Tit-Bits, June 25, 1910
CHAPTER IX. (continued).
“Been looking at the water?” inquired Lord Dreever. “I have. I often do. Don’t you think it sort of makes a chap feel—oh, you know. Sort of—I don’t know how to put it.”
“Mushy?” said Jimmy.
“I was going to say poetical. Suppose there’s a girl——”
He paused and looked down at the water. Jimmy was with him there. There was a girl.
“I saw my party off in a taxi,” continued Lord Dreever, “and came down here for a smoke. Only I hadn’t a match. Have you?”
Jimmy handed over his match-box. Lord Dreever lit a cigar, and fixed his gaze once more on the river.
“Ripping it looks,” he said.
“Funny thing,” said Lord Dreever. “In the daytime the water here looks all muddy and beastly. Depressing, I call it. But at night——” He paused. “I say,” he went on, after a moment, “did you see the girl I was with at the Savoy?”
“Yes,” said Jimmy.
“She’s a ripper,” said Lord Dreever, devoutly.
On the Thames Embankment, in the small hours of a summer morning, there is no such thing as a stranger. The man you talk with is a friend, and if he will listen—as, by the etiquette of the place, he must—you may pour out your heart to him without restraint. It is expected of you.
“I’m fearfully in love with her,” said his lordship.
“She looked a charming girl,” said Jimmy.
They examined the water in silence. From somewhere out in the night came the sound of oars, where the police-boat moved on its patrol.
“Does she make you want to go to Japan?” asked Jimmy, suddenly.
“Eh?” said Lord Dreever, startled. “Japan?”
Jimmy adroitly abandoned the position of confidant and seized that of confider.
“I met a girl a year ago. Only really met her once, and even then—oh, well. Anyway, it’s made me so restless that I haven’t been able to stay in one place for more than a month on end. I tried Morocco, and had to quit. I tried Spain, and that wasn’t any good either. The other day I heard a fellow say that Japan was a pretty interesting sort of country. I was wondering whether I wouldn’t give it a trial.”
Lord Dreever regarded this travelled man with interest.
“It beats me,” he said, wonderingly. “What do you want to leg it about the world like that for? What’s the trouble? Why don’t you stay where the girl is?”
“I don’t know where she is.”
“Where did you see her last?” asked his lordship, as if Molly were a mislaid penknife.
“But how do you mean, disappeared? Don’t you know her address?”
“I don’t even know her name.”
“But dash it all, I say, I mean! Have you ever spoken to her?”
“Only once. It’s rather a complicated story. At any rate, she’s gone.”
Lord Dreever said that it was a rum business. Jimmy conceded the point.
“Seems to me,” said his lordship, “we’re both in the cart.”
“What’s your trouble?”
Lord Dreever hesitated.
“Oh, well, it’s only that I want to marry one girl, and my uncle’s dead set on my marrying another.”
“Are you afraid of hurting your uncle’s feelings?”
“It’s not so much hurting his feelings. It’s—oh, well, it’s too long to tell now. I think I’ll be getting home. I’m staying at our place in Eaton Square.”
“How are you going? If you’ll walk I’ll come some of the way with you.”
“Right you are. Let’s be pushing along, shall we?”
They turned up into the Strand, and through Trafalgar Square into Piccadilly. Piccadilly has a restful aspect in the small hours. Some men were cleaning the road with water from a long hose. The swishing of the torrent on the parched wood was musical.
Just beyond the gate of Hyde Park, to the right of the road, stands a cabmen’s shelter. Conversation and emotion had made Lord Dreever thirsty. He suggested coffee as a suitable conclusion to the night’s revels.
“I often go in here when I’m up in town,” he said. “The cabbies don’t mind. They’re sportsmen.”
The shelter was nearly full when they opened the door. It was very warm inside. A cabman gets so much fresh air in the exercise of his professional duties that he is apt to avoid it in private life. The air was heavy with conflicting scents. Fried onions seemed to be having the best of the struggle for the moment, though plug tobacco competed gallantly. A keenly analytical nose might also have detected the presence of steak and coffee.
A dispute seemed to be in progress as they entered.
“You don’t wish you was in Russher,” said a voice.
“Yus, I do wish I wos in Russher,” retorted a shrivelled mummy of a cabman who was blowing patiently at a saucerful of coffee.
