[Transcriber's note: The Gem Collector was revised and republished in 1910 as The Intrusion of Jimmy, also known as A Gentleman of Leisure. This version, as published in Ainslee's, had two chapters headed "Chapter XVIII" and ended with "Chapter XIX"; the last two chapters are now labelled "Chapter XIX" and "Chapter XX." The word "pubrescent" in Chapter VI has been changed to "putrescent."]
THE GEM COLLECTOR
By P. G. WODEHOUSE
Published in Ainslee's Magazine, December 1909.
The supper room of the Savoy Hotel was all brightness and glitter and gayety. But Sir James Willoughby Pitt, baronet, of the United Kingdom, looked round about him through the smoke of his cigarette, and felt moodily that this was a flat world, despite the geographers, and that he was very much alone in it.
He felt old.
If it is ever allowable for a young man of twenty-six to give himself up to melancholy reflections, Jimmy Pitt might have been excused for doing so, at that moment. Nine years ago he had dropped out, or, to put it more exactly, had been kicked out, and had ceased to belong to London. And now he had returned to find himself in a strange city.
Jimmy Pitt's complete history would take long to write, for he had contrived to crowd much into those nine years. Abridged, it may be told as follows: There were two brothers, a good brother and a bad brother. Sir Eustace Pitt, the latter, married money. John, his younger brother, remained a bachelor. It may be mentioned, to check needless sympathy, that there was no rivalry between the two. John Pitt had not the slightest desire to marry the lady of his brother's choice, or any other lady. He was a self-sufficing man who from an early age showed signs of becoming some day a financial magnate.
Matters went on much the same after the marriage. John continued to go to the city, Eustace to the dogs. Neither brother had any money of his own, the fortune of the Pitts having been squandered to the ultimate farthing by the sportive gentleman who had held the title in the days of the regency, when White's and the Cocoa Tree were in their prime, and fortunes had a habit of disappearing in a single evening. Four years after the marriage, Lady Pitt died, and the widower, having spent three years and a half at Monte Carlo, working out an infallible system for breaking the bank, to the great contentment of Mons. Blanc and the management in general, proceeded to the gardens, where he shot himself in the orthodox manner, leaving many liabilities, few assets, and one son.
The good brother, by this time a man of substance in Lombard Street, adopted the youthful successor to the title, and sent him to a series of schools, beginning with a kindergarten and ending with Eton.
Unfortunately Eton demanded from Jimmy a higher standard of conduct than he was prepared to supply, and a week after his seventeenth birthday, his career as an Etonian closed prematurely. John Pitt thereupon delivered an ultimatum. Jimmy could choose between the smallest of small posts in his uncle's business, and one hundred pounds in banknotes, coupled with the usual handwashing and disowning. Jimmy would not have been his father's son if he had not dropped at the money. The world seemed full to him of possibilities for a young man of parts with a hundred pounds in his pocket.
He left for Liverpool that day, and for New York on the morrow.
For the next nine years he is off the stage, which is occupied by his Uncle John, proceeding from strength to strength, now head partner, next chairman of the company into which the business had been converted, and finally a member of Parliament, silent as a wax figure, but a great comfort to the party by virtue of liberal contributions to its funds.
It may be thought curious that he should make Jimmy his heir after what had happened; but it is possible that time had softened his resentment. Or he may have had a dislike for public charities, the only other claimant for his wealth. At any rate, it came about that Jimmy, reading in a Chicago paper that if Sir James Willoughby Pitt, baronet, would call upon Messrs. Snell, Hazlewood, and Delane, solicitors, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, he would hear of something to his advantage, had called and heard something very much to his advantage.
Wherefore we find him, on this night of July, supping in lonely magnificence at the Savoy, and feeling at the moment far less conscious of the magnificence than of the loneliness.
Watching the crowd with a jaundiced eye, Jimmy had found his attention attracted chiefly by a party of three a few tables away. The party consisted of a pretty girl, a lady of middle age and stately demeanor, plainly her mother, and a light-haired, weedy young man of about twenty. It had been the almost incessant prattle of this youth and the peculiarly high-pitched, gurgling laugh which shot from him at short intervals which had drawn Jimmy's notice upon them. And it was the curious cessation of both prattle and laugh which now made him look again in their direction.
The young man faced Jimmy; and Jimmy, looking at him, could see that all was not well with him. He was pale. He talked at random. A slight perspiration was noticeable on his forehead.
Jimmy caught his eye. There was a hunted look in it.
Given the time and the place, there were only two things which could have caused that look. Either the light-haired young man had seen a ghost, or he had suddenly realized that he had not enough money to pay the check.
Jimmy's heart went out to the sufferer. He took a card from his case, scribbled the words, "Can I help?" on it, and gave it to a waiter to take to the young man, who was now in a state bordering on collapse.
The next moment the light-haired one was at his table, talking in a feverish whisper.
"I say," he said, "it's frightfully good of you, old chap. It's frightfully awkward. I've come out with too little money. I hardly like to—What I mean to say is, you've never seen me before, and——"
"That's all right," said Jimmy. "Only too glad to help. It might have happened to any one. Will this be enough?"
He placed a five-pound note on the table. The young man grabbed at it with a rush of thanks.
"I say, thanks fearfully," he said. "I don't know what I'd have done. I'll let you have it back to-morrow. Here's my card. Blunt's my name. Spennie Blunt. Is your address on your card? I can't remember. Oh, by Jove, I've got it in my hand all the time." The gurgling laugh came into action again, freshened and strengthened by its rest. "Savoy Mansions, eh? I'll come round to-morrow. Thanks, frightfully, again old chap. I don't know what I should have done."
He flitted back to his table, bearing the spoil, and Jimmy, having finished his cigarette, paid his check, and got up to go.
It was a perfect summer night. He looked at his watch. There was time for a stroll on the Embankment before bed.
He was leaning on the balustrade, looking across the river at the vague, mysterious mass of buildings on the Surrey side, when a voice broke in on his thoughts.
"Say, boss. Excuse me."
Jimmy spun round. A ragged man with a crop of fiery red hair was standing at his side. The light was dim, but Jimmy recognized that hair.
"Spike!" he cried.
The other gaped, then grinned a vast grin of recognition.
"Mr. Chames! Gee, dis cops de limit!"
Three years had passed since Jimmy had parted from Spike Mullins, Red Spike to the New York police, but time had not touched him. To Jimmy he looked precisely the same as in the old New York days.
A policeman sauntered past, and glanced curiously at them. He made as if to stop, then walked on. A few yards away he halted. Jimmy could see him watching covertly. He realized that this was not the place for a prolonged conversation.
"Spike," he said, "do you know Savoy Mansions?"
"Sure. Foist to de left across de way."
"Come on there. I'll meet you at the door. We can't talk here. That cop's got his eye on us."
He walked away. As he went, he smiled. The policeman's inspection had made him suddenly alert and on his guard. Yet why? What did it matter to Sir James Pitt, baronet, if the whole police force of London stopped and looked at him?
"Queer thing, habit," he said, as he made his way across the road.
A black figure detached itself from the blacker shadows, and shuffled stealthily to where Jimmy stood on the doorstep.
"That you, Spike?" asked Jimmy, in a low voice.
"Dat's right, Mr. Chames."
"Come on in."
He led the way up to his rooms, switched on the electric light, and shut the door. Spike stood blinking at the sudden glare. He twirled his battered hat in his hands. His red hair shone fiercely.
Jimmy inspected him out of the corner of his eye, and came to the conclusion that the Mullins finances must be at a low ebb. Spike's costume differed in several important details from that of the ordinary well-groomed man about town. There was nothing of the flaneur about the Bowery boy. His hat was of the soft black felt, fashionable on the East Side of New York. It was in poor condition, and looked as if it had been up too late the night before. A black tail coat, burst at the elbows, stained with mud, was tightly buttoned across his chest. This evidently with the idea of concealing the fact that he wore no shirt—an attempt which was not wholly successful. A pair of gray flannel trousers and boots out of which two toes peeped coyly, completed the picture.
Even Spike himself seemed to be aware that there were points in his appearance which would have distressed the editor of a men's fashion paper.
"'Scuse dese duds," he said. "Me man's bin an' mislaid de trunk wit' me best suit in. Dis is me number two."
"Don't mention it, Spike," said Jimmy. "You look like a matinee idol. Have a drink?"
Spike's eye gleamed as he reached for the decanter. He took a seat.
"Sure. T'anks, Mr. Chames."
Jimmy lit his pipe. Spike, after a few genteel sips, threw off his restraint and finished the rest of his glass at a gulp.
"Try another," suggested Jimmy.
Spike's grin showed that the idea had been well received.
