JILL resumed quietly enough but with a spot of color showing in each cheek.
“This letter contains a notice from the management to leave,” she said. “But I would much prefer not to.”
“You would prefer not to!” sputtered Mr. Goble, almost speechless with the emotion that struggled within him.
“No,” said Jill, “you see, I happen to own the piece.”
MR. GOBLE’S jaw fell. He had been waving his hands in another spacious gesture, and he remained frozen with outstretched arms, like a semaphore. This evening had been a series of shocks for him, but this was the worst shock of all.
“You—what!” he stammered.
“I own the piece,” repeated Jill. “Surely that gives me authority to say what I want done and what I don’t want done.”
There was a silence. Mr. Goble, who was having difficulty with his vocal chords, swallowed once or twice. Wally and Mr. Pilkington stared dumbly. At the back of the stage, a belated scene-shifter, homeward bound, was whistling as much as he could remember of the refrain of a popular song.
“What do you mean, you own the piece?” Mr. Goble at length gurgled.
“I bought it.”
“You bought it!”
I bought Mr. Pilkington’s share through a lawyer for ten thousand dollars.”
“Ten thousand dollars! Where did you get ten thousand dollars?” Light broke upon Mr. Goble. The thing became clear to him. “Damn it!” he cried. “I might have known you had some man behind you! You’d never have been so darned fresh if you hadn’t had some John in the background, paying the bills! Well, of all the.... ”
HE BROKE off abruptly, not because he had said all that he wished to say, for he had only touched the fringe of his subject, but because at this point Wally’s elbow smote him in the parts about the third button of his waistcoat and jarred all the breath out of him.
“Be quiet!” said Wally dangerously. He turned to Jill. “Jill, you don’t mind telling me how you got ten thousand dollars, do you?”
“Of course not, Wally. Uncle Chris sent it to me. Do you remember giving me a letter from him at Rochester? The check was in that.”
“Your uncle! But he hasn’t any money!”
“He must have made it somehow.”
“But he couldn’t! How could he?”
Otis Pilkington suddenly gave tongue. He broke in on them with a loud noise that was half a snort and half a yell. Stunned by the information that it was Jill who had bought his share in the piece, Mr. Pilkington’s mind had recovered slowly and then had begun to work with a quite unusual rapidity. During the preceding conversation he had been doing some tense thinking, and now he saw all.
“It’s a swindle! It’s a deliberate swindle!” shrilled Mr. Pilkington. The tortoise shell-rimmed spectacles flashed sparks. “I’ve been made a fool of! I’ve been swindled! I’ve been robbed!”
Jill regarded him with wide eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean!”
“I certainly do not! You were perfectly willing to sell the piece.”
“I’m not talking about that! You know what I mean! I’ve been robbed!”
Wally snatched at his arm as it gyrated past him in a gesture of anguish which rivalled the late efforts in that direction of Mr. Goble, who was now leaning against the safety-curtain trying to get his breath back.
“Don’t be a fool,” said Wally curtly. “Talk sense! You know perfectly well that Miss Mariner wouldn’t swindle you.”
“She may not have been in it,” conceded Mr. Pilkington. “I don’t know whether she was or not. But that uncle of hers swindled me out of ten thousand dollars! That smooth old crook!”
“Don’t talk like that about Uncle Chris!” said Jill, her eyes flashing. “Tell me what you mean.”
“Yes, come on, Pilkington,” said Wally grimly. “You’ve been scattering some pretty serious charges about. Let’s hear what you base them on. Be coherent for a couple of seconds.”
Mr. Goble filled his depleted lungs.
“If you ask me.... ” he began.
“We don’t, ’’said Wally curtly. “This has nothing to do with you. Well,” he went on, “we’re waiting to hear what this is all about.”
Mr. Pilkington gulped. Like most men of weak intellect who are preyed on by the wolves of the world, he had ever a strong distaste for admitting that he had been deceived. He liked to regard himself as a shrewd young man who knew his way about and could take care of himself.
“Major Selby,” he said, adjusting his spectacles, which emotion had caused to slip down his nose, “came to me a few weeks ago with a proposition. He suggested the formation of a company to start Miss Mariner in the motion-pictures.”
