Tit-Bits, August 6, 1910
HOW TWO OF A TRADE DID NOT AGREE.
“One hundred t’ousand plunks,” murmured Spike, gazing lovingly at them. “I says to meself, ‘De boss ain’t got no time to be gettin’ after dem himself. He’s too busy dese days wit jollyin’ along de swells. So it’s up to me,’ I says, ‘ ’cos de boss’ll be tickled to deat’, all right, all right, if we can git away wit dem.’ So I——”
Jimmy gave tongue with an energy which amazed his faithful follower. The nightmare horror of the situation had affected him much as a sudden blow in the parts about the waistcoat might have done. But now, as Spike would have said, he caught up with his breath. The smirk faded slowly from the other’s face as he listened. Not even in the Bowery, full as it was of candid friends, had he listened to such a trenchant summing-up of his mental and moral deficiencies.
“Boss!” he protested.
“That’s just a sketchy outline,” said Jimmy, pausing for breath. “I can’t do you justice impromptu like this. You’re too vast and overwhelming.”
“But, boss, what’s eatin’ you? Ain’t youse tickled?”
“Tickled!” Jimmy sawed the air. “Tickled! You lunatic! Can’t you see what you’ve done?”
“I’ve got dem,” said Spike, whose mind was not readily receptive of new ideas. It seemed to him that Jimmy missed the main point.
“Didn’t I tell you there was nothing doing when you wanted to take those things the other day?”
Spike’s face cleared. As he had suspected, Jimmy had missed the point.
“Why, say, boss, yes. Sure. But dose was little dinky t’ings. Of course, youse wouldn’t stand for swipin’ chicken-feed like dem. But dese is different. Dese di’monds is boids. It’s one hundred t’ousand plunks fer dese.”
“Spike!” said Jimmy, with painful calm.
“Will you listen for a moment?”
“I know it’s practically hopeless. To get an idea into your head one wants a proper outfit—drills, blasting-powder, and so on. But there’s just a chance, perhaps, if I talk slowly. Has it occurred to you, Spike—my bonny, blue-eyed Spike—that every other man, more or less, in this stately home of England is a detective who has probably received instructions to watch you like a lynx? Do you imagine that your blameless past is a sufficient safeguard? I suppose you think that these detectives will say to themselves, ‘Now, whom shall we suspect? We must leave out Spike Mullins, of course, because he naturally wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. It can’t be dear old Spike who’s got the stuff.’ ”
“But, boss,” interposed Spike, brightly, “I ain’t! Dat’s right. I ain’t got it. Youse has!”
Jimmy looked at him with reluctant admiration. After all, there was a breezy delirium about Spike’s methods of thought which was rather stimulating when you got used to it. The worst of it was that it did not fit in with practical everyday life. Under different conditions—say, during convivial evenings at Colney Hatch—he could imagine the Bowery boy being a charming companion. How pleasantly, for instance, such remarks as that last would while away the monotony of a padded cell!
“But, laddie,” he said, with steely affection, “listen once more. Reflect! Ponder! Does it not seep into your consciousness that we are, as it were, subtly connected in this house in the minds of certain bad persons? Are we not imagined by Mr. McEachern, for instance, to be working hand in hand like brothers? Do you fancy that Mr. McEachern, chatting with his tame sleuth-hound over their cigars, will have been reticent on this point? I think not. How do you propose to baffle that gentlemanly sleuth, Spike, who, I may mention once again, has rarely moved more than two yards away from me since his arrival?”
An involuntary chuckle escaped Spike.
“Sure, boss, dat’s all right!”
“All right, is it? Well, well! What makes you think it is all right?”
“Why, say, boss, dose sleuts is out of business.” A merry grin split his face. “It’s funny, boss! Gee, it’s got a circus skinned! Listen! Deyse bin an’ arrest each other.”
Jimmy moodily revised his former view. Even in Colney Hatch this sort of thing would be coldly received. Genius must ever walk alone. Spike would have to get along without hope of meeting a kindred spirit, a fellow-being in tune with his brain-processes.
“Dat’s right,” chuckled Spike. “Leastways, it ain’t.”
“No, no,” said Jimmy, soothingly. “I quite understand.”
