The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 18
THE LOCHINVAR METHOD
AS Jimmy sat smoking a last cigarette in his bedroom before going to bed that night, Spike Mullins came in. Jimmy had been thinking things over. He was one of those men who are at their best in a losing game. Imminent disaster always had the effect of keying him up and putting an edge on his mind. The news he had heard that night had left him with undiminished determination, but conscious that a change of method would be needed. He must stake all on a single throw now. Young Lochinvar rather than Romeo must be his model. He declined to believe himself incapable of getting anything that he wanted as badly as he wanted Molly. He also declined to believe that she was really attached to Lord Dreever. He suspected the hand of McEachern in the affair, though the suspicion did not clear up the mystery by any means. Molly was a girl of character, not a feminine counterpart of his lordship, content meekly to do what she was told in a matter of this kind. The whole thing puzzled him.
"Well, Spike?" he said.
He was not too pleased at the interruption. He was thinking, and he wanted to be alone.
Something appeared to have disturbed Spike. His bearing was excited.
"Say, boss! Guess what. You know dat guy dat come dis afternoon—de guy from de village, dat came wit' old man McEachern?"
"Galer?" said Jimmy. "What about him?"
There had been an addition to the guests at the castle that afternoon. Mr. McEachern, walking in the village, had happened upon an old New York acquaintance of his, who, touring England, had reached Dreever and was anxious to see the historic castle. Mr. McEachern had brought him thither, introduced him to Sir Thomas, and now Mr. Samuel Galer was occupying a room on the same floor as Jimmy's. He had appeared at dinner that night, a short, wooden-faced man, with no more conversation than Hargate. Jimmy had paid little attention to the newcomer.
"What about him?" he said.
"He's a sleut', boss."
"Dat's right. A fly cop."
"What makes you think that?"
"T'ink! Why, I can tell dem by deir eyes an' deir feet, an' de whole of dem. I could pick out a fly cop from a bunch of a t'ousand. He's a sure 'nough sleut' all right, all right. I seen him rubberin' at youse, boss."
"At me! Why at me? Why, of course. I see now. Our friend McEachern has got him in to spy on us."
"Dat's right, boss."
"Of course, you may be mistaken."
"Not me, boss. An', say, he ain't de only one."
"What, more detectives? They'll have to put up 'House Full' boards, at this rate. Who's the other?"
"A mug what's down in de soivants' hall. I wasn't so sure of him at foist, but now I'm onto his curves. He's a sleut' all right. He's vally to Sir Tummas, dis second mug is. But he ain't no vally. He's come to see no one don't get busy wit' de jools. Say, what do youse t'ink of dem jools, boss?"
"Finest I ever saw."
"Yes, dat's right. A hundred t'ousand plunks dey set him back. Dey're de limit, ain't dey? Say, won't youse really—?"
"Spike! I'm surprised at you! Do you know, you're getting a regular Mephistopheles, Spike? Suppose I hadn't an iron will, what would happen? You really must select your subjects of conversation more carefully. You're bad company for the likes of me."
Spike shuffled despondently.
Jimmy shook his head.
"It can't be done, my lad."
"But it can, boss," protested Spike. "It's dead easy. I've been up to de room, an' I seen de box what de jools is kept in. Why, it's de softest ever! We could get dem as easy as pullin' de plug out of a bottle. Why, say, dere's never been such a peach of a place for gittin' hold of de stuff as dis house. Dat's right, boss. Why, look what I got dis afternoon, just snoopin' around an' not really tryin' to git busy at all. It was just lyin' about."
He plunged his hand into his pocket, and drew it out again. As he unclosed his fingers, Jimmy caught the gleam of precious stones.
"What the—!" he gasped.
Spike was looking at his treasure-trove with an air of affectionate proprietorship.
"Where on earth did you get those?" asked Jimmy.
"Out of one of de rooms. Dey belonged to one of de loidies. It was de easiest old t'ing ever, boss. I just went in when dere was nobody around, an' dere dey was on de toible. I never butted into anyt'in' so soft."
"Do you remember the room you took them from?"
"Sure. It was de foist on de—"
"Then, just listen to me for a moment, my bright boy. When we're at breakfast to-morrow, you want to go to that room and put those things back—all of them, mind you—just where you found them. Do you understand?"
Spike's jaw had fallen.
"Put dem back, boss!" he faltered.
"Every single one of them."
"Boss!" said Spike, plaintively.
"Remember. Every single one of them, just where it belongs. See?"
"Very well, boss."
The dejection in his voice would have moved the sternest to pity. Gloom had enveloped Spike's spirit. The sunlight had gone out of his life.
It had also gone out of the lives of a good many other people at the castle. This was mainly due to the growing shadow of the day of the theatricals.
For pure discomfort, there are few things in the world that can compete with the final rehearsals of an amateur theatrical performance at a country-house. Every day, the atmosphere becomes more heavily charged with restlessness and depression. The producer of the piece, especially if he be also the author of it, develops a sort of intermittent insanity. He plucks at his mustache, if he has one: at his hair, if he has not. He mutters to himself. He gives vent to occasional despairing cries. The soothing suavity that marked his demeanor in the earlier rehearsals disappears. He no longer says with a winning smile, "Splendid, old man, splendid. Couldn't be better. But I think we'll take that over just once more, if you don't mind." Instead, he rolls his eyes, and snaps out, "Once more, please. This'll never do. At this rate, we might just as well cut out the show altogether. What's that? No, it won't be all right on the night! Now, then, once more; and do pull yourselves together this time." After this, the scene is sulkily resumed; and conversation, when the parties concerned meet subsequently, is cold and strained.
