The Man With Two Left Feet
P. G. Wodehouse

Part 4 out of 5

can't understand. The chances were two to one that you would be
recognized. You made a pretty big splash with that little affair of
yours five years ago.'

Benyon raised his head. His hands were trembling.

'I'll tell you,' he said with a kind of savage force, which hurt kindly
little Mr Birdsey like a blow. 'It was because I was a dead man, and
saw a chance of coming to life for a day; because I was sick of the
damned tomb I've been living in for five centuries; because I've been
aching for New York ever since I've left it--and here was a chance of
being back there for a few hours. I knew there was a risk. I took a
chance on it. Well?'

Mr Birdsey's heart was almost too full for words. He had found him at
last, the Super-Fan, the man who would go through fire and water for a
sight of a game of baseball. Till that moment he had been regarding
himself as the nearest approach to that dizzy eminence. He had braved
great perils to see this game. Even in this moment his mind would not
wholly detach itself from speculation as to what his wife would say to
him when he slunk back into the fold. But what had he risked compared
with this man Benyon? Mr Birdsey glowed. He could not restrain his
sympathy and admiration. True, the man was a criminal. He had robbed a
bank of a hundred thousand dollars. But, after all, what was that? They
would probably have wasted the money in foolishness. And, anyway, a
bank which couldn't take care of its money deserved to lose it.

Mr Birdsey felt almost a righteous glow of indignation against the New
Asiatic Bank.

He broke the silence which had followed Benyon's words with a
peculiarly immoral remark:

'Well, it's lucky it's only us that's recognized you,' he said.

Waterall stared. 'Are you proposing that we should hush this thing up,
Mr Birdsey?' he said coldly.

'Oh, well--'

Waterall rose and went to the telephone.

'What ate you going to do?'

'Call up Scotland Yard, of course. What did you think?'

Undoubtedly the young man was doing his duty as a citizen, yet it is to
be recorded that Mr Birdsey eyed him with unmixed horror.

'You can't! You mustn't!' he cried.

'I certainly shall.'

'But--but--this fellow came all that way to see the ball-game.'

It seemed incredible to Mr Birdsey that this aspect of the affair
should not be the one to strike everybody to the exclusion of all other

'You can't give him up. It's too raw.'

'He's a convicted criminal.'

'He's a fan. Why, say, he's _the_ fan.'

Waterall shrugged his shoulders, and walked to the telephone. Benyon

'One moment.'

Waterall turned, and found himself looking into the muzzle of a small
pistol. He laughed.

'I expected that. Wave it about all you want'

Benyon rested his shaking hand on the edge of the table.

'I'll shoot if you move.'

'You won't. You haven't the nerve. There's nothing to you. You're just
a cheap crook, and that's all. You wouldn't find the nerve to pull that
trigger in a million years.'

He took off the receiver.

'Give me Scotland Yard,' he said.

He had turned his back to Benyon. Benyon sat motionless. Then, with a
thud, the pistol fell to the ground. The next moment Benyon had broken
down. His face was buried in his arms, and he was a wreck of a man,
sobbing like a hurt child.

Mr Birdsey was profoundly distressed. He sat tingling and helpless.
This was a nightmare.

Waterall's level voice spoke at the telephone.

'Is this Scotland Yard? I am Waterall, of the _New York
Chronicle_. Is Inspector Jarvis there? Ask him to come to the
phone.... Is that you, Jarvis? This is Waterall. I'm speaking from the
Savoy, Mr Birdsey's rooms. Birdsey. Listen, Jarvis. There's a man here
that's wanted by the American police. Send someone here and get him.
Benyon. Robbed the New Asiatic Bank in New York. Yes, you've a warrant
out for him, five years old.... All right.'

He hung up the receiver. Benyon sprang to his feet. He stood, shaking,
a pitiable sight. Mr Birdsey had risen with him. They stood looking at

'You--skunk!' said Mr Birdsey.

'I'm an American citizen,' said Waterall, 'and I happen to have some
idea of a citizen's duties. What is more, I'm a newspaper man, and I
have some idea of my duty to my paper. Call me what you like, you won't
alter that.'

Mr Birdsey snorted.

'You're suffering from ingrowing sentimentality, Mr Birdsey. That's
what's the matter with you. Just because this man has escaped justice
for five years, you think he ought to be considered quit of the whole


'I don't.'

He took out his cigarette case. He was feeling a great deal more
strung-up and nervous than he would have had the others suspect. He had
had a moment of very swift thinking before he had decided to treat that
ugly little pistol in a spirit of contempt. Its production had given
him a decided shock, and now he was suffering from reaction. As a
consequence, because his nerves were strained, he lit his cigarette
very languidly, very carefully, and with an offensive superiority which
was to Mr Birdsey the last straw.

These things are matters of an instant. Only an infinitesimal fraction
of time elapsed between the spectacle of Mr Birdsey, indignant but
inactive, and Mr Birdsey berserk, seeing red, frankly and undisguisedly
running amok. The transformation took place in the space of time
required for the lighting of a match.

Even as the match gave out its flame, Mr Birdsey sprang.

Aeons before, when the young blood ran swiftly in his veins and life
was all before him, Mr Birdsey had played football. Once a footballer,
always a potential footballer, even to the grave. Time had removed the
flying tackle as a factor in Mr Birdsey's life. Wrath brought it back.
He dived at young Mr Waterall's neatly trousered legs as he had dived
at other legs, less neatly trousered, thirty years ago. They crashed to
the floor together; and with the crash came Mr Birdsey's shout:

'Run! Run, you fool! Run!'

And, even as he clung to his man, breathless, bruised, feeling as if
all the world had dissolved in one vast explosion of dynamite, the door
opened, banged to, and feet fled down the passage.

Mr Birdsey disentangled himself, and rose painfully. The shock had
brought him to himself. He was no longer berserk. He was a middle-aged
gentleman of high respectability who had been behaving in a very
peculiar way.

Waterall, flushed and dishevelled, glared at him speechlessly. He
gulped. 'Are you crazy?'

Mr Birdsey tested gingerly the mechanism of a leg which lay under
suspicion of being broken. Relieved, he put his foot to the ground
again. He shook his head at Waterall. He was slightly crumpled, but he
achieved a manner of dignified reproof.

'You shouldn't have done it, young man. It was raw work. Oh, yes, I
know all about that duty-of-a-citizen stuff. It doesn't go. There are
exceptions to every rule, and this was one of them. When a man risks
his liberty to come and root at a ball-game, you've got to hand it to
him. He isn't a crook. He's a fan. And we exiled fans have got to stick

Waterall was quivering with fury, disappointment, and the peculiar
unpleasantness of being treated by an elderly gentleman like a sack of
coals. He stammered with rage.

'You damned old fool, do you realize what you've done? The police will
be here in another minute.'

'Let them come.'

'But what am I to say to them? What explanation can I give? What story
can I tell them? Can't you see what a hole you've put me in?'

Something seemed to click inside Mr Birdsey's soul. It was the berserk
mood vanishing and reason leaping back on to her throne. He was able
now to think calmly, and what he thought about filled him with a sudden

'Young man,' he said, 'don't worry yourself. You've got a cinch. You've
only got to hand a story to the police. Any old tale will do for them.
I'm the man with the really difficult job--I've got to square myself
with my wife!'


He was black, but comely. Obviously in reduced circumstances, he had
nevertheless contrived to retain a certain smartness, a certain
air--what the French call the _tournure_. Nor had poverty killed
in him the aristocrat's instinct of personal cleanliness; for even as
Elizabeth caught sight of him he began to wash himself.

At the sound of her step he looked up. He did not move, but there was
suspicion in his attitude. The muscles of his back contracted, his eyes
glowed like yellow lamps against black velvet, his tail switched a
little, warningly.

Elizabeth looked at him. He looked at Elizabeth. There was a pause,
while he summed her up. Then he stalked towards her, and, suddenly
lowering his head, drove it vigorously against her dress. He permitted
her to pick him up and carry him into the hall-way, where Francis, the
janitor, stood.

'Francis,' said Elizabeth, 'does this cat belong to anyone here?'

'No, miss. That cat's a stray, that cat is. I been trying to locate
that cat's owner for days.'

Francis spent his time trying to locate things. It was the one
recreation of his eventless life. Sometimes it was a noise, sometimes a
lost letter, sometimes a piece of ice which had gone astray in the
dumb-waiter--whatever it was, Francis tried to locate it.

'Has he been round here long, then?'

'I seen him snooping about a considerable time.'

'I shall keep him.'

'Black cats bring luck,' said Francis sententiously.

'I certainly shan't object to that,' said Elizabeth. She was feeling
that morning that a little luck would be a pleasing novelty. Things had
not been going very well with her of late. It was not so much that the
usual proportion of her manuscripts had come back with editorial
compliments from the magazine to which they had been sent--she accepted
that as part of the game; what she did consider scurvy treatment at the
hands of fate was the fact that her own pet magazine, the one to which
she had been accustomed to fly for refuge, almost sure of a
welcome--when coldly treated by all the others--had suddenly expired
with a low gurgle for want of public support. It was like losing a kind
and open-handed relative, and it made the addition of a black cat to
the household almost a necessity.

In her flat, the door closed, she watched her new ally with some
anxiety. He had behaved admirably on the journey upstairs, but she
would not have been surprised, though it would have pained her, if he
had now proceeded to try to escape through the ceiling. Cats were so
emotional. However, he remained calm, and, after padding silently about
the room for awhile, raised his head and uttered a crooning cry.

