Part 3 out of 4
And the front door opened, and Freddie came out on to the veranda, for
all the world as if he had been taking a cue.
He looked at the girl, and the girl looked at him. I looked at the
ground, and the kid looked at the toffee.
"Kiss Fweddie!" he yelled. "Kiss Fweddie!"
The girl was still holding up the toffee, and the kid did what Jimmy
Pinkerton would have called "business of outstretched hands" towards
"Kiss Fweddie!" he shrieked.
"What does this mean?" said the girl, turning to me.
"You'd better give it to him, don't you know," I said. "He'll go on
till you do."
She gave the kid his toffee, and he subsided. Poor old Freddie still
stood there gaping, without a word.
"What does it mean?" said the girl again. Her face was pink, and her
eyes were sparkling in the sort of way, don't you know, that makes a
fellow feel as if he hadn't any bones in him, if you know what I mean.
Did you ever tread on your partner's dress at a dance and tear it, and
see her smile at you like an angel and say: "_Please_ don't apologize.
It's nothing," and then suddenly meet her clear blue eyes and feel as
if you had stepped on the teeth of a rake and had the handle jump up
and hit you in the face? Well, that's how Freddie's Angela looked.
"_Well?_" she said, and her teeth gave a little click.
I gulped. Then I said it was nothing. Then I said it was nothing much.
Then I said, "Oh, well, it was this way." And, after a few brief
remarks about Jimmy Pinkerton, I told her all about it. And all the
while Idiot Freddie stood there gaping, without a word.
And the girl didn't speak, either. She just stood listening.
And then she began to laugh. I never heard a girl laugh so much. She
leaned against the side of the veranda and shrieked. And all the while
Freddie, the World's Champion Chump, stood there, saying nothing.
Well I sidled towards the steps. I had said all I had to say, and it
seemed to me that about here the stage-direction "exit" was written in
my part. I gave poor old Freddie up in despair. If only he had said a
word, it might have been all right. But there he stood, speechless.
What can a fellow do with a fellow like that?
Just out of sight of the house I met Jimmy Pinkerton.
"Hello, Reggie!" he said. "I was just coming to you. Where's the kid?
We must have a big rehearsal to-day."
"No good," I said sadly. "It's all over. The thing's finished. Poor
dear old Freddie has made an ass of himself and killed the whole show."
"Tell me," said Jimmy.
I told him.
"Fluffed in his lines, did he?" said Jimmy, nodding thoughtfully. "It's
always the way with these amateurs. We must go back at once. Things
look bad, but it may not be too late," he said as we started. "Even now
a few well-chosen words from a man of the world, and----"
"Great Scot!" I cried. "Look!"
In front of the cottage stood six children, a nurse, and the fellow
from the grocer's staring. From the windows of the houses opposite
projected about four hundred heads of both sexes, staring. Down the
road came galloping five more children, a dog, three men, and a boy,
about to stare. And on our porch, as unconscious of the spectators as
if they had been alone in the Sahara, stood Freddie and Angela, clasped
in each other's arms.
* * * * *
Dear old Freddie may have been fluffy in his lines, but, by George, his
business had certainly gone with a bang!
RALLYING ROUND OLD GEORGE
I think one of the rummiest affairs I was ever mixed up with, in the
course of a lifetime devoted to butting into other people's business,
was that affair of George Lattaker at Monte Carlo. I wouldn't bore you,
don't you know, for the world, but I think you ought to hear about it.
We had come to Monte Carlo on the yacht _Circe_, belonging to an
old sportsman of the name of Marshall. Among those present were myself,
my man Voules, a Mrs. Vanderley, her daughter Stella, Mrs. Vanderley's
maid Pilbeam and George.
George was a dear old pal of mine. In fact, it was I who had worked him
into the party. You see, George was due to meet his Uncle Augustus, who
was scheduled, George having just reached his twenty-fifth birthday, to
hand over to him a legacy left by one of George's aunts, for which he
had been trustee. The aunt had died when George was quite a kid. It was
a date that George had been looking forward to; for, though he had a
sort of income--an income, after-all, is only an income, whereas a
chunk of o' goblins is a pile. George's uncle was in Monte Carlo, and
had written George that he would come to London and unbelt; but it
struck me that a far better plan was for George to go to his uncle at
Monte Carlo instead. Kill two birds with one stone, don't you know. Fix
up his affairs and have a pleasant holiday simultaneously. So George
had tagged along, and at the time when the trouble started we were
anchored in Monaco Harbour, and Uncle Augustus was due next day.
* * * * *
Looking back, I may say that, so far as I was mixed up in it, the
thing began at seven o'clock in the morning, when I was aroused from
a dreamless sleep by the dickens of a scrap in progress outside my
state-room door. The chief ingredients were a female voice that sobbed
and said: "Oh, Harold!" and a male voice "raised in anger," as they say,
which after considerable difficulty, I identified as Voules's. I hardly
recognized it. In his official capacity Voules talks exactly like you'd
expect a statue to talk, if it could. In private, however, he evidently
relaxed to some extent, and to have that sort of thing going on in my
midst at that hour was too much for me.
"Voules!" I yelled.
Spion Kop ceased with a jerk. There was silence, then sobs diminishing
in the distance, and finally a tap at the door. Voules entered with
that impressive, my-lord-the-carriage-waits look which is what I pay
him for. You wouldn't have believed he had a drop of any sort of
emotion in him.
"Voules," I said, "are you under the delusion that I'm going to be
Queen of the May? You've called me early all right. It's only just
"I understood you to summon me, sir."
"I summoned you to find out why you were making that infernal noise
"I owe you an apology, sir. I am afraid that in the heat of the moment
I raised my voice."
"It's a wonder you didn't raise the roof. Who was that with you?"
"Miss Pilbeam, sir; Mrs. Vanderley's maid."
"What was all the trouble about?"
"I was breaking our engagement, sir."
I couldn't help gaping. Somehow one didn't associate Voules with
engagements. Then it struck me that I'd no right to butt in on his
secret sorrows, so I switched the conversation.
"I think I'll get up," I said.
"I can't wait to breakfast with the rest. Can you get me some right
So I had a solitary breakfast and went up on deck to smoke. It was
a lovely morning. Blue sea, gleaming Casino, cloudless sky, and all
the rest of the hippodrome. Presently the others began to trickle up.
Stella Vanderley was one of the first. I thought she looked a bit
pale and tired. She said she hadn't slept well. That accounted for
it. Unless you get your eight hours, where are you?
"Seen George?" I asked.
I couldn't help thinking the name seemed to freeze her a bit. Which was
queer, because all the voyage she and George had been particularly
close pals. In fact, at any moment I expected George to come to me and
slip his little hand in mine, and whisper: "I've done it, old scout;
she loves muh!"
"I have not seen Mr. Lattaker," she said.
I didn't pursue the subject. George's stock was apparently low that
The next item in the day's programme occurred a few minutes later when
the morning papers arrived.
Mrs. Vanderley opened hers and gave a scream.
"The poor, dear Prince!" she said.
"What a shocking thing!" said old Marshall.
"I knew him in Vienna," said Mrs. Vanderley. "He waltzed divinely."
Then I got at mine and saw what they were talking about. The paper was
full of it. It seemed that late the night before His Serene Highness
the Prince of Saxburg-Leignitz (I always wonder why they call these
chaps "Serene") had been murderously assaulted in a dark street on
his way back from the Casino to his yacht. Apparently he had developed
the habit of going about without an escort, and some rough-neck, taking
advantage of this, had laid for him and slugged him with considerable
vim. The Prince had been found lying pretty well beaten up and insensible
in the street by a passing pedestrian, and had been taken back to his
yacht, where he still lay unconscious.
"This is going to do somebody no good," I said. "What do you get for
slugging a Serene Highness? I wonder if they'll catch the fellow?"
"'Later,'" read old Marshall, "'the pedestrian who discovered His
Serene Highness proves to have been Mr. Denman Sturgis, the eminent
private investigator. Mr. Sturgis has offered his services to the
police, and is understood to be in possession of a most important
clue.' That's the fellow who had charge of that kidnapping case in
Chicago. If anyone can catch the man, he can."
About five minutes later, just as the rest of them were going to move
off to breakfast, a boat hailed us and came alongside. A tall, thin man
came up the gangway. He looked round the group, and fixed on old
Marshall as the probable owner of the yacht.