Jimmy sat and smoked in silence for a while. He was thinking the thing over. He had met Spike Mullins for the first time in rather curious circumstances in New York, and for four years the other had followed him with a fidelity which no dangers or hardships could affect. Whatever "Mr. Chames" did, said, or thought was to Spike the best possible act, speech, or reflection of which man was capable. For four years their partnership had continued, and then, conducting a little adventure on his own account in Jimmy's absence, Spike had met with one of those accidents which may happen to any one. The police had gathered him in, and he had passed out of Jimmy's life.
What was puzzling Jimmy was the problem of what to do with him now that he had reentered it. Mr. Chames was one man. Sir James Willoughby Pitt, baronet, another. On the other hand, Spike was plainly in low water, and must be lent a helping hand.
Spike was looking at him over his glass with respectful admiration. Jimmy caught his eye, and spoke.
"Well, Spike," he said. "Curious, us meeting like this."
"De limit," agreed Spike.
"I can't imagine you three thousand miles away from New York. How do you know the cars still run both ways on Broadway?"
A wistful look came into Spike's eye.
"I t'ought it was time I give old Lunnon a call. De cops seemed like as if they didn't have no use for me in New York. Dey don't give de glad smile to a boy out of prison."
"Poor old Spike," said Jimmy, "you've had bad luck, haven't you?"
"Fierce," agreed the other.
"But whatever induced you to try for that safe without me? They were bound to get you. You should have waited."
"Dat's right, boss, if I never says anudder word. I was a farmer for fair at de game wit'out youse. But I t'ought I'd try to do somet'ing so dat I'd have somet'ing to show youse when you come back. So I says here's dis safe and here's me, and I'll get busy wit' it, and den Mr. Chames will be pleased for fair when he gets back. So I has a try, and dey gets me while I'm at it. We'll cut out dat part."
"Well, it's over now, at any rate. What have you been doing since you came to England?"
"Gettin' moved on by de cops, mostly. An' sleepin' in de park."
"Well, you needn't sleep in the park any more, Spike. You can pitch your moving tent with me. And you'll want some clothes. We'll get those to-morrow. You're the sort of figure they can fit off the peg. You're not too tall, which is a good thing."
"Bad t'ing for me, Mr. Chames. If I'd bin taller I'd have stood for being a New York cop, and bin buying a brownstone house on Fifth Avenue by this. It's de cops makes de big money in old Manhattan, dat's who it is."
"You're right there," said Jimmy. "At least, partly. I suppose half the New York force does get rich by graft. There are honest men among them, but we didn't happen to meet them."
"That's right, we didn't. Dere was old man McEachern."
"McEachern! Yes. If any of them got rich, he would be the man. He was the worst grafter of the entire bunch. I could tell you some stories about old Pat McEachern, Spike. If half those yarns were true he must be a wealthy man by now. We shall hear of him running for mayor one of these days."
"Say, Mr. Chames, wasn't youse struck on de goil?"
"What girl?" said Jimmy quietly.
"Old man McEachern's goil, Molly. Dey used to say dat youse was her steady."
"If you don't mind, Spike, friend of my youth, we'll cut out that," said Jimmy. "When I want my affairs discussed I'll mention it. Till then—See?"
"Sure," said Spike, who saw nothing beyond the fact, dimly realized, that he had said something which had been better left unsaid.
Jimmy chewed the stem of his pipe savagely. Spike's words seemed to have touched a spring and let loose feelings which he had kept down for three years. Molly McEachern! So "they" used to say that he was engaged to Molly. He cursed Spike Mullins in his heart, well-meaning, blundering Spike, who was now sitting on the edge of his chair drawing sorrowfully at his cigar and wondering what he had done to give offense. The years fell away from Jimmy, and he was back in New York, standing at the corner of Forty-second Street with half an hour to wait because the fear of missing her had sent him there too early; sitting in Central Park with her while the squirrels came down and begged for nuts; walking—Damn Spike! They had been friends. Nothing more. He had never said a word. Her father had warned her against him. Old Pat McEachern knew how he got his living, and could have put his hand on the author of half a dozen burglaries by which the police had been officially "baffled". That had been his strong point. He had never left tracks. There was never any evidence. But McEachern knew, and he had intervened stormily when he came upon them together. And Molly had stood up for him, till her father had apologized confusedly, raging inwardly the while at his helplessness. It was after that——
"Mr. Chames," said Spike.
Jimmy's wits returned.
"Hullo?" he said.
"Mr. Chames, what's doing here? Put me next to de game. Is it de old lay? You'll want me wit' youse, I guess?"
Jimmy laughed, and shut the door on his dreams.
"I'd quite forgotten I hadn't told you about myself, Spike. Do you know what a baronet is?"
"Search me. What's de answer?"
"A baronet's the noblest work of man, Spike. I am one. Let wealth and commerce, laws and learning—or is it art and learning?—die, but leave us still our old nobility. I'm a big man now, Spike, I can tell you."
"My position has also the advantage of carrying a good deal of money with it."
"You have grasped it. Plunks. Dollars. Doubloons. I line up with the thickwads now, Spike. I don't have to work to turn a dishonest penny any longer."
The horrid truth sank slowly into the other's mind.
"Say! What, Mr. Chames? Youse don't need to go on de old lay no more? You're cutting it out for fair?"
"That's the idea."
Spike gasped. His world was falling about his ears. Now that he had met Mr. Chames again he had looked forward to a long and prosperous partnership in crime, with always the master mind behind him to direct his movements and check him if he went wrong. He had looked out upon the richness of London, and he had said with Bluecher: "What a city to loot!"
And here was his leader shattering his visions with a word.
"Have another drink, Spike," said the lost leader sympathetically. "It's a shock to you, I guess."
"I t'ought, Mr. Chames——"
"I know you did, and I'm very sorry for you. But it can't be helped. Noblesse oblige, Spike. We of the old aristocracy mustn't do these things. We should get ourselves talked about."
Spike sat silent, with a long face. Jimmy slapped him on the shoulder.
"After all," he said, "living honestly may be the limit, for all we know. Numbers of people do it, I've heard, and enjoy themselves tremendously. We must give it a trial, Spike. We'll go out together and see life. Pull yourself together and be cheerful, Spike."
After a moment's reflection the other grinned, howbeit faintly.
"That's right," said Jimmy Pitt. "You'll be the greatest success ever in society. All you have to do is to brush your hair, look cheerful, and keep your hands off the spoons. For in society, Spike, they invariably count them after the departure of the last guest."
"Sure," said Spike, as one who thoroughly understood this sensible precaution.
"And now," said Jimmy, "we'll be turning in. Can you manage sleeping on the sofa for one night?"
"Gee, I've bin sleepin' on de Embankment all de last week. Dis is to de good, Mister Chames."
In the days before the Welshman began to expend his surplus energy in playing football, he was accustomed, whenever the monotony of his everyday life began to oppress him, to collect a few friends and make raids across the border into England, to the huge discomfort of the dwellers on the other side. It was to cope with this habit that Corven Abbey, in Shropshire, came into existence. It met a long-felt want. Ministering to the spiritual needs of the neighborhood in times of peace, it became a haven of refuge when trouble began. From all sides people poured into it, emerging cautiously when the marauders had disappeared.
In the whole history of the abbey there is but one instance recorded of a bandit attempting to take the place by storm, and the attack was an emphatic failure. On receipt of one ladle full of molten lead, aimed to a nicety by John the Novice, who seems to have been anything but a novice at marksmanship, this warrior retired, done to a turn, to his mountain fastnesses, and is never heard of again. He would seem, however, to have passed the word round among his friends, for subsequent raiding parties studiously avoided the abbey, and a peasant who had succeeded in crossing its threshold was for the future considered to be "home" and out of the game. Corven Abbey, as a result, grew in power and popularity. Abbot succeeded abbot, the lake at the foot of the hill was restocked at intervals, the lichen grew on the walls; and still the abbey endured.
But time, assisted by his majesty, King Henry the Eighth, had done its work. The monks had fled. The walls had crumbled, and in the twentieth century, the abbey was a modern country house, and the owner a rich American.
Of this gentleman the world knew but little. That he had made money, and a good deal of it, was certain. His name, Patrick McEachern, suggested Irish parentage, and a slight brogue, noticeable, however, only in moments of excitement, supported this theory. He had arrived in London some four years back, taken rooms at the Albany, and gone into society.
England still firmly believes that wealth accrues to every resident of New York by some mysterious process not understandable of the Briton. McEachern and his money were accepted by society without question. His solecisms, which at first were numerous, were passed over as so quaint and refreshing. People liked his rugged good humor. He speedily made friends, among them Lady Jane Blunt, the still youthful widow of a man about town, who, after trying for several years to live at the rate of ten thousand per annum with an income of two and a half, had finally given up the struggle and drank himself peacefully into the tomb, leaving her in sole charge of their one son, Spencer Archbald.
Possibly because he was the exact antithesis of the late lamented, Lady Jane found herself drawn to Mr. McEachern. Whatever his faults, he had strength; and after her experience of married life with a weak man, Lady Jane had come to the conclusion that strength was the only male quality worth consideration. When a year later, McEachern's daughter, Molly, had come over, it was Lady Jane who took her under her wing and introduced her everywhere.
