Liberty, November 20, 1926
THE solid outlines of United Beef shimmered uncertainly before Mr. Waddington’s horrified eyes.
“Oil?” he gurgled.
“Yes, sir; oil. What looks like turning out the biggest gusher in the Southwest.”
“But—but—do you mean to say that the shares are really worth something?”
“Only millions, that’s all. Merely millions. It’s a pity you didn’t buy some.”
“When did you hear this?”
“Just before I started out from the house this morning.”
“Do you think anybody else knows it?”
“Everybody down-town, I should say.”
“But listen,” said Mr. Waddington urgently. “Say, listen!” He clung to the caviar-maddened man’s sleeve with a desperate grip. “What I’m getting at is, I know a guy—nothing to do with business—who has a block of that stock. Do you think there’s any chance of him not having heard about this?”
“QUITE likely. But, if you’re thinking of getting it off him, you’d better hurry. The story’s probably in the evening papers by now.”
The words acted on Sigsbee H. Waddington like an electric shock. He released the other’s sleeve, and United Beef shot off toward the refreshment table like a homing pigeon.
Mr. Waddington felt in his hip pocket to make sure that he still possessed the $300 which he had hoped that day to hand over to Fanny Welch, and bounded out of the room, out of the house, and out of the front gate; and, after bounding along the broad highway to the station, leaped into a train which might have been meeting him there by appointment.
Never before had Sigsbee H. Waddington caught a train so expeditiously; and the fact seemed to him a happy omen. He looked forward with a cheery confidence to the interview with that policeman fellow to whom he had—in a moment of mistaken generosity—parted with his precious stock. The policeman had seemed a simple sort of soul, just the sort of man with whom it is so nice to do business.
Mr. Waddington began to rehearse the opening speeches of the interview.
“Say, listen,” he would say. “Say, listen, my dear——”
He sat up in his seat with a jerk. He had completely forgotten the policeman’s name.
* * *
SEVERAL hours later, when the stars had begun to peep out and the birds were rustling sleepily in the trees, a solitary figure might have been observed moving slowly up the drive toward the front door of the Waddington summer residence at Hempstead, Long Island. It was Sigsbee H. returning from his travels.
He walked apprehensively, like a cat that expects a half-brick.
On other occasions, while serving his second sentence as a married man, he had done things of which his wife had disapproved—and of which she had expressed her disapproval in a manner that was frank and unrestrained. But never before had he committed such a domestic crime as the one beneath the burden of which he was staggering now.
He had actually absented himself from the wedding of his only child, after having been specifically instructed to give her away at the altar; and if, on a theme like this, his wife did not extend herself in a fashion calculated to stagger humanity—well, all Sigsbee H. could say was that past form meant nothing and could be ruled out as a guide completely.
He sighed drearily. He felt depressed and battered, in no mood to listen to home truths about himself. All he wanted was to be alone on a sofa, with his shoes off and something to drink at his elbow. For he had had a trying time in the great city.
Sigsbee H. Waddington, as has perhaps been sufficiently indicated in this narrative, was not a man who could think deeply without getting a headache; but even at the expense of an aching head he had been compelled to do some very deep thinking as he journeyed to New York in the train. From somewhere in the muddy depths of his subconsciousness, it was imperative that he should bring to the surface the name of the policeman to whom he had sold that stock. He started the dredging operations immediately, and by the time the train had reached the Pennsylvania Station had succeeded in narrowing the search down to this extent—that he felt sure the man was called either Mulcahy or Garrity.
Now, a man who goes about New York looking for a policeman named Mulcahy has quite an afternoon’s work in hand. So has the man who seeks a Garrity. For one who pursues both there is not a dull moment. Flitting hither and thither about the city and questioning the various officers he encountered, Sigsbee H. Waddington soon began to cover ground.
The policeman on point duty at Times Square said that there was a Mulcahy up near Grant’s Tomb and a choice of Garritys at Columbus Circle and Irving Place. The Grant’s Tomb Mulcahy, expressing regret that he could not himself supply the happy ending, recommended the Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street Mulcahy or—alternately—the one down on Third Avenue and Sixteenth. The Garrity at Columbus Circle spoke highly of a Garrity near the Battery, and the Garrity at Irving Place seemed to think his cousin up in the Bronx might fill the long-felt want.
By the time the clocks were striking five, Mr. Waddington had come definitely to the decision that what the world wanted to make it a place fit for heroes to live in was fewer and better Mulcahys.
At five-thirty, returning home from the Bronx, he would have supported any amendment to the Constitution that Congress might have cared to introduce totally prohibiting Garritys.
