The Saturday Evening Post, June 27, 1925
ACROSS the way from Tilbury House, next door to the massive annex containing the offices of Tiny Tots, Sabbath Jottings, British Girlhood, the Boys’ Adventure Weekly and others of the more recently established of the Mammoth Publishing Company’s periodicals, there stands a ramshackle four-storied building of an almost majestic dinginess, which Lord Tilbury, but for certain regulations having to do with ancient lights, would have swallowed up years ago, as he has swallowed the rest of the street.
The first three floors of this building are occupied by firms of the pathetic type which cannot conceivably be supposed to do any business, and yet hang on with dull persistency for decade after decade. Their windows are dirty and forlorn and most of the lettering outside has been worn away, so that on the second floor it would appear that trade is being carried on by the Ja— & Sum—r— Rub— Co., while just above, Messrs. Smith, R-bi-s-n & G——, that mystic firm, are dealing in something curtly described as c——. It is not until we reach the fourth and final floor that we find the modern note struck.
Here the writing is not only clear and golden but, when read, stimulating to the imagination. It runs:
The Tilbury Detective Agency, Ltd.
J. Sheringham Adair, Mgr.
Large and Efficient Staff
And this conjures up visions of a suite of rooms filled with hawk-faced men examining bloodstains through microscopes or poring tensely over the papers connected with the singular affair of the theft of the maharaja’s ruby.
On the morning, however, on which Sam Shotter paid his visit to Tilbury House, only one man was sitting in the office of the detective agency. He was a small and weedy individual, clad in a suit brighter even than the one which Sam had purchased from the Brothers Cohen. And when it is stated in addition that he wore a waxed mustache and that his handkerchief, which was of colored silk, filled the air with a noisome perfume, further evidence is scarcely required to convince the reader that he is being introduced to a most undesirable character. Nevertheless, the final damning fact may as well be revealed. It is this—the man was not looking out of a window.
Tilbury Street is very narrow and the fourth-floor windows of this ramshackle building are immediately opposite those of the fourth floor of Tilbury House. Alexander Twist therefore was in a position, if he pleased, to gaze straight into the private sanctum of the proprietor of the Mammoth Publishing Company and obtain the spiritual uplift which could hardly fail to result from the spectacle of that great man at work. Alone of London’s millions of inhabitants, he had it in his power to watch Lord Tilbury pacing up and down, writing at his desk or speaking into the dictating device who knows what terrific thoughts.
Yet he preferred to sit at a table playing solitaire—and, one is prepared to bet, cheating. One need not, one fancies, say more.
So absorbed was Mr. Twist in his foolish game that the fact that someone was knocking on the door did not at first penetrate his senses. It was only when the person outside, growing impatient, rapped the panel with some hard object which might have been the handle of a lady’s parasol, that he raised his head with a start. He swept the cards into a drawer, gave his coat a settling tug and rose alertly. The knock sounded like business, and Mr. Twist, who was not only J. Sheringham Adair, Mgr., but the large and efficient staff as well, was not the man to be caught unprepared.
“Come in,” he shouted.
With a quick flick of his hand he scattered a top dressing of important-looking papers about and was bending over these with a thoughtful frown when the door opened.
At the sight of his visitor he relaxed the preoccupied austerity of his demeanor. The newcomer was a girl in the middle twenties, of bold but at the moment rather sullen good looks. She had the bright hazel eyes which seldom go with a meek and contrite heart. Her coloring was vivid, and in the light from the window her hair gleamed with a sheen that was slightly metallic.
“Why, hello, Dolly,” said Mr. Twist.
“Hello,” said the girl moodily.
“Haven’t seen you for a year, Dolly. Never knew you were this side at all. Take a seat.”
The visitor took a seat.
“For the love of pop, Chimp,” she said, eying him with a languid curiosity, “where did you get the fungus?”
Mr. Twist moved in candid circles, and the soubriquet Chimp—short for Chimpanzee—by which he was known not only to his intimates but to police officials in America who would have liked to become more intimate than they were, had been bestowed upon him at an early stage of his career in recognition of a certain simian trend which critics affected to see in the arrangement of his features.
“Looks good, don’t you think?” he said, stroking his mustache fondly. It and money were the only things he loved.
“Anything you say. And I suppose, when you know you may be in the coop any moment, you like to have all the hair you can while you can.”
Mr. Twist felt a little wounded. He did not like badinage about his mustache. He did not like tactless allusions to the coop. And he was puzzled by the unwonted brusqueness of the girl’s manner. The Dora Gunn he had known had been a cheery soul, quite unlike this tight-lipped, somber-eyed person now before him.
The girl was looking about her. She seemed perplexed.
“What’s all this?” she asked, pointing her parasol at the writing on the window.
Mr. Twist smiled indulgently and with a certain pride. He was, he flattered himself, a man of ideas, and this of presenting himself to the world as a private investigator he considered one of his happiest.
“Just camouflage,” he said. “Darned useful to have a label. Keeps people from asking questions.”
“It won’t keep me from asking questions. That’s what I’ve come for. Say, can you tell the truth without straining a muscle?”
“You know me, Dolly.”
“Yes, that’s why I asked. Well, I’ve come to get you to tell me something. Nobody listening?”
“Not a soul.”
“How about the office boy?”
“I haven’t got an office boy. Who do you think I am—Pierpont Morgan?”
Thus reassured, the girl produced a delicate handkerchief, formerly the property of a London department store and parted from unwittingly by that establishment.
“Chimp,” she said, brushing away a tear, “I’m sim’ly miserable.”
Chimp Twist was not the man to stand idly by while beauty in distress wept before him. He slid up and was placing an arm about her shoulder, when she jerked away.
“You can tie a can to that stuff,” she said with womanly dignity. “I’d like you to know I’m married.”
“Sure. Day before yesterday—to Soapy Molloy.”
“Soapy!” Mr. Twist started. “What in the world did you want to marry that slab of Gorgonzola for?”
“I’ll ask you kindly, if you wouldn’t mind,” said the girl in a cold voice, “not to go alluding to my husband as a slab of Gorgonzola.”
“He is a slab of Gorgonzola.”
“He is not. Well, anyway, I’m hoping he’s not. It’s what I come here to find out.”
Mr. Twist’s mind had returned to the perplexing matter of the marriage.
“I don’t get this,” he said. “I saw Soapy a couple of weeks back and he didn’t say he’d even met you.”
“He hadn’t then. We only run into each other ten days ago. I was walking up the Haymarket and I catch sight of a feller behind me out of the corner of my eye, so I faint on him, see?”
“You’re still in that line, eh?”
“Well, it’s what I do best, isn’t it?” Chimp nodded.
