Pelham Grenville Wodehouse
Part 1 out of 6
Etext produced by Jim Tinsley
A RED-HAIRED GIRL
The residence of Mr. Peter Pett, the well-known financier, on
Riverside Drive is one of the leading eyesores of that breezy and
expensive boulevard. As you pass by in your limousine, or while
enjoying ten cents worth of fresh air on top of a green omnibus,
it jumps out and bites at you. Architects, confronted with it,
reel and throw up their hands defensively, and even the lay
observer has a sense of shock. The place resembles in almost
equal proportions a cathedral, a suburban villa, a hotel and a
Chinese pagoda. Many of its windows are of stained glass, and
above the porch stand two terra-cotta lions, considerably more
repulsive even than the complacent animals which guard New York's
Public Library. It is a house which is impossible to overlook:
and it was probably for this reason that Mrs. Pett insisted on
her husband buying it, for she was a woman who liked to be
Through the rich interior of this mansion Mr. Pett, its nominal
proprietor, was wandering like a lost spirit. The hour was about
ten of a fine Sunday morning, but the Sabbath calm which was upon
the house had not communicated itself to him. There was a look of
exasperation on his usually patient face, and a muttered oath,
picked up no doubt on the godless Stock Exchange, escaped his
He was afflicted by a sense of the pathos of his position. It was
not as if he demanded much from life. He asked but little here
below. At that moment all that he wanted was a quiet spot where
he might read his Sunday paper in solitary peace, and he could
not find one. Intruders lurked behind every door. The place was
This sort of thing had been growing worse and worse ever since
his marriage two years previously. There was a strong literary
virus in Mrs. Pett's system. She not only wrote voluminously
herself--the name Nesta Ford Pett is familiar to all lovers of
sensational fiction--but aimed at maintaining a salon. Starting,
in pursuance of this aim, with a single specimen,--her nephew,
Willie Partridge, who was working on a new explosive which would
eventually revolutionise war--she had gradually added to her
collections, until now she gave shelter beneath her terra-cotta
roof to no fewer than six young and unrecognised geniuses. Six
brilliant youths, mostly novelists who had not yet started and
poets who were about to begin, cluttered up Mr. Pett's rooms on
this fair June morning, while he, clutching his Sunday paper,
wandered about, finding, like the dove in Genesis, no rest. It
was at such times that he was almost inclined to envy his wife's
first husband, a business friend of his named Elmer Ford, who had
perished suddenly of an apoplectic seizure: and the pity which he
generally felt for the deceased tended to shift its focus.
Marriage had certainly complicated life for Mr. Pett, as it
frequently does for the man who waits fifty years before trying
it. In addition to the geniuses, Mrs. Pett had brought with her
to her new home her only son, Ogden, a fourteen-year-old boy of a
singularly unloveable type. Years of grown-up society and the
absence of anything approaching discipline had given him a
precocity on which the earnest efforts of a series of private
tutors had expended themselves in vain. They came, full of
optimism and self-confidence, to retire after a brief interval,
shattered by the boy's stodgy resistance to education in any form
or shape. To Mr. Pett, never at his ease with boys, Ogden Ford
was a constant irritant. He disliked his stepson's personality,
and he more than suspected him of stealing his cigarettes. It
was an additional annoyance that he was fully aware of the
impossibility of ever catching him at it.
Mr. Pett resumed his journey. He had interrupted it for a moment
to listen at the door of the morning-room, but, a remark in a
high tenor voice about the essential Christianity of the poet
Shelley filtering through the oak, he had moved on.
Silence from behind another door farther down the passage
encouraged him to place his fingers on the handle, but a crashing
chord from an unseen piano made him remove them swiftly. He
roamed on, and a few minutes later the process of elimination had
brought him to what was technically his own private library--a
large, soothing room full of old books, of which his father had
been a great collector. Mr. Pett did not read old books himself,
but he liked to be among them, and it is proof of his pessimism
that he had not tried the library first. To his depressed mind it
had seemed hardly possible that there could be nobody there.
He stood outside the door, listening tensely. He could hear
nothing. He went in, and for an instant experienced that ecstatic
thrill which only comes to elderly gentlemen of solitary habit
who in a house full of their juniors find themselves alone at
last. Then a voice spoke, shattering his dream of solitude.
Ogden Ford was sprawling in a deep chair in the shadows.
"Come in, pop, come in. Lots of room."
Mr. Pett stood in the doorway, regarding his step-son with a
sombre eye. He resented the boy's tone of easy patronage, all the
harder to endure with philosophic calm at the present moment from
the fact that the latter was lounging in his favourite chair.
Even from an aesthetic point of view the sight of the bulging
child offended him. Ogden Ford was round and blobby and looked
overfed. He had the plethoric habit of one to whom wholesome
exercise is a stranger and the sallow complexion of the confirmed
candy-fiend. Even now, a bare half hour after breakfast, his jaws
were moving with a rhythmical, champing motion.
"What are you eating, boy?" demanded Mr. Pett, his disappointment
turning to irritability.
"I wish you would not eat candy all day."
"Mother gave it to me," said Ogden simply. As he had anticipated,
the shot silenced the enemy's battery. Mr. Pett grunted, but made
no verbal comment. Ogden celebrated his victory by putting
another piece of candy in his mouth.
"Got a grouch this morning, haven't you, pop?"
"I will not be spoken to like that!"
"I thought you had," said his step-son complacently. "I can
always tell. I don't see why you want to come picking on me,
though. I've done nothing."
Mr. Pett was sniffing suspiciously.
"You've been smoking."
"There are two butts in the ash-tray."
"I didn't put them there."
"One of them is warm."
"It's a warm day."
"You dropped it there when you heard me come in."
"No, sir! I've only been here a few minutes. I guess one of the
fellows was in here before me. They're always swiping your
coffin-nails. You ought to do something about it, pop. You ought
to assert yourself."
A sense of helplessness came upon Mr. Pett. For the thousandth
time he felt himself baffled by this calm, goggle-eyed boy who
treated him with such supercilious coolness.
"You ought to be out in the open air this lovely morning," he
"All right. Let's go for a walk. I will if you will."
"I--I have other things to do," said Mr. Pett, recoiling from the
"Well, this fresh-air stuff is overrated anyway. Where's the
sense of having a home if you don't stop in it?"
"When I was your age, I would have been out on a morning like
this--er--bowling my hoop."
"And look at you now!"
"What do you mean?"
"Martyr to lumbago."
"I am not a martyr to lumbago," said Mr. Pett, who was touchy on
"Have it your own way. All I know is--"
"I'm only saying what mother . . ."
Ogden made further researches in the candy box.
"Have some, pop?"
"Quite right. Got to be careful at your age."
"What do you mean?"
"Getting on, you know. Not so young as you used to be. Come in,
pop, if you're coming in. There's a draft from that door."
Mr. Pett retired, fermenting. He wondered how another man would
have handled this situation. The ridiculous inconsistency of the
human character infuriated him. Why should he be a totally
different man on Riverside Drive from the person he was in Pine
Street? Why should he be able to hold his own in Pine Street with
grown men--whiskered, square-jawed financiers--and yet be unable
on Riverside Drive to eject a fourteen-year-old boy from an easy
chair? It seemed to him sometimes that a curious paralysis of the
will came over him out of business hours.
Meanwhile, he had still to find a place where he could read his
He stood for a while in thought. Then his brow cleared, and he
began to mount the stairs. Reaching the top floor, he walked
along the passage and knocked on a door at the end of it. From
behind this door, as from behind those below, sounds proceeded,
but this time they did not seem to discourage Mr. Pett. It was
the tapping of a typewriter that he heard, and he listened to it
with an air of benevolent approval. He loved to hear the sound of
a typewriter: it made home so like the office.
"Come in," called a girl's voice.
The room in which Mr. Pett found himself was small but cosy, and
its cosiness--oddly, considering the sex of its owner--had that
peculiar quality which belongs as a rule to the dens of men. A
large bookcase almost covered one side of it, its reds and blues
and browns smiling cheerfully at whoever entered. The walls were
hung with prints, judiciously chosen and arranged. Through a
window to the left, healthfully open at the bottom, the sun
streamed in, bringing with it the pleasantly subdued whirring of
automobiles out on the Drive. At a desk at right angles to this
window, her vivid red-gold hair rippling in the breeze from the
river, sat the girl who had been working at the typewriter. She
turned as Mr. Pett entered, and smiled over her shoulder.
Ann Chester, Mr. Pett's niece, looked her best when she smiled.
