The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 29
THE LAST ROUND
HE had only been gone a few minutes when Mr. McEachern's meditations were again interrupted. This time, the visitor was a stranger to him, a dark-faced, clean-shaven man. He did not wear evening clothes, so could not be one of the guests; and Mr. McEachern could not place him immediately. Then, he remembered. He had seen him in Sir Thomas Blunt's dressing-room. This was Sir Thomas's valet.
"Might I have a word with you, sir?"
"What is it?" asked McEachern, staring heavily. His mind had not recovered from the effect of Lord Dreever's philosophical remarks. There was something of a cloud on his brain. To judge from his lordship's words, things had been happening behind his back; and the idea of Molly's deceiving him was too strange to be assimilated in an instant. He looked at the valet dully.
"What is it?" he asked again.
"I must apologize for intruding, but I thought it best to approach you before making my report to Sir Thomas."
"I am employed by a private inquiry agency."
"Yes, sir. Wragge's. You may have heard of us. In Holborn Bars. Very old-established. Divorce a specialty. You will have seen the advertisements. Sir Thomas wrote asking for a man, and the governor sent me down. I have been with the house some years. My job, I gathered, was to keep my eyes open generally. Sir Thomas, it seemed, had no suspicions of any definite person. I was to be on the spot just in case, in a manner of speaking. And it's precious lucky I was, or her ladyship's jewels would have been gone. I've done a fair cop this very night."
He paused, and eyed the ex-policeman keenly. McEachern was obviously excited. Could Jimmy have made an attempt on the jewels during the dance? or Spike?
"Say," he said, "was it a red-headed—?"
The detective was watching him with a curious smile.
"No, he wasn't red-headed. You seem interested, sir. I thought you would be. I will tell you all about it. I had had my suspicions of this party ever since he arrived. And I may say that it struck me at the time that there was something mighty fishy about the way he got into the castle."
McEachern started. So, he had not been the only one to suspect Jimmy's motives in attaching himself to Lord Dreever.
"Go on," he said.
"I suspected that there was some game on, and it struck me that this would be the day for the attempt, the house being upside down, in a manner of speaking, on account of the theatricals. And I was right. I kept near those jewels on and off all day, and, presently, just as I had thought, along comes this fellow. He'd hardly got to the door when I was on him."
"Good boy! You're no rube."
"We fought for a while, but, being a bit to the good in strength, and knowing something about the game, I had the irons on him pretty quick, and took him off, and locked him in the cellar. That's how it was, sir."
Mr. McEachern's relief was overwhelming. If Lord Dreever's statement was correct and Jimmy had really succeeded in winning Molly's affection, this would indeed be a rescue at the eleventh hour. It was with a Nunc-Dimittis air that he felt for his cigar-case, and extended it toward the detective. A cigar from his own private case was with him a mark of supreme favor and good-will, a sort of accolade which he bestowed only upon the really meritorious few.
Usually, it was received with becoming deference; but on this occasion there was a somewhat startling deviation from routine; for, just as he was opening the case, something cold and hard pressed against each of his wrists, there was a snap and a click, and, looking up, dazed, he saw that the detective had sprung back, and was contemplating him with a grim smile over the barrel of an ugly-looking little revolver.
Guilty or innocent, the first thing a man does when he finds handcuffs on his wrists is to try to get them off. The action is automatic. Mr. McEachern strained at the steel chain till the veins stood out on his forehead. His great body shook with rage.
The detective eyed these efforts with some satisfaction. The picture presented by the other as he heaved and tugged was that of a guilty man trapped.
"It's no good, my friend," he said.
The voice brought McEachern back to his senses. In the first shock of the thing, the primitive man in him had led him beyond the confines of self-restraint. He had simply struggled unthinkingly. Now, he came to himself again.
He shook his manacled hands furiously.
"What does this mean?" he shouted. "What the—?"
"Less noise," said the detective, sharply. "Get back!" he snapped, as the other took a step forward.
"Do you know who I am?" thundered McEachern.
