The Strand Magazine, August 1912
OESN’T some poet or philosopher fellow say that it’s when our intentions are best that we always make the most poisonous bloomers? I can’t put my hand on the passage, but you’ll find it in Shakespeare or somewhere, I’m pretty certain.
Anyhow, it’s always that way with me. And the affair of Percy Craye is a case in point.
I had dined with Percy (a dear old pal of mine) one night at the Bank of England—he’s in the Guards, and it was his turn to be on hand there and prevent any blighter trying to slide in and help himself—and as he was seeing me out he said, “Reggie, old top” (my name’s Reggie Pepper)—“Reggie, old top, I’m rather worried.”
“Are you, Percy, old pal?” I said.
“Yes, Reggie, old fellow,” he said, “I am. It’s like this. The Booles have asked me down to their place for the week-end, and I don’t know whether to go or not. You see, they have family prayers at half-past eight sharp, and besides that there’s a frightful risk of music after dinner. On the other hand, young Roderick Boole thinks he can play piquet.”
“I should go,” I said.
“But I’m not sure Roderick’s going to be there this time.”
It was a pretty tricky problem, and I didn’t wonder poor old Percy had looked pale and fagged at dinner.
Then I had the idea which really started all the trouble.
“Why don’t you consult a palmist?” I said.
“That’s not a bad idea,” said Percy.
“Go and see Dorothea in Bond Street. She’s a wonder. She’ll settle it for you in a second. She’ll see from your lines that you are thinking of making a journey, and she’ll either tell you to fizz ahead, which will mean that Roderick will be there, or else to keep away because she sees disaster.”
“You seem well up in this sort of thing.”
“I’ve been to a good many of them. You’ll like Dorothea.”
“What did you say her name was—Dorothea? What do I do? Do I just walk in? Sha’n’t I feel a fearful ass? How much do I give her?”
“A guinea. You’d better write and make an appointment.”
“All right,” said Percy. “But I know I shall look a frightful fool.”
You would hardly believe the trouble it took to bring him to the scratch. In the end I took him round myself and left him there, and about a week later I ran into him between the acts at the Gaiety. The old boy was beaming.
“Reggie,” he said, “you did me the best turn anyone’s ever done me, sending me to Mrs. Darrell.”
“You know—Dorothea. Her real name’s Darrell. She’s a widow. Her husband was in a line regiment, and left her without a penny. It’s a frightfully pathetic story. Haven’t time to tell you now. My boy, she’s a marvel. She had hardly looked at my hand when she said, ‘You will prosper in any venture you undertake.’ And next day, by Jove, I popped down to the Booles and separated young Roderick from fourteen pounds seven and six. She’s a wonderful woman. Did you ever see just that shade of hair?”
“I didn’t notice her hair.”
He gaped at me in a sort of petrified astonishment.
“You—didn’t—notice—her—hair?” he gasped.
Just then the bell rang, and I had to nip back to my stall.
I can’t fix the dates exactly, but it must have been about three weeks after this that I got a telegram, “Call Eaton Square immediately.—Florence Craye.”
She needn’t have signed her name. I should have known who it was from by the wording. Ever since I was a kid Percy’s sister Florence has oppressed me to the most fearful extent. Not that I’m the only one. Her brothers live in terror of her, I know. Especially Lord Weeting. He’s never been able to get away from her, and it’s absolutely broken his spirit. He’s a mild, hopeless sort of ass, who spends all his time at Weeting and has never been known to come to London. He’s writing a history of the family or something, I believe.
You see, events have conspired, so to speak, to let Florence do pretty much as she likes with them. The family affairs have got themselves into a bit of a muddle. Originally there was Percy’s father, Lord Worplesdon; Percy’s elder brother Edwin, who’s Lord Weeting; Florence, and Percy. Lady Worplesdon has been dead some years. Then came the smash. It happened through Lord Worplesdon. Most people, if you ask them, will tell you that he is bang off his rocker, and I’m not sure they’re not right. At any rate, one morning he came down to breakfast, lifted the first cover on the sideboard, said, in a despairing sort of way, “Eggs! Eggs! Eggs! Curse all eggs!” and walked out of the room. Nobody thought much of it till about an hour afterwards, when they found that he had packed a portmanteau, left the house, and caught the train to London. Next day they got a letter from him, saying that he was off to the Continent, never to return, and that all communications were to be addressed to his solicitors.
