Tit-Bits, September 3, 1910
SPENNIE’S HOUR OF CLEAR VISION.
Mr. McEachern sat in the billiard-room smoking. He was alone. From where he sat he could hear distant strains of music. The more rigorous portion of the evening’s entertainment, the theatricals, was over, and the nobility and gentry, having done their duty by sitting through the performance, were now enjoying themselves in the ballroom. Everybody was happy. The play had been quite as successful as the usual amateur performance. The prompter had made himself a great favourite from the start, his series of duets with Spennie having been especially admired, and Jimmy, as became an old professional, had played his part with great finish and certainty of touch, though, like the bloodhounds in the performance of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” on tour, he had had poor support. But the audience bore no malice.
No collection of individuals is less vindictive than an audience at amateur theatricals. It was all over now. Charteris had literally gibbered in the presence of eye-witnesses at one point in the second act, when Spennie, by giving a wrong cue, had jerked the play abruptly into Act III. (where his colleagues, dimly suspecting something wrong, but not knowing what, had kept it for some two minutes, to the mystification of the audience); but now even he had begun to forget. As he two-stepped down the room the lines of agony on his face were softened. He even smiled.
As for Spennie, the brilliance of his happy grin dazzled all beholders.
He was still wearing it when he invaded the solitude of Mr. McEachern. In every dance, however greatly he may be enjoying it, there comes a time when a man needs a meditative cigarette apart from the throng. It came to Spennie after the seventh item on the programme. The billiard-room struck him as admirably suitable in every way. It was not likely to be used as a sitting-out place, and it was near enough to the ballroom to enable him to hear when the music of item No. 9 should begin.
Mr. McEachern was glad to see him. In the turmoil following the theatricals he had been unable to get a word with any of the persons with whom he most wished to speak. He had been surprised that no announcement of the engagement had been made at the end of the performance. Spennie would be able to supply him with information as to when the announcement might be expected.
Spennie hesitated for an instant when he saw who was in the room. He was not over-anxious for a tête-à-tête with Molly’s father just then; but, reflecting that after all he, Spennie, was not to blame for any disappointment that might be troubling the other, he switched on his grin again and walked in.
“Came in for a smoke,” he explained, by way of opening the conversation. “Not dancing the next.”
“Come in, my boy, come in,” said Mr. McEachern. “I was wanting to see you.”
Spennie regretted his entrance. He had supposed that the other had heard the news of the breaking-off of the engagement. Evidently, from his manner, he had not. This was a nuisance. The idea of flight occurred to him, but he dismissed it. As nominal host that night he had to dance many duty-dances. This would be his only chance of a smoke for hours, and the billiard-room was the best place for it.
He sat down and lit a cigarette, casting about the while for an innocuous topic of conversation.
“Like the show?” he inquired.
“Fine,” said Mr. McEachern. “By the way——”
Spennie groaned inwardly. He had forgotten that a determined man can change the conversation to any subject he pleases by means of those three words.
“By the way,” said Mr. McEachern, “I thought Sir Thomas—wasn’t your uncle intending to announce——?”
“Well, yes, he was,” said Spennie.
“Going to declare it during the dancing, maybe?”
“Well—er—no. The fact is, he’s not going to do it at all, don’t you know.” He inspected the red end of his cigarette closely. “As a matter of fact, it’s kind of broken off.”
The other’s exclamation jarred on him. Rotten, having to talk about this sort of thing!
“Miss McEachern thought it over, don’t you know,” he said, “and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t good enough.”
Now that it was said he felt easier. It had merely been the awkwardness of having to touch on the thing that had troubled him. That his news might be a blow to McEachern did not cross his mind. He was a singularly modest youth, and though he realized vaguely that his title had a certain value in some people’s eyes, he could not understand anyone mourning over the loss of him as a son-in-law. Katie’s father, the old general, thought him a fool, and once, during an attack of gout, had said so. Spennie was wont to accept his as the view which a prospective father-in-law might be expected to entertain regarding himself.