"Good morning," he said. "I believe you have a Mr. Lattaker on
board--Mr. George Lattaker?"
"Yes," said Marshall. "He's down below. Want to see him? Whom shall I
"He would not know my name. I should like to see him for a moment on
somewhat urgent business."
"Take a seat. He'll be up in a moment. Reggie, my boy, go and hurry him
I went down to George's state-room.
"George, old man!" I shouted.
No answer. I opened the door and went in. The room was empty. What's
more, the bunk hadn't been slept in. I don't know when I've been more
surprised. I went on deck.
"He isn't there," I said.
"Not there!" said old Marshall. "Where is he, then? Perhaps he's gone
for a stroll ashore. But he'll be back soon for breakfast. You'd better
wait for him. Have you breakfasted? No? Then will you join us?"
The man said he would, and just then the gong went and they trooped
down, leaving me alone on deck.
I sat smoking and thinking, and then smoking a bit more, when I thought
I heard somebody call my name in a sort of hoarse whisper. I looked
over my shoulder, and, by Jove, there at the top of the gangway in
evening dress, dusty to the eyebrows and without a hat, was dear old
"Great Scot!" I cried.
"'Sh!" he whispered. "Anyone about?"
"They're all down at breakfast."
He gave a sigh of relief, sank into my chair, and closed his eyes. I
regarded him with pity. The poor old boy looked a wreck.
"I say!" I said, touching him on the shoulder.
He leaped out of the chair with a smothered yell.
"Did you do that? What did you do it for? What's the sense of it? How
do you suppose you can ever make yourself popular if you go about
touching people on the shoulder? My nerves are sticking a yard out of
my body this morning, Reggie!"
"Yes, old boy?"
"I did a murder last night."
"It's the sort of thing that might happen to anybody. Directly Stella
Vanderley broke off our engagement I----"
"Broke off your engagement? How long were you engaged?"
"About two minutes. It may have been less. I hadn't a stop-watch. I
proposed to her at ten last night in the saloon. She accepted me. I was
just going to kiss her when we heard someone coming. I went out. Coming
along the corridor was that infernal what's-her-name--Mrs. Vanderley's
maid--Pilbeam. Have you ever been accepted by the girl you love,
"Never. I've been refused dozens----"
"Then you won't understand how I felt. I was off my head with joy. I
hardly knew what I was doing. I just felt I had to kiss the nearest
thing handy. I couldn't wait. It might have been the ship's cat. It
wasn't. It was Pilbeam."
"You kissed her?"
"I kissed her. And just at that moment the door of the saloon opened
and out came Stella."
"Exactly what I said. It flashed across me that to Stella, dear girl,
not knowing the circumstances, the thing might seem a little odd. It
did. She broke off the engagement, and I got out the dinghy and rowed
off. I was mad. I didn't care what became of me. I simply wanted to
forget. I went ashore. I--It's just on the cards that I may have drowned
my sorrows a bit. Anyhow, I don't remember a thing, except that I can
recollect having the deuce of a scrap with somebody in a dark street
and somebody falling, and myself falling, and myself legging it for all
I was worth. I woke up this morning in the Casino gardens. I've lost my
I dived for the paper.
"Read," I said. "It's all there."
"Good heavens!" he said.
"You didn't do a thing to His Serene Nibs, did you?"
"Reggie, this is awful."
"Cheer up. They say he'll recover."
"That doesn't matter."
"It does to him."
He read the paper again.
"It says they've a clue."
"They always say that."
"My hat. I must have dropped it during the scrap. This man, Denman
Sturgis, must have found it. It had my name in it!"
"George," I said, "you mustn't waste time. Oh!"
He jumped a foot in the air.
"Don't do it!" he said, irritably. "Don't bark like that. What's the
"A tall, thin man with an eye like a gimlet. He arrived just before you
did. He's down in the saloon now, having breakfast. He said he wanted
to see you on business, and wouldn't give his name. I didn't like the
look of him from the first. It's this fellow Sturgis. It must be."
"I feel it. I'm sure of it."
"Had he a hat?"
"Of course he had a hat."
"Fool! I mean mine. Was he carrying a hat?"
"By Jove, he _was_ carrying a parcel. George, old scout, you must
get a move on. You must light out if you want to spend the rest of your
life out of prison. Slugging a Serene Highness is _lese-majeste_.
It's worse than hitting a policeman. You haven't got a moment to
"But I haven't any money. Reggie, old man, lend me a tenner or
something. I must get over the frontier into Italy at once. I'll wire
my uncle to meet me in----"
"Look out," I cried; "there's someone coming!"
He dived out of sight just as Voules came up the companion-way,
carrying a letter on a tray.
"What's the matter!" I said. "What do you want?"
"I beg your pardon, sir. I thought I heard Mr. Lattaker's voice. A
letter has arrived for him."
"He isn't here."
"No, sir. Shall I remove the letter?"
"No; give it to me. I'll give it to him when he comes."
"Very good, sir."
"Oh, Voules! Are they all still at breakfast? The gentleman who came to
see Mr. Lattaker? Still hard at it?"
"He is at present occupied with a kippered herring, sir."
"Ah! That's all, Voules."
"Thank you, sir."
He retired. I called to George, and he came out.
"Who was it?"
"Only Voules. He brought a letter for you. They're all at breakfast
still. The sleuth's eating kippers."
"That'll hold him for a bit. Full of bones." He began to read his
letter. He gave a kind of grunt of surprise at the first paragraph.
"Well, I'm hanged!" he said, as he finished.
"Reggie, this is a queer thing."
He handed me the letter, and directly I started in on it I saw why he
had grunted. This is how it ran:
"My dear George--I shall be seeing you to-morrow, I hope; but I
think it is better, before we meet, to prepare you for a curious
situation that has arisen in connection with the legacy which
your father inherited from your Aunt Emily, and which you are
expecting me, as trustee, to hand over to you, now that you have
reached your twenty-fifth birthday. You have doubtless heard
your father speak of your twin-brother Alfred, who was lost or
kidnapped--which, was never ascertained--when you were both
babies. When no news was received of him for so many years, it
was supposed that he was dead. Yesterday, however, I received a
letter purporting that he had been living all this time in Buenos
Ayres as the adopted son of a wealthy South American, and has
only recently discovered his identity. He states that he is on
his way to meet me, and will arrive any day now. Of course, like
other claimants, he may prove to be an impostor, but meanwhile
his intervention will, I fear, cause a certain delay before I can
hand over your money to you. It will be necessary to go into a
thorough examination of credentials, etc., and this will take
some time. But I will go fully into the matter with you when we
meet.--Your affectionate uncle,
I read it through twice, and the second time I had one of those ideas I
do sometimes get, though admittedly a chump of the premier class. I
have seldom had such a thoroughly corking brain-wave.
"Why, old top," I said, "this lets you out."
"Lets me out of half the darned money, if that's what you mean. If this
chap's not an imposter--and there's no earthly reason to suppose he is,
though I've never heard my father say a word about him--we shall have
to split the money. Aunt Emily's will left the money to my father, or,
failing him, his 'offspring.' I thought that meant me, but apparently
there are a crowd of us. I call it rotten work, springing unexpected
offspring on a fellow at the eleventh hour like this."
"Why, you chump," I said, "it's going to save you. This lets you out of
your spectacular dash across the frontier. All you've got to do is to
stay here and be your brother Alfred. It came to me in a flash."
He looked at me in a kind of dazed way.
"You ought to be in some sort of a home, Reggie."
"Ass!" I cried. "Don't you understand? Have you ever heard of
twin-brothers who weren't exactly alike? Who's to say you aren't
Alfred if you swear you are? Your uncle will be there to back you
up that you have a brother Alfred."
"And Alfred will be there to call me a liar."
"He won't. It's not as if you had to keep it up for the rest of your
life. It's only for an hour or two, till we can get this detective
off the yacht. We sail for England to-morrow morning."
At last the thing seemed to sink into him. His face brightened.
"Why, I really do believe it would work," he said.
"Of course it would work. If they want proof, show them your mole. I'll
swear George hadn't one."
"And as Alfred I should get a chance of talking to Stella and making
things all right for George. Reggie, old top, you're a genius."
"Well, it's only sometimes. I can't keep it up."
And just then there was a gentle cough behind us. We spun round.
