Tit-Bits, July 2, 1910
MAKING A START.
Self-possession was one of Jimmy’s leading characteristics, but for the moment he found himself speechless. This girl had been occupying his thoughts for so long that—in his mind—he had grown very intimate with her. It was something of a shock to come suddenly out of his dreams and face the fact that she was in reality quite a stranger to him.
A curious constraint fell upon him.
“Why, how do you do, Mr. Pitt?” she said, holding out her hand.
Jimmy began to feel better. It was something that she remembered his name.
“It’s like meeting somebody out of a dream,” said Molly. “I have sometimes wondered if you were real. Everything that happened that night was so like a dream.”
Jimmy found his tongue.
“You haven’t altered,” he said; “you look just the same.”
“Well,” she laughed, “after all, it’s not so long ago, is it?”
He was conscious of a dull hurt. To him it had seemed years. But he was nothing to her. Just an acquaintance—one of a hundred. But what more, he asked himself, could he have expected? And with the thought came consolation. The painful sense of having lost ground left him. He saw that he had been allowing things to get out of proportion. He had not lost ground. He had gained it. He had met her again, and she remembered him. What more had he any right to ask?
“I’ve crammed a good deal into the time,” he explained. “I’ve been travelling about a bit since we met.”
“Do you live in Shropshire?” asked Molly.
“No. I’m on a visit. At least, I’m supposed to be. But I’ve lost the way to the place, and I am beginning to doubt if I shall ever get there. I was told to go straight on. I’ve gone straight on, and here I am, lost in the snow. Do you happen to know whereabouts Dreever Castle is?”
“Why,” she said, “I am staying at Dreever Castle myself.”
“So the first person you meet turns out to be an experienced guide. You’re lucky, Mr. Pitt.”
“You’re right,” said Jimmy, slowly; “I am.”
“Did you come down with Lord Dreever? He passed me in the car just as I was starting out. He was with another man and Lady Julia Blunt. Surely he didn’t make you walk?”
“I offered to walk. Somebody had to. Apparently he had forgotten to let them know he was bringing me.”
“And then he misdirected you! He’s very casual, I’m afraid.”
“Inclined that way, perhaps.”
“Have you known Lord Dreever long?”
“Since a quarter-past twelve last night.”
“We met at the Savoy, and later on the Embankment. We looked at the river together and told each other the painful stories of our lives, and this morning he called and invited me down here.”
Molly looked at him with frank amusement.
“You must be a very restless sort of person,” she said. “You seem to do a great deal of moving about.”
“I do,” said Jimmy. “I can’t keep still. I’ve got the go-fever, like that man in Kipling’s book.”
“But he was in love.”
“Yes,” said Jimmy; “he was. That’s the bacillus, you know.”
She shot a quick glance at him. He became suddenly interesting to her. She was at the age of dreams and speculations. From being merely an ordinary young man with rather more ease of manner than the majority of the young men she had met he developed in an instant into something worthy of closer attention. He took on a certain mystery and romance. She wondered what sort of girl it was that he loved. Examining him in the light of this new discovery, she found him attractive. Something seemed to have happened to put her in sympathy with him. She noticed for the first time a latent forcefulness behind the pleasantness of his manner. His self-possession was the self-possession of the man who has been tried and has found himself.
At the bottom of her consciousness, too, there was a faint stirring of some emotion, which she could not analyze, not unlike pain. It was vaguely reminiscent of the agony of loneliness which she had experienced as a small child on the rare occasions when her father had been busy and distrait and had shown her by his manner that she was outside his thoughts. This was but a pale suggestion of that misery, but nevertheless there was a resemblance. It was a rather desolate, shut-out sensation, half resentful.
It was gone in a moment. But it had been there. It had passed over her heart as the shadow of a cloud moves across a meadow in the summer-time.
For some moments she stood without speaking. Jimmy did not break the silence. He was looking at her with an appeal in his eyes. Why could she not understand? She must understand.
But the eyes that met his were those of a child.
As they stood there, the horse, which had been cropping in a perfunctory manner at the short grass by the roadside, raised his head and neighed impatiently. There was something so human about the performance that Jimmy and the girl laughed simultaneously. The utter materialism of the neigh broke the spell. It was a noisy demand for food.
