The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 11

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHAPTER XI


AT THE TURN OF THE ROAD


NEXT morning, when Jimmy, having sent Spike off to the tailor's, with instructions to get a haircut en route, was dealing with a combination of breakfast and luncheon at his flat, Lord Dreever called.

"Thought I should find you in," observed his lordship. "Well, laddie, how goes it? Having breakfast? Eggs and bacon! Great Scott! I couldn't touch a thing."

The statement was borne out by his looks. The son of a hundred earls was pale, and his eyes were markedly fish-like.

"A fellow I've got stopping with me—taking him down to Dreever with me to-day—man I met at the club—fellow named Hargate. Don't know if you know him? No? Well, he was still up when I got back last night, and we stayed up playing billiards—he's rotten at billiards; something frightful: I give him twenty—till five this morning. I feel fearfully cheap. Wouldn't have got up at all, only I'm due to catch the two-fifteen down to Dreever. It's the only good train." He dropped into a chair.

"Sorry you don't feel up to breakfast," said Jimmy, helping himself to marmalade. "I am generally to be found among those lining up when the gong goes. I've breakfasted on a glass of water and a bag of bird-seed in my time. That sort of thing makes you ready to take whatever you can get. Seen the paper?"

"Thanks."

Jimmy finished his breakfast, and lighted a pipe. Lord Dreever laid down the paper.

"I say," he said, "what I came round about was this. What have you got on just now?"

Jimmy had imagined that his friend had dropped in to return the five-pound note he had borrowed, but his lordship maintained a complete reserve on the subject. Jimmy was to discover later that this weakness of memory where financial obligations were concerned was a leading trait in Lord Dreever's character.

"To-day, do you mean?" said Jimmy.

"Well, in the near future. What I mean is, why not put off that Japan trip you spoke about, and come down to Dreever with me?"

Jimmy reflected. After all, Japan or Dreever, it made very little difference. And it would be interesting to see a place about which he had read so much.

"That's very good of you," he said. "You're sure it will be all right? It won't be upsetting your arrangements?"

"Not a bit. The more the merrier. Can you catch the two-fifteen? It's fearfully short notice."

"Heavens, yes. I can pack in ten minutes. Thanks very much."

"Good business. There'll be shooting and all that sort of rot. Oh, and by the way, are you any good at acting? I mean, there are going to be private theatricals of sorts. A man called Charteris insisted on getting them up—always getting up theatricals. Rot, I call it; but you can't stop him. Do you do anything in that line?"

"Put me down for what you like, from Emperor of Morocco to Confused Noise Without. I was on the stage once. I'm particularly good at shifting scenery."

"Good for you. Well, so long. Two-fifteen from Paddington, remember. I'll meet you there. I've got to go and see a fellow now."

"I'll look out for you."

A sudden thought occurred to Jimmy. Spike! He had forgotten Spike for the moment. It was vital that the Bowery boy should not be lost sight of again. He was the one link with the little house somewhere beyond One Hundred and Fiftieth Street. He could not leave the Bowery boy at the flat. A vision rose in his mind of Spike alone in London, with Savoy Mansions as a base for his operations. No, Spike must be transplanted to the country. But Jimmy could not seem to see Spike in the country. His boredom would probably be pathetic. But it was the only way.

Lord Dreever facilitated matters.

By the way, Pitt," he said, "you've got a man of sorts, of course? One of those frightful fellows who forgot to pack your collars? Bring him along, of course."

"Thanks," said Jimmy. "I will."

The matter had scarcely been settled when the door opened, and revealed the subject of discussion. Wearing a broad grin of mingled pride and bashfulness, and looking very stiff and awkward in one of the brightest tweed suits ever seen off the stage, Spike stood for a moment in the doorway to let his appearance sink into the spectator, then advanced into the room.

"How do dese strike you, boss?" he inquired genially, as Lord Dreever gaped in astonishment at this bright being.

"Pretty nearly blind, Spike," said Jimmy. "What made you get those? We use electric light here."

Spike was full of news.

