Tit-Bits, September 10, 1910
CHAPTER XXIX. (continued).
“Locked him in the cellar, did you?” said Jimmy. “Well, well, I dare say he’s very happy there. He’s probably busy detecting black-beetles. Still, perhaps you had better go and let him out. Possibly if you were to apologize to him—— Eh? Just as you think—I only suggest. If you want somebody to vouch for Mr. McEachern’s non-burglariousness, I can do it. He is a gentleman of private means, and we knew each other out in New York.”
“I never thought——”
“That,” said Jimmy, with sympathetic friendliness, “if you will allow me to say so, is the cardinal mistake you detectives make. You never do think.”
“It never occurred to me——”
He looked uneasily at Mr. McEachern. There were indications in the policeman’s general demeanour that the moment following release would be devoted exclusively to a carnival of violence, with a certain sleuth-hound playing a prominent rôle.
He took the key of the handcuffs from his pocket and toyed with it. Mr. McEachern emitted a low growl. It was enough.
“If you wouldn’t mind, Mr. Pitt,” said the detective, obsequiously. He thrust the key into Jimmy’s hands and fled.
Jimmy unlocked the handcuffs. Mr. McEachern rubbed his wrists.
“Ingenious little things,” said Jimmy.
“I’m much obliged to you,” growled Mr. McEachern, without looking up.
“Not at all. A pleasure. This circumstantial evidence business is the deuce, isn’t it? I knew a man who broke into a house in New York to win a bet, and to this day the owner of that house thinks him a professional burglar.”
“What’s that?” said Mr. McEachern, sharply.
“Why do I say ‘a man’? Why am I so elusive and mysterious? You’re quite right. It sounds more dramatic; but, after all, what you want is facts. Very well. I broke into your house that night to win a bet. That’s the limpid truth.”
McEachern was staring at him. Jimmy proceeded.
“You are just about to ask—what was Spike Mullins doing with me? Well, Spike had broken into my flat an hour before, and I took him along with me as a sort of guide, philosopher, and friend.”
“Spike Mullins said you were a burglar from England.”
“I’m afraid I rather led him to think so. I had been to see the opening performance of a burglar-play called ‘Love, the Cracksman,’ that night, and I worked off on Spike some severely technical information I had received from a pal of mine who played lead in the show. I told you when I came in that I had been talking to Lord Dreever. Well, what he was saying to me was that he had met this very actor man, a fellow called Mifflin—Arthur Mifflin—in London just before he met me. He’s in London now, rehearsing for a show that’s come over from America. You see the importance of this item? It means that if you doubt my story all you need do is to find Mifflin—I forget what theatre his play is coming on at, but you could find out in a second—and ask him to corroborate. Are you satisfied?”
McEachern did not answer. An hour before he would have fought to the last ditch for his belief in Jimmy’s crookedness, but the events of the last ten minutes had shaken him. He could not forget that it was Jimmy who had extricated him from a very uncomfortable position. He saw now that that position was not so bad as it had seemed at the time, for the establishing of the innocence of Mr. Galer could have been effected on the morrow by an exchange of telegrams between the castle and Dodson’s Private Inquiry Agency; but it had certainly been bad enough. But for Jimmy there would have been several hours of acute embarrassment, if nothing worse. He felt something of a reaction in Jimmy’s favour.
But it is hard to overcome a deep-rooted prejudice in an instant. He looked at him doubtfully.
“Look here, Mr. McEachern,” said Jimmy, “I wish you would listen quietly to me for a minute or two. There’s really no reason on earth why we should be at one another’s throats in this way. We might just as well be friends. Let’s shake hands and call the fight off. I suppose you know why I came in here to see you?”
McEachern did not speak.
“You know that your daughter has broken off her engagement to Lord Dreever?”
“Then he was right!” said McEachern, half to himself. “It is you?”
Jimmy nodded. McEachern drummed his fingers on the table and stared thoughtfully at him.
“Is Molly——?” he said, at length. “Does Molly——?”
“Yes,” said Jimmy.
McEachern continued his drumming.
“Don’t think there’s been anything underhand about this,” said Jimmy. “She absolutely refused to do anything unless you gave your consent. She said you had been partners all her life, and she was going to do the square thing by you.”
“She did?” said McEachern, eagerly.
“I think you ought to do the square thing by her. I’m not much, but she wants me. Do the square thing by her.”
