Liberty, December 18, 1926
“IF you want Mr. Finch’s opinion—” began George heatedly.
“But we’ve done with all that sort of thing now, haven’t we, pettie? Give him his necklace, honey,” urged Mullett.
Mrs. Mullett’s black eyes snapped. She twisted her pretty fingers irresolutely.
“Take your old necklace!” she said.
George caught it as it fell.
“Thanks,” he said, and put it in his pocket.
“And now, Mr. Finch,” said Mullett suavely, “I think we will say good night. My little girl here has had a tiring day and ought to be turning in.”
GEORGE hurried across the roof to his apartment. Whatever the risk of leaving the safety of the sleeping-porch, it must be ignored. It was imperative that he telephone to Molly and inform her of what had happened.
He was pulling the French window open when he heard his name called, and perceived Mullett hurrying toward him from the door that led to the stairs.
“Just one moment, Mr. Finch.”
“What is it? I have a most important telephone call to make.”
“I thought you would be glad to have this, sir.”
With something of the air of a conjurer who, to amuse the children, produces two rabbits and the grand old flag from inside a borrowed top hat, Mullett unclasped his fingers.
“Your necklace, sir.”
George’s hand flew to his pocket and came away empty.
“Good heavens! How——?”
“My little girl,” explained Mullett with a proud and tender look in his eyes. “She snitched it off you, sir, as we were going out. I was able, however, to persuade her to give it up again. She’s a very reasonable girl, sir, when tactfully approached by the voice of love.”
George drew a deep breath. He replaced the necklace in his inside breast pocket, buttoned his coat, and drew away a step or two.
“Are you going to let that woman loose on a duck farm, Mullett?”
“Yes, sir. We are taking a little place in the neighborhood of Speonk.”
“She’ll have the tail feathers off every bird on the premises before the end of the first week.”
Mullett bowed his appreciation of the compliment.
“And they wouldn’t know they’d lost them, sir,” he agreed. “There’s never been anyone in the profession fit to be reckoned in the same class with my little girl. But all that sort of thing is over now, sir. She is definitely retiring from business, except for an occasional visit to the department stores during bargain sales. A girl must have her bit of finery. Good night, sir.”
“Good night,” said George.
He took out the necklace, examined it carefully, replaced it in his pocket, buttoned his coat once more, and went into the apartment to telephone to Molly.
* * *
MRS. WADDINGTON had once read a story in which a series of emotions, including fear, horror, amazement, consternation, and a sickly dismay, were described as “chasing one another” across the face of a dastardly person at the moment of realization that his villainy had been discovered past concealment; and it was with the expectation of watching a similar parade on the moonlike countenance of Ferris, the butler, that she pressed the bell outside the door of the apartment of Mr. Lancelot Biffen on the ninth floor.
She was disappointed. Ferris, as he appeared in the doorway in answer to her ring, lacked a little of his customary portentous dignity; but that was only because we authors, after a grueling bout at the desk, are always apt to look a shade frazzled. The butler’s hair was disordered where he had plucked at it in the agony of composition, but otherwise he was in pretty good shape, and he did not even start on perceiving the identity of his visitor.
“Mr. Biffen is not at home, madam,” said Ferris equably.
“I do not wish to see Mr. Biffen.” Mrs. Waddington swelled with justifiable wrath. “Ferris,” she said, “I know all!”
“You have no sick relative,” proceeded Mrs. Waddington. “You are here because you are writing a scurrilous report of what happened this afternoon at my house for a gutter rag called Town Gossip. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
Ferris raised his eyebrows.
“I venture to take issue with you, madam. The profession of journalism is an honorable one. Many very estimable men have written for the press—Horace Greeley,” said Ferris, specifying. “Delane——”
“But we will go into that later.”
“Very good, madam.”
“Meanwhile, I wish you to accompany me to the roof.”
“I shall be at your disposal in a few minutes, madam.”
“I WISH you to accompany me now.”
The butler shook his head.
“If I might excuse myself, madam. I am engaged on the concluding passages of the article to which you alluded just now, and I am anxious to complete it before Mr. Biffen’s return.”