“It’s dis way, boss. One of dem has bin an’ arrest de odder mug. Dey had a scrap, each t’inking de odder guy was after de jools, an’ not knowin’ dey was bote sleuts, an’ now one of dem’s bin an’ taken de odder off, an’ ”—there were tears of innocent joy in his eyes—“an’ locked him into de coal-cellar.”
“What on earth do you mean?”
Spike giggled helplessly.
“Listen, boss! It’s dis way. Gee, it beat de band! When it’s all dark ’cos of de storm comin’ on, I’m in de dressin’-room, chasin’ around for de jool-box, and just as I gets a line on it—gee! I hears a footstep comin’ down de passage, very soft, straight for de door. Was I to de bad? Dat’s right. I says to meself, ‘Here’s one of de sleut guys what’s bin and got wise to me, an’ he’s comin’ in to put de grip on me.’ So I gets up quick, an’ I hides behind a coitain. Dere’s a coitain at de side of de room. Dere’s dude suits an’ t’ings hangin’ behind it. I chases meself in dere, and stands waitin’ for de sleut to come in. ’Cos den, you see, I’m goin’ to try an’ get busy before he can see who I am—it’s pretty dark ’cos of de storm—an’ jolt him one on de point of de jaw, an’ den, while he’s down an’ out, chase meself fer de soivants’ hall.”
“Yes?” said Jimmy.
“Well, dis guy, he gets to de door and opens it, and I’m just gettin’ ready for one sudden boist of speed when dere jumps out from de room on de odder side de passage—you know de room—anodder guy, an’ gets de rapid strangleholt on de foist mug. Say, wouldn’t dat make youse glad you hadn’t gone to de circus? Honest, it was better dan Coney Island.”
“Go on. What happened then?”
“Dey falls to scrappin’ good and hard. Dey couldn’t see me, an’ I couldn’t see dem, but I could hear dem bumpin’ about and sluggin’ each odder to beat de band. And by and by one of de mugs puts de odder mug to de bad, so dat he goes down and takes de count; and den I hears a click. And I know what dat is. It’s one of de gazebos has put de irons on de odder gazebo.”
“Call them A and B,” suggested Jimmy.
“Den I hears him—de foist mug—strike a light, ’cos it’s dark dere ’cos of de storm, an’ den he says, ‘Got youse, have I?’ he says. ‘I’ve had my eye on you, t’inkin’ youse was up to somet’in’ of dis kind. I’ve bin watchin’ youse!’ I knew de voice. It’s dat mug what calls himself Sir Tummas’s vally. And de odder——”
Jimmy burst into a roar of laughter.
“Don’t, Spike! This is more than man was meant to stand. Do you mean to tell me that it is my bright, brainy, persevering friend Galer who has been handcuffed and locked in the coal-cellar?”
Spike grinned broadly.
“Sure, dat’s right,” he said.
“It’s a judgment,” said Jimmy, delightedly. “That’s what it is. No man has a right to be such a consummate ass as Galer. It isn’t decent.”
There had been moments when McEachern’s faithful employé had filled Jimmy with an odd sort of fury, a kind of hurt pride, almost to the extent of making him wish that he really could have been the desperado McEachern fancied him. Never in his life before had he sat still under a challenge, and this espionage had been one. Behind the clumsy watcher he had seen always the self-satisfied figure of McEachern. If there had been anything subtle about the man from Dodson’s he could have forgiven him; but there was not. Years of practice had left Spike with a sort of sixth sense as regarded representatives of the law. He could pierce the most cunning disguise. But in the case of Galer even Jimmy could detect the detective.
“Go on,” he said.
“Well, de odder mug, de one down and out on de floor wit de irons on——”
“Galer, in fact,” said Jimmy. “Handsome, dashing Galer!”
