The Saturday Evening Post, December 25, 1915
LORD DAWLISH had gone for a moonlight walk that night because, like Claire, he wished to be alone to think. He had fallen with a pleasant ease and smoothness into the rather curious life lived at Elizabeth Boyd’s bee farm. A liking for picnics had lingered in him from boyhood, and existence at Flack’s was one prolonged picnic. He found that he had a natural aptitude for the more muscular domestic duties, and his energy in this direction enchanted Nutty, who before his advent had had a monopoly of these tasks.
Nor was this the only aspect of the situation that pleased Nutty. When he had invited Bill to the farm he had had a vague hope that good might come of it, but he had never dreamed that things would turn out as well as they promised to do, or that such a warm and immediate friendship would spring up between his sister and the man who had diverted the family fortune into his own pocket. Bill and Elizabeth were getting on splendidly. They were together all the time—walking, golfing, attending to the numerous needs of the bees or sitting on the porch. Nutty’s imagination began to run away with him. He seemed to smell the scent of orange blossoms, to hear the joyous pealing of church bells—in fact, with the difference that it was not his own wedding that he was anticipating, he had begun to take very much the same view of the future that was about to come to Dudley Pickering.
Elizabeth would have been startled and embarrassed if she could have read his thoughts, for they might have suggested to her that she was becoming a great deal fonder of Bill than the shortness of their acquaintance warranted. But though she did not fail to observe the strangeness of her brother’s manner, she traced it to another source than the real one. Nutty had a habit of starting back and removing himself when, entering the porch, he perceived that Bill and his sister were already seated there. His own impression on such occasions was that he was behaving with consummate tact. Elizabeth supposed that he had had some sort of a spasm.
Lord Dawlish, if he had been able to diagnose correctly the almost paternal attitude which had become his host’s normal manner these days, would have been equally embarrassed but less startled, for conscience had already suggested to him from time to time that he had been guilty of a feeling toward Elizabeth warmer than any feeling that should come to an engaged man. Lying in bed at the end of his first week at the farm he reviewed the progress of his friendship with her, and was amazed at the rapidity with which it had grown.
He could not conceal it from himself—Elizabeth appealed to him. Being built on a large scale himself, he had always been attracted by small women. There was a smallness, a daintiness, a liveliness about Elizabeth that was almost irresistible. She was so capable, so cheerful in spite of the fact that she was having a hard time. And then their minds seemed to blend so remarkably. There were no odd corners to be smoothed away. Never in his life had he felt so supremely at his ease with one of the opposite sex. He loved Claire—he drove that fact home almost angrily to himself—but he was forced to admit that he had always been aware of something in the nature of a barrier between them. Claire was querulous at times, and always a little too apt to take offence. He had never been able to talk to her with that easy freedom that Elizabeth invited. Talking to Elizabeth was like talking to an attractive version of oneself. It was a thing to be done with perfect confidence, without any of that apprehension which Claire inspired lest the next remark might prove the spark to cause an explosion. But Claire was the girl he loved, there must be no mistake about that.
He came to the conclusion that the key to the situation was the fact that Elizabeth was American. He had read so much of the American girl, her unaffectedness, her genius for easy comradeship. Well, this must be what the writer fellows meant. He had happened upon one of those delightful friendships without any suspicion of sex in them of which the American girl had the monopoly. Yes, that must be it. It was a comforting explanation. It accounted for his feeling at a loose end whenever he was away from Elizabeth for as much as half an hour. It accounted for the fact that they understood each other so well. It accounted for everything so satisfactorily that he was able to get to sleep that night after all.
But next morning—for his conscience was one of those persistent consciences—he began to have doubts again. Nothing clings like a suspicion in the mind of a conscientious young man that he has been allowing his heart to stray from its proper anchorage.
Could it be that he was behaving badly toward Claire? The thought was unpleasant, but he could not get rid of it. He extracted Claire’s photograph from his suit case and gazed solemnly upon it.
At first he was shocked to find that it only succeeded in convincing him that Elizabeth was quite the most attractive girl he ever had met. The photographer had given Claire rather a severe look. He had told her to moisten the lips with the tip of the tongue and assume a pleasant smile, with the result that she seemed to glare. She had a rather markedly aggressive look, queenly perhaps, but not very comfortable.
But there is no species of self-hypnotism equal to that of a man who gazes persistently at a photograph with the preconceived idea that he is in love with the original of it. Little by little Bill found that the old feeling began to return. He persevered. By the end of a quarter of an hour he had almost succeeded in capturing anew that first fine careless rapture which, six months ago, had caused him to propose to Claire and walk on air when she accepted him.
He continued the treatment throughout the day, and by dinner time had arranged everything with his conscience in the most satisfactory manner possible. He loved Claire with a passionate fervor; he liked Elizabeth very much indeed. He submitted this diagnosis to conscience, and conscience graciously approved and accepted it.
It was Sunday that day. That helped. There is nothing like Sunday in a foreign country for helping a man to sentimental thoughts of the girl he has left behind him elsewhere. And the fact that there was a full moon clinched it. Bill was enabled to go for an after-dinner stroll in a condition of almost painful loyalty to Claire.
From time to time, as he walked along the road, he took out the photograph and did some more gazing. The last occasion on which he did this was just as he emerged from the shadow of a large tree that stood by the roadside, and a gush of rich emotion rewarded him.
“Claire!” he murmured.
An exclamation at his elbow caused him to look up. There, leaning over a gate, the light of the moon falling on her beautiful face, stood Claire herself.
IN TRYING interviews, as in sprint races, the start is everything. It was the fact that she recovered more quickly from her astonishment that enabled Claire to dominate her scene with Bill. She had the advantage of having a less complicated astonishment to recover from, for, though it was a shock to see him there when she had imagined that he was in New York, it was not nearly such a shock as it was to him to see her there when he had imagined that she was in England. She had adjusted her brain to the situation while he was still gaping.
This speech in itself should have been enough to warn Lord Dawlish of impending doom. As far as love, affection and tenderness are concerned, a girl might just as well hit a man with an ax as say “Well, Bill?” to him when they have met unexpectedly in the moonlight after long separation. But Lord Dawlish was too shattered by surprise to be capable of observing nuances. If his love had ever waned or faltered, as conscience had suggested earlier in the day, it was at full blast now.
“Claire!” he cried.
He was moving to take her in his arms, but she drew back.
“No, really, Bill!” she said; and this time it did filter through into his disordered mind that all was not well. A man who is a good deal dazed at the moment may fail to appreciate a remark like “Well, Bill?” but for a girl to draw back and say, “No, really, Bill!” in a tone not exactly of loathing, but certainly of pained aversion, is a deliberately unfriendly act. The three short words, taken in conjunction with the movement, brought him up with as sharp a turn as if she had punched him in the eye.
“Claire! What’s the matter?”
She looked at him steadily. She looked at him with a sort of queenly woodenness, as if he were behind a camera with a velvet bag over his head and had just told her to moisten the lips with the tip of the tongue. Her aspect staggered Lord Dawlish. A cursory inspection of his conscience showed nothing but purity and whiteness, but he must have done something or she would not be staring at him like this.