Oblivious, therefore, to the storm raging a yard away from him, he smoked on with great contentment, till suddenly it struck him that, for a presumably devout lover, jilted that very night, he was displaying too little emotion. He debated swiftly within himself whether he should have a dash at manly grief, but came to the conclusion that it could not be done. Melancholy on this maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year, the day on which he had utterly routed the powers of evil, as represented by Sir Thomas, was impossible. He decided, rather, on a let-us-be-reasonable attitude.
“It wouldn’t have done, don’t you know,” he said. “We weren’t suited. What I mean to say is, I’m a bit of a dashed sort of silly ass in some ways, if you know what I mean. A girl like Miss McEachern couldn’t have been happy with me. She wants one of those capable, energetic fellers.”
This struck him as a good beginning—modest but not grovelling. He continued, tapping quite respectably a deep vein of philosophy as he spoke.
“You see, dear old top—I mean sir—you see, it’s like this. As far as women are concerned, fellers are divided into two classes. There’s the masterful, capable Johnnies and the—er—the other sort. Now, I’m the other sort. My idea of the happy married life is to be—well, not exactly downtrodden, but—you know what I mean—kind of second fiddle. I want a wife”—his voice grew soft and dreamy—“who’ll pet me a good deal, don’t you know, stroke my hair a lot, and all that. I haven’t it in me to do the master-in-my-own-house business. For me the silent-devotion touch. Sleepin’ on the mat outside her door, don’t you know, when she wasn’t feeling well, and bein’ found there in the morning and being rather cosseted for my thoughtfulness. That’s the sort of idea. Hard to put it quite O.K., but you know the sort of thing I mean. A feller’s got to realize his jolly old limitations if he wants to be happy though married; what? Now, suppose Miss McEachern was to marry me! Great Scot, she’d be bored to death in a week! Honest. She couldn’t help herself. She wants a chap with the same amount of go in him that she’s got.”
He lit another cigarette. He was feeling pleased with himself. Never before had ideas marshalled themselves in his mind in such long and well-ordered ranks. He felt that he could go on talking like this all night. He was getting brainier every minute. He remembered reading in some book somewhere of a girl (or chappie) who had had her (or his) “hour of clear vision.” This was precisely what had happened now. Whether it was owing to the excitement of what had taken place that night, or because he had been keying up his thinking powers with excellent dry champagne, he did not know. All he knew was that he felt on top of his subject. He wished he had had a larger audience. “A girl like Miss McEachern,” he resumed, “doesn’t want any of that hair-stroking business. She’d simply laugh at a feller if he asked for it. She needs a chappie of the Get On or Get Out type—somebody in the six-cylinder class. And as a matter of fact, between ourselves, I rather think she’s found him.”
Mr. McEachern half rose from his chair. All his old fears had come surging back.
“What do you mean?”
“Fact,” said his lordship, nodding. “Mind you, I don’t know for certain. As the girl says in the song, I don’t know, but I guess. What I mean to say is, they seemed jolly friendly and all that. Calling each other by their Christian names, and so on.”
“Pitt,” said his lordship. He was leaning back, blowing a smoke-ring at the moment, so did not see the look on the other’s face and the sudden grip of his fingers on the arms of his chair. He went on with some enthusiasm.
“Jimmy Pitt!” he said. “Now, there’s a feller! Full of oats to the brim, and fairly bursting with go and energy. A girl wouldn’t have a dull moment with a chap like that. You know,” he proceeded, confidentially, “there’s a lot in this idea of affinities. Take my word for it, dear old—sir. There’s a girl up in London, for instance. Now, she and I hit it off most amazingly. There’s hardly a thing we don’t think alike about. For instance, ‘The Merry Widow’ didn’t make a bit of a hit with her. Nor did it with me. Yet look at the millions of people who raved about it. And neither of us like oysters. We’re affinities. That’s why. You see the same sort of thing all over the place. It’s a jolly queer business. Sometimes makes me believe in re-in-what’s-it’s-name. You know what I mean. All that in the poem, you know. How does it go? ‘When you were a tiddley-om-pom and I was a thingummajig.’ Dashed brainy bit of work. I was reading it only the other day. Well, what I mean to say is, it’s my belief that Jimmy Pitt and Miss McEachern are by way of being something in that line. Doesn’t it strike you that they are just the sort to get on together? You can see it with half an eye. You can’t help liking a feller like Jimmy Pitt. He’s a sport! I wish I could tell you some of the things he’s done, but I can’t, for reasons. But you can take it from me he’s a sport. You ought to cultivate him. You’d like him . . . Oh, dash it, there’s the music! I must be off. Got to dance this one.”
