The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 9

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CHAPTER IX


FRIENDS, NEW AND OLD


ON the night of the day on which Sir Thomas Blunt wrote and dispatched his letter to Wragge's Detective Agency, Jimmy Pitt chanced to stop at the Savoy.

If you have the money and the clothes, and do not object to being turned out into the night just as you are beginning to enjoy yourself, there are few things pleasanter than supper at the Savoy Hotel, London. But, as Jimmy sat there, eying the multitude through the smoke of his cigarette, he felt, despite all the brightness and glitter, that this was a flat world, and that he was very much alone in it.

A little over a year had passed since the merry evening at Police-Captain McEachern's. During that time, he had covered a good deal of new ground. His restlessness had reasserted itself. Somebody had mentioned Morocco in his hearing, and a fortnight later he was in Fez.

Of the principals in that night's drama, he had seen nothing more. It was only when, after walking home on air, rejoicing over the strange chance that had led to his finding and having speech with the lady of the Lusitania, he had reached Fifty-Ninth Street, that he realized how he had also lost her. It suddenly came home to him that not only did he not know her address, but he was ignorant of her name. Spike had called the man with the revolver "boss" throughout—only that and nothing more. Except that he was a police-captain, Jimmy knew as little about the man as he had before their meeting. And Spike, who held the key to the mystery, had vanished. His acquaintances of that night had passed out of his life like figures in a waking dream. As far as the big man with the pistol was concerned, this did not distress him. He had known that massive person only for about a quarter of an hour, but to his thinking that was ample. Spike he would have liked to meet again, but he bore the separation with much fortitude. There remained the girl of the ship; and she had haunted him with unfailing persistence during every one of the three hundred and eighty-four days that had passed since their meeting.

It was the thought of her that had made New York seem cramped. For weeks, Jimmy had patrolled the likely streets, the Park, and Riverside Drive, in the hope of meeting her. He had gone to the theaters and restaurants, but with no success. Sometimes, he had wandered through the Bowery, on the chance of meeting Spike. He had seen red heads in profusion, but never again that of his young disciple in the art of burglary. In the end, he had wearied of the other friends of the Strollers, had gone out again on his wanderings. He was greatly missed, especially by that large section of his circle which was in a perpetual state of wanting a little to see it through till Saturday. For years, Jimmy had been to these unfortunates a human bank on which they could draw at will. It offended them that one of those rare natures which are always good for two dollars at any hour of the day should be allowed to waste itself on places like Morocco and Spain—especially Morocco, where, by all accounts, there were brigands with almost a New York sense of touch.

They argued earnestly with Jimmy. They spoke of Raisuli and Kaid MacLean. But Jimmy was not to be stopped. The gad-fly was vexing him, and he had to move.

For a year, he had wandered, realizing every day the truth of Horace's philosophy for those who travel, that a man cannot change his feelings with his climate, until finally he had found himself, as every wanderer does, at Charing Cross.

At this point, he had tried to rally. Such running away, he told himself, was futile. He would stand still and fight the fever in him.

He had been fighting it now for a matter of two weeks, and already he was contemplating retreat. A man at luncheon had been talking about Japan—


Watching the crowd, Jimmy had found his attention attracted chiefly by a party of three, a few tables away. The party consisted of a girl, rather pretty, a lady of middle age and stately demeanor, plainly her mother, and a light-haired, weedy young man in the twenties. It had been the almost incessant prattle of this youth and the peculiarly high-pitched, gurgling laugh which shot from him at short intervals that had drawn Jimmy's notice upon them. And it was the curious cessation of both prattle and laugh that now made him look again in their direction.

The young man faced Jimmy; and Jimmy, looking at him, could see that all was not well with him. He was pale. He talked at random. A slight perspiration was noticeable on his forhead.

Jimmy caught his eye. There was a hunted look in it.

Given the time and the place, there were only two things that could have caused this look. Either the light-haired young man had seen a ghost, or he had suddenly realized that he had not enough money to pay the check.

Jimmy's heart went out to the sufferer. He took a card from his case, scribbled the words, "Can I help?" on it, and gave it to a waiter to take to the young man, who was now in a state bordering on collapse.

The next moment, the light-haired one was at his table, talking in a feverish whisper.

"I say," he said, "it's frightfully good of you, old chap! It's frightfully awkward. I've come out with too little money. I hardly like to—you've never seen me before—"

"Don't rub in my misfortunes," pleaded Jimmy. "It wasn't my fault."

