The Saturday Evening Post, July 4, 1925
IT IS possible, if you are young and active and in an exhilarated frame of mind, to walk from John Street, Mayfair, to Burberry Road, Valley Fields. Sam did so. His frame of mind was extraordinarily exhilarated. It seemed to him, reviewing recent events, that he had detected in Kay’s eyes for an instant a look that resembled the first dawning of spring after a hard winter; and, though not in the costume for athletic feats, he covered the seven miles that separated him from home at a pace which drew derisive comment from the proletariat all along the route. The Surrey-side Londoner is always intrigued by the spectacle of anyone hurrying, and when that person is in dress clothes and a tall hat he expresses himself without reserve.
Sam heard nothing of this ribaldry. Unconscious of the world, he strode along, brushing through Brixton, hurrying through Herne Hill, and presently arrived, warm and happy, at the door of Mon Repos.
He let himself in; and, entering, was aware of a note lying on the hall table.
He opened it absently. The handwriting was strange to him, and feminine:
“Dear Mr. Shotter: I should be much obliged if you would ask your manservant not to chirrup at me out of trees.
He had to read this curt communication twice before he was able fully to grasp its meaning. When he did so a flood of self-pity poured over Sam. He quivered with commiseration for the hardness of his lot. Here was he, doing all that a man could to establish pleasant neighborly relations with the house next door, and all the while Hash foiling his every effort by chirruping out of trees from morning till night. It was bitter, bitter.
He was standing there, feeding his surging wrath by a third perusal of the letter, when from the direction of the kitchen there suddenly sounded a long, loud, agonized cry. It was like the wail of a soul in torment; and without stopping to pick up his hat, which he had dropped in the sheer shock of this dreadful sound, he raced down the stairs.
“ ’Ullo,” said Hash, looking up from an evening paper. “Back?”
His placidity amazed Sam. If his ears were any guide, murder had been done in this room only a few seconds before, and here was this iron man reading the racing news without having turned a hair.
“What on earth was that?”
“What was what?”
“Oh, that was Amy,” said Hash.
Sam’s eye was diverted by movement in progress in the shadows behind the table.
A vast shape was rising from the floor, revealing itself as an enormous dog. It finished rising; and having placed its chin upon the table, stood looking at him with dreamy eyes and a wrinkled forehead, like a shortsighted person trying to recall a face.
“Oh, yes,” said Sam, remembering. “So you got him?”
“What is he—she?”
“Gawd knows,” said Hash simply. It was a problem which he himself had endeavored idly to solve earlier in the evening. “I’ve named her after an old aunt of mine. Looks a bit like her.”
“She must be an attractive woman.”
“Perhaps it’s all for the best,” said Sam. He leaned forward and pulled the animal’s ears in friendly fashion. Amy simpered in a ladylike way, well pleased. “Would you say she was a bloodhound, Hash?”
“I wouldn’t say she was anything, not to swear to.”
“A kind of canine cocktail,” said Sam. “The sort of thing a Cruft’s Show judge dreams about when he has a nightmare.”
He observed something lying on the floor; and stooping, found that his overtures to the animal had caused Kay’s note to slip from his fingers. He picked it up and eyed Hash sternly. Amy, charmed by his recent attentions, snuffled like water going down the waste pipe of a bath.
“Hash!” said Sam.
“What the devil,” demanded Sam forcefully, “do you mean by chirruping at Miss Derrick out of trees?”
“I only said oo-oo, Sam,” pleaded Mr. Todhunter.
“You said what?”
“What on earth did you want to say oo-oo for?”
Much voyaging on the high seas had given Hash’s cheeks the consistency of teak, but at this point something resembling a blush played about them.
“I thought it was the girl.”
“The maid. Clara, ’er name is.”
“Well, why should you say oo-oo at her?”
Again that faint, fleeting blush colored Hash’s face. Before Sam’s revolted eyes he suddenly looked coy.
“Well, it’s like this: The ’ole thing is, we’re engaged.”
“Engaged to be married.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Todhunter. And once more that repellent smirk rendered his features hideous beyond even Nature’s liberal specifications concerning them.
Sam sat down. This extraordinary confession had shaken him deeply.
“But I thought you disliked women.”
“So I do—most of ’em.”
Another aspect of the matter struck Sam. His astonishment deepened.
“But how did you manage it so soon?”
“You can’t have seen the girl more than about half a dozen times.”
Still another mysterious point about this romance presented itself to Sam. He regarded the great lover with frank curiosity.
“And what was the attraction?” he asked. “That’s what I can’t understand.”
“She’s a nice girl,” argued Hash.
“I don’t mean in her; I mean in you. What is there about you that could make this misguided female commit such a rash act? If I were a girl, and you begged me for one little rose from my hair, I wouldn’t give it to you.”
“No,” said Sam firmly, “it’s no use arguing; I just wouldn’t give it to you. What did she see in you?”
“Oh, well ——”
“It couldn’t have been your looks—we’ll dismiss that right away, of course. It couldn’t have been your conversation or your intellect, because you haven’t any. Then what was it?”
Mr. Todhunter smirked coyly.
“Oh, well, I’ve got a way with me, Sam—that’s how it is.”
“What sort of way?”
“Oh, just a way.”
“Have you got it with you now?”
“Naturally I wouldn’t ’ave it with me now,” said Hash.
“You keep it for special occasions, eh? Well, you haven’t yet explained how it all happened.”
Mr. Todhunter coughed.
“Well, it was like this, Sam: I see ’er in the garden, and I says ‘Ullo!’ and she says ‘Ullo!’ and then she come to the fence and then I come to the fence, and she says ‘Ullo!’ and I says ‘Ullo!’ and then I kiss her.”
“Didn’t she object?”
“Object? What would she want to object for? No, indeed! It seemed to break what you might call the ice, and after that everything got kind of nice and maty. And then one thing led to another—see what I mean?”
An aching sense of the injustice of things afflicted Sam.
“Well, it’s very strange,” he said.
“I mean, I knew a man—a fellow—who—er—kissed a girl when he had only just met her, and she was furious.”
“Ah,” said Hash, leaping instantly at a plausible solution, “but then ’e was probably a chap with a face like Gawd-’elpus and hair growing out of his ears. Naturally, no one wouldn’t like ’aving someone like that kissing ’em.”
Sam went upstairs to bed. Before retiring, he looked at himself in the mirror long and earnestly. He turned his head sideways so that the light shone upon his ears. He was conscious of a strange despondency.
KAY lay in bed, thinking. Ever and anon a little chuckle escaped her. She was feeling curiously happy tonight. The world seemed to have become all of a sudden interesting and amusing. An odd, uncontrollable impulse urged her to sing.
She would not in any case have sung for long, for she was a considerate girl, and the recollection would soon have come to her that there were people hard by who were trying to get to sleep. But as a matter of fact, she sang only a mere bar or two, for even as she began, there came a muffled banging on the wall—a petulant banging. Hash Todhunter loved his Claire, but he was not prepared to put up with this sort of thing. Three doughty buffets he dealt the wall with the heel of a number-eleven shoe.
Kay sang no more. She turned out the light and lay in the darkness, her face set.
Silence fell upon San Rafael and Mon Repos. And then, from somewhere in the recesses of the latter, a strange, bansheelike wailing began. Amy was homesick.
THE day that followed Mr. Braddock’s dinner party dawned on a world shrouded in wet white fog. By eight o’clock, however, this had thinned to a soft pearly veil that hung clingingly to the tree tops and lingered about the grass of the lawn in little spider webs of moisture. And when Kay Derrick came out into the garden, a quarter of an hour later, the September sun was already beginning to pierce the mist with hints of a wonderful day to come.
It was the sort of morning which should have bred happiness and quiet content, but Kay had waked in a mood of irritated hostility which fine weather could not dispel. What had happened overnight had stung her to a militant resentment, and sleep had not removed this.
Possibly this was because her sleep, like that of everyone else in the neighborhood, had been disturbed and intermittent. From midnight until two in the morning the dog Amy had given a spirited imitation of ten dogs being torn asunder by red-hot pincers. At two, Hash Todhunter had risen reluctantly from his bed, and arming himself with the number-eleven shoe mentioned in the previous chapter, had reasoned with her. This had produced a brief respite, but by a quarter to three large numbers of dogs were once more being massacred on the premises of Mon Repos, that ill-named house.
At three, Sam went down; and being a young man who liked dogs and saw their point of view, tried diplomacy. This took the shape of the remains of a leg of mutton and it worked like a charm. Amy finished the leg of mutton and fell into a surfeited slumber, and peace descended on Burberry Road.
