THE INTRUSION OF JIMMY
CHAPTER I. JIMMY MAKES A BET II. PYRAMUS AND THISBE III. MR. MCEACHERN IV. MOLLY V. A THIEF IN THE NIGHT VI. AN EXHIBITION PERFORMANCE VII. GETTING ACQUAINTED VIII. AT DREEVER IX. FRIENDS, NEW AND OLD X. JIMMY ADOPTS A LAME DOG XI. AT THE TURN OF THE ROAD XII. MAKING A START XIII. SPIKE'S VIEWS XIV. CHECK AND A COUNTER MOVE XV. MR. McEACHERN INTERVENES XVI. A MARRIAGE ARRANGED XVII. JIMMY REMEMBERS SOMETHING XVIII. THE LOCHINVAR METHOD XIX. ON THE LAKE XX. A LESSON IN PICQUET XXI. LOATHSOME GIFTS XXII. TWO OF A TRADE DISAGREE XXIII. FAMILY JARS XXIV. THE TREASURE-SEEKER XXV. EXPLANATIONS XXVI. STIRRING TIMES FOR SIR THOMAS XXVII. A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE XXVIII. SPENNIE'S HOUR OF CLEAR VISION XXIX. THE LAST ROUND XXX. CONCLUSION
JIMMY MAKES A BET
The main smoking-room of the Strollers' Club had been filling for the last half-hour, and was now nearly full. In many ways, the Strollers', though not the most magnificent, is the pleasantest club in New York. Its ideals are comfort without pomp; and it is given over after eleven o'clock at night mainly to the Stage. Everybody is young, clean-shaven, and full of conversation: and the conversation strikes a purely professional note.
Everybody in the room on this July night had come from the theater. Most of those present had been acting, but a certain number had been to the opening performance of the latest better-than-Raffles play. There had been something of a boom that season in dramas whose heroes appealed to the public more pleasantly across the footlights than they might have done in real life. In the play that had opened to-night, Arthur Mifflin, an exemplary young man off the stage, had been warmly applauded for a series of actions which, performed anywhere except in the theater, would certainly have debarred him from remaining a member of the Strollers' or any other club. In faultless evening dress, with a debonair smile on his face, he had broken open a safe, stolen bonds and jewelry to a large amount, and escaped without a blush of shame via the window. He had foiled a detective through four acts, and held up a band of pursuers with a revolver. A large audience had intimated complete approval throughout.
"It's a hit all right," said somebody through the smoke.
"These near-'Raffles' plays always are," grumbled Willett, who played bluff fathers in musical comedy. "A few years ago, they would have been scared to death of putting on a show with a crook as hero. Now, it seems to me the public doesn't want anything else. Not that they know what they DO want," he concluded, mournfully.
"The Belle of Boulogne," in which Willett sustained the role of Cyrus K. Higgs, a Chicago millionaire, was slowly fading away on a diet of paper, and this possibly prejudiced him.
Raikes, the character actor, changed the subject. If Willett once got started on the wrongs of the ill-fated "Belle," general conversation would become impossible. Willett, denouncing the stupidity of the public, as purely a monologue artiste.
"I saw Jimmy Pitt at the show," said Raikes. Everybody displayed interest.
"Jimmy Pitt? When did he come back? I thought he was in Italy."
"He came on the Lusitania, I suppose. She docked this morning."
"Jimmy Pitt?" said Sutton, of the Majestic Theater. "How long has he been away? Last I saw of him was at the opening of 'The Outsider' at the Astor. That's a couple of months ago."
"He's been traveling in Europe, I believe," said Raikes. "Lucky beggar to be able to. I wish I could."
Sutton knocked the ash off his cigar.
"I envy Jimmy," he said. "I don't know anyone I'd rather be. He's got much more money than any man except a professional 'plute' has any right to. He's as strong as an ox. I shouldn't say he'd ever had anything worse than measles in his life. He's got no relations. And he isn't married."
Sutton, who had been married three times, spoke with some feeling.
"He's a good chap, Jimmy," said Raikes.
"Yes," said Arthur Mifflin, "yes, Jimmy is a good chap. I've known him for years. I was at college with him. He hasn't got my brilliance of intellect; but he has some wonderfully fine qualities. For one thing, I should say he had put more deadbeats on their legs again than half the men in New York put together."
"Well," growled Willett, whom the misfortunes of the Belle had soured, "what's there in that? It's mighty easy to do the philanthropist act when you're next door to a millionaire."
"Yes," said Mifflin warmly, "but it's not so easy when you're getting thirty dollars a week on a newspaper. When Jimmy was a reporter on the News, there used to be a whole crowd of fellows just living on him. Not borrowing an occasional dollar, mind you, but living on him—sleeping on his sofa, and staying to breakfast. It made me mad. I used to ask him why he stood for it. He said there was nowhere else for them to go, and he thought he could see them through all right—which he did, though I don't see how he managed it on thirty a week."
"If a man's fool enough to be an easy mark—" began Willett.
"Oh, cut it out!" said Raikes. "We don't want anybody knocking Jimmy here."
"All the same," said Sutton, "it seems to me that it was mighty lucky that he came into that money. You can't keep open house for ever on thirty a week. By the way, Arthur, how was that? I heard it was his uncle."
"It wasn't his uncle," said Mifflin. "It was by way of being a romance of sorts, I believe. Fellow who had been in love with Jimmy's mother years ago went West, made a pile, and left it to Mrs. Pitt or her children. She had been dead some time when that happened. Jimmy, of course, hadn't a notion of what was coming to him, when suddenly he got a solicitor's letter asking him to call. He rolled round, and found that there was about five hundred thousand dollars just waiting for him to spend it."
Jimmy Pitt had now definitely ousted "Love, the Cracksman" as a topic of conversation. Everybody present knew him. Most of them had known him in his newspaper days; and, though every man there would have perished rather than admit it, they were grateful to Jimmy for being exactly the same to them now that he could sign a check for half a million as he had been on the old thirty-a-week basis. Inherited wealth, of course, does not make a young man nobler or more admirable; but the young man does not always know this.
"Jimmy's had a queer life," said Mifflin. "He's been pretty much everything in his time. Did you know he was on the stage before he took up newspaper-work? Only on the road, I believe. He got tired of it, and cut it out. That's always been his trouble. He wouldn't settle down to anything. He studied law at Yale, but he never kept it up. After he left the stage, he moved all over the States, without a cent, picking up any odd job he could get. He was a waiter once for a couple of days, but they fired him for breaking plates. Then, he got a job in a jeweler's shop. I believe he's a bit of an expert on jewels. And, another time, he made a hundred dollars by staying three rounds against Kid Brady when the Kid was touring the country after he got the championship away from Jimmy Garwin. The Kid was offering a hundred to anyone who could last three rounds with him. Jimmy did it on his head. He was the best amateur of his weight I ever saw. The Kid wanted him to take up scrapping seriously. But Jimmy wouldn't have stuck to anything long enough in those days. He's one of the gypsies of the world. He was never really happy unless he was on the move, and he doesn't seem to have altered since he came into his money."
"Well, he can afford to keep on the move now," said Raikes. "I wish I—"
"Did you ever hear about Jimmy and—" Mifflin was beginning, when the Odyssey of Jimmy Pitt was interrupted by the opening of the door and the entrance of Ulysses in person.
Jimmy Pitt was a young man of medium height, whose great breadth and depth of chest made him look shorter than he really was. His jaw was square, and protruded slightly; and this, combined with a certain athletic jauntiness of carriage and a pair of piercing brown eyes very much like those of a bull-terrier, gave him an air of aggressiveness, which belied his character. He was not aggressive. He had the good-nature as well as the eyes of a bull-terrier. Also, he possessed, when stirred, all the bull-terrier's dogged determination.
There were shouts of welcome.
"When did you get back?"
"Come and sit down. Plenty of room over here."
"Where is my wandering boy tonight?"
"Waiter! What's yours, Jimmy?"
Jimmy dropped into a seat, and yawned.
"Well," he said, "how goes it? Hullo, Raikes! Weren't you at 'Love, the Cracksman'? I thought I saw you. Hullo, Arthur! Congratulate you. You spoke your piece nicely."
"Thanks," said Mifflin. "We were just talking about you, Jimmy. You came on the Lusitania, I suppose?"
"She didn't break the record this time," said Sutton.
A somewhat pensive look came into Jimmy's eyes.
"She came much too quick for me," he said. "I don't see why they want to rip along at that pace," he went on, hurriedly. "I like to have a chance of enjoying the sea-air."
"I know that sea-air," murmured Mifflin.
Jimmy looked up quickly.
"What are you babbling about, Arthur?"
"I said nothing," replied Mifflin, suavely.
"What did you think of the show tonight, Jimmy?" asked Raikes.
"I liked it. Arthur was fine. I can't make out, though, why all this incense is being burned at the feet of the cracksman. To judge by some of the plays they produce now, you'd think that a man had only to be a successful burglar to become a national hero. One of these days, we shall have Arthur playing Charles Peace to a cheering house."
"It is the tribute," said Mifflin, "that bone-headedness pays to brains. It takes brains to be a successful cracksman. Unless the gray matter is surging about in your cerebrum, as in mine, you can't hope—"
Jimmy leaned back in his chair, and spoke calmly but with decision.
"Any man of ordinary intelligence," he said, "could break into a house."
Mifflin jumped up and began to gesticulate. This was heresy.
"My good man, what absolute—"
"I could," said Jimmy, lighting a cigarette.
There was a roar of laughter and approval. For the past few weeks, during the rehearsals of "Love, the Cracksman," Arthur Mifflin had disturbed the peace at the Strollers' with his theories on the art of burglary. This was his first really big part, and he had soaked himself in it. He had read up the literature of burglary. He had talked with men from Pinkerton's. He had expounded his views nightly to his brother Strollers, preaching the delicacy and difficulty of cracking a crib till his audience had rebelled. It charmed the Strollers to find Jimmy, obviously of his own initiative and not to be suspected of having been suborned to the task by themselves, treading with a firm foot on the expert's favorite corn within five minutes of their meeting.
