The New Magazine, January 1927
Summary of the Opening Chapters.
LOVERS—successful ones—have to be resourceful fellows. But George Finch’s predicament might well have taxed resources profounder than his.
George, immaculate tenant of an immaculate small bachelor flat in New York, was madly in love with Molly Waddington, beautiful as unattainable, step-daughter of Mrs. Sigsbee H. Waddington—and daughter of Mr. Waddington who tried hard to matter, but only succeeded in being fatheaded; no husband should have expected to matter with a wife like Mrs. Waddington. By careful manœuvring, and with much fear and trembling, George set out upon a path that should lead to his lady’s heart; “insinuated” himself into dinner at her home midst a bevy of millionaires, snatched a tête-à-tête with Molly, and found himself forbidden the house. George was an artist—he could afford to be!—and Mrs. Waddington hated artists; she also hated anyone prepared to sympathise with Sigsbee H’s absurd fancy for giving up “the fleshpots” for the simple Western life. And George sympathised!—with a result sadly crushing to his romantic pursuit.
George had a friend, Hamilton Beamish, a health-and-culture fiend, author of English Pure and Marriage Sane, a gentleman taking himself a great deal more seriously than ever the reader will—Mr. Beamish looked upon himself as a good example, and the reader will look upon him as a good joke. To him the crest-fallen George hastens to unload his troubles.
ELL me all,” said Hamilton Beamish.
George told him all. The unfortunate young man was still looking licked to a splinter. For several hours he had been wandering distractedly through the streets of New York, and now he had crawled into Hamilton Beamish’s apartment in the hope that a keener mind than his own might be able to detect in the encompassing clouds a silver lining which he himself had missed altogether.
“Let me get this clear,” said Hamilton Beamish. “You called at the house?”
“And the butler refused to admit you?”
Hamilton Beamish regarded his stricken friend compassionately.
“My poor cloth-headed George,” he said, “you appear to have made a complete mess of things. By being impetuous you have ruined everything. Why could you not have waited and let me introduce you into this house in a normal and straightforward fashion, in my capacity of an old friend of the family? I would have started you right. As things are, you have allowed yourself to take on the semblance of an outcast.”
“But when old Waddington invited me to dinner—actually invited me to dinner . . .”
“You should have kicked him in the eye and made good your escape,” said Hamilton Beamish firmly. “Surely, after all that I said to you about Sigsbee H. Waddington, you were under no illusion that his patronage would make you popular in the home? Sigsbee H. Waddington is one of those men who have only to express a liking for anybody to cause their wives to look on him as something out of the Underworld. Sigsbee H. Waddington could not bring the Prince of Wales home to dinner and get away with it. And when he drags in and lays on the mat a specimen—I use the word in the kindliest spirit—like you, and does so, moreover, five minutes before the start of a formal dinner-party, thus upsetting the seating arrangements and leading to black thoughts in the kitchen, can you blame his wife for not fawning on you? And on top of that you pretend to be an artist.”
“I am an artist,” said George, with a flicker of spirit. It was a subject on which he held strong views.
“The point is a debatable one. And, anyhow, you should have concealed it from Mrs. Waddington. A woman of her type looks on artists as blots on the social scheme. I told you she judged her fellow-creatures entirely by their balance at the bank.”
“I have plenty of money.”
“How was she to know that? You tell her you are an artist, and she naturally imagines you . . .”
The telephone rang shrilly, interrupting Mr. Beamish’s flow of thought. There was an impatient frown on his face as he unhooked the receiver, but a moment later this had passed away, and, when he spoke, it was in a kindly and indulgent tone.
“Ah, Molly, my child!”
“Molly!” cried George.
Hamilton Beamish ignored the exclamation.
“Yes,” he said. “He is a great friend of mine.”
“Me?” said George.
Hamilton Beamish continued to accord to him that complete lack of attention characteristic of the efficient telephoner when addressed while at the instrument.
“Yes, he has been telling me about it. He’s here now.”
“Does she want me to speak to her?” quavered George.
“Certainly, I’ll come at once.”
Hamilton Beamish replaced the receiver, and stood for awhile in thought.
“What did she say?” asked George, deeply moved.
“This is interesting,” said Hamilton Beamish.
“What did she say?”
“This causes me to revise my views to some extent.”
“What did she say?”
“And yet I might have foreseen it.”
“What did she say?”
Hamilton Beamish rubbed his chin meditatively.
“The mind of a girl works oddly.”
“What did she say?”
“That was Molly Waddington,” said Hamilton Beamish.
“What did she say?”
“I am by no means sure,” said Beamish, regarding George owlishly through his spectacles, “that, after all, everything has not happened for the best. I omitted to take into my calculations the fact that what has occurred would naturally give you in the eyes of a warm-hearted girl, surrounded normally by men with incomes in six figures, a certain romantic glamour. Any girl with nice instincts must inevitably be attracted to a penniless artist whom her mother forbids her to see.”
“What did she say?”
“She asked me if you were a friend of mine.”
“And then what did she say?”
“She told me that her step-mother had forbidden you the house and that she had been expressly ordered never to see you again.”
“And what did she say after that?”
“She asked me to come up to the house and have a talk.”
“So I imagine.”
“Hamilton,” said George in a quivering voice, “Hamilton, old man, pitch it strong!”
“You mean, speak enthusiastically on your behalf?”
“I mean just that. How well you put these things, Hamilton!”
Hamilton Beamish took up his hat and placed it on his head.
“It is strange,” he said, meditatively, “that I should be assisting you in this matter.”
“It’s your good heart,” said George. “You have a heart of gold.”
“You have fallen in love at first sight, and my views on love at first sight are well known.”
“They’re all wrong.”
“My views are never wrong.”
“I don’t mean wrong exactly,” said George with sycophantic haste. “I mean that in certain cases love at first sight is the only thing.”
“Love should be a reasoned emotion.”
“Not if you suddenly see a girl like Molly Waddington.”
“When I marry,” said Hamilton Beamish, “it will be the result of a carefully calculated process of thought. I shall first decide after cool reflection that I have reached the age at which it is best for me to marry. I shall then run over the list of my female friends till I have selected one whose mind and tastes are in harmony with mine. I shall then . . .”
