DEATH AT THE EXCELSIOR

 

and Other Stories

 

By P. G. Wodehouse

 

CONTENTS

 

 

DEATH AT THE EXCELSIOR [1914]

 

MISUNDERSTOOD [1910]

 

THE BEST SAUCE [1911]

 

JEEVES AND THE CHUMP CYRIL [1918]

 

JEEVES IN THE SPRINGTIME [1921]

 

CONCEALED ART [1915]

 

THE TEST CASE [1915]

 

 

 

 

 

DEATH AT THE EXCELSIOR

 

 

I

 

The room was the typical bedroom of the typical boarding-house,

furnished, insofar as it could be said to be furnished at all, with a

severe simplicity. It contained two beds, a pine chest of drawers, a

strip of faded carpet, and a wash basin. But there was that on the

floor which set this room apart from a thousand rooms of the same kind.

Flat on his back, with his hands tightly clenched and one leg twisted

oddly under him and with his teeth gleaming through his grey beard in a

horrible grin, Captain John Gunner stared up at the ceiling with eyes

that saw nothing.

 

Until a moment before, he had had the little room all to himself. But

now two people were standing just inside the door, looking down at him.

One was a large policeman, who twisted his helmet nervously in his

hands. The other was a tall, gaunt old woman in a rusty black dress,

who gazed with pale eyes at the dead man. Her face was quite

expressionless.

 

The woman was Mrs. Pickett, owner of the Excelsior Boarding-House. The

policeman's name was Grogan. He was a genial giant, a terror to the

riotous element of the waterfront, but obviously ill at ease in the

presence of death. He drew in his breath, wiped his forehead, and

whispered: "Look at his eyes, ma'am!"

 

Mrs. Pickett had not spoken a word since she had brought the policeman

into the room, and she did not do so now. Constable Grogan looked at

her quickly. He was afraid of Mother Pickett, as was everybody else

along the waterfront. Her silence, her pale eyes, and the quiet

decisiveness of her personality cowed even the tough old salts who

patronized the Excelsior. She was a formidable influence in that little

community of sailormen.

 

"That's just how I found him," said Mrs. Pickett. She did not speak

loudly, but her voice made the policeman start.

 

He wiped his forehead again. "It might have been apoplexy," he

hazarded.

 

Mrs. Pickett said nothing. There was a sound of footsteps outside, and

a young man entered, carrying a black bag.

 

"Good morning, Mrs. Pickett. I was told that--Good Lord!" The young

doctor dropped to his knees beside the body and raised one of the arms.

After a moment he lowered it gently to the floor, and shook his head in

grim resignation.

 

"He's been dead for hours," he announced. "When did you find him?"

 

"Twenty minutes back," replied the old woman. "I guess he died last

night. He never would be called in the morning. Said he liked to sleep

on. Well, he's got his wish."

 

"What did he die of, sir?" asked the policeman.

 

"It's impossible to say without an examination," the doctor answered.

"It looks like a stroke, but I'm pretty sure it isn't. It might be a

coronary attack, but I happen to know his blood pressure was normal,

and his heart sound. He called in to see me only a week ago, and I

examined him thoroughly. But sometimes you can be deceived. The inquest

will tell us." He eyed the body almost resentfully. "I can't understand

it. The man had no right to drop dead like this. He was a tough old

sailor who ought to have been good for another twenty years. If you

want my honest opinion--though I can't possibly be certain until after

the inquest--I should say he had been poisoned."

 

"How would he be poisoned?" asked Mrs. Pickett quietly.

 

"That's more than I can tell you. There's no glass about that he could

have drunk it from. He might have got it in capsule form. But why

should he have done it? He was always a pretty cheerful sort of old

man, wasn't he?"

 

"Yes, sir," said the Constable. "He had the name of being a joker in

these parts. Kind of sarcastic, they tell me, though he never tried it

on me."

 

"He must have died quite early last night," said the doctor. He turned

to Mrs. Pickett. "What's become of Captain Muller? If he shares this

room he ought to be able to tell us something about it."

 

"Captain Muller spent the night with some friends at Portsmouth," said

Mrs. Pickett. "He left right after supper, and hasn't returned."

 

The doctor stared thoughtfully about the room, frowning.

 

"I don't like it. I can't understand it. If this had happened in India

I should have said the man had died from some form of snakebite. I was

out there two years, and I've seen a hundred cases of it. The poor

devils all looked just like this. But the thing's ridiculous. How could

a man be bitten by a snake in a Southampton waterfront boarding-house?

Was the door locked when you found him, Mrs. Pickett?"

 

Mrs. Pickett nodded. "I opened it with my own key. I had been calling

to him and he didn't answer, so I guessed something was wrong."

 

The Constable spoke: "You ain't touched anything, ma'am? They're always

very particular about that. If the doctor's right, and there's been

anything up, that's the first thing they'll ask."

 

"Everything's just as I found it."

 

"What's that on the floor beside him?" the doctor asked.

 

"Only his harmonica. He liked to play it of an evening in his room.

I've had some complaints about it from some of the gentlemen, but I

never saw any harm, so long as he didn't play it too late."

 

"Seems as if he was playing it when--it happened," Constable Grogan

said. "That don't look much like suicide, sir."

 

"I didn't say it was suicide."

 

Grogan whistled. "You don't think----"

 

"I'm not thinking anything--until after the inquest. All I say is that

it's queer."

 

Another aspect of the matter seemed to strike the policeman. "I guess

this ain't going to do the Excelsior any good, ma'am," he said

sympathetically.

 

Mrs. Pickett shrugged her shoulders.

 

"I suppose I had better go and notify the coroner," said the doctor.

 

He went out, and after a momentary pause the policeman followed him.

Constable Grogan was not greatly troubled with nerves, but he felt a

decided desire to be somewhere where he could not see the dead man's

staring eyes.

 

Mrs. Pickett remained where she was, looking down at the still form on

the floor. Her face was expressionless, but inwardly she was tormented

and alarmed. It was the first time such a thing as this had happened at

the Excelsior, and, as Constable Grogan had hinted, it was not likely

to increase the attractiveness of the house in the eyes of possible

boarders. It was not the threatened pecuniary loss which was troubling

her. As far as money was concerned, she could have lived comfortably on

her savings, for she was richer than most of her friends supposed. It

was the blot on the escutcheon of the Excelsior--the stain on its

reputation--which was tormenting her.

 

The Excelsior was her life. Starting many years before, beyond the

memory of the oldest boarder, she had built up the model establishment,

the fame of which had been carried to every corner of the world. Men

spoke of it as a place where you were fed well, cleanly housed, and

where petty robbery was unknown.

 

Such was the chorus of praise that it is not likely that much harm

could come to the Excelsior from a single mysterious death but Mother

Pickett was not consoling herself with such reflections.

 

She looked at the dead man with pale, grim eyes. Out in the hallway the

doctor's voice further increased her despair. He was talking to the

police on the telephone, and she could distinctly hear his every word.

 

 

II

 

The offices of Mr. Paul Snyder's Detective Agency in New Oxford Street

had grown in the course of a dozen years from a single room to an

impressive suite bright with polished wood, clicking typewriters, and

other evidences of success. Where once Mr. Snyder had sat and waited

for clients and attended to them himself, he now sat in his private

office and directed eight assistants.

 

He had just accepted a case--a case that might be nothing at all or

something exceedingly big. It was on the latter possibility that he had

gambled. The fee offered was, judged by his present standards of

prosperity, small. But the bizarre facts, coupled with something in the

personality of the client, had won him over. He briskly touched the

bell and requested that Mr. Oakes should be sent in to him.

 

Elliot Oakes was a young man who both amused and interested Mr. Snyder,

for though he had only recently joined the staff, he made no secret of

his intention of revolutionizing the methods of the agency. Mr. Snyder

himself, in common with most of his assistants, relied for results on

hard work and plenty of common sense. He had never been a detective of

the showy type. Results had justified his methods, but he was perfectly

aware that young Mr. Oakes looked on him as a dull old man who had been

miraculously favored by luck.

 

Mr. Snyder had selected Oakes for the case in hand principally because

it was one where inexperience could do no harm, and where the brilliant

guesswork which Oakes preferred to call his inductive reasoning might

achieve an unexpected success.

 

Another motive actuated Mr. Snyder in his choice. He had a strong

suspicion that the conduct of this case was going to have the

beneficial result of lowering Oakes' self-esteem. If failure achieved

this end, Mr. Snyder felt that failure, though it would not help the

Agency, would not be an unmixed ill.

 

The door opened and Oakes entered tensely. He did everything tensely,

partly from a natural nervous energy, and partly as a pose. He was a

lean young man, with dark eyes and a thin-lipped mouth, and he looked

quite as much like a typical detective as Mr. Snyder looked like a

comfortable and prosperous stock broker.

 

"Sit down, Oakes," said Mr. Snyder. "I've got a job for you."

 

Oakes sank into a chair like a crouching leopard, and placed the tips

of his fingers together. He nodded curtly. It was part of his pose to

be keen and silent.

 

"I want you to go to this address"--Mr. Snyder handed him an

envelope--"and look around. The address on that envelope is of a

sailors' boarding-house down in Southampton. You know the sort of

place--retired sea captains and so on live there. All most respectable.

In all its history nothing more sensational has ever happened than a

case of suspected cheating at halfpenny nap. Well, a man had died

there."

 

"Murdered?" Oakes asked.

 

"I don't know. That's for you to find out. The coroner left it open.

'Death by Misadventure' was the verdict, and I don't blame him. I don't

see how it could have been murder. The door was locked on the inside,

so nobody could have got in."

 

"The window?"

 

"The window was open, granted. But the room is on the second floor.

Anyway, you may dismiss the window. I remember the old lady saying

there was a bar across it, and that nobody could have squeezed

through."

 

Oakes' eyes glistened. He was interested. "What was the cause of

death?" he asked.

 

Mr. Snyder coughed. "Snake bite," he said.

 

Oakes' careful calm deserted him. He uttered a cry of astonishment.

"Why, that's incredible!"

 

"It's the literal truth. The medical examination proved that the fellow

had been killed by snake poison--cobra, to be exact, which is found

principally in India."

 

"Cobra!"

 

"Just so. In a Southampton boarding-house, in a room with a locked

door, this man was stung by a cobra. To add a little mystification to

the limpid simplicity of the affair, when the door was opened there was

no sign of any cobra. It couldn't have got out through the door,

because the door was locked. It couldn't have got out of the window,

because the window was too high up, and snakes can't jump. And it

couldn't have gotten up the chimney, because there was no chimney. So

there you have it."

 

He looked at Oakes with a certain quiet satisfaction. It had come to

his ears that Oakes had been heard to complain of the infantile nature

and unworthiness of the last two cases to which he had been assigned.

He had even said that he hoped some day to be given a problem which

should be beyond the reasoning powers of a child of six. It seemed to

Mr. Snyder that Oakes was about to get his wish.

 

"I should like further details," said Oakes, a little breathlessly.

 

"You had better apply to Mrs. Pickett, who owns the boarding-house,"

Mr. Snyder said. "It was she who put the case in my hands. She is

convinced that it is murder. But, if we exclude ghosts, I don't see how

any third party could have taken a hand in the thing at all. However,

she wanted a man from this agency, and was prepared to pay for him, so

I promised her I would send one. It is not our policy to turn business

away."

 

He smiled wryly. "In pursuance of that policy I want you to go and put

up at Mrs. Pickett's boarding house and do your best to enhance the

reputation of our agency. I would suggest that you pose as a ship's

chandler or something of that sort. You will have to be something

maritime or they'll be suspicious of you. And if your visit produces no

other results, it will, at least, enable you to make the acquaintance

of a very remarkable woman. I commend Mrs. Pickett to your notice. By

the way, she says she will help you in your investigations."

 

Oakes laughed shortly. The idea amused him.

 

"It's a mistake to scoff at amateur assistance, my boy," said Mr.

Snyder in the benevolently paternal manner which had made a score of

criminals refuse to believe him a detective until the moment when the

handcuffs snapped on their wrists. "Crime investigation isn't an exact

science. Success or failure depends in a large measure on applied

common sense, and the possession of a great deal of special

information. Mrs. Pickett knows certain things which neither you nor I

know, and it's just possible that she may have some stray piece of

information which will provide the key to the entire mystery."

 

Oakes laughed again. "It is very kind of Mrs. Pickett," he said, "but I

prefer to trust to my own methods." Oakes rose, his face purposeful.

"I'd better be starting at once," he said. "I'll send you reports from

time to time."

 

"Good. The more detailed the better," said Mr. Snyder genially. "I hope

your visit to the Excelsior will be pleasant. And cultivate Mrs.

Pickett. She's worth while."

 

The door closed, and Mr. Snyder lighted a fresh cigar. "Dashed young

fool," he murmured, as he turned his mind to other matters.

 

 

III

 

A day later Mr. Snyder sat in his office reading a typewritten report.

It appeared to be of a humorous nature, for, as he read, chuckles

escaped him. Finishing the last sheet he threw his head back and

laughed heartily. The manuscript had not been intended by its author

for a humorous effort. What Mr. Snyder had been reading was the first

of Elliott Oakes' reports from the Excelsior. It read as follows:

 

    I am sorry to be unable to report any real progress. I have

    formed several theories which I will put forward later, but at

    present I cannot say that I am hopeful.

 

    Directly I arrived here I sought out Mrs. Pickett, explained

    who I was, and requested her to furnish me with any further

    information which might be of service to me. She is a strange,

    silent woman, who impressed me as having very little

    intelligence. Your suggestion that I should avail myself of

    her assistance seems more curious than ever, now that I have

    seen her.

 

    The whole affair seems to me at the moment of writing quite

    inexplicable. Assuming that this Captain Gunner was murdered,

    there appears to have been no motive for the crime whatsoever.

    I have made careful inquiries about him, and find that he was

    a man of fifty-five; had spent nearly forty years of his life

    at sea, the last dozen in command of his own ship; was of a

    somewhat overbearing disposition, though with a fund of rough

    humour; had travelled all over the world, and had been an inmate

    of the Excelsior for about ten months. He had a small annuity,

    and no other money at all, which disposes of money as the motive

    for the crime.

 

    In my character of James Burton, a retired ship's chandler, I have

    mixed with the other boarders, and have heard all they have to say

    about the affair. I gather that the deceased was by no means

    popular. He appears to have had a bitter tongue, and I have not

    met one man who seems to regret his death. On the other hand, I

    have heard nothing which would suggest that he had any active and

    violent enemies. He was simply the unpopular boarder--there is

    always one in every boarding-house--but nothing more.

 

    I have seen a good deal of the man who shared his room--another

    sea captain, named Muller. He is a big, silent person, and it is

    not easy to get him to talk. As regards the death of Captain Gunner

    he can tell me nothing. It seems that on the night of the tragedy

    he was away at Portsmouth with some friends. All I have got from

    him is some information as to Captain Gunner's habits, which leads

    nowhere. The dead man seldom drank, except at night when he would

    take some whisky. His head was not strong, and a little of the

    spirit was enough to make him semi-intoxicated, when he would be

    hilarious and often insulting. I gather that Muller found him a

    difficult roommate, but he is one of those placid persons who can

    put up with anything. He and Gunner were in the habit of playing

    draughts together every night in their room, and Gunner had a

    harmonica which he played frequently. Apparently, he was playing

    it very soon before he died, which is significant, as seeming to

    dispose of the idea of suicide.

 

    As I say, I have one or two theories, but they are in a very

    nebulous state. The most plausible is that on one of his visits

    to India--I have ascertained that he made several voyages

    there--Captain Gunner may in some way have fallen foul of

    the natives. The fact that he certainly died of the poison of an

    Indian snake supports this theory. I am making inquiries as to

    the movements of several Indian sailors who were here in

    their ships at the time of the tragedy.

 

    I have another theory. Does Mrs. Pickett know more about

    this affair than she appears to? I may be wrong in my estimate

    of her mental qualities. Her apparent stupidity may be

    cunning. But here again, the absence of motive brings me up

    against a dead wall. I must confess that at present I do not see

    my way clearly. However, I will write again shortly.

 

Mr. Snyder derived the utmost enjoyment from the report. He liked the

substance of it, and above all, he was tickled by the bitter tone of

frustration which characterized it. Oakes was baffled, and his knowledge

of Oakes told him that the sensation of being baffled was gall and

wormwood to that high-spirited young man. Whatever might be the result

of this investigation, it would teach him the virtue of patience.

 

He wrote his assistant a short note:

 

    Dear Oakes,

 

    Your report received. You certainly seem to have got the hard

    case which, I hear, you were pining for. Don't build too much

    on plausible motives in a case of this sort. Fauntleroy, the

    London murderer, killed a woman for no other reason than that

    she had thick ankles. Many years ago, I myself was on a case

    where a man murdered an intimate friend because of a dispute

    about a bet. My experience is that five murderers out of ten

    act on the whim of the moment, without anything which, properly

    speaking, you could call a motive at all.

 

    Yours very cordially,

    Paul Snyder

 

    P. S. I don't think much of your Pickett theory. However, you're

    in charge. I wish you luck.

 

 

IV

 

Young Mr. Oakes was not enjoying himself. For the first time in his

life, the self-confidence which characterized all his actions seemed to

be failing him. The change had taken place almost overnight. The fact

that the case had the appearance of presenting the unusual had merely

stimulated him at first. But then doubts had crept in and the problem

had begun to appear insoluble.

 

True, he had only just taken it up, but something told him that, for

all the progress he was likely to make, he might just as well have been

working on it steadily for a month. He was completely baffled. And

every moment which he spent in the Excelsior Boarding-House made it

clearer to him that that infernal old woman with the pale eyes thought

him an incompetent fool. It was that, more than anything, which made

him acutely conscious of his lack of success. His nerves were being

sorely troubled by the quiet scorn of Mrs. Pickett's gaze. He began to

think that perhaps he had been a shade too self-confident and abrupt in

the short interview which he had had with her on his arrival.

 

As might have been expected, his first act, after his brief interview

with Mrs. Pickett, was to examine the room where the tragedy had taken

place. The body was gone, but otherwise nothing had been moved.

 

Oakes belonged to the magnifying-glass school of detection. The first

thing he did on entering the room was to make a careful examination of

the floor, the walls, the furniture, and the windowsill. He would have

hotly denied the assertion that he did this because it looked well, but

he would have been hard put to it to advance any other reason.

 

If he discovered anything, his discoveries were entirely negative, and

served only to deepen the mystery of the case. As Mr. Snyder had said,

there was no chimney, and nobody could have entered through the locked

door.

 

There remained the window. It was small, and apprehensiveness, perhaps,

of the possibility of burglars, had caused the proprietress to make it

doubly secure with an iron bar. No human being could have squeezed his

way through it.

 

It was late that night that he wrote and dispatched to headquarters the

report which had amused Mr. Snyder.

 

 

V

 

Two days later Mr. Snyder sat at his desk, staring with wide, unbelieving

eyes at a telegram he had just received. It read as follows:

 

     HAVE SOLVED GUNNER MYSTERY. RETURNING.... OAKES.

 

Mr. Snyder narrowed his eyes and rang the bell. "Send Mr. Oakes to me

directly he arrives," he said.

 

He was pained to find that his chief emotion was one of bitter

annoyance. The swift solution of such an apparently insoluble problem

would reflect the highest credit on the Agency, and there were

picturesque circumstances connected with the case which would make it

popular with the newspapers and lead to its being given a great deal of

publicity.

 

Yet, in spite of all this, Mr. Snyder was annoyed. He realized now how

large a part the desire to reduce Oakes' self-esteem had played with

him. He further realized, looking at the thing honestly, that he had

been firmly convinced that the young man would not come within a mile

of a reasonable solution of the mystery. He had desired only that his

failure would prove a valuable educational experience for him. For he

believed that failure at this particular point in his career would make

Oakes a more valuable asset to the Agency. But now here Oakes was,

within a ridiculously short space of time, returning to the fold, not

humble and defeated, but triumphant. Mr. Snyder looked forward with

apprehension to the young man's probable demeanor under the

intoxicating influence of victory.

 

His apprehensions were well grounded. He had barely finished the third

of the series of cigars, which, like milestones, marked the progress of

his afternoon, when the door opened and young Oakes entered. Mr. Snyder

could not repress a faint moan at the sight of him. One glance was

enough to tell him that his worst fears were realised.

 

"I got your telegram," said Mr. Snyder.

 

Oakes nodded. "It surprised you, eh?" he asked.

 

Mr. Snyder resented the patronizing tone of the question, but he had

resigned himself to be patronized, and keep his anger in check.

 

"Yes," he replied, "I must say it did surprise me. I didn't gather from

your report that you had even found a clue. Was it the Indian theory

that turned the trick?"

 

Oakes laughed tolerantly. "Oh, I never really believed that

preposterous theory for one moment. I just put it in to round out my

report. I hadn't begun to think about the case then--not really think."

 

Mr. Snyder, nearly exploding with wrath, extended his cigar-case.

"Light up, and tell me all about it," he said, controlling his anger.

 

"Well, I won't say I haven't earned this," said Oakes, puffing away. He

let the ash of his cigar fall delicately to the floor--another action

which seemed significant to his employer. As a rule, his assistants,

unless particularly pleased with themselves, used the ashtray.

 

"My first act on arriving," Oakes said, "was to have a talk with Mrs.

Pickett. A very dull old woman."

 

"Curious. She struck me as rather intelligent."