'That's right,' said Elizabeth, cordially. 'If you don't see what you
want, ask for it. The place is yours.'

She went to the ice-box, and produced milk and sardines. There was
nothing finicky or affected about her guest. He was a good trencherman,
and he did not care who knew it. He concentrated himself on the
restoration of his tissues with the purposeful air of one whose last
meal is a dim memory. Elizabeth, brooding over him like a Providence,
wrinkled her forehead in thought.

'Joseph,' she said at last, brightening; 'that's your name. Now settle
down, and start being a mascot.'

Joseph settled down amazingly. By the end of the second day he was
conveying the impression that he was the real owner of the apartment,
and that it was due to his good nature that Elizabeth was allowed the
run of the place. Like most of his species, he was an autocrat. He
waited a day to ascertain which was Elizabeth's favourite chair, then
appropriated it for his own. If Elizabeth closed a door while he was in
a room, he wanted it opened so that he might go out; if she closed it
while he was outside, he wanted it opened so that he might come in; if
she left it open, he fussed about the draught. But the best of us have
our faults, and Elizabeth adored him in spite of his.

It was astonishing what a difference he made in her life. She was a
friendly soul, and until Joseph's arrival she had had to depend for
company mainly on the footsteps of the man in the flat across the way.
Moreover, the building was an old one, and it creaked at night. There
was a loose board in the passage which made burglar noises in the dark
behind you when you stepped on it on the way to bed; and there were
funny scratching sounds which made you jump and hold your breath.
Joseph soon put a stop to all that. With Joseph around, a loose board
became a loose board, nothing more, and a scratching noise just a plain
scratching noise.

And then one afternoon he disappeared.

Having searched the flat without finding him, Elizabeth went to the
window, with the intention of making a bird's-eye survey of the street.
She was not hopeful, for she had just come from the street, and there
had been no sign of him then.

Outside the window was a broad ledge, running the width of the
building. It terminated on the left, in a shallow balcony belonging to
the flat whose front door faced hers--the flat of the young man whose
footsteps she sometimes heard. She knew he was a young man, because
Francis had told her so. His name, James Renshaw Boyd, she had learned
from the same source.

On this shallow balcony, licking his fur with the tip of a crimson
tongue and generally behaving as if he were in his own backyard, sat

'Jo-seph!' cried Elizabeth--surprise, joy, and reproach combining to
give her voice an almost melodramatic quiver.

He looked at her coldly. Worse, he looked at her as if she had been an
utter stranger. Bulging with her meat and drink, he cut her dead; and,
having done so, turned and walked into the next flat.

Elizabeth was a girl of spirit. Joseph might look at her as if she were
a saucerful of tainted milk, but he was her cat, and she meant to get
him back. She went out and rang the bell of Mr James Renshaw Boyd's

The door was opened by a shirt-sleeved young man. He was by no means an
unsightly young man. Indeed, of his type--the rough-haired,
clean-shaven, square-jawed type--he was a distinctly good-looking young
man. Even though she was regarding him at the moment purely in the
light of a machine for returning strayed cats, Elizabeth noticed that.

She smiled upon him. It was not the fault of this nice-looking young
man that his sitting-room window was open; or that Joseph was an
ungrateful little beast who should have no fish that night.

'Would you mind letting me have my cat, please?' she said pleasantly.
'He has gone into your sitting-room through the window.'

He looked faintly surprised.

'Your cat?'

'My black cat, Joseph. He is in your sitting-room.'

'I'm afraid you have come to the wrong place. I've just left my
sitting-room, and the only cat there is my black cat, Reginald.'

'But I saw Joseph go in only a minute ago.'

'That was Reginald.'

For the first time, as one who examining a fair shrub abruptly
discovers that it is a stinging-nettle, Elizabeth realized the truth.
This was no innocent young man who stood before her, but the blackest
criminal known to criminologists--a stealer of other people's cats. Her
manner shot down to zero.

'May I ask how long you have had your Reginald?'

'Since four o'clock this afternoon.'

'Did he come in through the window?'

'Why, yes. Now you mention it, he did.'

'I must ask you to be good enough to give me back my cat,' said
Elizabeth, icily.

He regarded her defensively.

'Assuming,' he said, 'purely for the purposes of academic argument,
that your Joseph is my Reginald, couldn't we come to an agreement of
some sort? Let me buy you another cat. A dozen cats.'

'I don't want a dozen cats. I want Joseph.'

'Fine, fat, soft cats,' he went on persuasively. 'Lovely, affectionate
Persians and Angoras, and--'

'Of course, if you intend to steal Joseph--'

'These are harsh words. Any lawyer will tell you that there are special
statutes regarding cats. To retain a stray cat is not a tort or a
misdemeanour. In the celebrated test-case of Wiggins _v_. Bluebody
it was established--'

'Will you please give me back my cat?'

She stood facing him, her chin in the air and her eyes shining, and the
young man suddenly fell a victim to conscience.

'Look here,' he said, 'I'll throw myself on your mercy. I admit the cat
is your cat, and that I have no right to it, and that I am just a
common sneak-thief. But consider. I had just come back from the first
rehearsal of my first play; and as I walked in at the door that cat
walked in at the window. I'm as superstitious as a coon, and I felt
that to give him up would be equivalent to killing the play before ever
it was produced. I know it will sound absurd to you. _You_ have no
idiotic superstitions. You are sane and practical. But, in the
circumstances, if you _could_ see your way to waiving your

Before the wistfulness of his eye Elizabeth capitulated. She felt quite
overcome by the revulsion of feeling which swept through her. How she
had misjudged him! She had taken him for an ordinary soulless purloiner
of cats, a snapper-up of cats at random and without reason; and all the
time he had been reluctantly compelled to the act by this deep and
praiseworthy motive. All the unselfishness and love of sacrifice innate
in good women stirred within her.

'Why, of _course_ you mustn't let him go! It would mean awful bad

'But how about you--'

'Never mind about me. Think of all the people who are dependent on your
play being a success.'

The young man blinked.

'This is overwhelming,' he said.

'I had no notion why you wanted him. He was nothing to me--at least,
nothing much--that is to say--well, I suppose I was rather fond of
him--but he was not--not--'


'That's just the word I wanted. He was just company, you know.'

'Haven't you many friends?'

'I haven't any friends.'

'You haven't any friends! That settles it. You must take him back.'

'I couldn't think of it.'

'Of course you must take him back at once.'

'I really couldn't.'

'You must.'

'I won't.'

'But, good gracious, how do you suppose I should feel, knowing that you
were all alone and that I had sneaked your--your ewe lamb, as it were?'

'And how do you suppose I should feel if your play failed simply for
lack of a black cat?'

He started, and ran his fingers through his rough hair in an
overwrought manner.

'Solomon couldn't have solved this problem,' he said. 'How would it
be--it seems the only possible way out--if you were to retain a sort of
managerial right in him? Couldn't you sometimes step across and chat
with him--and me, incidentally--over here? I'm very nearly as lonesome
as you are. Chicago is my home. I hardly know a soul in New York.'

Her solitary life in the big city had forced upon Elizabeth the ability
to form instantaneous judgements on the men she met. She flashed a
glance at the young man and decided in his favour.

'It's very kind of you,' she said. 'I should love to. I want to hear
all about your play. I write myself, you know, in a very small way, so
a successful playwright is Someone to me.'

'I wish I were a successful playwright.'

'Well, you are having the first play you have ever written produced on
Broadway. That's pretty wonderful.'

''M--yes,' said the young man. It seemed to Elizabeth that he spoke
doubtfully, and this modesty consolidated the favourable impression she
had formed.

* * * * *

The gods are just. For every ill which they inflict they also supply a
compensation. It seems good to them that individuals in big cities
shall be lonely, but they have so arranged that, if one of these
individuals does at last contrive to seek out and form a friendship
with another, that friendship shall grow more swiftly than the tepid
acquaintanceships of those on whom the icy touch of loneliness has
never fallen. Within a week Elizabeth was feeling that she had known
this James Renshaw Boyd all her life.

And yet there was a tantalizing incompleteness about his personal
reminiscences. Elizabeth was one of those persons who like to begin a
friendship with a full statement of their position, their previous
life, and the causes which led up to their being in this particular
spot at this particular time. At their next meeting, before he had had
time to say much on his own account, she had told him of her life in
the small Canadian town where she had passed the early part of her
life; of the rich and unexpected aunt who had sent her to college for
no particular reason that anyone could ascertain except that she
enjoyed being unexpected; of the legacy from this same aunt, far
smaller than might have been hoped for, but sufficient to send a
grateful Elizabeth to New York, to try her luck there; of editors,
magazines, manuscripts refused or accepted, plots for stories; of life
in general, as lived down where the Arch spans Fifth Avenue and the
lighted cross of the Judson shines by night on Washington Square.

Ceasing eventually, she waited for him to begin; and he did not
begin--not, that is to say, in the sense the word conveyed to
Elizabeth. He spoke briefly of college, still more briefly of
Chicago--which city he appeared to regard with a distaste that made
Lot's attitude towards the Cities of the Plain almost kindly by
comparison. Then, as if he had fulfilled the demands of the most
exacting inquisitor in the matter of personal reminiscence, he began to
speak of the play.