Dora Molloy—Fainting Dolly to her friends—was unquestionably an artist in her particular branch of industry. It was her practice to swoon in the arms of rich-looking strangers in the public streets and pick their pockets as they bent to render her assistance. It takes all sorts to do the world’s work.
“Well then I seen it was Soapy, and so we go to lunch and have a nice chat. I always was strong for that boy, and we were both feeling kind of lonesome over here in London, so we fix it up. And now I’m sim’ly miserable.”
“What,” inquired Mr. Twist, “is biting you?”
“Well, I’ll tell you. This is what’s happened: Last night this bird Soapy goes out after supper and doesn’t blow in again till four in the morning. Four in the morning, I’ll trouble you, and us only married two days. Well, if he thinks a young bride’s going to stand for that sort of conduct right plumb spang in the middle of what you might call the honeymoon, he’s got a second guess due him.”
“What did you do?” asked Mr. Twist sympathetically, but with a touch of that rather unctuous complacency which bachelors display at moments like this.
“I did plenty. And he tried to alibi himself by pulling a story. That story the grand jury is now going to investigate and investigate good. . . . Chimp, did you ever hear of a man named Finglass?”
There was that in Mr. Twist’s manner that seemed to suggest that he was a reluctant witness, but he answered after a brief hesitation.
“Oh, you did, eh? Well, who was he then?”
“He was big,” said Chimp, and there was a note of reverence in his voice. “One of the very biggest, old Finky was.”
“How was he big? What did he ever do?”
“Well, it was before your time and it happened over here, so I guess you may not have heard of it; but he took a couple of million dollars away from the New Asiatic Bank.”
Mrs. Molloy was undeniably impressed. The formidable severity of her manner seemed to waver.
“Were you and Soapy mixed up with him?”
“Sure! We were the best pals he had.”
“Is he alive?”
“No; died in Buenos Aires the other day.”
Mrs. Molloy bit her lower lip thoughtfully.
“Say, it’s beginning to look to me like that story of Soapy’s was the goods after all. Listen, Chimp, I’d best tell you the whole thing. When I give Soapy the razz for staying out all night like the way he done, he pulled this long spiel about having had a letter from a guy he used to know named Finglass, written on his deathbed, saying that this guy Finglass hadn’t been able to get away with the money he’d swiped from this New Asiatic Bank on account the bulls being after him, and he’d had to leave the whole entire lot of it behind, hidden in some house down in the suburbs somewheres. And he told Soapy where the house was, and Soapy claims that what kep’ him out so late was he’d been searching the house, trying to locate the stuff. And what I want to know is, was he telling the truth or was he off somewheres at one of these here now gilded night clubs, cutting up with a bunch of janes and doing me wrong?”
Again Mr. Twist seemed to resent the necessity of acting as a favorable witness for a man he obviously disliked. He struggled with his feelings for a space.
“Yes, it’s true,” he said at length.
“But listen here. This don’t seem to me to gee up. If this guy Finglass wanted Soapy to have the money, why did he wait all this time before telling him about it?”
“Thought he might find a chance of sneaking back and getting it himself, of course. But he got into trouble in Argentina almost as soon as he hit the place, and they stowed him away in the cooler; and he only got out in time to write the letters and then make his finish.”
“How do you know all that?”
“Finky wrote to me too.”
“Oh, did he? Well, then, here’s another thing that don’t seem to make sense: When he did finally get round to telling Soapy about this money, why couldn’t he let him know where it was? I mean, why didn’t he say it’s under the mat or poked up the chimney or something, ’stead of leaving him hunt for it like he was playing button, button, where’s the button—or something?”
“Because,” said Mr. Twist bitterly, “Soapy and me were both pals of his, and he wanted us to share. And to make sure we should get together he told Soapy where the house was and me where the stuff was hidden in the house.”
“So you’ve only to pool your info to bring home the bacon?” cried Dolly, wide-eyed.
“Then why in time haven’t you done it?”
Mr. Twist snorted. It is not easy to classify snorts, but this was one which would have been recognized immediately by any expert as the snort despairing, caused by the contemplation of the depths to which human nature can sink.
“Because,” he said, “Soapy, the pig-headed stiff, thinks he can double-cross me and get it alone.”
“What?” Mrs. Molloy uttered a cry of wifely pride. “Well, isn’t that bright of my sweet old pie-face! I’d never of thought the dear boy would have had the sense to think up anything like that.”
Mr. Twist was unable to share her pretty enthusiasm.
“A lot it’s going to get him!” he said sourly.
“Two million smackers it’s going to get him,” retorted Dolly.
“Two million smackers nothing! The stuff’s hidden in a place where he’d never think of looking in two million years.”
“You can’t bluff me, Chimp Twist,” said Dolly, gazing at him with the cold disdain of a princess confronted with a boll weevil. “If he keeps on looking, it stands to reason ——”
She broke off. The door had opened and a man was entering. He was a fine, handsome, open-faced man of early middle age, bearing a striking resemblance to William Jennings Bryan in his younger days. At the sight of this person Chimp Twist’s eyes narrowed militantly, but Dolly flung herself into his arms with a remorseful cry.
“Oh, Soapy, darling! How I misjudged you!”
The newcomer had had the air of a man weighed down with the maximum amount of sorrow that a human being can bear. This demonstration, however, seemed to remove something of the burden.
“ ’S all right, sweetness,” he said, clasping her to his swelling bosom.
“Was I mean to my angel-face?”
“There, there, honey lamb!”
Chimp Twist looked sourly upon this nauseating scene of marital reconciliation.
“Ah, cut it out!” he growled.
“Chimp’s told me everything, baby doll,” proceeded Mrs. Molloy. “I know all about that money, and you just keep right along, precious, hunting for it by yourself. I don’t mind how often you stay out nights or how late you stay out.”
It was a generous dispensation, for which many husbands would have been grateful, but Soapy Molloy merely smiled a twisted, tortured smile of ineffable sadness. He looked like William Jennings Bryan hearing the result of a presidential election.
“It’s all off, honey bunch,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s cold, petty. We’ll have to let Chimp in on it after all, sweetie-pie. I came here to put my cards on the table and have a show-down.”
A quivering silence fell upon the room. Mrs. Molloy was staring at her husband, aghast. As for Chimp, he was completely bewildered. The theory that his old comrade had had a change of heart—that his conscience, putting in some rapid work after getting off to a bad start, had caused him to regret his intention of double-crossing a friend—was too bizarre to be tenable. Soapy Molloy was not the sort of man to have changes of heart. Chimp, in his studies of the motion-picture drama, had once seen a film where a tough egg had been converted by hearing a church organ, but he knew Mr. Molloy well enough to be aware that all the organs in all the churches in London might play in his ear simultaneously without causing him to do anything more than grumble at the noise.
“The house has been taken,” said Soapy despondently.
