The Saturday Evening Post, June 13, 1925
ALL day long, New York, stewing in the rays of a late August sun, had been growing warmer and warmer; until now, at three o’clock in the afternoon, its inhabitants, with the exception of a little group gathered together on the tenth floor of the Wilmot Building on Upper Broadway, had divided themselves by a sort of natural cleavage into two main bodies—the one crawling about and asking those they met if this was hot enough for them, the other maintaining that what they minded was not so much the heat as the humidity.
The reason for the activity prevailing on the tenth floor of the Wilmot was that a sporting event of the first magnitude was being pulled off there—Spike Delaney, of the John B. Pynsent Export and Import Company, being in the act of contesting the final of the Office Boys’ High-Kicking Championship against a willowy youth from the Consolidated Eyebrow Tweezer and Nail File Corporation.
The affair was taking place on the premises of a few stenographers, chewing gum; some male wage slaves in shirt sleeves; and Mr. John B. Pynsent’s nephew, Samuel Shotter, a young man of agreeable features, who was acting as referee.
In addition to being referee, Sam Shotter was also the patron and promoter of the tourney; the man but for whose vision and enterprise a wealth of young talent would have lain undeveloped, thereby jeopardizing America’s chances should an event of this kind ever be added to the program of the Olympic Games. It was he who, wandering about the office in a restless search for methods of sweetening an uncongenial round of toil, had come upon Master Delaney practicing kicks against the wall of a remote corridor, and had encouraged him to kick higher. It was he who had arranged matches with representatives of other firms throughout the building. And it was he who out of his own pocket had provided the purse which, as the lad’s foot crashed against the plaster a full inch above his rival’s best effort, he now handed to Spike together with a few well-chosen words.
“Delaney,” said Sam, “is the winner. After a contest conducted throughout in accordance with the best traditions of American high kicking, he has upheld the honor of the John B. Pynsent Ex and Imp and retained his title. In the absence of the boss, therefore, who has unfortunately been called away to Philadelphia and so is unable to preside at this meeting, I take much pleasure in presenting him with the guerdon of victory, this handsome dollar bill. Take it, Spike, and in after years, when you are a gray-haired alderman or something, look back to this moment and say to yourself ——”
Sam stopped, a little hurt. He thought he had been speaking rather well, yet already his audience was walking out on him. Spike Delaney, indeed, was not walking; he was running.
“Say to yourself ——”
“When you are at leisure, Samuel,” observed a voice behind him, “I should be glad of a word with you in my office.”
“Oh, hullo, uncle,” he said. He coughed; Mr. Pynsent coughed. “I thought you had gone to Philadelphia,” said Sam.
“Indeed?” said Mr. Pynsent.
He made no further remark, but proceeded sedately to his room, from which he emerged again a moment later with a patient look of inquiry on his face.
“Come here, Sam,” he said. “Who,” he asked, pointing, “is this?”
Sam peeped through the doorway and perceived, tilted back in a swivel chair, a long, lean man of repellent aspect. His large feet rested comfortably on the desk, his head hung sideways and his mouth was open. From this mouth, which was of generous proportions, there came a gurgling snore.
“Who,” repeated Mr. Pynsent, “is this gentleman?”
Sam could not help admiring his uncle’s unerring instinct—that amazing intuition which had led him straight to the realization that if an uninvited stranger was slumbering in his pet chair, the responsibility must of necessity be his nephew Samuel’s.
“Good Lord!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know he was there.”
“A friend of yours?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Hash Todhunter, you know, the cook of the Araminta. You remember I took a trip a year ago on a tramp steamer? This fellow was the cook. I met him on Broadway this afternoon and gave him lunch. I brought him back here because he wanted to see the place where I work.”
“Work?” said Mr. Pynsent, puzzled.
“I had no notion he had strayed into your room.”
Sam spoke apologetically, but he would have liked to point out that the blame for all these embarrassing occurrences was really Mr. Pynsent’s. If a man creates the impression that he is going to Philadelphia and then does not go, he has only himself to thank for any complications that may ensue. However, this was a technicality with which he did not bother his uncle.
“Shall I wake him?”
“If you would be so good. And having done so, take him away and store him somewhere and then come back. I have much to say to you.”
Shaken by a vigorous hand, the sleeper opened his eyes. Hauled to his feet, he permitted himself to be led, still in a trancelike condition, out of the room and down the passage to the cubbyhole where Sam performed his daily duties. Here, sinking into a chair, he fell asleep again; and Sam left him and went back to his uncle. Mr. Pynsent was staring thoughtfully out of the window as he entered.
“Sit down, Sam,” he said.
Sam sat down.
“I’m sorry about all that, uncle.”
“All that business that was going on when you came in.”
“Ah, yes. What was it, by the way?”
“Spike Delaney was seeing if he could kick higher than a kid from a firm downstairs.”
“And did he?”
“Good boy,” said Mr. Pynsent approvingly. “You arranged the competition, no doubt?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”
“You would. You have been in my employment,” proceeded Mr. Pynsent evenly, “three months. In that time you have succeeded in thoroughly demoralizing the finest office force in New York.”
“Oh, uncle!” said Sam reproachfully.
“Thoroughly,” repeated Mr. Pynsent. “The office boys call you by your Christian name.”
“They will do it,” sighed Sam. “I clump their heads, but the habit persists.”
“Last Wednesday I observed you kissing my stenographer.”
“The poor little thing had toothache.”
“Also, Mr. Ellaby informs me that your work is a disgrace to the firm.” There was a pause. “The English public school is the curse of the age,” said Mr. Pynsent dreamily.
To a stranger the remark might have sounded irrelevant, but Sam understood its import. He appreciated it for what it was—a nasty crack.
“Did they teach you anything at Wrykyn, Sam, except football?”
“Oh, lots of things.”
“I have seen no evidence of it. Why your mother sent you to that place, instead of to some good business college, I cannot imagine.”
“Well, you see, dad had been there ——”
Sam broke off. Mr. Pynsent, he was aware, had not been fond of the late Anthony Shotter—considering, and possibly correctly, that his dead sister had, in marrying that amiable but erratic person, been guilty of the crowning folly of a frivolous and fluffy-headed life.
“A strong recommendation,” said Mr. Pynsent dryly.
Sam had nothing to say to this.
“You are very like your father in a great many ways,” said Mr. Pynsent.
Sam let this one go by too. They were coming over the plate a bit fast this morning, but there was nothing to be done about it.
“And yet I am fond of you, Sam,” resumed Mr. Pynsent after a brief pause.
This was more the stuff.
“And I am fond of you, uncle,” said Sam in a hearty voice. “When I think of all you have done for me ——”
“But,” went on Mr. Pynsent, “I feel that I shall like you even better three thousand miles away from the offices of the Pynsent Export and Import Company. We are parting, Sam—and immediately.”
“I, on the other hand,” said Mr. Pynsent, “am glad.”
There was a silence. Sam, feeling that the interview, having reached this point, might be considered over, got up.
“Wait a moment,” said Mr. Pynsent. “I want to tell you what plans I have made for your future.”
Sam was agreeably surprised. He had not supposed that his future would be of interest to Mr. Pynsent.
“Have you made plans?”
“Yes; everything is settled.”
“This is fine, uncle,” said Sam cordially. “I thought you were going to drive me out into the snow.”
“Do you remember meeting an Englishman named Lord Tilbury at dinner at my house?”
Sam did indeed. His Lordship had got him wedged into a corner after the meal and had talked without a pause for more than half an hour.
“He is the proprietor of the Mammoth Publishing Company, a concern which produces a great many daily and weekly papers in London.”
Sam was aware of this. Lord Tilbury’s conversation had been almost entirely autobiographical.
“Well, he is returning to England on Saturday on the Mauretania, and you are going with him.”
“He has offered to employ you in his business.”
“But I don’t know anything about newspaper work.”
“You don’t know anything about anything,” Mr. Pynsent pointed out gently. “It is the effect of your English public-school education. However, you certainly cannot be a greater failure with Lord Tilbury than you have been with me. That water cooler over there has been in my office only four days, and already it knows more about the export and import business than you would learn if you stayed here fifty years.”
Sam made plaintive noises. Fifty years, he considered, was an overstatement.
“I concealed nothing of this from Lord Tilbury, but nevertheless he insists on engaging you.”
“Odd,” said Sam. He could not help feeling a little flattered at this intense desire for his services on the part of a man who had met him only once. Lord Tilbury might be a bore, but there was no getting away from the fact that he had that gift without which no one can amass a large fortune—that strange, almost uncanny gift for spotting the good man when he saw him.
“Not at all odd,” said Mr. Pynsent. “He and I are in the middle of a business deal. He is trying to persuade me to do something which at present I have not made up my mind to do. He thinks that by taking you off my hands he will put me under an obligation. So he will.”
“Uncle,” said Sam impressively, “I will make good.”