“I don’t understand!” was the only remark that occurred to him.
“Are you sure?”
“What do you mean?”
“I was at Reigelheimer’s Restaurant—— Ah!”
The sudden start which Lord Dawlish had given at the opening words of her sentence justified the concluding word. Innocent as his behavior had been that night at Reigelheimer’s, he had been glad at the time that he had not been observed. It now appeared that he had been observed, and it seemed to him that Long Island suddenly flung itself into a whirling dance. He heard Claire speaking a long way off: “I was there with Lady Wetherby. It was she who invited me to come to America. I went to the restaurant to see her dance—and I saw you!”
With a supreme effort Bill succeeded in calming down the excited landscape. He willed the trees to stop dancing, and they came reluctantly to a standstill. The world ceased to swim and flicker.
“Let me explain,” he said.
The moment he had said the words he wished he could recall them. Their substance was right enough, it was the sound of them that was wrong. They sounded like a line from a farce, where the erring husband has been caught by the masterful wife. They were ridiculous. Worse than being merely ridiculous, they created an atmosphere of guilt and evasion.
“Explain! How can you explain? It is impossible to explain. I saw you with my own eyes making an exhibition of yourself with a horrible creature in salmon-pink. I’m not asking you who she is. I’m not questioning you about your relations with her at all. I don’t care who she was. The mere fact that you were at a public restaurant with a person of that kind is enough. No doubt you think I am making a great deal of fuss about a very ordinary thing. You consider that it is a man’s privilege to do these things, if he can do them without being found out. But it ended everything so far as I am concerned. Am I unreasonable? I don’t think so. You steal off to America, thinking I am in England, and behave like this. How could you do that if you really loved me? It’s the deceit of it that hurts me.”
Lord Dawlish drew in a few breaths of pure Long Island air, but he did not speak. He felt helpless. If he were to be allowed to withdraw into the privacy of the study and wrap a cold, wet towel about his forehead and buckle down to it, he knew that he could draft an excellent and satisfactory explanation of his presence at Reigelheimer’s with the Good Sport. But to do it on the spur of the moment like this was beyond him.
Claire was speaking again. She had paused for a while after her recent speech, in order to think of something else to say; and during this pause had come to her mind certain excerpts from one of those admirable articles on love, by Luella Delia Philpotts, which do so much to boost the reading public of these United States into the higher planes. She had read it that afternoon in the Sunday paper, and it came back to her now.
“I may be hypersensitive,” she said, dropping her voice from the accusatory register to the lower tones of pathos, “but I have such high ideals of love. There can be no true love where there is not perfect trust. Trust is to love what ——”
She paused again. She could not remember just what Luella Delia Philpotts had said trust was to love. It was something extremely neat, but it had slipped her memory.
“A woman has the right to expect the man she is about to marry to regard their troth as a sacred obligation that shall keep him as pure as a young knight who has dedicated himself to the quest of the Holy Grail. And I find you in a public restaurant, dancing with a creature with yellow hair, upsetting waiters, and staggering about with pats of butter all over you.”
Here a sense of injustice stung Lord Dawlish. It was true that after his regrettable collision with Heinrich, the waiter, he had discovered butter upon his person, but it was only one pat. Claire had spoken as if he had been festooned with butter.
“I am not angry with you, only disappointed. What has happened has shown me that you do not really love me, not as I think of love. Oh, I know that when we are together you think you do, but absence is the test. Absence is the acid test of love that separates the base metal from the true. After what has happened we can’t go on with our engagement. It would be farcical. I could never feel that way toward you again. We shall always be friends, I hope. But as for love—love is not a machine. It cannot be shattered and put together again.”
She turned and began to walk up the drive. Hanging over the top of the gate like a wet sock Lord Dawlish watched her go. The interview was over, and he could not think of one single thing to say. Her white dress made a patch of light in the shadows. She moved slowly, as if weighed down by sad thoughts, like one who, as Luella Delia Philpotts beautifully puts it, paces with measured step behind the coffin of a murdered heart. The bend of the drive hid her from his sight.
About twenty minutes later Dudley Pickering, smoking sentimentally in the darkness hard by the porch, received a shock. He was musing tenderly on his Claire, who was assisting him in the process by singing in the drawing room, when he was aware of a figure, the sinister figure of a man who, pressed against the netting of the porch, stared into the lighted room beyond.
Dudley Pickering’s first impulse was to stride briskly up to the intruder, tap him on the shoulder and ask him what the devil he wanted; but a second look showed him that the other was built on too ample a scale to make this advisable. He was a large, fit-looking intruder.
Mr. Pickering was alarmed. There had been the usual epidemic of burglaries at Brookport that season. Houses had been broken into, valuable possessions removed. In one case a negro butler had been struck over the head with a gaspipe and given a headache. In these circumstances it was unpleasant to find burly strangers looking in at windows.
“Hi!” cried Mr. Pickering.
The intruder leaped a foot. It had not occurred to Lord Dawlish, when in an access of wistful yearning he had decided to sneak up to the house in order to increase his anguish by one last glimpse of Claire, that other members of the household might be out in the grounds. He was just thinking sorrowfully, as he listened to the music, how like his own position was to that of the hero of Tennyson’s Maud—a poem to which he was greatly addicted—when Mr. Pickering’s “Hi!” came out of nowhere and hit him like a torpedo.
He turned in agitation. Mr. Pickering having prudently elected to stay in the shadows, there was no one to be seen. It was as if the voice of conscience had shouted “Hi!” at him. He was just wondering if he had imagined the whole thing, when he perceived the red glow of a cigar and beyond it a shadowy form.
It was not the fact that he was in an equivocal position, staring into a house which did not belong to him, with his feet on somebody else’s private soil, that caused Bill to act as he did. It was the fact that at that moment he was not feeling equal to conversation with anybody on any subject whatsoever. It did not occur to him that his behavior might strike a nervous stranger as suspicious. All he aimed at was the swift removal of himself from a spot infested by others of his species. He ran, and Mr. Pickering, having followed him with the eye of fear, went rather shakily into the house, his brain whirling with professional cracksmen and gas pipes and assaulted butlers, to relate his adventure.
“A great, hulking, ruffianly sort of fellow glaring in at the window,” said Mr. Pickering. “I shouted at him and he ran like a rabbit.”
“Gee! Must have been one of the gang that’s been working down here,” said Roscoe Sherriff, “giving the place the double-o before breaking in. There might be a quarter of a column in that, properly worked, but I guess I’d better wait until he actually does bust the place.”
“We must notify the police!”
“Notify the police, and have them butt in and stop the thing and kill a good story!” There was honest amazement in the press agent’s voice. “Let me tell you, it isn’t so easy to get publicity these days that you want to go out of your way to stop it!”
Mr. Pickering was appalled. A dislike of this man, which had grown less vivid since his scene with Claire, returned to him with redoubled force.
