THE LITTLE NUGGET
NY PUBLIC LIBRARY THE BRANCH LIBRARIES
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I 1 Lr W
Wodehouse, P. G.
The 1 ittle nugget /
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The Little Nugget
P. G. Wodehouse was born in Guildford in 1881 and
educated at Dulwich College. After working for the
Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank for two years, he
left to earn his living as a journalist and storywriter,
writing the 'By the Way* column in the old Globe.
He also contributed a series of school stories to a
magazine for boys, the Captain, in one of which
Psmith made his first appearance. Going to America
before the First World War, he sold a serial to the
Saturday Evening Post and for the next twenty-five
years almost all his books appeared first in this
magazine. He was part author and writer of the
lyrics of eighteen musical comedies including
Kissing Time; he married in 1914 and in 1955 took
American citizenship. He wrote over ninety books
and his work has won world-wide acclaim, being
translated into many languages. The Times hailed
him as 'a comic genius recognized in his lifetime as a
classic and an old master of farce'.
P. G. Wodehouse said, *I believe there are two ways
of writing novels. One is mine, making a sort of
musical comedy without music and ignoring real
life altogether; the other is going right deep down into
life and not caring a damn . . .' He was created a
Knight of the British Empire in the New Year's
Honours List in 1975. In a BBC interview he said
that he had no ambitions left, now that he had been
knighted and there was a waxwork of him in Madame
Tussaud's. He died on St Valentine's Day in 1975 at
the age of ninety-three.
P. G. WODEHOUSE IN PENGUIN
Life at Blandings
Something Fresh Summer Lightning Heavy Weather
Uncle Fred in the Springtime Full Moon Pigs Have Wings
Service with a Smile Galahad at Blandings
A Pelican at Blandings Sunset at Blandings
and the omnibus editions
Life at Blandings Imperial Blandings
Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best
The Pothunters and Other Stories The Gold Bat and Other Stories
The Man Upstairs and Other Stories The Man with Two Left Feet
Blandings Castle Lord Emsworth and Others
Eggs, Beans and Crumpets
The Mike and P smith Books
Mike at Wrykyn Mike and Psmith Psmith in the City
Psmith, Journalist Leave it to Psmith
and the omnibus
The World of Psmith
The Little Nugget Piccadilly Jim Uneasy Money
A Damsel in Distress A Gentleman of Leisure
The Indiscretions of Archie The Adventures of Sally Ukridge
Sam the Sudden The Small Bachelor Money for Nothing
If I Were You Big Money Laughing Gas Doctor Sally
Hot Water The Luck of the Bodkins Young Men in Spats
Summer Moonshine Quick Service Money in the Bank
Uncle Dynamite French Leave Cocktail Time
Company for Henry Do Butlers Burgle Banks? The Girl in Blue
Spring Fever Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin
Bachelors Anonymous Uncle Fred: An Omnibus
Wodehouse on Wodehouse Yours, Plum
P. G. Wodehouse
The Little Nugget
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England
Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
First published by Methuen 1913
Published in Penguin Books 1959
Copyright 1913 by P. G. Wodehouse
All rights reserved
Printed in England by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic
Set in Intertype Times
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject
to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,
re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's
prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in
which it is published and without a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
In which the Little Nugget is introduced to the
reader, and plans are made for his future by
several interested parties. In which, also, the
future Mr Peter Burns is touched upon.
The whole concluding with a momentous
The Little Nugget
If the management of the Hotel Guelph, that London land-
mark, could have been present at three o'clock one afternoon in
early January in the sitting-room of the suite which they had
assigned to Mrs Elmer Ford, late of New York, they might well
have felt a little aggrieved. Philosophers among them would
possibly have meditated on the limitations of human effort; for
they had done their best for Mrs Ford. They had housed her
well. They had fed her well. They had caused inspired servants
to anticipate her every need. Yet here she was, in the midst of
all these aids to a contented mind, exhibiting a restlessness and
impatience of her surroundings that would have been no-
ticeable in a caged tigress or a prisoner of the Bastille. She
paced the room. She sat down, picked up a novel, dropped it,
and, rising, resumed her patrol. The clock striking, she com-
pared it with her watch, which she had consulted two minutes
before. She opened the locket that hung by a gold chain from
her neck, looked at its contents, and sighed. Finally, going
quickly into the bedroom, she took from a suit-case a framed
oil-painting, and returning with it to the sitting-room, placed it
on a chair, and stepped back, gazing at it hungrily. Her large
brown eyes, normally hard and imperious, were strangely
softened. Her mouth quivered.
'Ogden!' she whispered.
The picture which had inspired this exhibition of feeling
would probably not have affected the casual spectator to quite
the same degree. He would have seen merely a very faulty and
amateurish portrait of a singularly repellent little boy of about
eleven, who stared out from the canvas with an expression half
stolid, half querulous; a bulgy, overfed little boy; a little boy
who looked exactly what he was, the spoiled child of parents
who had far more money than was good for them.
As Mrs Ford gazed at the picture, and the picture stared back
at her, the telephone bell rang. She ran to it eagerly. It was the
office of the hotel, announcing a caller.
'Yes? Yes? Who?' Her voice fell, as if the name was not the
one she had expected. 'Oh, yes,' she said. 'Yes, ask Lord Moun-
try to come to me here, please.'
She returned to the portrait. The look of impatience, which
had left her face as the bell sounded, was back now. She sup-
pressed it with an effort as her visitor entered.
Lord Mountry was a blond, pink-faced, fair-moustached
young man of about twenty-eight - a thick-set, solemn young
man. He winced as he caught sight of the picture, which fixed
him with a stony eye immediately on his entry, and quickly
'I say, it's all right, Mrs Ford.' He was of the type which
wastes no time on preliminary greetings. 'I've got him.'
Mrs Ford's voice was startled.
'Stanborough, you know.'
'Oh! I - I was thinking of something else. Won't you sit
Lord Mountry sat down.
'The artist, you know. You remember you said at lunch the
other day you wanted your little boy's portrait painted, as you
only had one of him, aged eleven - '
This is Ogden, Lord Mountry. I painted this myself.'