Mrs. Waddington caused the eye before which Sigsbee H. had so often curled up and crackled like a burnt feather to blaze imperiously upon the butler. He met it with the easy aplomb of one who in his time has looked at dukes and made them feel that their trousers were bagging at the knees.
“Would you care to step inside and wait, madam?”
Mrs. Waddington was reluctantly obliged to realize that she was quelled. She had shot her bolt. A cyclone might shake this man, but not the human eye.
“I will not step inside.”
“Very good, madam. For what reason do you desire me to accompany you to the roof?”
“I want you to—to look at something.”
“If it is the view, madam, I should mention that I have already visited the top of the Woolworth Building.”
“It is not the view. I wish you to look at a man who is living in open sin.”
“Very good, madam.” There was no surprise in Ferris’ manner, only a courteous suggestion that he was always glad to look at men living in open sin. “I shall be at your disposal in a few minutes.”
He closed the door gently, and Mrs. Waddington, full of the coward rage that dares to burn but does not dare to blaze, abandoned her intention of kicking in a panel, and stood on the landing, heaving gently. And presently there was borne up to her from the lower levels a cheerful sound of whistling.
Lord Hunstanton came into view.
“Hullo-ullo-ullo!” said Lord Hunstanton exuberantly. “Here I am, here I am, here I am!”—meaning, of course, that there he was.
A striking change had taken place in the man’s appearance since Mrs. Waddington had last seen him. He now wore the care-free and debonair expression of one who has dined, and dined well. The sparkle in his eye spoke of clear soup; the smile on his lips was eloquent of roast duck and green peas. To Mrs. Waddington, who had not broken bread since lunchtime, he seemed the most repellent object on which she had ever gazed.
“I trust you have had a good dinner,” she said icily.
His lordship’s sunny smile broadened and a dreamy look came into his eyes.
“Absolutely!” he replied. “I started with a spruce spoonful of Julienne, and passed on, by way of a breezy half-lobster on the shell, to about as upstanding a young Long Island duckling as I have ever bitten.”
“Be quiet!” said Mrs. Waddington.
“Finishing up with——”
“Will you be quiet! I have no desire to hear the details of your repast.”
“Oh, sorry! I thought you had.”
“You have been away long enough to have eaten half a dozen dinners. However, as it happens, you are not too late. I have something to show you.”
“That’s good. Moral turpitude pretty strong on the wing, eh?”
“A few moments ago,” said Mrs. Waddington, leading the way to the roof, “I observed a young woman enter what appears to be some kind of outdoor sleeping-porch attached to George Finch’s apartment, and immediately afterward I heard her voice in conversation with George Finch within.”
“Turpy,” said his lordship, shaking his head reprovingly. “Very turpy.”
“I came down to fetch Ferris, my butler, as a witness, but fortunately you have returned in time. Though why you were not back half an hour ago I cannot understand.”
“But I was telling you. I dallied with a mouthful of Julienne——”
Lord Hunstanton followed her, puzzled. He could not understand what seemed to him a morbid distaste on his companion’s part to touch on the topic of food.
They came out on the roof, and Mrs. Waddington, raising a silent and beckoning finger, moved on tiptoe toward the sleeping-porch.
“NOW what?” inquired his lordship, as they paused before the door.
Mrs. Waddington rapped upon the panel.
Complete silence followed the words.
“George Finch!” echoed his lordship, conscious of his responsibilities as a chorus.
“Finch!” said Mrs. Waddington.
“George!” cried Lord Hunstanton.
Mrs. Waddington flung open the door. All was darkness within. She switched on the light. The room was empty.
“Well!” said Mrs. Waddington.
“Perhaps they’re under the bed.”
“Go and look.”
“But suppose he bites at me?”
Mrs. Waddington turned on him with a snort of annoyance; and, having turned, remained staring frozenly at something that had suddenly manifested itself on his lordship’s rear.
This something was a long, stringy policeman; and, though Mrs. Waddington had met this policeman only once before in her life, the circumstances of that meeting had been such that the memory of him had lingered. She recognized him immediately, and wilted.
“WHAT’S up?” inquired Lord Hunstanton. He, too, turned. “Oh, what ho, the constabulary!”