“Taken? What do you mean?”
“I heard this morning. I was in a saloon down Fleet Street way, and two fellows come in and one of them was telling the other how he’d just rented this joint.”
Chimp Twist uttered a discordant laugh.
“So that’s what’s come of your darned smooth double-crossing act!” he said nastily. “Yes, I guess you better had let Chimp in on it. You want a man with brains now, not a guy that never thought up anything smarter than gypping suckers with phony oil stock.”
Mr. Molloy bowed his head meekly before the blast. His wife was made of sterner stuff.
“You talk a lot, don’t you?” she said coldly.
“And I can do a lot,” retorted Mr. Twist, fingering his waxed mustache. “So you’d best come clean, Soapy, and have a showdown, like you say. Where is this joint?”
“Don’t you dare tell him before he tells you where the stuff is!” cried Mrs. Molloy.
“Just as you say,” said Chimp carelessly. He scribbled a few words on a piece of paper and covered them with his hand. “There! Now you write down your end of it and Dolly can read them both out.”
“Have you really thought up a scheme?” asked Mr. Molloy humbly.
“I’ve thought up a dozen.”
Mr. Molloy wrote in his turn and Dolly picked up the two papers.
“In the cistern!” she read.
“And the rest of it?” inquired Mr. Twist pressingly.
“Mon Repos, Burberry Road,” said Mr. Molloy.
“Ah!” said Chimp. “And if I’d known that a week ago we’d have been worth a million dollars apiece by now.”
“Say, listen,” said Dolly, who was pensive and had begun to eye Mr. Twist in rather an unpleasant manner. “This stuff old Finglass swiped from the bank, what is it?”
“American bearer securities, sweetie,” said her husband, rolling the words round his tongue as if they were vintage port. “As good as dollar bills. What’s the dope you’ve thought up, Chimpie?” he asked, deferentially removing a piece of fluff from his ally’s coat sleeve.
“Just a minute!” said Dolly sharply. “If that’s so, how can this stuff be in any cistern? It would have melted or something, being all that time in the water.”
“It’s in a waterproof case, of course,” said Chimp.
“Oh, it is, is it?”
“What’s the matter, petty?” inquired Mr. Molloy. “You’re acting strange.”
“Am I? Well, if you want to know, I’m wondering if this guy is putting one over on us. How are we to know he’s telling us the right place?”
“Dolly!” said Mr. Twist, deeply pained.
“Dolly!” said Mr. Molloy, not so much pained as apprehensive. He had a very modest opinion of his own chances of thinking of any plan for coping with the situation which had arisen, and everything, it seemed to him, depended upon being polite to Chimp Twist, who was admittedly a man of infinite resource and sagacity.
“If you think that of me ——” began Mr. Twist.
“We don’t, Chimpie, we don’t,” interrupted Mr. Molloy hastily. “The madam is a little upset. Don’t listen to her. What is this scheme of yours, Chimpie?”
Perhaps Mrs. Molloy’s estimate of her husband’s talents as a strategist resembled his own. At any rate, she choked down certain words that had presented themselves to her militant mind and stood eying Chimp inquiringly.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” said Chimp. “But first let’s get the business end straight. How do we divvy?”
“Why, fifty-fifty, Chimp,” stammered Mr. Molloy, stunned at the suggestion implied in his words that any other arrangement could be contemplated. “Me and the madam counting as one, of course.”
Chimp laughed sardonically.
“Fifty-fifty nothing! I’m the brains of this concern, and the brains of a concern always get paid highest. Lock at Henry Ford! Look at the Archbishop of Canterbury!”
“Do you mean to say,” demanded Dolly, “that if Soapy was sitting in with the Archbishop of Canterbury on a plan for skinning a sucker the archbish wouldn’t split even Stephen?”
“It isn’t like that at all,” retorted Mr. Twist with spirit. “It’s more as if Soapy went to the archbishop and asked him to slip him a scheme for skinning the mug.”
“Well, in that case,” said Mr. Molloy, “I venture to assert that the archbishop would simply say to me, ‘Molloy,’ he’d say ——”
Dolly wearied of a discussion which seemed to her too academic for the waste of valuable moments.
“Sixty-forty,” she said brusquely.
“Seventy-thirty,” emended Chimp.
“Sixty-five-thirty-five,” said Mr. Molloy.
“Right!” said Chimp. “And now I’ll tell you what to do. I’ll give you five minutes first to see if you can think of it for yourself, and if you can’t, I’ll ask you not to start beefing because it’s so simple and not worth the money.”
Five minutes’ concentrated meditation produced no brain wave in Mr. Molloy, who, outside his chosen profession of selling valueless oil stock to a trusting public, was not a very gifted man.
“Well, then,” said Chimp, “here you are: You go to that fellow who’s taken the joint and ask him to let you buy it off him.”
“Well, of all the fool propositions!” cried Dolly shrilly, and even Mr. Molloy came near to sneering.
“Not so good, you don’t think?” continued Chimp, uncrushed. “Well, then, listen here to the rest of it. Dolly calls on this fellow first. She acts surprised because her father hasn’t arrived yet.”
“Her father. Then she starts in vamping this guy all she can. If she hasn’t lost her pep since she last tried that sort of thing, the guy ought to be in pretty good shape for Act Two by the time the curtain rings up. That’s when you blow in, Soapy.”
“Am I her father?” asked Mr. Molloy, a little blankly.
“Sure, you’re her father. Why not?”
Mr. Molloy, who was a little sensitive about the difference in age between his bride and himself, considered that Chimp was not displaying his usual tact, but muttered something about graying himself up some at the temples.
“Then what?” asked Dolly.
“Then,” said Chimp, “Soapy does a spiel.”
Mr. Molloy brightened. He knew himself to be at his best when it came to a spiel.
“Soapy says he was born in this joint—ages and ages ago.”
“What do you mean—ages and ages ago?” said Mr. Molloy, starting.
“Ages and ages ago,” repeated Chimp firmly, “before he had to emigrate to America and leave the dear old place to be sold. He has loving childhood recollections of the lawn where he played as a kiddy, and worships every brick in the place. All his favorite parents pegged out in the rooms upstairs, and all like that. Well, I’m here to say,” concluded Chimp emphatically, “that if that guy has any sentiment in him and if Dolly has done the preliminary work properly, he’ll drop.”
There was a tense silence.
“It’ll work,” said Soapy.
“It might work,” said Dolly, more doubtfully.
“It will work,” said Soapy. “I shall be good. I will have that lobster weeping into his handkerchief inside three minutes.”
“A lot depends on Dolly,” Chimp reminded him.
“Don’t you worry about that,” said the lady stoutly. “I’ll be good too. But listen here; I’ve got to dress this act. This is where I have to have that hat with the bird-of-paradise feather that I see in Regent Street this morning.”
