Pelham Grenville Wodehouse
Part 2 out of 6
No sense of anything strange or untoward about the situation came
to mar the perfect joy of Mr. Pett, the overmastering joy of the
baseball fan who in a strange land unexpectedly encounters a
brother. He thrilled with a happiness which he had never hoped
to feel that morning.
"No signs of them slumping?" enquired the butler.
"No. But you never can tell. It's early yet. I've seen those boys
lead the league till the end of August and then be nosed out."
"True enough," said the butler sadly.
"Matty's in shape."
"He is? The old souper working well?"
"Like a machine. He shut out the Cubs the day before I sailed!"
At this point an appreciation of the unusualness of the
proceedings began to steal upon Mr. Pett. He gaped at this
"How on earth do you know anything about baseball?" he demanded.
The other seemed to stiffen. A change came over his whole
appearance. He had the air of an actor who has remembered his
"I beg your pardon, sir. I trust I have not taken a liberty. I was
at one time in the employment of a gentleman in New York, and
during my stay I became extremely interested in the national
game. I picked up a few of the American idioms while in the
country." He smiled apologetically. "They sometimes slip out."
"Let 'em slip!" said Mr. Pett with enthusiasm. "You're the first
thing that's reminded me of home since I left. Say!"
"Got a good place here?"
"Er--oh, yes, sir."
"Well, here's my card. If you ever feel like making a change,
there's a job waiting for you at that address."
"Thank you, sir." Mr. Crocker stooped.
"Your hat, sir."
He held it out, gazing fondly at it the while. It was like being
home again to see a hat like that. He followed Mr. Pett as he
went into the morning-room with an affectionate eye.
Bayliss was coming along the hall, hurrying more than his wont.
The ring at the front door had found him deep in an extremely
interesting piece of news in his halfpenny morning paper, and he
was guiltily aware of having delayed in answering it.
"Bayliss," said Mr. Crocker in a cautious undertone, "go and tell
Mrs. Crocker that Mrs. Pett is waiting to see her. She's in the
morning-room. If you're asked, say you let her in. Get me?"
"Yes, sir," said Bayliss, grateful for this happy solution.
"Is the wicket at Lord's likely to be too sticky for them to go
on with that game to-day?"
"I hardly think it probable that there will be play, sir. There
was a great deal of rain in the night."
Mr. Crocker passed on to his den with a lighter heart.
* * * * *
It was Mrs. Crocker's habit, acquired after years of practice and
a sedulous study of the best models, to conceal beneath a mask of
well-bred indifference any emotion which she might chance to
feel. Her dealings with the aristocracy of England had shown her
that, while the men occasionally permitted themselves an
outburst, the women never did, and she had schooled herself so
rigorously that nowadays she seldom even raised her voice. Her
bearing, as she approached the morning-room was calm and serene,
but inwardly curiosity consumed her. It was unbelievable that
Nesta could have come to try to effect a reconciliation, yet she
could think of no other reason for her visit.
She was surprised to find three persons in the morning-room.
Bayliss, delivering his message, had mentioned only Mrs. Pett. To
Mrs. Crocker the assemblage had the appearance of being a sort of
Old Home Week of Petts, a kind of Pett family mob-scene. Her
sister's second marriage having taken place after their quarrel,
she had never seen her new brother-in-law, but she assumed that
the little man lurking in the background was Mr. Pett. The guess
"Good morning, Eugenia," said Mrs. Pett.
"Peter, this is my sister, Eugenia. My husband."
Mrs. Crocker bowed stiffly. She was thinking how hopelessly
American Mr. Pett was, how baggy his clothes looked, what
absurdly shaped shoes he wore, how appalling his hat was, how
little hair he had and how deplorably he lacked all those graces
of repose, culture, physical beauty, refinement, dignity, and
mental alertness which raise men above the level of the common
Mr. Pett, on his side, receiving her cold glance squarely between
the eyes, felt as if he were being disembowelled by a clumsy
amateur. He could not help wondering what sort of a man this
fellow Crocker was whom this sister-in-law of his had married. He
pictured him as a handsome, powerful, robust individual with a
strong jaw and a loud voice, for he could imagine no lesser type
of man consenting to link his lot with such a woman. He sidled in
a circuitous manner towards a distant chair, and, having lowered
himself into it, kept perfectly still, pretending to be dead,
like an opossum. He wished to take no part whatever in the coming
"Ogden, of course, you know," said Mrs. Pett.
She was sitting so stiffly upright on a hard chair and had so
much the appearance of having been hewn from the living rock that
every time she opened her mouth it was as if a statue had spoken.
"I know Ogden," said Mrs. Crocker shortly. "Will you please stop
him fidgeting with that vase? It is valuable."
She directed at little Ogden, who was juggling aimlessly with a
handsome _objet d'art_ of the early Chinese school, a glance similar
to that which had just disposed of his step-father. But Ogden
required more than a glance to divert him from any pursuit in which
he was interested. He shifted a deposit of candy from his right
cheek to his left cheek, inspected Mrs. Crocker for a moment with a
pale eye, and resumed his juggling. Mrs. Crocker meant nothing in
his young life.
"Ogden, come and sit down," said Mrs. Pett.
"Don't want to sit down."
"Are you making a long stay in England, Nesta?" asked Mrs.
"I don't know. We have made no plans."
She broke off. Ogden, who had possessed himself of a bronze
paper-knife, had begun to tap the vase with it. The ringing note
thus produced appeared to please his young mind.
"If Ogden really wishes to break that vase," said Mrs. Crocker in
a detached voice, "let me ring for the butler to bring him a
"Ogden!" said Mrs. Pett.
"Oh Gee! A fellow can't do a thing!" muttered Ogden, and walked
to the window. He stood looking out into the square, a slight
twitching of the ears indicating that he still made progress with
"Still the same engaging child!" murmured Mrs. Crocker.
"I did not come here to discuss Ogden!" said Mrs. Pett.
Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows. Not even Mrs. Otho Lanners,
from whom she had learned the art, could do it more effectively.
"I am still waiting to find out why you did come, Nesta!"
"I came here to talk to you about your step-son, James Crocker."
The discipline to which Mrs. Crocker had subjected herself in the
matter of the display of emotion saved her from the humiliation
of showing surprise. She waved her hand graciously--in the manner
of the Duchess of Axminster, a supreme hand-waver--to indicate
that she was all attention.
"Your step-son, James Crocker," repeated Mrs. Pett. "What is it
the New York papers call him, Peter?"
Mr. Pett, the human opossum, came to life. He had contrived to
create about himself such a defensive atmosphere of non-existence
that now that he re-entered the conversation it was as if a
corpse had popped out of its tomb like a jack-in-the-box.
Obeying the voice of authority, he pushed the tombstone to one
side and poked his head out of the sepulchre.
"Piccadilly Jim!" he murmured apologetically.
"Piccadilly Jim!" said Mrs. Crocker. "It is extremely impertinent
In spite of his misery, a wan smile appeared on Mr. Pett's
death-mask at this remark.
"They should worry about--!"
Mr. Pett died again, greatly respected.
"Why should the New York papers refer to James at all?" said Mrs.
Mr. Pett emerged reluctantly from the cerements. He had supposed
that Nesta would do the talking.
"Well, he's a news-item."
"Well, here's a boy that's been a regular fellow--raised in
America--done work on a newspaper--suddenly taken off to England
to become a London dude--mixing with all the dukes, playing
pinochle with the King--naturally they're interested in him."
A more agreeable expression came over Mrs. Crocker's face.
"Of course, that is quite true. One cannot prevent the papers
from printing what they wish. So they have published articles
about James' doings in English Society?"
"Doings," said Mr. Pett, "is right!"
"Something has got to be done about it," said Mrs. Pett.
Mr. Pett endorsed this.
"Nesta's going to lose her health if these stories go on," he
Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows, but she had hard work to keep a
contented smile off her face.
"If you are not above petty jealousy, Nesta . . ."
Mrs. Pett laughed a sharp, metallic laugh.
"It is the disgrace I object to!"
"What else would you call it, Eugenia? Wouldn't you be ashamed if
you opened your Sunday paper and came upon a full page article
about your nephew having got intoxicated at the races and fought
a book-maker--having broken up a political meeting--having been
sued for breach-of-promise by a barmaid . . ."
Mrs. Crocker preserved her well-bred calm, but she was shaken.
The episodes to which her sister had alluded were ancient
history, horrors of the long-dead past, but it seemed that they
still lived in print. There and then she registered the resolve
to talk to her step-son James when she got hold of him in such a
manner as would scourge the offending Adam out of him for once
and for all.
