The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 20

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CHAPTER XX


A LESSON IN PICQUET


LORD DREEVER, meanwhile, having left the waterside, lighted a cigarette, and proceeded to make a reflective tour of the grounds. He felt aggrieved with the world. Molly's desertion in the canoe with Jimmy did not trouble him: he had other sorrows. One is never at one's best and sunniest when one has been forced by a ruthless uncle into abandoning the girl one loves and becoming engaged to another, to whom one is indifferent. Something of a jaundiced tinge stains one's outlook on life in such circumstances. Moreover, Lord Dreever was not by nature an introspective young man, but, examining his position as he walked along, he found himself wondering whether it was not a little unheroic. He came to the conclusion that perhaps it was. Of course, Uncle Thomas could make it deucedly unpleasant for him if he kicked. That was the trouble. If only he had even—say, a couple of thousands a year of his own—he might make a fight for it. But, dash it, Uncle Tom could cut off supplies to such a frightful extent, if there was trouble, that he would have to go on living at Dreever indefinitely, without so much as a fearful quid to call his own. Imagination boggled at the prospect. In the summer and autumn, when there was shooting, his lordship was not indisposed to a stay at the home of his fathers. But all the year round! Better a broken heart inside the radius than a sound one in the country in the winter.

"But, by gad!" mused his lordship; "if I had as much as a couple—yes, dash it, even a couple of thousand a year, I'd chance it, and ask Katie to marry me, dashed if I wouldn't!"

He walked on, drawing thoughtfully at his cigarette. The more he reviewed the situation, the less he liked it. There was only one bright spot in it, and this was the feeling that now money must surely get a shade less tight. Extracting the precious ore from Sir Thomas hitherto had been like pulling back-teeth out of a bull-dog. But, now, on the strength of this infernal engagement, surely the uncle might reasonably be expected to scatter largesse to some extent.

His lordship was just wondering whether, if approached in a softened mood, the other might not disgorge something quite big, when a large, warm rain-drop fell on his hand. From the bushes round about came an ever increasing patter. The sky was leaden.

He looked round him for shelter. He had reached the rose-garden in the course of his perambulations. At the far end was a summerhouse. He turned up his coat-collar, and ran.

As he drew near, he heard a slow and dirgelike whistling proceeding from the interior. Plunging in out of breath, just as the deluge began, he found Hargate seated at the little wooden table with an earnest expression on his face. The table was covered with cards. Hargate had not yet been compelled to sprain his wrist, having adopted the alternative of merely refusing invitations to play billiards.

"Hello, Hargate," said his lordship. "Isn't it coming down, by Jove!"

Hargate glanced up, nodded without speaking, and turned his attention to the cards once more. He took one from the pack in his left hand, looked at it, hesitated for a moment, as if doubtful whereabouts on the table it would produce the most artistic effect; and finally put it face upward. Then, he moved another card from the table, and put it on top of the other one. Throughout the performance, he whistled painfully.

His lordship regarded his guest with annoyance.

"That looks frightfully exciting," he said, disparagingly. "What are you playing at? Patience?"

Hargate nodded again, this time without looking up.

"Oh, don't sit there looking like a frog," said Lord Dreever, irritably. "Talk, man."

Hargate gathered up the cards, and proceeded to shuffle them in a meditative manner, whistling the while.

"Oh, stop it!" said his lordship.

Hargate nodded, and obediently put down the deck.

"Look here," said Lord Dreever, "this is boring me stiff. Let's have a game of something. Anything to pass away the time. Curse this rain! We shall be cooped up here till dinner at this rate. Ever played picquet? I could teach it you in five minutes."

A look almost of awe came into Hargate's face, the look of one who sees a miracle performed before his eyes. For years, he had been using all the large stock of diplomacy at his command to induce callow youths to play picquet with him, and here was this admirable young man, this pearl among young men, positively offering to teach him the game. It was too much happiness. What had he done to deserve this? He felt as a toil-worn lion might feel if some antelope, instead of making its customary bee-line for the horizon, were to trot up and insert its head between his jaws.

