The New Magazine, February 1927
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 George “insinuated” himself into dinner at Molly’s 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. The young man found himself forbidden the house.
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. He didn’t approve of love at first sight but having strangely fallen a victim to it himself he did what he could for George. Molly declared her determination to marry George whatever anyone said.
RS. WADDINGTON capitulated.
“Very well! I am nobody, I see. What I say does not matter in the slightest.”
“Mother!” said George reproachfully.
“Mother!” echoed Mrs. Waddington, starting violently.
“Now that everything is so happily settled, of course I regard you in that light.”
“Oh, do you?” said Mrs. Waddington.
“Oh I do,” said George.
Mrs. Waddington sniffed unpleasantly.
“I have been overwhelmed and forced into consenting to a marriage of which I strongly disapprove,” she said, “but I may be permitted to say one word. I have a feeling that this wedding will never take place.”
“What do you mean?” said Molly. “Of course it will take place. Why shouldn’t it?”
Mrs. Waddington sniffed again.
“Mr. Finch,” she said, “though a very incompetent artist, has lived for a considerable time in the heart of Greenwich Village and mingled daily with Bohemians of both sexes and questionable morals. . . .”
“What are you hinting?” demanded Molly.
“I am not hinting,” replied Mrs. Waddington with dignity. “I am saying. And what I am saying is this. Do not come to me for sympathy if this Finch of yours turns out to have the sort of moral code which you might expect in one who deliberately and of his own free will goes and lives near Washington Square. I say again that I have a presentiment that this marriage will never take place. I had a similar presentiment regarding the wedding of my sister-in-law and a young man named John Porter. I said: ‘I feel that this wedding will never take place.’ And events proved me right. John Porter, at the very moment when he was about to enter the church, was arrested on a charge of bigamy.”
George uttered protesting noises.
“But my morals are above reproach.”
“So you say.”
“I assure you that, as far as women are concerned, I can scarcely tell one from another.”
“Precisely,” replied Mrs. Waddington, “what John Porter said when they asked him why he had married six different girls.”
Hamilton Beamish looked at his watch.
“Well, now that everything is satisfactorily settled——”
“For the moment,” said Mrs. Waddington.
“Now that everything is satisfactorily settled,” proceeded Hamilton Beamish, “I will be leaving you. I have to get back and dress. I am speaking at a dinner of the Great Neck Social and Literary Society to-night.”
The silence that followed his departure was followed by a question from Sigsbee H. Waddington.
“Molly, my dear,” said Sigsbee H., “touching on that necklace. Now that this splendid young fellow turns out to be very rich, you will not want to sell it, of course?”
“Yes, I think I will. I never liked it much. It’s too showy. I shall sell it and buy something very nice with the money for George. A lot of diamond pins or watches or motor-cars or something. And whenever we look at them we will think of you, daddy dear.”
“Thanks,” said Mr. Waddington huskily. “Thanks.”
“Seldom in my life,” observed Mrs. Waddington, coming abruptly out of the brooding coma into which she had sunk, “have I ever had a stronger presentiment than the one to which I alluded just now.”
“Oh, mother!” said George.
Hamilton Beamish, gathering up his hat in the hall, became aware that something was pawing at his sleeve. He looked down and perceived Sigsbee H. Waddington.
“Say!” said Sigsbee H. in a hushed undertone. “Say, listen!”
“Is anything the matter?”
“You bet your tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles something’s the matter,” whispered Sigsbee H. urgently. “Say, listen. Can I have a word with you? I want your advice.”
“I’m in a hurry.”
“How long will you be before you start out for this Hoboken Clam-Bake of yours?”
“The dinner of the Great Neck Social and Literary Society, to which I imagine you allude, is at eight o’clock. I shall motor down, leaving my apartment at twenty minutes past seven.”
“Then it’s no good trying to see you to-night. Say, listen. Will you be home to-morrow?”
“Right!” said Sigsbee H.
“Say, listen!” said Sigsbee H. Waddington.
“Proceed,” said Hamilton Beamish.
“I am all attention.”
“Say, listen!” said Mr. Waddington.
Hamilton Beamish glanced at his watch impatiently. Even at its normal level of imbecility, the conversation of Sigsbee H. Waddington was apt to jar upon his critical mind; and now, it seemed to him, the other was plumbing depths which even he had never reached before.
“I can give you seven minutes,” he said. “At the end of that period of time I must leave you. I am speaking at a luncheon of the Young Women Writers of America. You came here, I gather, to make a communication to me. Make it.”
“Say, listen!” said Sigsbee H.
Hamilton Beamish compressed his lips sternly. He had heard parrots with a more intelligent flow of conversation. He was conscious of a strange desire to beat this man over the head with a piece of lead piping.
“Say, listen!” said Sigsbee H. “I’ve gone and got myself into the devil of a jam.”
“A position of embarrassment.”
“You said it!”
“State nature of same,” said Hamilton Beamish, looking at his watch again.
Mr. Waddington glanced quickly and nervously over his shoulder.
“It’s like this. You heard Molly say yesterday she was going to sell those pearls.”
“Well, say, listen!” said Mr. Waddington, lowering his voice and looking apprehensively about him once more. “They aren’t pearls!”
“What are they, then?”
Hamilton Beamish winced.
“You mean imitation stones?”
“That’s just what I do mean. What am I going to do about it?”
“Perfectly simple. Bring an action against the jeweller who sold them to you as genuine.”
“But they were genuine then. You don’t seem to get the position.”
“I do not.”
Sigsbee H. Waddington moistened his lips.
“Have you ever heard of the Finer and Better Motion Picture Company, of Hollywood, Cal.?”
“Kindly keep to the point. My time is limited.”
“This is the point. Some time ago a guy who said he was a friend of mine tipped me off that this company was a wow.”
“A winner. He said it was going to be big and advised me to come in on the ground floor. The chance of a lifetime, he said.”
