HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL
EVEN in these postwar days younger sons of impoverished Scotch dukes have a market other than the Matrimonial Exchange and Mart. Billets were found for Jock and Jim Skelpic, known at Eton as The Heavenly Twins.
The adjective was used derisively, for the Etonians were black-a-vized, hard-featured, hardmuscled Highlanders— tough customers.
They were tougher after the War.
Jock found a job in The United Motors Works. He could drive a “demonstration” car to perfection. And he could drive a bargain.
Profiteers from the North who believed too fondly that a cadet of an ancient family must be a “soft thing” had reason to modify this belief after buying a car from Jock.
Jim was private secretary to Sir Otto Godolphin-Osborne, ne Mandelbaum. Sir Otto, a naturalized subject, had changed his name in 1915. He had assumed a famous name. Why not?
As he put it: “Der best ees goot enough for me.”
The younger son of a duke had been engaged by Sir Otto to attend to matters beyond (or below) the ken of a man absorbed in international business. The financier spoke of Lord James Skelpic as Master of the Horse. Jim, so to speak, pranced in front of Sir Otto’s procession. Of the business transacted in the City or elsewhere Jim knew, or was supposed to know, nothing. Thanks to Jim’s energies Sir Otto entertained in Lancaster Gate and in the Highlands of Scotland persons of importance who appreciate the best cooking and rare wines. Cabinet ministers like to sip cabinet hocks seldom sipped outside the Fatherland. Magnates hasten to meet cabinet ministers. It is safe, perhaps, to affirm that more business is done when smoking the finest cigars than at any other time. And such business is not invariably “straight.” A certain Captain of Industry never makes a “deal” after luncheon. His working hours, so he says, are from eleven to one.
The brothers shared a flat in Mayfair. Upon the death of their father, each had inherited ten thousand pounds. They regarded this, being twins, as joint capital. Half of it had been invested by Sir Otto in one of his get-richquick enterprises. Some of these ventures, apparently, impoverished everybody except Sir Otto.
' I 'HE twins were smoking pipes together after dinner.
■*Jock had noticed that Jim was not treating his Dunhill with the consideration it deserved. Clouds of smoke indicated a mind ill at ease.
“Anything wrong?” asked Jock curtly.
Jim laid down a red-hot pipe.
“Yes. I’ve funked telling you. We’ve been robbed, old thing, skinned alive.”
“By my chief—damn him!”
Jock looked incredulous.
“By Sir Otto Godolphin-Osborne?”
“Let us speak of him by the rogue’s right name, Mandelbaum. Hot stuff! So hot that he’ll freeze when he reaches his ultimate destination. I was warned to have nothing to do with him.”
“Cut that out and carry on.”
“I trusted him,” said Jim. “Of course I was a fool, but not altogether a fool. I thought to myself: ‘It won’t pay him to swindle me/’ ”
“And he has?”
“How and when and where?”
“It’s a long yarn. Boiled down to essentials we have lost our ten thou—every bob. I handed it over, you understand, to a man who is under obligations to me. He told me not to worry. I didn’t. The cash was planked into one of his innumerable enterprises. He tells me cheerfully that he has dropped a million since Christmas.”
“If that is true,” said Jock pensively, “we have no kick coming.”
“But it isn’t true.”
“How do you know?”
JIM took from the pocket of his dinner-jacket a pressclipping. Jock read as follows:
The pearl necklace which belonged to the late Marchioness of Beaudesert was secured at Christie's for ten thousand guineas by Sir Otto Godolphin-Osborne.
Jock whistled. Jim continued:
“Mandelbaum—even dogs will refuse to defile his grave—bought that necklace with the money he stole from us, almost the exact sum.”
“Plucked us clean, eh?”
“You’re a sportsman, Jock. I expected ructions. You trusted me; I trusted him. I feel very chilly without those feathers, a naked gander. But I propose to get back our plumage--with your kind assistance.”
“Mine? I don’t know your dirty dog.”
“Do you know his wife?”
“Not outside the picture papers.”