"And not only that," continued Mrs. Pett. "That would be bad enough
in itself, but somehow the papers have discovered that I am the
boy's aunt. Two weeks ago they printed my photograph with one of
these articles. I suppose they will always do it now. That is why I
have come to you. It must stop. And the only way it can be made to
stop is by taking your step-son away from London where he is
running wild. Peter has most kindly consented to give the boy a
position in his office. It is very good of him, for the boy cannot
in the nature of things be of any use for a very long time, but we
have talked it over and it seems the only course. I have come this
morning to ask you to let us take James Crocker back to America
with us and keep him out of mischief by giving him honest work.
What do you say?"
Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows.
"What do you expect me to say? It is utterly preposterous. I have
never heard anything so supremely absurd in my life."
"Of course I refuse."
"I think you are extremely foolish."
Mr. Pett cowed in his chair. He was feeling rather like a nervous
and peace-loving patron of a wild western saloon who observes two
cowboys reach for their hip-pockets. Neither his wife nor his
sister-in-law paid any attention to him. The concluding exercises
of a duel of the eyes was in progress between them. After some
silent, age-long moments, Mrs. Crocker laughed a light laugh.
"Most extraordinary!" she murmured.
Mrs. Pett was in no mood for Anglicisms.
"You know perfectly well, Eugenia," she said heatedly, "that
James Crocker is being ruined here. For his sake, if not for
Mrs. Crocker laughed another light laugh, one of those offensive
rippling things which cause so much annoyance.
"Don't be so ridiculous, Nesta! Ruined! Really! It is quite true
that, a long while ago, when he was much younger and not quite used
to the ways of London Society, James was a little wild, but all
that sort of thing is over now. He knows"--she paused, setting
herself as it were for the punch--"he knows that at any moment
the government may decide to give his father a Peerage . . ."
The blow went home. A quite audible gasp escaped her stricken
Mrs. Crocker placed two ringed fingers before her mouth in order
not to hide a languid yawn.
"Yes. Didn't you know? But of course you live so out of the world.
Oh yes, it is extremely probable that Mr. Crocker's name will
appear in the next Honours List. He is very highly thought of by
the Powers. So naturally James is quite aware that he must behave
in a suitable manner. He is a dear boy! He was handicapped at
first by getting into the wrong set, but now his closest friend
is Lord Percy Whipple, the second son of the Duke of Devizes, who
is one of the most eminent men in the kingdom and a personal
friend of the Premier."
Mrs. Pett was in bad shape under this rain of titles, but she
rallied herself to reply in kind.
"Indeed?" she said. "I should like to meet him. I have no doubt
he knows our great friend, Lord Wisbeach."
Mrs. Crocker was a little taken aback. She had not supposed that
her sister had even this small shot in her locker.
"Do you know Lord Wisbeach?" she said.
"Oh yes," replied Mrs. Pett, beginning to feel a little better.
"We have been seeing him every day. He always says that he looks
on my house as quite a home. He knows so few people in New York.
It has been a great comfort to him, I think, knowing us."
Mrs. Crocker had had time now to recover her poise.
"Poor dear Wizzy!" she said languidly.
Mrs. Pett started.
"I suppose he is still the same dear, stupid, shiftless fellow?
He left here with the intention of travelling round the world,
and he has stopped in New York! How like him!"
"Do you know Lord Wisbeach?" demanded Mrs. Pett.
Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows.
"Know him? Why, I suppose, after Lord Percy Whipple, he is James'
most intimate friend!"
Mrs. Pett rose. She was dignified even in defeat. She collected
Ogden and Mr. Pett with an eye which even Ogden could see was not
to be trifled with. She uttered no word.
"Must you really go?" said Mrs. Crocker. "It was sweet of you to
bother to come all the way from America like this. So strange to
meet any one from America nowadays. Most extraordinary!"
The _cortege_ left the room in silence. Mrs. Crocker had touched
the bell, but the mourners did not wait for the arrival of
Bayliss. They were in no mood for the formalities of polite
Society. They wanted to be elsewhere, and they wanted to be there
quick. The front door had closed behind them before the butler
reached the morning-room.
"Bayliss," said Mrs. Crocker with happy, shining face, "send for
the car to come round at once."
"Very good, madam."
"Is Mr. James up yet?"
"I believe not, madam."
Mrs. Crocker went upstairs to her room. If Bayliss had not been
within earshot, she would probably have sung a bar or two. Her
amiability extended even to her step-son, though she had not
altered her intention of speaking eloquently to him on certain
matters when she could get hold of him. That, however, could
wait. For the moment, she felt in vein for a gentle drive in the
A few minutes after she had disappeared, there was a sound of
slow footsteps on the stairs, and a young man came down into the
hall. Bayliss, who had finished telephoning to the garage for
Mrs. Crocker's limousine and was about to descend to those lower
depths where he had his being, turned, and a grave smile of
welcome played over his face.
"Good morning, Mr. James," he said.
JIMMY'S DISTURBING NEWS
Jimmy Crocker was a tall and well-knit young man who later on in
the day would no doubt be at least passably good-looking. At the
moment an unbecoming pallor marred his face, and beneath his eyes
were marks that suggested that he had slept little and ill. He
stood at the foot of the stairs, yawning cavernously.
"Bayliss," he said, "have you been painting yourself yellow?"
"Strange! Your face looks a bright gamboge to me, and your
outlines wobble. Bayliss, never mix your drinks. I say this to
you as a friend. Is there any one in the morning-room?"
"No, Mr. James."
"Speak softly, Bayliss, for I am not well. I am conscious of a
strange weakness. Lead me to the morning-room, then, and lay me
gently on a sofa. These are the times that try men's souls."
The sun was now shining strongly through the windows of the
morning-room. Bayliss lowered the shades. Jimmy Crocker sank onto
the sofa, and closed his eyes.
"A conviction is stealing over me that I am about to expire."
"Shall I bring you a little breakfast, Mr. James?"
A strong shudder shook Jimmy.
"Don't be flippant, Bayliss," he protested. "Try to cure yourself
of this passion for being funny at the wrong time. Your comedy is
good, but tact is a finer quality than humour. Perhaps you think
I have forgotten that morning when I was feeling just as I do
to-day and you came to my bedside and asked me if I would like a
nice rasher of ham. I haven't and I never shall. You may bring me
a brandy-and-soda. Not a large one. A couple of bath-tubs full
will be enough."
"Very good, Mr. James."
"And now leave me, Bayliss, for I would be alone. I have to make
a series of difficult and exhaustive tests to ascertain whether I
am still alive."
When the butler had gone, Jimmy adjusted the cushions, closed his
eyes, and remained for a space in a state of coma. He was trying,
as well as an exceedingly severe headache would permit, to recall
the salient events of the previous night. At present his memories
refused to solidify. They poured about in his brain in a fluid
and formless condition, exasperating to one who sought for hard
It seemed strange to Jimmy that the shadowy and inchoate vision of
a combat, a fight, a brawl of some kind persisted in flitting
about in the recesses of his mind, always just far enough away to
elude capture. The absurdity of the thing annoyed him. A man has
either indulged in a fight overnight or he has not indulged in a
fight overnight. There can be no middle course. That he should be
uncertain on the point was ridiculous. Yet, try as he would, he
could not be sure. There were moments when he seemed on the very
verge of settling the matter, and then some invisible person
would meanly insert a red-hot corkscrew in the top of his head
and begin to twist it, and this would interfere with calm
thought. He was still in a state of uncertainty when Bayliss
returned, bearing healing liquids on a tray.
"Shall I set it beside you, sir?"
Jimmy opened one eye.
"Indubitably. No mean word, that, Bayliss, for the morning after.
Try it yourself next time. Bayliss, who let me in this morning?"
"Let you in, sir?"
"Precisely. I was out and now I am in. Obviously I must have
passed the front door somehow. This is logic."
"I fancy you let yourself in, Mr. James, with your key."
"That would seem to indicate that I was in a state of icy
sobriety. Yet, if such is the case, how is it that I can't
remember whether I murdered somebody or not last night? It isn't
the sort of thing your sober man would lightly forget. Have you
ever murdered anybody, Bayliss?"
"Well, if you had, you would remember it next morning?"
"I imagine so, Mr. James."
"Well, it's a funny thing, but I can't get rid of the impression
that at some point in my researches into the night life of London
yestreen I fell upon some person to whom I had never been
introduced and committed mayhem upon his person."
It seemed to Bayliss that the time had come to impart to Mr. James
a piece of news which he had supposed would require no imparting.