Matters had reached this stage at the castle. Everybody was thoroughly tired of the piece, and, but for the thought of the disappointment which (presumably) would rack the neighboring nobility and gentry if it were not to be produced, would have resigned their places without a twinge of regret. People who had schemed to get the best and longest parts were wishing now that they had been content with "First Footman," or "Giles, a villager."
"I'll never run an amateur show again as long as I live," confided Charteris to Jimmy almost tearfully. "It's not good enough. Most of them aren't word-perfect yet."
"It'll be all right—"
"Oh, don't say it'll be all right on the night."
"I wasn't going to," said Jimmy. "I was going to say it'll be all right after the night. People will soon forget how badly the thing went."
"You're a nice, comforting sort of man, aren't you?" said Charteris.
Jimmy himself was one of the few who were feeling reasonably cheerful. He was deriving a keen amusement at present from the maneuvers of Mr. Samuel Galer, of New York. This lynx-eyed man, having been instructed by Mr. McEachern to watch Jimmy, was doing so with a thoroughness that would have roused the suspicions of a babe. If Jimmy went to the billiard-room after dinner, Mr. Galer was there to keep him company. If, during the course of the day, he had occasion to fetch a handkerchief or a cigarette-case from his bedroom, he was sure, on emerging, to stumble upon Mr. Galer in the corridor. The employees of Dodson's Private Inquiry Agency believed in earning their salaries.
Occasionally, after these encounters, Jimmy would come upon Sir Thomas Blunt's valet, the other man in whom Spike's trained eye had discerned the distinguishing marks of the sleuth. He was usually somewhere round the corner at these moments, and, when collided with, apologized with great politeness. Jimmy decided that he must have come under suspicion in this case vicariously, through Spike. Spike in the servants' hall would, of course, stand out conspicuously enough to catch the eye of a detective on the look out for sin among the servants; and he himself, as Spike's employer, had been marked down as a possible confederate.
It tickled him to think that both these giant brains should be so greatly exercised on his account.
He had been watching Molly closely during these days. So far, no announcement of the engagement had been made. It struck him that possibly it was being reserved for public mention on the night of the theatricals. The whole county would be at the castle then. There could be no more fitting moment. He sounded Lord Dreever, and the latter said moodily that he was probably right.
"There's going to be a dance of sorts after the show," he said, "and it'll be done then, I suppose. No getting out of it after that. It'll be all over the county. Trust my uncle for that. He'll get on a table, and shout it, shouldn't wonder. And it'll be in the Morning Post next day, and Katie'll see it! Only two days more, oh, lord!"
Jimmy deduced that Katie was the Savoy girl, concerning whom his lordship had vouchsafed no particulars save that she was a ripper and hadn't a penny.
Only two days! Like the battle of Waterloo, it was going to be a close-run affair. More than ever now, he realized how much Molly meant to him; and there were moments when it seemed to him that she, too, had begun to understand. That night on the terrace seemed somehow to have changed their relationship. He thought he had got closer to her. They were in touch. Before, she had been frank, cheerful, unembarrassed. Now, he noticed a constraint in her manner, a curious shyness. There was a barrier between them, but it was not the old barrier. He had ceased to be one of a crowd.
But it was a race against time. The first day slipped by, a blank, and the second; till, now, it was but a matter of hours. The last afternoon had come.
Not even Mr. Samuel Galer, of Dodson's Private Inquiry Agency, could have kept a more unflagging watch than did Jimmy during those hours. There was no rehearsal that afternoon, and the members of the company, in various stages of nervous collapse, strayed distractedly about the grounds. First one, then another, would seize upon Molly, while Jimmy, watching from afar, cursed their pertinacity.
At last, she wondered off alone, and Jimmy, quitting his ambush, followed.
She walked in the direction of the lake. It had been a terribly hot, oppressive afternoon. There was thunder in the air. Through the trees, the lake glittered invitingly.
She was standing at the water's edge when Jimmy came up. Her back was turned. She was rocking with her foot a Canadian canoe that lay alongside the bank. She started as he spoke. His feet on the soft turf had made no sound.
"Can I take you out on the lake?" he said.
She did not answer for a moment. She was plainly confused.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I—I'm waiting for Lord Dreever."
Jimmy saw that she was nervous. There was tension in the air. She was looking away from him, out across the lake, and her face was flushed.
"Won't you?" he said.
"I'm sorry," she said again.
Jimmy looked over his shoulder. Down the lower terrace was approaching the long form of his lordship. He walked with pensive jerkiness, not as one hurrying to a welcome tryst. As Jimmy looked, he vanished behind the great clump of laurels that stood on the lowest terrace. In another minute, he would reappear round them.
Gently, but with extreme dispatch, Jimmy placed a hand on either side of Molly's waist. The next moment, he had swung her off her feet, and lowered her carefully to the cushions in the bow of the canoe.Then, jumping in himself with a force that made the boat rock, he loosened the mooring-rope, seized the paddle, and pushed off.
The next moment he had swung her off her feet and lowered her carefully to the cushions in the bow of the canoe.