“Why do you wish you was in Russher?” asked the interlocutor, introducing a Massa Bones and Massa Johnsing touch into the dialogue.
“Because yer can wade over yer knees in bla-a-ad there,” said the mummy.
“In bla-a-ad—ruddy bla-a-ad. That’s why I wish I wos in Russher.”
“Cheery cove that,” said Lord Dreever. “I say, can you give us some coffee?”
“I might try Russia after, Dreever,” said Jimmy, meditatively.
The lethal liquid was brought. Conversation began again. Other experts gave their views on the internal affairs of Russia. Jimmy would have enjoyed it more if he had been less sleepy. His back was wedged comfortably against the wall of the shelter, and the heat of the room stole into his brain. The voices of the disputants grew fainter and fainter.
He had almost dozed off when a new voice cut through the murmur and woke him. It was a voice he knew, and the accent was a familiar accent.
“Gents, excuse me.”
He looked up. The mists of sleep shredded away. A ragged youth with a crop of fiery red hair was standing in the doorway, regarding the occupants of the shelter with a grin, half whimsical, half defiant.
Jimmy recognized him. It was Spike Mullins.
“Excuse me,” said Spike Mullins, “is dere any gent in dis bunch of professional beauts wants to give a poor orphan dat suffers from a painful toist something to drink? Gents is courteously requested not to speak all in a crowd.”
“Shet that blinking door,” said the mummy cabman, sourly.
“And ’op it,” added his late opponent. “We don’t want none of your sort ’ere.”
“Den you ain’t my long-lost brudders, after all,” said the new-comer, regretfully. “I t’ought youse didn’t look handsome enough for dat. Good night to youse gents.”
“Shet that door, can’t yer, when I’m tellin’ yer!” said the mummy, with increased asperity.
Spike was reluctantly withdrawing, when Jimmy rose.
“One moment,” he said.
Never in his life had Jimmy failed to stand by a friend in need. Spike was not, perhaps, exactly a friend, but even an acquaintance could rely on Jimmy when down in the world. And Spike was manifestly in that condition.
A look of surprise came into the Bowery boy’s face, followed by one of stolid woodenness. He took the sovereign which Jimmy held out to him with a muttered word of thanks and shuffled out of the room.
“Can’t see what you wanted to give him anything for,” said Lord Dreever. “Chap’ll only spend it getting tight.”
“Oh, he reminded me of a man I used to know.”
“Did he? Barnum’s what-is-it, I should think,” said his lordship. “Shall we be moving?”
JIMMY ADOPTS A LAME DOG.
A black figure detached itself from the blacker shadows and shuffled stealthily to where Jimmy stood on the doorstep.
“That you, Spike?” asked Jimmy, in a low voice.
“Dat’s right, boss.”
“Come on in.”
He led the way up to his rooms, switched on the electric light, and shut the door. Spike stood blinking at the sudden glare. He twirled his battered hat in his hands. His red hair shone fiercely.
Jimmy inspected him out of the corner of his eye, and came to the conclusion that the Mullins finances must be at a low ebb. Spike’s costume differed in several important details from that of the ordinary well-groomed man about town. There was nothing of the flâneur about the Bowery boy. His hat was of the soft black felt fashionable on the East Side of New York. It was in poor condition, and looked as if it had been up too late the night before. A black tail-coat, burst at the elbows and stained with mud, was tightly buttoned across his chest, this evidently with the idea of concealing the fact that he wore no shirt—an attempt which was not wholly successful. A pair of grey flannel trousers and boots, out of which two toes peeped coyly, completed the picture.
Even Spike himself seemed to be aware that there were points in his appearance which would have distressed the editor of the ‘Tailor and Cutter.’
“ ’Scuse these duds,” he said. “Me man’s bin an’ mislaid de trunk wit me best suit in. Dis is me number two.”
“Don’t mention it, Spike,” said Jimmy. “You look a perfect matinée idol. Have a drink?”
Spike’s eyes gleamed as he reached for the decanter. He took a seat.
“Sure. T’anks, boss.”
Jimmy lit his pipe. Spike, after a few genteel sips, threw off his restraint and finished the rest of his glass at a gulp.
“Try another?” suggested Jimmy.
Spike’s grin showed that the idea had been well received.