“Poor Dandy!” said Molly. “He knows he’s near home and he knows it’s his dinner-time.”
“Are we near the castle, then?”
“It’s a long way round by the road, but we can cut across the fields. Aren’t these English fields and hedges just perfect? I love them! Of course, I loved America, but——”
“Have you left New York long?” asked Jimmy.
“We came over here about a month after you were at our house.”
“You didn’t spend much time there, then?”
“Father had just made a good deal of money in Wall Street. He must have been making it when I was on the Lusitania. He wanted to leave New York, so we didn’t wait. We were in London all the winter. Then we went over to Paris. It was there we met Sir Thomas Blunt and Lady Julia. Have you met them? They are Lord Dreever’s uncle and aunt.”
“I’ve met Lady Julia.”
“Do you like her?”
“Well, you see——”
“I know. She’s your hostess, but you haven’t started your visit yet, so you’ve just got time to say what you really think of her before you have to pretend she’s perfect.”
“I detest her,” said Molly, crisply. “I think she’s hard and hateful.”
“Well, I can’t say she struck me as a sort of female Cheeryble Brother. Lord Dreever introduced me to her at the station. She seemed to bear it pluckily, but with some difficulty.”
“She’s hateful,” repeated Molly. “So is he—Sir Thomas, I mean. He’s one of those fussy, bullying little men. They both bully poor Lord Dreever till I wonder he doesn’t rebel. They treat him like a schoolboy. It makes me wild. It’s such a shame. He’s so nice and good-natured. I am so sorry for him.”
Jimmy listened to this outburst with mixed feelings. It was sweet of her to be so sympathetic, but was it merely sympathy? There had been a ring in her voice and a flush on her cheek which had suggested to Jimmy’s sensitive mind a personal interest in the down-trodden peer. Reason told him that it was foolish to be jealous of Lord Dreever. A good fellow, of course, but not to be taken seriously. The primitive man in him, on the other hand, made him hate all Molly’s male friends with an unreasoning hatred. Not that he hated Lord Dreever. He liked him. But he doubted if he could go on liking him for long if Molly were to continue in this sympathetic strain.
His affection for the absent one was not put to the test. Molly’s next remark had to do with Sir Thomas.
“The worst of it is,” she said, “father and Sir Thomas are such friends. In Paris they were always together. Father did him a very good turn.”
“How was that?”
“It was one afternoon, just after we arrived. A man got into Lady Julia’s room while we were all out except father. Father saw him go into the room, and suspected something was wrong, and went in after him. The man was trying to steal Lady Julia’s jewels. He had opened the box where they were kept, and was actually holding her rope of diamonds in his hand when father found him. It’s the most magnificent thing I ever saw. Sir Thomas told father he gave a hundred thousand dollars for it.”
“But surely,” said Jimmy, “hadn’t the management of the hotel a safe for valuables?”
“Of course they had; but you don’t know Sir Thomas. He wasn’t going to trust any hotel safe. He’s the sort of man who insists on doing everything in his own way, and who always imagines he can do things better himself than anyone else can do them for him. He had had this special box made, and would never keep the diamonds anywhere else. Naturally, the thief opened it in a minute. A clever thief would have no difficulty with a thing like that.”
“Oh, the man saw father and dropped the jewels, and ran off down the corridor. Father chased him a little way, but, of course, it was no good; so he went back and shouted and rang every bell he could see and gave the alarm, but the man was never found. Still, he left the diamonds. That was the great thing, after all. You must look at them to-night at dinner. They really are wonderful. Are you a judge of precious stones at all?”
“I am, rather,” said Jimmy; “in fact, a jeweller I once knew told me I had a natural gift in that direction. And so, of course, Sir Thomas was pretty grateful to your father?”
“He simply gushed. He couldn’t do enough for him. You see, if the diamonds had been stolen I’m sure Lady Julia would have made Sir Thomas buy her another rope just as good. He’s terrified of her, I’m certain. He tries not to show it; but he is. And besides having to pay another hundred thousand dollars, he would never have heard the last of it. It would have ruined his reputation for being infallible and doing everything better than anybody else.”
“But didn’t the mere fact that the thief got the jewels and was only stopped by a fluke from getting away with them do that?”