Officer Garroway was gazing at Mrs. Waddington with an eye from which one of New York’s Bohemian evenings had wiped every trace of its customary mildness. So intense, indeed, was the malevolence of its gleam that, if there had been two such eyes boring into hers, it is probable that Mrs. Waddington would have swooned. Fortunately, the other was covered with a piece of raw steak and a bandage, and so was out of action.
“Ah!” said Officer Garroway.
There is little in the word “Ah,” when you write it down and take a look at it, to suggest that under certain conditions it can be one of the most sinister words in the language. But hear it spoken by a policeman in whose face you have recently thrown pepper, and you will be surprised.
To Mrs. Waddington, as she shrank back into the sleeping-porch, it seemed a sort of combination of an Indian war whoop, the last trump, and the howl of a pursuing wolf pack. Her knees weakened beneath her and she collapsed on the bed.
“Copped you, have I?” proceeded the policeman.
The question was plainly a rhetorical one, for he did not pause for a reply. He adjusted the bandage that held the steak and continued his remarks:
It seemed to Lord Hunstanton that all this was very odd and irregular.
“I say, look here, you know; what I mean to say is——”
“So are you,” said Officer Garroway. “You seem to be in it too. You’re both pinched. And start any funny business,” concluded the constable, swinging his night stick in a ham-like fist, “and I’ll bend this over your nut. Get me?”
There followed one of those pauses that so often punctuate the conversation of comparative strangers. Officer Garroway seemed to have said his say. Mrs. Waddington had no observations to make. And, although Lord Hunstanton would have liked to put a question or two, the spectacle of that oscillating night stick had the effect of driving the words out of his head.
And then from somewhere below there sounded the voice of one who cried: “Beamish! Hey, Beamish!”
It was the voice of Sigsbee H. Waddington.
NOTHING is more annoying to the reader of a chronicle like this than to have somebody suddenly popping up in some given spot and to find that the historian does not propose to offer any explanation as to how he got there. A conscientious recorder should explain the exits and the entrances of even so insignificant a specimen of the race as Sigsbee H. Waddington, and the present scribe must now take time off in order to do so.
Sigsbee H., it may be remembered, had started out to search through New York for a policeman named Gallagher, and New York had given him of its abundance. It had provided for Mr. Waddington’s inspection a perfect wealth of Gallaghers; but, owing to the fact that what he really wished to meet was not a Gallagher but a Garroway, nothing in the nature of solid success had rewarded his efforts.
He had seen tall Gallaghers, small Gallaghers, a cross-eyed Gallagher, a pimpled Gallagher, a Gallagher with red hair, a Gallagher with a broken nose, two Gallaghers who looked like bad dreams, and a final supreme Gallagher who looked like nothing on earth. But he had not found the man to whom he had sold the stock of the Finer and Better Motion Picture Company of Hollywood, California.
Many men in such a position would have given up the struggle. Sigsbee H. Waddington did. The last Gallagher had been on duty in the neighborhood of Bleecker Street, and Mr. Waddington, turning into Washington Square, tottered to a bench and sagged down on it.
For some minutes the ecstatic relief of resting his feet occupied his mind to the exclusion of everything else. Then there occurred to him a thought that, had it arrived earlier in the day, would have saved him a considerable output of energy. He suddenly remembered that he had met the missing policeman at the apartment of Hamilton Beamish, and, pursuing this train of thought to its logical conclusion, decided that Hamilton Beamish was the one person who would be able to give him information as to the man’s whereabouts.
No tonic, however popular and widely advertised, could have had so instantly revivifying an effect. An instant before, he had been lying back on the bench in a used-up attitude which would have convinced any observer that the only thing to do with a man in such a stage of exhausted dejection was to notify the city authorities and have him swept up and deposited in the incinerator with the rest of the local garbage. But now, casting off despair like a cloak, he sprang from his seat and was across the square and heading for the Sheridan before such an observer would have had time to say “What ho!”
Not even the fact that the elevator was not running could check his exhilarated progress. He skimmed up the stairs to Hamilton Beamish’s door like a squirrel.
“Beamish!” he cried. “Hey, Beamish!”