“Why, we may all be murdered in our beds!” he cried.
“Front-page stuff!” said Roscoe Sherriff with gleaming eyes. “And three columns at least. Fine!”
It might have consoled Lord Dawlish somewhat, as he lay awake that night, to have known that the man who had taken Claire from him—though at present he was not aware of such a man’s existence—also slept ill.
LADY WETHERBY sat in her room, writing letters. The rest of the household were variously employed. Roscoe Sherriff was prowling about the house, brooding on campaigns of publicity. Dudley Pickering was walking in the grounds with Claire. In a little shack in the woods that adjoined the highroad, which he had converted into a temporary studio, Lord Wetherby was working on a picture which he proposed to call Innocence, a study of a small Italian child he had discovered in Washington Square. Lady Wetherby, who had been taken to see the picture, had suggested The Black Hand’s Newest Recruit as a better title than the one selected by the artist.
It is a fact to be noted that of the entire household only Lady Wetherby could fairly be described as happy. It took very little to make Lady Wetherby happy. Fine weather, good food, and a complete abstention from classical dancing—give her these and she asked no more. She was, moreover, delighted at Claire’s engagement. It seemed to her, for she had no knowledge of the existence of Lord Dawlish, a genuine manifestation of Love’s Young Dream. She liked Dudley Pickering and she was devoted to Claire. It made her happy to think that it was she who had brought them together.
But of the other members of the party, Dudley Pickering was unhappy because he feared that burglars were about to raid the house; Roscoe Sherriff because he feared they were not; Claire because, now that the news of the engagement was out, it seemed to be everybody’s aim to leave her alone with Mr. Pickering, whose undiluted society tended to pall. And Lord Wetherby was unhappy because he found Eustace, the monkey, a perpetual strain upon his artistic nerves. It was Eustace who had driven him to his shack in the woods. He could have painted far more comfortably in the house, but Eustace had developed a habit of stealing up to him and plucking the leg of his trousers; and an artist simply cannot give of his best with that sort of thing going on.
Lady Wetherby wrote on. She was not fond of letter-writing and she had allowed her correspondence to accumulate; but she was disposing of it in an energetic and conscientious way, when the entrance of Wrench, the butler, interrupted her.
Wrench had been imported from England at the request of Lord Wetherby, who had said that it soothed him and kept him from feeling homesick to see a butler about the place. Since then he had been hanging to the establishment as it were by a hair. He gave the impression of being always on the point of giving notice. There were so many things connected with his position of which he disapproved. He had made no official pronouncement of the matter, but Lady Wetherby knew that he disapproved of her classical dancing. His last position had been with the Dowager Duchess of Waveney, the well-known political hostess, who—even had the somewhat generous lines on which she was built not prevented the possibility of such a thing—would have perished rather than dance barefooted in a public restaurant. Wrench also disapproved of America. That fact had been made plain immediately upon his arrival in the country. He had given America one look, and then his mind was made up—he disapproved of it.
“If you please, m’lady!”
Lady Wetherby turned. The butler was looking even more than usually disapproving, and his disapproval had, so to speak, crystallized, as if it had found some more concrete and definite objective than either barefoot dancing or the United States.
“If you please m’lady—the hape!”
It was Wrench’s custom to speak of Eustace in a tone of restrained disgust. He disapproved of Eustace. The Dowager Duchess of Waveney, though she kept open house for members of parliament, would have drawn the line at monkeys.
“The hape is behaving very strange, m’lady,” said Wrench frostily.
It has been well said that in this world there is always something. A moment before Lady Wetherby had been feeling completely contented, without a care on her horizon. It was foolish of her to have expected such a state of things to last, for what is life but a series of sharp corners round each of which Fate lies in wait for us with a stuffed eelskin? Something in the butler’s manner, a sort of gloating gloom which he radiated, told her that she had arrived at one of these corners now.
“The hape is seated on the kitchen sink, m’lady, throwing new-laid eggs at the scullery maid, and cook desired me to step up and ask for instructions.”
“What!” Lady Wetherby rose in agitation. “What’s he doing that for?” she asked weakly.
A slight, dignified gesture was Wrench’s only reply. It was not his place to analyze the motives of monkeys.
The sight of Lady Wetherby’s distress melted the butler’s stern reserve. He unbent so far as to supply a clew.
“As I understand from cook, m’lady, the animal appears to have taken umbrage at a lack of cordiality on the part of the cat. It seems that the hape attempted to fondle the cat, but the latter scratched him; being suspicious,” said Wrench, “of his bona fides.” He scrutinized the ceiling with a dull eye. “Whereupon,” he continued, “he seized her tail and threw her with considerable force. He then removed himself to the sink and began to hurl eggs at the scullery maid.”
Lady Wetherby’s mental eye attempted to produce a picture of the scene, but failed.
“I suppose I had better go down and see about it,” she said.
Wrench withdrew his gaze from the ceiling.
“I think it would be advisable, m’lady. The scullery maid is already in hysterics.”
Lady Wetherby led the way to the kitchen. She was wroth with Eustace. This was just the sort of thing out of which Algie would be able to make unlimited capital. It weakened her position with Algie. There was only one thing to do—she must hush it up.
Her first glance, however, at the actual theater of war gave her the impression that matters had advanced beyond the hushing-up stage. A yellow desolation brooded over the kitchen. It was not so much a kitchen as an omelette. There were eggs everywhere, from floor to ceiling. She crunched her way in on a carpet of oozing shells.
Her entry was a signal for a renewal on a more impressive scale of the uproar that she had heard while opening the door. The air was full of voices. The cook was expressing herself in Norwegian, the parlor maid in what appeared to be Erse. On a chair in a corner the scullery maid sobbed and whooped. The odd-job man, who was a baseball enthusiast, was speaking in terms of high praise of Eustace’s combined speed and control.
The only calm occupant of the room was Eustace himself, who, either through a shortage of ammunition or through weariness of the pitching arm, had suspended active hostilities and was now looking down on the scene from a high shelf. There was a brooding expression in his deep-set eyes. He massaged his right ear with the sole of his left foot in a somewhat distrait manner.
“And the first thing that happens,” said the odd-job man fervently, “me brave monk starts in to warm up. He went to it, ma’am, like he was pitching the first game of the World’s Series. Gee, you’d orter of seen his fast one! Walter Johnson’s got nothing on him!”
The sincerity of his enthusiasm did not touch Lady Wetherby. She had but a moderate affection for the national game. “Eustace!” she cried severely.
Eustace lowered his foot and gazed at her meditatively, then at the odd-job man, who was comparing him favorably with Grover Alexander, then at the scullery maid, whose voice rose high above the din.
“I rather fancy, m’lady,” said Wrench dispassionately, “that the animal is about to hurl a plate.”
It had escaped the notice of those present that the shelf on which the rioter had taken refuge was within comfortable reach of the dresser, but Eustace himself had not overlooked this important strategic point. As the butler spoke, Eustace picked up a plate and threw it at the scullery maid, whom he seemed definitely to have picked out as the most hostile of the allies. It was a fast inshoot, and hit the wall just above her head.