 

"Not on your life. She gave me no assistance whatever. I then examined

the room where the death had taken place. It was exactly as you described

it. There was no chimney, the door had been locked on the inside, and

the one window was very high up. At first sight, it looked extremely

unpromising. Then I had a chat with some of the other boarders. They had

nothing of any importance to contribute. Most of them simply gibbered.

I then gave up trying to get help from the outside, and resolved to rely

on my own intelligence."

 

He smiled triumphantly. "It is a theory of mine, Mr. Snyder, which I

have found valuable that, in nine cases out of ten, remarkable things

don't happen."

 

"I don't quite follow you there," Mr. Snyder interrupted.

 

"I will put it another way, if you like. What I mean is that the simplest

explanation is nearly always the right one. Consider this case. It seemed

impossible that there should have been any reasonable explanation of the

man's death. Most men would have worn themselves out guessing at wild

theories. If I had started to do that, I should have been guessing now.

As it is--here I am. I trusted to my belief that nothing remarkable ever

happens, and I won out."

 

Mr. Snyder sighed softly. Oakes was entitled to a certain amount of

gloating, but there could be no doubt that his way of telling a story

was downright infuriating.

 

"I believe in the logical sequence of events. I refuse to accept

effects unless they are preceded by causes. In other words, with all

due respect to your possibly contrary opinions, Mr. Snyder, I simply

decline to believe in a murder unless there was a motive for it. The

first thing I set myself to ascertain was--what was the motive for the

murder of Captain Gunner? And, after thinking it over and making every

possible inquiry, I decided that there was no motive. Therefore, there

was no murder."

 

Mr. Snyder's mouth opened, and he obviously was about to protest. But

he appeared to think better of it and Oakes proceeded: "I then tested

the suicide theory. What motive was there for suicide? There was no

motive. Therefore, there was no suicide."

 

This time Mr. Snyder spoke. "You haven't been spending the last few

days in the wrong house by any chance, have you? You will be telling me

next that there wasn't any dead man."

 

Oakes smiled. "Not at all. Captain John Gunner was dead, all right. As

the medical evidence proved, he died of the bite of a cobra. It was a

small cobra which came from Java."

 

Mr. Snyder stared at him. "How do you know?"

 

"I do know, beyond any possibility of doubt."

 

"Did you see the snake?"

 

Oakes shook his head.

 

"Then, how in heaven's name----"

 

"I have enough evidence to make a jury convict Mr. Snake without

leaving the box."

 

"Then suppose you tell me this. How did your cobra from Java get out of

the room?"

 

"By the window," replied Oakes, impassively.

 

"How can you possibly explain that? You say yourself that the window

was high up."

 

"Nevertheless, it got out by the window. The logical sequence of events

is proof enough that it was in the room. It killed Captain Gunner

there, and left traces of its presence outside. Therefore, as the

window was the only exit, it must have escaped by that route. It may

have climbed or it may have jumped, but somehow it got out of that

window."

 

"What do you mean--it left traces of its presence outside?"

 

"It killed a dog in the backyard behind the house," Oakes said. "The

window of Captain Gunner's room projects out over it. It is full of

boxes and litter and there are a few stunted shrubs scattered about. In

fact, there is enough cover to hide any small object like the body of a

dog. That's why it was not discovered at first. The maid at the

Excelsior came on it the morning after I sent you my report while she

was emptying a box of ashes in the yard. It was just an ordinary stray

dog without collar or license. The analyst examined the body, and found

that the dog had died of the bite of a cobra."

 

"But you didn't find the snake?"

 

"No. We cleaned out that yard till you could have eaten your breakfast

there, but the snake had gone. It must have escaped through the door of

the yard, which was standing ajar. That was a couple of days ago, and

there has been no further tragedy. In all likelihood it is dead. The

nights are pretty cold now, and it would probably have died of

exposure."

 

"But, I just don't understand how a cobra got to Southampton," said the

amazed Mr. Snyder.

 

"Can't you guess it? I told you it came from Java."

 

"How did you know it did?"

 

"Captain Muller told me. Not directly, but I pieced it together from

what he said. It seems that an old shipmate of Captain Gunner's was

living in Java. They corresponded, and occasionally this man would send

the captain a present as a mark of his esteem. The last present he sent

was a crate of bananas. Unfortunately, the snake must have got in

unnoticed. That's why I told you the cobra was a small one. Well,

that's my case against Mr. Snake, and short of catching him with the

goods, I don't see how I could have made out a stronger one. Don't you

agree?"

 

It went against the grain for Mr. Snyder to acknowledge defeat, but he

was a fair-minded man, and he was forced to admit that Oakes did

certainly seem to have solved the impossible.

 

"I congratulate you, my boy," he said as heartily as he could. "To be

completely frank, when you started out, I didn't think you could do it.

By the way, I suppose Mrs. Pickett was pleased?"

 

"If she was, she didn't show it. I'm pretty well convinced she hasn't

enough sense to be pleased at anything. However, she has invited me to

dinner with her tonight. I imagine she'll be as boring as usual, but

she made such a point of it, I had to accept."

 

 

VI

 

For some time after Oakes had gone, Mr. Snyder sat smoking and

thinking, in embittered meditation. Suddenly there was brought the card

of Mrs. Pickett, who would be grateful if he could spare her a few

moments. Mr. Snyder was glad to see Mrs. Pickett. He was a student of

character, and she had interested him at their first meeting. There was

something about her which had seemed to him unique, and he welcomed

this second chance of studying her at close range.

 

She came in and sat down stiffly, balancing herself on the extreme edge

of the chair in which a short while before young Oakes had lounged so

luxuriously.

 

"How are you, Mrs. Pickett?" said Mr. Snyder genially. "I'm very glad

that you could find time to pay me a visit. Well, so it wasn't murder

after all."

 

"Sir?"

 

"I've just been talking to Mr. Oakes, whom you met as James Burton,"

said the detective. "He has told me all about it."

 

"He told _me_ all about it," said Mrs. Pickett dryly.

 

Mr. Snyder looked at her inquiringly. Her manner seemed more suggestive

than her words.

 

"A conceited, headstrong young fool," said Mrs. Pickett.

 

It was no new picture of his assistant that she had drawn. Mr. Snyder

had often drawn it himself, but at the present juncture it surprised

him. Oakes, in his hour of triumph, surely did not deserve this

sweeping condemnation.

 

"Did not Mr. Oakes' solution of the mystery satisfy you, Mrs. Pickett?"

 

"No!"

 

"It struck me as logical and convincing," Mr. Snyder said.

 

"You may call it all the fancy names you please, Mr. Snyder. But Mr.

Oakes' solution was not the right one."

 

"Have you an alternative to offer?"

 

Mrs. Pickett tightened her lips.

 

"If you have, I should like to hear it."

 

"You will--at the proper time."

 

"What makes you so certain that Mr. Oakes is wrong?"

 

"He starts out with an impossible explanation, and rests his whole case

on it. There couldn't have been a snake in that room because it

couldn't have gotten out. The window was too high."

 

"But surely the evidence of the dead dog?"

 

Mrs. Pickett looked at him as if he had disappointed her. "I had always

heard _you_ spoken of as a man with common sense, Mr. Snyder."

 

"I have always tried to use common sense."

 

"Then why are you trying now to make yourself believe that something

happened which could not possibly have happened just because it fits in

with something which isn't easy to explain?"

 

"You mean that there is another explanation of the dead dog?" Mr.

Snyder asked.

 

"Not _another_. What Mr. Oakes takes for granted is not an

explanation. But there is a common sense explanation, and if he had not

been so headstrong and conceited he might have found it."

 

"You speak as if you had found it," chided Mr. Snyder.

 

"I have." Mrs. Pickett leaned forward as she spoke, and stared at him

defiantly.

 

Mr. Snyder started. "_You_ have?"

 

"Yes."

 

"What is it?"

 

"You will know before tomorrow. In the meantime try and think it out

for yourself. A successful and prosperous detective agency like yours,

Mr. Snyder, ought to do something in return for a fee."

 

There was something in her manner so reminiscent of the school teacher

reprimanding a recalcitrant pupil that Mr. Snyder's sense of humor came

to his rescue. "We do our best, Mrs. Pickett," he said. "But you

mustn't forget that we are only human and cannot guarantee results."

 

Mrs. Pickett did not pursue the subject. Instead, she proceeded to

astonish Mr. Snyder by asking him to swear out a warrant for the arrest

of a man known to them both on a charge of murder.

 

Mr. Snyder's breath was not often taken away in his own office. As a

rule, he received his clients' communications calmly, strange as they

often were. But at her words he gasped. The thought crossed his mind

that Mrs. Pickett might well be mentally unbalanced. The details of the

case were fresh in his memory, and he distinctly recollected that the

person she mentioned had been away from the boarding house on the night

of Captain Gunner's death, and could, he imagined, produce witnesses to

prove it.

 

Mrs. Pickett was regarding him with an unfaltering stare. To all

outward appearances, she was the opposite of unbalanced.

 

"But you can't swear out a warrant without evidence," he told her.

 

"I have evidence," she replied firmly.

 

"Precisely what kind of evidence?" he demanded.

 

"If I told you now you would think that I was out of my mind."

 

"But, Mrs. Pickett, do you realize what you are asking me to do? I

cannot make this agency responsible for the arbitrary arrest of a man

on the strength of a single individual's suspicions. It might ruin me.

At the least it would make me a laughing stock."

 

"Mr. Snyder, you may use your own judgment whether or not to make the

arrest on that warrant. You will listen to what I have to say, and you

will see for yourself how the crime was committed. If after that you

feel that you cannot make the arrest I will accept your decision. I

know who killed Captain Gunner," she said. "I knew it from the

beginning. It was like a vision. But I had no proof. Now things have

come to light and everything is clear."

 

Against his judgment, Mr. Snyder was impressed. This woman had the

magnetism which makes for persuasiveness.

 

"It--it sounds incredible." Even as he spoke, he remembered that it had

long been a professional maxim of his that nothing was incredible, and

he weakened still further.

 

"Mr. Snyder, I ask you to swear out that warrant."

 

The detective gave in. "Very well," he said.

 

Mrs. Pickett rose. "If you will come and dine at my house to-night I

think I can prove to you that it will be needed. Will you come?"

 

"I'll come," promised Mr. Snyder.

 

 

VII

 

When Mr. Snyder arrived at the Excelsior and shortly after he was shown

into the little private sitting room where he found Oakes, the third

guest of the evening unexpectedly arrived.

 

Mr. Snyder looked curiously at the newcomer. Captain Muller had a

peculiar fascination for him. It was not Mr. Snyder's habit to trust

overmuch to appearances. But he could not help admitting that there was

something about this man's aspect which brought Mrs. Pickett's charges

out of the realm of the fantastic into that of the possible. There was

something odd--an unnatural aspect of gloom--about the man. He bore

himself like one carrying a heavy burden. His eyes were dull, his face

haggard. The next moment the detective was reproaching himself with

allowing his imagination to run away with his calmer judgment.

 

The door opened, and Mrs. Pickett came in. She made no apology for her

lateness.

 

To Mr. Snyder one of the most remarkable points about the dinner was

the peculiar metamorphosis of Mrs. Pickett from the brooding silent

woman he had known to the gracious and considerate hostess.

 

Oakes appeared also to be overcome with surprise, so much so that he

was unable to keep his astonishment to himself. He had come prepared to

endure a dull evening absorbed in grim silence, and he found himself

instead opposite a bottle of champagne of a brand and year which

commanded his utmost respect. What was even more incredible, his

hostess had transformed herself into a pleasant old lady whose only aim

seemed to be to make him feel at home.

 

Beside each of the guests' plates was a neat paper parcel. Oakes picked

his up, and stared at it in wonderment. "Why, this is more than a party

souvenir, Mrs. Pickett," he said. "It's the kind of mechanical marvel

I've always wanted to have on my desk."

 

"I'm glad you like it, Mr. Oakes," Mrs. Pickett said, smiling. "You

must not think of me simply as a tired old woman whom age has

completely defeated. I am an ambitious hostess. When I give these

little parties, I like to make them a success. I want each of you to

remember this dinner."

 

"I'm sure I will."

 

Mrs. Pickett smiled again. "I think you all will. You, Mr. Snyder." She

paused. "And you, Captain Muller."

 

To Mr. Snyder there was so much meaning in her voice as she said this

that he was amazed that it conveyed no warning to Muller. Captain

Muller, however, was already drinking heavily. He looked up when

addressed and uttered a sound which might have been taken for an

expression of polite acquiescence. Then he filled his glass again.

 

Mr. Snyder's parcel revealed a watch-charm fashioned in the shape of a

tiny, candid-eye camera. "That," said Mrs. Pickett, "is a compliment to

your profession." She leaned toward the captain. "Mr. Snyder is a

detective, Captain Muller."

 

He looked up. It seemed to Mr. Snyder that a look of fear lit up his

heavy eyes for an instant. It came and went, if indeed it came at all,

so swiftly that he could not be certain.

 

"So?" said Captain Muller. He spoke quite evenly, with just the amount

of interest which such an announcement would naturally produce.

 

"Now for yours, Captain," said Oakes. "I guess it's something special.

It's twice the size of mine, anyway."

 

It may have been something in the old woman's expression as she watched

Captain Muller slowly tearing the paper that sent a thrill of

excitement through Mr. Snyder. Something seemed to warn him of the

approach of a psychological moment. He bent forward eagerly.

 

There was a strangled gasp, a thump, and onto the table from the

captain's hands there fell a little harmonica. There was no mistaking

the look on Muller's face now. His cheeks were like wax, and his eyes,

so dull till then, blazed with a panic and horror which he could not

repress. The glasses on the table rocked as he clutched at the cloth.

 

Mrs. Pickett spoke. "Why, Captain Muller, has it upset you? I thought

that, as his best friend, the man who shared his room, you would value

a memento of Captain Gunner. How fond you must have been of him for the

sight of his harmonica to be such a shock."

 

The captain did not speak. He was staring fascinated at the thing on

the table. Mrs. Pickett turned to Mr. Snyder. Her eyes, as they met

his, held him entranced.

 

"Mr. Snyder, as a detective, you will be interested in a curious and

very tragic affair which happened in this house a few days ago. One of

my boarders, Captain Gunner, was found dead in his room. It was the

room which he shared with Captain Muller. I am very proud of the

reputation of my house, Mr. Snyder, and it was a blow to me that this

should have happened. I applied to an agency for a detective, and they

sent me a stupid boy, with nothing to recommend him except his belief

in himself. He said that Captain Gunner had died by accident, killed by

a snake which had come out of a crate of bananas. I knew better. I knew

that Captain Gunner had been murdered. Are you listening, Captain

Muller? This will interest you, as you were such a friend of his."

 

The captain did not answer. He was staring straight before him, as if

he saw something invisible in eyes forever closed in death.

 

"Yesterday we found the body of a dog. It had been killed, as Captain

Gunner had been, by the poison of a snake. The boy from the agency said

that this was conclusive. He said that the snake had escaped from the

room after killing Captain Gunner and had in turn killed the dog. I

knew that to be impossible, for, if there had been a snake in that room

it could not have made its escape."

 

Her eyes flashed, and became remorselessly accusing. "It was not a

snake that killed Captain Gunner. It was a cat. Captain Gunner had a

friend who hated him. One day, in opening a crate of bananas, this

friend found a snake. He killed it, and extracted the poison. He knew

Captain Gunner's habits. He knew that he played a harmonica. This man

also had a cat. He knew that cats hated the sound of a harmonica. He

had often seen this particular cat fly at Captain Gunner and scratch

him when he played. He took the cat and covered its claws with the

poison. And then he left it in the room with Captain Gunner. He knew

what would happen."

 

Oakes and Mr. Snyder were on their feet. Captain Muller had not moved.

He sat there, his fingers gripping the cloth. Mrs. Pickett rose and

went to a closet. She unlocked the door. "Kitty!" she called. "Kitty!

Kitty!"

 

A black cat ran swiftly out into the room. With a clatter and a crash

of crockery and a ringing of glass the table heaved, rocked and

overturned as Muller staggered to his feet. He threw up his hands as if

to ward something off. A choking cry came from his lips. "Gott! Gott!"

 

Mrs. Pickett's voice rang through the room, cold and biting: "Captain

Muller, you murdered Captain Gunner!"

 

The captain shuddered. Then mechanically he replied: "Gott! Yes, I

killed him."

 

"You heard, Mr. Snyder," said Mrs. Pickett. "He has confessed before

witnesses. Take him away."

 

Muller allowed himself to be moved toward the door. His arm in Mr.

Snyder's grip felt limp. Mrs. Pickett stopped and took something from

the debris on the floor. She rose, holding the harmonica.

 

"You are forgetting your souvenir, Captain Muller," she said.

 

 

 

 

MISUNDERSTOOD

 

 

The profession of Mr. James ("Spider") Buffin was pocket-picking. His

hobby was revenge. James had no objection to letting the sun go down on

his wrath. Indeed, it was after dark that he corrected his numerous

enemies most satisfactorily. It was on a dark night, while he was

settling a small score against one Kelly, a mere acquaintance, that he

first fell foul of Constable Keating, whose beat took him through the

regions which James most frequented.

 

James, having "laid for" Mr. Kelly, met him in a murky side-street down

Clerkenwell way, and attended to his needs with a sand-bag.

 

It was here that Constable Keating first came prominently into his

life. Just as James, with the satisfying feeling that his duty had been

done, was preparing to depart, Officer Keating, who had been a distant

spectator of the affair, charged up and seized him.

 

It was intolerable that he should interfere in a purely private

falling-out between one gentleman and another, but there was nothing to

be done. The policeman weighed close upon fourteen stone, and could

have eaten Mr. Buffin. The latter, inwardly seething, went quietly, and

in due season was stowed away at the Government's expense for the space

of sixty days.

 

Physically, there is no doubt that his detention did him good. The

regular hours and the substitution of bread and water for his wonted

diet improved his health thirty per cent. It was mentally that he

suffered. His was one of those just-as-good cheap-substitute minds,

incapable of harbouring more than one idea at a time, and during those

sixty days of quiet seclusion it was filled with an ever-growing

resentment against Officer Keating. Every day, as he moved about his

appointed tasks, he brooded on his wrongs. Every night was to him but

the end of another day that kept him from settling down to the serious

business of Revenge. To be haled to prison for correcting a private

enemy with a sand-bag--that was what stung. In the privacy of his cell

he dwelt unceasingly on the necessity for revenge. The thing began to

take on to him the aspect almost of a Holy Mission, a sort of Crusade.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

The days slipped by, bringing winter to Clerkenwell, and with it Mr.

Buffin. He returned to his old haunts one Friday night, thin but in

excellent condition. One of the first acquaintances he met was Officer

Keating. The policeman, who had a good memory for faces, recognised

him, and stopped.

 

"So you're out, young feller?" he said genially. When not in the active

discharge of his professional duties the policeman was a kindly man. He

bore Mr. Buffin no grudge.

 

"Um," said Mr. Buffin.

 

"Feeling fine, eh?"

 

"Um."

 

"Goin' round to see some of the chaps and pass them the time of day, I

shouldn't wonder?"

 

"Um."

 

"Well, you keep clear of that lot down in Frith Street, young feller.

They're no good. And if you get mixed up with them, first thing you

know, you'll be in trouble again. And you want to keep out of that

now."

 

"Um."

 

"If you never get into trouble," said the policeman sententiously,

"you'll never have to get out of it."

 

"Um," said Mr. Buffin. If he had a fault as a conversationalist, it was

a certain tendency to monotony, a certain lack of sparkle and variety

in his small-talk.

 

Constable Keating, with a dignified but friendly wave of the hand, as

one should say, "You have our leave to depart," went on his way; while

Mr. Buffin, raging, shuffled off in the opposite direction, thinking as

hard as his limited mental equipment would allow him.

 

His thoughts, which were many and confused, finally composed themselves

into some order. He arrived at a definite conclusion, which was that if

the great settlement was to be carried through successfully it must be

done when the policeman was off duty. Till then he had pictured himself

catching Officer Keating in an unguarded moment on his beat. This, he

now saw, was out of the question. On his beat the policeman had no

unguarded moments. There was a quiet alertness in his poise, a

danger-signal in itself.

 

There was only one thing for Mr. Buffin to do. Greatly as it would go

against the grain, he must foregather with the man, win his confidence,

put himself in a position where he would be able to find out what he

did with himself when off duty.

 

The policeman offered no obstacle to the move. A supreme

self-confidence was his leading characteristic. Few London policemen

are diffident, and Mr. Keating was no exception. It never occurred to

him that there could be an ulterior motive behind Mr. Buffin's

advances. He regarded Mr. Buffin much as one regards a dog which one

has had to chastise. One does not expect the dog to lie in wait and

bite. Officer Keating did not expect Mr. Buffin to lie in wait and

bite.

 

So every day, as he strolled on his beat, there sidled up to him

the meagre form of Spider Buffin. Every day there greeted him the

Spider's "Good-morning, Mr. Keating," till the sight of Officer Keating

walking solidly along the pavement with Spider Buffin shuffling along

at his side, listening with rapt interest to his views on Life and his

hints on Deportment, became a familiar spectacle in Clerkenwell.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

Mr. Buffin played his part well. In fact, too well. It was on the

seventh day that, sidling along in the direction of his favourite place

of refreshment, he found himself tapped on the shoulder. At the same

moment an arm, linking itself in his, brought him gently to a halt.

