Tit-Bits, July 23, 1910
CHAPTER XVII. (continued).
“Your uncle? Good heavens!” Jimmy clenched his hands despairingly. “Do you mean to say that you let your uncle order you about in a thing like this? Do you mean to say you’re such a—such a—such a gelatine-backboned worm——”
“Old man! I say!” protested his lordship, wounded.
“I’d call you a wretched knock-kneed skunk, only I don’t want to be fulsome. I hate flattering a man to his face.”
Lord Dreever, deeply pained, half rose from his seat.
“Don’t get up,” urged Jimmy, smoothly; “I couldn’t trust myself.”
His lordship subsided hastily. He was feeling alarmed. He had never seen this side of Jimmy’s character. At first he had been merely aggrieved and disappointed. He had expected sympathy. Now the matter had become more serious. Jimmy was pacing the room like a young and hungry tiger. At present, it was true, there was a billiard-table between them; but his lordship felt that he could have done with good, stout bars. He nestled in his seat with the earnest concentration of a limpet on a rock. It would be deuced bad form, of course, for Jimmy to assault his host, but could Jimmy be trusted to remember the niceties of etiquette?
“Why the deuce she accepted you I can’t think,” said Jimmy, half to himself, stopping suddenly and glaring across the table.
Lord Dreever felt relieved. This was not polite, perhaps, but at least it was not violent.
“That’s what beats me, too, old man,” he said. “Between you and me, it’s a jolly rum business. This afternoon——”
“What about this afternoon?”
“Why, she wouldn’t have me at any price.”
“You asked her this afternoon?”
“Yes; and it was all right then. She refused me like a bird. Wouldn’t hear of it. Came pretty near laughing in my face. And then to-night,” he went on, his voice squeaky at the thought of his wrongs, “my uncle sends for me and says she’s changed her mind and is waiting for me in the morning-room. I go there and she tells me in about three words that she’s been thinking it over and that the whole fearful thing is on again. I call it jolly rough on a chap. I felt such a frightful ass, you know. I didn’t know what to do, whether to kiss her, I mean——”
Jimmy snorted violently.
“Eh?” said his lordship, blankly.
“Go on,” said Jimmy between his teeth.
“I felt a fearful fool, you know. I just said ‘Right-O!’ or something—dashed if I know what I did say—and legged it. It’s a jolly rum business, the whole thing. It isn’t as if she wanted me. I could see that with half an eye. She doesn’t care a hang for me. It’s my belief, old man,” he said, solemnly, “that she’s been badgered into it. I believe my uncle’s been at her.”
Jimmy laughed shortly.
“My dear man, you seem to think your uncle’s persuasive influence is universal. I guess it’s confined to you.”
“Well, anyhow, I believe that’s what’s happened. What do you say?”
“Why say anything? There doesn’t seem to be much need.”
He poured some brandy into a glass and added a little soda.
“You take it pretty stiff,” observed his lordship, with a touch of envy.
“On occasion,” said Jimmy, emptying the glass.
THE LOCHINVAR METHOD.
As Jimmy sat smoking a last cigarette in his bedroom before going to bed that night Spike Mullins came in. Jimmy had been thinking things over. He was one of those men who are at their best in a losing game. Imminent disaster always had the effect of keying him up and putting an edge on his mind. The news he had heard that night had left him with undiminished determination, but conscious that a change of method would be needed. He must stake all on a single throw now. Young Lochinvar rather than Romeo must be his model. He declined to believe himself incapable of getting anything that he wanted as badly as he wanted Molly. He also declined to believe that she was really attached to Lord Dreever. He suspected the hand of McEachern in the affair, though the suspicion did not clear up the mystery by any means. Molly was a girl of character, not a feminine counterpart of his lordship, content meekly to do what she was told in a matter of this kind. The whole thing puzzled him.
“Well, Spike?” he said.
He was not too pleased at the interruption. He was thinking, and he wanted to be alone.
Something appeared to have disturbed Spike. His bearing was excited.
“Say, boss! Guess what. You know dat guy dat come dis afternoon? De guy from de village, dat came wit old man McEachern.”
“Galer?” said Jimmy. “What about him?”