“Well, I hadn’t any money—not a cent. Still, I didn’t want to miss a good thing like that, so I sat down and thought. I thought and thought and thought. And then suddenly something seemed to say to me: ‘Why not?’ That pearl necklace, I mean. There it was, you get me, just sitting and doing nothing and I only needed the money for a few weeks till this company started to clean up and . . . well, to cut a long story short, I sneaked the necklace away, had the fake stones put in, sold the others, bought the stock, and there I was, so I thought, all hotsy-totsy.”
“Hotsy-totsy. It seemed to me that I was absolutely hotsy-totsy.”
“And what has caused you to revise this opinion?”
“Why, I met a man the other day who said these shares weren’t worth a bean. I’ve got ’em here. Take a look at them.”
Hamilton Beamish scrutinised the documents with distaste.
“The man was right,” he said. “When you first mentioned the name of the company, it seemed familiar. I now recall why. Mrs. Henrietta Byng Masterson, the president of the Great Neck Social and Literary Society, was speaking to me of it last night. She also had bought shares and mentioned the fact with regret. I should say at a venture that these of yours are worth possibly ten dollars.”
“I gave fifty thousand for them.”
“Then your books will show a loss of forty-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety. I am sorry.”
“But what am I to do?”
“Write it off to experience.”
“But hell’s bells! Don’t you understand? What’s going to happen when Molly tries to sell that necklace and it comes out that it’s a fake?”
Hamilton Beamish shook his head. With most of the ordinary problems of life he was prepared to cope; but this, he frankly admitted, was beyond him.
“My wife’ll murder me.”
“I came here, thinking that you would be able to suggest something.”
Hamilton Beamish regarded him sympathetically, but there was no light of encouragement in his eye.
“Short of stealing the necklace and dropping it in the Hudson River, I fear I can think of no solution.”
“You used to be a brainy sort of gink,” said Mr. Waddington reproachfully.
“I still am. But no human brain could devise a way out of this impasse. You can but wait events and trust to Time, the great healer, eventually to mend matters.”
“That’s a lot of help.”
Hamilton Beamish shrugged his shoulders. Sigsbee H. Waddington regarded the stock certificates malevolently.
“If the stuff’s no good,” he said, “what do they want to put all those dollar-signs on the back for? Misleading people! And look at that seal. And all those signatures.”
“I am sorry,” said Hamilton Beamish. He moved to the window and leaned out, sniffing the summer air. “What a glorious day.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Mr. Waddington.
“Have you ever by any chance met Madame Eulalie, Mrs. Waddington’s palmist?” asked Hamilton Beamish dreamily.
“Darn all palmists!” said Sigsbee H. Waddington. “What am I going to do about this stock?”
“I have already told you that there is nothing that you can do, short of stealing the necklace.”
“There must be something. What would you do if you were me?”
“Run away to Europe.”
“But I can’t run away to Europe. I haven’t any money.”
“Then shoot yourself . . . stand in front of a train . . . anything, anything,” said Hamilton Beamish impatiently. “And now I must really go. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye. Thanks for being such a help.”
“Not at all,” said Hamilton Beamish. “Don’t mention it. I am always delighted to be of any assistance, always.”
He gave a last soulful glance at the photograph on the mantelpiece and left the room. Mr. Waddington could hear him singing an old French love-song as he waited for the elevator and the sound seemed to set the seal upon his gloom and despair.
“You big stiff!” said Mr. Waddington morosely.
He flung himself into a chair and gave himself up to melancholy meditation. For awhile, all he could think of was how he disliked Hamilton Beamish. There was a man who went about the place pretending to be clever and yet, the moment you came to him with a childishly simple problem which he ought to have been able to solve in half-a-dozen different ways in five minutes, he could do nothing but say he was sorry and advise a fellow to stand in front of trains and shoot himself. What on earth was the use of trying to be optimistic about a world which contained people like Hamilton Beamish?
And that idiotic suggestion of his about stealing the necklace! How could he possibly? . . .
Sigsbee H. Waddington sat up in his chair. There was a gleam in his eyes. He snorted. Was it such an idiotic suggestion, after all?
He gazed into the future. At the moment, the necklace was in safe custody at the bank; but, if Molly was going to marry this young Pinch, it would presumably be taken from there and placed on exhibition among the other wedding presents. So that ere long there would undeniably be a time—say, the best part of a day—when a resolute man with a nimble set of fingers might. . . .
Mr. Waddington sank back in his chair again. The light died out of his eyes. Philosophers tell us that no man really knows himself; but Sigsbee H. Waddington knew himself well enough to be aware that he fell short by several miles of the nerve necessary for such an action. Stealing necklaces is no job for an amateur. You cannot suddenly take to it in middle life without any previous preparation. Probably every successful stealer of necklaces underwent rigorous and intensive training from early boyhood, starting with milkcans and bags at railway stations and working his way up. What was needed for this very delicate operation was a seasoned professional.
And there, felt Sigsbee H. Waddington bitterly, you had in a nutshell the thing that made life so difficult to live—the tragic problem of how to put your hand on the right specialist at the exact moment when you required him. All these reference books like the Classified Telephone Directory omitted the vital trades, the trades whose members were of assistance in the real crises of life. They told you where to find a Glass Beveller, as if anyone knew what to do with a Glass Beveller when they had got him. They gave you the address of Yeast Producers and Designers of Quilts; but what was the good of a producer of yeast when you wanted someone who would produce a jemmy and break into a house, or a designer of quilts when what you required was a man who could design a satisfactory scheme for stealing an imitation pearl necklace?
Mr. Waddington groaned in sheer bitterness of spirit. The irony of things afflicted him sorely. Every day the papers talked about the Crime Wave; every day a thousand happy crooks were making off in automobiles with a thousand bundles of swag; and yet here he was in urgent need of one of these crooks and he didn’t know where to look for him.
A deprecating tap sounded on the door.