"You!" said Arthur Mifflin, with scorn.
"You! Why, you couldn't break into an egg unless it was a poached one."
"What'll you bet?" said Jimmy.
The Strollers began to sit up and take notice. The magic word "bet," when uttered in that room, had rarely failed to add a zest to life. They looked expectantly at Arthur Mifflin.
"Go to bed, Jimmy," said the portrayer of cracksmen. "I'll come with you and tuck you in. A nice, strong cup of tea in the morning, and you won't know there has ever been anything the matter with you."
A howl of disapproval rose from the company. Indignant voices accused Arthur Mifflin of having a yellow streak. Encouraging voices urged him not to be a quitter.
"See! They scorn you," said Jimmy. "And rightly. Be a man, Arthur. What'll you bet?"
Mr. Mifflin regarded him with pity.
"You don't know what you're up against, Jimmy," he said. "You're half a century behind the times. You have an idea that all a burglar needs is a mask, a blue chin, and a dark lantern. I tell you he requires a highly specialized education. I've been talking to these detective fellows, and I know. Now, take your case, you worm. Have you a thorough knowledge of chemistry, physics, toxicology—"
"—electricity and microscopy?"
"You have discovered my secret."
"Can you use an oxy-acetylene blow-pipe?"
"I never travel without one."
"What do you know about the administration of anaesthetics?"
"Practically everything. It is one of my favorite hobbies."
"Can you make 'soup'?"
"Soup," said Mr. Mifflin, firmly.
Jimmy raised his eyebrows.
"Does an architect make bricks?" he said. "I leave the rough preliminary work to my corps of assistants. They make my soup."
"You mustn't think Jimmy's one of your common yeggs," said Sutton. "He's at the top of his profession. That's how he made his money. I never did believe that legacy story."
"Jimmy," said Mr. Mifflin, "couldn't crack a child's money-box. Jimmy couldn't open a sardine-tin."
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.
"What'll you bet?" he said again. "Come on, Arthur; you're earning a very good salary. What'll you bet?"
"Make it a dinner for all present," suggested Raikes, a canny person who believed in turning the wayside happenings of life, when possible, to his personal profit.
The suggestion was well received.
"All right," said Mifflin. "How many of us are there? One, two, three, four—Loser buys a dinner for twelve."
"A good dinner," interpolated Raikes, softly.
"A good dinner," said Jimmy. "Very well. How long do you give me, Arthur?"
"How long do you want?"
"There ought to be a time-limit," said Raikes. "It seems to me that a flyer like Jimmy ought to be able to manage it at short notice. Why not tonight? Nice, fine night. If Jimmy doesn't crack a crib tonight, it's up to him. That suit you, Jimmy?"
Willett interposed. Willett had been endeavoring to drown his sorrows all the evening, and the fact was a little noticeable in his speech.
"See here," he said, "how's J-Jimmy going to prove he's done it?"
"Personally, I can take his word," said Mifflin.
"That be h-hanged for a tale. Wha-what's to prevent him saying he's done it, whether he has or not?"
The Strollers looked uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it was Jimmy's affair.
"Why, you'd get your dinner in any case," said Jimmy. "A dinner from any host would smell as sweet."
Willett persisted with muddled obstinacy.
"Thash—thash not point. It's principle of thing. Have thish thing square and 'bove board, I say. Thash what I say."
"And very creditable to you being able to say it," said Jimmy, cordially. "See if you can manage 'Truly rural'."
"What I say is—this! Jimmy's a fakir. And what I say is what's prevent him saying he's done it when hasn't done it?"
"That'll be all right," said Jimmy. "I'm going to bury a brass tube with the Stars and Stripes in it under the carpet."
Willett waved his hand.
"Thash quite sh'factory," he said, with dignity. "Nothing more to say."
"Or a better idea," said Jimmy. "I'll carve a big J on the inside of the front door. Then, anybody who likes can make inquiries next day. Well, I'm off home. Glad it's all settled. Anybody coming my way?"
"Yes," said Arthur Mifflin. "We'll walk. First nights always make me as jumpy as a cat. If I don't walk my legs off, I shan't get to sleep tonight at all."
"If you think I'm going to help you walk your legs off, my lad, you're mistaken. I propose to stroll gently home, and go to bed."
"Every little helps," said Mifflin. "Come along."
"You want to keep an eye on Jimmy, Arthur," said Sutton. "He'll sand-bag you, and lift your watch as soon as look at you. I believe he's Arsene Lupin in disguise."
PYRAMUS AND THISBE
The two men turned up the street. They walked in silence. Arthur Mifflin was going over in his mind such outstanding events of the evening as he remembered—the nervousness, the relief of finding that he was gripping his audience, the growing conviction that he had made good; while Jimmy seemed to be thinking his own private thoughts. They had gone some distance before either spoke.
"Who is she, Jimmy?" asked Mifflin.
Jimmy came out of his thoughts with a start.
"Who is she?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do! The sea air. Who is she?"
"I don't know," said Jimmy, simply.
"You don't know? Well, what's her name?"
"I don't know."
"Doesn't the Lusitania still print a passenger-list?"
"And you couldn't find out her name in five days?"
"And that's the man who thinks he can burgle a house!" said Mifflin, despairingly.
They had arrived now at the building on the second floor of which was Jimmy's flat.
"Coming in?" said Jimmy.
"Well, I was rather thinking of pushing on as far as the Park. I tell you, I feel all on wires."
"Come in, and smoke a cigar. You've got all night before you if you want to do Marathons. I haven't seen you for a couple of months. I want you to tell me all the news."
"There isn't any. Nothing happens in New York. The papers say things do, but they don't. However, I'll come in. It seems to me that you're the man with the news."
Jimmy fumbled with his latch-key.
"You're a bright sort of burglar," said Mifflin, disparagingly. "Why don't you use your oxy-acetylene blow-pipe? Do you realize, my boy, that you've let yourself in for buying a dinner for twelve hungry men next week? In the cold light of the morning, when reason returns to her throne, that'll come home to you."
"I haven't done anything of the sort," said Jimmy, unlocking the door.
"Don't tell me you really mean to try it."
"What else did you think I was going to do?"
"But you can't. You would get caught for a certainty. And what are you going to do then? Say it was all a joke? Suppose they fill you full of bullet-holes! Nice sort of fool you'll look, appealing to some outraged householder's sense of humor, while he pumps you full of lead with a Colt."
"These are the risks of the profession. You ought to know that, Arthur. Think what you went through tonight."
Arthur Mifflin looked at his friend with some uneasiness. He knew how very reckless Jimmy could be when he had set his mind on accomplishing anything, since, under the stimulus of a challenge, he ceased to be a reasoning being, amenable to argument. And, in the present case, he knew that Willett's words had driven the challenge home. Jimmy was not the man to sit still under the charge of being a fakir, no matter whether his accuser had been sober or drunk.
Jimmy, meanwhile, had produced whiskey and cigars. Now, he was lying on his back on the lounge, blowing smoke-rings at the ceiling.
"Well?" said Arthur Mifflin, at length.
"What I meant was, is this silence to be permanent, or are you going to begin shortly to amuse, elevate, and instruct? Something's happened to you, Jimmy. There was a time when you were a bright little chap, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. Where be your gibes now; your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table in a roar when you were paying for the dinner? Yon remind me more of a deaf-mute celebrating the Fourth of July with noiseless powder than anything else on earth. Wake up, or I shall go. Jimmy, we were practically boys together. Tell me about this girl—the girl you loved, and were idiot enough to lose."
Jimmy drew a deep breath.
"Very well," said Mifflin complacently, "sigh if you like; it's better than nothing."
Jimmy sat up.
"Yes, dozens of times," said Mifflin.
"What do you mean?"
"You were just going to ask me if I had ever been in love, weren't you?"
"I wasn't, because I know you haven't. You have no soul. You don't know what love is."
"Have it your own way," said Mifflin, resignedly.
Jimmy bumped back on the sofa.
"I don't either," he said. "That's the trouble."
Mifflin looked interested.
"I know," he said. "You've got that strange premonitory fluttering, when the heart seems to thrill within you like some baby bird singing its first song, when—"
"Oh, cut it out!"
"—when you ask yourself timidly, 'Is it? Can it really be?' and answer shyly, 'No. Yes. I believe it is!' I've been through it dozens of times; it is a recognized early symptom. Unless prompt measures are taken, it will develop into something acute. In these matters, stand on your Uncle Arthur. He knows."
"You make me sick," Jimmy retorted.
"You have our ear," said Mifflin, kindly. "Tell me all."
"There's nothing to tell."
"Don't lie, James."
"Well, practically nothing."
"It was like this."
Jimmy wriggled himself into a more comfortable position, and took a sip from his glass.
"I didn't see her until the second day out."
"I know that second day out. Well?"
"We didn't really meet at all."
"Just happened to be going to the same spot, eh?"
"As a matter of fact, it was like this. Like a fool, I'd bought a second-class ticket."
"What? Our young Rockerbilt Astergould, the boy millionaire, traveling second-class! Why?"
"I had an idea it would be better fun. Everybody's so much more cheery in the second cabin. You get to know people so much quicker. Nine trips out of ten, I'd much rather go second."
"And this was the tenth?"
"She was in the first-cabin," said Jimmy.
Mifflin clutched his forehead.
"Wait!" he cried. "This reminds me of something—something in Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet? No. I've got it—Pyramus and Thisbe."
"I don't see the slightest resemblance."
"Read your 'Midsummer Night's Dream.' 'Pyramus and Thisbe,' says the story, 'did talk through the chink of a wall,'" quoted Mifflin.
"Don't be so literal. You talked across a railing."
"Do you mean to say you didn't talk at all?"
"We didn't say a single word."
Mifflin shook his head sadly.
