The Saturday Evening Post, July 18, 1925
THE meeting between Amy and Mrs. Molloy had taken place owing to the resolve of the latter to search the small conservatory which stood outside the back door. She had told Soapy that she thought the missing bonds might be hidden there. They were not, but Amy was. The conservatory was a favorite sleeping porch of Amy’s, and thither she had repaired on discovering that her frolicsome overtures to Hash had been taken in the wrong spirit.
Mrs. Molloy’s feelings, on groping about in the dark and suddenly poking her hand into the cavernous mouth of the largest dog she had ever encountered, have perhaps been sufficiently indicated by the description of her subsequent movements. Iron-nerved woman though she was, this was too much for her.
The single scream which she emitted, previous to saving her breath for the race for life, penetrated only faintly to where Mr. Molloy sat taking a rest on the sofa in the drawing-room. He heard it, but it had no message for him. He was feeling a little better now, and his ganglions, though not having ceased to vibrate with uncomfortable rapidity, were beginning to simmer down. He decided to give himself another couple of minutes of repose.
It was toward the middle of the second minute that the door opened quietly and Sam came in. He stood looking at the recumbent Mr. Molloy for a moment.
“Comfortable?” he said.
Soapy shot off the sofa with a sort of gurgling whoop. Of all the disturbing events of that afternoon, this one had got more surely in among his nerve centers than any other. He had not heard the door open, and Sam’s voice had been the first intimation that he was no longer alone.
“I’m afraid I startled you,” said Sam.
The exigencies of a difficult profession had made Soapy Molloy a quick thinker. Frequently in the course of a busy life he had found himself in positions where a split second was all that was allowed him for forming a complete plan of action. His trained mind answered to the present emergency like a machine.
“You certainly did startle me,” he said bluffly in his best Thomas G. Gunn manner. “You startled the daylights out of me. So here you are at last, Mr. Shotter.”
“Yes, here I am.”
“I have been waiting quite some little time. I’m afraid you caught me on the point of going to sleep.”
He chuckled, as a man will when the laugh is on him.
“I should imagine,” said Sam, “that it would take a smart man to catch you asleep.”
Mr. Molloy chuckled again.
“Just what the boys used to say of me in Denver City.” He paused and looked at Sam a little anxiously. “Say, you do remember me, Mr. Shotter?”
“I certainly do.”
“You remember my calling here the other day to see my old home?”
“I remember you before that—when you were in Sing Sing.”
He turned away to light the gas, and Mr. Molloy was glad of the interval for thought afforded by this action.
“You were never there.”
“I went there to see a show in which you took an important part. I forget what your number was.”
“And what of it?”
Mr. Molloy drew himself up with considerable dignity.
“What of it?” he repeated. “What if I was for a brief period—owing to a prejudiced judge and a packed jury—in the place you mention? I decline to have the fact taken as a slur on my character. You are an American, Mr. Shotter, and you know that there is unfortunately a dark side to American politics. My fearless efforts on behalf of the party of reform and progress brought me into open hostility with a gang of unscrupulous men, who did not hesitate to have me arrested on a trumped-up charge and ——”
“All this,” said Sam, “would go a lot stronger with me if I hadn’t found you burgling my house.”
It would have been difficult to say whether the expression that swept over Mr. Molloy’s fine face was more largely indignation or amazement.
“Burgling your house? Are you insane? I called here in the hope of seeing you, was informed that you were not at home, and was invited by your manservant, a most civil fellow, to await your return. Burgling your house, indeed! If I were, would you have found me lying on the sofa?”
“Hash let you in?”
Such was the magnetic quality of the personality of one who had often sold large blocks of shares in nonexistent oil wells to Scotchmen, that Sam was beginning in spite of himself to be doubtful.
“If Hash is the name of your manservant, most certainly he let me in. He admitted me by the front door in the perfectly normal and conventional manner customary when gentlemen pay calls.”
“Where is Hash?”
“Why ask me?”
Sam went to the door. The generous indignation of his visitor had caused him to waver, but it had not altogether convinced him.
“Hash!” he called.
“He appears to be out.”
“Gone for a walk, no doubt.”
“Hash!” shouted Sam.
From the regions below there came an eager answering cry.
It had been a long and arduous task for Hash Todhunter to expel from his mouth the duster which Soapy Molloy had rammed into it with such earnest care, but he had accomplished it at last, and his voice sounded to Mr. Molloy like a knell.
“He appears to be in, after all,” he said feebly.
Sam had turned and was regarding him fixedly, and Soapy noted with a sinking heart the athletic set of his shoulders and the large muscularity of his hands. “Haul off and bust him one!” his wife’s gentle voice seemed to whisper in his ear; but eying Sam, he knew that any such project was but a Utopian dream. Sam had the unmistakable look of one who, if busted, would infallibly bust in return and bust disintegratingly.
“You tied him up, I suppose,” said Sam, with a menacing calm.
Soapy said nothing. There is a time for words and a time for silence.
Sam looked at him in some perplexity. He had begun to see that he was faced with the rather delicate problem of how to be in two places at the same time. He must, of course, at once go down to the kitchen and release Hash. But if he did that, would not this marauder immediately escape by the front door? And if he took him down with him to the kitchen, the probability was that he would escape by the back door. While if he merely left him in this room and locked the door, he would proceed at once to depart by the window.
It was a nice problem, but all problems are capable of solution. Sam solved this one in a spasm of pure inspiration. He pointed a menacing finger at Soapy.
“Take off those trousers!” he said.
Soapy gaped. The intellectual pressure of the conversation had become too much for him.
“Trousers?” he faltered.
“Trousers. You know perfectly well what trousers are,” said Sam, “and it’s no good pretending you don’t. Take them off!”
“Take off my trousers?”
“Good Lord!” said Sam with sudden petulance. “What’s the matter with the man? You do it every night, don’t you? You do it whenever you take a Turkish bath, don’t you? Where’s the difficulty? Peel them off and don’t waste time.”
“Listen!” said Sam. “If those trousers are not delivered to me f. o. b. inside of thirty seconds, I’ll bust you one!”
He had them in eighteen.
“Now,” said Sam, “I think you’ll find it a little difficult to get away.” He gathered up the garments, draped them over his arm and went down to the kitchen.
LOVE is the master passion. It had come to Hash Todhunter late, but, like measles, the more violently for the delay. A natural inclination to go upstairs and rend his recent aggressor limb from limb faded before the more imperious urge to dash across to San Rafael and see Claire. It was the first thing of which he spoke when Sam, with the aid of a carving knife, had cut his bonds.
“I got to see ’er!”
“Are you hurt, Hash?”
“No, ’e only ’it me on the ’ead. I got to see ’er, Sam.”
“Ah! The pore little angel, crying ’er ruddy eyes out. The gentleman was saying all about it.”
“A gentleman come to the back door and told that perisher all about how the pore little thing was howling and weeping and all, thinking ’e was me.”
“Have you had a quarrel with Claire?”
“We ’ad words. I got to see ’er.”
“You shall. Can you walk?”
“Of course I can walk. Why shouldn’t I walk?”
“Come along then.”
In spite of his assurance, however, Hash found his cramped limbs hard to steer. Sam had to lend an arm, and their progress was slow.
“Sam,” said Hash, after a pause which had been intended primarily for massage, but which had plainly been accompanied by thought, “do you know anything about getting married?”
“Only that it is an excellent thing to do.”
“I mean, ’ow quick can a feller get married?”
“Like a flash, I believe. At any rate, if he goes to a registrar’s.”
“I’m going to a registrar’s then. I’ve ’ad enough of these what I might call misunderstandings.”
“Brave words, Hash! How are the legs?”
“The legs are all right. It’s her mother I’m thinking of.”
“You always seem to be thinking of her mother. Are you quite sure that you’ve picked the right one of the family?”
Hash had halted again, and his face was that of a man whose soul was a battlefield.
“Sam, ’er mother wants to come and live with us when we’re married.”
“Well, why not?”
“Ah, you ain’t seen ’er, Sam! She’s got a hooked nose and an eye like one of these animal trainers. Still ——”
The battle appeared to be resumed once more.
“Oh, well!” said Hash. He mused for a while. “You’ve got to look at it all round, you know.”
“And there’s this to think of: She says she’ll buy a pub for us.”
“Pubs are pubs,” agreed Sam.