Molly bubbled with laughter.
“She never knew. Sir Thomas got back to the hotel an hour before she did. I’ve never seen such a busy hour. He had the manager up and harangued him, and swore him to secrecy—which the poor manager was only too glad to agree to, because it wouldn’t have done the hotel any good to have it known. And the manager harangued the servants—and the servants harangued each other—and everybody talked at the same time—and father and I promised not to tell a soul; so Lady Julia doesn’t know a word about it to this day. And I don’t see why she ever should. Though one of these days I’ve a good mind to tell Lord Dreever. Think what a hold he would have over them! They’d never be able to bully him again.”
“I shouldn’t,” said Jimmy, trying to keep a touch of coldness out of his voice. This championship of Lord Dreever, however sweet and admirable, was a little distressing.
She looked up quickly.
“You don’t think I really meant to, do you?”
“No, no,” said Jimmy, hastily. “Of course not.”
“Well, I should think so!” said Molly, indignantly. “After I promised not to tell a soul about it.”
“It’s nothing,” he said, in answer to her look of inquiry.
“You laughed at something.”
“Well,” said Jimmy, apologetically, “it’s only—it’s nothing really—only what I mean is, you have just told one soul a good deal about it, haven’t you?”
Molly turned pink. Then she smiled.
“I don’t know how I came to do it,” she declared. “It just rushed out of its own accord. I suppose it is because I know I can trust you.”
Jimmy flushed with pleasure. He turned to her and half halted, but she continued to walk on.
“You can,” he said; “but how do you know you can?”
She seemed surprised.
“Why,” she said—she stopped for a moment, and then went on hurriedly, with a touch of embarrassment—“why, how absurd! Of course I know. Can’t you read faces? I can. Look,” she said, pointing, “now you can see the castle. How do you like it?”
They had reached a point where the fields sloped sharply downward. A few hundred yards away, backed by woods, stood the grey mass of stone which had proved such a kill-joy of old to the Welsh sportsmen during the peasant season. Even now it had a certain air of defiance. The setting sun lit up the waters of the lake. No figures were to be seen moving in the grounds. The place resembled a palace of sleep.
“Well?” said Molly.
“Isn’t it? I’m so glad it strikes you like that. I always feel as if I had invented everything round here. It hurts me if people don’t appreciate it.”
They went down the hill.
“By the way,” said Jimmy, “are you acting in these theatricals they are getting up?”
“Yes. Are you the other man they were going to get? That’s why Lord Dreever went up to London, to see if he couldn’t find somebody. The man who was going to play one of the parts had to go back to London on business.”
“Poor brute!” said Jimmy. It seemed to him at that moment that there was only one place in the world where a man might be even reasonably happy. “What sort of part is it? Lord Dreever said I should be wanted to act. What do I do?”
“If you’re Lord Herbert, which is the part they wanted a man for, you talk to me most of the time.”
Jimmy decided that the piece had been well cast.
The dressing-gong sounded just as they entered the hall. From a door on the left there emerged two men—a big man and a little one—in friendly conversation. The big man’s back struck Jimmy as familiar.
“Oh, father!” Molly called. And Jimmy knew where he had seen the back before.
The two men stopped.
“Sir Thomas,” said Molly, “this is Mr. Pitt.”
The little man gave Jimmy a rapid glance—possibly with the object of detecting his more immediately obvious criminal points; then, as if satisfied as to his honesty, became genial.
“I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Pitt—very glad,” he said. “We have been expecting you for some time.”
Jimmy explained that he had lost his way.
“Exactly. It was ridiculous that you should be compelled to walk—perfectly ridiculous. It was grossly careless of my nephew not to let us know that you were coming. My wife told him so in the car.”
“I bet she did,” said Jimmy to himself. “Really,” he said aloud, by way of lending a helping hand to a friend in trouble, “I preferred to walk. I have not been on a country road since I landed in England.” He turned to the big man and held out his hand. “I don’t suppose you remember me, Mr. McEachern. We met in New York.”
“You remember the night Mr. Pitt scared away our burglar, father?” said Molly.