Beside him were standing two of the most eminent of the great Frith

Street Gang, Otto the Sausage and Rabbit Butler. It was the finger of

the Rabbit that had tapped his shoulder. The arm tucked in his was the

arm of Otto the Sausage.

 

"Hi, Spider," said Mr. Butler, "Sid wants to see you a minute."

 

The Spider's legs felt boneless. There was nothing in the words to

alarm a man, but his practised ear had seemed to detect a certain

unpleasant dryness in the speaker's tone. Sid Marks, the all-powerful

leader of the Frith Street Gang, was a youth whose company the Spider

had always avoided with some care.

 

The great Sid, seated in state at a neighbouring hostelry, fixed his

visitor with a cold and questioning eye. Mr. Buffin looked nervous and

interrogative. Mr. Marks spoke.

 

"Your pal Keating pinched Porky Binns this mornin'," said Sid.

 

The Spider's heart turned to water.

 

"You and that slop," observed Sid dreamily, "have been bloomin' thick

these days."

 

Mr. Buffin did not affect to misunderstand. Sid Marks was looking at

him in that nasty way. Otto the Sausage was looking at him in that

nasty way. Rabbit Butler was looking at him in that nasty way. This was

an occasion where manly frankness was the quality most to be aimed at.

To be misunderstood in the circles in which Mr. Buffin moved meant

something more than the mere risk of being treated with cold

displeasure.

 

He began to explain with feverish eagerness.

 

"Strike me, Sid," he stammered, "it ain't like that. It's all right.

Blimey, you don't fink I'm a nark?"

 

Mr. Marks chewed a straw in silence.

 

"I'm layin' for him, Sid," babbled Mr. Buffin. "That's true. Strike me

if it ain't. I'm just tryin' to find out where he goes when he's off

duty. He pinched me, so I'm layin' for him."

 

Mr. Marks perpended. Rabbit Butler respectfully gave it as his opinion

that it would be well to put Mr. Buffin through it. There was nothing

like being on the safe side. By putting Mr. Buffin through it, argued

Rabbit Butler, they would stand to win either way. If he _had_

"smitched" to Officer Keating about Porky Binns he would deserve it. If

he had not--well, it would prevent him doing so on some future

occasion. Play for safety, was Mr. Butler's advice, seconded by Otto

the Sausage. Mr. Buffin, pale to the lips, thought he had never met two

more unpleasant persons.

 

The Great Sid, having chewed his straw for a while in silence,

delivered judgment. The prisoner should have the benefit of the doubt

this time. His story, however unplausible, might possibly be true.

Officer Keating undoubtedly had pinched him. That was in his favour.

 

"You can hop it this time," he said, "but if you ever do start

smitchin', Spider, yer knows what'll happen."

 

Mr. Buffin withdrew, quaking.

 

Matters had now come to a head. Unless he very speedily gave proof

of his pure and noble intentions, life would become extremely unsafe

for him. He must act at once. The thought of what would happen should

another of the Frith Streeters be pinched before he, Mr. Buffin, could

prove himself innocent of the crime of friendliness with Officer Keating,

turned him cold.

 

Fate played into his hands. On the very next morning Mr. Keating, all

unsuspecting, asked him to go to his home with a message for his wife.

 

"Tell her," said Mr. Keating, "a newspaper gent has given me seats for

the play to-night, and I'll be home at a quarter to seven."

 

Mr. Buffin felt as Cromwell must have felt at Dunbar when the Scots

left their stronghold on the hills and came down to the open plain.

 

The winter had set in with some severity that year, and Mr. Buffin's

toes, as he stood in the shadows close to the entrance of the villa

where Officer Keating lived when off duty, were soon thoroughly frozen.

He did not dare to stamp his feet, for at any moment now the victim

might arrive. And when the victim weighs fourteen stone, against the

high priest's eight and a half, it behooves the latter to be

circumspect, if the sacrifice is to be anything like a success. So Mr.

Buffin waited and froze in silence. It was a painful process, and he

added it to the black score which already stood against Officer

Keating. Never had his thirst for revenge been more tormenting. It is

doubtful if a strictly logical and impartial judge would have held Mr.

Keating to blame for the fact that Sid Marks' suspicions (and all that

those suspicions entailed) had fallen upon Mr. Buffin; but the Spider

did so. He felt fiercely resentful against the policeman for placing

him in such an unpleasant and dangerous position. As his thoughts ran

on the matter, he twisted his fingers tighter round his stick.

 

As he did so there came from down the road the brisk tramp of feet and

a cheerful whistling of "The Wearing of the Green." It is a lugubrious

song as a rule, but, as rendered by Officer Keating returning home with

theatre tickets, it had all the joyousness of a march-tune.

 

Every muscle in Mr. Buffin's body stiffened. He gripped his stick and

waited. The road was deserted. In another moment....

 

And then, from nowhere, dark indistinct forms darted out like rats. The

whistling stopped in the middle of a bar. A deep-chested oath rang out,

and then a confused medley of sound, the rasping of feet, a growling

almost canine, a sharp yelp, gasps, and over all the vast voice of

Officer Keating threatening slaughter.

 

For a moment Mr. Buffin stood incapable of motion. The thing had been

so sudden, so unexpected. And then, as he realised what was happening,

there swept over him in a wave a sense of intolerable injustice. It is

not easy to describe his emotions, but they resembled most nearly those

of an inventor whose patent has been infringed, or an author whose idea

has been stolen. For weeks--and weeks that had seemed like years--he

had marked down Officer Keating for his prey. For weeks he had tortured

a mind all unused to thinking into providing him with schemes for

accomplishing his end. He had outraged his nature by being civil to a

policeman. He had risked his life by incurring the suspicions of Sid

Marks. He had bought a stick. And he had waited in the cold till his

face was blue and his feet blocks of ice. And now ... _now_ ...

after all this ... a crowd of irresponsible strangers, with no rights

in the man whatsoever probably, if the truth were known, filled with

mere ignoble desire for his small change, had dared to rush in and jump

his claim before his very eyes.

 

With one passionate cry, Mr. Buffin, forgetting his frozen feet, lifted

his stick, and galloped down the road to protect his property....

 

"That's the stuff," said a voice. "Pour some more into him, Jerry."

 

Mr. Buffin opened his eyes. A familiar taste was in his mouth. Somebody

of liberal ideas seemed to be pouring whisky down his throat. Could

this be Heaven? He raised his head, and a sharp pain shot through it.

And with the pain came recollection. He remembered now, dimly, as if it

had all happened in another life, the mad rush down the road, the

momentary pause in the conflict, and then its noisy renewal on a more

impressive scale. He remembered striking out left and right with his

stick. He remembered the cries of the wounded, the pain of his frozen

feet, and finally the crash of something hard and heavy on his head.

 

He sat up, and found himself the centre of a little crowd. There was

Officer Keating, dishevelled but intact; three other policemen, one of

whom was kneeling by his side with a small bottle in his hand; and, in

the grip of the two were standing two youths.

 

One was Otto the Sausage; the other was Rabbit Butler.

 

The kneeling policeman was proffering the bottle once more. Mr. Buffin

snatched at it. He felt that it was just what at that moment he needed

most.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

He did what he could. The magistrate asked for his evidence. He said he

had none. He said he thought there must be some mistake. With a twisted

smile in the direction of the prisoners, he said that he did not

remember having seen either of them at the combat. He didn't believe

they were there at all. He didn't believe they were capable of such a

thing. If there was one man who was less likely to assault a policeman

than Otto the Sausage, it was Rabbit Butler. The Bench reminded him

that both these innocents had actually been discovered in Officer

Keating's grasp. Mr. Buffin smiled a harassed smile, and wiped a drop

of perspiration from his brow.

 

Officer Keating was enthusiastic. He described the affair from start to

finish. But for Mr. Buffin he would have been killed. But for Mr.

Buffin there would have been no prisoners in court that day. The world

was full of men with more or less golden hearts, but there was only one

Mr. Buffin. Might he shake hands with Mr. Buffin?

 

The magistrate ruled that he might. More, he would shake hands with him

himself. Summoning Mr. Buffin behind his desk, he proceeded to do so.

If there were more men like Mr. Buffin, London would be a better place.

It was the occasional discovery in our midst of ethereal natures like

that of Mr. Buffin which made one so confident for the future of the

race.

 

The paragon shuffled out. It was bright and sunny in the street, but in

Mr. Buffin's heart there was no sunlight. He was not a quick thinker,

but he had come quite swiftly to the conclusion that London was no

longer the place for him. Sid Marks had been in court chewing a straw

and listening with grave attention to the evidence, and for one moment

Mr. Buffin had happened to catch his eye. No medical testimony as to

the unhealthiness of London could have moved him more.

 

Once round the corner, he ran. It hurt his head to run, but there were

things behind him that could hurt his head more than running.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

At the entrance to the Tube he stopped. To leave the locality he must

have money. He felt in his pockets. Slowly, one by one, he pulled forth

his little valuables. His knife ... his revolver ... the magistrate's

gold watch ... He inspected them sadly. They must all go.

 

He went into a pawnbroker's shop at the corner of the street. A few

moments later, with money in his pockets, he dived into the Tube.

 

 

 

 

THE BEST SAUCE

 

 

Eve Hendrie sat up in bed. For two hours she had been trying to get to

sleep, but without success. Never in her life had she felt more

wakeful.

 

There were two reasons for this. Her mind was disturbed, and she was

very hungry. Neither sensation was novel to her. Since first she had

become paid companion to Mrs. Rastall-Retford there had hardly been a

moment when she had not been hungry. Some time before Mrs.

Rastall-Retford's doctor had recommended to that lady a Spartan diet,

and in this Eve, as companion, had unwillingly to share. It was not

pleasant for either of them, but at least Mrs. Rastall-Retford had the

knowledge that she had earned it by years of honest self-indulgence.

Eve had not that consolation.

 

Meagre fare, moreover, had the effect of accentuating Mrs.

Rastall-Retford's always rather pronounced irritability. She was a

massive lady, with a prominent forehead, some half-dozen chins, and a

manner towards those in her employment which would have been resented

in a second mate by the crew of a Western ocean tramp. Even at her best

she was no ray of sunshine about the house. And since the beginning of

the self-denying ordinance she had been at her worst.

 

But it was not depression induced by her employer that was disturbing

Eve. That was a permanent evil. What was agitating her so extremely

to-night was the unexpected arrival of Peter Rayner.

 

It was Eve's practice to tell herself several times a day that she had

no sentiment for Peter Rayner but dislike. She did not attempt to

defend her attitude logically, but nevertheless she clung to it, and

to-night, when he entered the drawing-room, she had endeavoured to

convey by her manner that it was only with the greatest difficulty that

she remembered him at all, and that, having accomplished that feat, she

now intended to forget him again immediately. And he had grinned a

cheerful, affectionate grin, and beamed on her without a break till

bedtime.

 

Before coming as companion to Mrs. Rastall-Retford Eve had been

governess to Hildebrand, aged six, the son of a Mrs. Elphinstone. It

had been, on the whole, a comfortable situation. She had not liked Mrs.

Elphinstone, but Hildebrand had been docile, and altogether life was

quite smooth and pleasant until Mrs. Elphinstone's brother came for a

visit. Peter Rayner was that brother.

 

There is a type of man who makes love with the secrecy and sheepish

reserve of a cowboy shooting up a Wild West saloon. To this class Peter

belonged. He fell in love with Eve at sight, and if, at the end of the

first day, there was anyone in the house who was not aware of it, it

was only Hildebrand, aged six. And even Hildebrand must have had his

suspicions.

 

Mrs. Elphinstone was among the first to become aware of it. For two

days, frostily silent and gimlet-like as to the eye, she observed

Peter's hurricane wooing from afar; then she acted. Peter she sent to

London, pacifying him with an invitation to return to the house in the

following week. This done, she proceeded to eliminate Eve. In the

course of the parting interview she expressed herself perhaps a little

less guardedly than was either just or considerate; and Eve, flushed

and at war with the whole race of Rayners, departed that afternoon to

seek a situation elsewhere. She had found it at the house of Mrs.

Rastall-Retford.

 

And now this evening, as she sat in the drawing-room playing the piano

to her employer, in had walked the latter's son, a tall, nervous young

man, perpetually clearing his throat and fiddling with a pair of

gold-rimmed glasses, with the announcement that he had brought his

friend, Mr. Rayner, to spend a few days in the old home.

 

Eve could still see the look on Peter's face as, having shaken hands

with his hostess, he turned to her. It was the look of the cowboy who,

his weary ride over, sees through the dusk the friendly gleam of the

saloon windows, and with a happy sigh reaches for his revolver. There

could be no two meanings to that look. It said, as clearly as if he had

shouted it, that this was no accidental meeting; that he had tracked

her down and proposed to resume matters at the point where they had

left off.

 

Eve was indignant. It was abominable that he should pursue her in this

way. She sat thinking how abominable it was for five minutes; and then

it suddenly struck her that she was hungrier than ever. She had

forgotten her material troubles for the moment. It seemed to her now

that she was quite faint with hunger.

 

A cuckoo clock outside the door struck one. And, as it did so, it came

to Eve that on the sideboard in the dining-room there were biscuits.

 

A moment later she was creeping softly down the stairs.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

It was dark and ghostly on the stairs. The house was full of noises.

She was glad when she reached the dining-room. It would be pleasant to

switch on the light. She pushed open the door, and uttered a cry. The

light was already switched on, and at the table, his back to her, was a

man.

 

There was no time for flight. He must have heard the door open. In

another moment he would turn and spring.

 

She spoke tremulously.

 

"Don't--don't move. I'm pointing a pistol at you."

 

The man did not move.

 

"Foolish child!" he said, indulgently. "Suppose it went off!"

 

She uttered an exclamation of surprise.

 

"You! What are you doing here, Mr. Rayner?"

 

She moved into the room, and her relief changed swiftly into

indignation. On the table were half a chicken, a loaf, some cold

potatoes, and a bottle of beer.

 

"I'm eating, thank goodness!" said Peter, helping himself to a cold

potato. "I had begun to think I never should again."

 

"Eating!"

 

"Eating. I know a man of sensibility and refinement ought to shrink

from raiding his hostess's larder in the small hours, but hunger's

death to the finer feelings. It's the solar plexus punch which puts

one's better self down and out for the count of ten. I am a large and

healthy young man, and, believe me, I need this little snack. I need it

badly. May I cut you a slice of chicken?"

 

She could hardly bear to look at it, but pride gave her strength.

 

"No," she snapped.

 

"You're sure? Poor little thing; I know you're half starved."

 

Eve stamped.

 

"How dare you speak to me like that, Mr. Rayner?"

 

He drank bottled beer thoughtfully.

 

"What made you come down? I suppose you heard a noise and thought it

was burglars?" he said.

 

"Yes," said Eve, thankfully accepting the idea. At all costs she must

conceal the biscuit motive.

 

"That was very plucky of you. Won't you sit down?"

 

"No, I'm going back to bed."

 

"Not just yet. I've several things to talk to you about. Sit down.

That's right. Now cover up your poor little pink ankles, or you'll be

catching----"

 

She started up.

 

"Mr. Rayner!"

 

"Sit down."

 

She looked at him defiantly, then, wondering at herself for doing it,

sat down.

 

"Now," said Peter, "what do you mean by it? What do you mean by dashing

off from my sister's house without leaving a word for me as to where

you were going? You knew I loved you."

 

"Good night, Mr. Rayner."

 

"Sit down. You've given me a great deal of trouble. Do you know it cost

me a sovereign in tips to find out your address? I couldn't get it out

of my sister, and I had to apply to the butler. I've a good mind to

knock it off your first week's pin-money."

 

"I shall not stay here listening----"

 

"You knew perfectly well I wanted to marry you. But you fly off without

a word and bury yourself in this benighted place with a gorgon who nags

and bullies you----"

 

"A nice way to speak of your hostess," said Eve, scornfully.

 

"A very soothing way. I don't think I ever took such a dislike to a

woman at first sight before. And when she started to bullyrag you, it

was all I could do--But it won't last long now. You must come away at

once. We'll be married after Christmas, and in the meantime you can go

and live with my sister----"

 

Eve listened speechlessly. She had so much to say that the difficulty

of selection rendered her dumb.

 

"When can you start? I mean, do you have to give a month's notice or

anything?"

 

Eve got up with a short laugh.

 

"Good night, Mr. Rayner," she said. "You have been very amusing, but I

am getting tired."

 

"I'm glad it's all settled," said Peter. "Good night."

 

Eve stopped. She could not go tamely away without saying a single one

of the things that crowded in her mind.

 

"Do you imagine," she said, "that I intend to marry you? Do you

suppose, for one moment----"

 

"Rather!" said Peter. "You shall have a splendid time from now on, to

make up for all you've gone through. I'm going to be awfully good to

you, Eve. You sha'n't ever have any more worries, poor old thing." He

looked at her affectionately. "I wonder why it is that large men always

fall in love with little women. There are you, a fragile, fairy-like,

ethereal wisp of a little creature; and here am I----"

 

"A great, big, greedy pig!" burst out Eve, "who thinks about nothing

but eating and drinking."

 

"I wasn't going to have put it quite like that," said Peter,

thoughtfully.

 

"I hate a greedy man," said Eve, between her teeth.

 

"I have a healthy appetite," protested Peter. "Nothing more. It runs in

the family. At the time of the Civil War the Rayner of the period, who

was King Charles's right-hand man, would frequently eat despatches to

prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy. He was noted for it."

 

Eve reached the door and turned.

 

"I despise you," she said.

 

"Good night," said Peter, tenderly. "To-morrow morning we'll go for a

walk."

 

His prediction proved absolutely correct. He was smoking a cigarette

after breakfast when Eve came to him. Her face was pink and mutinous,

but there was a gleam in her eye.

 

"Are you ready to come out, Mr. Rayner?" she said. "Mrs.

Rastall-Retford says I'm to take you to see the view from the golf

links."

 

"You'll like that," said Peter.

 

"I shall not like it," snapped Eve. "But Mrs. Rastall-Retford is paying

me a salary to do what she tells me, and I have to earn it."

 

Conversation during the walk consisted mainly of a monologue on the

part of Peter. It was a crisp and exhilarating morning, and he appeared

to be feeling a universal benevolence towards all created things. He

even softened slightly on the subject of Mrs. Rastall-Retford, and

advanced the theory that her peculiar manner might be due to her having

been ill-treated as a child.

 

Eve listened in silence. It was not till they were nearing home on

their return journey that she spoke.

 

"Mr. Rayner," she said.

 

"Yes?" said Peter.

 

"I was talking to Mrs. Rastall-Retford after breakfast," said Eve, "and

I told her something about you."

 

"My conscience is clear."

 

"Oh, nothing bad. Some people would say it was very much to your

credit." She looked away across the fields. "I told her you were a

vegetarian," she added, carelessly.

 

There was a long silence. Then Peter spoke three words, straight from

the heart.

 

"You little devil!"

 

Eve turned and looked at him, her eyes sparkling wickedly.

 

"You see!" she said. "Now perhaps you will go."

 

"Without you?" said Peter, stoutly. "Never!"

 

"In London you will be able to eat all day--anything you like. You will

be able to creep about your club gnawing cold chicken all night. But if

you stay here----"

 

"You have got a wrong idea of the London clubman's life," said Peter.

"If I crept about my club gnawing cold chicken I should have the

committee after me. No, I shall stay here and look after you. After

all, what is food?"

 

"I'll tell you what yours will be, if you like. Or would you rather

wait and let it be a surprise? Well, for lunch you will have some

boiled potatoes and cabbage and a sweet--a sort of light _soufflé_

thing. And for dinner----"

 

"Yes, but one moment," said Peter. "If I'm a vegetarian, how did you

account for my taking all the chicken I could get at dinner last night,

and looking as if I wanted more?"

 

"Oh, that was your considerateness. You didn't want to give trouble,

even if you had to sacrifice your principles. But it's all right now.

You are going to have your vegetables."

 

Peter drew a deep breath--the breath of the man who braces himself up

and thanks whatever gods there be for his unconquerable soul.

 

"I don't care," he said. "'A book of verses underneath the bough, a jug

of wine, and thou----'"

 

"Oh, and I forgot," interrupted Eve. "I told her you were a teetotaller

as well."

 

There was another silence, longer than the first.

 

"The best train," said Eve, at last, "is the ten-fifty."

 

He looked at her inquiringly.

 

"The best train?"

 

"For London."

 

"What makes you think that I am interested in trains to London?"

 

Eve bit her lip.

 

"Mr. Rayner," she said, after a pause, "do you remember at lunch one

day at Mrs. Elphinstone's refusing parsnips? You said that, so far as

you were concerned, parsnips were first by a mile, and that prussic

acid and strychnine also ran."

 

"Well?" said Peter.

 

"Oh, nothing," said Eve. "Only I made a stupid mistake. I told the cook

you were devoted to parsnips. I'm sorry."

 

Peter looked at her gravely. "I'm putting up with a lot for your sake,"

he said.

 

"You needn't. Why don't you go away?"

 

"And leave you chained to the rock, Andromeda? Not for Perseus! I've

only been here one night, but I've seen enough to know that I've got to

take you away from this place. Honestly, it's killing you. I was

watching you last night. You're scared if that infernal old woman

starts to open her mouth. She's crushing the life out of you. I'm going

to stay on here till you say you'll marry me, or till they throw me

out."

 

"There are parsnips for dinner to-night," said Eve, softly.