"What!" cried Jill.
“In the motion-pictures,” repeated Mr. Pilkington. “He wished to know if I cared to advance any capital towards the venture. I thought it over carefully and decided that I was favorably disposed towards the scheme. I.... ” Mr. Pilkington gulped again. “I gave him a check for ten thousand dollars!”
“Of all the fools!” said Mr. Goble with a sharp laugh. He caught Wally’s eye and subsided once more.
Mr. Pilkington’s fingers strayed agitatedly to his spectacles.
“I may have been a fool,” he cried shrilly, “though I was perfectly willing to risk the money had it been applied to the object for which I gave it. But when it comes to giving ten thousand dollars just to have it paid back to me in exchange for a very valuable piece of theatrical property.... my own money.... handed back to me.... !”
Words failed Mr. Pilkington.
“I’ve been deliberately swindled!” he added after a moment harking back to the main motive.
JILL’S heart was like lead. She could not doubt for an instant the truth of what the victim had said. Woven into every inch of the fabric, plainly hall-marked on its surface, she could perceive the signature of Uncle Chris. If he had come and confessed to her himself, she could not have been more certain that he had acted precisely as Mr. Pilkington had charged. There was that same impishness, that same bland unscrupulousness, that same pathetic desire to do her a good turn, however it might affect anybody else which, if she might compare the two things, had caused him to pass her off on unfortunate Mr. Mariner of Brookport as a girl of wealth with tastes in the direction of real estate.
Wally was not so easily satisfied.
“You’ve no proof whatever.... ”
Jill shook her head.
“It’s true, Wally. I know Uncle Chris. It must be true.”
"But, Jill.... !"
“It must be. How else could Uncle Chris have got the money?"
Mr. Pilkington, much encouraged by this ready acquiescence in his theories, got under way once more.
“The man’s a swindler! A swindler! He’s robbed me! I have been robbed! He never had any intention of starting a motion-picture company. He planned it all out.... !” Jill cut into the babble of his denunciations. She was sick at heart, and she spoke almost listlessly.
“Mr. Pilkington!” The victim stopped. “Mr. Pilkington, if what you say is true, and I’m afraid there is no doubt that it is, the only thing I can do is to give you back your property. So will you please try to understand that everything is just as it was before you gave my uncle the money? You’ve got back your ten thousand dollars and you’ve got back your piece, so there’s nothing more to talk about.”
Mr. Pilkington, dimly realizing that the financial aspect of the affair had been more or less satisfactorily adjusted, was nevertheless conscious of a feeling that he was being thwarted. He had much more to say about Uncle Chris and his methods of doing business, and it irked him to be cut short like this.
“Yes, but I do think.... That’s all very well, but I have by no means finished...."
"Yes, you have," said Wally.
“There’s nothing more to talk about,” repeated Jill. “I’m sorry this should have happened, but you’ve nothing to complain about now, have you? Good night.”
And she turned quickly away, and walked towards the door.
“But I hadn’t finished!” wailed Mr. Pilkington, clutching at Wally. He was feeling profoundly aggrieved. If it is bad to be all dressed up and no place to go, it is almost worse to be full of talk and to have no one to talk it to. Otis Pilkington had at least another twenty minutes of speech inside him on the topic of Uncle Chris, and Wally was the nearest human being with a pair of ears.
WALLY was in no mood to play the part of confidant. He pushed Mr. Pilkington earnestly in the chest and raced after Jill. Mr. Pilkington, with the feeling that the world was against him, tottered back into the arms of Mr. Goble, who had now recovered his breath and was ready to talk business.
“Have a good cigar,” said Mr. Goble, producing one. “Now, see here, let’s get right down to it. If you’d care to sell out for twenty thousand.... ”
“I would not care to sell out for twenty thousand,” yelled the overwrought Mr. Pilkington. “I wouldn’t sell out for a million! You’re a swindler! You want to rob me! You’re a crook!”
“Yes, yes,” assented Mr. Goble gently. “But, all joking aside, suppose I was to go up to twenty-five thousand.... ?” He twined his fingers lovingly in the slack of Mr. Pilkington’s coat. “Come now! You’re a good kid! Shall we say twenty-five thousand?”
