The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 13
NEVERTHELESS, it was in an exalted frame of mind that Jimmy dressed for dinner. It seemed to him that he had awakened from a sort of stupor. Life, so gray yesterday, now appeared full of color and possibilities. Most men who either from choice or necessity have knocked about the world for any length of time are more or less fatalists. Jimmy was an optimistic fatalist. He had always looked on Fate, not as a blind dispenser at random of gifts good and bad, but rather as a benevolent being with a pleasing bias in his own favor. He had almost a Napoleonic faith in his star. At various periods of his life (notably at the time when, as he had told Lord Dreever, he had breakfasted on bird-seed), he had been in uncommonly tight corners, but his luck had always extricated him. It struck him that it would be an unthinkable piece of bad sportsmanship on Fate's part to see him through so much, and then to abandon him just as he had arrived in sight of what was by far the biggest thing of his life. Of course, his view of what constituted the biggest thing in life had changed with the years. Every ridge of the Hill of Supreme Moments in turn had been mistaken by him for the summit; but this last, he felt instinctively, was genuine. For good or bad, Molly was woven into the texture of his life. In the stormy period of the early twenties, he had thought the same of other girls, who were now mere memories as dim as those of figures in a half-forgotten play. In their case, his convalescence had been temporarily painful, but brief. Force of will and an active life had worked the cure. He had merely braced himself, and firmly ejected them from his mind. A week or two of aching emptiness, and his heart had been once more in readiness, all nicely swept and garnished, for the next lodger.
But, in the case of Molly, it was different. He had passed the age of instantaneous susceptibility. Like a landlord who has been cheated by previous tenants, he had become wary. He mistrusted his powers of recuperation in case of disaster. The will in these matters, just like the mundane "bouncer," gets past its work. For some years now, Jimmy had had a feeling that the next arrival would come to stay; and he had adopted in consequence a gently defensive attitude toward the other sex. Molly had broken through this, and he saw that his estimate of his will-power had been just. Methods that had proved excellent in the past were useless now. There was no trace here of the dimly consoling feeling of earlier years, that there were other girls in the world. He did not try to deceive himself. He knew that he had passed the age when a man can fall in love with any one of a number of types.
This was the finish, one way or the other. There would be no second throw. She had him. However it might end, he belonged to her.
There are few moments in a man's day when his brain is more contemplative than during that brief space when he is lathering his face, preparatory to shaving. Plying the brush, Jimmy reviewed the situation. He was, perhaps, a little too optimistic. Not unnaturally, he was inclined to look upon his luck as a sort of special train which would convey him without effort to Paradise. Fate had behaved so exceedingly handsomely up till now! By a series of the most workmanlike miracles, it had brought him to the point of being Molly's fellow-guest at a country-house. This, as reason coldly pointed out a few moments later, was merely the beginning, but to Jimmy, thoughtfully lathering, it seemed the end. It was only when he had finished shaving, and was tying his cravat, that he began to perceive obstacles in his way, and sufficiently big obstacles, at that.
In the first place, Molly did not love him. And, he was bound to admit, there was no earthly reason why she ever should. A man in love is seldom vain about his personal attractions. Also, her father firmly believed him to be a master-burglar.
"Otherwise," said Jimmy, scowling at his reflection in the glass, "everything's splendid." He brushed his hair sadly.
There was a furtive rap at the door.
"Hullo?" said Jimmy. "Yes?"
The door opened slowly. A grin, surmounted by a mop of red hair, appeared round the edge of it.
"Hullo, Spike. Come in. What's the matter?"
The rest of Mr. Mullins entered the room.
"Gee, boss! I wasn't sure was dis your room. Say, who do you t'ink I nearly bumped me coco ag'inst out in de corridor downstairs? Why, old man McEachern, de cop. Dat's right!"
"Sure. Say, what's he doin' on dis beat? I pretty near went down an' out when I seen him. Dat's right. Me breath ain't got back home yet."
"Did he recognize you?"
"Did he! He starts like an actor on top de stoige when he sees he's up ag'inst de plot to ruin him, an' he gives me de fierce eye."
"I was wonderin' was I on Thoid Avenoo, or was I standin' on me coco, or what was I doin' anyhow. Den I slips off, an' chases meself up here. Say, boss, what's de game? What's old man McEachern doin' stunts dis side fer?"
"It's all right, Spike. Keep calm. I can explain. He has retired—like me! He's one of the handsome guests here."
"On your way, boss! What's dat?"
"He left the force just after that merry meeting of ours when you frolicked with the bull-dog. He came over here, and butted into society. So, here we are again, all gathered together under the same roof, like a jolly little family party."
Spike's open mouth bore witness to his amazement.
"Den—" he stammered.
"Den, what's he goin' to do?"
"I couldn't say. I'm expecting to hear shortly. But we needn't worry ourselves. The next move's with him. If he wants to comment on the situation, he won't be backward. He'll come and do it."