Jimmy sat and smoked in silence for awhile. He was thinking the thing over. He felt like a detective who has found a clue. At last he would be able to discover the name of the Lusitania girl. The discovery would not take him very far, certainly, but it would be something. Possibly Spike might even be able to fix the position of the house they had broken into that night.
Spike was looking at him over his glass with silent admiration. This flat, which Jimmy had rented for a year in the hope that the possession of a fixed abode might help to tie him down to one spot, was handsomely, even luxuriously, furnished. To Spike, every chair and table in the room had a romance of its own as having been purchased out of the proceeds of that New Asiatic Bank robbery, or from the revenue accruing from the Duchess of Havant’s jewels. He was dumb with reverence for one who could make burglary pay to this extent. In his own case the profession had rarely provided anything more than bread and butter and an occasional trip to Coney Island.
Jimmy caught his eye, and spoke.
“Well, Spike,” he said. “Curious that we should meet like this?”
“De limit,” agreed Spike.
“I can’t imagine you three thousand miles from New York. How do you know the cars still run both ways on Broadway?”
A wistful look came into Spike’s eyes.
“I t’ought it was time I give old Lunnon a call. T’ings was gettin’ too fierce in Noo York. De cops was layin’ for me. Dey didn’t seem like as if they had any use for me. So I beat it.”
“Bad luck,” said Jimmy.
“Fierce,” agreed Spike.
“Do you know, Spike,” said Jimmy, “I spent a great deal of time before I left New York looking for you.”
“Gee, I wish you’d found me. And did youse want me to help on some lay, boss?”
“Well, no, not that. Do you remember that night we broke into that house up-town—the police-captain’s house?”
“What was his name?”
“What, de cop’s? Why, McEachern, boss.”
“Mac what? How do you spell it?”
“Search me,” said Spike, simply.
“Say it again. Fill your lungs and enunciate slowly and clearly. Be bell-like. Now.”
“Ah! And where was the house? Can you remember that?”
Spike’s forehead wrinkled.
“It’s gone,” he said at last. “It was somewheres up some street up de town.”
“That’s a lot of help,” said Jimmy. “Try again.”
“It’ll come back some time, boss, sure.”
“Then I’m going to keep an eye on you till it does. Just for the moment you’re the most important man in the world to me. Where are you living?”
“Me? Why, in de Park. Dat’s right. One of dem swell detached benches wit a southern exposure.”
“Well, unless you prefer it, you needn’t sleep in the Park any more. You can pitch your moving tent with me.”
“What, here, boss?”
“Unless we move.”
“Me fer dis,” said Spike, rolling luxuriously in his chair.
“You’ll want some clothes,” said Jimmy. “We’ll get those to-morrow. You’re the sort of figure they can fit off the peg. You’re not too tall, which is a good thing.”
“Bad t’ing for me, boss. If I’d bin taller I’d have stood for being a cop, and bin buying a brown-stone house on Fifth Avenue by this. It’s de cops makes de big money in little old Manhattan, dat’s who it is.”
“The man who knows!” said Jimmy. “Tell me more, Spike. I suppose a good many of the New York force do get rich by graft?”
“Sure. Look at old man McEachern.”
“I wish I could. Tell me about him, Spike. You seemed to know him pretty well.”
“Me? Sure. Dere wasn’t a worse grafter dan him in de bunch. He was out for de dough all the time. But, say, did youse ever see his girl?”
“What’s that?” said Jimmy, sharply.
“I seen her once.” Spike became almost lyrical in his enthusiasm. “Gee, she was a bird. A peach for fair. I’d have left me happy home for her. Molly was her monaker. She——”
Jimmy was glaring at him.
“Drop it!” he cried.
“What’s dat, boss?” said Spike.
“Cut it out!” said Jimmy, savagely.
Spike looked at him amazed.
“Sure,” he said, puzzled, but realizing that his words had not pleased the great man.
Jimmy chewed the stem of his pipe irritably, while Spike, full of excellent intentions, sat on the edge of his chair drawing sorrowfully at his cigar and wondering what he had done to give offence.
“Boss?” said Spike.
“Boss, what’s doin’ here? Put me next to de game. Is it de old lay? Banks and jools from duchesses! You’ll be able to let me sit in on de game, won’t you?”