"Say, boss, dat clothin'-store's a willy wonder, sure. De old mug what showed me round give me de frozen face when I come in foist. 'What's doin'?' he says. 'To de woods wit' you. Git de hook!' But I hauls out de plunks you give me, an' tells him how I'm here to get a dude suit, an', gee! if he don't haul out suits by de mile. Give me a toist, it did, watching him. 'It's up to youse,' says de mug. 'Choose somet'in'. You pays de money, an' we does de rest.' So, I says dis is de one, an' I put down de plunks, an' here I am, boss."

"I noticed that, Spike," said Jimmy. "I could see you in the dark."

"Don't you like de duds, boss?" inquired Spike, anxiously.

"They're great," said Jimmy. "You'd make Solomon in all his glory look like a tramp 'cyclist."

"Dat's right," agreed Spike. "Dey'se de limit."

And, apparently oblivious to the presence of Lord Dreever, who had been watching him in blank silence since his entrance, the Bowery boy proceeded to execute a mysterious shuffling dance on the carpet.

This was too much for the overwrought brain of his lordship.

"Good-bye, Pitt," he said, "I'm off. Got to see a man."

Jimmy saw his guest to the door.

Outside, Lord Dreever placed the palm of his right hand on his forehead.

"I say, Pitt," he said.

"Hullo?"

"Who the devil's that?"

"Who? Spike? Oh, that's my man."

"Your man! Is he always like that? I mean, going on like a frightful music-hall comedian? Dancing, you know! And, I say, what on earth language was that he was talking? I couldn't understand one word in ten."

"Oh, that's American, the Bowery variety."

"Oh, well, I suppose it's all right if you understand it. I can't. By gad," he broke off, with a chuckle, "I'd give something to see him talking to old Saunders, our butler at home. He's got the manners of a duke."

"Spike should revise those," said Jimmy.

"What do you call him?"

"Spike."

"Rummy name, isn't it?"

"Oh, I don't know. Short for Algernon."

"He seemed pretty chummy."

"That's his independent bringing-up. We're all like that in America."

"Well, so long."

"So long."

On the bottom step, Lord Dreever halted.

"I say. I've got it!"

"Good for you. Got what?"

"Why, I knew I'd seen that chap's face somewhere before, only I couldn't place him. I've got him now. He's the Johnny who came into the shelter last night. Chap you gave a quid to."

Spike's was one of those faces that, without being essentially beautiful, stamp themselves on the memory.

"You're quite right," said Jimmy. "I was wondering if you would recognize him. The fact is, he's a man I once employed over in New York, and, when I came across him over here, he was so evidently wanting a bit of help that I took him on again. As a matter of fact, I needed somebody to look after my things, and Spike can do it as well as anybody else."

"I see. Not bad my spotting him, was it? Well, I must be off. Good-bye. Two-fifteen at Paddington. Meet you there. Take a ticket for Dreever if you're there before me."

"Right. Good-bye."

Jimmy returned to the dining-room. Spike, who was examining as much as he could of himself in the glass, turned round with his wonted grin.

"Say, who's de gazebo, boss? Ain't he de mug youse was wit' last night?"

"That's the man. We're going down with him to the country to-day, Spike, so be ready."

"On your way, boss. What's dat?"

"He has invited us to his country house, and we're going."

"What? Bof of us?"

"Yes. I told him you were my servant. I hope you aren't offended."

"Nit. What's dere to be raw about, boss?"

"That's all right. Well, we'd better be packing. We have to be at the station at two."

"Sure."

"And, Spike!"

"Yes, boss?"

"Did you get any other clothes besides what you've got on?"

"Nit. What do I want wit more dan one dude suit?"

"I approve of your rugged simplicity," said Jimmy, "but what you're wearing is a town suit. Excellent for the Park or the Marchioness's Thursday crush, but essentially metropolitan. You must get something else for the country, something dark and quiet. I'll come and help you choose it, now."

"Why, won't dis go in de country?"

"Not on your life, Spike. It would unsettle the rustic mind. They're fearfully particular about that sort of thing in England."

"Dey's to de bad," said the baffled disciple of Beau Brummel, with deep discontent.

