the edge.
In attributing these qualms to Roderick, his pursuers had erred. True, Roderick had had what amounted to the start of a lifetime when that glance into Judson’s taxi had informed him that the mysterious stranger was still on his trail, but panic had passed as soon as he had got into a cab of his own and driven off. It had not occurred to him that he was to be chased. Arriving at Holly House, he paid his driver and rang the doorbell without even a look behind. It was only as he waited on the step for Wace to answer the bell that the crackling of gravel in his rear caused him to turn his head. The shock he received on observing a second cab tearing down the drive was severe. A faint hope that this might be a peaceful cab containing blameless dinner guests of his Aunt Frances vanished as he perceived Judson’s inflamed face protruding from the right-hand window. He lunged desperately at the bell again, and waited for Wace as the Duke of Wellington in another crisis had waited for Blücher.
The cab stopped. From one door Judson shot out, from the other Bill. Roderick rang the bell again, staring glassily over his shoulder.
Oddly enough, it was the sight of Bill that set the seal on his horror. And yet, had he but known, Bill was here in the purest spirit of pacifism. What had caused Bill to project himself so vigorously out of the cab was the kindly desire to be on the scene of action in time to keep Judson from committing the mayhem of which he had spoken so feelingly at practically every stage of the journey. Bill was the wise, cool, clear-headed man who was there to stop any violence. But to Roderick he seemed the most dreadful thing that had come along in the whole course of this dreadful day.
Judson, so held Roderick, was bad enough. He was pretty scared of Judson. But about Judson there was this consoling feature—that he had a certain weediness, a lack of thews and sinews. With Judson, a fellow if driven into a corner might possibly cope. But Bill was quite another matter. A man cannot fulfill the exacting duties of left tackle on a Harvard football team without having a fairly impressive physique. No mere amiability or charm of manner will fit him for the post; he must be equipped with India-rubber legs, a chest like an ice box and the shoulders of a prize fighter. These qualifications Bill possessed. He stood five feet eleven in his socks and weighed on the hoof one hundred and ninety-three pounds; and Roderick, watching him bound up the drive, unhesitatingly cast him for the rôle of star in this murder scene.
The consequence was that when Bill reached the steps just as Wace opened the door, Roderick, trapped and desperate, saw nothing for it but to sell his life dearly. Whirling his stick madly in the air, he brought it down with a solid whack on Bill’s head. Bill, totally unprepared for anything of this kind, tripped and fell; Judson, hurrying up, stumbled over Bill; and Roderick, snatching at the chance thus presented of effecting a masterly retreat, dashed into the house and slammed the door after him.
Of all the things calculated to modify a wise, cool, clear-headed outlook on life, few are more effective than a brisk buffet on the skull from a heavy stick. In this case the blow was rendered all the more powerful by the striker’s terror; and Bill’s hat having fallen off in his sprint down the straight, there was nothing to break the force of it. He remained for an appreciable space of time sitting dazedly on the gravel, and when eventually he rose his mood had undergone a complete and remarkable change. No trace remained of his recent desire to keep this business free from violence. Violence was what he wanted more than anything on earth. He looked on the world through a crimson mist.
In this new frame of mind the spectacle of Judson hopping about in a futile manner exasperated him intensely. He was in the mood when men usually tolerant of their fellow creatures conceive a sudden dislike for whoever happens to be nearest. He glowered at Judson.
“Go and sit in the cab!” he commanded with set teeth.
“But look here, Bill, o’ man——”
“Go on! I’m going to attend to this business.”
“What are you going to do?”
Bill’s finger was on the bell, and he kept it there without pause. A few short hours before, life had been a thing opening out before him in a prismatic vista of manifold ambitions. He had had all sorts of plans—plans for making a fortune, plans for marrying Alice Coker, plans for scoring off at Wilfrid Slingsby. Now all these rainbow visions had passed from his mind and he had but one object in the world—just one—and that was to get into this house, find the fellow who had sloshed him on the bean and methodically kick the man’s spine up through his back hair. He was in the mood which used to send ancient vikings berserk, which makes modern Malays run amuck and prod the citizenry with long knives. Like most big men, Bill West was good-natured. He did not readily take offence; but hit him an absolutely unprovoked wallop on the head with a stick and you started something. He continued to ring the bell.
“I’m going to have a heart-to-heart talk with that fellow,” he said grimly.