In the fifth month of the second year of their acquaintance, Mr. McEachern proposed and was accepted. "The bridegroom," said a society paper, "is one of those typical captains of industry of whom our cousins 'across the streak' can boast so many. Tall, muscular, square-shouldered, with the bulldog jaw and twinkling gray eye of the born leader. You look at him and turn away satisfied. You have seen a man!"
Lady Jane, who had fallen in love with the abbey some years before, during a visit to the neighborhood, had prevailed upon her square-shouldered lord to turn his twinkling gray eye in that direction, and the captain of industry, with the remark that here, at last, was a real bully old sure-fire English stately home, had sent down builders and their like, not in single spies, but in battalions, with instructions to get busy.
The results were excellent. A happy combination of deep purse on the part of the employer and excellent taste on the part of the architect had led to the erection of one of the handsomest buildings in Shropshire. To stand on the hill at the back of the house was to see a view worth remembering. The lower portion of the hill, between the house and the lake, had been cut into broad terraces. The lake itself, with its island with the little boathouse in the centre, was a glimpse of fairyland. Mr. McEachern was not poetical, but he had secured as his private sanctum a room which commanded this view.
He was sitting in this room one evening, about a week after the meeting between Spennie and Jimmy Pitt at the Savoy.
"See, here, Jane," he was saying, "this is my point. I've been fixing up things in my mind, and this is the way I make it out. I reckon there's no sense in taking risks when you needn't. You've a mighty high-toned bunch of guests here. I'm not saying you haven't. What I say is, it would make us all feel more comfortable if we knew there was a detective in the house keeping his eye skinned. I'm not alluding to any of them in particular, but how are we to know that all these social headliners are on the level?"
"If you mean our guests, Pat, I can assure you that they are all perfectly honest."
Lady Jane looked out of the window, as she spoke, at a group of those under discussion. Certainly at the moment the sternest censor could have found nothing to cavil at in their movements. Some were playing tennis, some clock golf, and the rest were smoking. She had frequently complained, in her gentle, languid way, of her husband's unhappily suspicious nature. She could never understand it. For her part she suspected no one. She liked and trusted everybody, which was the reason why she was so popular, and so often taken in.
Mr. McEachern looked bovine, as was his habit when he was endeavoring to gain a point against opposition.
"They may be on the level," he said. "I'm not saying anything against any one. But I've seen a lot of crooks in my time, and it's not the ones with the low brows and the cauliflower ears that you want to watch for. It's the innocent Willies who look as if all they could do was to lead the cotillon and wear bangles on their ankles. I've had a lot to do with them, and it's up to a man that don't want to be stung not to go by what a fellow looks like."
"Really, Pat, dear, I sometimes think you ought to have been a policeman. What is the matter?"
"Shouted? Not me. Spark from my cigar fell on my hand."
"You know, you smoke too much, Pat," said his wife, seizing the opening with the instinct which makes an Irishman at a fair hit every head he sees.
"I'm all right, me dear. Faith, I c'u'd smoke wan hondred a day and no harm done."
By way of proving the assertion he puffed out with increased vigor at his cigar. The pause gave him time to think of another argument, which might otherwise have escaped him.
"When we were married, me dear Jane," he said, "there was a detective in the room to watch the presents. Two of them. I remimber seeing them at once. There go two of the boys, I said to mysilf. I mean," he added hastily, "two of the police force."
"But detectives at wedding receptions are quite ordinary. Nobody minds them. You see, the presents are so valuable that it would be silly to risk losing them."
"And are there not valuable things here," asked McEachern triumphantly, "which it would be silly to risk losing? And Sir Thomas is coming to-day with his wife. And you know what a deal of jewelry she always takes about her."
"Oh, Julia!" said Lady Jane, a little disdainfully. Her late husband's brother Thomas' wife was one of the few people to whom she objected. And, indeed, she was not alone in this prejudice. Few who had much to do with her did like Lady Blunt.
"That rope of pearls of hers," said Mr. McEachern, "cost forty thousand pounds, no less, so they say."
"So she says. But if you were thinking of bringing down a detective to watch over Julia's necklace, Pat, you needn't trouble. I believe she takes one about with her wherever she goes, disguised as Thomas' valet."
"Still, me dear——"
"Pat, you're absurd," laughed Lady Jane. "I won't have you littering up the house with great, clumsy detectives. You must remember that you aren't in horrid New York now, where everybody you meet wants to rob you. Who is it that you suspect? Who is the—what is the word you're so fond of? Crook. That's it. Who is the crook?"
"I don't want to mention names," said McEachern cautiously, "and I cast no suspicions, but who is that pale, thin Willie who came yesterday? The one that says the clever things that nobody understands?"
"Lulu Wesson! Why, Patrick! He's the most delightful boy. What can you suspect him of?"
"I don't suspect him of anything. But you'll remimber what I was telling about the sort of boy you want to watch. That's what that boy is. He may be the straightest ever, but if I was told there was a crook in the company, and wasn't put next who it was, he's the boy that would get my vote."
"What dreadful nonsense you are talking, Pat. I believe you suspect every one you meet. I suppose you will jump to the conclusion that this man whom Spennie is bringing down with him to-day is a criminal of some sort."
"How's that? Spennie bringing a friend?"
There was not a great deal of enthusiasm in McEachern's voice. His stepson was not a young man whom he respected very highly. Spennie regarded his stepfather with nervous apprehension, as one who would deal with his shortcomings with a vigor and severity of which his mother was incapable. The change of treatment which had begun after her marriage with the American had had an excellent effect upon him, but it had not been pleasant. As Nebuchadnezzar is reported to have said of his vegetarian diet, it may have been wholesome, but it was not good. McEachern, for his part, regarded Spennie as a boy who would get into mischief unless he had an eye fixed upon him. So he proceeded to fix that eye.
"Yes, I must be seeing Harding about getting the rooms ready. Spennie's friend is bringing his man with him."
"Who is his friend?"
"He doesn't say. He just says he's a man he met in London."
"And what does that grunt mean, I should like to know? I believe you've begun to suspect the poor man already, without seeing him."
"I don't say I have. But a man can pick up strange people in London."
"Pat, you're perfectly awful. I believe you suspect every one you meet. What do you suspect me of, I wonder?"
"That's easy answered," said McEachern. "Robbery from the person."
"What have I stolen?"
"Me heart, me dear," replied McEachern gallantly, with a vast grin.
"After that," said his wife, "I think I had better go. I had no idea you could make such pretty speeches. Pat!"
"Well, me dear?"
"Don't send for that detective. It really wouldn't do. If it got about that we couldn't trust our guests, we should never live it down. You won't, will you?"
"Very well, me dear."
What followed may afford some slight clue to the secret of Mr. Patrick McEachern's rise in the world. It certainly suggests singleness of purpose, which is one of the essentials of success.
No sooner had the door closed behind Lady Jane than he went to his writing table, took pen and paper, and wrote the following letter:
To the Manager, Wragge's Detective Agency, Holborn Bars, London, E. C.
With ref'ce to my last of the 28th ult., I should be glad if you would send down immediately one of your best men. Am making arrangements to receive him. Shall be glad if you will instruct him as follows, viz. (a) that he shall stay at the village inn in character of American seeing sights of England and anxious to inspect the abbey; (b) that he shall call and ask to see me. I shall then recognize him as old New York friend, and move his baggage from above inn to the abbey. Yours faithfully,
P.S.—Kindly not send a rube, but a real smart man.
This brief but pregnant letter cost him some pains in its composition. He was not a ready writer. But he completed it at last to his satisfaction. There was a crisp purity in the style which pleased him. He read it over, and put in a couple of commas. Then he placed it in an envelope, and lit another cigar.
Jimmy's acquaintance with Spennie Blunt had developed rapidly in the few days following their first meeting. Spennie had called next morning to repay the loan, and two days later had invited Jimmy to come down to Shropshire with him. Which invitation, Jimmy, bored with London, had readily accepted. Spike he had decided to take with him in the role of valet. The Bowery boy was probably less fitted for the post than any one has ever been since the world began; but it would not do to leave him at Savoy Mansions.
It had been arranged that they should meet Spennie at Paddington station. Accompanied by Spike, who came within an ace of looking almost respectable in new blue serge, Jimmy arrived at Paddington with a quarter of an hour to spare. Nearly all London seemed to be at the station, with the exception of Spennie. Of that light-haired and hearted youth there were no signs. But just as the train was about to start, the missing one came skimming down the platform and hurled himself in. For the first ten minutes he sat panting. At the conclusion of that period, he spoke.
"Dash it!" he said. "I've suddenly remembered I never telegraphed home to let 'em know what train we were coming by. Now what'll happen is that there won't be anything at Corven to meet us and take us up to the abbey. And you can't get a cab. They don't grow such things."
