Liberty, November 6, 1926
 

The Small Bachelor - Episode 8

 

Part Eight

 

“YES, sir. Exactly, Mr. Beamish,” said Garroway. “I quite see that.”

“Then go away and rewrite your poem on the lines I have indicated.”

“Yes, Mr. Beamish.” The policeman paused. “Before I go, there is just one other thing.”

“There is no other thing in the world that matters except love.”

“Well, sir, there are the motion pictures, to which you made a brief allusion just now, and——”

“Garroway,” said Hamilton Beamish, “I trust that you are not going to tell me that, after all I have done to try to make you a poet, you wish to sink to writing motion picture scenarios?”

“No, sir. No, indeed. But some little time ago I happened to purchase a block of stock in a motion picture company, and so far all my efforts to dispose of it have proved fruitless. I have begun to entertain misgivings as to the value of these shares, and I thought that, while I was here, I would ask you if you knew anything about them.”

“What is the company?”

“The Finer and Better Motion Picture Company of Hollywood, California, Mr. Beamish.”

“How many shares did you buy?”

“Fifty thousand dollars’ worth.”

“How much did you pay?”

“Three hundred dollars.”

“You were stung,” said Hamilton Beamish. “The stock is so much waste paper. Who sold it to you?”

“I have unfortunately forgotten his name. He was a man with a red face and gray hair. And if I’d got him here now,” said Officer Garroway, with honest warmth, “I’d soak him so hard it would jolt his grandchildren. The smooth, salve-slinging crocodile!”

“It is a curious thing,” said Hamilton Beamish musingly. “There seems to be floating at the back of my consciousness a sort of nebulous memory having to do with this very stock you mention. I seem to recall somebody at some time and place consulting me about it. . . . No, it’s no good; it won’t come back. I have been much preoccupied of late, and things slip my mind. Well, run along, Garroway, and set about rewriting that poem of yours.”

The policeman’s brow was dark. There was a rebellious look in his usually mild eyes.

“Rewrite it nothing! It’s the goods.”

“Garroway!”

“I said New York was full of lepers, and so it is. Nasty, oily, lop-eared lepers that creep up to a fellow and sell him scabrous stock that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. That poem is right, and I don’t alter a word of it. No, sir!”

Hamilton Beamish shook his head.

“One of these days, Garroway, love will awaken in your heart and you will change your views.”

“One of these days,” replied the policeman frigidly, “I shall meet that red-faced guy again, and I’ll change his face. It won’t be only my heart that’ll be aching by the time I’ve finished with him.”

 

GEORGE FINCH’S wedding-day dawned fair and bright. The sun beamed down as if George, by getting married, were doing it a personal favor. The breezes, playing about him, brought with them a faint but well defined scent of orange blossom. And from the moment when they had finished the practical business of getting outside their early worm, all the birds for miles around had done nothing but stand in the trees, singing Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. It was the sort of day to make a man throw out his chest and say “Tra-la!” and George did so.

Delightful, he reflected, as he walked up from the inn after lunch, to think that in a few short hours he and Molly would be bowling away together in a magic train, each revolution of its wheels taking them nearer to the Islands of the Blest and—what was almost more agreeable—farther away from Mrs. Waddington.

It would be idle to deny that in the past three weeks George Finch had found his future mother-in-law something of a trial. Her consistent failure to hide the pain that the mere sight of him so obviously caused her was damping to an impressionable young man.

George was not vain, and if Molly’s stepmother had been content to look at him simply as if she thought he was something the cat had dragged out of the ashcan, he could have borne up. But Mrs. Waddington went further. Her whole attitude betrayed her belief that the cat, on inspecting George, had been disappointed. Seeing what it had got, her manner suggested, it had given him the look of chagrin which cats give when conscious of effort wasted, and had gone elsewhere to try again.

...the cat, on inspecting George, had been disappointed.

 

A LOVER, counting the days until the only girl in the world shall be his, will see sweetness and light in virtually everything; but George Finch, despite his most earnest endeavors, had been compelled to draw the line at Mrs. Waddington.

However, these little annoyances were, after all, the merest trifles; and the thought, as he approached the house, that inside it there sat a suffering woman who, thinking of him, mourned and would not be comforted, did nothing to diminish his mood of overflowing happiness. He entered the grounds, humming lightly; and, starting to pass up the drive, came upon Hamilton Beamish, smoking a thoughtful cigarette.

“Hullo,” said George. “So you’ve got here?”

“Correct,” said Hamilton Beamish.

“How do you think Molly is looking?”

“Charming. But I only caught a glimpse of her as she was hurrying off.”

“Hurrying off?”