"And there's just one more thing, Spike. I know you'll excuse my mentioning it. When we're at Dreever Castle, you will find yourself within reach of a good deal of silver and other things. Would it be too much to ask you to forget your professional instincts? I mentioned this before in a general sort of way, but this is a particular case."

"Ain't I to get busy at all, den?" queried Spike.

"Not so much as a salt-spoon," said Jimmy, firmly. "Now, we'll whistle a cab, and go and choose you some more clothes."


Accompanied by Spike, who came within an ace of looking almost respectable in new blue serge ("Small Gent's"—off the peg), Jimmy arrived at Paddington Station with a quarter of an hour to spare. Lord Dreever appeared ten minutes later, accompanied by a man of about Jimmy's age. He was tall and thin, with cold eyes and tight, thin lips. His clothes fitted him in the way clothes do fit one man in a thousand. They were the best part of him. His general appearance gave one the idea that his meals did him little good, and his meditations rather less. He had practically no conversation.

This was Lord Dreever's friend, Hargate. Lord Dreever made the introductions; but, even as they shook hands, Jimmy had an impression that he had seen the man before. Yet, where or in what circumstances he could not remember. Hargate appeared to have no recollection of him, so he did not mention the matter. A man who has led a wandering life often sees faces that come back to him later on, absolutely detatched from their context. He might merely have passed Lord Dreever's friend on the street. But Jimmy had an idea that the other had figured in some episode which at the moment had had an importance. What that episode was had escaped him. He dismissed the thing from his mind. It was not worth harrying his memory about.

Judicious tipping secured the three a compartment to themselves. Hargate, having read the evening paper, went to sleep in the far corner. Jimmy and Lord Dreever, who sat opposite each other, fell into a desultory conversation.

After awhile, Lord Dreever's remarks took a somewhat intimate turn. Jimmy was one of those men whose manner invites confidences. His lordship began to unburden his soul of certain facts relating to the family.

"Have you ever met my Uncle Thomas?" he inquired. "You know Blunt's Stores? Well, he's Blunt. It's a company now, but he still runs it. He married my aunt. You'll meet him at Dreever."

Jimmy said he would be delighted.

"I bet you won't," said the last of the Dreevers, with candor. "He's a frightful man—the limit. Always fussing round like a hen. Gives me a fearful time, I can tell you. Look here, I don't mind telling you—we're pals—he's dead set on my marrying a rich girl."

"Well, that sounds all right. There are worse hobbies. Any particular rich girl?"

"There's always one. He sicks me on to one after another. Quite nice girls, you know, some of them; only, I want to marry somebody else, that girl you saw me with at the Savoy."

"Why don't you tell your uncle?"

"He'd have a fit. She hasn't a penny; nor have I, except what I get from him. Of course, this is strictly between ourselves."

"Of course."

"I know everybody thinks there's money attached to the title; but there isn't, not a penny. When my Aunt Julia married Sir Thomas, the whole frightful show was pretty well in pawn. So, you see how it is."

"Ever think of work?" asked Jimmy.

"Work?" said Lord Dreever, reflectively. "Well, you know, I shouldn't mind work, only I'm dashed if I can see what I could do. I shouldn't know how. Nowadays, you want a fearful specialized education, and so on. Tell you what, though, I shouldn't mind the diplomatic service. One of these days, I shall have a dash at asking my uncle to put up the money. I believe I shouldn't be half-bad at that. I'm rather a quick sort of chap at times, you know. Lots of fellows have said so."

He cleared his throat modestly, and proceeded.

"It isn't only my Uncle Thomas," he said. "There's Aunt Julia, too. She's about as much the limit as he is. I remember, when I was a kid, she was always sitting on me. She does still. Wait till you see her. Sort of woman who makes you feel that your hands are the color of tomatoes and the size of legs of mutton, if you know what I mean. And talks as if she were biting at you. Frightful!"

Having unburdened himself of these criticisms, Lord Dreever yawned, leaned back, and was presently asleep.

It was about an hour later that the train, which had been taking itself less seriously for some time, stopping at stations of quite minor importance and generally showing a tendency to dawdle, halted again. A board with the legend, "Dreever," in large letters showed that they had reached their destination.

The station-master informed Lord Dreever that her ladyship had come to meet the train in the motorcar, and was now waiting in the road outside.