“Come in!” shouted Mr. Waddington irritably.
He looked up and perceived about seventy-five inches of bony policeman shambling over the threshold.
“I beg your pardon, sir, if I seem to intrude,” said the policeman, beginning to recede. “I came to see Mr. Beamish. I should have made an appointment.”
“Hey! Don’t go,” said Mr. Waddington.
The policeman paused doubtfully at the door.
“But as Mr. Beamish is not at home. . . .”
“Come right in and have a chat. Sit down and take the weight off your feet. My name is Waddington.”
“Mine is Garroway,” replied the officer, bowing courteously.
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Happy to meet you, sir.”
“Have a cigar.”
“I should enjoy it above all things.”
“I wonder where Mr. Beamish keeps them,” said Sigsbee H., rising and routing about the room. “Ah, here we are. Match?”
“I have a match, thank you.”
Sigsbee H. Waddington resumed his seat and regarded the other affectionately. An instant before, he had been bemoaning the fact that he did not know where to lay his hands on a crook, and here, sent from heaven, was a man who was probably a walking directory of malefactors.
“I like policemen,” said Mr. Waddington affably.
“That is very gratifying, sir.”
“Always have. Shows how honest I am, ha ha! If I were a crook, I suppose I’d be scared stiff, sitting here talking to you.” Mr. Waddington drew bluffly at his cigar. “I guess you come across a lot of criminals, eh?”
“It is the great drawback to the policeman’s life,” assented Officer Garroway, sighing. “One meets them on all sides. Only last night, when I was searching for a vital adjective, I was called upon to arrest an uncouth person who had been drinking home-brewed hootch. He soaked me on the jaw, and inspiration left me.”
“Wouldn’t that give you a soft-pine finish!” said Mr. Waddington sympathetically. “But what I was referring to was real crooks. Fellows who get into houses and steal pearl necklaces. Ever meet any of them?”
“I meet a great number. In pursuance of his duty, a policeman is forced against his will to mix with all sorts of questionable people. It may be that my profession biases me, but I have a hearty dislike for thieves.”
“Still, if there were no thieves, there would be no policemen.”
“Very true, sir.”
“Supply and demand.”
Mr. Waddington blew a cloud of smoke.
“I’m kind of interested in crooks,” he said. “I’d like to meet a few.”
“I assure you that you would not find the experience enjoyable,” said Officer Garroway, shaking his head. “They are unpleasant, illiterate men with little or no desire to develop their souls. I make an exception, I should mention, however, in the case of Mr. Mullett, who seemed a nice sort of fellow. I wish I could have seen more of him.”
“Mullett? Who’s he?”
“He is an ex-convict, sir, who works for Mr. Finch in the apartment upstairs.”
“You don’t say! An ex-convict and works for Mr. Finch? What was his line?”
“Inside burglary jobs, sir. I understand, however, that he has reformed and is now a respectable member of society.”
“Still, he was a burglar once?”
There was a silence. Officer Garroway, who was trying to find a good synonym for one of the adjectives in the poem on which he was occupied, stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. Mr. Waddington chewed his cigar intensely.
“Say, listen!” said Mr. Waddington.
“Sir?” said the policeman, coming out of his reverie with a start.
“Suppose,” said Mr. Waddington, “suppose, just for the sake of argument, that a wicked person wanted a crook to do a horrible, nefarious job for him, would he have to pay him?”
“Undoubtedly, sir. These men are very mercenary.”
“Pay him much?”
“I imagine a few hundred dollars. It would depend on the magnitude of the crime contemplated, no doubt.”
“A few hundred dollars!”
“Two, perhaps, or three.”
Silence fell once more. Officer Garroway resumed his inspection of the ceiling. What he wanted was something signifying the aspect of the streets of New York and he had used “sordid” in line two. “Scabrous!” That was the word. He was rolling it over his tongue when he became aware that his companion was addressing him.
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
Mr. Waddington’s eyes were glittering in a peculiar way. He leaned forward and tapped Officer Garroway on the knee.
“Say, listen! I like your face, Larrabee.”
“My name is Garroway, sir.”
“Never mind about your name. It’s your face I like. Say, listen, do you want to make a pile of money?”
“Well, I don’t mind telling you that I’ve taken a fancy to you and I’m going to do something for you that I wouldn’t do for many people. Have you ever heard of the Finer and Better Motion Picture Company, of Hollywood, Cal.?”
“That’s the wonderful thing,” said Mr. Waddington in a sort of ecstasy. “Nobody’s ever heard of it. It isn’t one of those worn-out propositions like the Famous Players that everybody’s sick and tired of. It’s new. And do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to let you have a block of stock in it for a quite nominal figure. It would be insulting you to give it you for nothing, which is what I’d like to do, of course. But it amounts to the same thing. This stock here is worth thousands and thousands of dollars, and you shall have it for three hundred. Have you got three hundred?” asked Mr. Waddington, anxiously.
“Yes, sir, I have that sum, but . . .”
Mr. Waddington waved his cigar.
“Don’t use that word ‘but’! I know what you’re trying to say. You’re trying to tell me I’m robbing myself. I know I am, and what of it? What’s money to me? The way I look at it is that, when a man has made his pile, like me, and has got enough to keep his wife and family in luxury, the least he can do as a lover of humanity is to let the rest go to folks who’ll appreciate it. Now you probably need money as much as the rest of them, eh?”
“I certainly do, sir.”
“Then here you are,” said Mr. Waddington, brandishing the bundle of stock certificates. “This is where you get it. You can take it from me that the Finer and Better Motion Picture Company is the biggest thing since Marconi invented the victrola.”
Officer Garroway took the stock and fondled it thoughtfully.
“It’s certainly very nicely engraved,” he said.
“You bet it is! And look at those dollar-signs on the back. Look at that seal. Cast your eye over those signatures. Those mean something. And you know what the motion pictures are. A bigger industry than the beef business. And the Finer and Better is the greatest proposition of them all. It isn’t like other companies. For one thing, it hasn’t been paying out all its money in dividends.”