He rose from his chair and dropped his cigarette into the ash-tray.
“So long,” he said, with a friendly nod. “Wish I could stop, but it’s no go. That’s the last let-up I shall have to-night.”
He went out, leaving Mr. McEachern seated in his chair, a prey to many and varied emotions.
THE LAST ROUND.
He had only been gone a few minutes when Mr. McEachern’s meditations were again interrupted. This time the visitor was a stranger to him—a dark-faced, clean-shaven man. He did not wear evening clothes, so could not be one of the guests; and Mr. McEachern could not place him immediately. Then he remembered. He had seen him in Sir Thomas Blunt’s dressing-room. This was Sir Thomas’s valet.
“Might I have a word with you, sir?”
“What is it?” asked McEachern, staring heavily. His mind had not recovered from the effect of Lord Dreever’s philosophical remarks. There was something of a cloud on his brain. To judge from his lordship’s words, things had been happening behind his back; and the idea of Molly deceiving him was too strange to be assimilated in an instant. He looked at the valet dully.
“What is it?” he asked again.
“I must apologize for intruding, but I thought it best to approach you before making my report to Sir Thomas.”
“I am employed by a private inquiry agency.”
“Yes, sir. Wragge’s. You may have heard of us. In Holborn Bars. Very old-established. Divorce a speciality. You will have seen the advertisements. Sir Thomas wrote asking for a man, and the governor sent me down. I have been with the house some years. My job, I gathered, was to keep my eyes open generally. Sir Thomas, it seemed, had no suspicions of any definite person. I was to be on the spot just in case, in a manner of speaking. And it’s precious lucky I was, or her ladyship’s jewels would have been gone. I’ve done a fair cop this very night.”
He paused, and eyed the ex-policeman keenly. McEachern was obviously excited. Could Jimmy have made an attempt on the jewels during the dance? Or Spike?
“Say,” he said, “was it a red-headed——?”
The detective was watching him with a curious smile.
“No, he wasn’t red-headed. You seem interested, sir. I thought you would be. I will tell you all about it. I had had my suspicions of this party ever since he arrived. And I may say that it struck me at the time that there was something mighty fishy about the way he got into the castle.”
McEachern started. So he had not been the only one to suspect Jimmy’s motives in attaching himself to Lord Dreever.
“Go on,” he said.
“I suspected that there was some game on, and it struck me that this would be the day for the attempt, the house being upside down, in a manner of speaking, on account of the theatricals. And I was right. I kept near those jewels on and off all day, and presently, just as I had thought, along comes this fellow. He’d hardly got to the door when I was on him.”
“Good boy! You’re no rube.”
“We fought for a while, but, being a bit to the good in strength, and knowing something about the game, I had the irons on him pretty quick, and took him off and locked him in the cellar. That’s how it was, sir.”
Mr. McEachern’s relief was overwhelming. If Lord Dreever’s statement was correct and Jimmy had really succeeded in winning Molly’s affection, this would indeed be a rescue at the eleventh hour. It was with a Nunc Dimittis air that he felt for his cigar-case and extended it towards the detective. A cigar from his own private case was with him a mark of the supremest favour and good-will—a sort of accolade which he bestowed only upon the really meritorious few.