At six sharp he became suddenly convinced that the name of the man he sought was Murphy.
HE was passing through Madison Square at the moment, having just flushed Fourteenth Street for another Mulcahy; and so deeply did this new idea affect him that he tottered to one of the benches and, sitting down, groaned heavily. It was the breaking-point. Mr. Waddington decided to give it up and go home. His head was aching, his feet were aching, and the small of his back was aching. The first fine, careless rapture with which he had started his quest had ebbed away to nothing. He limped to the Pennsylvania Station and took the next train home, and here he was, approaching journey’s end.
The house, as he drew near, seemed very silent. And, of course, it had every right to be. Long since, the wedding must have taken place and the happy pair departed on their honeymoon. Long since, the last guest must have left. And now, beneath that quiet roof, there remained only Mrs. Waddington, no doubt trying out blistering phrases in the seclusion of her boudoir—here discarding an incandescent adjective in favor of a still zippier one that had just suggested itself; there realizing that the noun worm was too mild and searching in Roget’s Thesaurus for something more expressive.
MR. WADDINGTON paused on the step, half inclined to make for the solitude of the tool shed.
Manlier counsels prevailed. In the tool shed there would be nothing to drink, and, cost what it might, a drink was what his suffering soul demanded. He crossed the threshold, and leaped nimbly as a dark figure suddenly emerged from the telephone booth.
“Oosh!” said Mr. Waddington.
“Sir?” said the figure.
Mr. Waddington felt relieved. It was not his wife. It was Ferris. And Ferris was the one person he particularly wanted at that moment to meet; for Ferris could most expeditiously bring him something to drink.
“Sh!” he whispered. “Anyone about?”
“Where is Mrs. Waddington?”
“In her boudoir, sir.”
Sigsbee H. had expected as much.
“Anyone in the library?”
“Then bring me a drink in there, Ferris. And don’t tell anybody you’ve seen me.”
“Very good, sir.”
Mr. Waddington shambled to the library and flung himself down on the chesterfield. Delicious, restful moments passed, and then a musical tinkling made itself heard without. Ferris entered with a tray.
“You omitted to give me definite instructions, sir,” said the butler; “so, acting on my own initiative, I have brought the whisky decanter and some charged water.”
He spoke coldly, for he disapproved of Mr. Waddington. But the latter was in no frame of mind to analyze the verbal nuances of butlers.
He clutched at the decanter, his eyes moist with gratitude.
“Splendid fellow, Ferris!”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re the sort of fellow who ought to be out West, where men are men.”
The butler twitched a frosty eyebrow.
“Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes. But don’t go, Ferris. Tell me about everything.”
“On what particular point did you desire information, sir?”
“TELL me about the wedding. I wasn’t able to be present. I had most important business in New York, Ferris. So I wasn’t able to be present. Because I had most important business in New York.”
“Most important business. Impossible to neglect it. Did the wedding go off all right?”
“Not altogether, sir.”
“What do you mean?”
“There has been no wedding, sir.”
Mr. Waddington sat up. The butler appeared to be babbling. And the one moment when a man does not want to mix with babbling butlers is immediately after he has returned home from a search through New York for a policeman named Mulcahy or Garrity.
“At the last moment a hitch occurred, sir.”
“Don’t tell me the new clergyman sprained his ankle too?”
“No, sir. The hitch to which I allude was caused by a young woman who, claiming to be an old friend of the bridegroom, entered the room where the guests were assembled and created some little disturbance, sir.”
Mr. Waddington’s eyes bulged.
“Tell me about this,” he said.
The butler fixed a fathomless gaze on the wall beyond him.
“I was not actually present at the scene myself, sir. But one of the lower servants, who chanced to be glancing in at the door, has apprised me of the details of the occurrence.
“IT appears that, just as the wedding party was about to start off for the church, a young woman suddenly made her way through the French windows opening on to the lawn, and, pausing in the entrance, observed: ‘George! George! Why did you desert me? You don’t belong to that girl there. You belong to me—the woman you have wronged!’ Addressing Mr. Finch, I gather.”
Mr. Waddington’s eyes were now protruding to such a dangerous extent that a sharp jerk would have caused them to drop off.
“Sweet suffering soup spoons! What happened then?”
“There was considerable uproar and confusion, so my informant tells me. The bridegroom was noticeably taken aback, and protested with some urgency that it was all a mistake. To which Mrs. Waddington replied that it was just what she had foreseen all along. Miss Waddington, I gather, was visibly affected. And the guests experienced no little embarrassment.”