“We will not say twenty-five thousand! Let me go!”
“Now, now, now!” pleaded Mr. Goble. “Be sensible! Don’t get all worked up! Say, do have a good cigar!”
“I won’t have a good cigar!” shouted Mr. Pilkington. He detached himself with a jerk, and stalked with long strides up the stage. Mr. Goble watched him go with a lowering gaze. A heavy sense of the unkindness of fate was oppressing Mr. Goble. If you couldn’t gyp a boneheaded amateur out of a piece of property whom could you gyp? Mr. Goble sighed. It hardly seemed to him worth while going on.
OUT on the street Wally had overtaken Jill, and they faced one another in the light of a street-lamp. Forty-first Street at midnight is a quiet oasis. They had it to themselves.
Jill was pale, and she was breathing quickly, but she forced a smile.
“Well, Wally,” she said, "My career as a manager didn’t last long, did it?”
“What are you going to do then?” asked Wally.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I suppose I shall have to start trying to find something.”
Jill drew him suddenly into the dark alley-way leading to the stage-door of the Gotham Theatre’s nearest neighbor; and, as she did so, a long, thin form, swathed in an overcoat and surmounted by an opera hat, flashed past.
“I don’t think I could have gone through another meeting with Mr. Pilkington" said Jill. “It wasn’t his fault, and he was quite justified, but what he said about Uncle Chris rather hurt.”
Wally, who had ideas of his own, similar to those of Mr. Pilkington, on the subject of Uncle Chris and had intended to express them, prudently kept them unspoken.
“I suppose,” he said, “there is no doubt.... ?”
“There can’t be. Poor Uncle Chris! He is like Freddie. He means well.”
There was a pause. They left the alley and walked down the street.
“Where are you going now?” asked Wally.
“I’m going home.”
“Forty-ninth Street, live in a boarding house there."
A SUDDEN recollection of the boarding house at which she had lived in Atlantic City smote Wally, and it turned the scale. He had not intended to speak, but he could not help himself.
“Jill!” he cried. “It’s no good. I must say it! I want to get you out of all this. I want to take care of you. Why should you go on living this sort of life, when.... Why, why don't you let me.... ?"
He stopped. Even as he spoke he realized the futility of what he was saying. Jill was not a girl to be won with words.
They walked on in silence for a moment. They crossed Broadway, noisy with night traffic and passed into the stillness on the other side.
“Wally,” said Jill at last.
She was looking straight in front of her. Her voice was troubled.
“Wally, you wouldn’t want me to marry you if you knew you weren’t the only man that mattered to me in the world, would you?”
They had reached Sixth Avenue before Wally replied.
“No,” he said.
For an instant, Jill could not have said whether the feeling that shot through her like the abrupt touching of a nerve, was relief or disappointment. Then suddenly she realized that it was disappointment. It was absurd of her to feel disappointed, but at that moment she could have welcomed a different attitude in him. If only this problem of hers could be taken forcefully out of her hands, what a relief it would be. If only Wally, masterfully insistent, would batter down her hesitations and grab her, knock her on the head and carry her off like a caveman, careless about her happiness and concentrate on his own, what a solution it would be.... But then he wouldn’t be Wally.... Nevertheless, Jill gave a little sigh. Her new life had changed her already. It had blunted the sharp edge of her independence. To-night she was feeling the need of someone to lean on—someone strong and cosy and sympathetic who would treat her like a little girl and shield her from all the roughness of life. The fighting spirit had gone out of her, and she was no longer the little warrior facing the world with a brave eye and a tilted chin. She wanted to cry and be petted.
“No!” said Wally again. There had been the faintest suggestion of a doubt when he had spoken the word before, but now it shot out like a bullet. “And I’ll tell you why. I want you—and, if you married me feeling like that, it wouldn’t be you. I want Jill, the whole Jill, and nothing but Jill, and, if I can’t have that I’d rather not have anything. Marriage isn’t a motion-picture close-up with slow fade-out on the embrace. It’s a partnership, and what’s the good of a partnership if your heart’s not in it? It’s like collaborating with a man you dislike.... I believe you wish sometimes—not often, perhaps, but when you’re feeling lonely and miserable—that I would pester and bludgeon you into marrying me.... What’s the matter?”