“You’d better,” returned Mr. Pynsent, unmelted. “It is your last chance. There is no earthly reason why I should go on supporting you for the rest of your life, and I do not intend to do it. If you make a mess of things at Tilbury House, don’t think that you can come running back to me. There will be no fatted calf. Remember that.”
“I will, uncle, I will. But don’t worry. Something tells me I am going to be good. I shall like going to England.”
“I am glad to hear that. Well, that is all. Good afternoon.”
“You know, it’s rather strange that you should be sending me over there,” said Sam meditatively.
“I don’t think so. I am glad to have the chance.”
“What I mean is—do you believe in palmists?”
“I do not. Good-by.”
“Because a palmist told me ——”
“The door,” said Mr. Pynsent, “is one of those which close automatically when the handle is released.”
Having tested this statement and proved it correct, Sam went back to his own quarters, where he found Mr. Clarence—Hash—Todhunter, the popular and energetic chef of the tramp steamer Araminta, awake and smoking a short pipe.
“Who was the old boy?” inquired Mr. Todhunter.
“That was my uncle, the head of the firm.”
“Did I go to sleep in his room?”
“I’m sorry about that, Sam,” said Hash with manly regret. “I had a late night last night.”
He yawned spaciously. Hash Todhunter was a lean, stringy man in the early thirties, with a high forehead and a ruminative eye. Irritated messmates who had played poker with him had sometimes compared this eye to that of a perishing fish; but to the critic whose judgment was not biased and inflamed by recent pecuniary losses it would have been more suggestive of a parrot which has looked on life and found it full of disillusionment. There was a strong pessimistic streak in Hash, and in his cups he was accustomed to hint darkly that if everyone had their rights he would have been in the direct line of succession to an earldom. It was a long and involved story, casting great discredit on all the parties concerned; but as he never told it twice in the same way, little credence was accorded to it by a discriminating foc’sle. For the rest, he cooked the best dry hash on the Western Ocean, but was not proud.
“Hash,” said Sam, “I’m going over to England.”
“Me too. We sail Monday.”
“Do you, by Jove?” said Sam thoughtfully. “I’m supposed to be going on the Mauretania on Saturday, but I’ve half a mind to come with you instead. I don’t like the idea of six days tête-à-tête with Lord Tilbury.”
“The proprietor of the Mammoth Publishing Company, where I am going to work.”
“Have you got the push here then?”
It piqued Sam a little that this untutored man should so readily have divined the facts. He also considered that Hash had failed in tact. He might at least have pretended that he supposed it to be a case of handing in a resignation.
“Yes, you might perhaps put it that way.”
“Not because of me sittin’ in his chair?”
“No. There are, apparently, a number of reasons. Hash, it’s a curious thing, my uncle taking it into his head to shoot me over to England. The other day a palmist told me that I was shortly going to take a long journey, at the end of which I should meet a fair girl. . . . Hash!”
“I want to show you something.”
He fumbled in his pocket and produced a note case. Having done this, he paused. Then, seeming to overcome a momentary hesitation, he opened the case and from it, with the delicacy of an Indian priest at a shrine handling a precious relic, extracted a folded piece of paper.
A casual observer, deceived by a certain cheery irresponsibility that marked his behavior, might have set Sam Shotter down as one of those essentially material young men in whose armor romance does not easily find a chink. He would have erred in this assumption. For all that he weighed a hundred and seventy pounds of bone and sinew and had when amused—which was often—a laugh like that of the hyena in its native jungle, there was sentiment in Sam. Otherwise this paper would scarcely have been in his possession.
“But before showing it to you,” he said, eying Hash intently, “I would like to ask you a question. Do you see anything funny, anything laughable, anything at all ludicrous, in a fellow going for a fishing trip to Canada and being stuck in a hut miles from anywhere with nothing to read and nothing to listen to except the wild duck calling to its mate and the nifties of a French-Canadian guide who couldn’t speak more than three words of English ——”
“No,” said Hash.
“I haven’t finished. Do you—to proceed—see anything absurd in the fact that such a fellow, in such a situation, finding the photograph of a beautiful girl tacked up on the wall of the hut by some previous visitor and having nothing else to look at for five weeks, should have fallen in love with this photograph? Think before you answer.”
“No,” said Hash, after consideration. He was not a man who readily detected the humorous aspect of anything.
“That’s good,” said Sam. “And lucky for you. Because had you let one snicker out of yourself—just one—I would have smitten you rather forcibly on the beezer. Well, I did.”
“Found this picture tacked up on the wall and fell in love with it. Look!”
He unfolded the paper reverently. It now revealed itself as a portion of a page torn from one of those illustrated journals which brighten the middle of the Englishman’s week. Its sojourn on the wall of the fishing hut had not improved it. It was faded and yellow, and over one corner a dark stain had spread itself, seeming to indicate that some occupant of the hut had at one time or another done a piece of careless carving. Nevertheless, he gazed at it as a young knight might have gazed upon the Holy Grail.
Hash surveyed the paper closely.
“That’s mutton gravy,” he said, pointing at the stain and forming a professional man’s swift diagnosis. “Beef wouldn’t be so dark.”
Sam regarded his friend with a glance of concentrated loathing which would have embarrassed a more sensitive man.
“I show you this lovely face, all aglow with youth and the joy of life,” he cried, “and all that seems to interest you is that some foul vandal, whose neck I should like to wring, has splashed his beastly dinner over it. Heavens, man, look at that girl! Have you ever seen such a girl?”
“She’s not bad.”
“Not bad! Can’t you see she’s simply marvelous?”
The photograph did, indeed, to a great extent justify Sam’s enthusiasm. It represented a girl in hunting costume, standing beside her horse. She was a trim, boyish-looking girl of about eighteen, slightly above the medium height; and she gazed out of the picture with clear, grave, steady eyes. At the corner of her mouth there was a little thoughtful droop. It was a pretty mouth; but Sam, who had made a study of the picture and considered himself the world’s leading authority upon it, was of opinion that it would look even prettier when smiling.
Under the photograph, in leaded capitals, ran the words:
A FAIR DAUGHTER OF NIMROD
Beneath this poetical caption, it is to be presumed, there had originally been more definite information as to the subject’s identity, but the coarse hand which had wrenched the page from its setting had unfortunately happened to tear off the remainder of the letterpress.
“Simply marvelous,” said Sam emotionally. “What’s that thing of Tennyson’s about a little English rosebud, she?”
“There was a feller when I was on the Sea Bird, called Pennyman ——”
“Oh, shut up! Isn’t she a wonder, Hash! And what is more—fair, wouldn’t you say?”
Hash scratched his chin. He was a man who liked to think things over.
“Or dark,” he said.
“Idiot! Don’t tell me those eyes aren’t blue.”
“Might be,” admitted Hash grudgingly.
“And that hair would be golden, or possibly a very light brown.”
“How’m I to know?”
“Hash,” said Sam, “the very first thing I do when I get to England is to find out who that girl is.”
“Easy enough.” Hash pointed the stem of his pipe at the caption. “Daughter of Nimrod. All you got to do is get a telephone directory and look him up. It’ll give the address as well.”
“How do you think of these things?” said Sam admiringly. “The only trouble is, suppose old man Nimrod lives in the country. He sounds like a hunting man.”
“Ah!” said Hash. “There’s that, o’ course.”
“No, my best scheme will be to find out what paper this is torn out of, and then search back through the files for the picture.”
“Maybe,” said Hash. He had plainly lost interest in the subject.
Sam was gazing dreamily at the picture.
“Do you see that little dimple just by the chin, Hash? My goodness, I’d give something to see that girl smile!” He replaced the paper in his note case and sighed. “Love is a wonderful thing, Hash.”
Mr. Todhunter’s ample mouth curled sardonically.
“When you’ve seen as much of life as I’ve,” he replied, “you’d rather have a cup of tea.”
THE nameless individual who had torn from its setting the photograph which had so excited the admiration of Sam Shotter had, as has been already indicated, torn untidily.
Had he exercised a little more care, that lovelorn young man would have seen beneath the picture the following:
Miss Kay Derrick
Col. Eustace Derrick,
of Midways Hall,
And if he had happened to be in Piccadilly Circus on a certain afternoon some three weeks after his conversation with Hash Todhunter, he might have observed Miss Derrick in person. For she was standing on the island by the Fountain, waiting for a Number Three omnibus.
His first impression, had he so beheld her, would certainly have been that the photograph, attractive though it was, did not do her justice. Four years had passed since it had been taken, and between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two many girls gain appreciably in looks. Kay Derrick was one of them. He would then have observed that his views on her appearance had been sound. Her eyes, as he had predicted, were blue—a very dark, warm blue like the sky on a summer night—and her hair, such of it as was visible beneath a becoming little hat, was of a soft golden brown. The third thing he would have noticed about her was that she looked tired. And, indeed, she was. It was her daily task to present herself at the house of a certain Mrs. Winnington-Bates, in Thurloe Square, South Kensington, to read to that lady and to attend to her voluminous correspondence. And nobody who knew Mrs. Winnington-Bates at all intimately would have disputed the right of any girl who did this to look as tired as she pleased.