Judson’s feelings were now those of a child who, sporting idly with a pocketknife beside a reservoir, finds suddenly that he has bored a hole in the dam. He had unchained passions which overawed him. Frothily though he had talked of inflicting violence on the erring Roderick, Judson had never really intended business. He knew now that he would not have proceeded beyond words. But in Bill’s program words had only too plainly no part at all. To see Bill, that mild and good-humored young man, standing there with his teeth bare, his eyes glittering and a thin trickle of blood running down his forehead appalled Judson. He felt weakly unequal to the situation. With a pale face and limp knees he returned to the cab, and as he did so the door opened.
Wace the butler had been annoyed by the strident persistence of the bell. It was with the intention of administering a severe rebuke that he now presented himself. But the words he had framed were never uttered. Something large and solid brushed Wace out of the way; and staggering back, he saw a big man without a hat careering along the hall toward the drawing-room.
“Hi!” he said feebly.
The intruder paid no attention. He had stopped for an instant, as if uncertain of his destination; but now a burst of voices from behind the door put him on the scent. His fingers closed on the handle.
“Hi!” said Wace again. “Stop!”
Bill did not stop. He plunged on into the drawing-room.
The drawing-room was full of men and women dressed and eager for the feast. Here Mr. Wilkinson, of Heath Prospect, chatted about the weather to Mrs. Hammond; there Mrs. Byng-Jervoise, of The Towers, spoke to her host of new plays. Colonel Bagshott was drinking sherry and entertaining Mrs. Wilkinson with an account of his most recent passage of arms with the local council. Sir George and Mr. Byng-Jervoise were talking politics. Roderick, a solitary figure attached to no group, stood by the open window.
Into this refined gathering Bill charged like a ravening wolf. And Roderick, turning with the others at the sound of the opening door and catching sight of his ghastly face, acted promptly. This was the fourth time today that he had felt the imperative need of flight from forces beyond his control; and nimble though he had shown himself on each of the previous occasions, his movements then had been leaden-footed compared with the turn of speed which he exhibited now. He shot out into the garden like a cannon ball, with Bill in close attendance.
THE young need careful handling. Into the life of the most docile and well-regulated girl there come crises where only tact and sympathy can avert disaster; and ever since Flick Sheridan had made her momentous announcement respecting Roderick tact and sympathy had been very notably absent from the attitude of her immediate circle. It was perhaps unfortunate that Mrs. Hammond, always prone to supersede her husband in the conduct of delicate operations about the home, had declined with some asperity to allow the amiable Sinclair to go up and have a chat with his niece, for this eliminated from the situation the one person to whom Flick in her mood of bristling defiance would have listened with any calmness. Instead of a gentle talk with Uncle Sinclair, Flick had been plunged into a battle royal with her Aunt Frances—a contest which had left her, though undefeated, badly shaken; and immediately on top of this had come Sir George’s brief address through the locked door. At about the time when the cab of Roderick and that of Bill and Judson were toiling up Putney Hill, she was seated on her bed, staring into the future.
It was not a very agreeable future for any girl to look at—certainly not a girl who, like Flick, was of a quick and gallant spirit and had always held herself to be the captain of her soul. It was a future filled with wrangling arguments, cold, hurt silences, a never-ending strain—never-ending, that is to say, unless she meekly yielded and consented to marry Roderick. And at the thought of marrying Roderick, Flick’s teeth clicked together and she blinked rebelliously. Nothing should ever induce her to marry Roderick. She loved Bill West. Uncle Sinclair had spoken flippantly about juvenile romances, but that extraordinary meeting with Bill this afternoon had shown her that these were not things to jest about. They were beastly solid facts that hurt you.
Oh, she knew how absurd it was of her. She knew that Bill was in love with some starry-eyed cat of a girl out in America, and wouldn’t look at her, anyway; but that made no difference. If she couldn’t have Bill she wouldn’t have anyone—least of all Roderick, who jumped into cabs and left her standing on the pavement at the mercy, for all he knew, of men who looked like Airedale terriers.