“Aren’t you going to change?” said George.
“Your clothes. If you are going to see Her . . .”
“I shall then,” proceeded Hamilton Beamish, “watch her carefully for a considerable length of time in order to assure myself that I have not allowed passion to blind me to any faults in her disposition. After that . . .”
“You can’t possibly call on Miss Waddington in those trousers,” said George, “And your shirt does not match your socks. You must . . .”
“After that, provided in the interval I have not observed any more suitable candidate for my affections, I shall go to her and in a few simple words ask her to be my wife. I shall point out that my income is sufficient for two, that my morals are above reproach, that . . .”
“Haven’t you a really nice suit that’s been properly pressed and brushed and a rather newer pair of shoes and a less floppy sort of hat and . . .”
“. . . that my disposition is amiable and my habits regular. And she and I will settle down to the Marriage Sane.”
“How about your cuffs?” said George.
“What about my cuffs?”
“Are you really going to see Miss Waddington in frayed cuffs?”
George had nothing more to say. It was sacrilege, but there seemed no way of preventing it.
As Hamilton Beamish, some quarter-of-an-hour later, climbed in a series of efficient movements up the stairs of the green omnibus which was waiting in Washington Square, the summer afternoon had reached its best and sweetest. A red-blooded, one hundred per cent. American sun still shone warmly down from a sky of gleaming azure, but there had stolen into the air a hint of the cool of evening. It was the sort of day when Tin Pan Alley lyric-writers suddenly realise that “love” rhymes with “skies above” and rush off, snorting, to turn out the song-hit of a lifetime. Sentimentality was abroad; and gradually, without his being aware of it, its seeds began to plant themselves in the stony and unpromising soil of Hamilton Beamish’s bosom.
Yes, little by little, as the omnibus rolled on up the Avenue, there began to burgeon in Hamilton Beamish a mood of gentle tolerance for his species. He no longer blamed so whole-heartedly the disposition of his fellow men to entertain towards the opposite sex on short acquaintance a warmth of emotion which could be scientifically justified only by a long and intimate knowledge of character. For the first time he began to debate within himself whether there was not something to be said for a man who, like George Finch, plunged headlong into love with a girl to whom he had never even spoken.
And it was at this precise moment—just, dramatically enough, when the bus was passing Twenty-Ninth Street with its pretty and suggestive glimpse of the Little Church Round The Corner—that he noticed for the first time the girl in the seat across the way.
She was a girl of chic and élan. One may go still farther—a girl of espièglerie and je ne sais quoi. She was dressed, as Hamilton Beamish’s experienced eye noted in one swift glance, in a delightful two-piece suit composed of a smart coat in fine quality repp, lined throughout with crêpe-de-chine, over a dainty long-sleeved frock of figured marocain prettily pleated at the sides and finished at the neck with a small collar and kilted frill; a dress which, as every schoolboy knows, can be had in beige, grey, mid-grey, opal, snuff, powder, burnt wood, puce, brown, bottle, almond, navy, black and dark saxe. Her colour was dark saxe.
Another glance enabled Hamilton Beamish to take in her hat. It was, he perceived, a becoming hat in Yedda Visca straw, trimmed and bound with silk Petersham ribbon, individual without being conspicuous, artistic in line and exquisite in style; and from beneath it there strayed a curl of the colour of a Pekingese dog. Judging the rest of her hair by the light of this curl, Hamilton Beamish deduced that, when combing and dressing it, she just moistened the brush with a little Scalpoline, thus producing a gleamy mass, sparkling with life and possessing that incomparable softness, freshness and luxuriance, at the same time toning each single hair to grow thick, long and strong. No doubt she had read advertisements of the tonic in the papers and now, having bought a bottle, was seeing how healthy and youthful her hair appeared after this delightful, refreshing dressing.
Her shoes were of black patent-leather, her stockings of steel-grey silk. She had that schoolgirl complexion and the skin you love to touch.
All these things the trained eye of Hamilton Beamish noted, swivelling rapidly sideways and swivelling rapidly back again. But it was her face that he noted most particularly. It was just the sort of face which, if he had not had his policy of Sane Love all carefully mapped out, would have exercised the most disturbing effect on his emotions. Even as it was, this strong, competent man could not check, as he alighted from the bus at Seventy-Ninth Street, a twinge of that wistful melancholy which men feel when they are letting a good thing get away from them.
Sad, reflected Hamilton Beamish, as he stood upon the steps of Number 16 and prepared to ring the bell, that he would never see this girl again. Naturally, a man of his stamp was not in love at first sight, but nevertheless he did not conceal it from himself that nothing would suit him better than to make her acquaintance and, after careful study of her character and disposition, possibly discover in a year or two that it was she whom Nature had intended for his mate.
It was at this point in his reflections that he perceived her standing at his elbow.
There are moments when even the coolest-headed efficiency expert finds it hard to maintain his poise. Hamilton Beamish was definitely taken aback; and, had he been a lesser man, one would have said that he became for an instant definitely pop-eyed. Apart from the fact that he had been thinking of her and thinking of her tenderly, there was the embarrassment of standing side by side with a strange girl on a doorstep. In such a crisis it is very difficult for a man to know precisely how to behave. Should he endeavour to create the illusion that he is not aware of her presence? Or should he make some chatty remark? And, if a chatty remark, what chatty remark?
Hamilton Beamish was still grappling with this problem, when the girl solved it for him. Suddenly screwing up a face which looked even more attractive at point-blank range than it had appeared in profile, she uttered the exclamation “Oo!”
“Oo!” said this girl.
For a moment, all Hamilton Beamish felt was that almost ecstatic relief which comes over the man of sensibility when he finds that a pretty girl has an attractive voice. Too many times in his career he had admired girls from afar, only to discover, when they spoke, that they had voices like peacocks calling up the rain. The next instant, however, he had recognised that his companion was suffering, and his heart was filled with a blend of compassion and zeal. Her pain aroused simultaneously the pity of the man and the efficiency of the efficiency expert.
“You have something in your eye?” he said.