The only facts concerning him to which Elizabeth could really have
sworn with a clear conscience at the end of the second week of their
acquaintance were that he was very poor, and that this play meant
everything to him.

The statement that it meant everything to him insinuated itself so
frequently into his conversation that it weighed on Elizabeth's mind
like a burden, and by degrees she found herself giving the play place
of honour in her thoughts over and above her own little ventures. With
this stupendous thing hanging in the balance, it seemed almost wicked
of her to devote a moment to wondering whether the editor of an evening
paper, who had half promised to give her the entrancing post of Adviser
to the Lovelorn on his journal, would fulfil that half-promise.

At an early stage in their friendship the young man had told her the
plot of the piece; and if he had not unfortunately forgotten several
important episodes and had to leap back to them across a gulf of one or
two acts, and if he had referred to his characters by name instead of
by such descriptions as 'the fellow who's in love with the girl--not
what's-his-name but the other chap'--she would no doubt have got that
mental half-Nelson on it which is such a help towards the proper
understanding of a four-act comedy. As it was, his precis had left her
a little vague; but she said it was perfectly splendid, and he said did
she really think so. And she said yes, she did, and they were both

Rehearsals seemed to prey on his spirits a good deal. He attended them
with the pathetic regularity of the young dramatist, but they appeared
to bring him little balm. Elizabeth generally found him steeped in
gloom, and then she would postpone the recital, to which she had been
looking forward, of whatever little triumph she might have happened to
win, and devote herself to the task of cheering him up. If women were
wonderful in no other way, they would be wonderful for their genius for
listening to shop instead of talking it.

Elizabeth was feeling more than a little proud of the way in which her
judgement of this young man was being justified. Life in Bohemian New
York had left her decidedly wary of strange young men, not formally
introduced; her faith in human nature had had to undergo much
straining. Wolves in sheep's clothing were common objects of the
wayside in her unprotected life; and perhaps her chief reason for
appreciating this friendship was the feeling of safety which it gave

Their relations, she told herself, were so splendidly unsentimental.
There was no need for that silent defensiveness which had come to seem
almost an inevitable accompaniment to dealings with the opposite sex.
James Boyd, she felt, she could trust; and it was wonderful how
soothing the reflexion was.

And that was why, when the thing happened, it so shocked and frightened

It had been one of their quiet evenings. Of late they had fallen into
the habit of sitting for long periods together without speaking. But it
had differed from other quiet evenings through the fact that
Elizabeth's silence hid a slight but well-defined feeling of injury.
Usually she sat happy with her thoughts, but tonight she was ruffled.
She had a grievance.

That afternoon the editor of the evening paper, whose angelic status
not even a bald head and an absence of wings and harp could conceal,
had definitely informed her that the man who had conducted the column
hitherto having resigned, the post of Heloise Milton, official adviser
to readers troubled with affairs of the heart, was hers; and he looked
to her to justify the daring experiment of letting a woman handle so
responsible a job. Imagine how Napoleon felt after Austerlitz, picture
Colonel Goethale contemplating the last spadeful of dirt from the
Panama Canal, try to visualize a suburban householder who sees a flower
emerging from the soil in which he has inserted a packet of guaranteed
seeds, and you will have some faint conception how Elizabeth felt as
those golden words proceeded from that editor's lips. For the moment
Ambition was sated. The years, rolling by, might perchance open out
other vistas; but for the moment she was content.

Into James Boyd's apartment she had walked, stepping on fleecy clouds
of rapture, to tell him the great news.

She told him the great news.

He said, 'Ah!'

There are many ways of saying 'Ah!' You can put joy, amazement, rapture
into it; you can also make it sound as if it were a reply to a remark
on the weather. James Boyd made it sound just like that. His hair was
rumpled, his brow contracted, and his manner absent. The impression he
gave Elizabeth was that he had barely heard her. The next moment he was
deep in a recital of the misdemeanours of the actors now rehearsing for
his four-act comedy. The star had done this, the leading woman that,
the juvenile something else. For the first time Elizabeth listened

The time came when speech failed James Boyd, and he sat back in his
chair, brooding. Elizabeth, cross and wounded, sat in hers, nursing
Joseph. And so, in a dim light, time flowed by.

Just how it happened she never knew. One moment, peace; the next chaos.
One moment stillness; the next, Joseph hurtling through the air, all
claws and expletives, and herself caught in a clasp which shook the
breath from her.

One can dimly reconstruct James's train of thought. He is in despair;
things are going badly at the theatre, and life has lost its savour.
His eye, as he sits, is caught by Elizabeth's profile. It is a
pretty--above all, a soothing--profile. An almost painful
sentimentality sweeps over James Boyd. There she sits, his only friend
in this cruel city. If you argue that there is no necessity to spring
at your only friend and nearly choke her, you argue soundly; the point
is well taken. But James Boyd was beyond the reach of sound argument.
Much rehearsing had frayed his nerves to ribbons. One may say that he
was not responsible for his actions.

That is the case for James. Elizabeth, naturally, was not in a position
to take a wide and understanding view of it. All she knew was that James
had played her false, abused her trust in him. For a moment, such was
the shock of the surprise, she was not conscious of indignation--or,
indeed, of any sensation except the purely physical one of
semi-strangulation. Then, flushed, and more bitterly angry than she
could ever have imagined herself capable of being, she began to
struggle. She tore herself away from him. Coming on top of her
grievance, this thing filled her with a sudden, very vivid hatred of
James. At the back of her anger, feeding it, was the humiliating
thought that it was all her own fault, that by her presence there she
had invited this.

She groped her way to the door. Something was writhing and struggling
inside her, blinding her eyes, and robbing her of speech. She was only
conscious of a desire to be alone, to be back and safe in her own home.
She was aware that he was speaking, but the words did not reach her.
She found the door, and pulled it open. She felt a hand on her arm, but
she shook it off. And then she was back behind her own door, alone and
at liberty to contemplate at leisure the ruins of that little temple of
friendship which she had built up so carefully and in which she had
been so happy.

The broad fact that she would never forgive him was for a while her
only coherent thought. To this succeeded the determination that she
would never forgive herself. And having thus placed beyond the pale the
only two friends she had in New York, she was free to devote herself
without hindrance to the task of feeling thoroughly lonely and

The shadows deepened. Across the street a sort of bubbling explosion,
followed by a jerky glare that shot athwart the room, announced the
lighting of the big arc-lamp on the opposite side-walk. She resented
it, being in the mood for undiluted gloom; but she had not the energy
to pull down the shade and shut it out. She sat where she was, thinking
thoughts that hurt.

The door of the apartment opposite opened. There was a single ring at
her bell. She did not answer it. There came another. She sat where she
was, motionless. The door closed again.

* * * * *

The days dragged by. Elizabeth lost count of time. Each day had its
duties, which ended when you went to bed; that was all she knew--except
that life had become very grey and very lonely, far lonelier even than
in the time when James Boyd was nothing to her but an occasional sound
of footsteps.

Of James she saw nothing. It is not difficult to avoid anyone in New
York, even when you live just across the way.

* * * * *

It was Elizabeth's first act each morning, immediately on awaking, to
open her front door and gather in whatever lay outside it. Sometimes
there would be mail; and always, unless Francis, as he sometimes did,
got mixed and absent-minded, the morning milk and the morning paper.

One morning, some two weeks after that evening of which she tried not
to think, Elizabeth, opening the door, found immediately outside it a
folded scrap of paper. She unfolded it.

_I am just off to the theatre. Won't you wish me luck? I feel sure
it is going to be a hit. Joseph is purring like a dynamo._--J.R.B.

In the early morning the brain works sluggishly. For an instant
Elizabeth stood looking at the words uncomprehendingly; then, with a
leaping of the heart, their meaning came home to her. He must have left
this at her door on the previous night. The play had been produced! And
somewhere in the folded interior of the morning paper at her feet must
be the opinion of 'One in Authority' concerning it!

Dramatic criticisms have this peculiarity, that if you are looking for
them, they burrow and hide like rabbits. They dodge behind murders;
they duck behind baseball scores; they lie up snugly behind the Wall
Street news. It was a full minute before Elizabeth found what she
sought, and the first words she read smote her like a blow.

In that vein of delightful facetiousness which so endears him to all
followers and perpetrators of the drama, the 'One in Authority' rent
and tore James Boyd's play. He knocked James Boyd's play down, and
kicked it; he jumped on it with large feet; he poured cold water on it,
and chopped it into little bits. He merrily disembowelled James Boyd's

Elizabeth quivered from head to foot. She caught at the door-post to
steady herself. In a flash all her resentment had gone, wiped away and
annihilated like a mist before the sun. She loved him, and she knew now
that she had always loved him.

It took her two seconds to realize that the 'One in Authority' was a
miserable incompetent, incapable of recognizing merit when it was
displayed before him. It took her five minutes to dress. It took her a
minute to run downstairs and out to the news-stand on the corner of the
street. Here, with a lavishness which charmed and exhilarated the
proprietor, she bought all the other papers which he could supply.

Moments of tragedy are best described briefly. Each of the papers
noticed the play, and each of them damned it with uncompromising
heartiness. The criticisms varied only in tone. One cursed with relish
and gusto; another with a certain pity; a third with a kind of wounded
superiority, as of one compelled against his will to speak of something
unspeakable; but the meaning of all was the same. James Boyd's play was
a hideous failure.