"How far is it to walk?"
"Five solid miles. And uphill most of the way. And I've got a bad foot!"
"As a matter of fact," said Jimmy, "it's just possible that we shall be met, after all. While I was waiting for you at Paddington I heard a man asking if he had to change for Corven. He may be going to the abbey, too."
"What sort of a looking man?"
"Tall. Thin. Rather a wreck."
"Probably my Uncle Thomas. Frightful man. Always trying to roast a chap, don't, you know. Still, there's one consolation. If it is Uncle Thomas, they'll have sent the automobile for him. I shouldn't think he'd ever walked more than a hundred yards in his natural, not at a stretch. He generally stays with us in the summer. I wonder if he's bringing Aunt Julia with him. You didn't see her, I suppose, by any chance? Tall, and talks to beat the band. He married her for her money," concluded Spennie charitably.
"Isn't she attractive, either?"
"Aunt Julia," said Spennie with feeling, "is the absolute limit. Wait till you see her. Sort of woman who makes you feel that your hands are the color of a frightful tomato and the size of a billiard table, if you know what I mean. By gad, though, you should see her jewels. It's perfectly beastly the way that woman crams them on. She's got one rope of pearls which is supposed to have cost forty thousand pounds. Look out for it to-night at dinner. It's worth seeing."
Jimmy Pitt was distressed to feel distinct symptoms of a revival of the Old Adam as he listened to these alluring details. It was trying a reformed man a little high, he could not help thinking with some indignation, to dangle forty thousand pounds' worth of pearls before his eyes over the freshly turned sods of the grave of his past. It was the sort of test which might have shaken the resolution of the oldest established brand from the burning.
He could not keep his mind from dwelling on the subject. Even the fact that—commercially—there was no need for him to think of such things could not restrain him. He was rich now, and could afford to be honest. He tried to keep that fact steadily before him, but instinct was too powerful. His operations in the old days had never been conducted purely with an eye to financial profit. He had collected gems almost as much for what they were as for what they could bring. Many a time had the faithful Spike bewailed the flaw in an otherwise admirable character, which had induced his leader to keep a portion of the spoil instead of converting it at once into good dollar bills. It had had to go sooner or later, but Jimmy had always clung to it as long as possible. To Spike a diamond brooch of cunning workmanship was merely the equivalent of so many "plunks". That a man, otherwise more than sane, should value a jewel for its own sake was to him an inexplicable thing.
Jimmy was still deep in thought when the train, which had been taking itself less seriously for the last half hour, stopping at stations of quite minor importance and generally showing a tendency to dawdle, halted again. A board with the legend "Corven" in large letters showed that they had reached their destination.
"Here we are," said Spennie. "Hop out. Now what's the betting that there isn't room for all of us in the bubble?"
From farther down the train a lady and gentleman emerged.
"That's the man. Is that your uncle?" said Jimmy.
"Guilty," said Spennie gloomily. "I suppose we'd better go and tackle them. Come on."
They walked up the platform to where Sir Thomas stood smoking a meditative cigar and watching in a dispassionate way the efforts of his wife to bully the solitary porter attached to the station into a frenzy. Sir Thomas was a very tall, very thin man, with cold eyes, and tight, thin lips. His clothes fitted him in the way clothes do fit one man in a thousand. They were the best part of him. His general appearance gave one the idea that his meals did him little good, and his meditations rather less. His conversation—of which there was not a great deal—was designed for the most part to sting. Many years' patient and painstaking sowing of his wild oats had left him at fifty-six with few pleasures; but among those that remained he ranked high the discomfiting of his neighbors.
"This is my friend Pitt, uncle," said Spennie, presenting Jimmy with a motion of the hand.
Sir Thomas extended three fingers. Jimmy extended two, and the handshake was not a success.
At this point in the interview, Spike came up, chuckling amiably, with a magazine in his hand.
"P'Chee!" said Spike. "Say, Mr. Chames, de mug what wrote dis piece must ha' bin livin' out in de woods for fair. His stunt ain't writin', sure. Say, dere's a gazebo what wants to get busy wit' de heroine's jools what's locked in de drawer in de dressin' room. So dis mug, what do youse t'ink he does? Why——"
"Another friend of yours, Spennie?" inquired Sir Thomas politely, eying the red-haired speaker with interest.
He looked appealingly at Jimmy.
"It's only my man," said Jimmy. "Spike," he added in an undertone, "to the woods. Chase yourself. It's not up to you to do stunts on this beat. Fade away."
"Sure," said the abashed Spike, restored to a sense of his position. "Dat's right. I've got wheels in me coco, that's what I've got, comin' buttin' in here. Sorry, Mr. Chames. Sorry, gents. Me for the tall grass."
He trotted away.
"Your man seems to have a pretty taste in literature," said Sir Thomas to Jimmy. "Well, my dear, finished your chat with the porter?"
Lady Blunt had come up, flushed and triumphant, having left the solitary porter a demoralized wreck.
"I'm through," she announced crisply. "Well, Spencer? How are you? Who's this? Don't stand gaping, child. Who's your friend?"
Spennie explained with some incoherence that his name was Pitt. His uncle had shaken him; the arrival of his aunt seemed to unnerve him completely.
"Pleased to meet you," snapped Lady Blunt. "Spencer, where are your trunks? Left them behind, I suppose? No? Well, that's a surprise. Tell that porter to look after them. If you have any trouble with him, mention it to me. I'll make him jump around. Where's the automobile? Outside? Where? Take me to it."
Lady Blunt, when conversing, resembled a Maxim gun more than anything else in the world.
"I'm afraid," said Spennie in an abject manner, as they left the station, "that it will be rather a bit of a frightful squash—what I mean to say is, I hardly think we shall all find room in the auto. I see they have only sent the small one."
Lady Blunt stopped short, and fixed him with a glittering eye.
"I know what it is, Spencer," she said. "You never telegraphed to your mother to tell her what time you were going to arrive."
Spennie opened his mouth feebly, but apparently changing his mind, made no reply.
"My dear," said Sir Thomas smoothly, "we must not expect too much of Spennie."
"Pshaw!" This was a single shot from the Maxim.
The baited youth looked vainly for assistance to Jimmy.
"But—er—aunt," said Spennie. "Really, I—er—I only just caught the train. Didn't I, Pitt?"
"What? Oh, yes. Got in just as it was moving."
"That was it. I really hadn't time to telegraph. Had I, Pitt?"
"Not a minute."
"And how was it you were so late?"
Spennie plunged into an explanation, feeling all the time that he was making things worse for himself. Nobody is at his best in the matter of explanations if a lady whom he knows to be possessed of a firm belief in the incurable weakness of his intellect is looking fixedly at him during the recital. A prolonged conversation with Lady Blunt always made him feel exactly as if he were being tied into knots.
"All this," said Sir Thomas, as his nephew paused for breath, "is very, very characteristic of our dear Spennie."
Our dear Spennie broke into a perspiration.
"However," continued Sir Thomas, "there's room for either you or——"
"Pitt," said Jimmy. "P—i double t."
Sir Thomas bowed.
"In front with the chauffeur, if you care to take the seat."
"I'll walk," said Jimmy. "I'd rather."
"Frightfully good of you, old chap," whispered Spennie. "Sure you don't mind? I do hate walking, and my foot's hurting fearfully."
"Which is my way?"
"Straight as you can go. You go to the——"
"Spennie," said Sir Thomas suavely, "your aunt expresses a wish to arrive at the abbey in time for dinner. If you could manage to come to some arrangement about that seat——"
Spennie climbed hurriedly into the automobile. The last Jimmy saw of him was a hasty vision of him being prodded in the ribs by Lady Blunt's parasol, while its owner said something to him which, judging by his attitude, was not pleasant.
He watched them out of sight, and started to follow at a leisurely pace. It certainly was an ideal afternoon for a country walk. The sun was just hesitating whether to treat the time as afternoon or evening. Eventually it decided that it was evening, and moderated its beams. After London, the country was deliciously fresh and cool. Jimmy felt, as the scent of the hedges came to him, that the only thing worth doing in the world was to settle down somewhere with three acres and a cow, and become pastoral.
There was a marked lack of traffic on the road. Once he met a cart, and once a flock of sheep with a friendly dog. Sometimes a rabbit would dash out into the road, stop to listen, and dart into the opposite hedge, all hind legs and white scut. But except for these he was alone in the world.
And gradually there began to be borne in upon him the conviction that he had lost his way.
It is difficult to judge distance when one is walking, but it certainly seemed to Jimmy that he must have covered five miles by this time. He must have mistaken the way. He had certainly come straight. He could not have come straighter. On the other hand, it would be quite in keeping with the cheap substitute which served Spennie Blunt in place of a mind that he should have forgotten to mention some important turning. Jimmy sat down by the roadside.
As he sat, there came to him from down the road the sound of a horse's feet, trotting. He got up. Here was somebody at last who would direct him.