The omnibus arrived and Kay climbed the steps to the roof. The conductor presented himself, punch in hand.
“Valley Fields,” said Kay.
“Q,” said the conductor.
He displayed no excitement as he handed her the ticket, none of that anxious concern exhibited by those who met the young man with the banner marked Excelsior; for the days are long past when it was considered rather a dashing adventure to journey to Valley Fields. Two hundred years ago, when highwaymen roved West Kensington and snipe were shot in Regent Street, this pleasant suburb in the Postal Division S. E. 21 was a remote spot to which jaded bucks and beaux would ride when they wanted to get really close to Nature. But now that vast lake of brick and asphalt which is London has flooded its banks and engulfed it.
The Valley Fields of today is a mass of houses, and you may reach it not only by omnibus but by train, and even by tram.
It was a place very familiar to Kay now, so that at times she seemed to have been there all her life; and yet actually only a few months had elapsed since she had been washed up on its shores like a piece of flotsam; or, to put the facts with less imagery, since Mr. Wrenn, of San Rafael, Burberry Road, had come forward on the death of her parents and offered her a home there. This Mr. Wrenn being the bad Uncle Matthew who in the dim past—somewhere around the year 1905—splashed a hideous blot on the Derrick escutcheon by eloping with Kay’s Aunt Enid.
Kay had been a child of two at the time, and it was not till she was eight that she heard the story, her informant being young Willoughby Braddock, the stout boy who, with the aid of a trustee, owned the great house and estates adjoining Midways. It was a romantic story—of a young man who had come down to do Midways for the Stately-Homes-of-England series appearing in the then newly established Pyke’s Home Companion; who in the process of doing it had made the acquaintance of the sister of its owner; and who only a few weeks later had induced her to run away and marry him, thereby—according to the viewpoint of the family—ruining her chances in this world and her prospects in the next.
For twenty years Matthew Wrenn had been the family outcast, and now time had accomplished one more of its celebrated revenges. The death of Colonel Derrick, which had followed that of his wife by a few months, had revealed the fact that in addition to Norman blood he had also had the simple faith which the poet ranks so much more highly—it taking the form of trusting prospectuses which should not have deceived a child and endeavoring to make up losses caused by the diminishing value of land with a series of speculations, each of them more futile and disastrous than the last. His capital had gone to the four winds, Midways had gone to the mortgagees, and Kay, apprised of these facts by a sympathetic family lawyer, had gone to Mr. Matthew Wrenn, now for many years the editor of that same Pyke’s Home Companion of which he had once been the mere representative.
The omnibus stopped at the corner of Burberry Road, and Kay, alighting, walked toward San Rafael. Burberry Road is not one of the more fashionable and wealthy districts of Valley Fields, and most of the houses in it are semidetached. San Rafael belonged to this class, being joined, like a stucco Siamese Twin, in indissoluble union to its next-door neighbor, Mon Repos. It had in front of it a strip of gravel, two apologetic-looking flower beds with evergreens in them, a fence, and in the fence a gate, modeled on the five-barred gates of the country.
Out of this gate, as Kay drew near, there came an elderly gentleman, tall, with gray hair and a scholarly stoop.
“Why, hullo, darling,” said Kay. “Where are you off to?”
She kissed her uncle affectionately, for she had grown very fond of him in the months of their companionship.
“Just popping round to have a chat with Cornelius,” said Mr. Wrenn. “I thought I might get a game of chess.”
In actual years Matthew Wrenn was on the right side of fifty; but as editors of papers like Pyke’s Home Companion are apt to do, he looked older than he really was. He was a man of mild and dreamy aspect, and it being difficult to imagine him in any dashing role, Kay rather supposed that the energy and fire which had produced the famous elopement must have come from the lady’s side.
“Well, don’t be late for dinner,” she said. “Is Willoughby in?”
“I left him in the garden.” Mr. Wrenn hesitated. “That’s a curious young man, Kay.”
“It’s an awful shame that he should be inflicted on you, darling,” said Kay. “His housekeeper shooed him out of his house, you know. She wanted to give it a thorough cleaning. And he hates staying at clubs and hotels, and I’ve known him all my life, and he asked me if we could put him up, and—well, there you are. But cheer up, it’s only for tonight.”
“My dear, you know I’m only too glad to put up any friend of yours. But he’s such a peculiar young fellow. I have been trying to talk to him for an hour, and all he does is to look at me like a goldfish.”
“Like a goldfish?”
“Yes, with his eyes staring and his lips moving without any sound coming from them.”
“It’s his speech. I forgot to tell you. The poor lamb has got to make a speech tonight at the annual dinner of the Old Boys of his school. He’s never made one before, and it’s weighing on his mind terribly.”
Mr. Wrenn looked relieved.
“Oh, I didn’t know. Honestly, my dear, I thought that he must be mentally deficient.” He looked at his watch. “Well, if you think you can entertain him, I will be going along.”
Mr. Wrenn went on his way; and Kay, passing through the five-barred gate, followed the little gravel path which skirted the house and came into the garden.
Like all the gardens in the neighborhood, it was a credit to its owner—on the small side, but very green and neat and soothing. The fact that, though so widely built over, Valley Fields has not altogether lost its ancient air of rusticity is due entirely to the zeal and devotion of its amateur horticulturists. More seeds are sold each spring in Valley Fields, more lawn mowers pushed, more garden rollers borrowed, more snails destroyed, more green fly squirted with patent mixtures than in any other suburb on the Surrey side of the river. Brixton may have its Bon Marché and Sydenham its Crystal Palace; but when it comes to pansies, roses, tulips, hollyhocks and nasturtiums, Valley Fields points with pride.
In addition to its other attractive features, the garden of San Rafael contained at this moment a pinkish, stoutish, solemn young man in a brown suit, who was striding up and down the lawn with a glassy stare in his eyes.
“Hullo, Willoughby,” said Kay.
The young man came out of his trance with a strong physical convulsion.
“Oh, hullo, Kay.”
He followed her across the lawn to the tea table which stood in the shade of a fine tree. For there are trees in this favored spot as well as flowers.
“Tea, Willoughby?” said Kay, sinking gratefully into a deck chair. “Or have you had yours?”
“Yes, I had some. . . . I think ——” Mr. Braddock weighed the question thoughtfully. “Yes. . . . Yes, I’ve had some.”
Kay filled her cup and sipped luxuriously.
“Golly, I’m tired!” she said.
“Had a bad day?”
“Much the same as usual.”
“Mrs. B. not too cordial?”
“Not very. And, unfortunately, the son and heir was cordiality itself.”
Mr. Braddock nodded.
“A bit of a trial, that lad.”
Kay gave a little wriggle of distaste. Technically, her duties at Thurloe Square consisted of reading and writing Mrs. Winnington-Bates’ letters; but what she was engaged for principally, she sometimes thought, was to act as a sort of spiritual punching bag for her employer. Today that lady had been exceptionally trying. Her son, on the other hand, who had recently returned to his home after an unsuccessful attempt to learn poultry farming in Sussex and was lounging about it, with little to occupy him, had shown himself, in his few moments of opportunity, more than usually gallant. What life needed to make it a trifle easier, Kay felt, was for Mrs. Bates to admire her a little more and for Claude Bates to admire her a little less.
“I remember him at school,” said Mr. Braddock. “A worm.”
“Was he at school with you?”
“Yes. Younger than me. A beastly little kid who stuffed himself with food and frousted over fires and shirked games. I remember Sam Shotter licking him once for stealing jam sandwiches at the school shop. By the way, Sam’s coming over here. I had a letter from him.”
“Is he? And who is he? You’ve never mentioned his name before.”
“Haven’t I told you about old Sam Shotter?” asked Mr. Braddock, surprised.
“Never. But he sounds wonderfully attractive. Anyone who licked Claude Bates must have a lot of good in him.”
“He was at school with me.”
“What a lot of people seem to have been at school with you!”
“Well, there were about six hundred fellows at Wrykyn, you know. Sam and I shared a study. Now there is a chap I envy. He’s knocked about all over the world, having all sorts of fun. America one day, Australia the next, Africa the day after.”
“Quick mover,” said Kay.
“The last I heard from him he was in his uncle’s office in New York, but in this letter he says he’s coming over to work at Tilbury House.”
“Tilbury House? Really? I wonder if uncle will meet him.”
“Don’t you think it would be a sound move if I gave him a dinner or something where he could meet a few of the lads? You and your uncle, of course—and if I could get hold of old Tilbury.”
“Do you know Lord Tilbury?”
“Oh, yes; I play bridge with him sometimes at the club. And he took my shooting last year.”
“When does Mr. Shotter arrive?”
“I don’t know. He says it’s uncertain. You see, he’s coming over on a tramp steamer.”
“A tramp steamer? Why?”