His lordship, who had selected a chair that enabled him to
present a shoulder to the painting, and was wearing a slightly
dogged look suggestive of one who 'turns no more his head,
because he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread',
forced himself round, and met his gaze with as much non-
chalance as he could summon up.
4 Er, yes,' he said.
'Fine manly little fellow - what?' he continued.
Yes, isn't he?'
His lordship stealthily resumed his former position.
*I recommended this fellow, Stanborough, if you remember.
He's a great pal of mine, and I'd like to give him a leg up if I
could. They tell me he's a topping artist. Don't know much
about it myself. You told me to bring him round here this
afternoon, you remember, to talk things over. He's waiting
'Oh yes, yes. Of course, I've not forgotten. Thank you so
much, Lord Mountry.'
'Rather a good scheme occurred to me, that is, if you haven't
thought over the idea of that trip on my yacht and decided it
would bore you to death. You still feel like making one of the
party - what?'
Mrs Ford shot a swift glance at the clock.
T'm looking forward to it,' she said.
'Well, then, why shouldn't we kill two birds with one stone?
Combine the voyage and the portrait, don't you know. You
could bring your little boy along - he'd love the trip - and I'd
bring Stanborough - W 7 hat?'
This offer was not the outcome of a sudden spasm of warm-
heartedness on his lordship's part. He had pondered the matter
deeply, and had come to the conclusion that, though it had
flaws, it was the best plan. He was alive to the fact that a small
boy was not an absolute essential to the success of a yachting
trip, and, since seeing Ogden's portrait, he had realized still
more clearly that the scheme had draw-backs. But he badly
wanted Stanborough to make one of the party. Whatever
Ogden might be, there was no doubt that Billy Stanborough,
that fellow of infinite jest, was the ideal companion for a
voyage. It would make just all the difference having him. The
trouble was that Stanborough flatly refused to take an indefinite
holiday, on the plea that he could not afford the time. Upon
which his lordship, seldom blessed with great ideas, had sur-
prised himself by producing the scheme he had just sketched
out to Mrs Ford.
He looked at her expectantly, as he finished speaking, and
was surprised to see a swift cloud of distress pass over her face.
He rapidly reviewed his last speech. No, nothing to upset
anyone in that. He was puzzled.
She looked past him at the portrait. There was pain in her
Tm afraid you don't quite understand the position of affairs,'
she said. Her voice was harsh and strained.
'You see - I have not - ' She stopped. 'My little boy is not -
Ogden is not living with me just now.'
'At school, eh?'
'No, not at school. Let me tell you the whole position. Mr
Ford and I did not get on very well together, and a year ago we
were divorced in Washington, on the ground of incom-
patibility, and - and - '
She choked. His lordship, a young man with a shrinking
horror of the deeper emotions, whether exhibited in woman or
man, writhed silently. That was the worst of these Americans!
Always getting divorced and causing unpleasantness. How was
a fellow to know? Why hadn't whoever it was who first intro-
duced them - he couldn't remember who the dickens it was -
told him about this? He had supposed she was just the ordinary
American woman doing Europe with an affectionate dollar-
dispensing husband in the background somewhere.
'Er - ' he said. It was all he could find to say.
'And - and the court,' said Mrs Ford, between her teeth,
'gave him the custody of Ogden.'
Lord Mountry, pink with embarrassment, gurgled sym-
'Since then I have not seen Ogden. That was why I was
interested when you mentioned your friend Mr Stanborough. It
struck me that Mr Ford could hardly object to my having a
portrait of my son painted at my own expense. Nor do I suppose
that he will, when - if the matter is put to him. But, well, you
see it would be premature to make any arrangements at present
for having the picture painted on our yacht trip.'
Tm afraid it knocks that scheme on the head,' said Lord
'I don't want to make plans yet, but - it is possible that Ogden
may be with us after all. Something may be - arranged.'
'You think you may be able to bring him along on the yacht
'I am hoping so.'
Lord Mountry, however willing to emit sympathetic gurgles,
was too plain and straightforward a young man to approve of
wilful blindness to obvious facts.
'I don't see how you are going to override the decision of the
court. It holds good in England, I suppose?'
'I am hoping something may be - arranged.'
*Oh, same here, same here. Certainly.' Having done his duty
by not allowing plain facts to be ignored, his lordship was ready
to become sympathetic again. 'By the way, where is Ogden?'
'He is down at Mr Ford's house in the country. But - '
She was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone bell. She
was out of her seat and across the room at the receiver with
what appeared to Lord Mountry's startled gaze one bound. As
she put the instrument to her ear a wave of joy swept over her
face. She gave a little cry of delight and excitement.
'Send them right up at once,' she said, and turned to Lord
'Lord Mountry,' she said quickly, 'please don't think me im-
possibly rude if I turn you out. Some - some people are coming
to see me. I must - '
His lordship rose hurriedly.
'Of course. Of course. Certainly. Where did I put my - ah,
here.' He seized his hat, and by way of economizing effort,
knocked his stick on to the floor with the same movement. Mrs
Ford watched his bendings and gropings with growing im-
patience, till finally he rose, a little flushed but with a full hand
- stick, gloves, and hat, all present and correct.
'Good-bye, then, Mrs Ford, for the present. You'll let me
know if your little boy will be able to make one of our party on
'Yes, yes. Thank you ever so much. Good-bye.'
He reached the door and opened it.
'By Jove,' he said, springing round - 'Stanborough! What
about Stanborough? Shall I tell him to wait? He's down below,
'Yes, yes. Tell Mr Stanborough I'm dreadfully sorry to have
to keep him waiting, and ask him if he won't stay for a few
minutes in the Palm Room.'
Inspiration came to Lord Mountry.
'I'll give him a drink/ he said.
4 Yes, yes, anything. Lord Mountry, you really must go. I
know I'm rude. I don't know what I'm saying. But - my boy is
returning to me. f
The accumulated chivalry of generations of chivalrous an-
cestors acted like a spur on his lordship. He understood but
dimly, yet enough to enable him to realize that a scene was
about to take place in which he was most emphatically not 'on'.
A mother's meeting with her long-lost child, this is a sacred
thing. This was quite clear to him, so, turning like a flash, he
bounded through the doorway, and, as somebody happened to
be coming in at the same time, there was a collision, which left
him breathing apologies in his familiar attitude of stooping to
pick up his hat.