“Good! The mere thought of our pearls on her neck makes me sick. Now—sit tight and hark to me. Those
pearls were bought ten days ago. Mandelbaum had the cheek to show them to me, but I didn't know then that our ten thou was up the spout. He locked them up in a small secret safe which stands in his private room. He went to Paris last week. When he got back he gave the pearls to his wife. She told me so with fat chucklings. She intends to wear them night and day. Only this morning did I learn that our certifi cates were so much waste paper
JOCK nodded as Jim paused to refill his pipe. The twins were not like each other physically. Jock was sturdily built; Jim was tall and lean. Jim went on:
“Mandelbaum is giving a party at his place on the river to-morrow night. I shall be there. The lawn runs down to the Thames. A road runs parallel to the tow path across the river. Opposite Mandelbaum’s boat-house is a big clump of brush. Farther on, at the top of the reach, is Shepperford Ferry.”
“I know the ferry.”
“I want you to ride a motor bike down to that clump of brush to-morrow night, arriving there about nine-thirty. You can hide the bike in the brush. Then you will cross the ferry, turn to the right, and walk through a white gate. You will turn down a small path that leads to the boat-house. In the boat-house, is a skiff, a canoe, and a punt. You will have time to bore holes in the canoe and the skiff just above the water-line.” •
Jock sat up, puzzled but interested.
“Presently,” continued Jim, “you will hear me laugh. When you do, you will slip on a crape mask and pull a pistol out of your pocket.”
“I catch on. I’m cast for the villain in the film.”
“Yes; you will hold up her ladyship and me. I shall spring like a tiger upon you. You will biff me, not too hard, on the head. I shall fall stunned at my lady’s substantial feet. You will demand the pearls and get them. Then you will punt yourself across the river, jump on to the motor bike, and be awa’ whilst my lady is screaming for help or administering first aid to me. I shall sleep— soundly, I hope—at Shepperford Lodge. We shall foregather here next day and divide the spoil. Got it?” “Sounds too easy.”
“Simple as Simon, simple as the mugs whom Mandelbaum has swindled.”
“But how will you make sure of getting her ladyship near the boat-house?”
Jim winked impudently.
“You can leave that to me, my dear. Don’t biff me too hard.”
“Other guests may be about.”
“Not if I know myself and them. This is a small party, three or four well-nourished Israelites and their wives. The unexpected—rain, for instance—may burke our plan. But the barometer is at Set Fair. Don’t call it robbery under arms, but restitution. We shall get our own back with interest. Those pearls were a big bargain. Mandelbaum was offered by a dealer a thousand more than he gave.”
“Can we sell them?”
“Of course we can—later on.”
“Are you getting cold feet?”
“No, certainly not, I want to get our money back.” “The thing is cut and dried if you play up.”
“Very promising, I must say.”
LADY GODOLPHIN-OSBORNE’S river parties were recorded in the press as “select.” As a rule la haute Bayswater was leavened by la basse Mayfair. Pukka dukes and duchesses gave Shepperford Lodge a miss. All Sir Otto’s guests were well “done” in every sense of the word. The pains which attach themselves to persons born with the name of Mandelbaum are negligible if the pleasures of their tables are adequately emphasized.
Upon this particular evening the dinner was superlative. Everybody might have exclaimed on leaving the dining-room: “Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today.”
After such a dinner it is overdoing it to obtrude other forms of entertainment. A gorged python is not amused by parlour tricks. Sir Otto’s cigars and old brandy challenged the attention of the men; gossip tickled agreeably the ears of the ladies. Mrs. Bergenstresser in fulgurante, wearing diamonds and sapphires, chatted with Lady Hydrangea Schmaltz who brought her husband, a comparatively young man of seventy-five. Lady Godolphin-Osborne, in cyclamen coloured satin romain, walked the length of the pergola with Jim Skelpic.
Jim admired her pearls.
She said to Jim, acidulously:
“I hear what Rachel Bergenstresser say to you at dinner.’
Jim smiled at his hostess.
“Did you? I didn’t. Tell me what she said.”
“What does that mean?’
“You bretend—always you bretend. What she say to you was intend for me. Ya—for me. I hear dat fat woman say to you: T am broud, Lord Shames, of being a Bergenstresser. I am not ashamed of being a Bergenstresser.’ ”
Jim said soothingly:
“I didn’t quite catch what she said. Being a Bergenstresser, she spoke with her mouth full of peas, delicious peas. If she really doesn’t mind being a Bergenstresser, ought we to interfere about it?”