“How much?” inquired the rest of the syndicate in a single breath.
“Eighteen guineas!” said Chimp.
“Eighteen guineas!” said Soapy.
They looked at each other wanly, while Dolly, unheeded, spoke of ships and ha’porths of tar.
“And a new dress,” she continued. “And new shoes and a new parasol and new gloves and new ——”
“Have a heart, petty,” pleaded Mr. Molloy. “Exercise a little discretion, sweetness.”
Dolly was firm.
“A girl,” she said, “can’t do herself justice in a tacky lid. You know that. And you know as well as I do that the first thing a gentleman does is to look at a dame’s hoofs. And as for gloves, I simply beg you to cast a lamp on these old things I’ve got on now and ask yourselves ——”
“Oh, all right, all right,” said Chimp.
“All right,” echoed Mr. Molloy.
Their faces were set grimly. These men were brave, but they were suffering.
MR. WRENN looked up from his plate with a sudden start, a wild and febrile glare of horror in his eyes. Old theatergoers, had any such been present, would have been irresistibly reminded by his demeanor of the late Sir Henry Irving in The Bells.
It was breakfast time at San Rafael; and, as always at this meal, the air was charged with an electric unrest. It is ever thus at breakfast in the suburbs. The specter of a fleeting train broods over the feast, turning normally placid men into temporary neuropaths. Meeting Mr. Wrenn in Fleet Street after lunch, you would have set him down as a very pleasant, quiet, elderly gentleman, rather on the mild side. At breakfast, Bengal tigers could have picked up hints from him.
“Zatawittle?” he gasped, speaking in the early morning patois of Suburbia, which is the English language filtered through toast and marmalade.
“Of course, it wasn’t a whistle, darling,” said Kay soothingly. “I keep telling you you’ve lots of time.”
Partially reassured, Mr. Wrenn went on with his meal. He finished his toast and reached for his cup.
“Only a quarter-past.”
“Sure your washrah?”
“I put it right yesterday.”
At this moment there came faintly from afar a sweet, musical chiming.
“There’s the college clock striking the quarter,” said Kay.
Mr. Wrenn’s fever subsided. If it was only a quarter-past he was on velvet. He could linger and chat for a while. He could absolutely dally. He pushed back his chair and lighted a cigarette with the air of a leisured man.
“Kay, my dear,” he said, “I’ve been thinking—about this young fellow Shotter.”
Kay jumped. By an odd coincidence, she had herself been thinking of Sam at that moment. It annoyed her to think of Sam, but she constantly found herself doing it.
“I really think we ought to invite him to dinner one night.”
“But he seems so anxious to be friendly. Only yesterday he asked me if he could drop round sometime and borrow the garden roller. He said he understood that that was always the first move in the suburbs toward establishing good neighborly relations.”
“If you ask him to dinner I shall go out.”
“I can’t understand why you dislike him so much.”
“Well, I just do.”
“He seems to admire you tremendously.”
“He keeps talking about you—asking what you were like as a child and whether you ever did your hair differently and things of that kind.”
“I rather wish you didn’t object to him so much. I should like to see something of him out of office hours. I find him a very pleasant fellow myself, and extremely useful in the office. He has taken that Aunt Ysobel page off my hands. You remember how I used to hate having to write that?”
“Is that all he does?”
Mr. Wrenn chuckled.
“By no means,” he said amusedly.
“What are you laughing at?”
“I was thinking,” explained Mr. Wrenn, “of something that happened yesterday. Cordelia Blair called to see me with one of her usual grievances ——”
“Oh, no!” said Kay sympathetically. Her uncle, she knew, was much persecuted by female contributors who called with grievances at the offices of Pyke’s Home Companion; and of all these gifted creatures, Miss Cordelia Blair was the one he feared most. “What was the trouble this time?”
“Apparently the artist who is illustrating Hearts Aflame had drawn Leslie Mordyke in a lounge suit instead of dress clothes.”
“Why don’t you bite these women’s heads off when they come bothering you? You shouldn’t be so nice to them.”
“I can’t, my dear,” said Mr. Wrenn plaintively. “I don’t know why it is, but the mere sight of a woman novelist who is at all upset seems to take all the heart out of me. I sometimes wish I could edit some paper like Tiny Tots or Our Feathered Chums. I don’t suppose indignant children come charging in on Mason or outraged canaries on Mortimer. . . . But I was telling you—when I heard her voice in the outer office, I acquainted this young fellow Shotter briefly with the facts, and he most nobly volunteered to go out and soothe her.”
“I can’t imagine him soothing anyone.”
“Well, he certainly had the most remarkable effect on Miss Blair. He came back ten minutes later to say that all was well and that she had gone away quite happy.”
“Did he tell you how he had managed it?”
“No.” Another chuckle escaped Mr. Wrenn. “Kay, it isn’t possible—you don’t imagine—you don’t suppose he could conceivably, on such a very slight acquaintance, have kissed her, do you?”
“I should think it very probable.”
“Well, I’m bound to own ——”
“Don’t laugh in that horrible, ghoulish way, uncle!”
“I can’t help it. I could see nothing, you understand, as I was in the inner office; but there were most certainly sounds that suggested ——”
Mr. Wrenn broke off. Again that musical chiming had come faintly to his ears. But this time its effect was the reverse of soothing. He became a thing of furious activity. He ran to and fro, seizing his hat and dropping it, picking it up and dropping his brief case, retrieving the brief case and dropping his stick. By the time he had finally shot out of the front door with his hat on his head, his brief case in his hand and his stick dangling from his arm, it was as if a tornado had passed through the interior of San Rafael, and Kay, having seen him off, went out into the garden to try to recover.
It was a pleasant, sunny morning, and she made for her favorite spot, the shade of the large tree that hung over the edge of the lawn, a noble tree, as spreading as that which once sheltered the Village Blacksmith. Technically, this belonged to Mon Repos, its roots being in the latter’s domain; but its branches had grown out over the fence, and San Rafael, with that injustice which is so marked a feature of human affairs, got all the benefit of its shade.
Seated under this, with a gentle breeze ruffling her hair, Kay gave herself up to meditation.
She felt worried and upset and in the grip of one of her rare moods of despondency. She had schooled herself to pine as little as possible for the vanished luxury of Midways, but when she did so pine it was always at this time of the day. For although she had adjusted herself with almost complete success to the conditions of life at San Rafael, she had not yet learned to bear up under the suburban breakfast.
At Midways the meal had been so leisurely, so orderly, so spacious, so redolent of all that is most delightful in the country life of the wealthy; a meal of soft murmurs and rustling papers, of sunshine falling on silver in the summer, of crackling fires in winter; a take-your-time meal; a thing of dignity and comfort. Breakfast at San Rafael was a mere brutish bolting of food, and it jarred upon her afresh each morning.