The new-comers were a tall, strikingly handsome girl, with a
rather hard and cynical cast of countenance. She was leading by
the hand a small, fat boy of about fourteen years of age, whose
likeness to the portrait on the chair proclaimed his identity. He
had escaped the collision, but seemed offended by it; for, eyeing
the bending peer with cold distaste, he summed up his opinion
of him in the one word 'Chump!'
Lord Mountry rose.
'I beg your pardon,' he said for perhaps the seventh time. He
was thoroughly unstrung. Always excessively shy, he was em-
barrassed now by quite a variety of causes. The world was full
of eyes - Mrs Ford's saying 'Go!' Ogden's saying 'Fool!' the
portrait saying 'Idiot!' and, finally, the eyes of this wonderfully
handsome girl, large, grey, cool, amused, and contemptuous
saying - so it seemed to him in that feverish moment - *Who is
this curious pink pefson who cumbers the ground before
'I - 1 beg your pardon/ he repeated.
'Ought to look where you're going,' said Ogden severely.
'Not at all,' said the girl. 'Won't you introduce me, Nesta?'
'Lord Mountry - Miss Drassilis,' said Mrs Ford.
'I'm afraid we're driving Lord Mountry away,' said the girl.
Her eyes seemed to his lordship larger, greyer, cooler, more
amused, and more contemptuous than ever. He floundered in
them like an unskilful swimmer in deep waters.
'No, no,' he stammered. 'Give you my word. Just going.
Good-bye. You won't forget to let me know about the yacht,
Mrs Ford - what? It'll be an awfully jolly party. Good-bye,
good-bye, Miss Drassilis.'
He looked at Ogden for an instant, as if undecided whether to
take the liberty of addressing him too, and then, his heart ap-
parently failing him, turned and bolted. From down the cor-
ridor came the clatter of a dropped stick.
Cynthia Drassilis closed the door and smiled.
'A nervous young person!' she said. 'What was he saying
about a yacht, Nesta?'
Mrs Ford roused herself from her fascinated contemplation
'Oh, nothing. Some of us are going to the south of France in
his yacht next week.'
'What a delightful idea!'
There was a certain pensive note in Cynthia's voice.
'A splendid idea!' she murmured.
Mrs Ford swooped. She descended on Ogden in a swirl and
rustle of expensive millinery, and clasped him to her.
It is not given to everybody to glide neatly into a scene of
tense emotion. Ogden failed to do so. He wriggled roughly from
'Got a cigarette?' he said.
He was an extraordinarily unpleasant little boy. Physically
the portrait standing on the chair did him more than justice.
Painted by a mother's loving hand, it flattered him. It was
bulgy. He was more bulgy. It was sullen. He scowled. And, art
having its limitations, particularly amateur art, the portrait
gave no hint of his very repellent manner. He was an intensely
sophisticated child. He had the air of one who has seen all life
has to offer, and is now permanently bored. His speech and
bearing were those of a young man, and a distinctly unlovable
Even Mrs Ford was momentarily chilled. She laughed shakily.
'How very matter-of-fact you are, darling!' she said.
Cynthia was regarding the heir to the Ford millions with her
usual steady, half-contemptuous gaze.
'He has been that all day,' she said. 'You have no notion what
a help it was to me.'
Mrs Ford turned to her effusively.
'Oh, Cynthia, dear, I haven't thanked you.'
'No,' interpolated the girl dryly.
'You're a wonder, darling. You really are. I've been repeating
that ever since I got your telegram from Eastnor.' She broke off.
'Ogden, come near me, my little son.'
He lurched towards her sullenly.
'Don't muss a fellow now,' he stipulated, before allowing
himself to be enfolded in the outstretched arms.
'Tell me, Cynthia,' resumed Mrs Ford, 'how did you do it? I
was telling Lord Mountry that I hoped I might see my Ogden
again soon, but I never really hoped. It seemed too impossible
that you should succeed.'
This Lord Mountry of yours,' said Cynthia. 'How did you
get to know him? Why have I not seen him before?'
'I met him in Paris in the fall. He has been out of London for
a long time, looking after his father, who v/as ill.'
'He has been most kind, making arrangements about getting
Ogden's portrait painted. But, bother Lord Mountry. How did
we get sidetracked on to him? Tell me how you got Ogden
'It was extraordinarily easy, as it turned out, you see.'
'Ogden, darling,' observed Mrs Ford, 'don't go away. I want
you near me.'
'Oh, all right.'
'Then stay by me, angel-face.'
'Oh, slush!' muttered angel-face beneath his breath. 'Say, I'm
darned hungry,' he added.
It was if an electric shock had been applied to Mrs Ford. She
sprang to her feet.
'My poor child! Of course you must have some lunch. Ring
the bell, Cynthia. I'll have them send up some here.'
'I'll have mine here,' said Cynthia.
'Oh, you've had no lunch either! I was forgetting that.'
'I thought you were.'
'You must both lunch here.'
'Really,' said Cynthia, 'I think it would be better if Ogden
had his downstairs in the restaurant.'
'Want to talk scandal, eh?'
'Ogden, dearestV said Mrs Ford. 'Very well, Cynthia. Go,
Ogden. You will order yourself something substantial, marvel-
'Bet your life,' said the son and heir tersely.
There was a brief silence as the door closed. Cynthia gazed at
her friend with a peculiar expression.
'Well, I did it, dear,' she said.
'Yes. It's splendid. You're a wonder, darling.'
'Yes,' said Cynthia.
There was another silence.
'By the way,' said Mrs Ford, 'didn't you say there was a little
thing, a small bill, that was worrying you?'
'Did I mention it? Yes, there is. It's rather pressing. In fact,
it's taking up most of the horizon at present. Here it is.'
'Is it a large sum?' Mrs Ford took the slip of paper and gave
a slight gasp. Then, coming to the bureau, she took out her
'It's very kind of you, Nesta,' said Cynthia. 'They were be-
ginning to show quite a vindictive spirit about it.'
She folded the cheque calmly and put it in her purse.