"What the devil are you doing here, Voules," I said.
"I beg your pardon, sir. I have heard all."
I looked at George. George looked at me.
"Voules is all right," I said. "Decent Voules! Voules wouldn't give us
away, would you, Voules?"
"But, Voules, old man," I said, "be sensible. What would you gain by
"Financially, sir, nothing."
"Whereas, by keeping quiet"--I tapped him on the chest--"by holding
your tongue, Voules, by saying nothing about it to anybody, Voules, old
fellow, you might gain a considerable sum."
"Am I to understand, sir, that, because you are rich and I am poor, you
think that you can buy my self-respect?"
"Oh, come!" I said.
"How much?" said Voules.
So we switched to terms. You wouldn't believe the way the man haggled.
You'd have thought a decent, faithful servant would have been delighted
to oblige one in a little matter like that for a fiver. But not Voules.
By no means. It was a hundred down, and the promise of another hundred
when we had got safely away, before he was satisfied. But we fixed it
up at last, and poor old George got down to his state-room and changed
He'd hardly gone when the breakfast-party came on deck.
"Did you meet him?" I asked.
"Meet whom?" said old Marshall.
"George's twin-brother Alfred."
"I didn't know George had a brother.
"Nor did he till yesterday. It's a long story. He was kidnapped in
infancy, and everyone thought he was dead. George had a letter from his
uncle about him yesterday. I shouldn't wonder if that's where George
has gone, to see his uncle and find out about it. In the meantime,
Alfred has arrived. He's down in George's state-room now, having a
brush-up. It'll amaze you, the likeness between them. You'll think it
_is_ George at first. Look! Here he comes."
And up came George, brushed and clean, in an ordinary yachting suit.
They were rattled. There was no doubt about that. They stood looking at
him, as if they thought there was a catch somewhere, but weren't quite
certain where it was. I introduced him, and still they looked doubtful.
"Mr. Pepper tells me my brother is not on board," said George.
"It's an amazing likeness," said old Marshall.
"Is my brother like me?" asked George amiably.
"No one could tell you apart," I said.
"I suppose twins always are alike," said George. "But if it ever came
to a question of identification, there would be one way of
distinguishing us. Do you know George well, Mr. Pepper?"
"He's a dear old pal of mine."
"You've been swimming with him perhaps?"
"Every day last August."
"Well, then, you would have noticed it if he had had a mole like this
on the back of his neck, wouldn't you?" He turned his back and stooped
and showed the mole. His collar hid it at ordinary times. I had seen it
often when we were bathing together.
"Has George a mole like that?" he asked.
"No," I said. "Oh, no."
"You would have noticed it if he had?"
"Yes," I said. "Oh, yes."
"I'm glad of that," said George. "It would be a nuisance not to be able
to prove one's own identity."
That seemed to satisfy them all. They couldn't get away from it. It
seemed to me that from now on the thing was a walk-over. And I think
George felt the same, for, when old Marshall asked him if he had had
breakfast, he said he had not, went below, and pitched in as if he
hadn't a care in the world.
Everything went right till lunch-time. George sat in the shade on the
foredeck talking to Stella most of the time. When the gong went and the
rest had started to go below, he drew me back. He was beaming.
"It's all right," he said. "What did I tell you?"
"What did you tell me?"
"Why, about Stella. Didn't I say that Alfred would fix things for
George? I told her she looked worried, and got her to tell me what the
trouble was. And then----"
"You must have shown a flash of speed if you got her to confide in you
after knowing you for about two hours."
"Perhaps I did," said George modestly, "I had no notion, till I became
him, what a persuasive sort of chap my brother Alfred was. Anyway, she
told me all about it, and I started in to show her that George was a
pretty good sort of fellow on the whole, who oughtn't to be turned down
for what was evidently merely temporary insanity. She saw my point."
"And it's all right?"
"Absolutely, if only we can produce George. How much longer does that
infernal sleuth intend to stay here? He seems to have taken root."
"I fancy he thinks that you're bound to come back sooner or later, and
is waiting for you."
"He's an absolute nuisance," said George.
We were moving towards the companion way, to go below for lunch, when a
boat hailed us. We went to the side and looked over.
"It's my uncle," said George.
A stout man came up the gangway.
"Halloa, George!" he said. "Get my letter?"
"I think you are mistaking me for my brother," said George. "My name is
"I am George's brother Alfred. Are you my Uncle Augustus?"
The stout man stared at him.
"You're very like George," he said.
"So everyone tells me."
"And you're really Alfred?"
"I'd like to talk business with you for a moment."
He cocked his eye at me. I sidled off and went below.
At the foot of the companion-steps I met Voules,
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Voules. "If it would be convenient I
should be glad to have the afternoon off."
I'm bound to say I rather liked his manner. Absolutely normal. Not a
trace of the fellow-conspirator about it. I gave him the afternoon off.
I had lunch--George didn't show up--and as I was going out I was
waylaid by the girl Pilbeam. She had been crying.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but did Mr. Voules ask you for the afternoon?"
I didn't see what business if was of hers, but she seemed all worked up
about it, so I told her.
"Yes, I have given him the afternoon off."
She broke down--absolutely collapsed. Devilish unpleasant it was. I'm
hopeless in a situation like this. After I'd said, "There, there!"
which didn't seem to help much, I hadn't any remarks to make.
"He s-said he was going to the tables to gamble away all his savings
and then shoot himself, because he had nothing left to live for."
I suddenly remembered the scrap in the small hours outside my
state-room door. I hate mysteries. I meant to get to the bottom of
this. I couldn't have a really first-class valet like Voules going
about the place shooting himself up. Evidently the girl Pilbeam was
at the bottom of the thing. I questioned her. She sobbed.
I questioned her more. I was firm. And eventually she yielded up the
facts. Voules had seen George kiss her the night before; that was the
Things began to piece themselves together. I went up to interview George.
There was going to be another job for persuasive Alfred. Voules's mind
had got to be eased as Stella's had been. I couldn't afford to lose a
fellow with his genius for preserving a trouser-crease.
I found George on the foredeck. What is it Shakespeare or somebody says
about some fellow's face being sicklied o'er with the pale cast of
care? George's was like that. He looked green.
"Finished with your uncle?" I said.
He grinned a ghostly grin.
"There isn't any uncle," he said. "There isn't any Alfred. And there
isn't any money."
"Explain yourself, old top," I said.
"It won't take long. The old crook has spent every penny of the
trust money. He's been at it for years, ever since I was a kid. When
the time came to cough up, and I was due to see that he did it, he
went to the tables in the hope of a run of luck, and lost the last
remnant of the stuff. He had to find a way of holding me for a while
and postponing the squaring of accounts while he got away, and he
invented this twin-brother business. He knew I should find out sooner
or later, but meanwhile he would be able to get off to South America,
which he has done. He's on his way now."
"You let him go?"
"What could I do? I can't afford to make a fuss with that man Sturgis
around. I can't prove there's no Alfred when my only chance of avoiding
prison is to be Alfred."
"Well, you've made things right for yourself with Stella Vanderley,
anyway," I said, to cheer him up.
"What's the good of that now? I've hardly any money and no prospects.
How can I marry her?"
"It looks to me, old top," I said at last, "as if things were in a bit
of a mess."
"You've guessed it," said poor old George.
I spent the afternoon musing on Life. If you come to think of it, what
a queer thing Life is! So unlike anything else, don't you know, if you
see what I mean. At any moment you may be strolling peacefully along,
and all the time Life's waiting around the corner to fetch you one. You
can't tell when you may be going to get it. It's all dashed puzzling.
Here was poor old George, as well-meaning a fellow as ever stepped,
getting swatted all over the ring by the hand of Fate. Why? That's what
I asked myself. Just Life, don't you know. That's all there was about
It was close on six o'clock when our third visitor of the day arrived.
We were sitting on the afterdeck in the cool of the evening--old
Marshall, Denman Sturgis, Mrs. Vanderley, Stella, George, and I--when
he came up. We had been talking of George, and old Marshall was
suggesting the advisability of sending out search-parties. He was
worried. So was Stella Vanderley. So, for that matter, were George and
I, only not for the same reason.
We were just arguing the thing out when the visitor appeared. He was a
well-built, stiff sort of fellow. He spoke with a German accent.