“I’d quite forgotten I hadn’t told you about myself, Spike. I’ve retired.”
The horrid truth sank slowly into the other’s mind.
“Say! What’s dat, boss? You’re cuttin’ it out?”
“That’s it. Absolutely.”
“Ain’t youse swiping no more jools?”
“Nor usin’ de what’s-its-name blow-pipe?”
“I have sold my oxy-acetylene blow-pipe, given away my anæsthetics, and am going to turn over a new leaf and settle down as a respectable citizen.”
Spike gasped. His world had fallen about his ears. His excursion with Jimmy, the master cracksman, in New York had been the highest and proudest memory of his life, and now that he had met him again in London he had looked forward to a long and prosperous partnership in crime. He was content that his own share in the partnership should be humble. It was enough for him to be connected, however humbly, with such a master. He had looked upon the richness of London, and he had said with Blucher, “What a city to loot!”
And here was his idol shattering his visions with a word.
“Have another drink, Spike,” said the Lost Leader, sympathetically. “It’s a shock to you, I expect.”
“I t’ought, boss——”
“I know, I know. These are life’s tragedies. I’m very sorry for you; but it can’t be helped.”
Spike sat silent, with a long face. Jimmy slapped him on the shoulder.
“Cheer up,” he said. “How do you know that living honestly may not be splendid fun? Numbers of people do it, you know, and enjoy themselves tremendously. You must give it a trial, Spike.”
“Me, boss? What, me too?”
“Rather. You’re my link with—— I don’t want to have you remembering that address in the second month of a ten-year spell at Dartmoor. I’m going to look after you, Spike, my son, like a lynx. We’ll go out together and see life. Buck up, Spike. Be cheerful. Grin!”
After a moment’s reflection the other grinned, howbeit faintly.
“That’s right,” said Jimmy. “We’ll go into society, Spike, hand in hand. You’ll be a terrific success in society. All you have to do is to look cheerful, brush your hair, and keep your hands off the spoons. For in the best circles they invariably count them after the departure of the last guest.”
“Sure,” said Spike, as one who thoroughly understood this sensible precaution.
“And now,” said Jimmy, “we’ll be turning in. Can you manage sleeping on the sofa one night? Some fellows would give their bed up to you. However, I’ll have a bed made up for you to-morrow.”
“Me!” said Spike. “Gee! I’ve been sleepin’ in de Park all de last week. Dis is to de good, boss.”
AT THE TURN OF THE ROAD.
On the morning after the meeting at the Savoy, when Jimmy, having sent Spike off to the tailor’s, was dealing with a combination of breakfast and lunch at his flat, Lord Dreever called.
“Thought I should find you in,” observed his lordship. “Well, laddie, how goes it? Having breakfast? Eggs—and bacon! Great Scot, I couldn’t touch a thing!”
The statement was borne out by his looks. The son of a hundred earls was pale, and his eyes were markedly fish-like.
“A fellow I’ve got stopping with me—taking him down to Dreever with me to-day—man I met at the club—fellow named Hargate. Don’t know if you know him? No? Well, he was still up when I got back last night, and we stayed up playing pills—he’s rotten at pills; something frightful; I give him thirty—till five this morning. I feel fearfully cheap. Wouldn’t have got up at all, only I’m due to catch the two-fifteen down to Dreever. It’s the only good train.”
He dropped into a chair.
“Sorry you don’t feel up to breakfast,” said Jimmy, helping himself to marmalade. “I am generally to be found among those lining up when the gong goes. I’ve breakfasted on a glass of water and a bag of bird-seed in my time. That sort of thing makes you ready to take whatever you can get. Seen the papers?”
Jimmy finished his breakfast and lit a pipe. Lord Dreever laid down the paper.
“I say,” he said, “what I came round about was this. What have you got on just now?”
Jimmy had imagined that his friend had dropped in to return the five-pound note he had borrowed, but his lordship maintained a complete reserve on the subject. Jimmy was to discover later that this weakness of memory where financial obligations were concerned was a leading trait in Lord Dreever’s character.
“To-day, do you mean?” said Jimmy.
“Well, in the near future. What I mean is, why not put off that Japan trip you spoke about and come down to Dreever with me?”