“A bit of dust or something.”
“Permit me,” said Hamilton Beamish.
One of the most difficult tasks that can confront the ordinary man is the extraction of foreign bodies from the eye of a perfect stranger of the opposite sex. But Hamilton Beamish was not an ordinary man. Barely ten seconds later, he was replacing his handkerchief in his pocket and the girl was blinking at him gratefully.
“Thank you ever so much,” she said.
“Not at all,” said Hamilton Beamish.
“A doctor couldn’t have done it more neatly.”
“It’s just a knack.”
“Why is it,” asked the girl, “that, when you get a speck of dust in your eye about the size of a pin-point, it seems as big as all out-doors?”
Hamilton Beamish could answer that. The subject was one he had studied.
“The conjunctiva, a layer of mucous membrane which lines the back of the eyelids and is reflected on to the front of the globe, this reflection forming the fornix, is extremely sensitive. This is especially so at the point where the tarsal plates of fibrous tissue are attached to the orbital margin by the superior and inferior palpebral ligaments.”
“I see,” said the girl.
There was a pause.
“Are you calling on Mrs. Waddington?” asked the girl.
“On Miss Waddington.”
“I’ve never met her.”
“You don’t know the whole family, then?”
“No. Only Mrs. Waddington. Would you mind ringing the bell?”
Hamilton Beamish pressed the button.
“I saw you on the omnibus,” he said.
“Yes. I was sitting in the next seat.”
“It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?”
“I like the summer.”
“So do I.”
“When it’s not too hot.”
“Though, as a matter of fact,” said Hamilton Beamish, “I always say that what one objects to is not the heat but the humidity.”
Which simply goes to prove that even efficiency experts, when they fall in love at first sight, can babble like any man of inferior intellect in the same circumstances. Strange and violent emotions were racking Hamilton Beamish’s bosom; and, casting away the principles of a lifetime, he recognised without a trace of shame that love had come to him at last—not creeping scientifically into his soul, as he had supposed it would, but elbowing its way in with the Berserk rush of a commuter charging into the five-fifteen. Yes, he was in love. And it is proof of the completeness with which passion had blunted his intellectual faculties that he was under the impression that in the recent exchange of remarks he had been talking rather well.
The door opened. Ferris appeared. He looked at the girl, not with the cold distaste which he had exhibited earlier in the day towards George Finch, but with a certain paternal affection. Ferris measured forty-six round the waist, but Beauty still had its appeal for him.
“Mrs. Waddington desired me to say, miss,” he said, “that an appointment of an urgent nature has called her elsewhere, rendering it impossible for her to see you this afternoon.”
“She might have ’phoned me,” the girl complained.
Ferris allowed one eyebrow to flicker momentarily, conveying the idea that, while he sympathised, a spirit of loyalty forbade him to join in criticism of his employer.
“Mrs. Waddington wished to know if it would be convenient to you, miss, if she called upon you to-morrow at five o’clock.”
“Thank you, miss. Miss Waddington is expecting you, sir.”
Hamilton Beamish continued to stare after the girl, who, with a friendly nod in his direction, had begun to walk light-heartedly out of his life along the street.
“Who is that young lady, Ferris?” he asked.
“I could not say, sir.”
“Why couldn’t you? You seemed to know her just now.”
“No, sir. I had never seen the young lady before. Mrs. Waddington, however, had mentioned that she would be calling at this hour and instructed me to give the message which I delivered.”
“Didn’t Mrs. Waddington say who was calling?”
“Yes, sir. The young lady.”
“Ass!” said Hamilton Beamish. But even he was not strong man enough to say it aloud. “I mean, didn’t she tell you the young lady’s name?”
“No, sir. If you will step this way, sir, I will conduct you to Miss Waddington, who is in the library.”
“It seems funny that Mrs. Waddington did not tell you the young lady’s name,” brooded Hamilton Beamish.
“Very humorous, sir,” agreed the butler indulgently.
“Oh, Jimmy, it was sweet of you to come,” said Molly.
Hamilton Beamish patted her hand absently. He was too preoccupied to notice the hateful name by which she had addressed him.
“I have had a wonderful experience,” he said.
“So have I. I think I’m in love.”
“I have given the matter as close attention as has been possible in the limited time at my disposal,” said Hamilton Beamish, “and I have reached the conclusion that I, too, am in love.”
“I think I am in love with your friend, George Finch.”
“I am in love with . . .” Hamilton Beamish paused. “I don’t know her name. She is a most charming girl. I met her coming up here on the bus, and we talked for awhile on the front door steps. I took something out of her eye.”
Molly stared incredulously.
“You have fallen in love with a girl and you don’t know who she is? But I thought you always said that love was a reasoned emotion and all that.”
“One’s views alter,” said Hamilton Beamish. “A man’s intellectual perceptions do not stand still. One develops.”
“I was never so surprised in my life.”
“It came as a complete surprise to me,” said Hamilton Beamish. “It is excessively aggravating that I do not know her name nor where she lives nor anything about her except that she appears to be a friend—or at least an acquaintance—of your stepmother.”
“Oh, she knows mother, does she?”
“Apparently. She was calling here by appointment.”
“All sorts of weird people call on mother. She is honorary secretary to about a hundred societies.”
“This girl was of medium height, with an extremely graceful figure and bright brown hair. She wore a two-piece suit with a coat of fine quality repp over a long-sleeved frock of figured marocain pleated at the sides and finished at the neck with a small collar and kilted frill. Her hat was of Yedda Visca straw, trimmed and bound with silk Petersham ribbon. She had patent-leather shoes, silk stockings, and eyes of tender grey like the mists of sunrise floating over some magic pool of Fairyland. Does the description suggest anybody to you?”
“No, I don’t think so. She sounds nice.”
“She is nice. I gazed into those eyes only for a moment, but I shall never forget them. They were deeper than the depth of waters stilled at even.”
“I could ask mother who she is.”
“I should be greatly obliged if you would do so,” said Hamilton Beamish. “Mention that it is someone upon whom she is to call at five o’clock to-morrow, and telephone me the name and address. Oh, to seize her and hold her close to me and kiss her again and again and again! And now, child, tell me of yourself, I think you mentioned that you also were in love.”