“I’ve always wanted to have a pub of my own.”
“Then I shouldn’t hesitate.”
Hash suddenly saw the poetic side of the vision. “Won’t my little Clara look a treat, standing behind a bar, serving the drinks and singing out ‘Time, gentlemen, please!’ Can’t you see her scraping the froth off the mugs?”
He fell into a rapt silence, and said no more while Sam escorted him through the back door of San Rafael and led him into the kitchen.
There, rightly considering that the sacred scene of reunion was not for his eyes, Sam turned away. Gently depositing the nether garments of Mr. Molloy on the table, he left them together and made his way to the drawing-room.
THE first thing he heard as he opened the door was Kay’s voice.
“I don’t care,” she was saying. “I simply don’t believe it.”
He went in and discovered that she was addressing her uncle, Mr. Wrenn, and the white-bearded Mr. Cornelius. They were standing together by the mantelpiece, their attitude the sheepish and browbeaten one of men who have been rash enough to argue with a woman. Mr. Wrenn was fiddling with his tie, and Mr. Cornelius looked like a druid who is having a little unpleasantness with the widow of the deceased.
Sam’s entrance was the signal for an awkward silence.
“Hullo, Mr. Wrenn,” said Sam. “Good evening, Mr. Cornelius.”
Mr. Wrenn looked at Mr. Cornelius. Mr. Cornelius looked at Mr. Wrenn.
“Say something,” said Mr. Cornelius’ eye to Mr. Wrenn. “You are her uncle.”
“You say something,” retorted Mr. Wrenn’s eye to Mr. Cornelius. “You have a white beard.”
“I’m sorry I’ve been such a time,” said Sam to Kay. “I have had a little domestic trouble. I found a gentleman burgling my house.”
“There had been a lady there, too, but she was leaving as I arrived.”
“Well, let us call her a young female party.”
Kay swung round on Mr. Wrenn, her eyes gleaming with the light that shines only in the eyes of girls who are entitled to say “I told you so!” to elderly relatives. Mr. Wrenn avoided her gaze. Mr. Cornelius plucked at his beard and registered astonishment.
“Burgling your house? What for?”
“That’s what’s puzzling me. These two people seem extraordinarily interested in Mon Repos. They called some days ago and wanted to buy the place, and now I find them burgling it.”
“Good heavens!” cried Mr. Cornelius. “I wonder! Can it be possible?”
“I shouldn’t wonder. It might,” said Sam. “What?”
“Do you remember my telling you, Mr. Shotter, when you came to me about the lease of the house that a well-known criminal had once lived there?”
“A man named Finglass. Do you remember Finglass, Wrenn?”
“No; he must have been before my time.”
“How long have you been here?”
“About three years and a half.”
“Ah, then it was before your time. This man robbed the New Asiatic Bank of something like four hundred thousand pounds’ worth of securities. He was never caught, and presumably fled the country. You will find the whole story in my history of Valley Fields. Can it be possible that Finglass hid the bonds in Mon Repos and was unable to get back there and remove them?”
“You said it!” cried Sam enthusiastically.
“It would account for the anxiety of these people to obtain access to the house.”
“Why, of course!” said Kay.
“It sounds extremely likely,” said Mr. Wrenn. “Was the man tall and thin, with a strong cast in the left eye?”
“No; a square-faced sort of fellow.”
“Then it would not be Finglass himself. No doubt some other criminal, some associate of his, who had learned from him that the bonds were hidden in the house. I wish I had my history here,” said Mr. Cornelius. “Several pages of it are devoted to Finglass.”
“I’ll tell you what,” said Sam, “go and get it.”
“Very well. Will you come with me, Wrenn?”
“Certainly he will,” said Sam warmly. “Mr. Wrenn would like a breath of fresh air.”
With considerable satisfaction he heard the front door close on the nonessential members of the party.
“What an extraordinary thing!” said Kay.
“Yes,” said Sam, drawing his chair closer. “The aspect of the affair that strikes me ——”
“What became of the man?”
“He’s all right. I left him in the drawing-room.”
“But he’ll escape.”
“Well, he won’t.”
“But all he’s got to do is walk out of the door.”
“Yes, but he won’t do it.” Sam drew his chair still closer. “I was saying that the aspect of the affair that strikes me most forcibly is that now I shall be in a position to marry and do it properly.”
“Are you thinking of marrying someone?”
“I think of nothing else. Well, now, to look into this. The bank will probably give a ten per cent reward for the return of the stuff. Even five per cent would be a nice little sum. That fixes the financial end of the thing. So now ——”
“You seem very certain that you will find this money.”
“Oh, I shall find it, have no fear. If it’s there ——”
“Yes, but perhaps it isn’t.”
“I feel sure that it is. So now let’s make our plans. We will buy a farm somewhere, don’t you think?”
“I have no objection to your buying a farm.”
“I said we. We will buy a farm, and there settle down and live to a ripe old age on milk, honey and the produce of the soil. You will wear a gingham gown, I shall grow a beard. We will keep dogs, pigeons, cats, sheep, fowls, horses, cows and a tortoise to keep in the garden. Good for the snails,” explained Sam.
“Bad for them, I should think. Are you fond of tortoises?”
“Then,” said Sam magnanimously, “we will waive the tortoise.”
“It sounds like a forgotten sport of the past—waving the tortoise.”
“To resume. We decide on the farm. Right! Now where is it to be? You are a Wiltshire girl, so no doubt will prefer that county. I can’t offer to buy back Midways for you, I’m afraid, unless on second thoughts I decide to stick to the entire proceeds instead of handing them back to the bank—we shall have to talk that over later—but isn’t there some old graystone, honeysuckle-covered place on the famous Braddock estates?”
“What’s the matter?”
“You said you had left that man in your drawing-room.”
“I’ve suddenly remembered that I sent Willoughby over to Mon Repos ten minutes ago to find out why you were so long. He’s probably being murdered.”
“Oh, I shouldn’t think so. To go back to what I was saying ——”
“You must go and see at once.”
“Do you really think it’s necessary?”
“Of course it is.”
“Oh, very well.”
Sam rose reluctantly. Life, he felt with considerable peevishness, was one long round of interruptions. He went round to the door of Mon Repos and let himself in with his key. A rumble of voices proceeding from the drawing-room greeted him as he entered. He banged the door, and a moment later Mr. Braddock came out, looking a little flustered.
“Oh, there you are, Sam! I was just coming round to fetch you.”
“It depends on what you call wrong.” Mr. Braddock closed the drawing-room door carefully. “You know Lord Tilbury?”
“Of course I know Lord Tilbury.”
“Well, he’s in there,” said Willoughby Braddock, jerking an awed thumb toward the drawing-room, “and he hasn’t got any trousers on.”
SAM uttered a cry of exceeding bitterness. Nothing is more galling to your strategist than to find that some small, unforeseen accident has occurred and undone all his schemes. The one thing for which he had omitted to allow was the possibility of some trousered caller wandering in during his absence and supplying Mr. Molloy with the means of escape.
“So he’s gone, I suppose?” he said morosely.
“No, he’s still here,” said Mr. Braddock. “In the drawing-room.”
“The man, I mean.”
“The other man.”
“What other man?” asked Mr. Braddock, whose exacting afternoon had begun to sap his mental powers.
“Oh, never mind,” said Sam impatiently. “What did Lord Tilbury want, coming down here, confound him?”
“Came to see you about something, I should think,” surmised Mr. Braddock.
“Didn’t he tell you what it was?”
“No. As a matter of fact, we’ve been chatting mostly about trousers. You haven’t got a spare pair in the house by any chance, have you?”
“Of course I have—upstairs.”
“Then I wish,” said Mr. Braddock earnestly, “that you would dig them out and give them to the old boy. He’s been trying for the last ten minutes to get me to lend him mine, and it simply can’t be done. I’ve got to be getting back to town soon to dress for dinner, and you can say what you like, a fellow buzzing along in a two-seater without any trousers on looks conspicuous.”
“Darn that fool, coming down here at just this time!” said Sam, still aggrieved. “What exactly happened?”
“Well, he’s a bit on the incoherent side; but as far as I can make it out, that man of yours, the chap who called me brother, seems to have gone completely off his onion. Old Tilbury rang the front doorbell, and there was a bit of a pause, and then this chap opened the door and old Tilbury went in, and then he happened to look at him and saw that he hadn’t any trousers on.”