There had been an addition to the guests at the castle that afternoon. Mr. McEachern, walking in the village, had happened upon an old New York acquaintance of his, who, touring England, had reached Dreever and was anxious to see the historic castle. Mr. McEachern had brought him thither, introduced him to Sir Thomas, and now Mr. Samuel Galer was occupying a room on the same floor as Jimmy’s. He had appeared at dinner that night, a short, wooden-faced man, with no more conversation than Hargate. Jimmy had not paid any particular attention to him.
“What about him?” he said.
“He’s a ‘sleut,’ boss.”
“A ‘sleut.’ ”
“Dat’s right. A fly cop.”
“What makes you think that?”
“T’ink! Why, I can tell dem by deir eyes and deir feet, and de whole of dem. I could pick out a fly cop from a bunch of a t’ousand. He’s a sure ’nough ‘sleut’ all right, all right. I seen him rubbering at you, boss.”
“At me! Why at me? Why, of course. I see now. Our friend McEachern has got him in to spy on us.”
“Dat’s right, boss.”
“Of course, you may be mistaken.”
“Not me, boss. And, say, he ain’t de only one.”
“What, more detectives? They’ll have to put up ‘House Full’ boards at this rate. Who’s the other?”
“A mug what’s down in de soivants’ hall. I wasn’t so sure of him at foist, but now I’m on to his curves. He’s a sleut all right. He’s vally to Sir Tummas, dis second mug is. But he ain’t no vally. He’s come to see no one don’t get busy wit de jools. Say, what do youse t’ink of dem jools, boss?”
“Finest I ever saw.”
“Yes, dat’s right. A hundred t’ousand plunks dey set him back. Dey’re de limit, ain’t dey? Say, won’t you really——”
“Spike, I’m surprised at you! Do you know you’re getting a regular Mephistopheles, Spike? Suppose I hadn’t an iron will, what would happen? You really must select your subjects of conversation more carefully. You’re bad company for the likes of me.”
Spike shuffled despondently.
Jimmy shook his head.
“It can’t be done, my lad.”
“But it can, boss,” protested Spike. “It’s dead easy. I’ve been up to de room, and I seen de box what de jools is kept in. Why, it’s de softest ever! We could get dem as easy as pullin’ de plug out of a bottle. Why, say, dere’s never been such a peach of a place for gettin’ hold of de stuff as dis house. Dat’s right, boss. Why, look what I got dis afternoon, just snoopin’ around and not really trying to get busy at all. It was just lying about.”
He plunged his hand into his pocket and drew it out again. As he unclosed his fingers Jimmy caught the gleam of precious stones.
“What the dickens!” he gasped.
Spike was looking at his treasure-trove with an air of affectionate proprietorship.
“Where on earth did you get those?” asked Jimmy.
“Out of one of de rooms. Dey belonged to one of de loidies. It was de easiest old t’ing ever, boss. I just went in when dere was nobody around, and dere dey was on de toible. I never butted into anyt’ing so soft.”
“Do you remember the room you took them from?”
“Sure. It was de foist on de——”
“Then just listen to me for a moment, my bright boy. When we’re at breakfast to-morrow you want to go to that room and put those things back—all of them, mind you—just where you found them. Do you understand?”
Spike’s jaw had fallen.
“Put dem back, boss?” he faltered.
“Every single one of them.”
“Boss!” said Spike, plaintively.
“Remember—every single one of them, just where it belongs. See?”
“Very well, boss.”
The dejection in his voice would have moved the sternest to pity. Gloom had enveloped Spike’s spirit. The sunlight had gone out of his life.
It had also gone out of the lives of a good many other people at the castle. This was mainly due to the growing shadow of the day of the theatricals.
For pure discomfort there are few things in the world that can compete with the final rehearsals of an amateur theatrical performance at a country house. Every day the atmosphere becomes more heavily charged with restlessness and depression. The producer of the piece, especially if he is also the author of it, develops a sort of intermittent insanity. He plucks at his moustache, if he has one; at his hair, if he has not. He mutters to himself. He gives vent to occasional despairing cries. The soothing suavity which marked his demeanour in the earlier rehearsals disappears. He no longer says, with a winning smile, “Splendid, old man, splendid! Couldn’t be better. But I think we’ll take that over just once more, if you don’t mind.” Instead, he rolls his eyes and snaps out, “Once more, please. This’ll never do. At this rate we might just as well cut out the show altogether. What’s that? No, it won’t be all right on the night! Now, then, once more; and do pull yourselves together this time.” After which the scene is sulkily resumed; and conversation, when the parties concerned meet subsequently, is cold and strained.