Usually it was received with becoming deference; but on this occasion there was a somewhat startling deviation from routine, for, just as he was opening the case, something cold and hard pressed against each of his wrists; there was a snap and a click, and looking up, dazed, he saw that the detective had sprung back, and was contemplating him with a grim smile over the barrel of an ugly-looking little revolver.
Guilty or innocent, the first thing a man does when he finds handcuffs on his wrists is to try to get them off. The action is automatic. Mr. McEachern strained at the steel chain till the veins stood out on his forehead. His great body shook with rage.
The detective eyed his efforts with some satisfaction. The picture presented by the other as he heaved and tugged was that of a guilty man trapped.
“It’s no good, my friend,” he said.
His voice brought McEachern back to his senses. In the first shock of the thing the primitive man in him had led him beyond the confines of self-restraint. He had simply struggled unthinkingly. Now he came to himself again.
He shook his manacled hands furiously.
“What does this mean?” he shouted. “What the——”
“Less noise,” said the detective, sharply. “Get back!” he snapped, as the other took a step forward.
“Do you know who I am?” thundered McEachern.
“No,” said the detective. “And that’s just why you’re wearing those bracelets. Come, now, don’t be a fool. The game’s up, can’t you see that?”
McEachern leaned helplessly against the billiard-table. He felt weak. Everything was unreal. Had he gone mad? he wondered.
“That’s right,” said the detective. “Stay there. You can’t do any harm there. It was a pretty little game, I’ll admit. You worked it well. Meeting your old friend from New York and all, and having him invited to the castle. Very pretty. New York, indeed! Seen about as much of New York as I have of Timbuctoo. I saw through him.”
Some inkling of the truth began to penetrate McEachern’s consciousness. He had become so obsessed with the idea that, as the captive was not Spike, it must be Jimmy, that the possibility of Mr. Galer being the subject of discussion only dawned upon him now.
“What do you mean?” he cried. “Who is it that you have arrested?”
“Blest if I know. You can tell me that, I should think, seeing he’s an old Timbuctoo friend of yours. Galer’s the name he goes by here.”
“That’s the man. And do you know what he had the impudence, the gall, to tell me? That he was in my own line of business. A detective! He said you had sent for him to come here!”
He laughed amusedly at the recollection.
“And so he is, you fool. So I did.”
“Oh, you did, did you? And what business had you bringing detectives into other people’s houses?”
Mr. McEachern started to answer, but checked himself. Never before had he appreciated to the full the depth and truth of the proverb relating to the frying-pan and the fire. To clear himself, he must mention his suspicions of Jimmy, and also his reasons for those suspicions. And to do that would mean revealing his past. It was Scylla and Charybdis.
A drop of perspiration trickled down his temple.
“What’s the good?” said the detective. “Mighty ingenious idea, that, only you hadn’t allowed for there being a real detective in the house. It was that chap pitching me that yarn that made me suspicious of you. I put two and two together. ‘Partners,’ I said to myself. I’d heard all about you, scraping acquaintance with Sir Thomas and all. Mighty ingenious. You become the old family friend, and then you let in your pal. He gets the stuff and hands it over to you. Nobody dreams of suspecting you, and there you are. Honestly, now, wasn’t that the game?”
“It’s all a mistake——” McEachern was beginning, when the door-handle turned.
The detective looked over his shoulder. McEachern glared dumbly. This was the crowning blow, that there should be spectators of his predicament.
Jimmy strolled into the room.
“Dreever told me you were in here,” he said, to McEachern. “Can you spare me a—— Halloa!”
The detective had pocketed his revolver at the first sound of the handle. To be discreet was one of the chief articles in the creed of the young men from Wragge’s Detective Agency. But handcuffs are not easily concealed. Jimmy stood staring in amazement at McEachern’s wrists.
“Some sort of a round game?” he inquired, with interest.
The detective became confidential.
“It’s this way, Mr. Pitt. There’s been some pretty deep work going on here. There’s a regular gang of burglars in the place. This chap here’s one of them.”
“What, Mr. McEachern?”