He stretched out his hand, but he saw that the other did not notice the movement. McEachern was staring straight in front of him. There was a look in his eyes which Jimmy had never seen there before—a frightened, hunted look. The rugged aggressiveness of his mouth and chin showed up in strange contrast. The knuckles of his clenched fists were white.
“It’s too late,” he burst out. “I’ll be square with her now, but it’s too late. I won’t stand in her way when I can make her happy. But I’ll lose her! Oh, yes, I’ll lose her!”
He gripped the edge of the table.
“Did you think I had never said to myself,” he went on, “the things you said to me that day when we met here? Did you think I didn’t know what I was? Who should know it better than myself? But she didn’t. I’d kept it from her. I’d sweat for fear she would find out some day. When I came over here I thought I was safe. And then you came, and I saw you together. I thought you were a crook. You were with Mullins in New York. I told her you were a crook.”
“You told her that?”
“I said I knew it. I couldn’t tell her the truth why I thought so. I said I had made inquiries in New York and found out about you.”
Jimmy saw now. The mystery was solved. So that was why Molly had allowed them to force her into the engagement with Dreever. For a moment a rush of anger filled him; but he looked at McEachern, and it died away. He could not be vindictive now. It would be like hitting a beaten man. He saw things suddenly from the other’s point of view, and he pitied him.
“I see,” he said, slowly.
McEachern gripped the table in silence.
“I see,” said Jimmy again. “You mean she’ll want an explanation.”
He thought for a moment.
“You must tell her,” he said, quickly. “For your own sake you must tell her. Go and do it now. Wake up, man!” He shook him by the shoulder. “Go and do it now. She’ll forgive you. Don’t be afraid of that. Go and look for her and tell her now.”
McEachern roused himself.
“I will,” he said.
“It’s the only way,” said Jimmy.
McEachern opened the door, then fell back a pace. Jimmy could hear voices in the passage outside. He recognized Lord Dreever’s.
McEachern continued to back away from the door.
Lord Dreever entered, with Molly on his arm.
“Halloa!” said his lordship, looking round. “Halloa, Pitt! Here we all are; what?”
“Lord Dreever wanted to smoke,” said Molly.
She smiled, but there was anxiety in her eyes. She looked quickly at her father and at Jimmy.
“Molly, my dear,” said McEachern, huskily, “I want to speak to you for a moment.”
Jimmy took his lordship by the arm.
“Come along, Dreever,” he said. “You can come and sit out with me. We’ll go and smoke on the terrace.”
They left the room together.
“What does the old boy want?” inquired his lordship. “Are you and Miss McEachern——?”
“We are,” said Jimmy.
“By Jove, I say, old chap! Million congratulations and all that sort of rot, you know!”
“Thanks,” said Jimmy. “Have a cigarette?”
* * * * *
His lordship had to resume his duties in the ballroom after awhile; but Jimmy sat on, smoking and thinking. The night was very still. Now and then a sparrow would rustle in the ivy on the castle wall, and somewhere in the distance a dog was barking. The music had begun again in the ballroom. It sounded faint and thin where he sat.
In the general stillness the opening of the door at the top of the steps came sharply to his ears. He looked up. Two figures were silhouetted for a moment against the light, and then the door closed again. They began to move slowly down the steps.
Jimmy had recognized them. He got up. He was in the shadow. They could not see him. They began to walk down the terrace. They were quite close now. Neither was speaking, but presently, when they were but a few feet away, they stopped. There was the sputter of a match, and McEachern lit a cigar. In the yellow light his face was clearly visible. Jimmy looked, and was content.
He edged softly towards the shrubbery at the end of the terrace, and, entering it without a sound, began to make his way back to the house.
The American liner St. Louis lay in the Empress Dock at Southampton, taking aboard her passengers. All sorts and conditions of men flowed in an unceasing stream up the gangway.
Leaning over the second-class railing, Jimmy Pitt and Spike Mullins watched them thoughtfully.
Jimmy looked up at the Blue Peter that fluttered from the fore-mast and then at Spike. The Bowery boy’s face was stolid and expressionless. He was smoking a short wooden pipe with an air of detachment.
“Well, Spike,” said Jimmy, “your schooner’s on the tide now, isn’t it? Your vessel’s at the quay. You’ve got some queer-looking fellow-travellers. Don’t miss the two Cingalese sports and the man in the turban and the baggy breeches. I wonder if they’re air-tight? Useful if he fell overboard.”