Matters had reached this stage at the castle. Everybody was thoroughly tired of the piece, and, but for the thought of the disappointment which (presumably) would rack the neighbouring nobility and gentry if it were not to be produced, would have resigned their places without a twinge of regret. People who had schemed to get the best and longest parts were wishing now that they had been content with First Footman or Giles, a villager.
“I’ll never run an amateur show again as long as I live,” confided Charteris to Jimmy, almost tearfully. “It’s not good enough. Most of them aren’t word-perfect yet.”
“It’ll be all right——”
“Oh, don’t say it’ll be all right on the night.”
“I wasn’t going to,” said Jimmy. “I was going to say it’ll be all right after the night. People will soon forget how badly the thing went.”
“You’re a nice, comforting sort of man, aren’t you?” said Charteris.
“Why worry?” said Jimmy. “If you go on like this, it’ll be Westminster Abbey for you in your prime. You’ll be getting brain fever.”
Jimmy himself was one of the few who were feeling reasonably cheerful. He was deriving a keen amusement at present from the manœuvres of Mr. Samuel Galer, of New York. This lynx-eyed man, having been instructed by Mr. McEachern to watch Jimmy, was doing so with a thoroughness which would have roused the suspicions of a babe. If Jimmy went to the billiard-room after dinner, Mr. Galer was there to keep him company. If, during the course of the day, he had occasion to fetch a handkerchief or a cigarette-case from his bedroom, he was sure, on emerging, to stumble upon Mr. Galer in the corridor. The employés of Dodson’s Private Inquiry Agency believed in earning their salaries.
Occasionally, after these encounters, Jimmy would come upon Sir Thomas Blunt’s valet, the other man in whom Spike’s trained eye had discerned the distinguishing marks of the sleuth. He was usually somewhere round the corner at these moments, and when collided with apologized with great politeness. Jimmy decided that he must have come under suspicion in this case vicariously, through Spike. Spike, in the servants’ hall, would, of course, stand out conspicuously enough to catch the eye of a detective on the look-out for sin among the servants; and he himself, as Spike’s employer, had been marked down as a possible confederate.
It tickled him to think that both these giant brains should be so greatly exercised on his account.
He had been watching Molly closely during these days. So far no announcement of the engagement had been made. It struck him that possibly it was being reserved for public mention on the night of the theatricals. The whole county would be at the castle then. There could be no more fitting moment. He sounded Lord Dreever, and the latter said moodily that he was probably right.
“There’s going to be a dance of sorts after the show,” he said, “and it’ll be done then, I suppose. No getting out of it after that. It’ll be all over the county. Trust my uncle for that. He’ll get on a table and shout it, shouldn’t wonder. And it’ll be in the ‘Morning Post’ next day and Katie’ll see it! Only two days more. Oh, Lord!”
Jimmy deduced that Katie was the Savoy girl, concerning whom his lordship had vouchsafed no particulars save that she was a ripper and hadn’t a penny.
Only two days! Like the Battle of Waterloo, it was going to be a close-run affair. More than ever now he realized how much Molly meant to him, and there were moments when it seemed to him that she, too, had begun to understand. That night on the terrace seemed somehow to have changed their relationship. He thought he had got closer to her. They were in touch. Before, she had been frank, cheerful, unembarrassed; now he noticed a constraint in her manner, a curious shyness. There was a barrier between them, but it was not the old barrier. He had ceased to be one of a crowd.
But it was a race against time. The first day slipped by, a blank, and the second, till now it was but a matter of hours. The last afternoon had come.
Not even Mr. Samuel Galer, of Dodson’s Private Inquiry Agency, could have kept a more unflagging watch than did Jimmy during those hours. There was no rehearsal that afternoon, and the members of the company, in various stages of nervous collapse, strayed distractedly about the grounds. First one, then another, would seize upon Molly, while Jimmy, watching from afar, fumed at their pertinacity.
At last she wandered off alone, and Jimmy, quitting his ambush, followed.