“That’s what he calls himself.”
It was all Jimmy could do to keep himself from asking Mr. McEachern whether he attributed his downfall to drink. He contented himself with a sorrowful shake of the head at the fermenting captive. Then he took up the part of counsel for the defence.
“I don’t believe it,” he said. “What makes you think so?”
“Why, this afternoon I caught this man’s pal—the fellow that calls himself Galer——”
“I know the man,” said Jimmy. “He’s a detective, really. Mr. McEachern brought him down here.”
The sleuth’s jaw dropped limply, as if he had received a blow.
“What?” he said, in a feeble voice.
“Didn’t I tell you——” began Mr. McEachern; but the sleuth was occupied with Jimmy. That sickening premonition of disaster was beginning to steal over him. Dimly he began to perceive that he had blundered.
“Yes,” said Jimmy. “Why, I can’t say; but Mr. McEachern was afraid someone might try to steal Lady Julia Blunt’s rope of diamonds. So he wrote to London for this man Galer. It was officious, perhaps, but not criminal. I doubt if, legally, you could handcuff a man for a thing like that. What have you done with good Mr. Galer?”
“I’ve locked him in the coal-cellar,” said the detective, dismally. The thought of the interview in prospect with the human bloodhound he had so mishandled was not exhilarating.
poor support: Theatrical histories down to the present day mention the anonymous reviewer of a touring company who indirectly criticized the human actors of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by praising the bloodhounds, who “got poor support from the rest of the cast.” The story may be apocryphal, but it is plausible, since a large number of dramatic and comic adaptations of Stowe’s abolitionist novel were popular throughout the USA for decades after slavery ended, giving employment at all levels of theatrical talent. And the anecdote certainly has had staying power; a quick search finds citations from 1946, 2001, and 2003. Wodehouse mentions it here as if it were well-known to readers in 1910.
maddest, merriest day: Tennyson, “The May Queen”:
Of all the glad new-year, mother, the maddest, merriest day;
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
happy though married: How to Be Happy Though Married (1886) was the first book written by Edward John Hardy (1849–1920), an Irish army chaplain and Church of Ireland cleric, and the only one for which he is now remembered. Despite its cynical-sounding title (taken from an eighteenth-century sermon by the Rev. Philip Skelton) it is a clergyman’s serious approach to counseling young couples, and was widely reprinted and translated in Victorian times.
I don’t know, but I guess: Song (lyrics by Adrian Ross, music by Lionel Monckton) from the 1905 Gaiety Theatre musical comedy The Spring Chicken.
The Merry Widow: The English-language adaptation of Lehár’s 1905 operetta Die lustige Witwe opened in London in 1907, with lyrics (again) by Adrian Ross, and made an enormous hit, running for 778 performances and then touring extensively.
re-in-what’s-its-name: reincarnation, familiar to Wodehouse since his brother Ernest Armine was a student and later teacher of theosophy.
when you were a tiddley-om-pom: Poem “To W. A.” by William Ernest Henley (1849–1903), whose first stanza is:
Or ever the knightly years were gone
With the old world to the grave,
I was a King in Babylon
And you were a Christian Slave.
Holborn Bars: a large Victorian red-brick office building complex at 138–142 Holborn, near the financial and legal centers of London, built by the Prudential Assurance Society between 1885 and 1901; the very address connoted a high degree of respectability.
Nunc Dimittis: A hymn of praise from the Bible (Luke, chapter 2) in Latin: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” in the English Book of Common Prayer. From its connotations of fulfillment and rest, it frequently is used to close a religious service, especially in the evening.
Scylla and Charybdis: respectively, a dangerous rock and a whirlpool at the Straits of Messina; figuratively, two dangers so connected that avoiding one risks the other.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
In Ch. XXVIII, magazine had “Come in for a smoke”; corrected to “Came” as in American and later British book versions
In Ch. XXVIII, magazine had “Nor it did with me”; corrected to “Nor did it with me” as in all book versions
—Notes by Neil Midkiff