"Mr. Marshall?" he said. "I am Count Fritz von Coeslin, equerry to His
Serene Highness"--he clicked his heels together and saluted--"the
Prince of Saxburg-Leignitz."
Mrs. Vanderley jumped up.
"Why, Count," she said, "what ages since we met in Vienna! You
"Could I ever forget? And the charming Miss Stella, she is well, I
"Stella, you remember Count Fritz?"
Stella shook hands with him.
"And how is the poor, dear Prince?" asked Mrs. Vanderley. "What a
terrible thing to have happened!"
"I rejoice to say that my high-born master is better. He has regained
consciousness and is sitting up and taking nourishment."
"That's good," said old Marshall.
"In a spoon only," sighed the Count. "Mr. Marshall, with your
permission I should like a word with Mr. Sturgis."
The gimlet-eyed sportsman came forward.
"I am Denman Sturgis, at your service."
"The deuce you are! What are you doing here?"
"Mr. Sturgis," explained the Count, "graciously volunteered his
"I know. But what's he doing here?"
"I am waiting for Mr. George Lattaker, Mr. Marshall."
"You have not found him?" asked the Count anxiously.
"Not yet, Count; but I hope to do so shortly. I know what he looks like
now. This gentleman is his twin-brother. They are doubles."
"You are sure this gentleman is not Mr. George Lattaker?"
George put his foot down firmly on the suggestion.
"Don't go mixing me up with my brother," he said. "I am Alfred. You can
tell me by my mole."
He exhibited the mole. He was taking no risks.
The Count clicked his tongue regretfully.
"I am sorry," he said.
George didn't offer to console him,
"Don't worry," said Sturgis. "He won't escape me. I shall find him."
"Do, Mr. Sturgis, do. And quickly. Find swiftly that noble young man."
"What?" shouted George.
"That noble young man, George Lattaker, who, at the risk of his life,
saved my high-born master from the assassin."
George sat down suddenly.
"I don't understand," he said feebly.
"We were wrong, Mr. Sturgis," went on the Count. "We leaped to the
conclusion--was it not so?--that the owner of the hat you found was
also the assailant of my high-born master. We were wrong. I have heard
the story from His Serene Highness's own lips. He was passing down a
dark street when a ruffian in a mask sprang out upon him. Doubtless he
had been followed from the Casino, where he had been winning heavily.
My high-born master was taken by surprise. He was felled. But before he
lost consciousness he perceived a young man in evening dress, wearing
the hat you found, running swiftly towards him. The hero engaged the
assassin in combat, and my high-born master remembers no more. His
Serene Highness asks repeatedly, 'Where is my brave preserver?' His
gratitude is princely. He seeks for this young man to reward him. Ah,
you should be proud of your brother, sir!"
"Thanks," said George limply.
"And you, Mr. Sturgis, you must redouble your efforts. You must search
the land; you must scour the sea to find George Lattaker."
"He needn't take all that trouble," said a voice from the gangway.
It was Voules. His face was flushed, his hat was on the back of his
head, and he was smoking a fat cigar.
"I'll tell you where to find George Lattaker!" he shouted.
He glared at George, who was staring at him.
"Yes, look at me," he yelled. "Look at me. You won't be the first this
afternoon who's stared at the mysterious stranger who won for two hours
without a break. I'll be even with you now, Mr. Blooming Lattaker. I'll
learn you to break a poor man's heart. Mr. Marshall and gents, this
morning I was on deck, and I over'eard 'im plotting to put up a game on
you. They'd spotted that gent there as a detective, and they arranged
that blooming Lattaker was to pass himself off as his own twin-brother.
And if you wanted proof, blooming Pepper tells him to show them his
mole and he'd swear George hadn't one. Those were his very words. That
man there is George Lattaker, Hesquire, and let him deny it if he can."
George got up.
"I haven't the least desire to deny it, Voules."
"Mr. Voules, if _you_ please."
"It's true," said George, turning to the Count. "The fact is, I had
rather a foggy recollection of what happened last night. I only
remembered knocking some one down, and, like you, I jumped to the
conclusion that I must have assaulted His Serene Highness."
"Then you are really George Lattaker?" asked the Count.
"'Ere, what does all this mean?" demanded Voules.
"Merely that I saved the life of His Serene Highness the Prince of
Saxburg-Leignitz, Mr. Voules."
"It's a swindle!" began Voules, when there was a sudden rush and the
girl Pilbeam cannoned into the crowd, sending me into old Marshall's
chair, and flung herself into the arms of Voules.
"Oh, Harold!" she cried. "I thought you were dead. I thought you'd shot
He sort of braced himself together to fling her off, and then he seemed
to think better of it and fell into the clinch,
It was all dashed romantic, don't you know, but there _are_ limits.
"Voules, you're sacked," I said.
"Who cares?" he said. "Think I was going to stop on now I'm a gentleman
of property? Come along, Emma, my dear. Give a month's notice and get
your 'at, and I'll take you to dinner at Ciro's."
"And you, Mr. Lattaker," said the Count, "may I conduct you to the
presence of my high-born master? He wishes to show his gratitude to his
"You may," said George. "May I have my hat, Mr. Sturgis?"
There's just one bit more. After dinner that night I came up for a
smoke, and, strolling on to the foredeck, almost bumped into George and
Stella. They seemed to be having an argument.
"I'm not sure," she was saying, "that I believe that a man can be so
happy that he wants to kiss the nearest thing in sight, as you put it."
"Don't you?" said George. "Well, as it happens, I'm feeling just that
I coughed and he turned round.
"Halloa, Reggie!" he said.
"Halloa, George!" I said. "Lovely night."
"Beautiful," said Stella.
"The moon," I said.
"Ripping," said George.
"Lovely," said Stella.
"And look at the reflection of the stars on the----"
George caught my eye. "Pop off," he said.
DOING CLARENCE A BIT OF GOOD
Have you ever thought about--and, when I say thought about, I mean
really carefully considered the question of--the coolness, the cheek,
or, if you prefer it, the gall with which Woman, as a sex, fairly
bursts? _I_ have, by Jove! But then I've had it thrust on my
notice, by George, in a way I should imagine has happened to pretty
few fellows. And the limit was reached by that business of the
To make you understand the full what-d'you-call-it of the situation, I
shall have to explain just how matters stood between Mrs. Yeardsley and
When I first knew her she was Elizabeth Shoolbred. Old Worcestershire
family; pots of money; pretty as a picture. Her brother Bill was at
Oxford with me.
I loved Elizabeth Shoolbred. I loved her, don't you know. And there was
a time, for about a week, when we were engaged to be married. But just
as I was beginning to take a serious view of life and study furniture
catalogues and feel pretty solemn when the restaurant orchestra played
"The Wedding Glide," I'm hanged if she didn't break it off, and a month
later she was married to a fellow of the name of Yeardsley--Clarence
Yeardsley, an artist.
What with golf, and billiards, and a bit of racing, and fellows at the
club rallying round and kind of taking me out of myself, as it were, I
got over it, and came to look on the affair as a closed page in the
book of my life, if you know what I mean. It didn't seem likely to me
that we should meet again, as she and Clarence had settled down in the
country somewhere and never came to London, and I'm bound to own that,
by the time I got her letter, the wound had pretty well healed, and I
was to a certain extent sitting up and taking nourishment. In fact, to
be absolutely honest, I was jolly thankful the thing had ended as it
This letter I'm telling you about arrived one morning out of a blue
sky, as it were. It ran like this:
"MY DEAR OLD REGGIE,--What ages it seems since I saw anything of
you. How are you? We have settled down here in the most perfect old
house, with a lovely garden, in the middle of delightful country.
Couldn't you run down here for a few days? Clarence and I would be
so glad to see you. Bill is here, and is most anxious to meet you
again. He was speaking of you only this morning. _Do_ come.
Wire your train, and I will send the car to meet you.
--Yours most sincerely,
"P.S.--We can give you new milk and fresh eggs. Think of that!
"P.P.S.--Bill says our billiard-table is one of the best he has
ever played on.
"P.P.S.S.--We are only half a mile from a golf course. Bill says
it is better than St. Andrews.
"P.P.S.S.S.--You _must_ come!"
Well, a fellow comes down to breakfast one morning, with a bit of a
head on, and finds a letter like that from a girl who might quite
easily have blighted his life! It rattled me rather, I must confess.