“Yes. There has been a slight hitch in the proceedings. Didn’t you know?”

“My God! Tell me!” said George, clutching his friend’s arm.

“Ouch!” said Hamilton Beamish, releasing the arm and rubbing it. “It is nothing to get excited about. All that has happened is that the clergyman who was to have married you has met with an accident. His wife telephoned just now to say that, while standing on a chair and trying to reach down a volume of devotional thought from an upper shelf, he fell and sprained his ankle!”

“The poor fish!” said George warmly. “This is awful news, Hamilton. I must rush about and try to find a substitute. Good heavens! An hour or so before the wedding, and no clergyman!”

“Calm yourself, George. The necessary steps are being taken. I think Mrs. Waddington would have been just as pleased to let the whole thing drop, but Molly became very active. She telephoned in all directions, and eventually succeeded in locating a disengaged minister in the neighborhood of Flushing. She and Mrs. Waddington have gone off together in the car to fetch him. They will be back in about an hour and a half.”

“You mean to tell me,” demanded George, paling, “that I shall not see Molly for an hour and a half?”

“ ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ I quote Thomas Haynes Bayly. And Frederick William Thomas, a poet of the early nineteenth century, amplifies this thought in the lines:

“ ’Tis said that absence conquers love;
 But oh believe it not!
I’ve tried, alas! its power to prove,
 But thou art not forgot.

“Be a man, George. Clench your hands and try to endure.”

“It’s sickening.”

“Be brave,” said Hamilton Beamish. “I know just how just you feel. I also am going through the torment of being parted from the one woman.”

“Absolutely sickening! A clergyman, and not able to stand on a chair without falling off!”

A sudden gruesome thought struck him:

“Hamilton! What’s it a sign of when the clergyman falls off a chair and sprains his ankle on the morning of the wedding?”

“How do you mean, what is it a sign of?”

“I mean, is it bad luck?”

“For the clergyman, undoubtedly.”

“You don’t think it means that anything is going to go wrong with the wedding?”

“I have never heard of any such superstition. You must endeavor to control these fancies, George. You are allowing yourself to get into a thoroughly overwrought condition.”

“Well, what sort of a condition do you expect a fellow to be in on his wedding morning, with clergymen falling off chairs wherever he looks?”

Hamilton Beamish smiled tolerantly.

“I suppose nerves are inevitable on such an occasion. I notice that even Sigsbee H., who can scarcely consider himself a principal in this affair, is thoroughly jumpy. He was walking on the lawn some little time ago, and when I came up behind him and laid a hand on his shoulder, he leaped like a startled roe. If Sigsbee H. Waddington possessed a mind, I should say that there was something on it. No doubt he is brooding on the West again.”

The sun was still shining brightly, but somehow the day seemed to George to have grown overcast and chill. A gray foreboding had come upon him.

“It isn’t fair that a delicate, highly strung girl like Molly should be upset like this at such a time.”

“I think you exaggerate the effects of the occurrence on Molly. She seemed to me to be bearing it with equanimity.”

“She wasn’t pale?”

“Not in the least. She seemed quite her normal self.”

“Thank God!” said George.

“In fact, the last thing she said to Ferris, as the car drove away, was——”

“What?”

Hamilton Beamish had broken off. He was frowning.

“My memory is terrible. It is the effect, of course, of love. I have just remembered——”

“What did Molly say?”

“I have forgotten. But I have just remembered what it was that I was told to tell you as soon as you arrived. It is curious how often the mention of a name will, as it were, strike a chord. I spoke of Ferris, and it has just come back to me that Ferris gave me a message for you.”

“Oh, darn Ferris!”

“He asked me, when I saw you, to say that a female of some kind was calling you up on the telephone earlier in the morning. He told her that you were at the inn and advised her to get you there; but she said it didn’t matter, as she was coming down here immediately. She said she had known you in East Gilead.”

“Oh?” said George indifferently.

“And her name, if I remember rightly, was Dubbs or Tubbs or Jubbs—or—no, I have it. My memory is better than I supposed. It was May Stubbs. Does it convey anything to you?”

 

IT chanced that, as he spoke these light and casual words, Hamilton Beamish, glancing down, noted that his shoelace had come untied. Stooping to attend to this, he missed seeing George’s face. Nor—for he was a man who concentrated even on the lightest task the full attention of a great mind—did he hear the other’s sudden whistling gasp of astonishment and horror. A moment later, however, he observed out of the corner of his eye something moving; and, looking, perceived that George’s legs were wabbling strangely.