“No, sir! Not wasted a cent that way.”
“It’s all still there?”
“All still there. And, what’s more, it hasn’t released a single picture.”
“All still there?”
“All still there. Lying on the shelves—dozens of them. And then take the matter of overhead expenses—the thing that cripples all these other film-companies. Big studios . . . expensive authors under contract . . . high-salaried stars. . . .”
“All still there?”
“No, sir! That’s the point. They’re not there. The Finer and Better Motion Picture Company hasn’t any of these temperamental stars eating away its capital. It hasn’t even a studio.”
“Not even a studio?”
“No, sir. Nothing but a company. I tell you it’s big!”
Officer Garroway’s mild blue eyes widened.
“It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime,” he agreed.
“The opportunity of a dozen lifetimes,” said Mr. Waddington. “And that’s the way to get on in the world—by grabbing your opportunities. Why, what’s a grapefruit but a lemon that saw its chance and made good?” Mr. Waddington paused. His forehead wrinkled. He snatched the bundle of stock from his companion’s grasp and made a movement towards his pocket. “No!” he said. “No! I can’t do it. I can’t let you have it, after all!”
“No. It’s too big.”
“Oh, but, Mr. Waddington! . . .”
Sigsbee H. Waddington seemed to come out of a trance. He shook himself and stared at the policeman as if he were saying: “Where am I?” He heaved a deep, remorseful sigh.
“Isn’t money the devil!” he said. “Isn’t it terrible the way it saps all a fellow’s principles and good resolutions! Sheer greed, that was what was the matter with me when I said I wouldn’t let you have this stock. Sheer, grasping greed. Here am I, with millions in the bank, and the first thing you know I’m trying to resist a generous impulse to do a fellow human-being, whose face I like, a kindly act. It’s horrible!” He wrenched the bundle from his pocket and threw it to the policeman. “Here, take it before I weaken again. Give me the three hundred quick and let me get away.”
“I don’t know how to thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me, don’t thank me. One—two—three,” said Mr. Waddington, counting the bills. “Don’t thank me at all. It’s a pleasure.”
Upstairs, while the conversation just recorded was in progress, Frederick Mullett was entertaining his fiancée, Fanny Welch, to a light collation in the kitchen of George Finch’s apartment. It is difficult for a man to look devotional while his mouth is full of cold beef and chutney—but not impossible, for Mullett was doing it now. He gazed at Fanny very much as George Finch had gazed at Molly Waddington, Hamilton Beamish at Madame Eulalie, and as a million other young men in New York and its outskirts were or would shortly be gazing at a million other young women. Love had come rather late to Frederick Mullett, for his had been a busy life, but it had come to stay.
Externally, Fanny Welch appeared not unworthy of his devotion. She was a pretty little thing with snapping black eyes and a small face. The thing you noticed about her first was the slim shapeliness of her hands with their long, sensitive fingers. One of the great advantages of being a pickpocket is that you do have nice hands.
“I like this place,” said Fanny, looking about her.
“Do you, honey?” said Mullett tenderly. “I was hoping you would. Because I’ve got a secret for you.”
“This is where you and me are going to spend our honeymoon!”
“What, in this kitchen?”
“Of course not. We’ll have the run of the whole apartment, with the roof thrown in.”
“What’ll Mr. Finch have to say to that?”
“He won’t know, pettie. You see, Mr. Finch has just gone and got engaged to be married himself, and he’ll be off on his honeymoon-trip, so the whole place’ll be ours for ever so long. What do you think of that?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“I’ll take and show you the place in a minute or two. It’s the best studio-apartment for miles around. There’s a nice large sitting-room that looks on to the roof, with French windows so that you can stroll out and take the air when you like. And there’s a sleeping-porch on the roof, in case the weather’s warm. And a bath, H. and C., with shower. It’s the snuggest place you’ll ever want to find, and you and I can stay perched up here like two little birds in a nest. And, when we’ve finished honeymooning, we’ll go down to Long Island and buy a little duck-farm and live happy ever after.”
Fanny looked doubtful.
“Can you see me on a duck-farm, Freddy?”
“Can I!” Mullett’s eyes beamed adoration. “You bet I can see you there—standing in a gingham apron on the old brick path between the hollyhocks, watching little Frederick romping under the apple tree.”
“Oh? And did you notice little Fanny clinging to my skirts?”
“So she is. And William John in his cradle on the porch.”
“I think we’d better stop looking for awhile,” said Fanny. “Our family’s growing too fast.”
Mullett sighed ecstatically.
“Doesn’t it sound quiet and peaceful alter the stormy lives we’ve led. The quacking of the ducks. . . . The droning of the bees. . . . Put back that spoon, dearie. You know it doesn’t belong to you.”
Fanny removed the spoon from the secret places of her dress and eyed it with a certain surprise.
“Now, how did that get there?” she said.
“You snitched it up, sweetness,” said Mullett gently. “Your little fingers just hovered for a moment like little bees over a flower, and the next minute the thing was gone. It was beautiful to watch, honey, but put it back. You’ve done with all that sort of thing now, you know.”
“I guess I have,” said Fanny wistfully.
“You don’t guess you have, precious,” corrected her husband-to-be. “You know you have. Same as I’ve done.”
“Are you really on the level now, Freddy?”
“I’m as honest as the day is long.”
“Work at nights, eh? Mullett, the human moth. Goes through his master’s clothes like a jealous wife.”
Mullett laughed indulgently.
“The same little Fanny! How you do love to tease. Yes, precious, I’m through with the game for good. I wouldn’t steal a bone collar-stud now, not if my mother came and begged me on her bended knee. All I want is my little wife and my little home in the country.”
Fanny frowned pensively.
“You don’t think it’ll be kind of quiet down on that duck-farm? Kind of slow?”