“Yes. With George Finch.”
“A capital fellow.”
“He’s a lambkin,” amended Molly warmly.
“A lambkin, if you prefer it.”
“And I asked you to come here to-day to tell me what I ought to do. You see, mother doesn’t like him.”
“So I gathered.”
“She has forbidden him the house.”
“I suppose it’s because he has no money.”
Hamilton Beamish was on the point of mentioning that George had an almost indecent amount of money, but he checked himself. Who was he that he should destroy a young girl’s dreams? It was as a romantic and penniless artist that George Finch had won this girl’s heart. It would be cruel to reveal the fact that he was rich and the worst artist in New York.
“Your step-mother,” he agreed, “is apt to see eye to eye with Bradstreet in her estimation of her fellows.”
“I don’t care if he hasn’t any money,” said Molly. “You know that, when I marry, I get that pearl necklace that father bought for mother. It’s being held in trust for me. I can sell it and get thousands of dollars, so that we shall be as right as anything.”
“But, of course, I don’t want to make a runaway marriage if I can help it. I want to be married with bridesmaids and cake and presents and photographs in the rotogravure section and everything.”
“So the point is, mother must learn to love George. Now listen, Jimmy dear. Mother will be going to see her palmist very soon—she’s always going to palmists, you know.”
Hamilton Beamish nodded. He had not been aware of this trait in Mrs. Waddington’s character, but he could believe anything of her. Now that he came to consider the matter, he recognised that Mrs. Waddington was precisely the sort of woman who, in the intervals of sitting in the salons of beauty specialists with green mud on her face, would go to palmists.
“And what you must do is to go to this palmist before mother gets there and bribe her to say that my only happiness is bound up with a brown-haired artist whose name begins with a G.”
“I scarcely think that even a palmist would make Mrs. Waddington believe that.”
“She believes everything Madame Eulalie sees in the crystal.”
“But hardly that.”
“No, perhaps you’re right. Well, then, you must get Madame Eulalie at least to steer mother off Lord Hunstanton. Last night, she told me in so many words that she wanted me to marry him. He’s always here, and it’s awful.”
“I could do that, of course.”
“And you will?”
“You’re a darling. I should think she would do it for ten dollars.”
“Twenty at the outside.”
“Then that’s settled. I knew I could rely on you. By the way, will you tell George something quite casually?”
“Anything you wish.”
“Just mention to him that, if he happens to be strolling in Central Park to-morrow afternoon near the Zoo, we might run into each other.”
“And now,” said Molly, “tell me all about George and how you came to know one another and what you thought of him when you first saw him and what he likes for breakfast and what he talks about and what he said about me.”
It might have been expected that the passage of time, giving opportunity for quiet reflection on the subject of the illogical nature of the infatuation in which he had allowed himself to become involved, would have brought remorse to so clear and ruthless a thinker as Hamilton Beamish. It was not so, but far otherwise. As Hamilton Beamish sat in the ante-chamber of Madame Eulalie’s office next day, he gloried in his folly; and when his better self endeavoured to point out to him that what had happened was that he had allowed himself to be ensnared by a girl’s face—that is to say, by a purely fortuitous arrangement of certain albuminoids and fatty molecules; all Hamilton Beamish did was to tell his better self to put its head in a bag. He was in love, and he liked it. He was in love, and proud of it. His only really coherent thought as he waited in the ante-room was a resolve to withdraw the booklet on the Marriage Sane from circulation and try his hand at writing a poem or two.
“Madame Eulalie will see you now, sir,” announced the maid, breaking in upon his reverie.
Hamilton Beamish entered the inner room. And, having entered it, stopped dead.
“You!” he exclaimed.
The girl gave that fleeting pat at her hair which is always Woman’s reaction to the unexpected situation. And Hamilton Beamish, looking at that hair emotionally, perceived that he had been right in his yesterday’s surmise. It was, as he had suspected, a gleamy mass, sparkling with life and possessing that incomparable softness, freshness and luxuriance.
“Why, how do you do?” said the girl.
“I’m fine,” said Hamilton Beamish.
“We seem fated to meet.”
“And I’m not quarrelling with fate.”
“No,” said Hamilton Beamish. “Fancy it being you!”
“Fancy who being me?”
“Fancy you being you.” It occurred to him that he was not making himself quite clear. “I mean, I was sent here with a message for Madame Eulalie, and she turns out to be you.”
“A message? Who from?”
“From whom?” corrected Hamilton Beamish. Even in the grip of love, a specialist on Pure English remains a specialist on Pure English.
“That’s what I said—Who from?”
Hamilton Beamish smiled an indulgent smile. These little mistakes could be corrected later—possibly on the honeymoon.
“From Molly Waddington. She asked me to . . .”
“Oh, then you don’t want me to read your hand?”
“There is nothing I want more in this world,” said Hamilton Beamish warmly, “than to have you read my hand.”
“I don’t have to read it to tell your character, of course,” said the girl. “I can see that at a glance.”
“Oh, certainly. You have a strong, dominating nature and a keen incisive mind. You have great breadth of vision, iron determination, and marvellous insight. Yet with it all you are at heart gentle, kind and lovable; deeply altruistic and generous to a fault. You have it in you to be a leader of men. You remind me of Julius Cæsar, Shakespeare and Napoleon Bonaparte.”
“Tell me more!” said Hamilton Beamish.
“If you ever fell in love . . .”
“If I ever fell in love . . .”
“If you ever fell in love,” said the girl, raising her eyes to his and drawing a step closer, “you would . . .”
“Mr. Delancy Cabot,” announced the maid.
“Oh, darn it!” said Madame Eulalie. “I forgot I had an appointment. Send him in.”
“May I wait?” breathed Hamilton Beamish devoutly.
“Please do. I shan’t be long.” She turned to the door. “Come in, Mr. Cabot.”