“Well, it’s the sort of thing he does. Sort of thing I’d like to do too.”
“You?” said Kay, amazed. Willoughby Braddock had always seemed to her a man to whose well-being the refinements—and even the luxuries—of civilization were essential. One of her earliest recollections was of sitting in a tree and hurling juvenile insults at him, it having come to her ears through reliable channels that he habitually wore bed socks. “What nonsense, Willoughby! You would hate roughing it.”
“I wouldn’t,” said Mr. Braddock stoutly. “I’d love a bit of adventure.”
“Well, why don’t you have it? You’ve got plenty of money. You could be a pirate of the Spanish Main if you wanted.”
Mr. Braddock shook his head wistfully.
“I can’t get away from Mrs. Lippett.”
Willoughby Braddock was one of those unfortunate bachelors who are doomed to live under the thrall of either a housekeeper or a valet. His particular cross in life was his housekeeper, his servitude being rendered all the more unescapable by the fact that Mrs. Lippett had been his nurse in the days of his childhood. There are men who can defy a woman. There are men who can cope with a faithful old retainer. But if there are men who can tackle a faithful old female retainer who has frequently smacked them with the back of a hairbrush, Willoughby Braddock was not one of them.
“She would have a fit or go into a decline or something if I tried to break loose.”
“Poor old Willoughby! Life can be very hard, can’t it? By the way, I met my uncle outside. He was complaining that you were not very chummy.”
“No, was he?”
“He said you just sat there looking at him like a goldfish.”
“Oh, I say!” said Mr. Braddock remorsefully. “I’m awfully sorry. I mean, after he’s been so decent, putting me up and everything. I hope you explained to him that I was frightfully worried about this speech.”
“Yes, I did. But I don’t see why you should be. It’s perfectly simple making a speech. Especially at an Old Boys’ dinner, where they won’t expect anything very much. If I were you, I should just get up and tell them one or two funny stories and sit down again.”
“I’ve got one story,” said Mr. Braddock more hopefully. “It’s about an Irishman.”
“Pat or Mike?”
“I thought of calling him Pat. He’s in New York and he goes down to the dock and he sees a diver coming up out of the water—in a diving suit, you know—and he thinks the fellow—the diver, you understand—has walked across the Atlantic and wishes he had thought of doing the same himself, so as to have saved the fare, don’t you know.”
“I see. One of those weak-minded Irishmen.”
“Do you think it will amuse them?” asked Mr. Braddock anxiously.
“I should think they would roll off their seats.”
“No, really?” He broke off and stretched out a hand in alarm. “I say, you weren’t thinking of having one of those rock cakes, were you?”
“I was. But I won’t if you don’t want me to. Aren’t they good?”
“Good? My dear old soul,” said Mr. Braddock earnestly, “they are Clara’s worst effort—absolutely her very worst. I had to eat one because she came and stood over me and watched me do it. It beats me why you don’t sack that girl. She’s a rotten cook.”
“Sack Claire?” Kay laughed. “You might just as well try to sack her mother.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“You can’t sack a Lippett.”
“No, I see what you mean. I wish she wasn’t so dashed familiar with a fellow, though.”
“Well, she has known you almost as long as I have. Mrs. Lippett has always been a sort of mother to you, so I suppose Claire regards herself as a sort of sister.”
“Yes, I suppose it can’t be helped,” said Mr. Braddock bravely. He glanced at his watch. “Ought to be going and dressing. I’ll find you out here before I leave?”
“Well, I’ll be pushing along. I say, you do think that story about the Irishman is all right?”
“Best thing I ever heard,” said Kay loyally.
For some minutes after he had left her she sat back in her chair with her eyes closed, relaxing in the evening stillness of this pleasant garden.
“Finished with the tea, Miss Kay?”
Kay opened her eyes. A solid little figure in a print dress was standing at her side. A jaunty maid’s cap surmounted this person’s tow-colored hair. She had a perky nose and a wide, friendly mouth, and she beamed upon Kay devotedly.
“Brought you these,” she said, dropping a rug, two cushions and a footstool, beneath the burden of which she had been staggering across the lawn like a small pack mule. “Make you nice and comfortable, and then you can get a nice nap. I can see you’re all tired out.”
“That’s awfully good of you, Claire. But you shouldn’t have bothered.”
Claire Lippett, daughter of Willoughby Braddock’s autocratic housekeeper, and cook and maid of all work at San Rafael, was a survivor of the Midways epoch. She had entered the Derrick household at the age of twelve, her duties at that time being vague and leaving her plenty of leisure for surreptitious bird’s-nesting with Kay, then thirteen. On her eighteenth birthday she had been promoted to the post of Kay’s personal maid, and from that moment may be said formally to have taken charge. The Lippett motto was Fidelity, and not even the famous financial crash had been able to dislodge this worthy daughter of the clan. Resolutely following Kay into exile, she had become, as stated, Mr. Wrenn’s cook. And, as Mr. Braddock had justly remarked, a very bad cook too.
“You oughtn’t to go getting yourself all tired, Miss Kay. You ought to be sitting at your ease.”
“Well, so I am,” said Kay.
There were times when, like Mr. Braddock, she found the Lippett protectiveness a little cloying. She was a high-spirited girl and wanted to face the world with a defiant “Who cares?” And it was not easy to do this with Claire coddling her all the time as if she were a fragile and sensitive plant. Resistance, however, was useless. Nobody had ever yet succeeded in curbing the motherly spirit of the Lippetts, and probably nobody ever would.
“Mean ter say,” explained Claire, adjusting the footstool, “you ought not to be soiling your hands with work, that’s what I mean. It’s a shame you should be having to ——”
She stopped abruptly. She had picked up the tea tray and made a wounding discovery.
“You haven’t touched my rock cakes,” she said in a voice in which reproach and disappointment were nicely blended. “And I made them for you special.”
“I didn’t want to spoil my dinner,” said Kay hastily. Claire was a temperamental girl, quick to resent slurs on her handiwork. “I’m sure you’ve got something nice.”
Claire considered the point.
“Well, yes and no,” she said. “If you’re thinking of the pudding, I’m afraid that’s off. The kitten fell into the custard.”
“She did. And when I’d fished her out there wasn’t hardly any left. Seemed to have soaked it into her like as if she was a sponge. Still, there ’ud be enough for you if Mr. Wrenn didn’t want any.”
“No, it doesn’t matter, thanks,” said Kay earnestly.
“Well, I’m trying a new soup, which’ll sort of make up for it. It’s one I read in a book. It’s called pottage ar lar princess. You’re sure you won’t have one of these rock cakes, Miss Kay? Put strength into you.”
“No, thanks, really.”
“Right-ho; just as you say.”
Miss Lippett crossed the lawn and disappeared, and a soothing peace fell upon the garden. A few minutes later, however, just as Kay’s head was beginning to nod, from an upper window there suddenly blared forth on the still air a loud and raucous voice, suggestive of costermongers advertising their Brussels sprouts or those who call the cattle home across the Sands of Dee.
“I am reminded by a remark of our worthy president,” roared the voice, “of a little story which may be new to some of you present here tonight. It seems that a certain Irishman had gone down to New York—I mean, he was in New York and had gone down to the docks—and while there—while there ——”
The voice trailed off. Apparently the lungs were willing but the memory was weak. Presently it broke out in another place.
“For the school, gentlemen, our dear old school, occupies a place in our hates—a place in our hearts—in the hearts of all of us—in all our hearts—in our hearts, gentlemen, which nothing else can fill. It forms, if I may put it that way, Mr. President and gentlemen—forms—forms—forms a link that links the generations. Whether we are fifty years old or forty or thirty or twenty, we are none the less all of us contemporaries. And why? Because, gentlemen, we are all—er—linked by that link.”
“Jolly good!” murmured Kay, impressed.
“That is why, Mr. President and gentlemen, though I am glad, delighted, pleased, happy and—er—overjoyed to see so many of you responding to the annual call of our dear old school, I am not surprised.”
From the kitchen door, a small knife in one hand and a half-peeled onion in the other, there emerged the stocky figure of Claire Lippett. She gazed up at the window wrathfully.
“No, not surprised.”
“And talking of being surprised, I am reminded of a little story which may be new to some of you present here tonight. It seems that a certain Irishman ——”
From the days when their ancestresses had helped the menfolk of the tribe to make marauding Danes wish that they had stayed in Denmark, the female members of Claire Lippett’s family had always been women of action. Having said “Hi!” twice, their twentieth-century descendant seemed to consider that she had done all that could reasonably be expected of her in the way of words. With a graceful swing of her right arm, she sent the onion shooting upward. And such was the never-failing efficiency of this masterly girl that it whizzed in through the open window, from which, after a brief interval, there appeared, leaning out, the dress-shirted and white-tied upper portion of Mr. Willoughby Braddock. He was rubbing his ear.
“Be quiet, can’t you?” said Miss Lippett.