The breeze continued to play in her hair. Birds hopped upon the grass. Someone down the road was using a lawn mower. Gradually the feeling of having been jolted and shaken by some rude force began to pass from Kay, and she was just reaching the stage where, reëstablishing connection with her sense of humor, she would be able to look upon the amusing side of the recent scramble, when from somewhere between earth and heaven there spoke a voice.
“Oo-oo!” said the voice.
Kay was puzzled. Though no ornithologist, she had become reasonably familiar with the distinctive notes of such of our feathered chums as haunted the garden of San Rafael, and this did not appear to be one of them.
“I see you,” proceeded the voice lovingly. “How’s your pore head, dearie?”
The solution of the mystery presented itself at last. Kay raised her eyes and beheld, straddled along a branch almost immediately above her, a lean, stringy man of ruffianly aspect, his naturally unlovely face rendered additionally hideous by an arch and sentimental smile. For a long instant this person goggled at her, and she stared back at him. Then, with a gasp that sounded confusedly apologetic, he scrambled back along the branch like an anthropoid ape, and dropping to earth beyond the fence, galloped blushingly up the garden.
Kay sprang to her feet. She had been feeling soothed, but now a bubbling fury had her in its grip. It was bad enough that outcasts like Sam Shotter should come and camp themselves next door to her. It was bad enough that they should annoy her uncle, a busy man, with foolish questions about what she had been like as a child and whether she had ever done her hair differently. But when their vile retainers went to the length of climbing trees and chirruping at her out of them, the situation, it seemed to her, passed beyond the limit up to which a spirited girl may reasonably be expected to endure.
She returned to the house, fermenting, and as she reached the hall the front doorbell rang.
Technically, when the front doorbell of San Rafael rang, it was Claire Lippett’s duty to answer it; but Claire was upstairs making beds. Kay stalked across the hall, and, having turned the handle, found confronting her a young woman of spectacular appearance, clad in gorgeous raiment and surmounted by a bird-of-paradise-feathered hat so much too good for her that Kay’s immediate reaction of beholding it was one of simple and ignoble jealousy. It was the sort of hat she would have liked to be able to afford herself, and its presence on the dyed hair of another cemented the prejudice which that other’s face and eyes had aroused within her.
“Does a guy named Shotter live here?” asked the visitor. Then, with the air of one remembering a part and with almost excessive refinement, “Could I see Mr. Shotter, if you please?”
“Mr. Shotter lives next door,” said Kay frostily.
“Oh, thank yaw. Thank yaw so much.”
“Not at all,” said Kay.
She shut the door and went into the drawing-room. The feeling of being in a world bounded north, east, south and west by Sam Shotter had thoroughly poisoned her day.
She took pen, ink and paper and wrote viciously for a few moments.
“Claire,” she called.
“ ’Ullo!” replied a distant voice.
“I’m leaving a note on the hall table. Will you take it next door sometime?”
“Right-ho!” bellowed the obliging Miss Lippett.
SAM was preparing to leave for the office when his visitor arrived. He had, indeed, actually opened the front door.
“Yes,” said Sam. He was surprised to see Mrs. Molloy. He had not expected visitors at so early a period of his tenancy. This, he supposed, must be the suburban equivalent of the county calling on the newcomer. Impressed by the hat, he assumed Dolly to be one of the old aristocracy of Valley Fields. A certain challenging jauntiness in her bearing forbade the suspicion that she was collecting funds for charity. “Won’t you come in?”
“Thank yaw. Thank yaw so much. The house agent told me your name.”
“Gink with a full set of white whiskers. Say, somebody ought to put that baby wise about the wonderful invention of the safety razor.”
Sam agreed that this might be in the public interest, but he began to revise his views about the old aristocracy.
“I’m afraid you’ll find the place in rather a mess,” he said apologetically, leading the way to the drawing-room. “I’ve only just moved in.”
The visitor replied that, on the contrary, she thought it cute.
“I seem to know this joint by heart,” she said. “I’ve heard so much about it from old pop.”
“I don’t think I am acquainted with Mr. Popp.”
“My father, I mean. He used to live here when he was a tiny kiddy.”
“Really? I should have taken you for an American.”
“I am American, and don’t let anyone tell you different.”
“One hundred per cent, that’s me.”
“ ‘Oh, say, can you see by the dawn’s early light?’ ” he said reverently.
“ ‘What so proudly’—I never can remember any more.”
“No one,” Sam reminded her, “knows the words but the Argentines.”
“And the Portuguese and the Greeks.” The lady beamed. “Say, don’t tell me you’re American too!”
“My mother was.”
“Why, this is fine! Pop’ll be tickled to death.”
“Is your father coming here too?”
“Well, I should say so! You don’t think I pay calls on strange gentlemen all by myself, do you?” said the lady archly. “But listen! If you’re American, we’re sitting pretty, because it’s only us Americans that’s got real sentiment in them. Ain’t it the truth?”
“I don’t quite understand. Why do you want me to have sentiment?”
“Pop’ll explain all that when he arrives. I’m surprised he hasn’t blown in yet. I didn’t think I’d get here first.” She looked about her. “It seems funny to think of pop as a little kiddy in this very room.”
“Your father was English then?”
“Born in England—born here—born in this very house. Just to think of pop playing all them childish games in this very room!”
Sam began to wish that she would stop. Her conversation was beginning to give the place a queer feeling. The room had begun to seem haunted by a peculiar being of middle-aged face and juvenile costume. So much so that when she suddenly exclaimed “There’s pop!” he had a momentary impression that a whiskered elder in Lord Fauntleroy clothes was about to dance out from behind the sofa.
Then he saw that his visitor was looking out of the window, and, following her gaze, noted upon the front steps a gentleman of majestic port.
“I’ll go and let him in,” he said.
“Do you live here all alone?” asked the lady, and Sam got the idea that she spoke eagerly.
“Oh, no. I’ve a man. But he’s busy somewhere.”
“I see,” she said disappointedly.
The glimpse which Sam had caught of the new arrival through the window had been a sketchy one. It was only as he opened the door that he got a full view of him. And having done so, he was a little startled. It is always disconcerting to see a familiar face where one had expected a strange one. This was the man he had seen in the bar that day when he had met Hash in Fleet Street.
It seemed to Sam that the man had aged a good deal since he had seen him last. The fact was that Mr. Molloy, in graying himself up at the temples, had rather overdone the treatment. Still, though stricken in years, he looked a genial, kindly, honest soul.
“My name is Gunn, Mr. Shotter—Thomas G. Gunn.”