“That struck him as strange, of course.”
“Apparently he hadn’t much time to think about it, for the bloke immediately held him up with a gun.”
“He hadn’t got a gun.”
“Well, old Tilbury asserts that he was shoving something against his pocket from inside.”
“His finger, or a pipe.”
“No, I say, really!” Mr. Braddock’s voice betrayed the utmost astonishment and admiration. “Would that be it? I call that clever.”
“Well, he hadn’t a gun when I caught him or he would have used it on me. What happened then?”
“How do you mean—caught him?”
“I found him burgling the house.”
“Was that chap who called me brother a burglar?” cried Mr. Braddock, amazed. “I thought he was your man.”
“Well, he wasn’t. What happened next?”
“The bloke proceeded to de-bag old Tilbury. Then shoving on the trousers, he started to leg it. Old Tilbury at this juncture appears to have said ‘Hi! What about me?’ or words to that effect; upon which the bloke replied, ‘Use your own judgment!’ and passed into the night. When I came in, old Tilbury was in the drawing-room, wearing the evening paper as a sort of kilt and not looking too dashed pleased with things in general.”
“Well, come along and see him.”
“Not me,” said Mr. Braddock. “I’ve had ten minutes of him and it has sufficed. Also, I’ve got to be buzzing up to town. I’m dining out. Besides, it’s you he wants to see, not me.”
“I wonder what he wants to see me about.”
“Must be something important to bring him charging down here. Well, I’ll be moving, old boy. Mustn’t keep you. Thanks for a very pleasant afternoon.”
Willoughby Braddock took his departure; and Sam, having gone to his bedroom and found a pair of gray flannel trousers, returned to the lower regions and went into the drawing-room.
He had not expected to find his visitor in anything approaching a mood of sunniness, but he was unprepared for the red glare of hate and hostility in the eyes which seared their way through him as he entered. It almost seemed as if Lord Tilbury imagined the distressing happenings of the last quarter of an hour to be Sam’s fault.
“So there you are!” said Lord Tilbury.
He had been standing with an air of coyness behind the sofa; but now, as he observed the trousers over Sam’s arm, he swooped forward feverishly and wrenched them from him. He pulled them on, muttering thickly to himself; and this done, drew himself up and glared at his host once more with that same militant expression of loathing.
He seemed keenly alive to the fact that he was not looking his best. Sam was a long-legged man; and in the case of Lord Tilbury, Nature, having equipped him with an outsize in brains, had not bothered much about his lower limbs. The borrowed trousers fell in loose folds about his ankles, brushing the floor. Nor did they harmonize very satisfactorily with the upper portion of a morning suit. Seeing him, Sam could not check a faint smile of appreciation.
Lord Tilbury saw the smile, and it had the effect of increasing his fury to the point where bubbling rage becomes a sort of frozen calm.
“You are amused,” he said tensely.
Sam repudiated the dreadful charge.
“No, no! Just thinking of something.”
“Cor!” said Lord Tilbury.
Sam perceived that a frank and soothing explanation must be his first step. After that, and only after that, could he begin to institute inquiries as to why His Lordship had honored him with this visit.
“That fellow who stole your trousers ——”
“I have no wish to discuss him,” said Lord Tilbury with hauteur. “The fact that you employ a lunatic manservant causes me no surprise.”
“He wasn’t my manservant. He was a burglar.”
“A burglar? Roaming at large about the house? Did you know he was here?”
“Oh, yes. I caught him and made him take his trousers off, and then I went next door to tea.”
Lord Tilbury expelled a long breath.
“Indeed? You went next door to tea?”
“Leaving this—this criminal ——”
“Well, I knew he couldn’t get away. Oh, I had reasoned it all out. Your happening to turn up was just a bit of bad luck. Was there anything you wanted to see me about?” asked Sam, feeling that the sooner this interview terminated the pleasanter it would be.
Lord Tilbury puffed out his cheeks and stood smoldering for a moment. In the agitation of the recent occurrences, he had almost forgotten the tragedy which had sent him hurrying down to Mon Repos.
“Yes, there was,” he said. He sizzled for another brief instant. “I may begin by telling you,” he said, “that your uncle, Mr. Pynsent, when he sent you here to join my staff, practically placed me in loco parentis with respect to you.”
“An excellent idea,” said Sam courteously.
“An abominable idea! It was an iniquitous thing to demand of a busy man that he should take charge of a person of a character so erratic, so undisciplined, so—er—eccentric as to border closely upon the insane.”
“Insane?” said Sam. He was wounded to the quick by the injustice of these harsh words. From first to last, he could think of no action of his that had not been inspired and guided throughout by the dictates of pure reason. “Who, me?”
“Yes, you! It was a monstrous responsibility to give any man, and I consented to undertake it only because—er ——”
“I know. My uncle told me,” said Sam, to help him out. “You had some business deal on, and you wanted to keep in with him.”
Lord Tilbury showed no gratitude for this kindly prompting.
“Well,” he said bitterly, “it may interest you to know that the deal to which you refer has fallen through.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” said Sam sympathetically. “That’s tough luck. I’m afraid my uncle is a queer sort of fellow to do business with.”
“I received a cable from him this afternoon, informing me that he had changed his mind and would be unable to meet me in the matter.”
“Too bad,” said Sam. “I really am sorry.”
“And it is entirely owing to you, you may be pleased to learn.”
“Me? Why, what have I done?”
“I will tell you what you have done. Mr. Pynsent’s cable was in answer to one from me, in which I informed him that you were in the process of becoming entangled with a girl.”
“You need not trouble to deny it. I saw you with my own eyes lunching together at the Savoy, and I happen to know that this afternoon you took her to the theater.”
Sam looked at him dizzily.
“You aren’t—you can’t by any chance be referring to Miss Derrick?”
“Of course I am referring to Miss Derrick.”
So stupendous was Sam’s amazement that anybody could describe what was probably the world’s greatest and most beautiful romance as “becoming entangled with a girl” that he could only gape.
“I cabled to Mr. Pynsent, informing him of the circumstances and asking for instructions.”
“You did what?” Sam’s stupor of astonishment had passed away, whirled to the four winds on a tempestuous rush of homicidal fury. “You mean to tell me that you had the—the nerve—the insolence ——” He gulped. Being a young man usually quick to express his rare bursts of anger in terms of action, he looked longingly at Lord Tilbury, regretting that the latter’s age and physique disqualified him as a candidate for assault and battery. “Do you mean to tell me ——” He swallowed rapidly. The thought of this awful little man spying upon Kay and smirching her with his loathly innuendoes made mere words inadequate.
“I informed Mr. Pynsent that you were conducting a clandestine love affair and asked him what I was to do.”
To Sam, like some blessed inspiration, there came a memory of a scene that had occurred in his presence abaft the fiddley of the tramp steamer Araminta when that vessel was two days out of New York. A dreamy able-bodied seaman, thoughts of home or beer having temporarily taken his mind off his job, had chanced to wander backward onto the foot of the bos’n while the latter was crossing the deck with a full pot of paint in his hands. And the bos’n, recovering his breath, had condensed his feelings into two epithets so elastic and comprehensive that, while they were an exact description of the able-bodied seaman, they applied equally well to Lord Tilbury. Indeed, it seemed to Sam that they might have been invented expressly for Lord Tilbury’s benefit.
A moment before, he had been deploring the inadequacy of mere words. But these were not mere words. They were verbal dynamite.
“You so-and-so!” said Sam. “You such-and-such!”
Sailors are toughened by early training and long usage to bear themselves phlegmatically beneath abuse. Lord Tilbury had had no such advantages. He sprang backward as if he had been smitten with an ax.
“You pernicious little bounder!” said Sam. He strode to the door and flung it open. “Get out!”
If ever there was an occasion on which a man might excusably have said “Sir!” this was it; and no doubt, had he been able to speak, this was the word which Lord Tilbury would have used. Nearly a quarter of a century had passed since he had been addressed in this fashion to his face, and the thing staggered him.
“Get out!” repeated Sam. “What the devil,” he inquired peevishly, “are you doing here, poisoning the air?”
Lord Tilbury felt no inclination to embark upon a battle of words in which he appeared to be in opposition to an expert. Dazedly he flapped out into the hall, the gray flannel trousers swirling about his feet. At the front door, however, it suddenly occurred to him that he had not yet fired the most important shell in his ammunition wagon. He turned at bay.