Jimmy reflected. After all, Japan or Dreever, it made very little difference. And it would be interesting seeing a place about which he had read so much.
“That’s very good of you,” he said. “You’re sure it will be all right? It won’t be upsetting your arrangements?”
“Not a bit. The more the merrier. Can you catch the two-fifteen? It’s fearfully short notice.”
“Heavens, yes. I can pack in ten minutes. Thanks very much.”
“Stout fellow. There’ll be shooting and all that sort of rot. Oh, and by the way. Are you any good at acting? I mean, I believe there are going to be private theatricals of sorts. A man called Charteris is getting them up. Cambridge man; belongs to the footlights. Always getting up theatricals. Rot, I call it; but you can’t stop him. Do you do anything in that line?”
“Put me down for what you like, from Emperor of Morocco to Confused Noise Without. I was on the stage once. I’m particularly good at shifting scenery.”
“Good for you. Well, so long. Two-fifteen from Paddington, remember. I’ll meet you there. I’ve got to go and see a fellow now.”
“I’ll look out for you.”
A sudden thought occurred to Jimmy. Spike! He had forgotten Spike for the moment. It was vital that the Bowery boy should not be lost sight of again. He was the one link with the little house somewhere beyond One Hundred and Fiftieth Street. He could not leave the Bowery boy at the flat. A vision rose in his mind of Spike alone in London with Savoy Mansions as a base for his operations. No; Spike must be transplanted to the country. He could not seem to see Spike in the country. His boredom would probably be pathetic. But it was the only way.
Lord Dreever facilitated matters.
“By the way, Pitt,” he said, “you’ve got a man of sorts, of course? One of those frightful fellows who forget to pack your collars! Bring him along, of course.”
“Thanks,” said Jimmy. “I will.”
The matter had scarcely been settled when the door opened and revealed the subject of discussion. Wearing a broad grin of mingled pride and bashfulness, and looking very stiff and awkward in one of the brightest tweed suits ever seen off the stage, Spike stood for a moment in the doorway, to let his appearance sink into the spectator; then advanced into the room.
“How do dese strike you, boss?” he inquired, genially, as Lord Dreever gaped in astonishment at this bright being.
“Pretty nearly blind, Spike,” said Jimmy. “What made you get those? We use electric light here.”
Spike was full of news.
“Say, boss, dat clothing-store’s a willy wonder, sure. De old mug what showed me round give me de frozen face when I come in foist. ‘What’s doin’?’ he says. ‘To de woods wit you, git de hook!’ But I hauls out de plunks you give me, an’ tells him how I’m here to get a dude suit, an’ Gee! if he don’t haul out suits by de mile. Give me a toist, it did, watching him. ‘It’s up to youse,’ says de mug. ‘Choose somet’ing. You pays de money, an’ we does de rest.’ So I says dis is de one, and I put down de plunks, an’ here I am, boss.”
“I noticed that, Spike,” said Jimmy. “I could see you in the dark.”
“Don’t you like de duds, boss?” inquired Spike, anxiously.
“They’re the last word,” said Jimmy. “You’d make Solomon in all his glory look like a tramp cyclist.”
“Dat’s right,” agreed Spike. “Deyse de limit.”
And, apparently oblivious to the presence of Lord Dreever, who had been watching him in blank silence since his entrance, the Bowery boy proceeded to execute a mysterious shuffling dance on the carpet.
This was too much for the overwrought brain of his lordship.
“Good-bye, Pitt,” he said; “I’m off. Got to see a man.”
Jimmy saw him to the door.
Outside, Lord Dreever placed the palm of his right hand on his forehead.
“I say, Pitt,” he said.
“Who the deuce’s that?”
“Who? Spike? Oh, that’s my man.”
“Your man! Is he always like that? I mean going on like a frightful music-hall comedian—dancing, you know? And, I say, what on earth language was that he was talking? I couldn’t understand one word in ten.”
“Oh, that’s American—the Bowery variety.”
“Oh! Well, I suppose it’s all right if you understand it. I can’t. By Gad!” he broke off, with a chuckle, “I’d give something to see him talking to old Saunders, our butler at home. He’s got the manners of a duke.”
“Spike should revise those,” said Jimmy.
“What do you call him?”
“Rummy name, isn’t it?”
“Fashionable in the States; short for Algernon.”