“I don’t blame them.”
“The young woman was pressed for details, but appeared to be in an overwrought and highly emotional condition. She screamed, so my informant tells me, and wrung her hands. She staggered about the room, and, collapsing on the table where the wedding presents had been placed, seemed to swoon. Almost immediately afterward, however, she recovered, and remarking, ‘Air! Air! I want air!’ departed hastily through the French windows. I understand, sir, that nothing was seen of her after that.”
“And what happened then?”
“MRS. WADDINGTON refused to permit the wedding to take place. The guests returned to New York. Mr. Finch, after uttering certain protests which my informant could not hear distinctly, but which appear to have been incoherent and unconvincing, also took his departure. Mrs. Waddington has for some little time past been closeted in the boudoir with Miss Waddington. A very unpleasant affair, sir, and one which could never have occurred at Brangmarley Hall.”
One hates to have to record it, but it is a fact that the first emotion that came to Sigsbee H. Waddington after the waning of his initial amazement was relief. It was not the thought of this broken romance that occupied his mind, nor pity for the poor girl who had played the principal part in the tragedy. The aspect of the matter that touched him most nearly was the fact that he was not in for trouble, after all. His absence had probably escaped notice, and that wifely lecture to which he had been looking forward so apprehensively would never be delivered.
And then, cutting through relief, came a sudden thought that chilled his satisfaction.
“What sort of a girl was it that came in through the window?”
“My informant describes her as small, sir, and of a neat figure. She had a retrousse nose and expressive black eyes, sir.”
“Great Godfrey!” ejaculated Mr. Waddington.
He sprang from the sofa and, despite his aching feet, made good time along the hall. He ran into the dining-room and switched on the light. He darted across the room to the table where the wedding presents lay.
At first glance they seemed to be all there, but a second look showed him that his suspicions had been well founded.
The case containing the necklace was gone.
* * *
ONE of the most sustaining gifts a man can possess is the ability to look upon the bright side of disaster. It was a gift that, until now, Sigsbee H. Waddington had lacked almost entirely; but at this moment, owing perhaps to the fact that he had just introduced into his interior a healing drink of quite exceptional strength, he suddenly found himself discerning with limpid clearness the fact that the elimination of that near-pearl necklace from the scheme of things was, from his point of view, the very best thing that could have happened.
It had not been his intention to allow his young assistant to secure the necklace and convert it to her own uses; but, now that this had happened, what, he asked himself, had he to worry about? The main thing was that the necklace had disappeared. Coming right down to it, that was the consummation at which he had aimed all along.
What it amounted to was that, when all the tumult and the shouting had died, he was $300 in hand, and consequently in a position, if he ever met that policeman again and the policeman had not happened to hear the news that United Beef had told him, to——
At this point in his meditations Mr. Waddington suddenly broke off and uttered a sharp exclamation. For before his eyes, in letters of fire, there seemed to be written the one word:
Sigsbee H. Waddington reeled in his tracks. Gallagher! That was the name. Not Mulcahy. Not Garrity. Not Murphy. Gallagher!
Like many another good man before him, Sigsbee Waddington chafed at the fat-headed imbecility with which memory can behave. Why should memory have presented to his notice futile Mulcahys and Garritys and Murphys when what he had been asking for was Gallagher? Wasting his time!
But it was not too late. If he went straight back to New York now and resumed his quest, all might yet be well. And Fortune had, he perceived, presented him with the most admirable excuse for going straight back to New York. In a crisis like this, with a valuable pearl necklace stolen, it was imperative that a cool-headed, clear-thinking man of the world should take the next train up and place the facts in the possession of Police Headquarters.
“Good enough!” said Mr. Waddington to his immortal soul, and hobbled stiffly but light-heartedly to the boudoir.
Voices reached his ears as he opened the door. They ceased as he entered, and Mrs. Waddington looked up peevishly.
“Where have you been, I should like to know?”
Sigsbee H. was ready for this one.
“I took a long country walk—a very long country walk. I was so shocked, horrified, and surprised by that dreadful scene that the house seemed to stifle me. So I took a long country walk. I have just got back. What a very disturbing thing to happen! Ferris says it could never have occurred at Brangmarley Hall.”
Molly, somewhat red around the eyes and distinctly mutinous around the mouth, spoke for the first time:
“I’m sure there is some explanation.”
“Tchah!” said Mrs. Waddington scornfully.
“I know there is.”
“Then why did not your precious Finch condescend to give it?”
“He was so taken aback.”