Mr. McEachern was momentarily silent. On his native asphalt there are few situations capable of throwing the New York policeman off his balance. In that favoured clime savoir-faire is represented by a shrewd blow of the fist, and a masterful stroke with the truncheon amounts to a satisfactory repartee. Thus shall you never take the policeman of Manhattan without his answer. In other surroundings Mr. McEachern would have known how to deal with the young man whom with such good reason he believed to be an expert criminal. But another plan of action was needed here. First and foremost of all the hints on etiquette which he had imbibed since he entered this more reposeful life came this maxim, “Never make a scene.” Scenes, he had gathered, were of all things what polite society most resolutely abhorred. The natural man in him must be bound in chains. The sturdy blow must give way to the honeyed word. A cold “Really!” was the most vigorous retort that the best circles would countenance.
It had cost Mr. McEachern some pains to learn this lesson, but he had done it.
He shook hands, and gruffly acknowledged the acquaintanceship.
“Really, really!” chirped Sir Thomas, amiably. “So you find yourself among old friends, Mr. Pitt.”
“Old friends,” echoed Jimmy, painfully conscious of the ex-policeman’s eyes, which were boring holes in him.
“Excellent, excellent! Let me take you to your room. It is just opposite my own. This way.”
In his younger days Sir Thomas had been a floor-walker of no mean calibre. A touch of the professional still lingered in his brisk movements. He preceded Jimmy upstairs with the restrained suavity which can be learned in no other school.
They parted from Mr. McEachern on the first landing, but Jimmy could still feel those eyes. The policeman’s stare had been of the sort which turns corners, goes upstairs, and pierces walls.
Nevertheless, it was in a very exalted frame of mind that he dressed for dinner. It seemed to him that he had awakened from a sort of stupor. Life, so grey yesterday, now appeared full of colour and possibilities. Most men who, either from choice or necessity, have knocked about the world for any length of time are more or less fatalists. Jimmy was an optimistic fatalist. He had always looked on Fate not as a blind dispenser at random of gifts good and bad, but rather as a benevolent being with a pleasing bias in his own favour. He had almost a Napoleonic faith in his star. At various periods of his life—notably at the time when, as he had told Lord Dreever, he had breakfasted on bird-seed—he had been in uncommonly tight corners, but his luck had always extricated him. It struck him that it would be an unthinkable piece of bad sportsmanship on Fate’s part to see him through so much and then to abandon him just as he had arrived in sight of what was by far the biggest thing of his life. Of course, his view of what constituted the biggest thing in life had changed with the years. Every ridge of the Hill of Supreme Moments in turn had been mistaken by him for the summit; but this last, he felt instinctively, was genuine. For good or bad, Molly was woven into the texture of his life. In the stormy period of the early twenties he had thought the same of other girls, who were now mere memories as dim as those of figures in a half-forgotten play. In their case his convalescence had been temporarily painful, but brief. Force of will and an active life had worked the cure. He had merely braced himself up and firmly ejected them from his mind. A week or two of aching emptiness, and his heart had been once more in readiness—all nicely swept and done up—for the next lodger.
But in the case of Molly it was different. He had passed the age of instantaneous susceptibility. Like a landlord who has been cheated by previous tenants, he had become wary. He mistrusted his powers of recuperation in case of disaster. The will in these matters, just like the mundane “bouncer,” gets past its work. For some years now Jimmy had had a feeling that the next arrival would come to stay, and he had adopted, in consequence, a gently defensive attitude towards the other sex. Molly had broken through this, and he saw that his estimate of his will-power had been just. Methods which had proved excellent in the past were useless now. There was no trace here of that dimly-consoling feeling of earlier years that there were other girls in the world. He did not try to deceive himself. He knew that he had passed the age when a man can fall in love with any one of a number of types.
This was the finish, one way or the other. There was no second throw. She had him. However it might end, he belonged to her.
There are few moments in a man’s day when his brain is more contemplative than during that brief space when he is lathering his face preparatory to shaving. Plying the brush, Jimmy reviewed the situation. He was perhaps a little too optimistic. Not unnaturally he was inclined to look upon his luck as a sort of special train which would convey him without effort to Paradise. Fate had behaved so exceedingly handsomely up till now. By a series of the most workmanlike miracles it had brought him to the point of being Molly’s fellow-guest at a country-house. This, as Reason coldly pointed out a few moments later, was merely the beginning; but to Jimmy, thoughtfully lathering, it seemed the end. It was only when he had finished shaving and was arranging his tie that he began to perceive that there were obstacles in his way—and sufficiently big obstacles at that.