"No," said the detective. "And that's just why you're wearing those bracelets. Come, now, don't be a fool. The game's up. Can't you see that?"
McEachern leaned helplessly against the billiard-table. He felt weak. Everything was unreal. Had he gone mad? he wondered.
"That's right," said the detective. "Stay there. You can't do any harm there. It was a pretty little game, I'll admit. You worked it well. Meeting your old friend from New York and all, and having him invited to the castle. Very pretty. New York, indeed! Seen about as much of New York as I have of Timbuctoo. I saw through him."
Some inkling of the truth began to penetrate McEachern's consciousness. He had become obsessed with the idea that, as the captive was not Spike, it must be Jimmy. The possibility of Mr. Galer's being the subject of discussion only dawned upon him now.
"What do you mean?" he cried. "Who is it that you have arrested?"
"Blest if I know. You can tell me that, I should think, seeing he's an old Timbuctoo friend of yours. Galer's the name he goes by here."
"That's the man. And do you know what he had the impudence, the gall, to tell me? That he was in my own line of business. A detective! He said you had sent for him to come here!"
The detective laughed amusedly at the recollection.
"And so he is, you fool. So I did."
"Oh, you did, did you? And what business had you bringing detectives into other people's houses?"
Mr. McEachern started to answer, but checked himself. Never before had he appreciated to the full the depth and truth of the proverb relating to the frying-pan and the fire. To clear himself, he must mention his suspicions of Jimmy, and also his reasons for those suspicions. And to do that would mean revealing his past. It was Scylla and Charybdis.
A drop of perspiration trickled down his temple.
"What's the good?" said the detective. "Mighty ingenious idea, that, only you hadn't allowed for there being a real detective in the house. It was that chap pitching me that yarn that made me suspicious of you. I put two and two together. 'Partners,' I said to myself. I'd heard all about you, scraping acquaintance with Sir Thomas and all. Mighty ingenious. You become the old family friend, and then you let in your pal. He gets the stuff, and hands it over to you. Nobody dreams of suspecting you, and there you are. Honestly, now, wasn't that the game?"
"It's all a mistake—" McEachern was beginning, when the door-handle turned.
The detective looked over his shoulder. McEachern glared dumbly. This was the crowning blow, that there should be spectators of his predicament.
Jimmy strolled into the room.
"Dreever told me you were in here," he said to McEachern. "Can you spare me a— Hullo!"
The detective had pocketed his revolver at the first sound of the handle. To be discreet was one of the chief articles in the creed of the young men from Wragge's Detective Agency. But handcuffs are not easily concealed. Jimmy stood staring in amazement at McEachern's wrists.
"Some sort of a round game?" he enquired with interest.
The detective became confidential.
"It's this way, Mr. Pitt. There's been some pretty deep work going on here. There's a regular gang of burglars in the place. This chap here's one of them."
"What, Mr. McEachern!"
"That's what he calls himself."
It was all Jimmy could do to keep himself from asking Mr. McEachern whether he attributed his downfall to drink. He contented himself with a sorrowful shake of the head at the fermenting captive. Then, he took up the part of the prisoner's attorney.
"I don't believe it," he said. "What makes you think so?"
"Why, this afternoon, I caught this man's pal, the fellow that calls himself Galer—"
"I know the man," said Jimmy. "He's a detective, really. Mr. McEachern brought him down here."
The sleuth's jaw dropped limply, as if he had received a blow.
"What?" he said, in a feeble voice.
"Didn't I tell you—?" began Mr. McEachern; but the sleuth was occupied with Jimmy. That sickening premonition of disaster was beginning to steal over him. Dimly, he began to perceive that he had blundered.
"Yes," said Jimmy. "Why, I can't say; but Mr. McEachern was afraid someone might try to steal Lady Julia Blunt's rope of diamonds. So, he wrote to London for this man, Galer. It was officious, perhaps, but not criminal. I doubt if, legally, you could handcuff a man for a thing like that. What have you done with good Mr. Galer?"