Mr. Braddock gazed austerely into the depths. Except that the positions of the characters were inverted and the tone of the dialogue somewhat different, it might have been the big scene out of Romeo and Juliet.
“What did you say?”
“I said be quiet. Miss Kay wants to get a bit of sleep. How can she get a bit of sleep with that row going on?”
“Clara!” said Mr. Braddock portentously.
“Claire,” corrected the girl coldly, insisting on a point for which she had had to fight all her life.
Mr. Braddock gulped.
“I shall—er—I shall speak to your mother,” he said.
It was a futile threat, and Claire signified as much by jerking her shoulder in a scornful and derogatory manner before stumping back to the house with all the honors of war. She knew—and Mr. Braddock knew that she knew—that complaints respecting her favorite daughter would be coldly received by Mrs. Lippett.
Mr. Braddock withdrew from the window, and presently appeared in the garden, beautifully arrayed.
“Why, Willoughby,” said Kay admiringly, “you look wonderful!”
The kindly compliment did much to soothe Mr. Braddock’s wounded feelings.
“No, really?” he said; and felt, as he had so often felt before, that Kay was a girl in a million, and that if only the very idea of matrimony did not scare a fellow so confoundedly, a fellow might very well take a chance and see what would happen if he asked her to marry him.
“And the speech sounded fine.”
“Really? You know, I got a sudden fear that my voice might not carry.”
“It carries,” Kay assured him.
The clouds which her compliments had chased from Mr. Braddock’s brow gathered again.
“I say, Kay, you know, you really ought to do something about that girl Clara. She’s impossible. I mean, throwing onions at a fellow.”
“You mustn’t mind. Don’t worry about her; it’ll make you forget your speech. How long are you supposed to talk?”
“About ten minutes, I imagine. You know, this is going to just about kill me.”
“What you must do is drink lots and lots of champagne.”
“But it makes me spotty.”
“Well, be spotty. I shan’t mind.”
Mr. Braddock considered.
“I will,” he said. “It’s a very good idea. Well, I suppose I ought to be going.”
“You’ve got your key? That’s right. You won’t be back till pretty late, of course. I’ll go and tell Claire not to bolt the door.”
When Kay reached the kitchen she found that her faithful follower had stepped out of the pages of Romeo and Juliet into those of Macbeth. She was bending over a caldron, dropping things into it. The kitten, now comparatively dry and decustarded, eyed her with bright interest from a shelf on the dresser.
“This is the new soup, Miss Kay,” she announced with modest pride.
“It smells fine,” said Kay, wincing slightly as a painful aroma of burning smote her nostrils. “I say, Claire, I wish you wouldn’t throw onions at Mr. Braddock.”
“I went up and got it back,” Claire reassured her. “It’s in the soup now.”
“You’ll be in the soup if you do that sort of thing. What,” asked Kay virtuously, “will the neighbors say?”
“There aren’t any neighbors,” Claire pointed out. A wistful look came into her perky face. “I wish someone would hurry up and move into Mon Ree-poss,” she said. “I don’t like not having next-doors. Gets lonely for a girl all day with no one to talk to.”
“Well, when you talk to Mr. Braddock, don’t do it at the top of your voice. Please understand I don’t like it.”
“Now,” said Claire simply, “you’re cross with me.” And without further preamble she burst into a passionate flood of tears.
It was this sensitiveness of hers that made it so difficult for the young chatelaine of San Rafael to deal with the domestic staff. Kay was a warm-hearted girl, and a warm-hearted girl can never be completely at her ease when she is making cooks cry. It took ten minutes of sedulous petting to restore the emotional Miss Lippett to her usual cheerfulness.
“I’ll never raise my voice so much as above a whisper to the man,” she announced remorsefully at the end of that period. “All the same ——”
Kay had no desire to reopen the Braddock argument.
“That’s all right, Claire. What I really came to say was—don’t put the chain up on the front door tonight, because Mr. Braddock is sure to be late. But he will come in quite quietly and won’t disturb you.”
“He’d better not,” said Miss Lippett grimly. “I’ve got a revolver.”
“Ah!” Claire bent darkly over her caldron. “You never know when there won’t be burglars in these low parts. The girl at Pontresina down the road was telling me they’d had a couple of milk cans sneaked off their doorstep only yesterday. And I’ll tell you another thing, Miss Kay. It’s my belief there’s been people breaking into Mon Ree-poss.”
“What would they do that for? It’s empty.”
“It wasn’t empty last night. I was looking out of the window with one of my noo-ralgic headaches—must have been between two and three in the morning—and there was mysterious lights going up and down the staircase.”
“You imagined it.”
“Begging your pardon, Miss Kay, I did not imagine it. There they were, as plain as plain. Might have been one of these electric torches the criminal classes use. If you want to know what I think, Miss Kay, that Mon Ree-poss is what I call a house of mystery, and I shan’t be sorry when somebody respectable comes and takes it. The way it is now, we’re just as likely as not to wake up and find ourselves all murdered in our beds.”
“You mustn’t be so nervous.”
“Nervous?” replied Claire indignantly. “Nervous? Take more than a burglar to make me nervous. All I’m saying is, I’m prepared.”
“Well, don’t go shooting Mr. Braddock.”
“That,” said Miss Lippett, declining to commit herself, “is as may be.”
SOME five hours after Willoughby Braddock’s departure from San Rafael, a young man came up Villiers Street, and turning into the Strand, began to stroll slowly eastward. The Strand, it being the hour when the theaters had begun to empty themselves, was a roaring torrent of humanity and vehicles; and he looked upon the bustling scene with the affectionate eye of one who finds the turmoil of London novel and attractive. He was a nice-looking young man, but what was most immediately noticeable about him was his extraordinary shabbiness. Both his shoes were split across the toe; his hands were in the pockets of a stained and weather-beaten pair of blue trousers; and he gazed about him from under the brim of a soft hat which could have been worn without exciting comment by any scarecrow.
So striking was his appearance that two exquisites, emerging from the Savoy Hotel and pausing on the pavement to wait for a vacant taxi, eyed him with pained disapproval as he approached, and then, starting, stared in amazement.
“Good Lord!” said the first exquisite.
“Good heavens!” said the second.
“See who that is?”
“S. P. Shotter! Used to be in the School House.”
“Captain of football my last year.”
“But, I say, it can’t be! Dressed like that, I mean.”
These two were men who had, in the matter of costume, a high standard. Themselves snappy and conscientious dressers, they judged their fellows hardly. Yet even an indulgent critic would have found it difficult not to shake his head over the spectacle presented by Sam Shotter as he walked the Strand that night.
The fact is, it is not easy for a young man of adventurous and inquisitive disposition to remain dapper throughout a voyage on a tramp steamer. The Araminta, which had arrived at Millwall Dock that afternoon, had taken fourteen days to cross the Atlantic, and during those fourteen days Sam had entered rather fully into the many-sided life of the ship. He had spent much time in an oily engine room; he had helped the bos’n with a job of painting; he had accompanied the chief engineer on his rambles through the coal bunkers; and on more than one occasion had endeared himself to languid firemen by taking their shovels and doing a little amateur stoking. One cannot do these things and be foppish.
Nevertheless, it would have surprised him greatly had he known that his appearance was being adversely criticized, for he was in that happy frame of mind when men forget they have an appearance. He had dined well, having as his guest his old friend Hash Todhunter. He had seen a motion picture of squashy sex appeal. And now, having put Hash on an eastbound tram, he was filled with that pleasant sense of well-being and content which comes on those rare occasions when the world is just about right. So far from being abashed by the shabbiness of his exterior, Sam found himself experiencing, as he strolled along the Strand, a gratifying illusion of having bought the place. He felt like the young squire returned from his travels and revisiting the old village.
Nor, though he was by nature a gregarious young man and fond of human society, did the fact that he was alone depress him. Much as he liked Hash Todhunter, he had not been sorry to part from him. Usually an entertaining companion, Hash had been a little tedious tonight, owing to a tendency to confine the conversation to the subject of a dog belonging to a publican friend of his which was running in a whippet race at Hackney Marshes next morning. Hash had, it seemed, betted his entire savings on this animal, and not content with this, had pestered Sam to lend him all his remaining cash to add to the investment. And though Sam had found no difficulty in remaining firm, it is always a bore to have to keep saying no.
The two exquisites looked at each other apprehensively.
“Shift ho, before he touches us, what?” said the first.
“Shift absolutely ho,” agreed the second.
It was too late. The companion of their boyhood had come up, and after starting to pass had paused, peering at them from under that dreadful hat, which seemed to cut them like a knife, in the manner of one trying to identify half-remembered faces.
“Bates and Tresidder!” he exclaimed at length. “By Jove!”
“Hullo,” said the first exquisite.
“Hullo!” said the second.
“Well, well!” said Sam.
There followed one of those awkward silences which so often occur at these meetings of old schoolmates. The two exquisites were wondering dismally when the inevitable touch would come, and Sam had just recollected that these were two blighters whom, when in statu pupillari, he had particularly disliked. Nevertheless, etiquette demanded that a certain modicum of conversation be made.