However, that bit about the golf settled me. I knew Bill knew what he
was talking about, and, if he said the course was so topping, it must
be something special. So I went.
Old Bill met me at the station with the car. I hadn't come across him
for some months, and I was glad to see him again. And he apparently was
glad to see me.
"Thank goodness you've come," he said, as we drove off. "I was just
about at my last grip."
"What's the trouble, old scout?" I asked.
"If I had the artistic what's-its-name," he went on, "if the mere
mention of pictures didn't give me the pip, I dare say it wouldn't be
so bad. As it is, it's rotten!"
"Pictures. Nothing else is mentioned in this household. Clarence is an
artist. So is his father. And you know yourself what Elizabeth is like
when one gives her her head?"
I remembered then--it hadn't come back to me before--that most of my
time with Elizabeth had been spent in picture-galleries. During the
period when I had let her do just what she wanted to do with me, I had
had to follow her like a dog through gallery after gallery, though
pictures are poison to me, just as they are to old Bill. Somehow it had
never struck me that she would still be going on in this way after
marrying an artist. I should have thought that by this time the mere
sight of a picture would have fed her up. Not so, however, according to
"They talk pictures at every meal," he said. "I tell you, it makes a
chap feel out of it. How long are you down for?"
"A few days."
"Take my tip, and let me send you a wire from London. I go there
to-morrow. I promised to play against the Scottish. The idea was
that I was to come back after the match. But you couldn't get me
back with a lasso."
I tried to point out the silver lining.
"But, Bill, old scout, your sister says there's a most corking links
He turned and stared at me, and nearly ran us into the bank.
"You don't mean honestly she said that?"
"She said you said it was better than St. Andrews."
"So I did. Was that all she said I said?"
"Well, wasn't it enough?"
"She didn't happen to mention that I added the words, 'I don't think'?"
"No, she forgot to tell me that."
"It's the worst course in Great Britain."
I felt rather stunned, don't you know. Whether it's a bad habit to have
got into or not, I can't say, but I simply can't do without my daily
allowance of golf when I'm not in London.
I took another whirl at the silver lining.
"We'll have to take it out in billiards," I said. "I'm glad the table's
"It depends what you call good. It's half-size, and there's a seven-inch
cut just out of baulk where Clarence's cue slipped. Elizabeth has mended
it with pink silk. Very smart and dressy it looks, but it doesn't improve
the thing as a billiard-table."
"But she said you said----"
"Must have been pulling your leg."
We turned in at the drive gates of a good-sized house standing well
back from the road. It looked black and sinister in the dusk, and I
couldn't help feeling, you know, like one of those Johnnies you read
about in stories who are lured to lonely houses for rummy purposes and
hear a shriek just as they get there. Elizabeth knew me well enough to
know that a specially good golf course was a safe draw to me. And she
had deliberately played on her knowledge. What was the game? That was
what I wanted to know. And then a sudden thought struck me which brought
me out in a cold perspiration. She had some girl down here and was going
to have a stab at marrying me off. I've often heard that young married
women are all over that sort of thing. Certainly she had said there was
nobody at the house but Clarence and herself and Bill and Clarence's
father, but a woman who could take the name of St. Andrews in vain as
she had done wouldn't be likely to stick at a trifle.
"Bill, old scout," I said, "there aren't any frightful girls or any rot
of that sort stopping here, are there?"
"Wish there were," he said. "No such luck."
As we pulled up at the front door, it opened, and a woman's figure
"Have you got him, Bill?" she said, which in my present frame of mind
struck me as a jolly creepy way of putting it. The sort of thing Lady
Macbeth might have said to Macbeth, don't you know.
"Do you mean me?" I said.
She came down into the light. It was Elizabeth, looking just the same
as in the old days.
"Is that you, Reggie? I'm so glad you were able to come. I was afraid
you might have forgotten all about it. You know what you are. Come
along in and have some tea."
* * * * *
Have you ever been turned down by a girl who afterwards married and
then been introduced to her husband? If so you'll understand how I felt
when Clarence burst on me. You know the feeling. First of all, when you
hear about the marriage, you say to yourself, "I wonder what he's like."
Then you meet him, and think, "There must be some mistake. She can't have
preferred _this_ to me!" That's what I thought, when I set eyes on
He was a little thin, nervous-looking chappie of about thirty-five. His
hair was getting grey at the temples and straggly on top. He wore
pince-nez, and he had a drooping moustache. I'm no Bombardier Wells
myself, but in front of Clarence I felt quite a nut. And Elizabeth,
mind you, is one of those tall, splendid girls who look like princesses.
Honestly, I believe women do it out of pure cussedness.
"How do you do, Mr. Pepper? Hark! Can you hear a mewing cat?" said
Clarence. All in one breath, don't you know.
"Eh?" I said.
"A mewing cat. I feel sure I hear a mewing cat. Listen!"
While we were listening the door opened, and a white-haired old
gentleman came in. He was built on the same lines as Clarence, but was
an earlier model. I took him correctly, to be Mr. Yeardsley, senior.
Elizabeth introduced us.
"Father," said Clarence, "did you meet a mewing cat outside? I feel
positive I heard a cat mewing."
"No," said the father, shaking his head; "no mewing cat."
"I can't bear mewing cats," said Clarence. "A mewing cat gets on my
"A mewing cat is so trying," said Elizabeth.
"_I_ dislike mewing cats," said old Mr. Yeardsley.
That was all about mewing cats for the moment. They seemed to think
they had covered the ground satisfactorily, and they went back to
We talked pictures steadily till it was time to dress for dinner. At
least, they did. I just sort of sat around. Presently the subject of
picture-robberies came up. Somebody mentioned the "Monna Lisa," and
then I happened to remember seeing something in the evening paper, as I
was coming down in the train, about some fellow somewhere having had a
valuable painting pinched by burglars the night before. It was the
first time I had had a chance of breaking into the conversation with
any effect, and I meant to make the most of it. The paper was in the
pocket of my overcoat in the hall. I went and fetched it.
"Here it is," I said. "A Romney belonging to Sir Bellamy Palmer----"
They all shouted "What!" exactly at the same time, like a chorus.
Elizabeth grabbed the paper.
"Let me look! Yes. 'Late last night burglars entered the residence of
Sir Bellamy Palmer, Dryden Park, Midford, Hants----'
"Why, that's near here," I said. "I passed through Midford----"
"Dryden Park is only two miles from this house," said Elizabeth. I
noticed her eyes were sparkling.
"Only two miles!" she said. "It might have been us! It might have been
Old Mr. Yeardsley bounded in his chair.
"The 'Venus'!" he cried.
They all seemed wonderfully excited. My little contribution to the
evening's chat had made quite a hit.
Why I didn't notice it before I don't know, but it was not till Elizabeth
showed it to me after dinner that I had my first look at the Yeardsley
"Venus." When she led me up to it, and switched on the light, it seemed
impossible that I could have sat right through dinner without noticing
it. But then, at meals, my attention is pretty well riveted on the
foodstuffs. Anyway, it was not till Elizabeth showed it to me that I
was aware of its existence.
She and I were alone in the drawing-room after dinner. Old Yeardsley
was writing letters in the morning-room, while Bill and Clarence were
rollicking on the half-size billiard table with the pink silk tapestry
effects. All, in fact, was joy, jollity, and song, so to speak, when
Elizabeth, who had been sitting wrapped in thought for a bit, bent
towards me and said, "Reggie."
And the moment she said it I knew something was going to happen. You
know that pre-what-d'you-call-it you get sometimes? Well, I got it
"What-o?" I said nervously.
"Reggie," she said, "I want to ask a great favour of you."
She stooped down and put a log on the fire, and went on, with her back
"Do you remember, Reggie, once saying you would do anything in the
world for me?"
There! That's what I meant when I said that about the cheek of Woman as
a sex. What I mean is, after what had happened, you'd have thought she
would have preferred to let the dead past bury its dead, and all that
sort of thing, what?
Mind you, I _had_ said I would do anything in the world for her.
I admit that. But it was a distinctly pre-Clarence remark. He hadn't
appeared on the scene then, and it stands to reason that a fellow who
may have been a perfect knight-errant to a girl when he was engaged to
her, doesn't feel nearly so keen on spreading himself in that direction
when she has given him the miss-in-baulk, and gone and married a man
who reason and instinct both tell him is a decided blighter.