“He seemed pretty chummy.”
“That’s his independent bringing-up. They’re all like that in America.”
“You’d love it.”
“Well, so long.”
On the bottom step Lord Dreever halted.
“I say. I’ve got it!”
“Good for you; got what?”
“Why, I knew I’d seen that chap’s face somewhere before, only I couldn’t place him. I’ve got him now. He’s the Johnny who came into the shelter last night. Chap you gave a quid to.”
Spike’s was one of those faces which, without being essentially beautiful, stamp themselves on the memory.
“You’re quite right,” said Jimmy. “I was wondering if you would recognize him. Would you prefer a cigar or a cocoanut? The fact is, he’s a man I once employed over in New York, and when I came across him over here he was so evidently wanting a bit of help that I took him on again. As a matter of fact I needed somebody to look after my things, and Spike can do it as well as anybody else.”
“I see. Not bad my spotting him, was it? Well, I must be off. Good-bye. Two-fifteen at Paddington. Meet you there. Book for Dreever if you’re there before me.”
Jimmy returned to the dining-room. Spike, who was examining as much as he could of himself in the glass, turned round with his wonted grin.
“Say, who’s de gazebo, boss? Ain’t he de mug youse was wit last night?”
“That’s the man. We’re going down with him to the country to-day, Spike, so be ready.”
“On your way, boss. What’s dat?”
“He has invited us to his country house, and we’re going.”
“What? Bote of us?”
“Yes. I told him you were my servant. I hope you aren’t offended?”
“Nit. What’s dere to be offended at, boss?”
“That’s all right. Well, we’d better be packing. We have to be at the station at a quarter to two.”
“Did you get any other clothes besides what you’ve got on?”
“Nit. What do I want wit more dan one dude suit?”
“I approve of your rugged simplicity,” said Jimmy, “but what you’re wearing is a town suit. Excellent for the Park or the Marchioness’s Thursday crush, but essentially metropolitan. You must get something else for the country, something dark and quiet. I’ll come and help you choose it, now.”
“Why, won’t dis go in de country?”
“Not on your life, Spike. It would unsettle the rustic mind. They’re fearfully particular about that sort of thing in England.”
“Deyse to de bad,” said the baffled disciple of Beau Brummell, with deep discontent.
“And there’s just one more thing, Spike. I know you’ll excuse my mentioning it. When we’re at Dreever Castle you will find yourself within reach of a good deal of silver and other things. Would it be too much to ask you to forget your professional instincts? I mentioned this before in a general sort of way, but this is a particular case.”
“Ain’t I to get busy at all, den?” queried Spike.
“Not so much as a salt-spoon,” said Jimmy, firmly. “Now we’ll whistle a cab and go and choose you some more clothes.”
Accompanied by Spike, who came within an ace of looking almost respectable in new blue serge (“small gent’s”—off the peg), Jimmy arrived at Paddington with a quarter of an hour to spare. Lord Dreever appeared ten minutes later, accompanied by a man of about Jimmy’s age. He was tall and thin, with cold eyes and tight, thin lips. His clothes fitted him in the way clothes do fit one man in a thousand. They were the best part of him. His general appearance gave one the idea that his meals did him little good, and his meditations rather less. He had practically no conversation.
This was Lord Dreever’s friend Hargate—the Hon. Louis Hargate. Lord Dreever made the two acquainted; but even as they shook hands Jimmy had an impression that he had seen the man before, but where or in what circumstances he could not remember. Hargate appeared to have no recollection of him, so he did not mention the matter. A man who has led a wandering life often sees faces which come back to him later on, absolutely detached from their context. He might merely have passed Lord Dreever’s friend in the street. But Jimmy had an idea that the other had figured in some episode which at the moment had had an importance.
What that episode was had escaped him. He dismissed the thing from his mind. It was not worth harrying his memory about.
Judicious tipping had secured them a compartment to themselves. Hargate, having read the evening paper, went to sleep in the far corner. Jimmy and Lord Dreever, who sat opposite one another, fell into a desultory conversation.
At Reading Lord Dreever’s remarks took a somewhat intimate turn. Jimmy was one of those men whose manner invites confidences. His lordship began to unburden his soul of certain facts relating to the family.