The sound came nearer. The horse turned the corner; and Jimmy saw with surprise that it bore no rider.
"Hullo!" he said. "Accident? And, by Jove, a side saddle!"
The curious part of it was that the horse appeared in no way a wild horse. It did not seem to be running away. It gave the impression of being out for a little trot on its own account, a sort of equine constitutional.
Jimmy stopped the horse, and led it back the way it had come. As he turned the bend in the road, he saw a girl in a riding habit running toward him. She stopped running when she caught sight of him, and slowed down to a walk.
"Thank you so much," she said, taking the reins from him. "Oh, Dandy, you naughty old thing."
Jimmy looked at her flushed, smiling face, and uttered an exclamation of astonishment. The girl was staring at him, open-eyed.
"Molly!" he cried.
And then a curious feeling of constraint fell simultaneously upon them both.
"How are you, Molly?"
"Quite well, thank you, Jimmy."
"You're looking very well."
"I'm feeling very well. How are you?"
"Quite well, thanks. Very well, indeed"
And then their eyes met, and at the same moment they burst out laughing.
"Your manners are beautiful, Jimmy. And I'm so glad you're so well! What an extraordinary thing us meeting like this. I thought you were in New York."
"I thought you were. You haven't altered a bit, Molly."
"Nor have you. How queer this is! I can't understand it."
"Nor can I. I don't want to. I'm satisfied without. Do you know before I met you I was just thinking I hadn't a single friend in this country. I'm on my way to stay with a man I've only known a few days, and his people, whom I don't know at all, and a bunch of other guests, whom I've never heard of, and his uncle, who's a sort of human icicle, and his aunt, who makes you feel like thirty cents directly she starts to talk to you, and the family watchdog, who will probably bite me. But now! You must live near here or you wouldn't be chasing horses about this road."
"I live at a place called Corven Abbey."
"What Corven Abbey? Why, that's where I'm going."
"Jimmy! Oh, I see. You're Spennie's friend. But where is Spennie?"
"At the abbey by now. He went in the auto with his uncle and aunt."
"How did you meet Spennie?"
"Oh, I did a very trifling Good Samaritan act, for which he was unduly grateful, and he adopted me from that moment."
"How long have you been living in England, then? I never dreamed of you being here."
"I've been on this side about a week. If you want my history in a nutshell, it's this. Rich uncle. Poor nephew. Deceased uncle. Rich nephew. I'm a man with money now. Lots of money."
"How nice for you, Jimmy. Father came into money, too. That's how I come to be over here. I wish you and father had got on better together."
"Your father, my dear Molly, has a manner with people he is not fond of which purists might call slightly abrupt. Perhaps things will be different, now."
The horse gave a sudden whinny.
"I wish you wouldn't do that sort of thing without warning," said Jimmy to it plaintively.
"He knows he's near home, and he knows it's his dinner time. There, now you can see the abbey. How do you like it?"
They had reached a point in the road where the fields to the right sloped sharply downward. A few hundred yards away, backed by woods, stood the beautiful home which ex-Policeman McEachern had caused to be builded for him. The setting sun lit up the waters of the lake. No figures were to be seen moving in the grounds. The place resembled a palace of sleep.
"Well?" said Molly.
"Isn't it?" said Molly. "I'm so glad you like it. I always feel as if I had invented everything round here. It hurts me if people don't appreciate it. Once I took Sir Thomas Blunt up here. It was as much as I could do to induce him to come at all. He simply won't walk. When we got to where we are standing now, I pointed and said: 'There!'"
"And what did he do? Moan with joy?"
"He grunted, and said it struck him as rather rustic."
"Beast! I met Sir Thomas when we got off the train. Spennie Blunt introduced me to him. He seemed to bear it pluckily, but with some difficulty. I think we had better be going, or they will be sending out search parties."
"By the way, Jimmy," said Molly, as they went down the hill. "Can you act?"
"Can I what?"
"Act. In theatricals, you know."
"I've never tried. But I've played poker, which I should think is much the same."
"We are going to do a play, and we want another man. The man who was going to play one of the parts has had to go back to London."
"Poor devil! Fancy having to leave a place like this and go back to that dingy, overrated town."
* * * * *
The big drawing-room of the abbey was full when they arrived. Tea was going on in a desultory manner. In a chair at the far end of the room, Sir Thomas Blunt surveyed the scene gloomily through the smoke of a cigarette. The sound of Lady Blunt's voice had struck their ears as they opened the door. The Maxim gun was in action with no apparent prospect of jamming. The target of the moment was a fair, tired-looking lady, with a remarkable resemblance to Spennie. Jimmy took her to be his hostess. There was a resigned expression on her face, which he thoroughly understood. He sympathized with her.
The other occupants of the room stared for a moment at Jimmy in the austere manner peculiar to the Briton who sees a stranger, and then resumed their respective conversations. One of their number, a slight, pale, young man, as scientifically clothed as Sir Thomas, left his group, and addressed himself to Molly.
"Ah, here you are, Miss McEachern," he said. "At last. We were all getting so anxious."
"Really?" said Molly. "That's very kind of you, Mr. Wesson."
"I assure you, yes. Positively. A gray gloom had settled upon us. We pictured you in all sorts of horrid situations. I was just going to call for volunteers to scour the country, or whatever it is that one does in such circumstances. I used to read about it in books, but I have forgotten the technical term. I am relieved to find that you are not even dusty, though it would have been more romantic if you could have managed a little dust here and there. But don't consider my feelings, Miss McEachern, please."
Molly introduced Jimmy to the newcomer. They shook hands, Jimmy with something of the wariness of a boxer in the ring. He felt an instinctive distrust of this man. Why, he could not have said. Perhaps it was a certain subtle familiarity in his manner of speaking to Molly that annoyed him. Jimmy objected strongly to any one addressing her as if there existed between them some secret understanding. Already the mood of the old New York days was strong upon him. His instinct then had been to hate all her male acquaintances with an unreasoning hatred. He found himself in much the same frame of mind, now.
"So you're Spennie's friend," said Mr. Wesson, "the man who's going to show us all how to act, what?"
"I believe there is some idea of my being a 'confused noise without', or something."
"Haven't they asked you to play Lord Algernon?" inquired Wesson, with more animation than he usually allowed himself to exhibit.
"Who is Lord Algernon?"
"Only a character in the piece we are acting."
"What does he do?"
"He talks to me most of the time," said Molly.
"Then," said Jimmy decidedly, "I seem to see myself making a big hit."
"It's a long part if you aren't used to that sort of thing," said Wesson.
He had hoped that the part with its wealth of opportunity would have fallen to himself.
"I am used to it," said Jimmy. "Thanks."
"If that little beast's after Molly," thought Jimmy, "there will be trouble."
"Come along," said Molly, "and be introduced, and get some tea."
"Well, Molly, dear," said Lady Jane, with a grateful smile at the interruption, "we didn't know what had become of you. Did Dandy give you trouble?"
"Dandy's a darling, and wouldn't do anything of the sort if you asked him to. He's a kind little 'oss, as Thomas says. He only walked away when I got off to pick some roses, and I couldn't catch him. And then I met Jimmy."
"I hope you aren't tired out," said Lady Jane to him. "We thought you would never arrive. It's such a long walk. It was really too careless of Spennie not to let us know when he expected you."
"I was telling Spencer in the automobile," put in Lady Blunt, with ferocity, "that my father would have horsewhipped him if he had been a son of his. He would."
"Really, Julia!" protested Lady Jane rather faintly.
"That's so. And I don't care who knows it. A boy doesn't want to forget things if he's going to make his way in the world. I told Spencer so in the automobile."
Jimmy had noticed that Spennie was not in the room. He now understood his absence. After the ride he had probably felt that an hour or two passed out of his aunt's society would not do him any harm. He was now undergoing a rest cure, Jimmy imagined, in the billiard room.
"I can assure you," said he, by way of lending a helping hand to the absent one, "I really preferred to walk. I have only just landed in England from New York, and it's quite a treat to walk on an English country road again."
"Are you from New York? I wonder if——"
"Jimmy's an old friend," said Molly. "We knew him very well indeed. It was such a surprise meeting him."
"How interesting," said Lady Jane languidly, as if the intellectual strain of the conversation had been too much for her. "You will have such lots to talk about, won't you?"
"I say," said Jimmy, as they moved away, "who is that fellow Wesson?"
"Oh, a man," said Molly vaguely.
"There's no need to be fulsome," said Jimmy. "He can't hear."
"Mother likes him. I don't."
"Hullo," said Molly, "there's father."