I couldn't think of anything to say but "Oh, yes."
"There's something you can do for me now, which will make me
"Yes," I said.
"Do you know, Reggie," she said suddenly, "that only a few months ago
Clarence was very fond of cats?"
"Eh! Well, he still seems--er--_interested_ in them, what?"
"Now they get on his nerves. Everything gets on his nerves."
"Some fellows swear by that stuff you see advertised all over the----"
"No, that wouldn't help him. He doesn't need to take anything. He wants
to get rid of something."
"I don't quite fellow. Get rid of something?"
"The 'Venus,'" said Elizabeth.
She looked up and caught my bulging eye.
"You saw the 'Venus,'" she said.
"Not that I remember."
"Well, come into the dining-room."
We went into the dining-room, and she switched on the lights.
"There," she said.
On the wall close to the door--that may have been why I hadn't noticed
it before; I had sat with my back to it--was a large oil-painting. It
was what you'd call a classical picture, I suppose. What I mean is--well,
you know what I mean. All I can say is that it's funny I _hadn't_
"Is that the 'Venus'?" I said.
"How would you like to have to look at that every time you sat down to
"Well, I don't know. I don't think it would affect me much. I'd worry
through all right."
She jerked her head impatiently.
"But you're not an artist," she said. "Clarence is."
And then I began to see daylight. What exactly was the trouble I didn't
understand, but it was evidently something to do with the good old
Artistic Temperament, and I could believe anything about that. It
explains everything. It's like the Unwritten Law, don't you know,
which you plead in America if you've done anything they want to send
you to chokey for and you don't want to go. What I mean is, if you're
absolutely off your rocker, but don't find it convenient to be scooped
into the luny-bin, you simply explain that, when you said you were a
teapot, it was just your Artistic Temperament, and they apologize and
go away. So I stood by to hear just how the A.T. had affected Clarence,
the Cat's Friend, ready for anything.
And, believe me, it had hit Clarence badly.
It was this way. It seemed that old Yeardsley was an amateur artist and
that this "Venus" was his masterpiece. He said so, and he ought to have
known. Well, when Clarence married, he had given it to him, as a wedding
present, and had hung it where it stood with his own hands. All right so
far, what? But mark the sequel. Temperamental Clarence, being a
professional artist and consequently some streets ahead of the dad at
the game, saw flaws in the "Venus." He couldn't stand it at any price.
He didn't like the drawing. He didn't like the expression of the face.
He didn't like the colouring. In fact, it made him feel quite ill to
look at it. Yet, being devoted to his father and wanting to do anything
rather than give him pain, he had not been able to bring himself to
store the thing in the cellar, and the strain of confronting the
picture three times a day had begun to tell on him to such an extent
that Elizabeth felt something had to be done.
"Now you see," she said.
"In a way," I said. "But don't you think it's making rather heavy
weather over a trifle?"
"Oh, can't you understand? Look!" Her voice dropped as if she was in
church, and she switched on another light. It shone on the picture next
to old Yeardsley's. "There!" she said. "Clarence painted that!"
She looked at me expectantly, as if she were waiting for me to swoon,
or yell, or something. I took a steady look at Clarence's effort. It
was another Classical picture. It seemed to me very much like the other
Some sort of art criticism was evidently expected of me, so I made a
dash at it.
"Er--'Venus'?" I said.
Mark you, Sherlock Holmes would have made the same mistake. On the
evidence, I mean.
"No. 'Jocund Spring,'" she snapped. She switched off the light. "I see
you don't understand even now. You never had any taste about pictures.
When we used to go to the galleries together, you would far rather have
been at your club."
This was so absolutely true, that I had no remark to make. She came up
to me, and put her hand on my arm.
"I'm sorry, Reggie. I didn't mean to be cross. Only I do want to make you
understand that Clarence is _suffering_. Suppose--suppose--well, let
us take the case of a great musician. Suppose a great musician had to sit
and listen to a cheap vulgar tune--the same tune--day after day, day after
day, wouldn't you expect his nerves to break! Well, it's just like that
with Clarence. Now you see?"
"But what? Surely I've put it plainly enough?"
"Yes. But what I mean is, where do I come in? What do you want me to
"I want you to steal the 'Venus.'"
I looked at her.
"You want me to----?"
"Steal it. Reggie!" Her eyes were shining with excitement. "Don't you
see? It's Providence. When I asked you to come here, I had just got the
idea. I knew I could rely on you. And then by a miracle this robbery of
the Romney takes place at a house not two miles away. It removes the
last chance of the poor old man suspecting anything and having his
feelings hurt. Why, it's the most wonderful compliment to him. Think!
One night thieves steal a splendid Romney; the next the same gang take
his 'Venus.' It will be the proudest moment of his life. Do it to-night,
Reggie. I'll give you a sharp knife. You simply cut the canvas out of
the frame, and it's done."
"But one moment," I said. "I'd be delighted to be of any use to you,
but in a purely family affair like this, wouldn't it be better--in
fact, how about tackling old Bill on the subject?"
"I have asked Bill already. Yesterday. He refused."
"But if I'm caught?"
"You can't be. All you have to do is to take the picture, open one of
the windows, leave it open, and go back to your room."
It sounded simple enough.
"And as to the picture itself--when I've got it?"
"Burn it. I'll see that you have a good fire in your room."
She looked at me. She always did have the most wonderful eyes.
"Reggie," she said; nothing more. Just "Reggie."
She looked at me.
"Well, after all, if you see what I mean--The days that are no more,
don't you know. Auld Lang Syne, and all that sort of thing. You follow
"All right," I said. "I'll do it."
I don't know if you happen to be one of those Johnnies who are steeped
in crime, and so forth, and think nothing of pinching diamond necklaces.
If you're not, you'll understand that I felt a lot less keen on the job
I'd taken on when I sat in my room, waiting to get busy, than I had done
when I promised to tackle it in the dining-room. On paper it all seemed
easy enough, but I couldn't help feeling there was a catch somewhere,
and I've never known time pass slower. The kick-off was scheduled for
one o'clock in the morning, when the household might be expected to be
pretty sound asleep, but at a quarter to I couldn't stand it any longer.
I lit the lantern I had taken from Bill's bicycle, took a grip of my
knife, and slunk downstairs.
The first thing I did on getting to the dining-room was to open the
window. I had half a mind to smash it, so as to give an extra bit of
local colour to the affair, but decided not to on account of the noise.
I had put my lantern on the table, and was just reaching out for it,
when something happened. What it was for the moment I couldn't have
said. It might have been an explosion of some sort or an earthquake.
Some solid object caught me a frightful whack on the chin. Sparks and
things occurred inside my head and the next thing I remember is feeling
something wet and cold splash into my face, and hearing a voice that
sounded like old Bill's say, "Feeling better now?"
I sat up. The lights were on, and I was on the floor, with old Bill
kneeling beside me with a soda siphon.
"What happened?" I said.
"I'm awfully sorry, old man," he said. "I hadn't a notion it was you. I
came in here, and saw a lantern on the table, and the window open and a
chap with a knife in his hand, so I didn't stop to make inquiries. I
just let go at his jaw for all I was worth. What on earth do you think
you're doing? Were you walking in your sleep?"
"It was Elizabeth," I said. "Why, you know all about it. She said she
had told you."
"You don't mean----"
"The picture. You refused to take it on, so she asked me."
"Reggie, old man," he said. "I'll never believe what they say about
repentance again. It's a fool's trick and upsets everything. If I
hadn't repented, and thought it was rather rough on Elizabeth not to
do a little thing like that for her, and come down here to do it after
all, you wouldn't have stopped that sleep-producer with your chin. I'm
"Me, too," I said, giving my head another shake to make certain it was
"Are you feeling better now?"
"Better than I was. But that's not saying much."
"Would you like some more soda-water? No? Well, how about getting this
job finished and going to bed? And let's be quick about it too. You made
a noise like a ton of bricks when you went down just now, and it's on
the cards some of the servants may have heard. Toss you who carves."
"Tails it is," he said, uncovering the coin. "Up you get. I'll hold the
light. Don't spike yourself on that sword of yours."
It was as easy a job as Elizabeth had said. Just four quick cuts, and
the thing came out of its frame like an oyster. I rolled it up. Old
Bill had put the lantern on the floor and was at the sideboard,
collecting whisky, soda, and glasses.