 

"I shall get to like them. They are an acquired taste, I expect.

Perhaps I am, too. Perhaps I am the human parsnip, and you will have to

learn to love me."

 

"You are the human burr," said Eve, shortly. "I shouldn't have thought

it possible for a man to behave as you are doing."

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

In spite of herself, there were moments during the next few days when

Eve felt twinges of remorse. It was only by telling herself that he had

no right to have followed her to this house, and that he was at perfect

liberty to leave whenever he wished, that she could harden her heart

again. And even this reflection was not entirely satisfactory, for it

made her feel how fond he must be of her to endure these evils for her

sake.

 

And there was no doubt about there being evils. It was a dreary house

in which to spend winter days. There were no books that one could

possibly read. The nearest railway station was five miles away. There

was not even a dog to talk to. Generally it rained. Though Eve saw

little of Peter, except at meals and in the drawing-room after

dinner--for Mrs. Rastall-Retford spent most of the day in her own

sitting-room and required Eve to be at her side--she could picture his

sufferings, and, try as she would, she could not keep herself from

softening a little. Her pride was weakening. Constant attendance on her

employer was beginning to have a bad effect on her nerves. Association

in a subordinate capacity with Mrs. Rastall-Retford did not encourage a

proud and spirited outlook on life.

 

Her imagination had not exaggerated Peter's sufferings. Many people

consider that Dante has spoken the last word on the post-mortem housing

of the criminal classes. Peter, after the first week of his visit,

could have given him a few new ideas.

 

      *       *       *       *       *

 

It is unpleasant to be half starved. It is unpleasant to be cooped up

in a country-house in winter with nothing to do. It is unpleasant to

have to sit at meals and listen to the only girl you have ever really

loved being bullyragged by an old lady with six chins. And all these

unpleasantnesses were occurring to Peter simultaneously. It is highly

creditable to him that the last should completely have outweighed the

others.

 

He was generally alone. Mr. Rastall-Retford, who would have been better

than nothing as a companion, was a man who enjoyed solitude. He was a

confirmed vanisher. He would be present at one moment, the next he

would have glided silently away. And, even on the rare occasions when

he decided not to vanish, he seldom did much more than clear his throat

nervously and juggle with his pince-nez.

 

Peter, in his boyhood, had been thrilled once by a narrative of a man

who got stuck in the Sargasso Sea. It seemed to him now that the

monotony of the Sargasso Sea had been greatly exaggerated.

 

Nemesis was certainly giving Peter his due. He had wormed his way into

the Rastall-Retford home-circle by grossly deceitful means. The moment

he heard that Eve had gone to live with Mrs. Rastall-Retford, and had

ascertained that the Rastall-Retford with whom he had been at Cambridge

and whom he still met occasionally at his club when he did not see him

first, was this lady's son, he had set himself to court young Mr.

Rastall-Retford. He had cornered him at the club and begun to talk

about the dear old 'Varsity days, ignoring the embarrassment of the

latter, whose only clear recollection of the dear old 'Varsity days as

linking Peter and himself was of a certain bump-supper night, when

sundry of the festive, led and inspired by Peter, had completely

wrecked his rooms and shaved off half a growing moustache. He conveyed

to young Mr. Rastall-Retford the impression that, in the dear old

'Varsity days, they had shared each other's joys and sorrows, and,

generally, had made Damon and Pythias look like a pair of cross-talk

knockabouts at one of the rowdier music-halls. Not to invite so old a

friend to stay at his home, if he ever happened to be down that way,

would, he hinted, be grossly churlish. Mr. Rastall-Retford, impressed,

issued the invitation. And now Peter was being punished for his deceit.

Nemesis may not be an Alfred Shrubb, but give her time and she gets

there.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

It was towards the middle of the second week of his visit that Eve,

coming into the drawing-room before dinner, found Peter standing in

front of the fire. They had not been alone together for several days.

 

"Well?" said he.

 

Eve went to the fire and warmed her hands.

 

"Well?" she said, dispiritedly.

 

She was feeling nervous and ill. Mrs. Rastall-Retford had been in one

of her more truculent moods all day, and for the first time Eve had the

sensation of being thoroughly beaten. She dreaded the long hours to

bedtime. The thought that there might be bridge after dinner made her

feel physically ill. She felt she could not struggle through a bridge

night.

 

On the occasions when she was in one of her dangerous moods, Mrs.

Rastall-Retford sometimes chose rest as a cure, sometimes relaxation.

Rest meant that she retired to her room immediately after dinner, and

expended her venom on her maid; relaxation meant bridge, and bridge

seemed to bring out all her worst points. They played the game for

counters at her house, and there had been occasions in Eve's experience

when the loss of a hundred or so of these useful little adjuncts to Fun

in the Home had lashed her almost into a frenzy. She was one of those

bridge players who keep up a running quarrel with Fate during the game,

and when she was not abusing Fate she was generally reproaching her

partner. Eve was always her partner; and to-night she devoutly hoped

that her employer would elect to rest. She always played badly with

Mrs. Rastall-Retford, through sheer nervousness. Once she had revoked,

and there had been a terrible moment and much subsequent recrimination.

 

Peter looked at her curiously.

 

"You're pale to-night," he said.

 

"I have a headache."

 

"H'm! How is our hostess? Fair? Or stormy?"

 

"As I was passing her door I heard her bullying her maid, so I suppose

stormy."

 

"That means a bad time for you?" he said, sympathetically.

 

"I suppose so. If we play bridge. But she may go to bed directly after

dinner."

 

She tried to keep her voice level, but he detected the break.

 

"Eve," he said, quickly, "won't you let me take you away from here?

You've no business in this sort of game. You're not tough enough.

You've got to be loved and made a fuss of and----"

 

She laughed shakily.

 

"Perhaps you can give me the address of some lady who wants a companion

to love and make a fuss of?"

 

"I can give you the address of a man."

 

She rested an arm on the mantelpiece and stood looking into the blaze,

without replying.

 

Before he could speak again there was a step outside the door, and Mrs.

Rastall-Retford rustled into the room.

 

Eve had not misread the storm-signals. Her employer's mood was still as

it had been earlier in the day. Dinner passed in almost complete

silence. Mrs. Rastall-Retford sat brooding dumbly. Her eye was cold and

menacing, and Peter, working his way through his vegetables, shuddered

for Eve. He had understood her allusion to bridge, having been

privileged several times during his stay to see his hostess play that

game, and he hoped that there would be no bridge to-night.

 

And this was unselfish of him, for bridge meant sandwiches. Punctually

at nine o'clock on bridge nights the butler would deposit on a

side-table a plate of chicken sandwiches and (in deference to Peter's

vegetarian views) a smaller plate of cheese sandwiches. At the close of

play Mrs. Rastall-Retford would take one sandwich from each plate,

drink a thimbleful of weak whisky and water, and retire.

 

Peter could always do with a sandwich or two these days. But he was

prepared to abandon them joyfully if his hostess would waive bridge for

this particular evening.

 

It was not to be. In the drawing-room Mrs. Rastall-Retford came out of

her trance and called imperiously for the cards. Peter, when he saw his

hand after the first deal, had a presentiment that if all his hands

were to be as good as this, the evening was going to be a trying one.

On the other occasions when they had played he had found it an

extremely difficult task, even with moderate cards, to bring it about

that his hostess should always win the odd rubber, for he was an

excellent player, and, like most good players, had an artistic

conscience which made it painful to him to play a deliberately bad

game, even from the best motives. If all his hands were going to be as

strong as this first one he saw that there was disaster ahead. He could

not help winning.

 

Mrs. Rastall-Retford, who had dealt the first hand, made a most

improper diamond declaration. Her son unfilially doubled, and, Eve

having chicane--a tragedy which her partner evidently seemed to

consider could have been avoided by the exercise of ordinary common

sense--Peter and his partner, despite Peter's best efforts, won the

game handsomely.

 

The son of the house dealt the next hand. Eve sorted her cards

listlessly. She was feeling curiously tired. Her brain seemed dulled.

 

This hand, as the first had done, went all in favour of the two men.

Mr. Rastall-Retford won five tricks in succession, and, judging from

the glitter in his mild eye, was evidently going to win as many more as

he possibly could. Mrs. Rastall-Retford glowered silently. There was

electricity in the air.

 

The son of the house led a club. Eve played a card mechanically.

 

"Have you no clubs, Miss Hendrie?"

 

Eve started, and looked at her hand.

 

"No," she said.

 

Mrs. Rastall-Retford grunted suspiciously.

 

Not long ago, in Westport, Connecticut, U.S.A., a young man named

Harold Sperry, a telephone worker, was boring a hole in the wall of a

house with a view to passing a wire through it. He whistled joyously as

he worked. He did not know that he had selected for purposes of

perforation the exact spot where there lay, nestling in the brickwork,

a large leaden water-pipe. The first intimation he had of that fact was

when a jet of water suddenly knocked him fifteen feet into a rosebush.

 

As Harold felt then, so did Eve now, when, examining her hand once more

to make certain that she had no clubs, she discovered the ace of that

ilk peeping coyly out from behind the seven of spades.

 

Her face turned quite white. It is never pleasant to revoke at bridge,

but to Eve just then it seemed a disaster beyond words. She looked

across at her partner. Her imagination pictured the scene there would

be ere long, unless----

 

It happens every now and then that the human brain shows in a crisis an

unwonted flash of speed. Eve's did at this juncture. To her in her

trouble there came a sudden idea.

 

She looked round the table. Mr. Rastall-Retford, having taken the last

trick, had gathered it up in the introspective manner of one planning

big _coups_, and was brooding tensely, with knit brows. His mother

was frowning over her cards. She was unobserved.

 

She seized the opportunity. She rose from her seat, moved quickly to

the side-table, and, turning her back, slipped the fatal card

dexterously into the interior of a cheese sandwich.

 

Mrs. Rastall-Retford, absorbed, did not notice for an instant. Then she

gave tongue.

 

"What are you doing, Miss Hendrie?"

 

Eve was breathing quickly.

 

"I--I thought that Mr. Rayner might like a sandwich."

 

She was at his elbow with the plate. It trembled in her hand.

 

"A sandwich! Kindly do not be so officious, Miss Hendrie. The idea--in

the middle of a hand----" Her voice died away in a resentful mumble.

 

Peter started. He had been allowing his thoughts to wander. He looked

from the sandwich to Eve and then at the sandwich again. He was

puzzled. This had the aspect of being an olive-branch--could it be?

Could she be meaning----? Or was it a subtle insult? Who could say? At

any rate it was a sandwich, and he seized it, without prejudice.

 

"I hope at least you have had the sense to remember that Mr. Rayner is

a vegetarian, Miss Hendrie," said Mrs. Rastall-Retford. "That is not a

chicken sandwich?"

 

"No," said Eve; "it is not a chicken sandwich."

 

Peter beamed gratefully. He raised the olive-branch, and bit into it

with the energy of a starving man. And as he did so he caught Eve's

eye.

 

"Miss Hendrie!" cried Mrs. Rastall-Retford.

 

Eve started violently.

 

"Miss Hendrie, will you be good enough to play? The king of clubs to

beat. I can't think what's the matter with you to-night."

 

"I'm very sorry," said Eve, and put down the nine of spades.

 

Mrs. Rastall-Retford glared.

 

"This is absurd," she cried. "You _must_ have the ace of clubs. If

you have not got it, who has? Look through your hand again. Is it

there?"

 

"No."

 

"Then where can it be?"

 

"Where can it be?" echoed Peter, taking another bite.

 

"Why--why," said Eve, crimson, "I--I--have only five cards. I ought to

have six."

 

"Five?" said Mrs. Rastall-Retford "Nonsense! Count again. Have you

dropped it on the floor?"

 

Mr. Rastall-Retford stooped and looked under the table.

 

"It is not on the floor," he said. "I suppose it must have been missing

from the pack before I dealt."

 

Mrs. Rastall-Retford threw down her cards and rose ponderously. It

offended her vaguely that there seemed to be nobody to blame. "I shall

go to bed," she said.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

Peter stood before the fire and surveyed Eve as she sat on the sofa.

They were alone in the room, Mr. Rastall-Retford having drifted

silently away in the wake of his mother. Suddenly Eve began to laugh

helplessly.

 

He shook his head at her.

 

"This is considerably sharper than a serpent's tooth," he said. "You

should be fawning gratefully upon me, not laughing. Do you suppose King

Charles laughed at my ancestor when he ate the despatches? However, for

the first time since I have been in this house I feel as if I had had a

square meal."

 

Eve became suddenly serious. The smile left her face.

 

"Mr. Rayner, please don't think I'm ungrateful. I couldn't help

laughing, but I can't tell you how grateful I am. You don't know what

it would have been like if she had found out that I had revoked. I did

it once before, and she kept on about it for days and days. It was

awful." She shivered. "I think you must be right, and my nerves

_are_ going."

 

He nodded.

 

"So are you--to-morrow, by the first train. I wonder how soon we can

get married. Do you know anything about special licenses?"

 

She looked at him curiously.

 

"You're very obstinate," she said.

 

"Firm," he corrected. "Firm. Could you pack to-night, do you think, and

be ready for that ten-fifty to-morrow morning?"

 

She began to trace an intricate pattern on the floor with the point of

her shoe.

 

"I can't imagine why you are fond of me!" she said. "I've been very

horrid to you."

 

"Nonsense. You've been all that's sweet and womanly."

 

"And I want to tell you why," she went on. "Your--your sister----"

 

"Ah, I thought as much!"

 

"She--she saw that you seemed to be getting fond of me, and she----"

 

"She would!"

 

"Said some rather horrid things that--hurt," said Eve, in a low voice.

 

Peter crossed over to where she sat and took her hand.

 

"Don't you worry about her," he said. "She's not a bad sort really, but

about once every six months she needs a brotherly talking-to, or she

gets above herself. One is about due during the next few days."

 

He stroke her hand.

 

"Fasting," he said, thoughtfully, "clears and stimulates the brain. I

fancy I shall be able to think out some rather special things to say to

her this time."

 

 

 

 

JEEVES AND THE CHUMP CYRIL

 

 

You know, the longer I live, the more clearly I see that half the

trouble in this bally world is caused by the light-hearted and

thoughtless way in which chappies dash off letters of introduction and

hand them to other chappies to deliver to chappies of the third part.

It's one of those things that make you wish you were living in the

Stone Age. What I mean to say is, if a fellow in those days wanted to

give anyone a letter of introduction, he had to spend a month or so

carving it on a large-sized boulder, and the chances were that the

other chappie got so sick of lugging the thing round in the hot sun

that he dropped it after the first mile. But nowadays it's so easy to

write letters of introduction that everybody does it without a second

thought, with the result that some perfectly harmless cove like myself

gets in the soup.

 

Mark you, all the above is what you might call the result of my riper

experience. I don't mind admitting that in the first flush of the

thing, so to speak, when Jeeves told me--this would be about three

weeks after I'd landed in America--that a blighter called Cyril

Bassington-Bassington had arrived and I found that he had brought a

letter of introduction to me from Aunt Agatha ... where was I? Oh,

yes ... I don't mind admitting, I was saying, that just at first I was

rather bucked. You see, after the painful events which had resulted in

my leaving England I hadn't expected to get any sort of letter from

Aunt Agatha which would pass the censor, so to speak. And it was a

pleasant surprise to open this one and find it almost civil. Chilly,

perhaps, in parts, but on the whole quite tolerably polite. I looked on

the thing as a hopeful sign. Sort of olive-branch, you know. Or do I

mean orange blossom? What I'm getting at is that the fact that Aunt

Agatha was writing to me without calling me names seemed, more or less,

like a step in the direction of peace.

 

And I was all for peace, and that right speedily. I'm not saying a word

against New York, mind you. I liked the place, and was having quite a

ripe time there. But the fact remains that a fellow who's been used to

London all his life does get a trifle homesick on a foreign strand, and

I wanted to pop back to the cosy old flat in Berkeley Street--which

could only be done when Aunt Agatha had simmered down and got over the

Glossop episode. I know that London is a biggish city, but, believe me,

it isn't half big enough for any fellow to live in with Aunt Agatha

when she's after him with the old hatchet. And so I'm bound to say I

looked on this chump Bassington-Bassington, when he arrived, more or

less as a Dove of Peace, and was all for him.

 

He would seem from contemporary accounts to have blown in one morning

at seven-forty-five, that being the ghastly sort of hour they shoot you

off the liner in New York. He was given the respectful raspberry by

Jeeves, and told to try again about three hours later, when there would

be a sporting chance of my having sprung from my bed with a glad cry to

welcome another day and all that sort of thing. Which was rather decent

of Jeeves, by the way, for it so happened that there was a slight

estrangement, a touch of coldness, a bit of a row in other words,

between us at the moment because of some rather priceless purple socks

which I was wearing against his wishes: and a lesser man might easily

have snatched at the chance of getting back at me a bit by loosing

Cyril into my bedchamber at a moment when I couldn't have stood a

two-minutes' conversation with my dearest pal. For until I have had my

early cup of tea and have brooded on life for a bit absolutely

undisturbed, I'm not much of a lad for the merry chit-chat.

 

So Jeeves very sportingly shot Cyril out into the crisp morning air,

and didn't let me know of his existence till he brought his card in

with the Bohea.

 

"And what might all this be, Jeeves?" I said, giving the thing the

glassy gaze.

 

"The gentleman has arrived from England, I understand, sir. He called

to see you earlier in the day."

 

"Good Lord, Jeeves! You don't mean to say the day starts earlier than

this?"

 

"He desired me to say he would return later, sir."

 

"I've never heard of him. Have you ever heard of him, Jeeves?"

 

"I am familiar with the name Bassington-Bassington, sir. There are

three branches of the Bassington-Bassington family--the Shropshire

Bassington-Bassingtons, the Hampshire Bassington-Bassingtons, and the

Kent Bassington-Bassingtons."

 

"England seems pretty well stocked up with Bassington-Bassingtons."

 

"Tolerably so, sir."

 

"No chance of a sudden shortage, I mean, what?"

 

"Presumably not, sir."

 

"And what sort of a specimen is this one?"

 

"I could not say, sir, on such short acquaintance."

 

"Will you give me a sporting two to one, Jeeves, judging from what you

have seen of him, that this chappie is not a blighter or an

excrescence?"

 

"No, sir. I should not care to venture such liberal odds."

 

"I knew it. Well, the only thing that remains to be discovered is what

kind of a blighter he is."

 

"Time will tell, sir. The gentleman brought a letter for you, sir."

 

"Oh, he did, did he?" I said, and grasped the communication. And then I

recognised the handwriting. "I say, Jeeves, this is from my Aunt

Agatha!"

 

"Indeed, sir?"

 

"Don't dismiss it in that light way. Don't you see what this means? She

says she wants me to look after this excrescence while he's in New

York. By Jove, Jeeves, if I only fawn on him a bit, so that he sends

back a favourable report to head-quarters, I may yet be able to get

back to England in time for Goodwood. Now is certainly the time for all

good men to come to the aid of the party, Jeeves. We must rally round

and cosset this cove in no uncertain manner."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"He isn't going to stay in New York long," I said, taking another look

at the letter. "He's headed for Washington. Going to give the nibs

there the once-over, apparently, before taking a whirl at the

Diplomatic Service. I should say that we can win this lad's esteem and

affection with a lunch and a couple of dinners, what?"

 

"I fancy that should be entirely adequate, sir."

 

"This is the jolliest thing that's happened since we left England. It

looks to me as if the sun were breaking through the clouds."

 

"Very possibly, sir."

 

He started to put out my things, and there was an awkward sort of

silence.

 

"Not those socks, Jeeves," I said, gulping a bit but having a dash at

the careless, off-hand tone. "Give me the purple ones."

 

"I beg your pardon, sir?"

 

"Those jolly purple ones."

 

"Very good, sir."

 

He lugged them out of the drawer as if he were a vegetarian fishing a

caterpillar out of the salad. You could see he was feeling deeply.

Deuced painful and all that, this sort of thing, but a chappie has got

to assert himself every now and then. Absolutely.

 

       *       *       *       *       *

 

I was looking for Cyril to show up again any time after breakfast, but

he didn't appear: so towards one o'clock I trickled out to the Lambs

Club, where I had an appointment to feed the Wooster face with a cove

of the name of Caffyn I'd got pally with since my arrival--George

Caffyn, a fellow who wrote plays and what not. I'd made a lot of

friends during my stay in New York, the city being crammed with

bonhomous lads who one and all extended a welcoming hand to the

stranger in their midst.

 

Caffyn was a bit late, but bobbed up finally, saying that he had been

kept at a rehearsal of his new musical comedy, "Ask Dad"; and we

started in. We had just reached the coffee, when the waiter came up and

said that Jeeves wanted to see me.

 

Jeeves was in the waiting-room. He gave the socks one pained look as I

came in, then averted his eyes.

 

"Mr. Bassington-Bassington has just telephoned, sir."

 

"Oh?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"Where is he?"

 

"In prison, sir."

 

I reeled against the wallpaper. A nice thing to happen to Aunt Agatha's

nominee on his first morning under my wing, I did _not_ think!

 

"In prison!"

 

"Yes, sir. He said on the telephone that he had been arrested and would

be glad if you could step round and bail him out."

 

"Arrested! What for?"

 

"He did not favour me with his confidence in that respect, sir."

 

"This is a bit thick, Jeeves."

 

"Precisely, sir."