The door had opened while they were talking, and Mr. Patrick McEachern had walked solidly into the room. The ornaments on the Chippendale tables jingled as he came. Secretly he was somewhat embarrassed at finding himself in the midst of so many people. He had not yet mastered the art of feeling at home in his own house. At meals he did not fear his wife's guests so much. Their attention was in a manner distributed at such times, instead of being, as now, focused upon himself. He stood there square and massive, outwardly the picture of all that was rugged and independent, looking about him for a friendly face. To offer a general remark, or to go boldly and sit down beside one of those dazzling young ladies, like some heavyweight spider beside a Miss Muffet, was beyond him. In his time he had stopped runaway horses, clubbed mad dogs, and helped to break up East Side gang fights, when the combatants on both sides were using their guns lavishly and impartially; but his courage failed him here.
"Why," said Jimmy, "is your father here, too? I didn't know that."
To himself he reviled his luck. How much would he see of Molly now? Her father's views on himself were no sealed book to him.
Molly looked at him in surprise.
"Didn't know?" she said. "Didn't I tell you the place belonged to father?"
"What!" said Jimmy. "This house?"
"Yes. Of course."
"And—by gad, I've got it. He has married Spennie Blunt's mother."
Suddenly he began to chuckle.
"What is it, Jimmy?"
"Why—why, I've just grasped the fact that your father—your father, mind you—is my host. I'm the honored guest. At his house!"
The chuckle swelled into a laugh. The noise attracted McEachern's attention, and, looking in the direction whence it proceeded, he caught sight of Molly.
With a grin of joy, he made for the sofa.
"Well, father, dear?" said Molly nervously.
Mr. McEachern was staring horribly at Jimmy, who had risen to his feet.
"How do you do, Mr. McEachern?"
The ex-policeman continued to stare.
"Father," said Molly in distress. "Father, let me present—I mean, don't you remember Jimmy? You must remember Jimmy, father! Jimmy Pitt, whom you used to know in New York."
On his native asphalt there are few situations capable of throwing the New York policeman off his balance. In that favored clime, savoir faire is represented by a shrewd left hook at the jaw, and a masterful stroke of the truncheon amounts to a satisfactory repartee. Thus shall you never take the policeman of Manhattan without his answer. In other surroundings, Mr. Patrick McEachern would have known how to deal with his young acquaintance, Mr. Jimmy Pitt. But another plan of action was needed here. First of all, the hints on etiquette with which Lady Jane had favored him, from time to time, and foremost came the mandate: "Never make a scene." Scenes, Lady Jane had explained—on the occasion of his knocking down an objectionable cabman during their honeymoon trip—were of all things what polite society most resolutely abhorred. The natural man in him must be bound in chains. The sturdy blow must give way to the honeyed word. A cold "Really!" was the most vigorous retort that the best circles would countenance.
It had cost Mr. McEachern some pains to learn this lesson, but he had done it; and he proceeded on the present occasion to conduct himself high and disposedly, according to instructions from headquarters.
The surprise of finding an old acquaintance in this company rendered him dumb for a brief space, during which Jimmy looked after the conversation.
"How do you do, Mr. McEachern?" inquired Jimmy genially. "Quite a surprise meeting you in England. A pleasant surprise. By the way, one generally shakes hands in the smartest circles. Yours seem to be down there somewhere. Might I trouble you? Right. Got it? Thanks!"
He bent forward, possessed himself of Mr. McEachern's right hand, which was hanging limply at its proprietor's side, shook it warmly, and replaced it.
"'Wahye?" asked Mr. McEachern gruffly, giving a pleasing air of novelty to the hackneyed salutation by pronouncing it as one word. He took some little time getting into his stride when carrying on polite conversation.
"Very well, thank you. You're looking as strong as ever, Mr. McEachern."
The ex-policeman grunted. In a conversational sense, he was sparring for wind.
Molly had regained her composure by this time. Her father was taking the thing better than she had expected.
"It's Jimmy, father, dear," she said. "Jimmy Pitt."
"Dear old James," murmured the visitor.
"I know, me dear, I know. Wahye?"
"Still well," replied Jimmy cheerfully. "Sitting up, you will notice," he added, waving a hand in the direction of his teacup, "and taking nourishment. No further bulletins will be issued."
"Jimmy is staying here, father. He is the friend Spennie was bringing."
"This is the friend that Spennie brought," said Jimmy in a rapid undertone. "This is the maiden all forlorn who crossed the seas, and lived in the house that sheltered the friend that Spennie brought."
"I see, me dear," said Mr. McEachern slowly. "'Wah——"
"No, I've guessed that one already," said Jimmy. "Ask me another."
Molly looked reproachfully at him. His deplorable habit of chaffing her father had caused her trouble in the old days. It may be admitted that this recreation of Jimmy's was not in the best taste; but it must also be remembered that the relations between the two had always been out of the ordinary. Great as was his affection for Molly, Jimmy could not recollect a time when war had not been raging in a greater or lesser degree between the ex-policeman and himself.
"It is very kind of you to invite me down here," said he. "We shall be able to have some cozy chats over old times when I was a wanderer on the face of the earth, and you——"
"Yis, yis," interrupted Mr. McEachern hastily, "somewhere ilse, aftherward."
"You shall choose time and place, of course. I was only going to ask you how you liked leaving the——"
"United States?" put in Mr. McEachern, with an eagerness which broadened his questioner's friendly smile, as the Honorable Louis Wesson came toward them.
"Well, I'm not after saying it was not a wrinch at firrst, but I considered it best to lave Wall Street—Wall Street, ye understand, before——"
"I see. Before you fell a victim to the feverish desire for reckless speculation which is so marked a characteristic of the American business man, what?"
"That's it," said the other, relieved.
"I, too, have been speculating," said Mr. Wesson, "as to whether you would care to show me the rose garden, Miss McEachern, as you promised yesterday. Of all flowers, I love roses best. You remember Bryant's lines, Miss McEachern? 'The rose that lives its little hour is prized beyond the sculptured flower.'"
Jimmy interposed firmly. "I'm very sorry," he said, "but the fact is Miss McEachern has just promised to take me with her to feed the fowls.
"I gamble on fowls," he thought. "There must be some in a high-class establishment of this kind."
"I'd quite forgotten," said Molly.
"I thought you had. We'd better start at once. Nothing upsets a fowl more than having to wait for dinner."
"Nonsense, me dear Molly," said Mr. McEachern bluffly. "Run along and show Mr. Wesson the roses. Nobody wants to waste time over a bunch of hens."
"Perhaps not," said Jimmy thoughtfully, "perhaps not. I might be better employed here, amusing the people by telling them all about our old New York days and——"
Mr. McEachern might have been observed, and was so observed by Jimmy, to swallow somewhat convulsively.
"But as Molly promised ye——" said he.
"Just so," said Jimmy. "My own sentiments, neatly expressed. Shall we start, Miss McEachern?"
"That fellah," said Mr. Wesson solemnly to his immortal soul, "is a damn bounder. And cad," he added after a moment's reflection.
The fowls lived in a little world of noise and smells at the back of the stables. The first half of the journey thither was performed in silence. Molly's cheerful little face was set in what she probably imagined to be a forbidding scowl. The tilt of her chin spoke of displeasure.
"If a penny would be any use to you," said Jimmy, breaking the tension.
"I'm not at all pleased with you," said Molly severely.
"How can you say such savage things! And me an orphan, too! What's the trouble? What have I done?"
"You know perfectly well. Making fun of father like that."
"My dear girl, he loved it. Brainy badinage of that sort is exchanged every day in the best society. You should hear dukes and earls! The wit! the esprit! The flow of soul! Mine is nothing to it. What's this in the iron pot? Is this what you feed them? Queer birds, hens—I wouldn't touch the stuff for a fortune. It looks perfectly poisonous. Flock around, you pullets. Come in your thousands. All bad nuts returned, and a souvenir goes with every corpse. A little more of this putrescent mixture for you, sir. Certainly, pick up your dead, pick up your dead."
An unwilling dimple appeared on Molly's chin, like a sunbeam through clouds.
"All the same," she said, "you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jimmy."
"I haven't time when I find myself stopping in the same house with a girl I've been looking for for three years."
Molly looked away. There was silence for a moment.
"Used you ever to think of me?" she said quietly.
That curious constraint which had fallen upon Jimmy in the road came to him again, now, as sobering as a blow. Something which he could not define had changed the atmosphere. Suddenly in an instant, like a shallow stream that runs babbling over the stones into some broad, still pool, the note of their talk had deepened.
"Yes," he said simply. He could find no words for what he wished to say.
"I've thought of you—often," said Molly.
He took a step toward her. But the moment had passed. Her mood had changed in a flash, or seemed to have changed. The stream babbled on over the stones again.
"Be careful, Jimmy! You nearly touched me with the spoon. I don't want to be covered with that horrible stuff. Look at that poor, little chicken out there in the cold. It hasn't had a morsel."
Jimmy responded to her lead. There was nothing else for him to do.
"It's in luck," he said.
"Give it a spoonful."
"It can have one if it likes. But it's taking big risks. Here you are, Hercules. Pitch in."
He scraped the last spoonful out of the iron pot, and they began to walk back to the house.