“Slow?” said Mullett, shocked.
“Well, maybe not. But we’re retiring from business awful early, Freddy.”
A look of concern came into Mullett’s face.
“You don’t mean you still have a hankering for the old game?”
“Well, what if I do?” said Fanny defiantly. “You do, too, if you’d only come clean and admit it.”
The look of concern changed to one of dignity.
“Nothing of the kind,” said Mullett. “I give you my word, Fanny, that there isn’t the job on earth that could tempt me now. And I do wish you would bring yourself to feel the same, honey.”
“Oh, I’m not saying I would bother with anything that wasn’t really big. But, honest to goodness, Freddy, it would be a crime to side-step anything worth while, if it came along. It isn’t as if we had all the money in the world. I’ve picked up some nice little things at the stores and I suppose you’ve kept some of the stuff you got away with, but outside of that we’ve nothing but the bit of cash we’ve managed to save. We’ve got to be practical.”
“But, sweetie, think of the awful chances you’d be taking of getting pinched.”
“I’m not afraid. If they ever do nab me, I’ve got a spiel about my poor old mother——”
“You haven’t got a mother.”
“Who said I had? . . . A spiel about my poor old mother that would draw tears from the Woolworth Building. Listen! ‘Don’t turn me over to the police, mister; I only did it for ma’s sake. If you was out of work for weeks and starvin’ and you had to sit and watch your poor old ma bendin’ over the wash-tubs——’ ”
“Don’t, Fanny, please! I can’t bear it, even though I know it’s just a game. I—hello! Somebody at the front door. Probably only a model wanting to know if Mr. Finch has a job for her. You wait here, honey. I’ll get rid of her and be back in half a minute.”
More than twenty times that period had, however, elapsed before Frederick Mullett returned to the kitchen. He found his bride-to-be in a considerably less amiable mood than that in which he had left her. She was standing with folded arms and the temperature of the room had gone down a number of degrees.
“Pretty girl?” she inquired frostily, as Mullett crossed the threshold.
“You said you were going to send that model away in half a minute, and I’ve been waiting here nearer a quarter of an hour,” said Fanny, verifying this statement by a glance at the wrist-watch, the absence of which from their stock was still an unsolved mystery to a prosperous firm of jewellers on Fifth Avenue.
Mullett clasped her in his arms. It was a matter of some difficulty, for she was not responsive, but he did it.
“It was not a model, darling. It was a man. A guy with grey hair and a red face.”
“Oh? What did he want?”
Mullett’s already somewhat portly frame seemed to expand, as if with some deep emotion.
“He came to tempt me, Fanny.”
“To tempt you?”
“That’s what he did. Wanted to know if my name was Mullett and, two seconds after I had said it was, he offered me three hundred dollars to perpetrate a crime.”
“He did? What crime?”
“I didn’t wait for him to tell me. I spurned his offer and came away. That’ll show you if I’ve reformed or not. A nice, easy, simple job he said it was, that I could do in a couple of minutes.”
“And you spurned him, eh?”
“I certainly spurned him. I spurned him good and plenty.”
“And then you came away?”
“Came right away.”
“Then listen here,” said Fanny in a steely voice, “it don’t seem to me that your times add up right. You say he made you this offer two seconds after he heard your name. Well, why did it take you a quarter of an hour to get back to this kitchen? If you want to know what I think, it wasn’t a red-faced man with grey hair at all—it was one of these Washington Square vamps and you were flirting with her.”
“Well, I’ve read Gingery Stories and I know what it’s like down here in Bohemia with all these artists and models and everything.”
Mullett drew himself up.
“Your suspicions pain me, Fanny. If you care to step out on to the roof, you can peek in at the sitting-room window and see him for yourself. He’s waiting there for me to bring him a drink. The reason I was so long coming back was that it took him ten minutes before he asked my name. Up till then he just sat and spluttered.”
“All right. Take me out on the roof.”
“There!” said Mullett, a moment later. “Now perhaps you’ll believe me.”
Through the French windows of the sitting-room there was undeniably visible a man of precisely the appearance described. Fanny was remorseful.
“Did I wrong my poor little Freddy, then?” she said.
“Yes, you did.”
“I’m sorry. There!”
She kissed him. Mullett melted immediately.
“I must go back and get that drink,” he said.
“And I must be getting along.”
“Oh, not yet,” begged Mullett.
“Yes, I must. I’ve got to look in at one or two of the stores.”
“Well, a girl’s got to have her trousseau, hasn’t she?”
“You’ll be very careful, precious?” he said anxiously.
“I’m always careful. Don’t you worry about me.”
Mullett retired; and Fanny, blowing a parting kiss from her pretty fingers, passed through the door leading to the stairs.
It was perhaps five minutes later, while Mullett sat dreaming golden dreams in the kitchen and Sigsbee H. Waddington sat sipping whisky-and-soda in the sitting-room, that a sudden tap on the French window caused the latter to give a convulsive leap and spill most of the liquid down the front of his waistcoat.
He looked up. A girl was standing outside the window and, from her gestures, he gathered that she was requesting him to open it.
It was some time before Sigsbee H. Waddington could bring himself to do so. There exist, no doubt, married men of the baser sort who would have enjoyed the prospect of a tête-à-tête chat with a girl with snapping black eyes who gesticulated at them through windows; but Sigsbee Waddington was not one of them. By nature and training he was circumspect to a degree. So for awhile he merely stood and stared at Fanny. It was not until her eyes became so imperative as to be practically hypnotic that he brought himself to undo the latch.
“And about time, too,” said Fanny, with annoyance, stepping softly into the room.
“What do you want?”
“I want a little talk with you. What’s all this I hear about you asking people to perpetrate crimes for you?”
Sigsbee Waddington’s conscience was in such a feverish condition by now that this speech affected him as deeply as the explosion of a pound of dynamite would have done. His vivid imagination leaped immediately to the supposition that this girl who seemed so intimate with his private affairs was one of those Secret Service investigation agents who do so much to mar the comfort of the amateur in crime.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he croaked.