 

I collected old George, who very decently volunteered to stagger along

with me, and we hopped into a taxi. We sat around at the police-station

for a bit on a wooden bench in a sort of ante-room, and presently a

policeman appeared, leading in Cyril.

 

"Halloa! Halloa! Halloa!" I said. "What?"

 

My experience is that a fellow never really looks his best just after

he's come out of a cell. When I was up at Oxford, I used to have a

regular job bailing out a pal of mine who never failed to get pinched

every Boat-Race night, and he always looked like something that had

been dug up by the roots. Cyril was in pretty much the same sort of

shape. He had a black eye and a torn collar, and altogether was nothing

to write home about--especially if one was writing to Aunt Agatha. He

was a thin, tall chappie with a lot of light hair and pale-blue goggly

eyes which made him look like one of the rarer kinds of fish.

 

"I got your message," I said.

 

"Oh, are you Bertie Wooster?"

 

"Absolutely. And this is my pal George Caffyn. Writes plays and what

not, don't you know."

 

We all shook hands, and the policeman, having retrieved a piece of

chewing-gum from the underside of a chair, where he had parked it

against a rainy day, went off into a corner and began to contemplate

the infinite.

 

"This is a rotten country," said Cyril.

 

"Oh, I don't know, you know, don't you know!" I said.

 

"We do our best," said George.

 

"Old George is an American," I explained. "Writes plays, don't you

know, and what not."

 

"Of course, I didn't invent the country," said George. "That was

Columbus. But I shall be delighted to consider any improvements you may

suggest and lay them before the proper authorities."

 

"Well, why don't the policemen in New York dress properly?"

 

George took a look at the chewing officer across the room.

 

"I don't see anything missing," he said

 

"I mean to say, why don't they wear helmets like they do in London? Why

do they look like postmen? It isn't fair on a fellow. Makes it dashed

confusing. I was simply standing on the pavement, looking at things,

when a fellow who looked like a postman prodded me in the ribs with a

club. I didn't see why I should have postmen prodding me. Why the

dickens should a fellow come three thousand miles to be prodded by

postmen?"

 

"The point is well taken," said George. "What did you do?"

 

"I gave him a shove, you know. I've got a frightfully hasty temper, you

know. All the Bassington-Bassingtons have got frightfully hasty

tempers, don't you know! And then he biffed me in the eye and lugged me

off to this beastly place."

 

"I'll fix it, old son," I said. And I hauled out the bank-roll and went

off to open negotiations, leaving Cyril to talk to George. I don't mind

admitting that I was a bit perturbed. There were furrows in the old

brow, and I had a kind of foreboding feeling. As long as this chump

stayed in New York, I was responsible for him: and he didn't give me

the impression of being the species of cove a reasonable chappie would

care to be responsible for for more than about three minutes.

 

I mused with a considerable amount of tensity over Cyril that night,

when I had got home and Jeeves had brought me the final whisky. I

couldn't help feeling that this visit of his to America was going to be

one of those times that try men's souls and what not. I hauled out Aunt

Agatha's letter of introduction and re-read it, and there was no

getting away from the fact that she undoubtedly appeared to be somewhat

wrapped up in this blighter and to consider it my mission in life to

shield him from harm while on the premises. I was deuced thankful that

he had taken such a liking for George Caffyn, old George being a steady

sort of cove. After I had got him out of his dungeon-cell, he and old

George had gone off together, as chummy as brothers, to watch the

afternoon rehearsal of "Ask Dad." There was some talk, I gathered, of

their dining together. I felt pretty easy in my mind while George had

his eye on him.

 

I had got about as far as this in my meditations, when Jeeves came in

with a telegram. At least, it wasn't a telegram: it was a cable--from

Aunt Agatha--and this is what it said:----

 

   Has Cyril Bassington-Bassington called yet? On no account introduce

   him into theatrical circles. Vitally important. Letter follows.

 

I read it a couple of times.

 

"This is rummy, Jeeves!"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"Very rummy and dashed disturbing!"

 

"Will there be anything further to-night, sir?"

 

Of course, if he was going to be as bally unsympathetic as that there

was nothing to be done. My idea had been to show him the cable and ask

his advice. But if he was letting those purple socks rankle to that

extent, the good old _noblesse oblige_ of the Woosters couldn't

lower itself to the extent of pleading with the man. Absolutely not. So

I gave it a miss.

 

"Nothing more, thanks."

 

"Good night, sir."

 

"Good night."

 

He floated away, and I sat down to think the thing over. I had been

directing the best efforts of the old bean to the problem for a matter

of half an hour, when there was a ring at the bell. I went to the door,

and there was Cyril, looking pretty festive.

 

"I'll come in for a bit if I may," he said. "Got something rather

priceless to tell you."

 

He curveted past me into the sitting-room, and when I got there after

shutting the front door I found him reading Aunt Agatha's cable and

giggling in a rummy sort of manner. "Oughtn't to have looked at this, I

suppose. Caught sight of my name and read it without thinking. I say,

Wooster, old friend of my youth, this is rather funny. Do you mind if I

have a drink? Thanks awfully and all that sort of rot. Yes, it's rather

funny, considering what I came to tell you. Jolly old Caffyn has given

me a small part in that musical comedy of his, 'Ask Dad.' Only a bit,

you know, but quite tolerably ripe. I'm feeling frightfully braced,

don't you know!"

 

He drank his drink, and went on. He didn't seem to notice that I wasn't

jumping about the room, yapping with joy.

 

"You know, I've always wanted to go on the stage, you know," he said.

"But my jolly old guv'nor wouldn't stick it at any price. Put the old

Waukeesi down with a bang, and turned bright purple whenever the

subject was mentioned. That's the real reason why I came over here, if

you want to know. I knew there wasn't a chance of my being able to work

this stage wheeze in London without somebody getting on to it and

tipping off the guv'nor, so I rather brainily sprang the scheme of

popping over to Washington to broaden my mind. There's nobody to

interfere on this side, you see, so I can go right ahead!"

 

I tried to reason with the poor chump.

 

"But your guv'nor will have to know some time."

 

"That'll be all right. I shall be the jolly old star by then, and he

won't have a leg to stand on."

 

"It seems to me he'll have one leg to stand on while he kicks me with

the other."

 

"Why, where do you come in? What have you got to do with it?"

 

"I introduced you to George Caffyn."

 

"So you did, old top, so you did. I'd quite forgotten. I ought to have

thanked you before. Well, so long. There's an early rehearsal of 'Ask

Dad' to-morrow morning, and I must be toddling. Rummy the thing should

be called 'Ask Dad,' when that's just what I'm not going to do. See

what I mean, what, what? Well, pip-pip!"

 

"Toodle-oo!" I said sadly, and the blighter scudded off. I dived for

the phone and called up George Caffyn.

 

"I say, George, what's all this about Cyril Bassington-Bassington?"

 

"What about him?"

 

"He tells me you've given him a part in your show."

 

"Oh, yes. Just a few lines."

 

"But I've just had fifty-seven cables from home telling me on no

account to let him go on the stage."

 

"I'm sorry. But Cyril is just the type I need for that part. He's

simply got to be himself."

 

"It's pretty tough on me, George, old man. My Aunt Agatha sent this

blighter over with a letter of introduction to me, and she will hold me

responsible."

 

"She'll cut you out of her will?"

 

"It isn't a question of money. But--of course, you've never met my Aunt

Agatha, so it's rather hard to explain. But she's a sort of human

vampire-bat, and she'll make things most fearfully unpleasant for me

when I go back to England. She's the kind of woman who comes and rags

you before breakfast, don't you know."

 

"Well, don't go back to England, then. Stick here and become

President."

 

"But, George, old top----!"

 

"Good night!"

 

"But, I say, George, old man!"

 

"You didn't get my last remark. It was 'Good night!' You Idle Rich may

not need any sleep, but I've got to be bright and fresh in the morning.

God bless you!"

 

I felt as if I hadn't a friend in the world. I was so jolly well worked

up that I went and banged on Jeeves's door. It wasn't a thing I'd have

cared to do as a rule, but it seemed to me that now was the time for

all good men to come to the aid of the party, so to speak, and that it

was up to Jeeves to rally round the young master, even if it broke up

his beauty-sleep.

 

Jeeves emerged in a brown dressing-gown.

 

"Sir?"

 

"Deuced sorry to wake you up, Jeeves, and what not, but all sorts of

dashed disturbing things have been happening."

 

"I was not asleep. It is my practice, on retiring, to read a few pages

of some instructive book."

 

"That's good! What I mean to say is, if you've just finished exercising

the old bean, it's probably in mid-season form for tackling problems.

Jeeves, Mr. Bassington-Bassington is going on the stage!"

 

"Indeed, sir?"

 

"Ah! The thing doesn't hit you! You don't get it properly! Here's the

point. All his family are most fearfully dead against his going on the

stage. There's going to be no end of trouble if he isn't headed off.

And, what's worse, my Aunt Agatha will blame me, you see."

 

"I see, sir."

 

"Well, can't you think of some way of stopping him?"

 

"Not, I confess, at the moment, sir."

 

"Well, have a stab at it."

 

"I will give the matter my best consideration, sir. Will there be

anything further to-night?"

 

"I hope not! I've had all I can stand already."

 

"Very good, sir."

 

He popped off.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

The part which old George had written for the chump Cyril took up about

two pages of typescript; but it might have been Hamlet, the way that

poor, misguided pinhead worked himself to the bone over it. I suppose,

if I heard him his lines once, I did it a dozen times in the first

couple of days. He seemed to think that my only feeling about the whole

affair was one of enthusiastic admiration, and that he could rely on my

support and sympathy. What with trying to imagine how Aunt Agatha was

going to take this thing, and being woken up out of the dreamless in

the small hours every other night to give my opinion of some new bit of

business which Cyril had invented, I became more or less the good old

shadow. And all the time Jeeves remained still pretty cold and distant

about the purple socks. It's this sort of thing that ages a chappie,

don't you know, and makes his youthful _joie-de-vivre_ go a bit

groggy at the knees.

 

In the middle of it Aunt Agatha's letter arrived. It took her about six

pages to do justice to Cyril's father's feelings in regard to his going

on the stage and about six more to give me a kind of sketch of what she

would say, think, and do if I didn't keep him clear of injurious

influences while he was in America. The letter came by the afternoon

mail, and left me with a pretty firm conviction that it wasn't a thing

I ought to keep to myself. I didn't even wait to ring the bell: I

whizzed for the kitchen, bleating for Jeeves, and butted into the

middle of a regular tea-party of sorts. Seated at the table were a

depressed-looking cove who might have been a valet or something, and a

boy in a Norfolk suit. The valet-chappie was drinking a whisky and

soda, and the boy was being tolerably rough with some jam and cake.

 

"Oh, I say, Jeeves!" I said. "Sorry to interrupt the feast of reason

and flow of soul and so forth, but----"

 

At this juncture the small boy's eye hit me like a bullet and stopped

me in my tracks. It was one of those cold, clammy, accusing sort of

eyes--the kind that makes you reach up to see if your tie is straight:

and he looked at me as if I were some sort of unnecessary product which

Cuthbert the Cat had brought in after a ramble among the local ash-cans.

He was a stoutish infant with a lot of freckles and a good deal of jam

on his face.

 

"Hallo! Hallo! Hallo!" I said. "What?" There didn't seem much else to

say.

 

The stripling stared at me in a nasty sort of way through the jam. He

may have loved me at first sight, but the impression he gave me was

that he didn't think a lot of me and wasn't betting much that I would

improve a great deal on acquaintance. I had a kind of feeling that I

was about as popular with him as a cold Welsh rabbit.

 

"What's your name?" he asked.

 

"My name? Oh, Wooster, don't you know, and what not."

 

"My pop's richer than you are!"

 

That seemed to be all about me. The child having said his say, started

in on the jam again. I turned to Jeeves.

 

"I say, Jeeves, can you spare a moment? I want to show you something."

 

"Very good, sir." We toddled into the sitting-room.

 

"Who is your little friend, Sidney the Sunbeam, Jeeves?"

 

"The young gentleman, sir?"

 

"It's a loose way of describing him, but I know what you mean."

 

"I trust I was not taking a liberty in entertaining him, sir?"

 

"Not a bit. If that's your idea of a large afternoon, go ahead."

 

"I happened to meet the young gentleman taking a walk with his father's

valet, sir, whom I used to know somewhat intimately in London, and I

ventured to invite them both to join me here."

 

"Well, never mind about him, Jeeves. Read this letter."

 

He gave it the up-and-down.

 

"Very disturbing, sir!" was all he could find to say.

 

"What are we going to do about it?"

 

"Time may provide a solution, sir."

 

"On the other hand, it mayn't, what?"

 

"Extremely true, sir.".

 

We'd got as far as this, when there was a ring at the door. Jeeves

shimmered off, and Cyril blew in, full of good cheer and

blitheringness.

 

"I say, Wooster, old thing," he said, "I want your advice. You know

this jolly old part of mine. How ought I to dress it? What I mean is,

the first act scene is laid in an hotel of sorts, at about three in the

afternoon. What ought I to wear, do you think?"

 

I wasn't feeling fit for a discussion of gent's suitings.

 

"You'd better consult Jeeves," I said.

 

"A hot and by no means unripe idea! Where is he?"

 

"Gone back to the kitchen, I suppose."

 

"I'll smite the good old bell, shall I? Yes? No?"

 

"Right-o!"

 

Jeeves poured silently in.

 

"Oh, I say, Jeeves," began Cyril, "I just wanted to have a syllable or

two with you. It's this way--Hallo, who's this?"

 

I then perceived that the stout stripling had trickled into the room

after Jeeves. He was standing near the door looking at Cyril as if his

worst fears had been realised. There was a bit of a silence. The child

remained there, drinking Cyril in for about half a minute; then he gave

his verdict:

 

"Fish-face!"

 

"Eh? What?" said Cyril.

 

The child, who had evidently been taught at his mother's knee to speak

the truth, made his meaning a trifle clearer.

 

"You've a face like a fish!"

 

He spoke as if Cyril was more to be pitied than censured, which I am

bound to say I thought rather decent and broad-minded of him. I don't

mind admitting that, whenever I looked at Cyril's face, I always had a

feeling that he couldn't have got that way without its being mostly his

own fault. I found myself warming to this child. Absolutely, don't you

know. I liked his conversation.

 

It seemed to take Cyril a moment or two really to grasp the thing, and

then you could hear the blood of the Bassington-Bassingtons begin to

sizzle.

 

"Well, I'm dashed!" he said. "I'm dashed if I'm not!"

 

"I wouldn't have a face like that," proceeded the child, with a good

deal of earnestness, "not if you gave me a million dollars." He thought

for a moment, then corrected himself. "Two million dollars!" he added.

 

Just what occurred then I couldn't exactly say, but the next few

minutes were a bit exciting. I take it that Cyril must have made a dive

for the infant. Anyway, the air seemed pretty well congested with arms

and legs and things. Something bumped into the Wooster waistcoat just

around the third button, and I collapsed on to the settee and rather

lost interest in things for the moment. When I had unscrambled myself,

I found that Jeeves and the child had retired and Cyril was standing in

the middle of the room snorting a bit.

 

"Who's that frightful little brute, Wooster?"

 

"I don't know. I never saw him before to-day."

 

"I gave him a couple of tolerably juicy buffets before he legged it. I

say, Wooster, that kid said a dashed odd thing. He yelled out something

about Jeeves promising him a dollar if he called me--er--what he said."

 

It sounded pretty unlikely to me.

 

"What would Jeeves do that for?"

 

"It struck me as rummy, too."

 

"Where would be the sense of it?"

 

"That's what I can't see."

 

"I mean to say, it's nothing to Jeeves what sort of a face you have!"

 

"No!" said Cyril. He spoke a little coldly, I fancied. I don't know

why. "Well, I'll be popping. Toodle-oo!"

 

"Pip-pip!"

 

It must have been about a week after this rummy little episode that

George Caffyn called me up and asked me if I would care to go and see a

run-through of his show. "Ask Dad," it seemed, was to open out of town

in Schenectady on the following Monday, and this was to be a sort of

preliminary dress-rehearsal. A preliminary dress-rehearsal, old George

explained, was the same as a regular dress-rehearsal inasmuch as it was

apt to look like nothing on earth and last into the small hours, but

more exciting because they wouldn't be timing the piece and

consequently all the blighters who on these occasions let their angry

passions rise would have plenty of scope for interruptions, with the

result that a pleasant time would be had by all.

 

The thing was billed to start at eight o'clock, so I rolled up at

ten-fifteen, so as not to have too long to wait before they began. The

dress-parade was still going on. George was on the stage, talking to a

cove in shirt-sleeves and an absolutely round chappie with big

spectacles and a practically hairless dome. I had seen George with the

latter merchant once or twice at the club, and I knew that he was

Blumenfield, the manager. I waved to George, and slid into a seat at

the back of the house, so as to be out of the way when the fighting

started. Presently George hopped down off the stage and came and joined

me, and fairly soon after that the curtain went down. The chappie at

the piano whacked out a well-meant bar or two, and the curtain went up

again.

 

I can't quite recall what the plot of "Ask Dad" was about, but I do

know that it seemed able to jog along all right without much help from

Cyril. I was rather puzzled at first. What I mean is, through brooding

on Cyril and hearing him in his part and listening to his views on what

ought and what ought not to be done, I suppose I had got a sort of

impression rooted in the old bean that he was pretty well the backbone

of the show, and that the rest of the company didn't do much except go

on and fill in when he happened to be off the stage. I sat there for

nearly half an hour, waiting for him to make his entrance, until I

suddenly discovered he had been on from the start. He was, in fact, the

rummy-looking plug-ugly who was now leaning against a potted palm a

couple of feet from the O.P. side, trying to appear intelligent while

the heroine sang a song about Love being like something which for the

moment has slipped my memory. After the second refrain he began to

dance in company with a dozen other equally weird birds. A painful

spectacle for one who could see a vision of Aunt Agatha reaching for

the hatchet and old Bassington-Bassington senior putting on his

strongest pair of hob-nailed boots. Absolutely!

 

The dance had just finished, and Cyril and his pals had shuffled off

into the wings when a voice spoke from the darkness on my right.

 

"Pop!"

 

Old Blumenfield clapped his hands, and the hero, who had just been

about to get the next line off his diaphragm, cheesed it. I peered into

the shadows. Who should it be but Jeeves's little playmate with the

freckles! He was now strolling down the aisle with his hands in his

pockets as if the place belonged to him. An air of respectful attention

seemed to pervade the building.

 

"Pop," said the stripling, "that number's no good." Old Blumenfield

beamed over his shoulder.

 

"Don't you like it, darling?"

 

"It gives me a pain."

 

"You're dead right."

 

"You want something zippy there. Something with a bit of jazz to it!"

 

"Quite right, my boy. I'll make a note of it. All right. Go on!"

 

I turned to George, who was muttering to himself in rather an

overwrought way.

 

"I say, George, old man, who the dickens is that kid?"

 

Old George groaned a bit hollowly, as if things were a trifle thick.

 

"I didn't know he had crawled in! It's Blumenfield's son. Now we're

going to have a Hades of a time!"

 

"Does he always run things like this?"

 

"Always!"

 

"But why does old Blumenfield listen to him?"

 

"Nobody seems to know. It may be pure fatherly love, or he may regard

him as a mascot. My own idea is that he thinks the kid has exactly the

amount of intelligence of the average member of the audience, and that

what makes a hit with him will please the general public. While,

conversely, what he doesn't like will be too rotten for anyone. The kid

is a pest, a wart, and a pot of poison, and should be strangled!"

 

The rehearsal went on. The hero got off his line. There was a slight

outburst of frightfulness between the stage-manager and a Voice named

Bill that came from somewhere near the roof, the subject under

discussion being where the devil Bill's "ambers" were at that

particular juncture. Then things went on again until the moment arrived

for Cyril's big scene.

 

I was still a trifle hazy about the plot, but I had got on to the fact

that Cyril was some sort of an English peer who had come over to

America doubtless for the best reasons. So far he had only had two

lines to say. One was "Oh, I say!" and the other was "Yes, by Jove!";

but I seemed to recollect, from hearing him read his part, that pretty

soon he was due rather to spread himself. I sat back in my chair and

waited for him to bob up.

 

He bobbed up about five minutes later. Things had got a bit stormy by

that time. The Voice and the stage-director had had another of their

love-feasts--this time something to do with why Bill's "blues" weren't

on the job or something. And, almost as soon as that was over, there

was a bit of unpleasantness because a flower-pot fell off a

window-ledge and nearly brained the hero. The atmosphere was

consequently more or less hotted up when Cyril, who had been hanging

about at the back of the stage, breezed down centre and toed the mark

for his most substantial chunk of entertainment. The heroine had been

saying something--I forget what--and all the chorus, with Cyril at

their head, had begun to surge round her in the restless sort of way

those chappies always do when there's a number coming along.

 

Cyril's first line was, "Oh, I say, you know, you mustn't say that,

really!" and it seemed to me he passed it over the larynx with a

goodish deal of vim and _je-ne-sais-quoi._ But, by Jove, before

the heroine had time for the come-back, our little friend with the

freckles had risen to lodge a protest.

 

"Pop!"

 

"Yes, darling?"

 

"That one's no good!"

 

"Which one, darling?"

 

"The one with a face like a fish."

 

"But they all have faces like fish, darling."

 

The child seemed to see the justice of this objection. He became more

definite.

 

"The ugly one."