“’At-a-boy!” said the odd-job man reverently.
Lady Wetherby turned on him with some violence. His detached attitude was the most irritating of the many irritating aspects of the situation. She paid this man a weekly wage to do odd jobs. The capture of Eustace was essentially an odd job. Yet, instead of doing it, he hung about with the air of one who has paid his half-dollar and bought his bag of peanuts and has now nothing to do but look on and enjoy himself.
“Why don’t you catch him?” she cried.
The odd-job man came out of his trance. A sudden realization came upon him that life was real and life was earnest, and that if he did not wish to jeopardize a good situation he must curb his devotion to the great American sport. Everybody was looking at him expectantly. It seemed to be definitely up to him. It was imperative that, whatever he did, he should do it quickly. There was an apron hanging over the back of a chair. He changed abruptly from fan to matador. More with the idea of doing something than because he thought he would achieve anything definite thereby, he picked up the apron and flung it at Eustace. Luck was with him. The apron enveloped Eustace just as he was winding up for another inshoot and was off his balance. He tripped and fell, clutched at the apron to save himself, and came to the ground swathed in it, giving the effect of an apron mysteriously endowed with life. The triumphant odd-job man, pressing his advantage like a good general, gathered up the ends, converted it into a rude bag, and one more was added to the long list of the victories of the human over the brute intelligence.
Everybody had a suggestion now. The cook advocated drowning. The parlor maid favored the idea of hitting the prisoner with a broom handle. Wrench, eyeing the struggling apron disapprovingly, mentioned that Mr. Pickering had bought a revolver that morning.
“Put him in the coal cellar,” said Lady Wetherby.
Wrench was more far-seeing.
“If I might offer the warning, m’lady,” said Wrench, “not the cellar. It is full of coal. It would be placing temptation in the animal’s way.”
The odd-job man indorsed this.
“He’d pitch a great game with coal, ma’am,” he said, almost wistfully.
“Put him in the garage, then,” said Lady Wetherby.
The odd-job man departed, bearing his heaving bag at arm’s length. The cook and the parlor maid addressed themselves to comforting and healing the scullery maid. Wrench went off to polish silver, Lady Wetherby to resume her letters. The cat was the last of the party to return to the normal. She came down from the chimney an hour later, covered with soot, demanding restoratives.
Lady Wetherby finished her letters. She cut them short, for Eustace’s insurgence had interfered with her flow of ideas. She went into the drawing room, where she found Roscoe Sherriff strumming on the piano.
“Eustace has been raising Cain,” she said.
The press agent looked up hopefully. He had been wearing a rather preoccupied air.
“How’s that?” he asked.
“Throwing eggs and plates in the kitchen.”
The gleam of interest which had come into Roscoe Sherriff’s face died out.
“You couldn’t get more than a fill-in at the bottom of a column on that,” he said regretfully. “I’m a little disappointed in that monk. I hoped he would pan out bigger. Well, I guess we’ve just got to give him time. I have a hunch that he’ll set the house on fire or do something with a punch like that one of these days. You mustn’t get discouraged. Why, that puma I made Valerie Devenish keep looked like a perfect flivver for four whole months. A child could have played with it. Miss Devenish called me up on the phone, I remember, and handed me the worst kind of beef. Said she was darned if she was going to spend the rest of her life maintaining an animal that might as well be stuffed for all the pep it showed, and that she was going right out to buy a white mouse instead. Fortunately I talked her round.
“A few weeks later she came round and thanked me with tears in her eyes. The puma had suddenly struck real midseason form. It clawed the elevator boy, bit a postman, chased the coon on the switchboard half a dozen blocks along Central Park West, held up the traffic for miles and was finally shot by a policeman. Why, for the next few days there was nothing in the papers at all but Miss Devenish and her puma. There was a war on at the time, in Mexico or somewhere, and we had it backed off the front page so far that it was over before it could get back. So, you see, there’s always hope. I’ve been nursing the papers with bits about Eustace, so as to be ready for the grandstand play when it comes—and all we can do is to wait. It’s something if he’s been throwing eggs. It shows he’s waking up.”
The door opened and Lord Wetherby entered. He looked fatigued. He sank into a chair and sighed.
“I cannot get it,” he said. “It eludes me.”
He lapsed into a somber silence.
“I’ll be the goat,” said Lady Wetherby cautiously. “What can’t you get?”
“The expression—the expression I want to get into the child’s eyes in my picture, Innocence.”
“But you have got it.”
Lord Wetherby shook his head.
“Well, you had when I saw the picture,” persisted Lady Wetherby. “This child you’re painting has just joined the Black Hand. He has been rushed in young over the heads of the waiting list because his father had a pull. Naturally the kid wants to do something to justify his election, and he wants to do it quick. You have caught him at the moment when he sees an old gentleman coming down the street and realizes that he has only got to sneak up and stick his little knife ——”
“My dear Polly. I welcome criticism, but this is mere ——”
Lady Wetherby stroked his coat sleeve fondly.
“Never mind, Algie, I was only joshing you, precious. I thought the picture was coming along fine when you showed it to me. I’ll come and take another look at it.”
Lord Wetherby shook his head.
“I should have a model. An artist cannot mirror Nature properly without a model. I wish you would invite that child down here.”
“No, Algie, there are limits. I wouldn’t have him within a mile of the place.”
“Yet you keep Eustace.”
“Well, you made me engage Wrench. It’s fifty-fifty. I wish you wouldn’t keep picking on Eustace, Algie dear. He does no harm. Mr. Sherriff and I were just saying how peaceable he is. He wouldn’t hurt ——”
Claire came in.
“Polly,” she said, “did you put that monkey of yours in the garage? He’s just bitten Dudley in the leg.”
Lord Wetherby uttered an exclamation.
“Now perhaps ——”
“We went in just now to have a look at the car,” continued Claire. “Dudley wanted to show me the commutator on the exhaust box or the wind screen or something, and he was just bending over when Eustace jumped out from nowhere and pinned him. I’m afraid he has taken it to heart rather.”
Roscoe Sherriff pondered.
“Is this worth half a column?” He shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not. The public doesn’t know Pickering. If it had been Charlie Chaplin or William J. Bryan or some one on those lines, we could have had the papers bringing out extras. You can visualize William J. Bryan being bitten in the leg by a monkey. It hits you. But Pickering! Eustace might just as well have bitten the leg of the table!”
Lord Wetherby reasserted himself.
“Now that the animal has become a public menace ——”
“He’s nothing of the kind,” said Lady Wetherby. “He’s only a little upset to-day.”
“Do you mean, Pauline, that even after this you will not get rid of him?”
“Certainly not—poor dear.”
“Very well,” said Lord Wetherby calmly. “I give you warning that if he attacks me I shall defend myself.”
He brooded. Lady Wetherby turned to Claire.
“What happened then? Did you shut the door of the garage?”