"I—I shouldn't mind being shown the idea," he said.

He listened attentively while Lord Dreever explained at some length the principles that govern the game of picquet. Every now and then, he asked a question. It was evident that he was beginning to grasp the idea of the game.

"What exactly is re-piquing?" he asked, as his lordship paused.

"It's like this," said his lordship, returning to his lecture.

"Yes, I see now," said the neophyte.

They began playing. Lord Dreever, as was only to be expected in a contest between teacher and student, won the first two hands. Hargate won the next.

"I've got the hang of it all right now," he said, complacently. "It's a simple sort of game. Make it more exciting, don't you think, if we played for something?"

"All right," said Lord Dreever slowly, "if you like."

He would not have suggested it himself, but, after all, dash it, if the man really asked for it— It was not his fault if the winning of a hand should have given the fellow the impression that he knew all there was to be known about picquet. Of course, picquet was a game where skill was practically bound to win. But—after all, Hargate probably had plenty of money. He could afford it.

"All right," said his lordship again. "How much?"

"Something fairly moderate? Ten bob a hundred?"

There is no doubt that his lordship ought at this suggestion to have corrected the novice's notion that ten shillings a hundred was fairly moderate. He knew that it was possible for a poor player to lose four hundred points in a twenty minutes' game, and usual for him to lose two hundred. But he let the thing go.

"Very well," he said.

Twenty minutes later, Hargate was looking somewhat ruefully at the score-sheet. "I owe you eighteen shillings," he said. "Shall I pay you now, or shall we settle up in a lump after we've finished?"

"What about stopping now? " said Lord Dreever. "It's quite fine out."

"No, let's go on. I've nothing to do till dinner, and I don't suppose you have."

His lordship's conscience made one last effort. "You'd much better stop, you know, Hargate, really," he said. "You can lose a frightful lot at this game."

"My dear Dreever," said Hargate stiffly, "I can look after myself, thanks. Of course, if you think you are risking too much, by all means—"

"Oh, if you don't mind," said his lordship, outraged, "I'm only too frightfully pleased. Only, remember I warned you."

"I'll bear it in mind. By the way, before we start, care to make it a sovereign a hundred?"

Lord Dreever could not afford to play picquet for a soverign a hundred, or, indeed, to play picquet for money at all; but, after his adversary's innuendo, it was impossible for a young gentleman of spirit to admit the humiliating fact. He nodded.

"About time, I fancy," said Hargate, looking at his watch an hour later, "that we were going in to dress for dinner."

His lordship, made no reply. He was wrapped in thought.

"Let's see, that's twenty pounds you owe me, isn't it?" continued Hargate. "Shocking bad luck you had!"

They went out into the rose-garden.

"Jolly everything smells after the rain," said Hargate, who seemed to have struck a conversational patch. "Freshened everything up."

His lordship did not appear to have noticed it. He seemed to be thinking of something else. His air was pensive and abstracted.

"There's just time," said Hargate, looking at his watch again, "for a short stroll. I want to have a talk with you."

"Oh!" said Lord Dreever.

His air did not belie his feelings. He looked pensive, and was pensive. It was deuced awkward, this twenty pounds business.

Hargate was watching him covertly. It was his business to know other people's business, and he knew that Lord Dreever was impecunious, and depended for supplies entirely on a prehensile uncle. For the success of the proposal he was about to make, he depended on this fact.

"Who's this man Pitt?" asked Hargate.

"Oh, pal of mine," said his lordship. "Why?"

"I can't stand the fellow."

"I think he's a good chap," said his lordship. "In fact," remembering Jimmy's Good Samaritanism, "I know he is. Why don't you like him?"

"I don't know. I don't."

"Oh?" said his lordship, indifferently. He was in no mood to listen to the likes and dislikes of other men.

"Look here, Dreever," said Hargate, "I want you to do something for me. I want you to get Pitt out of the place."

Lord Dreever eyed his guest curiously.