“What have you been doing with yourselves?” asked Sam. “You look very festive.”
“Been dining,” said the first exquisite.
“Old Wrykynian dinner,” said the second.
“Oh, yes, of course. It always was at this time of year, wasn’t it? Lots of the lads there, I suppose?”
“Goodish,” said the first exquisite.
“Not baddish,” said the second.
“Rotten speeches, though.”
“Can’t think where they dig these blokes up.”
“That man Braddock.”
“Don’t tell me the old Bradder actually made a speech!” said Sam, pleased. “Was he very bad?”
“Worst of the lot.”
“That story about the Irishman.”
“And all that rot about the dear old school.”
“If you ask me,” said the first exquisite severely, “my opinion is that he was as tight as an owl.”
“Stewed to the eyebrows,” said the second.
“I watched him during dinner and he was mopping up the stuff like a vacuum cleaner.”
There was a silence.
“Well,” said the first exquisite uncomfortably, “we must be pushing on.”
“Dashing off,” said the second exquisite.
“Got to go to supper at the Angry Cheese.”
“The where?” asked Sam.
“Angry Cheese. New night club in Panton Street. See you sometime, what?”
“Oh, yes,” said Sam.
Another silence was about to congeal, when a taxi crawled up and the two exquisites leaped joyfully in.
“Awful, a fellow going right under like that,” said the first.
“Ghastly,” said the second.
“Lucky we got away.”
“He was shaping for a touch,” said the first exquisite.
“Trembling on his lips,” said the second.
Sam walked on. Although the Messrs. Bates and Tresidder had never been favorites of his, they belonged to what Mr. Braddock would have called—and, indeed, had called no fewer than eleven times in his speech that night—the dear old school; and the meeting with them had left him pleasantly stimulated. The feeling of being a seignior revisiting his estates after long absence grew as he threaded his way through the crowd. He eyed the passers-by in a jolly, Laughing Cavalier sort of way, wishing he knew them well enough to slap them on the back. And when he reached the corner of Wellington Street and came upon a disheveled vocalist singing mournfully in the gutter, he could not but feel it a personal affront that this sort of thing should be going on in his domain. He was conscious of a sensation of being individually responsible for this poor fellow’s reduced condition, and the situation seemed to him to call for largess.
On setting out that night Sam had divided his money into two portions. His baggage, together with his letter of credit, had preceded him across the ocean on the Mauretania; and as it might be a day or so before he could establish connection with it, he had prudently placed the bulk of his ready money in his note case, earmarking it for the purchase of new clothes and other necessaries on the morrow so that he might be enabled to pay his first visit to Tilbury House in becoming state. The remainder, sufficient for the evening’s festivities, he had put in his trousers pockets.
It was into his right trousers pocket therefore that he now groped. His fingers closed on a half crown. He promptly dropped it. He was feeling seigniorial, but not so seigniorial as that. Something more in the nature of a couple of coppers was what he was looking for, and it surprised him to find that except for the half crown the pocket appeared to be empty. He explored the other pocket. That was empty too.
The explanation was, of course, that the life of pleasure comes high. You cannot go stuffing yourself and a voracious sea cook at restaurants, taking busses and Underground trains all over the place, and finally winding up at a motion-picture palace, without cutting into your capital. Sam was reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the half crown was his only remaining spare coin. He was, accordingly, about to abandon the idea of largess and move on, when the vocalist, having worked his way through You’re the Sort of a Girl That Men Forget, began to sing that other popular ballad entitled Sailors Don’t Care. And it was no doubt the desire to refute the slur implied in these words on the great brotherhood of which he was an amateur member that decided Sam to be lavish.
The half crown changed hands.
Sam resumed his walk. At a quarter-past eleven at night there is little to amuse and interest the stroller east of Wellington Street, so he now crossed the road and turned westward. And he had not been walking more than a few paces when he found himself looking into the brightly lighted window of a small restaurant that appeared to specialize in shellfish. The slab beyond the glass was paved with the most insinuating oysters. Overcome with emotion, Sam stopped in his tracks.
There is something about the oyster, nestling in its shell, which in the hours that come when the theaters are closed and London is beginning to give itself up to nocturnal revelry stirs right-thinking men like a bugle. There swept over Sam a sudden gnawing desire for nourishment. Oysters with brown bread and a little stout were, he perceived, just what this delightful evening demanded by way of a fitting climax. He pulled out his note case. Even if it meant an inferior suit next morning, one of those treasury notes which lay there must be broken into here and now.
It seemed to Sam, looking back later at this moment, that at the very first touch the note case had struck him as being remarkably thin. It appeared to have lost its old jolly plumpness, as if some wasting fever had struck it. Indeed, it gave the impression, when he opened it, of being absolutely empty.
It was not absolutely empty. It is true that none of the treasury notes remained, but there was something inside—a dirty piece of paper on which were words written in pencil. He read them by the light that poured from the restaurant window:
“Dear Sam: You will doubtless be surprised, Sam, to learn that I have borowed your money. Dear Sam, I will send it back tomorow A.M. prompt. Nothing can beat that wipet, Sam, so I have borowed your money.
“Trusting this finds you in the pink,
Sam stood staring at this polished communication with sagging jaw. For an instant it had a certain obscurity, the word “wipet” puzzling him particularly.
Then, unlike the missing money, it all came back to him.
The rush of traffic was diminishing now, and the roar of a few minutes back had become a mere rumble. It was almost as if London, sympathizing with his sorrow, had delicately hushed its giant voice. To such an extent, in fact, was its voice hushed that that of the Wellington Street vocalist was once more plainly audible, and there was in what he was singing a poignant truth which had not impressed itself upon Sam when he had first heard it.
“Sailors don’t care,” chanted the vocalist. “Sailors don’t care. It’s something to do with the salt in the blood. Sailors don’t care.”
THE mental condition of a man who at half-past eleven at night suddenly finds himself penniless and without shelter in the heart of the great city must necessarily be for a while somewhat confused. Sam’s first coherent thought was to go back and try to recover that half crown from the wandering minstrel. After a very brief reflection, however, he dismissed this scheme as too visionary for practical consideration. His acquaintance with the other had been slight, but he had seen enough of him to gather that he was not one of those rare spiritual fellows who give half crowns back. The minstrel was infirm and old, but many years would have to elapse before he became senile enough for that. No, some solution on quite different lines was required; and, thinking deeply, Sam began to move slowly in the direction of Charing Cross.
He was as yet far from being hopeless. Indeed, his mood at this point might have been called optimistic; for he realized that if this disaster had been decreed by Fate from the beginning of time—and he supposed it had been, though that palmist had made no mention of it—it could hardly have happened at a more convenient spot. The Old Wrykynian dinner had only just broken up, which meant that this portion of London must be full of men who had been at school with him and would doubtless be delighted to help him out with a temporary loan. At any moment now he might run into some kindly old schoolfellow.
And almost immediately he did. Or, rather, the old schoolfellow ran into him. He had reached the Vaudeville Theater and had paused, debating within himself the advisability of crossing the street and seeing how the hunting was on the other side, when a solid body rammed him in the back.
“Oh, sorry! Frightfully sorry! I say, awfully sorry!”
It was a voice which had been absent from Sam’s life for some years, but he recognized it almost before he had recovered his balance. He wheeled joyfully round on the stout and red-faced young man who was with some difficulty retrieving his hat from the gutter.
“Excuse me,” he said, “but you are extraordinarily like a man I used to know named J. W. Braddock.”
“I am J. W. Braddock.”
“Ah,” said Sam, “that accounts for the resemblance.”
He contemplated his erstwhile study companion with affection. He would have been glad at any time to meet the old Bradder, but he was particularly glad to meet him now. As Mr. Braddock himself might have put it, he was glad, delighted, pleased, happy and overjoyed. Willoughby Braddock, bearing out the words of the two exquisites, was obviously in a somewhat vinous condition, but Sam was no Puritan and was not offended by this. The thing about Mr. Braddock that impressed itself upon him to the exclusion of all else was the fact that he looked remarkably rich. He had that air, than which there is none more delightful, of being the sort of man who would lend a fellow a fiver without a moment’s hesitation.
Willoughby Braddock had secured his hat, and he now replaced it in a sketchy fashion on his head. His face was flushed, and his eyes, always slightly prominent, seemed to protrude like those of a snail—and an extremely inebriated snail at that.
“Imarraspeesh,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?” said Sam.
“I made a speesh.”
“Yes, so I heard.”
“You heard my speesh?”
“I heard that you had made one.”
“How did you hear my speesh?” said Mr. Braddock, plainly mystified. “You weren’t at the dinner.”
“No, but ——”
“You couldn’t have been at the dinner,” proceeded Mr. Braddock, reasoning closely, “because evening dress was obliggery and you aren’t obliggery. I’ll tell you what—between you and me, I don’t know who the deuce you are.”