“Wait!” he cried. “I may add ——”
“No, you mayn’t,” said Sam.
“I wish to add ——”
“I insist on informing you,” shouted Lord Tilbury plucking at the trousers with a nautical twitch, “of this one thing: Your uncle said in his cable that you were to take the next boat back to America.”
It had not been Sam’s intention to permit anything to shake the stern steeliness of his attitude, but this information did it. He stopped midway in an offensive sniff designed to afford a picturesque illustration of his view on the other’s air-poisoning qualities and gazed at him blankly.
“Did he say that?”
“Yes, he did.” Sam scratched his chin thoughtfully. Lord Tilbury began to feel a little better. “And,” he continued, “as I should imagine that a young man of your intellectual attainments has little scope for making a living except by sponging on his rich relatives, I presume that you will accede to his wishes. In case you may still suppose that you are a member of the staff of Tilbury House, I will disabuse you of that view. You are not.”
Sam remained silent; and Lord Tilbury, expanding and beginning to realize that there is nothing unpleasant about a battle of words provided that the battling is done in the right quarter, proceeded.
“I only engaged you as a favor to your uncle. On your merits you could not have entered Tilbury House as an office boy. I say,” he repeated in a louder voice, “that, had there been no question of obliging Mr. Pynsent, I would not have engaged you as an office boy.”
Sam came out of his trance.
“Are you still here?” he said, annoyed.
“Yes, I am still here. And let me tell you ——”
“Listen!” said Sam. “If you aren’t out of this house in two seconds, I’ll take those trousers back.”
Every Achilles has his heel. Of all the possible threats that Sam could have used, this was probably the only one to which Lord Tilbury, in his dangerously elevated and hostile frame of mind, would have paid heed. For one moment he stood swelling like a toy balloon, then he slid out and the door banged behind him.
A dark shape loomed up before Lord Tilbury as he stood upon the gravel outside the portal of Mon Repos. Beside this shape there frolicked another and a darker one.
“ ’Evening, sir.”
Lord Tilbury perceived through the gloom that he was being addressed by a member of the force. He made no reply. He was not in the mood for conversation with policemen.
“Bringing your dog back,” said the officer genially. “Found ’er roaming about at the top of the street.”
“It is not my dog,” said Lord Tilbury between set teeth, repelling Amy as she endeavored in her affable way to climb onto his neck.
“Not a member of the ’ousehold, sir? Just a neighbor making a friendly call? I see. Now I wonder,” said the policeman, “if any of my mates ’ave approached you on the matter of this concert in aid of a charitubulorganization which is not only most deserving in itself but is connected with a body of men to ’oom you as a nouse’older will ——”
“G-r-r-h!” said Lord Tilbury.
He bounded out of the gate. Dimly, as he waddled down Burberry Road, the gray flannel trousers brushing the pavement with a musical swishing sound, there came to him, faint but pursuing, the voice of the indefatigable policeman: “This charitubulorganizationtowhichIallude ——”
Out of the night, sent from heaven, there came a crawling taxicab. Lord Tilbury poured himself in and sank back on the seat, a spent force.
KAY came out into the garden of San Rafael. Darkness had fallen now, and the world was full of the sweet, wet scents of an autumn night. She stood still for a moment, sniffing, and a little pang of homesickness shot through her. The garden smelled just like Midways. This was how she always remembered Midways most vividly, with the shadows cloaking the flower beds, the trees dripping and the good earth sending up its incense to a starlit sky.
When she shut her eyes she could almost imagine that she was back there. Then somebody began to whistle in the road and a train clanked into the station and the vision faded.
A faint odor of burning tobacco came to her, and on the lawn next door she saw the glow of a pipe.
“Sam!” she called.
His footsteps crunched on the gravel and he joined her at the fence.
“You’re a nice sort of person, aren’t you?” said Kay. “Why didn’t you come back?”
“I had one or two things to think about.”
“Willoughby dashed in for a minute and told me an incoherent story. So the man got away?”
“Poor Lord Tilbury!” said Kay, with a sudden silvery little bubble of laughter.
Sam said nothing.
“What did he want, by the way?”
“He came to tell me that he had had a cable from my uncle saying that I was to go back at once.”
“Oh!” said Kay with a little gasp, and there was silence. “Go back—to America?”
“Wednesday’s boat, I suppose.”
“Not this very next Wednesday?”
There was another silence. The night was as still as if the clock had slipped back and Valley Fields had become the remote country spot of two hundred years ago.
“Are you going?”
“I suppose so.”
From far away, out in the darkness, came the faint grunting of a train as it climbed the steep gradient of Sydenham Hill. An odd forlorn feeling swept over Kay.
“Yes, I suppose you must,” she said. “You can’t afford to offend your uncle, can you?”
Sam moved restlessly, and there was a tiny rasping sound as his hand scraped along the fence.
“It isn’t that,” he said.
“But your uncle’s very rich, isn’t he?”
“What does that matter?” Sam’s voice shook. “Lord Tilbury was good enough to inform me that my only way of making a living was to sponge on my uncle, but I’m not going to have you thinking it.”
“But—well, why are you going then?”
“I’ll tell you why I’m going. Simply because I might as well be in New York as anywhere. If there was the slightest hope that by staying on here I could get you to—to marry me ——” His hand rasped on the fence again. “Of course, I know there isn’t. I know you don’t take me seriously. I haven’t any illusions about myself. I know just what I amount to in your eyes. I’m a farce! I’m the fellow who blunders about and trips over himself and is rather amusing when you’re in the mood. But I don’t count. I don’t amount to anything.” Kay stirred in the darkness, but she did not speak. “You think I’m kidding all the time. Well, I just want you to know this—that I’m not kidding about the way I feel about you. I used to dream over that photograph before I’d ever met you. And when I met you I knew one thing for certain, and that was there wasn’t going to be anyone except you ever. I know you don’t care about me and never will. Why should you? What on earth is there about me that could make you? I’m just a ——”
A little ripple of laughter came from the shadows.
“Poor old Sam!” said Kay.
“Yes! There you are—in a nutshell! Poor old Sam!”
“I’m sorry I laughed. But it was so funny to hear you denouncing yourself in that grand way.”
“Well, what’s wrong with being funny? I like funny people. I’d no notion you had such hidden depths, Sam. Though, of course, the palmist said you had, didn’t she?”
The train had climbed the hill and was now rumbling off into the distance. A smell of burning leaves came floating over the gardens.
“I don’t blame you for laughing,” said Sam. “Pray laugh if you wish to.”
Kay availed herself of the permission.
“Oh, Sam, you are a pompous old ass, aren’t you? ‘Pray laugh if you wish to’! . . . Sam!”
“Do you really mean that you would stay on in England if I promised to marry you?”
“And offend your rich uncle for life and get cut off with a dollar or whatever they cut nephews off with in America?”
Kay reached up at Sam’s head and gave his hair a little proprietorial tug.
“Well, why don’t you, Sambo?” she said softly.
It seemed to Sam that in some strange way his powers of breathing had become temporarily suspended. A curious dry feeling had invaded his throat. He could hear his heart thumping.
“What?” he croaked huskily.
“I said why—do—you—not, Samivel?” whispered Kay, punctuating the words with little tugs.
Sam found himself on the other side of the fence. How he had got there he did not know. Presumably he had scrambled over. A much abraded shin bone was to show him later that this theory was the correct one, but at the moment bruised shins had no meaning for him. He stood churning the mold of the flower bed on which he had alighted, staring at the indistinct whiteness which was Kay.
“But look here,” said Sam thickly. “But look here ——” A bird stirred sleepily in the tree.
“But look here ——”
And then somehow—things were happening mysteriously tonight, and apparently of their own volition—he found that Kay was in his arms. It seemed to him also, though his faculties were greatly clouded, that he was kissing Kay.
“But look here ——” he said thickly. They were now, in some peculiar manner, walking together up the gravel path, and he, unless his senses deceived him, was holding her hand tucked very tightly under his arm. At least, somebody, at whom he seemed to be looking from a long distance, was doing this. This individual, who appeared to be in a confused frame of mind, was holding that hand with a sort of frenzied determination, as if he were afraid she might get away from him. “But look here, this isn’t possible!”
“What isn’t possible?”
