Woman’s Home Companion, December 1921
T HALF-PAST two that afternoon, full of optimism and cold beef, gayly unconscious that Webster with measured strides was approaching ever nearer with the note that was to give it to him in the neck, proper, Samuel Marlowe dangled his feet from the top bar of the gate at the end of the lane, and smoked contentedly as he waited for Billie to make her appearance. He had had an excellent lunch; his pipe was drawing well, and all nature smiled. He was looking forward with a roseate glow of anticipation to the moment when the white flutter of Billie’s dress would break the green of the foreground. How eagerly he would jump from the gate! How lovingly he would—
The elegant figure of Webster interrupted his reverie. Sam had never seen Webster before, and it was with no pleasure that he saw him now. He had come to regard this lane as his own private property, and he resented trespassers. He tucked his legs under him, and scowled at Webster under the brim of his hat.
The valet advanced toward him with the air of an affable executioner stepping daintily to the block.
“Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. S. Marlowe?” he inquired politely.
Sam was startled. He could make nothing of this.
“Yes, that’s my name.”
“Mine is Webster, sir. I am Mr. Bennett’s personal gentleman’s gentleman. Miss Bennett entrusted me with this note to deliver to you, sir.”
Sam began to grasp the situation. For some reason or other, the dear girl had been prevented from coming this afternoon, and she had written to explain, and to relieve his anxiety.
“Fine day,” he said, as he took the note.
“Extremely, sir,” said Webster, outwardly unemotional, inwardly full of a grave pity. He edged a little nearer, in order to be handy to catch Sam if the shock knocked him off the gate.
As it happened, it did not. Having read the opening words of the note, Sam rocked violently; but his feet were twined about the lower bars and this saved him from overbalancing. Webster stepped back, relieved.
The note fluttered to the ground. Webster, picking it up and handing it back, was enabled to get a glimpse of the first two sentences. They confirmed his suspicions. The note was hot stuff.
“Thanks,” said Sam mechanically.
“Not at all, sir. You are very welcome.”
Sam resumed his reading. A cold perspiration broke out on his forehead. His toes curled, and something seemed to be crawling down the small of his back. His heart had moved from its proper place and was now beating in his throat. He swallowed once or twice to remove the obstruction, but without success.
There had seemed no possibility of that little ruse of his being discovered, and yet here was Billie in full possession of the facts. It almost made the thing worse that she did not say how she had come into possession of them. This gave Sam that feeling of self-pity, that sense of having been ill-used by fate, which makes the bringing home of crime so particularly poignant.
“Fine day!” he muttered. He had a sort of subconscious feeling that it was imperative to keep engaging Webster in light conversation.
“Yes, sir. Weather still keeps up,” agreed the valet suavely.
Sam frowned over the note. He felt injured. Sending a fellow notes didn’t give him a chance. If she had come in person and denounced him it would not have been an agreeable experience, but at least it would have been possible then to have pleaded and cajoled and—and all that sort of thing. But what could he do now? It seemed to him that his only possible course was to write a note in reply, begging her to see him. He explored his pockets and found a pencil and a scrap of paper. For some moments he scribbled desperately. Then he folded the note.
“Will you take this to Miss Bennett,” he said, holding it out.
Webster took the missive, because he wanted to read it later at his leisure; but he shook his head.
“Useless, I fear, sir,” he said gravely.
“What do you mean?”
“I am afraid it would effect little or nothing, sir, sending our Miss B. notes. She is not in the proper frame of mind to appreciate them. I saw her face when she handed me the letter you have just read, and I assure you, sir, she is not in a malleable mood.”
“You seem to know a lot about it!”
“I have studied the sex, sir,” said Webster modestly.
“I mean, about my business, confound it! You seem to know all about it!”
“Why, yes, sir, I think I may say that I have grasped the position of affairs. And, if you will permit me to say so, sir, you have my respectful sympathy.”
Dignity is a sensitive plant which flourishes only under the fairest conditions. Sam’s had perished in the bleak east wind of Billie’s note. In other circumstances he might have resented this intrusion of a stranger into his most intimate concerns. His only emotion now was one of dull but distinct gratitude. If Webster, the valet, felt disposed, as he seemed to indicate, to comfort him, let the thing go on. At that moment Sam would have accepted condolences from a coal heaver.
“I was reading a story—one of the Nosegay Novelettes; I do not know if you are familiar with the series, sir?—in which much the same situation occurred. It was entitled ‘Cupid or Mammon.’ The heroine, Lady Blanche Trefusis, forced by her parents to wed a wealthy suitor, despatches a note to her humble lover, informing him it cannot be. I believe it often happens like that, sir.”
“You’re all wrong,” said Sam. “It’s not that at all.”
Sam’s dignity, on its deathbed, made a last effort to assert itself.
“I don’t know what it’s got to do with you!”
“Precisely, sir!” said Webster, with dignity. “Just as you say! Good afternoon, sir!”
He swayed gracefully, conveying a suggestion of departure without moving his feet. The action was enough for Sam. Dignity gave an expiring gurgle and passed away, regretted by all.
“Don’t go!” he cried.
The idea of being alone in this infernal lane, without human support, overpowered him. Moreover, Webster had personality. He exuded it. Already, Sam had begun to cling to him in spirit, and rely on his support.
Webster coughed gently, to show his appreciation of the delicate nature of the conversation. He was consumed with curiosity, and his threatened departure had been but a pretense. A team of horses could not have moved Webster at that moment.
“Might I ask, then, what—?”
“There’s been a misunderstanding,” said Sam. “At least, there was; but now there isn’t, if you see what I mean.”
“I fear I have not quite grasped your meaning, sir.”
“Well, I—I—played a sort of—you might almost call it a sort of trick on Miss Bennett. With the best motives, of course!”
“Of what nature would the trick be, sir? A species of ruse, sir, some kind of innocent deception?”
“Well, it was like this.”
It was a complicated story to tell, and Sam, a prey to conflicting emotions, told it badly; but such was the almost superhuman intelligence of Webster that he succeeded in grasping the salient points. Indeed, he said that it reminded him of something of much the same kind in the Nosegay Novelette, “All for Her,” where the hero, anxious to win the esteem of the lady of his heart, had bribed a tramp to simulate an attack upon her in a lonely road.
“The principle’s the same,” said Webster.
“Well, what did he do when she found out?”
“She did not find out, sir. All ended happily, and never had the wedding bells in the old village church rung out a blither peal than they did at the subsequent union.”
“I wonder where I could get a good tramp,” said Sam meditatively.