"I give you up," he said. "I thought you were a man of enterprise. What did you do?"
Jimmy sighed softly.
"I used to stand and smoke against the railing opposite the barber's shop, and she used to walk round the deck."
"And you used to stare at her?"
"I would look in her direction sometimes," corrected Jimmy, with dignity.
"Don't quibble! You stared at her. You behaved like a common rubber-neck, and you know it. I am no prude, James, but I feel compelled to say that I consider your conduct that of a libertine. Used she to walk alone?"
"And, now, you love her, eh? You went on board that ship happy, careless, heart-free. You came off it grave and saddened. Thenceforth, for you, the world could contain but one—woman, and her you had lost."
Mifflin groaned in a hollow and bereaved manner, and took a sip from his glass to buoy him up.
Jimmy moved restlessly on the sofa.
"Do you believe in love at first sight?" he asked, fatuously. He was in the mood when a man says things, the memory of which makes him wake up hot all over for nights to come.
"I don't see what first sight's got to do with it," said Mifflin. "According to your own statement, you stood and glared at the girl for five days without letting up for a moment. I can quite imagine that you might glare yourself into love with anyone by the end of that time."
"I can't see myself settling down," said Jimmy, thoughtfully. "And, until you feel that you want to settle down, I suppose you can't be really in love."
"I was saying practically that about you at the club just before you came in. My somewhat neat expression was that you were one of the gypsies of the world."
"By George, you're quite right!"
"I always am."
"I suppose it's having nothing to do. When I was on the News, I was never like this."
"You weren't on the News long enough to get tired of it."
"I feel now I can't stay in a place more than a week. It's having this money that does it, I suppose."
"New York," said Mifflin, "is full of obliging persons who will be delighted to relieve you of the incubus. Well, James, I shall leave you. I feel more like bed now. By the way, I suppose you lost sight of this girl when you landed?"
"Well, there aren't so many girls in the United States—only twenty million. Or is it forty million? Something small. All you've got to do is to search around a bit. Good-night."
Mr. Mifflin clattered down the stairs. A minute later, the sound of his name being called loudly from the street brought Jimmy to the window. Mifflin was standing on the pavement below, looking up.
"What's the matter now?"
"I forgot to ask. Was she a blonde?"
"Was she a blonde?" yelled Mifflin.
"No," snapped Jimmy.
"Dark, eh?" bawled Mifflin, making night hideous.
"Yes," said Jimmy, shutting the window.
The window went up again.
"Me for blondes!"
"Go to bed!"
"Very well. Good-night."
Jimmy withdrew his head, and sat down in the chair Mifflin had vacated. A moment later, he rose, and switched off the light. It was pleasanter to sit and think in the dark. His thoughts wandered off in many channels, but always came back to the girl on the Lusitania. It was absurd, of course. He didn't wonder that Arthur Mifflin had treated the thing as a joke. Good old Arthur! Glad he had made a success! But was it a joke? Who was it that said, the point of a joke is like the point of a needle, so small that it is apt to disappear entirely when directed straight at oneself? If anybody else had told him such a limping romance, he would have laughed himself. Only, when you are the center of a romance, however limping, you see it from a different angle. Of course, told badly, it was absurd. He could see that. But something away at the back of his mind told him that it was not altogether absurd. And yet—love didn't come like that, in a flash. You might just as well expect a house to spring into being in a moment, or a ship, or an automobile, or a table, or a—He sat up with a jerk. In another instant, he would have been asleep.
He thought of bed, but bed seemed a long way off—the deuce of a way. Acres of carpet to be crawled over, and then the dickens of a climb at the end of it. Besides, undressing! Nuisance—undressing. That was a nice dress the girl had worn on the fourth day out. Tailor-made. He liked tailor-mades. He liked all her dresses. He liked her. Had she liked him? So hard to tell if you don't get a chance of speaking! She was dark. Arthur liked blondes, Arthur was a fool! Good old Arthur! Glad he had made a success! Now, he could marry if he liked! If he wasn't so restless, if he didn't feel that he couldn't stop more than a day in any place! But would the girl have him? If they had never spoken, it made it so hard to—
At this point, Jimmy went to sleep.
At about the time when Jimmy's meditations finally merged themselves in dreams, a certain Mr. John McEachern, Captain of Police, was seated in the parlor of his up-town villa, reading. He was a man built on a large scale. Everything about him was large—his hands, his feet, his shoulders, his chest, and particularly his jaw, which even in his moments of calm was aggressive, and which stood out, when anything happened to ruffle him, like the ram of a battle-ship. In his patrolman days, which had been passed mainly on the East side, this jaw of his had acquired a reputation from Park Row to Fourteenth Street. No gang-fight, however absorbing, could retain the undivided attention of the young blood of the Bowery when Mr. McEachern's jaw hove in sight with the rest of his massive person in close attendance. He was a man who knew no fear, and he had gone through disorderly mobs like an east wind.
But there was another side to his character. In fact, that other side was so large that the rest of him, his readiness in combat and his zeal in breaking up public disturbances, might be said to have been only an off-shoot. For his ambition was as large as his fist and as aggressive as his jaw. He had entered the force with the single idea of becoming rich, and had set about achieving his object with a strenuous vigor that was as irresistible as his mighty locust-stick. Some policemen are born grafters, some achieve graft, and some have graft thrust upon them. Mr. McEachern had begun by being the first, had risen to the second, and for some years now had been a prominent member of the small and hugely prosperous third class, the class that does not go out seeking graft, but sits at home and lets graft come to it.
In his search for wealth, he had been content to abide his time. He did not want the trifling sum that every New York policeman acquires. His object was something bigger, and he was prepared to wait for it. He knew that small beginnings were an annoying but unavoidable preliminary to all great fortunes. Probably, Captain Kidd had started in a small way. Certainly, Mr. Rockefeller had. He was content to follow in the footsteps of the masters.
A patrolman's opportunities of amassing wealth are not great. Mr. McEachern had made the best of a bad job. He had not disdained the dollars that came as single spies rather than in battalions. Until the time should arrive when he might angle for whales, he was prepared to catch sprats.
Much may be done, even on a small scale, by perseverance. In those early days, Mr. McEachern's observant eye had not failed to notice certain peddlers who obstructed the traffic, divers tradesmen who did the same by the side-walk, and of restaurant keepers not a few with a distaste for closing at one o'clock in the morning. His researches in this field were not unprofitable. In a reasonably short space of time, he had put by the three thousand dollars that were the price of his promotion to detective-sergeant. He did not like paying three thousand dollars for promotion, but there must be sinking of capital if an investment is to prosper. Mr. McEachern "came across," and climbed one more step up the ladder.
As detective-sergeant, he found his horizon enlarged. There was more scope for a man of parts. Things moved more rapidly. The world seemed full of philanthropists, anxious to "dress his front" and do him other little kindnesses. Mr. McEachern was no churl. He let them dress his front. He accepted the little kindnesses. Presently, he found that he had fifteen thousand dollars to spare for any small flutter that might take his fancy. Singularly enough, this was the precise sum necessary to make him a captain.
He became a captain. And it was then that he discovered that El Dorado was no mere poet's dream, and that Tom Tiddler's Ground, where one might stand picking up gold and silver, was as definite a locality as Brooklyn or the Bronx. At last, after years of patient waiting, he stood like Moses on the mountain, looking down into the Promised Land. He had come to where the Big Money was.
The captain was now reading the little note-book wherein he kept a record of his investments, which were numerous and varied. That the contents were satisfactory was obvious at a glance. The smile on his face and the reposeful position of his jaw were proof enough of that. There were notes relating to house-property, railroad shares, and a dozen other profitable things. He was a rich man.
This was a fact that was entirely unsuspected by his neighbors, with whom he maintained somewhat distant relations, accepting no invitations and giving none. For Mr. McEachern was playing a big game. Other eminent buccaneers in his walk of life had been content to be rich men in a community where moderate means were the rule. But about Mr. McEachern there was a touch of the Napoleonic. He meant to get into society—and the society he had selected was that of England. Other people have noted the fact—which had impressed itself very firmly on the policeman's mind—that between England and the United States there are three thousand miles of deep water. In the United States, he would be a retired police-captain; in England, an American gentleman of large and independent means with a beautiful daughter.
That was the ruling impulse in his life—his daughter Molly. Though, if he had been a bachelor, he certainly would not have been satisfied to pursue a humble career aloof from graft, on the other hand, if it had not been for Molly, he would not have felt, as he gathered in his dishonest wealth, that he was conducting a sort of holy war. Ever since his wife had died, in his detective-sergeant days, leaving him with a year-old daughter, his ambitions had been inseparably connected with Molly.
All his thoughts were on the future. This New York life was only a preparation for the splendors to come. He spent not a dollar unnecessarily. When Molly was home from school, they lived together simply and quietly in the small house which Molly's taste made so comfortable. The neighbors, knowing his profession and seeing the modest scale on which he lived, told one another that here at any rate was a policeman whose hands were clean of graft. They did not know of the stream that poured week by week and year by year into his bank, to be diverted at intervals into the most profitable channels. Until the time should come for the great change, economy was his motto. The expenses of his home were kept within the bounds of his official salary. All extras went to swell his savings.
He closed his book with a contented sigh, and lighted another cigar. Cigars were his only personal luxury. He drank nothing, ate the simplest food, and made a suit of clothes last for quite an unusual length of time; but no passion for economy could make him deny himself smoke.
He sat on, thinking. It was very late, but he did not feel ready for bed. A great moment had arrived in his affairs. For days, Wall Street had been undergoing one of its periodical fits of jumpiness. There had been rumors and counter-rumors, until finally from the confusion there had soared up like a rocket the one particular stock in which he was most largely interested. He had unloaded that morning, and the result had left him slightly dizzy. The main point to which his mind clung was that the time had come at last. He could make the great change now at any moment that suited him.
He was blowing clouds of smoke and gloating over this fact when the door opened, admitting a bull-terrier, a bull-dog, and in the wake of the procession a girl in a kimono and red slippers.