And from that day none of them had seen him. He wrote occasionally, generally from Paris, and that was all.
Well, directly news of this got about down swooped a series of aunts to grab the helm. They didn’t stay long. Florence had them out, one after the other, in no time. If any lingering doubt remained in their minds, don’t you know, as to who was going to be boss at Weeting, it wasn’t her fault. Since then she has run the show.
I went to Eaton Square. It was one of the aunts’ houses. There was no sign of the aunt when I called—she had probably climbed a tree and pulled it up after her—but Florence was in the drawing-room.
She is a tall woman with what, I believe, is called “a presence.” Her eyes are bright and black, and have a way of getting right inside you, don’t you know, and running up and down your spine. She has a deep voice. She is about ten years older than Percy’s brother Edwin, who is six years older than Percy.
“Good afternoon,” she said. “Sit down.”
I poured myself into a chair.
“Reginald,” she said, “what is this I hear about Percy?”
I said I didn’t know.
“He says that you introduced him.”
“To this woman—this Mrs. Darrell.”
My memory’s pretty rocky, and the name conveyed nothing to me.
She pulled out a letter.
“Yes,” she said; “Mrs. Dorothy Darrell.”
“Great Scot! Dorothea!”
Her eyes resumed their spine-drill.
“Who is she?”
“Only a palmist.”
“Only a palmist!” Her voice absolutely boomed. “Well, my brother Percy is engaged to be married to her.”
“Many happy returns of the day,” I said.
I don’t know why I said it. It wasn’t what I meant to say. I’m not sure I meant to say anything.
She glared at me. By this time I was pure jelly. I simply flowed about the chair.
“You are facetious, Reginald,” she said.
“No, no, no!” I shouted. “It slipped out. I wouldn’t be facetious for worlds.”
“I am glad. It is no laughing matter. Have you any suggestions?”
“You don’t imagine it can be allowed to go on? The engagement must be broken, of course. But how?”
“Why don’t you tell him he mustn’t?”
“I shall naturally express my strong disapproval, but it may not be effective. When out of the reach of my personal influence my wretched brother is self-willed to a degree.”
I saw what she meant. Good old Percy wasn’t going to have those eyes patrolling his spine if he knew it. He meant to keep away and conduct this business by letter. There was going to be no personal interview with sister, if he had to dodge about London like a snipe.
We sat for a long time without speaking. Then I became rather subtle. I had a brain-wave and saw my way to making things right for Percy and at the same time squaring myself with Florence. After all, I thought, the old boy couldn’t keep away from the ancestral for the rest of his life. He would have to go to Weeting sooner or later. And my scheme made it pleasant and easy for him.
“I’ll tell you what I should do if I were you,” I said. “I’m not sure I didn’t read some book or see some play somewhere or other where they tried it on, and it worked all right. Chap got engaged to a girl and the family didn’t like it, but, instead of cutting up rough, they pretended they didn’t object, and had the chap and the girl down to stay with them. And then, after the chap had seen the girl with the home-circle as a background, don’t you know, he came to the conclusion that the shot wasn’t on the board, and broke off the engagement.”
It seemed to strike her.
“I hardly expected so sensible a suggestion from you, Reginald,” she said. “It is a very good plan. It shows that you really have a definite substratum of intelligence; and it is all the more deplorable that you should idle your way through the world as you do, when you might be performing some really useful work.”
That was Florence all over. Even when she patted you on the head she did it with her knuckles.
“I will invite them down next week,” she went on. “You had better come, too.”
“It’s awfully kind of you, but the fact is——”
“Next Wednesday. Take the three forty-seven.”
I met Percy next day. He was looking happy but puzzled, like a man who has found a sixpence in the street and is wondering if there’s a string tied to it. I congratulated him on his engagement.