Webster shook his head.
“I really would hardly recommend such a procedure, sir.”
“I’ve got it! You pretend to attack her, and I’ll—”
“I couldn’t, sir! I couldn’t, really! I should jeopardize my situation.”
“Then I don’t see that there’s anything to be done,” said Sam morosely.
“Oh, I shouldn’t say that, sir,” said Webster encouragingly. “It’s simply a matter of finding the way. The problem confronting us—you, I should say. . . .”
“Us,” said Sam; “most decidedly us.”
“Thank you very much, sir. I would not have presumed, but if you say so— The problem confronting us, as I envisage it, resolves itself into this: You have offended our Miss B., and she has expressed a disinclination ever to see you again. How, then, is it possible, in spite of her attitude, to recapture her esteem? There are several methods which occur to one—”
“They don’t occur to me!” interposed Sam.
“Well, for example, you might rescue her from a burning building, as in ‘True as Steel’.”
“Set fire to the house, eh?” said Sam reflectively. “Yes; there might be something in that.”
“I would hardly advise such a thing,” said Webster, a little hastily—flattered at the readiness with which his disciple was taking his advice, yet acutely alive to the fact that he slept at the top of the house himself.
“A little drastic, if I may say so. It might be better to save her from drowning, as in ‘The Earl’s Secret’.”
“Ah, but where could she drown?”
“Well, there is a lake in the grounds. . . .”
“Excellent!” said Sam. “Terrific! I knew I could rely on you. Say no more! The whole thing’s settled. You take her out rowing on the lake, and upset the boat. I plunge in. . . . I suppose you can swim?”
“Oh? Well, never mind. You’ll manage somehow, I expect. When is the earliest you could arrange this?”
“I fear such a course must be considered out of the question, sir. It would certainly jeopardize my situation.”
“Oh, hang your situation! You talk as if you were Prime Minister or something. You can easily get another situation. A valuable man like you,” said Sam ingratiatingly.
“No, sir,” said Webster firmly. “From boyhood up I’ve always had a regular horror of the water. I can’t so much as go paddling without an uneasy feeling.”
The image of Webster paddling was arresting enough to occupy Sam’s thoughts for a moment. It was an inspiring picture, and for an instant uplifted his spirits. Then they fell again.
“Well, I don’t see what there is to be done,” he said gloomily. “It’s no good making suggestions, if you have some frivolous objection to all of them.”
“My idea,” said Webster, “would be something which did not involve my own personal and active coöperation, sir. Did you ever read ‘Footpaths of Fate,’ in the Nosegay series, sir? I’ve only just remembered it, and it contains the most helpful suggestion of the lot. There had been a misunderstanding between the heroine and the hero—their names have slipped my mind, though I fancy his was Cyril—and she had told him to hop it.”
“To leave her forever, sir. And what do you think he did?”
“How the deuce do I know?”
“He kidnaped her little brother, sir, to whom she was devoted, kept him hidden for a bit, and then returned him, and in her gratitude all was forgotten and forgiven, and never—”
“I know. Never had the bells of the old village church—”
“Rung out a blither peal. Exactly, sir. Well, there, if you will allow me to say so, you are, sir!”
“Miss Bennett hasn’t got a little brother.”
“No, sir. But she has a dog, and is greatly attached to it.”
Sam stared. From the expression on his face it was evident that Webster imagined himself to have made a suggestion of exceptional intelligence. It struck Sam as the silliest he had ever heard.
“But, good heavens! Have you seen that dog? It has a bark like a steam siren, and, in addition to that, about eighty-five teeth, all sharper than razors. I couldn’t get within ten feet of that dog without its lifting the roof off; and, if I did, it would chew me into small pieces.”
“I had anticipated that difficulty, sir. In ‘Footpaths of Fate’ there was a nurse who assisted the hero by drugging the child.”
“By Jove!” said Sam, impressed.
“He rewarded her,” said Webster, allowing his gaze to stray nonchalantly over the countryside, “liberally, very liberally.”
“If you mean that you expect me to reward you if you drug the dog,” said Sam, “don’t worry. Let me bring this thing off, and you can have all I’ve got, and my cuff links as well. . . . Oh, lord!” Sam’s face fell. The light of hope died out of his eyes. “It’s all off! It can’t be done! How could I possibly get into the house? I take it that the little brute sleeps in the house?”
“That need constitute no obstacle, sir, no obstacle at all. The animal sleeps in a basket in the hall. . . . Perhaps you are familiar with the interior of the house, sir?”
“I haven’t been inside it since I was at school. I’m Mr. Hignett’s cousin, you know.”
“Indeed, sir? I wasn’t aware. Mr. Hignett sprained his ankle this morning, poor gentleman.”
“Has he?” said Sam, not particularly interested. “I used to stay with him,” he went on, “during the holidays sometimes, but I’ve practically forgotten what the place is like inside. I remember the hall vaguely. Fireplace at one side, one or two suits of armor standing about, a sort of window ledge near the front door.”
“Precisely, sir. It is close beside that window ledge that the animal’s basket is situated. If I administer a slight soporific—”
“Yes; but you haven’t explained yet how I am to get into the house in the first place.”
“Quite easily, sir. I can admit you through the drawing-room windows while dinner is in progress.”
“You can then secrete yourself in the cupboard in the drawing-room. Perhaps you recollect the cupboard to which I refer, sir? Immediately behind the piano, sir. A nice, roomy cupboard. I was glancing into it myself in a spirit of idle curiosity only the other day. You could lock yourself in from the interior, and be quite comfortably seated on the floor till the household retired to bed.”
“When would that be?”
“They retire quite early, sir, as a rule. By half-past ten the coast is generally clear. At that time, I would suggest, I come down and knock on the cupboard door to notify you that all is well.”
Sam was glowing with frank approval.
“You know, you’re a master-mind!” he said enthusiastically.
“I am glad that you appreciate my poor efforts, sir. Then we will regard the scheme as passed and approved?”
“I should say we would! It’s a bird! I’ll be round at about a quarter to eight. Will that be right?”
“And, I say, about that soporific. . . . Don’t overdo it. Don’t go killing the little beast.”
“Oh, no, sir.”
“Well,” said Sam, “you can’t say it’s not a temptation.”