Back to the house sped Elizabeth, leaving the organs of a free people
to be gathered up, smoothed, and replaced on the stand by the now more
than ever charmed proprietor. Up the stairs she sped, and arriving
breathlessly at James's door rang the bell.

Heavy footsteps came down the passage; crushed, disheartened footsteps;
footsteps that sent a chill to Elizabeth's heart. The door opened.
James Boyd stood before her, heavy-eyed and haggard. In his eyes was
despair, and on his chin the blue growth of beard of the man from whom
the mailed fist of Fate has smitten the energy to perform his morning

Behind him, littering the floor, were the morning papers; and at the
sight of them Elizabeth broke down.

'Oh, Jimmy, darling!' she cried; and the next moment she was in his
arms, and for a space time stood still.

How long afterwards it was she never knew; but eventually James Boyd

'If you'll marry me,' he said hoarsely, 'I don't care a hang.'

'Jimmy, darling!' said Elizabeth, 'of course I will.'

Past them, as they stood there, a black streak shot silently, and
disappeared out of the door. Joseph was leaving the sinking ship.

'Let him go, the fraud,' said Elizabeth bitterly. 'I shall never
believe in black cats again.'

But James was not of this opinion.

'Joseph has brought me all the luck I need.'

'But the play meant everything to you.'

'It did then.'

Elizabeth hesitated.

'Jimmy, dear, it's all right, you know. I know you will make a fortune
out of your next play, and I've heaps for us both to live on till you
make good. We can manage splendidly on my salary from the _Evening

'What! Have you got a job on a New York paper?'

'Yes, I told you about it. I am doing Heloise Milton. Why, what's the

He groaned hollowly.

'And I was thinking that you would come back to Chicago with me!'

'But I will. Of course I will. What did you think I meant to do?'

'What! Give up a real job in New York!' He blinked. 'This isn't really
happening. I'm dreaming.'

'But, Jimmy, are you sure you can get work in Chicago? Wouldn't it be
better to stay on here, where all the managers are, and--'

He shook his head.

'I think it's time I told you about myself,' he said. 'Am I sure I can
get work in Chicago? I am, worse luck. Darling, have you in your more
material moments ever toyed with a Boyd's Premier Breakfast-Sausage or
kept body and soul together with a slice off a Boyd's Excelsior
Home-Cured Ham? My father makes them, and the tragedy of my life is
that he wants me to help him at it. This was my position. I loathed the
family business as much as dad loved it. I had a notion--a fool notion,
as it has turned out--that I could make good in the literary line. I've
scribbled in a sort of way ever since I was in college. When the time
came for me to join the firm, I put it to dad straight. I said, "Give
me a chance, one good, square chance, to see if the divine fire is
really there, or if somebody has just turned on the alarm as a
practical joke." And we made a bargain. I had written this play, and we
made it a test-case. We fixed it up that dad should put up the money to
give it a Broadway production. If it succeeded, all right; I'm the
young Gus Thomas, and may go ahead in the literary game. If it's a
fizzle, off goes my coat, and I abandon pipe-dreams of literary
triumphs and start in as the guy who put the Co. in Boyd & Co. Well,
events have proved that I _am_ the guy, and now I'm going to keep
my part of the bargain just as squarely as dad kept his. I know quite
well that if I refused to play fair and chose to stick on here in New
York and try again, dad would go on staking me. That's the sort of man
he is. But I wouldn't do it for a million Broadway successes. I've had
my chance, and I've foozled; and now I'm going back to make him happy
by being a real live member of the firm. And the queer thing about it
is that last night I hated the idea, and this morning, now that I've
got you, I almost look forward to it.'

He gave a little shiver.

'And yet--I don't know. There's something rather gruesome still to my
near-artist soul in living in luxury on murdered piggies. Have you ever
seen them persuading a pig to play the stellar role in a Boyd Premier
Breakfast-Sausage? It's pretty ghastly. They string them up by their
hind legs, and--b-r-r-r-r!'

'Never mind,' said Elizabeth soothingly. 'Perhaps they don't mind it

'Well, I don't know,' said James Boyd, doubtfully. 'I've watched them
at it, and I'm bound to say they didn't seem any too well pleased.'

'Try not to think of it.'

'Very well,' said James dutifully.

There came a sudden shout from the floor above, and on the heels of it
a shock-haired youth in pyjamas burst into the apartment.

'Now what?' said James. 'By the way, Miss Herrold, my fiancee; Mr
Briggs--Paul Axworthy Briggs, sometimes known as the Boy Novelist.
What's troubling you, Paul?'

Mr Briggs was stammering with excitement.

'Jimmy,' cried the Boy Novelist, 'what do you think has happened! A
black cat has just come into my apartment. I heard him mewing outside
the door, and opened it, and he streaked in. And I started my new novel
last night! Say, you _do_ believe this thing of black cats
bringing luck, don't you?'

'Luck! My lad, grapple that cat to your soul with hoops of steel. He's
the greatest little luck-bringer in New York. He was boarding with me
till this morning.'

'Then--by Jove! I nearly forgot to ask--your play was a hit? I haven't
seen the papers yet'

'Well, when you see them, don't read the notices. It was the worst
frost Broadway has seen since Columbus's time.'

'But--I don't understand.'

'Don't worry. You don't have to. Go back and fill that cat with fish,
or she'll be leaving you. I suppose you left the door open?'

'My God!' said the Boy Novelist, paling, and dashed for the door.

'Do you think Joseph _will_ bring him luck?' said Elizabeth,

'It depends what sort of luck you mean. Joseph seems to work in devious
ways. If I know Joseph's methods, Briggs's new novel will be rejected
by every publisher in the city; and then, when he is sitting in his
apartment, wondering which of his razors to end himself with, there
will be a ring at the bell, and in will come the most beautiful girl in
the world, and then--well, then, take it from me, he will be all

'He won't mind about the novel?'

'Not in the least.'

'Not even if it means that he will have to go away and kill pigs and

'About the pig business, dear. I've noticed a slight tendency in you to
let yourself get rather morbid about it. I know they string them up by
the hind-legs, and all that sort of thing; but you must remember that a
pig looks at these things from a different standpoint. My belief is
that the pigs like it. Try not to think of it.'

'Very well,' said Elizabeth, dutifully.


Crossing the Thames by Chelsea Bridge, the wanderer through London
finds himself in pleasant Battersea. Rounding the Park, where the
female of the species wanders with its young by the ornamental water
where the wild-fowl are, he comes upon a vast road. One side of this is
given up to Nature, the other to Intellect. On the right, green trees
stretch into the middle distance; on the left, endless blocks of
residential flats. It is Battersea Park Road, the home of the

Police-constable Plimmer's beat embraced the first quarter of a mile of
the cliffs. It was his duty to pace in the measured fashion of the
London policeman along the front of them, turn to the right, turn to
the left, and come back along the road which ran behind them. In this
way he was enabled to keep the king's peace over no fewer than four
blocks of mansions.

It did not require a deal of keeping. Battersea may have its tough
citizens, but they do not live in Battersea Park Road. Battersea Park
Road's speciality is Brain, not Crime. Authors, musicians, newspaper
men, actors, and artists are the inhabitants of these mansions. A child
could control them. They assault and batter nothing but pianos; they
steal nothing but ideas; they murder nobody except Chopin and
Beethoven. Not through these shall an ambitious young constable achieve

At this conclusion Edward Plimmer arrived within forty-eight hours of
his installation. He recognized the flats for what they were--just so
many layers of big-brained blamelessness. And there was not even the
chance of a burglary. No burglar wastes his time burgling authors.
Constable Plimmer reconciled his mind to the fact that his term in
Battersea must be looked on as something in the nature of a vacation.

He was not altogether sorry. At first, indeed, he found the new
atmosphere soothing. His last beat had been in the heart of tempestuous
Whitechapel, where his arms had ached from the incessant hauling of
wiry inebriates to the station, and his shins had revolted at the kicks
showered upon them by haughty spirits impatient of restraint. Also, one
Saturday night, three friends of a gentleman whom he was trying to
induce not to murder his wife had so wrought upon him that, when he
came out of hospital, his already homely appearance was further marred
by a nose which resembled the gnarled root of a tree. All these things
had taken from the charm of Whitechapel, and the cloistral peace of
Battersea Park Road was grateful and comforting.

And just when the unbroken calm had begun to lose its attraction and
dreams of action were once more troubling him, a new interest entered
his life; and with its coming he ceased to wish to be removed from
Battersea. He fell in love.

It happened at the back of York Mansions. Anything that ever happened,
happened there; for it is at the back of these blocks of flats that the
real life is. At the front you never see anything, except an occasional
tousle-headed young man smoking a pipe; but at the back, where the
cooks come out to parley with the tradesmen, there is at certain hours
of the day quite a respectable activity. Pointed dialogues about
yesterday's eggs and the toughness of Saturday's meat are conducted
_fortissimo_ between cheerful youths in the road and satirical
young women in print dresses, who come out of their kitchen doors on to
little balconies. The whole thing has a pleasing Romeo and Juliet
touch. Romeo rattles up in his cart. 'Sixty-four!' he cries.
'Sixty-fower, sixty-fower, sixty-fow--' The kitchen door opens, and
Juliet emerges. She eyes Romeo without any great show of affection.
'Are you Perkins and Blissett?' she inquires coldly. Romeo admits it.
'Two of them yesterday's eggs was bad.' Romeo protests. He defends his
eggs. They were fresh from the hen; he stood over her while she laid
them. Juliet listens frigidly. 'I _don't_ think,' she says. 'Well,
half of sugar, one marmalade, and two of breakfast bacon,' she adds,
and ends the argument. There is a rattling as of a steamer weighing
anchor; the goods go up in the tradesman's lift; Juliet collects them,
and exits, banging the door. The little drama is over.