“Reggie,” he said, “a pretty rum thing has happened. I feel as if I’d trodden on the last step when it wasn’t there. I’ve just had a letter from my sister Florence asking me to bring Dorothy to Weeting on Wednesday. Florence doesn’t seem to mind the idea of the engagement a bit; and I’d expected that I’d have to put myself under police protection. I believe there’s a catch somewhere.”
I tapped him on the breast-bone.
“There is, Percy, old lovely,” I said, “and I’ll tell you what it is. I saw her yesterday, and I can give you the straight tip. She thinks that if you see Mrs. Darrell mingling with the home-circle, you’ll see flaws in her which you don’t see when you don’t see her mingling with the home-circle, don’t you see. Do you see now?”
He laughed—heroically, don’t you know.
“I’m afraid she’ll be disappointed. Love like mine is not dependent on environment.”
Which wasn’t bad, I thought, if it was his own.
I said good-bye to him and toddled along, rather pleased with myself. It seemed to me that I had handled his affairs in a pretty masterly manner for a chap who’s supposed to be one of the biggest chumps in London.
Well, of course, the thing was an absolute frost, as I ought to have guessed it would be. Whatever could have induced me to think that a fellow like poor old Percy stood a dog’s chance against a determined female like his sister Florence I can’t imagine. It was like expecting a rabbit to put up a show with a python. From the very start there was only one possible end to the thing. To a woman like Florence, who had trained herself as tough as whalebone by years of scrapping with her father and occasional by-battles with aunts, it was as easy as killing rats with a stick.
I was sorry for Mrs. Darrell. She was a really good sort, and, as a matter of fact, just the kind of wife who would have done old Percy a bit of good. And on her own ground I shouldn’t wonder if she might not have made a fight for it. But at Weeting, with the family portraits glaring at her from every wall, and a general atmosphere of chilly disapproval which would have taken the heart out of anyone who hadn’t been brought up to it from childhood, she hadn’t an earthly. Especially as poor old Percy was just like so much putty in Florence’s hands when he couldn’t get away from her. You could see the sawdust trickling out of Love’s Young Dream in a steady flow.
I took Mrs. Darrell for a walk one afternoon, to see if I couldn’t cheer her up a bit; but it wasn’t much good. She hardly spoke a word till we were on our way home. Then she said, with a sort of jerk:—
“I’m going back to London to-morrow, Mr. Pepper.”
I suppose I ought to have pretended to be surprised, but I couldn’t work it.
“I’m afraid you’ve had a rotten time,” I said. “I’m awfully sorry.”
“Thank you,” she said. “It’s nice of you to be sympathetic instead of tactful. You’re rather a dear, Mr. Pepper.”
I hadn’t any remarks to make. I whacked at a nettle with my stick.
“I shall break off my engagement after dinner, so that Percy can have a good night’s rest. I’m afraid he has been brooding on the future a good deal. It will be a great relief to him.”
“Oh, no,” I said.
“Oh, yes. I know exactly how he feels. He thought he could carry me off, but he finds he overestimated his powers. He has remembered that he is a Weeting. I imagine that the fact has been pointed out to him.”
“If you ask my opinion,” I said—I was feeling pretty sore about it—“that blighted blighter Florence is an absolute blighter.”
“My dear Mr. Pepper, I wouldn’t have dreamt of asking your opinion on such a delicate subject. But I’m glad to have it. Thank you very much. Do I strike you as a vindictive woman, Mr. Pepper?”
“I don’t think you do,” I said.
“By nature I don’t think I am. But I’m feeling a little vindictive just at present.”
She stopped suddenly.
“I don’t know why I’m boring you like this, Mr. Pepper,” she said. “For goodness’ sake, let’s be cheerful. Say something bright.”
I was going to have a dash at it, but she collared the conversation and talked all the rest of the way. She seemed to have cheered up a whole lot.
She left next day. I gather she pushed Percy as per schedule, for the old boy looked distinctly brighter, and Florence wore an off-duty expression and was quite decently civil. Mrs. Darrell bore up all right. She avoided Percy, of course, and put in most of the time talking to Edwin. He evidently appreciated it, for I had never seen him look so nearly happy before.