“Have you ever met my Uncle Thomas?” he inquired. “You know Blunt’s Stores? Well, he’s Blunt. It’s a company now, but he still runs it. He married my aunt. You’ll meet him at Dreever.”
Jimmy said he would be delighted.
“I bet you won’t,” said the last of the Dreevers, with candour. “He’s a frightful man—the limit. Always fussing round like a hen. Gives me a fearful time, I can tell you. Look here, I don’t mind telling you—we’re pals—he’s dead set on my marrying a rich girl.”
“Well, that sounds all right. There are worse hobbies. Any particular rich girl?”
“There’s always one. He sticks me on to one after another. Quite nice girls, you know, some of them, only I want to marry somebody else—that girl you saw me with at the Savoy.”
“Why don’t you tell your uncle?”
“He’d have a fit. She hasn’t a penny. Nor have I, except what I get from him. Of course, this is strictly between ourselves.”
“I know everybody thinks there’s money attached to the title; but there isn’t—not a penny. When my Aunt Julia married Sir Thomas the whole frightful show was pretty well in pawn. So you see how it is.”
“Ever think of work?” asked Jimmy.
“Work?” said Lord Dreever, reflectively. “Well, you know, I shouldn’t mind work, only I’m dashed if I can see what I could do. I shouldn’t know how. Nowadays you want a fearful specialized education, and so on. Tell you what, though. I shouldn’t mind the Diplomatic Service. One of these days I shall have a dash at asking my uncle to put up the money. I believe I shouldn’t be half bad at that. I’m rather a quick sort of chap at times, you know. Lots of fellows have said so.”
He cleared his throat modestly, and proceeded.
“It isn’t only my Uncle Thomas,” he said; “there’s Aunt Julia too. She’s about as much the limit as he is. I remember when I was a kid she was always sitting on me. She does still. Wait till you see her. Sort of woman who makes you feel that your hands are the colour of tomatoes and the size of legs of mutton, if you know what I mean. And talks as if she were biting at you. Frightful!”
Having unburdened himself of which criticisms he yawned, leaned back, and was presently asleep.
It was about an hour later that the train, which had been taking itself less seriously for some time, stopping at stations of quite minor importance, and generally showing a tendency to dawdle, halted again. A board with the legend “Dreever” in large letters showed that they had reached their destination.
The station-master informed Lord Dreever that her ladyship had come to meet the train in the motor-car, and was now waiting in the road outside.
Lord Dreever’s jaw fell.
“Oh, Lord!” he said. “She’s probably motored in to get the afternoon letters. That means she’s come in the runabout, and there’s only room for two of us in that. I forgot to wire that you were coming, Pitt. I only wired about Hargate. Dash it, I shall have to walk.”
His fears proved correct. The car at the station-door was small. It was obviously designed to seat four only.
Lord Dreever introduced Hargate and Jimmy to the statuesque lady in the tonneau, and then there was an awkward silence.
At this point Spike came up, chuckling amiably, with a magazine in his hand.
“Gee!” said Spike. “Say, boss, de mug what wrote dis piece must have bin livin’ out in de woods. Say, dere’s a gazebo what wants to swipe de heroine’s jools what’s locked in a drawer. So dis mug—what do you t’ink he does?” Spike laughed shortly, in professional scorn. “Why——”
“Is this gentleman a friend of yours, Spennie?” inquired Lady Julia, politely, eyeing the red-haired speaker coldly.
He looked appealingly at Jimmy.
“It’s my man,” said Jimmy. “Spike,” he added, in an undertone, “to the woods. Chase yourself. Fade away.”
“Sure,” said the abashed Spike. “Dat’s right. It ain’t up to me to come buttin’ in. Sorry, boss. Sorry, gents. Sorry, loidy. Me for the tall grass.”
“There’s a luggage-cart of sorts,” said Lord Dreever, pointing.
“Sure,” said Spike, affably.
He trotted away.
“Jump in, Pitt,” said Lord Dreever. “I’m going to walk.”
“No, I’ll walk,” said Jimmy. “I’d rather. I want a bit of exercise. Which way do I go?”
“Frightfully good of you, old chap,” said Lord Dreever. “Sure you don’t mind? I do bar walking. Right-O! You keep straight on.”