 

"Which ugly one? That one?" said old Blumenfield, pointing to Cyril.

 

"Yep! He's rotten!"

 

"I thought so myself."

 

"He's a pill!"

 

"You're dead right, my boy. I've noticed it for some time."

 

Cyril had been gaping a bit while these few remarks were in progress.

He now shot down to the footlights. Even from where I was sitting, I

could see that these harsh words had hit the old Bassington-Bassington

family pride a frightful wallop. He started to get pink in the ears,

and then in the nose, and then in the cheeks, till in about a quarter

of a minute he looked pretty much like an explosion in a tomato cannery

on a sunset evening.

 

"What the deuce do you mean?"

 

"What the deuce do you mean?" shouted old Blumenfield. "Don't yell at

me across the footlights!"

 

"I've a dashed good mind to come down and spank that little brute!"

 

"What!"

 

"A dashed good mind!"

 

Old Blumenfield swelled like a pumped-up tyre. He got rounder than

ever.

 

"See here, mister--I don't know your darn name----!"

 

"My name's Bassington-Bassington, and the jolly old

Bassington-Bassingtons--I mean the Bassington-Bassingtons aren't

accustomed----"

 

Old Blumenfield told him in a few brief words pretty much what he

thought of the Bassington-Bassingtons and what they weren't accustomed

to. The whole strength of the company rallied round to enjoy his

remarks. You could see them jutting out from the wings and protruding

from behind trees.

 

"You got to work good for my pop!" said the stout child, waggling his

head reprovingly at Cyril.

 

"I don't want any bally cheek from you!" said Cyril, gurgling a bit.

 

"What's that?" barked old Blumenfield. "Do you understand that this boy

is my son?"

 

"Yes, I do," said Cyril. "And you both have my sympathy!"

 

"You're fired!" bellowed old Blumenfield, swelling a good bit more.

"Get out of my theatre!"

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

About half-past ten next morning, just after I had finished lubricating

the good old interior with a soothing cup of Oolong, Jeeves filtered

into my bedroom, and said that Cyril was waiting to see me in the

sitting-room.

 

"How does he look, Jeeves?"

 

"Sir?"

 

"What does Mr. Bassington-Bassington look like?"

 

"It is hardly my place, sir, to criticise the facial peculiarities of

your friends."

 

"I don't mean that. I mean, does he appear peeved and what not?"

 

"Not noticeably, sir. His manner is tranquil."

 

"That's rum!"

 

"Sir?"

 

"Nothing. Show him in, will you?"

 

I'm bound to say I had expected to see Cyril showing a few more traces

of last night's battle. I was looking for a bit of the overwrought soul

and the quivering ganglions, if you know what I mean. He seemed pretty

ordinary and quite fairly cheerful.

 

"Hallo, Wooster, old thing!"

 

"Cheero!"

 

"I just looked in to say good-bye."

 

"Good-bye?"

 

"Yes. I'm off to Washington in an hour." He sat down on the bed. "You

know, Wooster, old top," he went on, "I've been thinking it all over,

and really it doesn't seem quite fair to the jolly old guv'nor, my

going on the stage and so forth. What do you think?"

 

"I see what you mean."

 

"I mean to say, he sent me over here to broaden my jolly old mind and

words to that effect, don't you know, and I can't help thinking it

would be a bit of a jar for the old boy if I gave him the bird and went

on the stage instead. I don't know if you understand me, but what I

mean to say is, it's a sort of question of conscience."

 

"Can you leave the show without upsetting everything?"

 

"Oh, that's all right. I've explained everything to old Blumenfield,

and he quite sees my position. Of course, he's sorry to lose me--said

he didn't see how he could fill my place and all that sort of

thing--but, after all, even if it does land him in a bit of a hole, I

think I'm right in resigning my part, don't you?"

 

"Oh, absolutely."

 

"I thought you'd agree with me. Well, I ought to be shifting. Awfully

glad to have seen something of you, and all that sort of rot. Pip-pip!"

 

"Toodle-oo!"

 

He sallied forth, having told all those bally lies with the clear,

blue, pop-eyed gaze of a young child. I rang for Jeeves. You know, ever

since last night I had been exercising the old bean to some extent, and

a good deal of light had dawned upon me.

 

"Jeeves!"

 

"Sir?"

 

"Did you put that pie-faced infant up to bally-ragging Mr.

Bassington-Bassington?"

 

"Sir?"

 

"Oh, you know what I mean. Did you tell him to get Mr.

Bassington-Bassington sacked from the 'Ask Dad' company?"

 

"I would not take such a liberty, sir." He started to put out my

clothes. "It is possible that young Master Blumenfield may have

gathered from casual remarks of mine that I did not consider the stage

altogether a suitable sphere for Mr. Bassington-Bassington."

 

"I say, Jeeves, you know, you're a bit of a marvel."

 

"I endeavour to give satisfaction, sir."

 

"And I'm frightfully obliged, if you know what I mean. Aunt Agatha

would have had sixteen or seventeen fits if you hadn't headed him off."

 

"I fancy there might have been some little friction and unpleasantness,

sir. I am laying out the blue suit with the thin red stripe, sir. I

fancy the effect will be pleasing."

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

It's a rummy thing, but I had finished breakfast and gone out and got

as far as the lift before I remembered what it was that I had meant to

do to reward Jeeves for his really sporting behaviour in this matter of

the chump Cyril. It cut me to the heart to do it, but I had decided to

give him his way and let those purple socks pass out of my life. After

all, there are times when a cove must make sacrifices. I was just going

to nip back and break the glad news to him, when the lift came up, so I

thought I would leave it till I got home.

 

The coloured chappie in charge of the lift looked at me, as I hopped

in, with a good deal of quiet devotion and what not.

 

"I wish to thank yo', suh," he said, "for yo' kindness."

 

"Eh? What?"

 

"Misto' Jeeves done give me them purple socks, as you told him. Thank

yo' very much, suh!"

 

I looked down. The blighter was a blaze of mauve from the ankle-bone

southward. I don't know when I've seen anything so dressy.

 

"Oh, ah! Not at all! Right-o! Glad you like them!" I said.

 

Well, I mean to say, what? Absolutely!

 

 

 

 

JEEVES IN THE SPRINGTIME

 

 

"'Morning, Jeeves," I said.

 

"Good morning, sir," said Jeeves.

 

He put the good old cup of tea softly on the table by my bed, and I

took a refreshing sip. Just right, as usual. Not too hot, not too

sweet, not too weak, not too strong, not too much milk, and not a drop

spilled in the saucer. A most amazing cove, Jeeves. So dashed competent

in every respect. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I mean to

say, take just one small instance. Every other valet I've ever had used

to barge into my room in the morning while I was still asleep, causing

much misery; but Jeeves seems to know when I'm awake by a sort of

telepathy. He always floats in with the cup exactly two minutes after I

come to life. Makes a deuce of a lot of difference to a fellow's day.

 

"How's the weather, Jeeves?"

 

"Exceptionally clement, sir."

 

"Anything in the papers?"

 

"Some slight friction threatening in the Balkans, sir. Otherwise,

nothing."

 

"I say, Jeeves, a man I met at the club last night told me to put my

shirt on Privateer for the two o'clock race this afternoon. How about

it?"

 

"I should not advocate it, sir. The stable is not sanguine."

 

That was enough for me. Jeeves knows. How, I couldn't say, but he

knows. There was a time when I would laugh lightly, and go ahead, and

lose my little all against his advice, but not now.

 

"Talking of shirts," I said, "have those mauve ones I ordered arrived

yet?"

 

"Yes, sir. I sent them back."

 

"Sent them back?"

 

"Yes, sir. They would not have become you."

 

Well, I must say I'd thought fairly highly of those shirtings, but I

bowed to superior knowledge. Weak? I don't know. Most fellows, no

doubt, are all for having their valets confine their activities to

creasing trousers and what not without trying to run the home; but it's

different with Jeeves. Right from the first day he came to me, I have

looked on him as a sort of guide, philosopher, and friend.

 

"Mr. Little rang up on the telephone a few moments ago, sir. I informed

him that you were not yet awake."

 

"Did he leave a message?"

 

"No, sir. He mentioned that he had a matter of importance to discuss

with you, but confided no details."

 

"Oh, well, I expect I shall be seeing him at the club."

 

"No doubt, sir."

 

I wasn't what you might call in a fever of impatience. Bingo Little is

a chap I was at school with, and we see a lot of each other still. He's

the nephew of old Mortimer Little, who retired from business recently

with a goodish pile. (You've probably heard of Little's Liniment--It

Limbers Up the Legs.) Bingo biffs about London on a pretty comfortable

allowance given him by his uncle, and leads on the whole a fairly

unclouded life. It wasn't likely that anything which he described as a

matter of importance would turn out to be really so frightfully

important. I took it that he had discovered some new brand of cigarette

which he wanted me to try, or something like that, and didn't spoil my

breakfast by worrying.

 

After breakfast I lit a cigarette and went to the open window to

inspect the day. It certainly was one of the best and brightest.

 

"Jeeves," I said.

 

"Sir?" said Jeeves. He had been clearing away the breakfast things, but

at the sound of the young master's voice cheesed it courteously.

 

"You were absolutely right about the weather. It is a juicy morning."

 

"Decidedly, sir."

 

"Spring and all that."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"In the spring, Jeeves, a livelier iris gleams upon the burnished

dove."

 

"So I have been informed, sir."

 

"Right ho! Then bring me my whangee, my yellowest shoes, and the old

green Homburg. I'm going into the Park to do pastoral dances."

 

I don't know if you know that sort of feeling you get on these days

round about the end of April and the beginning of May, when the sky's a

light blue, with cotton-wool clouds, and there's a bit of a breeze

blowing from the west? Kind of uplifted feeling. Romantic, if you know

what I mean. I'm not much of a ladies' man, but on this particular

morning it seemed to me that what I really wanted was some charming

girl to buzz up and ask me to save her from assassins or something. So

that it was a bit of an anti-climax when I merely ran into young Bingo

Little, looking perfectly foul in a crimson satin tie decorated with

horseshoes.

 

"Hallo, Bertie," said Bingo.

 

"My God, man!" I gargled. "The cravat! The gent's neckwear! Why? For

what reason?"

 

"Oh, the tie?" He blushed. "I--er--I was given it."

 

He seemed embarrassed, so I dropped the subject. We toddled along a

bit, and sat down on a couple of chairs by the Serpentine.

 

"Jeeves tells me you want to talk to me about something," I said.

 

"Eh?" said Bingo, with a start. "Oh yes, yes. Yes."

 

I waited for him to unleash the topic of the day, but he didn't seem to

want to get going. Conversation languished. He stared straight ahead of

him in a glassy sort of manner.

 

"I say, Bertie," he said, after a pause of about an hour and a quarter.

 

"Hallo!"

 

"Do you like the name Mabel?"

 

"No."

 

"No?"

 

"No."

 

"You don't think there's a kind of music in the word, like the wind

rustling gently through the tree-tops?"

 

"No."

 

He seemed disappointed for a moment; then cheered up.

 

"Of course, you wouldn't. You always were a fatheaded worm without any

soul, weren't you?"

 

"Just as you say. Who is she? Tell me all."

 

For I realised now that poor old Bingo was going through it once again.

Ever since I have known him--and we were at school together--he has

been perpetually falling in love with someone, generally in the spring,

which seems to act on him like magic. At school he had the finest

collection of actresses' photographs of anyone of his time; and at

Oxford his romantic nature was a byword.

 

"You'd better come along and meet her at lunch," he said, looking at

his watch.

 

"A ripe suggestion," I said. "Where are you meeting her? At the Ritz?"

 

"Near the Ritz."

 

He was geographically accurate. About fifty yards east of the Ritz

there is one of those blighted tea-and-bun shops you see dotted about

all over London, and into this, if you'll believe me, young Bingo dived

like a homing rabbit; and before I had time to say a word we were

wedged in at a table, on the brink of a silent pool of coffee left

there by an early luncher.

 

I'm bound to say I couldn't quite follow the development of the

scenario. Bingo, while not absolutely rolling in the stuff, has always

had a fair amount of the ready. Apart from what he got from his uncle,

I knew that he had finished up the jumping season well on the right

side of the ledger. Why, then, was he lunching the girl at this

God-forsaken eatery? It couldn't be because he was hard up.

 

Just then the waitress arrived. Rather a pretty girl.

 

"Aren't we going to wait----?" I started to say to Bingo, thinking it

somewhat thick that, in addition to asking a girl to lunch with him in

a place like this, he should fling himself on the foodstuffs before she

turned up, when I caught sight of his face, and stopped.

 

The man was goggling. His entire map was suffused with a rich blush. He

looked like the Soul's Awakening done in pink.

 

"Hallo, Mabel!" he said, with a sort of gulp.

 

"Hallo!" said the girl.

 

"Mabel," said Bingo, "this is Bertie Wooster, a pal of mine."

 

"Pleased to meet you," she said. "Nice morning."

 

"Fine," I said.

 

"You see I'm wearing the tie," said Bingo.

 

"It suits you beautiful," said the girl.

 

Personally, if anyone had told me that a tie like that suited me, I

should have risen and struck them on the mazzard, regardless of their

age and sex; but poor old Bingo simply got all flustered with

gratification, and smirked in the most gruesome manner.

 

"Well, what's it going to be to-day?" asked the girl, introducing the

business touch into the conversation.

 

Bingo studied the menu devoutly.

 

"I'll have a cup of cocoa, cold veal and ham pie, slice of fruit cake,

and a macaroon. Same for you, Bertie?"

 

I gazed at the man, revolted. That he could have been a pal of mine all

these years and think me capable of insulting the old turn with this

sort of stuff cut me to the quick.

 

"Or how about a bit of hot steak-pudding, with a sparkling limado to

wash it down?" said Bingo.

 

You know, the way love can change a fellow is really frightful to

contemplate. This chappie before me, who spoke in that absolutely

careless way of macaroons and limado, was the man I had seen in happier

days telling the head-waiter at Claridge's exactly how he wanted the

_chef_ to prepare the _sole frite au gourmet aux champignons_,

and saying he would jolly well sling it back if it wasn't just right.

Ghastly! Ghastly!

 

A roll and butter and a small coffee seemed the only things on the list

that hadn't been specially prepared by the nastier-minded members of

the Borgia family for people they had a particular grudge against, so I

chose them, and Mabel hopped it.

 

"Well?" said Bingo rapturously.

 

I took it that he wanted my opinion of the female poisoner who had just

left us.

 

"Very nice," I said.

 

He seemed dissatisfied.

 

"You don't think she's the most wonderful girl you ever saw?" he said

wistfully.

 

"Oh, absolutely!" I said, to appease the blighter. "Where did you meet

her?"

 

"At a subscription dance at Camberwell."

 

"What on earth were you doing at a subscription dance at Camberwell?"

 

"Your man Jeeves asked me if I would buy a couple of tickets. It was in

aid of some charity or other."

 

"Jeeves? I didn't know he went in for that sort of thing."

 

"Well, I suppose he has to relax a bit every now and then. Anyway, he

was there, swinging a dashed efficient shoe. I hadn't meant to go at

first, but I turned up for a lark. Oh, Bertie, think what I might have

missed!"

 

"What might you have missed?" I asked, the old lemon being slightly

clouded.

 

"Mabel, you chump. If I hadn't gone I shouldn't have met Mabel."

 

"Oh, ah!"

 

At this point Bingo fell into a species of trance, and only came out of

it to wrap himself round the pie and macaroon.

 

"Bertie," he said, "I want your advice."

 

"Carry on."

 

"At least, not your advice, because that wouldn't be much good to

anybody. I mean, you're a pretty consummate old ass, aren't you? Not

that I want to hurt your feelings, of course."

 

"No, no, I see that."

 

"What I wish you would do is to put the whole thing to that fellow

Jeeves of yours, and see what he suggests. You've often told me that he

has helped other pals of yours out of messes. From what you tell me,

he's by way of being the brains of the family."

 

"He's never let me down yet."

 

"Then put my case to him."

 

"What case?"

 

"My problem."

 

"What problem?"

 

"Why, you poor fish, my uncle, of course. What do you think my uncle's

going to say to all this? If I sprang it on him cold, he'd tie himself

in knots on the hearthrug."

 

"One of these emotional Johnnies, eh?"

 

"Somehow or other his mind has got to be prepared to receive the news.

But how?"

 

"Ah!"

 

"That's a lot of help, that 'ah'! You see, I'm pretty well dependent on

the old boy. If he cut off my allowance, I should be very much in the

soup. So you put the whole binge to Jeeves and see if he can't scare up

a happy ending somehow. Tell him my future is in his hands, and that,

if the wedding bells ring out, he can rely on me, even unto half my

kingdom. Well, call it ten quid. Jeeves would exert himself with ten

quid on the horizon, what?"

 

"Undoubtedly," I said.

 

I wasn't in the least surprised at Bingo wanting to lug Jeeves into his

private affairs like this. It was the first thing I would have thought

of doing myself if I had been in any hole of any description. As I have

frequently had occasion to observe, he is a bird of the ripest

intellect, full of bright ideas. If anybody could fix things for poor

old Bingo, he could.

 

I stated the case to him that night after dinner.

 

"Jeeves."

 

"Sir?"

 

"Are you busy just now?"

 

"No, sir."

 

"I mean, not doing anything in particular?"

 

"No, sir. It is my practice at this hour to read some improving book;

but, if you desire my services, this can easily be postponed, or,

indeed, abandoned altogether."

 

"Well, I want your advice. It's about Mr. Little."

 

"Young Mr. Little, sir, or the elder Mr. Little, his uncle, who lives

in Pounceby Gardens?"

 

Jeeves seemed to know everything. Most amazing thing. I'd been pally

with Bingo practically all my life, and yet I didn't remember ever

having heard that his uncle lived anywhere in particular.

 

"How did you know he lived in Pounceby Gardens?" I said.

 

"I am on terms of some intimacy with the elder Mr. Little's cook, sir.

In fact, there is an understanding."

 

I'm bound to say that this gave me a bit of a start. Somehow I'd never

thought of Jeeves going in for that sort of thing.

 

"Do you mean you're engaged?"

 

"It may be said to amount to that, sir."

 

"Well, well!"

 

"She is a remarkably excellent cook, sir," said Jeeves, as though he

felt called on to give some explanation. "What was it you wished to ask

me about Mr. Little?"

 

I sprang the details on him.

 

"And that's how the matter stands, Jeeves," I said. "I think we ought

to rally round a trifle and help poor old Bingo put the thing through.

Tell me about old Mr. Little. What sort of a chap is he?"

 

"A somewhat curious character, sir. Since retiring from business he has

become a great recluse, and now devotes himself almost entirely to the

pleasures of the table."

 

"Greedy hog, you mean?"

 

"I would not, perhaps, take the liberty of describing him in precisely

those terms, sir. He is what is usually called a gourmet. Very

particular about what he eats, and for that reason sets a high value on

Miss Watson's services."

 

"The cook?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"Well, it looks to me as though our best plan would be to shoot young

Bingo in on him after dinner one night. Melting mood, I mean to say,

and all that."

 

"The difficulty is, sir, that at the moment Mr. Little is on a diet,

owing to an attack of gout."

 

"Things begin to look wobbly."

 

"No, sir, I fancy that the elder Mr. Little's misfortune may be turned

to the younger Mr. Little's advantage. I was speaking only the other

day to Mr. Little's valet, and he was telling me that it has become his

principal duty to read to Mr. Little in the evenings. If I were in your

place, sir, I should send young Mr. Little to read to his uncle."

 

"Nephew's devotion, you mean? Old man touched by kindly action, what?"

 

"Partly that, sir. But I would rely more on young Mr. Little's choice

of literature."

 

"That's no good. Jolly old Bingo has a kind face, but when it comes to

literature he stops at the _Sporting Times_."

 

"That difficulty may be overcome. I would be happy to select books for

Mr. Little to read. Perhaps I might explain my idea further?"

 

"I can't say I quite grasp it yet."

 

"The method which I advocate is what, I believe, the advertisers call

Direct Suggestion, sir, consisting as it does of driving an idea home

by constant repetition. You may have had experience of the system?"

 

"You mean they keep on telling you that some soap or other is the best,

and after a bit you come under the influence and charge round the

corner and buy a cake?"

 

"Exactly, sir. The same method was the basis of all the most valuable

propaganda during the recent war. I see no reason why it should not be

adopted to bring about the desired result with regard to the subject's

views on class distinctions. If young Mr. Little were to read day after

day to his uncle a series of narratives in which marriage with young

persons of an inferior social status was held up as both feasible and

admirable, I fancy it would prepare the elder Mr. Little's mind for the

reception of the information that his nephew wishes to marry a waitress

in a tea-shop."

 

"_Are_ there any books of that sort nowadays? The only ones I ever

see mentioned in the papers are about married couples who find life

grey, and can't stick each other at any price."

 

"Yes, sir, there are a great many, neglected by the reviewers but

widely read. You have never encountered 'All for Love," by Rosie M.

Banks?"

 

"No."

 

"Nor 'A Red, Red Summer Rose,' by the same author?"

 

"No."

 

"I have an aunt, sir, who owns an almost complete set of Rosie M.

Banks'. I could easily borrow as many volumes as young Mr. Little might

require. They make very light, attractive reading."

 

"Well, it's worth trying."

 

"I should certainly recommend the scheme, sir."