"I've locked him in the coal-cellar," said the detective, dismally. The thought of the interview in prospect with the human bloodhound he had so mishandled was not exhilarating.
"Locked him in the cellar, did you?" said Jimmy. "Well, well, I daresay he's very happy there. He's probably busy detecting black-beetles. Still, perhaps you had better go and let him out. Possibly, if you were to apologize to him—? Eh? Just as you think. I only suggest. If you want somebody to vouch for Mr. McEachern's non-burglariousness, I can do it. He is a gentleman of private means, and we knew each other out in New York—we are old acquaintances."
"I never thought—."
"That," said Jimmy, with sympathetic friendliness, "if you will allow me to say so, is the cardinal mistake you detectives make. You never do think."
"It never occurred to me—"
The detective looked uneasily at Mr. McEachern. There were indications in the policeman's demeanor that the moment following release would be devoted exclusively to a carnival of violence, with a certain sleuth-hound playing a prominent rôle.
He took the key of the handcuffs from his pocket, and toyed with it. Mr. McEachern emitted a low growl. It was enough.
"If you wouldn't mind, Mr. Pitt," said the sleuth, obsequiously. He thrust the key into Jimmy's hands, and fled.
Jimmy unlocked the handcuffs. Mr. McEachern rubbed his wrists.
"Ingenious little things," said Jimmy.
"I'm much obliged to you," growled Mr. McEachern, without looking up.
"Not at all. A pleasure. This circumstantial evidence thing is the devil, isn't it? I knew a man who broke into a house in New York to win a bet, and to this day the owner of that house thinks him a professional burglar."
"What's that?" said Mr. McEachern, sharply.
"Why do I say 'a man'? Why am I so elusive and mysterious? You're quite right. It sounds more dramatic, but after all what you want is facts. Very well. I broke into your house that night to win a bet. That's the limpid truth."
McEachern was staring at him. Jimmy proceeded.
"You are just about to ask—what was Spike Mullins doing with me? Well, Spike had broken into my flat an hour before, and I took him along with me as a sort of guide, philosopher, and friend."
"Spike Mullins said you were a burglar from England."
"I'm afraid I rather led him to think so. I had been to see the opening performance of a burglar-play called, 'Love, the Cracksman,' that night, and I worked off on Spike some severely technical information I had received from a pal of mine who played lead in the show. I told you when I came in that I had been talking to Lord Dreever. Well, what he was saying to me was that he had met this very actor man, a fellow called Mifflin—Arthur Mifflin—in London just before he met me. He's in London now, rehearsing for a show that's come over from America. You see the importance of this item? It means that, if you doubt my story, all you need do is to find Mifflin—I forgot what theater his play is coming on at, but you could find out in a second—and ask him to corroborate. Are you satisfied?"
McEachern did not answer. An hour before, he would have fought to the last ditch for his belief in Jimmy's crookedness; but the events of the last ten minutes had shaken him. He could not forget that it was Jimmy who had extricated him from a very uncomfortable position. He saw now that that position was not so bad as it had seemed at the time, for the establishing of the innocence of Mr. Galer could have been effected on the morrow by an exchange of telegrams between the castle and Dodson's Private Inquiry Agency; yet it had certainly been bad enough. But for Jimmy, there would have been several hours of acute embarrassment, if nothing worse. He felt something of a reaction in Jimmy's favor.
Still, it is hard to overcome a deep-rooted prejudice in an instant. He stared doubtfully.
"See here, Mr. McEachern," said Jimmy, "I wish you would listen quietly to me for a minute or two. There's really no reason on earth why we should be at one another's throats in this way. We might just as well be friends. Let's shake, and call the fight off. I guess you know why I came in here to see you?"
McEachern did not speak.
"You know that your daughter has broken off her engagement to Lord Dreever?"
"Then, he was right!" said McEachern, half to himself. "It is you?"
Jimmy nodded. McEachern drummed his fingers on the table, and gazed thoughtfully at him.
"Is Molly—?" he said at length. "Does Molly—?"