Kay paced the gravel path with hard feelings, which were not removed by the appearance a few moments later of Sam, clad in flannels and a sweater. Sam, his back to her and his face to the sun, began to fling himself about in a forceful and hygienic manner; and Kay, interested in spite of herself, came to the fence to watch him. She was angry with him, for no girl likes to have her singing criticized by bangs upon the wall; but nevertheless she could not entirely check a faint feeling of approval as she watched him. A country-bred girl, Kay liked men to be strong and of the open air; and Sam, whatever his moral defects, was a fine physical specimen. He looked fit and hard and sinewy.
Presently, in the course of a complicated movement which involved circular swinging from the waist, his eye fell upon her. He straightened himself and came over to the fence, flushed and tousled and healthy.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning,” said Kay coldly. “I want to apologize, Mr. Shotter. I’m afraid my singing disturbed you last night.”
“Good Lord!” said Sam. “Was that you? I thought it was the dog.”
“I stopped directly you banged on the wall.”
“I didn’t bang on any wall. It must have been Hash.”
“Hash Todhunter, the man who cooks for me—and, oh, yes, who chirrups at you out of trees. I got your note and spoke to him about it. He explained that he had mistaken you for your maid, Claire. It’s rather a romantic story. He’s engaged to her.”
“That’s just what I said when he told me, and in just that tone of voice. I was surprised. I gather, however, that Hash is what you would call a quick worker. He tells me he has a way with him. According to his story, he kissed her, and after that everything was nice and maty.”
Kay flushed faintly.
“Oh!” she said.
“Yes,” said Sam.
There was a silence. The San Rafael kitten, which had been playing in the grass, approached and rubbed a wet head against Kay’s ankle.
“Well, I must be going in,” said Kay. “Claire is in bed with one of her neuralgic headaches and I have to cook my uncle’s breakfast.”
“Oh, no, really? Let me lend you Todhunter.”
“Perhaps you’re wise. Apart from dry hash, he’s a rotten cook.”
“So is Claire.”
“Really? What a battle of giants it will be when they start cooking for each other!”
Kay stooped and tickled the kitten under the ear, then walked quickly toward the house. The kitten, having subjected Sam to a long and critical scrutiny, decided that he promised little entertainment to an active-minded cat and galloped off in pursuit of a leaf. Sam sighed and went in to have a bath.
Some little time later, the back door of Mon Repos opened from within as if urged by some irresistible force, and the dog Amy came out to take the morning air.
Dogs are creatures of swiftly changing moods. Only a few hours before, Amy, in the grip of a dreadful depression caused by leaving the public house where she had spent her girlhood—for, in case the fact is of interest to anyone, Hash had bought her for five shillings from the proprietor of the Blue Anchor at Tulse Hill—had been making the night hideous with her lamentations. Like Niobe, she had mourned and would not be comforted. But now, to judge from her manner and a certain jauntiness in her walk, she had completely resigned herself to the life of exile. She scratched the turf and sniffed the shrubs with the air of a lady of property taking a stroll round her estates. And when Hash, who did not easily forgive, flung an egg at her out of the kitchen window so that it burst before her on the gravel, she ate the remains light-heartedly, as one who feels that the day is beginning well.
The only flaw in the scheme of things seemed to her to consist in a lack of society. By nature sociable, she yearned for company, and for some minutes roamed the garden in quest of it. She found a snail under a laurel bush, but snails are reserved creatures, self-centered and occupied with their own affairs, and this one cut Amy dead, retreating into its shell with a frigid aloofness which made anything in the nature of camaraderie out of the question.
She returned to the path, and became interested in the wooden structure that ran along it. Rearing herself up to a majestic height and placing her paws on this, she looked over and immediately experienced all the emotions of stout Balboa when with eagle eyes he stared at the Pacific. It is not, indeed, too much to say that Amy at that moment felt like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken; for not only was there a complete new world on the other side of this wooden structure but on the grass in the middle of it was a fascinating kitten running round in circles after its tail.
Amy had seen enough. She would have preferred another dog to chat with; but failing that, a kitten made an admirable substitute. She adored kittens. At the Blue Anchor there had been seven, all intimate friends of hers, who looked upon her body as a recreation ground and her massive tail as a perpetual object of the chase. With a heave of her powerful hind legs, she hoisted herself over the fence and, descending on the other side like the delivery of half a ton of coal, bounded at the kitten, full of good feeling. And the kitten, after one brief, shocked stare, charged madly at the fence and scrambled up it into the branches of the tree from which Hash Todhunter had done his recent chirruping.
Amy came to the foot of the tree and looked up, perplexed. She could make nothing of this. It is not given to dogs any more than to men to see themselves as others see them, and it never occurred to her for an instant that there was in her appearance anything that might be alarming to a high-strung young cat. But a dog cannot have a bloodhound-Airedale father and a Great Dane-Labrador mother without acquiring a certain physique. The kitten, peering down through the branches, congratulated itself on a narrow escape from death and climbed higher. And at this point Kay came out into the garden.
“Hullo, dog,” said Kay. “What are you doing here?”
Amy was glad to see Kay. She was a shortsighted dog and took her for the daughter of the host of the Blue Anchor who had been wont to give her her meals. She left the tree and galloped toward her. And Kay, who had been brought up with dogs from childhood and knew the correct procedure to be observed when meeting a strange one, welcomed her becomingly. Hash, hurrying out on observing Amy leap the fence, found himself a witness of what practically amounted to a feast of reason and a flow of soul. That is to say, Amy was lying restfully on her back with her legs in the air and Kay was thumping her chest.
“I hope the dog is not annoying you, lady,” said Hash in his best preux-chevalier manner.
Kay looked up and perceived the man who had chirruped at her from the tree. Having contracted to marry into San Rafael, he had ceased to be an alien and had become something in the nature of one of the family; so she smiled amiably at him, conscious the while of a passing wonder that Claire’s heart should have been ensnared by one who, whatever his merits, was notably deficient in conventional good looks.
“Not at all, thank you,” she said. “Is he your dog?”
“She,” corrected Hash. “Yes, miss.”
“She’s a nice dog.”
“Yes, miss,” said Hash, but with little heartiness.
“I hope she won’t frighten my kitten, though. It’s out in the garden somewhere. I can hear it mewing.”
Amy could hear the mewing too; and still hopeful that an understanding might be reached, she at once proceeded to the tree and endeavored to jump to the top of it. In this enterprise she fell short by some fifty feet, but she jumped high enough to send the kitten scrambling into the upper branches.
“Oh!” cried Kay, appreciating the situation.
Hash also appreciated the situation; and being a man of deeds rather than words, vaulted over the fence and kicked Amy in the lower ribs. Amy, her womanly feelings wounded, shot back into her own garden, where she stood looking plaintively on with her forepaws on the fence. Treatment like this was novel to her, for at the Blue Anchor she had been something of a popular pet; and it seemed to her that she had fallen among tough citizens. She expressed a not unnatural pique by throwing her head back and uttering a loud, moaning cry like an ocean liner in a fog. Hearing which, the kitten, which had been in two minds about risking a descent, climbed higher.
“What shall we do?” said Kay.
“Shut up!” bellowed Hash. “Not you, miss,” he hastened to add with a gallant smirk. “I was speaking to the dog.” He found a clod of earth and flung it peevishly at Amy, who wrinkled her forehead thoughtfully as it flew by, but made no move. Amy’s whole attitude now was that of one who has got a front-row seat and means to keep it. “The ’ole thing ’ere,” explained Hash, “is that that there cat is scared to come down, bein’ frightened of this ’ere dog.”
And having cleared up what might otherwise have remained a permanent mystery, he plucked a blade of grass and chewed reflectively.
“I wonder,” said Kay, with an ingratiating smile, “if you would mind climbing up and getting her.”
Hash stared at her amazedly. Her smile, which was wont to have so much effect on so many people, left him cold. It was the silliest suggestion he had ever heard in his life.
“Me?” he said, marveling. “You mean me?”
“Climb up this ’ere tree and fetch that there cat?”
“Lady,” said Hash, “do you think I’m an acrobat or something?”
Kay bit her lip. Then, looking over the fence, she observed Sam approaching.
“Anything wrong?” said Sam.
Kay regarded him with mixed feelings. She had an uneasy foreboding that it might be injudicious to put herself under an obligation to a young man so obviously belonging to the class of those who, given an inch, take an ell. On the other hand, the kitten, mewing piteously, had plainly got itself into a situation from which only skilled assistance could release it. She eyed Sam doubtfully.
“Your dog has frightened my kitten up the tree,” she said.