He sat down in the tonneau by his aunt’s side. The last Jimmy saw of Dreever was a hasty vision of him engaged in earnest conversation with Lady Julia. He did not seem to be enjoying himself. Nobody is at his best in conversation with a lady whom he knows to be possessed of a firm belief in the weakness of his intellect. A prolonged conversation with Lady Julia always made Lord Dreever feel as if he were being tied into knots.
Jimmy watched them out of sight and started to follow at a leisurely pace. It certainly was an ideal afternoon for a country walk. The sun was just hesitating whether to treat the time as afternoon or evening. Eventually it decided that it was evening and moderated its beams. After London, the country was deliciously fresh and cool. Jimmy felt an unwonted content. It seemed to him just then that the only thing worth doing in the world was to settle down somewhere with three acres and a cow and become pastoral.
There was a marked lack of traffic on the road. Once he met a cart and once a flock of sheep with a friendly dog. Sometimes a rabbit would dash out into the road, stop to listen, and dart into the opposite hedge, all hind-legs and white scut. But except for these he was alone in the world.
And gradually there began to be borne in upon him the conviction that he had lost his way.
It is difficult to judge distance when one is walking, but it certainly seemed to Jimmy that he must have covered five miles by this time. He must have mistaken the way. He had certainly come straight; he could not have come straighter. On the other hand, it would be quite in keeping with the cheap substitute which served the Earl of Dreever in place of a mind that he should have forgotten to mention some important turning. Jimmy sat down by the roadside.
As he sat, there came to him from down the road the sound of a horse’s feet, trotting. He got up. Here was somebody at last who would direct him.
The sound came nearer. The horse turned the corner, and Jimmy saw with surprise that it bore no rider.
“Halloa!” he said. “Accident? And, by Jove, a side-saddle!”
The curious part of it was that the horse appeared in no way a wild horse. It did not seem to be running away. It gave the impression of being out for a little trot on its own account—a sort of equine constitutional.
Jimmy stopped the horse, and led it back the way it had come. As he turned the bend in the road he saw a girl in a riding-habit running towards him. She stopped running when she caught sight of him, and slowed down to a walk.
“Thank you ever so much,” she said, taking the reins from him. “Dandy, you naughty old thing!”
Jimmy looked at her flushed, smiling face, and stood staring.
It was Molly McEachern!
interlocutor . . . Massa Bones . . . Massa Johnsing: stock characters in a minstrel show
Barnum’s what-is-it: Showman P. T. Barnum (1810–1891) exhibited William Henry Johnson (ca. 1842–1926), an African-American man with an unusually tapered head, wearing a fur suit and making ape-like grunts and movements, under the name of “What Is It?” By some accounts, Johnson did not mind posing as a freak of nature; after Barnum’s death, he appeared as “Zip, the Pinhead” in later years on stage, in circuses, and at Coney Island.
flâneur: an idle man-about-town, from the French for “stroller” or “saunterer.” Psmith describes himself as “the flaneur of Fifth Avenue” in Psmith, Journalist.
wore no shirt: reminiscent of another sartorial offender: see “The Sausage Chappie”
Blucher . . . What a city to loot!: Field-Marshall Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, who commanded the Prussian army at Waterloo, when the Prussians were in alliance with the British against the French, came to London for a thanksgiving service after the battle. He looked out from St. Paul’s across the City of London, and declared: “Was für plunder!” (adapted from a note by Geoffrey Annis at the Kipling Society website)
son of a hundred earls: Spennie is only the twelfth Earl, so this is presumably an ironic parallel to Tennyson’s Lady Clara Vere de Vere, “the daughter of a hundred Earls.”
he’s rotten at pills; something frightful; I give him thirty: British slang for billiards (first OED citation from 1896). In the American book edition, “billiards” is used; also, the handicap given is twenty in the American text, as it is in Ch. XV and Ch. XVII in all editions.
designed to seat four only: I wondered at first why Jimmy must walk, but then noted that Lady Julia is in the tonneau (rounded rear seat) of the motorcar rather than in the driver’s seat, so the fourth person in the car must be the unnamed and unmentioned chauffeur, leaving room for Spennie and Hargate as the only other passengers.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
In Ch. XI, magazine had “must have bin turn’ out in de woods”; corrected to “livin’ ” as in American book and later British book editions.
—Notes by Neil Midkiff