Jill had started. It was disquieting to have her thoughts read with such accuracy.
“Nothing,” she said.
“It wouldn’t be any good,” Wally went on, “because it wouldn’t be me. I couldn’t keep that attitude up, and I know I should hate myself for ever having tried it. There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t do to help you, though I know it’s no use offering to do anything. You’re a fighter, and you mean to fight your own battle. It might happen that, if I kept after you and badgered you and nagged you, one of these days, when you were feeling particularly all alone in the world and tired of fighting for yourself, you might consent to marry me. But it wouldn’t do. Even if you reconciled yourself to it, it wouldn’t do. I suppose the cave-woman sometimes felt rather relieved when everything was settled for her with a club, but I’m sure the caveman must have had a hard time ridding himself of the thought that he had behaved like a cad and taken a mean advantage. I don’t want to feel like that. I couldn't make you happy if I felt like that. Much better to have you go on regarding me as a friend.... knowing that if ever your feelings do change, that I am right there, waiting.... ”
“But by that time your feelings will have changed?”
“You’ll meet some other girl.... ”
“I’ve met every girl in the world! None of them will do!” The lightness came back into Wally’s voice. “I’m sorry for the poor things, but they won’t do! Take ’em away. There’s only one girl in the world for me—oh, confound it! why is it that one always thinks in song titles! Well, there it is. I’m not going to bother you. We’re pals! And, as a pal, may I offer you my bankroll?”
“No!” said Jill. She smiled up at him. “I believe you would give me your coat if I asked for it!”
“Do you want it? Here you are!”
“Wally, behave! There’s a policeman looking at you.”
“Oh, well, if you won’t! It’s a good coat all the same.”
THEY turned the corner, and stopped before a brownstone house, with a log ladder of untidy steps running up to the front door.
“Is this where you live?” Wally asked. He looked at the gloomy place disapprovingly. “You do choose the most awful places.”
“I don’t choose them. They’re thrust on me. Yes, this is where I live. If you want to know the exact room its the third window up there over the front door. Well, good-night.”
“Good night,” said Wally. He paused. “Jill!”
“I know it’s not worth mentioning, and it’s breaking our agreement to mention it, but you do understand, don’t you?”
“Yes, Wally dear, I understand.”
“I’m around the corner, you know, waiting! And, if you ever do change, all you’ve got to do is just to come to me and say, 'It’s all right’!”
Jill laughed a little shakily.
“That doesn’t sound very romantic.”
“Not sound romantic! If you can think of any three words in the language that sound more romantic, let me have them! Well, never mind how they sound, just say them, and watch the result! But you want to go to bed. Good night.”
“Good night, Wally.”
She passed in through the dingy door. It closed behind her and Wally stood for some moments staring at it with a gloomy repulsion. He thought he had never seen a dingier door.
Then he started to walk back to his apartment. He walked very quickly, with clenched hands. He was wondering if after all there was not something to be said for the methods of the caveman when he went a-wooing. Twinges of conscience the caveman must have had when all was over, but at least he had established his right to look after the woman he loved.
“’T'HEY tell me.... I am told.... I am informed.... No, one moment, Miss Frisby.”
Mrs. Peagrim wrinkled her fair forehead. It has been truly said that there is no agony like the agony of literary composition, and Mrs. Peagrim was having rather a bad time getting the requisite snap and ginger into her latest communication to the press. She bit her lip, and would have passed her twitching fingers restlessly through her hair but for the thought of the damage which such an action must do to her coiffure. Miss Frisby, her secretary, an anaemic and negative young woman, waited patiently pad on knee, and tapped her teeth with her pencil.
“Please do not make that tapping noise, Miss Frisby,” said the sufferer querulously. “I cannot think. Otie, dear, can’t you suggest a good phrase? You ought to be able to, being an author.”