“Sure. Well, he’s too busy catchin’ up wit his breat’ to shoot it back swift, but after he’s bin doin’ de deep-breathin’ stunt for a while, he says, ‘You mutt,’ he says, ‘youse is to de bad. You’ve made a break, you have. Dat’s right. Surest t’ing you know.’ He puts it different, but dat’s what he means. ‘I’m a sleut,’ he says. ‘Take dese t’ings off!’—meanin’ de irons. Does de odder mug, de vally gazebo, give him de glad eye? Not so’s you could notice it. He gives him de merry ha-ha. He says dat dat’s de woist tale dat’s ever bin handed to him. ‘Tell it to Sweeney!’ he says. ‘I knows youse. You woims yourself into de house as a guest, when youse is really after de loidy’s jools.’ At dese crool woids de odder mug, Galer, gits hot under de collar. ‘I’m a sure ’nough sleut,’ he says. ‘I blows into dis house at de special request of Mr. McEachern, de American gent.’ De odder mug hands him de lemon again. ‘Tell it to de King of Denmark,’ he says. ‘Dis cops de limit. Youse has enough gall for ten strong men,’ he says. ‘Show me to Mr. McEachern,’ says Galer. ‘He’ll——’—crouch, is dat it?”
“Vouch?” suggested Jimmy. “Meaning give the glad hand to.”
“Dat’s right. Vouch. I wondered what he meant at de time. ‘He’ll vouch for me,’ he says. Dat puts him all right, he t’inks; but no, he’s still in Dutch, ’cos de vally mug says, ‘Nix on dat! I ain’t goin’ to chase around de house wit youse, lookin’ for Mr. McEachern. It’s youse for de coal-cellar, me man, an’ we’ll see what youse has to say when I makes me report to Sir Tummas.’ ‘Well, dat’s to de good,’ says Galer. ‘Tell Sir Tummas. I’ll explain to him.’ ‘Not me!’ says de vally. ‘Sir Tummas has a hard evening’s woik before him, jollyin’ along de swells what’s comin’ to see dis stoige-piece dey’re actin’. I ain’t goin’ to worry him till he’s good and ready. To de coal-cellar for yours! G’wan!’ and off dey goes! And I gets busy again, swipes de jools, and chases meself here.”
Jimmy wiped his eyes.
“Have you ever heard of poetic justice, Spike?” he asked. “This is it. But in this hour of mirth and good will we must not forget——”
Beaming with honest pleasure at the enthusiastic reception of his narrative, he proceeded to point out the morals that were to be deduced therefrom.
“So youse see, boss,” he said, “it’s all to de merry. When dey rubbers for de jools and finds dem gone, dey’ll t’ink dis Galer guy swiped dem. Dey won’t t’ink of us.”
Jimmy looked at him gravely.
“Of course,” said he. “What a reasoner you are, Spike! Galer was just opening the door from the outside, by your account, when the valet-man sprang at him. Naturally they’ll think that he took the jewels. Especially as they won’t find them on him. A man who can open a locked safe through a closed door is just the sort of fellow who would be able to get rid of the swag neatly while rolling about the floor with the valet. His not having the jewels will make the case all the blacker against him. And what will make them still more certain that he is the thief is that he really is a detective. Spike, you ought to be in some sort of a home, you know.”
The Bowery boy looked disturbed.
“I didn’t t’ink of dat, boss,” he admitted.
“Of course not. One can’t think of everything. Now, if you will just hand me those diamonds, I will put them back where they belong.”
“Put dem back, boss!”
“What else would you propose? I’d get you to do it, only I don’t think putting things back is much in your line.”
Spike handed over the jewels. The boss was the boss, and what he said went. But his demeanour was tragic, telling eloquently of hopes blighted.
Jimmy took the necklace with something of a thrill. He was a connoisseur of jewels, and a fine gem affected him much as a fine picture affects the artistic. He ran the diamonds through his fingers, then scrutinized them again, more closely this time.
Spike watched him with a slight return of hope. It seemed to him that the boss was wavering. Perhaps, now that he had actually handled the jewels, he would find it impossible to give them up. To Spike a diamond necklace of cunning workmanship was merely the equivalent of so many “plunks”; but he knew that there were men, otherwise sane, who valued a jewel for its own sake.
“It’s a boid of a necklace, boss,” he murmured, encouragingly.
“It is,” said Jimmy. “In its way I’ve never seen anything much better. Sir Thomas will be glad to have it back.”
“Den you’re goin’ to put it back, boss?”