A wave of emotion poured over Sam. Only yesterday he had been correcting the proofs of a short story designed for a forthcoming issue of Pyke’s Home Companion—Cella’s Airman, by Louise G. Boffin—and had curled his lip with superior masculine scorn at what had seemed to him the naïve sentimentality of its central theme. Celia had quarreled with her lover, a young wing commander in the air force, and they had become reconciled owing to the latter saving her canary. In a mad moment in which his critical faculties must have been completely blurred, Sam had thought the situation far-fetched; but now he offered up a silent apology to Miss Boffin, realizing that it was from the sheer, stark facts of life that she had drawn her inspiration.
“You want her brought down?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Leave it to me,” said Sam. “Leave it absolutely to me—leave the whole thing entirely and completely to me.”
“It’s awfully good of you.”
“Not at all,” said Sam tenderly. “There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you—nothing. I was saying to myself only just now ——”
“I shouldn’t,” said Hash heavily. “Only go breaking your neck. What we ought to do ’ere is to stand under the tree and chirrup.”
“You appear to me, Hash,” he said with some severity, “to think that your mission in life is to chirrup. If you devoted half the time to work that you do to practicing your chirruping, Mon Repos would be a better and a sweeter place.”
He hoisted himself into the tree and began to climb rapidly. So much progress did he make that when, a few moments later, Kay called to him, he could not distinguish her words. He scrambled down again.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“I only said take care,” said Kay.
“Oh!” said Sam.
He resumed his climb. Hash followed him with a pessimistic eye.
“A cousin of mine broke two ribs playing this sort of silly game,” he said moodily. “Light-haired feller named George Turner. Had a job pruning the ellums on a gentleman’s place down Chigwell way. Two ribs he broke, besides a number of contusions.”
He was aggrieved to find that Kay was not giving that attention to the story which its drama and human interest deserved.
“Two ribs,” he repeated in a louder voice. “Also cuts, scratches and contusions. Ellums are treacherous things. You think the branches is all right, but lean your weight on ’em and they snap. That’s an ellum he’s climbin’ now.”
“Oh, be quiet!” said Kay nervously. She was following Sam’s movements as tensely as ever Celia followed her airman’s. It did look horribly dangerous, what he was doing.
“The proper thing we ought to have done ’ere was to have took a blanket and a ladder and a pole and to have held the blanket spread out and climbed the ladder and prodded at that there cat with the pole, same as they do at fires,” said Hash, casting an unwarrantable slur on the humane methods of the fire brigade.
“Oh, well done!” cried Kay.
Sam was now operating in the topmost branches, and the kitten, not being able to retreat farther, had just come within reach of his groping hand. Having regarded him suspiciously for some moments and registered a formal protest against the proceedings by making a noise like an exploding soda-water bottle, it now allowed itself to be picked up and buttoned into his coat.
“Splendid!” shouted Kay.
“What?” bellowed Sam, peering down.
“I said splendid!” roared Kay.
“The lady said splendid!” yelled Hash, in a voice strengthened by long practice in announcing dinner in the midst of hurricanes. He turned to Kay with a mournful shake of the head, his bearing that of the man who has tried to put a brave face on the matter, but feels the uselessness of affecting further optimism. “It’s now that’s the dangerous part, miss,” he said. “The coming down, what I mean. I don’t say the climbing up of one of these ’ere ellums is safe—not what you would call safe; but it’s when you’re coming down that the nasty accidents occur. My cousin was coming down when he broke his two ribs and got all them contusions. George Turner his name was—a light-haired feller, and he broke two ribs and had to have seven stitches sewed in him.”
“Oh!” cried Kay.
“Ah!” said Hash.
He spoke with something of the smug self-satisfaction of the prophet whose predicted disasters come off as per schedule. Halfway down the tree, Sam, like Mr. Turner, had found proof of the treachery of ellums. He had rested his weight on a branch which looked solid, felt solid and should have been solid, and it had snapped under him. For one breathless moment he seemed to be about to shoot down like Lucifer, then he snatched at another bough and checked his fall.
This time the bough held. It was as if the elm, having played its practical joke and failed, had become discouraged. Hash, with something of the feelings of a spectator in the gallery at a melodrama who sees the big scene fall flat, watched his friend and employer reach the lowest branch and drop safely to the ground. The record of George Turner still remained a mark for other climbers to shoot at.
Kay was not a girl who wept easily, but she felt strangely close to tears. She removed the agitated kitten from Sam’s coat and put it on the grass, where it immediately made another spirited attempt to climb the tree. Foiled in this, it raced for the coal cellar and disappeared from the social life of San Rafael until late in the afternoon.
“Your poor hands!” said Kay.
Sam regarded his palms with some surprise. In the excitement of the recent passage he had been unaware of injury.
“It’s all right,” he said. “Only skinned a little.”
Hash would have none of this airy indifference.
“Ah,” he said, “and the next thing you know you’ll be getting dirt into ’em and going down with lockjaw. I had an uncle what got dirt into a cut ’and, and three days later we were buying our blacks for him.”
“Oh!” gasped Kay.
“Two and a half really,” said Hash. “Because he expired toward evening.”
“I’ll run and get a sponge and a basin,” said Kay in agitation.
“That’s awfully good of you,” said Sam. O woman, he felt, in our hours of ease uncertain, coy and hard to please; when pain and anguish wring the brow, a ministering angel thou.
And he nearly said as much.
“You don’t want to do that, miss,” said Hash. “Much simpler for him to come indoors and put ’em under the tap.”
“Perhaps that would be better,” agreed Kay.
Sam regarded his practical-minded subordinate with something of the injured loathing which his cooking had occasionally caused to appear on the faces of dainty feeders in the foc’sle of the Araminta.
“This isn’t your busy day, Hash, I take it?” he said coldly.
“I said you seem to be taking life pretty easily. Why don’t you do a little work sometimes? If you imagine you’re a lily of the field, look in the glass and adjust that impression.”
Hash drew himself up, wounded.
“I’m only stayin’ ’ere to ’elp and encourage,” he said stiffly. “Now that what I might call the peril is over, there’s nothing to keep me.”
“Nothing,” agreed Sam cordially.
“I’ll be going.”
“You know your way,” said Sam. He turned to Kay. “Hash is an ass,” he said. “Put them under the tap, indeed! These hands need careful dressing.”
“Perhaps they do,” Kay agreed.
“They most certainly do.”
“Shall we go in, then?”
“Without delay,” said Sam.
“There,” said Kay some ten minutes later. “I think that will be all right.”
The finest efforts of the most skillful surgeon could not have evoked more enthusiasm from her patient. Sam regarded his bathed and sticking-plastered hands with an admiration that was almost ecstatic.
“You’ve had training in this sort of thing,” he said.
“You’ve never been a nurse?”
“Then,” said Sam, “it is pure genius. It is just one of those cases of an amazing natural gift. You’ve probably saved my life. Oh, yes, you have! Remember what Hash said about lockjaw.”
“But I thought you thought Hash was an ass.”
“In many ways, yes,” said Sam. “But on some points he has a certain rugged common sense. He ——”
“Won’t you be awfully late for the office?”
“For the what? Oh! Well, yes, I suppose I ought to be going there. But I’ve got to have breakfast first.”
“Well, hurry, then. My uncle will be wondering what has become of you.”
“Yes. What a delightful man your uncle is!”
“Yes, isn’t he! Good-by.”
“I don’t know when I’ve met a man I respected more.”
“This will be wonderful news for him.”
“So patient with me.”
“I expect he needs to be.”
“The sort of man it’s a treat to work with.”
“If you hurry you’ll be able to work with him all the sooner.”
“Yes,” said Sam; “yes. Er—is there any message I can give him?”
“Ah? Well, then look here,” said Sam. “Would you care to come and have lunch somewhere today?”
Kay hesitated. Then her eyes fell on those sticking-plastered hands and she melted. After all, when a young man has been displaying great heroism in her service, a girl must do the decent thing.
“I should like to,” she said.
“The Savoy Grill at 1:30?”
“All right. Are you going to bring my uncle along?”
“Why—er—that would be splendid, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh, I forgot. He’s lunching with a man today at the Press Club.”
“Is he?” said Sam. “Is he really?”
His affection and respect for Mr. Matthew Wrenn increased to an almost overwhelming degree. He went back to Mon Repos feeling that it was the presence in the world of men like Matthew Wrenn that gave the lie to pessimism concerning the future of the human race.