Mr. Pilkington w'ho was strewn over an arm-chair by the window, awoke from his meditations, which, to judge from the furrow just above the bridge of his tortoise-shell spectacles and the droop of his weak chin, were not pleasant. It was the morning after the production of the Rose of America, and he had passed a sleepless night, thinking of the harsh words he had said to Jill. Could she ever forgive him? Would she have the generosity to realize that a man ought not to be held accountable for what he says in the moment when he discovers that he has been badly cheated, deceived, robbed—in a word, horns-woggled? He had been brooding on this all night, and he wanted to go on brooding now. His aunt’s question interrupted his train of thought.
“Eh?” he said vaguely, gaping.
“Oh, don’t be so absent-minded,” snapped Mrs. Peagrim not unjustifiably annoyed. “I am trying to compose a paragraph for the papers about our party to-night, and I can’t get the right phrase.... Read what you’ve written, Miss Frisby.”
Miss Frisby having turned a pale eye on the pothooks and twiddleys in her note-book, translated them in a pale voice.
“Surely of all the leading hostesses in New York society there can be few more versatile than Mrs. Waddesleigh Peagrim. I am amazed every time I go to her home on West End Avenue to see the scope and variety of her circle of intimates. Here you will see an ambassador with a fever.... "
"With a what?” demanded Mrs. Peagrim sharply.
“ ‘Fever,’ I thought you said,” replied Miss Frisby stolidly. “I wrote ‘fever’.”
“ ‘Diva’. Do you use your intelligence, my good girl. Go on."
“Here you will see an ambassador with a diva from the opera, exchanging the latest gossip from the chancelleries for intimate news of the world behind the scenes. There, the author of the latest novel talking literature to the newest debutante. Truly one may say that Mrs. Peagrim has revived the saloon.’ ”
Mrs. Peagrim bit her lip.
“ ‘Salon’,” said Miss Frisby unemotionally; “ ‘They tell me, I am told, or I am informed..... ’ ” She paused. “That’s all I have.”
“Scratch out those last words,” said Mrs. Peagrim irritably. “You really are hopeless, Miss Frisby! Couldn’t you see that I had stopped dictating and was searching for a phrase? Otie, what is a good phrase for ‘I am told’?”
Mr. Pilkington forced his wandering attention to grapple with the problem.
“ ‘I hear,’ ” he suggested at length.
“Tchah!” ejaculated his aunt. Then her face brightened. “I have it. Take dictation please, Miss Frisby. A little bird whispers to me that there were great doings last night on the stage of the Gotham Theatre after the curtain had fallen on The Rose of America, which, as everybody knows, is the work of Mrs. Peagrim’s clever young nephew, Otis Pilkington.” Mrs. Peagrim shot a glance at her clever young nephew, to see how he appreciated the boost, but Otis’ thoughts were far away once more. He was lying on his spine, brooding, brooding. Mrs. Peagrim resumed her dictation. “ ‘In honor of the extraordinary success of the piece, Mrs. Peagrim, who certainly does nothing by halves, entertained the entire company to a supper-dance after the performance. A number of prominent people were among the guests, and Mrs. Peagrim was radiant and a vivacious hostess. She has never looked more charming. The high jinks were kept up to an advanced hour, and everyone agreed that they had never spent a more delightful evening.’ There. Type as many copies as are necessary, Miss Frisby, and send them out this afternoon with photographs.”
Miss Frisby having vanished in her pallid way, the radiant and vivacious hostess turned on her nephew again.
“I must say, Otie,” she began complainingly, “that, for a man who has had a success like yours, you are not very cheerful. I should have thought the notices of the piece would have made you the happiest man in New York.”
There was once a melodrama where the child of the prosecuted heroine used to dissolve the gallery in tears by saying ‘Happiness? What is happiness, moth-aw?’ Mr. Pilkington did not use these actual words, but he reproduced the stricken infant’s tone with great fidelity.
“Notices! What are notices to me?”
“Oh, don’t be so affected?” cried Mrs. Peagrim. “Don’t pretend that you don’t know every word of them by heart!”
“I have not seen the notices, aunt Olive,” said Mr. Pilkington dully.
Mrs. Peagrim looked at him with positive alarm. She had never been overwhelmingly attached to her long nephew, but since his rise to fame something resembling affection had sprung up in her, and his attitude now disturbed her.