 

"All right, then. Toddle round to your aunt's to-morrow and grab a

couple of the fruitiest. We can but have a dash at it."

 

"Precisely, sir."

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

Bingo reported three days later that Rosie M. Banks was the goods and

beyond a question the stuff to give the troops. Old Little had jibbed

somewhat at first at the proposed change of literary diet, he not being

much of a lad for fiction and having stuck hitherto exclusively to the

heavier monthly reviews; but Bingo had got chapter one of "All for

Love" past his guard before he knew what was happening, and after that

there was nothing to it. Since then they had finished "A Red, Red

Summer Rose," "Madcap Myrtle" and "Only a Factory Girl," and were

halfway through "The Courtship of Lord Strathmorlick."

 

Bingo told me all this in a husky voice over an egg beaten up in

sherry. The only blot on the thing from his point of view was that it

wasn't doing a bit of good to the old vocal cords, which were beginning

to show signs of cracking under the strain. He had been looking his

symptoms up in a medical dictionary, and he thought he had got

"clergyman's throat." But against this you had to set the fact that he

was making an undoubted hit in the right quarter, and also that after

the evening's reading he always stayed on to dinner; and, from what he

told me, the dinners turned out by old Little's cook had to be tasted

to be believed. There were tears in the old blighter's eyes as he got

on the subject of the clear soup. I suppose to a fellow who for weeks

had been tackling macaroons and limado it must have been like Heaven.

 

Old Little wasn't able to give any practical assistance at these

banquets, but Bingo said that he came to the table and had his whack of

arrowroot, and sniffed the dishes, and told stories of _entrées_ he had

had in the past, and sketched out scenarios of what he was going to do

to the bill of fare in the future, when the doctor put him in shape; so

I suppose he enjoyed himself, too, in a way. Anyhow, things seemed to

be buzzing along quite satisfactorily, and Bingo said he had got an

idea which, he thought, was going to clinch the thing. He wouldn't tell

me what it was, but he said it was a pippin.

 

"We make progress, Jeeves," I said.

 

"That is very satisfactory, sir."

 

"Mr. Little tells me that when he came to the big scene in 'Only a

Factory Girl,' his uncle gulped like a stricken bull-pup."

 

"Indeed, sir?"

 

"Where Lord Claude takes the girl in his arms, you know, and says----"

 

"I am familiar with the passage, sir. It is distinctly moving. It was a

great favourite of my aunt's."

 

"I think we're on the right track."

 

"It would seem so, sir."

 

"In fact, this looks like being another of your successes. I've always

said, and I always shall say, that for sheer brain, Jeeves, you stand

alone. All the other great thinkers of the age are simply in the crowd,

watching you go by."

 

"Thank you very much, sir. I endeavour to give satisfaction."

 

About a week after this, Bingo blew in with the news that his uncle's

gout had ceased to trouble him, and that on the morrow he would be back

at the old stand working away with knife and fork as before.

 

"And, by the way," said Bingo, "he wants you to lunch with him

tomorrow."

 

"Me? Why me? He doesn't know I exist."

 

"Oh, yes, he does. I've told him about you."

 

"What have you told him?"

 

"Oh, various things. Anyhow, he wants to meet you. And take my tip,

laddie--you go! I should think lunch to-morrow would be something

special."

 

I don't know why it was, but even then it struck me that there was

something dashed odd--almost sinister, if you know what I mean--about

young Bingo's manner. The old egg had the air of one who has something

up his sleeve.

 

"There is more in this than meets the eye," I said. "Why should your

uncle ask a fellow to lunch whom he's never seen?"

 

"My dear old fathead, haven't I just said that I've been telling him

all about you--that you're my best pal--at school together, and all

that sort of thing?"

 

"But even then--and another thing. Why are you so dashed keen on my

going?"

 

Bingo hesitated for a moment.

 

"Well, I told you I'd got an idea. This is it. I want you to spring the

news on him. I haven't the nerve myself."

 

"What! I'm hanged if I do!"

 

"And you call yourself a pal of mine!"

 

"Yes, I know; but there are limits."

 

"Bertie," said Bingo reproachfully, "I saved your life once."

 

"When?"

 

"Didn't I? It must have been some other fellow, then. Well, anyway, we

were boys together and all that. You can't let me down."

 

"Oh, all right," I said. "But, when you say you haven't nerve enough

for any dashed thing in the world, you misjudge yourself. A fellow

who----"

 

"Cheerio!" said young Bingo. "One-thirty to-morrow. Don't be late."

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

I'm bound to say that the more I contemplated the binge, the less I

liked it. It was all very well for Bingo to say that I was slated for a

magnificent lunch; but what good is the best possible lunch to a fellow

if he is slung out into the street on his ear during the soup course?

However, the word of a Wooster is his bond and all that sort of rot, so

at one-thirty next day I tottered up the steps of No. 16, Pounceby

Gardens, and punched the bell. And half a minute later I was up in the

drawing-room, shaking hands with the fattest man I have ever seen in my

life.

 

The motto of the Little family was evidently "variety." Young Bingo is

long and thin and hasn't had a superfluous ounce on him since we first

met; but the uncle restored the average and a bit over. The hand which

grasped mine wrapped it round and enfolded it till I began to wonder if

I'd ever get it out without excavating machinery.

 

"Mr. Wooster, I am gratified--I am proud--I am honoured."

 

It seemed to me that young Bingo must have boosted me to some purpose.

 

"Oh, ah!" I said.

 

He stepped back a bit, still hanging on to the good right hand.

 

"You are very young to have accomplished so much!"

 

I couldn't follow the train of thought. The family, especially my Aunt

Agatha, who has savaged me incessantly from childhood up, have always

rather made a point of the fact that mine is a wasted life, and that,

since I won the prize at my first school for the best collection of

wild flowers made during the summer holidays, I haven't done a dam'

thing to land me on the nation's scroll of fame. I was wondering if he

couldn't have got me mixed up with someone else, when the

telephone-bell rang outside in the hall, and the maid came in to say

that I was wanted. I buzzed down, and found it was young Bingo.

 

"Hallo!" said young Bingo. "So you've got there? Good man! I knew I

could rely on you. I say, old crumpet, did my uncle seem pleased to see

you?"

 

"Absolutely all over me. I can't make it out."

 

"Oh, that's all right. I just rang up to explain. The fact is, old man,

I know you won't mind, but I told him that you were the author of those

books I've been reading to him."

 

"What!"

 

"Yes, I said that 'Rosie M. Banks' was your pen-name, and you didn't

want it generally known, because you were a modest, retiring sort of

chap. He'll listen to you now. Absolutely hang on your words. A

brightish idea, what? I doubt if Jeeves in person could have thought up

a better one than that. Well, pitch it strong, old lad, and keep

steadily before you the fact that I must have my allowance raised. I

can't possibly marry on what I've got now. If this film is to end with

the slow fade-out on the embrace, at least double is indicated. Well,

that's that. Cheerio!"

 

And he rang off. At that moment the gong sounded, and the genial host

came tumbling downstairs like the delivery of a ton of coals.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

I always look back to that lunch with a sort of aching regret. It was

the lunch of a lifetime, and I wasn't in a fit state to appreciate it.

Subconsciously, if you know what I mean, I could see it was pretty

special, but I had got the wind up to such a frightful extent over the

ghastly situation in which young Bingo had landed me that its deeper

meaning never really penetrated. Most of the time I might have been

eating sawdust for all the good it did me.

 

Old Little struck the literary note right from the start.

 

"My nephew has probably told you that I have been making a close study

of your books of late?" he began.

 

"Yes. He did mention it. How--er--how did you like the bally things?"

 

He gazed reverently at me.

 

"Mr. Wooster, I am not ashamed to say that the tears came into my eyes

as I listened to them. It amazes me that a man as young as you can have

been able to plumb human nature so surely to its depths; to play with

so unerring a hand on the quivering heart-strings of your reader; to

write novels so true, so human, so moving, so vital!"

 

"Oh, it's just a knack," I said.

 

The good old persp. was bedewing my forehead by this time in a pretty

lavish manner. I don't know when I've been so rattled.

 

"Do you find the room a trifle warm?"

 

"Oh, no, no, rather not. Just right."

 

"Then it's the pepper. If my cook has a fault--which I am not prepared

to admit--it is that she is inclined to stress the pepper a trifle in

her made dishes. By the way, do you like her cooking?"

 

I was so relieved that we had got off the subject of my literary output

that I shouted approval in a ringing baritone.

 

"I am delighted to hear it, Mr. Wooster. I may be prejudiced, but to my

mind that woman is a genius."

 

"Absolutely!" I said.

 

"She has been with me seven years, and in all that time I have not

known her guilty of a single lapse from the highest standard. Except

once, in the winter of 1917, when a purist might have condemned a

certain mayonnaise of hers as lacking in creaminess. But one must make

allowances. There had been several air-raids about that time, and no

doubt the poor woman was shaken. But nothing is perfect in this world,

Mr. Wooster, and I have had my cross to bear. For seven years I have

lived in constant apprehension lest some evilly-disposed person might

lure her from my employment. To my certain knowledge she has received

offers, lucrative offers, to accept service elsewhere. You may judge of

my dismay, Mr. Wooster, when only this morning the bolt fell. She gave

notice!"

 

"Good Lord!"

 

"Your consternation does credit, if I may say so, to the heart of the

author of 'A Red, Red Summer Rose.' But I am thankful to say the worst

has not happened. The matter has been adjusted. Jane is not leaving

me."

 

"Good egg!"

 

"Good egg, indeed--though the expression is not familiar to me. I do

not remember having come across it in your books. And, speaking of your

books, may I say that what has impressed me about them even more than

the moving poignancy of the actual narrative, is your philosophy of

life. If there were more men like you, Mr. Wooster, London would be a

better place."

 

This was dead opposite to my Aunt Agatha's philosophy of life, she

having always rather given me to understand that it is the presence in

it of chappies like me that makes London more or less of a plague spot;

but I let it go.

 

"Let me tell you, Mr. Wooster, that I appreciate your splendid defiance

of the outworn fetishes of a purblind social system. I appreciate it!

You are big enough to see that rank is but the guinea stamp and that,

in the magnificent words of Lord Bletchmore in 'Only a Factory Girl,'

'Be her origin ne'er so humble, a good woman is the equal of the finest

lady on earth!'"

 

I sat up.

 

"I say! Do you think that?"

 

"I do, Mr. Wooster. I am ashamed to say that there was a time when I

was like other men, a slave to the idiotic convention which we call

Class Distinction. But, since I read your books----"

 

I might have known it. Jeeves had done it again.

 

"You think it's all right for a chappie in what you might call a

certain social position to marry a girl of what you might describe as

the lower classes?"

 

"Most assuredly I do, Mr. Wooster."

 

I took a deep breath, and slipped him the good news.

 

"Young Bingo--your nephew, you know--wants to marry a waitress," I

said.

 

"I honour him for it," said old Little.

 

"You don't object?"

 

"On the contrary."

 

I took another deep breath and shifted to the sordid side of the

business.

 

"I hope you won't think I'm butting in, don't you know," I said,

"but--er--well, how about it?"

 

"I fear I do not quite follow you."

 

"Well, I mean to say, his allowance and all that. The money you're good

enough to give him. He was rather hoping that you might see your way to

jerking up the total a bit."

 

Old Little shook his head regretfully.

 

"I fear that can hardly be managed. You see, a man in my position is

compelled to save every penny. I will gladly continue my nephew's

existing allowance, but beyond that I cannot go. It would not be fair

to my wife."

 

"What! But you're not married?"

 

"Not yet. But I propose to enter upon that holy state almost

immediately. The lady who for years has cooked so well for me honoured

me by accepting my hand this very morning." A cold gleam of triumph

came into his eye. "Now let 'em try to get her away from me!" he

muttered, defiantly.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

"Young Mr. Little has been trying frequently during the afternoon to

reach you on the telephone, sir," said Jeeves that night, when I got

home.

 

"I'll bet he has," I said. I had sent poor old Bingo an outline of the

situation by messenger-boy shortly after lunch.

 

"He seemed a trifle agitated."

 

"I don't wonder. Jeeves," I said, "so brace up and bite the bullet. I'm

afraid I've bad news for you.

 

"That scheme of yours--reading those books to old Mr. Little and all

that--has blown out a fuse."

 

"They did not soften him?"

 

"They did. That's the whole bally trouble. Jeeves, I'm sorry to say

that _fiancée_ of yours--Miss Watson, you know--the cook, you

know--well, the long and the short of it is that she's chosen riches

instead of honest worth, if you know what I mean."

 

"Sir?"

 

"She's handed you the mitten and gone and got engaged to old Mr.

Little!"

 

"Indeed, sir?"

 

"You don't seem much upset."

 

"That fact is, sir, I had anticipated some such outcome."

 

I stared at him. "Then what on earth did you suggest the scheme for?"

 

"To tell you the truth, sir, I was not wholly averse from a severance

of my relations with Miss Watson. In fact, I greatly desired it. I

respect Miss Watson exceedingly, but I have seen for a long time that

we were not suited. Now, the _other_ young person with whom I have

an understanding----"

 

"Great Scott, Jeeves! There isn't another?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"How long has this been going on?"

 

"For some weeks, sir. I was greatly attracted by her when I first met

her at a subscription dance at Camberwell."

 

"My sainted aunt! Not----"

 

Jeeves inclined his head gravely.

 

"Yes, sir. By an odd coincidence it is the same young person that young

Mr. Little--I have placed the cigarettes on the small table. Good

night, sir."

 

 

 

 

CONCEALED ART

 

 

If a fellow has lots of money and lots of time and lots of curiosity

about other fellows' business, it is astonishing, don't you know, what

a lot of strange affairs he can get mixed up in. Now, I have money and

curiosity and all the time there is. My name's Pepper--Reggie Pepper.

My uncle was the colliery-owner chappie, and he left me the dickens of

a pile. And ever since the lawyer slipped the stuff into my hand,

whispering "It's yours!" life seems to have been one thing after

another.

 

For instance, the dashed rummy case of dear old Archie. I first ran

into old Archie when he was studying in Paris, and when he came back to

London he looked me up, and we celebrated. He always liked me because I

didn't mind listening to his theories of Art. For Archie, you must

know, was an artist. Not an ordinary artist either, but one of those

fellows you read about who are several years ahead of the times, and

paint the sort of thing that people will be educated up to by about

1999 or thereabouts.

 

Well, one day as I was sitting in the club watching the traffic coming

up one way and going down the other, and thinking nothing in

particular, in blew the old boy. He was looking rather worried.

 

"Reggie, I want your advice."

 

"You shall have it," I said. "State your point, old top."

 

"It's like this--I'm engaged to be married."

 

"My dear old scout, a million con----"

 

"Yes, I know. Thanks very much, and all that, but listen."

 

"What's the trouble? Don't you like her?"

 

A kind of rapt expression came over his face.

 

"Like her! Why, she's the only----"

 

He gibbered for a spell. When he had calmed down, I said, "Well then,

what's your trouble?"

 

"Reggie," he said, "do you think a man is bound to tell his wife all

about his past life?"

 

"Oh, well," I said, "of course, I suppose she's prepared to find that a

man has--er--sowed his wild oats, don't you know, and all that sort of

thing, and----"

 

He seemed quite irritated.

 

"Don't be a chump. It's nothing like that. Listen. When I came back to

London and started to try and make a living by painting, I found that

people simply wouldn't buy the sort of work I did at any price. Do you

know, Reggie, I've been at it three years now, and I haven't sold a

single picture."

 

I whooped in a sort of amazed way, but I should have been far more

startled if he'd told me he _had_ sold a picture. I've seen his

pictures, and they are like nothing on earth. So far as I can make out

what he says, they aren't supposed to be. There's one in particular,

called "The Coming of Summer," which I sometimes dream about when I've

been hitting it up a shade too vigorously. It's all dots and splashes,

with a great eye staring out of the middle of the mess. It looks as if

summer, just as it was on the way, had stubbed its toe on a bomb. He

tells me it's his masterpiece, and that he will never do anything like

it again. I should like to have that in writing.

 

"Well, artists eat, just the same as other people," he went on, "and

personally I like mine often and well cooked. Besides which, my sojourn

in Paris gave me a rather nice taste in light wines. The consequence

was that I came to the conclusion, after I had been back a few months,

that something had to be done. Reggie, do you by any remote chance read

a paper called _Funny Slices_?"

 

"Every week."

 

He gazed at me with a kind of wistful admiration.

 

"I envy you, Reggie. Fancy being able to make a statement like that

openly and without fear. Then I take it you know the Doughnut family?"

 

"I should say I did."

 

His voice sank almost to a whisper, and he looked over his shoulder

nervously.

 

"Reggie, I do them."

 

"You what?"

 

"I do them--draw them--paint them. I am the creator of the Doughnut

family."

 

I stared at him, absolutely astounded. I was simply dumb. It was the

biggest surprise of my life. Why, dash it, the Doughnut family was the

best thing in its line in London. There is Pa Doughnut, Ma Doughnut,

Aunt Bella, Cousin Joe, and Mabel, the daughter, and they have all

sorts of slapstick adventures. Pa, Ma and Aunt Bella are pure

gargoyles; Cousin Joe is a little more nearly semi-human, and Mabel is

a perfect darling. I had often wondered who did them, for they were

unsigned, and I had often thought what a deuced brainy fellow the chap

must be. And all the time it was old Archie. I stammered as I tried to

congratulate him.

 

He winced.

 

"Don't gargle, Reggie, there's a good fellow," he said. "My nerves are

all on edge. Well, as I say, I do the Doughnuts. It was that or

starvation. I got the idea one night when I had a toothache, and next

day I took some specimens round to an editor. He rolled in his chair,

and told me to start in and go on till further notice. Since then I

have done them without a break. Well, there's the position. I must go

on drawing these infernal things, or I shall be penniless. The question

is, am I to tell her?"

 

"Tell her? Of course you must tell her."

 

"Ah, but you don't know her, Reggie. Have you ever heard of Eunice

Nugent?"

 

"Not to my knowledge."

 

"As she doesn't sprint up and down the joyway at the Hippodrome, I

didn't suppose you would."

 

I thought this rather uncalled-for, seeing that, as a matter of fact, I

scarcely know a dozen of the Hippodrome chorus, but I made allowances

for his state of mind.

 

"She's a poetess," he went on, "and her work has appeared in lots of

good magazines. My idea is that she would be utterly horrified if she

knew, and could never be quite the same to me again. But I want you to

meet her and judge for yourself. It's just possible that I am taking

too morbid a view of the matter, and I want an unprejudiced outside

opinion. Come and lunch with us at the Piccadilly tomorrow, will you?"

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

He was absolutely right. One glance at Miss Nugent told me that the

poor old boy had got the correct idea. I hardly know how to describe

the impression she made on me. On the way to the Pic, Archie had told

me that what first attracted him to her was the fact that she was so

utterly unlike Mabel Doughnut; but that had not prepared me for what

she really was. She was kind of intense, if you know what I mean--kind

of spiritual. She was perfectly pleasant, and drew me out about golf

and all that sort of thing; but all the time I felt that she considered

me an earthy worm whose loftier soul-essence had been carelessly left

out of his composition at birth. She made me wish that I had never seen

a musical comedy or danced on a supper table on New Year's Eve. And if

that was the impression she made on me, you can understand why poor old

Archie jibbed at the idea of bringing her _Funny Slices_, and

pointing at the Doughnuts and saying, "Me--I did it!" The notion was

absolutely out of the question. The shot wasn't on the board. I told

Archie so directly we were alone.

 

"Old top," I said, "you must keep it dark."

 

"I'm afraid so. But I hate the thought of deceiving her."

 

"You must get used to that now you're going to be a married man," I

said.

 

"The trouble is, how am I going to account for the fact that I can do

myself pretty well?"

 

"Why, tell her you have private means, of course. What's your money

invested in?"

 

"Practically all of it in B. and O. P. Rails. It is a devilish good

thing. A pal of mine put me onto it."

 

"Tell her that you have a pile of money in B. and O. P., then. She'll

take it for granted it's a legacy. A spiritual girl like Miss Nugent

isn't likely to inquire further."

 

"Reggie, I believe you're right. It cuts both ways, that spiritual gag.

I'll do it."

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

They were married quietly. I held the towel for Archie, and a

spectacled girl with a mouth like a rat-trap, who was something to do

with the Woman's Movement, saw fair play for Eunice. And then they went

off to Scotland for their honeymoon. I wondered how the Doughnuts were

going to get on in old Archie's absence, but it seemed that he had

buckled down to it and turned out three months' supply in advance. He

told me that long practice had enabled him to Doughnut almost without

conscious effort. When he came back to London he would give an hour a

week to them and do them on his head. Pretty soft! It seemed to me that

the marriage was going to be a success.

 

One gets out of touch with people when they marry. I am not much on the

social-call game, and for nearly six months I don't suppose I saw

Archie more than twice or three times. When I did, he appeared sound in

wind and limb, and reported that married life was all to the velvet,

and that he regarded bachelors like myself as so many excrescences on

the social system. He compared me, if I remember rightly, to a wart,

and advocated drastic treatment.

 

It was perhaps seven months after he had told Eunice that he endowed

her with all his worldly goods--she not suspecting what the parcel

contained--that he came to me unexpectedly one afternoon with a face so

long and sick-looking that my finger was on the button and I was

ordering brandy and soda before he had time to speak.

 

"Reggie," he said, "an awful thing has happened. Have you seen the

paper today?"