IF THERE is one thing more than another which weighs upon the mind of a story-teller as he chronicles the events which he has set out to describe, it is the thought that the reader may be growing impatient with him for straying from the main channel of his tale and devoting himself to what are, after all, minor developments. This story, for instance, opened with Mrs. Horace Hignett, the world-famous writer on theosophy, going over to America to begin a lecturing tour; and no one realizes more keenly than I do that I have left Mrs. Hignett flat. I have thrust that great thinker into the background and concentrated my attention on the affairs of one who is both her mental and her moral inferior, Samuel Marlowe. I seem at this point to see the reader rising to remark that he doesn’t care what happened to Samuel Marlowe, and that what he wants to know is, how Mrs. Hignett made out on her lecturing tour. Did she go big in Buffalo? Did she have ’em tearing up the seats in Schenectady? Was she a riot in Chicago and a cyclone in St. Louis?
The fact is, she never went to Buffalo. Schenectady saw nothing of her. She did not get within a thousand miles of Chicago, nor did she penetrate to St. Louis. For the very morning after her son Eustace sailed for England in the liner “Atlantic,” she happened to read in the paper one of those abridged passenger lists which the journals of New York are in the habit of printing, and got a nasty shock when she saw that, among those whose society Eustace would enjoy during the voyage, was “Miss Wilhelmina Bennett, daughter of J. Rufus Bennett, of Bennett, Mandelbaum and Co.” And within five minutes of digesting this information, she was at her desk writing out telegrams canceling all her engagements. Iron-souled as this woman was, her fingers trembled as she wrote. She had a vision of Eustace and the daughter of J. Rufus Bennett strolling together on moonlit decks, leaning over rails damp with sea spray, and, in short, generally starting the whole trouble over again.
In the height of the tourist season it is not always possible for one who wishes to leave America to spring onto the next boat. A long morning’s telephoning to the offices of the Cunard and the White Star brought Mrs. Hignett the depressing information that it would be a full week before she could sail for England. That meant that the inflammable Eustace would have over two weeks to conduct an uninterrupted wooing; and Mrs. Hignett’s heart sank, till suddenly she remembered that so poor a sailor as her son was not likely to have had leisure for any strolling on the deck during the voyage of the “Atlantic.”
Having realized this, she became calmer, and went about her preparations for departure with an easier mind. She wound up her affairs in New York and, on the following Wednesday, boarded the “Nuronia” bound for Southampton.
The “Nuronia” is one of the slowest of the Cunard boats. It was built at a time when hilarious crowds used to swoon on the deck if an ocean liner broke the record by getting across in nine days. It rolled over to Cherbourg, dallied at that picturesque port for some hours, then sauntered across the Channel and strolled into Southampton Water in the evening of the day on which Samuel Marlowe had sat in the lane plotting with Webster, the valet. At almost the exact moment when Sam, sidling through the windows of the drawing-room slid into the cupboard behind the piano, Mrs. Hignett was standing at the Customs barrier telling the officials that she had nothing to declare.
Mrs. Hignett was a general who believed in forced marches. Having fortified herself with a late dinner, she hired an automobile and set out on the cross-country journey. It was only when the car, a genuine antique, had broken down three times in the first ten miles, that it became evident to her that it would be much too late to go to Windles that night, and she directed the driver to take her, instead, to the “Blue Boar” in Windleshurst, where she arrived, tired but thankful to have reached it at all, at about half-past ten.
At this point many, indeed most, women, having had a tiring journey, would have gone to bed; but the familiar Hampshire air and the knowledge that less than half an hour’s walking would take her to her beloved home acted on Mrs. Hignett like a restorative. One glimpse of Windles she felt that she must have before she retired for the night, if only to assure herself that it was still there. She had a cup of coffee and a sandwich brought to her by the night porter, whom she had roused from sleep, for bedtime is early in Windleshurst, and then informed him that she was going for a short walk and would ring when she returned.
Her heart leaped joyfully as she turned in at the drive gates of her home and felt the well-remembered gravel crunching under her feet. She experienced a rush of emotion which made her feel quite faint, and which lasted until, on tiptoeing nearer to the house in order to gloat more adequately upon it, she perceived that the French windows of the drawing-room were standing ajar. Sam had left them like this in order to facilitate departure, if a hurried departure should by any mischance be rendered necessary, and drawn curtains had kept the household from noticing the fact.
All the proprietor in Mrs. Hignett was roused. This, she felt indignantly, was the sort of thing she had been afraid would happen the moment her back was turned. She marched to the windows and pushed them open. She had now completely abandoned her kindly scheme of refraining from rousing the sleeping house and spending the night at the inn. She stepped into the drawing-room with the single-minded purpose of rousing Eustace out of his sleep and giving him a good talking-to.
She pushed the curtains apart with a rattle and, at the same moment, from the direction of the door there came a low but distinct gasp, which made her resolute heart jump and flutter. It was too dark to see anything distinctly, but in the instant before it turned and fled she caught sight of a shadowy male figure, and knew that her worst fears had been realized. The figure was too tall to be Eustace, and Eustace, she knew, was the only man in the house. Male figures, therefore, that went flitting about Windles must be the figures of burglars.
Mrs. Hignett, bold woman though she was, stood for an instant spellbound, and for one moment of not unpardonable panic tried to tell herself that she had been mistaken. Almost immediately, however, there came from the direction of the hall a dull, chunky sound, as though something soft had been kicked, followed by a low gurgle and the noise of staggering feet. Unless he was dancing a pas seul out of sheer lightness of heart, the nocturnal visitor must have tripped over something.
The latter theory was the correct one. Montagu Webster’s only desire when, stealing into the drawing-room, he had been confronted through the curtains by a female figure, was to get back to his bedroom undetected. He supposed that one of the feminine members of the house party must have been taking a stroll in the grounds, and he did not wish to stay and be compelled to make laborious explanations of his presence there in the dark. He bounded silently out into the hall, and instantaneously tripped over the portly form of Smith, the bulldog, who, roused from a light sleep to the knowledge that something was going on, and being a dog who always liked to be in the center of the maelstrom of events, had waddled out to investigate.
By the time Mrs. Hignett had pulled herself together sufficiently to feel brave enough to venture into the hall, Webster’s presence of mind and Smith’s gregariousness had combined to restore that part of the house to its normal nocturnal condition of emptiness. Webster’s stagger had carried him almost up to the green baize door leading to the servants’ staircase, and he proceeded to pass through it without checking his momentum, closely followed by Smith, who, now convinced that interesting events were in progress which might possibly culminate in cake, had abandoned the idea of sleep and meant to see the thing through. He gamboled in Webster’s wake up the stairs and along the passage leading to the latter’s room, and only paused when the door was brusquely shut in his face.