It had been Mr. Molloy’s intention—for he was an artist and liked to do a thing, as he said, properly—to adopt for this interview the pseudonym of J. Felkin Haggenbakker, that seeming to his critical view the sort of name a sentimental millionaire who had made a fortune in Pittsburgh and was now revisiting the home of his boyhood ought to have. The proposal had been vetoed by Dolly, who protested that she did not intend to spend hours of her time in unnecessary study.
“Won’t you come in?” said Sam.
He stood aside to let his visitor pass, wondering again where it was that he had originally seen the man. He hated to forget a face and personality which should have been unforgettable. He ushered Mr. Gunn into the drawing-room, still pondering.
“So there you are, pop,” said the lady. “Say, pop, isn’t it dandy? Mr. Shotter’s an American.”
Mr. Gunn’s frank eyes lit up with gratification.
“Ah! Then you are a man of sentiment, Mr. Shotter. You will understand. You will not think it odd that a man should cherish all through his life a wistful yearning for the place where he was born.”
“Not at all,” said Sam politely, and might have reminded his visitor that the feeling, a highly creditable one, was shared by practically all America’s most eminent song writers.
“Well, that is how I feel, Mr. Shotter,” said the other bluffly, “and I am not ashamed to confess it. This house is very dear to me. I was born in it.”
“So Miss Gunn was telling me.”
“Ah, she has told you? Yes, Mr. Shotter, I am a man who has seen men and cities. I have lived in the hovels of the poor, I have risen till, if I may say so, I am welcomed in the palaces of the rich. But never, rich or poor, have I forgotten this old place and the childhood associations which hallow it.”
He paused. His voice had trembled and sunk to a whisper in those last words, and now he turned abruptly and looked out of a window. His shoulders heaved significantly for an instant and something like a stifled sob broke the stillness of the room. But when a moment later he swung round he was himself again, the tough, sturdy old J. Felkin Haggenbakker—or, rather, Thomas G. Gunn—who was so highly respected, and perhaps a little feared, at the Rotary Club in Pittsburgh.
“Well, I must not bore you, Mr. Shotter. You are, no doubt, a busy man. Let me be brief. Mr. Shotter, I want this house.”
“You want what?” said Sam, bewildered. He had had no notion that he was going to be swept into the maelstrom of a business transaction.
“Yes, sir, I want this house. And let me tell you that money is no object. I’ve lots of money.” He dismissed money with a gesture. “I have my whims and I can pay for them. How much for the house, Mr. Shotter?”
Sam felt that it behooved him to keep his head. He had not the remotest intention of selling for all the gold in Pittsburgh a house which, in the first place, did not belong to him and, secondly, was next door to Kay Derrick.
“I’m very sorry ——” he began.
Mr. Gunn checked him with an apologetic lift of the hand.
“I was too abrupt,” he said. “I rushed the thing. A bad habit of mine. When I was prospecting in Nevada, the boys used to call me Hair-Trigger Gunn. I ought to have stated my position more clearly.”
“Oh, I understand your position.”
“You realize then that this isn’t a house to me; it is a shrine?”
“Yes, yes; but ——”
“It contains,” said Mr. Gunn with perfect truth, “something very precious to me.”
“Yes; but ——”
“It is my boyhood that is enshrined here—my innocent, happy, halcyon boyhood. I have played games at my mother’s knee in this very room. I have read tales from the Scriptures with her here. It was here that my mother, seated at the piano, used to sing—sing ——”
His voice died away again. He blew his nose and turned once more to the window. But though he was under the impression that he had achieved a highly artistic aposiopesis, he could hardly have selected a more unfortunate word to stammer brokenly. Something resembling an electric thrill ran through Sam. Memory, dormant, had responded to the code word.
Sing Sing! He knew now where he had seen this man before.
It is the custom of the Welfare League of America’s most famous penitentiary to alleviate the monotony of the convict’s lot by giving periodical performances of plays, produced and acted by the personnel of the prison. When the enterprising burglar isn’t burgling, in fact, he is probably memorizing the words of some popular lyric for rendition on the next big night.
To one of these performances, some eighteen months back, Sam had been taken by a newspaper friend. The hit of the evening had been this very Thomas G. Gunn, then a mere number, in the rôle of a senator.
Mr. Gunn had resumed his address. He was speaking once more of his mother, and speaking well. But he was not holding his audience. Sam cut in on his eloquence.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but I’m afraid this house is not for sale.”
“But, Mr. Shotter ——”
“No,” said Sam. “I have a very special reason for wishing to stay here, and I intend to remain. And now I’m afraid I must ask you ——”
“Suppose I look in this evening and take the matter up again?” pleaded Mr. Gunn, finding with some surprise that he had been edged out onto the steps and making a last stand there.
“It’s no use. Besides, I shan’t be in this evening. I’m dining out.”
“Will anybody be in?” asked Miss Gunn suddenly, breaking a long silence.
“Why, yes,” said Sam, somewhat surprised, “the man who works here. Why?”
“I was only thinking that if we called he might show us over the place.”
“Oh, I see. Well, good-by.”
“But, say now, listen ——”
“Good-by,” said Sam.
He closed the door and made his way to the kitchen. Hash, his chair tilted back against the wall, was smoking a thoughtful pipe.
“Who was it, Sam?”
“Somebody wanting to buy the house. Hash, there’s something fishy going on.”
“Do you remember me pointing out a man to you in that bar in Fleet Street?”
“Well, it was the same fellow. And do you remember me saying that I was sure I had seen him before somewhere?”
“Well, I’ve remembered where it was. It was in Sing Sing, and he was serving a sentence there.”
Mr. Todhunter’s feet came to the floor with a crash.
“There’s something darned peculiar about this house, Hash. I slept in it the night I landed, and there was a fellow creeping around with an electric torch. And now this man, whom I know to be a crook, puts up a fake story to make me let him have it. What do you think, Hash?”
“I’ll tell you what I think,” said Mr. Todhunter, alarmed. “I think I’m going straight out to buy a good watchdog.”
“It’s a good idea.”
“I don’t like these bad characters hanging about. I had a cousin in the pawnbroking line what was hit on the ’ead by a burglar with a antique vase. That’s what happened to him, all through hearing a noise in the night and coming down to see what it was.”
“But what’s at the back of all this? What do you make of it?”
“Ah, there you have me,” said Hash frankly. “But that don’t alter the fact that I’m going to get a dog.”
“I should. Get something pretty fierce.”
“I’ll get a dog,” said Hash solemnly, “that’ll feed on nails and bite his own mother.”