In the first place, Molly did not love him. And, he was bound to admit, there was no earthly reason why she ever should. A man in love is seldom vain about his personal attractions. Also, her father firmly believed him to be a master-burglar.
“Otherwise,” said Jimmy, scowling at his reflection in the glass, “everything’s splendid.”
He brushed his hair sadly.
There was a furtive rap at the door.
“Halloa!” said Jimmy. “Yes?”
The door opened slowly. A grin, surmounted by a mop of red hair, appeared round the edge of it.
“Halloa, Spike! Come in. What’s the matter?”
The rest of Mr. Mullins entered the room.
“Gee, boss, I wasn’t sure dis was your room. Say, who do you t’ink I nearly bumped me coco against out in de corridor downstairs? Why, old man McEachern, de cop. Dat’s right!”
“Sure. Say, what’s he doin’ on dis beat? I pretty near went down and out when I seen him. Dat’s right. Me breath ain’t got back home yet.”
“Did he recognize you?”
“Did he! He starts like an actor on top de stoige when he sees he’s up against de plot to ruin him, an’ he gives me de fierce eye.”
“I was wondering was I on Third Avenue, or was I standing on me coco, or what was I doin’ anyhow. Den I slips off and chases meself up here. Say, boss, what’s de game? What’s old man McEachern doin’ stunts dis side for?”
“It’s all right, Spike. Keep calm. I can explain. He has retired. Like me, he’s one of the handsome guests here.”
“On your way, boss! What’s dat?”
“He left the Force just after that merry meeting of ours when you frolicked with the bulldog. He came over here and butted into society. So here we are again, all gathered together under the same roof, like a jolly little family party.”
Spike’s open mouth bore witness to his amazement.
“Den——” he stammered.
“Den what’s he goin’ to do?”
“I couldn’t say. I’m expecting to hear shortly. But we needn’t worry ourselves. The next move’s with him. If he wants to comment on the situation he won’t be backward. He’ll come and do it.”
“Sure. It’s up to him,” agreed Spike.
“I’m quite comfortable. Speaking for myself, I’m having a good time. How are you getting along downstairs?”
“De limit, boss. Honest, it’s to de velvet. Dere’s an old gazebo, de butler, Saunders his name is, dat’s de best ever at handing out long woids. I sits and listens. Dey calls me Mr. Mullins down dere,” said Spike, with pride.
“Good. I’m glad you’re all right. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have an excellent time here. I don’t think that Mr. McEachern will try to have us turned out, after he’s heard one or two little things I have to say to him. Just a few reminiscences of the past which may interest him. I have the greatest affection for Mr. McEachern—I wish it was mutual—but nothing he can say is going to make me stir from here.”
“Not on your life,” agreed Spike. “Say, boss, he must have got a lot of plunks to be able to butt in here. And I know how he got dem, too. Dat’s right. I comes from little old New York meself.”
“Hush, Spike; this is scandal!”
“Sure!” said the Bowery boy, doggedly, safely started now on his favourite subject. “I knows, and youse knows, boss. Gee! I wish I’d bin a cop. But I wasn’t tall enough. Deyse de fellers wit de big bank-rolls! Look at dis old McEachern. Money to boin a wet dog wit he’s got, and never a bit of woik for it from de start to de finish. An’ look at me, boss.”
“I do, Spike; I do.”
“Look at me. Getting busy all de year round, woiking to beat de band——”
“In prisons oft,” said Jimmy.
“Sure t’ing. And chased all roun’ de town. And den what? Why, to de bad at de end of it all. Say, it’s enough to make a feller——”
“Turn honest!” said Jimmy. “That’s it, Spike. Reform. You’ll be glad some day.”
Spike seemed to be doubtful. He was silent for a moment; then, as if following up a train of thought, he said:—
“Boss, dis is a fine big house.”
“I’ve seen worse.”
“Say, couldn’t we——?”
“Spike!” said Jimmy, warningly.