I popped back to London directly afterwards, and I hadn’t been there much more than a week when a most remarkably rum thing happened. Turning in at the Empire for half an hour one evening, whom should I meet but brother Edwin, quite fairly festive, with a fat cigar in his mouth.
“Halloa, Reggie!” he said. “What-ho, my lad!”
“What are you doing here?” I said.
“I had to come up to London to look up a life of Hilary de Whyttange at the British Museum. I believe the old buffer was a sort of connection.”
“This isn’t the British Museum.”
“I was beginning to suspect as much. The difference is subtle, but well marked.”
It struck me that there was another difference that was subtle but well marked, and that was the difference between the Edwin I’d left messing about over his family history a week before and the jovial buck who was blowing smoke in my face now.
“As a matter of fact,” he said, “the British Museum would be all the better for a little of this sort of thing. It’s too conservative. That’s what’s the trouble with the British Museum. What’s the matter with having a ballet and a few performing dogs in the reading-room? It would brighten the place up and attract custom. Reggie, you’re looking fatigued. There’s a place at the end of that corridor expressly designed for supplying first-aid to the fatigued. Let me lead you to it.”
I’m not given to thinking much as a rule, but I couldn’t help pondering a bit over this meeting with Edwin. It’s hard to make you see the remarkableness of the whole thing, for, of course, if you look at it in one way, there’s nothing so frightfully rackety in smoking a cigar and drinking a whisky and soda. But then you have never seen Edwin. There are degrees in everything, don’t you know. For Edwin to behave as he did with me that night was simply nothing more nor less than a frightful outburst, and it disturbed me. Not that I cared what Edwin did, as a rule, but I couldn’t help feeling a sort of what-d’you-call-it?—a presentiment—that somehow, in some way I didn’t understand, I was mixed up in it, or was soon going to be. I think the whole fearful family had got on my nerves to such an extent that the mere sight of any of them made me jumpy.
And, by Jove, I was perfectly right, don’t you know. In a day or two along came the usual telegram from Florence, telling me to come to Eaton Square.
I was getting about full up with Eaton Square, and I made up my mind I wouldn’t go near the place. But of course I did. When it came to the point I simply hadn’t the common manly courage to keep away.
Florence was there in the drawing-room as before.
“Reginald,” she said, “I think I shall go raving mad.”
This struck me as a jolly happy solution of everybody’s troubles, but I felt it was too good to be true.
“Over a week ago,” she went on, “my brother Edwin came up to London to consult a book in the British Museum. I anticipated that this would occupy perhaps an afternoon, and was expecting him back by an early train next day. He did not arrive. He sent an incoherent telegram. But even then I suspected nothing.” She paused. “Yesterday morning,” she said, “I had a letter from my aunt Augusta.”
She paused again. She seemed to think I ought to be impressed.
“Very jolly,” I said.
Her eyes tied a bow-knot in my spine.
“Jolly! Let me read you her letter. No, I will tell you its contents. Aunt Augusta had seen Edwin lunching at the Savoy with a creature.”
“My aunt described her. Her hair was of a curious dull-bronze tint.”
“The woman’s. It was then that I began to suspect. How many women with dull-bronze hair does Edwin know?”
“Great Scot! Why ask me?”
I had got used to being treated as a sort of “Hey, Bill!” by Florence, but I was hanged if I was going to be expected to be an encyclopædia as well.
“One,” she said. “That appalling Darrell woman.”
She drew a deep breath.
“Yesterday evening,” she said, “I saw them together in a taximeter cab. They were obviously on their way to some theatre.”
She fixed me with her eye.
“Reginald,” she said, “you must go and see her the first thing to-morrow.”
“What!” I cried. “Me? Why? Why me?”
“Because you are responsible for the whole affair. You introduced Percy to her. You suggested that she should come to Weeting. Go to her tomorrow and ascertain her intentions.”
“The very first thing.”
“But wouldn’t it be better to collar Edwin and pump him?”
“I have made every endeavour to see Edwin, but he deliberately avoids me. His answers to my telegrams are wilfully evasive.”