“You can’t be well, Otie!” she said solicitously. “Are you ill?”
“I have a severe headache,” replied the martyr. “I passed a wakeful night.” '
“Let me go and mix you a dose of the most wonderful mixture,” said Mrs. Peagrim maternally. “Poor boy, I don’t wonder, after all the nervousness and excitement.... You sit quite still and rest, I will be back in a moment.”
She bustled out of the room, and Mr. Pilkington sagged back into his chair. He had hardly got his meditations going once more, when the door opened and the maid announced ‘Major Selby.’
“Good morning,” said Uncle Chris breezily, sailing down the fairway with outstretched hand. “How are—oh!”
He stopped abruptly, perceiving that Mrs. Peagrim was not present and—a more disturbing discovery—that Otis Pilkington was. It would be exaggeration to say that Uncle Chris was embarrassed. That master mind was never actually embarrassed. But his jauntiness certainly ebbed a little, and he had to pull his moustache twice before he could face the situation with his customary aplomb. He had not expected to find Otis Pilkington here, and Otis was the last man he wished to meet. He had just parted from Jill, who had been rather plain-spoken with regard to the recent financial operations; and, though possessed only of a rudimentary conscience, Uncle Chris was aware that his next interview with young Mr. Pilkington might have certain aspects bordering on awkwardness and he would have liked time to prepare a statement for the defence. However, here the man was. and the situation must be faced.
“Pilkington!” he cried. “My dear fellow! Just the man I wanted to see! I’m afraid there has been a little misunderstanding. Of course it has all been cleared up now, but still I must insist on making a personal explanation, really I must insist. The whole matter was a most absurd misunderstanding. It was like this... ”
Here Uncle Chris paused in order to devote a couple of seconds to thought. He had said it was ‘like this,’ but he had no notion what it was ‘like’, and he gave his moustache another pull as though he were trying to drag inspiration out of it. His blue eyes were as frank and honest as ever, and showed no trace of the perplexity in his mind, but he had to admit to himself that, if he managed to satisfy his hearer that all was for the best and that he had acted uprightly and without blame, he would be doing well.
Fortunately, the commercial side of Mr. Pilkington was entirely dormant this morning. The matter of the ten thousand dollars seemed trivial to him in comparison with the weightier problems which occupied his mind.
“Have you seen Miss Mariner?” he asked eagerly.
“Yes. I have just parted from her. She was upset, poor girl, of course, exceedingly upset.”
Mr. Pilkington moaned hollowly.
“Is she very angry with me?”
FOR a moment the utter inexplicability of the remark silenced Uncle Chris. Why Jill should be angry with Mr. Pilkington for being robbed of ten thousand dollars he could not understand, for Jill had told him nothing of the scene that had taken place on the previous night. But evidently this point was to Mr. Pilkington the nub of the matter, and Uncle Chris, like the strategist he was, rearranged his forces to meet the new development.
“Angry?” he said, slowly. “Well, of course.... ”
He did not know what it was all about, but no doubt if he confined himself to broken sentences which meant nothing, light would shortly be vouchsafed to him.
“In the heat of the moment,” confessed Mr. Pilkington. “I’m afraid I said things to Miss Mariner which I now regret.”
Uncle Chris began to feel on solid ground again.
“Dear, dear!” he murmured regretfully.
“I spoke hastily.”
“Always think before you speak, my boy.”
“I considered that I had been cheated.... ”
“My dear boy!” Uncle Chris’ blue eyes opened wide. “Please! Haven’t I said that I could explain all that? It was a pure misunderstanding.... ”
“Oh, I don’t care about that part of it.... ”
“Quite right,” said Uncle Chris cordially. “Let bygones be bygones. Start with a clean slate. You have your money back, and there’s no need to say another word about it. Let us forget it,” he concluded generously. “And, if I have any influence with Jill, you may count on me to use it to dissipate any little unfortunate rift which may have occurred between you.”
“You think there’s a chance that she might overlook what I said?”