Although her hair was the most obviously striking feature of her
appearance, her mouth was really the most individual thing about
her. It was a mouth that suggested adventurous possibilities. In
repose, it had a look of having just finished saying something
humorous, a kind of demure appreciation of itself. When it
smiled, a row of white teeth flashed out: or, if the lips did not
part, a dimple appeared on the right cheek, giving the whole face
an air of mischievous geniality. It was an enterprising,
swashbuckling sort of mouth, the mouth of one who would lead
forlorn hopes with a jest or plot whimsically lawless
conspiracies against convention. In its corners and in the firm
line of the chin beneath it there lurked, too, more than a hint
of imperiousness. A physiognomist would have gathered, correctly,
that Ann Chester liked having her own way and was accustomed to
"Hello, uncle Peter," she said. "What's the trouble?"
"Am I interrupting you, Ann?"
"Not a bit. I'm only copying out a story for aunt Nesta. I
promised her I would. Would you like to hear some of it?"
Mr. Pett said he would not.
"You're missing a good thing," said Ann, turning the pages. "I'm
all worked up over it. It's called 'At Dead of Night,' and it's
full of crime and everything. You would never think aunt Nesta
had such a feverish imagination. There are detectives and
kidnappers in it and all sorts of luxuries. I suppose it's the
effect of reading it, but you look to me as if you were trailing
something. You've got a sort of purposeful air."
Mr. Pett's amiable face writhed into what was intended to be a
"I'm only trailing a quiet place to read in. I never saw such a
place as this house. It looks big enough outside for a regiment.
Yet, when you're inside, there's a poet or something in every
"What about the library? Isn't that sacred to you?"
"The boy Ogden's there."
"What a shame!"
"Wallowing in my best chair," said Mr. Pett morosely. "Smoking
"Smoking? I thought he had promised aunt Nesta he wouldn't smoke."
"Well, he said he wasn't, of course, but I know he had been. I
don't know what to do with that boy. It's no good my talking to
him. He--he patronises me!" concluded Mr. Pett indignantly.
"Sits there on his shoulder blades with his feet on the table
and talks to me with his mouth full of candy as if I were his
Ann was sorry for Mr. Pett. For many years now, ever since the
death of her mother, they had been inseparable. Her father, who
was a traveller, explorer, big-game hunter, and general sojourner
in the lonelier and wilder spots of the world and paid only
infrequent visits to New York, had left her almost entirely in
Mr. Pett's care, and all her pleasantest memories were associated
with him. Mr. Chester's was in many ways an admirable character,
but not a domestic one; and his relations with his daughter were
confined for the most part to letters and presents. In the past
few years she had come almost to regard Mr. Pett in the light of
a father. Hers was a nature swiftly responsive to kindness; and
because Mr. Pett besides being kind was also pathetic she pitied
as well as loved him. There was a lingering boyishness in the
financier, the boyishness of the boy who muddles along in an
unsympathetic world and can never do anything right: and this
quality called aloud to the youth in her. She was at the valiant
age when we burn to right wrongs and succour the oppressed, and
wild rebel schemes for the reformation of her small world came
readily to her. From the first she had been a smouldering
spectator of the trials of her uncle's married life, and if Mr.
Pett had ever asked her advice and bound himself to act on it he
would have solved his domestic troubles in explosive fashion. For
Ann in her moments of maiden meditation had frequently devised
schemes to that end which would have made his grey hair stand
erect with horror.
"I've seen a good many boys," she said, "but Ogden is in a class
by himself. He ought to be sent to a strict boarding-school, of
"He ought to be sent to Sing-Sing," amended Mr. Pett.
"Why don't you send him to school?"
"Your aunt wouldn't hear of it. She's afraid of his being
kidnapped. It happened last time he went to school. You can't
blame her for wanting to keep her eye on him after that."
Ann ran her fingers meditatively over the keys.
"I've sometimes thought . . ."
"Oh, nothing. I must get on with this thing for aunt Nesta."
Mr. Pett placed the bulk of the Sunday paper on the floor beside
him, and began to run an appreciative eye over the comic
supplement. That lingering boyishness in him which endeared him
to Ann always led him to open his Sabbath reading in this
fashion. Grey-headed though he was, he still retained both in art
and in real life a taste for the slapstick. No one had ever known
the pure pleasure it had given him when Raymond Green, his wife's
novelist protege, had tripped over a loose stair-rod one morning
and fallen an entire flight.
From some point farther down the corridor came a muffled
thudding. Ann stopped her work to listen.
"There's Jerry Mitchell punching the bag."
"Eh?" said Mr. Pett.
"I only said I could hear Jerry Mitchell in the gymnasium."
"Yes, he's there."
Ann looked out of the window thoughtfully for a moment. Then she
swung round in her swivel-chair.
Mr. Pett emerged slowly from the comic supplement.
"Did Jerry Mitchell ever tell you about that friend of his who
keeps a dogs' hospital down on Long Island somewhere? I forget
his name. Smithers or Smethurst or something. People--old ladies,
you know, and people--bring him their dogs to be cured when they
get sick. He has an infallible remedy, Jerry tells me. He makes a
lot of money at it."
"Money?" Pett, the student, became Pett, the financier, at the
magic word. "There might be something in that if one got behind
it. Dogs are fashionable. There would be a market for a really
"I'm afraid you couldn't put Mr. Smethurst's remedy on the
market. It only works when the dog has been overeating himself
and not taking any exercise."
"Well, that's all these fancy dogs ever have the matter with
them. It looks to me as if I might do business with this man.
I'll get his address from Mitchell."
"It's no use thinking of it, uncle Peter. You couldn't do
business with him--in that way. All Mr. Smethurst does when any
one brings him a fat, unhealthy dog is to feed it next to
nothing--just the simplest kind of food, you know--and make it
run about a lot. And in about a week the dog's as well and happy
and nice as he can possibly be."
"Oh," said Mr. Pett, disappointed.
Ann touched the keys of her machine softly.
"Why I mentioned Mr. Smethurst," she said, "it was because we had
been talking of Ogden. Don't you think his treatment would be
just what Ogden needs?"
Mr. Pett's eyes gleamed.
"It's a shame he can't have a week or two of it!"
Ann played a little tune with her finger-tips on the desk.
"It would do him good, wouldn't it?"
Silence fell upon the room, broken only by the tapping of the
typewriter. Mr. Pett, having finished the comic supplement,
turned to the sporting section, for he was a baseball fan of no
lukewarm order. The claims of business did not permit him to see
as many games as he could wish, but he followed the national
pastime closely on the printed page and had an admiration for the
Napoleonic gifts of Mr. McGraw which would have gratified that
gentleman had he known of it.
"Uncle Peter," said Ann, turning round again.
"It's funny you should have been talking about Ogden getting
kidnapped. This story of aunt Nesta's is all about an
angel-child--I suppose it's meant to be Ogden--being stolen and
hidden and all that. It's odd that she should write stories like
this. You wouldn't expect it of her."
"Your aunt," said Mr. Pett, "lets her mind run on that sort of
thing a good deal. She tells me there was a time, not so long
ago, when half the kidnappers in America were after him. She sent
him to school in England--or, rather, her husband did. They were
separated then--and, as far as I can follow the story, they all
took the next boat and besieged the place."
"It's a pity somebody doesn't smuggle him away now and keep him
till he's a better boy."
"Ah!" said Mr. Pett wistfully.
Ann looked at him fixedly, but his eyes were once more on his
paper. She gave a little sigh, and turned to her work again.
"It's quite demoralising, typing aunt Nesta's stories," she said.
"They put ideas into one's head."
Mr. Pett said nothing. He was reading an article of medical
interest in the magazine section, for he was a man who ploughed
steadily through his Sunday paper, omitting nothing. The
typewriter began tapping again.
Ann swung round, and gazed at her uncle in concern. He was
staring blankly at the paper.
"What's the matter?"
The page on which Mr. Pett's attention was concentrated was
decorated with a fanciful picture in bold lines of a young man in
evening dress pursuing a young woman similarly clad along what
appeared to be a restaurant supper-table. An enjoyable time was
apparently being had by both. Across the page this legend ran:
PICCADILLY JIM ONCE MORE
The Recent Adventures of Young Mr. Crocker
of New York and London
It was not upon the title, however, nor upon the illustration
that Mr. Pett's fascinated eye rested. What he was looking at was
a small reproduction of a photograph which had been inserted in
the body of the article. It was the photograph of a woman in the
early forties, rather formidably handsome, beneath which were
printed the words:
Mrs. Nesta Ford Pett
Well-Known Society Leader and Authoress
Ann had risen and was peering over his shoulder. She frowned as
she caught sight of the heading of the page. Then her eye fell
upon the photograph.
"Good gracious! Why have they got aunt Nesta's picture there?"
Mr. Pett breathed a deep and gloomy breath.
"They've found out she's his aunt. I was afraid they would. I
don't know what she will say when she sees this."
"Don't let her see it."
"She has the paper downstairs. She's probably reading it now."