“Ach! ’Ow you lofe your shokes.”
Jim gripped opportunity.
“Let us wander away from Mrs. Bergenstresser. Let us listen together to the song of the river—au clair de la lune.”
“Where is my Otto?’
“At work. Come.”
'T'HEY descended some steps, crossed a velvety lawn, -*■ and approached the boat-house. They had dined at nine; it was now nearly eleven. Near the boat-house a clump of rhododendrons screened a garden seat. Peace
brooded upon the silent river and the darkening landscape. Jim laughed.
“I laugh, dear lady, because I am happy.”
“Why are you happy?”
“Because I am alone with you.”
At this moment Jock appeared. Jim, without hesitation, went on:
“My mistake. Apparently, we are not alone. The inconvenient third has obtruded himself. Don’t be alarmed. Let me deal with him.”
The masked Jock held an automatic in his hand.
“I want your pearls,” he said politely. “I mean to have them. Hand them over. Don’t scream!”
He was biffed on the head with the butt end of the pistol and fell senseless at the lady’s number eight shoes. “The pearls, please.”
A terrified woman unfastened the string, and handed them to the villain. He took them, bowed, and bolted. Lady Godolphin-Osborne screamed.
A man in a mask punted himself across the river before two or three portly gentlemen reached the boathouse Mr. Adalbert Bergenstresser, greatly daring, seated himself in the canoe which sank harmlessly Sir Otto administered first aid to Jim. In due time a constable arrived.
NEXT afternoon the twins met at the flat.
“You hit damned hard,” said Jim.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
Jim rubbed a still sore head as he poured himself out a glass of barley water. The Shepperford doctor had vetoed spirits. Jock produced the loot.
“A very even bunch,” he observed.
They were. Too even, Jim decided. He examined them carefully. The best imitation pearls can defy the observation not the examination of experts. In weight, in lustre, there is no difference. But Jim, it will be remembered, had seen and handled the Beaudesert string.
“I believe they’re sham,” he exclaimed.
“That,” said Jock calmly, “is my impression.”
Much can be forgiven the twin brethern because they laughed uproariously.
“As we were,” said Jock when the ebullition passed. “No,” Jim answered. “The situation has changed. These pearls look like the Beaudesert pearls, but they are, as you say, too even. Had the Beaudesert lot been as even and as perfectly matched they would have fetched twenty thousand pounds. I heard a dealer assert that positively. Mandelbaum, for reasons of his own, took the real pearls to Paris and had them copied on the quiet. Why?”
“I will presently. For the moment let us concentrate on this point. My lady believed these pearls to be real. I was not at my best and brightest when the police turned
up, but-1 listened to the general cackle. My lady howled like a wolf bereft of her cubs. Why didn’t Mandelbaum tell her and the police that the stolen pearls were sham?” “Search me.”
“I’m searching my own memory. I was almost concussed. Yes, yes—I have it. To calm his wife, Mandelbaum said in my presence: ‘Don’t get eggzited, Rebecca, die pearls was insured, my lofe, against all loss.’ ”
“Well, I’m hanged.”
“Mandelbaum ought to be hanged—high as Haman, from whom, probably, he is lineally descended.”
“The pearls were insured,” said Jock.
“How do you know?”
Jock picked up an early edition of an evening paper. “Read that ‘par’.”
A daring‘‘hold-up’’ has deprived a lady of titleof asuperb string of pearls lately sold at auction at Christie's for ten thousand guineas. We are authoritatively informed that the gems were fully insured.
“Authoritatively—!” murmured Jim.
“Miching mallecho somewhere,” said Jock.
JOCK, still staring at the pearls, sat down in an armchair. Jim, singularly alert, remained standing.
“The affair has become one screaming note of interrogation,” he said, in a low voice. “I had the real string in my hands a few hours after it was bought. I said at once: ‘Lady Osborne will be a happy woman.’ And my chief replied sharply: T may not gif dem to her.’ There, of course, he slipped up. He has been skating lately on thin ice. And he thinks me a fool. Mind you, nobody really knows how he stands—except himself. But I have a notion that he may have bought the Beaudesert pearls for two reasons. Number one—to bolster up his credit; number two—to get possession of portable property.”