“Oh, shucks!” said Fanny impatiently. She was a business girl and disliked this beating about the bush. “Freddy Mullett told me all about it. You want someone to do a job for you and he turned you down. Well, take a look at the understudy. I’m here, and, if the job’s in my line, lead me to it.”
Mr. Waddington continued to eye her warily. He had now decided that she was trying to trap him into a damaging admission. He said nothing, but breathed stertorously.
Fanny, a sensitive girl, misunderstood his silence. She interpreted the look in his eye to indicate distrust of the ability of a woman worker to deputise for the male.
“If it’s anything Freddy Mullett could do, I can do it,” she said. She seemed to Mr. Waddington to flicker for a moment. “See here!” she said.
Before Mr. Waddington’s fascinated gaze she held up between her delicate fingers a watch and chain.
“What’s that?” he gasped.
“What does it look like?”
Mr. Waddington knew exactly what it looked like. He felt his waistcoat dazedly.
“I didn’t see you take it.”
“Nobody don’t ever see me take it,” said Fanny proudly, stating a profound truth. “Well, then, now you’ve witnessed the demonstration, perhaps you’ll believe me when I say that I’m not so worse. If Freddy can do it, I can do it.”
A cool, healing wave of relief poured over Sigsbee H. Waddington’s harassed soul. He perceived that he had wronged his visitor. She was not a detective, after all, but a sweet, womanly woman who went about lifting things out of people’s pockets so deftly that they never saw them go. Just the sort of girl he had been wanting to meet.
“I am sure you can,” he said fervently.
“Well, what’s the job?”
“I want someone to steal a pearl necklace.”
“Where is it?”
“In the strong-room at the bank.”
Fanny’s mobile features expressed disappointment and annoyance.
“Then what’s the use of talking about it? I’m not a safe-smasher. I’m a delicately nurtured girl that never used an oxy-acetylene blowpipe in her life.”
“Ah, but you don’t understand,” said Mr. Waddington hastily. “When I say that the necklace is in the strong-room, I mean that it is there just now. Eventually it will be taken out and placed among the other wedding-presents.”
“This begins to look more like it.”
“I can mention no names, of course——”
“I don’t expect you to.”
“Then I will simply say that A, to whom the necklace belongs, is shortly about to be married to B.”
“I might have known it. Doing all those bridge problems together, they kind of got fond of one another.”
“I have my reasons for thinking that the wedding will take place down at Hempstead, on Long Island, where C, A’s stepmother, has her summer home.”
“Why? Why not in New York?”
“Because,” said Mr. Waddington simply, “I expressed a wish that it should take place in New York.”
“What have you got to do with it?”
“I am D, C’s husband.”
“Oh, the fellow who could fill a tank with water in six hours fifteen minutes while C was filling another in five hours forty-five? Pleased to meet you.”
“I am now strongly in favour of the Hempstead idea,” said Mr. Waddington. “In New York it might be difficult to introduce you into the house, whereas down at Hempstead you can remain concealed in the garden till the suitable moment arrives. Down at Hempstead the presents will be on view in the dining-room, which has French windows opening on to a lawn flanked with shrubberies.”
“Just what I thought. I will, therefore, make a point to-night of insisting that the wedding take place in New York and the thing will be definitely settled.”
Fanny eyed him reflectively.
“It all seems kind of funny to me. If you’re D and you’re married to C and C is A’s stepmother, you must be A’s father. What do you want to go stealing your daughter’s necklace for?”
“Say, listen,” said Mr. Waddington, “the first thing you’ve got to get into your head is that you’re not to ask questions.”
“Only my girlish curiosity.”
“Tie a can to it,” begged Mr. Waddington. “This is a delicate business and the last thing I want is anybody snooping into motives and first causes. Just you go ahead, like a nice girl, and get that necklace and pass it over to me when nobody’s looking, and then put the whole matter out of your pretty little head and forget about it.”
“Just as you say. And now, coming down to it, what is there in it for me?”
“Three hundred dollars.”
“Not nearly enough.”
“It’s all I’ve got.”
Fanny meditated. Three hundred dollars, though a meagre sum, was three hundred dollars. You could always use three hundred dollars when you were furnishing; and the job, as outlined, seemed simple.
“All right,” she said.
“You’ll do it?”
“Good girl,” said Mr. Waddington. “Where can I find you when I want you?”
“Here’s my address.”
“I’ll send you a line. You’ve got the thing clear?”
“Sure. I hang about in the bushes till there’s nobody around, and then I slip into the room and snitch the necklace——”
“And hand it over to me.”
“I’ll be waiting in the garden just outside and I’ll meet you the moment you come out. The very moment. Thus,” said Mr. Waddington with a quiet, meaning look at his young friend, “avoiding any rannygazoo.”
“What do you mean by rannygazoo?” said Fanny warmly.
“Nothing, nothing,” said Mr. Waddington with a deprecating wave of the hand. “Just rannygazoo.”
There are, as everybody knows, many ways of measuring time: and right through the ages learned men have argued heatedly in favour of their different systems. Hipparchus of Rhodes sneered every time anybody mentioned Marinus of Tyre to him: and the views of Ahmed Ibn Abdallah of Baghdad gave Purbach and Regiomontanus the laugh of their lives. Purbach in his bluff way said the man must be a perfect ass; and when Regiomontanus, whose motto was Live and Let Live, urged that Ahmed Ibn was just a young fellow trying to get along and ought not to be treated too harshly, Purbach said Was that so? and Regiomontanus said Yes, that was so, and Purbach said that Regiomontanus made him sick.