Mrs. Hignett had listened fearfully to the uncouth noises from the hall. The burglars—she had now discovered that there were at least two of them—appeared to be actually romping. The situation had grown beyond her handling. If this troupe of terpsichorean marauders was to be dislodged she must have assistance. It was man’s work. She made a brave dash through the hall, mercifully unmolested; found the stairs; raced up them; and fell through the doorway of her son Eustace’s bedroom like a spent Marathon runner staggering past the winning-post.
IN THE moment which elapsed before either of the two could calm their agitated brains to speech, Eustace became aware, as never before, of the truth of that well-known line, ‘Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away.’ There was certainly little hope of peace in the present circumstances.
Mrs. Hignett gasped, hand on heart.
“Mother! I thought you were in America!”
“Eustace, there are men in the house!”
This fact was just the one which Eustace had been wondering how to break to her.
“I know,” he said uneasily.
“You know!” Mrs. Hignett stared. “Did you hear them?”
“Hear them?” said Eustace, puzzled.
“The drawing-room window was left open, and there are two burglars in the hall.”
“Oh, I say, no! That’s rather rotten!” said Eustace.
“I saw and heard them. Come with me and arrest them.”
“But I can’t. I’ve sprained my ankle.”
“Sprained your ankle? How very inconvenient! How did it happen?”
“I was jumping.”
“Jumping! But— Oh!” Mrs. Hignett’s sentence trailed off into a suppressed shriek as the door opened.
Immediately following on Eustace’s accident, Jane Hubbard had constituted herself his nurse. It was she who had bound up his injured ankle in a manner which the doctor on his arrival had admitted himself unable to improve upon. She had sat with him through the long afternoon. And now, fearing lest a return of the pain might render him sleepless, she had come to bring him a selection of books to see him through the night.
Jane Hubbard was a girl who by nature and training was well adapted to bear shocks. She accepted the advent of Mrs. Hignett without visible astonishment, though inwardly she was wondering who the visitor might be.
“Good evening,” she said placidly.
Mrs. Hignett, having rallied from her moment of weakness, glared at the new arrival dumbly. She could not place Jane. She had the air of a nurse, and yet she wore no uniform.
“Who are you?” she asked stiffly.
“Who are you?” countered Jane.
“I,” said Mrs. Hignett portentously, “am the owner of this house, and I should be glad to know what you are doing in it. I am Mrs. Horace Hignett.”
A charming smile spread itself over Jane’s finely-cut face.
“I’m so glad to meet you,” she said. “I have heard so much about you.”
“Indeed?” said Mrs. Hignett. “And now I should like to hear a little about you.”
“I’ve read all your books,” said Jane. “I think they’re wonderful.”
In spite of herself, in spite of a feeling that this young woman was straying from the point, Mrs. Hignett could not check a slight influx of amiability. She did not cease to look like a basilisk, but she began to look like a basilisk who has had a good lunch.
“My favorite,” said Jane, who for a week had been sitting daily in a chair in the drawing-room adjoining the table on which the authoress’s complete works were assembled, “is ‘The Spreading Light.’ I do like ‘The Spreading Light’!”
“It was written some years ago,” said Mrs. Hignett, with something approaching cordiality, “and I have since revised some of the views I state in it; but I still consider it quite a good textbook.”
“Yes, it makes you feel—”
“Like some watcher of the skies,” said Mrs. Hignett, “when a new planet swims into his ken, or like—”
“Yes, doesn’t it!” said Jane.
Eustace, who had been listening to the conversation with every muscle tense, in much the same mental attitude as that of a peaceful citizen in a Wild West saloon who holds himself in readiness to dive under a table directly the shooting begins, began to relax. For the first time since his mother had come into the room he indulged in the luxury of a deep breath.
“But what are you doing here?” asked Mrs. Hignett, returning almost reluctantly to the main issue.
Eustace perceived that he had breathed too soon. In an unobtrusive way he subsided into the bed and softly pulled the sheets over his head, following the excellent tactics of the great Duke of Wellington in his Peninsular campaign. ‘When in doubt,’ the Duke used to say, ‘retire and dig yourself in.’
“I’m nursing dear Eustace,” said Jane.
Mrs. Hignett quivered, and cast an eye on the hump in the bedclothes which represented dear Eustace. A cold fear had come upon her.
“‘Dear Eustace’!” she repeated mechanically.
“We’re engaged,” said Jane. “We got engaged this morning. That’s how he sprained his ankle. When I accepted him, he tried to jump a holly bush.”
“Engaged! Eustace, is this true?”
“Yes,” said a muffled voice from the interior of the bed.
“And poor Eustace is so worried,” continued Jane, “about the house.” She went on quickly: “He doesn’t want to deprive you of it, because he knows what it means to you. So he is hoping—we are both hoping—that you will accept it as a present when we are married. We really sha’n’t want it, you know. We are going to live in London. So you will take it, won’t you—to please us?”
We all of us, even the greatest of us, have our moments of weakness. Let us then not express any surprise at the sudden collapse of one of the world’s greatest female thinkers. As the meaning of this speech smote on Mrs. Horace Hignett’s understanding, she sank weeping into a chair. Windles was hers in perpetuity. Eustace, greatly encouraged, emerged slowly from the bedclothes like a worm after a thunderstorm.
How long this poignant scene would have lasted, one cannot say. It is a pity that it was cut short, for I should have liked to dwell upon it. But at this moment, from the regions down-stairs, there suddenly burst upon the silent night such a whirlwind of sound as effectually dissipated the tense emotion in the room. Somebody had touched off the orchestrion in the drawing-room, and that willing instrument had begun again in the middle of a bar at the point where it had been switched off. Its wailing lament for the passing of summer filled the whole house.
“It’s the burglars!” quavered Mrs. Hignett. In the stress of recent events she had completely forgotten the existence of those enemies of society. “They were dancing in the hall when I arrived, and now they’re playing the orchestrion!”
“Light-hearted chaps!” said Eustace, admiring the sang-froid of the criminal world. “Full of spirits!”
“This won’t do,” said Jane Hubbard, shaking her head. “We can’t have this sort of thing. I’ll go and fetch my gun.” She departed with a determined air.
Mrs. Hignett stood staring at the door as Jane closed it behind her.
“Eustace,” she said solemnly, “that is a wonderful girl!”
“Yes! She once killed a panther—or a puma, I forget which—with a hatpin!” said Eustace with enthusiasm.
“I could wish you no better wife!” said Mrs. Hignett.
She broke off with a sharp wail. . . . Out in the passage something like a battery of artillery had roared.