She jerked up her head with a sudden unconscious movement of defiance and resolution. She had made her decision. The next moment she was opening her bag and feeling in it for the money earmarked earlier in the day for the relief of the distressed Mrs. Matilda Pawle. She pulled out the notes and dropped them in a rustling heap on the bed. They made an encouraging display. If she had ever thought of weakening and drawing back, the sight of this money gave her strength. It seemed to her a vast sum, the sort of sum on which a girl of careful habits could face the world indefinitely. And in the distant future when she had spent all this wealth, there was all the rest of her jewelry to fall back on. She hesitated no longer.
She went to cupboards, ransacked drawers. She pulled a suitcase out from under the bed. After a thoughtful interval devoted to making a selection of the things she could not possibly do without, she packed the suitcase. She scribbled a hasty note in pencil and fastened it to her pincushion. She tore the sheet from the bed and tied knots in it. She attached the sheet to the rail of the bed, dragged the bed to the window, and had just flung the window open when from the garden below there came to her ears a sudden uproar. With a startling abruptness the quiet night had become filled with noise and shoutings.
Flick leaned out, deeply interested. If there is one spot in the world free as a rule from alarms and excursions it is the aristocratic quarter of Wimbledon, that row of large mansions along the edge of the common where wealth and respectability dream and let the world go by. In all the five years of her residence at Holly House, Flick could recall no event of any description that had even bordered on drama. Yet now, if she could believe the evidence of her ears, drama was stalking abroad in the night as nakedly as in the more vivacious portions of Moscow. Dark figures were racing on the lawn, voices shouted hoarsely. She could detect the deep bay of Colonel Bagshott, of Pondicherry Lodge, the shriller yapping of Mr. Byng-Jervoise, of The Towers. Her Uncle George was bawling to somebody to fetch a policeman.
Flick forgot her troubles in the thrill of these amazing goings on. She leaned farther out of the window, annoyed by the fact that her vision was much impeded by the roof of a sort of outhouse immediately below her window. A few moments before she had been extremely grateful to Providence for having supplied this outhouse roof as an aid to her escape; but now she resented its presence. The spirit of youth called to her not to miss a bit of this, for it was good; and she chafed to think that she was missing practically all of it.
The shouts increased in volume. The flying figures continued to fly. Then suddenly there echoed through the night a tremendous splash. Even an onlooker whose view was cut off by an outhouse roof could interpret the inner meaning of this, and Flick understood it instantly. Somebody had fallen into the pond.
She hoped it was her Uncle George.
IT WAS her Uncle George; and he made his own personal needs so manifest in a vigorous speech from the depths that the pursuit ceased on the instant and all present rallied round to lend him aid and comfort.
All except Bill. Bill was otherwise occupied. Retired altogether now from the maelstrom of activity on the lawn, he was crouching in the shadow of a large bush, reviewing his position.
The first fine frenzy that had carried Bill through the front door into the drawing-room, and through the French windows of the drawing-room out into the garden in pursuit of Roderick, had kept him going nicely for perhaps two minutes. At the end of that time the folly of chasing people about strange gardens in the dark was brought home to him in no uncertain manner by a wheelbarrow left by Gardener John in the shadows at the edge of the lawn. It was a low, underslung wheelbarrow, quite invisible in the gloom, and he had dived over it with a shattering bump which gave him a momentary impression that Wimbledon and neighborhood had been convulsed by an earthquake. A young man less accustomed to falls on the football field might have lain there indefinitely, but Bill staggered dizzily to his feet, and it was at this point that he discovered that the fever of the chase had completely left him.
As he stood there, dazedly wishing himself elsewhere, he perceived that the whole aspect of the world had undergone another change. A moment before it had been a roomy place with nobody in it but Roderick and himself; but now there appeared to be people everywhere. Large though the garden was, it seemed uncomfortably crowded; and the chase, which had started out as a straight issue between himself and Roderick, had become quite a public affair. The thing had developed into a sort of Walpurgis Night. Phantoms whizzed to and fro. Demon voices bellowed advice and threats. An unseen dog was barking its head off.
Bill was appalled by his position. That is the worst of berserk moods—they lure you into stupendous acts of imbecility and then coolly abandon you to extricate yourself as best you can. A chilly remorse flooded over him. He saw now where his initial mistake had lain. He ought to have taken from the start an attitude altogether more dignified and formal. Instead of charging into the house of a complete stranger, breathing fire through his nostrils and seeking whom he might devour, he should have gone quietly away and on the morrow approached some good lawyer with a view to bringing suit against the man Pyke for assault and battery. Not having taken this prudent course, he was, he ruefully admitted, in a distinctly unpleasant hole.