Kay, meanwhile, in her rôle of understudy to Claire Lippett, who had just issued a bulletin to the effect that the neuralgic pains were diminishing and that she hoped to be up and about by midday, proceeded to an energetic dusting of the house. As a rule, she hated this sort of work, but today a strange feeling of gayety stimulated her. She found herself looking forward to the lunch at the Savoy with something of the eagerness which, as a child, she had felt at the approach of a party. Reluctant to attribute this to the charms of a young man whom less than twenty-four hours ago she had heartily disliked, she decided that it must be the prospect of once more enjoying good cooking in pleasant surroundings that was causing her excitement. Until recently she had taken her midday meal at the home of Mrs. Winnington-Bates, and, as with a celebrated chewing gum, the taste lingered.
She finished her operations in the dining room and made her way to the drawing-room. Here the photograph of herself on the mantelpiece attracted her attention. She picked it up and stood gazing at it earnestly.
A sharp double rap on the front door broke in on her reflections. It was the postman with the second delivery, and he had rapped because among his letters for San Rafael was one addressed to Kay on which the writer had omitted to place a stamp. Kay paid the twopence and took the letter back with her to the drawing-room, hoping that the interest of its contents would justify the financial outlay.
Inspecting them, she decided that they did. The letter was from Willoughby Braddock; and Mr. Braddock, both writing and expressing himself rather badly, desired to know if Kay could see her way to marrying him.
THE little lobby of the Savoy grillroom that opens onto Savoy Court is a restful place for meditation; and Kay, arriving there at twenty minutes past one, was glad that she was early. She needed solitude, and regretted that in another ten minutes Sam would come in and deprive her of it. Ever since she had received his letter she had been pondering deeply on the matter of Willoughby Braddock, but had not yet succeeded in reaching a definite conclusion either in his favor or against him.
In his favor stood the fact that he had been a pleasant factor in her life as far back as she could remember. She had bird’s-nested with him on spring afternoons, she had played the mild card games of childhood with him on winter evenings, and—as has been stated—she had sat in trees and criticized with incisive power his habit of wearing bed socks. These things count. Marrying Willoughby would undeniably impart a sort of restful continuity to life. On the other hand ——
A young man, entering the lobby, had halted before her. For a moment she supposed that it was Sam, come to bid her to the feast; then, emerging from her thoughts, she looked up and perceived that blot on the body politic, Claude Winnington-Bates.
He was looking down at her with a sort of sheepish impudence, as a man will when he encounters unexpectedly a girl who in the not distant past has blacked his eye with a heavy volume of theological speculation. He was a slim young man, dressed in the height of fashion. His mouth was small and furtive, his eyes flickered with a kind of stupid slyness, and his hair, which mounted his head in a series of ridges or terraces, shone with the unguent affected by the young lads of the town. A messy spectacle.
“Hullo,” he said. “Waiting for someone?”
For a brief, wistful instant Kay wished that the years could roll back, making her young enough to be permitted to say some of the things she had said to Willoughby Braddock on that summer morning long ago when the topic of bed socks had come up between them. Being now of an age of discretion and so debarred from that rich eloquence, she contented herself with looking through him and saying nothing.
The treatment was not effective. Claude sat down on the lounge beside her.
“I say, you know,” he urged, “there’s no need to be ratty. I mean to say ——”
Kay abandoned her policy of silence.
“Mr. Bates,” she said, “do you remember a boy who was at school with you named Shotter?”
“Sam Shotter?” said Claude, delighted at her chattiness. “Oh, yes, rather. I remember Sam Shotter. Rather a bad show, that. I saw him the other night and he was absolutely ——”
“He’s coming here in a minute or two. And if he finds you sitting on this lounge and I explain to him that you have been annoying me, he will probably tear you into little bits. I should go if I were you.”
Claude Bates went. Indeed, the verb but feebly expresses the celerity of his movement. One moment he was lolling on the lounge; the next he had ceased to be and the lobby was absolutely free from him. Kay, looking over her shoulder into the grillroom, observed him drop into a chair and mop his forehead with a handkerchief.
She returned to her thoughts.
The advent of Claude had given them a new turn; or, rather, it had brought prominently before her mind what until then had only lurked at the back of it—the matter of Willoughby Braddock’s financial status. Willoughby Braddock was a very rich man; the girl who became Mrs. Willoughby Braddock would be a very rich woman. She would, that is to say, step automatically into a position in life where the prowling Claude Bateses of the world would cease to be an annoyance. And this was beyond a doubt another point in Mr. Braddock’s favor.
Willoughby, moreover, was rich in the right way, in the Midways fashion, with the richness that went with old graystone houses and old green parks and all the comfortable joy of the English country. He could give her the kind of life she had grown up in and loved. But on the other hand ——
Kay stared thoughtfully before her; and, staring, was aware of Sam hurrying through the swing door.
“I’m not late, am I?” said Sam anxiously.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Then come along. Golly, what a corking day!”
He shepherded her solicitously into the grillroom and made for a table by the large window that looks out onto the court. A cloakroom waiter, who had padded silently upon their trail, collected his hat and stick and withdrew with the air of a leopard that has made a good kill.
“Nice-looking chap,” said Sam, following him with an appreciative eye.
“You seem to be approving of everything and everybody this morning.”
“I am. This is the maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year, and you can quote me as saying so. Now then, what is it to be?”
Having finished his ordering, a task which he approached on a lavish scale, Sam leaned forward and gazed fondly at his guest.
“Gosh!” he said rapturously. “I never thought, when I was sitting in that fishing hut staring at your photograph, that only a month or two later I’d be having lunch with you at the Savoy.”
Kay was a little startled. Her brief acquaintance with him had taught her that Sam was a man of what might be called direct methods, but she had never expected that he would be quite so direct as this. In his lexicon there appeared to be no such words as “reticence” and “finesse.”
“What fishing hut was that?” she asked, feeling rather like a fireman turning a leaky hose on a briskly burning warehouse full of explosives.
“You wouldn’t know it. It’s the third on the left as you enter Canada.”
“Are you fond of fishing?”
“Yes. But we won’t talk about that, if you don’t mind. Let’s stick to the photograph.”
“You keep talking about a photograph and I don’t in the least know what you mean.”
“The photograph I was speaking of at dinner last night.”
“Oh, the one your friend found—of some girl.”
“It wasn’t a friend; it was me. And it wasn’t some girl; it was you.”
Here the waiter intruded, bearing hors d’œuvres. Kay lingered over her selection, but the passage of time had not the effect of diverting her host from his chosen topic. Kay began to feel that nothing short of an earthquake would do that, and probably not even an earthquake unless it completely wrecked the grillroom.
“I remember the first time I saw that photograph.”
“I wonder which it was,” said Kay casually.
“It was ——”
“So long as it wasn’t the one of me sitting in a sea shell at the age of two, I don’t mind.”
“It was ——”
“They told me that if I was very good and sat very still, I should see a bird come out of the camera. I don’t believe it ever did. And why they let me appear in a costume like that, even at the age of two, I can’t imagine.”
“It was the one of you in a riding habit, standing by your horse.”
“Oh, that one? . . . I think I will take eggs after all.”
“Eggs? What eggs?”
“I don’t know. Œufs à la something, weren’t they?”
“Wait!” said Sam. He spoke as one groping his way through a maze. “Somehow or other we seem to have got onto the subject of eggs. I don’t want to talk about eggs.”
“Though I’m not positive it was à la something. I believe it was œufs Marseillaises or some word like that. Anyhow, just call the waiter and say eggs.”
Sam called the waiter and said eggs. The waiter appeared not only to understand but to be gratified.
“The first time I saw that photograph ——” he resumed.
“I wonder why they call those eggs œufs Marseillaises,” said Kay pensively. “Do you think it’s a special sort of egg they have in Marseilles?”
“I couldn’t say. You know,” said Sam, “I’m not really frightfully interested in eggs.”
“Have you ever been in Marseilles?”
“Yes, I went there once with the Araminta.”
“Who is Araminta?”
“The Araminta. A tramp steamer I’ve made one or two trips on.”
“What fun! Tell me all about your trips on the Araminta.”
“There’s nothing to tell.”
“Was that where you met the man you call Hash?”
“Yes. He was the cook. Weren’t you surprised,” said Sam, beginning to see his way, “when you heard that he was engaged to Claire?”
“Yes,” said Kay, regretting that she had shown interest in tramp steamers.
“It just shows ——”
“I suppose the drawback to going about on small boats like that is the food. It’s difficult to get fresh vegetables, I should think—and eggs.”
“Life isn’t all eggs,” said Sam desperately.
The head waiter, a paternal man, halted at the table and inquired if everything was to the satisfaction of the lady and gentleman. The lady replied brightly that everything was perfect. The gentleman grunted.
“They’re very nice here,” said Kay. “They make you feel as if they were fond of you.”
“If they weren’t nice to you,” said Sam vehemently, “they ought to be shot. And I’d like to see the fellow who wouldn’t be fond of you.”