"We've got a long evening before us," he said. "You can't burn a picture
of that size in one chunk. You'd set the chimney on fire. Let's do the
thing comfortably. Clarence can't grudge us the stuff. We've done him
a bit of good this trip. To-morrow'll be the maddest, merriest day of
Clarence's glad New Year. On we go."
We went up to my room, and sat smoking and yarning away and sipping our
drinks, and every now and then cutting a slice off the picture and
shoving it in the fire till it was all gone. And what with the cosiness
of it and the cheerful blaze, and the comfortable feeling of doing good
by stealth, I don't know when I've had a jollier time since the days
when we used to brew in my study at school.
We had just put the last slice on when Bill sat up suddenly, and
gripped my arm.
"I heard something," he said.
I listened, and, by Jove, I heard something, too. My room was just over
the dining-room, and the sound came up to us quite distinctly. Stealthy
footsteps, by George! And then a chair falling over.
"There's somebody in the dining-room," I whispered.
There's a certain type of chap who takes a pleasure in positively
chivvying trouble. Old Bill's like that. If I had been alone, it would
have taken me about three seconds to persuade myself that I hadn't
really heard anything after all. I'm a peaceful sort of cove, and
believe in living and letting live, and so forth. To old Bill, however,
a visit from burglars was pure jam. He was out of his chair in one
"Come on," he said. "Bring the poker."
I brought the tongs as well. I felt like it. Old Bill collared the
knife. We crept downstairs.
"We'll fling the door open and make a rush," said Bill.
"Supposing they shoot, old scout?"
"Burglars never shoot," said Bill.
Which was comforting provided the burglars knew it.
Old Bill took a grip of the handle, turned it quickly, and in he went.
And then we pulled up sharp, staring.
The room was in darkness except for a feeble splash of light at the
near end. Standing on a chair in front of Clarence's "Jocund Spring,"
holding a candle in one hand and reaching up with a knife in the other,
was old Mr. Yeardsley, in bedroom slippers and a grey dressing-gown. He
had made a final cut just as we rushed in. Turning at the sound, he
stopped, and he and the chair and the candle and the picture came down
in a heap together. The candle went out.
"What on earth?" said Bill.
I felt the same. I picked up the candle and lit it, and then a most
fearful thing happened. The old man picked himself up, and suddenly
collapsed into a chair and began to cry like a child. Of course, I
could see it was only the Artistic Temperament, but still, believe me,
it was devilish unpleasant. I looked at old Bill. Old Bill looked at
me. We shut the door quick, and after that we didn't know what to do. I
saw Bill look at the sideboard, and I knew what he was looking for. But
we had taken the siphon upstairs, and his ideas of first-aid stopped
short at squirting soda-water. We just waited, and presently old
Yeardsley switched off, sat up, and began talking with a rush.
"Clarence, my boy, I was tempted. It was that burglary at Dryden Park.
It tempted me. It made it all so simple. I knew you would put it down
to the same gang, Clarence, my boy. I----"
It seemed to dawn upon him at this point that Clarence was not among
"Clarence?" he said hesitatingly.
"He's in bed," I said.
"In bed! Then he doesn't know? Even now--Young men, I throw myself
on your mercy. Don't be hard on me. Listen." He grabbed at Bill, who
sidestepped. "I can explain everything--everything."
He gave a gulp.
"You are not artists, you two young men, but I will try to make you
understand, make you realise what this picture means to me. I was two
years painting it. It is my child. I watched it grow. I loved it. It
was part of my life. Nothing would have induced me to sell it. And then
Clarence married, and in a mad moment I gave my treasure to him. You
cannot understand, you two young men, what agonies I suffered. The
thing was done. It was irrevocable. I saw how Clarence valued the
picture. I knew that I could never bring myself to ask him for it back.
And yet I was lost without it. What could I do? Till this evening I
could see no hope. Then came this story of the theft of the Romney from
a house quite close to this, and I saw my way. Clarence would never
suspect. He would put the robbery down to the same band of criminals
who stole the Romney. Once the idea had come, I could not drive it out.
I fought against it, but to no avail. At last I yielded, and crept down
here to carry out my plan. You found me." He grabbed again, at me this
time, and got me by the arm. He had a grip like a lobster. "Young man,"
he said, "you would not betray me? You would not tell Clarence?"
I was feeling most frightfully sorry for the poor old chap by this
time, don't you know, but I thought it would be kindest to give it him
straight instead of breaking it by degrees.
"I won't say a word to Clarence, Mr. Yeardsley," I said. "I quite
understand your feelings. The Artistic Temperament, and all that sort
of thing. I mean--what? _I_ know. But I'm afraid--Well, look!"
I went to the door and switched on the electric light, and there,
staring him in the face, were the two empty frames. He stood goggling
at them in silence. Then he gave a sort of wheezy grunt.
"The gang! The burglars! They _have_ been here, and they have
taken Clarence's picture!" He paused. "It might have been mine! My
Venus!" he whispered It was getting most fearfully painful, you know,
but he had to know the truth.
"I'm awfully sorry, you know," I said. "But it _was_."
He started, poor old chap.
"Eh? What do you mean?"
"They _did_ take your Venus."
"But I have it here."
I shook my head.
"That's Clarence's 'Jocund Spring,'" I said.
He jumped at it and straightened it out.
"What! What are you talking about? Do you think I don't know my own
picture--my child--my Venus. See! My own signature in the corner. Can
you read, boy? Look: 'Matthew Yeardsley.' This is _my_ picture!"
And--well, by Jove, it _was_, don't you know!
* * * * *
Well, we got him off to bed, him and his infernal Venus, and we settled
down to take a steady look at the position of affairs. Bill said it was
my fault for getting hold of the wrong picture, and I said it was Bill's
fault for fetching me such a crack on the jaw that I couldn't be expected
to see what I was getting hold of, and then there was a pretty massive
silence for a bit.
"Reggie," said Bill at last, "how exactly do you feel about facing
Clarence and Elizabeth at breakfast?"
"Old scout," I said. "I was thinking much the same myself."
"Reggie," said Bill, "I happen to know there's a milk-train leaving
Midford at three-fifteen. It isn't what you'd call a flier. It gets to
London at about half-past nine. Well--er--in the circumstances, how
THE AUNT AND THE SLUGGARD
Now that it's all over, I may as well admit that there was a time
during the rather funny affair of Rockmetteller Todd when I thought
that Jeeves was going to let me down. The man had the appearance of
Jeeves is my man, you know. Officially he pulls in his weekly wages
for pressing my clothes and all that sort of thing; but actually he's
more like what the poet Johnnie called some bird of his acquaintance who
was apt to rally round him in times of need--a guide, don't you know;
philosopher, if I remember rightly, and--I rather fancy--friend. I rely
on him at every turn.
So naturally, when Rocky Todd told me about his aunt, I didn't
hesitate. Jeeves was in on the thing from the start.
The affair of Rocky Todd broke loose early one morning of spring. I was
in bed, restoring the good old tissues with about nine hours of the
dreamless, when the door flew open and somebody prodded me in the lower
ribs and began to shake the bedclothes. After blinking a bit and
generally pulling myself together, I located Rocky, and my first
impression was that it was some horrid dream.
Rocky, you see, lived down on Long Island somewhere, miles away from
New York; and not only that, but he had told me himself more than once
that he never got up before twelve, and seldom earlier than one.
Constitutionally the laziest young devil in America, he had hit on a
walk in life which enabled him to go the limit in that direction. He
was a poet. At least, he wrote poems when he did anything; but most of
his time, as far as I could make out, he spent in a sort of trance. He
told me once that he could sit on a fence, watching a worm and
wondering what on earth it was up to, for hours at a stretch.
He had his scheme of life worked out to a fine point. About once a
month he would take three days writing a few poems; the other three
hundred and twenty-nine days of the year he rested. I didn't know there
was enough money in poetry to support a chappie, even in the way in
which Rocky lived; but it seems that, if you stick to exhortations to
young men to lead the strenuous life and don't shove in any rhymes,
American editors fight for the stuff. Rocky showed me one of his things
once. It began:
The past is dead.
To-morrow is not born.
Be with every nerve,
With every muscle,
With every drop of your red blood!