“You don’t know me?”
“No, I don’t know you.”
“Pull yourself together, Bradder. I’m Sam Shotter.”
“If you prefer it that way, certainly. I’ve always pronounced it Sam Shotter myself.”
Mr. Braddock eyed him narrowly.
“Look here,” he said, “I’ll tell you something—something that’ll interest you—something that’ll interest you very much. You’re Sam Shotter.”
“We were at school together.”
“The dear old school.”
Intense delight manifested itself in Mr. Braddock’s face. He seized Sam’s hand and wrung it warmly.
“How are you, my dear old chap, how are you?” he cried. “Old Sham Spotter, by gad! By Jove! By George! My goodness! Fancy that! Well, good-by.”
And with a beaming smile he suddenly swooped across the road and was lost to sight.
The stoutest heart may have its black moments. Depression claimed Sam for its own. There is no agony like that of the man who has intended to borrow money and finds that he has postponed the request till too late. With bowed shoulders he made his way eastward. He turned up Charing Cross Road, and thence by way of Green Street into Leicester Square. He moved listlessly along the lower end of the square, and presently, glancing up, perceived graven upon the wall the words, “Panton Street.”
He halted. The name seemed somehow familiar. Then he remembered. The Angry Cheese, that haunt of wealth and fashion to which those fellows, Bates and Tresidder, had been going, was in Panton Street.
Hope revived in Sam. An instant before, the iron had seemed to have entered his soul, but now he squared his shoulder and quickened his steps. Good old Bates! Splendid old Tresidder! They were the men to help him out of this mess.
He saw clearly now how mistaken can be the callow judgments which we form when young. As an immature lad at school he had looked upon Bates and Tresidder with a jaundiced eye. He had summed them up in his mind, after the hasty fashion of youth, as ticks and blisters. Aye, and even when he had encountered them half an hour ago after the lapse of years, their true nobility had not been made plain to him. It was only now, as he padded along Panton Street like a leopard on the trail, that he realized what excellent fellows they were and how fond he was of them. They were great chaps—corkers, both of them.
And when he remembered that with a boy’s blindness to his sterling qualities he had once given Bates six of the juiciest with a walking stick, he burned with remorse and shame.
It was not difficult to find the Angry Cheese. About this newest of London’s night clubs there was nothing coy or reticent. Its doorway stood open to the street, and cabs were drawing up in a constant stream and discharging fair women and well-tailored men. Furthermore, to render identification easy for the very dullest, there stood on the pavement outside a vast commissionaire, brilliantly attired in the full-dress uniform of a Czecho-Slovakian field marshal and wearing on his head a peaked cap circled by a red band, which bore in large letters of gold the words “Angry Cheese.”
“Good evening,” said Sam, curveting buoyantly up to this spectacular person. “I want to speak to Mr. Bates.”
The field marshal eyed him distantly. The man, one would have said, was not in sympathy with him. Sam could not imagine why. With the prospect of a loan in sight, he himself was liking everybody.
“Mr. Bates. Mr. Bates. You know Mr. Bates?” said Sam. And such was the stimulating rhythm of the melody into which the unseen orchestra had just burst that he very nearly added, “He’s a bear, he’s a bear, he’s a bear.”
“Make up your mind,” said the field marshal petulantly.
At this moment, on the opposite side of the street, there appeared the figure of Mr. Willoughby Braddock, walking with extraordinary swiftness. His eyes were staring straight in front of him. He had lost his hat.
“Bradder!” cried Sam.
Mr. Braddock looked over his shoulder, waved his hand, smiled a smile of piercing sweetness and passed rapidly into the night.
Sam was in a state of indecision similar to that of the dog in the celebrated substance-and-shadow fable. Should he pursue this will-o’-the-wisp, or should he stick to the sound conservative policy of touching the man on the spot? What would Napoleon have done?
He decided to remain.
“Fellow who was at school with me,” he remarked explanatorily.
“Ho!” said the field marshal, looking like a stuffed sergeant major.
“And now,” said Sam, “can I see Mr. Bates?”
“You can not.”
“But he’s in there.”
“And you’re out ’ere,” said the field marshal.
He moved away to assist a young lady of gay exterior to alight from a taxicab. And as he did so someone spoke from the steps: “Ah, there you are!”
Sam looked up, relieved. Dear old Bates was standing in the lighted doorway.
Of the four persons who made up the little group collected about the threshold of the Angry Cheese, three now spoke simultaneously.
Dear old Bates said, “This is topping! Thought you weren’t coming.”
The lady said, “Awfully sorry I’m late, old cork.”
Sam said, “Oh, Bates!”
He was standing some little space removed from the main body when he spoke, and the words did not register. The lady passed on into the building. Bates was preparing to follow her when Sam spoke again. And this time nobody within any reasonable radius could have failed to hear him.
“Hey!” said the field marshal, massaging his ear with a look of reproach and dislike.
Bates turned, and as he saw Sam, there spread itself over his face the startled look of one who, wandering gayly along some primrose path, sees gaping before him a frightful chasm or a fearful serpent or some menacing lion in the undergrowth. In this crisis, Claude Bates did not hesitate. With a single backward spring—which, if he could have remembered it and reproduced it later on the dancing floor, would have made him the admired of all—he disappeared, leaving Sam staring blankly after him.
A large fat hand, placed in no cordial spirit on his shoulder, awoke Sam from his reverie. The field marshal was gazing at him with a loathing which he now made no attempt to conceal.
“You ’op it,” said the field marshal. “We don’t want none of your sort ’ere.”
“But I was at school with him,” stammered Sam. The thing had been so sudden that even now he could not completely realize that what practically amounted to his own flesh and blood had thrown him down cold.
“At school with ’im too, was you?” said the field marshal. “The only school you was ever at was Borstal. You ’op it, and quick. That’s what you do before I call a policeman.”
Inside the night club, Claude Bates, restoring his nervous system with a whisky and soda, was relating to his friend Tresidder the tale of his narrow escape.
“Absolutely lurking on the steps!” said Bates.
“Ghastly!” said Tresidder.
LONDON was very quiet. A stillness had fallen upon it, broken only by the rattle of an occasional cab and the footsteps of some home-seeking wayfarer. The lamplight shone on glistening streets, on pensive policemen, on smoothly prowling cats, and on a young man in a shocking suit of clothes whose faith in human nature was at zero.
Sam had now no definite objective. He was merely walking aimlessly with the idea of killing time. He wandered on, and presently found that he had passed out of the haunts of fashion into a meaner neighborhood. The buildings had become dingier, the aspect of the perambulating cats more sinister and blackguardly. He had in fact reached the district which, in spite of the efforts of its inhabitants to get it called Lower Belgravia, is still known as Pimlico. And it was near the beginning of Lupus Street that he was roused from his meditations by the sight of a coffee stall.
It brought him up standing. Once more he had suddenly become aware of that gnawing hunger which had afflicted him outside the oyster restaurant. Why he should be hungry, seeing that not so many hours ago he had consumed an ample dinner, he could not have said. A psychologist, had one been present, would have told him that the pangs of starvation from which he supposed himself to suffer were purely a figment of the mind, and that it was merely his subconscious self reacting to the suggestion of food. Sam, however, had positive inside information to the contrary; and he halted before the coffee stall, staring wolfishly.
There was not a large attendance of patrons. Three only were present. One was a man in a sort of uniform who seemed to have been cleaning streets, the two others had the appearance of being gentlemen of leisure. They were leaning restfully on the counter, eating hard-boiled eggs.
Sam eyed them resentfully. It was just this selfish sort of epicureanism, he felt, that was the canker which destroyed empires. And when the man in uniform, wearying of eggs, actually went on to supplement them with a slice of seedcake, it was as if he were watching the orgies that preceded the fall of Babylon. With gleaming eyes he drew a step closer, and was thus enabled to overhear the conversation of these sybarites.
Like all patrons of coffee stalls, they were talking about the royal family, and for a brief space it seemed that a perfect harmony was to prevail. Then the man in uniform committed himself to the statement that the Duke of York wore a mustache, and the gentlemen of leisure united to form a solid opposition.
“ ’E ain’t got no mustache,” said one.
“Cert’n’ly ’e ain’t got no mustache,” said the other.
“Wot,” inquired the first gentleman of leisure, “made you get that silly idea into your ’ead that ’e’s got a mustache?”
“ ’E’s got a smorl clipped mustache,” said the man in uniform stoutly.
“A smorl clipped mustache?”
“A smorl clipped mustache.”
“You say he’s got a smorl clipped mustache?”
“Ah! A smorl clipped mustache.”
“Well, then,” said the leader of the opposition, with the air of a cross-examining counsel who has dexterously trapped a reluctant witness into a damaging admission, “that’s where you make your ruddy error. Because ’e ain’t got no smorl clipped mustache.”