The descent of Sir George into the goldfish pond had given him a respite, but it was plain that it was not to last long. A nasty spirit of vindictiveness prevailed in the enemy camp, and voices were urging once more that the police be summoned. He must get out of this infernal garden, and that right speedily, before they started to make a systematic search. Unfortunately it was only too clear that to leave the garden now he would have to fight his way out, for already people were shouting to other people to guard the exits. The task that lay immediately before him was to find some nook, some haven, some retired spot where he might hope to avoid discovery.
The night, as mysteriously happens when we stay out in it for any length of time, had now become appreciably lighter. Objects previously hidden began to reveal themselves. And among them was a sort of outhouse place that stood against the wall of the building some six feet from the bush in which he was lurking. Only a fraction of a second passed between the sighting of this outhouse by Bill and his realization that here, if anywhere, safety lay. The entire strength of the company appeared to have their attention concentrated at the moment on the goldfish pond, from which proceeded squashy sounds as of some solid body being gaffed and hauled ashore. Bill seized his opportunity with the promptitude of a strategist. Sliding softly out of his bush, he heaved himself in one scrabbling leap onto the outhouse roof and lay there motionless.
Nobody appeared to have observed him. A detachment of the enemy forces moved across the lawn and passed beneath him, Sir George walking squelchily in their sympathetic midst. The others, calling to one another at intervals, were prowling about, beating the bushes. But nobody thought of examining roofs. And after a lapse of time which might have been ten minutes or ten hours, the pursuit finally sagged away to nothingness. First one, then another of the prowlers gave the thing up and drifted back into the house, until at last the garden was its silent sleeping self again.
But Bill remained where he was. At times of tense emotion we tend to extremes, and the vanishing of the berserk mood had been followed by one of the utmost wariness. He had the night before him, and he meant to allow himself a generous margin of safety. The longer he waited, the better his chance of slipping away without any uncongenial brawling. He had had all the brawling he wanted for one night.
At length, however, when he had begun to feel that he had been lying on the roof since early childhood, he decided that it was safe to make a move. He slithered cautiously into a sitting position and rubbed his cramped limbs. And then, as he was about to rise and lower himself to the ground, every nerve in his body leaped simultaneously and twisted itself at the ends. Something had fallen with a thud not two feet from where he stood. Spinning round defensively, he discovered that it was a suitcase. Why people were throwing suitcases out of windows at such an hour he could not imagine.
His speculations on this problem were interrupted by the sight of something even more remarkable—a dark figure apparently crawling down the side of the house.
A MAN with all the world—or at any rate part of Wimbledon—against him inclines naturally to see enemies everywhere; and Bill’s reactions on becoming aware of this figure descending onto what he had grown to regard as his own private roof were at first purely militant. He retired a few steps and braced himself for combat. It was too dark to get a clear view, but the person who was crawling down the wall appeared to be of a slender physique, and he looked forward to the coming encounter with a bright confidence. For though he was not afraid of the bulkiest foe, it is always pleasanter to have a rough-and-tumble with somebody a trifle undersized. He could eat this midget, and unless the midget behaved itself he proposed to do so.
The figure alighted, and at the same moment Bill made his spring. It was only when a startled squeak rang out in the darkness that he was embarrassed to discover that he was grappling with a girl. At which point the militant mood vanished abruptly, to be succeeded by one of amazed consternation. The man who lays a hand upon a woman save in the way of kindness is justly looked askance at by society. What then can be said for the man who tackles her as if she were trying to make a ten-yard gain round the end? Bill was bathed in a prickly shame.
“I beg your pardon!” he cried.
Flick did not reply. It had never occurred to her when she began her descent of the knotted sheet that violent giants were going to bound out at her from the night, and the shock had almost caused her to faint. She stood there panting.
“I’m awfully sorry,” said Bill contritely. “I thought—I didn’t know—I had an idea——”
“I’ve dropped my purse,” said Flick dizzily.
“Allow me!” said Bill.
A match sputtered. Its light shone on Bill’s face as he groped about the roof on all fours.
“Mr. West!” cried Flick, amazed.
Bill, who had just found the purse, sprang upright. Of all the bizarre events of the night this was the most astonishing.
“I’m Felicia Sheridan,” said Flick.
Such was Bill’s perturbation that for a moment the name conveyed nothing to him. Then he remembered.