“Sure,” said Spike, directing a contemplative eye towards the garment in question. “He knows his business.”
“I wonder what those men on the deck are writing? They’ve been scribbling away ever since we came here. Probably society journalists. We shall see in next week’s papers, ‘Among the second-class passengers we noticed Mr. “Spike” Mullins, looking as cheery as ever.’ It’s a pity you’re so set on going, Spike. Why not change your mind and stop?”
For a moment Spike looked wistful. Then his countenance resumed its woodenness. “Dere ain’t no use for me dis side, boss,” he said. “New York’s de spot. Youse don’t want none of me now you’re married. How’s Miss Molly, boss?”
“Splendid, Spike, thanks. We’re going over to France by to-night’s boat.
“It’s been a queer business,” said Jimmy, after a pause. “A deuced queer business. Still, I’ve come very well out of it, at any rate. It seems to me that you’re the only one of us who doesn’t end happily, Spike. I’m married. McEachern’s butted into society so deep that it would take an excavating party with dynamite to get him out of it. Molly—well, Molly’s made a bad bargain, but I hope she won’t regret it. We’re all going some, except you. You’re going out on the old trail again—which begins in Third Avenue and ends in Sing Sing. Why tear yourself away, Spike?”
Spike concentrated his gaze on a weedy young emigrant in a blue jersey, who was having his eye examined by the overworked doctor and seemed to be resenting it.
“Dere’s nuttin’ doin’ dis side, boss,” he said at length. “I want to get busy.”
“Ulysses Mullins!” said Jimmy, looking at him curiously. “I know the feeling. There’s only one cure. I sketched it out for you once, but I doubt if you’ll ever take it. You don’t think a lot of women, do you? You’re the rugged bachelor.”
“Goils——!” began Spike, comprehensively, and abandoned the topic without dilating on it further.
Jimmy lit his pipe and threw the match overboard.
The sun came out from behind a cloud and the water sparkled.
“Dose were great jools, boss,” said Spike, thoughtfully.
“I believe you’re still brooding over them, Spike.”
“We could have got away wit dem, if you’d have stood for it. Dead easy.”
“You are brooding over them. Spike, I’ll tell you something which will console you a little before you start out on your wanderings. It’s in confidence, so keep it dark. That necklace was paste.”
“Nothing but paste. I spotted it directly you handed them to me. They weren’t worth a hundred dollars.”
A light of understanding came into Spike’s eyes. His face beamed with the smile of one to whom dark matters are made clear.
“So dat’s why you wouldn’t stand for gettin’ away wit dem!” he exclaimed.
* * * * *
The last voyager had embarked. The deck was full to congestion.
“They’ll be sending us ashore in a minute,” said Jimmy. “I’d better be moving. Let me know how you’re getting on, Spike, from time to time. You know the address. And, I say, it’s just possible you may find you want a dollar or two every now and then. When you’re going to buy another aeroplane, for instance. Well, you know where to write for it, don’t you?”
“T’anks, boss. But dat’ll be all right. I’m goin’ to sit in at anodder game dis time. Politics, boss. A fr’en’ of a mug what I knows has gotten a pull. He’ll find me a job.”
“Politics!” said Jimmy. “I never thought of that. ‘My brother Dan is an alderman with a grip on the Seventh Ward!’ ” he quoted, softly. “Why, you’ll be a boss before you know where you are.”
“Sure,” said Spike, grinning modestly.
“You ought to be a thundering success in American politics,” said Jimmy. “You’ve got all the necessary qualities.”
A steward passed.
“Any more for the shore?”
“Well, Spike——” said Jimmy.
“Good-bye,” said Jimmy. “And good luck.”
* * * * *
Two tugs attached themselves excitedly to the liner’s side. The great ship began to move slowly from the shore. Jimmy stood at the waterside, watching. The rails were lined with gesticulating figures. In the front row Spike waved his hat with silent vigour.
The sun had gone behind the clouds. As the ship slid out on its way a stray beam pierced the greyness.
It shone on a red head.
guide, philosopher, and friend: Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man (IV, 390):
Thou wert my guide, philosopher, and friend.
Blue Peter: A maritime signal flag, with a white square centered on a blue ground; it signals the letter P in the maritime alphabet, and when raised alone in harbor, signals that a ship is ready to sail and that all passengers and crew should board.
Cingalese: archaic spelling for the native population of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
—Notes by Neil Midkiff