Ann was glancing through the article.
"It seems to be much the same sort of thing that they have
published before. I can't understand why the _Chronicle_ takes such
an interest in Jimmy Crocker."
"Well, you see he used to be a newspaper man, and the _Chronicle_
was the paper he worked for."
"I know," she said shortly.
Something in her tone arrested Mr. Pett's attention.
"Yes, yes, of course," he said hastily. "I was forgetting."
There was an awkward silence. Mr. Pett coughed. The matter of
young Mr. Crocker's erstwhile connection with the New York
_Chronicle_ was one which they had tacitly decided to refrain from
"I didn't know he was your nephew, uncle Peter."
"Nephew by marriage," corrected Mr. Pett a little hurriedly.
"Nesta's sister Eugenia married his father."
"I suppose that makes me a sort of cousin."
"A distant cousin."
"It can't be too distant for me."
There was a sound of hurried footsteps outside the door. Mrs.
Pett entered, holding a paper in her hand. She waved it before
Mr. Pett's sympathetic face.
"I know, my dear," he said backing. "Ann and I were just talking
The little photograph had not done Mrs. Pett justice. Seen
life-size, she was both handsomer and more formidable than she
appeared in reproduction. She was a large woman, with a fine
figure and bold and compelling eyes, and her personality crashed
disturbingly into the quiet atmosphere of the room. She was the
type of woman whom small, diffident men seem to marry
instinctively, as unable to help themselves as cockleshell boats
sucked into a maelstrom.
"What are you going to do about it?" she demanded, sinking
heavily into the chair which her husband had vacated.
This was an aspect of the matter which had not occurred to Mr.
Pett. He had not contemplated the possibility of actually doing
anything. Nature had made him out of office hours essentially a
passive organism, and it was his tendency, when he found himself
in a sea of troubles, to float plaintively, not to take arms
against it. To pick up the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune and fling them back was not a habit of his. He scratched
his chin and said nothing. He went on saying nothing.
"If Eugenia had had any sense, she would have foreseen what would
happen if she took the boy away from New York where he was
working too hard to get into mischief and let him run loose in
London with too much money and nothing to do. But, if she had had
any sense, she would never have married that impossible Crocker
man. As I told her."
Mrs. Pett paused, and her eyes glowed with reminiscent fire. She
was recalling the scene which had taken place three years ago
between her sister and herself, when Eugenia had told her of her
intention to marry an obscure and middle-aged actor named Bingley
Crocker. Mrs. Pett had never seen Bingley Crocker, but she had
condemned the proposed match in terms which had ended definitely
and forever her relations with her sister. Eugenia was not a
woman who welcomed criticism of her actions. She was cast in the
same formidable mould as Mrs. Pett and resembled her strikingly
both in appearance and character.
Mrs. Pett returned to the present. The past could look after
itself. The present demanded surgery.
"One would have thought it would have been obvious even to
Eugenia that a boy of twenty-one needed regular work."
Mr. Pett was glad to come out of his shell here. He was the
Apostle of Work, and this sentiment pleased him.
"That's right," he said. "Every boy ought to have work."
"Look at this young Crocker's record since he went to live in
London. He is always doing something to make himself notorious.
There was that breach-of-promise case, and that fight at the
political meeting, and his escapades at Monte Carlo, and--and
everything. And he must be drinking himself to death. I think
Eugenia's insane. She seems to have no influence over him at
Mr. Pett moaned sympathetically.
"And now the papers have found out that I am his aunt, and I
suppose they will print my photograph whenever they publish an
article about him."
She ceased and sat rigid with just wrath. Mr. Pett, who always
felt his responsibilities as chorus keenly during these wifely
monologues, surmised that a remark from him was indicated.
"It's tough," he said.
Mrs. Pett turned on him like a wounded tigress.
"What is the use of saying that? It's no use saying anything."
"No, no," said Mr. Pett, prudently refraining from pointing out
that she had already said a good deal.
"You must do something."
Ann entered the conversation for the first time. She was not very
fond of her aunt, and liked her least when she was bullying Mr.
Pett. There was something in Mrs. Pett's character with which the
imperiousness which lay beneath Ann's cheerful attitude towards
the world was ever at war.
"What can uncle Peter possibly do?" she inquired.
"Why, get the boy back to America and make him work. It's the
only possible thing."
"But is it possible?"
"Of course it is."
"Assuming that Jimmy Crocker would accept an invitation to come
over to America, what sort of work could he do here? He couldn't
get his place on the _Chronicle_ back again after dropping out for
all these years and making a public pest of himself all that
while. And outside of newspaper work what is he fit for?"
"My dear child, don't make difficulties."
"I'm not. These are ready-made."
Mr. Pett interposed. He was always nervously apprehensive of a
clash between these two. Ann had red hair and the nature which
generally goes with red hair. She was impulsive and quick of
tongue, and--as he remembered her father had always been--a
little too ready for combat. She was usually as quickly
remorseful as she was quickly pugnacious, like most persons of
her colour. Her offer to type the story which now lay on her desk
had been the amende honourable following on just such a scene
with her aunt as this promised to be. Mr. Pett had no wish to see
the truce thus consummated broken almost before it had had time
"I could give the boy a job in my office," he suggested.
Giving young men jobs in his office was what Mr. Pett liked doing
best. There were six brilliant youths living in his house and
bursting with his food at that very moment whom he would have
been delighted to start addressing envelopes down-town.
Notably his wife's nephew, Willie Partridge, whom he looked on as
a specious loafer. He had a stubborn disbelief in the explosive
that was to revolutionise war. He knew, as all the world did,
that Willie's late father had been a great inventor, but he did
not accept the fact that Willie had inherited the dead man's
genius. He regarded the experiments on Partridgite, as it was to
be called, with the profoundest scepticism, and considered that
the only thing Willie had ever invented or was likely to invent
was a series of ingenious schemes for living in fatted idleness
on other people's money.
"Exactly," said Mrs. Pett, delighted at the suggestion. "The very
"Will you write and suggest it?" said Mr. Pett, basking in the
sunshine of unwonted commendation.
"What would be the use of writing? Eugenia would pay no
attention. Besides, I could not say all I wished to in a letter.
No, the only thing is to go over to England and see her. I shall
speak very plainly to her. I shall point out what an advantage it
will be to the boy to be in your office and to live here. . . ."
"You don't mean live here--in this house?"
"Of course. There would be no sense in bringing the boy all the
way over from England if he was to be allowed to run loose when
he got here."
Mr. Pett coughed deprecatingly.
"I don't think that would be very pleasant for Ann, dear."
"Why in the name of goodness should Ann object?"
Ann moved towards the door.
"Thank you for thinking of it, uncle Peter. You're always a dear.
But don't worry about me. Do just as you want to. In any case I'm
quite certain that you won't be able to get him to come over
here. You can see by the paper he's having far too good a time in
London. You can call Jimmy Crockers from the vasty deep, but will
they come when you call for them?"
Mrs. Pett looked at the door as it closed behind her, then at her
"What do you mean, Peter, about Ann? Why wouldn't it be pleasant
for her if this Crocker boy came to live with us?"
Mr. Pett hesitated.
"Well, it's like this, Nesta. I hope you won't tell her I told
you. She's sensitive about it, poor girl. It all happened before
you and I were married. Ann was much younger then. You know what
schoolgirls are, kind of foolish and sentimental. It was my fault
really, I ought to have . . ."
"Good Heavens, Peter! What are you trying to tell me?"
"She was only a child."
Mrs. Pett rose in slow horror.
"Peter! Tell me! Don't try to break it gently."
"Ann wrote a book of poetry and I had it published for her."
Mrs. Pett sank back in her chair.
"Oh!" she said--it would have been hard to say whether with
relief or disappointment. "Whatever did you make such a fuss for?
Why did you want to be so mysterious?"
"It was all my fault, really," proceeded Mr. Pett. "I ought to
have known better. All I thought of at the time was that it would
please the child to see the poems in print and be able to give
the book to her friends. She did give it to her friends," he went
on ruefully, "and ever since she's been trying to live it down.
I've seen her bite a young fellow's head off when he tried to
make a grand-stand play with her by quoting her poems which he'd
found in his sister's book-shelf."
"But, in the name of goodness, what has all this to do with young
"Why, it was this way. Most of the papers just gave Ann's book a
mention among 'Volumes Received,' or a couple of lines that
didn't amount to anything, but the _Chronicle_ saw a Sunday feature
in it, as Ann was going about a lot then and was a well-known
society girl. They sent this Crocker boy to get an interview from
her, all about her methods of work and inspirations and what not.