'And now tell me how you did it,' said Mrs Ford.
She dropped into a chair and leaned back, her hands behind
her head. For the first time, she seemed to enjoy perfect peace
of mind. Her eyes half closed, as if she had been making ready
to listen to some favourite music.
Tell me from the very beginning,' she said softly.
Cynthia checked a yawn.
'Very well, dear,' she said. 'I caught the 10.20 to Eastnor,
which isn't a bad train, if you ever want to go down there.
I arrived at a quarter past twelve, and went straight up to
the house - you've never seen the house, of course?
It's quite charming - and told the butler that I wanted
lo see Mr Ford on business. I had taken the precaution
to find out that he was not there. He is at Droit-
'Rheumatism,' murmured Mrs Ford. 'He has it some-
'The man told me he was away, and then he seemed to think
that I ought to go. I stuck like a limpet. I sent him to fetch
Ogden's tutor. His name is Broster - Reggie Broster. He is a
very nice young man. Big, broad shoulders, and such a kind
'Yes, dear, yes?'
'I told him I was doing a series of drawings for a magazine of
the interiors of well-known country houses.'
'He believed you?'
'He believed everything. He's that kind of man. He believed
me when I told him that my editor particularly wanted me to
sketch the staircase. They had told me about the staircase at the
inn. I forget what it is exactly, but it's something rather special
'So you got in?'
'So I got in.'
'And saw Ogden?'
'Only for a moment - then Reggie - '
'Mr Broster. I always think of him as Reggie. He's one of
Nature's Reggies. Such a kind, honest face. Well, as I was
saying, Reggie discovered that it was time for lessons, and sent
'By himself! Reggie and I chatted for a while.'
Mrs Ford's eyes opened, brown and bright and hard.
'Mr Broster is not a proper tutor for my boy,' she said
'I suppose it was wrong of Reggie,' said Cynthia. 'But - 1 was
wearing this hat.'
'Well, after a time, I said I must be starting my work. He
wanted me to start with the room we were in. I said no, I was
going out into the grounds to sketch the house from the EAST. I
chose the EAST because it happens to be nearest the railway
station. I added that I supposed he sometimes took Ogden for a
little walk in the grounds. He said yes, he did, and it was just
about due. He said possibly he might come round my way. He
said Ogden would be interested in my sketch. He seemed to
think a lot of Ogden's fondness for art.'
'Mr Broster is not a proper tutor for my boy.'
'Well, he isn't your boy's tutor now, is he, dear?'
'What happened then?'
'I strolled off with my sketching things. After a while Reggie
and Ogden came up. I said I hadn't been able to work because I
had been frightened by a bull.'
'Did he believe thatT
'Certainly he believed it. He was most kind and sympathetic.
We had a nice chat. He told me all about himself. He used to be
very good at football. He doesn't play now, but he often thinks
of the past.'
'But he must have seen that you couldn't sketch. Then what
became of your magazine commission story?'
'Well, somehow the sketch seemed to get shelved. I didn't
even have to start it. We were having our chat, you see. Reggie
was telling me how good he had been at football when he was at
Oxford, and he wanted me to see a newspaper clipping of a
Varsity match he had played in. I said I'd love to see it. He said
it was in his suit-case in the house. So I promised to look after
Ogden while he fetched it. I sent him off to get it just in time for
us to catch the train. Off he went, and here we are. And now,
won't you order that lunch you mentioned? I'm starving.'
Mrs Ford rose. Half-way to the telephone she stopped sud-
'My dear child! It has only just struck me! We must leave
here at once. He will have followed you. He will guess that
Ogden has been kidnapped.'
'Believe me, it takes Reggie quite a long time to guess any-
thing. Besides, there are no trains for hours. We are quite
'Are you sure?'
'Absolutely. I made certain of that before I left.'
Mrs Ford kissed her impulsively.
'Oh, Cynthia, you really are wonderful!'
She started back with a cry as the bell rang sharply.
'For goodness' sake, Nesta,' said Cynthia, with irritation,
'do keep control of yourself. There's nothing to be frightened
about. I tell you Mr Broster can't possibly have got here in the
time, even if he knew where to go to, which I don't see how he
could. It's probably Ogden.'
The colour came back into Mrs Ford's cheeks.
'Why, of course.'
Cynthia opened the door.
'Come in, darling,' said Mrs Ford fondly. And a wiry little
man with grey hair and spectacles entered.
'Good afternoon, Mrs Ford,' he said. 'I have come to take
There are some situations in life so unexpected, so trying, that,
as far as concerns our opinion of those subjected to them, we
agree, as it were, not to count them; we refuse to allow the
victim's behaviour in circumstances so exacting to weigh with
us in our estimate of his or her character. We permit the great
general, confronted suddenly with a mad bull, to turn and run,
without forfeiting his reputation for courage. The bishop who,
stepping on a concealed slide in winter, entertains passers-by
with momentary rag-time steps, loses none of his dignity once
the performance is concluded.
In the same way we must condone the behaviour of Cynthia
Drassilis on opening the door of Mrs Ford's sitting-room and
admitting, not Ogden, but this total stranger, who accompanied
his entry with the remarkable speech recorded at the close of
the last section.
She was a girl who prided herself on her carefully blase and
supercilious attitude towards life; but this changeling was too
much for her. She released the handle, tottered back, and,
having uttered a discordant squeak of amazement, stood star-
ing, eyes and mouth wide open.
On Mrs Ford the apparition had a different effect. The rather
foolish smile of welcome vanished from her face as if wiped
away with a sponge. Her eyes, fixed and frightened like those of
a trapped animal, glared at the intruder. She took a step for-
'What - what do you mean by daring to enter my room?' she
The man held his ground, unmoved. His bearing was a
curious blend of diffidence and aggressiveness. He was deter-
mined, but apologetic. A hired assassin of the Middle Ages,
resolved to do his job loyally, yet conscious of causing incon-
venience to his victim, might have looked the same.
'I am sorry,' he said, 'but I must ask you to let me have the
boy, Mrs Ford.'
Cynthia was herself again now. She raked the intruder with
the cool stare which had so disconcerted Lord Mountry.
'Who is this gentleman?' she asked languidly.