"Sure. It's up to him," agreed Spike.
"I'm quite comfortable. Speaking for myself, I'm having a good time. How are you getting along downstairs?"
"De limit, boss. Honest, it's to de velvet. Dey's an old gazebo, de butler, Saunders his name is, dat's de best ever at handin' out long woids. I sits an' listens. Dey calls me Mr. Mullins down dere," said Spike, with pride.
"Good. I'm glad you're all right. There's no reason why we shouldn't have an excellent time here. I don't think that Mr. McEachern will try to have us turned out, after he's heard one or two little things I have to say to him—just a few reminiscences of the past which may interest him. I have the greatest affection for Mr. McEachern—I wish it were mutual—but nothing he can say is going to make me stir from here."
"Not on your life," agreed Spike. "Say, boss, he must have got a lot of plunks to be able to butt in here. An' I know how he got dem, too. Dat's right. I comes from little old New York, meself."
"Hush, Spike, this is scandal!"
"Sure," said the Bowery boy doggedly, safely started now on his favorite subject. "I knows, an' youse knows, boss. Gee! I wish I'd bin a cop. But I wasn't tall enough. Dey's de fellers wit' de big bank-rolls. Look at dis old McEachern. Money to boin a wet dog wit' he's got, an' never a bit of woik fer it from de start to de finish. An' look at me, boss."
"I do, Spike, I do."
"Look at me. Gittin' busy all de year round, woikin' to beat de band—"
"In prisons oft," said Jimmy.
"Sure t'ing. An' chased all roun' de town. An' den what? Why, to de bad at de end of it all. Say, it's enough to make a feller—"
"Turn honest," said Jimmy. That's it, Spike. Reform. You'll be glad some day."
Spike seemed to be doubtful. He was silent for a moment, then, as if following up a train of thought, he said:
"Boss, dis is a fine big house."
"I've seen worse."
"Say, couldn't we—?"
"Spike!" said Jimmy, warningly.
"Well, couldn't we?" said Spike, doggedly. "It ain't often youse butts into a dead-easy proposition like dis one. We shouldn't have to do a t'ing excep' git busy. De stuff's just lyin' about, boss."
"I shouldn't wonder."
"Aw, it's a waste to leave it."
"Spike," said Jimmy, "I warned you of this. I begged you to be on your guard, to fight against your professional instincts. Be a man! Crush them. Try and occupy your mind. Collect butterflies."
Spike shuffled in gloomy silence.
"'Member dose jools youse swiped from de duchess?" he said, musingly.
"The dear duchess!" murmured Jimmy. "Ah, me!"
"An' de bank youse busted?"
"Those were happy days, Spike."
"Gee! " said the Bowery boy. And then, after a pause: "Dat was to de good," he said, wistfully.
Jimmy arranged his tie at the mirror.
"Dere's a loidy here," continued Spike, addressing the chest of drawers, "dat's got a necklace of jools what's wort' a hundred t'ousand plunks. Honest, boss. A hundred t'ousand plunks. Saunders told me dat—de old gazebo dat hands out de long woids. I says to him, 'Gee!' an' he says, 'Surest t'ing youse know.' A hundred t'ousand plunks!"
"So I understand," said Jimmy.
"Shall I rubber around, an' find out where is dey kept, boss?"
"Spike," said Jimmy, "ask me no more. All this is in direct contravention of our treaty respecting keeping your fingers off the spoons. You pain me. Desist."
"Sorry, boss. But dey'll be willy-wonders, dem jools. A hundred t'ousand plunks. Dat's goin' some, ain't it? What's dat dis side?"
"Twenty thousand pounds."
"Gee! … Can I help youse wit' de duds, boss?"
"No, thanks, Spike, I'm through now. You might just give me a brush down, though. No, not that. That's a hair-brush. Try the big black one."
"Dis is a boid of a dude suit," observed Spike, pausing in his labors.
"Glad you like it, Spike. Rather chic, I think."
"It's de limit. Excuse me. How much did it set youse back, boss?"
"Something like seven guineas, I believe. I could look up the bill, and let you know."
"What's dat—guineas? Is dat more dan a pound?"
"A shilling more. Why these higher mathematics?"
Spike resumed his brushing.
"What a lot of dude suits youse could git," he observed meditatively, "if youse had dem jools!" He became suddenly animated. He waved the clothes-brush. "Oh, you boss!" he cried. "What's eatin' youse? Aw, it's a shame not to. Come along, you boss! Say, what's doin'? Why ain't youse sittin' in at de game? Oh, you boss!"
Whatever reply Jimmy might have made to this impassioned appeal was checked by a sudden bang on the door. Almost simultaneously, the handle turned.
"Gee!" cried Spike. "It's de cop!"
Jimmy smiled pleasantly.
"Come in, Mr. McEachern," he said, "come in. Journeys end in lovers meeting. You know my friend Mr. Mullins, I think? Shut the door, and sit down, and let's talk of many things."