We never suspected it wasn't the straight goods. Why, that very
evening I mailed an order for a hundred copies to be sent to me
when the thing appeared. And--" pinkness came upon Mr. Pett at
the recollection "it was just a josh from start to finish. The
young hound made a joke of the poems and what Ann had told him
about her inspirations and quoted bits of the poems just to kid
the life out of them. . . . I thought Ann would never get over
it. Well, it doesn't worry her any more--she's grown out of the
school-girl stage--but you can bet she isn't going to get up and
give three cheers and a tiger if you bring young Crocker to live
in the same house."
"Utterly ridiculous!" said Mrs. Pett. "I certainly do not intend
to alter my plans because of a trivial incident that happened
years ago. We will sail on Wednesday."
"Very well, my dear," said Mr. Pett resignedly.
"Just as you say. Er--just you and I?"
"And Ogden, of course."
Mr. Pett controlled a facial spasm with a powerful effort of the
will. He had feared this.
"I wouldn't dream of leaving him here while I went away, after
what happened when poor dear Elmer sent him to school in England
that time." The late Mr. Ford had spent most of his married life
either quarrelling with or separated from his wife, but since
death he had been canonised as 'poor dear Elmer.' "Besides, the
sea voyage will do the poor darling good. He has not been looking
at all well lately."
"If Ogden's coming, I'd like to take Ann."
"She can--" he sought for a euphemism.
"Keep in order" was the expression he wished to avoid. To his
mind Ann was the only known antidote for Ogden, but he felt it
would be impolitic to say so."--look after him on the boat," he
concluded. "You know you are a bad sailor."
"Very well. Bring Ann--Oh, Peter, that reminds me of what I
wanted to say to you, which this dreadful thing in the paper
drove completely out of my mind. Lord Wisbeach has asked Ann to
Mr. Pett looked a little hurt. "She didn't tell me." Ann usually
confided in him.
"She didn't tell me, either. Lord Wisbeach told me. He said Ann
had promised to think it over, and give him his answer later.
Meanwhile, he had come to me to assure himself that I approved. I
thought that so charming of him."
Mr. Pett was frowning.
"She hasn't accepted him?"
"I hope she doesn't."
"Don't be foolish, Peter. It would be an excellent match."
Mr. Pett shuffled his feet.
"I don't like him. There's something too darned smooth about that
"If you mean that his manners are perfect, I agree with you. I
shall do all in my power to induce Ann to accept him."
"I shouldn't," said Mr. Pett, with more decision than was his
wont. "You know what Ann is if you try to force her to do
anything. She gets her ears back and won't budge. Her father is
just the same. When we were boys together, sometimes--"
"Don't be absurd, Peter. As if I should dream of trying to force
Ann to do anything."
"We don't know anything of this fellow. Two weeks ago we didn't
know he was on the earth."
"What do we need to know beyond his name?"
Mr. Pett said nothing, but he was not convinced. The Lord
Wisbeach under discussion was a pleasant-spoken and presentable
young man who had called at Mr. Pett's office a short while
before to consult him about investing some money. He had brought
a letter of introduction from Hammond Chester, Ann's father, whom
he had met in Canada, where the latter was at present engaged in
the comparatively mild occupation of bass-fishing. With their
business talk the acquaintance would have begun and finished, if
Mr. Pett had been able to please himself, for he had not taken a
fancy to Lord Wisbeach. But he was an American, with an
American's sense of hospitality, and, the young man being a
friend of Hammond Chester, he had felt bound to invite him to
Riverside Drive--with misgivings which were now, he felt,
"Ann ought to marry," said Mrs. Pett. "She gets her own way too
much now. However, it is entirely her own affair, and there is
nothing that we can do." She rose. "I only hope she will be
She went out, leaving Mr. Pett gloomier than she had found him.
He hated the idea of Ann marrying Lord Wisbeach, who, even if he
had had no faults at all, would be objectionable in that he would
probably take her to live three thousand miles away in his own
country. The thought of losing Ann oppressed Mr. Pett sorely.
Ann, meanwhile, had made her way down the passage to the gymnasium
which Mr. Pett, in the interests of his health, had caused to be
constructed in a large room at the end of the house--a room designed
by the original owner, who had had artistic leanings, for a studio.
The _tap-tap-tap_ of the leather bag had ceased, but voices from
within told her that Jerry Mitchell, Mr. Pett's private physical
instructor, was still there. She wondered who was his companion, and
found on opening the door that it was Ogden. The boy was leaning
against the wall and regarding Jerry with a dull and supercilious
gaze which the latter was plainly finding it hard to bear.
"Yes, sir!" Ogden was saying, as Ann entered. "I heard Biggs
asking her to come for a joyride."
"I bet she turned him down," said Jerry Mitchell sullenly.
"I bet she didn't. Why should she? Biggs is an awful good-looking
"What are you talking about, Ogden?" said Ann.
"I was telling him that Biggs asked Celestine to go for a ride in
the car with him."
"I'll knock his block off," muttered the incensed Jerry.
Ogden laughed derisively.
"Yes, you will! Mother would fire you if you touched him. She
wouldn't stand for having her chauffeur beaten up."
Jerry Mitchell turned an appealing face to Ann. Ogden's
revelations and especially his eulogy of Biggs' personal
appearance had tormented him. He knew that, in his wooing of Mrs.
Pett's maid, Celestine, he was handicapped by his looks,
concerning which he had no illusions. No Adonis to begin with, he
had been so edited and re-edited during a long and prosperous
ring career by the gloved fists of a hundred foes that in affairs
of the heart he was obliged to rely exclusively on moral worth
and charm of manner. He belonged to the old school of fighters
who looked the part, and in these days of pugilists who resemble
matinee idols he had the appearance of an anachronism. He was a
stocky man with a round, solid head, small eyes, an undershot
jaw, and a nose which ill-treatment had reduced to a mere
scenario. A narrow strip of forehead acted as a kind of
buffer-state, separating his front hair from his eyebrows, and he
bore beyond hope of concealment the badge of his late employment,
the cauliflower ear. Yet was he a man of worth and a good
citizen, and Ann had liked him from their first meeting. As for
Jerry, he worshipped Ann and would have done anything she asked
him. Ever since he had discovered that Ann was willing to listen
to and sympathise with his outpourings on the subject of his
troubled wooing, he had been her slave.
Ann came to the rescue in characteristically direct fashion.
"Get out, Ogden," she said.
Ogden tried to meet her eye mutinously, but failed. Why he should
be afraid of Ann he had never been able to understand, but it was
a fact that she was the only person of his acquaintance whom he
respected. She had a bright eye and a calm, imperious stare which
never failed to tame him.
"Why?" he muttered. "You're not my boss."
"Be quick, Ogden."
"What's the big idea--ordering a fellow--"
"And close the door gently behind you," said Ann. She turned to
Jerry, as the order was obeyed.
"Has he been bothering you, Jerry?"
Jerry Mitchell wiped his forehead.
"Say, if that kid don't quit butting in when I'm working in the
gym--You heard what he was saying about Maggie, Miss Ann?"
Celestine had been born Maggie O'Toole, a name which Mrs. Pett
stoutly refused to countenance in any maid of hers.
"Why on earth do you pay any attention to him, Jerry? You must
have seen that he was making it all up. He spends his whole time
wandering about till he finds some one he can torment, and then
he enjoys himself. Maggie would never dream of going out in the
car with Biggs."
Jerry Mitchell sighed a sigh of relief.
"It's great for a fellow to have you in his corner, Miss Ann."
Ann went to the door and opened it. She looked down the passage,
then, satisfied as to its emptiness, returned to her seat.
"Jerry, I want to talk to you. I have an idea. Something I want
you to do for me."
"Yes, Miss Ann?"
"We've got to do something about that child, Ogden. He's been
worrying uncle Peter again, and I'm not going to have it. I
warned him once that, if he did it again, awful things would
happen to him, but he didn't believe me. I suppose, Jerry--what
sort of a man is your friend, Mr. Smethurst?"
"Do you mean Smithers, Miss Ann?"
"I knew it was either Smithers or Smethurst. The dog man, I mean.
Is he a man you can trust?"
"With my last buck. I've known him since we were kids."
"I don't mean as regards money. I am going to send Ogden to him
for treatment, and I want to know if I can rely on him to help
"For the love of Mike."
Jerry Mitchell, after an instant of stunned bewilderment, was
looking at her with worshipping admiration. He had always known
that Miss Ann possessed a mind of no common order, but this, he
felt, was genius. For a moment the magnificence of the idea took
his breath away.
"Do you mean that you're going to kidnap him, Miss Ann?"
"Yes. That is to say, _you_ are--if I can persuade you to do
it for me."
"Sneak him away and send him to Bud Smithers' dog-hospital?"
"For treatment. I like Mr. Smithers' methods. I think they would
do Ogden all the good in the world."
Jerry was enthusiastic.