The door opened and Jane Hubbard appeared, slipping a fresh cartridge into the elephant gun.
“One of them was popping about outside here,” she announced. “I took a shot at him, but I’m afraid I missed. The visibility was bad. At any rate, he went away.”
In this last statement she was perfectly accurate. Bream Mortimer, who had been aroused by the orchestrion, and who had come out to see what was the matter, had gone away at the rate of fifty miles an hour. He had been creeping down the passage when he found himself suddenly confronted by a dim figure which, without a word, had attempted to slay him with an enormous gun. The shot had whistled past his ears and gone singing down the corridor. This was enough for Bream. He had returned to his room in three strides, and was now under the bed.
“We’d better go down-stairs,” said Jane. “Bring the candle. Not you, Eustace darling. Don’t you stir out of bed!”
“I won’t,” said Eustace obediently.
OF ALL the leisured pursuits, there are few less attractive to the thinking man than sitting in a dark cupboard waiting for a house party to go to bed; and Sam, who had established himself in the one behind the piano at a quarter to eight, soon began to feel as if he had been there for an eternity.
Cupboards, as a class, are badly ventilated, and this one seemed to contain no air at all; and the warmth of the night, combined with the cupboard’s natural stuffiness, had soon begun to reduce Sam to a condition of pulp. He seemed to himself to be sagging like ice cream in front of a fire. The darkness, too, weighed upon him. He was abominably thirsty. Also, he wanted to smoke. In addition to this, the small of his back tickled, and he more than suspected the cupboard of harboring mice. Not once nor twice but many hundred times he wished that the ingenious Webster had thought of something simpler.
He found a temporary solace by playing a succession of mental golf games over all the courses he could remember, and he was just teeing up for the sixteenth at Muirfield, after playing Hoylake, St. Andrew’s, Westward Ho, Hanger Hill, Mid-Surrey, Walton Heath, Garden City, and the Engineer’s Club at Roslyn, L. I., when the light ceased to shine through the crack under the door, and he awoke with a sense of dull incredulity to the realization that the occupants of the drawing-room had called it a day, and that his vigil was over.
But was it? Once more alert, Sam became cautious. True, the light seemed to be off, but did that mean anything in a country house where people had the habit of going and strolling about the garden at all hours? Probably, they were still popping about all over the place. At any rate, it was not worth risking coming out of his lair. He remembered that Webster had promised to come and knock an all-clear signal on the door. It would be safer to wait for that. So he settled himself again.
But the moments went by, and there was no knock. Sam began to grow impatient. The last few minutes of waiting in a cupboard are always the hardest. Time seemed to stretch out again interminably. Once he thought he heard footsteps, but that led to nothing. Eventually, having strained his ears and found everything still, he decided to take a chance. He fished in his pocket for the key, cautiously unlocked the door, opened it by slow inches, and peered out.
The room was in blackness. The house was still. All was well. With the feeling of a life-prisoner emerging from the Bastille, he began to crawl stiffly forward; and it was just then that the first of the disturbing events occurred which were to make this night memorable to him. Something like a rattlesnake suddenly went off with a whir, and his head, jerking up, collided with the piano. It was only the cuckoo clock, which now, having cleared its throat, as was its custom before striking, proceeded to cuck eleven times in rapid succession before subsiding with another rattle; but to Sam it sounded like the end of the world.
As he sat on the floor, passing a tender hand over the egg-shaped bump which had already begun to manifest itself beneath his hair, something cold and wet touched his face, and paralyzed him so completely both physically and mentally that he did not move a muscle but just congealed where he sat into a solid block of ice. He felt vaguely that this was the end. His heart stopped beating and he simply could not imagine its ever starting again; and, if your heart refuses to beat, what hope is there for you?
At this moment something heavy and solid struck him squarely in the chest, rolling him over. Something gurgled asthmatically in the darkness. Something began to lick his eyes, ears, and chin in a sort of ecstasy; and, clutching out, he found his arms full of totally unexpected bulldog.
“Get out!” whispered Sam tensely, recovering his faculties with a jerk. “Go away!”
Between Smith and the humans who provided him with dog biscuits, and occasionally with sweet cakes, there had always existed a state of misunderstanding which no words could remove. The position of the humans was quite clear: They had elected Smith to his present position on a straight watch-dog ticket. They looked to him to pin burglars by the leg and hold on till the police arrived. Smith simply could not grasp such an attitude of mind. He regarded Windles not as a private house but as a social club, and was utterly unable to see any difference between the human beings he knew and the strangers who dropped in for a late chat after the place was locked up. He had no intention of biting Sam. At the present moment what he felt about Sam was that he was one of the best fellows he had ever met, and that he loved him like a brother.
Sam, in his unnerved state, could not bring himself to share these amiable sentiments. He scrambled stiffly to his feet and tried to pierce the darkness that hemmed him in. He ignored Smith, who snuffled sportively about his ankles, and made for the slightly less black oblong which he took to be the door leading into the hall. He moved warily, but not warily enough to prevent his cannoning into and almost upsetting a small table with a vase on it. The table rocked and the vase jumped, and the first bit of luck that had come to Sam that night was when he reached out at a venture and caught it just as it was about to bound to the carpet.
He stood there, shaking. If he had been an instant later, there would have been a crash loud enough to wake a dozen sleeping houses. This sort of thing could not go on. He must have light. It might be a risk; there might be a chance of somebody up-stairs seeing it and coming down to investigate; but it was a risk that must be taken. He groped his way with infinite care to the door, on the wall adjoining which, he presumed, the electric-light switch would be.
It is odd to reflect that as his searching fingers touched a knob, a delicious feeling of relief came to Samuel Marlowe. This misguided young man actually felt at that moment that his troubles were over. He positively smiled as he placed a thumb on the knob, and shoved.
He shoved strongly and sharply, and instantaneously there leaped at him out of the darkness a blare of music which appeared to his disordered mind quite solid. It seemed to wrap itself round him. It was all over the place. In a single instant the world had become one vast bellow of Tosti’s “Good-by.”
How long he stood there, frozen, he did not know. But, suddenly, drowning even the impromptu concert, there came from somewhere up-stairs the roar of a gun, and, when he heard that, Sam’s rigid limbs relaxed and a violent activity descended upon him. He bounded out into the hall, looking to right and to left for a hiding place. One of the suits of armor which had been familiar to him in his boyhood loomed up in front of him, and with the sight came the recollection of how, when a mere child on his first visit to Windles, playing hide and seek with his cousin Eustace, he had concealed himself inside this very suit. He leaped at it. The helmet was a tight fit, but he managed to get his head into it at last, and the body of the thing was quite roomy.