“Good heavens!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“I live here.”
“But what are you doing crawling down walls, I mean?”
“I’m running away.”
“You’re running away from home!” said Bill, mystified. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t speak so loud,” whispered Flick. “They may hear.”
The good sense of this warning appealed to Bill. He lowered his voice.
“Why are you running away from home?” he asked.
“What are you doing on this roof?” asked Flick.
“What’s the idea?” inquired Bill.
“What has been happening out in the garden?” countered Flick. “I heard all sorts of noise and shouting.”
Bill felt it would be a beginning in the direction of clearing up the situation if he answered her questions before putting his. Otherwise they might stay here all night, conducting an endless duologue. It was not a brief task, explaining the motives which had brought him to this house; but this done, the rest of his story was simple and straightforward. He related it crisply.
“The man biffed me over the head with a stick,” he concluded, “and after that nothing in the world seemed to matter except getting in here after him. It was a crazy thing to do, of course. I see that now. But it seemed a darned good idea at the time.”
“Biffed you over the head with a stick!” said Flick, marveling.
“Who hit you with a stick?”
“This fellow—Pyke his name is.”
“His name,” said Flick, “is Roderick Pyke. That’s why I’m running away.”
This struck Bill as a non sequitur. Women do eccentric things, but surely the most temperamental girl would hardly leave her home simply because a man’s name was Roderick Pyke.
“They wanted me to marry him.”
Bill’s mystification vanished. He shuddered with sympathetic horror. A moment before he had been conscious of a certain disapproval of Flick’s scheme of running away from home and had intended, when the opportunity presented itself, to try to dissuade her. But this piece of news altered the whole aspect of the matter. Naturally, she was running away—anybody would. No lengths to which a girl could go to avoid marrying the bounder who had biffed him with a stick appeared extreme to Bill. There and then he executed a complete change of attitude, and was now wholeheartedly in favor of the project and resolved to do all that in him lay to push it along.
“Marry that oil can!” he exclaimed incredulously.
“Of course, in some ways he’s quite nice.”
“He is not!” said Bill vehemently, and passed a gingerly hand over his corrugated skull. To his sensitive imagination the lump under his hair seemed to stick up like a mountain peak.
“Well, I’m not going to marry him, anyway,” said Flick. “So the only thing to do is to run away. The trouble is,” she said ruefully, “I don’t in the least know where to go.”
“Your best plan is to come back with me to Marmont Mansions,” said Bill. “We can talk it over quietly there, and decide on something.”
“I suppose that is best.”
“We certainly can’t stay on this roof. Any moment somebody may come along and find us.”
Flick betrayed some agitation.
“I wonder if it’s safe to try to get away.”
“There seems to be nobody in the garden.”
“I can’t hear anybody. I suppose they’ve all gone in to dinner. There was a dinner party on tonight, and I know Colonel Bagshott, for one, wouldn’t want to wait too long for his food, whatever had been happening. What do you suppose the time is?”
“I haven’t an idea. It must be long past eight. It was nearly that when I got here.”
“I tell you what,” said Flick. “You jump down and creep round the house till you get to the front door. If the windows next to it are lighted and you can hear voices, it will mean they’re in at dinner.”
“Good idea. If everything’s all right I’ll whistle.”
Flick stood in the darkness, waiting. The tremulous excitement which had filled her as she started to climb down the sheet had given way to a calmer and more agreeable mood. Bill, it seemed to her, had been sent from heaven to assist her in her hour of need. She had had only the vaguest idea of what she intended to do after she had escaped from Holly House, but now there was someone she could lean on. Bill was so big and comforting; a rock of strength. Slightly overestimating his mental capacity in her enthusiasm, she considered that there was no problem in existence too big for Bill to tackle.
A low whistle cut through the little night sounds of the garden. She leaned over the edge of the roof.
“All right,” said Bill’s voice in a cautious whisper. “Drop me down your suitcase.”
Flick dropped the suitcase. He caught it skillfully. She lowered herself over the roof and was seized by a strong pair of hands and deposited gently on the ground.
“They’re all in at dinner,” said Bill. “Shall we get out by the front, or do you know a better way?”
“There’s a door in the wall across the lawn. It’ll be safer using that.”
They crept cautiously across the lawn. Something small and white snuffled in the darkness. Flick stooped with a little cry.