"Why, Bud would make him part-human. But, say, isn't it taking
big chances? Kidnapping's a penitentiary offence."
"This isn't that sort of kidnapping."
"Well, it's mighty like it."
"I don't think you need be afraid of the penitentiary. I can't
see aunt Nesta prosecuting, when it would mean that she would
have to charge us with having sent Ogden to a dogs' hospital. She
likes publicity, but it has to be the right kind of publicity.
No, we do run a risk, but it isn't that one. You run the risk of
losing your job here, and I should certainly be sent to my
grandmother for an indefinite sentence. You've never seen my
grandmother, have you, Jerry? She's the only person in the world
I'm afraid of! She lives miles from anywhere and has family
prayers at seven-thirty sharp every morning. Well, I'm ready to
risk her, if you're ready to risk your job, in such a good cause.
You know you're just as fond of uncle Peter as I am, and Ogden is
worrying him into a breakdown. Surely you won't refuse to help
Jerry rose and extended a calloused hand.
"When do we start?"
Ann shook the hand warmly.
"Thank you, Jerry. You're a jewel. I envy Maggie. Well, I don't
think we can do anything till they come back from England, as
aunt Nesta is sure to take Ogden with her."
"Who's going to England?"
"Uncle Peter and aunt Nesta were talking just now of sailing to
try and persuade a young man named Crocker to come back here."
"Crocker? Jimmy Crocker? Piccadilly Jim?"
"Yes. Why, do you know him?"
"I used to meet him sometimes when he was working on the
_Chronicle_ here. Looks as if he was cutting a wide swathe in dear
old London. Did you see the paper to-day?"
"Yes, that's what made aunt Nesta want to bring him over. Of
course, there isn't the remotest chance that she will be able to
make him come. Why should he come?"
"Last time I saw Jimmy Crocker," said Jerry, "it was a couple of
years ago, when I went over to train Eddie Flynn for his go with
Porky Jones at the National. I bumped into him at the N. S. C. He
was a good deal tanked."
"He's always drinking, I believe."
"He took me to supper at some swell joint where they all had the
soup-and-fish on but me. I felt like a dirty deuce in a clean
deck. He used to be a regular fellow, Jimmy Crocker, but from
what you read in the papers it begins to look as if he was
hitting it up too swift. It's always the way with those boys when
you take them off a steady job and let them run around loose with
their jeans full of mazuma."
"That's exactly why I want to do something about Ogden. If he's
allowed to go on as he is at present, he will grow up exactly
like Jimmy Crocker."
"Aw, Jimmy Crocker ain't in Ogden's class," protested Jerry.
"Yes, he is. There's absolutely no difference between them."
"Say! You've got it in for Jim, haven't you, Miss Ann?" Jerry
looked at her wonderingly. "What's your kick against him?"
Ann bit her lip. "I object to him on principle," she said. "I
don't like his type. . . . Well, I'm glad we've settled this
about Ogden, Jerry. I knew I could rely on you. But I won't let
you do it for nothing. Uncle Peter shall give you something for
it--enough to start that health-farm you talk about so much.
Then you can marry Maggie and live happily ever afterwards."
"Gee! Is the boss in on this, too?"
"Not yet. I'm going to tell him now. Hush! There's some one
Mr. Pett wandered in. He was still looking troubled.
"Oh, Ann--good morning, Mitchell--your aunt has decided to go to
England. I want you to come, too."
"You want me? To help interview Jimmy Crocker?"
"No, no. Just to come along and be company on the voyage. You'll
be such a help with Ogden, Ann. You can keep him in order. How
you do it, I don't know. You seem to make another boy of him."
Ann stole a glance at Jerry, who answered with an encouraging
grin. Ann was constrained to make her meaning plainer than by the
language of the eye.
"Would you mind just running away for half a moment, Jerry?" she
said winningly. "I want to say something to uncle Peter."
Ann turned to Mr. Pett as the door closed.
"You'd like somebody to make Ogden a different boy, wouldn't you,
"I wish it was possible."
"He's been worrying you a lot lately, hasn't he?" asked Ann
"Yes," sighed Mr. Pett.
"Then that's all right," said Ann briskly. "I was afraid that you
might not approve. But, if you do, I'll go right ahead."
Mr. Pett started violently. There was something in Ann's voice
and, as he looked at her, something in her face which made him
fear the worst. Her eyes were flashing with an inspired light of
a highly belligerent nature, and the sun turned the red hair to
which she owed her deplorable want of balance to a mass of flame.
There was something in the air. Mr. Pett sensed it with every
nerve of his apprehensive person. He gazed at Ann, and as he did
so the years seemed to slip from him and he was a boy again,
about to be urged to lawless courses by the superior will of his
boyhood's hero, Hammond Chester. In the boyhood of nearly every
man there is a single outstanding figure, some one youthful
hypnotic Napoleon whose will was law and at whose bidding his
better judgment curled up and died. In Mr. Pett's life Ann's
father had filled this role. He had dominated Mr. Pett at an age
when the mind is most malleable. And now--so true is it that
though Time may blunt our boyish memories the traditions of
boyhood live on in us and an emotional crisis will bring them to
the surface as an explosion brings up the fish that lurk in the
nethermost mud--it was as if he were facing the youthful Hammond
Chester again and being irresistibly impelled to some course of
which he entirely disapproved but which he knew that he was
destined to undertake. He watched Ann as a trapped man might
watch a ticking bomb, bracing himself for the explosion and
knowing that he is helpless. She was Hammond Chester's daughter,
and she spoke to him with the voice of Hammond Chester. She was
her father's child and she was going to start something.
"I've arranged it all with Jerry," said Ann. "He's going to help
me smuggle Ogden away to that friend of his I told you about who
keeps the dog-hospital: and the friend is going to keep him until
he reforms. Isn't it a perfectly splendid idea?"
Mr. Pett blanched. The frightfulness of reality had exceeded
The words came from him in a strangled bleat. His whole being was
paralysed by a clammy horror. This was beyond the uttermost limit
of his fears. And, to complete the terror of the moment, he knew,
even while he rebelled against the insane lawlessness of her
scheme, that he was going to agree to it, and--worst of all--that
deep, deep down in him there was a feeling toward it which did
not dare to come to the surface but which he knew to be approval.
"Of course Jerry would do it for nothing," said Ann, "but I
promised him that you would give him something for his trouble.
You can arrange all that yourselves later."
"But, Ann! . . . But, Ann! . . . Suppose your aunt finds out who
"Well, there will be a tremendous row!" said Ann composedly.
"And you will have to assert yourself. It will be a splendid
thing for you. You know you are much too kind to every one, uncle
Peter. I don't think there's any one who would put up with what
you do. Father told me in one of his letters that he used to call
you Patient Pete as a boy."
Mr. Pett started. Not for many a day had a nickname which he
considered the most distasteful of all possible nicknames risen
up from its grave to haunt him. Patient Pete! He had thought the
repulsive title buried forever in the same tomb as his dead
youth. Patient Pete! The first faint glimmer of the flame of
rebellion began to burn in his bosom.
"Patient Pete!" said Ann inexorably.
"But, Ann,"--there was pathos in Mr. Pett's voice--"I like a
"You'll never have one if you don't stand up for yourself. You
know quite well that father is right. You do let every one
trample on you. Do you think father would let Ogden worry him and
have his house filled with affected imitation geniuses so that he
couldn't find a room to be alone in?"
"But, Ann, your father is different. He likes fusses. I've known
your father contradict a man weighing two hundred pounds out of
sheer exuberance. There's a lot of your father in you, Ann. I've
often noticed it."
"There is! That's why I'm going to make you put your foot down
sooner or later. You're going to turn all these loafers out of
the house. And first of all you're going to help us send Ogden
away to Mr. Smithers."
There was a long silence.
"It's your red hair!" said Mr. Pett at length, with the air of a
man who has been solving a problem. "It's your red hair that
makes you like this, Ann. Your father has red hair, too."
"It's not my fault that I have red hair, uncle Peter. It's my
Mr. Pett shook his head.
"Other people's misfortune, too!" he said.
THE EXILED FAN
London brooded under a grey sky. There had been rain in the
night, and the trees were still dripping. Presently, however,
there appeared in the laden haze a watery patch of blue: and
through this crevice in the clouds the sun, diffidently at first
but with gradually increasing confidence, peeped down on the
fashionable and exclusive turf of Grosvenor Square. Stealing
across the square, its rays reached the massive stone walls of
Drexdale House, until recently the London residence of the earl
of that name; then, passing through the window of the
breakfast-room, played lightly on the partially bald head of Mr.
Bingley Crocker, late of New York in the United States of
America, as he bent over his morning paper. Mrs. Bingley Crocker,
busy across the table reading her mail, the rays did not touch.