Up on the roof, Officer Garroway started as a war horse at the sound of the bugle. He knew that voice. And, if it should seem remarkable that he should have remembered it after so many days, having been in conversation with it but once, the explanation is that Mr. Waddington’s voice had certain tonal qualities that rendered it individual and distinctive.
“Gosh!” said Officer Garroway, shaking like an aspen.
The voice had had its effect also on Mrs. Waddington. She started up as if the bed on which she sat had become suddenly incandescent.
“Siddown!” said Officer Garroway.
Mrs. Waddington sat down.
“My dear old constable,” began Lord Hunstanton.
“Shut up!” said Officer Garroway.
Lord Hunstanton shut up.
“Gosh!” said Officer Garroway once more.
He eyed his prisoners in an agony of indecision. He was in the unfortunate position of wanting to be in two places at once. To rush down the stairs and accost the man who had sold him that stock would mean that he would have to leave these two birds, with the result that they would undoubtedly escape. And that they should escape was the last thing in the world that Officer Garroway desired. These two represented the most important capture he had made since he had joined the force. To land them in the coop meant promotion.
On the other hand, to go down and get his fingers nicely placed around the throat of the man below meant that he might get his $300 back. What to do? What to do?
“Oh, gosh! Oh, gee!” sighed Officer Garroway.
A measured footstep made itself heard. There came into his range of vision an ambassadorial-looking man with a swelling waistcoat and a spot of ink on his nose. And, seeing him, the policeman uttered a cry of elation.
“Hey!” said Officer Garroway.
“Sir?” said the newcomer.
“You’re a deputy.”
“No, sir; I am a butler.”
“Say, Be-eeeee-mish!” bleated the voice below.
IT roused the policeman to a frenzy of direct action.
“You’re a deputy,” he repeated. “You know what that means, don’t you, dumb-bell? I’m an officer of the law, and I appoint you my deputy.”
“I have no desire to be a deputy,” said the other, with the cold sub-tinkle in his voice which had once made the younger son of a marquess resign from his clubs and go to Uganda.
It was wasted on Officer Garroway. The man was berserk.
“That’s all right, what you desire and don’t desire. I’ve made you a deputy, and you’ll be one or go up the river for resisting an officer of the law, besides getting a dot over the bean with this stick that’ll make you wish you hadn’t. Now, then?”
“The position being such as you have outlined,” said the butler, with dignity, “I have no alternative but to comply with your wishes.”
“What’s your name?”
“Rupert Antony Ferris.”
“Where do you live?”
“I am in the employment of Mrs. Sigsbee H. Waddington, at present residing at Hempstead, Long Island.”
“Well, I’ve got two birds in here that are wanted at headquarters, see? I’m locking them in.” Officer Garroway slammed the door and turned the key. “Now, all you have to do is to stand on guard till I come back. Not much to ask, is it?”
“The task appears to be well within the scope of my powers.”
“Then go to it,” said Officer Garroway.
FERRIS stood with his back to the sleeping-porch, looking at the moon with a touch of wistfulness. Moonlight nights always made him a little homesick, for Brangmarley Hall had been at its best on such occasions. How often had he, then a careless, light-hearted footman, watched the moonbeams reflected on the waters of the moat and, with all the little sounds of the English country whispering in his ear, pondered idly on what would win the 2 o’clock race at Ally Pally next day. Happy days! Happy days!
The sound of someone murmuring his name brought his wandering thoughts back to the workaday world. He looked around him with interest, which deepened as he saw that he apparently had the roof to himself.
The butler was a man who never permitted himself to be surprised, but he was conscious now of something not unlike that emotion. Disembodied voices that whispered his name were new in his experience. It could hardly be one of the two birds in the sleeping-porch that was speaking, for they were behind concrete walls and a solid door, and would have had to raise their voices far louder to make themselves heard.
Possibly an angel, thought the butler, and was turning his mind to other things when he perceived that in the wall by which he stood there was a small window high up in the concrete. So it was one of the birds, after all.
Scarcely had he made the discovery of the window when the voice spoke again, and so distinctly this time that he was able to recognize it as that of his employer, Mrs. Sigsbee H. Waddington.
“Madam?” said Ferris.
“It is I, Ferris—Mrs. Waddington.”
“Very good, madam.”