He looked down upon his young master's recumbent form with a
grave commiseration. It was true that he had never been able to
tell with any certainty whether Mr. James intended the statements
he made to be taken literally or not, but on the present occasion
he seemed to have spoken seriously and to be genuinely at a loss
to recall an episode over the printed report of which the entire
domestic staff had been gloating ever since the arrival of the
halfpenny morning paper to which they subscribed.
"Do you really mean it, Mr. James?" he enquired cautiously.
"You have really forgotten that you were engaged in a fracas last
night at the Six Hundred Club?"
Jimmy sat up with a jerk, staring at this omniscient man. Then
the movement having caused a renewal of the operations of the
red-hot corkscrew, he fell back again with a groan.
"Was I? How on earth did you know? Why should you know all about
it when I can't remember a thing? It was my fault, not yours."
"There is quite a long report of it in to-day's _Daily Sun_, Mr.
"A report? In the _Sun_?"
"Half a column, Mr. James. Would you like me to fetch the paper?
I have it in my pantry."
"I should say so. Trot a quick heat back with it. This wants
Bayliss retired, to return immediately with the paper. Jimmy took
it, gazed at it, and handed it back.
"I overestimated my powers. It can't be done. Have you any
important duties at the moment, Bayliss?"
"Perhaps you wouldn't mind reading me the bright little excerpt,
"It will be good practice for you. I am convinced I am going to be
a confirmed invalid for the rest of my life, and it will be part
of your job to sit at my bedside and read to me. By the way, does
the paper say who the party of the second part was? Who was the
citizen with whom I went to the mat?"
"Lord Percy Whipple, Mr. James."
"Lord Percy Whipple."
"Never heard of him. Carry on, Bayliss."
Jimmy composed himself to listen, yawning.
THE MORNING AFTER
Bayliss took a spectacle-case from the recesses of his costume,
opened it, took out a pair of gold-rimmed glasses, dived into the
jungle again, came out with a handkerchief, polished the
spectacles, put them on his nose, closed the case, restored it to
its original position, replaced the handkerchief, and took up the
"Why the hesitation, Bayliss? Why the coyness?" enquired Jimmy,
lying with closed eyes. "Begin!"
"I was adjusting my glasses, sir."
"All set now?"
"Yes, sir. Shall I read the headlines first?"
The butler cleared his throat.
"Good Heavens, Bayliss," moaned Jimmy, starting, "don't gargle.
Have a heart! Go on!"
Bayliss began to read.
FRACAS IN FASHIONABLE NIGHT-CLUB
SPRIGS OF NOBILITY BRAWL
Jimmy opened his eyes, interested.
"Am I a sprig of nobility?"
"It is what the paper says, sir."
"We live and learn. Carry on."
The butler started to clear his throat, but checked himself.
SENSATIONAL INTERNATIONAL CONTEST
FULL DESCRIPTION BY OUR EXPERT
Jimmy sat up.
"Bayliss, you're indulging that distorted sense of humour of
yours again. That isn't in the paper?"
"Yes, sir. Very large headlines."
"Bayliss, I'll give you a piece of advice which may be useful to
you when you grow up. Never go about with newspaper men. It all
comes back to me. Out of pure kindness of heart I took young Bill
Blake of the _Sun_ to supper at the Six Hundred last night. This is
my reward. I suppose he thinks it funny. Newspaper men are a low
"Shall I go on, sir?"
"Most doubtless. Let me hear all."
Bayliss resumed. He was one of those readers who, whether their
subject be a murder case or a funny anecdote, adopt a measured
and sepulchral delivery which gives a suggestion of tragedy and
horror to whatever they read. At the church which he attended on
Sundays, of which he was one of the most influential and
respected members, children would turn pale and snuggle up to
their mothers when Bayliss read the lessons. Young Mr. Blake's
account of the overnight proceedings at the Six Hundred Club he
rendered with a gloomy gusto more marked even than his wont. It
had a topical interest for him which urged him to extend himself.
"At an early hour this morning, when our myriad readers
were enjoying that refreshing and brain-restoring sleep so
necessary to the proper appreciation of the _Daily Sun_ at
the breakfast table, one of the most interesting sporting
events of the season was being pulled off at the Six
Hundred Club in Regent Street, where, after three rounds
of fast exchanges, James B. Crocker, the well-known
American welter-weight scrapper, succeeded in stopping
Lord Percy Whipple, second son of the Duke of Devizes,
better known as the Pride of Old England. Once again the
superiority of the American over the English style of
boxing was demonstrated. Battling Percy has a kind heart,
but Cyclone Jim packs the punch."
"The immediate cause of the encounter had to do with a
disputed table, which each gladiator claimed to have
engaged in advance over the telephone."
"I begin to remember," said Jimmy meditatively. "A pill with
butter-coloured hair tried to jump my claim. Honeyed words
proving fruitless, I soaked him on the jaw. It may be that I was
not wholly myself. I seem to remember an animated session at the
Empire earlier in the evening, which may have impaired my
"One word leading to others, which in their turn led to
several more, Cyclone Jim struck Battling Percy on what
our rude forefathers were accustomed to describe as the
mazzard, and the gong sounded for
"Both men came up fresh and eager to mix things, though it
seems only too probable that they had already been mixing
more things than was good for them. Battling Percy tried a
right swing which got home on a waiter. Cyclone Jim put in
a rapid one-two punch which opened a large gash in the
atmosphere. Both men sparred cautiously, being hampered in
their movements by the fact, which neither had at this
stage of the proceedings perceived, that they were on
opposite sides of the disputed table. A clever Fitzsimmons'
shift on the part of the Battler removed this obstacle,
and some brisk work ensued in neutral territory. Percy
landed twice without a return. The Battler's round by a
"The Cyclone came out of his corner with a rush, getting
home on the Battler's shirt-front and following it up with
a right to the chin. Percy swung wildly and upset a bottle
of champagne on a neighbouring table. A good rally
followed, both men doing impressive in-fighting. The
Cyclone landed three without a return. The Cyclone's
"Percy came up weak, seeming to be overtrained. The
Cyclone waded in, using both hands effectively. The
Battler fell into a clinch, but the Cyclone broke away
and, measuring his distance, picked up a haymaker from the
floor and put it over. Percy down and out.
"Interviewed by our representative after the fight,
Cyclone Jim said: 'The issue was never in doubt. I was
handicapped at the outset by the fact that I was under the
impression that I was fighting three twin-brothers, and I
missed several opportunities of putting over the winning
wallop by attacking the outside ones. It was only in the
second round that I decided to concentrate my assault on
the one in the middle, when the affair speedily came to a
conclusion. I shall not adopt pugilism as a profession.
The prizes are attractive, but it is too much like work.'"
Bayliss ceased, and silence fell upon the room.
"Is that all?"
"That is all, sir."
"And about enough."
"Very true, sir."
"You know, Bayliss," said Jimmy thoughtfully, rolling over on the
couch, "life is peculiar, not to say odd. You never know what is
waiting for you round the corner. You start the day with the
fairest prospects, and before nightfall everything is as rocky
and ding-basted as stig tossed full of doodlegammon. Why is this,
"I couldn't say, sir."
"Look at me. I go out to spend a happy evening, meaning no harm
to any one, and I come back all blue with the blood of the
aristocracy. We now come to a serious point. Do you think my
lady stepmother has read that sporting chronicle?"
"I fancy not, Mr. James."
"On what do you base these words of comfort?"
"Mrs. Crocker does not read the halfpenny papers, sir."
"True! She does not. I had forgotten. On the other hand the
probability that she will learn about the little incident from
other sources is great. I think the merest prudence suggests that
I keep out of the way for the time being, lest I be fallen upon
and questioned. I am not equal to being questioned this morning.
I have a headache which starts at the soles of my feet and gets
worse all the way up. Where is my stepmother?"
"Mrs. Crocker is in her room, Mr. James. She ordered the car to
be brought round at once. It should be here at any moment now,
sir. I think Mrs. Crocker intends to visit the Park before
"Is she lunching out?"
"Then, if I pursue the excellent common-sense tactics of the
lesser sand-eel, which as you doubtless know buries itself tail
upwards in the mud on hearing the baying of the eel-hounds and
remains in that position till the danger is past, I shall be able
to postpone an interview. Should you be questioned as to my
whereabouts, inflate your chest and reply in a clear and manly
voice that I have gone out, you know not where. May I rely on
your benevolent neutrality, Bayliss?"
"Very good, Mr. James."
"I think I will go and sit in my father's den. A man may lie hid
there with some success as a rule."
Jimmy heaved himself painfully off the sofa, blinked, and set out
for the den, where his father, in a deep arm-chair, was smoking a
restful pipe and reading the portions of the daily papers which
did not deal with the game of cricket.