Hamilton Beamish wheeled round. A long, stringy person was walking daintily into the room. He was richly, even superbly dressed in the conventional costume of the popular clubman and pet of Society. He wore lavender gloves and a carnation in his buttonhole, and a vast expanse of snowy collar encircled a neck which suggested that he might be a throw-back to some giraffe ancestor. A pleasing feature of this neck was an Adam’s apple that could have belonged to only one man of Hamilton Beamish’s acquaintance.
“Garroway!” cried Hamilton Beamish. “What are you doing here? And what the devil does this masquerade mean?”
The policeman seemed taken aback. His face became as red as his wrists. But for the collar, which held him in a grip of iron, his jaw would no doubt have fallen.
“I didn’t expect to find you here, Mr. Beamish,” he said apologetically.
“I didn’t expect to find you here, calling yourself De Courcy Bellville.”
“Delancy Cabot, sir.”
“Delancy Cabot, then.”
“I like the name,” urged the policeman. “I saw it in a book.”
The girl was breathing hard.
“Is this man a policeman?” she cried.
“Yes, he is,” said Hamilton Beamish. “His name is Garroway, and I am teaching him to write poetry. And what I want to know,” he thundered, turning on the unhappy man, whose Adam’s apple was now leaping like a young lamb in the springtime, “is what are you doing here, interrupting a—interrupting a—in short, interrupting when you ought either to be about your constabulary duties or else sitting quietly at home studying John Drinkwater. That,” said Hamilton Beamish, “is what I want to know.”
Officer Garroway coughed.
“The fact is, Mr. Beamish, I did not know that Madame Eulalie was a friend of yours.”
“Never mind whose friend she is.”
“But it makes all the difference, Mr. Beamish. I can now go back to headquarters and report that Madame Eulalie is above suspicion. You see, sir, I was sent here by my superior officers to effect a cop.”
“What do you mean, effect a cop?”
“To make an arrest, Mr. Beamish.”
“Then do not say ‘effect a cop.’ Purge yourself of these vulgarisms, Garroway.”
“Yes, sir. I will indeed, sir.”
“Aim at the English Pure.”
“Yes, sir. Most certainly, Mr. Beamish.”
“And what on earth do you mean by saying that you were sent here to arrest this lady?”
“It has been called to the attention of my superior officers, Mr. Beamish, that Madame Eulalie is in the habit of telling fortunes for a monetary consideration. Against the law, sir.”
Hamilton Beamish snorted.
“Ridiculous! If that’s the law, alter it!”
“I will do my best, sir.”
“I have had the privilege of watching Madame Eulalie engaged upon her art, and she reveals nothing but the most limpid truth. Go back to your superior officers and tell them to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.”
“Yes, sir. I will, sir.”
“And now leave us. We would be alone.”
“Yes, Mr. Beamish!” said Officer Garroway humbly. “At once, Mr. Beamish!”
For some moments after the door had closed, the girl stood staring at Hamilton Beamish with wondering eyes.
“Was that man really a policeman?”
“And you handled him like that, and he said ‘Yes, sir!’ and ‘No, sir!’ and crawled out on all fours.” She drew a deep breath. “It seems to me that you are just the sort of friend a lonely girl needs in this great city.”
“I am only too delighted that I was able to be of service.”
“Service is right! Mr. Beamish . . .”
“My first name is Hamilton.”
She looked at him, amazed.
“You are not the Hamilton Beamish? Not the man who wrote the Booklets?”
“I have written a few Booklets.”
“Why, you’re my favourite author! If it hadn’t been for you, I would still be mouldering in a little one-horse town where there wasn’t even a good soda-fountain. But I got hold of a couple of your Are You In A Groove things, and I packed up my grip and came right along to New York to lead the larger life. If I’d known yesterday that you were Hamilton Beamish, I’d have kissed you on the doorstep!”
It was Hamilton Beamish’s intention to point out that a curtained room with a closed door was an even more suitable place for such a demonstration, but, even as he tried to speak, there gripped him for the first time in his life, a strange, almost George Finch-like shyness. One deprecates the modern practice of exposing the great, but candour compels one to speak out and say that at this juncture Hamilton Beamish emitted a simpering giggle and began to twiddle his fingers.
The strange weakness passed, and he was himself again. He adjusted his glasses firmly.
“Would you,” he asked, “could you possibly . . . Do you think you could manage to come and lunch somewhere to-morrow?”
The girl uttered an exclamation of annoyance.
“Isn’t that too bad!” she said. “I can’t.”
“The day after?”
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I shall be off the map for three weeks. I’ve got to jump on a train to-morrow and go visit the old folks back in East Gilead. It’s pop’s birthday on Saturday, and I never miss it.”
“Idaho. You wouldn’t have heard of the place, but it’s there!”
“But I have heard of it. A great friend of mine comes from East Gilead.”
“You don’t say! Who?”
“A man named George Finch.”
She laughed amusedly.
“You don’t actually mean to tell me you know George Finch?”
“He is my most intimate friend.”
“Then I trust for your sake,” said the girl, “that he is not such a yap as he used to be.”
Hamilton Beamish reflected. Was George Finch a yap? How precisely did one estimate the yaphood of one’s friends?
“By the word ‘yap’ you mean . . . ?”
“I mean a yap. The sort of fellow who couldn’t say Bo to a goose.”
Hamilton Beamish had never seen George Finch in conversation with a goose, but he thought he was a good enough judge of character to be able to credit him with the ability to perform the very trivial deed of daring indicated.
“I fancy New York has changed George,” he replied, after reflection. “In fact, now that I remember, it was on more or less that very subject that I called to see you in your professional capacity. The fact is, George Finch has fallen violently in love with Molly Waddington, the step-daughter of your client, Mrs. Waddington.”
“You don’t say! And I suppose he’s too shy to come within a mile of her.”
“On the contrary. The night before last he seems to have forced his way into the house—you might say, practically forced his way—and now Mrs. Waddington has forbidden him to see Molly again, fearing that he will spoil her plan of marrying the poor child to a certain Lord Hunstanton.”
The girl stared.
“You’re right! George must have altered.”
“And we were wondering—Molly and I—if we could possibly induce you to stoop to a—shall I say a benevolent little ruse. Mrs. Waddington is coming to see you to-day at five, and it was Molly’s suggestion that I should sound you as to whether you would consent to take a look in the crystal and tell Mrs. Waddington that you see danger threatening Molly from a dark man with an eye-glass.”