It was printed opposite the frontispiece of a magazine with a sort of
scroll round it, and a picture in the middle of a fairly-nude chappie,
with bulging muscles, giving the rising sun the glad eye. Rocky said
they gave him a hundred dollars for it, and he stayed in bed till four
in the afternoon for over a month.
As regarded the future he was pretty solid, owing to the fact that he
had a moneyed aunt tucked away somewhere in Illinois; and, as he had
been named Rockmetteller after her, and was her only nephew, his
position was pretty sound. He told me that when he did come into the
money he meant to do no work at all, except perhaps an occasional poem
recommending the young man with life opening out before him, with all
its splendid possibilities, to light a pipe and shove his feet upon the
And this was the man who was prodding me in the ribs in the grey dawn!
"Read this, Bertie!" I could just see that he was waving a letter or
something equally foul in my face. "Wake up and read this!"
I can't read before I've had my morning tea and a cigarette. I groped
for the bell.
Jeeves came in looking as fresh as a dewy violet. It's a mystery to me
how he does it.
"Very good, sir."
He flowed silently out of the room--he always gives you the impression
of being some liquid substance when he moves; and I found that Rocky
was surging round with his beastly letter again.
"What is it?" I said. "What on earth's the matter?"'
"I can't. I haven't had my tea."
"Well, listen then."
"Who's it from?"
At this point I fell asleep again. I woke to hear him saying:
"So what on earth am I to do?"
Jeeves trickled in with the tray, like some silent stream meandering
over its mossy bed; and I saw daylight.
"Read it again, Rocky, old top," I said. "I want Jeeves to hear it. Mr.
Todd's aunt has written him a rather rummy letter, Jeeves, and we want
"Very good, sir."
He stood in the middle of the room, registering devotion to the cause,
and Rocky started again:
"MY DEAR ROCKMETTELLER.--I have been thinking things over for a
long while, and I have come to the conclusion that I have been
very thoughtless to wait so long before doing what I have made
up my mind to do now."
"What do you make of that, Jeeves?"
"It seems a little obscure at present, sir, but no doubt it becomes
cleared at a later point in the communication."
"It becomes as clear as mud!" said Rocky.
"Proceed, old scout," I said, champing my bread and butter.
"You know how all my life I have longed to visit New York and see
for myself the wonderful gay life of which I have read so much. I
fear that now it will be impossible for me to fulfil my dream. I
am old and worn out. I seem to have no strength left in me."
"Sad, Jeeves, what?"
"Sad nothing!" said Rocky. "It's sheer laziness. I went to see her last
Christmas and she was bursting with health. Her doctor told me himself
that there was nothing wrong with her whatever. But she will insist
that she's a hopeless invalid, so he has to agree with her. She's got a
fixed idea that the trip to New York would kill her; so, though it's
been her ambition all her life to come here, she stays where she is."
"Rather like the chappie whose heart was 'in the Highlands a-chasing of
the deer,' Jeeves?"
"The cases are in some respects parallel, sir."
"Carry on, Rocky, dear
"So I have decided that, if I cannot enjoy all the marvels of the
city myself, I can at least enjoy them through you. I suddenly
thought of this yesterday after reading a beautiful poem in the
Sunday paper about a young man who had longed all his life for a
certain thing and won it in the end only when he was too old to
enjoy it. It was very sad, and it touched me."
"A thing," interpolated Rocky bitterly, "that I've not been able to do
in ten years."
"As you know, you will have my money when I am gone; but until now
I have never been able to see my way to giving you an allowance. I
have now decided to do so--on one condition. I have written to a
firm of lawyers in New York, giving them instructions to pay you
quite a substantial sum each month. My one condition is that you
live in New York and enjoy yourself as I have always wished to do.
I want you to be my representative, to spend this money for me as
I should do myself. I want you to plunge into the gay, prismatic
life of New York. I want you to be the life and soul of brilliant
"Above all, I want you--indeed, I insist on this--to write me
letters at least once a week giving me a full description of all
you are doing and all that is going on in the city, so that I may
enjoy at second-hand what my wretched health prevents my enjoying
for myself. Remember that I shall expect full details, and that no
detail is too trivial to interest.--Your affectionate Aunt,
"What about it?" said Rocky.
"What about it?" I said.
"Yes. What on earth am I going to do?"
It was only then that I really got on to the extremely rummy attitude
of the chappie, in view of the fact that a quite unexpected mess of the
right stuff had suddenly descended on him from a blue sky. To my mind
it was an occasion for the beaming smile and the joyous whoop; yet here
the man was, looking and talking as if Fate had swung on his solar
plexus. It amazed me.
"Aren't you bucked?" I said.
"If I were in your place I should be frightfully braced. I consider
this pretty soft for you."
He gave a kind of yelp, stared at me for a moment, and then began to
talk of New York in a way that reminded me of Jimmy Mundy, the reformer
chappie. Jimmy had just come to New York on a hit-the-trail campaign,
and I had popped in at the Garden a couple of days before, for half an
hour or so, to hear him. He had certainly told New York some pretty
straight things about itself, having apparently taken a dislike to the
place, but, by Jove, you know, dear old Rocky made him look like a
publicity agent for the old metrop.!
"Pretty soft!" he cried. "To have to come and live in New York! To have
to leave my little cottage and take a stuffy, smelly, over-heated hole
of an apartment in this Heaven-forsaken, festering Gehenna. To have to
mix night after night with a mob who think that life is a sort of St.
Vitus's dance, and imagine that they're having a good time because
they're making enough noise for six and drinking too much for ten. I
loathe New York, Bertie. I wouldn't come near the place if I hadn't got
to see editors occasionally. There's a blight on it. It's got moral
delirium tremens. It's the limit. The very thought of staying more than
a day in it makes me sick. And you call this thing pretty soft for me!"
I felt rather like Lot's friends must have done when they dropped in
for a quiet chat and their genial host began to criticise the Cities of
the Plain. I had no idea old Rocky could be so eloquent.
"It would kill me to have to live in New York," he went on. "To have to
share the air with six million people! To have to wear stiff collars
and decent clothes all the time! To----" He started. "Good Lord! I
suppose I should have to dress for dinner in the evenings. What a
I was shocked, absolutely shocked.
"My dear chap!" I said reproachfully.
"Do you dress for dinner every night, Bertie?"
"Jeeves," I said coldly. The man was still standing like a statue by
the door. "How many suits of evening clothes have I?"
"We have three suits full of evening dress, sir; two dinner jackets----"
"For practical purposes two only, sir. If you remember we cannot wear
the third. We have also seven white waistcoats."
"Four dozen, sir."
"And white ties?"
"The first two shallow shelves in the chest of drawers are completely
filled with our white ties, sir."
I turned to Rocky.
The chappie writhed like an electric fan.
"I won't do it! I can't do it! I'll be hanged if I'll do it! How on
earth can I dress up like that? Do you realize that most days I don't
get out of my pyjamas till five in the afternoon, and then I just put
on an old sweater?"
I saw Jeeves wince, poor chap! This sort of revelation shocked his
"Then, what are you going to do about it?" I said.
"That's what I want to know."
"You might write and explain to your aunt."
"I might--if I wanted her to get round to her lawyer's in two rapid
leaps and cut me out of her will."
I saw his point.
"What do you suggest, Jeeves?" I said.
Jeeves cleared his throat respectfully.
"The crux of the matter would appear to be, sir, that Mr. Todd is
obliged by the conditions under which the money is delivered into his
possession to write Miss Rockmetteller long and detailed letters
relating to his movements, and the only method by which this can be
accomplished, if Mr. Todd adheres to his expressed intention of
remaining in the country, is for Mr. Todd to induce some second party
to gather the actual experiences which Miss Rockmetteller wishes
reported to her, and to convey these to him in the shape of a careful
report, on which it would be possible for him, with the aid of his
imagination, to base the suggested correspondence."
Having got which off the old diaphragm, Jeeves was silent. Rocky looked
at me in a helpless sort of way. He hasn't been brought up on Jeeves as
I have, and he isn't on to his curves.
"Could he put it a little clearer, Bertie?" he said. "I thought at the
start it was going to make sense, but it kind of flickered. What's the
"My dear old man, perfectly simple. I knew we could stand on Jeeves.
All you've got to do is to get somebody to go round the town for you
and take a few notes, and then you work the notes up into letters.
That's it, isn't it, Jeeves?"
The light of hope gleamed in Rocky's eyes. He looked at Jeeves in a