Mr. Crocker's den was a small room at the back of the house. It
was not luxurious, and it looked out onto a blank wall, but it
was the spot he liked best in all that vast pile which had once
echoed to the tread of titled shoes; for, as he sometimes
observed to his son, it had the distinction of being the only
room on the ground floor where a fellow could move without
stubbing his toe on a countess or an honourable. In this peaceful
backwater he could smoke a pipe, put his feet up, take off his
coat, and generally indulge in that liberty and pursuit of
happiness to which the Constitution entitles a free-born
American. Nobody ever came there except Jimmy and himself.
He did not suspend his reading at his son's entrance. He muttered
a welcome through the clouds, but he did not raise his eyes.
Jimmy took the other arm-chair, and began to smoke silently. It
was the unwritten law of the den that soothing silence rather
than aimless chatter should prevail. It was not until a quarter
of an hour had passed that Mr. Crocker dropped his paper and
"Say, Jimmy, I want to talk to you."
"Say on. You have our ear."
"Continue--always, however, keeping before you the fact that I am
a sick man. Last night was a wild night on the moors, dad."
"It's about your stepmother. She was talking at breakfast about
you. She's sore at you for giving Spike Dillon lunch at the
Carlton. You oughtn't to have taken him there, Jimmy. That's what
got her goat. She was there with a bunch of swells and they had
to sit and listen to Spike talking about his half-scissors hook."
"What's their kick against Spike's half-scissors hook? It's a
darned good one."
"She said she was going to speak to you about it. I thought I'd
let you know."
"Thanks, dad. But was that all?"
"All that she was going to speak to me about? Sure there was
"She didn't say anything about anything else."
"Then she _doesn't_ know! Fine!"
Mr. Crocker's feet came down from the mantelpiece with a crash.
"Jimmy! You haven't been raising Cain again?"
"No, no, dad. Nothing serious. High-spirited Young Patrician
stuff, the sort of thing that's expected of a fellow in my
Mr. Crocker was not to be comforted.
"Jimmy, you've got to pull up. Honest, you have. I don't care for
myself. I like to see a boy having a good time. But your
stepmother says you're apt to queer us with the people up top,
the way you're going on. Lord knows I wouldn't care if things
were different, but I'll tell you exactly how I stand. I didn't
get wise till this morning. Your stepmother sprang it on me
suddenly. I've often wondered what all this stuff was about, this
living in London and trailing the swells. I couldn't think what
was your stepmother's idea. Now I know. Jimmy, she's trying to
get them to make me a peer!"
"Just that. And she says--"
"But, dad, this is rich! This is comedy of a high order! A peer!
Good Heavens, if it comes off, what shall I be? This title
business is all so complicated. I know I should have to change my
name to Hon. Rollo Cholmondeley or the Hon. Aubrey Marjoribanks,
but what I want to know is which? I want to be prepared for the
"And you see, Jimmy, these people up top, the guys who arrange
the giving of titles, are keeping an eye on you, because you
would have the title after me and naturally they don't want to
get stung. I gathered all that from your stepmother. Say, Jimmy,
I'm not asking a lot of you, but there is just one thing you can
do for me without putting yourself out too much."
"I'll do it, dad, if it kills me. Slip me the info!"
"Your stepmother's friend Lady Corstorphine's nephew . . ."
"It's not the sort of story to ask a man with a headache to
follow. I hope it gets simpler as it goes along."
"Your stepmother wants you to be a good fellow and make friends
with this boy. You see, his father is in right with the Premier
and has the biggest kind of a pull when it comes to handing out
"Is that all you want? Leave it to me. Inside of a week I'll be
playing kiss-in-the-ring with him. The whole force of my sunny
personality shall be directed towards making him love me. What's
"Lord Percy Whipple."
Jimmy's pipe fell with a clatter.
"Dad, pull yourself together! Reflect! You know you don't
seriously mean Lord Percy Whipple."
Jimmy laid a soothing hand on his father's shoulder.
"Dad, prepare yourself for the big laugh. This is where you throw
your head back and roar with honest mirth. I met Lord Percy
Whipple last night at the Six Hundred Club. Words ensued. I fell
upon Percy and beat his block off! How it started, except that we
both wanted the same table, I couldn't say. 'Why, that I cannot
tell,' said he, 'but 'twas a famous victory!' If I had known,
dad, nothing would have induced me to lay a hand upon Perce, save
in the way of kindness, but, not even knowing who he was, it
would appear from contemporary accounts of the affair that I just
naturally sailed in and expunged the poor, dear boy!"
The stunning nature of this information had much the same effect
on Mr. Crocker as the announcement of his ruin has upon the Good
Old Man in melodrama. He sat clutching the arms of his chair and
staring into space, saying nothing. Dismay was written upon his
His collapse sobered Jimmy. For the first time he perceived that
the situation had another side than the humorous one which had
appealed to him. He had anticipated that Mr. Crocker, who as a
general thing shared his notions of what was funny and could be
relied on to laugh in the right place, would have been struck,
like himself, by the odd and pleasing coincidence of his having
picked on for purposes of assault and battery the one young man
with whom his stepmother wished him to form a firm and lasting
friendship. He perceived now that his father was seriously upset.
Neither Jimmy nor Mr. Crocker possessed a demonstrative nature,
but there had always existed between them the deepest affection.
Jimmy loved his father as he loved nobody else in the world, and
the thought of having hurt him was like a physical pain. His
laughter died away and he set himself with a sinking heart to try
to undo the effect of his words.
"I'm awfully sorry, dad. I had no idea you would care. I wouldn't
have done a fool thing like that for a million dollars if I'd
known. Isn't there anything I can do? Gee whiz! I'll go right
round to Percy now and apologise. I'll lick his boots. Don't you
worry, dad. I'll make it all right."
The whirl of words roused Mr. Crocker from his thoughts.
"It doesn't matter, Jimmy. Don't worry yourself. It's only a
little unfortunate, because your stepmother says she won't think
of our going back to America till these people here have given me
a title. She wants to put one over on her sister. That's all
that's troubling me, the thought that this affair will set us
back, this Lord Percy being in so strong with the guys who give
the titles. I guess it will mean my staying on here for a while
longer, and I'd liked to have seen another ball-game. Jimmy, do
you know they call baseball Rounders in this country, and
children play it with a soft ball!"
Jimmy was striding up and down the little room. Remorse had him
in its grip.
"What a damned fool I am!"
"Never mind, Jimmy. It's unfortunate, but it wasn't your fault.
You couldn't know."
"It was my fault. Nobody but a fool like me would go about
beating people up. But don't worry, dad. It's going to be all
right. I'll fix it. I'm going right round to this fellow Percy
now to make things all right. I won't come back till I've squared
him. Don't you bother yourself about it any longer, dad. It's
going to be all right."
JIMMY ABANDONS PICCADILLY
Jimmy removed himself sorrowfully from the doorstep of the Duke
of Devizes' house in Cleveland Row. His mission had been a
failure. In answer to his request to be permitted to see Lord
Percy Whipple, the butler had replied that Lord Percy was
confined to his bed and was seeing nobody. He eyed Jimmy, on
receiving his name, with an interest which he failed to conceal,
for he too, like Bayliss, had read and heartily enjoyed Bill
Blake's spirited version of the affair of last night which had
appeared in the _Daily Sun_. Indeed, he had clipped the report out
and had been engaged in pasting it in an album when the bell
In face of this repulse, Jimmy's campaign broke down. He was at a
loss to know what to do next. He ebbed away from the Duke's front
door like an army that has made an unsuccessful frontal attack on
an impregnable fortress. He could hardly force his way in and
search for Lord Percy.
He walked along Pall Mall, deep in thought. It was a beautiful
day. The rain which had fallen in the night and relieved Mr.
Crocker from the necessity of watching cricket had freshened
The sun was shining now from a turquoise sky. A gentle breeze
blew from the south. Jimmy made his way into Piccadilly, and
found that thoroughfare a-roar with happy automobilists and
cheery pedestrians. Their gaiety irritated him. He resented
their apparent enjoyment of life.
Jimmy's was not a nature that lent itself readily to
introspection, but he was putting himself now through a searching
self-examination which was revealing all kinds of unsuspected
flaws in his character. He had been having too good a time for
years past to have leisure to realise that he possessed any
responsibilities. He had lived each day as it came in the spirit
of the Monks of Thelema. But his father's reception of the news
of last night's escapade and the few words he had said had given
him pause. Life had taken on of a sudden a less simple aspect.