There was no doubt that Edwin had effected a thorough bolt. He was having quite the holiday. Two weeks in sunny London, what? And from what I’d seen of him, he seemed to be thriving on it. I didn’t wonder Florence had got rather anxious. She’d have been more anxious if she had seen him when I did. He’d got a sort of “London is so bracing” look about him which meant a whole lot of trouble before he trotted back to the fold.
Well, I started off to interview Mrs. Darrell, and, believe me, I didn’t half like the prospect. I think they ought to train the District Messengers to do this sort of thing.
I found her alone. The rush-hour of clients hadn’t begun.
“How do you do, Mr. Pepper?” she said. “How nice of you to call.”
Very friendly, and all that. It made the situation dashed difficult for a chap, if you see what I mean.
“I say, you know,” I said. “What about it, don’t you know?”
“I certainly don’t,” she said. “What ought I to know about what?”
“Well, about Edwin—Lord Weeting,” I said. “How do we go?”
“Oh! So you’re an ambassador, Mr. Pepper?”
“I feel more like a bally ass. But as a matter of fact I did come to see if I could find out how things were running. What’s going to happen?”
“Are you consulting me professionally? If so, you must show me your hand. Or perhaps you would rather I showed you mine?”
It was rather subtle, but I got on to it after a bit.
“Yes,” I said, “I wish you would.”
“Very well. Do you remember a conversation we had, Mr. Pepper, my last afternoon at Weeting? We came to the conclusion that I was rather a vindictive woman.”
“By Jove! You’re ragging old Edwin so as to score off Florence?”
She flushed a little.
“How very direct you are, Mr. Pepper! How do you know I’m not very fond of Lord Weeting? At any rate, I’m very sorry for him.”
“He’s such a chump.”
“But he’s improving every day. Have you seen him? You must notice the difference?”
“There is a difference.”
“He only wanted taking out of himself. I think he found Lady Florence’s influence a little oppressive sometimes.”
“No. But, I say,” I said, “are you going to marry him?”
“I’m only a palmist. I don’t pretend to be a clairvoyante. A marriage may be indicated in Lord Weeting’s hand, but I couldn’t say without looking at it.”
“But, look here, I shall have to tell Lady Florence something definite, or she won’t give me a moment’s peace.”
“Tell her Lord Weeting is of age. Surely that’s definite enough?”
And I couldn’t get any more out of her. I went back to Florence and reported. She got pretty excited about it.
“Oh, if I were a man!” she said.
I didn’t see how that would have helped. I said so.
“I’d go straight to Edwin and drag him away. He is staying at his club. If I were a man I could go in and find him——”
“Not if you weren’t a member,” I said.
“And tell him what I thought of his conduct. As I’m only a woman, I have to wait in the hall while a deceitful small boy pretends to go and look for him.”
It had never struck me before what a jolly sound institution a club was. Only a few days back I’d been thinking that the subscription to mine was a bit steep. But now I saw that the place earned every penny of the money.
“Have you no influence with him, Reginald?”
I said I didn’t think I had. She called me something. Invertebrate, or something. I didn’t catch it.
“Then there’s only one thing to do. You must find my father and tell him all. Perhaps you may rouse him to a sense of what is right. You may make him remember that he has duties as a parent.”
I thought it far more likely that I should make him remember that he had a foot. I hadn’t a very vivid recollection of Lord Worplesdon. I was quite a kid when he made his great speech on the egg question and legged it for the Continent; but what I did recollect didn’t encourage me to go and chat with him about the duties of a parent. As I remembered him, he was a rather large man with elephantiasis of the temper. I distinctly recalled one occasion when I was spending my summer holidays at Weeting and he found me trying to shave old Percy, then a kid of fourteen, with his razor.
“I shouldn’t be able to find him,” I said.
“You can get his address from his solicitors.”
“He may be at the North Pole.”
“Then you must go to the North Pole.”
“But, I say——”
“Oh, all right.”