Kay began to have a sense of defeat, not unlike that which comes to a scientific boxer who has held off a rushing opponent for several rounds and feels himself weakening.
“The first time I saw that photograph,” said Sam, “was one night when I had come in tired out after a day’s fishing.”
“Talking about fish ——”
“It was pretty dark in the hut, with only an oil lamp on the table, and I didn’t notice it at first. Then, when I was having a smoke after dinner, my eye caught something tacked up on the wall. I went across to have a look, and, by Jove, I nearly dropped the lamp!”
“Why? Because it was such a shock.”
“So lovely, so radiant, so beautiful, so marvelous.”
“So heavenly, so ——”
“Yes? There’s Claude Bates over at that table.”
The effect of these words on her companion was so electrical that it seemed to Kay that she had at last discovered a theme which would take his mind off other and disconcerting topics. Sam turned a dull crimson; his eyes hardened; his jaw protruded; he struggled for speech.
“The tick! The blister! The blighter! The worm! The pest! The hound! The bounder!” he cried. “Where is he?”
He twisted round in his chair, and having located the companion of his boyhood, gazed at the back of his ridged and shining head with a malevolent scowl. Then, taking up a hard and nobbly roll, he poised it lovingly.
“Just this one!”
Sam threw down the roll with resignation. Kay looked at him in alarm.
“I had no idea you disliked him so much as that!”
“He ought to have his neck broken.”
“Haven’t you forgiven him yet for stealing jam sandwiches at school?”
“It has nothing whatever to do with jam sandwiches. If you really want to know why I loathe and detest the little beast, it is because he had the nerve—the audacity—the insolence—the immortal rind to—to—er”—he choked—“to kiss you. Blast him!” said Sam, wholly forgetting the dictates of all good etiquette books respecting the kind of language suitable in the presence of the other sex.
Kay gasped. It is embarrassing for a girl to find what she had supposed to be her most intimate private affairs suddenly become, to all appearances, public property.
“How do you know that?” she exclaimed.
“Your uncle told me this morning.”
“He had no business to.”
“Well, he did. And what it all boils down to,” said Sam, “is this—will you marry me?”
For a moment Kay stared speechlessly; then, throwing her head back, she gave out a short, sharp scream of laughter which made a luncher at the next table stab himself in the cheek with an oyster fork. The luncher looked at her reproachfully. So did Sam.
“You seem amused,” he said coldly.
“Of course I’m amused,” said Kay.
Her eyes were sparkling, and that little dimple on her chin which had so excited Sam’s admiration when seen in photographic reproduction had become a large dimple. Sam tickled her sense of humor. He appealed to her in precisely the same way as the dog Amy had appealed to her in the garden that morning.
“I don’t see why,” said Sam. “There’s nothing funny about it. It’s monstrous that you should be going about at the mercy of every bounder who takes it into his head to insult you. The idea of a fellow with marcelled hair having the crust to ——”
He paused. He simply could not mention that awful word again.
“—— kiss me?” said Kay. “Well, you did.”
“That,” said Sam with dignity, “was different. That was—er—well, in short, different. The fact remains that you need somebody to look after you, to protect you.”
“And you chivalrously offer to do it? I call that awfully nice of you, but—well, don’t you think it’s rather absurd?”
“I see nothing absurd in it at all.”
“How many times have you seen me in your life?”
“What? Oh, I was forgetting the photograph. But do photographs really count?”
“Mine can’t have counted much, if the first thing you did was to tell your friend Cordelia Blair about it and say she might use it as a story.”
“I didn’t. I only said that at dinner to—to introduce the subject. As if I would have dreamed of talking about you to anybody! And she isn’t a friend of mine.”
“But you kissed her.”
“I did not kiss her.”
“My uncle insists that you did. He says he heard horrible sounds of bohemian revelry going on in the outer office and then you came in and said the lady was soothed.”
“Your uncle talks too much,” said Sam severely.
“Just what I was thinking a little while ago. But still, if he tells you my secrets, it’s only fair that he should tell me yours.”
Sam swallowed somewhat convulsively.
“If you really want to know what happened, I’ll tell you. I did not kiss that ghastly Blair pip squeak. She kissed me.”
“She kissed me,” repeated Sam doggedly. “I had been laying it on pretty thick about how much I admired her work, and suddenly she said ‘Oh, you dear boy!’ and flung her loathsome arms round my neck. What could I do? I might have uppercut her as she bored in, but, short of that, there wasn’t any way of stopping her.”
A look of shocked sympathy came into Kay’s face.
“It’s monstrous,” she said, “that you should be going about at the mercy of every female novelist who takes it into her head to insult you. You need somebody to look after you, to protect you ——”
Sam’s dignity, never a very durable article, collapsed.
“You’re quite right,” he said. “Well then ——”
Kay shook her head.
“No, I’m not going to volunteer. Whatever your friend Cordelia Blair may say in her stories, girls don’t marry men they’ve only seen twice in their lives.”
“This is the fourth time you’ve seen me.”
“Or even four times.”
“I knew a man in America who met a girl at a party one night and married her next morning.”
“And they were divorced the week after, I should think. No, Mr. Shotter ——”
“You may call me Sam.”
“I suppose I ought to after this. No, Sam, I will not marry you. Thanks ever so much for asking me, of course.”
“Not at all.”
“I don’t know you well enough.”
“I feel as if I had known you all my life.”
“I feel as if we had been destined for each other from the beginning of time.”
“Perhaps you were a king in Babylon and I was a Christian slave.”
“I shouldn’t wonder. And what is more, I’ll tell you something. When I was in America, before I had ever dreamed of coming over to England, a palmist told me that I was shortly about to take a long journey, at the end of which I should meet a fair girl.”
“You can’t believe what those palmists say.”
“Ah, but everything else that this one told me was absolutely true.”
“Yes. She said I had a rare spiritual nature and a sterling character and was beloved by all; but that people meeting me for the first time sometimes failed to appreciate me ——”
“I certainly did.”
“—— because I had such hidden depths.”
“Oh, was that the reason?”
“Well, that shows you.”
“Did she tell you anything else?”
“Something about bewaring of a dark man, but nothing of importance. Still, I don’t call it a bad fifty cents’ worth.”
“Did she say that you were going to marry this girl?”
“Then the idea, as I understand it, is that you want me to marry you so that you won’t feel you wasted your fifty cents. Is that it?”
“Not precisely. You are overlooking the fact that I love you.” He looked at her reproachfully. “Don’t laugh.”
“Was I laughing?”
“I’m sorry. I oughtn’t to mock a strong man’s love, ought I?”
“You oughtn’t to mock anybody’s love. Love’s a very wonderful thing. It even made Hash look almost beautiful for a moment, and that’s going some.”
“When is it going to make you look beautiful?”
“You must be patient.”
“I’ll try to be, and in the meantime let us face this situation. Do you know what a girl in a Cordelia Blair story would do if she were in my place?”
“Something darned silly, I expect.”
“Not at all. She would do something very pretty and touching. She would look at the man and smile tremulously and say, ‘I’m sorry, Roland—or Edgar—so sorry. You have paid me the greatest compliment a man can pay a woman. But it cannot be. So shall we be pals—just real pals?”
“And he would redden and go to Africa, I suppose?”
“No. I should think he would just hang about and hope that some day she might change her mind. Girls often do, you know.”
She smiled and put out her hand. Sam, with a cold glance at the head waiter, whom he considered to be standing much too near and looking much too paternal, took it. He did more—he squeezed it. And an elderly gentleman of Napoleonic presence, who had been lunching with a cabinet minister in the main dining room and was now walking through the court on his way back to his office, saw the proceedings through the large window and halted, spellbound.
For a long instant he stood there, gaping. He saw Kay smile. He saw Sam take her hand. He saw Sam smile. He saw Sam hold her hand. And then it seemed to him that he had seen enough. Abandoning his intention of walking down Fleet Street, he hailed a cab.
“There’s Lord Tilbury,” said Kay, looking out.
“Yes?” said Sam. He was not interested in Lord Tilbury.
“Going back to work, I suppose. Isn’t it about time you were?”
“Perhaps it is. You wouldn’t care to come along and have a chat with your uncle?”
“I may look in later. Just now I want to go to that messenger-boy office in Northumberland Avenue and send off a note.”
“It is, rather,” said Kay. “Willoughby Braddock wanted me to do something, and now I find that I shan’t be able to.”