“All this. A girl like you—a wonderful, splendid, marvelous girl like you can’t possibly love”—the word seemed to hold all the magic of all the magicians, and he repeated it dazedly—“love—love—can’t possibly love a fellow like me.” He paused, finding the wonder of the thing oppressive. “It—it doesn’t make sense.”
“Well, a fellow—a man—a fellow—oh, I don’t know.”
Kay chuckled. It came upon Sam with an overwhelming sense of personal loss that she was smiling and that he could not see that smile. Other, future smiles he would see, but not that particular one, and it seemed to him that he would never be able to make up for having missed it.
“Would you like to know something, Sam?”
“Well, if you’ll listen, I’ll explain exactly how I feel. Have you ever had a very exciting book taken away from you just when you were in the middle of it?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, I have. It was at Midways, when I was nine. I had borrowed it from the page boy, who was a great friend of mine, and it was about a man called Cincinnati Kit, who went round most of the time in a mask, with lots of revolvers. I had just got halfway in it when my governess caught me and I was sent to bed and the book was burned. So I never found out what happened in the little room with the steel walls behind the bar at the Blue Gulch Saloon. I didn’t get over the disappointment for years. Well, when you told me you were going away, I suddenly realized that this awful thing was on the point of happening to me again, and this time I knew I would never get over it. It suddenly flashed upon me that there was absolutely nothing worth while in life except to be with you and watch you and wonder what perfectly mad thing you would be up to next. Would Aunt Ysobel say that that was love?”
“She would,” said Sam with conviction.
“Well, it’s my form of it, anyhow. I just want to be with you for years and years and years, wondering what you’re going to do next.”
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do at this moment,” said Sam. “I’m going to kiss you.”
“Kay,” said Sam.
“Do you know —— No, you’ll laugh.”
“I promise I won’t. What were you going to say?”
“That photograph of you—the one I found in the fishing hut.”
“What about it?”
“I kissed it once.”
“No,” said Sam stoutly. “If you really want the truth, every day; every blessed single day, and several times a day. Now laugh!”
“No; I’m going to laugh at you all the rest of my life, but not tonight. You’re a darling, and I suppose,” said Kay thoughtfully, “I’d better go and tell uncle so, hadn’t I, if he has got back?”
“Tell your uncle?”
“Well, he likes to know what’s going on around him in the home.”
“But that means that you’ll have to go in.”
“Only for a minute. I shall just pop my head in at the door and say ‘Oh, uncle, talking of Sam, I love him,’ and come away.”
“Look here,” said Sam earnestly, “if you will swear on your word of honor—your sacred word of honor—not to be gone more than thirty seconds ——”
“As if I could keep away from you longer than that!” said Kay.
Left alone in a bleak world, Sam found his thoughts taking for a while a somber turn. In the exhilaration of the recent miracle which had altered the whole face of the planet, he had tended somewhat to overlook the fact that for a man about to enter upon the sacred state of matrimony he was a little ill equipped with the means of supporting a home. His weekly salary was in his pocket and a small sum stood to his credit in a Lombard Street bank; but he could not, he realized, be considered an exceptionally good match for the least exacting of girls. Indeed, at the moment, like the gentleman in the song, all he was in a position to offer his bride was a happy disposition and a wild desire to succeed.
These are damping reflections for a young man to whom the keys of heaven have just been given, and they made Sam pensive. But his natural ebullience was not long in coming to the rescue. One turn up and down the garden and he was happy again in the possession of lavish rewards bestowed upon him by beaming bank managers, rejoicing in their hearty City fashion as they saw those missing bonds restored to them after many years. He refused absolutely to consider the possibility of failure to unearth the treasure. It must be somewhere in Mon Repos, and if it was in Mon Repos he would find it—even if, in direct contravention of the terms of Clause 8 in his lease, he had to tear the house to pieces.
He strode, full of a great purpose, to the window of the kitchen. A light shone there, and he could hear the rumbling voice of his faithful henchman. He tapped upon the window, and presently the blind shot up and Hash’s face appeared. In the background Claire, a little flushed, was smoothing her hair. The window opened.
“Who’s there?” said Hash gruffly.
“Only me, Hash. I want a word with you.”
“Listen, Hash. Tear yourself away shortly, and come back to Mon Repos. There is man’s work to do there.”
“We’ve got to search that house from top to bottom. I’ve just found out that it’s full of bonds.”
“You don’t say!”
“I do say.”
“Nasty things,” said Hash reflectively. “Go off in your ’ands as likely as not.”
At this moment the quiet night was rent by a strident voice:
“Sam! Hi, Sam! Come quick!”
It was the voice of Willoughby Braddock, and it appeared to proceed from one of the upper rooms of Mon Repos.
WHEN Willoughby Braddock, some ten minutes earlier, had parted from Kay and come out onto the gravel walk in front of San Rafael, he was in a condition of mind which it is seldom given to man to achieve until well through the second quart of champagne. So stirred was his soul, so churned up by a whirlwind of powerful emotions, that he could have stepped straight into any hospital as a fever patient and no questions asked. His ganglions were vibrating, his pulse beat dangerously high, and if he had been asked his name he would have had to think twice before giving the correct answer.
For the world had become of a sudden amazingly vivid to Willoughby. After a quarter of a century in which absolutely nothing had occurred to ruffle the placid surface of his somewhat stagnant existence, strange and exhilarating things had begun to happen to him with a startling abruptness.
When he reflected that he had actually stood chatting face to face with a member of the criminal classes, interrupting him in the very act of burgling a house, and on top of that had found Lord Tilbury, a man who was on the committee of his club, violently transformed into a sans-culotte, it seemed to him that life in the true meaning of the word had at last begun.
But it was something that Kay had said that had set the seal on the thrills of this great day. Quite casually she had mentioned that Mrs. Lippett proposed, as soon as her daughter Claire was married to Hash Todhunter, to go and live with the young couple. It was as if somebody, strolling with stout Balboa, had jerked his thumb at a sheet of water shining through the trees and observed nonchalantly, “By the way, there’s the Pacific.” It was this, even more than the other events of the afternoon, that had induced in Mr. Braddock the strange, yeasty feeling of unreality which was causing him now to stand gulping on the gravel. For years he had felt that only a miracle could rid him of Mrs. Lippett’s limpet-like devotion, and now that miracle had happened.
He removed his hat and allowed the cool night air to soothe his flaming forehead. He regretted that he had pledged himself to dinner that night at the house of his Aunt Julia. Aunt Julia was no bad sort, as aunts go, but dinner at her house was scarcely likely to provide him with melodrama, and it was melodrama that Mr. Braddock’s drugged soul now craved, and nothing but melodrama. It irked him to be compelled to leave this suburban maelstrom of swift events and return to a London which could not but seem mild and tame by comparison.
However, he had so pledged himself, and the word of a Braddock was his bond. Moreover, if he were late, Aunt Julia would be shirty to a degree. Reluctantly he started to move toward the two-seater, and had nearly reached it when he congealed again into a motionless statue. For, even as he prepared to open the gate of San Rafael, he beheld slinking in at the gate of Mon Repos a furtive figure.
In his present uplifted frame of mind a figure required to possess only the minimum of furtiveness to excite Willoughby Braddock’s suspicions, and this one was well up in what might be called the Class A of furtiveness. It wavered and it crept. It hesitated and it slunk. And as the rays from the street lamp shone momentarily upon its face, Mr. Braddock perceived that it was a drawn and anxious face, the face of one who nerves himself to desperate deeds.
And, indeed, the other was feeling nervous. He walked warily, like some not too courageous explorer picking his way through a jungle in which he suspects the presence of unpleasant wild beasts. Drawn by the lure of gain to revisit Mon Repos, Chimp Twist was wondering pallidly if each moment might not bring Hash ravening out at him from the shadows.
He passed round the angle of the house, and Willoughby Braddock, reckless of whether or no this postponement of his return to London would make him late for dinner at Aunt Julia’s and so cause him to be properly ticked off by that punctuality-loving lady, flitted silently after him and was in time to see him peer through the kitchen window. A moment later, his peering seeming to have had a reassuring effect, he had opened the back door and was inside the house.
Willoughby Braddock did not hesitate. The idea of being alone in a small semidetached house with a desperate criminal who was probably armed to the gills meant nothing to him now. In fact, he rather preferred it. He slid silently through the back door in the fellow’s wake; and having removed his shoes, climbed the kitchen stairs. A noise from above told him that he was on the right track. Whatever it was that the furtive bloke was doing, he was doing it upstairs.