Hamilton Beamish straightened himself. He was now in a position to see George steadily and see him whole; and the spectacle convinced him at once that something in the message he had just delivered must have got right in among his friend’s ganglions. George Finch’s agreeable features seemed to be picked out in a delicate Nile green. His eyes were staring. His jaw had fallen. Nobody who had ever seen a motion picture could have had the least doubt as to what he was registering. It was dismay.

“My dear George!” said Hamilton Beamish, concerned.

“Wok—wuk—wok”—George swallowed desperately—“wok name did you say?”

“May Stubbs.”

Hamilton Beamish’s expression grew graver and he looked at his friend with a sudden suspicion.

“Tell me all, George. It is idle to pretend that the name is strange to you. Obviously it has awakened deep memories. I trust, George, that this is not some poor girl with whose happiness you have toyed in the past, some broken blossom that you have culled and left to perish by the wayside?”

George Finch was staring before him in a sort of stupor.

“All is over!” he said dully.

Hamilton Beamish softened.

“Confide in me. We are friends. I will not judge you harshly, George.”

 

A SUDDEN fury melted the ice of George’s torpor.

“It’s all that parson’s fault!” he cried vehemently. “I knew all along it meant bad luck. I’m done for.”

“Who is this May Stubbs?”

“I knew her in East Gilead,” said George hopelessly. “We were sort of engaged.”

Hamilton Beamish pursed his lips.

“Apart from the slovenly English of the phrase, which is perhaps excusable in the circumstances, I cannot see how you can have been ‘sort of’ engaged. A man is either engaged or he is not.”

“Not where I come from. In East Gilead they have what they call understandings.”

“And there was an understanding between you and this Miss Stubbs?”

“Yes. Just one of those boy-and-girl affairs. You know: you see a girl home once or twice from church, and you take her to one or two picnics, and people kid you about her, and—well, there you are. I suppose she thought we were engaged. And now she’s read in the papers about my wedding, and has come to make herself unpleasant.”

“Did you and this girl quarrel before you separated?”

“No. We sort of drifted apart. I took it for granted that the thing was over and done with. And when I saw Molly——”

Hamilton Beamish laid a hand upon his arm.

“George,” he said, “I want you to give me your full attention, for we have arrived now at the very core of the matter. Were there any letters?”

“Dozens. And of course she has kept them.”

“Bad!” said Hamilton Beamish, shaking his head. “Very bad!”

“And I remember her saying once that she believed in breach-of-promise suits!”

Hamilton Beamish frowned. He seemed to be deploring the get-rich-quick spirit of the modern girl, who is not content to sit down and wait for her alimony.

“You think it certain that she is coming here to make trouble?”

“What other reason could she have?”

“Yes, I fancy you are right. I must think. I must think. Let me think!”

And, so saying, Hamilton Beamish turned sharply to the left and began to walk slowly round in a circle, his hands behind his back and his face bent and thoughtful. His eyes searched the ground as if to wrest inspiration from it.

Few sights in this world are more inspiring than that of a great thinker actually engaged in thought; and yet George Finch, watching his friend, chafed. He had a perhaps forgivable craving for quick results; and Hamilton Beamish, though impressive, did not seem to be getting anywhere.

 

“HAVE you thought of anything?” he asked, as the other came round for the third time.

Hamilton Beamish held up a hand in silent reproof and resumed his pacing. Presently he stopped.

“Yes?” said George.

“With regard to this engagement——”

“It wasn’t an engagement. It was an understanding.”

“With regard to this understanding or engagement, the weak spot in your line of defense is undoubtedly the fact that it was you who broke it off.”

“But I didn’t break it off.”

“I used the wrong expression. I should have said that it was you who took the initiative. You left East Gilead and came to New York. Therefore, technically, you deserted this girl.”

“I wish you wouldn’t say things like that. Can’t you understand that it was just one of those boy-and-girl affairs that come to an end of themselves?”

“I was looking at the thing from a lawyer’s viewpoint. And may I point out that the affair appears not to have come to an end? What I am trying to make clear is this: that, if you had wished it to come to an end, you should, before you left East Gilead, have arranged somehow that this Miss Stubbs broke off the engagement.”

“Understanding.”

“The engagement or understanding. That would have cleaned the slate. You should have done something that would have made her disgusted with you.”

“How could I? I’m not the sort of fellow who can do things like that.”

“Even now, it seems to me, if you could do something that would revolt this Miss Stubbs—make her recoil from you with loathing——”

“Well, what?”

“I must think,” said Beamish.

He did four more laps.

“Suppose you had committed some sort of crime?” he said, returning to the fixed point. “Suppose she were to find out you were a thief? She wouldn’t want to marry you if you were on your way to Sing Sing.”