“Bob!” She rose with a dog in her arms. For the first time a sense of bereavement swept over her. “Oh, I can’t leave Bob.”
“Bring him along,” said Bill.
Flick’s heart swelled with adoration for this godlike man who made no difficulties, raised no chilling obstacles or objections. She choked. Bob, who had had a great night so far and approved of the way things were shaping, licked her face frantically as they passed through the door.
The latch, closing behind her, clicked a brief farewell. Holly House was a thing of the past. Flick stood in the road with the world before her.
“All right?” said Bill understandingly.
“Quite all right, thanks,” said Flick, but in a voice that shook a little.
BILL stood with his back against the mantelpiece of his sitting room and smoked a thoughtful pipe. He was glad to be safe once more in the castlelike seclusion of Marmont Mansions. Apart from the spiritual relief of being several miles away from the house from which he had—probably quite illegally—helped a young girl to escape, there was the bodily comfort of being warm again. Almost immediately after the exodus from Holly House the mellowness of the night had changed to a raw chill, aided and abetted by a penetrating wind that sprang up from the east; and they had had to walk a shivering mile before they found a cab. Now they were home, the fire was blazing and everything was jolly.
He looked down at Flick. She was lying back in an armchair with her eyes closed, Bob, the Sealyham, slumbering on her lap. The sight of her did something to diminish Bill’s sense of well-being. And yet, mysteriously, at the same time it seemed to make it deeper. It was as if two conflicting voices spoke simultaneously in Bill’s subconsciousness, one saying, “You poor impulsive nut, what have you let yourself in for?” the other, “It makes the old home look very cozy, does it not—a girl sitting in an armchair with her hat off and a dog on her lap?”
He weighed the contending claims of these two voices. Most certainly there was much in what the first voice said. Not legally, perhaps not even morally, but beyond a doubt romantically, he was responsible for this girl. The gods of high adventure do not permit a young man in the springtime to smuggle a girl away from her home by night and then bid her a civil good-by and think no more of her. Bill, as has been repeatedly stated before, was pledged for all eternity to Alice Coker—whose twelve photographs stared down from mantelpiece, whatnot and elsewhere, one might have said a little austerely—but he felt very keenly a bond between himself and Flick. The details of the thing could be thought out later, but about the broad outline there was no argument possible. Here she was, under his charge, and somehow or other he had got to look after her and see that she came to no harm. He managed after a while to quiet the first voice by advancing the suggestion that a girl would not run away from home without some sort of a plan in her mind; and, moreover, living in a house of that magnificence, she probably had a large private income. She would be all right, he urged. He then had leisure to listen to the second voice.
There was no denying the truth of what the second voice was saying. The presence of Flick did make the place look cozy. She was not Alice Coker, of course; but somehow at the moment the fact did not seem to matter so much. Bill found himself oddly soothed by the mere act of looking at Flick. To attempt to pretend, simply because his whole soul was wrapped up in Alice Coker, that Flick had not a decorative effect on his sitting room would have been merely foolish. He admitted freely that she had. Indeed—without the slightest disloyalty, of course—he was obliged to own that in such a position her flowerlike prettiness had certain advantages over Alice’s queenly and to a diffident man rather overpowering beauty. The thing turned on a matter of personality. Flick, if one might put it that way, blended gently and harmoniously into the atmosphere of a fellow’s sitting room; whereas there was that about Alice’s stupendous loveliness that always seemed to make her hit any place which she entered like a shell bursting in the midst of a fanfare of trumpets.
Before Bill could penetrate any further into the depths of analysis, Flick gave a little sigh and sat up. She stared for a moment at her surroundings as if bewildered.
“I couldn’t think where I was,” she said. “Have I been asleep?”
“You did doze off for a minute or two.”
“How rude of me.”
“Not at all,” Bill assured her. “How are you feeling now?”
“Hungry,” said Flick. “Starving. I haven’t had a bite to eat since lunch.”
“And I had a very light lunch, because it seemed wicked to be stuffing oneself with food when people like Mrs. Matilda Pawle hadn’t tasted a thing for three days. That reminds me, didn’t you say that your friend lived here with you? Where is he?”
Bill lowered his pipe in sudden consternation.
“I’d clean forgotten about Judson,” he exclaimed blankly. “Good heavens! He may be running all over London.”
“When did you see him last?”