Jock nodded, much impressed.
“Credit is his life blood. And credit with such a manipulator as our dear Otto is largely a matter of public confidence. Would a man on the verge of bankruptcy give his wife a ten thousand guinea necklace?”
“A real thruster might.”
“Give him his due, he is a thruster. Now, mark this: business has brightened since he bought the pearls—all along his not too particular lines. I’m inclined to think he bought the pearls intending to bolt with them. His market, rising unexpectedly, has made him change his plans. But everybody knew that he had bought the pearls. To satisfy the credulous public he gave this necklace to his wife. The Beaudesert pearls are where I saw him put them—in -his private safe. His little game is plain enough-. He’ll claim the insurance money. If he gets it, we have helped him to swindle the insurance people out of ten thousand guineas.” Continued on page 63
Continued from page 25
“I can’t stick the insurance company being robbed by us.”
“Keep your powder dry! I feel as you do about that. All the same the divine law of self-preservation is still animating me. Our Otto has downed us twice. I take him on again to-morrow morning.”
“Can I weigh in?”
“No. It will be a fight to a finish with no seconds in the ring.”
Jock jumped up.
“But what are you going to do?”
“I’m trusting to the inspiration of the momènt. We have a strangle hold on him if he applies for this insurance money. I think he will apply for it to-morrow.”
“If he doesn’t—?”
Jim shrugged his shoulders and remained silent. After a pause he picked up the bogus pearls and thrust them deep into a pocket.
THE private office of Sir Otto was luxuriously furnished. To reach it a visitor had to pass through the secretary’s room. That communicated with main offices reassuringly dingy and indeed dirty.
Sir Otto was a collector of precious objects. The senses of taste and sight and smell were over-developed in a man who had started life in a shipping office in Hamburg. When he was pleased with himself, he rubbed softly a nose remarkable even in Hamburg. When he was perturbed in mind, he would remove his spectacles and polish the lenses. Without specs he could see further into doubtful enterprises than Anglo-Saxons with normal vision.
His private safe was enclosed in a red lacquer cabinet, Chinese, of the eighteenth century.
It was his habit to spend an hour, from ten to eleven, with his Master of the Horse.
Jim found his chief in high good humour when he was greeted by that great man at ten sharp the next morning. For half an hour they talked about a place in Inverness. Jim was instructed to find out, not from the agents, the exact condition of moor and forest.
“The rent will be enormous,” said Jim.
Sir Otto rubbed his nose. For two years he had not taken a Highland shooting. The inference was obvious.
“I anticibate goot times, Shames.”
Good times for Sir Otto meant bad times for so many unimportant people that Jim winced. More, he was not yet accustomed to being addressed as “Shames” by a Hun. He said to Jock: “Shame on Shames.”
“For you, sir?”
“Ya—for me. For you too, Shames. You lose money. Same here. Soon we make money, moch money. Your friendts, too, dey lose money, but I make dem money. I sink or schwim mit my friendts.”
He went on rubbing his nose.
“Heard anything about my lady’s pearls?” asked Jim.
“Ach! Dose bearls! Perhaps der bolice will get dem. I leave soch matters to dem. It ees no longer my beesness.”
“Really? No longer your business?” “No. Because, Shames, I am insured. Der insurance beople will stimulate der bolice. I haf made my glaim. Soh!”
“Just so,” said Jim.
HE ROSE and strolled to the door between the private room and his own room. He opened it. Nobody was in his room. From the main offices beyond floated the hum of many voices, the buzz of busy bees collecting honey for Sir Otto.
“I haf not done mit you yet, Shames.”
It was significant that with his secretary Sir Otto spoke English with a strong German-cum-Yiddish accent.
“I have not done with you,” replied James coolly.
To Sir Otto’s amazement Jim locked the door and slipped the key into his pocket.
“Where,” he asked firmly, “are the Beaudesert pearls?”
Sir Otto removed his spectacles.
“Are you grazy, my young friendt?” “The string that was stolen,” continued Jim, very quietly, “was sham. I know it—• and you know it.”
Sir Otto blustered, as he cleaned the lenses of his spectacles.
“Und how do you know it?”