Such is life at the back of York Mansions--a busy, throbbing thing.

The peace of afternoon had fallen upon the world one day towards the
end of Constable Plimmer's second week of the simple life, when his
attention was attracted by a whistle. It was followed by a musical

Constable Plimmer looked up. On the kitchen balcony of a second-floor
flat a girl was standing. As he took her in with a slow and exhaustive
gaze, he was aware of strange thrills. There was something about this
girl which excited Constable Plimmer. I do not say that she was a
beauty; I do not claim that you or I would have raved about her; I
merely say that Constable Plimmer thought she was All Right.

'Miss?' he said.

'Got the time about you?' said the girl. 'All the clocks have stopped.'

'The time,' said Constable Plimmer, consulting his watch, 'wants
exactly ten minutes to four.'


'Not at all, miss.'

The girl was inclined for conversation. It was that gracious hour of
the day when you have cleared lunch and haven't got to think of dinner
yet, and have a bit of time to draw a breath or two. She leaned over
the balcony and smiled pleasantly.

'If you want to know the time, ask a pleeceman,' she said. 'You been on
this beat long?'

'Just short of two weeks, miss.'

'I been here three days.'

'I hope you like it, miss.'

'So-so. The milkman's a nice boy.'

Constable Plimmer did not reply. He was busy silently hating the
milkman. He knew him--one of those good-looking blighters; one of those
oiled and curled perishers; one of those blooming fascinators who go
about the world making things hard for ugly, honest men with loving
hearts. Oh, yes, he knew the milkman.

'He's a rare one with his jokes,' said the girl.

Constable Plimmer went on not replying. He was perfectly aware that the
milkman was a rare one with his jokes. He had heard him. The way girls
fell for anyone with the gift of the gab--that was what embittered
Constable Plimmer.

'He--' she giggled. 'He calls me Little Pansy-Face.'

'If you'll excuse me, miss,' said Constable Plimmer coldly, 'I'll have
to be getting along on my beat.'

Little Pansy-Face! And you couldn't arrest him for it! What a world!
Constable Plimmer paced upon his way, a blue-clad volcano.

It is a terrible thing to be obsessed by a milkman. To Constable
Plimmer's disordered imagination it seemed that, dating from this
interview, the world became one solid milkman. Wherever he went, he
seemed to run into this milkman. If he was in the front road, this
milkman--Alf Brooks, it appeared, was his loathsome name--came rattling
past with his jingling cans as if he were Apollo driving his chariot.
If he was round at the back, there was Alf, his damned tenor doing
duets with the balconies. And all this in defiance of the known law of
natural history that milkmen do not come out after five in the morning.
This irritated Constable Plimmer. You talk of a man 'going home with
the milk' when you mean that he sneaks in in the small hours of the
morning. If all milkmen were like Alf Brooks the phrase was

He brooded. The unfairness of Fate was souring him. A man expects
trouble in his affairs of the heart from soldiers and sailors, and to
be cut out by even a postman is to fall before a worthy foe; but
milkmen--no! Only grocers' assistants and telegraph-boys were intended
by Providence to fear milkmen.

Yet here was Alf Brooks, contrary to all rules, the established pet of
the mansions. Bright eyes shone from balconies when his 'Milk--oo--oo'
sounded. Golden voices giggled delightedly at his bellowed chaff. And
Ellen Brown, whom he called Little Pansy-Face, was definitely in love
with him.

They were keeping company. They were walking out. This crushing truth
Edward Plimmer learned from Ellen herself.

She had slipped out to mail a letter at the pillar-box on the corner,
and she reached it just as the policeman arrived there in the course of
his patrol.

Nervousness impelled Constable Plimmer to be arch.

''Ullo, 'ullo, 'ullo,' he said. 'Posting love-letters?'

'What, me? This is to the Police Commissioner, telling him you're no

'I'll give it to him. Him and me are taking supper tonight.'

Nature had never intended Constable Plimmer to be playful. He was at
his worst when he rollicked. He snatched at the letter with what was
meant to be a debonair gaiety, and only succeeded in looking like an
angry gorilla. The girl uttered a startled squeak.

The letter was addressed to Mr A. Brooks.

Playfulness, after this, was at a discount. The girl was frightened and
angry, and he was scowling with mingled jealousy and dismay.

'Ho!' he said. 'Ho! Mr A. Brooks!'

Ellen Brown was a nice girl, but she had a temper, and there were
moments when her manners lacked rather noticeably the repose which
stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.

'Well, what about it?' she cried. 'Can't one write to the young
gentleman one's keeping company with, without having to get permission
from every--' She paused to marshal her forces from the assault.
'Without having to get permission from every great, ugly, red-faced
copper with big feet and a broken nose in London?'

Constable Plimmer's wrath faded into a dull unhappiness. Yes, she was
right. That was the correct description. That was how an impartial
Scotland Yard would be compelled to describe him, if ever he got lost.
'Missing. A great, ugly, red-faced copper with big feet and a broken
nose.' They would never find him otherwise.

'Perhaps you object to my walking out with Alf? Perhaps you've got
something against him? I suppose you're jealous!'

She threw in the last suggestion entirely in a sporting spirit. She
loved battle, and she had a feeling that this one was going to finish
far too quickly. To prolong it, she gave him this opening. There were a
dozen ways in which he might answer, each more insulting than the last;
and then, when he had finished, she could begin again. These little
encounters, she held, sharpened the wits, stimulated the circulation,
and kept one out in the open air.

'Yes,' said Constable Plimmer.

It was the one reply she was not expecting. For direct abuse, for
sarcasm, for dignity, for almost any speech beginning, 'What I Jealous
of you. Why--' she was prepared. But this was incredible. It disabled
her, as the wild thrust of an unskilled fencer will disable a master of
the rapier. She searched in her mind and found that she had nothing to

There was a tense moment in which she found him, looking her in the
eyes, strangely less ugly than she had supposed, and then he was gone,
rolling along on his beat with that air which all policemen must
achieve, of having no feelings at all, and--as long as it behaves
itself--no interest in the human race.

Ellen posted her letter. She dropped it into the box thoughtfully, and
thoughtfully returned to the flat. She looked over her shoulder, but
Constable Plimmer was out of sight.

Peaceful Battersea began to vex Constable Plimmer. To a man crossed in
love, action is the one anodyne; and Battersea gave no scope for
action. He dreamed now of the old Whitechapel days as a man dreams of
the joys of his childhood. He reflected bitterly that a fellow never
knows when he is well off in this world. Any one of those myriad drunk
and disorderlies would have been as balm to him now. He was like a man
who has run through a fortune and in poverty eats the bread of regret.
Amazedly he recollected that in those happy days he had grumbled at his
lot. He remembered confiding to a friend in the station-house, as he
rubbed with liniment the spot on his right shin where the well-shod
foot of a joyous costermonger had got home, that this sort of
thing--meaning militant costermongers--was 'a bit too thick'. A bit too
thick! Why, he would pay one to kick him now. And as for the three
loyal friends of the would-be wife-murderer who had broken his nose, if
he saw them coming round the corner he would welcome them as brothers.

And Battersea Park Road dozed on--calm, intellectual, law-abiding.

A friend of his told him that there had once been a murder in one of
these flats. He did not believe it. If any of these white-corpuscled
clams ever swatted a fly, it was much as they could do. The thing was
ridiculous on the face of it. If they were capable of murder, they
would have murdered Alf Brooks.

He stood in the road, and looked up at the placid buildings

'Grr-rr-rr!' he growled, and kicked the side-walk.

And, even as he spoke, on the balcony of a second-floor flat there
appeared a woman, an elderly, sharp-faced woman, who waved her arms and
screamed, 'Policeman! Officer! Come up here! Come up here at once!'

Up the stone stairs went Constable Plimmer at the run. His mind was
alert and questioning. Murder? Hardly murder, perhaps. If it had been
that, the woman would have said so. She did not look the sort of woman
who would be reticent about a thing like that. Well, anyway, it was
something; and Edward Plimmer had been long enough in Battersea to be
thankful for small favours. An intoxicated husband would be better than
nothing. At least he would be something that a fellow could get his
hands on to and throw about a bit.

The sharp-faced woman was waiting for him at the door. He followed her
into the flat.

'What is it, ma'am?'

'Theft! Our cook has been stealing!'

She seemed sufficiently excited about it, but Constable Plimmer felt
only depression and disappointment. A stout admirer of the sex, he
hated arresting women. Moreover, to a man in the mood to tackle
anarchists with bombs, to be confronted with petty theft is galling.
But duty was duty. He produced his notebook.

'She is in her room. I locked her in. I know she has taken my brooch.
We have missed money. You must search her.'

'Can't do that, ma'am. Female searcher at the station.'

'Well, you can search her box.'

A little, bald, nervous man in spectacles appeared as if out of a trap.
As a matter of fact, he had been there all the time, standing by the
bookcase; but he was one of those men you do not notice till they move
and speak.