"You're very quiet, Jimmy," said Molly.
"I was thinking."
"Lots of things."
"That among others."
"Dear old New York," said Molly, with a little sigh. "I'm not sure it wasn't—I mean, I sometimes wish—oh, you know. I mean it's lovely here, but it was nice in the old days, wasn't it, Jimmy? It's a pity that things change, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't mind things changing, if people don't."
"Do you think I've changed? You said I hadn't when we met in the road."
"You haven't, as far as looks go."
"Have I changed in other ways?"
Jimmy looked at her.
"I don't know," he said slowly.
They were in the hall, now. Keggs had just left after beating the dressing gong. The echoes of it still lingered. Molly paused on the bottom step.
"I haven't, Jimmy," she said; and ran on up the stairs.
Jimmy dressed for dinner in a very exalted frame of mind that night. It seemed to him that he had awakened from a sort of a stupor. Life was so much fuller of possibilities than he had imagined a few days back. The sudden acquisition of his uncle's money had, in a manner, brought him to a halt. Till then the exhilarating feeling of having his hand against the world had lent a zest to life. There had been no monotony. There had always been obstacles. One may hardly perhaps dilate on the joys of toil in connection with him, considering the precise methods by which he had supported himself; but nevertheless his emotions when breaking the law of the United States had been akin to those of the honest worker in so far that his operations had satisfied the desire for action which possesses every man of brains and energy. They had given him something to do. He had felt alive. His uncle's legacy had left him with a sensation of abrupt stoppage. Life had suddenly become aimless.
But now everything was altered. Once more the future was a thing of importance, to-morrow a day to be looked forward to with keen expectation.
He tried to throw his mind back to the last occasion when he had seen Molly. He could not remember that he had felt any excessive emotion. Between camaraderie and love there is a broad gulf. It had certainly never been bridged in the old New York days. Then the frank friendliness of which the American girl appears to have the monopoly had been Molly's chief charm in his eyes. It had made possible a comradeship such as might have existed between men. But now there was a difference. England seemed to have brought about a subtle change in her. Instinctively he felt that the old friendship, adequate before, was not enough now. He wanted more. The unexpected meeting, following so closely upon Spike's careless words in London, had shown him his true feelings. Misgivings crept upon him. Had he a right? Was it fair? He looked back at the last eight years of his life with the eye of an impartial judge. He saw them stripped of the glamour which triumphant cunning had lent them; saw them as they would appear to Molly.
He scowled at his reflection in the glass. "You've been a bad lot, my son," he said. "There's only one thing in your favor; and that is the fact that you've cut it all out for keeps. We must be content with that."
There was a furtive rap at the door. "Hullo?" said Jimmy. "Yes?"
The door opened slowly. A grin, surmounted by a mop of red hair, appeared round the edge of it.
"Well, Spike. Come in. What's the matter?"
The rest of Mr. Mullins entered the room.
"Gee, Mr. Chames, I wasn't sure dat dis was your room. Say, who do youse t'ink I nearly bumped me coco ag'in out in de corridor? Why, old man McEachern, de cop. Dat's right!"
"Sure. Say, what's he doin' on dis beat? Youse c'u'd have knocked me down wit' a bit of poiper when I see him. I pretty near went down and out. Dat's right. Me heart ain't got back home yet."
"Did he recognize you?"
"Sure! He starts like an actor on top de stoige when he sees he's up against de plot to ruin him, an' he gives me de fierce eye."
"I was wondering was I on Third Avenue, or was I standing on me coco, or what was I doin', anyhow. Den I slips off and chases meself up here. Say, Mr. Chames, can youse put me wise? What's de game? What's old man McEachern doin' stunts dis side for?"
"It's all right, Spike. Keep calm. I can explain. Mr. McEachern owns the house."
"On your way, Mr. Chames! What's dat?"
"This is his house we're in, now. He left the force three years ago, came over here, and bought this place. And here we are again, all gathered together under the same roof, like a jolly little family party."
Spike's open mouth bore witness to his amazement.
"Den all dis——"
"Belongs to him? That's it. We are his guests, Spike."
"But what's he goin' to do?"
"I couldn't say. I'm expecting to hear shortly. But we needn't worry ourselves. The next move's with him. If he wants to say anything about it, he must come to me."
"Sure. It's up to him," agreed Spike.
"I'm quite comfortable. Speaking for myself, I'm having a good time. How are you getting on downstairs?"
"De limit, Mr. Chames. Honest, I'm on pink velvet. Dey's an old gazebo, de butler, Keggs his name is, dat's de best ever at handing out long woids. I sit and listen. Dey calls me Mr. Mullins down dere," said Spike, with pride.
"Good. I'm glad you're all right. There's no reason why we shouldn't have an excellent time here. I don't think that Mr. McEachern will turn us out, after he's heard one or two little things I have to say to him. Just a few reminiscences of the past which may interest him. I have the greatest affection for Mr. McEachern, though he did club me once with his night stick; but nothing shall make me stir from here for the next week at any rate."
"Not on your life," agreed Spike. "Say, Mr. Chames, he must have got a lot of plunks to buy dis place. And I know how he got dem, too. Dat's right. I comes from old New York meself."
"Hush, Spike, this is scandal!"
"Sure," said the Bowery boy doggedly, securely mounted now on his favorite hobby horse. "I knows, and youse knows, Mr. Chames. Gee, I wish I'd bin a cop. But I wasn't tall enough. Dey's de fellers wit' de long green in der banks. Look at dis old McEachern. Money to boin a wet dog wit', he's got, and never a bit of woik for it from de start to de finish. An' look at me, Mr. Chames."
"I do, Spike, I do."
"Look at me. Getting busy all de year round, woiking to beat de band all——"
"In prisons oft," said Jimmy.
"Dat's right. And chased all roun' de town. And den what? Why, to de bad at de end of it all. Say, it's enough to make a feller——"
"Turn honest." said Jimmy. "You've hit it, Spike. You'll be glad some day that you reformed."
But on this point Spike seemed to be doubtful. He was silent for a moment; then, as if following upon a train of thoughts, he said: "Mr. Chames, dis is a fine big house."
"Say, couldn't we——"
"Spike!" said Jimmy warningly.
"Well, couldn't we?" said Spike doggedly. "It ain't often youse butts into a dead-easy proposition like dis one. We shouldn't have to do a t'ing excep' git busy. De stuff's just lying about, Mr. Chames."
"I have noticed it."
"Aw, it's a waste to leave it."
"Spike," said Jimmy, "I warned you of this. I begged you to be on your guard, to fight against your professional instincts; and you must do it. I know it's hard, but it's got to be done. Try and occupy your mind. Collect butterflies."
Spike shuffled in gloomy silence.
"'Member dose jools we got in de hotel de year before I was copped?" he asked at length irrelevantly.
Jimmy finished tying his tie, looked at the result for a moment in the glass, then replied: "Yes, I remember."
"We got anudder key dat fitted de door. 'Member dat?"
"And some of dose knock-out drops. What's dat? Chloryform? Dat's right. An' we didn't do a t'ing else. An' we lived for de rest of de year on dose jools."
"Dat was to de good," he said wistfully.
Jimmy made no reply.
"Dere's a loidy here," continued Spike, addressing the chest of drawers, "dat's got a necklace of jools what's wort' two hundred thousand plunks."
"Two hundred thousand plunks," breathed Spike.
"What a necklace!" thought Jimmy.
"Keggs told me dat. De old gazebo what hands out de long woids. I could find out where dey're kept dead easy.'
"What a king of necklaces!" thought Jimmy.
"Shall I, Mr. Chames?"
"Shall you what?" asked Jimmy, coming out of his thoughts with a start.
"Why, find out where de loidy keeps de jools."
"Confound you, Spike! How often am I to tell you that I have done with all that sort of thing forever? I never want to see or touch another stone that doesn't belong to me. I don't want to hear about them. They don't interest me."
"Sorry, Mr. Chames. But dey must cop de limit for fair, dose jools. Two hundred t'ousand plunks! What's dat dis side?"
"Forty thousand pounds," said Jimmy shortly. "Now, drop it."
"Yes, Mr. Chames. Can I help youse wit' de duds?"
"No, thanks. Spike; I'm through, now. You might just give me a brush down, though, if you don't mind. Not that. That's a hair brush. Try the big black one."
"Dis is a dude suit for fair," observed Spike, pausing in his labors.
"Glad you like it, Spike."
"It's de limit. Excuse me. How much of de long green did youse pungle for it, Mr. Chames?"
"I really can't remember," said Jimmy, with a laugh. "I could look up the bill and let you know. Seventy guineas, I fancy."
"What's dat—guineas? Is dat more dan a pound?"
"A shilling more. Why?"
Spike resumed his brushing.
"What a lot of dude suits youse could get," he observed meditatively, "if youse had dose jools."
"Oh, curse the jewels for the hundredth time!" snapped Jimmy.