She walked in the direction of the lake. It had been a terribly hot, oppressive afternoon. There was thunder in the air. Through the trees the lake glistened invitingly.
She was standing at the water’s edge when Jimmy came up. Her back was turned. She was rocking with her foot a Canadian canoe that lay alongside the bank. She started as he spoke. His feet on the soft turf had made no sound.
“Can I take you out on the lake?” he said.
She did not answer for a moment. She was plainly confused.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I—I’m waiting for Lord Dreever.”
Jimmy saw that she was nervous. There was tension in the air. She was looking away from him, out across the lake, and her face was flushed.
“Won’t you?” he said.
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
Jimmy looked over his shoulder. Down the lower terrace was approaching the long form of his lordship. He walked with pensive jerkiness, not as one hurrying to a welcome tryst. As Jimmy looked he vanished behind the great clump of laurels which stood on the lowest terrace. In another minute he would reappear round them.
Gently, but with extreme dispatch, Jimmy placed a hand on either side of Molly’s waist. The next moment he had swung her off her feet and lowered her carefully on to the cushions in the bow of the canoe.
Then, jumping in himself with a force that made the boat rock, he loosed the mooring-rope, seized the paddle, and pushed off.
ON THE LAKE.
In making love, as in every other branch of life, consistency is the quality most to be aimed at. To hedge is fatal. A man must choose the line of action which he judges to be best suited to his temperament, and hold to it without deviation. If Lochinvar snatches the maiden up on to his saddle-bow he must continue in that vein. He must not fancy that, having accomplished the feat, he can resume the episode on lines of devotional humility. Prehistoric man, who conducted his courtship with a club, never fell into the error of apologizing when his bride complained of headache.
Jimmy did not apologize. The idea did not enter his mind. He was feeling prehistoric. His heart was beating fast and his mind was in a whirl, but the one definite thought that came to him during the first few seconds of the journey was that he ought to have done this earlier. This was the right way. Pick her up and carry her off, and leave uncles and fathers and butter-haired peers of the realm to look after themselves. This was the way. Alone together in their own little world of water, with nobody to interrupt and nobody to overhear. He should have done it before. He had wasted precious, golden time hanging about while futile men chattered to her of things that could not possibly be of interest. But he had done the right thing at last. He had got her. She must listen to him now. She could not help listening. They were the only inhabitants of this new world.
He looked back over his shoulder at the world they had left. The Last of the Dreevers had rounded the clump of laurels, and was standing at the edge of the water, gazing perplexedly after the retreating canoe.
“These poets put a thing very neatly sometimes,” said Jimmy, reflectively, as he dug the paddle into the water. “The man who said ‘Distance lends enchantment to the view,’ for instance. Dreever looks quite nice when you see him as far away as this, with a good strip of water in between.”
Molly, gazing over the side of the boat into the lake, abstained from feasting her eyes on the picturesque spectacle.
“Why did you do it?” she said, in a low voice.
Jimmy shipped the paddle and allowed the canoe to drift. The ripple of the water against the prow sounded clear and thin in the stillness. The world seemed asleep. The sun blazed down, turning the water to flame. The air was hot with the damp electric heat that heralds a thunderstorm. Molly’s face looked small and cool in the shade of her big hat. Jimmy, as he watched her, felt that he had done well. This was, indeed, the way.
“Why did you do it?” she said again.
“I had to.”
“Take me back.”
He took up the paddle and placed a broader strip of water between the two worlds; then paused once more.
“I have something to say to you first,” he said.
She did not answer. He looked over his shoulder again. His lordship had disappeared.
“Do you mind if I smoke?”
She nodded. He filled his pipe carefully and lit it. The smoke moved sluggishly up through the still air. There was a long silence. A fish jumped close by, falling back in a shower of silver drops. Molly started at the sound and half turned.
“That was a fish,” she said, as a child might have done.
Jimmy knocked the ashes out of his pipe.
“What made you do it?” he asked, abruptly, echoing her own question.
She drew her fingers slowly through the water without speaking.
“You know what I mean. Dreever told me.”
She looked up with a flash of spirit, which died away as she spoke.
“What right——” She stopped and looked away again.
“None,” said Jimmy. “But I wish you would tell me.”
She hung her head. Jimmy bent forward and touched her hand.