“Thank heaven!” said Sam.
Smith the bulldog, well satisfied with the way things had happened, sat down, wheezing slightly, to await developments.
HE HAD not long to wait. In a few minutes the hall had filled up nicely: There was Mr. Mortimer in his shirt sleeves, Mr. Bennett in blue pajamas and a dressing gown, Mrs. Hignett in a traveling costume, Jane Hubbard with her elephant gun, and Billie in a dinner dress. Smith welcomed them all impartially.
Somebody lit a lamp, and Mrs. Hignett stared speechlessly at the mob.
“Mr. Bennett! Mr. Mortimer!”
“Mrs. Hignett! What are you doing here?”
Mrs. Hignett drew herself up stiffly.
“What an odd question, Mr. Mortimer! I am in my own house!”
“But you rented it to me for the summer. At least, your son did.”
“Eustace let you Windles for the summer!” said Mrs. Hignett incredulously.
Jane Hubbard returned from the drawing-room, where she had been switching off the orchestrion.
“Let us talk all that over cosily to-morrow,” she said. “The point now is that there are burglars in the house.”
“Burglars!” cried Mr. Bennett, aghast. “I thought it was you playing that infernal instrument, Mortimer.”
“What on earth should I play it for at this time of night?” said Mr. Mortimer irritably.
Jane Hubbard had practically every noble quality which a woman can possess with the exception of patience. A patient woman would have stood by, shrinking from interrupting the dialogue. Jane Hubbard’s robuster course was to raise the elephant gun, point it at the front door, and pull the trigger.
“I thought that would stop you,” she said complacently, as the echoes died away and Mr. Bennett had finished leaping into the air. She inserted a fresh cartridge, and sloped arms. “Now, the question is—”
“You made me bite my tongue!” said Mr. Bennett, deeply aggrieved.
“Serves you right!” said Jane placidly. “Now, the question is, have the fellows got away or are they hiding somewhere in the house? I think they’re still in the house.”
“The police!” exclaimed Mr. Bennett, forgetting his lacerated tongue and his other grievances. “We must summon the police!”
“Shall I go for the police?” said Billie. “I could bring them back in ten minutes in the car.”
“Certainly not!” said Mr. Bennett. “My daughter gadding about all over the countryside in an automobile at this time of night!”
“If you think I ought not to go alone, I could take Bream.”
“Where is Bream?” said Mr. Mortimer.
Jane Hubbard laughed the wholesome, indulgent laugh of one who is broad-minded enough to see the humor of the situation even when the joke is at her expense.
“What a silly girl I am!” she said. “I do believe that was Bream I shot at up-stairs. How foolish of me, making a mistake like that!”
“You shot my only son!” cried Mr. Mortimer.
“I shot at him,” said Jane. “My belief is that I missed him. Though how I came to do it beats me. I don’t suppose I’ve missed a sitter like that since I was a child in the nursery. Of course,” she proceeded, looking on the reasonable side, “the visibility wasn’t good, but it’s no use saying I oughtn’t at least to have winged him, because I ought.” She shook her head with a touch of self-reproach. “I shall be chaffed about this if it comes out,” she said regretfully.
“The poor boy must be in his room,” said Mr. Mortimer.
“Under the bed, if you ask me,” said Jane, blowing on the barrel of her gun and polishing it with the side of her hand.
“Oh, he can’t be!” cried Billie, revolted.
A girl of high spirit, it seemed to her repellant that the man she was engaged to marry should be displaying such a craven spirit. At that moment she despised and hated Bream Mortimer. I think she was wrong, mind you. It is not my place to criticize the little group of people whose simple annals I am relating—my position is merely that of a reporter; but personally I think highly of Bream’s sturdy common sense. If somebody loosed off an elephant gun at me in a dark corridor, I would climb onto the roof, and pull it up after me. Still, rightly or wrongly, that was how Billie felt; and it flashed across her mind that Samuel Marlowe, scoundrel though he was, would not have behaved like this.
“I’ll go and look, if you like,” said Jane agreeably. “You amuse yourselves somehow till I come back.”
She ran easily up the stairs, three at a time. Mr. Mortimer turned to Mr. Bennett.
“It’s all very well your saying Wilhelmina mustn’t go; but, if she doesn’t, how can we get the police? The house isn’t on the ’phone, and nobody else can drive the car.”
“That’s true,” said Mr. Bennett, wavering.
“I’m going,” said Billie resolutely. It occurred to her, as it has occurred to so many women before her, how helpless men are in a crisis.
She stepped firmly to the coat rack, and began to put on her motoring cloak. And just then Jane Hubbard came down-stairs, shepherding before her a pale and glassy-eyed Bream.
Billie cast a scornful look at her fiancé. Absolutely unjustified, in my opinion, yet, nevertheless, she cast it. But it had no effect at all. Terror had stunned Bream Mortimer’s perceptions.
“Bream,” said Billie, “I want you to come with me to fetch the police.”
“All right,” said Bream.
“Get your coat.”
“All right,” said Bream.
He followed Billie in a docile manner out through the front door, and they made their way to the garage at the back of the house, both silent. The only difference between their respective silences was that Billie’s was thoughtful, while Bream’s was just the silence of a man who has unhitched his brain and is getting along as well as he can without it.
In the hall they had left, Jane Hubbard once more took command of affairs.
“The first thing to do,” she said, “is to go through the ground-floor rooms.”
“What!” said Jane.
“ I didn’t speak,” said Mr. Mortimer.
“Do you feel a draft, Mr. Bennett?” cried Jane sharply, wheeling round on him.
“There is a draft,” began Mr. Bennett.
“Well, finish sneezing, and I’ll go on.”
“I didn’t sneeze!”
“It seemed to come from just behind you,” said Mrs. Hignett nervously.
“It couldn’t have come from just behind me,” said Jane, “because there isn’t anything behind me from which it could have—” She stopped suddenly, in her eyes the light of understanding, on her face the set expression which was wont to come to it on the eve of action. “Oh!” she said in a different voice, a voice which was cold and tense and sinister. “Oh, I see!” She raised her gun, and placed a muscular forefinger on the trigger. “Come out of that!” she said. “Come out of that suit of armor and let’s have a look at you!”
“I can explain everything,” said a muffled voice through the vizor of the helmet. “I can—achoo.”