It seemed to Sam that a little adroit diplomacy at this point would be in his best interests. He had not the pleasure of the duke’s acquaintance and so was not really entitled to speak as an expert, but he decided to support the man in uniform. The good graces of a fellow of his careless opulence were worth seeking. In a soaring moment of optimism it seemed to him that a hard-boiled egg and a cup of coffee were the smallest reward a loyal supporter might expect. He advanced into the light of the naphtha flare and spoke with decision.
“This gentleman is right,” he said. “The Duke of York has a small clipped mustache.”
The interruption appeared to come on the three debaters like a bombshell. It had on them an effect much the same as an uninvited opinion from a young and newly joined member would have on a group of bishops and generals in the smoking room of the Athenæum Club. For an instant there was a shocked silence; then the man in uniform spoke.
“Wot do you want, stickin’ your ugly fat ’ead in?” he demanded coldly.
Shakspere, who knew too much ever to be surprised at man’s ingratitude, would probably have accepted this latest evidence of it with stoicism. It absolutely stunned Sam. A little peevishness from the two gentlemen of leisure he had expected, but that his sympathy and support should be received in this fashion by the man in uniform was simply disintegrating. It seemed to be his fate tonight to lack appeal for men in uniform.
“Yus,” agreed the leader of the opposition, “ ’oo arsked you to shove in?”
“Comin’ stickin’ ’is ’ead in!” sniffed the man in uniform.
All three members of the supper party eyed him with manifest disfavor. The proprietor of the stall, a silent hairy man, said nothing: but he, too, cast a chilly glance of hauteur in Sam’s direction. There was a sense of strain.
“I only said ——” Sam began.
“And ’oo arsked you to?” retorted the man in uniform.
The situation was becoming difficult. At this tense moment, however, there was a rattling and a grinding of brakes and a taxicab drew up at the curb, and out of its interior shot Mr. Willoughby Braddock.
“Getta cuppa coffee,” observed Mr. Braddock explanatorily to the universe.
OF CERTAIN supreme moments in life it is not easy to write. The workaday teller of tales, whose gifts, if any, lie rather in the direction of recording events than of analyzing emotion, finds himself baffled by them. To say that Sam Shotter was relieved by this sudden reappearance of his old friend would obviously be inadequate. Yet it is hard to find words that will effectually meet the case. Perhaps it is simplest to say that his feelings at this juncture were to all intents and purposes those of the garrison besieged by savages in the final reel of a motion-picture super-super-film when the operator flashes on the screen the subtitle, “Hurrah! Here come the United States Marines!”
And blended with this heart-shaking thankfulness, came instantaneously the thought that he must not let the poor fish get away again.
“Here, I say!” said Mr. Braddock, becoming aware of a clutching hand upon his coat sleeve.
“It’s all right, Bradder, old man,” said Sam. “It’s only me.”
“Who are you?”
“Sam Shotter who used to be at school with me?”
“The very same.”
“Are you Sam Shotter?”
“Why, so you are!” said Mr. Braddock, completely convinced. He displayed the utmost delight at this reunion. “Mosestraornary coincidence,” he said as he kneaded Sam lovingly about the shoulder. “I was talking to a fellow in the Strand about you only an hour ago.”
“Were you, Bradder, old man?”
“Yes; nasty ugly-looking fellow. I bumped into him, and he turned round and the very first thing he said was, ‘Do you know Sam Shotter?’ He told me all sorts of interesting things about you too—all sorts of interesting things. I’ve forgotten what they were, but you see what I mean.”
“I follow you perfectly, Bradder. What’s become of your hat?”
A look of relieved happiness came into Willoughby Braddock’s face.
“Have you got my hat? Where is it?”
“I haven’t got your hat.”
“You said you had my hat.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Oh!” said Mr. Braddock, disappointed. “Well, then, come and have a cuppa coffee.”
It was with the feelings of a voyager who after much buffeting comes safely at last to journey’s end that Sam ranged himself alongside the counter which for so long had been but a promised land seen from some distant Mount Pisgah. The two gentlemen of leisure had melted away into the night, but the uniformed man remained, eating seedcake with a touch of bravado.
“This gentleman a friend of yours, Sam?” asked Mr. Braddock, having ordered coffee and eggs.
“I should say not,” said Sam with aversion. “Why, he thinks the Duke of York has a small clipped mustache!”
“No!” said Mr. Braddock, shocked.
“Man must be a thorough ass.”
“Dropped on his head when a baby, probably.”
“Better have nothing to do with him,” said Mr. Braddock in a confidential bellow.
“Can’t be too careful who you’re seen speaking to these days.”
The meal proceeded on its delightful course. Sam had always been fond of Willoughby Braddock, and the spacious manner in which he now ordered further hard-boiled eggs showed him that his youthful affection had not been misplaced. A gentle glow began to steal over him. The coffee was the kind of which, after a preliminary mouthful, you drink a little more just to see if it is really as bad as it seemed at first, but it was warm and comforting. It was not long before the world appeared very good to Sam. He expanded genially. He listened with courteous attention to Mr. Braddock’s lengthy description of his speech at the Old Wrykynian dinner, and even melted sufficiently to extend an olive branch to the man in uniform.
“Looks like rain,” he said affably.
“Who does?” asked Mr. Braddock, puzzled.
“I was addressing the gentleman behind you,” said Sam.
Mr. Braddock looked cautiously over his shoulder.
“But are we speaking to him?” he asked gravely. “I thought ——”
“Oh, yes,” said Sam tolerantly. “I fancy he’s quite a good fellow really. Wants knowing, that’s all.”
“What makes you think he looks like rain?” asked Mr. Braddock, interested.
The chauffeur of the taxicab now added himself to their little group. He said that he did not know about Mr. Braddock’s plans, but that he himself was desirous of getting to bed. Mr. Braddock patted him on the shoulder with radiant bonhomie.
“This,” he explained to Sam, “is a most delightful chap. I’ve forgotten his name.”
The cabman said his name was Evans.
“Evans! Of course. I knew it was something beginning with a G. This is my friend Evans, Sam. I forget where we met, but he’s taking me home.”
“Where do you live, Bradder?”
“Where do I live, Evans?”
“Down at Valley Fields, you told me,” said the cabman.
“Where are you living, Sam?”
“How do you mean—nowhere?”
“I have no home,” said Sam with simple pathos.
“I’d like to dig you one,” said the man in uniform.
“No home?” cried Mr. Braddock, deeply moved. “Nowhere to sleep tonight, do you mean? I say, look here, you must absolutely come back with me. Evans, old chap, do you think there would be room for one more in that cab of yours? Because I particularly want this gentleman to come back with me. My dear old Sam, I won’t listen to any argument.”
“You won’t have to.”
“You can sleep on the sofa in the drawing-room. You ready, Evans, old man? Splendid! Then let’s go.”
From Lupus Street, Pimlico, to Burberry Road, Valley Fields, is a distance of several miles, but to Sam the drive seemed a short one. This illusion was not due so much to the gripping nature of Mr. Braddock’s conversation, though that rippled on continuously, as to the fact that, being a trifle weary after his experiences of the night, he dozed off shortly after they had crossed the river. He awoke to find that the cab had come to a standstill outside a wooden gate which led by a short gravel path to a stucco-covered house. A street lamp, shining feebly, was strong enough to light up the name San Rafael. Mr. Braddock paid the cabman and ushered Sam through the gate. He produced a key after a little searching, and having mounted the steps opened the door. Sam found himself in a small hall, dimly lighted by a turned-down jet of gas.
“Go right in,” said Mr. Braddock. “I’ll be back in a moment. Got to see a man.”
“Got to what?” said Sam, surprised.
“Got to see a man for a minute. Fellow named Evans, who was at school with me. Most important.”
And with that curious snipelike abruptness which characterized his movements tonight, Willoughby Braddock slammed the front door violently and disappeared.
Sam’s feelings, as the result of his host’s impulsive departure, were somewhat mixed. To the credit side of the ledger he could place the fact that he was safely under the shelter of a roof, which he had not expected to be an hour ago; but he wished that, before leaving, his friend had given him a clew as to where was situated this drawing-room with its sofa whereon he was to spend the remainder of the night.
However, a brief exploration would no doubt reveal the hidden chamber. It might even be that room whose door faced him across the hall.
He was turning the handle with the view of testing this theory, when a voice behind him, speaking softly but with a startling abruptness, said, “Hands up!”
At the foot of the stairs, her wide mouth set in a determined line, her tow-colored hair adorned with gleaming curling pins, there was standing a young woman in a pink dressing gown and slippers. In her right hand, pointed at his head, she held a revolver.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
a place in our hates: Sunny Mag. has “plarce in our hates”, and Methuen and Doran just repeat “place in our hearts”. As I understand it, in Sunny the joke is that W.B. transposes the vowels of place and hearts. If this was Wodehouse’s original intention, SEP and Methuen and Doran may have missed it and corrected one or both words.
Annotations to the book edition of this novel can be found on this site.