“I don’t wonder.”
“I’m sure there was some mistake.”
“There was,” said Mr. Waddington. He patted his daughter’s hand soothingly. “The whole thing was a put-up job.”
“Kindly talk sense, Sigsbee.”
“I am talking sense.”
“What you call sense, perhaps, but not what anyone outside the walls of an institution for the feeble-minded would call sense.”
“IS zat so?” Mr. Waddington put his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat and felt rather conquering. “Well, let me tell you that that girl simply pretended to be what she wasn’t so as to fool you into thinking she wasn’t what she was.”
Mrs. Waddington sighed despairingly.
“Go away, Sigsbee,” she said.
“That’s all right about go away, Sigsbee. I’m telling you that that girl was a crook. She couldn’t get in any other way, so she pulled that discarded stuff. She was after the wedding presents.”
“Then why did she not take them?”
“She did. She took Molly’s pearl necklace.”
“You heard. She took Molly’s pearl necklace.”
“Well, it’s gone.”
Molly had risen with shining eyes.
“I thought as much. So my dear, darling George is innocent, after all.”
Few in this civilized world have ever seen a baffled tigress, but anybody who could have watched Mrs. Waddington’s face at this moment would have gained a very fair knowledge of how baffled tigresses look.
“I don’t believe it,” she said sullenly.
“WELL, the necklace has gone, hasn’t it?” said Sigsbee H. “And you don’t suppose any of the guests took it, do you? Though I wouldn’t put it past that Lord Hunstanton guy. Of course that girl has got it. She fainted on the wedding-present table, didn’t she? She said she wanted air and rushed out, didn’t she? And nobody’s seen her since, have they? If it hadn’t been for going for my long country walk I’d have got on to this hours ago.”
“I’m going straight to New York to see George and tell him,” said Molly, breathing quickly.
“You will do nothing of the kind,” said Mrs. Waddington, rising.
“And I’m going to New York to see the police,” said Sigsbee.
“You are certainly not! I will go to New York, and I will inform the police. You and Molly stay here.”
“I want no further discussion.” Mrs. Waddington pressed the bell. “As for you,” she said, turning to Molly, “do you suppose I am going to allow you to pay nocturnal visits to the apartments of libertines like George Finch?”
“He is not a libertine.”
“Certainly not,” said Sigsbee H. “A very fine young fellow. Comes from Idaho.”
“You know perfectly well,” Molly went on, “that what father has told us absolutely clears George. Why, the girl might just as well have come in and said that father had deserted her.”
“Here!” said Mr. Waddington. “Hi!”
“She only wanted an excuse for getting into the house.”
“It is possible,” said Mrs. Waddington, “that in this instance George Finch is not so blameworthy as I had at first supposed. But that does not alter the fact that he is a man whom any mother with her daughter’s happiness at heart must regard with the deepest suspicion. He is an artist. He has deliberately chosen to live in a quarter of New York which is notorious for its loose thinking and Bohemian ways. And——”
The door opened.
“You rang, madam?”
“Yes, Ferris. Tell Bassett to bring the car round immediately. I am going into New York.”
“Very good, madam.” The butler coughed. “I wonder, madam, if it is not taking a liberty, if I might be permitted to ride on the box seat beside the chauffeur?”
There are occasions in life when to give one’s true reasons for some particular course of action would be tedious. The actual explanation of the butler’s desire to visit the metropolis was that he wished to pay a call upon the editor of that bright and widely read weekly paper, Town Gossip, in order to turn an honest penny by informing him of the sensational scene which had occurred that day in the highest circles.
Almost immediately after the facts of this scandal in high life had been called to his attention, Ferris had started to telephone the Town Gossip offices in order to establish communication, only to be informed that the editor was out of town. At his last attempt, however, a cautious assistant, convinced at length that the butler had something of real interest up his sleeve and was not disposed to reveal it to underlings, had recommended him to call upon L. Lancelot Biffen, the editor in chief, at his private address on the ninth floor of the Sheridan Apartment House, near Washington Square. Mr. Biffen, the assistant thought, would be back for dinner.
ALL this the butler could, of course, have revealed to his employer; but, like so many men of intellect, he disliked long explanations.
“I have just received a communication informing me that a near relative of mine is ill in the city, madam.”
“Oh, very well.”
“Thank you, madam. I will inform Bassett at once.”
“Besides,” said Mrs. Waddington, as the door closed, going on where she had been interrupted, “for all we know, the girl’s story may have been perfectly true, and her theft of the pearls the result of a sudden temptation on the spur of the moment.”