ALTHOUGH Lord Tilbury had not seen much of what had passed between Kay and Sam at the luncheon table, he had seen quite enough; and as he drove back to Tilbury House in his cab he was thinking hard and bitter thoughts of the duplicity of the modern girl. Here, he reflected, was one who, encountered at dinner on a given night, had as good as stated in set terms that she thoroughly disliked Sam Shotter. And on the very next afternoon, there she was, lunching with this same Sam Shotter, smiling at this same Sam Shotter and allowing this same Sam Shotter to press her hand. It all looked very black to Lord Tilbury, and the only solution that presented itself to him was that the girl’s apparent dislike of Sam on the previous night had been caused by a lovers’ quarrel. He knew all about lovers’ quarrels, for his papers were full of stories, both short and in serial form, that dealt with nothing else. Oh, woman, woman! about summed up Lord Tilbury’s view of the affair.
He was, he perceived, in an extraordinarily difficult position. As he had explained to his sister Frances on the occasion of Sam’s first visit to the Mammoth Publishing Company, a certain tactfulness and diplomacy in the handling of that disturbing young man were essential. He had not been able, during his visit to America, to ascertain exactly how Sam stood in the estimation of his uncle. The impression Lord Tilbury had got was that Mr. Pynsent was fond of him. If, therefore, any unpleasantness should occur which might lead to a breach between Sam and the Mammoth Publishing Company, Mr. Pynsent might be expected to take his nephew’s side, and this would be disastrous. Any steps, accordingly, which were to be taken in connection with foiling the young man’s love affair must be taken subtly and with stealth.
That such steps were necessary it never occurred to Lord Tilbury for an instant to doubt. His only standard when it came to judging his fellow creatures was the money standard, and it would have seemed ridiculous to him to suppose that any charm or moral worth that Kay might possess could neutralize the fact that she had not a penny in the world. He took it for granted that Mr. Pynsent would see eye to eye with him in this matter.
In these circumstances the helplessness of his position tormented him. He paced the room in an agony of spirit. The very first move in his campaign must obviously be to keep a watchful eye on Sam and note what progress this deplorable affair of his was having. But Sam was in Valley Fields and he was in London. What he required, felt Lord Tilbury, as he plowed to and fro over the carpet, his thumbs tucked into the armholes of his waistcoat, his habit when in thought, was an ally. But what ally?
A secret-service man. But what secret-service man? A properly accredited spy, who, introduced by some means into the young man’s house, could look, listen and make daily reports on his behavior.
But what spy?
And then, suddenly, as he continued to perambulate, inspiration came to Lord Tilbury. It seemed to him that the job in hand might have been created to order for young Pilbeam.
Among the numerous publications which had their being in Tilbury House was that popular weekly, Society Spice, a paper devoted to the exploitation of the shadier side of London life and edited by one whom the proprietor of the Mammoth had long looked on as the brightest and most promising of his young men—Percy Pilbeam, to wit, as enterprising a human ferret as ever wrote a Things-We-Want-to-Know-Don’t-You-Know paragraph. Young Pilbeam would handle this business as it should be handled.
It was the sort of commission which he had undertaken before and carried through with complete success, reflected Lord Tilbury, recalling how only a few months back Percy Pilbeam, in order to obtain material for his paper, had gone for three weeks as valet to one of the smart set—the happy conclusion of the venture being that admirable Country-House Cesspools series which had done so much for the rural circulation of Society Spice.
His hand was on the buzzer to summon this eager young spirit, when a disturbing thought occurred to him, and instead of sending for Percy Pilbeam, he sent for Sam Shotter.
“Ah, Shotter, I—ah —— Do you happen to know young Pilbeam?” said His Lordship.
“The editor of Society Spice?”
“I know him by sight.”
“You know him by sight, eh? Ah? You know him, eh? Exactly. Quite so. I was only wondering. A charming young fellow. You should cultivate his acquaintance. That is all, Shotter.”
Sam, with a passing suspicion that the strain of conducting a great business had been too much for his employer, returned to his work; and Lord Tilbury, walking with bent brows to the window, stood looking out, once more deep in thought.
The fact that Sam was acquainted with Pilbeam was just one of those little accidents which so often upset the brilliantly conceived plans of great generals, and it left His Lordship at something of a loss. Pilbeam was a man he could have trusted in a delicate affair like this, and now that he was ruled out, where else was an adequate agent to be found?
It was at this point in his meditations that his eyes, roving restlessly, were suddenly attracted by a sign on a window immediately opposite:
The Tilbury Detective Agency, Ltd.
J. Sheringham Adair, Mgr.
Large and Efficient Staff
Such was the sign, and Lord Tilbury read and reread it with bulging eyes. It thrilled him like a direct answer to prayer.
A moment later he had seized his hat, and without pausing to wait for the lift, was leaping down the stairs like some chamois of the Alps that bounds from crag to crag. He reached the lobby and, at a rate of speed almost dangerous in a man of his build and sedentary habits, whizzed across the street.
ALTHOUGH, with the single exception of a woman who had lost her Pekingese dog there had never yet been a client on the premises of the Tilbury Detective Agency, it was Chimp Twist’s practice to repair daily to his office and remain there for an hour or two every afternoon. If questioned, he would have replied that he might just as well be there as anywhere; and he felt, moreover, that it looked well for him to be seen going in and out—a theory which was supported by the fact that only a couple of days back the policeman on the beat had touched his helmet to him. To have policemen touching themselves on the helmet instead of him on the shoulder was a novel and agreeable experience to Chimp.
This afternoon he was sitting, as usual, with the solitaire pack laid out on the table before him, but his mind was not on the game. He was musing on Soapy Molloy’s story of his failure to persuade Sam to evacuate Mon Repos.
To an extent, this failure had complicated matters; and yet there was a bright side. To have walked in and collected the late Edward Finglass’ legacy without let or hindrance would have been agreeable; but, on the other hand, it would have involved sharing with Soapy and his bride; and Chimp was by nature one of those men who, when there is money about, instinctively dislike seeing even a portion of it get away from them. It seemed to him that a man of his admitted ingenuity might very well evolve some scheme by which the Molloy family could be successfully excluded from all participation in the treasure.
It only required a little thought, felt Chimp; and he was still thinking when a confused noise without announced the arrival of Lord Tilbury.
The opening of the door was followed by a silence. Lord Tilbury was not built for speed, and the rapidity with which he had crossed the street and mounted four flights of stairs had left him in a condition where he was able only to sink into a chair and pant like a spent seal. As for Chimp, he was too deeply moved to speak. Even when lying back in a chair and saying “Woof!” Lord Tilbury still retained the unmistakable look of one to whom bank managers grovel, and the sudden apparition of such a man affected him like a miracle. He felt as if he had been fishing idly for minnows and landed a tarpon.
Being, however, a man of resource, he soon recovered himself. Placing a foot on a button beneath the table, he caused a sharp ringing to pervade the office.
“Excuse me,” he said, politely but with a busy man’s curtness, as he took up the telephone. “Yes? Yes? Yes, this is the Tilbury Detective Agency. . . . Scotland Yard? Right, I’ll hold the wire.”
He placed a hand over the transmitter and turned to Lord Tilbury.
“Always bothering me,” he said.
“Woof!” said Lord Tilbury.
Mr. Twist renewed his attention to the telephone.
“Hullo! . . . Sir John? Good afternoon. . . . Yes. . . . Yes. . . . We are doing our best, Sir John. We are always anxious to oblige headquarters. . . . Yes. . . . Yes. . . . Very well, Sir John. Good-by.”
He replaced the receiver and was at Lord Tilbury’s disposal.
“If the Yard would get rid of their antiquated system and give more scope to men of brains,” he said, not bitterly but with a touch of annoyance, “they would not always have to be appealing to us to help them out. Did you know that a man cannot be a detective at Scotland Yard unless he is over a certain height?”
“You surprise me,” said Lord Tilbury, who was now feeling better.
“Five-foot-nine, I believe it is. Could there be an absurder regulation?”
“It sounds ridiculous.”
“And is,” said Chimp severely. “I am five-foot-seven myself. Wilbraham and Donahue, the best men on my staff, are an inch and half an inch shorter. You cannot gauge brains by height.”
“No, indeed,” said Lord Tilbury, who was five-feet-six. “Look at Napoleon! And Nelson!”
“Exactly,” said Chimp. “Battling Nelson. A very good case in point. And Tom Sharkey was a short man too. . . . Well, what was it you wished to consult me about, Mr. —— I have not your name.”
Lord Tilbury hesitated.
“I take it that I may rely on your complete discretion, Mr. Adair?”
“Nothing that you tell me in this room will go any farther,” said Chimp, with dignity.
“I am Lord Tilbury,” said His Lordship, looking like a man unveiling a statue of himself.
“The proprietor of the joint across the way?”
“Exactly,” said Lord Tilbury a little shortly.