“Yes, but not until Eustace had got away. He slipped out like a streak and disappeared. It was too dark to see which way he went.”
Dudley Pickering limped heavily into the room.
“I was just telling them about you and Eustace, Dudley.”
Mr. Pickering nodded moodily. He was too full for words.
“I think Eustace must be mad,” said Claire.
Roscoe Sherriff uttered a cry of rapture.
“You’ve said it!” he exclaimed. “I knew we should get action sooner or later. It’s the puma over again. Now we are all right. Now I have something to work on. ‘Monkey Menaces Countryside.’ ‘Long Island Summer Colony in Panic.’ ‘Mad Monkey Bites One ——’ ”
A convulsive shudder galvanized Mr. Pickering’s portly frame.
“ ‘Mad Monkey Terrorizes Long Island. One Dead!’ ” murmured Roscoe Sherriff wistfully. “Do you feel a sort of shooting, Pickering—a kind of burning sensation under the skin? Lady Wetherby, I guess I’ll be getting some of the papers on the phone. We’ve got a big story.”
He hurried to the telephone, but it was some little time before he could use it. Dudley Pickering was in possession, talking earnestly to the local doctor.
IT WAS Nutty Boyd’s habit to retire immediately after dinner to his bedroom. What he did there Elizabeth did not know. Sometimes she pictured him reading, sometimes thinking. Neither supposition was correct. Nutty never read. Newspapers bored him and books made his head ache. And, as for thinking, he had the wrong shape of forehead. The nearest he ever got to meditation was a sort of trancelike state, a kind of suspended animation in which his mind drifted sluggishly like a log in a backwater. Nutty, it is regrettable to say, went to his room after dinner for the purpose of imbibing two or three surreptitious rye highballs.
He behaved in this way, he told himself, purely in order to spare Elizabeth anxiety. There had been in the past a fool of a doctor who had prescribed total abstinence for Nutty, and Elizabeth knew this. Therefore, Nutty held, to take the mildest of snorts with her knowledge would have been to fill her with fears for his safety. So he went to considerable inconvenience to keep the matter from her notice, and thought rather highly of himself for doing so.
It certainly was inconvenient—there was no doubt of that. It made him feel like a cross between a hunted fawn and a burglar. But he had to some extent diminished the possibility of surprise by leaving his door open; and to-night he approached the closet where he kept the materials for refreshment with a certain confidence. He had left Elizabeth on the porch in a hammock, apparently anchored for some time. Lord Dawlish was out in the grounds somewhere. Presently he would come in and join Elizabeth on the porch. The risk of interruption was negligible.
Nutty mixed himself a highball and settled down to brood bitterly, as he often did, on the doctor who had made that disastrous statement. Doctors were always saying things like that—sweeping things which nervous people took too literally. It was true that he had been in pretty bad shape at the moment when the words had been spoken. It was just at the end of his Broadway career, when, as he handsomely admitted, there was a certain amount of truth in the opinion that his interior needed a vacation. But since then he had been living in the country, breathing good air, taking things easy. In these altered conditions and after this lapse of time it was absurd to imagine that a moderate amount of alcohol could do him any harm.
It hadn’t done him any harm, that was the point. He had tested the doctor’s statement and found it incorrect. He had spent three hectic days and nights in New York, and—after a reasonable interval—had felt much the same as usual. And since then he had imbibed each night, and nothing had happened. What it came to was that the doctor was a chump and a blighter. Simply that and nothing more.
Having come to this decision Nutty mixed another highball. He went to the head of the stairs and listened. He heard nothing. He returned to his room.
Yes, that was it, the doctor was a chump. He had hinted at all sorts of terrible things as the penalty for the slightest deviation from his instructions, and his bluff had been called. So far from doing him any harm, these nightly potations brightened Nutty up, gave him heart, and enabled him to endure life in this hole of a place. He felt a certain scornful amusement. Doctors, he supposed, had to get off that sort of talk to earn their money.
He reached out for the bottle, and as he grasped it his eye was caught by something on the floor. A brown monkey with a long, gray tail was sitting there staring at him.
There was one of those painful pauses. Nutty looked at the monkey, rather like an elongated Macbeth inspecting the ghost of Banquo. The monkey looked at Nutty. The pause continued. Nutty shut his eyes, counted ten slowly and opened them.
The monkey was still there.
“Boo!” said Nutty in an apprehensive undertone.
The monkey looked at him.
Nutty shut his eyes again. He would count sixty this time. A cold fear had laid its clammy fingers on his heart. This was what that doctor—not such a chump after all—must have meant!
Nutty began to count. There seemed to be a heavy lump inside him and his mouth was dry; but otherwise he felt all right. That was the gruesome part of it—this dreadful thing had come upon him at a moment when he could have sworn that he was as sound as a bell. If this had happened in the days when he ranged the Great White Way, sucking up deleterious moisture like a cloud, it would have been intelligible. But it had sneaked upon him like a thief in the night; it had stolen unheralded into his life when he had practically reformed. What was the good of practically reforming if this sort of thing was going to happen to one?
“. . . Fifty-nine . . . sixty.”
He opened his eyes. The monkey was still there, in precisely the same attitude, as if it was sitting for its portrait. Panic surged upon Nutty. He lost his head completely. He uttered a wild yell and threw the bottle at the apparition.
Life had not been treating Eustace well that evening. He seemed to have happened upon one of those days when everything goes wrong. The cat had scratched him, the odd-job man had swathed him in an apron, and now this stranger, in whom he had found at first a pleasant restfulness, soothing after the recent scenes of violence in which he had participated, did this to him. He dodged the missile and clambered on to the top of the wardrobe. It was his instinct in times of stress to seek the high spots. And then Elizabeth hurried into the room.
Elizabeth had been lying in the hammock on the porch when her brother’s yell had broken forth. It was a lovely, calm, moonlight night, and she had been reveling in the peace of it, when suddenly this outcry from above had shot her out of her hammock like an explosion. She ran upstairs, fearing she knew not what. She found Nutty sitting on the bed, looking like an overwrought giraffe.
“Whatever is the ——” she began; and then things began to impress themselves on her senses.
The bottle which Nutty had thrown at Eustace had missed the latter, but it had hit the wall and was now lying in many pieces on the floor, and the air was heavy with the scent of it. The remains seemed to leer at her with a kind of furtive swagger, after the manner of broken bottles. A quick thrill of anger ran through Elizabeth. She had always felt more like a mother to Nutty than a sister, and now she would have liked to exercise the maternal privilege of slapping him.
“I saw a monkey!” said her brother hollowly. “I was standing over there and I saw a monkey! Of course it wasn’t there really. I flung the bottle at it, and it seemed to climb onto that wardrobe.”
Elizabeth struck it a resounding blow with the palm of her hand, and Eustace’s face popped over the edge, peering down anxiously. “I can see it now,” said Nutty. A sudden faint hope came to him. “Can you see it?” he asked.