He placed a five-pound note on the table.

"Say when," he said, producing another.

"I say, thanks fearfully," the young man said. "I don't know what I'd have done." He grabbed at the note. "I'll let you have it back to-morrow. Here's my card. Is your address on your card? I can't remember. Oh, by Jove, I've got it in my hand all the time." The gurgling laugh came into action again, freshened and strengthened by its rest. "Savoy Mansions, eh? I'll come round to-morrow. Thanks frightfully again, old chap. I don't know what I should have done."

"It's been a treat," said Jimmy, deprecatingly.

The young man flitted back to his table, bearing the spoil. Jimmy looked at the card he had left. "Lord Dreever," it read, and in the corner the name of a well-known club. The name Dreever was familiar to Jimmy. Everyone knew of Dreever Castle, partly because it was one of the oldest houses in England, but principally because for centuries it had been advertised by a particularly gruesome ghost-story. Everyone had heard of the secret of Dreever, which was known only to the earl and the family lawyer, and confided to the heir at midnight on his twenty-first birthday. Jimmy had come across the story in corners of the papers all over the States, from New York to Onehorseville, Iowa. He looked with interest at the light-haired young man, the latest depository of the awful secret. It was popularly supposed that the heir, after hearing it, never smiled again; but it did not seem to have affected the present Lord Dreever to any great extent. His gurgling laugh was drowning the orchestra. Probably, Jimmy thought, when the family lawyer had told the light-haired young man the secret, the latter's comment had been, "No, really? By Jove, I say, you know!"

Jimmy paid his bill, and got up to go.

It was a perfect summer night—too perfect for bed. Jimmy strolled on to the Embankment, and stood leaning over the balustrade, looking across the river at the vague, mysterious mass of buildings on the Surrey side.

He must have been standing there for some time, his thoughts far away, when a voice spoke at his elbow.

"I say. Excuse me, have you—Hullo!" It was his light-haired lordship of Dreever. "I say, by Jove, why we're always meeting!"

A tramp on a bench close by stirred uneasily in his sleep as the gurgling laugh rippled the air.

"Been looking at the water?" inquired Lord Dreever. "I have. I often do. Don't you think it sort of makes a chap feel—oh, you know. Sort of—I don't know how to put it."

"Mushy?" said Jimmy.

"I was going to say poetical. Suppose there's a girl—"

He paused, and looked down at the water. Jimmy was sympathetic with this mood of contemplation, for in his case, too, there was a girl.

"I saw my party off in a taxi," continued Lord Dreever, "and came down here for a smoke; only, I hadn't a match. Have you—?"

Jimmy handed over his match-box. Lord Dreever lighted a cigar, and fixed his gaze once more on the river.

"Ripping it looks," he said.

Jimmy nodded.

"Funny thing," said Lord Dreever. "In the daytime, the water here looks all muddy and beastly. Damn' depressing, I call it. But at night—." He paused. "I say," he went on after a moment, "Did you see the girl I was with at the Savoy?"

"Yes," said Jimmy.

"She's a ripper," said Lord Dreever, devoutly.

On the Thames Embankment, in the small hours of a summer morning, there is no such thing as a stranger. The man you talk with is a friend, and, if he will listen—as, by the etiquette of the place, he must—you may pour out your heart to him without restraint. It is expected of you!

"I'm fearfully in love with her," said his lordship.

"She looked a charming girl," said Jimmy.

They examined the water in silence. From somewhere out in the night came the sound of oars, as the police-boat moved on its patrol.

"Does she make you want to go to Japan?" asked Jimmy, suddenly.

"Eh?" said Lord Dreever, startled. "Japan?"

Jimmy adroitly abandoned the position of confidant, and seized that of confider.

"I met a girl a year ago—only really met her once, and even then—oh, well! Anyway, it's made me so restless that I haven't been able to stay in one place for more than a month on end. I tried Morocco, and had to quit. I tried Spain, and that wasn't any good, either. The other day, I heard a fellow say that Japan was a pretty interesting sort of country. I was wondering whether I wouldn't give it a trial."

Lord Dreever regarded this traveled man with interest.

"It beats me," he said, wonderingly. "What do you want to leg it about the world like that for? What's the trouble? Why don't you stay where the girl is?"

"I don't know where she is."

"Don't know?"

"She disappeared."

"Where did you see her last?" asked his lordship, as if Molly were a mislaid penknife.