Tycho Brahe measured time by means of altitudes, quadrants, azimuths, cross-staves, armillary spheres and parallactic rules; and, as he often said to his wife when winding up the azimuth and putting the cat out for the night, nothing could be fairer than that. And then in 1863 along came Döllen with his Die Zeitbestimmung vermittelst des tragbaren Durchgangsinstruments im Verticale des Polarsterns (a best-seller in its day, subsequently filmed under the title Ashes of Passion), and proved that Tycho, by mistaking an armillary sphere for a quadrant one night after a bump-supper at Copenhagen University, had got his calculations all wrong.
The truth is that time cannot be measured. To George Finch, basking in the society of Molly Waddington, the next three weeks seemed but a flash. Whereas to Hamilton Beamish, with the girl he loved miles away in East Gilead, Idaho, it appeared incredible that any sensible person could suppose that a day contained only twenty-four hours. There were moments when Hamilton Beamish thought that something must have happened to the sidereal moon and that time was standing still.
But now the three weeks were up, and at any minute he might hear that she was back in the metropolis. All day long he had been going about with a happy smile on his face, and it was with a heart that leaped and sang from pure exuberance that he now turned to greet Officer Garroway, who had just presented himself at his apartment.
“Ah, Garroway!” said Hamilton Beamish. “How goes it? What brings you here?”
“I understood you to say, sir,” replied the policeman, “that I was to bring you my poem when I had completed it.”
“Of course, of course. I had forgotten all about it. Something seems to have happened to my memory these days. So you have written your first poem, eh? All about love and youth and springtime, I suppose? . . . Excuse me!”
The telephone bell had rung; and Hamilton Beamish, though the instrument had disappointed him over and over again in the past few days, leaped excitedly to snatch up the receiver.
This time there was no disappointment. The voice that spoke was the voice he had heard so often in his dreams.
“Mr. Beamish? I mean, Jimmy.”
Hamilton Beamish drew a deep breath. And so overcome was he with sudden joy that for the first time since he had reached years of discretion he drew it through the mouth.
“At last!” he cried.
“What did you say?”
“I said ‘At last!’ Since you went away every minute has seemed an hour.”
“So it has to me.”
“Do you mean that?” breathed Hamilton Beamish fervently.
“Yes. That’s the way minutes do seem in East Gilead.”
“Oh, ah, yes,” said Mr. Beamish, a little damped. “When did you get back?”
“A quarter of an hour ago.”
Hamilton Beamish’s spirits soared once more.
“And you called me up at once!” he said emotionally.
“Yes. I wanted to know Mrs. Waddington’s telephone number at Hempstead.”
“Was that the only reason?”
“Of course not. I wanted to hear how you were . . .”
“Did you? Did you?”
“. . . and if you had missed me.”
“How sweet of you. I should have thought you would have forgotten my very existence.”
“Guk!” said Hamilton Beamish, completely overcome.
“Well, shall I tell you something? I missed you, too.”
Hamilton Beamish drew another completely unscientific deep breath, and was about to pour his whole soul into the instrument in a manner that would probably have fused the wire, when a breezy masculine voice suddenly smote his ear-drum.
“Is that Ed.?” inquired the voice.
“No,” thundered Hamilton Beamish.
“This is Charley, Ed. Is it all right for Friday?”
“It is not!” boomed Hamilton Beamish. “Get off the wire, you blot! Go away!”
“Certainly, if you want me to,” said a sweet, feminine voice. “But . . .”
“I beg your pardon! I am sorry, sorry, sorry. A fiend in human shape got on the wire,” explained Mr. Beamish hastily.
“Oh? Well, what were we saying?”
“I was just going to . . .”
“I remember. Mrs. Waddington’s telephone number. I was looking through my mail just now, and I found an invitation from Miss Waddington to her wedding. I see it’s to-morrow. Fancy that!”
Hamilton Beamish would have preferred to speak of other things than trivialities like George Finch’s wedding, but he found it difficult to change the subject.
“Yes. It is to take place at Hempstead to-morrow. George is staying down there at the inn.”
“It’s going to be a quiet country wedding, then?”
“Yes. I think Mrs. Waddington wants to hush George up as much as possible.”
“I am going down by the one-thirty train. Couldn’t we travel together?”
“I’m not sure that I shall be able to go. I have an awful lot of things to see to here, after being away so long. Shall we leave it open?”
“Very well,” said Hamilton Beamish resignedly. “But, in any case, can you dine with me to-morrow night?”
“I should love it.”
Hamilton Beamish’s eyes closed, and he snuffled for awhile.
“And what is Mrs. Waddington’s number?”
“We’ll dine at the Purple Chicken, shall we?”
“You can always get it there, if they know you.”
“Do they know you?”
“Fine! Well, good-bye.”
Hamilton Beamish stood for a few moments in deep thought; then, turning away from the instrument, was astonished to perceive Officer Garroway.
“I’d forgotten all about you,” he said. “Let me see, what did you say you had come for?”
“To read you my poem, sir.”
“Ah, yes, of course.”
The policeman coughed modestly.
“It is just a little thing, Mr. Beamish—a sort of study, you might say, of the streets of New York as they appear to a policeman on his beat. I would like to read it to you, if you will permit me.”
Officer Garroway shifted his adam’s apple up and down once or twice; and, closing his eyes, began to recite in the special voice which he as a rule reserved for giving evidence before magistrates.
“ ‘Streets!’ ”
“That is the title, eh?”
“Yes, sir. And also the first line.”
Hamilton Beamish started.
“Is it vers libre?”
“Doesn’t it rhyme?”
“No, sir. I understood you to say that rhymes were an outworn convention.”
“Did I really say that?”
“You did, indeed, sir. And a great convenience I found it. It seems to make poetry quite easy.”
Hamilton Beamish looked at him perplexedly. He supposed he must have spoken the words which the other had quoted, and yet that he should deliberately have wished to exclude a fellow-creature from the pure joy of rhyming “heart” with “Cupid’s dart” seemed to him in his present uplifted state inconceivable.
“Odd!” he said. “Very odd. However, go on.”