Had they done so, she would have rung for Bayliss, the butler, to
come and lower the shade, for she endured liberties neither from
Man nor from Nature.
Mr. Crocker was about fifty years of age, clean-shaven and of a
comfortable stoutness. He was frowning as he read. His smooth,
good-humoured face wore an expression which might have been
disgust, perplexity, or a blend of both. His wife, on the other
hand, was looking happy. She extracted the substance from her
correspondence with swift glances of her compelling eyes, just as
she would have extracted guilty secrets from Bingley, if he had
had any. This was a woman who, like her sister Nesta, had been
able all her life to accomplish more with a glance than other
women with recrimination and threat. It had been a popular belief
among his friends that her late husband, the well-known Pittsburg
millionaire G. G. van Brunt, had been in the habit of
automatically confessing all if he merely caught the eye of her
photograph on his dressing table.
From the growing pile of opened envelopes Mrs. Crocker looked up,
a smile softening the firm line of her lips.
"A card from Lady Corstorphine, Bingley, for her at-home on the
Mr. Crocker, still absorbed, snorted absently.
"One of the most exclusive hostesses in England. . . . She has
influence with the right sort of people. Her brother, the Duke of
Devizes, is the Premier's oldest friend."
"The Duchess of Axminster has written to ask me to look after a
stall at her bazaar for the Indigent Daughters of the Clergy."
"Bingley! You aren't listening. What is that you are reading?"
Mr. Crocker tore himself from the paper.
"This? Oh, I was looking at a report of that cricket game you
made me go and see yesterday."
"Oh? I am glad you have begun to take an interest in cricket. It
is simply a social necessity in England. Why you ever made such a
fuss about taking it up, I can't think. You used to be so fond of
watching baseball and cricket is just the same thing."
A close observer would have marked a deepening of the look of
pain on Mr. Crocker's face. Women say this sort of thing
carelessly, with no wish to wound: but that makes it none the
less hard to bear.
From the hall outside came faintly the sound of the telephone,
then the measured tones of Bayliss answering it. Mr. Crocker
returned to his paper.
"Lady Corstorphine desires to speak to you on the telephone,
Half-way to the door Mrs. Crocker paused, as if recalling
something that had slipped her memory.
"Is Mr. James getting up, Bayliss?"
"I believe not, madam. I am informed by one of the house-maids
who passed his door a short time back that there were no sounds."
Mrs. Crocker left the room. Bayliss, preparing to follow her
example, was arrested by an exclamation from the table.
His master's voice.
"Say, Bayliss, come here a minute. Want to ask you something."
The butler approached the table. It seemed to him that his
employer was not looking quite himself this morning. There was
something a trifle wild, a little haggard, about his expression.
He had remarked on it earlier in the morning in the Servants'
As a matter of fact, Mr. Crocker's ailment was a perfectly simple
one. He was suffering from one of those acute spasms of
home-sickness, which invariably racked him in the earlier Summer
months. Ever since his marriage five years previously and his
simultaneous removal from his native land he had been a chronic
victim to the complaint. The symptoms grew less acute in Winter
and Spring, but from May onward he suffered severely.
Poets have dealt feelingly with the emotions of practically every
variety except one. They have sung of Ruth, of Israel in bondage,
of slaves pining for their native Africa, and of the miner's
dream of home. But the sorrows of the baseball bug, compelled by
fate to live three thousand miles away from the Polo Grounds,
have been neglected in song. Bingley Crocker was such a one, and
in Summer his agonies were awful. He pined away in a country
where they said "Well played, sir!" when they meant "'at-a-boy!"
"Bayliss, do you play cricket?"
"I am a little past the age, sir. In my younger days . . ."
"Do you understand it?"
"Yes, sir. I frequently spend an afternoon at Lord's or the Oval
when there is a good match."
Many who enjoyed a merely casual acquaintance with the butler
would have looked on this as an astonishingly unexpected
revelation of humanity in Bayliss, but Mr. Crocker was not
surprised. To him, from the very beginning, Bayliss had been a
man and a brother who was always willing to suspend his duties in
order to answer questions dealing with the thousand and one
problems which the social life of England presented. Mr.
Crocker's mind had adjusted itself with difficulty to the
niceties of class distinction: and, while he had cured himself of
his early tendency to address the butler as "Bill," he never
failed to consult him as man to man in his moments of perplexity.
Bayliss was always eager to be of assistance. He liked Mr.
Crocker. True, his manner might have struck a more sensitive man
than his employer as a shade too closely resembling that of an
indulgent father towards a son who was not quite right in the
head: but it had genuine affection in it.
Mr. Crocker picked up his paper and folded it back at the
sporting page, pointing with a stubby forefinger.
"Well, what does all this mean? I've kept out of watching cricket
since I landed in England, but yesterday they got the poison
needle to work and took me off to see Surrey play Kent at that
place Lord's where you say you go sometimes."
"I was there yesterday, sir. A very exciting game."
"Exciting? How do you make that out? I sat in the bleachers all
afternoon, waiting for something to break loose. Doesn't anything
ever happen at cricket?"
The butler winced a little, but managed to smile a tolerant
smile. This man, he reflected, was but an American and as such
more to be pitied than censured. He endeavoured to explain.
"It was a sticky wicket yesterday, sir, owing to the rain."
"The wicket was sticky, sir."
"I mean that the reason why the game yesterday struck you as slow
was that the wicket--I should say the turf--was sticky--that is
to say wet. Sticky is the technical term, sir. When the wicket is
sticky, the batsmen are obliged to exercise a great deal of
caution, as the stickiness of the wicket enables the bowlers to
make the ball turn more sharply in either direction as it strikes
the turf than when the wicket is not sticky."
"That's it, is it?"
"Thanks for telling me."
"Not at all, sir."
Mr. Crocker pointed to the paper.
"Well, now, this seems to be the box-score of the game we saw
yesterday. If you can make sense out of that, go to it."
The passage on which his finger rested was headed "Final Score,"
and ran as follows:
Hayward, c Wooley, b Carr ....... 67
Hobbs, run out ................... 0
Hayes, st Huish, b Fielder ...... 12
Ducat, b Fielder ................ 33
Harrison, not out ............... 11
Sandham, not out ................. 6
Extras .......................... 10
Total (for four wickets) ....... 139
Bayliss inspected the cipher gravely.
"What is it you wish me to explain, sir?"
"Why, the whole thing. What's it all about?"
"It's perfectly simple, sir. Surrey won the toss, and took first
knock. Hayward and Hobbs were the opening pair. Hayward called
Hobbs for a short run, but the latter was unable to get across
and was thrown out by mid-on. Hayes was the next man in. He went
out of his ground and was stumped. Ducat and Hayward made a
capital stand considering the stickiness of the wicket, until
Ducat was bowled by a good length off-break and Hayward caught at
second slip off a googly. Then Harrison and Sandham played out
Mr. Crocker breathed heavily through his nose.
"Yes!" he said. "Yes! I had an idea that was it. But I think I'd
like to have it once again, slowly. Start with these figures.
What does that sixty-seven mean, opposite Hayward's name?"
"He made sixty-seven runs, sir."
"Sixty-seven! In one game?"
"Why, Home-Run Baker couldn't do it!"
"I am not familiar with Mr. Baker, sir."
"I suppose you've never seen a ball-game?"
"A baseball game?"
"Then, Bill," said Mr. Crocker, reverting in his emotion to the
bad habit of his early London days, "you haven't lived. See
Whatever vestige of respect for class distinctions Mr. Crocker
had managed to preserve during the opening stages of the
interview now definitely disappeared. His eyes shone wildly and
he snorted like a war-horse. He clutched the butler by the sleeve
and drew him closer to the table, then began to move forks,
spoons, cups, and even the contents of his plate about the cloth
with an energy little short of feverish.
"Watch!" said Mr. Crocker, with the air of an excitable high
priest about to initiate a novice into the Mysteries.
He removed a roll from the basket.
"You see this roll? That's the home plate. This spoon is first
base. Where I'm putting this cup is second. This piece of bacon
is third. There's your diamond for you. Very well, then. These
lumps of sugar are the infielders and the outfielders. Now we're
ready. Batter up? He stands here. Catcher behind him. Umps behind
"Umps, I take it, sir, is what we would call the umpire?"
"Call him anything you like. It's part of the game. Now here's
the box, where I've put this dab of marmalade, and here's the
pitcher, winding up."
"The pitcher would be equivalent to our bowler?"
"I guess so, though why you should call him a bowler gets past
"The box, then, is the bowler's wicket?"
"Have it your own way. Now pay attention. Play ball! Pitcher's
winding up. Put it over, Mike, put it over! Some speed, kid! Here
it comes, right in the groove. Bing! Batter slams it and streaks
for first. Outfielder--this lump of sugar--boots it. Bonehead!