As for Chimp Twist, he was now going nicely. The operations which he was conducting were swift and simple. Once he had ascertained by a survey through the kitchen window that his enemy, Hash, was not on the premises, all his nervousness had vanished. Possessing himself of the chisel which he had placed in the drawer of the kitchen table in readiness for just such an emergency, he went briskly upstairs. The light was burning in the hall and also in the drawing-room; but the absence of sounds encouraged him to believe that Sam, like Hash, was out. This proved to be the case, and he went on his way completely reassured. All he wanted was five minutes alone and undisturbed, for the directions contained in Mr. Finglass’ letter had been specific; and once he had broken through the door of the top back bedroom, he anticipated no difficulty in unearthing the buried treasure. It was, Mr. Finglass had definitely stated, a mere matter of lifting a board. Chimp Twist did not sing as he climbed the stairs, for he was a prudent man, but he felt like singing.
A sharp cracking noise came to Willoughby Braddock’s ears as he halted snakily on the first landing. It sounded like the breaking open of a door.
And so it was. Chimp, had the conditions been favorable, would have preferred to insinuate himself into Hash’s boudoir in a manner involving less noise; but in this enterprise of his, time was of the essence and he had no leisure for niggling at locks with a chisel. Arriving on the threshold, he raised his boot and drove it like a battering-ram.
The doors of suburban villas are not constructed to stand rough treatment. If they fit within an inch or two and do not fall down when the cat rubs against them, the architect, builder and surveyor shake hands and congratulate themselves on a good bit of work. And Chimp, though a small man, had a large foot. The lock yielded before him and the door swung open. He went in and lit the gas. Then he took a rapid survey of his surroundings.
Halfway up the second flight of stairs, Willoughby Braddock stood listening. His face was pink and determined. As far as he was concerned, Aunt Julia might go and boil herself. Dinner or no dinner, he meant to see this thing through.
Chimp wasted no time.
“The stuff,” his friend, the late Edward Finglass, had written, “is in the top back bedroom. You’ve only to lift the third board from the window and put your hand in, Chimpie, and there it is.” And after this had come a lot of foolish stuff about sharing with Soapy Molloy. A trifle maudlin old Finky had become on his deathbed, it seemed to Chimp.
And, hurried though he was, Chimp Twist had time to indulge in a brief smile as he thought of Soapy Molloy. He also managed to fit in a brief moment of complacent meditation, the trend of which was that when it comes to a show-down brains will tell. He, Chimp Twist, was the guy with the brains, and the result was that in about another half minute he would be in possession of American-bearer securities to the value of two million dollars. Whereas poor old Soapy, who had just about enough intelligence to open his mouth when he wished to eat, would go through life eking out a precarious existence, selling fictitious oil stock to members of the public who were one degree more cloth-headed than himself. There was a moral to be drawn from this, felt Chimp, but his time was too valuable to permit him to stand there drawing it. He gripped his chisel and got to work.
Mr. Braddock, peering in at the door with the caution of a red Indian stalking a relative by marriage with a tomahawk, saw that the intruder had lifted a board and was groping in the cavity. His heart beat like a motor bicycle. It gave him some little surprise that the fellow did not hear it.
Presumably the fellow was too occupied. Certainly he seemed like a man whose mind was on his job. Having groped for some moments, he now uttered a sound that was half an oath and half a groan, and, as if seized with a frenzy, began tearing up other boards, first one, then another, after that a third. It was as though this business of digging up boards had begun to grip him like some drug. Starting in a modest way with a single board he had been unable to check the craving, and it now appeared to be his intention to excavate the entire floor.
But he was not allowed to proceed with this work uninterrupted. Possibly this wholesale demolition of bedrooms jarred upon Mr. Braddock’s sensibilities as a householder. At any rate, he chose this moment to intervene.
“I say, look here!” he said.
It had been his intention, for he was an enthusiastic reader of sensational fiction and knew the formulas as well as anyone, to say “Hands up!” But the words had slipped from him without his volition. He hastily corrected himself.
“I mean, Hands up!” he said.
Then backing to the window, he flung it open and shouted into the night:
“Sam! Hi, Sam! Come quick!”
THOSE captious critics who are always on the alert to catch the historian napping and expose in his relation of events some damaging flaw will no doubt have seized avidly on what appears to be a blunder in the incident just recorded. Where, they will ask, did Willoughby Braddock get the revolver, without which a man may say “Hands up!” till he is hoarse and achieve no result? For of all the indispensable articles of costume which the well-dressed man must wear if he wishes to go about saying “Hands up!” to burglars, a revolver is the one which can least easily be omitted.
We have no secrets from posterity. Willoughby Braddock possessed no revolver. But he had four fingers on his right hand, and two of these he was now thrusting earnestly against the inside of his coat pocket. Wax to receive and marble to retain, Willoughby Braddock had not forgotten the ingenious subterfuge by means of which Soapy Molloy had been enabled to intimidate Lord Tilbury, and he employed it now upon Chimp Twist.
“You low blister!” said Mr. Braddock.
Whether this simple device would have been effective with a person of ferocious and hard-boiled temperament, one cannot say; but fortunately Chimp was not of this description. His strength was rather of the head than of the heart. He was a man who shrank timidly from even the appearance of violence; and though he may have had doubts as to the genuineness of Mr. Braddock’s pistol, he had none concerning the latter’s physique. Willoughby Braddock was no Hercules, but he was some four inches taller and some sixty pounds heavier than Chimp, and it was not in Mr. Twist’s character to embark upon a rough-and-tumble with such odds against him.
Indeed, Chimp would not lightly have embarked on a rough-and-tumble with anyone who was not an infant in arms or a member of the personnel of Singer’s Troupe of Midgets.
He tottered against the wall and stood there, blinking. The sudden materialization of Willoughby Braddock, apparently out of thin air, had given him a violent shock, from which he had not even begun to recover.
“You man of wrath!” said Mr. Braddock.
The footsteps of one leaping from stair to stair made themselves heard. Sam charged in.
Mr. Braddock, with pardonable unction, directed his notice to the captive.
“Another of the gang,” he said. “I caught him.”
Sam gazed at Chimp and looked away, disappointed.
“You poor idiot,” he said peevishly. “That’s my odd-job man.”
“My odd-job man.”
Willoughby Braddock felt for an instant damped. Then his spirits rose again. He knew little of the duties of odd-job men; but whatever they were, this one, he felt, had surely exceeded them.
“Well, why was he digging up the floor?”
And Sam, glancing down, saw that this was what his eccentric employe had, indeed, been doing; and suspicion blazed up within him.
“What’s the game?” he demanded, eying Chimp.
“Exactly,” said Mr. Braddock. “The game—what is it?”
Chimp’s nerves had recovered a little of their tone. His agile brain was stirring once more.
“You can’t do anything,” he said. “It wasn’t breaking and entering. I live here. I know the law.”
“Never mind about that. What were you up to?”
“Looking for something,” said Chimp sullenly. “And it wasn’t there.”
“Did you know Finglass?” asked Sam keenly.
Chimp gave a short laugh of intense bitterness.
“I thought I did. But I didn’t know he was so fond of a joke.”
“Bradder,” said Sam urgently, “a crook named Finglass used to live in this house, and he buried a lot of his swag somewhere in it.”
“Good gosh!” exclaimed Mr. Braddock. “You don’t say so!”
“Did this fellow take anything from under the floor?”
“You bet your sweet life I didn’t,” said Chimp with feeling. “It wasn’t there. You seem to know all about it, so I don’t mind telling you that Finky wrote me that the stuff was under the third board from the window in this room. Whether he was off his head or was just stringing me, I don’t know. But I do know it isn’t there. And now I’m going.”
“Oh, no, you aren’t, by Jove!” said Mr. Braddock.
“Oh, let him go,” said Sam wearily. “What’s the use of keeping him hanging round?” He turned to Chimp. His own disappointment was so keen that he could almost sympathize with him. “So you think Finglass really got away with the stuff, after all?”
“Looks like it.”
“Then why on earth did he write to you?”
Chimp shrugged his shoulders.
“Off his nut, I guess. He always was a loony sort of bird, outside of business.”
