The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 28

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CHAPTER XXVIII


SPENNIE'S HOUR OF CLEAR VISION


MR. McEACHERN sat in the billiard-room, smoking. He was alone. From where he sat, he could hear distant strains of music. The more rigorous portion of the evening's entertainment, the theatricals, was over, and the nobility and gentry, having done their duty by sitting through the performance, were now enjoying themselves in the ballroom. Everybody was happy. The play had been quite as successful as the usual amateur performance. The prompter had made himself a great favorite from the start, his series of duets with Spennie having been especially admired; and Jimmy, as became an old professional, had played his part with great finish and certainty of touch, though, like the bloodhounds in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" on the road, he had had poor support. But the audience bore no malice. No collection of individuals is less vindictive than an audience at amateur theatricals. It was all over now. Charteris had literally gibbered in the presence of eye-witnesses at one point in the second act, when Spennie, by giving a wrong cue, had jerked the play abruptly into act three, where his colleagues, dimly suspecting something wrong, but not knowing what it was, had kept it for two minutes, to the mystification of the audience. But, now, Charteris had begun to forget. As he two-stepped down the room, the lines of agony on his face were softened. He even smiled.

As for Spennie, the brilliance of his happy grin dazzled all beholders.

He was still wearing it when he invaded the solitude of Mr. McEachern. In every dance, however greatly he may be enjoying it, there comes a time when a man needs a meditative cigarette apart from the throng. It came to Spennie after the seventh item on the program. The billiard-room struck him as admirably suitable in every way. It was not likely to be used as a sitting-out place, and it was near enough to the ball-room to enable him to hear when the music of item number nine should begin.

Mr. McEachern welcomed his visitor. In the turmoil following the theatricals, he had been unable to get a word with any of the persons with whom he most wished to speak. He had been surprised that no announcement of the engagement had been made at the end of the performance. Spennie would be able to supply him with information as to when the announcement might be expected.

Spennie hesitated for an instant when he saw who was in the room. He was not over-anxious for a tête-a-tête with Molly's father just then. But, reflecting that, after all, he was not to blame for any disappointment that might be troubling the other, he switched on his grin again, and walked in.

"Came in for a smoke," he explained, by way of opening the conversation. "Not dancing the next."

"Come in, my boy, come in," said Mr. McEachern. "I was waiting to see you."

Spennie regretted his entrance. He had supposed that the other had heard the news of the breaking-off of the engagement. Evidently, however, McEachern had not. This was a nuisance. The idea of flight came to Spennie, but he dismissed it. As nominal host that night, he had to dance many duty-dances. This would be his only chance of a smoke for hours, and the billiard-room was the best place for it.

He sat down, and lighted a cigarette, casting about the while for an innocuous topic of conversation.

"Like the show?" he inquired.

"Fine," said Mr. McEachern. "By the way—"

Spennie groaned inwardly. He had forgotten that a determined man can change the conversation to any subject he pleases by means of those three words.

"By the way," said Mr. McEachern, "I thought Sir Thomas—wasn't your uncle intending to announce—?"

"Well, yes, he was," said Spennie.

"Going to do it during the dancing, maybe?"

"Well—er—no. The fact is, he's not going to do it at all, don't you know." Spennie inspected the red end of his cigarette closely. "As a matter of fact, it's kind of broken off."

The other's exclamation jarred on him. Rotten, having to talk about this sort of thing!

"Broken off?"

Spennie nodded.

"Miss McEachern thought it over, don't you know," he said, "and came to the conclusion that it wasn't good enough."

Now that it was said, he felt easier. It had merely been the awkwardness of having to touch on the thing that had troubled him. That his news might be a blow to McEachern did not cross his mind. He was a singularly modest youth, and, though he realized vaguely that his title had a certain value in some persons' eyes, he could not understand anyone mourning over the loss of him as a son-in-law. Katie's father, the old general, thought him a fool, and once, during an attack of gout, had said so. Spennie was wont to accept this as the view which a prospective father-in-law might be expected to entertain regarding himself.

Oblivious, therefore, to the storm raging a yard away from him, he smoked on with great contentment, till suddenly it struck him that, for a presumably devout lover, jilted that very night, he was displaying too little emotion. He debated swiftly within himself whether or not he should have a dash at manly grief, but came to the conclusion that it could not be done. Melancholy on this maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year, the day on which he had utterly routed the powers of evil, as represented by Sir Thomas, was impossible. He decided, rather, on a let-us-be-reasonable attitude.