Batter touches second. Third? No! Get back! Can't be done. Play
it safe. Stick around the sack, old pal. Second batter up.
Pitcher getting something on the ball now besides the cover.
Whiffs him. Back to the bench, Cyril! Third batter up. See him
rub his hands in the dirt. Watch this kid. He's good! He lets
two alone, then slams the next right on the nose. Whizzes around
to second. First guy, the one we left on second, comes home for
one run. That's a game! Take it from me, Bill, that's a _game!_"
Somewhat overcome with the energy with which he had flung himself
into his lecture, Mr. Crocker sat down and refreshed himself with
"Quite an interesting game," said Bayliss. "But I find, now that
you have explained it, sir, that it is familiar to me, though I
have always known it under another name. It is played a great
deal in this country."
Mr. Crocker started to his feet.
"It is? And I've been five years here without finding it out!
When's the next game scheduled?"
"It is known in England as Rounders, sir. Children play it with a
soft ball and a racquet, and derive considerable enjoyment from
it. I had never heard of it before as a pastime for adults."
Two shocked eyes stared into the butler's face.
"Children?" The word came in a whisper.
"You--you didn't say a soft ball?"
A sort of spasm seemed to convulse Mr. Crocker. He had lived five
years in England, but not till this moment had he realised to the
full how utterly alone he was in an alien land. Fate had placed
him, bound and helpless, in a country where they called baseball
Rounders and played it with a soft ball.
He sank back into his chair, staring before him. And as he sat
the wall seemed to melt and he was gazing upon a green field, in
the centre of which a man in a grey uniform was beginning a
Salome dance. Watching this person with a cold and suspicious
eye, stood another uniformed man, holding poised above his
shoulder a sturdy club. Two Masked Marvels crouched behind him in
attitudes of watchful waiting. On wooden seats all around sat a
vast multitude of shirt-sleeved spectators, and the air was full
One voice detached itself from the din.
"Pea-nuts! Get y'r pea-nuts!"
Something that was almost a sob shook Bingley Crocker's ample
frame. Bayliss the butler gazed down upon him with concern. He
was sure the master was unwell.
The case of Mr. Bingley Crocker was one that would have provided
an admirable "instance" for a preacher seeking to instil into an
impecunious and sceptical flock the lesson that money does not of
necessity bring with it happiness. And poetry has crystallised
his position in the following stanza.
An exile from home splendour dazzles in vain.
Oh, give me my lowly thatched cottage again;
The birds singing gaily, that came at my call,
Give me them, and that peace of mind dearer than all.
Mr. Crocker had never lived in a thatched cottage, nor had his
relations with the birds of his native land ever reached the
stage of intimacy indicated by the poet; but substitute "Lambs
Club" for the former and "members" for the latter, and the
parallel becomes complete.
Until the time of his second marriage Bingley Crocker had been an
actor, a snapper-up of whatever small character-parts the gods
provided. He had an excellent disposition, no money, and one son,
a young man of twenty-one. For forty-five years he had lived a
hand-to-mouth existence in which his next meal had generally come
as a pleasant surprise: and then, on an Atlantic liner, he met
the widow of G. G. van Brunt, the sole heiress to that magnate's
What Mrs. van Brunt could have seen in Bingley Crocker to cause
her to single him out from all the world passes comprehension:
but the eccentricities of Cupid are commonplace. It were best to
shun examination into first causes and stick to results. The
swift romance began and reached its climax in the ten days which
it took one of the smaller Atlantic liners to sail from Liverpool
to New York. Mr. Crocker was on board because he was returning
with a theatrical company from a failure in London, Mrs. van
Brunt because she had been told that the slow boats were the
steadiest. They began the voyage as strangers and ended it as an
engaged couple--the affair being expedited, no doubt, by the fact
that, even if it ever occurred to Bingley to resist the onslaught
on his bachelor peace, he soon realised the futility of doing so,
for the cramped conditions of ship-board intensified the always
overwhelming effects of his future bride's determined nature.
The engagement was received in a widely differing spirit by the
only surviving blood-relations of the two principals. Jimmy, Mr.
Crocker's son, on being informed that his father had plighted his
troth to the widow of a prominent millionaire, displayed the
utmost gratification and enthusiasm, and at a little supper which
he gave by way of farewell to a few of his newspaper comrades and
which lasted till six in the morning, when it was broken up by
the flying wedge of waiters for which the selected restaurant is
justly famous, joyfully announced that work and he would from
then on be total strangers. He alluded in feeling terms to the
Providence which watches over good young men and saves them from
the blighting necessity of offering themselves in the flower of
their golden youth as human sacrifices to the Moloch of
capitalistic greed: and, having commiserated with his guests in
that a similar stroke of luck had not happened to each of them,
advised them to drown their sorrows in drink. Which they did.
Far different was the attitude of Mrs. Crocker's sister, Nesta
Pett. She entirely disapproved of the proposed match. At least,
the fact that in her final interview with her sister she
described the bridegroom-to-be as a wretched mummer, a despicable
fortune-hunter, a broken-down tramp, and a sneaking, grafting
confidence-trickster lends colour to the supposition that she was
not a warm supporter of it. She agreed wholeheartedly with Mrs.
Crocker's suggestion that they should never speak to each other
again as long as they lived: and it was immediately after this
that the latter removed husband Bingley, step-son Jimmy, and all
her other goods and chattels to London, where they had remained
ever since. Whenever Mrs. Crocker spoke of America now, it was in
tones of the deepest dislike and contempt. Her friends were
English, and every year more exclusively of England's
aristocracy. She intended to become a leading figure in London
Society, and already her progress had been astonishing. She knew
the right people, lived in the right square, said the right
things, and thought the right thoughts: and in the Spring of her
third year had succeeded in curing Bingley of his habit of
beginning his remarks with the words "Say, lemme tell ya
something." Her progress, in short, was beginning to assume the
aspect of a walk-over.
Against her complete contentment and satisfaction only one thing
militated. That was the behaviour of her step-son, Jimmy.
It was of Jimmy that she spoke when, having hung the receiver on
its hook, she returned to the breakfast-room. Bayliss had
silently withdrawn, and Mr. Crocker was sitting in sombre silence
at the table.
"A most fortunate thing has happened, Bingley," she said. "It was
most kind of dear Lady Corstorphine to ring me up. It seems that
her nephew, Lord Percy Whipple, is back in England. He has been
in Ireland for the past three years, on the staff of the Lord
Lieutenant, and only arrived in London yesterday afternoon. Lady
Corstorphine has promised to arrange a meeting between him and
James. I particularly want them to be friends."
"Eugenia," said Mr. Crocker in a hollow voice, "do you know they
call baseball Rounders over here, and children play it with a
"James is becoming a serious problem. It is absolutely necessary
that he should make friends with the right kind of young men."
"And a racquet," said Mr. Crocker.
"Please listen to what I am saying, Bingley. I am talking about
James. There is a crude American strain in him which seems to
grow worse instead of better. I was lunching with the Delafields
at the Carlton yesterday, and there, only a few tables away, was
James with an impossible young man in appalling clothes. It was
outrageous that James should have been seen in public at all with
such a person. The man had a broken nose and talked through it.
He was saying in a loud voice that made everybody turn round
something about his left-scissors hook--whatever that may have
been. I discovered later that he was a low professional pugilist
from New York--a man named Spike Dillon, I think Captain Wroxton
said. And Jimmy was giving him lunch--at the _Carlton!_"
Mr. Crocker said nothing. Constant practice had made him an adept
at saying nothing when his wife was talking.
"James must be made to realise his responsibilities. I shall have
to speak to him. I was hearing only the other day of a most
deserving man, extremely rich and lavishly generous in his
contributions to the party funds, who was only given a
knighthood, simply because he had a son who had behaved in a
manner that could not possibly be overlooked. The present Court
is extraordinarily strict in its views. James cannot be too
careful. A certain amount of wildness in a young man is quite
proper in the best set, provided that he is wild in the right
company. Every one knows that young Lord Datchet was ejected from
the Empire Music-Hall on Boat-Race night every year during his
residence at Oxford University, but nobody minds. The family
treats it as a joke. But James has such low tastes. Professional
pugilists! I believe that many years ago it was not unfashionable
for young men in Society to be seen about with such persons, but
those days are over. I shall certainly speak to James. He cannot
afford to call attention to himself in any way. That
breach-of-promise case of his three years ago, is, I hope and
trust, forgotten, but the slightest slip on his part might start
the papers talking about it again, and that would be fatal. The
eventual successor to a title must be quite as careful as--"
It was not, as has been hinted above, the usual practice of Mr.
Crocker to interrupt his wife when she was speaking, but he did
Mrs. Crocker frowned.