“No. And neither would Molly.”

“True. I must think again.”

 

IT was some moments later that George, eying his friend with the growing dislike which those of superior brain power engender in us when they fail to deliver the goods in our times of crisis, observed him give a sudden start.

“I think I have it,” said Hamilton Beamish.

“Well?”

“This Miss Stubbs. Tell me, is she strait-laced? Prudish? Most of those village girls are.”

George reflected.

“I don’t remember ever having noticed. I never did anything to make her prudish about.”

“I think we may assume that, having lived all her life in a spot like East Gilead, she is. The solution of this difficulty, then, is obviously to lead her to suppose that you have become a reprobate.”

“A what?”

“A Don Juan. A Lothario. A libertine. It should be perfectly easy. She has seen motion pictures of life in New York, and will not be hard to convince that you have deteriorated since you came to live here. Our plan of action now becomes simple. All we have to do is to get some girl to come along and say that you have no right to marry anybody but her.”

“What!”

“I can see the scene now: This Miss Stubbs is sitting beside you, a dowdy figure in her homemade village gown. You are talking of the old days. You are stroking her hand. Suddenly you look up and start. The door has opened and a girl, all in black, with a white face, is entering. Her eyes are haggard, her hair disordered. In her arms she clasps a little bundle.”

“No, no! Not that!”

“Very well, we will dispense with the bundle. She stretches out her arms to you. She totters. You rush to support her. The scene is similar to one in Haddon Chambers’ Passers-By.”

“What happened in that?”

“What could happen? The fiancee saw the ruined girl had the greater claim, so she joined their hands together and crept silently from the room.”

George laughed mirthlessly.

“There’s just one thing you’re overlooking: Where are we going to get the white-faced girl?”

Hamilton Beamish stroked his chin.

“There is that difficulty. I must think.”

“And while you’re thinking,” said George coldly, “I’ll do the only practical thing there is to be done, and go down to the station and meet her, and have a talk with her and try to get her to be sensible.”

He turned and hurried down the drive. Hamilton Beamish, still meditating, made his way toward the house.

He had reached the lawn when, as he stopped to light a cigarette to assist thought, he saw a sight that made him drop the match and draw back into the shelter of a tree.

Hamilton Beamish stopped, looked, and listened. A girl had emerged from a clump of rhododendrons, and was stealing softly round the lawn toward the dining-room window.

*   *   *

GIRLHOOD is the season of dreams. To Fanny Welch, musing over the position of affairs after Sigsbee H. Waddington had given her her final instructions, there had come a quaint, fantastic thought, creeping into her mind like a bee into a flower—the thought that, if she got to the house an hour earlier than the time he had mentioned, it might be possible for her to steal the necklace and keep it for herself.

The flaw in the scheme, as originally outlined, had seemed to her all along to lie in the fact that Mr. Waddington was to preside over the enterprise and take the loot from her the moment she had got it. The revised plan appeared immeasurably more attractive, and she proceeded to put it into action.

Luck seemed to be with her. Nobody was about, the window was ajar, and there on the table lay that which she had now come to look on in the light of a present for a good girl. She crept out of her hiding-place, stole round the edge of the lawn, entered the room, and had just grasped the case in her hand, when it was borne sharply in upon her that luck was not with her as much as she had supposed. A heavy hand was placed upon her shoulder. Twisting round, she perceived a majestic-looking man with a square chin and horn-rimmed spectacles.

A heavy hand was placed upon her shoulder.

“Well, young lady!” said this person.

Fanny breathed hard. These little contretemps are the risks of the profession, but that makes them none the easier to bear philosophically.

“Put down that jewel-case.”

Fanny did so. There was a pause. Hamilton Beamish moved to the window, blocking it up.

“Well?” said Fanny.

Hamilton Beamish adjusted his spectacles.

“Well, you’ve got me. What are you going to do?”

“What do you expect me to do?”

“Turn me over to the police?”

The figure in the window nodded curtly. Fanny clasped her hands together. Her eyes filled with tears.

“Don’t turn me over to the bulls, mister! I only did it for ma’s sake.”

“All wrong!”

“If you was out of work and starvin’, and you had to sit and watch your poor old ma bendin’ over the washtub——”

“All wrong!” repeated Hamilton Beamish forcefully.

“What do you mean, all wrong?”

“Mere crude Broadway melodrama. That stuff might deceive some people, but not me.”

Fanny shrugged her shoulders.

“Well, I thought it was worth trying,” she said.

Hamilton Beamish was regarding her keenly. That busy brain was never still, and now it had begun to work with even more than its normal intensity.