The intruder was made of tougher stuff than his lordship. He
met her eye with quiet firmness.
'My name is Mennick,' he said. 'I am Mr Elmer Ford's pri-
'What do you want?' said Mrs Ford.
'I have already explained what I want, Mrs Ford. I want
Cynthia raised her eyebrows.
'What does he mean, Nesta? Ogden is not here.'
Mr Mennick produced from his breast-pocket a telegraph
form, and in his quiet, business-like way proceeded to straighten
"I have here,' he said, 'a telegram from Mr Broster, Ogden's
tutor. It was one of the conditions of his engagement that if
ever he was not certain of Ogden's whereabouts he should let
me know at once. He tells me that early this afternoon he left
Ogden in the company of a strange young lady' - Mr Mennick's
spectacles flashed for a moment at Cynthia - 'and that, when he
returned, both of them had disappeared. He made inquiries and
discovered that this young lady caught the 1.15 express to
London, Ogden with her. On receipt of this information I at
once wired to Mr Ford for instructions. I have his reply' - he
fished for and produced a second telegram - 'here.'
*I still fail to see what brings you here,' said Mrs Ford.
'Owing to the gross carelessness of his father's employees, my
son appears to have been kidnapped. That is no reason - '
*I will read Mr Ford's telegram,' proceeded Mr Mennick un-
moved. *It is rather long. I think Mr Ford is somewhat annoyed.
"The boy has obviously been stolen by some hireling of his
mother's." I am reading Mr Ford's actual words,' he said, ad-
dressing Cynthia with that touch of diffidence which had
marked his manner since his entrance.
'Don't apologize,' said Cynthia, with a short laugh. 'You're
not responsible for Mr Ford's rudeness.'
Mr Mennick bowed.
'He continued: "Remove him from her illegal restraint. If
necessary call in police and employ force."
'Charming!' said Mrs Ford.
'Practical,' said Mr Mennick. 'There is more. "Before doing
anything else sack that fool of a tutor, then go to Agency and
have them recommend good private school for boy. On no ac-
count engage another tutor. They make me tired. Fix all this to-
day. Send Ogden back to Eastnorwith Mrs Sheridan. She will stay
there with him till further notice." That is Mr Ford's message.'
Mr Mennick folded both documents carefully and replaced
them in his pocket.
Mrs Ford looked at the clock.
'And now, would you mind going, Mr Mennick?'
'I am sorry to appear discourteous, Mrs Ford, but I cannot
go without Ogden.'
*I shall telephone to the office to send up a porter to remove
*I shall take advantage of his presence to ask him to fetch a
In the excitement of combat the veneer of apologetic
diffidence was beginning to wear off Mr Mennick. He spoke
irritably. Cynthia appealed to his reason with the air of a bored
princess descending to argument with a groom.
'Can't you see for yourself that he's not here?' she said. 'Do
you think we are hiding him?'
'Perhaps you would like to search my bedroom?' said Mrs
Ford, flinging the door open.
Mr Mennick remained uncrushed.
'Quite unnecessary, Mrs Ford. I take it, from the fact that he
does not appear to be in this suite, that he is downstairs making
a late luncheon in the restaurant.'
'I shall telephone - '
'And tell them to send him up. Believe me, Mrs Ford, it is the
only thing to do. You have my deepest sympathy, but I am
employed by Mr Ford and must act solely in his interests. The
law is on my side. I am here to fetch Ogden away, and I am
going to have him.'
'I may add that, when I came up here, 1 I ;ft Mrs Sheridan -
she is a fellow-secretary of mine. You may remember Mr Ford
mentioning her in his telegram - I left her to search the res-
taurant and grill-room, with instructions to bring Ogden, if
found, to me in this room.'
The door-bell rang. He went to the door and opened it.
'Come in, Mrs Sheridan. Ah!'
A girl in a plain, neat blue dress entered the room. She was a
small, graceful girl of about twenty-five, pretty and brisk, with
the air of one accustomed to look after herself in a difficult
world. Her eyes were clear and steady, her mouth sensitive but
firm, her chin the chin of one who has met trouble and faced it
bravely. A little soldier.
She was shepherding Ogden before her, a gorged but still
sullen Ogden. He sighted Mr Mennick and stopped
'Hello!' he said. 'What have you blown in for?'
'He was just in the middle of his lunch,' said the girl. *I
thought you wouldn't mind if I let him finish.'
'Say, what's it all about, anyway?' demanded Ogden crossly.
'Can't a fellow have a bit of grub in peace? You give me a
Mr Mennick explained.
'Your father wishes you to return to Eastnor, Ogden.'
'Oh, all right. I guess I'd better go, then. Good-bye, ma.'
Mrs Ford choked.
'Kiss me, Ogden.'
Ogden submitted to the embrace in sulky silence. The others
comported themselves each after his or her own fashion. Mr
Mennick fingered his chin uncomfortably. Cynthia turned to
the table and picked up an illustrated paper. Mrs Sheridan's
eyes filled with tears. She took a half-step towards Mrs Ford, as
if about to speak, then drew back.
'Come, Ogden,' said Mr Mennick gruffly. Necessary, this
Hired Assassin work, but painful - devilish painful. He breathed
a sigh of relief as he passed into the corridor with his prize.
At the door Mrs Sheridan hesitated, stopped, and turned.
'I'm sorry,' she said impulsively.
Mrs Ford turned away without speaking, and went into the
Cynthia laid down her paper.
'One moment, Mrs Sheridan.'
The girl had turned to go. She stopped.
'Can you give me a minute? Come in and shut the door.
Won't you sit down? Very well. You seemed sorry for Mrs
Ford just now.'
'I am very sorry for Mrs Ford. Very sorry. I hate to see her
suffering. I wish Mr Mennick had not brought me into this.'
'Nesta's mad about that boy,' said Cynthia. 'Heaven knows
why. / never saw such a repulsive child in my life. However,
there it. is. I am sorry for you. I gathered from what Mr Men-
nick said that you were to have a good deal of Ogden's society
for some time to come. How do you feel about it?'
Mrs Sheridan moved towards the door.