“I shall count three,” said Jane Hubbard, “One—two—”
“I can’t get this dashed helmet off!” said Sam petulantly.
“If you don’t hurry, I’ll blow it off.”
Sam stepped out into the hall, a picturesque figure which combined the costumes of two widely separated centuries. Modern as far as the neck, he slipped back at that point to the Middle Ages.
“Hands up!” commanded Jane Hubbard.
“My hands are up!” retorted Sam querulously, as he wrenched at his unbecoming headgear.
“Never mind trying to raise your hat,” said Jane. “If you’ve lost the combination, we’ll dispense with the formalities. What we’re anxious to hear is what you’re doing in the house at this time of night, and who your pals are. Come along, my lad, make a clean breast of it, and perhaps you’ll get off easier.”
“My name is Marlowe. . . . Samuel Marlowe.”
An explosive roar burst from Mr. Bennett:
“The scoundrel! I know him! I forbade him the house, and—”
“And by what right did you forbid people my house, Mr. Bennett?” said Mrs. Hignett with acerbity.
“I’ve rented the house; Mortimer and I rented it from your son!”
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Jane Hubbard. “Never mind about that.”
“Are you my nephew Samuel?” said Mrs. Hignett.
“Yes,” said Sam.
“Well, what are you doing in my house?”
“It’s my house,” said Mr. Bennett, “for the summer, Henry Mortimer’s and mine. Isn’t that right, Henry?”
“Dead right,” said Mr. Mortimer.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes!” interrupted Jane. “You can thresh all that out some other time. The point is, if this fellow is your nephew, I don’t see what we can do. We’ll have to let him go.”
“I came to this house,” said Sam, “to make a social call. . . .”
“At this hour of the night!” snapped Mrs. Hignett. “You always were an inconsiderate boy, Samuel.”
“I came to inquire after poor Eustace’s ankle. I’ve only just heard that the poor chap was ill.”
“He’s getting along quite well,” said Jane, melting. “If I had known you were so fond of Eustace . . . Eustace and I are engaged, you know!”
“No, really? I hope you’ll be very happy.”
“Thank you ever so much, Mr. Marlowe. I’m sure we shall.”
“All this,” interrupted Mrs. Hignett, who had been a chafing auditor of this interchange of courtesies, “is beside the point. Why did you dance in the hall, Samuel, and play the orchestrion?”
“Don’t ballyrag the poor man,” said Jane Hubbard. “Be human! Lend him a can-opener!”
“I shall do nothing of the sort,” said Mrs. Hignett. “I never liked him, and I dislike him now. He has got himself into this trouble through his own wrong-headedness.”
“It’s not his fault his head’s the wrong size,” said Jane.
“He must get himself out as best he can,” said Mrs. Hignett.
“Very well,” said Sam with bitter dignity. “Then I will not trespass further on your hospitality, Aunt Adeline. I have no doubt the local blacksmith will be able to get this darned thing off me. I shall go to him now. I will let you have the helmet back by parcel post at the earliest possible opportunity. Good night!” He walked coldly to the front door. “And there are people,” he remarked sardonically, “who say that blood is thicker than water! I’ll bet they never had any aunts!”
BILLIE, meanwhile, with Bream trotting docilely at her heels, had reached the garage and started the car. Like all cars which have been spending a considerable time in secluded inaction, it did not start readily. At each application of Billie’s foot on the self-starter, it emitted a tinny and reproachful sound, and then seemed to go to sleep again. Eventually, however, the engine began to revolve and the machine moved reluctantly out into the drive.
“The battery must be run down,” said Billie.
“All right,” said Bream.
Billie cast a glance of contempt at him out of the comers of her eyes. She hardly knew why she had spoken to him, except that, as all automobilists are aware, the impulse to say rude things about their battery is almost irresistible.
Billie switched on the headlights and turned the car down the dark drive. She was feeling thoroughly upset. Her idealistic nature had received a painful shock on the discovery of the yellow streak in Bream. That she, Wilhelmina Bennett, who had gone through the world seeking a Galahad, should finish her career as the wife of a man who hid under beds simply because people shot at him with elephant guns was abhorrent to her. Why, Samuel Marlowe would have perished rather than do such a thing! You might say what you liked about Samuel Marlowe—and, of course, his habit of playing practical jokes put him beyond the pale—but nobody could question his courage.
There are only a few makes of car in which you can think hard about anything except the actual driving without stalling the engine, and Mr. Bennett’s Twin-Six Complex was not one of them. It stopped as if it had been waiting for the signal. The noise of the engine died away. The wheels ceased to revolve. The automobile did everything except lie down.
Billie trod on the self-starter. Nothing happened.
“You’ll have to get down and crank her,” she said curtly.
“All right,” said Bream.
“Well, go on,” said Billie impatiently.
Bream emerged for an instant from his trance. “All right,” he said.
The art of cranking a car is one that is not given to all men.
“Here, let me do it,” cried Billie.
She jumped down and snatched the thingummy from his hand. With bent brows and set teeth she wrenched it round. The engine gave a faint protesting mutter, like a dog that has been disturbed in its sleep, and was still once more.
“May I help?”
It was not Bream who spoke but a strange voice—a sepulchral voice, the sort of voice someone would have used in one of Edgar Allen Poe’s cheerful little tales if he had been buried alive and were speaking from the family vault. Coming suddenly out of the night it affected Bream painfully. He uttered a sharp exclamation and gave a bound which, if he had been a Russian dancer, would probably have caused the management to raise his salary.
Billie, on the other hand, was pleased.
“Oh, would you mind? Thank you so much. The self-starter has gone wrong.”
Into the glare of the headlights there stepped a strange figure, strange, that is to say, in these tame modern times. In the Middle Ages he would have excited no comment at all. But in the present age it is always somewhat startling to see a helmeted head pop up in front of your automobile. At any rate, it startled Bream. With a single catlike screech which took years off the lives of the abruptly wakened birds roosting in the neighborhood trees, he dashed away toward the house and, reaching his room, locked the door and pushed the bed, the chest of drawers, two chairs, the towel stand, and three pairs of boots against it. Only then did he feel comparatively safe.
Out on the drive Billie was staring at the man in armor who had now, with a masterful wrench which informed the car right away that he would stand no nonsense, set the engine going again.
“Why—why,” she stammered, “why are you wearing that thing on your head?”
“Because I can’t get it off.”
Hollow as the voice was, Billie recognized it.
“S— Mr. Marlowe!” she exclaimed.
“Get in,” said Sam. He had seated himself at the steering wheel. “Where can I take you?”