"Eh?" he said. Hargate repeated his remark.

"You seem to have mapped out quite a program for me," said Lord Dreever.

"Get him out of it," continued Hargate vehemently. Jimmy's prohibition against billiards had hit him hard. He was suffering the torments of Tantalus. The castle was full of young men of the kind to whom he most resorted, easy marks every one; and here he was, simply through Jimmy, careened like a disabled battleship. It was maddening. "Make him go. You invited him here. He doesn't expect to stop indefinitely, I suppose? If you left, he'd have to, too. What you must do is to go back to London to-morrow. You can easily make some excuse. He'll have to go with you. Then, you can drop him in London, and come back. That's what you must do."

A delicate pink flush might have been seen to spread itself over Lord Dreever's face. He began to look like an angry rabbit. He had not a great deal of pride in his composition, but the thought of the ignominious role that Hargate was sketching out for him stirred what he had to its shallow bottom. Talking on, Hargate managed to add the last straw.

"Of course," he said, "that money you lost to me at picquet—what was it? Twenty? Twenty pounds, wasn't it? Well, we would look on that as canceled, of course. That will be all right."

His lordship exploded.

"Will it?" he cried, pink to the ears. "Will it, by George? I'll pay you every frightful penny of it to-morrow, and then you can clear out, instead of Pitt. What do you take me for, I should like to know?"

"A fool, if you refuse my offer."

"I've a jolly good mind to give you a most frightful kicking."

"I shouldn't try, if I were you. It's not the sort of game you'd shine at. Better stick to picquet."

"If you think I can't pay your rotten money—"

"I do. But, if you can, so much the better. Money is always useful."

"I may be a fool in some ways—"

"You understate it, my dear man."

"—but I'm not a cad."

"You're getting quite rosy, Dreever. Wrath is good for the complexion."

"And, if you think you can bribe me, you never made a bigger mistake in your life."

"Yes, I did," said Hargate, "when I thought you had some glimmerings of intelligence. But, if it gives you any pleasure to behave like the juvenile lead in a melodrama, by all means do. Personally, I shouldn't have thought the game would be worth the candle. But, if your keen sense of honor compels you to pay the twenty pounds, all right. You mentioned to-morrow? That will suit me. So, we'll let it go it at that."

He walked off, leaving Lord Dreever filled with the comfortable glow that comes to the weak man who for once has displayed determination. He felt that he must not go back from his dignified standpoint. That money would have to be paid, and on the morrow. Hargate was the sort of man who could, and would, make it exceedingly unpleasant for him if he failed. A debt of honor was not a thing to be trifled with.

But he felt quite safe. He knew he could get the money when he pleased. It showed, he reflected philosophically, how out of evil cometh good. His greater misfortune, the engagement, would, as it were, neutralize the less, for it was ridiculous to suppose that Sir Thomas, having seen his ends accomplished, and being presumably in a spacious mood in consequence, would not be amenable to a request for a mere twenty pounds.

He went on into the hall. He felt strong and capable. He had shown Hargate the stuff there was in him. He was Spennie Dreever, the man of blood and iron, the man with whom it were best not to trifle. But it was really, come to think of it, uncommonly lucky that he was engaged to Molly. He recoiled from the idea of attempting, unfortified by that fact, to extract twenty pounds from Sir Thomas for a card-debt.

In the hall, he met Saunders.

"I have been looking for your lordship," said the butler.

"Eh? Well, here I am."

"Just so, your lordship. Miss McEachern entrusted me with this note to deliver to you in the event of her not being h'able to see you before dinner personally, your lordship."

"Right ho. Thanks."

He started to go upstairs, opening the envelope as he went. What could the girl be writing to him about? Surely, she wasn't going to start sending him love-letters, or any of that frightful rot? Deuced difficult it would be to play up to that sort of thing!

He stopped on the first landing to read the note, and at the opening line his jaw fell. The envelope fluttered to the ground.

"Oh, my sainted aunt!" he moaned, clutching at the banisters. "Now, I am in the soup!"