'I must be going,' she said. 'Mr Mennick will be waiting for
'One moment. Tell me, don't you think, after what you saw
just now, that Mrs Ford is the proper person to have charge of
Ogden? You see how devoted she is to him?'
'May I be quite frank with you?'
'Well, then, I think that Mrs Ford's influence is the worst
possible for Ogden. I am sorry for her, but that does not alter
my opinion. It is entirely owing to Mrs Ford that Ogden is what
he is. She spoiled him, indulged him in every way, never
checked him - till he has become - well, what you yourself
called him, repulsive.'
'Oh well,' she said, 'I only talked that mother's love stuff
because you looked the sort of girl who would like it. We can
drop all that now, and come down to business.'
'I don't understand you.'
'You will. I don't know if you think that I kidnapped Ogden
from sheer affection for Mrs Ford. I like Nesta, but not as
much as that. No. I'm one of the Get-Rich-Quick-Wallingfords,
and I'm looking out for myself all the time. There's no one else
to do it for me. I've a beastly home. My father's dead. My
mother's a cat. So - '
'Please stop,' said Mrs Sheridan. 'I don't know why you are
telling me all this.'
'Yes, you do. I don't know what salary Mr Ford pays you,
but I don't suppose it's anything princely. Why don't you come
over to us? Mrs Ford would give you the earth if you smuggled
Ogden back to her.'
'You seem to be trying to bribe me,' said Mrs Sheridan.
'In this case,' said Cynthia, 'appearances aren't deceptive. I
'Don't be a little fool.'
The door slammed.
'Come back!' cried Cynthia. She took a step as if to follow,
but gave up the idea with a laugh. She sat down and began to
read her illustrated paper again. Presently the bedroom door
opened. Mrs Ford came in. She touched her eyes with a
handkerchief as she entered. Cynthia looked up.
Tm very sorry, Nesta,' she said.
Mrs Ford went to the window and looked out.
Tm not going to break down, if that's what you mean,' she
said. 'I don't care. And, anyhow, it shows that it can be done.'
Cynthia turned a page of her paper.
'I've just been trying my hand at bribery and corruption.'
'What do you mean?'
'Oh, I promised and vowed many things in your name to that
secretary person, the female one - not Mennick - if she would
help us. Nothing doing. I told her to let us have Ogden as soon
as possible, C.O.D., and she withered me with a glance and went.*
Mrs Ford shrugged her shoulders impatiently.
'Oh, let her go. I'm sick of amateurs.'
'Thank you, dear,' said Cynthia.
'Oh, I know you did your best. For an amateur you did
wonderfully well. But amateurs never really succeed. There
were a dozen little easy precautions which we neglected to take.
What we want is a professional; a man whose business is kid-
napping; the sort of man who kidnaps as a matter of course;
someone like Smooth Sam Fisher.'
'My dear Nesta! Who? I don't think I know the gentle-
'He tried to kidnap Ogden in 1906, when we were in New
York. At least, the police put it down to him, though they could
prove nothing. Then there was a horrible man, the police said
he was called Buck MacGinnis. He tried in 1907. That was in
'Good gracious! Kidnapping Ogden seems to be as popular as
football. And I thought I was a pioneer!'
Something approaching pride came into Mrs Ford's voice.
'I don't suppose there's a child in America,' she said, 'who has
had to be so carefully guarded. Why, the kidnappers had a
special name for him - they called him' "The Little Nugget".
For years we never allowed him out of our sight without a
detective to watch him.'
'Well, Mr Ford seems to have changed all that now. I saw no
detectives. I suppose he thinks they aren't necessary in England.
Or perhaps he relied on Mr Broster. Poor Reggie!'
'It was criminally careless of him. This will be a lesson to
him. He will be more careful in future how he leaves Ogden at
the mercy of anybody who cares to come alongand snap him up.'
'Which, incidentally, does not make your chance of getting
him away any lighter.'
'Oh, I've given up hope now,' said Mrs Ford resignedly.
7 haven't,' said Cynthia.
There was something in her voice which made her companion
turn sharply and look at her. Mrs Ford might affect to be re-
signed, but she was a woman of determination, and if the recent
reverse had left her bruised, it had by no means crushed her.
'Cynthia! What do you mean? What are you hinting?'
'You despise amateurs, Nesta, but, for all that, it seems that
your professionals who kidnap as a matter of course and all the
rest of it have not been a bit more successful. It was not my
want of experience that made me fail. It was my sex. This is
man's work. If I had been a man, I should at least have had
brute force to fall back upon when Mr Mennick arrived.'
Mrs Ford nodded.
'Yes, but - '
'And,' continued Cynthia, 'as all these Smooth Sam Fishers
of yours have failed too, it is obvious that the only way to
kidnap Ogden is from within. We must have some man working
for us in the enemy's camp.'
'Which is impossible,' said Mrs Ford dejectedly.
'Not at all.'
'You know a man?'
*I know the man.'
'Cynthia! What do you mean? Who is he?'
'His name is Peter Burns.'
Mrs Ford shook her head.
'I don't know him.'
Til introduce you. You'll like him.'
'But, Cynthia, how do you know he would be willing to help
4 He would do it for me,' Cynthia paused. 'You see,' she went
on, 'we are engaged to be married.'
'My dear Cynthia! Why did you not tell me? When did it
'Last night at the Fletchers' dance.'
Mrs Ford's eyes opened.
'Last night! Were you at a dance last night? And two railway
journeys today! You must be tired to death. 1
'Oh, I'm all right, thanks. I suppose I shall be a wreck and not
fit to be seen tomorrow, but just at present I feel as if nothing
could tire me. It's the effect of being engaged, perhaps.'
Tell me about him.'
'Well, he's rich, and good-looking, and amiable' - Cynthia
ticked off these qualities on her fingers - 'and I think he's brave,
and he's certainly not so stupid as Mr Broster.'
'And you're very much in love with him?'
'I like him. There's no harm in Peter.'
'You certainly aren't wildly enthusiastic!'
'Oh, we shall hit it off quite well together. I needn't pose to
you, Nesta, thank goodness! That's one reason why I'm fond of
you. You know how I am situated. I've got to marry some one
rich, and Peter's quite the nicest rich man I've ever met. He's
really wonderfully unselfish. I can't understand it. With his
money, you would expect him to be a perfect horror.'