He had expected his name to cause more emotion, and he did not like hearing the Mammoth Publishing Company described as “the joint across the way.”
He would have been gratified had he known that his companion had experienced considerable emotion and that it was only by a strong effort that he had contrived to conceal it. He might have been less pleased if he had been aware that Chimp was confidently expecting him to reveal some disgraceful secret which would act as the foundation for future blackmail. For although, in establishing his detective agency, Chimp Twist had been animated chiefly by the desire to conceal his more important movements, he had never lost sight of the fact that there are possibilities in such an institution.
“And what can I do for you, Lord Tilbury?” he asked, putting his finger tips together.
His Lordship bent closer.
“I want a man watched.”
Once again his companion was barely able to conceal his elation. This sounded exceptionally promising. Though only an imitation private detective, Chimp Twist had a genuine private detective’s soul. He could imagine but one reason why men should want men watched.
“A boy on the staff of Tilbury House.”
“Ah!” said Chimp, more convinced than ever. “Good-looking fellow, I suppose?”
Lord Tilbury considered. He had never had occasion to form an opinion of Sam’s looks.
“Yes,” he said.
“One of these lounge lizards, eh? One of these parlor tarantulas? I know the sort—know ’em well. One of these slithery young-feller-me-lads with educated feet and shiny hair. And when did the dirty work start?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“When did you first suspect this young man of alienating Lady Tilbury’s affections?”
“Lady Tilbury? I don’t understand you. I am a widower.”
“Eh? Then what’s this fellow done?” said Chimp, feeling at sea again.
Lord Tilbury coughed.
“I had better tell you the whole position. This boy is the nephew of a business acquaintance of mine in America, with whom I am in the process of conducting some very delicate negotiations. He, the boy, is over here at the moment, working on my staff, and I am, you will understand, practically responsible to his uncle for his behavior. That is to say, should he do anything of which his uncle might disapprove, the blame will fall on me, and these negotiations—these very delicate negotiations—will undoubtedly be broken off. My American acquaintance is a peculiar man, you understand.”
“Well, I have just discovered that the boy is conducting a clandestine love affair with a girl of humble circumstances who resides in the suburb.”
“A tooting tooti-frooti,” translated Chimp, nodding. “I see.”
“A what?” asked Lord Tilbury, a little blankly.
“A belle of Balham—Bertha from Brixton.”
“She lives at Valley Fields. And this boy Shotter has taken the house next door to her. I beg your pardon?”
“Nothing,” said Chimp in a thick voice.
“I thought you spoke.”
“No.” Chimp swallowed feverishly. “Did you say Shotter?”
“Taken a house in Valley Fields?”
“Yes. In Burberry Road. Mon Repos is the name.”
“Ah!” said Chimp, expelling a deep breath.
“You see the position? All that can be done at present is to institute a close watch on the boy. It may be that I have allowed myself to become unduly alarmed. Possibly he does not contemplate so serious a step as marriage with this young woman. Nevertheless, I should be decidedly relieved if I felt that there was someone in his house watching his movements and making daily reports to me.”
“I’ll take this case,” said Chimp.
“Good! You will put a competent man on it?”
“I wouldn’t trust it to one of my staff, not even Wilbraham or Donahue. I’ll take it on myself.”
“That is very good of you, Mr. Adair.”
“A pleasure,” said Chimp.
“And now arises a difficult point. How do you propose to make your entry into young Shotter’s household?”
“Easy as pie. Odd-job man.”
“They always want odd-job men down in the suburbs. Fellows who’ll do the dirty work that the help kick at. Listen here; you tell this young man that I’m a fellow that once worked for you and ask him to engage me as a personal favor. That’ll cinch it. He won’t like to refuse the boss—what I mean.”
“True,” said Lord Tilbury. “True. But it will necessitate something in the nature of a change of costume,” he went on, looking at the other’s shining tweeds.
“Don’t you fret about that. I’ll dress the part.”
“And what name would you suggest taking? Not your own, of course?”
“I’ve always called myself Twist before.”
“Twist? Excellent! Then suppose you come to my office in half an hour’s time.”
“I am much obliged, Mr. Adair.”
“Not at all,” said Chimp handsomely. “Not a-tall! Don’t mention it. Only too pleased.”
SAM, when the summons came for him to go to his employer’s office, was reading with no small complacency a little thing of his own in the issue of Pyke’s Home Companion which would be on the bookstalls next morning. It was signed Aunt Ysobel, and it gave some most admirable counsel to Worried—Upper Sydenham—who had noticed of late a growing coldness toward her on the part of her betrothed.
He had just finished reading this, marveling, as authors will when they see their work in print, at the purity of his style and the soundness of his reasoning, when the telephone rang and he learned that Lord Tilbury desired his presence. He hastened to the holy of holies and found there not only His Lordship but a little man with a waxed mustache, to which he took an instant dislike.
“Ah, Shotter,” said Lord Tilbury.
There was a pause. Lord Tilbury, one hand resting on the back of his chair, the fingers of the other in the fold of his waistcoat, stood looking like a Victorian uncle being photographed. The little man fingered the waxed mustache. And Sam glanced from Lord Tilbury to the mustache inquiringly and with distaste. He had never seen a mustache he disliked more.
“Ah, Shotter,” said Lord Tilbury, “this is a man named Twist, who was at one time in my employment.”
“Odd-job man,” interpolated the waxed-mustached one.
“As odd-job man,” said Lord Tilbury.
“Ah?” said Sam.
“He is now out of work.”
Sam, looking at Mr. Twist, considered that this spoke well for the rugged good sense of the employers of London.
“I have nothing to offer him myself,” continued Lord Tilbury, “so it occurred to me that you might possibly have room for him in your new house.”
“Me?” said Sam.
“I should take it as a personal favor to myself if you would engage Twist. I naturally dislike the idea of an old and—er—faithful employe of mine being out of work.”
Mr. Twist’s foresight was justified. Put in this way, the request was one that Sam found it difficult to refuse.
“Oh, well, in that case ——”
“Excellent! No doubt you will find plenty of little things for him to do about your house and garden.”
“He can wash the dog,” said Sam, inspired. The question of the bathing of Amy was rapidly thrusting itself into the forefront of the domestic politics of Mon Repos.
“Exactly! And chop wood and run errands and what not.”
“There’s just one thing,” said Sam, who had been eying his new assistant with growing aversion. “That mustache must come off.”
“What?” cried Chimp, stricken to the core.
“Right off at the roots,” said Sam sternly. “I will not have a thing like that about the place, attracting the moths.”
Lord Tilbury sighed. He found this young man’s eccentricities increasingly hard to bear. With that sad wistfulness which the Greeks called pothos and the Romans desiderium, he thought of the happy days, only a few weeks back, when he had been a peaceful, care-free man, ignorant of Sam’s very existence. He had had his troubles then, no doubt; but how small and trivial they seemed now.
“I suppose Twist will shave off his mustache if you wish it,” he said wearily.
Chancing to catch that eminent private investigator’s eye, he was surprised to note its glazed and despairing expression. The man had the air of one who has received a death sentence.
“Shave it?” quavered Chimp, fondling the growth tenderly. “Shave my mustache?”
“Shave it,” said Sam firmly. “Hew it down. Raze it to the soil and sow salt upon the foundations.”
“Very good, sir,” said Chimp lugubriously.
“That is settled then,” said Lord Tilbury, relieved. “So you will enter Mr. Shotter’s employment immediately, Twist.”
Chimp nodded a mournful nod.
“You will find Twist thoroughly satisfactory, I am sure. He is quiet, sober, respectful and hard-working.”
“Ah, that’s bad,” said Sam.
Lord Tilbury heaved another sigh.
WHEN Chimp Twist left Tilbury House, he turned westward along the Embankment, for he had an appointment to meet his colleagues of the syndicate at the Lyons tea shop in Green Street, Leicester Square. The depression which had swept over him on hearing Sam’s dreadful edict had not lasted long. Men of Mr. Twist’s mode of life are generally resilient. They have to be.
After all, he felt, it would be churlish of him, in the face of this almost supernatural slice of luck, to grumble at the one crumpled rose leaf. Besides, it would only take him about a couple of days to get away with the treasure of Mon Repos, and then he could go into retirement and grow his mustache again. For there is this about mustaches, as about whiskers—though of these Mr. Twist, to do him justice, had never been guilty—that, like truth, though crushed to earth, they will rise. A little patience and his mustache would rise on stepping-stones of its dead self to higher things. Yes, when the fields were white with daisies it would return. Pondering thus, Chimp Twist walked briskly to the end of the Embankment, turned up Northumberland Avenue, and reaching his destination, found Mr. and Mrs. Molloy waiting for him at a table in a far corner.