“It isn’t much to do in return for all you have done for me.”
“Thank you, thank you,” said Hamilton Beamish. “I knew, the moment I set eyes on you, that you were a woman in a million. I wonder—could you possibly come to lunch one day after you return?”
“I’d love it.”
“I’ll leave you my telephone number.”
“Thanks. Give George my regards. I’d like to see him when I get back.”
“You shall. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye, Mr. Beamish.”
Her face wore a doubtful look.
“I don’t much like that name Hamilton. It’s kind of stiff.”
Hamilton Beamish had a brief struggle with himself.
“My name is also James. At one time in my life many people used to call me Jimmy.” He shuddered a little, but repeated the word bravely. “Jimmy.”
“Put me on the list,” said the girl. “I like that much better. Good-bye, Jimmy.”
“Good-bye,” said Hamilton Beamish.
So ends the first spasm of a great man’s love-story. A few moments later, Hamilton Beamish was walking in a sort of dance-measure down the street. Near Washington Square he gave a small boy a dollar and asked him if he was going to be President some day.
“George,” said Hamilton Beamish, “I met someone to-day who knew you back in East Gilead. A girl.”
“What was her name? Did Molly give you any message for me?”
“I don’t remember anyone called that. Did Molly give you any message for me?”
“She is slim and graceful and has tender grey eyes like mists floating over some pool in Fairyland.”
“I certainly don’t remember anyone in East Gilead like that. Did Molly give you any message for me?”
“She didn’t?” George flung himself despairingly into a chair. “This is the end!”
“Oh yes, she did,” said Hamilton Beamish, “I was forgetting. She told me to tell you that, if you happened to be in Central Park to-morrow afternoon near the Zoo, you might meet her.”
“This is the maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year,” said George Finch.
Madame Eulalie peered into the crystal that was cupped between her shapely hands. The face that had caused Hamilton Beamish to jettison the principles of a lifetime was concentrated and serious.
“The mists begin to clear away!” she murmured.
“Ah!” said Mrs. Waddington. She had been hoping they would.
“There is someone very near to you . . .”
“A spirit?” said Mrs. Waddington nervously, casting an apprehensive glance over her shoulder. She was never quite sure that something of the sort might not pop out at any moment from a corner of this dim-lit, incense-scented room.
“You misunderstand me,” said Madame Eulalie gravely. “I mean that that which is taking shape in the crystal concerns someone very near to you, some near relative.”
“Not my husband?” said Mrs. Waddington in a flat voice. A careful woman with her money, she did not relish the idea of handing over ten dollars for visions about Sigsbee H.
“Does your husband’s name begin with an M?”
“No,” said Mrs. Waddington, relieved.
“The letter M seems to be forming itself among the mists.”
“I have a step-daughter, Molly.”
“Is she tall and dark?”
“No. Small and fair.”
“Then it is she!” said Madame Eulalie. “I see her in her wedding-dress, walking up an aisle. Her hand is on the arm of a dark man with an eyeglass. Do you know such a person?”
“I do seem to sense the letter H.”
“Lord Hunstanton is a great friend of mine, and devoted to Molly. Do you really see her marrying him?”
“I see her walking up the aisle.”
“It’s the same thing.”
“No! For she never reaches the altar.”
“Why not?” asked Mrs. Waddington, justly annoyed.
“From the crowd a woman springs forth. She bars the way. She seems to be speaking rapidly, with great emotion. And the man with the eyeglass is shrinking back, his face working horribly. His expression is very villainous. He raises a hand. He strikes the woman. She reels back. She draws out a revolver. And then . . .”
“Yes?” cried Mrs. Waddington. “Yes?”
“The vision fades,” said Madame Eulalie, rising briskly with the air of one who has given a good ten dollars’ worth.
“But it can’t be! It’s incredible.”
“The crystal never deceives.”
“But Lord Hunstanton is a most delightful man.”
“No doubt the woman with the revolver found him so—to her cost.”
“But you may have been mistaken. Many men are dark and wear an eyeglass. What did this man look like?”
“What does Lord Hunstanton look like?”
“He is tall and beautifully proportioned, with clear blue eyes and a small moustache, which he twists between the finger and thumb of his right hand.”
“It was he!”
“What shall I do?”
“Well, obviously it would seem criminal to allow Miss Waddington to associate with this man.”
“But he’s coming to dinner to-night.”
Madame Eulalie, whose impulses sometimes ran away with her, was about to say “Poison his soup”; but contrived in time to substitute for this remark a sober shrug of the shoulders.
“I must leave it to you, Mrs. Waddington,” she said, “to decide on the best course of action. I cannot advise. I only warn. If you want change for a large bill, I think I can manage it for you,” she added, striking the business note.
All the way home to Seventy-Ninth Street Mrs. Waddington pondered deeply. And, as she was not a woman who, as a rule, exercised her brain to any great extent, by the time she reached the house she was experiencing some of the sensations of one who has been hit on the head by a sand-bag. What she felt that she needed above all things in the world was complete solitude; and it was consequently with a jaundiced eye that she looked upon her husband, Sigsbee Horatio, when, a few moments after her return, he shuffled into the room where she had planted herself down for further intensive meditation.
“Well, Sigsbee?” said Mrs. Waddington, wearily.
“Oh, there you are,” said Sigsbee H.
“Do you want anything?”
“Well, yes and no,” said Sigsbee.
Mrs. Waddington was exasperated to perceive at this point that her grave matrimonial blunder was slithering about the parquet floor in the manner of one trying out new dance-steps.
“Stand still!” she cried.
“I can’t,” said Sigsbee H. “I’m too nervous.”
Mrs. Waddington pressed a hand to her throbbing brow.
“Then sit down!”
“I’ll try,” said Sigsbee doubtfully. He tested a chair, and sprang up instantly as if the seat had been charged with electricity. “I can’t,” he said. “I’m all of a twitter.”
“What in the world do you mean?”
“I’ve got something to tell you, and I don’t know how to begin.”