“You don’t think the other chap found the stuff, Sam?” suggested Mr. Braddock.
Sam shook his head.
“I doubt it. It’s much more likely it was never here at all. We had a friend of yours here this evening,” he said to Chimp. “At least, I suppose he was a friend of yours. Thomas G. Gunn he called himself.”
“I know who you mean—that poor dumb brick, Soapy. He wouldn’t have found anything. If it isn’t here it isn’t anywhere. And now I’m going.”
Mr. Braddock eyed him a little wistfully as he slouched through the doorway. It was galling to see the only burglar he had ever caught walking out as if he had finished paying a friendly call. However, he supposed there was nothing to be done about it. Sam had gone to the window and was leaning out, looking into the night.
“I must go and see Kay,” he said at length, turning.
“I must get up to town,” said Mr. Braddock. “By Jove, I shall be most frightfully late if I don’t rush. I’m dining with my Aunt Julia.”
“This is going to be bad news for her.”
“Oh, no, she’ll be most awfully interested. She’s a very sporting old party.”
“What the devil are you talking about?”
“My Aunt Julia.”
“Oh? Well, good-by.”
Sam left the room, and Willoughby Braddock, following him at some little distance, for his old friend seemed disinclined for company and conversation, heard the front door bang. He sat down on the stairs and began to put on his shoes, which he had cached on the first landing. While he was engaged in this task, the front doorbell rang. He went down to open it, one shoe off and one shoe on, and found on the steps an aged gentleman with a white beard.
“Is Mr. Shotter here?” asked the aged gentleman.
“Just gone round next door. Mr. Cornelius, isn’t it? I expect you’ve forgotten me—Willoughby Braddock. I met you for a minute or two when I was staying with Mr. Wrenn.”
“Ah, yes. And how is the world using you, Mr. Braddock?”
Willoughby was only too glad to tell him. A confidant was precisely what in his exalted frame of mind he most desired.
“Everything’s absolutely topping, thanks. What with burglars floating in every two minutes and Lord Tilbury getting de-bagged and all that, life’s just about right. And my housekeeper is leaving me.”
“I am sorry to hear that.”
“I wasn’t. What it means is that now I shall at last be able to buzz off and see life. Have all sorts of adventures, you know. I’m frightfully keen on adventure.”
“You should come and live in Valley Fields, Mr. Braddock. There is always some excitement going on here.”
“Yes, you’re not far wrong. Still, what I meant was more the biffing off on the out-trail stuff. I’m going to see the world. I’m going to be one of those fellows Kipling writes about. I was talking to a chap of that sort at the club the other day. He said he could remember Uganda when there wasn’t a white man there.”
“I can remember Valley Fields when it had not a single cinema house.”
“This fellow was once treed by a rhinoceros for six hours.”
“A similar thing happened to a Mr. Walkinshaw, who lived at Balmoral, in Acacia Road. He came back from London one Saturday afternoon in a new tweed suit, and his dog, failing to recognize him, chased him onto the roof of the summer house . . . Well, I must be getting along, Mr. Braddock. I promised to read extracts from my history of Valley Fields to Mr. Shotter. Perhaps you would care to hear them too.”
“I should love it, but I’ve got to dash off and dine with my Aunt Julia.”
“Some other time perhaps?”
“Absolutely. . . . By the way, that man I was telling you about. He was as near as a toucher bitten by a shark once.”
“Nothing to what happens in Valley Fields,” said Mr. Cornelius patriotically. “The occupant of the Firs at the corner of Buller Street and Myrtle Avenue—a Mr. Phillimore—perhaps you have heard of him?”
“Mr. Edwin Phillimore. Connected with the firm of Birkett, Birkett, Birkett, Son, Podmarsh, Podmarsh & Birkett, the solicitors.”
“What about him?”
“Last summer,” said Mr. Cornelius, “he was bitten by a guinea pig.”
IT IS a curious fact, and one frequently noted by philosophers, that every woman in this world cherishes within herself a deep-rooted belief, from which nothing can shake her, that the particular man to whom she has plighted her love is to be held personally blameworthy for practically all of the untoward happenings of life. The vapid and unreflective would call these things accidents, but she knows better. If she arrives at a station at five minutes past nine to catch a train which has already left at nine minutes past five, she knows that it is her Henry who is responsible, just as he was responsible the day before for a shower of rain coming on when she was wearing her new hat.
But there was sterling stuff in Kay Derrick. Although no doubt she felt in her secret heart that the omission of the late Mr. Edward Finglass to deposit his ill-gotten gains beneath the floor of the top back bedroom of Mon Repos could somehow have been avoided if Sam had shown a little enterprise and common sense, she uttered no word of reproach. Her reception of the bad news, indeed, when, coming out into the garden, he saw her waiting for him on the lawn of San Rafael and climbed the fence to deliver it, was such as to confirm once and for all his enthusiastic view of her splendid qualities. Where others would have blamed, she sympathized. And not content with mere sympathy, she went on to minimize the disaster with soothing argument.
“What does it matter?” she said. “We have each other.”
The mind of man, no less than that of woman, works strangely. When, a few days before, Sam had read that identical sentiment, couched in almost exactly the same words, as part of the speech addressed by Leslie Mordyke to the girl of his choice in the third galley of Cordelia Blair’s gripping serial, Hearts Aflame, he had actually gone so far as to write in the margin the words, “Silly fool!” Now he felt that he had never heard anything not merely so beautiful but so thoroughly sensible, practical and inspired.
“That’s right!” he cried.
If he had been standing by a table he would have banged it with his fist. Situated as he was, in the middle of a garden, all he could do was to kiss Kay. This he did.
“Of course,” he said, when the first paroxysm of enthusiasm had passed, “there’s just this one point to be taken into consideration. I’ve lost my job, and I don’t know how I’m to get another.”
“Of course you’ll get another!”
“Why, so I will!” said Sam, astounded by the clearness of her reasoning. The idea that the female intelligence was inferior to the male seemed to him a gross fallacy. How few men could have thought a thing all out in a flash like that.
“It may not be a big job, but that will be all the more fun.”
“So it will.”
“I always think that people who marry on practically nothing have a wonderful time.”
“I can cook a bit.”
“I can wash dishes.”
“If you’re poor, you enjoy occasional treats. If you’re rich, you just get bored with pleasure.”
“And probably drift apart.”
Sam could not follow her here. Loath as he was to disagree with her lightest word, this was going too far.
“No,” he said firmly, “if I had a million I wouldn’t drift apart from you.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“I’m only saying you might.”
“But I shouldn’t.”
“Well, anyhow,” said Kay, yielding the point, “all I’m saying is that it will be much more fun being awfully hard up and watching the pennies and going out to the Palais de Dance at Hammersmith on Saturday nights, or if it was my birthday or something, and cooking our own dinner and making my own clothes, than—than ——”
“—— living in a gilded cage, watching love stifle,” said Sam, remembering Leslie Mordyke’s remarks on the subject.
“Yes. So, honestly, I’m very glad it was all a fairy story about that money being in Mon Repos.”
“So am I. Darned glad.”
“I’d have hated to have it.”
“So would I.”
“And I think it’s jolly, your uncle disinheriting you.”
“It would have spoiled everything, having a big allowance from him.”
“I mean, we should have missed all the fun we’re going to have, and we shouldn’t have felt so close together and ——”
“Exactly. Do you know, I knew a wretched devil in America who came into about twenty million dollars when his father died, and he went and married a girl with about double that in her own right.”
“What became of him?” asked Kay, shocked.
“I don’t know. We lost touch. But just imagine that marriage!”
“What possible fun could they have had?”
“None. What was his name?”
“Blenkiron,” said Sam in a hushed voice. “And hers was Poskitt.”
For some moments, deeply affected by the tragedy of these two poor bits of human wreckage, they stood in silence. Sam felt near to tears, and he thought Kay was bearing up only with some difficulty.
The door leading into the garden opened. Light from the house flashed upon them.
“Somebody’s coming out,” said Kay, giving a little start as though she had been awakened from a dream.
“Curse them!” said Sam. “Or, rather, no,” he corrected himself. “I think it’s your uncle.”
Even at such a moment as this, he could harbor no harsh thought toward any relative of hers.
It was Mr. Wrenn. He stood on the steps, peering out.
“Kay!” he called.
“Oh, you’re there. Is Shotter with you?”