"Why, Molly," said the policeman, "what are you doing out of bed? I thought you were asleep."
He placed a huge arm around her, and drew her to his lap. As she sat there, his great bulk made her seem smaller than she really was. With her hair down and her little red slippers dangling half a yard from the floor, she seemed a child. McEachern, looking at her, found it hard to realize that nineteen years had passed since the moment when the doctor's raised eyebrows had reproved him for his monosyllabic reception of the news that the baby was a girl.
"Do you know what the time is?" he said. "Two o'clock."
"Much too late for you to be sitting here smoking," said Molly, severely. "How many cigars do you smoke a day? Suppose you had married someone who wouldn't let you smoke!"
"Never stop your husband smoking, my dear. That's a bit of advice for you when you're married."
"I'm never going to marry. I'm going to stop at home, and darn your socks."
"I wish you could," he said, drawing her closer to him. "But one of these days you're going to marry a prince. And now run back to bed. It's much too late—"
"It's no good, father dear. I couldn't get to sleep. I've been trying hard for hours. I've counted sheep till I nearly screamed. It's Rastus' fault. He snores so!"
Mr. McEachern regarded the erring bull-dog sternly.
"Why do you have the brutes in your room?"
"Why, to keep the boogaboos from getting me, of course. Aren't you afraid of the boogaboos getting you? But you're so big, you wouldn't mind. You'd just hit them. And they're not brutes—are you, darlings? You're angels, and you nearly burst yourselves with joy because auntie had come back from England, didn't you? Father, did they miss me when I was gone? Did they pine away?"
"They got like skeletons. We all did."
"I should say so."
"Then, why did you send me away to England?"
"I wanted you to see the country. Did you like it?"
"I hated being away from you."
"But you liked the country?"
"I loved it."
McEachern drew a breath of relief. The only possible obstacle to the great change did not exist.
"How would you like to go back to England, Molly?"
"To England! When I've just come home?"
"If I went, too?"
Molly twisted around so that she could see his face better.
"There's something the matter with you, father. You're trying to say something, and I want to know what it is. Tell me quick, or I'll make Rastus bite you!"
"It won't take long, dear. I've been lucky in some investments while you were away, and I'm going to leave the force, and take you over to England, and find a prince for you to marry—if you think you would like it."
"Father! It'll be perfectly splendid!"
"We'll start fair in England, Molly. I'll just be John McEachern, from America, and, if anybody wants to know anything about me, I'm a man who has made money on Wall Street—and that's no lie—and has come over to England to spend it."
Molly gave his arm a squeeze. Her eyes were wet.
"Father, dear," she whispered, "I believe you've been doing it all for me. You've been slaving away for me ever since I was born, stinting yourself and saving money just so that I could have a good time later on."
"It's true," she said. She turned on him with a tremulous laugh. "I don't believe you've had enough to eat for years. I believe you're all skin and bone. Never mind. To-morrow, I'll take you out and buy you the best dinner you've ever had, out of my own money. We'll go to Sherry's, and you shall start at the top of the menu, and go straight down it till you've had enough."
"That will make up for everything. And, now, don't you think you ought to be going to bed? You'll be losing all that color you got on the ship."
"Soon—not just yet. I haven't seen you for such ages!" She pointed at the bull-terrier. "Look at Tommy, standing there and staring. He can't believe I've really come back. Father, there was a man on the Lusitania with eyes exactly like Tommy's—all brown and bright—and he used to stand and stare just like Tommy's doing."
"If I had been there," said her father wrathfully, "I'd have knocked his head off."
"No, you wouldn't, because I'm sure he was really a very nice young man. He had a chin rather like yours, father. Besides, you couldn't have got at him to knock his head off, because he was traveling second-class."
"Second-class? Then, you didn't talk with him?"
"We couldn't. You wouldn't expect him to shout at me across the railing! Only, whenever I walked round the deck, he seemed to be there."
"He may not have been staring at me. Probably, he was just looking the way the ship was going, and thinking of some girl in New York. I don't think you can make much of a romance out of it, father."
"I don't want to, my dear. Princes don't travel in the second-cabin."
"He may have been a prince in disguise."
"More likely a drummer," grunted Mr. McEachern.
"Drummers are often quite nice, aren't they?"
"Princes are nicer."
"Well, I'll go to bed and dream of the nicest one I can think of. Come along, dogs. Stop biting my slipper, Tommy. Why can't you behave, like Rastus? Still, you don't snore, do you? Aren't you going to bed soon, father? I believe you've been sitting up late and getting into all sorts of bad habits while I've been away. I'm sure you have been smoking too much. When you've finished that cigar, you're not even to think of another till to-morrow. Promise!"
"Not one. I'm not going to have my father getting like the people you read about in the magazine advertisements. You don't want to feel sudden shooting pains, do you?"
"No, my dear."
"And have to take some awful medicine?"
"Very well, my dear. I promise."
As the door closed, the captain threw away the stump he was smoking, and remained for a moment in thought. Then, he drew another cigar from his case, lighted it, and resumed the study of the little note-book. It was past three o'clock when he went to his bedroom.
A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
How long the light had been darting about the room like a very much enlarged firefly, Jimmy did not know. It seemed to him like hours, for it had woven itself into an incoherent waking dream of his; and for a moment, as the mists of sleep passed away from his brain, he fancied that he was dreaming still. Then, sleep left him, and he realized that the light, which was now moving slowly across the bookcase, was a real light.
That the man behind it could not have been there long was plain, or he would have seen the chair and its occupant. He seemed to be taking the room step by step. As Jimmy sat up noiselessly and gripped the arms of the chair in readiness for a spring, the light passed from the bookcase to the table. Another foot or so to the left, and it would have fallen on Jimmy.
From the position of the ray, Jimmy could see that the burglar was approaching on his side of the table. Though until that day he had not been in the room for two months, its geography was clearly stamped on his mind's eye. He knew almost to a foot where his visitor was standing. Consequently, when, rising swiftly from the chair, he made a football dive into the darkness, it was no speculative dive. It had a conscious aim, and it was not restrained by any uncertainty as to whether the road to the burglar's knees was clear or not.
His shoulder bumped into a human leg. His arms closed instantaneously on it, and pulled. There was a yelp of dismay, and a crash. The lantern bounced away across the room, and wrecked itself on the reef of the steam-heater. Its owner collapsed in a heap on top of Jimmy.
Jimmy, underneath at the fall, speedily put himself uppermost with a twist of his body. He had every advantage. The burglar was a small man, and had been taken very much by surprise, and any fight there might have been in him in normal circumstances had been shaken out of him by the fall. He lay still, not attempting to struggle.
Jimmy half-rose, and, pulling his prisoner by inches to the door, felt up the wall till he found the electric-light button.
The yellow glow that flooded the room disclosed a short, stocky youth of obviously Bowery extraction. A shock of vivid red hair was the first thing about him that caught the eye. A poet would have described it as Titian. Its proprietor's friends and acquaintances probably called it "carrots." Looking up at Jimmy from under this wealth of crimson was a not unpleasing face. It was not handsome, certainly; but there were suggestions of a latent good-humor. The nose had been broken at one period of its career, and one of the ears was undeniably of the cauliflower type; but these are little accidents which may happen to any high-spirited young gentleman. In costume, the visitor had evidently been guided rather by individual taste than by the dictates of fashion. His coat was of rusty black, his trousers of gray, picked out with stains of various colors. Beneath the coat was a faded red-and-white sweater. A hat of soft felt lay on the floor by the table.
The cut of the coat was poor, and the fit of it spoiled by a bulge in one of the pockets. Diagnosing this bulge correctly, Jimmy inserted his hand, and drew out a dingy revolver.
"Well?" he said, rising.
Like most people, he had often wondered what he should do if he were to meet a burglar; and he had always come to the conclusion that curiosity would be his chief emotion. His anticipations were proved perfectly correct. Now that he had abstracted his visitor's gun, he had no wish to do anything but engage him in conversation. A burglar's life was something so entirely outside his experience! He wanted to learn the burglar's point of view. Incidentally, he reflected with amusement, as he recalled his wager, he might pick up a few useful hints.
The man on the floor sat up, and rubbed the back of his head ruefully.
"Gee!" he muttered. "I t'ought some guy had t'rown de buildin' at me."
"It was only little me," said Jimmy. "Sorry if I hurt you at all. You really want a mat for that sort of thing."
The man's hand went furtively to his pocket. Then, his eye caught sight of the revolver, which Jimmy had placed on the table. With a sudden dash, he seized it.
"Now, den, boss!" he said, between his teeth.
Jimmy extended his hand, and unclasped it. Six shells lay in the palm.
"Why worry?" he said. "Sit down and let us talk of life."
"It's a fair cop, boss," said the man, resignedly.
"Away with melancholy," said Jimmy. "I'm not going to call the police. You can beat it whenever you like."
The man stared.
"I mean it," said Jimmy. "What's the trouble? I've no grievance. I wish, though, if you haven't any important engagement, you would stop and talk awhile first."
A broad grin spread itself across the other's face. There was something singularly engaging about him when he grinned.
"Gee! If youse ain't goin' to call de cops, I'll talk till de chickens roost ag'in."
"Talking, however," said Jimmy, "is dry work. Are you by any chance on the wagon?"
"What's dat? Me? On your way, boss!"
"Then, you'll find a pretty decent whiskey in that decanter. Help yourself. I think you'll like it."
A musical gurgling, followed by a contented sigh, showed that the statement had been tested and proved correct.
"Cigar?" asked Jimmy.
"Me fer dat," assented his visitor.
"Take a handful."
"I eats dem alive," said the marauder jovially, gathering in the spoils.
Jimmy crossed his legs.
"By the way," he said, "let there be no secrets between us. What's your name? Mine is Pitt. James Willoughby Pitt."
"Mullins is my monaker, boss. Spike, dey calls me."