“What do you wish to tell me?”
“I don’t wish to tell you it at all,” said Sigsbee frankly. “But I promised Molly I would. She came in a moment ago.”
“I was in the library. She found me there and told me this.”
“Do kindly get to the point, Sigsbee!”
“I promised her I would break it gently.”
“Break what gently? You are driving me mad.”
“Do you remember,” asked Sigsbee, “a splendid young Westerner named Pinch who dropped in to dinner the night before last? A fine, breezy . . .”
“I am not likely to forget the person you mention. I have given strict instructions that he is never again to be admitted to the house.”
“Well, this splendid young Pinch . . .”
“I am not interested in Mr. Finch—which is, I believe, his correct name.”
“Pinch, I thought.”
“Finch! And what does his name matter, anyway?”
“Well,” said Sigsbee, “it matters this much, that Molly seems to want to make it hers. What I’m driving at, if you see what I mean, is that Molly came in a moment ago and told me that she and this young fellow, Finch, have just gone and got engaged to be married!”
Having uttered these words, Sigsbee Horatio stood gazing at his wife with something of the spell-bound horror of a man who has bored a hole in a dam and sees the water trickling through and knows that it is too late to stop it. He had had a sort of idea all along that the news might affect her rather powerfully, and his guess was coming true. Nothing could make a woman of Mrs. Waddington’s physique “leap from her chair”: but she had begun to rise slowly like a balloon half-filled with gas: and her face had become so contorted and her eyes so bulging that any competent medical man of sporting tastes would have laid seven to four on a fit of apoplexy in the next few minutes.
But by some miracle this disaster—if you could call it that—did not occur. For quite a considerable time the sufferer had trouble with her vocal chords and could emit nothing but guttural croaks. Then, mastering herself with a strong effort, she spoke.
“What did you say?”
“You heard,” said Sigsbee H. sullenly, twisting his fingers and wishing that he was out in Utah, rustling cattle.
Mrs. Waddington moistened her lips.
“Did I understand you to say that Molly was engaged to be married to—to Finch?”
“Yes I did. And,” added Sigsbee H., giving battle in the first line of trenches, “it’s no good saying it was all my fault, because I had nothing to do with it.”
“It was you who brought this man into the house.”
“Well, yes.” Sigsbee had overlooked that weak spot in his defences. “Well, yes.”
There came upon Mrs. Waddington a ghastly calm like that which comes upon the surface of molten lava in the crater of a volcano just before the stuff shoots out and starts doing the local villagers a bit of no good.
“Ring the bell,” she said.
Sigsbee H. rang the bell.
“Ferris,” said Mrs. Waddington, “ask Miss Molly to come here.”
“Very good, madam.”
In the interval which elapsed between the departure of the butler and the arrival of the erring daughter, no conversation brilliant enough to be worth reporting took place in the room. Once Sigsbee said “Er—,” and in reply Mrs. Waddington said “Be quiet,” but that completed the dialogue. When Molly entered, Mrs. Waddington was looking straight in front of her and heaving gently, and Sigsbee H. had just succeeded in breaking a valuable china figure which he had taken from an occasional table and was trying in a preoccupied manner to balance on the end of a paper-knife.
“Ferris says you want to see me, mother,” said Molly, floating brightly in.
She stood there, looking at the two with shining eyes. Her cheeks were delightfully flushed: and there was about her so radiant an air of sweet, innocent, girlish gaiety that it was all Mrs. Waddington could do to refrain from hurling a bust of Edgar Allan Poe at her head.
“I do want to see you,” said Mrs. Waddington. “Pray tell me instantly what is all this nonsense I hear about you and . . .” She choked. “. . . and Mr. Finch.”
“To settle a bet,” said Sigsbee H., “is his name Finch or Pinch?”
“Finch, of course.”
“I’m bad at names,” said Sigsbee. “I was in college with a fellow called Follansbee and do you think I could get it out of my nut that that guy’s name was Ferguson? Not in a million years! I . . .”
“Will you be quiet.” Mrs. Waddington concentrated her attention on Molly once more. “Your father says that you told him some absurd story about being . . .”
“Engaged to George?” said Molly. “Yes, it’s quite true. I am. By a most extraordinary chance we met this afternoon in Central Park near the Zoo . . .”
“A place,” said Sigsbee H., “I’ve meant to go to a hundred times and never seen yet. It’s a funny thing about living in a big city, you never somehow get round to seeing the sights which . . .”
“All right, all right! I was only saying . . .”
“We were both tremendously surprised, of course,” said Molly. “I said ‘Fancy meeting you here!’ and he said . . .”
“I have no wish to hear what Mr. Finch said.”
“Well, anyway, we walked round for awhile, looking at the animals, and suddenly he asked me to marry him outside the cage of the Siberian yak.”
“No, sir!” exclaimed Sigsbee H. with a sudden strange firmness, the indulgent father who for once in his life asserts himself. “When you get married, you’ll be married in St. Thomas’s like any other nice girl.”
“I mean it was outside the cage of the Siberian yak that he asked me to marry him.”
“Oh, ah!” said Sigsbee H.
A dreamy look had crept into Molly’s eyes. Her lips were curved in a tender smile, as if she were re-living that wonderful moment in a girl’s life when the man she loves beckons to her to follow him into Paradise.
“You ought to have seen his ears!” she said. “They were absolutely crimson.”
“You don’t say!” chuckled Sigsbee H.
“Scarlet! And, when he tried to speak, he gargled.”
“The poor simp!”
Molly turned on her father with flaming eyes.
“How dare you call my dear darling Georgie a simp?”
“How dare you call that simp your dear darling Georgie?” demanded Mrs. Waddington.
“Because he is my dear darling Georgie. I love him with all my heart, the precious lamb, and I’m going to marry him.”
“You are going to do nothing of the kind!” Mrs. Waddington quivered with outraged indignation. “Do you imagine I intend to allow you to ruin your life by marrying a despicable fortune-hunter?”
“He isn’t a despicable fortune-hunter.”
“He is a penniless artist.”
“Well, I’m sure he is frightfully clever and will be able to sell his pictures for ever so much.”