'Well, Henry?'

The little man seemed to swallow something.

'I--I think that you may possibly be wronging Ellen. It is just
possible, as regards the money--' He smiled in a ghastly manner and
turned to the policeman. 'Er--officer, I ought to tell you that my
wife--ah--holds the purse-strings of our little home; and it is just
possible that in an absent-minded moment _I_ may have--'

'Do you mean to tell me, Henry, that _you_ have been taking my

'My dear, it is just possible that in the abs--'

'How often?'

He wavered perceptibly. Conscience was beginning to lose its grip.

'Oh, not often.'

'How often? More than once?'

Conscience had shot its bolt. The little man gave up the Struggle.

'No, no, not more than once. Certainly not more than once.'

'You ought not to have done it at all. We will talk about that later.
It doesn't alter the fact that Ellen is a thief. I have missed money
half a dozen times. Besides that, there's the brooch. Step this way,

Constable Plimmer stepped that way--his face a mask. He knew who was
waiting for them behind the locked door at the end of the passage. But
it was his duty to look as if he were stuffed, and he did so.

* * * * *

She was sitting on her bed, dressed for the street. It was her
afternoon out, the sharp-faced woman had informed Constable Plimmer,
attributing the fact that she had discovered the loss of the brooch in
time to stop her a direct interposition of Providence. She was pale,
and there was a hunted look in her eyes.

'You wicked girl, where is my brooch?'

She held it out without a word. She had been holding it in her hand.

'You see, officer!'

'I wasn't stealing of it. I 'adn't but borrowed it. I was going to put
it back.'

'Stuff and nonsense! Borrow it, indeed! What for?'

'I--I wanted to look nice.'

The woman gave a short laugh. Constable Plimmer's face was a mere block
of wood, expressionless.

'And what about the money I've been missing? I suppose you'll say you
only borrowed that?'

'I never took no money.'

'Well, it's gone, and money doesn't go by itself. Take her to the
police-station, officer.'

Constable Plimmer raised heavy eyes.

'You make a charge, ma'am?'

'Bless the man! Of course I make a charge. What did you think I asked
you to step in for?'

'Will you come along, miss?' said Constable Plimmer.

* * * * *

Out in the street the sun shone gaily down on peaceful Battersea. It
was the hour when children walk abroad with their nurses; and from the
green depths of the Park came the sound of happy voices. A cat
stretched itself in the sunshine and eyed the two as they passed with
lazy content.

They walked in silence. Constable Plimmer was a man with a rigid sense
of what was and what was not fitting behaviour in a policeman on duty:
he aimed always at a machine-like impersonality. There were times when
it came hard, but he did his best. He strode on, his chin up and his
eyes averted. And beside him--

Well, she was not crying. That was something.

Round the corner, beautiful in light flannel, gay at both ends with a
new straw hat and the yellowest shoes in South-West London, scented,
curled, a prince among young men, stood Alf Brooks. He was feeling
piqued. When he said three o'clock, he meant three o'clock. It was now
three-fifteen, and she had not appeared. Alf Brooks swore an impatient
oath, and the thought crossed his mind, as it had sometimes crossed it
before, that Ellen Brown was not the only girl in the world.

'Give her another five min--'

Ellen Brown, with escort, at that moment turned the corner.

Rage was the first emotion which the spectacle aroused in Alf Brooks.
Girls who kept a fellow waiting about while they fooled around with
policemen were no girls for him. They could understand once and for all
that he was a man who could pick and choose.

And then an electric shock set the world dancing mistily before his
eyes. This policeman was wearing his belt; he was on duty. And Ellen's
face was not the face of a girl strolling with the Force for pleasure.

His heart stopped, and then began to race. His cheeks flushed a dusky
crimson. His jaw fell, and a prickly warmth glowed in the parts about
his spine.


His fingers sought his collar.


He was hot all over.

'Goo' Lor'! She's been pinched!'

He tugged at his collar. It was choking him.

Alf Brooks did not show up well in the first real crisis which life had
forced upon him. That must be admitted. Later, when it was over, and he
had leisure for self-examination, he admitted it to himself. But even
then he excused himself by asking Space in a blustering manner what
else he could ha' done. And if the question did not bring much balm to
his soul at the first time of asking, it proved wonderfully soothing on
constant repetition. He repeated it at intervals for the next two days,
and by the end of that time his cure was complete. On the third morning
his 'Milk--oo--oo' had regained its customary carefree ring, and he was
feeling that he had acted in difficult circumstances in the only
possible manner.

Consider. He was Alf Brooks, well known and respected in the
neighbourhood; a singer in the choir on Sundays; owner of a milk-walk
in the most fashionable part of Battersea; to all practical purposes a
public man. Was he to recognize, in broad daylight and in open street,
a girl who walked with a policeman because she had to, a malefactor, a
girl who had been pinched?

Ellen, Constable Plimmer woodenly at her side, came towards him. She
was ten yards off--seven--five--three--Alf Brooks tilted his hat over
his eyes and walked past her, unseeing, a stranger.

He hurried on. He was conscious of a curious feeling that somebody was
just going to kick him, but he dared not look round.

* * * * *

Constable Plimmer eyed the middle distance with an earnest gaze. His
face was redder than ever. Beneath his blue tunic strange emotions were
at work. Something seemed to be filling his throat. He tried to swallow

He stopped in his stride. The girl glanced up at him in a kind of dull,
questioning way. Their eyes met for the first time that afternoon, and
it seemed to Constable Plimmer that whatever it was that was
interfering with the inside of his throat had grown larger, and more

There was the misery of the stricken animal in her gaze. He had seen
women look like that in Whitechapel. The woman to whom, indirectly, he
owed his broken nose had looked like that. As his hand had fallen on
the collar of the man who was kicking her to death, he had seen her
eyes. They were Ellen's eyes, as she stood there now--tortured,
crushed, yet uncomplaining.

Constable Plimmer looked at Ellen, and Ellen looked at Constable
Plimmer. Down the street some children were playing with a dog. In one
of the flats a woman began to sing.

'Hop it,' said Constable Plimmer.

He spoke gruffly. He found speech difficult.

The girl started.

'What say?'

'Hop it. Get along. Run away.'

'What do you mean?'

Constable Plimmer scowled. His face was scarlet. His jaw protruded like
a granite break-water.

'Go on,' he growled. 'Hop it. Tell him it was all a joke. I'll explain
at the station.'

Understanding seemed to come to her slowly.

'Do you mean I'm to go?'


'What do you mean? You aren't going to take me to the station?'


She stared at him. Then, suddenly, she broke down,

'He wouldn't look at me. He was ashamed of me. He pretended not to see

She leaned against the wall, her back shaking.

'Well, run after him, and tell him it was all--'

'No, no, no.'

Constable Plimmer looked morosely at the side-walk. He kicked it

She turned. Her eyes were red, but she was no longer crying. Her chin
had a brave tilt.

'I couldn't--not after what he did. Let's go along. I--I don't care.'

She looked at him curiously.

'Were you really going to have let me go?'

Constable Plimmer nodded. He was aware of her eyes searching his face,
but he did not meet them.


He did not answer.

'What would have happened to you, if you had have done?'

Constable Plimmer's scowl was of the stuff of which nightmares are
made. He kicked the unoffending side-walk with an increased

'Dismissed the Force,' he said curtly.

'And sent to prison, too, I shouldn't wonder.'


He heard her draw a deep breath, and silence fell upon them again. The
dog down the road had stopped barking. The woman in the flat had
stopped singing. They were curiously alone.

'Would you have done all that for me?' she said.



'Because I don't think you ever did it. Stole that money, I mean. Nor
the brooch, neither.'

'Was that all?'

'What do you mean--all?'

'Was that the only reason?'

He swung round on her, almost threateningly.

'No,' he said hoarsely. 'No, it wasn't, and you know it wasn't. Well,
if you want it, you can have it. It was because I love you. There! Now
I've said it, and now you can go on and laugh at me as much as you

'I'm not laughing,' she said soberly.

'You think I'm a fool!'

'No, I don't.'

'I'm nothing to you. _He's_ the fellow you're stuck on.'

She gave a little shudder.


'What do you mean?'

'I've changed.' She paused. 'I think I shall have changed more by the
time I come out.'

'Come out?'

'Come out of prison.'

'You're not going to prison.'

'Yes, I am.'

'I won't take you.'

'Yes, you will. Think I'm going to let you get yourself in trouble like
that, to get me out of a fix? Not much.'

'You hop it, like a good girl.'

'Not me.'

He stood looking at her like a puzzled bear.

'They can't eat me.'

'They'll cut off all of your hair.'

'D'you like my hair?'


'Well, it'll grow again.'

'Don't stand talking. Hop it.'

'I won't. Where's the station?'

'Next street.'

'Well, come along, then.'

* * * * *

The blue glass lamp of the police-station came into sight, and for an
instant she stopped. Then she was walking on again, her chin tilted.
But her voice shook a little as she spoke.

'Nearly there. Next stop, Battersea. All change! I say, mister--I don't
know your name.'

'Plimmer's my name, miss. Edward Plimmer.'

'I wonder if--I mean it'll be pretty lonely where I'm going--I wonder
if--What I mean is, it would be rather a lark, when I come out, if I
was to find a pal waiting for me to say "Hallo".'