Elizabeth did not speak for a moment. This was an unusual situation, and she was wondering how to treat it. She was sorry for Nutty, but Providence had sent this thing and it would be foolish to reject it. She must look on herself in the light of a doctor. It would be kinder to Nutty in the end. She had the feminine aversion from the lie deliberate. Her ethics on the suggestio falsi were weak. She looked at Nutty questioningly.
“See it?” she said.
“Don’t you see a monkey on the top of the wardrobe?” said Nutty, becoming more definite.
“There’s a sort of bit of wood sticking out ——”
“No, not that. You didn’t see it. I didn’t think you would.”
He spoke so dejectedly that for a moment Elizabeth weakened, but only for an instant.
“Tell me all about this, Nutty,” she said.
Nutty was beyond the desire for evasion and concealment. His one wish was to tell. He told all.
“But, Nutty, how silly of you!”
“After what the doctor said.”
“You remember his telling you ——”
“I know. Never again!”
“What do you mean?”
“I quit. I’m going on the wagon.”
Elizabeth embraced him maternally.
“That’s a good child,” she said. “You really promise?”
“I don’t have to promise, I’m just going to do it.”
Elizabeth compromised with her conscience by becoming soothing.
“You know, this isn’t so very serious, Nutty, darling. I mean it’s just a warning.”
“It’s warned me all right.”
“You will be perfectly all right if ——”
Nutty interrupted her.
“You’re sure you can’t see anything?”
Nutty’s voice became almost apologetic.
“I know it’s just imagination, but the monkey seems to me to be climbing down from the wardrobe.”
“I can’t see anything climbing down the wardrobe,” said Elizabeth as Eustace touched the floor.
“It’s come down now. It’s crossing the carpet.”
“It’s gone now. It went out of the door.”
“I say, Elizabeth, what do you think I ought to do?”
“I should go to bed and have a nice long sleep, and you’ll feel ——”
“Somehow I don’t feel much like going to bed. This sort of thing upsets a chap, you know.”
“I think I’ll go for a long walk.”
“That’s a splendid idea.”
“I think I’d better do a good lot of walking from now on. Didn’t Chalmers bring down some Indian clubs with him? I think I’ll borrow them. I ought to keep out in the open a lot, I think. I wonder if there’s any special diet I ought to have. Well, anyway, I’ll be going for that walk.”
At the foot of the stairs Nutty stopped. He looked quickly into the porch, then looked away again.
“What’s the matter?” asked Elizabeth.
“I thought for a moment I saw the monkey sitting on the hammock.”
He went out of the house and disappeared from view down the drive, walking with long, rapid strides.
Elizabeth’s first act, when he had gone, was to fetch a banana from the ice box. Her knowledge of monkeys was slight, but she fancied they looked with favor on bananas. It was her intention to conciliate Eustace.
She had placed Eustace by now. Unlike Nutty, she read the papers, and she knew all about Lady Wetherby and her pets. The fact that Lady Wetherby, as she had been informed by the grocer in friendly talk, had rented a summer house in the neighborhood made Eustace’s identity positive.
She had no very clear plans as to what she intended to do with Eustace, beyond being quite resolved that she was going to board and lodge him for a few days. Nutty had had the jolt he needed, but it might be that the first freshness of it would wear away, in which event it would be convenient to have Eustace on the premises. She regarded Eustace as a sort of medicine. A second dose might not be necessary, but it was as well to have the mixture handy. She took another banana, in case the first might not be sufficient. She then returned to the porch.
Eustace was sitting on the hammock, brooding. The complexities of life were weighing him down a good deal. He was not aware of Elizabeth’s presence until he found her standing by him. He had just braced himself for flight when he perceived that she bore rich gifts.
Eustace was always ready for a light snack—readier now than usual, for air and exercise had sharpened his appetite. He took the banana in a detached manner, as it to convey the idea that it did not commit him to any particular course of conduct. It was a good banana, and he stretched out a hand for the other. Elizabeth sat down beside him, but he did not move. He was convinced now of her good intentions. It was thus that Lord Dawlish found them when he came in from the garden.
“Where has your brother gone to?” he asked. “He passed me just now at eight miles an hour. Great Scott! What’s that?”
“It’s a monkey. Don’t frighten him, he’s rather nervous.”
She tickled Eustace under the ear, for their relations were now friendly.
“Nutty went for a walk because he thought he saw it.”
“Thought he saw it?”
“Thought he saw it,” repeated Elizabeth firmly. “Will you remember, Mr. Chalmers, that, as far as he is concerned, this monkey has no existence?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You see now?”
“I see. But how long are you going to keep the animal?”
“Just a day or two—in case.”
“Where are you going to keep it?”
“In the outhouse. Nutty never goes there, it’s too near the beehives.”
“I suppose you don’t know who the owner is?”
“Yes, I do; it must be Lady Wetherby.”
“She’s a woman who dances at one of the restaurants. I read in a Sunday paper about her monkey. She has just taken a house near here. I don’t see who else the animal could belong to. Monkeys are rarities on Long Island.”
Bill was silent. “Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose, flushing his brow.” For days he had been trying to find an excuse for calling on Lady Wetherby as a first step toward meeting Claire again. Here it was. There would be no need to interfere with Elizabeth’s plans. He would be vague. He would say he had just seen the runaway, but would not add where. He would create an atmosphere of helpful sympathy. Perhaps, later on, Elizabeth would let him take the monkey back.
“What are you thinking about?” asked Elizabeth.
“Oh, nothing,” said Bill.
“Perhaps we had better stow away our visitor for the night.”
Elizabeth got up.
“Poor, dear Nutty may be coming back at any moment now,” she said.
But poor, dear Nutty did not return for a full two hours. When he did he was dusty and tired, but almost cheerful.
“I didn’t see the brute once all the time I was out,” he told Elizabeth. “Not once!”
Elizabeth kissed him fondly and offered to heat water for a bath; but Nutty said he would take it cold. From now on, he vowed, nothing but cold baths. He conveyed the impression of being a blend of repentant sinner and hardy Norseman. Before he went to bed he approached Bill on the subject of Indian clubs.
“I want to get myself into shape, old top,” he said.
“I’ve got to cut it out—to-night I thought I saw a monkey.”
“As plain as I see you now.” Nutty gave the clubs a tentative swing. “What do you do with these darned things? Swing them about and all that? All right, I see the idea. Good night.”
But Bill did not pass a good night. He lay awake long, thinking over his plans for the morrow.
LADY WETHERBY was feeling battered. She had not realized how seriously Roscoe Sherriff took the art of publicity, nor what would be the result of the half-hour he had spent at the telephone on the night of the departure of Eustace.
Roscoe Sherriff’s eloquence had fired the imagination of editors. There had been a notable lack of interesting happenings this summer. Nobody seemed to be striking or murdering or having violent accidents. The universe was torpid. In these circumstances, the escape of Eustace seemed to present possibilities. Reporters had been sent down. There were three of them living in the house now, and Wrench’s air of disapproval was deepening every hour.