“I am,” said Jimmy. “I’ll do it just before the theatricals; there should be a chance then. There’s one good thing—this afternoon’s affair will have cleared the air of sleuth-hounds a little.”
Hildebrand Spencer Poyns de Burgh John Hannasyde Coombe-Crombie, twelfth Earl of Dreever, was feeling like a toad under the harrow. He read the letter again, but a second perusal made it no better. Very briefly and clearly Molly had broken off the engagement. She “thought it best.” She was “afraid it could make neither of us happy.” All very true, thought his lordship, miserably. His sentiments to a T. At the proper time, nothing he would have liked better. But why seize for this declaration the precise moment when he was intending, on the strength of the engagement, to separate his uncle from twenty pounds? That was what rankled. That Molly could have no knowledge of his sad condition did not occur to him. He had a sort of feeling that she ought to have known by instinct. Nature, as has been pointed out, had equipped Hildebrand Spencer Poyns de Burgh with one of those cheap-substitute minds. What passed for brain in him was to genuine grey matter what just-as-good imitation coffee is to real Mocha. In moments of emotion and mental stress, consequently, his reasoning, like Spike’s, was apt to be in a class of its own.
He read the letter for the third time, and a gentle perspiration began to form on his forehead. This was awful. The presumable jubilation of Katie, the penniless ripper of the Savoy, when he should present himself to her a free man, did not enter into the mental picture that was unfolding before him. She was too remote. Between him and her lay the fearsome figure of Sir Thomas, rampant, filling the entire horizon. Nor is this to be wondered at. There was probably a brief space during which Perseus, concentrating his gaze upon the monster, did not see Andromeda; and a knight of the Middle Ages, jousting in the gentlemen’s singles for a smile from his lady, rarely allowed the thought of that smile to occupy his whole mind at the moment when his boiler-plated antagonist was descending upon him in the wake of a sharp spear.
So with Spennie Dreever. Bright eyes might shine for him when all was over, but in the meantime what seemed to him more important was that bulging eyes would glare.
If only this had happened later—even a day later! The reckless impulsiveness of the modern girl had undone him. How was he to pay Hargate his money? Hargate must be paid; that was certain. No other course was possible. Lord Dreever’s was not one of those natures which fret restlessly under debt. During his early career at college he had endeared himself to the local tradesmen by the magnitude of the liabilities he had contracted with them. It was not the being in debt that he minded; it was the consequences. Hargate, he felt instinctively, was of a revengeful nature. He had given Hargate twenty pounds’ worth of snubbing, and the latter had presented the bill. If it were not paid things would happen. Hargate and he were members of the same club, and a member of a club who loses money at cards to a fellow-member and fails to settle up does not make himself popular with the committee.
He must get the money. There was no avoiding that conclusion. But how?
Financially, his lordship was like a fallen country with a glorious history. There had been a time, during his first two years at college, when he had revelled in the luxury of a handsome allowance. This was the golden age, when Sir Thomas Blunt, being, so to speak, new to the job, and feeling that, having reached the best circles, he must live up to them, had scattered largesse lavishly. For two years after his marriage with Lady Julia he had maintained this admirable standard, crushing his natural parsimony. He had regarded the money so spent as capital sunk in an investment. By the end of the second year he had found his feet, and began to look about him for ways of retrenchment. His lordship’s allowance was an obvious way. He had not to wait long for an excuse for annihilating it. There is a game called poker, at which a man without much control over his features may exceed the limits of the handsomest allowance. His lordship’s face during a game of poker was like the surface of some quiet pond, ruffled by every breeze. The blank despair of his expression when he held bad cards made bluffing expensive. The honest joy that bubbled over in his eyes when his hand was good acted as an efficient danger-signal to his grateful opponents. Two weeks of poker had led to his writing to his uncle a distressed but confident request for more funds; and the avuncular foot had come down with a joyous bang. Taking his stand on the evils of gambling, Sir Thomas had changed the conditions of the money-market for his nephew with a thoroughness that effectually prevented the possibility of his being again led astray by the fascinations of poker. The allowance vanished absolutely, and in its place there came into being an arrangement. By this his lordship was to have whatever money he wished for, but he must ask for it, and state why it was needed. If the request were reasonable, the cash would be forthcoming; if preposterous, it would not. The flaw in the scheme, from his lordship’s point of view, was the difference of opinion which can exist in the minds of two men as to what the words reasonable and preposterous may be taken to mean.