“Go away!” said Billie.
Sam bent over the side of the car, put his hands under her arms, lifted her like a kitten and deposited her on the seat beside him. Then, throwing in the clutch, he drove at an ever-increasing speed down the drive and out into the silent road.
“PUT me down,” said Billie.
“You’d get hurt if I did, traveling at this pace.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Drive about till you promise to marry me.”
“You’ll have to drive a long time.”
“Right-ho!” said Sam.
The car took a corner and purred down a lane. Billie reached out a hand and grabbed at the steering wheel.
“Of course, if you want to smash up in a ditch!” said Sam, righting the car with a wrench.
“You’re a brute!” said Billie. “I’m not going to talk to you.”
“All right. Lean back and doze off. We’ve the whole night before us.”
“What do you mean?” cried Billie, sitting up with a jerk.
“Have you ever been to Scotland?”
“What do you mean?”
“I thought we might push up there. We’ve got to go somewhere, and, oddly enough, I’ve never been to Scotland.”
Billie regarded him blankly.
“Are you crazy?”
“I’m crazy about you. If you knew what I’ve gone through to-night for your sake, you’d be more sympathetic. I love you,” said Sam, swerving to avoid a rabbit. “And, what’s more, you know it.”
“I don’t care.”
“You will!” said Sam confidently. “How about North Wales? I’ve heard people speak well of North Wales. Shall we head for North Wales?”
“I’m engaged to Bream Mortimer.”
“Oh, no, that’s all off,” Sam assured her. “You could never bring yourself to marry a man who dashed away like that and deserted you in your hour of need. Why, for all he knew, I might have tried to murder you. And he ran away! No, no, we eliminate Bream Mortimer once and for all. He won’t do!”
This was so exactly what Billie was feeling herself that she could not bring herself to dispute it.
“Anyway, I hate you!” she said, giving the conversation another turn.
“Why? In the name of goodness, why?”
“How dared you make a fool of me in your father’s office that morning?”
“It was a sudden inspiration. I had to do something to make you think well of me, and I thought it might meet the case if I saved you from a lunatic with a pistol. It wasn’t my fault that you found out.”
“I shall never forgive you!”
“Well, I hope you’re fond of motoring,” said Sam, “because we’re going on till you do.”
“Very well! Go on, then!”
“I intend to. Of course, it’s all right now while it’s dark. But have you considered what is going to happen when the sun gets up? We shall have a sort of triumphal procession. How the small boys will laugh when they see a man in a helmet go by in a car! I know what we’ll do! We’ll go to London and drive up and down Piccadilly! That will be fun!”
There was a long silence. Billie was looking before her down the hedge-bordered road. Always a girl of sudden impulse, she had just made a curious discovery, to wit, that she was enjoying herself. There was something so novel and exhilarating about this midnight ride that imperceptibly her dismay and resentment had ebbed away. She found herself struggling with a desire to laugh.
“Why are you wearing that thing?”
“I told you. Purely and simply because I can’t get it off.”
“But why did you ever put it on?”
“Well, it was this way: After I came out of the cupboard in the drawing-room. . . .”
“Didn’t I tell you about that? Oh, yes, I was sitting in the cupboard in the drawing-room from dinner time onward. After that I came out and started cannoning about among Aunt Adeline’s china, so I thought I’d better switch the light on. Unfortunately, I switched on some sort of musical instrument, instead. And then somebody started shooting. So, what with one thing and another, I thought it would be best to hide somewhere. I hid in one of the suits of armor in the hall.”
“Were you inside there all the time we were—?”
“Yes. I say, that was funny about Bream, wasn’t it? Getting under the bed, I mean.”
“Don’t let’s talk about Bream.”
“That’s the right spirit! I like to see it! All right, we won’t. Let’s get back to the main issue. Will you marry me?”
“But why did you come to the house at all?”
Sam was a little perplexed for a moment. Something told him that it would be injudicious to reveal his true motive and thereby risk disturbing the harmony which he felt had begun to exist between them. “To be near you! To be in the same house with you!” he said vehemently, feeling that he had struck the right note. “You don’t know the anguish I went through after I read that letter of yours. I was mad! I was— Well, to return to the point, will you marry me?”
Billie sat looking straight before her. The car, now on the main road, moved smoothly on.
“Will you marry me?” said Sam. “Will you marry me? Will you marry me?”
“Oh, don’t talk like a parrot,” cried Billie. “It reminds me of Bream.”
“But will you?”
“Yes,” said Billie.
Sam brought the car to a standstill with a jerk, which was probably very bad for the tires.
“Darling!” said Sam, leaning toward her. “Oh, curse this helmet!”
“Well, I rather wanted to kiss you, and it hampers me.”
“Let me try and get it off. Bend down!”
“Ouch!” said Sam.
“It’s coming. There! How helpless men are!”
“We need a woman’s tender care,” said Sam depositing the helmet on the floor of the car and rubbing his smarting ears.
“You’re rather a darling, after all,” said Billie. “But you want keeping in order,” she added severely.
“You will do that when we’re married. When we’re married!” he repeated luxuriously. “How splendid it sounds!”
“The only trouble is,” said Billie, “Father won’t hear of it.”
“No, he won’t. Not till it is all over,” said Sam.
He started the car again.
“What are you going to do?” said Billie. “Where are you going?”
“To London,” said Sam. “It may be news to you, but an old lawyer like myself knows that, by going to Doctors’ Commons or the Court of Arches or somewhere, or by routing the Archbishop of Canterbury out of bed or something, you can get a special license and be married almost before you know where you are. My scheme—roughly—is to dig this special license out of whoever keeps such things, have a bit of breakfast, and then get married at our leisure before lunch at a registrar’s.”
“Oh, not a registrar’s!” said Billie.
“Very well, angel. Just as you say. We’ll go to a church. There are millions of churches in London. I’ve seen them all over the place.” He mused for a moment. “Yes, you’re quite right,” he said. “A church is the thing. It’ll please Webster.”
“Yes, he’s rather keen on the church bells never having rung out so blithe a peal before. And we must consider Webster’s feelings. After all, he brought us together.”
“Oh, I’ll tell you all about that some other time,” said Sam. “Are you comfortable? Fine! Then off we go.”
The birds in the trees fringing the road stirred and twittered grumpily as the noise of the engine disturbed their slumbers. But, if they had known it, they were in luck. At any rate, the worst had not befallen them, for Sam was too happy to sing.
Printer’s error corrected above:
Magazine had “At this point many, indeed most, women, having had a tiring jorney”