“Besides,” said Molly defiantly, “when I marry I get that pearl necklace which father gave mother. I can sell that, and it will keep us going for years.”
Mrs. Waddington was about to reply—and there is little reason to doubt that that reply would have been about as red-hot a come-back as any hundred-and-eighty-pound woman had ever spoken—when she was checked by a sudden exclamation of agony that proceeded from the lips of her husband.
“Whatever is the matter, Sigsbee?” she said, annoyed.
Sigsbee H. seemed to be wrestling with acute mental agitation. He was staring at his daughter with protruding eyes.
“Did you say you were going to sell that necklace?” he stammered.
“Oh, be quiet, Sigsbee!” said Mrs. Waddington. “What does it matter whether she sells the necklace or not? It has nothing to do with the argument. The point is that this misguided girl is proposing to throw herself away on a miserable, paint-daubing, ukulele-playing artist when she might marry a delightful man with a fine old English title who would . . .”
Mrs. Waddington broke off. There had come back to her the memory of that scene in Madame Eulalie’s office.
Molly seized the opportunity afforded by her unexpected silence to make a counter-attack.
“I wouldn’t marry Lord Hunstanton if he were the last man in the world.”
“Honey,” said Sigsbee H. in a low, pleading voice, “I don’t think I’d sell that necklace if I were you.”
“Of course I shall sell it. We shall need the money when we are married.”
“You are not going to be married,” said Mrs. Waddington, recovering. “I should have thought any right-minded girl would have despised this wretched Finch. Why, the man appears to be so poor-spirited that he didn’t even dare to come here and tell me this awful news. He left it to you . . .”
“George was not able to come here. The poor pet has been arrested by a policeman.”
“Ha!” cried Mrs. Waddington triumphantly. “And that is the sort of man you propose to marry! A gaol-bird!”
“Well, I think it shows what a sweet nature he has. He was so happy at being engaged that he suddenly stopped at Fifty-Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue and started giving away dollar-bills to everybody who came by. In about two minutes there was a crowd stretching right across to Madison Avenue, and the traffic was blocked for miles, and they called out the police-reserves, and George was taken away in a patrol-wagon, and I telephoned to Hamilton Beamish to go and bail him out and bring him along here. They ought to arrive at any moment.”
“Mr. Hamilton Beamish and Mr. George Finch,” said Ferris in the doorway.
“Here we are,” said Hamilton Beamish heartily. “Just in time, I perceive, to join in a jolly family discussion.”
Mrs. Waddington looked bleachingly at George, who was trying to hide behind a gate-leg table. For George Finch was conscious of not looking his best. Nothing so disorders the outer man as the process of being arrested and hauled to the coop by a posse of New York gendarmes. George’s collar was hanging loose from its stud; his waistcoat lacked three buttons; and his right eye was oddly discoloured where a high-minded officer, piqued by the fact that he should have collected crowds by scattering dollar-bills, and even more incensed by the discovery that he had scattered all he possessed and had none left, had given him a hearty buffet during the ride in the patrol-wagon.
“There is no discussion,” said Mrs. Waddington. “You do not suppose I am going to allow my daughter to marry a man like that.”
“Tut-tut!” said Hamilton Beamish. “George is not looking his best just now, but a wash and brush-up will do wonders. What is your objection to George?”
Mrs. Waddington was at a momentary loss for a reply. Anybody, suddenly questioned as to why they disliked a slug or a snake or a black-beetle, might find it difficult on the spur of the moment to analyse and dissect their prejudice. But, seeing that she was expected to be analytical, Mrs. Waddington forced her mind to the task.
“He is an artist.”
“So was Michael Angelo.”
“I never met him.”
“He was a very great man.”
Mrs. Waddington raised her eyebrows.
“I completely fail to understand, Mr. Beamish, why, when we are discussing this young man here with the black eye and the dirty collar, you should persist in diverting the conversation to the subject of a perfect stranger like this Mr. Angelo.”
“I merely wished to point out,” said Hamilton Beamish stiffly, “that the fact that he is an artist does not necessarily damn a man.”
“There is no need,” retorted Mrs. Waddington with even greater stiffness, “to use bad language.”
“Besides, George is a rotten artist.”
“Rotten to the core, no doubt.”
“I mean,” said Hamilton Beamish, flushing slightly at the lapse from the English Pure into which emotion had led him, “he paints so badly that you can hardly call him an artist at all.”
“Is that so?” said George, speaking for the first time and speaking nastily.
“Exactly!” said Mrs. Waddington. “And consequently can never hope to make money.”
Hamilton Beamish’s eyes lit up.
“Is that your chief objection?” he asked.
“Is what my chief objection?”
“That George has no money?”
“But . . .” began George.
“Shut up!” said Hamilton Beamish. “I ask you, Mrs. Waddington, would you give your consent to this marriage if my friend George Finch were a wealthy man?”
“It is a waste of time to discuss such . . .”
“Possibly I would.”
“Then allow me to inform you,” said Hamilton Beamish, triumphantly, “that George Finch is an exceedingly wealthy man. George, my boy, let me congratulate you. All is well. Mrs. Waddington has withdrawn her objections.”
Mrs. Waddington snorted, but it was the snort of a beaten woman.
“But . . .”
“No.” Hamilton Beamish raised his hand. “You cannot go back on what you said. You stated in distinct terms that, if George had money, you would consent to the marriage.”
“And, anyway, I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” said Molly. “Because I am going to marry him, no matter what anybody says.”
(“The Small Bachelor’s” adventures will be continued next month.)
Printer’s errors corrected above:
In IV, i, magazine had an erroneous paragraph break before “You called at the house?”
In IV, ii, magazine had “experienced eye noted, in one swift glance”; comma removed as in all other versions.
In IV, iv, magazine omitted a section break after “President some day.” In other versions, a new section v begins with “George,” said Hamilton Beamish, “I met someone today…”
In the last line of Chapter IV, magazine omitted “New” in “the glad New Year”: a quotation from Tennyson which is correct in all other versions.
In V, ii, magazine had “Edgar Allen Poe”; corrected to “Allan”. It is spelled correctly in all other versions.