THE dinner to which Sam had been bidden that night was at the house of his old friend, Mr. Willoughby Braddock, in John Street, Mayfair, and at ten minutes to eight Mr. Braddock was fidgeting about the morning room, interviewing his housekeeper, Mrs. Martha Lippett. His guests would be arriving at any moment, and for the last quarter of an hour, a-twitter with the nervousness of an anxious host, he had been popping about the place on a series of tours of inspection, as jumpy, to quote the words of Sleddon, his butler—whom, by leaping suddenly out from the dimly lit dining room, he had caused to bite his tongue and nearly drop a tray of glasses—as an old hen. The general consensus of opinion below stairs was that Willoughby Braddock, in his capacity of master of the revels, was making a thorough pest of himself.
“You are absolutely certain that everything is all right, Mrs. Lippett?”
“Everything is quite all right, Master Willie,” replied the housekeeper equably.
This redoubtable woman differed from her daughter Claire in being tall and thin and beaked like an eagle. One of the well-known Bromage family of Marshott-in-the-Dale, she had watched with complacent pride the Bromage nose developing in her sons and daughters, and it had always been a secret grief to her that Claire, her favorite, who inherited so much of her forceful and determined character, should have been the only one of her children to take nasally after the inferior, or Lippett, side of the house. Mr. Lippett had been an undistinguished man, hardly fit to mate with a Bromage and certainly not worthy to be resembled in appearance by the best of his daughters.
“You’re sure there will be enough to eat?”
“There will be ample to eat.”
“How about drinks?” said Mr. Braddock, and was reminded by the word of a grievance which had been rankling within his bosom ever since his last expedition to the dining room. He pulled down the corners of his white waistcoat and ran his finger round the inside of his collar. “Mrs. Lippett,” he said, “I—er—I was outside the dining room just now ——”
“Were you, Master Willie? You must not fuss so. Everything will be quite all right.”
“—— and I overheard you telling Sleddon not to let me have any champagne tonight,” said Mr. Braddock, reddening at the outrageous recollection.
The housekeeper stiffened.
“Yes, I did, Master Willie. And your dear mother, if she were still with us, would have given the very same instructions—after what my daughter Claire told me of what occurred the other night and the disgraceful condition you were in. What your dear mother would have said, I don’t know!”
Mrs. Lippett’s conversation during the last twenty years of Willoughby Braddock’s life had dealt largely with speculations as to what his dear mother would have said of various ventures undertaken or contemplated by him.
“You must fight against the craving, Master Willie. Remember your Uncle George!”
Mr. Braddock groaned in spirit. One of the things that make these old retainers so hard to bear is that they are so often walking editions of the chroniques scandaleuses of the family. It sometimes seemed to Mr. Braddock that he could not move a step in any direction without having the awful example of some erring ancestor flung up against him.
“Well, look here,” he said, with weak defiance, “I want champagne tonight.”
“You will have cider, Master Willie.”
“But I hate cider.”
“Cider is good for you, Master Willie,” said Mrs. Lippett firmly.
The argument was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell. The housekeeper left the room, and presently Sleddon, the butler, entered, escorting Lord Tilbury.
“Ha, my dear fellow,” said Lord Tilbury, bustling in.
He beamed upon his host as genially as the Napoleonic cast of his countenance would permit. He rather liked Willoughby Braddock, as he rather liked all very rich young men.
“How are you?” said Mr. Braddock. “Awfully good of you to come at such short notice.”
“My dear fellow!”
He spoke heartily, but he had, as a matter of fact, been a little piqued at being invited to dinner on the morning of the feast. He considered that his eminence entitled him to more formal and reverential treatment. And though he had accepted, having had previous experience of the excellence of Mr. Braddock’s cook, he felt that something in the nature of an apology was due to him and was glad that it had been made.
“I asked you at the last moment,” explained Mr. Braddock, “because I wasn’t sure till this morning that Sam Shotter would be able to come. I thought it would be jolly for him, meeting you out of the office, don’t you know.”
Lord Tilbury inclined his head. He quite saw the force of the argument that it would be jolly for anyone, meeting him.
“So you know young Shotter?”
“Oh, yes. We were at school together.”
“A peculiar young fellow.”
“A great lad.”
“But—er—a little eccentric, don’t you think?”
“Oh, Sam always was a bit of nib,” said Mr. Braddock. “At school there used to be some iron bars across the passage outside our dormitory, the idea being to coop us up during the night, don’t you know. Sam used to shin over these and go downstairs to the house master’s study.”
“With what purpose?”
“Oh, just to sit.”
Lord Tilbury was regarding his host blankly. Not a day passed, he was ruefully reflecting, but he received some further evidence of the light and unstable character of this young man of whom he had so rashly taken charge.
“It sounds a perfectly imbecile proceeding to me,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t know, you know,” said Mr. Braddock, for the defense. “You see, occasionally there would be a cigar or a plate of biscuits or something left out, and then Sam would scoop them. So it wasn’t altogether a waste of time.”
Sleddon was entering with a tray.
“Cocktail?” said Mr. Braddock, taking one himself with a defiant glare at his faithful servant, who was trying to keep the tray out of his reach.
“No, I thank you,” said Lord Tilbury. “My doctor has temporarily forbidden me the use of alcoholic beverages. I have been troubled of late with a suspicion of gout.”
“No doubt I am better without them. I find cider an excellent substitute. . . . Are you expecting many people here tonight?”
“A fairish number. I don’t think you know any of them—except, of course, old Wrenn.”
“Wrenn? You mean the editor of my Home Companion?”
“Yes. He and his niece are coming. She lives with him, you know.”
Lord Tilbury started as if a bradawl had been thrust through the cushions of his chair; and for an instant, so powerfully did these words affect him, he had half a mind to bound at the receding Sleddon and, regardless of medical warnings, snatch from him that rejected cocktail. A restorative of some kind seemed to him imperative.
The statement by Mr. Wrenn, delivered in his office on the morning of Sam’s arrival, that he possessed no daughter had had the effect of relieving Lord Tilbury’s mind completely. Francie, generally so unerring in these matters, had, he decided, wronged Sam in attributing his occupancy of Mon Repos to a desire to be next door to some designing girl. And now it appeared that she had been right all the time.
He was still staring with dismay at his unconscious host when the rest of the dinner guests began to arrive. They made no impression on his dazed mind. Through a sort of mist, he was aware of a young man with a face like a rabbit, another young man with a face like another rabbit; two small, shingled creatures, one blond, the other dark, who seemed to be either wives or sisters of these young men; and an unattached female whom Mr. Braddock addressed as Aunt Julia. His Lordship remained aloof, buried in his thoughts and fraternizing with none of them.
Then Sam appeared, and a few moments later Sleddon announced Mr. Wrenn and Miss Derrick; and Lord Tilbury, who had been examining a picture by the window, swung round with a jerk.
In a less prejudiced frame of mind he might have approved of Kay; for, like so many other great men, he had a nice eye for feminine beauty, and she was looking particularly attractive in a gold dress which had survived the wreck of Midways. But now that very beauty merely increased his disapproval and alarm. He looked at her with horror. He glared as the good old father in a film glares at the adventuress from whose clutches he is trying to save his only son.