"And you make a living at this sort of thing?"
"Not so woise."
"How did you get in here?"
Spike Mullins grinned.
"Gee! Ain't de window open?"
"If it hadn't been?"
"I'd a' busted it."
Jimmy eyed the fellow fixedly.
"Can you use an oxy-acetylene blow-pipe?" he demanded.
Spike was on the point of drinking. He lowered his glass, and gaped.
"What's dat?" he said.
"An oxy-acetylene blow-pipe."
"Search me," said Spike, blankly. "Dat gets past me."
Jimmy's manner grew more severe.
"Can you make soup?"
"He doesn't know what soup is," said Jimmy, despairingly. "My good man, I'm afraid you have missed your vocation. You have no business to be trying to burgle. You don't know the first thing about the game."
Spike was regarding the speaker with disquiet over his glass. Till now, the red-haired one had been very well satisfied with his methods, but criticism was beginning to sap his nerve. He had heard tales of masters of his craft who made use of fearsome implements such as Jimmy had mentioned; burglars who had an airy acquaintanceship, bordering on insolent familiarity, with the marvels of science; men to whom the latest inventions were as familiar as his own jemmy was to himself. Could this be one of that select band? His host began to take on a new aspect in his eyes.
"Spike," said Jimmy.
"Have you a thorough knowledge of chemistry, physics—"
"On your way, boss!"
"—electricity and microscopy?"
"... Nine, ten. Dat's de finish. I'm down an' out."
Jimmy shook his head, sadly.
"Give up burglary," he said. "It's not in your line. Better try poultry-farming."
Spike twiddled his glass, abashed.
"Now, I," said Jimmy airily, "am thinking of breaking into a house to-night."
"Gee!" exclaimed Spike, his suspicions confirmed at last. "I t'ought youse was in de game, boss. Sure, you're de guy dat's onto all de curves. I t'ought so all along."
"I should like to hear," said Jimmy amusedly, as one who draws out an intelligent child, "how you would set about burgling one of those up-town villas. My own work has been on a somewhat larger scale and on the other side of the Atlantic."
"De odder side?"
"I have done as much in London, as anywhere else," said Jimmy. "A great town, London, full of opportunities for the fine worker. Did you hear of the cracking of the New Asiatic Bank in Lombard Street?"
"No, boss," whispered Spike. "Was dat you?"
"The police would like an answer to the same question," he said, self-consciously. "Perhaps, you heard nothing of the disappearance of the Duchess of Havant's diamonds?"
"The thief," said Jimmy, flicking a speck of dust from his coat sleeve, "was discovered to have used an oxy-acetylene blow-pipe."
The rapturous intake of Spike's breath was the only sound that broke the silence. Through the smoke, his eyes could be seen slowly widening.
"But about this villa," said Jimmy. "I am always interested even in the humblest sides of the profession. Now, tell me, supposing you were going to break into a villa, what time of night would you do it?"
"I always t'inks it's best either late like dis or when de folks is in at supper," said Spike, respectfully.
Jimmy smiled a faint, patronizing smile, and nodded.
"Well, and what would you do?"
"I'd rubber around some to see isn't dere a window open somewheres," said Spike, diffidently.
"And if there wasn't?"
"I'd climb up de porch an' into one of de bedrooms," said Spike, almost blushing. He felt like a boy reading his first attempts at original poetry to an established critic. What would this master cracksman, this polished wielder of the oxy-acetylene blow-pipe, this expert in toxicology, microscopy and physics think of his callow outpourings!
"How would you get into the bedroom?"
Spike hung his head.
"Bust de catch wit' me jemmy," he whispered, shamefacedly.
"Burst the catch with your jemmy?"
"It's de only way I ever learned," pleaded Spike.
The expert was silent. He seemed to be thinking. The other watched his face, humbly.
"How would youse do it, boss?" he ventured timidly, at last.
"How would youse do it?"
"Why, I'm not sure," said the master, graciously, "whether your way might not do in a case like that. It's crude, of course, but with a few changes it would do."
"Gee, boss! Is dat right?" queried the astonished disciple.
"It would do," said the master, frowning thoughtfully; "it would do quite well—quite well!"
Spike drew a deep breath of joy and astonishment. That his methods should meet with approval from such a mind...!
"Gee!" he whispered—as who would say, "I and Napoleon."
AN EXHIBITION PERFORMANCE
Cold reason may disapprove of wagers, but without a doubt there is something joyous and lovable in the type of mind that rushes at the least provocation into the making of them, something smacking of the spacious days of the Regency. Nowadays, the spirit seems to have deserted England. When Mr. Asquith became Premier of Great Britain, no earnest forms were to be observed rolling peanuts along the Strand with a toothpick. When Mr. Asquith is dethroned, it is improbable that any Briton will allow his beard to remain unshaved until the Liberal party returns to office. It is in the United States that the wager has found a home. It is characteristic of some minds to dash into a wager with the fearlessness of a soldier in a forlorn hope, and, once in, to regard it almost as a sacred trust. Some men never grow up out of the schoolboy spirit of "daring."
To this class Jimmy Pitt belonged. He was of the same type as the man in the comic opera who proposed to the lady because somebody bet him he wouldn't. There had never been a time when a challenge, a "dare," had not acted as a spur to him. In his newspaper days, life had been one long series of challenges. They had been the essence of the business. A story had not been worth getting unless the getting were difficult.
With the conclusion of his newspaper life came a certain flatness into the scheme of things. There were times, many times, when Jimmy was bored. He hungered for excitement, and life appeared to have so little to offer! The path of the rich man was so smooth, and it seemed to lead nowhere! This task of burgling a house was like an unexpected treat to a child. With an intensity of purpose that should have touched his sense of humor, but, as a matter of fact, did not appeal to him as ludicrous in any way, he addressed himself to the work. The truth was that Jimmy was one of those men who are charged to the brim with force. Somehow, the force had to find an outlet. If he had undertaken to collect birds' eggs, he would have set about it with the same tense energy.
Spike was sitting on the edge of his chair, dazed but happy, his head still buzzing from the unhoped-for praise. Jimmy looked at his watch. It was nearly three o'clock. A sudden idea struck him. The gods had provided gifts: why not take them?
"Would you care to come and crack a crib with me, now?"
Reverential awe was written on the red-haired one's face.
"Surest t'ing you know, boss."
"Or, rather," proceeded Jimmy, "would you care to crack a crib while I came along with you? Strictly speaking, I am here on a vacation, but a trifle like this isn't real work. It's this way," he explained. "I've taken a fancy to you, Spike, and I don't like to see you wasting your time on coarse work. You have the root of the matter in you, and with a little coaching I could put a polish on you. I wouldn't do this for everyone, but I hate to see a man bungling who might do better! I want to see you at work. Come right along, and we'll go up-town, and you shall start in. Don't get nervous. Just work as you would if I were not there. I shall not expect too much. Rome was not built in a day. When we are through, I will criticize a few of your mistakes. How does that suit you?"
"Gee, boss! Great! An' I know where dere's a peach of a place, boss. Regular soft proposition. A friend of mine told me. It's—"
"Very well, then. One moment, though."
He went to the telephone. Before he had left New York on his travels, Arthur Mifflin had been living at a hotel near Washington Square. It was probable that he was still there. He called up the number. The night-clerk was an old acquaintance of his.
"Hello, Dixon," said Jimmy, "is that you? I'm Pitt—Pitt! Yes, I'm back. How did you guess? Yes, very pleasant. Has Mr. Mifflin come in yet? Gone to bed? Never mind, call him up, will you? Good." Presently, the sleepy and outraged voice of Mr. Mifflin spoke at the other end of the line.
"What's wrong? Who the devil's that?"
"My dear Arthur! Where you pick up such expressions I can't think—not from me."
"Is that you, Jimmy? What in the name of—!"
"Heavens! What are you kicking about? The night's yet young. Arthur, touching that little arrangement we made—cracking that crib, you know. Are you listening? Have you any objection to my taking an assistant along with me? I don't want to do anything contrary to our agreement, but there's a young fellow here who's anxious that I should let him come along and pick up a few hints. He's a professional all right. Not in our class, of course, but quite a fair rough workman. He—Arthur! Arthur! These are harsh words! Then, am I to understand you have no objection? Very well. Only, don't say later on that I didn't play fair. Good-night."
He hung up the receiver, and turned to Spike.
"Ain't youse goin' to put on your gum-shoes, boss?"
Jimmy frowned reflectively, as if there was something in what this novice suggested. He went into the bedroom, and returned wearing a pair of thin patent-leather shoes.
Spike coughed tentatively.
"Won't youse need your gun?" he hazarded. Jimmy gave a short laugh.
"I work with brains, not guns," he said. "Let us be going."
There was a taxi-cab near by, as there always is in New York. Jimmy pushed Spike in, and they drove off. To Jimmy, New York stopped somewhere about Seventy-Second Street. Anything beyond that was getting on for the Middle West, and seemed admirably suited as a field for the cracksman. He had a vague idea of up-town as a remote, desolate district, badly lighted—if lighted at all—and sparsely dotted with sleepy policemen.
The luxury of riding in a taxi-cab kept Spike dumb for several miles. Having arrived at what seemed a sufficiently remote part of America, Jimmy paid the driver, who took the money with that magnificently aloof air which characterizes the taxi-chauffeur. A lesser man might have displayed some curiosity about the ill-matched pair. The chauffeur, having lighted a cigarette, drove off without any display of interest whatsoever. It might have been part of his ordinary duties to drive gentlemen in evening clothes and shock-headed youths in parti-colored sweaters about the city at three o'clock in the morning.
"We will now," said Jimmy, "stroll on and prospect. It is up to you, Spike. Didn't you say something about knowing a suitable house somewhere? Are we anywhere near it?"
Spike looked at the number of the street.
"We got some way to go, boss," he said. "I wisht youse hadn't sent away de cab."
"Did you think we were going to drive up to the door? Pull yourself together, my dear man."