It was their strenuousness which had given Lady Wetherby that battered feeling. There was strenuousness in the air, and she resented it on her vacation. She had come to Long Island to vegetate, and with all this going on round her vegetation was impossible. She was not long alone. Wrench entered.
“A gentleman to see you, m’lady.”
In the good old days, when she had been plain Polly Davis, of the personnel of the chorus of various musical comedies, Lady Wetherby would have suggested a short way of disposing of this untimely visitor; but she had a position to keep up now.
“From some darned paper?” she asked wearily.
“No, m’lady. I fancy he is not connected with the press.”
There was something in Wrench’s manner that perplexed Lady Wetherby, something almost human, as if Wrench were on the point of coming alive. She did not guess it, but the explanation was that Bill, quite unwittingly, had impressed Wrench. There was that about Bill that reminded the butler of London and dignified receptions at the house of the Dowager Duchess of Waveney. It was deep calling unto deep.
“Where is he?”
“I have shown him into the drawing room, m’lady.”
Lady Wetherby went downstairs and found a large young man awaiting her, looking nervous.
Bill was feeling nervous. A sense of the ridiculousness of his mission had come upon him. After all, he asked himself, what on earth had he got to say? A presentiment had come upon him that he was about to look a perfect ass. At the sight of Lady Wetherby his nervousness began to diminish. Lady Wetherby was not a formidable person. In spite of her momentary peevishness, she brought with her an atmosphere of geniality and camaraderie.
“It’s about your monkey,” he said, coming to the point at once.
Lady Wetherby brightened.
“Oh! Have you seen it?”
He was glad that she put it like that.
“Yes. It came round our way last night.”
“Where is that?”
“I am staying at a farm near here, a place they call Flack’s. The monkey got into one of the rooms.”
“And then—er—then it got out again, don’t you know.”
Lady Wetherby looked disappointed.
“So it may be anywhere now?” she said.
In the interests of truth, Bill thought it best to leave this question unanswered.
“Well, it’s very good of you to have bothered to come out and tell me,” said Lady Wetherby. “It gives us a clew, at any rate. Thank you. At least we know now in which direction it went.”
There was a pause. Bill gathered that the other was looking on the interview as terminated, and that she was expecting him to go, and he had not begun to say what he wanted to say. He tried to think of a way of introducing the subject of Claire that should not seem too abrupt.
“Er ——” he said.
“Well?” said Lady Wetherby simultaneously.
“I beg your pardon.”
“You have the floor,” said Lady Wetherby. “Shoot!”
It was not what she had intended to say. For months she had been trying to get out of the habit of saying that sort of thing, but she still suffered relapses. Only the other day she had told Wrench to check some domestic problem or other with his hat, and he had nearly given notice. But if she had been intending to put Bill at his ease she could not have said anything better.
“You have a Miss Fenwick staying with you, haven’t you?” he said.
Lady Wetherby beamed.
“Do you know Claire?”
“She’s my best friend. We used to be in the same company when I was in England.”
“So she has told me.”
“She was my bridesmaid when I married Lord Wetherby.”
Lady Wetherby was feeling perfectly happy now, and when Lady Wetherby felt happy she always became garrulous. She was one of those people who are incapable of looking on anybody as a stranger after five minutes’ acquaintance. Already she had begun to regard Bill as an old friend.
“Those were great days,” she said cheerfully. “None of us had a bean, and Algie was the hardest-up of the whole bunch. After we were married we went to the Savoy for the wedding-breakfast and when it was over and the waiter came with the check Algie said he was sorry, but he had had a bad week at Lincoln and hadn’t the price on him. He tried to touch me, but I passed. Then he had a go at the best man, but the best man had nothing in the world but one suit of clothes and a spare collar. Claire was broke, too, so the end of it was that the best man had to sneak out and pawn my watch and the wedding ring.”
The room rang with her reminiscent laughter, Bill supplying a bass accompaniment. Bill was delighted. He had never hoped that it would be granted to him to become so rapidly intimate with Claire’s hostess. Why, he had only to keep the conversation in this chummy vein for a little while longer and she would give him the run of the house.
“Miss Fenwick isn’t in now, I suppose?” he asked.
“No, Claire’s out with Dudley Pickering. You don’t know him, do you?”
“She’s engaged to him.”
It is an ironical fact that Lady Wetherby was by nature one of the firmest believers in existence in the policy of breaking things gently to people. She had a big, soft heart and she hated hurting her fellows. As a rule when she had bad news to impart to any one she administered the blow so gradually and with such mystery as to the actual facts that the victim, having passed through the various stages of imagined horrors, was genuinely relieved, when she actually came to the point, to find that all that had happened was that he had lost all his money. But now in perfect innocence, thinking only to pass along an interesting bit of information, she had crushed Bill as effectively as if she had used a club for that purpose.
“I’m tickled to death about it,” she went on, as it were over her hearer’s prostrate body. “It was I who brought them together, you know. I wrote telling Claire to come out here on the Atlantic, knowing that Dudley was sailing on that boat. I had a hunch they would hit it off together. Dudley fell for her right away, and she must have fallen for him, for they had only known each other for a few weeks when they came and told me they were engaged. It happened last Sunday.”
It had seemed to Bill a moment before that he would never again be capable of speech, but this statement dragged the words out of him. Last Sunday! Why, it was last Sunday that Claire had broken off her engagement with him.
“Last Sunday at nine o’clock in the evening, with a full moon shining and soft music going on offstage. Real third-act stuff.”
Bill felt positively dizzy. He groped back in his memory for facts. He had gone out for his walk after dinner. They had dined at eight. He had been walking some time. Why, in Heaven’s name, this was the quickest thing in the amatory annals of civilization. His brain was too numbed to work out a perfectly accurate schedule, but it looked as if she must have got engaged to this Pickering person before she met him, Bill, in the road that night.
“It’s a wonderful match for dear old Claire,” resumed Lady Wetherby, twisting the knife in the wound with a happy unconsciousness. “Dudley’s not only a corking good fellow, but he has thirty million dollars stuffed away in the stocking and a business that brings him in a perfectly awful mess of money every year. He’s the Pickering of the Pickering automobiles, you know.”
Bill got up. He stood for a moment holding to the back of his chair before speaking. It was almost exactly thus that he had felt in the days when he had gone in for boxing and had stopped forceful swings with the more sensitive portions of his person.
“That—that’s splendid,” he said. “I—I think I’ll be going.”
“I heard the car outside just now,” said Lady Wetherby. “I think it’s probably Claire and Dudley come back. Won’t you wait and see her?”
Bill shook his head.
“Well, good-by for the present then. You must come round again. Any friend of Claire’s—and it was bully of you to bother about looking in to tell me about Eustace.”
Bill had reached the door. He was about to turn the handle when someone turned it on the other side.
“Why, here is Dudley,” said Lady Wetherby. “Dudley, this is a friend of Claire’s.”