“Never mind that. I do know it. Also I know you. You’re up against it, Sir Otto. If I should tell the insurance people what I know, there would be trouble, very serious trouble, for you.”
“Gott in Himmel! Blackmail!”
“No. Restitution. I’ll hold my tongue, but I demand from you what I invested with you.”
“_.i _i _tnt”
Students of German profanity can fill in the blanks. Jim murmured suavely : “Ten thousand guineas.”
“_.i _i _in”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying, Sir Otto, but I’m sure it’s something personally offensive. I raise you. I now demand eleven thousand guineas.”
“_; _; in”
SIR OTTO became dumb. Even his enemies admitted that he had flair, that curious sense of danger so lively in the fox and wolf. He knew that Jim knew. And he recognized in Jim the will to win, which other and greater Huns believe to be the inalienable possession of their race. He grasped the conviction that it was impossible to argue with Jim.
He glanced at the bell on his Louis XV desk.
“Touch that,” said Jim pleasantly, “and I go straight from here to.the police.” Bluff! But could Sir Otto recognize it as such?
“Don’t move! I’m about to make a reconnaissance. How thoughtful of you to leave the safe open!”
Jim walked straight to the safe, pulled out a drawer and drew forth a small chamois leather bag. He held it up.
“These are the Beaudesert pearls.”
Sir Otto remained speechless for almost a minute. Jim, master of the situation, dictated terms.
“Write me a cheque payable to self for the sum I mentioned last. Endorse it. I’ll send somebody out to cash it. Then I’ll replace the pearls, and take leave of you, my benefactor, for ever and ever. You deliberately downed me. I have downed you. You Huns always make this mistake: you underrate the intelligence of others. The Devil seems to have you in his special care. Your rigged markets are booming. Tant mieux for you—-and me. Get a move on.”
“Slip over to the bank, Isaac, and bring the cash in hundred pound notes.”
Isaac went his way. Jim played with the chamois leather bag. He opened it and allowed the pearls to trickle through his fingers. Sir Otto glared at him. Jim said lightly:
“The sham lot you got in Paris are too even.”
He replaced the pearls in the leather bag and tied the string.
“Before I put these back into the safe, I want you to write a letter to the insurance people. You can state simply that the pearls have been returned to you, and that my lady and I were the victims of a very rough practical joke. I’ll post your letter. Please write it at once.”
Hypnotized by Jim, Sir Otto did so. Jim dropped the bag into the drawer, and took the letter. Immediately afterwards the elderly clerk came back with the notes.
Restitution was made.
THE brothers met again before luncheon. When Jim had told his tale, the cash was divided.
“Where are the sham pearls?” asked Jock.
“In the ‘shammy’ leather bag.” “What?”
“Yes. I would give up making execrable puns to see the Mandelbaum face when it looks into that bag.”
“But the Beaudesert lot?”
“They are here.”
UNHAPPILY, nobody saw Sir Otto’s face when, as a lover of beautiful and costly objects, he tried to hearten himself up by looking at the Beaudesert pearls. Perhaps, the blow to his pride was at the moment even heavier than the one inflicted on his pocket. Deutschland über alles occurred to him as a singular perversion of fact so far as he, a son of Hamburg, • was concerned. He returned to Lancaster Gate that night a sadder and a wiser man.
My lady rushed at him, as he crossed the hall, and flung her arms around his neck. No doubt it served him right, but he was disconcerted and displeased.
“Potzwelten, Rebecca, ’ow you incommode me!”
“Die perle," she gasped, hugging him tighter.
“Look, my Otto, look! Regale yourselluf !”
Dim and dazed eyes saw a lustrous string of pearls. “Gott!”
Rebecca Godolphin-Osborne, nee Mosenthal, had to relapse into German. The pearls, it appeared, had reached the happy wearer of them after five o clock in a sealed parcel delivered by hand. Upon a half sheet of notepaper a few words were typewritten:
Later that evening Lady GodolphinOsborne, with tears in her eyes, made a discovery. This time, as the lawful wife of a naturalized subject of England’s king, she spoke in English,
“I am so habby, my Otto, that my bearls abbear to me more beaudiful dan dey used to was.”
“Soh!” growled Sir Otto.