Dimly, for he was not accustomed to thinking along these lines,
he perceived the numbing truth that we human beings are merely as
many pieces in a jig-saw puzzle and that our every movement
affects the fortunes of some other piece. Just so, faintly at
first and taking shape by degrees, must the germ of civic spirit
have come to Prehistoric Man. We are all individualists till we
The thought of having done anything to make his father unhappy
was bitter to Jimmy Crocker. They had always been more like
brothers than father and son. Hard thoughts about himself surged
through Jimmy's mind. With a dejectedness to which it is possible
that his headache contributed he put the matter squarely to
himself. His father was longing to return to America--he, Jimmy,
by his idiotic behaviour was putting obstacles in the way of that
return--what was the answer? The answer, to Jimmy's way of
thinking, was that all was not well with James Crocker, that,
when all the evidence was weighed, James Crocker would appear to
be a fool, a worm, a selfish waster, and a hopeless, low-down,
Having come to this conclusion, Jimmy found himself so low in
spirit that the cheerful bustle of Piccadilly was too much for
him. He turned, and began to retrace his steps. Arriving in due
course at the top of the Haymarket he hesitated, then turned down
it till he reached Cockspur Street. Here the Trans-Atlantic
steamship companies have their offices, and so it came about that
Jimmy, chancing to look up as he walked, perceived before him,
riding gallantly on a cardboard ocean behind a plate-glass
window, the model of a noble vessel. He stopped, conscious of a
curious thrill. There is a superstition in all of us. When an
accidental happening chances to fit smoothly in with a mood,
seeming to come as a direct commentary on that mood, we are apt
to accept it in defiance of our pure reason as an omen. Jimmy
strode to the window and inspected the model narrowly. The sight
of it had started a new train of thought. His heart began to
race. Hypnotic influences were at work on him.
Why not? Could there be a simpler solution of the whole trouble?
Inside the office he would see a man with whiskers buying a
ticket for New York. The simplicity of the process fascinated
him. All you had to do was to walk in, bend over the counter
while the clerk behind it made dabs with a pencil at the
illustrated plate of the ship's interior organs, and hand over
your money. A child could do it, if in funds. At this thought his
hand strayed to his trouser-pocket. A musical crackling of
bank-notes proceeded from the depths. His quarterly allowance had
been paid to him only a short while before, and, though a willing
spender, he still retained a goodly portion of it. He rustled the
notes again. There was enough in that pocket to buy three tickets
to New York. Should he? . . . Or, on the other hand--always look
on both sides of the question--should he not?
It would certainly seem to be the best thing for all parties if
he did follow the impulse. By remaining in London he was injuring
everybody, himself included. . . . Well, there was no harm in
making enquiries. Probably the boat was full up anyway. . . . He
walked into the office.
"Have you anything left on the _Atlantic_ this trip?"
The clerk behind the counter was quite the wrong sort of person
for Jimmy to have had dealings with in his present mood. What
Jimmy needed was a grave, sensible man who would have laid a hand
on his shoulder and said "Do nothing rash, my boy!" The clerk
fell short of this ideal in practically every particular. He was
about twenty-two, and he seemed perfectly enthusiastic about the
idea of Jimmy going to America. He beamed at Jimmy.
"Plenty of room," he said. "Very few people crossing. Give you
"When does the boat sail?"
"Eight to-morrow morning from Liverpool. Boat-train leaves
Paddington six to-night."
Prudence came at the eleventh hour to check Jimmy. This was not a
matter, he perceived, to be decided recklessly, on the spur of a
sudden impulse. Above all, it was not a matter to be decided
before lunch. An empty stomach breeds imagination. He had
ascertained that he could sail on the _Atlantic_ if he wished to.
The sensible thing to do now was to go and lunch and see how he
felt about it after that. He thanked the clerk, and started to
walk up the Haymarket, feeling hard-headed and practical, yet
with a strong premonition that he was going to make a fool of
himself just the same.
It was half-way up the Haymarket that he first became conscious
of the girl with the red hair.
Plunged in thought, he had not noticed her before. And yet she
had been walking a few paces in front of him most of the way. She
had come out of Panton Street, walking briskly, as one going to
keep a pleasant appointment. She carried herself admirably, with
a jaunty swing.
Having become conscious of this girl, Jimmy, ever a warm admirer
of the sex, began to feel a certain interest stealing over him.
With interest came speculation. He wondered who she was. He
wondered where she had bought that excellently fitting suit of
tailor-made grey. He admired her back, and wondered whether her
face, if seen, would prove a disappointment. Thus musing, he drew
near to the top of the Haymarket, where it ceases to be a street
and becomes a whirlpool of rushing traffic. And here the girl,
having paused and looked over her shoulder, stepped off the
sidewalk. As she did so a taxi-cab rounded the corner quickly
from the direction of Coventry Street.
The agreeable surprise of finding the girl's face fully as
attractive as her back had stimulated Jimmy, so that he was keyed
up for the exhibition of swift presence-of-mind. He jumped
forward and caught her arm, and swung her to one side as the cab
rattled past, its driver thinking hard thoughts to himself. The
whole episode was an affair of seconds.
"Thank you," said the girl.
She rubbed the arm which he had seized with rather a rueful
expression. She was a little white, and her breath came quickly.
"I hope I didn't hurt you," said Jimmy.
"You did. Very much. But the taxi would have hurt me more."
She laughed. She looked very attractive when she laughed. She had
a small, piquant, vivacious face. Jimmy, as he looked at it, had
an odd feeling that he had seen her before--when and where he did
not know. That mass of red-gold hair seemed curiously familiar.
Somewhere in the hinterland of his mind there lurked a memory,
but he could not bring it into the open. As for the girl, if she
had ever met him before, she showed no signs of recollecting it.
Jimmy decided that, if he had seen her, it must have been in his
reporter days. She was plainly an American, and he occasionally
had the feeling that he had seen every one in America when he had
worked for the _Chronicle_.
"That's right," he said approvingly. "Always look on the bright
"I only arrived in London yesterday," said the girl, "and I
haven't got used to your keeping-to-the-left rules. I don't
suppose I shall ever get back to New York alive. Perhaps, as you
have saved my life, you wouldn't mind doing me another service.
Can you tell me which is the nearest and safest way to a
restaurant called the Regent Grill?"
"It's just over there, at the corner of Regent Street. As to the
safest way, if I were you I should cross over at the top of the
street there and then work round westward. Otherwise you will have
to cross Piccadilly Circus."
"I absolutely refuse even to try to cross Piccadilly Circus.
Thank you very much. I will follow your advice. I hope I shall
get there. It doesn't seem at all likely."
She gave him a little nod, and moved away. Jimmy turned into that
drug-store at the top of the Haymarket at which so many Londoners
have found healing and comfort on the morning after, and bought
the pink drink for which his system had been craving since he
rose from bed. He wondered why, as he drained it, he should feel
ashamed and guilty.
A few minutes later he found himself, with mild surprise, going
down the steps of the Regent Grill. It was the last place he had
had in his mind when he had left the steamship company's offices
in quest of lunch. He had intended to seek out some quiet,
restful nook where he could be alone with his thoughts. If
anybody had told him then that five minutes later he would be
placing himself of his own free will within the range of a
restaurant orchestra playing "My Little Grey Home in the
West"--and the orchestra at the Regent played little else--he
would not have believed him.
Restaurants in all large cities have their ups and downs. At this
time the Regent Grill was enjoying one of those bursts of
popularity for which restaurateurs pray to whatever strange gods
they worship. The more prosperous section of London's Bohemia
flocked to it daily. When Jimmy had deposited his hat with the
robber-band who had their cave just inside the main entrance and
had entered the grill-room, he found it congested. There did not
appear to be a single unoccupied table.
From where he stood he could see the girl of the red-gold hair.
Her back was towards him, and she was sitting at a table against
one of the pillars with a little man with eye-glasses, a handsome
woman in the forties, and a small stout boy who was skirmishing
with the olives. As Jimmy hesitated, the vigilant head-waiter,
who knew him well, perceived him, and hurried up.
"In one moment, Mister Crockaire!" he said, and began to scatter
commands among the underlings. "I will place a table for you in
"Next to that pillar, please," said Jimmy.
The underlings had produced a small table--apparently from up
their sleeves, and were draping it in a cloth. Jimmy sat down and
gave his order. Ordering was going on at the other table. The
little man seemed depressed at the discovery that corn on the cob
and soft-shelled crabs were not to be obtained, and his wife's
reception of the news that clams were not included in the
Regent's bill-of-fare was so indignant that one would have said
that she regarded the fact as evidence that Great Britain was
going to pieces and would shortly lose her place as a world
A selection having finally been agreed upon, the orchestra struck
up "My Little Grey Home in the West," and no attempt was made to
compete with it. When the last lingering strains had died away
and the violinist-leader, having straightened out the kinks in
his person which the rendition of the melody never failed to
produce, had bowed for the last time, a clear, musical voice
spoke from the other side of the pillar.