“Well, couldn’t we?” said Spike, doggedly. “It ain’t often youse butts into a dead easy proposition like dis one. We shouldn’t have to do a t’ing excep’ git busy. De stuff’s just lying about, boss.”
“I shouldn’t wonder.”
“Aw, it’s a waste to leave it.”
“Spike,” said Jimmy, “I warned you of this. I begged you to be on your guard, to fight against your professional instincts. Be a man! Crush them. Try and occupy your mind. Collect butterflies.”
Spike shuffled in gloomy silence.
“ ’Member dose jools you swiped from de Duchess?” he said, musingly.
“The dear Duchess!” murmured Jimmy. “Ah, me!”
“And de bank you busted?”
“Those were happy days, Spike.”
“Gee!” said the Bowery boy.
“Dat was to de good,” he said, wistfully.
Jimmy arranged his tie at the mirror.
“Dere’s a loidy here,” continued Spike, addressing the chest of drawers, “dat’s got a necklace of jools what’s wort’ a hundred t’ousand plunks. Honest, boss. A hundred t’ousand plunks. Saunders told me dat. De old gazebo dat hands out de long woids. I says to him ‘Gee!’ and he says, ‘Surest t’ing you know.’ A hundred t’ousand plunks!”
“So I understand,” said Jimmy.
“Shall I rubber around and find out where is dey kept, boss?”
“Spike,” said Jimmy, “ask me no more. All this is in direct contravention of our treaty respecting keeping our fingers off the spoons. You pain me. Desist.”
“Sorry, boss. But dey’ll be willy-wonders, dem jools. A hundred t’ousand plunks. Dat’s going some, ain’t it? What’s dat dis side?”
“Twenty thousand pounds.”
“Gee! Can I help you wit de duds, boss?”
“No, thanks, Spike. I’m through now. You might just give me a brush down, though. No, not that. That’s a hair-brush. Try the big black one.”
“Dis is a boid of a dude suit,” observed Spike, pausing in his labours.
“Glad you like it, Spike. Rather chic, I think.”
“It’s de limit. Excuse me, how much did it set you back, boss?”
“Something like seven guineas, I believe. I could look up the bill and let you know.”
“What’s dat—guineas? Is dat more dan a pound?”
“A shilling more. Why these higher mathematics?”
Spike resumed his brushing.
“What a lot of dude suits youse could get,” he observed, meditatively, “if you had dem jools.” He became suddenly animated. He waved the clothes-brush. “Oh, you boss!” he cried. “What’s eatin’ you? Aw, it’s a shame not to. Come along, you boss. Say, what’s doin’? Why ain’t you sittin’ in at de game? Oh, you boss!”
Whatever reply Jimmy might have made to this impassioned appeal was checked by a sudden bang on the door. Almost simultaneously the handle turned.
“Gee!” cried Spike. “It’s de cop.”
Jimmy smiled pleasantly.
“Come in, Mr. McEachern,” he said, “come in. Journeys end in lovers meeting. You know my friend Mr. Mullins, I think? Shut the door and sit down, and let’s talk of many things.”
go-fever . . . Kipling’s book: Rudyard Kipling, From Sea to Sea (1900): “He had served the Queen in the Marines and a Line regiment, and the ‘go-fever’ being in his bones, had drifted to America, there to serve Uncle Sam.” Norman Murphy points out an earlier instance in The Light That Failed (1891), in which a character says of Dick that “he has the beginnings of the go-fever upon him.”
Cheeryble Brother: In Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, one of the twin brothers (Charles and Ned) who are Nickleby’s kind-hearted employers.
in prisons oft: probably echoing II Corinthians 11:23, in which St. Paul asks “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.”
Journeys end in lovers meeting: from the Clown’s song “O mistress mine” in Twelfth Night (II, iii).
Printer’s errors (or apparent editorial goofs) corrected above:
In Ch. XII, this magazine and the American book both have “Welsh sportsmen during the pheasant season” even though the opening of Ch. VIII makes it clear that peasants were being hunted. The British book reads “peasant season” here, and I have adopted that reading. In Ch. XIII, magazine had “Dis is a boid of dude suit”; corrected to “of a dude suit” as in both book versions.
—Notes by Neil Midkiff