Constable Plimmer braced his ample feet against the stones, and turned

'Miss,' he said, 'I'll be there, if I have to sit up all night. The
first thing you'll see when they open the doors is a great, ugly,
red-faced copper with big feet and a broken nose. And if you'll say
"Hallo" to him when he says "Hallo" to you, he'll be as pleased as
Punch and as proud as a duke. And, miss'--he clenched his hands till
the nails hurt the leathern flesh--'and, miss, there's just one thing
more I'd like to say. You'll be having a good deal of time to yourself
for awhile; you'll be able to do a good bit of thinking without anyone
to disturb you; and what I'd like you to give your mind to, if you
don't object, is just to think whether you can't forget that
narrow-chested, God-forsaken blighter who treated you so mean, and get
half-way fond of someone who knows jolly well you're the only girl
there is.'

She looked past him at the lamp which hung, blue and forbidding, over
the station door.

'How long'll I get?' she said. 'What will they give me? Thirty days?'

He nodded.

'It won't take me as long as that,' she said. 'I say, what do people
call you?--people who are fond of you, I mean?--Eddie or Ted?'


Mr Meggs's mind was made up. He was going to commit suicide.

There had been moments, in the interval which had elapsed between the
first inception of the idea and his present state of fixed
determination, when he had wavered. In these moments he had debated,
with Hamlet, the question whether it was nobler in the mind to suffer,
or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. But
all that was over now. He was resolved.

Mr Meggs's point, the main plank, as it were, in his suicidal platform,
was that with him it was beside the question whether or not it was
nobler to suffer in the mind. The mind hardly entered into it at all.
What he had to decide was whether it was worth while putting up any
longer with the perfectly infernal pain in his stomach. For Mr Meggs
was a martyr to indigestion. As he was also devoted to the pleasures of
the table, life had become for him one long battle, in which, whatever
happened, he always got the worst of it.

He was sick of it. He looked back down the vista of the years, and
found therein no hope for the future. One after the other all the
patent medicines in creation had failed him. Smith's Supreme Digestive
Pellets--he had given them a more than fair trial. Blenkinsop's Liquid
Life-Giver--he had drunk enough of it to float a ship. Perkins's
Premier Pain-Preventer, strongly recommended by the sword-swallowing
lady at Barnum and Bailey's--he had wallowed in it. And so on down the
list. His interior organism had simply sneered at the lot of them.

'Death, where is thy sting?' thought Mr Meggs, and forthwith began to
make his preparations.

Those who have studied the matter say that the tendency to commit
suicide is greatest among those who have passed their fifty-fifth year,
and that the rate is twice as great for unoccupied males as for
occupied males. Unhappy Mr Meggs, accordingly, got it, so to speak,
with both barrels. He was fifty-six, and he was perhaps the most
unoccupied adult to be found in the length and breadth of the United
Kingdom. He toiled not, neither did he spin. Twenty years before, an
unexpected legacy had placed him in a position to indulge a natural
taste for idleness to the utmost. He was at that time, as regards his
professional life, a clerk in a rather obscure shipping firm. Out of
office hours he had a mild fondness for letters, which took the form of
meaning to read right through the hundred best books one day, but
actually contenting himself with the daily paper and an occasional

Such was Mr Meggs at thirty-six. The necessity for working for a living
and a salary too small to permit of self-indulgence among the more
expensive and deleterious dishes on the bill of fare had up to that
time kept his digestion within reasonable bounds. Sometimes he had
twinges; more often he had none.

Then came the legacy, and with it Mr Meggs let himself go. He left
London and retired to his native village, where, with a French cook and
a series of secretaries to whom he dictated at long intervals
occasional paragraphs of a book on British Butterflies on which he
imagined himself to be at work, he passed the next twenty years. He
could afford to do himself well, and he did himself extremely well.
Nobody urged him to take exercise, so he took no exercise. Nobody
warned him of the perils of lobster and welsh rabbits to a man of
sedentary habits, for it was nobody's business to warn him. On the
contrary, people rather encouraged the lobster side of his character,
for he was a hospitable soul and liked to have his friends dine with
him. The result was that Nature, as is her wont, laid for him, and got
him. It seemed to Mr Meggs that he woke one morning to find himself a
chronic dyspeptic. That was one of the hardships of his position, to
his mind. The thing seemed to hit him suddenly out of a blue sky. One
moment, all appeared to be peace and joy; the next, a lively and
irritable wild-cat with red-hot claws seemed somehow to have introduced
itself into his interior.

So Mr Meggs decided to end it.

In this crisis of his life the old methodical habits of his youth
returned to him. A man cannot be a clerk in even an obscure firm of
shippers for a great length of time without acquiring system, and Mr
Meggs made his preparations calmly and with a forethought worthy of a
better cause.

And so we find him, one glorious June morning, seated at his desk,
ready for the end.

Outside, the sun beat down upon the orderly streets of the village.
Dogs dozed in the warm dust. Men who had to work went about their toil
moistly, their minds far away in shady public-houses.

But Mr Meggs, in his study, was cool both in mind and body.

Before him, on the desk, lay six little slips of paper. They were
bank-notes, and they represented, with the exception of a few pounds,
his entire worldly wealth. Beside them were six letters, six envelopes,
and six postage stamps. Mr Meggs surveyed them calmly.

He would not have admitted it, but he had had a lot of fun writing
those letters. The deliberation as to who should be his heirs had
occupied him pleasantly for several days, and, indeed, had taken his
mind off his internal pains at times so thoroughly that he had
frequently surprised himself in an almost cheerful mood. Yes, he would
have denied it, but it had been great sport sitting in his arm-chair,
thinking whom he should pick out from England's teeming millions to
make happy with his money. All sorts of schemes had passed through his
mind. He had a sense of power which the mere possession of the money
had never given him. He began to understand why millionaires make freak
wills. At one time he had toyed with the idea of selecting someone at
random from the London Directory and bestowing on him all he had to
bequeath. He had only abandoned the scheme when it occurred to him that
he himself would not be in a position to witness the recipient's
stunned delight. And what was the good of starting a thing like that,
if you were not to be in at the finish?

Sentiment succeeded whimsicality. His old friends of the office--those
were the men to benefit. What good fellows they had been! Some were
dead, but he still kept intermittently in touch with half a dozen of
them. And--an important point--he knew their present addresses.

This point was important, because Mr Meggs had decided not to leave a
will, but to send the money direct to the beneficiaries. He knew what
wills were. Even in quite straightforward circumstances they often made
trouble. There had been some slight complication about his own legacy
twenty years ago. Somebody had contested the will, and before the thing
was satisfactorily settled the lawyers had got away with about twenty
per cent of the whole. No, no wills. If he made one, and then killed
himself, it might be upset on a plea of insanity. He knew of no
relative who might consider himself entitled to the money, but there
was the chance that some remote cousin existed; and then the comrades
of his youth might fail to collect after all.

He declined to run the risk. Quietly and by degrees he had sold out the
stocks and shares in which his fortune was invested, and deposited the
money in his London bank. Six piles of large notes, dividing the total
into six equal parts; six letters couched in a strain of reminiscent
pathos and manly resignation; six envelopes, legibly addressed; six
postage-stamps; and that part of his preparations was complete. He
licked the stamps and placed them on the envelopes; took the notes and
inserted them in the letters; folded the letters and thrust them into
the envelopes; sealed the envelopes; and unlocking the drawer of his
desk produced a small, black, ugly-looking bottle.

He opened the bottle and poured the contents into a medicine-glass.

It had not been without considerable thought that Mr Meggs had decided
upon the method of his suicide. The knife, the pistol, the rope--they
had all presented their charms to him. He had further examined the
merits of drowning and of leaping to destruction from a height.

There were flaws in each. Either they were painful, or else they were
messy. Mr Meggs had a tidy soul, and he revolted from the thought of
spoiling his figure, as he would most certainly do if he drowned
himself; or the carpet, as he would if he used the pistol; or the
pavement--and possibly some innocent pedestrian, as must infallibly
occur should he leap off the Monument. The knife was out of the
question. Instinct told him that it would hurt like the very dickens.

No; poison was the thing. Easy to take, quick to work, and on the whole
rather agreeable than otherwise.

Mr Meggs hid the glass behind the inkpot and rang the bell.

'Has Miss Pillenger arrived?' he inquired of the servant.

'She has just come, sir.'

'Tell her that I am waiting for her here.'

Jane Pillenger was an institution. Her official position was that of
private secretary and typist to Mr Meggs. That is to say, on the rare
occasions when Mr Meggs's conscience overcame his indolence to the
extent of forcing him to resume work on his British Butterflies, it was
to Miss Pillenger that he addressed the few rambling and incoherent
remarks which constituted his idea of a regular hard, slogging spell of
literary composition. When he sank back in his chair, speechless and
exhausted like a Marathon runner who has started his sprint a mile or
two too soon, it was Miss Pillenger's task to unscramble her shorthand
notes, type them neatly, and place them in their special drawer in the

Miss Pillenger was a wary spinster of austere views, uncertain age, and
a deep-rooted suspicion of men--a suspicion which, to do an abused sex
justice, they had done nothing to foster. Men had always been almost
coldly correct in their dealings with Miss Pillenger. In her twenty
years of experience as a typist and secretary she had never had to
refuse with scorn and indignation so much as a box of chocolates from
any of her employers. Nevertheless, she continued to be icily on her
guard. The clenched fist of her dignity was always drawn back, ready to
swing on the first male who dared to step beyond the bounds of
professional civility.