I knew just what would happen. Parbury, Parbury, Parbury, and Stevens, the solicitors, simply looked at me as if I had been caught stealing milk-cans. At least, Stevens did. And the three Parburys would have done it, too, only they had been dead a good time. Finally, after drinking me in for about a quarter of an hour, Stevens said that if I desired to address a communication to his lordship care of this office, it would be duly forwarded. Good morning. Good morning. Anything further? No, thanks. Good morning. Good morning.
I handed the glad news on to Florence and left her to do what she liked about it. She went down and interviewed Stevens. I suppose he’d had experience of her. At any rate, he didn’t argue. He yielded up the address in level time. Lord Worplesdon was in Paris, but was to arrive in London that night, and would doubtless be at his club.
It was the same club where Edwin was hiding from Florence. I pointed this out to her.
“There’s no need for me to butt in, after all,” I said. “He’ll meet Edwin there, and they can fight it out in the smoking-room. You’ve only to drop him a line explaining the facts.”
“I shall certainly communicate with him in writing, but nevertheless you must see him. I cannot explain everything in a letter.”
“But doesn’t it strike you that he may think it pretty bad gall—impertinence, don’t you know—for a comparative stranger like me to be tackling a delicate family affair like this?”
“You will explain that you are acting for me.”
“It wouldn’t be better if old Percy sallied along instead?”
“I wish you to go, Reginald.”
Well, of course, it was all right, don’t you know, but I was losing a stone a day over the business. I was getting so light that I felt that, when Lord Worplesdon kicked me, I should just soar up to the ceiling like an air-balloon.
The club was one of those large clubs that look like prisons. I used to go there to lunch with my uncle, the one who left me his money, and I always hated the place. It was one of those clubs that are all red leather and hushed whispers.
I’m bound to say, though, there wasn’t much hushed whispering when I started my interview with Lord Worplesdon. His voice was one of my childhood’s recollections.
He was most extraordinarily like Florence. He had just the same eyes. I felt boneless from the start.
“Good morning,” I said.
“What?” he said. “Speak up. Don’t mumble.”
I hadn’t known he was deaf. The last time we’d had any conversation—on the subject of razors—he had done all the talking. This seemed to me to put the lid on it.
“I only said ‘Good morning,’ ” I shouted.
“Good what? Speak up. I believe you’re sucking sweets. Oh, good morning? I remember you now. You’re the boy who spoiled my razor.”
I didn’t half like this re-opening of old wounds. I hurried on.
“I came about Edwin, Lord Worplesdon,” I said.
“Edwin. Your son.”
“What about him?”
“Florence told me to see you.”
“Florence. Your daughter.”
“What about her?”
All this comedy duo business, mind you, as if we were bellowing at each other across the street. All round the room you could see old gentlemen shooting out of their chairs like rockets and dashing off at a gallop to write to the committee about it. Thousands of waiters had appeared from nowhere, and were hanging about dusting table-legs. If ever a business wanted to be discussed privately, this seemed to me to be it. And it was just about as private as a conversation through megaphones in Piccadilly Circus.
“Didn’t she write to you?”
“I got a letter from her. I tore it up. I didn’t read it.”
Jolly, what? I began to understand what a shipwrecked Johnny must feel when he finds there’s something gone wrong with the life-belt.
I thought I might as well get to the point and get it over.
“Edwin’s going to marry a palmist,” I said.
“Who the devil’s Harry?”
“Not Harry. Marry. He’s going to marry a palmist.”
About four hundred waiters noticed a speck of dust on an ash-tray at the table next to ours, and swooped down on it.
“Edwin is going to marry a palmist?”
“She must be mad. Hasn’t she seen Edwin?”
And just then who should stroll in but Edwin himself. I sighted him and gave him a hail.
He curveted up to us. It was amazing, the way the fellow had altered. He looked like a two-year-old. Flower in his buttonhole, and a six-inch grin, and all that. Lord Worplesdon seemed surprised, too. I didn’t wonder. The Edwin he remembered was a pretty different kind of a chap.
“Halloa, dad!” he said. “Fancy meeting you here! Have a cigarette?”
He shoved out his case. Lord Worplesdon helped himself in a sort of dazed way.