Lord Dreever's jaw fell.

"Oh, lord!" he said. "She's probably motored in to get the afternoon letters. That means, she's come in the runabout, and there's only room for two of us in that. I forgot to telegraph that you were coming, Pitt. I only wired about Hargate. Dash it, I shall have to walk."

His fears proved correct. The car at the station door was small. It was obviously designed to seat four only.

Lord Dreever introduced Hargate and Jimmy to the statuesque lady in the tonneau; and then there was an awkward silence.

At this point, Spike came up, chuckling amiably, with a magazine in his hand.

"Gee!" said Spike. "Say, boss, de mug what wrote dis piece must have bin livin' out in de woods. Say, dere's a gazebo what wants to swipe de heroine's jools what's locked in a drawer. So, dis mug, what do you t'ink he does?" Spike laughed shortly, in professional scorn. "Why—"

"Is this gentleman a friend of yours, Spennie?" inquired Lady Julia politely, eying the red-haired speaker coldly.

"It's—" Spennie looked appealingly at Jimmy.

"It's my man," said Jimmy. "Spike," he added in an undertone, "to the woods. Chase yourself. Fade away."

"Sure," said the abashed Spike. "Dat's right. It ain't up to me to come buttin' in. Sorry, boss. Sorry, gents. Sorry loidy. Me for de tall grass."

"There's a luggage-cart of sorts," said Lord Dreever, pointing.

"Sure," said Spike, affably. He trotted away.

"Jump in, Pitt," said Lord Dreever. "I'm going to walk."

"No, I'll walk," said Jimmy. "I'd rather. I want a bit of exercise. Which way do I go?"

"Frightfully good of you, old chap," said Lord Dreever. "Sure you don't mind? I do bar walking. Right-ho! You keep straight on."

He sat down in the tonneau by his aunt's side. The last Jimmy saw was a hasty vision of him engaged in earnest conversation with Lady Julia. He did not seem to be enjoying himself. Nobody is at his best in conversation with a lady whom he knows to be possessed of a firm belief in the weakness of his intellect. A prolonged conversation with Lady Julia always made Lord Dreever feel as if he were being tied into knots.

Jimmy watched them out of sight, and started to follow at a leisurely pace. It certainly was an ideal afternoon for a country walk. The sun was just hesitating whether to treat the time as afternoon or evening. Eventually, it decided that it was evening, and moderated its beams. After London, the country was deliciously fresh and cool. Jimmy felt an unwonted content. It seemed to him just then that the only thing worth doing in the world was to settle down somewhere with three acres and a cow, and become pastoral.

There was a marked lack of traffic on the road. Once he met a cart, and once a flock of sheep with a friendly dog. Sometimes, a rabbit would dash out into the road, stop to listen, and dart into the opposite hedge, all hind-legs and white scut. But, except for these, he was alone in the world.

And, gradually, there began to be borne in upon him the conviction that he had lost his way.

It is difficult to judge distance when one is walking, but it certainly seemed to Jimmy that he must have covered five miles by this time. He must have mistaken the way. He had doubtless come straight. He could not have come straighter. On the other hand, it would be quite in keeping with the cheap substitute which served the Earl of Dreever in place of a mind that he should have forgotten to mention some important turning. Jimmy sat down by the roadside.

As he sat, there came to him from down the road the sound of a horse's feet, trotting. He got up. Here was somebody at last who would direct him.

The sound came nearer. The horse turned the corner; and Jimmy saw with surprise that it bore no rider.

"Hullo?" he said. "Accident? And, by Jove, a side-saddle!"

The curious part of it was that the horse appeared in no way a wild horse. It gave the impression of being out for a little trot on its own account, a sort of equine constitutional.

Jimmy stopped the horse, and led it back the way it had come. As he turned the bend in the road, he saw a girl in a riding-habit running toward him. She stopped running when she caught sight of him, and slowed down to a walk.

"Thank you ever so much," she said, taking the reins from him. "Dandy, you naughty old thing! I got off to pick up my crop, and he ran away."

Jimmy looked at her flushed, smiling face, and stood staring.

It was Molly McEachern.