They walked on, striking eastward out of Broadway. It caused Jimmy some surprise to find that the much-enduring thoroughfare extended as far as this. It had never occurred to him before to ascertain what Broadway did with itself beyond Times Square.
It was darker now that they had moved from the center of things, but it was still far too light for Jimmy's tastes. He was content, however, to leave matters entirely to his companion. Spike probably had his methods for evading publicity on these occasions.
Spike plodded on. Block after block he passed, until finally the houses began to be more scattered.
At last, he halted before a fair-sized detached house.
"Dis is de place," he said. "A friend of mine tells me of it. I didn't know he was me friend, dough, before he puts me wise about dis joint. I t'ought he'd got it in fer me 'cos of last week when I scrapped wit' him about somet'in'. I t'ought after that he was layin' fer me, but de next time he seen me he put me wise to dis place."
"Coals of fire," said Jimmy. "He was of a forgiving disposition." A single rain-drop descended on the nape of his neck. In another moment, a smart shower had begun.
"This matter has passed out of our hands," said Jimmy. "We must break in, if only to get shelter. Get busy, my lad."
There was a handy window only a few feet from the ground. Spike pulled from his pocket a small bottle.
"What's that?" inquired Jimmy.
"Molasses, boss," said Spike, deferentially.
He poured the contents of the bottle on a piece of paper, which he pressed firmly against the window-pane. Then, drawing out a short steel instrument, he gave the paper a sharp tap. The glass broke almost inaudibly. The paper came away, leaving a gap in the pane. Spike inserted his hand, shot back the catch, and softly pushed up the window.
"Elementary," said Jimmy; "elementary, but quite neat."
There was now a shutter to be negotiated. This took longer, but in the end Spike's persuasive methods prevailed.
Jimmy became quite cordial.
"You have been well-grounded, Spike," he said. "And, after all, that is half the battle. The advice I give to every novice is, 'Learn to walk before you try to run.' Master the a, b, c, of the craft first. With a little careful coaching, you will do. Just so. Pop in."
Spike climbed cautiously over the sill, followed by Jimmy. The latter struck a match, and found the electric light switch. They were in a parlor, furnished and decorated with surprising taste. Jimmy had expected the usual hideousness, but here everything from the wall-paper to the smallest ornaments was wonderfully well selected.
Business, however, was business. This was no time to stand admiring artistic effects in room-furnishing. There was that big J to be carved on the front door. If 'twere done, then 'twere well 'twere done quickly.
He was just moving to the door, when from some distant part of the house came the bark of a dog. Another joined in. The solo became a duet. The air was filled with their clamor.
"Gee!" cried Spike.
The remark seemed more or less to sum up the situation.
"'Tis sweet," says Byron, "to hear the watch-dog's honest bark." Jimmy and Spike found two watch-dogs' honest barks cloying. Spike intimated this by making a feverish dash for the open window. Unfortunately for the success of this maneuver, the floor of the room was covered not with a carpet but with tastefully scattered rugs, and underneath these rugs it was very highly polished. Spike, treading on one of these islands, was instantly undone. No power of will or muscle can save a man in such a case. Spike skidded. His feet flew from under him. There was a momentary flash of red head, as of a passing meteor. The next moment, he had fallen on his back with a thud that shook the house. Even in the crisis, the thought flashed across Jimmy's mind that this was not Spike's lucky night.
Upstairs, the efforts of the canine choir had begun to resemble the "A che la morte" duet in "Il Trovatore." Particularly good work was being done by the baritone dog.
Spike sat up, groaning. Equipped though he was by nature with a skull of the purest and most solid ivory, the fall had disconcerted him. His eyes, like those of Shakespeare's poet, rolling in a fine frenzy, did glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven. He passed his fingers tenderly through his vermilion hair.
Heavy footsteps were descending the stairs. In the distance, the soprano dog had reached A in alt., and was holding it, while his fellow artiste executed runs in the lower register.
"Get up!" hissed Jimmy. "There's somebody coming! Get up, you idiot, can't you!"
It was characteristic of Jimmy that it never even occurred to him to desert the fallen one, and depart alone. Spike was his brother-in-arms. He would as soon have thought of deserting him as a sea-captain would of abandoning the ship.
Consequently, as Spike, despite all exhortations, continued to remain on the floor, rubbing his head and uttering "Gee!" at intervals in a melancholy voice, Jimmy resigned himself to fate, and stood where he was, waiting for the door to open.
It opened the next moment as if a cyclone had been behind it.
A cyclone, entering a room, is apt to alter the position of things. This cyclone shifted a footstool, a small chair, a rug, and Spike. The chair, struck by a massive boot, whirled against the wall. The foot-stool rolled away. The rug crumpled up and slid. Spike, with a yell, leaped to his feet, slipped again, fell, and finally compromised on an all-fours position, in which attitude he remained, blinking.
While these stirring acts were in progress, there was the sound of a door opening upstairs, followed by a scuttering of feet and an appalling increase in the canine contribution to the current noises. The duet had now taken on quite a Wagnerian effect.
There raced into the room first a white bull-terrier, he of the soprano voice, and—a bad second—his fellow artiste, the baritone, a massive bull-dog, bearing a striking resemblance to the big man with the big lower jaw whose entrance had started the cyclone.
And, then, in theatrical parlance, the entire company "held the picture." Up-stage, with his hand still on the door, stood the man with the jaw; downstage, Jimmy; center, Spike and the bull-dog, their noses a couple of inches apart, inspected each other with mutual disfavor. On the extreme O. P. side, the bull-terrier, who had fallen foul of a wicker-work table, was crouching with extended tongue and rolling eyes, waiting for the next move.
The householder looked at Jimmy. Jimmy looked at the householder. Spike and the bull-dog looked at each other. The bull-terrier distributed his gaze impartially around the company.
"A typical scene of quiet American home-life," murmured Jimmy.
The householder glowered.
"Hands up, you devils!" he roared, pointing a mammoth revolver.
The two marauders humored his whim.
"Let me explain," said Jimmy pacifically, shuffling warily around in order to face the bull-terrier, who was now strolling in his direction with an ill-assumed carelessness.
"Keep still, you blackguard!"
Jimmy kept still. The bull-terrier, with the same abstracted air, was beginning a casual inspection of his right trouser-leg.
Relations between Spike and the bull-dog, meanwhile, had become more strained. The sudden flinging up of the former's arms had had the worst effects on the animal's nerves. Spike, the croucher on all-fours, he might have tolerated; but Spike, the semaphore, inspired him with thoughts of battle. He was growling in a moody, reflective manner. His eye was full of purpose.
It was probably this that caused Spike to look at the householder. Till then, he had been too busy to shift his gaze, but now the bull-dog's eye had become so unpleasing that he cast a pathetic glance up at the man by the door.
"Gee!" he cried. "It's de boss. Say, boss, call off de dawg. It's sure goin' to nip de hull head off'n me."
The other lowered the revolver in surprise.
"So, it's you, you limb of Satan!" he remarked. "I thought I had seen that damned red head of yours before. What are you doing in my house?"
Spike uttered a howl in which indignation and self-pity were nicely blended.
"I'll lay for that Swede!" he cried. "I'll soak it to him good! Boss, I've had a raw deal. On de level, I has. Dey's a feller I know, a fat Swede—Ole Larsen his monaker is—an' dis feller an' me started in scrapping last week, an' I puts it all over him, so he had it in for me. But he comes up to me, like as if he's meanin' to be good, an' he says he's got a soft proposition fer me if I'll give him half. So, I says all right, where is it? An' he gives me de number of dis house, an' says dis is where a widder-lady lives all alone, an' has got silver mugs and t'ings to boin, an' dat she's away down Sout', so dere ain't nobody in de house. Gee! I'll soak it to dat Swede! It was a raw deal, boss. He was just hopin' to put me in bad wit' you. Dat's how it was, boss. Honest!"
The big man listened to this sad story of Grecian gifts in silence. Not so the bull-dog, which growled from start to finish.
Spike eyed it uneasily.
"Won't you call off de dawg, boss?" he said.
The other stooped, and grasped the animal's collar, jerking him away.
"The same treatment," suggested Jimmy with approval, "would also do a world of good to this playful and affectionate animal—unless he is a vegetarian. In which case, don't bother."
The big man glowered at him.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"My name," began Jimmy, "is—"
"Say," said Spike, "he's a champion burglar, boss—"
The householder shut the door.
"Eh?" he said.
"He's a champion burglar from de odder side. He sure is. From Lunnon. Gee, he's de guy! Tell him about de bank you opened, an' de jools you swiped from de duchess, an' de what-d'ye-call-it blow-pipe."
It seemed to Jimmy that Spike was showing a certain want of tact. When you are discovered by a householder—with revolver—in his parlor at half-past three in the morning, it is surely an injudicious move to lay stress on your proficiency as a burglar. The householder may be supposed to take that for granted. The side of your character that should be advertised in such a crisis is the non-burglarious. Allusion should be made to the fact that, as a child, you attended Sunday school regularly, and to what the minister said when you took the divinity prize. The idea should be conveyed to the householder's mind that, if let off with a caution, your innate goodness of heart will lead you to reform and to avoid such scenes in future.
With some astonishment, therefore, Jimmy found that these revelations, so far from prejudicing the man with the revolver against him, had apparently told in his favor. The man behind the gun was regarding him rather with interest than disapproval.
"So, you're a crook from London, are you?"
Jimmy did not hesitate. If being a crook from London was a passport into citizens' parlors in the small hours, and, more particularly, if it carried with it also a safe-conduct out of them, Jimmy was not the man to refuse the role. He bowed.
"Well, you'll have to come across, now you're in New York. Understand that! And come across good."
"Sure, he will," said Spike, charmed that the tension had been relieved, and matters placed upon a pleasant and business-like footing. "He'll be good. He's next to de game, sure."
"Sure," echoed Jimmy, courteously. He did not understand; but things seemed to be taking a turn for the better, so why disturb the harmony?