“You are Edwin?” he said, slowly.
I began to sidle out. They didn’t notice me. They had moved to a settee, and Edwin seemed to be telling his father a funny story. At least, he was talking and grinning, and Lord Worplesdon was making a noise like distant thunder, which I supposed was his way of chuckling. I slid out and left them.
Some days later Percy called on me. The old boy was looking scared.
“Reggie,” he said, “what do doctors call it when you think you see things when you don’t? Hal-something. I’ve got it, whatever it is. It’s sometimes caused by overwork. But it can’t be that with me, because I’ve not been doing any work. You don’t think my brain’s going or any bally rot like that, do you?”
“What do you mean? What’s been happening?”
“It’s like being haunted. I read a story somewhere of a fellow who kept thinking he saw a battleship bearing down on him. I’ve got it, too. Four times in the last three days I could have sworn I saw my father and Edwin. I saw them as plainly as I see you. And, of course, Edwin’s at Weeting and father’s on the Continent somewhere. Do you think it’s some sort of a warning? Do you think I’m going to die?”
“It’s all right, old man,” I said. “As a matter of fact, they are both in London just now.’’
“You don’t mean that? Great Scot, what a relief! But, Reggie, old top, it couldn’t have been them really. The last time was at Covent Garden, and the chap I mistook for Edwin was wearing a false nose and dancing all by himself in the middle of the floor.”
I admitted it was pretty queer.
I was away for a few days after that in the country. When I got back I found a pile of telegrams waiting for me. They were all from Florence, and they all wanted me to go to Eaton Square. The last of the batch, which had arrived that morning, was so jolly peremptory that I felt as if something had bitten me when I read it.
For a moment I admit I hung back. Then I rallied. There are times in a man’s life when he has got to show a bit of the old bulldog British pluck, don’t you know, if he wants to preserve his self-respect. I did then. My bag was still unpacked. I told my man to put it on a cab. And in about two ticks I was bowling off to Charing Cross. I left for France by the night boat.
About three weeks later I fetched up at Nice. You can’t walk far at Nice without bumping into a Casino. The one I hit my first evening was the Casino Municipale, in the Place Massena. It looked more or less of a Home from Home, so I strolled in. There was quite a crowd round the boule-tables, and I squashed in. And when I’d worked through into the front rank I happened to look down the table, and there was Edwin, with a green Tyrolese hat hanging over one ear, clutching out for a lot of five-franc pieces which the croupier was steering towards him at the end of a rake.
I was feeling lonely, for I knew no one in the place, so I edged round in his direction.
Half-way there I heard my name called, and there was Mrs. Darrell.
I saw the whole thing in a flash. Lord Worplesdon hadn’t done a thing to prevent it, and the marriage had taken place. And here they were on their honeymoon. I wondered what Florence was thinking of it.
“Well, well, here we all are,” I said. “I’ve just seen Edwin. He seems to be winning.”
“Dear boy!” she said. “He does enjoy it so. I think he gets so much more out of life than he used to, don’t you?”
“Rather! May I wish you happiness?”
“Thank you so much, Mr. Pepper. I sent you a piece of the cake, but I suppose you never got it.”
“Lord Worplesdon didn’t make any objections, then?”
“On the contrary. He was more in favour of the marriage than anyone.”
“And I’ll tell you why,” I said. “I’m rather a chump, you know, but I observe things. I bet he was grateful to you for taking Edwin in hand and making him human.”
“Why, you’re wonderful, Mr. Pepper. That is exactly what he said himself. It was that that first made us friends.”
“I’m afraid Florence has taken the thing a little badly. But I hope to win her over in time. I want all my children to love me.”
“All your what?”
“I think of them as my children, you see, Mr. Pepper. I adopted them as my own when I married their father. Did you think I had married Edwin? What a funny mistake! I am very fond of Edwin, but not in that way. No; I married Lord Worplesdon. We left him at our villa to-night, as he had some letters to get off. You must come and see us, Mr. Pepper. I always feel that it was you who brought us together, you know. I wonder if you will be seeing Florence when you get back? Will you give her my very best love?”