“What did you say? Come closer. I can’t hear you.”
“I said ‘Very good, madam,’ ” explained this modern Pyramus.
“Oh? Well, be quick, Ferris.”
“Be quick and let us out.”
“You wish me to release you, madam?”
“What did you say?”
“I said ‘H’m,’ madam.”
“What did he say?” asked the voice of Lord Hunstanton.
“He said ‘H’m!’ ” replied the voice of Mrs. Waddington.
“How should I know? I believe the man has been drinking.”
“Let me talk to the fellow,” said Lord Hunstanton.
There was a pause. Then a male understudy took up Thisbe’s portion of the performance:
“Sir?” said Ferris.
“You out there, what’s your name?”
“My name is—and has always been—Ferris, sir.”
“Well, then, Ferris, listen to me, and understand that I’m not the sort of man to stand any dashed nonsense or anything like that of any description whatsoever. Why, when this dear good lady told you to let us out, did you reply ‘H’m’? Answer me that—yes or no?”
“The ejaculation was intended to convey doubt, your lordship.”
“Doubt? What about?”
“As to whether I could see my way to letting you out, your lordship.”
“Don’t be a silly idiot. It’s not so dark as all that.”
“I was alluding to the difficulties confronting me as the result of the peculiar position in which I find myself situated, your lordship.”
“What did he say?” asked the voice of Mrs. Waddington.
“Something about his peculiar position.”
“Why is he in a peculiar position?”
“Ah! There you have me.”
“Let me talk to the man.”
There was a scuffling noise, followed by a heavy fall and a plaintive cry from a female in distress.
“I KNEW that chair would break if you stood on it,” said Lord Hunstanton. “I wish I could have had a small bet on that chair breaking if you stood on it.”
“Wheel the bed under the window,” replied the indomitable woman beside him. She had lost an inch of skin from her ankle, but her hat was still in the ring.
A grating noise proclaimed the shifting of the bed. There was a creak of springs beneath a heavy weight. The window, in its capacity of loud-speaker, announced Mrs. Waddington calling:
“What do you mean? Why is your position peculiar?”
“Because I am a deputy, madam.”
“What does that matter?”
“I represent the law, madam.”
“The what?” asked Lord Hunstanton.
“The law,” said Mrs. Waddington. “He says he represents the law.”
“Let me speak to the blighter!”
There was another interval.
“What’s all this rot about you representing the law?”
“I was placed in a position of trust by the officer who has recently left us. He instructed me to guard your lordship and Mrs. Waddington and to see that you did not effect your escape.”
“But, Ferris, try not to be more of an ass than you can help. You surely don’t suppose that Mrs. Waddington and I have done anything wrong?”
“It is not my place to speculate on the point which you have raised, your lordship.”
“Listen, Ferris. Let’s get down to the stern, practical side of this business. If the old feudal spirit hadn’t died out completely, you’d do a little thing like letting us out of this place for the pure love of service, if you know what I mean. But, seeing that we live in a commercial age, what’s the figure?”
“Are you suggesting that I should accept a bribe, your lordship? Am I to understand that you propose that, in return for money, I should betray my trust?”
“Yes. How much?”
“How much has your lordship got?”
“What did he say?” asked Mrs. Waddington.
“He asked how much we’d got.”
“How much what?”
“He wishes to extort money from us?”
“That’s what it sounded like.”
“Let me speak to the man.”
Mrs. Waddington came to the window.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
“Your behavior surprises and revolts me.”
“Very good, madam.”
Mrs. Waddington retired for a brief consultation with her companion.
“Ferris,” she said, returning to the window.
“Here is all the money we have—two hundred and fifteen dollars.”
“It will be ample, madam.”
“Then kindly make haste and unlock the door.”
“Very good, madam.”
Mrs. Waddington waited, chafing. The minutes passed.
“Well, what is it now?”
“I regret to have to inform you, madam,” said Ferris respectfully, “that, when the policeman went away, he took the key with him.”
Don’t miss the climax of the year’s funniest serial. In next week’s issue.
Printer’s error corrected above:
Magazine had “dumbbell” once, as Garroway addresses Ferris; elsewhere and at this point in the other three original sources it is “dumb-bell.”