“Are you an actress?”

“Me? I should say not! My folks are awful particular.”

“Well, you have considerable dramatic ability. There was a ring of sincerity in that drivel you just recited which would have convinced most men. I think I could use you in a little drama that I have been planning. I’ll make a bargain with you. I have no wish to send you to prison.”

“Spoken like a man.”

“I ought to, of course.”

“Yes; but it’s a lot better fun doing things that you oughtn’t, isn’t it?”

“Well, the point is, I have a friend who is in a difficulty, and it occurs to me that you can get him out.”

“Always glad to oblige.”

“My friend is going to be married today, and he has just heard that a previous fiancee of his, whom in the excitement inseparable from falling in love with the girl who is to be his bride he had unfortunately overlooked, is on her way here.”

“To make trouble?”

“Precisely.”

“Well, what can I do about it?”

“Just this. For five minutes I want you to play the role of my friend’s discarded victim.”

“I don’t get it.”

“I will put it more plainly. In a short while this girl will arrive, probably in company with my friend, who has gone to meet her. You will be waiting outside here. At an appropriate moment you will rush into the room, hold out your arms to my friend, and cry, ‘George! George! Why did you desert me? You don’t belong to that girl there! You belong to me—the woman you have wronged!’ ”

“Not on your life!”

“What!”

 

FANNY drew herself up haughtily.

“Not on your life!” she said. “Suppose my husband got to hear of it!”

“Are you married?”

“Married this morning at the Little Church Around the Corner.”

“And you come here and try to steal things on your wedding-day!”

“Why not? You know as well as I do what it costs nowadays to set up house.”

“Surely it would be a severe shock to your husband to find that you had been sent to prison? You had better be reasonable.”

Fanny scraped the floor with her shoe.

“Would this thing you want me to do get into the papers?”

“Good heavens, no!”

“And there’s another thing. Suppose I did come in and pull that spiel, who would believe it?”

“The girl would. She is very simple.”

“She must be.”

“Just an ignorant village girl—the sort who would naturally recoil from a man in the circumstances I have outlined.”

“Suppose they ask me questions?”

“They won’t.”

“But suppose they do? Suppose the girl says, ‘Where did you meet him and when did all this happen and what the hell—’ and all like that, what do I say?”

Hamilton Beamish considered.

“I think the best plan would be for you to pretend, immediately after you have spoken the words I have indicated, that emotion has made you feel faint. Yes, that is best. Having said those words, exclaim, ‘Air! Air! I want air!’ and rush out.”

“Now you’re talking. I like that bit about rushing out. I’ll go so quick they won’t see me.”

“Then you are prepared to do this thing?”

“Looks as if I’d got to.”

“Good. Kindly run through your opening speech. I must see that you are letter-perfect.”

“George! George!”

“Pause before the second ‘George’ and take in breath. Once more, please.”

“George! George! Why did you desert me?”

“Arms extended.”

“You don’t belong to that girl there!”

“George! George!”

“Pause. Breath.”

“You belong to me—the woman you have wronged!”

Hamilton Beamish nodded with restrained approval.

“Not bad. Not at all bad. Now go back and hide in the rhododendrons. This girl may be arriving at any moment.”

*   *   *

HAMILTON BEAMISH strolled out into the hall. He was lighting a cigarette when through the open door he saw Madame Eulalie alighting from a red two-seater car. He skipped joyously to meet her.

“So you managed to come, after all!”

Madame Eulalie shook his hand with that brisk amiability that was one of her main charms.

“Yes. But I’ve got to turn right round and go back again. I’ve three appointments this afternoon. I suppose you’re staying on for the wedding?”

“I had intended to. I promised George I would be his best man.”

“That’s a pity. I could have driven you back.”

“Oh, I can easily cancel the thing,” said Hamilton Beamish quickly. “In fact, I shall, directly George returns. He can get dozens of best men—dozens.”

“Returns? Where has he gone?”

“To the station.”

“What a nuisance! I came specially to see him. Still, it doesn’t matter. I had better see Miss Waddington for a moment, I suppose.”

“She is out.”

“Doesn’t anybody stay in the house in these parts when there’s to be a wedding?”

“There has been a slight accident,” explained Hamilton Beamish. “The clergyman sprained his ankle, and Mrs. Waddington and Molly have gone to Flushing to pick up an understudy. And George has gone to the station.”


 

Do you know how a red-blooded man makes love? Even if he writes booklets for a living? Don’t miss J. Hamilton Beamish’s demonstration in next week’s issue.

 


Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine omitted closing single quotation mark after "wronged!" in Hamilton’s “I will put it more plainly” paragraph.