“When the man Pyke whacked me over the head I told him to go and sit in the cab. You don’t think he’s still sitting there?”
“It’ll be awfully expensive if he is. I suppose the clock was ticking up twopences all the time?”
“No; he must have left, of course. Then goodness knows,” said Bill dejectedly, “where he is now.”
Flick was a healthy girl and had a healthy appetite. The question of Judson’s whereabouts competed but feebly for her interest with the thought of food.
“You haven’t such a thing as a biscuit or anything, have you?” she asked wistfully. “Or a leg of mutton or a tongue or a round of beef or a piece of cheese or anything like that?”
“I’m awfully sorry,” said Bill, aroused to a realization of his position as host. “I should have got you something long ago. I’ll forage in the larder.”
He left the room hurriedly and returned some minutes later with a laden tray—which he nearly dropped on the threshold in his dismay at the sound of a muffled sob. He did drop a knife and two forks, and the clatter caused Flick to start and turn a tear-stained face in his direction.
“It’s nothing,” she assured him.
Bill put the tray down on the table.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, agitated. Like most men, he was conscious of a grisly discomfort in the presence of a crying woman. “Can I do anything?”
“It’s nothing,” said Flick again. She dabbed at her eyes and smiled a faint smile. “Do cut me some of that ham. I’m simply famished.”
“But look here——”
Flick attacked her meal composedly. She appeared to have woman’s gift of rapid change from mood to mood.
“Is that coffee?” she said. “How splendid!” She drank a mouthful. “It warms one, doesn’t it?” she said. “Makes one feel braver. I was only crying because I was a little scared. And—well, yes, because I suddenly happened to think of Uncle Sinclair.”
“Do you remember him? He was staying with your uncle the time you saved my life. He hadn’t married Aunt Francie then, and he and I were together all the time.” She choked. “This coffee is hot,” she said in a small voice.
“I remember him,” said Bill. “I liked him.”
“I love him,” said Flick simply.
There was a silence.
“Some more ham?” said Bill.
Flick stared into the fire.
“It’s horrible to think of leaving him,” she said. “But what was I to do?” Bill nodded sagely. “I had to run away.”
Bill coughed. He wished to approach as delicately as possible the question of future plans.
“Talking of running away,” he said, “I was rather wondering—I mean, had you any particular idea in your mind?”
“Only to get away.”
“You mean,” said Flick, “had I decided what to do afterwards?”
“It did cross my mind,” admitted Bill.
“Do you know,” she said, “at the time I don’t think I had the slightest notion. But I’m beginning to see now. I think I had better write a letter, don’t you? I did leave a sort of note pinned to my pincushion, but that just said I was going away because I wouldn’t marry Roderick.”
“You mustn’t on any account marry that chap,” said Bill decidedly. He still had a slight headache.
“Oh, no, I’m quite determined about that. But I think I’d better write and say that I’ll come back if they promise that I needn’t marry him.”
“What made you suddenly find you couldn’t go through with it?” asked Bill.
“It was something that happened this afternoon. A man came rushing up to him when he was with me on the Embankment, and Roderick was so frightened that he leaped into a cab and fled for his life, leaving me on the pavement.”
“Good Lord!” said Bill. “That must have been Judson. It’s too long to explain now, but it just shows that even Judson is of some use in the world.” He poured her out another cup of coffee. “I’ll tell you exactly what to do,” he said. “Write this letter and tell them that if they want you to come back on your conditions to advertise in the personal column of the Daily Mail. Have you got any money?”
“Oh, yes; plenty, thanks.”
“Then all you have to do is just to stick it out. They’ll probably quit in under a week.”
“I don’t know,” said Flick doubtfully. “Uncle George and Aunt Francie are frightfully determined people. Uncle George is one of those little square-jawed men who never give way an inch. He was the one who fell into the pond,” she said, bubbling reminiscently.
“No, really?” said Bill, amused. “He made a pretty good splash, didn’t he?”
“I’ve never heard anybody fall into a pond before. I only wish it had been daylight so that I could have seen it.”
“If it had been daylight,” Bill pointed out, “he wouldn’t have gone in.”
“No, there’s always something, isn’t there?” Flick agreed. She got up. “Well, I certainly feel ever so much better,” she said. “I needed that food. I suppose I ought to be going now, though I do hate leaving that fire. Have you ever noticed how cozy a room looks just when you have to leave it?”