"New York."

"But how do you mean, disappeared? Don't you know her address?"

"I don't even know her name."

"But dash it all, I say, I mean! Have you ever spoken to her?"

"Only once. It's rather a complicated story. At any rate, she's gone."

Lord Dreever said that it was a rum business. Jimmy conceded the point.

"Seems to me," said his lordship, "we're both in the cart."

"What's your trouble?"

Lord Dreever hesitated.

"Oh, well, it's only that I want to marry one girl, and my uncle's dead set on my marrying another."

"Are you afraid of hurting your uncle's feelings?"

"It's not so much hurting his feelings. It's—oh, well, it's too long to tell now. I think I'll be getting home. I'm staying at our place in Eaton Square."

"How are you going? If you'll walk, I'll come some of the way with you."

"Right you are. Let's be pushing along, shall we?"

They turned up into the Strand, and through Trafalgar Square into Piccadilly. Piccadilly has a restful aspect in the small hours. Some men were cleaning the road with water from a long hose. The swishing of the torrent on the parched wood was musical.

Just beyond the gate of Hyde Park, to the right of the road, stands a cabmen's shelter. Conversation and emotion had made Lord Dreever thirsty. He suggested coffee as a suitable conclusion to the night's revels.

"I often go in here when I'm up in town," he said. "The cabbies don't mind. They're sportsmen."

The shelter was nearly full when they opened the door. It was very warm inside. A cabman gets so much fresh air in the exercise of his professional duties that he is apt to avoid it in private life. The air was heavy with conflicting scents. Fried onions seemed to be having the best of the struggle for the moment, though plug tobacco competed gallantly. A keenly analytical nose might also have detected the presence of steak and coffee.

A dispute seemed to be in progress as they entered.

"You don't wish you was in Russher," said a voice.

"Yus, I do wish I wos in Russher," retorted a shriveled mummy of a cabman, who was blowing patiently at a saucerful of coffee.

"Why do you wish you was in Russher?" asked the interlocutor, introducing a Massa Bones and Massa Johnsing touch into the dialogue.

"Because yer can wade over yer knees in bla-a-a-ad there," said the mummy.

"In wot?"

"In bla-a-ad—ruddy bla-a-ad! That's why I wish I wos in Russher."

"Cheery cove that," said Lord Dreever. "I say, can you give us some coffee?"

"I might try Russia instead of Japan," said Jimmy, meditatively.

The lethal liquid was brought. Conversation began again. Other experts gave their views on the internal affairs of Russia. Jimmy would have enjoyed it more if he had been less sleepy. His back was wedged comfortably against the wall of the shelter, and the heat of the room stole into his brain. The voices of the disputants grew fainter and fainter.

He had almost dozed off when a new voice cut through the murmur and woke him. It was a voice he knew, and the accent was a familiar accent.

"Gents! Excuse me."

He looked up. The mists of sleep shredded away. A ragged youth with a crop of fiery red hair was standing in the doorway, regarding the occupants of the shelter with a grin, half-whimsical, half-defiant.

Jimmy recognized him. It was Spike Mullins.

"Excuse me," said Spike Mullins. "Is dere any gent in dis bunch of professional beauts wants to give a poor orphan dat suffers from a painful toist something to drink? Gents is courteously requested not to speak all in a crowd."

"Shet that blanky door," said the mummy cabman, sourly.

"And 'op it," added his late opponent. "We don't want none of your sort 'ere."

"Den you ain't my long-lost brudders after all," said the newcomer, regretfully. "I t'ought youse didn't look handsome enough for dat. Good-night to youse, gents."

"Shet that door, can't yer, when I'm telling yer!" said the mummy, with increased asperity.

Spike was reluctantly withdrawing, when Jimmy rose.

"One moment," he said.

Never in his life had Jimmy failed to stand by a friend in need. Spike was not, perhaps, exactly a friend, but even an acquaintance could rely on Jimmy when down in the world. And Spike was manifestly in that condition.

A look of surprise came into the Bowery Boy's face, followed by one of stolid woodenness. He took the sovereign that Jimmy held out to him with a muttered word of thanks, and shuffled out of the room.

"Can't see what you wanted to give him anything for," said Lord Dreever. "Chap'll only spend it getting soused."

"Oh, he reminded me of a man I used to know."

"Did he? Barnum's what-is-it, I should think," said his lordship. "Shall we be moving?"