"Jimmy Crocker is a WORM!"
Jimmy spilled his cocktail. It might have been the voice of
"I despise him more than any one on earth. I hate to think that
he's an American."
Jimmy drank the few drops that remained in his glass, partly to
make sure of them, partly as a restorative. It is an unnerving
thing to be despised by a red-haired girl whose life you have
just saved. To Jimmy it was not only unnerving; it was uncanny.
This girl had not known him when they met on the street a few
moments before. How then was she able to display such intimate
acquaintance with his character now as to describe him--justly
enough--as a worm? Mingled with the mystery of the thing was its
pathos. The thought that a girl could be as pretty as this one
and yet dislike him so much was one of the saddest things Jimmy
had ever come across. It was like one of those Things Which Make
Me Weep In This Great City so dear to the hearts of the
sob-writers of his late newspaper.
A waiter bustled up with a high-ball. Jimmy thanked him with his
eyes. He needed it. He raised it to his lips.
"He's always drinking--"
He set it down hurriedly.
"--and making a disgraceful exhibition of himself in public! I
always think Jimmy Crocker--"
Jimmy began to wish that somebody would stop this girl. Why
couldn't the little man change the subject to the weather, or
that stout child start prattling about some general topic? Surely
a boy of that age, newly arrived in London, must have all sorts
of things to prattle about? But the little man was dealing
strenuously with a breaded cutlet, while the stout boy, grimly
silent, surrounded fish-pie in the forthright manner of a
starving python. As for the elder woman, she seemed to be
wrestling with unpleasant thoughts, beyond speech.
"--I always think that Jimmy Crocker is the worst case I know of
the kind of American young man who spends all his time in Europe
and tries to become an imitation Englishman. Most of them are the
sort any country would be glad to get rid of, but he used to work
once, so you can't excuse him on the ground that he hasn't the
sense to know what he's doing. He's deliberately chosen to loaf
about London and make a pest of himself. He went to pieces with
his eyes open. He's a perfect, utter, hopeless WORM!"
Jimmy had never been very fond of the orchestra at the Regent
Grill, holding the view that it interfered with conversation and
made for an unhygienic rapidity of mastication; but he was
profoundly grateful to it now for bursting suddenly into _La
Boheme_, the loudest item in its repertory. Under cover of that
protective din he was able to toy with a steaming dish which his
waiter had brought. Probably that girl was saying all sorts of
things about him still but he could not hear them.
The music died away. For a moment the tortured air quivered in
comparative silence; then the girl's voice spoke again. She had,
however, selected another topic of conversation.
"I've seen all I want to of England," she said, "I've seen
Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and His Majesty's
Theatre and the Savoy and the Cheshire Cheese, and I've developed
a frightful home-sickness. Why shouldn't we go back to-morrow?"
For the first time in the proceedings the elder woman spoke. She
cast aside her mantle of gloom long enough to say "Yes," then
wrapped it round her again. The little man, who had apparently
been waiting for her vote before giving his own, said that the
sooner he was on board a New York-bound boat the better he would
be pleased. The stout boy said nothing. He had finished his
fish-pie, and was now attacking jam roll with a sort of morose
"There's certain to be a boat," said the girl. "There always is.
You've got to say that for England--it's an easy place to get back
to America from." She paused. "What I can't understand is how,
after having been in America and knowing what it was like, Jimmy
Crocker could stand living . . ."
The waiter had come to Jimmy's side, bearing cheese; but Jimmy
looked at it with dislike and shook his head in silent negation.
He was about to depart from this place. His capacity for
absorbing home-truths about himself was exhausted. He placed a
noiseless sovereign on the table, caught the waiter's eye,
registered renunciation, and departed soft-footed down the aisle.
The waiter, a man who had never been able to bring himself to
believe in miracles, revised the views of a life-time. He looked
at the sovereign, then at Jimmy, then at the sovereign again.
Then he took up the coin and bit it furtively.
A few minutes later, a hat-check boy, untipped for the first time
in his predatory career, was staring at Jimmy with equal
intensity, but with far different feelings. Speechless concern
was limned on his young face.
The commissionaire at the Piccadilly entrance of the restaurant
touched his hat ingratiatingly, with the smug confidence of a man
who is accustomed to getting sixpence a time for doing it.
"Taxi, Mr. Crocker?"
"A worm," said Jimmy.
"Beg pardon, sir?"
"Always drinking," explained Jimmy, "and making a pest of
He passed on. The commissionaire stared after him as intently as
the waiter and the hat-check boy. He had sometimes known Mr.
Crocker like this after supper, but never before during the
Jimmy made his way to his club in Northumberland Avenue. For
perhaps half an hour he sat in a condition of coma in the
smoking-room; then, his mind made up, he went to one of the
writing-tables. He sat awaiting inspiration for some minutes,
then began to write.
The letter he wrote was to his father:
I have been thinking over what we talked about this
morning, and it seems to me the best thing I can do is to
drop out of sight for a brief space. If I stay on in
London, I am likely at any moment to pull some boner like
last night's which will spill the beans for you once more.
The least I can do for you is to give you a clear field
and not interfere, so I am off to New York by to-night's
I went round to Percy's to try to grovel in the dust
before him, but he wouldn't see me. It's no good
grovelling in the dust of the front steps for the benefit
of a man who's in bed on the second floor, so I withdrew
in more or less good order. I then got the present idea.
Mark how all things work together for good. When they come
to you and say "No title for you. Your son slugged our pal
Percy," all you have to do is to come back at them with "I
know my son slugged Percy, and believe me I didn't do a
thing to him! I packed him off to America within
twenty-four hours. Get me right, boys! I'm anti-Jimmy and
pro-Percy." To which their reply will be "Oh, well, in
that case arise, Lord Crocker!" or whatever they say when
slipping a title to a deserving guy. So you will see that
by making this getaway I am doing the best I can to put
things straight. I shall give this to Bayliss to give to
you. I am going to call him up on the phone in a minute to
have him pack a few simple tooth-brushes and so on for me.
On landing in New York, I shall instantly proceed to the
Polo Grounds to watch a game of Rounders, and will cable
you the full score. Well. I think that's about all. So
good-bye--or even farewell--for the present.
P.S. I know you'll understand, dad. I'm doing what seems
to me the only possible thing. Don't worry about me. I
shall be all right. I'll get back my old job and be a
terrific success all round. You go ahead and get that
title and then meet me at the entrance of the Polo
Grounds. I'll be looking for you.
P.P.S. I'm a worm.
The young clerk at the steamship offices appeared rejoiced to see
Jimmy once more. With a sunny smile he snatched a pencil from his
ear and plunged it into the vitals of the Atlantic.
"How about E. a hundred and eight?"
"You're too late to go in the passenger-list, of course."
Jimmy did not reply. He was gazing rigidly at a girl who had just
come in, a girl with red hair and a friendly smile.
"So you're sailing on the _Atlantic_, too!" she said, with a glance
at the chart on the counter. "How odd! We have just decided to go
back on her too. There's nothing to keep us here and we're all
homesick. Well, you see I wasn't run over after I left you."
A delicious understanding relieved Jimmy's swimming brain, as
thunder relieves the tense and straining air. The feeling that he
was going mad left him, as the simple solution of his mystery
came to him. This girl must have heard of him in New
York--perhaps she knew people whom he knew and it was on hearsay,
not on personal acquaintance, that she based that dislike of him
which she had expressed with such freedom and conviction so short
a while before at the Regent Grill. She did not know who he was!
Into this soothing stream of thought cut the voice of the clerk.
"What name, please?"
Jimmy's mind rocked again. Why were these things happening to him
to-day of all days, when he needed the tenderest treatment, when
he had a headache already?
The clerk was eyeing him expectantly. He had laid down his pencil
and was holding aloft a pen. Jimmy gulped. Every name in the
English language had passed from his mind. And then from out of
the dark came inspiration.
"Bayliss," he croaked.
The girl held out her hand.
"Then we can introduce ourselves at last. My name is Ann Chester.
How do you do, Mr. Bayliss?"
"How do you do, Miss Chester?"
The clerk had finished writing the ticket, and was pressing
labels and a pink paper on him. The paper, he gathered dully, was
a form and had to be filled up. He examined it, and found it to
be a searching document. Some of its questions could be answered
off-hand, others required thought.
"Height?" Simple. Five foot eleven.
"Hair?" Simple. Brown.
"Eyes?" Simple again. Blue.
Next, queries of a more offensive kind.
"Are you a polygamist?"