“Going?” said Bill. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I’ve got to find a room, haven’t I? Somewhere to sleep tonight.” She looked ruefully at the Sealyham, who was on the rug gnawing the remains of a chop. “I’m afraid Bob’s going to be rather a burden. Do you think a landlady would make a fuss about my having him? They usually own cats, and Bob gets so temperamental when he sees a cat.”
Bill spoke decidedly.
“It’s absolutely impossible for you to go about trying to find a room at this time of night. Quite out of the question. You must stop here, of course. I’ll clear out and intercept Judson when he gets back and take him off somewhere.”
“Oh, I know dozens of places where we can go.”
“It’s awfully kind of you,” said Flick, hesitating.
“Not a bit of it. We’ve got an old woman who comes in by the day and does the cooking, and so on. When you hear her in the morning, pop your head out and shout at her to bring you breakfast.”
“It will probably scare her into a fit.”
“Oh, no, she’s a hardy old soul. Well, I’ll be saying good night.”
“Good night, Mr. West.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me Mr. West,” he said. “Surely when you were staying at my uncle’s you used to call me Bill?”
“I believe I did.” She stooped and patted Bob, who rolled an eye up at her, but did not discontinue his meal. “And you called me Flick.”
“Flick!” exclaimed Bill. “So I did. Isn’t it funny how one forgets things?”
“I’m rather good at remembering things,” said Flick.
“Well, good night, Flick.”
“Good night, Bill.”
“I’ll be round in the morning sometime, and then we can discuss what you’re going to do.” He paused at the door. “By the way,” he added, “you’ve—er—got——”
He looked at her suitcase and decided that she probably had.
“Good night,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”
“Good night, Bill, and thank you a million times for being so wonderful.”
“Not at all,” said Bill modestly.
Bill went downstairs and out into Prince of Wales Road. He began to regret the necessity of having to wait here to intercept Judson. It was a very open question whether Judson, having money in his pocket, would revisit the home many minutes in advance of the morning milk; and meanwhile it was infernally cold. To keep himself warm Bill began presently to pace up and down the pavement outside the block of flats; and he was still doing this when there slouched through the pool of light cast by a street lamp near the door a wretched, travel-stained creature with dusty shoes and the beginnings of a cold in its head. It was a heart-rending sneeze indeed that first attracted Bill’s attention.
The figure stopped and leaned wearily against the railings.
“Hullo, Bill, o’ man.” A groan blended with another sneeze. “Oh, gosh, Bill, I’ve had one rotten time!”
Judson mopped his forehead with his handkerchief and spoke for a while of blisters on the soles of his feet.
“When you left me,” he said, “I sat in the cab for ages, wondering what the deuce you were up to. And then the cabby shoved his head in and wanted to know what the game was. I said, ‘Stick around, George. We’ve got to wait for the gentleman.’ Upon which the fellow got very nasty. Insisted on having his fare. And I had to cough up, darn it! Took all the money I had and left me owing him threepence. He said it didn’t matter about the threepence and drove off with a cheery good night, and I had to hoof it all the way home. All the way home, Bill, o’ man! Gosh, I don’t suppose I’ve walked that far before in my life! I’m all in, besides having blisters. Well, thank goodness, I’ve got here at last. Now I’m going to tumble into my little bed.”
“No, you’re not,” said Bill. “There’s a girl in it.”
“I’ll explain as we go. You and I are going to sleep at the Jermyn Street Turkish baths tonight.”
“A girl in my bed?” repeated Judson blankly.
“Well, she may be in mine. Anyway I’ve given her the flat for the night and we’ve got to go elsewhere. I’ll tell you all about her on the way.”
“I might have expected something like this,” he said resignedly. “Everything’s on the fritz nowadays. I haven’t had a bit of luck since I lost that lucky pig of mine. Never did find that pig. Oh, by the way, Bill——”
“That cab. It cost me thirteen shillings and something. Call it a sovereign in round numbers. I’d be glad to have that.”
“I suppose you would.”
“You’re surely going to refund it, aren’t you?”
Bill turned, astounded.
“Refund it?” he cried incredulously. “Who, me? Why, it was your cab!”
The night closed in upon them.
This serial episode corresponds to Chapter IV, §4 through Chapter V in the book editions. Annotations to the book are elsewhere on this site.