Officer Garroway went once more through the motions of swallowing something large and sharp, and shut his eyes again.
Grim, relentless, sordid streets!
Miles of poignant streets,
East, West, North,
And stretching starkly South;
Sad, hopeless, dismal, cheerless, chilling
Hamilton Beamish raised his eyebrows.
I pace the mournful streets
With aching heart.
“Why?” asked Hamilton Beamish.
“It is part of my duties, sir. Each patrolman is assigned a certain portion of the city as a beat.”
“I mean, why do you pace with aching heart?”
“Because it is bleeding, sir.”
“Bleeding? You mean your heart?”
“Yes, sir. My heart is bleeding. I look at all the sordid gloom and sorrow and my heart bleeds.”
“Well, go on. It all seems very peculiar to me, but go on.”
I watch grey men slink past
With shifty, sidelong eyes
That gleam with murderous hate; Lepers that prowl the streets;
Hamilton Beamish seemed about to speak, but checked himself.
Men who once were men,
Women that once were women,
Children like wizened apes,
And dogs that snarl and snap and growl and hate.
Loathsome, festering streets!
I pace the scabrous streets
And long for death.
Officer Garroway stopped, and opened his eyes; and Hamilton Beamish, crossing the room to where he stood, slapped him briskly on the shoulder.
“I see it all,” he said. “What’s wrong with you is liver. Tell me, have you any local pain and tenderness?”
“High temperature accompanied by shiverings and occasional rigors?”
“Then you have not a hepatic abscess. All that is the matter, I imagine, is a slight sluggishness in the œsophageal groove, which can be set right with calomel. My dear Garroway, it surely must be obvious to you that this poem of yours is all wrong. It is absurd for you to pretend that you do not see a number of pleasant and attractive people on your beat. The streets of New York are full of the most delightful persons. I have noticed them on all sides. The trouble is that you have been looking on them with a bilious eye.”
“But I thought you told me to be stark and poignant, Mr. Beamish.”
“Nothing of the kind. You must have misunderstood me. Starkness is quite out of place in poetry. A poem should be a thing of beauty and charm and sentiment and have as its theme the sweetest and divinest of all human emotions—Love. Only Love can inspire the genuine bard. Love, Garroway, is a fire that glows and enlarges, until it warms and beams upon multitudes, upon the universal heart of all, and so lights up the whole world and all nature with its generous flames. Shakespeare speaks of the ecstasy of love, and Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. Ah, better to love in the lowliest cot, Garroway, than pine in a palace alone. In peace, Love tunes the shepherd’s reed; in war he mounts the warrior’s steed. In halls, in gay attire is seen; in hamlets, dances on the green. Love rules the court, the camp, the grove, and men below and saints above; for love is heaven and heaven is love. Get these simple facts into your silly fat head, Garroway, and you may turn out a poem worth reading. If, however, you are going to take this absurd attitude about festering streets and scabrous dogs and the rest of it, you are simply wasting your time and would be better employed writing sub-titles for the motion-pictures.”
Officer Garroway was not a man of forceful character. He bowed his head meekly before the storm.
“I see what you mean, Mr. Beamish.”
“I should hope you did. I have put it plainly enough. I dislike intensely this modern tendency on the part of young writers to concentrate on corpses and sewers and despair. They should be writing about Love. I tell thee Love is nature’s second sun, Garroway, causing a spring of virtues where he shines. All love is sweet, given or returned. Common as light is love, and its familiar voice wearies not ever. True love’s the gift which God has given to man alone beneath the heaven. It is not—mark this, Garroway!—it is not fantasy’s hot fire, whose wishes soon as granted die. It liveth not in fierce desire, with fierce desire it does not die. It is the secret sympathy, the silver link, the silken tie, which heart to heart and mind to mind in body and in soul can bind.”
“Yes, sir. Exactly, Mr. Beamish. I quite see that.”
“Then go away and re-write 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 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 grey 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 grand-children. 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 re-writing that poem of yours.”
The policeman’s brow was dark. There was a rebellious look in his usually mild eyes.
“Re-write it nothing! It’s the goods.”
“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 favour. 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—further 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 which 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 ash-can, 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. A lover, counting the days until the only girl in the world shall be his, will see sweetness and light in practically everything; but George Finch, despite his most earnest endeavours, 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.”
“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 a shelf, he fell and sprained his ankle!”
“The poor fish,” said George warmly. “What does he want to go doing that sort of thing for at a time like this? A man ought to decide once and for all at the outset of his career whether he is a clergyman or an acrobat and never deviate from his chosen path. 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 neighbourhood 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, it’s power to prove,
But thou art not forgot.
Be a man, George. Clench your hands and try to endure.”
“Be brave,” said Hamilton Beamish. “I know just how 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 endeavour 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 on George.
“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 would 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 grey foreboding had come upon him.
“I wish this hadn’t happened.”
“Exactly what the clergyman said.”
“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 . . .”
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 wobbling 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 lower 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.
(Another long instalment next month).
Printer’s errors corrected above:
In VI, iv, magazine omitted ‘sat’ in “Sigsbee H. Waddington sat sipping whisky-and-soda”.
In VII, Dollen corrected to Döllen.
In VII, corrected title of Döllen book; see the original at Google Books.
In VII, magazine omitted comma in “Hamilton Beamish, completely overcome.”
In VII, magazine had “You can always get in there, if they know you.”; corrected to “get it there” (referring to alcoholic drink during Prohibition) as in all other sources. Note also the end of chapter 15 in Part 5, where this magazine, like the other sources, has ‘you could get “it” if they knew you.’
In VII, magazine had “adam’s apple”; capitalized as in Part 2 and as in all other sources.
In VII, magazine had ‘abcess’; corrected to ‘abscess’.
In VIII, magazine had “morning of the weeding”; corrected to ‘wedding’.
The magazine incorrectly labeled Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine with roman numerals as if they were sections VII, VIII, and IX of Chapter Six.