"It wouldn't have done, don't you know," he said. "We weren't suited. What I mean to say is, I'm a bit of a dashed sort of silly ass in some ways, if you know what I mean. A girl like Miss McEachern couldn't have been happy with me. She wants one of these capable, energetic fellers."

This struck him as a good beginning—modest, but not groveling. He continued, tapping quite a respectably deep vein of philosophy as he spoke.

"You see, dear old top—I mean, sir, you see, it's like this. As far as women are concerned, fellers are divided into two classes. There's the masterful, capable Johnnies, and the—er—the other sort. Now, I'm the other sort. My idea of the happy married life is to be—well, not exactly downtrodden, but—you know what I mean—kind of second fiddle. I want a wife—" his voice grew soft and dreamy—"who'll pet me a good deal, don't you know, stroke my hair a lot, and all that. I haven't it in me to do the master-in-my-own-house business. For me, the silent-devotion touch. Sleeping on the mat outside her door, don't you know, when she wasn't feeling well, and being found there in the morning and being rather cosseted for my thoughtfulness. That's the sort of idea. Hard to put it quite O. K., but you know the sort of thing I mean. A feller's got to realize his jolly old limitations if he wants to be happy though married, what? Now, suppose Miss McEachern was to marry me! Great Scott, she'd be bored to death in a week. Honest! She couldn't help herself. She wants a chap with the same amount of go in him that she's got."

He lighted another cigarette. He was feeling pleased with himself. Never before had ideas marshaled themselves in his mind in such long and well-ordered ranks. He felt that he could go on talking like this all night. He was getting brainier every minute. He remembered reading in some book somewhere of a girl (or chappie) who had had her (or his) "hour of clear vision." This was precisely what had happened now. Whether it was owing to the excitement of what had taken place that night, or because he had been keying up his thinking powers with excellent dry champagne, he did not know. All he knew was that he felt on top of his subject. He wished he had had a larger audience.

"A girl like Miss McEachern doesn't want any of that hair-stroking business. She'd simply laugh at a feller if he asked for it. She needs a chappie of the get-on-or-get-out type, somebody in the six cylinder class. And, as a matter of fact, between ourselves, I rather think she's found him."

"What!"

Mr. McEachern half-rose from his chair. All his old fears had come surging back.

"What do you mean?"

"Fact," said his lordship, nodding. "Mind you, I don't know for certain. As the girl says in the song, I don't know, but I guess. What I mean to say is, they seemed jolly friendly, and all that; calling each other by their first names, and so on."

"Who—?"

"Pitt," said his lordship. He was leaning back, blowing a smoke-ring at the moment, so he did not see the look on the other's face and the sudden grip of the fingers on the arms of the chair. He went on with some enthusiasm.

"Jimmy Pitt!" he said. "Now, there's a feller! Full of oats to the brim, and fairly bursting with go and energy. A girl wouldn't have a dull moment with a chap like that. You know," he proceeded confidently, "there's a lot in this idea of affinities. Take my word for it, dear old—sir. There's a girl up in London, for instance. Now, she and I hit it off most amazingly. There's hardly a thing we don't think alike about. For instance, 'The Merry Widow' didn't make a bit of a hit with her. Nor did it with me. Yet, look at the millions of people who raved about it. And neither of us likes oysters. We're affinities—that's why. You see the same sort of thing all over the place. It's a jolly queer business. Sometimes, makes me believe in re-in-what's-it's-name. You know what I mean. All that in the poem, you know. How does it go? 'When you were a tiddley-om-pom, and I was a thingummajig.' Dashed brainy bit of work. I was reading it only the other day. Well, what I mean to say is, it's my belief that Jimmy Pitt and Miss McEachern are by way of being something in that line. Doesn't it strike you that they are just the sort to get on together? You can see it with half an eye. You can't help liking a feller like Jimmy Pitt. He's a sport! I wish I could tell you some of the things he's done, but I can't, for reasons. But you can take it from me, he's a sport. You ought to cultivate him. You'd like him … Oh, dash it, there's the music. I must be off. Got to dance this one."

He rose from his chair, and dropped his cigarette into the ash-tray.

"So long," he said, with a friendly nod. "Wish I could stop, but it's no go. That's the last let-up I shall have to-night."

He went out, leaving Mr. McEachern a prey to many and varied emotions.