 

"Yes. Why?"

 

"Did you read the Stock Exchange news? Did you see that some lunatic

has been jumping around with a club and hammering the stuffing out of

B. and O. P.? This afternoon they are worth practically nothing."

 

"By jove! And all your money was in it. What rotten luck!" Then I

spotted the silver lining. "But, after all, it doesn't matter so very

much. What I mean is, bang go your little savings and all that sort of

thing; but, after all, you're making quite a good income, so why

worry?"

 

"I might have known you would miss the point," he said. "Can't you

understand the situation? This morning at breakfast Eunice got hold of

the paper first. 'Archie,' she said, 'didn't you tell me all your money

was in B. and O. P.?' 'Yes,' I said. 'Why?' 'Then we're ruined.' Now do

you see? If I had had time to think, I could have said that I had

another chunk in something else, but I had committed myself, I have

either got to tell her about those infernal Doughnuts, or else conceal

the fact that I had money coming in."

 

"Great Scot! What on earth are you going to do?"

 

"I can't think. We can struggle along in a sort of way, for it appears

that she has small private means of her own. The idea at present is

that we shall live on them. We're selling the car, and trying to get

out of the rest of our lease up at the flat, and then we're going to

look about for a cheaper place, probably down Chelsea way, so as to be

near my studio. What was that stuff I've been drinking? Ring for

another of the same, there's a good fellow. In fact, I think you had

better keep your finger permanently on the bell. I shall want all

they've got."

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

The spectacle of a fellow human being up to his neck in the consommé is

painful, of course, but there's certainly what the advertisements at

the top of magazine stories call a "tense human interest" about it, and

I'm bound to say that I saw as much as possible of poor old Archie from

now on. His sad case fascinated me. It was rather thrilling to see him

wrestling with New Zealand mutton-hash and draught beer down at his

Chelsea flat, with all the suppressed anguish of a man who has let

himself get accustomed to delicate food and vintage wines, and think

that a word from him could send him whizzing back to the old life again

whenever he wished. But at what a cost, as they say in the novels. That

was the catch. He might hate this new order of things, but his lips

were sealed.

 

I personally came in for a good deal of quiet esteem for the way in

which I stuck to him in his adversity. I don't think Eunice had thought

much of me before, but now she seemed to feel that I had formed a

corner in golden hearts. I took advantage of this to try and pave the

way for a confession on poor old Archie's part.

 

"I wonder, Archie, old top," I said one evening after we had dined on

mutton-hash and were sitting round trying to forget it, "I wonder you

don't try another line in painting. I've heard that some of these

fellows who draw for the comic papers----"

 

Mrs. Archie nipped me in the bud.

 

"How can you suggest such a thing, Mr. Pepper? A man with Archie's

genius! I know the public is not educated up to his work, but it is

only a question of time. Archie suffers, like all pioneers, from being

ahead of his generation. But, thank Heaven, he need not sully his

genius by stooping----"

 

"No, no," I said. "Sorry. I only suggested it."

 

After that I gave more time than ever to trying to think of a solution.

Sometimes I would lie awake at night, and my manner towards

Wilberforce, my man, became so distrait that it almost caused a rift.

He asked me one morning which suit I would wear that day, and, by Jove,

I said, "Oh, any of them. I don't mind." There was a most frightful

silence, and I woke up to find him looking at me with such a dashed

wounded expression in his eyes that I had to tip him a couple of quid

to bring him round again.

 

Well, you can't go on straining your brain like that forever without

something breaking loose, and one night, just after I had gone to bed,

I got it. Yes, by gad, absolutely got it. And I was so excited that I

hopped out from under the blankets there and then, and rang up old

Archie on the phone.

 

"Archie, old scout," I said, "can the misses hear what I'm saying? Well

then, don't say anything to give the show away. Keep on saying, 'Yes?

Halloa?' so that you can tell her it was someone on the wrong wire.

I've got it, my boy. All you've got to do to solve the whole problem is

to tell her you've sold one of your pictures. Make the price as big as

you like. Come and lunch with me tomorrow at the club, and we'll settle

the details."

 

There was a pause, and then Archie's voice said, "Halloa, halloa?" It

might have been a bit disappointing, only there was a tremble in it

which made me understand how happy I had made the old boy. I went back

to bed and slept like a king.

 

        *       *       *       *       *

 

Next day we lunched together, and fixed the thing up. I have never seen

anyone so supremely braced. We examined the scheme from every angle and

there wasn't a flaw in it. The only difficulty was to hit on a

plausible purchaser. Archie suggested me, but I couldn't see it. I said

it would sound fishy. Eventually I had a brain wave, and suggested J.

Bellingwood Brackett, the American millionaire. He lives in London, and

you see his name in the papers everyday as having bought some painting

or statue or something, so why shouldn't he buy Archie's "Coming of

Summer?" And Archie said, "Exactly--why shouldn't he? And if he had had

any sense in his fat head, he would have done it long ago, dash him!"

Which shows you that dear old Archie was bracing up, for I've heard him

use much the same language in happier days about a referee.

 

He went off, crammed to the eyebrows with good food and happiness, to

tell Mrs. Archie that all was well, and that the old home was saved,

and that Canterbury mutton might now be definitely considered as off

the bill of fare.

 

He told me on the phone that night that he had made the price two

thousand pounds, because he needed the money, and what was two thousand

to a man who had been fleecing the widow and the orphan for forty odd

years without a break? I thought the price was a bit high, but I agreed

that J. Bellingwood could afford it. And happiness, you might say,

reigned supreme.

 

I don't know when I've had such a nasty jar as I got when Wilberforce

brought me the paper in bed, and I languidly opened it and this jumped

out and bit at me:

 

           BELLINGWOOD BRACKETT DISCOVERS

                 ENGLISH GENIUS

                      -----

   PAYS STUPENDOUS PRICE FOR YOUNG ARTIST'S PICTURE

                      -----

      HITHERTO UNKNOWN FUTURIST RECEIVED £2,000

 

Underneath there was a column, some of it about Archie, the rest about

the picture; and scattered over the page were two photographs of old

Archie, looking more like Pa Doughnut than anything human, and a

smudged reproduction of "The Coming of Summer"; and, believe me,

frightful as the original of that weird exhibit looked, the

reproduction had it licked to a whisper. It was one of the ghastliest

things I have ever seen.

 

Well, after the first shock I recovered a bit. After all, it was fame

for dear old Archie. As soon as I had had lunch I went down to the flat

to congratulate him.

 

He was sitting there with Mrs. Archie. He was looking a bit dazed, but

she was simmering with joy. She welcomed me as the faithful friend.

 

"Isn't it perfectly splendid, Mr. Pepper, to think that Archie's genius

has at last been recognized? How quiet he kept it. I had no idea that

Mr. Brackett was even interested in his work. I wonder how he heard of

it?"

 

"Oh, these things get about," I said. "You can't keep a good man down."

 

"Think of two thousand pounds for one picture--and the first he has

ever sold!"

 

"What beats me," I said, "is how the papers got hold of it."

 

"Oh, I sent it to the papers," said Mrs. Archie, in an offhand way.

 

"I wonder who did the writing up," I said.

 

"They would do that in the office, wouldn't they?" said Mrs. Archie.

 

"I suppose they would," I said. "They are wonders at that sort of

thing."

 

I couldn't help wishing that Archie would enter into the spirit of the

thing a little more and perk up, instead of sitting there looking like

a codfish. The thing seemed to have stunned the poor chappie.

 

"After this, Archie," I said, "all you have to do is to sit in your

studio, while the police see that the waiting line of millionaires

doesn't straggle over the pavement. They'll fight----"

 

"What's that?" said Archie, starting as if someone had dug a red-hot

needle into his calf.

 

It was only a ring at the bell, followed by a voice asking if Mr.

Ferguson was at home.

 

"Probably an interviewer," said Mrs. Archie. "I suppose we shall get no

peace for a long time to come."

 

The door opened, and the cook came in with a card. "'Renshaw Liggett,'"

said Mrs. Archie "I don't know him. Do you, Archie? It must be an

interviewer. Ask him to come in, Julia."

 

And in he came.

 

My knowledge of chappies in general, after a fairly wide experience, is

that some chappies seem to kind of convey an atmosphere of

unpleasantness the moment you come into contact with them. Renshaw

Liggett gave me this feeling directly he came in; and when he fixed me

with a sinister glance and said, "Mr. Ferguson?" I felt inclined to say

"Not guilty." I backed a step or two and jerked my head towards Archie,

and Renshaw turned the searchlight off me and switched it onto him.

 

"You are Mr. Archibald Ferguson, the artist?"

 

Archie nodded pallidly, and Renshaw nodded, as much as to say that you

couldn't deceive him. He produced a sheet of paper. It was the middle

page of the _Mail_.

 

"You authorized the publication of this?"

 

Archie nodded again.

 

"I represent Mr. Brackett. The publication of this most impudent

fiction has caused Mr. Brackett extreme annoyance, and, as it might

also lead to other and more serious consequences, I must insist that a

full denial be published without a moment's delay."

 

"What do you mean?" cried Mrs. Archie. "Are you mad?"

 

She had been standing, listening to the conversation in a sort of

trance. Now she jumped into the fight with a vim that turned Renshaw's

attention to her in a second.

 

"No, madam, I am not mad. Nor, despite the interested assertions of

certain parties whom I need not specify by name, is Mr. Brackett. It

may be news to you, Mrs. Ferguson, that an action is even now pending

in New York, whereby certain parties are attempting to show that my

client, Mr. Brackett, is non compos and should be legally restrained

from exercising control over his property. Their case is extremely

weak, for even if we admit their contention that our client did, on the

eighteenth of June last, attempt to walk up Fifth Avenue in his

pyjamas, we shall be able to show that his action was the result of an

election bet. But as the parties to whom I have alluded will

undoubtedly snatch at every straw in their efforts to prove that Mr.

Brackett is mentally infirm, the prejudicial effect of this publication

cannot be over-estimated. Unless Mr. Brackett can clear himself of the

stigma of having given two thousand pounds for this extraordinary

production of an absolutely unknown artist, the strength of his case

must be seriously shaken. I may add that my client's lavish patronage

of Art is already one of the main planks in the platform of the parties

already referred to. They adduce his extremely generous expenditure in

this direction as evidence that he is incapable of a proper handling of

his money. I need scarcely point out with what sinister pleasure,

therefore, they must have contemplated--this."

 

And he looked at "The Coming of Summer" as if it were a black beetle.

 

I must say, much as I disliked the blighter, I couldn't help feeling

that he had right on his side. It hadn't occurred to me in quite that

light before, but, considering it calmly now, I could see that a man

who would disgorge two thousand of the best for Archie's Futurist

masterpiece might very well step straight into the nut factory, and no

questions asked.

 

Mrs. Archie came right back at him, as game as you please.

 

"I am sorry for Mr. Brackett's domestic troubles, but my husband can

prove without difficulty that he did buy the picture. Can't you, dear?"

 

Archie, extremely white about the gills, looked at the ceiling and at

the floor and at me and Renshaw Liggett.

 

"No," he said finally. "I can't. Because he didn't."

 

"Exactly," said Renshaw, "and I must ask you to publish that statement

in tomorrow's papers without fail." He rose, and made for the door. "My

client has no objection to young artists advertising themselves,

realizing that this is an age of strenuous competition, but he firmly

refuses to permit them to do it at his expense. Good afternoon."

 

And he legged it, leaving behind him one of the most chunky silences I

have ever been mixed up in. For the life of me, I couldn't see who was

to make the next remark. I was jolly certain that it wasn't going to be

me.

 

Eventually Mrs. Archie opened the proceedings.

 

"What does it mean?"

 

Archie turned to me with a sort of frozen calm.

 

"Reggie, would you mind stepping into the kitchen and asking Julia for

this week's _Funny Slices_? I know she has it."

 

He was right. She unearthed it from a cupboard. I trotted back with it

to the sitting room. Archie took the paper from me, and held it out to

his wife, Doughnuts uppermost.

 

"Look!" he said.

 

She looked.

 

"I do them. I have done them every week for three years. No, don't

speak yet. Listen. This is where all my money came from, all the money

I lost when B. and O. P. Rails went smash. And this is where the money

came from to buy 'The Coming of Summer.' It wasn't Brackett who bought

it; it was myself."

 

Mrs. Archie was devouring the Doughnuts with wide-open eyes. I caught a

glimpse of them myself, and only just managed not to laugh, for it was

the set of pictures where Pa Doughnut tries to fix the electric light,

one of the very finest things dear old Archie had ever done.

 

"I don't understand," she said.

 

"I draw these things. I have sold my soul."

 

"Archie!"

 

He winced, but stuck to it bravely.

 

"Yes, I knew how you would feel about it, and that was why I didn't

dare to tell you, and why we fixed up this story about old Brackett. I

couldn't bear to live on you any longer, and to see you roughing it

here, when we might be having all the money we wanted."

 

Suddenly, like a boiler exploding, she began to laugh.

 

"They're the funniest things I ever saw in my life," she gurgled. "Mr.

Pepper, do look! He's trying to cut the electric wire with the

scissors, and everything blazes up. And you've been hiding this from me

all that time!"

 

Archie goggled dumbly. She dived at a table, and picked up a magazine,

pointing to one of the advertisement pages.

 

"Read!" she cried. "Read it aloud."

 

And in a shaking voice Archie read:

 

   You think you are perfectly well, don't you? You wake up in the

   morning and spring out of bed and say to yourself that you have

   never been better in your life. You're wrong! Unless you are

   avoiding coffee as you would avoid the man who always tells you

   the smart things his little boy said yesterday, and drinking

                         SAFETY FIRST MOLASSINE

   for breakfast, you cannot be

                             Perfectly Well.

 

   It is a physical impossibility. Coffee contains an appreciable

   quantity of the deadly drug caffeine, and therefore----

 

"I wrote _that_," she said. "And I wrote the advertisement of the

Spiller Baby Food on page ninety-four, and the one about the Preeminent

Breakfast Sausage on page eighty-six. Oh, Archie, dear, the torments I

have been through, fearing that you would some day find me out and

despise me. I couldn't help it. I had no private means, and I didn't

make enough out of my poetry to keep me in hats. I learned to write

advertisements four years ago at a correspondence school, and I've been

doing them ever since. And now I don't mind your knowing, now that you

have told me this perfectly splendid news. Archie!"

 

She rushed into his arms like someone charging in for a bowl of soup at

a railway station buffet. And I drifted out. It seemed to me that this

was a scene in which I was not on. I sidled to the door, and slid

forth. They didn't notice me. My experience is that nobody ever

does--much.

 

 

 

 

THE TEST CASE

 

 

Well-meaning chappies at the club sometimes amble up to me and tap me

on the wishbone, and say "Reggie, old top,"--my name's Reggie

Pepper--"you ought to get married, old man." Well, what I mean to say

is, it's all very well, and I see their point and all that sort of

thing; but it takes two to make a marriage, and to date I haven't met a

girl who didn't seem to think the contract was too big to be taken on.

 

Looking back, it seems to me that I came nearer to getting over the

home-plate with Ann Selby than with most of the others. In fact, but

for circumstances over which I had no dashed control, I am inclined to

think that we should have brought it off. I'm bound to say that, now

that what the poet chappie calls the first fine frenzy has been on the

ice for awhile and I am able to consider the thing calmly, I am deuced

glad we didn't. She was one of those strong-minded girls, and I hate to

think of what she would have done to me.

 

At the time, though, I was frightfully in love, and, for quite a while

after she definitely gave me the mitten, I lost my stroke at golf so

completely that a child could have given me a stroke a hole and got

away with it. I was all broken up, and I contend to this day that I was

dashed badly treated.

 

Let me give you what they call the data.

 

One day I was lunching with Ann, and was just proposing to her as

usual, when, instead of simply refusing me, as she generally did, she

fixed me with a thoughtful eye and kind of opened her heart.

 

"Do you know, Reggie, I am in doubt."

 

"Give me the benefit of it," I said. Which I maintain was pretty good

on the spur of the moment, but didn't get a hand. She simply ignored

it, and went on.

 

"Sometimes," she said, "you seem to me entirely vapid and brainless; at

other times you say or do things which suggest that there are

possibilities in you; that, properly stimulated and encouraged, you

might overcome the handicap of large private means and do something

worthwhile. I wonder if that is simply my imagination?" She watched me

very closely as she spoke.

 

"Rather not. You've absolutely summed me up. With you beside me,

stimulating and all that sort of rot, don't you know, I should show a

flash of speed which would astonish you."

 

"I wish I could be certain."

 

"Take a chance on it."

 

She shook her head.

 

"I must be certain. Marriage is such a gamble. I have just been staying

with my sister Hilda and her husband----"

 

"Dear old Harold Bodkin. I know him well. In fact, I've a standing

invitation to go down there and stay as long as I like. Harold is one

of my best pals. Harold is a corker. Good old Harold is----"

 

"I would rather you didn't eulogize him, Reggie. I am extremely angry

with Harold. He is making Hilda perfectly miserable."

 

"What on earth do you mean? Harold wouldn't dream of hurting a fly.

He's one of those dreamy, sentimental chumps who----"

 

"It is precisely his sentimentality which is at the bottom of the whole

trouble. You know, of course, that Hilda is not his first wife?"

 

"That's right. His first wife died about five years ago."

 

"He still cherishes her memory."

 

"Very sporting of him."

 

"Is it! If you were a girl, how would you like to be married to a man

who was always making you bear in mind that you were only number two in

his affections; a man whose idea of a pleasant conversation was a

string of anecdotes illustrating what a dear woman his first wife was.

A man who expected you to upset all your plans if they clashed with

some anniversary connected with his other marriage?"

 

"That does sound pretty rotten. Does Harold do all that?"

 

"That's only a small part of what he does. Why, if you will believe me,

every evening at seven o'clock he goes and shuts himself up in a little

room at the top of the house, and meditates."

 

"What on earth does he do that for?"

 

"Apparently his first wife died at seven in the evening. There is a

portrait of her in the room. I believe he lays flowers in front of it.

And Hilda is expected to greet him on his return with a happy smile."

 

"Why doesn't she kick?"

 

"I have been trying to persuade her to, but she won't. She just

pretends she doesn't mind. She has a nervous, sensitive temperament,

and the thing is slowly crushing her. Don't talk to me of Harold."

 

Considering that she had started him as a topic, I thought this pretty

unjust. I didn't want to talk of Harold. I wanted to talk about myself.

 

"Well, what has all this got to do with your not wanting to marry me?"

I said.

 

"Nothing, except that it is an illustration of the risks a woman runs

when she marries a man of a certain type."

 

"Great Scott! You surely don't class me with Harold?"

 

"Yes, in a way you are very much alike. You have both always had large

private means, and have never had the wholesome discipline of work."

 

"But, dash it, Harold, on your showing, is an absolute nut. Why should

you think that I would be anything like that?"

 

"There's always the risk."

 

A hot idea came to me.

 

"Look here, Ann," I said, "Suppose I pull off some stunt which only a

deuced brainy chappie could get away with? Would you marry me then?"

 

"Certainly. What do you propose to do?"

 

"Do! What do I propose to do! Well, er, to be absolutely frank, at the

moment I don't quite know."

 

"You never will know, Reggie. You're one of the idle rich, and your

brain, if you ever had one, has atrophied."

 

Well, that seemed to me to put the lid on it. I didn't mind a

heart-to-heart talk, but this was mere abuse. I changed the subject.

 

"What would you like after that fish?" I said coldly.

 

You know how it is when you get an idea. For awhile it sort of simmers

inside you, and then suddenly it sizzles up like a rocket, and there

you are, right up against it. That's what happened now. I went away

from that luncheon, vaguely determined to pull off some stunt which

would prove that I was right there with the gray matter, but without

any clear notion of what I was going to do. Side by side with this in

my mind was the case of dear old Harold. When I wasn't brooding on the

stunt, I was brooding on Harold. I was fond of the good old lad, and I

hated the idea of his slowly wrecking the home purely by being a chump.

And all of a sudden the two things clicked together like a couple of

chemicals, and there I was with a corking plan for killing two birds

with one stone--putting one across that would startle and impress Ann,

and at the same time healing the breach between Harold and Hilda.

 

My idea was that, in a case like this, it's no good trying opposition.

What you want is to work it so that the chappie quits of his own

accord. You want to egg him on to overdoing the thing till he gets so

that he says to himself, "Enough! Never again!" That was what was going

to happen to Harold.

 

When you're going to do a thing, there's nothing like making a quick

start. I wrote to Harold straight away, proposing myself for a visit.

And Harold wrote back telling me to come right along.

 

Harold and Hilda lived alone in a large house. I believe they did a

good deal of entertaining at times, but on this occasion I was the only

guest. The only other person of note in the place was Ponsonby, the

butler.

 

Of course, if Harold had been an ordinary sort of chappie, what I had

come to do would have been a pretty big order. I don't mind many

things, but I do hesitate to dig into my host's intimate private

affairs. But Harold was such a simple-minded Johnnie, so grateful for a

little sympathy and advice, that my job wasn't so very difficult.

 

It wasn't as if he minded talking about Amelia, which was his first

wife's name. The difficulty was to get him to talk of anything else. I

began to understand what Ann meant by saying it was tough on Hilda.

 

I'm bound to say the old boy was clay in my hands. People call me a

chump, but Harold was a super-chump, and I did what I liked with him.

The second morning of my visit, after breakfast, he grabbed me by the

arm.