Twenty pounds, for instance, would, in the lexicon of Sir Thomas Blunt, be perfectly reasonable for the current expenses of a man engaged to Molly McEachern, but preposterous for one to whom she had declined to remain engaged. It is these subtle shades of meaning which make the English language so full of pitfalls for the foreigner.
So engrossed was his lordship in his meditations that it was not till a voice spoke at his elbow that he was aware that Sir Thomas himself was standing by his side.
“Well, Spennie, my boy,” said the knight. “Time to dress for dinner, I think. Eh? Eh?”
He was plainly in high good-humour. The thought of the distinguished company he was to entertain that night had changed him temporarily, as with some wave of a fairy wand, into a thing of joviality and benevolence. One could almost hear the milk of human kindness gurgling and splashing within him. The irony of Fate! To-night—such was his mood—a dutiful nephew could have come and felt in his pockets and helped himself—if circumstances had been different. Oh, woman, woman, how you bar us from paradise!
His lordship gurgled a wordless reply, thrusting the fateful letter hastily into his pocket. He would break the news anon—soon. Not yet—later on; in fact, anon.
“Up in your part, my boy?” continued Sir Thomas. “You mustn’t spoil the play by forgetting your lines. That wouldn’t do.”
His eye was caught by the envelope which Spennie had dropped. A momentary lapse from the jovial and benevolent was the result. His fussy little soul abhorred small untidinesses.
“Dear me,” he said, stooping, “I wish people would not drop paper about the house. I cannot endure a litter.”
He spoke as if somebody had been playing hare-and-hounds and scattering the scent on the stairs. This sort of thing sometimes made him regret the old days. In Blunt’s Stores Rule 67 imposed a fine of half a crown on employés convicted of paper-dropping.
“I——” began his lordship.
“Why”—Sir Thomas straightened himself—“it’s addressed to you!”
“I was just going to pick it up. It’s—er—there was a note in it.”
Tell it to de King of Denmark: a phrase used three times by Wodehouse in 1910 to mean “tell it to someone more gullible than me; I don’t believe you.” For a plausible explanation of the phrase, see my notes to “Archibald’s Benefit”.
toad under the harrow: Most sources cite this from Kipling’s poem “Pagett, M.P.” which begins with an indented quatrain that starts “The Toad beneath the harrow knows/Exactly where each tooth-point goes”—as if quoting a well-known saying. Certainly toads and harrows have long been linked in proverbs, according to this 1829 book.
Mocha: originally a fine grade of Arabian coffee exported from the city of Mocha in Yemen, and apparently the meaning intended here, as defined in the original OED volume M (1904–1908). Though the combination of coffee and chocolate has long been enjoyed, the word “mocha” to describe it is a twentieth-century coinage; the oldest citation in the current OED for mocha as coffee blended with chocolate is 1977.
rampant: in heraldry, describing a figure in profile, rearing up on the hind legs with one forepaw raised, as the lion in the Royal Standard of Scotland and the Scottish quarter of the British royal escutcheon.
Perseus . . . Andromeda: From Greek mythology, and giving names to two constellations. Here is a short summary of the myth.
boiler-plated: Almost certainly meant in a nearly literal sense, as if his armor had been constructed out of the cylindrically-rolled sheet metal used for making steam boilers. The figurative sense of “boilerplate” for pre-supplied or often-reused textual copy derives from the American practice, dating back to at least 1893, of distributing press releases, advertisements, and other syndicated matter supplied to newspapers already set in type and molded into a solid printing plate (stereotyped—another print-technology word that has taken on a figurative meaning) which, when bent into a section-of-a-cylinder form to fit rotary presses, looked like boiler-making material. But I don’t think the figurative sense is what Wodehouse had in mind here.
Printer’s error corrected above:
In Ch. XXII, magazine had “In it’s way I’ve never seen anything much better”; corrected to “its”
—Notes by Neil Midkiff