"Dis gent," said Spike respectfully, "is boss of de cops. A police-captain," he corrected himself.
A light broke upon Jimmy's darkness. He wondered he had not understood before. He had not been a newspaper-man in New York for a year without finding out something of the inner workings of the police force. He saw now why the other's manner had changed.
"Pleased to meet you," he said. "We must have a talk together one of these days."
"We must," said the police-captain, significantly. He was rich, richer than he had ever hoped to be; but he was still on Tom Tiddler's ground, and meant to make the most of it.
"Of course, I don't know your methods on this side, but anything that's usual—"
"I'll see you at my office. Spike Mullins will show you where it is."
"Very well. You must forgive this preliminary informal call. We came in more to shelter from the rain than anything."
"You did, did you?"
Jimmy felt that it behooved him to stand on his dignity. The situation demanded it.
"Why," he said with some hauteur, "in the ordinary course of business I should hardly waste time over a small crib like—"
"It's banks fer his," murmured Spike, rapturously. "He eats dem alive. An' jools from duchesses."
"I admit a partiality for jewels and duchesses," said Jimmy. "And, now, as it's a little late, perhaps we had better—Ready, Spike? Good-night, then. Pleased to have met you."
"I'll see you at my office."
"I may possibly look in. I shall be doing very little work in New York, I fancy. I am here merely on a vacation."
"If you do any work at all," said the policeman coldly, "you'll look in at my office, or you'll wish you had when it's too late."
"Of course, of course. I shouldn't dream of omitting any formality that may be usual. But I don't fancy I shall break my vacation. By the way, one little thing. Have you any objections to my carving a J on your front-door?"
The policeman stared.
"On the inside. It won't show. It's just a whim of mine. If you have no objection?"
"I don't want any of your—" began the policeman.
"You misunderstand me. It's only that it means paying for a dinner. I wouldn't for the world—"
The policeman pointed to the window.
"Out you get," he said, abruptly. "I've had enough of you. And don't you forget to come to my office."
Spike, still deeply mistrustful of the bull-dog Rastus, jumped at the invitation. He was through the window and out of sight in the friendly darkness almost before the policeman had finished speaking. Jimmy remained.
"I shall be delighted—" he had begun. Then, he stopped. In the doorway was standing a girl—a girl whom he recognized. Her startled look told him that she, too, had recognized him.
Not for the first time since he had set out from his flat that night in Spike's company, Jimmy was conscious of a sense of the unreality of things. It was all so exactly as it would have happened in a dream! He had gone to sleep thinking of this girl, and here she was. But a glance at the man with the revolver brought him back to earth. There was nothing of the dream-world about the police-captain.
That gentleman, whose back was toward the door, had not observed the addition to the company. Molly had turned the handle quietly, and her slippered feet made no sound. It was the amazed expression on Jimmy's face that caused the captain to look toward the door.
The girl smiled, though her face was white. Jimmy's evening clothes had reassured her. She did not understand how he came to be there, but evidently there was nothing wrong. She had interrupted a conversation, not a conflict.
"I heard the noise and you going downstairs, and I sent the dogs down to help you, father," she said. "And, then, after a little, I came down to see if you were all right."
Mr. McEachern was perplexed. Molly's arrival had put him in an awkward position. To denounce the visitor as a cracksman was now impossible, for he knew too much. The only real fear of the policeman's life was lest some word of his money-making methods might come to his daughter's ears.
Quite a brilliant idea came to him.
"A man broke in, my dear," he said. "This gentleman was passing, and saw him."
"Distinctly," said Jimmy. "An ugly-looking customer!"
"But he slipped out of the window, and got away," concluded the policeman.
"He was very quick," said Jimmy. "I think he may have been a professional acrobat."
"He didn't hurt you, father?"
"No, no, my dear."
"Perhaps I frightened him," said Jimmy, airily.
Mr. McEachern scowled furtively at him.
"We mustn't detain you, Mr.-"
"Pitt," said Jimmy. "My name is Pitt." He turned to Molly. "I hope you enjoyed the voyage."
The policeman started.
"You know my daughter?"
"By sight only, I'm afraid. We were fellow-passengers on the Lusitania. Unfortunately, I was in the second-cabin. I used to see your daughter walking the deck sometimes."
"I remember seeing you—sometimes."
McEachern burst out.
He stopped, and looked at Molly. The girl was bending over Rastus, tickling him under the ear.
"Let me show you the way out, Mr. Pitt," said the policeman, shortly. His manner was abrupt, but when one is speaking to a man whom one would dearly love to throw out of the window, abruptness is almost unavoidable.
"Perhaps I should be going," said Jimmy.
"Good-night, Mr. Pitt," said Molly.
"I hope we shall meet again," said Jimmy.
"This way, Mr. Pitt," growled McEachern, holding the door.
"Please don't trouble," said Jimmy. He went to the window, and, flinging his leg over the sill, dropped noiselessly to the ground.
He turned and put his head in at the window again.
"I did that rather well," he said, pleasantly. "I think I must take up this—sort of thing as a profession. Good-night."
In the days before he began to expend his surplus energy in playing Rugby football, the Welshman 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 Dreever Castle, in the county of Shropshire, came into existence. It met a long-felt want. In time of trouble, it became a haven of refuge. From all sides, people poured into it, emerging cautiously when the marauders had disappeared. In the whole history of the castle, 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 a ladleful of molten lead, aimed to a nicety by one John, the Chaplain (evidently one of those sporting parsons), this warrior retired, done to a turn, to his mountain fastnesses, and was never heard of again. He would seem, however, to have passed the word around among his friends, for subsequent raiding parties studiously avoided the castle, and a peasant who had succeeded in crossing its threshold was for the future considered to be "home" and out of the game.
Such was the Dreever of old. In later days, the Welshman having calmed down considerably, it had lost its militant character. The old walls still stood, gray, menacing and unchanged, but they were the only link with the past. The castle was now a very comfortable country-house, nominally ruled over by Hildebrand Spencer Poynt de Burgh John Hannasyde Coombe-Crombie, twelfth Earl of Dreever ("Spennie" to his relatives and intimates), a light-haired young gentleman of twenty-four, but in reality the possession of his uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Julia Blunt.
Lord Dreever's position was one of some embarrassment. At no point in their history had the Dreevers been what one might call a parsimonious family. If a chance presented itself of losing money in a particularly wild and futile manner, the Dreever of the period had invariably sprung at it with the vim of an energetic blood-hound. The South Sea Bubble absorbed two hundred thousand pounds of good Dreever money, and the remainder of the family fortune was squandered to the ultimate penny by the sportive gentleman who held the title in the days of the Regency, when Watier's and the Cocoa Tree were in their prime, and fortunes had a habit of disappearing in a single evening. When Spennie became Earl of Dreever, there was about one dollar and thirty cents in the family coffers.
This is the point at which Sir Thomas Blunt breaks into Dreever history. Sir Thomas was a small, pink, fussy, obstinate man with a genius for trade and the ambition of an Alexander the Great; probably one of the finest and most complete specimens of the came-over-Waterloo-Bridge-with-half-a crown-in-my-pocket-and-now-look-at-me class of millionaires in existence. He had started almost literally with nothing. By carefully excluding from his mind every thought except that of making money, he had risen in the world with a gruesome persistence which nothing could check. At the age of fifty-one, he was chairman of Blunt's Stores, L't'd, a member of Parliament (silent as a wax figure, but a great comfort to the party by virtue of liberal contributions to its funds), and a knight. This was good, but he aimed still higher; and, meeting Spennie's aunt, Lady Julia Coombe-Crombie, just at the moment when, financially, the Dreevers were at their lowest ebb, he had effected a very satisfactory deal by marrying her, thereby becoming, as one might say, Chairman of Dreever, L't'd. Until Spennie should marry money, an act on which his chairman vehemently insisted, Sir Thomas held the purse, and except in minor matters ordered by his wife, of whom he stood in uneasy awe, had things entirely his own way.
One afternoon, a little over a year after the events recorded in the preceding chapter, Sir Thomas was in his private room, looking out of the window, from which the view was very beautiful. The castle stood on a hill, the lower portion of which, between the house and the lake, had been cut into broad terraces. The lake itself and its island with the little boat-house in the center gave a glimpse of fairyland.
But it was not altogether the beauty of the view that had drawn Sir Thomas to the window. He was looking at it chiefly because the position enabled him to avoid his wife's eye; and just at the moment he was rather anxious to avoid his wife's eye. A somewhat stormy board-meeting was in progress, and Lady Julia, who constituted the board of directors, had been heckling the chairman. The point under discussion was one of etiquette, and in matters of etiquette Sir Thomas felt himself at a disadvantage.
"I tell you, my dear," he said to the window, "I am not easy in my mind."
"Nonsense," snapped Lady Julia; "absurd—ridiculous!"
Lady Julia Blunt, when conversing, resembled a Maxim gun more than anything else.
"But your diamonds, my dear."
"We can take care of them."
"But why should we have the trouble? Now, if we—"
"It's no trouble."
"When we were married, there was a detective—"
"Don't be childish, Thomas. Detectives at weddings are quite customary."
"I paid twenty thousand pounds for that rope of diamonds," said Sir Thomas, obstinately. Switch things upon a cash basis, and he was more at ease.
"May I ask if you suspect any of our guests of being criminals?" inquired Lady Julia, with a glance of chill disdain.
Sir Thomas looked out of the window. At the moment, the sternest censor could have found nothing to cavil at in the movements of such of the house-party as were in sight. Some were playing tennis, some clock-golf, and others were smoking.
"Why, no," he admitted.
"Of course. Absurd—quite absurd!"
"But the servants. We have engaged a number of new servants lately."
"With excellent recommendations."