A thought seemed to strike Mrs Ford.
'But, if he's so rich - ' she began. 'I forget what I was going to
say,' she broke off.
'Dear Nesta, I know what you were going to say. If he's so
rich, why should he be marrying me, when he could take his
pick of half London? Well, I'll tell you. He's marrying me for
one reason, because he's sorry for me: for another, be-
cause I had the sense to make him. He didn't think he was going
to marry anyone. A few years ago he had a disappointment.
A girl jilted him. She must have been a fool. He thought he
was going to live the rest of his life alone with his broken
heart. I didn't mean to allow that. It's taken a long time - over
two years, from start to finish - but I've done it. He's a
sentimentalist. I worked on his sympathy, and last night I
made him propose to me at the Fletchers' dance.'
Mrs Ford had not listened to these confidences unmoved.
Several times she had tried to interrupt, but had been brushed
aside. Now she spoke sharply.
*You know I was no* Ang to say anything of the kind. And I
don't think you she s ^ak in this horrible, cynical way of -
She stopped, ft t . There were moments when she hated
Cynthia. These : - ;d for the most part when the latter, as
now, stirred he; E? exhibition of honest feeling which she
looked on as ratV becoming. Mrs Ford had spent twenty
years trying to i .at her husband had married her from
behind the counter < ~, general store in an Illinois village, and
these lapses into tht, ^cultivated genuineness of her girlhood
made her uncomfortable.
4 I wasn't going to say anything of the kind,' she repeated.
Cynthia was all smiling good-humour.
4 I know. I was only teasing you. "Stringing", they call it in
your country, don't they?'
Mrs Ford was mollified.
Tm sorry, Cynthia. I didn't mean to snap at you. All the
same . . .' She hesitated. What she wanted to ask smacked so
dreadfully of Mechanicsville, Illinois. Yet she put the question
bravely, for she was somehow feeling quite troubled about this
unknown Mr Burns. 'Aren't you really fond of him at all,
'Of course I am! He's a dear. Nothing would make me
give him up. I'm devoted to old Peter. I only told you all
that about him because it shows you how kind-hearted he
is. He'll do anything for me. Well, shall I sound him about
The magic word took Mrs Ford's mind off the matrimonial
future of Mr Burns, and brought him into prominence in his
capacity of knight-errant. She laughed happily. The con-
templation of Mr Burns as knight-errant healed the sting of
defeat. The affair of Mr Mennick began to appear in the light
of a mere skirmish.
'You take my breath away!' she said. 'How do you propose
that Mr Burns shall help us?'
'It's perfectly simple. You heard Mr Mennick read that tele-
gram. Ogden is to be sent to a private school. Peter shall go
'But how? I don't understand. We don't know which school
Mr Mennick will choose.'
'We can very soon find out.'
'But how can Mr Burns go there?'
'Nothing easier. He will be a young man who has been left a
little money and wants to start a school of his own. He goes to
Ogden 's man and suggests that he pay a small premium to come
to him for a term as an extra-assistant-master, to learn the
business. Mr Man will jump at him. He will be getting the
bargain of his life. Peter didn't get much of a degree at Oxford,
but I believe he was wonderful at games. From a private-school
point of view he's a treasure.'
'But -would he do it?'
'I think I can persuade him.'
Mrs Ford kissed her with an enthusiasm which hitherto she
had reserved for Ogden.
'My darling girl,' she cried, 'if you knew how happy you have
'I do,' said Cynthia definitely. 'And now you can do the same
'Anything, anything! You must have some more hats.'
'I don't want any more hats. I want to go with you on Lord
Mountry's yacht to the Riviera.'
'Of course,' said Mrs Ford after a slight pause, 'it isn't my
party, you know, dear.'
'No. But you can work me in, darling.'
'It's quite a small party. Very quiet.'
'Crowds bore me. I enjoy quiet.'
Mrs Ford capitulated.
'I fancy you are doing me a very good turn,' she said. 'You
must certainly come on the yacht.'
'I'll tell Peter to come straight round here now,' said Cynthia
simply. She went to the telephone.
In which other interested parties, notably one
Buck MacGinnis and a trade rival, Smooth
Sam Fisher, make other plans for the Nugget's
future. Of stirring times at a private school for
young gentlemen. Of stratagems, spoils, and
alarms by night. Of journeys ending in lovers'
meetings. The whole related by Mr Peter Burns,
gentleman of leisure, who forfeits that leisure
in a good cause
Peter Burns's Narrative
I am strongly of the opinion that, after the age of twenty-one, a
man ought not to be out of bed and awake at four in the
morning. The hour breeds thought. At twenty-one, life being all
future, it may be examined with impunity. But, at thirty, having
become an uncomfortable mixture of future and past, it is a
thing to be looked at only when the sun is high and the world
full of warmth and optimism.
This thought came to me as I returned to my rooms after the
Fletchers' ball. The dawn was breaking as I let myself in. The
air was heavy with the peculiar desolation of a London winter
morning. The houses looked dead and untenanted. A cart
rumbled past, and across the grey street a dingy black cat,
moving furtively along the pavement, gave an ? -'Jonal touch
of forlornness to the scene.
I shivered. I was tired and hungry, and the -ruction after the
emotions of the night had left me dispirited.
I was engaged to be married. An hour back I had proposed to
Cynthia Drassilis. And I can honestly say that it had come as a
great surprise to me.
Why had I done it? Did I love her? It was so difficult to
analyse love: and perhaps the mere fact that I was attempting
the task was an answer to the question. Certainly I had never
tried to do so five years ago when I had loved Audrey Blake. I
had let myself be carried on from day to day in a sort of trance,
content to be utterly happy, without dissecting my happiness.
But I was five years younger then, and Audrey was - Audrey.
I must explain Audrey, for she in her turn explains Cyn-
I have no illusions regarding my character when I first met
Audrey Blake. Nature had given me the soul of a pig, and
circumstances had conspired to carry on Nature's work. I loved
comfort, and I could afford to have it. From the moment I
came of age and relieved my trustees of the care of my money,
I wrapped myself in comfort as in a garment. I wallowed in
egoism. In fact, if, between my twenty-first and my twenty-fifth
birthdays, I had one unselfish thought, or did one genuinely
unselfish action, my memory is a blank on the point.