“As I say, I will use any influence I may possess to heal the breach. I like you, my boy. And I am sure that Jill likes you. She will make allowances for any ill-judged remarks you may have uttered in a moment of heat.”
Mr. Pilkington brightened, and Mrs. Peagrim, returning with a medicine-glass, was pleased to see him looking so much better.
“You are a positive wizard, Major Selby,” she said archly. “What have you been saying to the poor boy to cheer him up so? He has a bad headache this morning.”
“Headache?” said Uncle Chris, starting like a warhorse that has heard the bugle. “I don’t know if I have ever mentioned it, but I used to suffer from headaches at one time. Extraordinarily severe headaches. I tried everything, until one day a man I know recommended a thing called—don’t know if you ever heard of it.... ”
Mrs. Peagrim, in her role of ministering angel, was engrossed with her errand of mercy. She was holding the medicine glass to Mr. Pilkington’s lips, and the seed fell on stony ground.
“Drink this, dear,” urged Mrs. Peagrim.
“Nervine,” said Uncle Chris.
“There!” said Mrs. Peagrim. “That will make you feel much better. How well you always look, Major Selby!”
“And yet at one time,” said Uncle Chris perseveringly, “I was a martyr.... ”
“I can’t remember if I told you last night about the party. We are giving a little supper-dance to the company of Otie’s play after the performance this evening. Of course you will come?”
Uncle Chris philosophically accepted his failure to secure the ear of his audience. Other opportunities would occur.
“Delighted,” he said. “Delighted.”
“Quite a simple, bohemian little affair,” proceeded Mrs. Peagrim. “I thought it was only right to give the poor things a little treat after they have all worked so hard.”
“Certainly, certainly. A capital idea.”
“We shall be quite a small party. If I once started asking anybody outside our real friends, I should have to ask everybody.”
The door opened.
“Mr. Rooke,” announced the maid.
Freddie, like Mr. Pilkington, was a prey to gloom this morning. He had read one or two of the-papers, and they, had been disgustingly lavish in their praise of The McWhustle of McWhustle. It made Freddie despair of the New York press. In addition to this, he had been wakened up at seven o’clock, after going to sleep at three, by the ringing of the telephone and the announcement that a gentleman wished to see him; and he was weighed down with that heavy-eyed langour which comes to those whose night’s rest is broken.
“Why, how do you do, Mr. Rooke,” said Mrs. Peagrim.
"How-de-do,” replied Freddie, blinking in the strong light from the window. “Hope I’m not barging in and all that sort of thing. I came round about this party to-night, you know.”
“Was wondering,” said Freddie, “If you would mind if I brought a friend of mine along? Popped in on me from England this morning. At seven o’clock,” said Freddie plaintively. “Ghastly hour, what! Didn’t do a thing to the good old beauty sleep! Well, what I mean to say is, I’d be awfully obliged if you’d let me bring him along.”
“Why, of course,” said Mrs. Peagrim. “Any friend of yours, Mr. Rooke.... ”
“Thanks awfully. Special reason why I’d like him to come, and all that. He’s a fellow named Underhill. Sir Derek Underhill. Been a pal of mine for years and years.”
Uncle Chris started.
“Underhill! Is Derek Underhill in America?”
“Landed this morning. Routed me out of bed at seven o’clock!”
“Oh, do you know him, too, Major Selby?” said Mrs. Peagrim. “Then I’m sure he must be charming!”
“Charming,” began Uncle Chris in measured tones, “is an adjective which I cannot.... ”
“Well, thanks most awfully,” interrupted Freddie. “It’s awfully good of you to let me bring him along. I must be staggering off now. Lot of things to do.”
“Oh, must you go already?”
“Absolutely must. Lot of things to do.”
Uncle Chris extended a hand to his hostess.
“I think I will be going along too, Mrs. Peagrim. I’ll walk a few yards with you, Freddie my boy. There are one or two things I would like to talk over. Till to-night, Mrs. Peagrim.”
“Till to-night, Major Selby.” She turned to Mr. Pilkington as the door closed. “What charming manners Major Selby has! So polished. A sort of old-world courtesy. So smooth!”
“Smooth,” said Mr. Pilkington dourly, “is right!”
To be Continued