He could answer that. Decidedly no. One wife would be
ample--provided she had red-gold hair, brown-gold eyes, the right
kind of mouth, and a dimple. Whatever doubts there might be in
his mind on other points, on that one he had none whatever.
"Have you ever been in prison?"
And then a very difficult one. "Are you a lunatic?"
Jimmy hesitated. The ink dried on his pen. He was wondering.
* * *
In the dim cavern of Paddington Station the boat-train snorted
impatiently, varying the process with an occasional sharp shriek.
The hands of the station clock pointed to ten minutes to six. The
platform was a confused mass of travellers, porters, baggage,
trucks, boys with buns and fruits, boys with magazines, friends,
relatives, and Bayliss the butler, standing like a faithful
watchdog beside a large suitcase. To the human surf that broke
and swirled about him he paid no attention. He was looking for
the young master.
Jimmy clove the crowd like a one-man flying-wedge. Two fruit and
bun boys who impeded his passage drifted away like leaves on an
"Good man!" He possessed himself of the suitcase. "I was afraid
you might not be able to get here."
"The mistress is dining out, Mr. James. I was able to leave the
"Have you packed everything I shall want?"
"Within the scope of a suitcase, yes, sir."
"Splendid! Oh, by the way, give this letter to my father, will
"Very good, sir."
"I'm glad you were able to manage. I thought your voice sounded
doubtful over the phone."
"I was a good deal taken aback, Mr. James. Your decision to leave
was so extremely sudden."
"So was Columbus'. You know about him? He saw an egg standing on
its head and whizzed off like a jack-rabbit."
"If you will pardon the liberty, Mr. James, is it not a little
"Don't take the joy out of life, Bayliss. I may be a chump, but
try to forget it. Use your willpower."
"Good evening, Mr. Bayliss," said a voice behind them. They both
turned. The butler was gazing rather coyly at a vision in a grey
"Good evening, miss," he said doubtfully.
Ann looked at him in astonishment, then broke into a smile.
"How stupid of me! I meant this Mr. Bayliss. Your son! We met at
the steamship offices. And before that he saved my life. So we
are old friends."
Bayliss, gaping perplexedly and feeling unequal to the
intellectual pressure of the conversation, was surprised further
to perceive a warning scowl on the face of his Mr. James. Jimmy
had not foreseen this thing, but he had a quick mind and was
equal to it.
"How are you, Miss Chester? My father has come down to see me
off. This is Miss Chester, dad."
A British butler is not easily robbed of his poise, but Bayliss
was frankly unequal to the sudden demand on his presence of mind.
He lowered his jaw an inch or two, but spoke no word.
"Dad's a little upset at my going," whispered Jimmy
confidentially. "He's not quite himself."
Ann was a girl possessed not only of ready tact but of a kind
heart. She had summed up Mr. Bayliss at a glance. Every line of
him proclaimed him a respectable upper servant. No girl on earth
could have been freer than she of snobbish prejudice, but she
could not check a slight thrill of surprise and disappointment at
the discovery of Jimmy's humble origin. She understood everything,
and there were tears in her eyes as she turned away to avoid
intruding on the last moments of the parting of father and son.
"I'll see you on the boat, Mr. Bayliss," she said.
"Eh?" said Bayliss.
"Yes, yes," said Jimmy. "Good-bye till then."
Ann walked on to her compartment. She felt as if she had just read
a whole long novel, one of those chunky younger-English-novelist
things. She knew the whole story as well as if it had been told
to her in detail. She could see the father, the honest steady
butler, living his life with but one aim, to make a gentleman of
his beloved only son. Year by year he had saved. Probably he had
sent the son to college. And now, with a father's blessing and
the remains of a father's savings, the boy was setting out for
the New World, where dollar-bills grew on trees and no one asked
or cared who any one else's father might be.
There was a lump in her throat. Bayliss would have been amazed if
he could have known what a figure of pathetic fineness he seemed
to her. And then her thoughts turned to Jimmy, and she was aware
of a glow of kindliness towards him. His father had succeeded in
his life's ambition. He had produced a gentleman! How easily and
simply, without a trace of snobbish shame, the young man had
introduced his father. There was the right stuff in him. He was
not ashamed of the humble man who had given him his chance in
life. She found herself liking Jimmy amazingly . . .
The hands of the clock pointed to three minutes to the hour.
Porters skimmed to and fro like water-beetles.
"I can't explain," said Jimmy. "It wasn't temporary insanity; it
"Very good, Mr. James. I think you had better be taking your seat
"Quite right, I had. It would spoil the whole thing if they left
me behind. Bayliss, did you ever see such eyes? Such hair! Look
after my father while I am away. Don't let the dukes worry him.
Oh, and, Bayliss"--Jimmy drew his hand from his pocket--"as one
pal to another--"
Bayliss looked at the crackling piece of paper.
"I couldn't, Mr. James, I really couldn't! A five-pound note! I
"Nonsense! Be a sport!"
"Begging your pardon, Mr. James, I really couldn't. You cannot
afford to throw away your money like this. You cannot have a
great deal of it, if you will excuse me for saying so."
"I won't do anything of the sort. Grab it! Oh, Lord, the train's
starting! Good-bye, Bayliss!"
The engine gave a final shriek of farewell. The train began to
slide along the platform, pursued to the last by optimistic boys
offering buns for sale. It gathered speed. Jimmy, leaning out the
window, was amazed at a spectacle so unusual as practically to
amount to a modern miracle--the spectacled Bayliss running. The
butler was not in the pink of condition, but he was striding out
gallantly. He reached the door of Jimmy's compartment, and raised
"Begging your pardon, Mr. James," he panted, "for taking the
liberty, but I really couldn't!"
He reached up and thrust something into Jimmy's hand, something
crisp and crackling. Then, his mission performed, fell back and
stood waving a snowy handkerchief. The train plunged into the
Jimmy stared at the five-pound note. He was aware, like Ann
farther along the train, of a lump in his throat. He put the note
slowly into his pocket.
The train moved on.
ON THE BOAT-DECK
Rising waters and a fine flying scud that whipped stingingly over
the side had driven most of the passengers on the _Atlantic_ to the
shelter of their staterooms or to the warm stuffiness of the
library. It was the fifth evening of the voyage. For five days
and four nights the ship had been racing through a placid ocean
on her way to Sandy Hook: but in the early hours of this
afternoon the wind had shifted to the north, bringing heavy seas.
Darkness had begun to fall now. The sky was a sullen black. The
white crests of the rollers gleamed faintly in the dusk, and the
wind sang in the ropes.
Jimmy and Ann had had the boat-deck to themselves for half an
hour. Jimmy was a good sailor: it exhilarated him to fight the
wind and to walk a deck that heaved and dipped and shuddered
beneath his feet; but he had not expected to have Ann's company
on such an evening. But she had come out of the saloon entrance,
her small face framed in a hood and her slim body shapeless
beneath a great cloak, and joined him in his walk.
Jimmy was in a mood of exaltation. He had passed the last few
days in a condition of intermittent melancholy, consequent on the
discovery that he was not the only man on board the _Atlantic_ who
desired the society of Ann as an alleviation of the tedium of an
ocean voyage. The world, when he embarked on this venture, had
consisted so exclusively of Ann and himself that, until the ship
was well on its way to Queenstown, he had not conceived the
possibility of intrusive males forcing their unwelcome attentions
on her. And it had added bitterness to the bitter awakening that
their attentions did not appear to be at all unwelcome. Almost
immediately after breakfast on the very first day, a creature with
a small black moustache and shining teeth had descended upon Ann
and, vocal with surprise and pleasure at meeting her again--he
claimed, damn him!, to have met her before at Palm Beach, Bar
Harbor, and a dozen other places--had carried her off to play an
idiotic game known as shuffle-board. Nor was this an isolated
case. It began to be borne in upon Jimmy that Ann, whom he had
looked upon purely in the light of an Eve playing opposite his
Adam in an exclusive Garden of Eden, was an extremely well-known
and popular character. The clerk at the shipping-office had lied
absurdly when he had said that very few people were crossing on
the _Atlantic_ this voyage. The vessel was crammed till its sides
bulged, it was loaded down in utter defiance of the Plimsoll law,
with Rollos and Clarences and Dwights and Twombleys who had known
and golfed and ridden and driven and motored and swum and danced
with Ann for years. A ghastly being entitled Edgar Something or
Teddy Something had beaten Jimmy by a short head in the race for
the deck-steward, the prize of which was the placing of his
deck-chair next to Ann's. Jimmy had been driven from the
promenade deck by the spectacle of this beastly creature lying
swathed in rugs reading best-sellers to her.