Such was Miss Pillenger. She was the last of a long line of unprotected
English girlhood which had been compelled by straitened circumstances
to listen for hire to the appallingly dreary nonsense which Mr Meggs
had to impart on the subject of British Butterflies. Girls had come,
and girls had gone, blondes, ex-blondes, brunettes, ex-brunettes,
near-blondes, near-brunettes; they had come buoyant, full of hope and
life, tempted by the lavish salary which Mr Meggs had found himself
after a while compelled to pay; and they had dropped off, one after
another, like exhausted bivalves, unable to endure the crushing boredom
of life in the village which had given Mr Meggs to the world. For Mr
Meggs's home-town was no City of Pleasure. Remove the Vicar's
magic-lantern and the try-your-weight machine opposite the post office,
and you practically eliminated the temptations to tread the primrose
path. The only young men in the place were silent, gaping youths, at
whom lunacy commissioners looked sharply and suspiciously when they
met. The tango was unknown, and the one-step. The only form of dance
extant--and that only at the rarest intervals--was a sort of polka not
unlike the movements of a slightly inebriated boxing kangaroo. Mr
Meggs's secretaries and typists gave the town one startled, horrified
glance, and stampeded for London like frightened ponies.

Not so Miss Pillenger. She remained. She was a business woman, and it
was enough for her that she received a good salary. For five pounds a
week she would have undertaken a post as secretary and typist to a
Polar Expedition. For six years she had been with Mr Meggs, and
doubtless she looked forward to being with him at least six years more.

Perhaps it was the pathos of this thought which touched Mr Meggs, as
she sailed, notebook in hand, through the doorway of the study. Here,
he told himself, was a confiding girl, all unconscious of impending
doom, relying on him as a daughter relies on her father. He was glad
that he had not forgotten Miss Pillenger when he was making his

He had certainly not forgotten Miss Pillenger. On his desk beside the
letters lay a little pile of notes, amounting in all to five hundred
pounds--her legacy.

Miss Pillenger was always business-like. She sat down in her chair,
opened her notebook, moistened her pencil, and waited expectantly for
Mr Meggs to dear his throat and begin work on the butterflies. She was
surprised when, instead of frowning, as was his invariable practice
when bracing himself for composition, he bestowed upon her a sweet,
slow smile.

All that was maidenly and defensive in Miss Pillenger leaped to arms
under that smile. It ran in and out among her nerve-centres. It had
been long in arriving, this moment of crisis, but here it undoubtedly
was at last. After twenty years an employer was going to court disaster
by trying to flirt with her.

Mr Meggs went on smiling. You cannot classify smiles. Nothing lends
itself so much to a variety of interpretations as a smile. Mr Meggs
thought he was smiling the sad, tender smile of a man who, knowing
himself to be on the brink of the tomb, bids farewell to a faithful
employee. Miss Pillenger's view was that he was smiling like an
abandoned old rip who ought to have been ashamed of himself.

'No, Miss Pillenger,' said Mr Meggs, 'I shall not work this morning. I
shall want you, if you will be so good, to post these six letters for

Miss Pillenger took the letters. Mr Meggs surveyed her tenderly.

'Miss Pillenger, you have been with me a long time now. Six years, is
it not? Six years. Well, well. I don't think I have ever made you a
little present, have I?'

'You give me a good salary.'

'Yes, but I want to give you something more. Six years is a long time.
I have come to regard you with a different feeling from that which the
ordinary employer feels for his secretary. You and I have worked
together for six long years. Surely I may be permitted to give you some
token of my appreciation of your fidelity.' He took the pile of notes.
'These are for you, Miss Pillenger.'

He rose and handed them to her. He eyed her for a moment with all the
sentimentality of a man whose digestion has been out of order for over
two decades. The pathos of the situation swept him away. He bent over
Miss Pillenger, and kissed her on the forehead.

Smiles excepted, there is nothing so hard to classify as a kiss. Mr
Meggs's notion was that he kissed Miss Pillenger much as some great
general, wounded unto death, might have kissed his mother, his sister,
or some particularly sympathetic aunt; Miss Pillenger's view, differing
substantially from this, may be outlined in her own words.

'Ah!' she cried, as, dealing Mr Meggs's conveniently placed jaw a blow
which, had it landed an inch lower down, might have knocked him out,
she sprang to her feet. 'How dare you! I've been waiting for this Mr
Meggs. I have seen it in your eye. I have expected it. Let me tell you
that I am not at all the sort of girl with whom it is safe to behave
like that. I can protect myself. I am only a working-girl--'

Mr Meggs, who had fallen back against the desk as a stricken pugilist
falls on the ropes, pulled himself together to protest.

'Miss Pillenger,' he cried, aghast, 'you misunderstand me. I had no

'Misunderstand you? Bah! I am only a working-girl--'

'Nothing was farther from my mind--'

'Indeed! Nothing was farther from your mind! You give me money, you
shower your vile kisses on me, but nothing was farther from your mind
than the obvious interpretation of such behaviour!' Before coming to Mr
Meggs, Miss Pillenger had been secretary to an Indiana novelist. She
had learned style from the master. 'Now that you have gone too far, you
are frightened at what you have done. You well may be, Mr Meggs. I am
only a working-girl--'

'Miss Pillenger, I implore you--'

'Silence! I am only a working-girl--'

A wave of mad fury swept over Mr Meggs. The shock of the blow and still
more of the frightful ingratitude of this horrible woman nearly made
him foam at the mouth.

'Don't keep on saying you're only a working-girl,' he bellowed. 'You'll
drive me mad. Go. Go away from me. Get out. Go anywhere, but leave me

Miss Pillenger was not entirely sorry to obey the request. Mr Meggs's
sudden fury had startled and frightened her. So long as she could end
the scene victorious, she was anxious to withdraw.

'Yes, I will go,' she said, with dignity, as she opened the door. 'Now
that you have revealed yourself in your true colours, Mr Meggs, this
house is no fit place for a wor--'

She caught her employer's eye, and vanished hastily.

Mr Meggs paced the room in a ferment. He had been shaken to his core by
the scene. He boiled with indignation. That his kind thoughts should
have been so misinterpreted--it was too much. Of all ungrateful worlds,
this world was the most--

He stopped suddenly in his stride, partly because his shin had struck a
chair, partly because an idea had struck his mind.

Hopping madly, he added one more parallel between himself and Hamlet by
soliloquizing aloud.

'I'll be hanged if I commit suicide,' he yelled.

And as he spoke the words a curious peace fell on him, as on a man who
has awakened from a nightmare. He sat down at the desk. What an idiot
he had been ever to contemplate self-destruction. What could have
induced him to do it? By his own hand to remove himself, merely in
order that a pack of ungrateful brutes might wallow in his money--it
was the scheme of a perfect fool.

He wouldn't commit suicide. Not if he knew it. He would stick on and
laugh at them. And if he did have an occasional pain inside, what of
that? Napoleon had them, and look at him. He would be blowed if he
committed suicide.

With the fire of a new resolve lighting up his eyes, he turned to seize
the six letters and rifle them of their contents.

They were gone.

It took Mr Meggs perhaps thirty seconds to recollect where they had
gone to, and then it all came back to him. He had given them to the
demon Pillenger, and, if he did not overtake her and get them back, she
would mail them.

Of all the mixed thoughts which seethed in Mr Meggs's mind at that
moment, easily the most prominent was the reflection that from his
front door to the post office was a walk of less than five minutes.

* * * * *

Miss Pillenger walked down the sleepy street in the June sunshine,
boiling, as Mr Meggs had done, with indignation. She, too, had been
shaken to the core. It was her intention to fulfil her duty by posting
the letters which had been entrusted to her, and then to quit for ever
the service of one who, for six years a model employer, had at last
forgotten himself and showed his true nature.

Her meditations were interrupted by a hoarse shout in her rear; and,
turning, she perceived the model employer running rapidly towards her.
His face was scarlet, his eyes wild, and he wore no hat.

Miss Pillenger's mind worked swiftly. She took in the situation in a
flash. Unrequited, guilty love had sapped Mr Meggs's reason, and she
was to be the victim of his fury. She had read of scores of similar
cases in the newspapers. How little she had ever imagined that she
would be the heroine of one of these dramas of passion.

She looked for one brief instant up and down the street. Nobody was in
sight. With a loud cry she began to run.


It was the fierce voice of her pursuer. Miss Pillenger increased to
third speed. As she did so, she had a vision of headlines.

'Stop!' roared Mr Meggs.



crimson on the back of Miss Pillenger's mind.



To touch the ground at intervals of twenty yards or so--that was the
ideal she strove after. She addressed herself to it with all the
strength of her powerful mind.

In London, New York, Paris, and other cities where life is brisk, the
spectacle of a hatless gentleman with a purple face pursuing his
secretary through the streets at a rapid gallop would, of course, have
excited little, if any, remark. But in Mr Meggs's home-town events were
of rarer occurrence. The last milestone in the history of his native
place had been the visit, two years before, of Bingley's Stupendous
Circus, which had paraded along the main street on its way to the next
town, while zealous members of its staff visited the back premises of
the houses and removed all the washing from the lines. Since then deep


Back to Full Books