“Could you both come in for a minute?” inquired Mr. Wrenn, his voice—for he was a man of feeling—conveying a touch of apology. “Cornelius is here. He wants to read you that chapter from his history of Valley Fields.”
Sam groaned in spirit. On such a night as this young Troilus had climbed the walls of Troy and stood gazing at the Grecian tents where lay his Cressida, and he himself had got to go into a stuffy house and listen to a bore with a white beard drooling on about the moldy past of a London suburb.
“Well, yes, I know; but ——” he began doubtfully.
Kay laid a hand upon his arm.
“We can’t disappoint the poor old man,” she whispered. “He would take it to heart so.”
“Yes, but I mean ——”
“Just as you say,” said Sam.
He was going to make a good husband.
Mr. Cornelius was in the drawing-room. From under his thick white brows he peered at them, as they entered, with the welcoming eyes of a man who, loving the sound of his own voice, sees a docile audience assembling. He took from the floor a large brown paper parcel and, having carefully unfastened the string which tied it, revealed a second and lighter wrapping of brown paper. Removing this, he disclosed a layer of newspaper, then another, and finally a formidable typescript bound about with lilac ribbon.
“The matter having to do with the man Finglass occurs in Chapter Seven of my book,” he said.
“Just one chapter?” said Sam, with a touch of hope.
“That chapter describes the man’s first visit to my office, my early impressions of him, his words as nearly as I can remember them, and a few other preliminary details. In Chapter Nine ——”
“Chapter Nine!” echoed Sam, aghast. “You know, as a matter of fact, there really isn’t any need to read all that, because it turns out that Finglass never ——”
“In Chapter Nine,” proceeded Mr. Cornelius, adjusting a large pair of horn-rimmed spectacles, “I show him accepted perfectly unsuspiciously by the residents of the suburb, and I have described at some length, because it is important as indicating how completely his outward respectability deceived those with whom he came in contact, a garden party given by Mrs. Bellamy-North, of Beau Rivage, in Burberry Road, at which he appeared and spoke a few words on the subject of the forthcoming election for the district council.”
“We shall love to hear that,” said Kay brightly. Her eye, wandering aside, met Sam’s. Sam, who had opened his mouth, closed it again.
“I remember that day very distinctly,” said Mr. Cornelius. “It was a beautiful afternoon in June, and the garden of Beau Rivage was looking extraordinarily attractive. It was larger, of course, in those days. The house which I call Beau Rivage in my history has since been converted into two semidetached houses, known as Beau Rivage and Sans Souci. That is a change which has taken place in a great number of cases in this neighborhood. Five years ago Burberry Road was a more fashionable quarter, and the majority of the houses were detached. This house where we are now sitting, for example, and its neighbor, Mon Repos, were a single residence when Edward Finglass came to Valley Fields. Its name was then Mon Repos, and it was only some eighteen months later that San Rafael came into existence as a separate ——”
He broke off; and breaking off, bit his tongue, for that had occurred which had startled him considerably. One unit in his audience, until that moment apparently as quiet and well behaved as the other units, had suddenly, to all appearances, gone off his head.
The young man Shotter, uttering a piercing cry, had leaped to his feet and was exhibiting strange emotion.
“What’s that?” cried Sam. “What did you say?”
Mr. Cornelius regarded him through a mist of tears. His tongue was giving him considerable pain.
“Did you say,” demanded Sam, “that in Finglass’ time San Rafael was part of Mon Repos?”
“Yeh,” said Mr. Cornelius, rubbing the wound tenderly against the roof of his mouth.
“Give me a chisel!” bellowed Sam. “Where’s a chisel? I want a chisel!”
“ BLECK my soul!” said Mr. Cornelius. He spoke a little thickly, for his tongue was still painful. But its anguish was forgotten under the spell of a stronger emotion. Five minutes had passed since Sam’s remarkable outburst in the drawing-room; and now, with Mr. Wrenn and Kay, he was standing in the top back bedroom of San Rafael, watching the young man as he drew up from the chasm in which he had been groping a very yellowed, very dusty package which crackled and crumbled in his fingers.
“Bleck my soul!” said Mr. Cornelius.
“Good heavens!” said Mr. Wrenn.
“Sam!” cried Kay.
Sam did not hear their voices. With the look of a mother bending over her sleeping babe, he was staring at the parcel.
“Two million!” said Sam, choking. “Two million—count ’em—two million!”
A light of pure avarice shone in his eyes. He looked like a man who had never heard of the unhappy fate of Dwight Blenkiron, of Chicago, Illinois, and Genevieve, his bride, née Poskitt; or who, having heard, did not give a whoop.
“What’s ten per cent on two million?” asked Sam.
VALLEY FIELDS lay asleep. Clocks had been wound, cats put out of back doors, front doors bolted and chained. In a thousand homes a thousand good householders were restoring their tissues against the labors of another day. The silver-voiced clock on the big tower over the college struck the hour of two.
But though most of its inhabitants were prudently getting their eight hours and insuring that schoolgirl complexion, footsteps still made themselves heard in the silence of Burberry Road. They were those of Sam Shotter of Mon Repos, pacing up and down outside the gate of San Rafael. Long since had Mr. Wrenn, who slept in the front of that house, begun to wish Sam Shotter in bed or dead; but he was a mild and kindly man, loath to shout winged words out of windows. So Sam paced, unrebuked, until presently other footsteps joined in chorus with his and he perceived that he was no longer alone.
A lantern shone upon him.
“Out late, sir,” said the sleepless guardian of the peace behind it.
“Late?” said Sam. Trifles like time meant nothing to him. “Is it late?”
“Just gone two, sir.”
“Oh? Then perhaps I had better be going to bed.”
“Suit yourself, sir. Resident here, sir?”
“Then I wonder,” said the constable, “if I can interest you in a concert which is shortly to take place in aid of a charitubulorganization connected with a body of men to ’oom you as a nouse’older will ——”
“Do you believe in palmists?”
“No, sir —— be the first to admit that you owe the safety of your person and the tranquillity of your ’ome—the police.”
“Well, let me tell you this,” said Sam warmly: “Some time ago a palmist told me that I was shortly about to be married, and I am shortly about to be married.”
“Wish you luck, sir. Then perhaps I can ’ave the pleasure of selling you and your good lady to be a couple of tickets for this concert in aid of the Policemen’s Orphanage. Tickets, which may be ’ad in any quantity, consist of the five-shilling ticket ——”
“Are you married?”
“Yes, sir —— the three-shilling ticket, the half-crown ticket, the shilling ticket, and the sixpenny ticket.”
“It’s the only life, isn’t it?” said Sam.
“That of the policeman, sir, or the orphan?”
The constable ruminated.
“Well, sir,” he replied judicially, “it’s like most things—’as its advantages and its disadvantages.”
“Of course,” said Sam, “I can see that if two people married without having any money, it might lead to a lot of unhappiness. But if you’ve plenty of money, nothing can possibly go wrong.”
“Have you plenty of money, sir?”
“Pots of it.”
“In that case, sir, I recommend the five-shilling tickets. Say, one for yourself, one for your good lady to be and—to make up the round sovereign—a couple for any gentlemen friends you may meet at the club ’oo may desire to be present at what you can take it from me will be a slap-up entertainment, high class from start to finish. Constable Purvis will render Asleep on the Deep ——”
“Look here,” said Sam, suddenly becoming aware that the man was babbling about something, “what on earth are you talking about?”
“But you don’t need tickets to get married.”
“You need tickets to be present at the annual concert in aid of the Policemen’s Orphanage, and I strongly advocate the purchase of ’alf a dozen of the five-shilling.”
“How much are the five-shilling?”
“Five shillings, sir.”
“But I’ve only got a ten-pound note on me.”
“Bring you change to your ’ome tomorrow.”
Sam became aware with a shudder of self-loathing that he was allowing this night of nights to be marred by sordid huckstering.
“Never mind the change,” he said.
“Keep it all. I’m going to be married,” he added in explanation.
“Keep the ’ole ten pounds, sir?” quavered the stupefied officer.
“Certainly. What’s ten pounds?”
There was a silence.
“If everybody was like you, sir,” said the constable at length, in a deep, throaty voice, “the world would be a better place.”
“The world couldn’t be a better place,” said Sam. “Good night.”
“Good night, sir,” said the constable reverently.