He had scarcely seen her to speak to since the beginning of the
voyage. When she was not walking with Rolly or playing
shuffle-board with Twombley, she was down below ministering to
the comfort of a chronically sea-sick aunt, referred to in
conversation as "poor aunt Nesta". Sometimes Jimmy saw the little
man--presumably her uncle--in the smoking-room, and once he came
upon the stout boy recovering from the effects of a cigar in a
quiet corner of the boat-deck: but apart from these meetings the
family was as distant from him as if he had never seen Ann at
all--let alone saved her life.
And now she had dropped down on him from heaven. They were alone
together with the good clean wind and the bracing scud. Rollo,
Clarence, Dwight, and Twombley, not to mention Edgar or possibly
Teddy, were down below--he hoped, dying. They had the world to
"I love rough weather," said Ann, lifting her face to the wind.
Her eyes were very bright. She was beyond any doubt or question
the only girl on earth. "Poor aunt Nesta doesn't. She was bad
enough when it was quite calm, but this storm has finished her.
I've just been down below, trying to cheer her up."
Jimmy thrilled at the picture. Always fascinating, Ann seemed to
him at her best in the role of ministering angel. He longed to
tell her so, but found no words. They reached the end of the
deck, and turned. Ann looked up at him.
"I've hardly seen anything of you since we sailed," she said. She
spoke almost reproachfully. "Tell me all about yourself, Mr.
Bayliss. Why are you going to America?"
Jimmy had had an impassioned indictment of the Rollos on his
tongue, but she had closed the opening for it as quickly as she
had made it. In face of her direct demand for information he
could not hark back to it now. After all, what did the Rollos
matter? They had no part in this little wind-swept world: they
were where they belonged, in some nether hell on the C. or D.
deck, moaning for death.
"To make a fortune, I hope," he said.
Ann was pleased at this confirmation of her diagnosis. She had
deduced this from the evidence at Paddington Station.
"How pleased your father will be if you do!"
The slight complexity of Jimmy's affairs caused him to pause for
a moment to sort out his fathers, but an instant's reflection
told him that she must be referring to Bayliss the butler.
"He's a dear old man," said Ann. "I suppose he's very proud of
"I hope so."
"You must do tremendously well in America, so as not to
disappoint him. What are you thinking of doing?"
Jimmy considered for a moment.
"Newspaper work, I think."
"Oh? Why, have you had any experience?"
Ann seemed to grow a little aloof, as if her enthusiasm had been
"Oh, well, I suppose it's a good enough profession. I'm not very
fond of it myself. I've only met one newspaper man in my life,
and I dislike him very much, so I suppose that has prejudiced
"Who was that?"
"You wouldn't have met him. He was on an American paper. A man
A sudden gust of wind drove them back a step, rendering talk
impossible. It covered a gap when Jimmy could not have spoken.
The shock of the information that Ann had met him before made him
dumb. This thing was beyond him. It baffled him.
Her next words supplied a solution. They were under shelter of
one of the boats now and she could make herself heard.
"It was five years ago, and I only met him for a very short
while, but the prejudice has lasted."
Jimmy began to understand. Five years ago! It was not so strange,
then, that they should not recognise each other now. He stirred
up his memory. Nothing came to the surface. Not a gleam of
recollection of that early meeting rewarded him. And yet
something of importance must have happened then, for her to
remember it. Surely his mere personality could not have been so
unpleasant as to have made such a lasting impression on her!
"I wish you could do something better than newspaper work," said
Ann. "I always think the splendid part about America is that it
is such a land of adventure. There are such millions of chances.
It's a place where anything may happen. Haven't you an
adventurous soul, Mr. Bayliss?"
No man lightly submits to a charge, even a hinted charge, of
being deficient in the capacity for adventure.
"Of course I have," said Jimmy indignantly. "I'm game to tackle
anything that comes along."
"I'm glad of that."
Her feeling of comradeship towards this young man deepened. She
loved adventure and based her estimate of any member of the
opposite sex largely on his capacity for it. She moved in a set,
when at home, which was more polite than adventurous, and had
frequently found the atmosphere enervating.
"Adventure," said Jimmy, "is everything."
He paused. "Or a good deal," he concluded weakly.
"Why qualify it like that? It sounds so tame. Adventure is the
biggest thing in life."
It seemed to Jimmy that he had received an excuse for a remark of
a kind that had been waiting for utterance ever since he had met
her. Often and often in the watches of the night, smoking endless
pipes and thinking of her, he had conjured up just such a vision
as this--they two walking the deserted deck alone, and she
innocently giving him an opening for some low-voiced, tender
speech, at which she would start, look at him quickly, and then
ask him haltingly if the words had any particular application.
And after that--oh, well, all sorts of things might happen. And
now the moment had come. It was true that he had always pictured
the scene as taking place by moonlight and at present there was a
half-gale blowing, out of an inky sky; also on the present
occasion anything in the nature of a low-voiced speech was
absolutely out of the question owing to the uproar of the
elements. Still, taking these drawbacks into consideration, the
chance was far too good to miss. Such an opening might never
happen again. He waited till the ship had steadied herself after
an apparently suicidal dive into an enormous roller, then,
staggering back to her side, spoke.
"Love is the biggest thing in life!" he roared.
"What is?" shrieked Ann.
"Love!" bellowed Jimmy.
He wished a moment later that he had postponed this statement of
faith, for their next steps took them into a haven of comparative
calm, where some dimly seen portion of the vessel's anatomy
jutted out and formed a kind of nook where it was possible to
hear the ordinary tones of the human voice. He halted here, and
Ann did the same, though unwillingly. She was conscious of a
feeling of disappointment and of a modification of her mood of
comradeship towards her companion. She held strong views, which
she believed to be unalterable, on the subject under discussion.
"Love!" she said. It was too dark to see her face, but her voice
sounded unpleasantly scornful. "I shouldn't have thought that you
would have been so conventional as that. You seemed different."
"Eh?" said Jimmy blankly.
"I hate all this talk about Love, as if it were something
wonderful that was worth everything else in life put together.
Every book you read and every song that you see in the
shop-windows is all about Love. It's as if the whole world were
in a conspiracy to persuade themselves that there's a wonderful
something just round the corner which they can get if they try
hard enough. And they hypnotise themselves into thinking of
nothing else and miss all the splendid things of life."
"That's Shaw, isn't it?" said Jimmy.
"What is Shaw?"
"What you were saying. It's out of one of Bernard Shaw's things,
"It is not." A note of acidity had crept into Ann's voice. "It is
"I'm certain I've heard it before somewhere."
"If you have, that simply means that you must have associated
with some sensible person."
Jimmy was puzzled.
"But why the grouch?" he asked.
"I don't understand you."
"I mean, why do you feel that way about it?"
Ann was quite certain now that she did not like this young man
nearly as well as she had supposed. It is trying for a
strong-minded, clear-thinking girl to have her philosophy
described as a grouch.
"Because I've had the courage to think about it for myself, and
not let myself be blinded by popular superstition. The whole
world has united in making itself imagine that there is something
called love which is the most wonderful happening in life. The
poets and novelists have simply hounded them on to believe it.
It's a gigantic swindle."
A wave of tender compassion swept over Jimmy. He understood it
all now. Naturally a girl who had associated all her life with
the Rollos, Clarences, Dwights, and Twombleys would come to
despair of the possibility of falling in love with any one.
"You haven't met the right man," he said. She had, of course, but
only recently: and, anyway, he could point that out later.
"There is no such thing as the right man," said Ann resolutely,
"if you are suggesting that there is a type of man in existence
who is capable of inspiring what is called romantic love. I
believe in marriage. . . ."
"Good work!" said Jimmy, well satisfied.
" . . . But not as the result of a sort of delirium. I believe in
it as a sensible partnership between two friends who know each
other well and trust each other. The right way of looking at
marriage is to realise, first of all, that there are no thrills,
no romances, and then to pick out some one who is nice and kind
and amusing and full of life and willing to do things to make you
"Ah!" said Jimmy, straightening his tie, "Well, that's
"How do you mean--that's something? Are you shocked at my views?"
"I don't believe they are your views. You've been reading one of
these stern, soured fellows who analyse things."
Ann stamped. The sound was inaudible, but Jimmy noticed the
"Cold?" he said. "Let's walk on."
Ann's sense of humour reasserted itself. It was not often that it
remained dormant for so long. She laughed.
"I know exactly what you are thinking," she said. "You believe
that I am posing, that those aren't my real opinions."
"They can't be. But I don't think you are posing. It's getting on
for dinner-time, and you've got that wan, sinking feeling that
makes you look upon the world and find it a hollow fraud. The
bugle will be blowing in a few minutes, and half an hour after
that you will be yourself again."
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