“Don’t,” he said. “For Heaven’s sake, don’t! You mustn’t.”
“I must,” she said, miserably.
“You sha’n’t! It’s wicked.”
“I must. It’s no good talking about it. It’s too late.”
“It’s not. You must break it off to-day.”
She shook her head. Her fingers still dabbled mechanically in the water. The sun was hidden now behind a grey veil, which deepened into a sullen black over the hill behind the castle. The heat had grown more oppressive.
“What made you do it?” he asked again.
“Don’t let’s talk about it, please!”
He had a momentary glimpse of her face. There were tears in her eyes. At the sight his self-control snapped.
“You sha’n’t!” he cried. “It’s ghastly. I won’t let you. You must understand now. You must know what you are to me. Do you think I shall let you——”
A low growl of thunder rumbled through the stillness, like the muttering of a sleepy giant. The black cloud which had hung over the hill had crept closer. The heat was stifling. In the middle of the lake, some fifty yards distant, lay the island, cool and mysterious in the gathering darkness.
He broke off and seized the paddle.
On this side of the island was a boat-house—a little creek, covered over with boards and capable of sheltering an ordinary row-boat. He ran the canoe in just as the storm began and turned her broadside on so that they could watch the rain, which was sweeping over the lake in sheets.
He began to speak again, more slowly now.
“I think I loved you from the first day I saw you on the ship. And then I lost you. I found you again by a miracle, and lost you again. I found you here by another miracle, but this time I am not going to lose you. Do you think I’m going to stand by and see you taken from me by—by——”
He took her hand.
“Molly, you can’t love him. It isn’t possible. If I thought you did, I wouldn’t try to spoil your happiness. I’d go away. But you don’t. You can’t. He’s nothing. Molly!”
The canoe rocked as he leaned towards her.
She said nothing; but for the first time her eyes met his, clear and unwavering. He could read fear in them, fear—not of himself; of something vague, something he could not guess at. But they shone with a light which conquered the fear as the sun conquers fire; and he drew her to him, and kissed her again and again, murmuring incoherently.
Suddenly she wrenched herself away, struggling like some wild thing. The boat plunged.
“I can’t!” she cried, in a choking voice. “I mustn’t! Oh, I can’t!”
He stretched out a hand and clutched at the rail that ran along the wall. The plunging ceased. He turned. She had hidden her face, and was sobbing, quietly, with the forlorn hopelessness of a lost child.
He made a movement towards her, but drew back. He felt dazed.
The rain thudded and splashed on the wooden roof. A few drops trickled through a crack in the boards. He took off his coat and placed it gently over her shoulders.
She looked up with wet eyes.
“Molly, dear, what is it?”
“I mustn’t. It isn’t right.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I mustn’t, Jimmy.”
He moved cautiously forward, holding the rail, till he was at her side, and took her in his arms.
“What is it, dear? Tell me.”
She clung to him without speaking.
“You aren’t worrying about him, are you—about Dreever? There’s nothing to worry about. It’ll be quite easy and simple. I’ll tell him if you like. He knows you don’t care for him, and, besides, there’s a girl in London that he——”
“No, no; it’s not that.”
“What is it, dear? What’s troubling you?”
“Jimmy——” She stopped.
“Jimmy, father wouldn’t. Father—father doesn’t——”
“Doesn’t like me?”
She nodded miserably.
A great wave of relief swept over Jimmy. He had imagined—he hardly knew what he had imagined—some vast, insuperable obstacle, some tremendous catastrophe whirling them asunder. He could have laughed aloud in his happiness. So this was it, this was the cloud that brooded over them—that Mr. McEachern did not like him! The angel, guarding Eden with a fiery sword, had changed into a policeman with a truncheon.
“He must learn to love me,” he said, lightly.
She looked at him hopelessly. He could not see. He could not understand. And how could she tell him? Her father’s words rang in her brain. He was “crooked.” He was “here on some game.” He was being watched. But she loved him—she loved him. Oh, how could she make him understand?
She clung tighter to him, trembling. He became serious again.
“Dear, you mustn’t worry,” he said. “It can’t be helped. He’ll come round. Once we’re married——”
“No, no. Oh, can’t you understand? I couldn’t—I couldn’t.”
Jimmy’s face whitened. He looked at her anxiously.