Sir Thomas was on the point of suggesting that the recommendations might be forged, but his courage failed him. Julia was sometimes so abrupt in these little discussions! She did not enter into his point of view. He was always a trifle inclined to treat the castle as a branch of Blunt's Stores. As proprietor of the stores, he had made a point of suspecting everybody, and the results had been excellent. In Blunt's Stores, you could hardly move in any direction without bumping into a gentlemanly detective, efficiently disguised. For the life of him, Sir Thomas could not see why the same principle should not obtain at Dreever. Guests at a country house do not as a rule steal their host's possessions, but then it is only an occasional customer at a store who goes in for shop-lifting. It was the principle of the thing, he thought: Be prepared against every emergency. With Sir Thomas Blunt, suspiciousness was almost a mania. He was forced to admit that the chances were against any of his guests exhibiting larcenous tendencies, but, as for the servants, he thoroughly mistrusted them all, except Saunders, the butler. It had seemed to him the merest prudence that a detective from a private inquiry agency should be installed at the castle while the house was full. Somewhat rashly, he had mentioned this to his wife, and Lady Julia's critique of the scheme had been terse and unflattering.
"I suppose," said Lady Julia sarcastically, "you will jump to the conclusion that this man whom Spennie is bringing down with him to-day is a criminal of some sort?"
"Eh? Is Spennie bringing a friend?"
There was not a great deal of enthusiasm in Sir Thomas's voice. His nephew was not a young man whom he respected very highly. Spennie regarded his uncle with nervous apprehension, as one who would deal with his short-comings with vigor and severity. Sir Thomas, for his part, looked on Spennie as a youth who would get into mischief unless under his uncle's eye.
"I had a telegram from him just now," Lady Julia explained.
"Who is his friend?"
"He doesn't say. He just says he's a man he met in London."
"And what does, 'H'm!' mean?" demanded Lady Julia.
"A man can pick up strange people in London," said Sir Thomas, judicially.
"Just as you say, my dear."
Lady Julia rose.
"As for what you suggest about the detective, it is of course absolutely absurd."
"Quite so, my dear."
"You mustn't think of it."
"Just as you say, my dear."
Lady Julia left the room.
What followed may afford some slight clue to the secret of Sir Thomas Blunt'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 Julia 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.
SIR: With reference 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. Kindly instruct him to present himself at Dreever Castle as applicant for position of valet to myself. I will see and engage him on his arrival, and further instruct him in his duties.
P. S. I shall expect him to-morrow evening. There is a good train leaving Paddington at 2:15.
Sir Thomas read this over, put in a comma, then placed it in an envelope, and lighted a cigar with the air of one who can be checked, yes, but vanquished, never.
FRIENDS, NEW AND OLD
On the night of the day on which Sir Thomas Blunt wrote and dispatched his letter to Wragge's Detective Agency, Jimmy Pitt chanced to stop at the Savoy.
If you have the money and the clothes, and do not object to being turned out into the night just as you are beginning to enjoy yourself, there are few things pleasanter than supper at the Savoy Hotel, London. But, as Jimmy sat there, eying the multitude through the smoke of his cigarette, he felt, despite all the brightness and glitter, that this was a flat world, and that he was very much alone in it.
A little over a year had passed since the merry evening at Police-Captain McEachern's. During that time, he had covered a good deal of new ground. His restlessness had reasserted itself. Somebody had mentioned Morocco in his hearing, and a fortnight later he was in Fez.
Of the principals in that night's drama, he had seen nothing more. It was only when, after walking home on air, rejoicing over the strange chance that had led to his finding and having speech with the lady of the Lusitania, he had reached Fifty-Ninth Street, that he realized how he had also lost her. It suddenly came home to him that not only did he not know her address, but he was ignorant of her name. Spike had called the man with the revolver "boss" throughout—only that and nothing more. Except that he was a police-captain, Jimmy knew as little about the man as he had before their meeting. And Spike, who held the key to the mystery, had vanished. His acquaintances of that night had passed out of his life like figures in a waking dream. As far as the big man with the pistol was concerned, this did not distress him. He had known that massive person only for about a quarter of an hour, but to his thinking that was ample. Spike he would have liked to meet again, but he bore the separation with much fortitude. There remained the girl of the ship; and she had haunted him with unfailing persistence during every one of the three hundred and eighty-four days that had passed since their meeting.
It was the thought of her that had made New York seem cramped. For weeks, Jimmy had patrolled the likely streets, the Park, and Riverside Drive, in the hope of meeting her. He had gone to the theaters and restaurants, but with no success. Sometimes, he had wandered through the Bowery, on the chance of meeting Spike. He had seen red heads in profusion, but never again that of his young disciple in the art of burglary. In the end, he had wearied of the other friends of the Strollers, had gone out again on his wanderings. He was greatly missed, especially by that large section of his circle which was in a perpetual state of wanting a little to see it through till Saturday. For years, Jimmy had been to these unfortunates a human bank on which they could draw at will. It offended them that one of those rare natures which are always good for two dollars at any hour of the day should be allowed to waste itself on places like Morocco and Spain—especially Morocco, where, by all accounts, there were brigands with almost a New York sense of touch.
They argued earnestly with Jimmy. They spoke of Raisuli and Kaid MacLean. But Jimmy was not to be stopped. The gad-fly was vexing him, and he had to move.
For a year, he had wandered, realizing every day the truth of Horace's philosophy for those who travel, that a man cannot change his feelings with his climate, until finally he had found himself, as every wanderer does, at Charing Cross.
At this point, he had tried to rally. Such running away, he told himself, was futile. He would stand still and fight the fever in him.
He had been fighting it now for a matter of two weeks, and already he was contemplating retreat. A man at luncheon had been talking about Japan—
Watching the crowd, Jimmy had found his attention attracted chiefly by a party of three, a few tables away. The party consisted of a girl, rather pretty, a lady of middle age and stately demeanor, plainly her mother, and a light-haired, weedy young man in the twenties. It had been the almost incessant prattle of this youth and the peculiarly high-pitched, gurgling laugh which shot from him at short intervals that had drawn Jimmy's notice upon them. And it was the curious cessation of both prattle and laugh that 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 that could have caused this 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—you've never seen me before—"
"Don't rub in my misfortunes," pleaded Jimmy. "It wasn't my fault."
He placed a five-pound note on the table.
"Say when," he said, producing another.
"I say, thanks fearfully," the young man said. "I don't know what I'd have done." He grabbed at the note. "I'll let you have it back to-morrow. Here's my card. 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."
"It's been a treat," said Jimmy, deprecatingly.
The young man flitted back to his table, bearing the spoil. Jimmy looked at the card he had left. "Lord Dreever," it read, and in the corner the name of a well-known club. The name Dreever was familiar to Jimmy. Everyone knew of Dreever Castle, partly because it was one of the oldest houses in England, but principally because for centuries it had been advertised by a particularly gruesome ghost-story. Everyone had heard of the secret of Dreever, which was known only to the earl and the family lawyer, and confided to the heir at midnight on his twenty-first birthday. Jimmy had come across the story in corners of the papers all over the States, from New York to Onehorseville, Iowa. He looked with interest at the light-haired young man, the latest depository of the awful secret. It was popularly supposed that the heir, after hearing it, never smiled again; but it did not seem to have affected the present Lord Dreever to any great extent. His gurgling laugh was drowning the orchestra. Probably, Jimmy thought, when the family lawyer had told the light-haired young man the secret, the latter's comment had been, "No, really? By Jove, I say, you know!"
Jimmy paid his bill, and got up to go.
It was a perfect summer night—too perfect for bed. Jimmy strolled on to the Embankment, and stood leaning over the balustrade, looking across the river at the vague, mysterious mass of buildings on the Surrey side.
He must have been standing there for some time, his thoughts far away, when a voice spoke at his elbow.
"I say. Excuse me, have you—Hullo!" It was his light-haired lordship of Dreever. "I say, by Jove, why we're always meeting!"
A tramp on a bench close by stirred uneasily in his sleep as the gurgling laugh rippled the air.
"Been looking at the water?" inquired Lord Dreever. "I have. I often do. Don't you think it sort of makes a chap feel—oh, you know. Sort of—I don't know how to put it."
"Mushy?" said Jimmy.
"I was going to say poetical. Suppose there's a girl—"
He paused, and looked down at the water. Jimmy was sympathetic with this mood of contemplation, for in his case, too, there was a girl.
"I saw my party off in a taxi," continued Lord Dreever, "and came down here for a smoke; only, I hadn't a match. Have you—?"
Jimmy handed over his match-box. Lord Dreever lighted a cigar, and fixed his gaze once more on the river.
"Ripping it looks," he said.
"Funny thing," said Lord Dreever. "In the daytime, the water here looks all muddy and beastly. Damn' depressing, I call it. But at night—" He paused. "I say," he went on after a moment, "Did you see the girl I was with at the Savoy?"
"Yes," said Jimmy.
"She's a ripper," said Lord Dreever, devoutly.
On the Thames Embankment, in the small hours of a summer morning, there is no such thing as a stranger. The man you talk with is a friend, and, if he will listen—as, by the etiquette of the place, he must—you may pour out your heart to him without restraint. It is expected of you!
"I'm fearfully in love with her," said his lordship.
"She looked a charming girl," said Jimmy.
They examined the water in silence. From somewhere out in the night came the sound of oars, as the police-boat moved on its patrol.
"Does she make you want to go to Japan?" asked Jimmy, suddenly.
"Eh?" said Lord Dreever, startled. "Japan?"
Jimmy adroitly abandoned the position of confidant, and seized that of confider.
"I met a girl a year ago—only really met her once, and even then—oh, well! Anyway, it's made me so restless that I haven't been able to stay in one place for more than a month on end. I tried Morocco, and had to quit. I tried Spain, and that wasn't any good, either. The other day, I heard a fellow say that Japan was a pretty interesting sort of country. I was wondering whether I wouldn't give it a trial."
Lord Dreever regarded this traveled man with interest.
"It beats me," he said, wonderingly. "What do you want to leg it about the world like that for? What's the trouble? Why don't you stay where the girl is?"