"Yes, Mr. Chames. But, say, dat must be a boid of a necklace, dat one. You'll be seeing it at de dinner, Mr. Chames."
Whatever comment Jimmy might have made on this insidious statement was checked by a sudden bang on the door. Almost simultaneously the handle turned.
"P'Chee!" cried Spike. "It's de cop!"
Jimmy smiled pleasantly.
"Come in, Mr. McEachern," he said, "come in. Journeys end in lovers meeting. You know my friend, Mr. Mullins, I think? Shut the door, and sit down and let's talk of many things."
"It's a conspiracy!" thundered Mr. McEachern.
He stood in the doorway, breathing heavily. It has been shown that the ex-policeman was somewhat prone to harbor suspicions of those round about him, and at the present moment his mind was aflame. Indeed, a more trusting man might have been excused for feeling a little doubtful as to the intentions of Jimmy and Spike. When McEachern had heard that his stepson had brought home a casual London acquaintance, he had suspected the existence of hidden motives on the part of the unknown. Spennie, he had told himself, was precisely the sort of youth to whom the professional bunko-steerer would attach himself with shouts of joy. Never, he had assured himself, had there been a softer proposition than his stepson since bunko-steering became a profession.
When he found that the strange visitor was Jimmy Pitt, his suspicions had increased a thousandfold.
And when, going to his dressing room to get ready for dinner, he had nearly run into Spike Mullins, Red Spike of shameful memory, his frame of mind had been that of a man to whom a sudden ray of light reveals the fact that he is on the very brink of a black precipice. Jimmy and Spike had been a firm in New York. And here they were, together again, in his house in Shropshire. To say that the thing struck McEachern as sinister is to put the matter baldly. There was once a gentleman who remarked that he smelt a rat and saw it floating in the air. Ex-constable McEachern smelt a regiment of rats, and the air seemed to him positively congested with them.
His first impulse had been to rush to Jimmy's room there and then; but Lady Jane had trained him well. Though the heavens might fall, he must not be late for dinner. So he went and dressed, and an obstinate tie put the finishing touches to his wrath.
Jimmy regarded him coolly, without moving from the chair in which he had seated himself. Spike, on the other hand, seemed embarrassed. He stood first on one leg and then on the other, as if he were testing the respective merits of each, and would make a definite choice later on.
"Ye scoundrels!" growled McEachern.
Spike, who had been standing for a few moments on his right leg, and seemed at last to have come to a decision, hastily changed to the left, and grinned feebly.
"Say, youse won't want me any more, Mr. Chames?" he whispered.
"No; you can go, Spike."
"Ye stay where y'are, ye red-headed limb."
"Run along, Spike!" said Jimmy.
The Bowery boy looked doubtfully at the huge form of the ex-policeman, which blocked access to the door.
"Would you mind letting my man pass?" said Jimmy.
"Ye stay——" began McEachern.
Jimmy got up, and walked round him to the door, which he opened. Spike shot out like a rabbit released from a trap. He was not lacking in courage, but he disliked embarrassing interviews, and it struck him that Mr. Chames was the man to handle a situation of this kind. He felt that he himself would only be in the way.
"Now we can talk comfortably," said Jimmy, going back to his chair.
McEachern's deep-set eyes gleamed, and his forehead grew red; but he mastered his feelings.
"An' now," said he, "perhaps ye'll explain!"
"What exactly?" asked Jimmy.
"What ye're doin' here."
"Nothing at the moment."
"Ye know what I mane. Why are ye here, you and that red-headed devil?"
He jerked his head in the direction of the door.
"I am here because I was very kindly invited to come by your stepson."
"I know ye."
"You have that privilege."
"I know ye, I say, and I want to know what ye're here to do."
"To do? Well, I shall potter about the garden, don't you know, and smell the roses, and look at the horses, and feed the chickens, and perhaps go for an occasional row on the lake. Nothing more. Oh, yes, I believe they want me to act in these theatricals."
"An' I'll tell ye another thing ye'll be wanted to do, and that is to go away from here at wance!"
"My dear old sir!"
"Ye hear me? At wance."
"Couldn't think of it," said Jimmy decidedly. "Not for a moment."
"I'll expose ye," stormed McEachern. "I'll expose ye. Will ye deny that ye was a crook in New York?"
"What proofs have you?"
"Proofs! Will you deny it?"
"No. It's quite true."
"I knew it."
"But I'm a reformed character, now, Mr. McEachern. I have money of my own. It was left me. I hear you had money left you, too."
"I did," said McEachern shortly.
"Congratulate you. I'm glad I know, because otherwise I might have formed quite a wrong impression when I came here and found you with money to burn. Quite the old English squire now, Mr. McEachern, what?"
"Ye'll lave the house to-morrow."
"All the more reason why we should make the most of this opportunity of talking over old times. Did you mind leaving the force?"
"And ye'll take that blackguard Mullins wid ye."
"Judging from the stories one hears, it must be a jolly sort of life. What a pity so many of them go in for graft. I could tell you some stories about a policeman I used to know in New York. He was the champion grafter. I remember hearing one yarn from a newspaper man out there. This reporter chap happened to hear of the grumblings of some tenants of an apartment house uptown which led them to believe that certain noises they complained of were made by burglars who used the flat as a place to pack up the loot for shipment to other cities. You know that habit of ours, don't you? He was quite right, and when he tipped off his newspaper they reported the thing to the police. Now, I could have gone right up and made those men show up their hands by merely asking them to.
"Not so the police. I wonder if you remember the case. You look as if you were beginning to. The police went blundering at wrong doors, and most of the gang got away. And while they were in the house after the raid a woman was able to slip in and take away on an express wagon the three trunks which were to have been held for evidence. And that's not all, either. There was one particular policeman who held the case for the prosecution in his hands. If he had played up in court next day, the one man that had been captured would have got all that was coming to him. What happened? Why, his evidence broke down, and the man was discharged. It's a long story. I hope it hasn't bored you."
McEachern did not look bored. He was mopping his forehead, and breathing quickly.
"It was a most interesting case," said Jimmy. "I've got all the names."
"It's a lie!"
"Not at all. True as anything. Ever heard of that policeman—I've got his name, too—who made a lot of money by getting appointments in the force for men of his acquaintance? He used to be paid heavily for it, and you'd hardly believe what a lot of scoundrels he let in in that way."
"See here——" began McEachern huskily.
"I wonder if you ever came across any men in the force who made anything by that dodge of arresting a person and then getting a lawyer for them. Ever heard of that? It's rather like a double ruff at bridge. You—I'm awfully sorry. I shouldn't have used that word. What I meant to say was the policeman makes his arrest, then suggests that the person had better have a bondsman. He gathers in a bondsman, who charges the prisoner four dollars for bailing him out. Two dollars of this goes to the sergeant, who accepts the bail without question, and the policeman takes one. Then the able and intelligent officer says to the prisoner: 'What you want is a lawyer.' 'Right,' says the prisoner, 'if you think so.' Off goes the policeman and gets the lawyer. Five more dollars, of which he gets his share. It's a beautiful system. It might interest the people at dinner to-night to hear about it. I think I'll tell them."
"And when you come to think that some policemen in New York take tribute from peddlers who obstruct the traffic, tradesmen who obstruct the sidewalk, restaurant keepers who keep open after one o'clock in the morning, drivers who exceed speed limits, and keepers of pool rooms, you'll understand that there's a good bit to be made out of graft, if you go in for it seriously. It's uncommonly lucky, McEachern, that you were left that money. Otherwise you might have been tempted, mightn't you?"
There was a somewhat breathless silence in the room. Mr. McEachern was panting slightly.
"You couldn't reconsider your decision about sending me away to-morrow, I suppose?" said Jimmy, flicking at his shoes with a handkerchief. "It's a lovely part of the country, this. I would be sorry to leave it."
Mr. McEachern's brain was working with unwonted rapidity. This man must be silenced at all costs. It would be fatal to his prospects in English society if one tithe of these gruesome stories were made public. And he believed Jimmy capable of making them public, being guilty thereby of an error of judgment. Jimmy, though he had no respect at all for Mr. McEachern, would have died sooner than spread any story which, even in an indirect way, could reflect upon Molly. Mr. McEachern, however, had not the advantage of knowing his antagonist's feelings, and the bluff was successful.
"Ye can stay," he said.
"Thanks," said Jimmy.
"And I'll beg ye not to mention the force at dinner or at any other time."
"I won't dream of it."
"They think I made me money on Wall Street."
"It would have been a slower job there. You were wise in your choice. Shall we go down to the drawing-room, now?"
"Ye say y'are rich yerself," said McEachern.
"Very," said Jimmy, "so don't you worry yourself, my Wall Street speculator."
Mr. McEachern did not worry himself. He had just recollected that in a very short time he would have a trained detective on the premises. Any looking after that James Willoughby Pitt might require might safely be left in the hands of this expert.