“But, dear!” he said. “You can’t—— Do you mean to say—— Will that——” (he searched for a word)—“stop you?” he concluded.
“It must,” she whispered.
A cold hand clutched at his heart. His world was falling to pieces, crumbling under his eyes.
“But—but you love me,” he said, slowly. It was as if he were trying to find the key to a puzzle. “I—don’t see.”
“You couldn’t. You can’t. You’re a man. You don’t know. It’s so different for a man. He’s brought up all his life with the idea of leaving home. He goes away naturally.”
“But, dear, you couldn’t live at home all your life. Whoever you married——”
“But this would be different. Father would never speak to me again. I should never see him again. He would go right out of my life. Jimmy, I couldn’t. A girl can’t cut away twenty years of her life and start fresh like that. I should be haunted. I should make you miserable. Every day a hundred little things would remind me of him, and I shouldn’t be strong enough to resist them. You don’t know how fond he is of me, how good he has always been. Ever since I can remember, we’ve been such friends. You’ve only seen the outside of him, and I know how different that is from what he really is. All his life he has thought only of me. He has told me things about himself which nobody else dreams of, and I know that all these years he has been working just for me. Jimmy, you don’t hate me for saying this, do you?”
“Go on,” he said, drawing her closer to him.
“I can’t remember my mother. She died when I was quite little. So he and I have been the only ones—till you came.”
Memories of those early days crowded her mind as she spoke, making her voice tremble; half-forgotten trifles, many of them, fraught with the glamour and fragrance of past happiness.
“We have always been together. He trusted me and I trusted him, and we saw things through together. When I was ill he used to sit up all night with me, night after night. Once—I’d only got a little fever really, but I thought I was terribly bad—I heard him come in late and called out to him, and he came straight in and sat and held my hand all through the night; and it was only by accident I found out later that it had been raining and that he was soaked through. It might have killed him. We were partners, Jimmy dear. I couldn’t do anything to hurt him now, could I? It wouldn’t be square.”
Jimmy had turned away his head, for fear his face might betray what he was feeling. He was in a torment of unreasoning jealousy. He wanted her, body and soul, and every word she said bit like a raw wound. A moment before and he had felt that she belonged to him; now, in the first shock of reaction, he saw himself a stranger, an intruder, a trespasser on holy ground.
She saw the movement, and her intuition put her in touch with his thoughts.
“No, no!” she cried. “No, Jimmy—not that!”
Their eyes met, and he was satisfied.
They sat there, silent. The rain had lessened its force and was falling now in a gentle shower; a strip of blue sky, pale and watery, showed through the grey over the hills. On the island close behind them a thrush had begun to sing.
“What are we to do?” she said at last. “What can we do?”
“We must wait,” he said. “It will all come right. It must. Nothing can stop us now.”
The rain had ceased. The blue had routed the grey and driven it from the sky. The sun, low down in the west, shone out bravely over the lake. The air was cool and fresh.
Jimmy’s spirits rose with a bound. He accepted the omen. This was the world as it really was, smiling and friendly, not grey, as he had fancied it. He had won. Nothing could alter that. What remained to be done was trivial. He wondered how he could ever have allowed it to weigh upon him.
After awhile he pushed the boat out of its shelter on to the glittering water, and seized the paddle.
“We must be getting back,” he said. “I wonder what the time is? I wish we could stay out for ever. But it must be late. Molly!”
“Whatever happens, you’ll break off this engagement with Dreever? Shall I tell him? I will if you like.”
“No, I will. I’ll write him a note if I don’t see him before dinner.”
Jimmy paddled on a few strokes.
“It’s no good,” he said, suddenly; “I can’t keep it in. Molly, do you mind if I sing a bar or two? I’ve got a beastly voice, but I’m feeling rather happy.”
He raised his voice discordantly.
Covertly, from beneath the shade of her big hat, Molly watched him with troubled eyes. There was a suggestion of chillness in the air. The great mass of the castle frowned down upon them, dark and forbidding in the dim light.
Distance lends enchantment: Thomas Campbell (1777–1844), Scottish poet, in Pleasures of Hope (I, 7) (1799):
’Tis distance lends enchantment to the view,
And robes the mountain in its azure hue.
angel, guarding Eden: Genesis 3:24.
—Notes by Neil Midkiff