"I wish, Bingley--and I have told you so often--that you would
not begin your sentences with the word 'Say'! It is such a
revolting Americanism. Suppose some day when you are addressing
the House of Lords you should make a slip like that! The papers
would never let you hear the end of it."
Mr. Crocker was swallowing convulsively, as if testing his larynx
with a view to speech. Like Saul of Tarsus, he had been stricken
dumb by the sudden bright light which his wife's words had caused
to flash upon him. Frequently during his sojourn in London he had
wondered just why Eugenia had settled there in preference to her
own country. It was not her wont to do things without an object,
yet until this moment he had been unable to fathom her motives.
Even now it seemed almost incredible. And yet what meaning would
her words have other than the monstrous one which had smitten him
as a blackjack?
"Say--I mean, Eugenia--you don't want--you aren't trying--you
aren't working to--you haven't any idea of trying to get them to
make me a Lord, have you?"
"It is what I have been working for all these years!"
"But--but why? Why? That's what I want to know. Why?"
Mrs. Crocker's fine eyes glittered.
"I will tell you why, Bingley. Just before we were married I had
a talk with my sister Nesta. She was insufferably offensive. She
referred to you in terms which I shall never forgive. She affected
to look down on you, to think that I was marrying beneath me. So
I am going to make you an English peer and send Nesta a newspaper
clipping of the Birthday Honours with your name in it, if I have
to keep working till I die! Now you know!"
Silence fell. Mr. Crocker drank cold coffee. His wife stared with
gleaming eyes into the glorious future.
"Do you mean that I shall have to stop on here till they make me
a lord?" said Mr. Crocker limply.
"Never go back to America?"
"Not till we have succeeded."
"Oh Gee! Oh Gosh! Oh Hell!" said Mr. Crocker, bursting the bonds
Mrs. Crocker though resolute, was not unkindly. She made
allowances for her husband's state of mind. She was willing to
permit even American expletives during the sinking-in process of
her great idea, much as a broad-minded cowboy might listen
indulgently to the squealing of a mustang during the branding
process. Docility and obedience would be demanded of him later,
but not till the first agony had abated. She spoke soothingly to
"I am glad we have had this talk, Bingley. It is best that you
should know. It will help you to realise your responsibilities.
And that brings me back to James. Thank goodness Lord Percy
Whipple is in town. He is about James' age, and from what Lady
Corstorphine tells me will be an ideal friend for him. You
understand who he is, of course? The second son of the Duke of
Devizes, the Premier's closest friend, the man who can
practically dictate the Birthday Honours. If James and Lord Percy
can only form a close friendship, our battle will be as good as
won. It will mean everything. Lady Corstorphine has promised to
arrange a meeting. In the meantime, I will speak to James and
warn him to be more careful."
Mr. Crocker had produced a stump of pencil from his pocket and
was writing on the table-cloth.
Lord Bingley Crocker
Lord Crocker of Crocker
The Marquis of Crocker
Bingley, first Viscount Crocker
He blanched as he read the frightful words. A sudden thought stung
"What will the boys at the Lambs say?"
"I am not interested," replied his wife, "in the boys at the
"I thought you wouldn't be," said the future baron gloomily.
It is a peculiarity of the human mind that, with whatever
apprehension it may be regarding the distant future, it must
return after a while to face the minor troubles of the future
that is immediate. The prospect of a visit to the dentist this
afternoon causes us to forget for the moment the prospect of
total ruin next year. Mr. Crocker, therefore, having tortured
himself for about a quarter of an hour with his meditations on
the subject of titles, was jerked back to a more imminent
calamity than the appearance of his name in the Birthday
Honours--the fact that in all probability he would be taken again
this morning to watch the continuation of that infernal
cricket-match, and would be compelled to spend the greater part
of to-day, as he had spent the greater part of yesterday, bored
to the verge of dissolution in the pavilion at Lord's.
One gleam of hope alone presented itself. Like baseball, this
pastime of cricket was apparently affected by rain, if there had
been enough of it. He had an idea that there had been a good deal
of rain in the night, but had there been sufficient to cause the
teams of Surrey and Kent to postpone the second instalment of
their serial struggle? He rose from the table and went out into
the hall. It was his purpose to sally out into Grosvenor Square
and examine the turf in its centre with the heel of his shoe, in
order to determine the stickiness or non-stickiness of the
wicket. He moved towards the front door, hoping for the best, and
just as he reached it the bell rang.
One of the bad habits of which his wife had cured Mr. Crocker in
the course of the years was the habit of going and answering
doors. He had been brought up in surroundings where every man was
his own door-keeper, and it had been among his hardest tasks to
learn the lesson that the perfect gentleman does not open doors
but waits for the appropriate menial to come along and do it for
him. He had succeeded at length in mastering this great truth,
and nowadays seldom offended. But this morning his mind was
clouded by his troubles, and instinct, allaying itself with
opportunity, was too much for him. His fingers had been on the
handle when the ring came, so he turned it.
At the top of the steps which connect the main entrance of
Drexdale House with the sidewalk three persons were standing. One
was a tall and formidably handsome woman in the early forties
whose appearance seemed somehow oddly familiar. The second was a
small, fat, blobby, bulging boy who was chewing something. The
third, lurking diffidently in the rear, was a little man of about
Mr. Crocker's own age, grey-haired and thin with brown eyes that
gazed meekly through rimless glasses.
Nobody could have been less obtrusive than this person, yet it was
he who gripped Mr. Crocker's attention and caused that home-sick
sufferer's heart to give an almost painful leap. For he was
clothed in one of those roomy suits with square shoulders which
to the seeing eye are as republican as the Stars and Stripes. His
blunt-toed yellow shoes sang gaily of home. And his hat was not
so much a hat as an effusive greeting from Gotham. A long time
had passed since Mr. Crocker had set eyes upon a biped so
exhilaratingly American, and rapture held him speechless, as one
who after long exile beholds some landmark of his childhood.
The female member of the party took advantage of his
dumbness--which, as she had not unnaturally mistaken him for the
butler, she took for a silent and respectful query as to her
business and wishes--to open the conversation.
"Is Mrs. Crocker at home? Please tell her that Mrs. Pett wishes
to see her."
There was a rush and scurry in the corridors of Mr. Crocker's
brain, as about six different thoughts tried to squash
simultaneously into that main chamber where there is room for
only one at a time. He understood now why this woman's appearance
had seemed familiar. She was his wife's sister, and that same
Nesta who was some day to be pulverised by the sight of his name
in the Birthday Honours. He was profoundly thankful that she had
mistaken him for the butler. A chill passed through him as he
pictured what would have been Eugenia's reception of the
information that he had committed such a bourgeois solecism as
opening the front door to Mrs. Pett of all people, who already
despised him as a low vulgarian. There had been trouble enough
when she had found him opening it a few weeks before to a mere
collector of subscriptions for a charity. He perceived, with a
clarity remarkable in view of the fact that the discovery of her
identity had given him a feeling of physical dizziness, that at
all costs he must foster this misapprehension on his
Fortunately he was in a position to do so. He knew all about what
butlers did and what they said on these occasions, for in his
innocently curious way he had often pumped Bayliss on the subject.
He bowed silently and led the way to the morning-room, followed
by the drove of Petts: then, opening the door, stood aside to
allow the procession to march past the given point.
"I will inform Mrs. Crocker that you are here, madam."
Mrs. Pett, shepherding the chewing child before her, passed into
the room. In the light of her outspoken sentiments regarding her
brother-in-law, it is curious to reflect that his manner at this,
their first meeting, had deeply impressed her. After many months
of smouldering revolt she had dismissed her own butler a day or
so before sailing for England, and for the first time envy of her
sister Eugenia gripped her. She did not covet Eugenia's other
worldly possessions, but she did grudge her this supreme butler.
Mr. Pett, meanwhile, had been trailing in the rear with a hunted
expression on his face. He wore the unmistakable look of a man
about to be present at a row between women, and only a wet cat in
a strange back-yard bears itself with less jauntiness than a man
faced by such a prospect. A millionaire several times over, Mr.
Pett would cheerfully have given much of his wealth to have been
elsewhere at that moment. Such was the agitated state of his mind
that, when a hand was laid lightly upon his arm as he was about
to follow his wife into the room, he started so violently that
his hat flew out of his hand. He turned to meet the eyes of the
butler who had admitted him to the house, fixed on his in an
"Who's leading in the pennant race?" said this strange butler in
a feverish whisper.
It was a question, coming from such a source, which in another
than Mr. Pett might well have provoked a blank stare of
amazement. Such, however, is the almost superhuman intelligence
and quickness of mind engendered by the study of America's
national game that he answered without the slightest hesitation.
"Wow!" said the butler.
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