"Yes," said Jimmy.
McEachern continued his drumming.
"Don't think there's been anything underhand about this," said Jimmy. "She absolutely refused to do anything unless you gave your consent. She said you had been partners all her life, and she was going to do the square thing by you."
"She did?" said McEachern, eagerly.
"I think you ought to do the square thing by her. I'm not much, but she wants me. Do the square thing by her."
He stretched out his hand, but he saw that the other did not notice the movement. McEachern was staring straight in front of him. There was a look in his eyes that Jimmy had never seen there before, a frightened, hunted look. The rugged aggressiveness of his mouth and chin showed up in strange contrast. The knuckles of his clenched fists were white.
"It's too late," he burst out. "I'll be square with her now, but it's too late. I won't stand in her way when I can make her happy. But I'll lose her! Oh, my God, I'll lose her!"
He gripped the edge of the table.
"Did you think I had never said to myself," he went on, "the things you said to me that day when we met here? Did you think I didn't know what I was? Who should know it better than myself? But she didn't. I'd kept it from her. I'd sweat for fear she would find out some day. When I came over here, I thought I was safe. And, then, you came, and I saw you together. I thought you were a crook. You were with Mullins in New York. I told her you were a crook."
"You told her that!"
"I said I knew it. I couldn't tell her the truth—why I thought so. I said I had made inquiries in New York, and found out about you."
Jimmy saw now. The mystery was solved. So, that was why Molly had allowed them to force her into the engagement with Dreever. For a moment, a rush of anger filled him; but he looked at McEachern, and it died away. He could not be vindictive now. It would be like hitting a beaten man. He saw things suddenly from the other's view-point, and he pitied him.
"I see," he said, slowly.
McEachern gripped the table in silence.
"I see," said Jimmy again. "You mean, she'll want an explanation."
He thought for a moment.
"You must tell her," he said, quickly. "For your own sake, you must tell her. Go and do it now. Wake up, man!" He shook him by the shoulder. "Go and do it now. She'll forgive you. Don't be afraid of that. Go and look for her, and tell her now."
McEachern roused himself.
"I will," he said.
"It's the only way," said Jimmy.
McEachern opened the door, then fell back a pace. Jimmy could hear voices in the passage outside. He recognized Lord Dreever's.
McEachern continued to back away from the door.
Lord Dreever entered, with Molly on his arm.
"Hullo," said his lordship, looking round. "Hullo, Pitt! Here we all are, what?"
"Lord Dreever wanted to smoke," said Molly.
She smiled, but there was anxiety in her eyes. She looked quickly at her father and at Jimmy.
"Molly, my dear," said McEachern huskily, "I want to speak to you for a moment."
Jimmy took his lordship by the arm.
"Come along, Dreever," he said. "You can come and sit out with me. We'll go and smoke on the terrace."
They left the room together.
"What does the old boy want?" inquired his lordship. "Are you and Miss McEachern—?"
"We are," said Jimmy.
"By Jove, I say, old chap! Million congratulations, and all that sort of rot, you know!"
"Thanks," said Jimmy. "Have a cigarette?"
His lordship had to resume his duties in the ball-room after awhile; but Jimmy sat on, smoking and thinking. The night was very still. Now and then, a sparrow would rustle in the ivy on the castle wall, and somewhere in the distance a dog was barking. The music had begun again in the ball-room. It sounded faint and thin where he sat.
In the general stillness, the opening of the door at the top of the steps came sharply to his ears. He looked up. Two figures were silhouetted for a moment against the light, and then the door closed again. They began to move slowly down the steps.
Jimmy had recognized them. He got up. He was in the shadow. They could not see him. They began to walk down the terrace. They were quite close now. Neither was speaking; but, presently, when they were but a few feet away, they stopped. There was the splutter of a match, and McEachern lighted a cigar. In the yellow light, his face was clearly visible. Jimmy looked, and was content.
He edged softly toward the shrubbery at the end of the terrace, and, entering it without a sound, began to make his way back to the house.