“Well, why not? I suppose she was in need of money. No doubt your Finch callously omitted to provide for her in any way.”
“You’ve got it all wrong,” said Sigsbee H.
“What do you know about it?” said Mrs. Waddington.
“Nothing,” said Sigsbee H. prudently.
“Then kindly refrain from talking nonsense.”
Mrs. Waddington left the room with ponderous dignity, and Sigsbee H., still prudent, closed the door.
“Say, listen, Molly,” he said, “I’ve got to get up to New York right away. I’ve just got to.”
“So have I. I certainly mean to see George tonight. I suppose he has gone back to his apartment.”
“What’ll we do?”
“Directly the car has gone, I’ll run you up in my two-seater.”
“ ’At-a-baby!” said Mr. Waddington fervently. “That’s the way to talk.”
He kissed his daughter fondly.
* * *
MRS. WADDINGTON found the authorities at Police Headquarters charming. It was some little time before they corrected their initial impression that she had come to give herself up to justice for committing a jewel robbery; but, this done, they threw themselves heart and soul into her cause and became extraordinarily helpful.
True, they were forced to admit that the description she gave of the thief conveyed absolutely nothing to them; but, if it had done, they assured her, she would have been amazed at the remorseless speed with which the machinery of the law would have been set working.
If, for instance, the girl had been tall and thin with shingled auburn hair, they would have spread the net at once for Chicago Kitty!
If, on the other hand, she had had a snub nose and two moles on her chin, then every precinct would have been warned by telephone to keep an eye out for Cincinnati Sue.
As it was, they were obliged to confess themselves completely baffled, and Mrs. Waddington came away with the feeling that, if she had not happened to possess large private means, she could have gone into the jewel-stealing business herself and cleaned up big without any fear of unpleasant consequences. It was wrong of her, of course, to call the chief detective a fat-faced goop, but by that time she had become a little annoyed.
She was still annoyed as she came out into the street; but the pleasant night air had a cooling effect. She was able now to perceive that the theft of the necklace was, after all, only a side issue, and that there lay before her sterner work than the mere bringing to book of female criminals. The consummation to which she must devote all her faculties was the downfall of that culprit, George Finch.
It was at this point she decided that she needed an ally, a sympathetic coadjutor who would trot along by her side and do what he was told and generally supply aid and encouragement in the rather tricky operations on which she was about to embark. She went to a public telephone booth and invested five cents in a local call.
“This is Mrs. Waddington.”
“Oh, ah? Many happy returns.”
“What are you doing just now?”
“I was thinking of popping out and having a bite to eat.”
“Meet me at the Ritz-Carlton in ten minutes.”
“Right ho. Thanks awfully. I will. Yes. Thanks. Right. Fine. Absolutely. Right ho.”
So now we find Mrs. Waddington seated in the vestibule of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, watching the door like a cat at a mouse hole and tapping the carpet impatiently with an ample shoe. Like everybody else who has ever waited five minutes for anybody in a restaurant, she had the illusion of having been there for several hours. But at last her patience was rewarded. An elegant figure popped through the doorway and came toward her, beaming with happy anticipation. Lord Hunstanton was a man who combined a keen appetite with a rugged distaste for paying for his own meals, and the prospect of a dinner at the Ritz at somebody else’s expense enchanted him. He did not actually lick his lips, but as he looked brightly up the stairs to where benevolent waiters were plying contented diners with food, there flitted across his face a radiant smile.
“HOPE I’m not late,” said Lord Hunstanton.
“Sit down,” said Mrs. Waddington. “I want to talk to you.” And proceeded to do so at some length.
Lord Hunstanton blinked pathetically.
“I’m awfully sorry,” he said, as his companion paused for breath. “I know it’s all frightfully interesting, but I don’t seem somehow to follow. How would it be if we slid into the dining-room and threshed the whole thing out quietly over a thoughtful steak or something?”
Mrs. Waddington eyed him with a distaste that bordered on contempt.
“You surely do not imagine that I propose to waste time eating!” she returned.
“Eh?” His lordship’s jaw fell an inch. “Not eat?”
“Certainly not. I will repeat what I was saying, and please listen attentively this time.”
“But, I say! No dinner?”
“No fish? No nourishment of any description?”
“Certainly not. We have no time to lose. We must act promptly and swiftly.”
The devious trail of love and misdoing leads to some amazing new complications. Don’t miss next week’s installment.
Printer’s error corrected above:
Magazine had “Tchach!”; corrected to “Tchah!” as in other three versions.