At this moment, however, something happened that sent hope and comfort stealing through his heart. Sam, who had been seized upon by Aunt Julia and had been talking restively to her for some minutes, now contrived by an adroit piece of side-stepping to remove himself from her sphere of influence. He slid swiftly up to Kay, and Lord Tilbury, who was watching her closely, saw her face freeze. She said a perfunctory word or two, and then, turning away, began to talk with great animation to one of the rabbit-faced young men. And Sam, with rather the manner of one who has bumped into a brick wall in the dark, drifted off and was immediately gathered in again by Aunt Julia.
A delightful sensation of relief poured over Lord Tilbury. In the days of his youth when he had attended subscription dances at the Empress Rooms, West Kensington, he had sometimes seen that look on the faces of his partners when he had happened to tread on their dresses. He knew its significance. Such a look could mean but one thing—that Kay, though living next door to Sam, did not regard him as one of the pleasant features of the neighborhood. In short, felt Lord Tilbury, if there was anything between these two young people, it was something extremely one-sided; and he went in to dinner with a light heart, prepared to enjoy the cooking of Mr. Braddock’s admirable chef as it should be enjoyed.
When, on sitting at the table, he found that Kay was on his right, he was pleased, for he had now come to entertain a feeling of warm esteem for this excellent and sensible girl. It was his practice never to talk while he ate caviar; but when that had been consumed in a holy silence he turned to her, beaming genially.
“I understand you live at Valley Fields, Miss Derrick.”
“A charming spot.”
“The college grounds are very attractive.”
“Have you visited the picture gallery?”
“Yes, several times.”
Fish arrived—sole meunière. It was Lord Tilbury’s custom never to talk during the fish course.
“My young friend Shotter is, I believe, a near neighbor of yours,” he said, when the sole meunière was no more.
“He lives next door.”
“Indeed? Then you see a great deal of him, no doubt?”
“I never see him.”
“A most delightful young fellow,” said Lord Tilbury, sipping cider.
Kay looked at him stonily.
“Do you think so?” she said.
Lord Tilbury’s last doubts were removed. He felt that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Like some joyous reveler out of Rabelais, he raised his glass with a light-hearted flourish. He looked as if he were about to start a drinking chorus.
“Excellent cider, this, Braddock,” he boomed genially. “Most excellent.”
Willoughby Braddock, who had been eying his own supply of that wholesome beverage with sullen dislike, looked at him in pained silence; and Sam, who had been sitting glumly, listening without interest to the prattle of one of the shingled girls, took it upon himself to reply. He was feeling sad and ill used. That incident before dinner had distressed him. Moreover, only a moment ago he had caught Kay’s eye for an instant across the table, and it had been cold and disdainful. He welcomed the opportunity of spoiling somebody’s life, and particularly that of an old ass like Lord Tilbury, who should have been thinking about his end instead of being so infernally hearty.
“I read a very interesting thing about cider the other day,” he said in a loud, compelling voice that stopped one of the rabbit-faced young men in mid-anecdote as if he had been smitten with an ax. “It appears that the farmers down in Devonshire put a dead rat in every barrel ——”
“My dear Shotter!”
“——to give it body,” went on Sam doggedly. “And the curious thing is that when the barrels are opened, the rats are always found to have completely disappeared—which goes to show the power of the juice.”
A wordless exclamation proceeded from Lord Tilbury. He lowered his glass. Mr. Braddock was looking like one filled with a sudden great resolution.
“I read it in Pyke’s Home Companion,” said Sam. “So it must be true.”
“A little water, please,” said Lord Tilbury stiffly.
“Sleddon,” said Mr. Braddock in a voice of thunder, “give me some champagne.”
“Sir?” quavered the butler. He cast a swift look over his shoulder, as if seeking the moral support of Mrs. Lippett. But Mrs. Lippett was in the housekeeper’s room.
“Yes, sir,” said the butler meekly.
Sam was feeling completely restored to his usual sunny self.
“Talking of Pyke’s Home Companion,” he said, “did you take my advice and read that serial of Cordelia Blair’s, Lord Tilbury?”
“I did not,” replied His Lordship shortly.
“You should. Miss Blair is a very remarkable woman.”
Kay raised her eyes.
“A great friend of yours, isn’t she?” she said.
“I would hardly say that. I’ve only met her once.”
“But you got on very well with her, I heard.”
“I think I endeared myself to her pretty considerably.”
“So I understood.”
“I gave her a plot for a story,” said Sam.
One of the rabbit-faced young men said that he could never understand how fellows—or women, for that matter—thought up ideas for stories—or plays, for the matter of that—or, as a matter of fact, any sort of ideas, for that matter.
“This,” Sam explained, “was something that actually happened—to a friend of mine.”
The other rabbit-faced young man said that something extremely rummy had once happened to a pal of his. He had forgotten what it was, but it had struck him at the time as distinctly rummy.
“This fellow,” said Sam, “was fishing up in Canada. He lived in a sort of shack.”
“A what?” asked the blond shingled girl.
“A hut. And tacked up on the wall of the shack was a photograph of a girl, torn out of an illustrated weekly paper.”
“Pretty?” asked the dark shingled girl.
“You bet she was pretty,” said Sam devoutly. “Well, this man spent weeks in absolute solitude, with not a soul to talk to—nothing, in fact, to distract his mind from the photograph. The consequence was that he came to look on this girl as—well, you might say an old friend.”
“Sleddon,” said Mr. Braddock, “more champagne.”
“Some months later,” proceeded Sam, “the man came over to England. He met the girl. And still looking on her as an old friend, you understand, he lost his head and, two minutes after they had met, he kissed her.”
“Must have been rather a soppy kind of a silly sort of idiot,” observed the blond shingled girl critically.
“Perhaps you’re right,” agreed Sam. “Still, that’s what happened.”
“I don’t see where the story comes in,” said one of the rabbit-faced young men.
“Well, naturally, you see, not realizing the true state of affairs, the girl was very sore,” said Sam.
The rabbit-faced young men looked at each other and shook their heads. The shingled young women raised their eyebrows pityingly.
“No good,” said the blond shingled girl.
“Dud,” said the dark shingled girl. “Who’s going to believe nowadays that a girl is such a chump as to mind a man’s kissing her?”
“Everybody kisses everybody nowadays,” said one of the rabbit-faced young men profoundly.
“Girl was making a fuss about nothing,” said the other rabbit-faced young man.
“And how does the story end?” asked Aunt Julia.
“It hasn’t ended,” said Sam. “Not yet.”
“Sleddon!” said Mr. Braddock, in a quiet, dangerous voice.
(TO BE CONTINUED)