Dudley Pickering was one of those men who take the ceremony of introduction with a measured solemnity. It was his practice to grasp the party of the second part firmly by the hand, hold it, look into his eyes in a reverent manner, and get off some little speech of appreciation, short but full of feeling. The opening part of this ceremony he performed now. He grasped Bill’s hand firmly, held it, and looked into his eyes. And then having performed his business, he fell down on his lines. Not a word proceeded from him. He dropped the hand and stared at Bill amazedly and—more than that—with fear.
Bill, too, uttered no word. It was not one of those chatty meetings.
But if they were short on words, both Bill and Mr. Pickering were long on looks. Bill stared at Mr. Pickering. Mr. Pickering stared at Bill.
Bill was drinking in Mr. Pickering. The stoutness of Mr. Pickering—the elderliness of Mr. Pickering—the dullness of Mr. Pickering—all these things he perceived. And illumination broke upon him.
Mr. Pickering was drinking in Bill. The largeness of Bill—the embarrassment of Bill—the obvious villainy of Bill—none of these things escaped his notice. And illumination broke upon him also.
For Dudley Pickering, in the first moment of their meeting, had recognized Bill as the man who had been lurking in the grounds and peering in at the window, the man at whom on the night when he had become engaged to Claire he had shouted “Hi!”
“Where’s Claire, Dudley?” asked Lady Wetherby.
Mr. Pickering withdrew his gaze reluctantly from Bill.
“I’ll go and tell her that you’re here, Mr. —— You never told me your name?”
Bill came to life with an almost acrobatic abruptness. There were many things of which at that moment he felt absolutely incapable, and meeting Claire was one of them.
“No, I must be going,” he said hurriedly. “Good-by.”
He came very near running out of the room. Lady Wetherby regarded the practically slammed door with wide eyes.
“Quick exit of Nut Comedian!” she said. “Whatever was the matter with the man? He’s scorched a trail in the carpet.”
Mr. Pickering was trembling violently.
“Do you know who that was? He was the man!” said Mr. Pickering.
“The man I caught looking in at the window that night!”
“What nonsense! You must be mistaken. He said he knew Claire quite well.”
“But when you suggested that he should meet her he ran.”
This aspect of the matter had not occurred to Lady Wetherby.
“So he did!”
“What did he tell you that showed he knew Claire?”
“Well, now that I come to think of it, he didn’t tell me anything. I did the talking. He just sat there.”
Mr. Pickering quivered with combined fear and excitement and inductive reasoning.
“It was a trick!” he cried. “Remember what Sherriff said that night when I told you about finding the man looking in at the window? He said that the fellow was spying round as a preliminary move. To-day he trumps up an obviously false excuse for getting into the house. Was he left alone in the room at all?”
“Yes. Wrench loosed him in here and then came up to tell me.”
“For several minutes, then, he was alone in the house. Why, he had time to do all he wanted to do!”
“I am perfectly calm. But ——”
“You’ve been seeing too many crook plays, Dudley. A man isn’t necessarily a burglar because he wears a decent suit of clothes.”
“Why was he lurking in the grounds that night?”
“You’re just imagining that it was the same man.”
“I am absolutely positive it was the same man.”
“Well, we can easily settle one thing about him, at any rate. Here comes Claire. Claire, old girl,” she said as the door opened, “do you know a man named —— Darn it, I never got his name, but he’s ——”
Claire stood in the doorway, looking from one to the other.
“What’s the matter, Dudley?” she said.
“Dudley’s gone clean up in the air,” explained Lady Wetherby tolerantly. “A friend of yours called to tell me he had seen Eustace ——”
“So that was his excuse, was it?” said Dudley Pickering. “Did he say where Eustace was?”
“No; he said he had seen him; that was all.”
“An obviously trumped-up story. He had heard of Eustace’s escape and he knew that any story connected with him would be a passport into the house!”
Lady Wetherby turned to Claire.
“You haven’t told us yet if you know the man. He was a big, tall, broad gazook,” said Lady Wetherby. “Very English.”
“He faked the English,” said Dudley Pickering. “That man was no more an Englishman than I am. He acted well, but I could see the Tenderloin sticking out of him.”
“Be patient with him, Claire,” urged Lady Wetherby. “He’s been going to the movies too much, and thinks every man who has had his trousers pressed is a social gangster. This man was the most English thing I’ve ever seen—talked like this.”
She gave a passable reproduction of Bill’s speech. Claire started.
“I don’t know him!” she cried.
Her mind was in a whirl of agitation. Why had Bill come to the house? What had he said? Had he told Dudley anything?
“I don’t recognize the description,” she said, quickly. “I don’t know anything about him.”
“There!” said Dudley Pickering triumphantly.
“It’s queer,” said Lady Wetherby. “You’re sure you don’t know him, Claire?”
“He said he was living at a place near here called Flack’s.”
“I know the place,” said Dudley Pickering. “A sinister, tumble-down sort of place. Just where a bunch of crooks would be living.”
“I thought it was a bee farm,” said Lady Wetherby. “One of the tradesmen told me about it. I saw a most corkingly pretty girl bicycling down to the village one morning, and they told me she was named Boyd and kept a bee farm at Flack’s.”
“A blind!” said Mr. Pickering stoutly. “The girl’s the man’s accomplice. It’s quite easy to see the way they work: The girl comes and settles in the place so that everybody knows her. That’s to lull suspicion. Then the man comes down for a visit and goes about cleaning up the neighboring houses.
“You can’t get away from the fact that this summer there have been half a dozen burglaries down here, and nobody has found out who did them.”
Lady Wetherby looked at him indulgently.
“And now,” she said, “having got us scared stiff, what are you going to do about it?”
“I am going,” he said with determination, “to take steps.”
He went out quickly, the keen, tense man of affairs.
“Bless him!” said Lady Wetherby. “I’d no idea your Dudley had so much imagination, Claire. He’s a perfect bomb-shell.”
Claire laughed shakily.
“It is odd, though,” said Lady Wetherby meditatively, “that this man should have said that he knew you, when you don’t ——”
Claire turned impulsively.
“Polly, I want to tell you something. Promise you won’t tell Dudley. I wasn’t telling the truth just now. I do know this man. I was engaged to him once.”
“For goodness’ sake don’t tell Dudley!”
“It’s all over now; but I used to be engaged to him.”
“Not when I was in England?”
“No, after that.”
“Then he didn’t know you are engaged to Dudley now?”
“N-no. I—I haven’t seen him for a long time.”
Lady Wetherby looked remorseful.
“Poor man! I must have given him a jolt! But why didn’t you tell me about him before?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Oh, well, I’m not inquisitive. There’s no rubber in my composition. It’s your affair.”
“You won’t tell Dudley?”
“Of course not. But why not? You’ve nothing to be ashamed of.”
“No, but ——”
“Well, I won’t tell him, anyway. But I’m glad you told me about him. Dudley was so eloquent about burglars that he almost had me going. I wonder where he rushed off to.”
Dudley Pickering had rushed off to his bedroom, and was examining a revolver there. He examined it carefully, keenly. Preparedness was Dudley Pickering’s slogan. He looked rather like a stout sheriff in a film drama.
(TO BE CONTINUED)