It was quiet in the tea shop at this hour, and the tryst had been arranged with that fact in mind. For this was in all essentials a board meeting of the syndicate, and business men and women do not like to have their talk interrupted by noisy strangers clamorous for food. With the exception of a woman in a black silk dress with bugles who, incredible as it may seem, had ordered cocoa and sparkling limado simultaneously and was washing down a meal of Cambridge sausages and pastry with alternate draughts of both liquids, the place was empty.
Soapy and his bride, Chimp perceived, were looking grave, even gloomy; and in the process of crossing the room he forced his own face into an expression in sympathy with theirs. It would not do, he realized, to allow his joyous excitement to become manifest at what was practically a post-mortem. For the meeting had been convened to sit upon the failure of his recent scheme and he suspected the possibility of a vote of censure. He therefore sat down with a heavy seriousness befitting the occasion; and having ordered a cup of coffee, replied to his companions’ questioning glances with a sorrowful shake of the head.
“Nothing stirring,” he said.
“You haven’t doped out another scheme?” said Dolly, bending her shapely brows in a frown.
“Then,” demanded the lady heatedly, “where does this sixty-five-thirty-five stuff come in? That’s what I’d like to know.”
“Me, too,” said Mr. Molloy with spirit. It occurred to Chimp that a little informal discussion must have been indulged in by his colleagues of the board previous to his arrival, for their unanimity was wonderful.
“You threw a lot of bull about being the brains of the concern,” said Dolly accusingly, “and said that, being the brains of the concern, you had ought to be paid highest. And now you blow in and admit that you haven’t any more ideas than a rabbit.”
“Not so many,” said Mr. Molloy, who liked rabbits and had kept them as a child.
Chimp stirred his coffee thoughtfully. He was meditating on what a difference a very brief time can make in the fortunes of man. But for that amazing incursion of Lord Tilbury, he would have been approaching this interview in an extremely less happy frame of mind. For it was plain that the temper of the shareholders was stormy.
“You’re quite right, Dolly,” he said humbly, “quite right. I’m not so good as I thought I was.”
This handsome admission should have had the effect proverbially attributed to soft words, but it served only to fan the flame.
“Then where do you get off with this sixty-five-thirty-five?”
“I don’t,” said Chimp. “I don’t, Dolly.” The man’s humility was touching. “That’s all cold. We split fifty-fifty, that’s what we do.”
Soft words may fail, but figures never. Dolly uttered a cry that caused the woman in the bugles to spill her cocoa, and Mr. Molloy shook as with a palsy.
“Now you’re talking,” said Dolly.
“Now,” said Mr. Molloy, “you are talking.”
“Well, that’s that,” said Chimp. “Now let’s get down to it and see what we can do.”
“I might go to the joint and have another talk with that guy,” suggested Mr. Molloy.
“No sense in that,” said Chimp, somewhat perturbed. It did not at all suit his plans to have his old friend roaming about in the neighborhood of Mon Repos while he was in residence.
“I don’t know so much,” said Mr. Molloy thoughtfully. “I didn’t seem to get going quite good that last time. The fellow had me out on the sidewalk before I could pull a real spiel. If I tried again ——”
“It wouldn’t be any use,” said Chimp. “This guy Shotter told you himself he had a special reason for staying on.”
“You don’t think he’s wise to the stuff being there?” said Dolly, alarmed.
“No, no,” said Chimp. “Nothing like that. There’s a dame next door he’s kind of stuck on.”
“How do you know?”
Chimp gulped. He felt like a man who discovers himself on the brink of a precipice.
“I—I was snooping around down there and I saw ’em,” he said.
“What were you doing down there?” asked Dolly suspiciously.
“Just looking around, Dolly, just looking around.”
The silence which followed was so embarrassing to a sensitive man that Chimp swallowed his coffee hastily and rose.
“Going?” said Mr. Molloy coldly.
“Just remembered I’ve got a date.”
“When do we meet again?”
“No sense in meeting for the next day or two.”
“Well, a fellow wants time to think. I’ll give you a ring.”
“You’ll be at your office tomorrow?”
“Maybe not the day after. I’m moving around some.”
“Oh, all around.”
Chimp’s self-control gave way.
“Say, what’s eating you?” he demanded. “Where do you get this stuff of prying and poking into a man’s affairs? Can’t a fellow have a little privacy sometimes?”
“Sure!” said Mr. Molloy. “Sure!”
“Sure!” said Mrs. Molloy. “Sure!”
“Well, good-by,” said Chimp.
“Good-by,” said Mr. Molloy.
“God bless you,” said Mrs. Molloy, with a little click of her teeth.
Chimp left the tea shop. It was not a dignified exit, and he was aware of it with every step that he took. He was also aware of the eyes of his two colleagues boring into his retreating back. Still, what did it matter, argued Chimp Twist, even if that stiff, Soapy, and his wife had suspicions of him? They could not know. And all he needed was a clear day or two and they could suspect all they pleased. Nevertheless, he regretted that unfortunate slip.
The door had hardly closed behind him when Dolly put her suspicions into words.
“That bird is aiming to double-cross us.”
“You said it!”
“I wondered why he switched to that fifty-fifty proposition so smooth. And when he let it out that he’d been snooping around down there, I knew. He’s got some little game of his own on, that’s what he’s got. He’s planning to try and scoop that stuff by himself and leave us flat.”
“The low hound!” said Mr. Molloy virtuously.
“We got to get action, Soapy, or we’ll be left. To think of that little Chimp doing us dirt just goes against my better nature. How would it be if you was to go down tonight and do some more porch climbing? Once you were in you could get the stuff easy. It wouldn’t be a case of hunting around same as last time.”
“Well, sweetie,” said Mr. Molloy frankly, “I’ll tell you. I’m not so strong for that burgling stuff. It’s not my line and I don’t like it. It’s awful dark and lonesome in that joint at three o’clock in the morning. All the time I was there I kep’ looking over my shoulder, expecting old Finky’s ghost to sneak up on me and breathe down the back of my neck.”
“Be a man, honey!”
“I’m a man all right, petty, but I’m temperamental.”
“Well, then ——” said Dolly, and breaking off abruptly, plunged into thought.
Mr. Molloy watched her fondly and hopefully. He had a great respect for her woman’s resourcefulness, and it seemed to him from the occasional gleam in her vivid eyes that something was doing.
“I’ve got it!”
“There is none like her; no, not one,” Mr. Molloy’s glistening eye seemed to say. “Give us an earful, baby,” he begged emotionally.
Dolly bent closer and lowered her voice to a whisper. The woman in the bugles, torpid with much limado, was out of earshot, but a waitress was hovering not far away.
“Listen! We got to wait till the guy Shotter is out of the house.”
“But he’s got a man. You told me that yourself.”
“Sure he’s got a man, but if you’ll only listen I’ll tell you. We wait till this fellow Shotter is out ——”
“How do we know he’s out?”
“We ask at the front door, of course. Say, listen, Soapy, for the love of Pete don’t keep interrupting! We go to the house. You go round to the back door.”
“I’ll soak you one in a minute,” exclaimed Dolly despairingly.
“All right, sweetness. Sorry. Didn’t mean to butt in. Keep talking. You have the floor.”
“You go round to the back door and wait, keeping your eye on the front steps, where I’ll be. I ring the bell and the hired man comes. I say, ‘Is Mr. Shotter at home?’ If he says yes, I’ll go in and make some sort of spiel about something. But if he’s not, I’ll give you the high sign and you slip in at the back door; and then when the man comes down into the kitchen again you’re waiting and you bean him one with a sandbag. Then you tie him up and come along to the front door and let me in and we go up and grab that stuff. How about it?”
“I bean him one?” said Mr. Molloy doubtfully.
“Cert’nly you bean him one.”
“I couldn’t do it, petty,” said Mr. Molloy. “I’ve never beaned anyone in my life.”
Dolly exhibited all the impatience which all wives, from Lady Macbeth downward through the ages, have felt when their schemes appear in danger of being thwarted by the pusillanimity of a husband.
The words, “Infirm of purpose, give me the sandbag!” seemed to be trembling on her lips.
“You poor cake eater!” she cried with justifiable vigor. “You talk as if it needed a college education to lean a stuffed eelskin on a guy’s head. Of course you can do it. You’re behind the kitchen door, see?—and he comes in, see?—and you sim’ly bust him one, see? A feller with one arm and no legs could do it. And say, if you want something to brace you up, think of all that money lying in the cistern, just waiting for us to come and dip for it!”
“Ah!” said Mr. Molloy, brightening.
(TO BE CONTINUED)