It was at the height of this period that I became engaged to
Audrey. Now that I can understand her better and see myself,
impartially, as I was in those days, I can realize how inde-
scribably offensive I must have been. My love was real, but that
did not prevent its patronizing complacency being an insult. I
was King Cophetua. If I did not actually say in so many words,
This beggar-maid shall be my queen', I said it plainly and often
in my manner. She was the daughter of a dissolute, evil-tem-
pered artist whom I had met at a Bohemian club. He made a
living by painting an occasional picture, illustrating an oc-
casional magazine-story, but mainly by doing advertisement
work. A proprietor of a patent Infants' Food, not satisfied with
the bare statement that Baby Cried For It, would feel it neces-
sary to push the fact home to the public through the medium of
Art, and Mr Blake would be commissioned to draw the picture.
A good many specimens of his work in this vein were to be
found in the back pages of the magazines.
A man may make a living by these means, but it is one that
inclines him to jump at a wealthy son-in-law. Mr Blake jumped
at me. It was one of his last acts on this earth. A week after he
had - as I now suspect - bullied Audrey into accepting me, he
died of pneumonia.
His death had several results. It postponed the wedding: it
stirred me to a very crescendo of patronage, for with the re-
moval of the bread-winner the only flaw in my Cophetua pose
had vanished: and it gave Audrey a great deal more scope than
she had hitherto been granted for the exercise of free will in the
choice of a husband.
This last aspect of the matter was speedily brought to my
notice, which till then it had escaped, by a letter from her,
handed to me one night at the club, where I was sipping coffee
and musing on the excellence of life in this best of all possible
It was brief and to the point. She had been married that
To say that that moment was a turning point in my life would
be to use a ridiculously inadequate phrase. It dynamited my
life. In a sense it killed me. The man I had been died that night,
regretted, I imagine, by few. Whatever I am today, I am cer-
tainly not the complacent spectator of life that I had been
before that night.
I crushed the letter in my hand, and sat staring at it, my
pigsty in ruins about my ears, face to face with the fact that,
even in a best of all possible worlds, money will not buy every-
I remember, as I sat there, a man, a club acquaintance, a bore
from whom I had fled many a time, came and settled down
beside me and began to talk. He was a small man, but he pos-
sessed a voice to which one had to listen. He talked and talked
and talked. How I loathed him, as I sat trying to think through
his stream of words. I see now that he saved me. He forced me
out of myself. But at the time he oppressed me. I was raw and
bleeding. I was struggling to grasp the incredible. I had taken
Audrey's unalterable affection for granted. She was the natural
complement to my scheme of comfort. I wanted her; I had
chosen and was satisfied with her, therefore all was well. And
now I had to adjust my mind to the impossible fact that I had
Her letter was a mirror in which I saw myself. She said little,
but I understood, and my self-satisfaction was in ribbons - and
something deeper than self-satisfaction. I saw now that I loved
her as I had not dreamed myself capable of loving.
And all the while this man talked and talked.
I have a theory that speech, persevered in, is more efficacious
in times of trouble than silent sympathy. Up to a certain point
it maddens almost beyond endurance; but, that point past, it
soothes. At least, it was so in my case. Gradually I found myself
hating him less. Soon I began to listen, then to answer. Before I
left the club that night, the first mad frenzy, in which I could have
been capable of anything, had gone from me, and I walked home,
feeling curiously weak and helpless, but calm, to begin the
Three years passed before I met Cynthia. I spent those years
wandering in many countries. At last, as one is apt to do, I drifted
back to London, and settled down again to a life which, super-
ficially, was much the same as the one I had led in the days before I
knew Audrey. My old circle in London had been wide, and I found
it easy to pick up dropped threads. I made new friends, among them
I liked Cynthia, and I was sorry for her. I think that, about that
time I met her, I was sorry for most people. The shock of Audrey's
departure had had that effect upon me. It is always the bad nigger
who gets religion most strongly at the camp-meeting, and in my
case 'getting religion' had taken the form of suppression of self. I
never have been able to do things by halves, or even with a decent
moderation. As an egoist I had been thorough in my egoism ; and
now, fate having bludgeoned that vice out of me, I found myself
possessed of an almost morbid sympathy with the troubles of other
I was extremely sorry for Cynthia Drassilis. Meeting her
mother frequently, I could hardly fail to be. Mrs Drassilis was a
representative of a type I disliked. She was a widow, who had
been left with what she considered insufficient means, and her
outlook on life was a compound of greed and querulousness.
Sloane Square and South Kensington are full of women in her
situation. Their position resembles that of the Ancient Mariner.
'Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink/ For 'water'
in their case substitute 'money'. Mrs Drassilis was connected
with money on all sides, but could only obtain it in rare and
minute quantities. Any one of a dozen relations-in-law could, if
they had wished, have trebled her annual income without feel-
ing it. But they did not so wish. They disapproved of Mrs Dras-
silis. In their opinion the Hon. Hugo Drassilis had married
beneath him not so far beneath him as to make the thing a
horror to be avoided in conversation and thought, but far
enough to render them coldly polite to his wife during his life-
time and almost icy to his widow after his death. Hugo's eldest
brother, the Earl of Westbourne, had never liked the obviously
beautiful, but equally obviously second-rate, daughter of a
provincial solicitor whom Hugo had suddenly presented to the
family one memorable summer as h'~ bride. He considered that,
by doubling the income derived fro Hugo's life-insurance and
inviting Cynthia to the family seat c ce a year during her child
hood, he had done all that could ^e expected of him in the
He had not. Mrs Drassilis expected a great deal more of him,
the non-receipt of which had spoiled her temper, her looks, and
the peace of mind of all who had anything much to do with
It used to irritate me when I overheard people, as I occasion
ally have done, speak of Cynthia as hard. I never found her so
myself, though heaven knows she had enough to make her so.
To me she was always a sympathetic, charming friend.
Ours was a friendship almost untouched by sex. Our minds
fitted so smoothly into one another that I had no inclination to
fall in love. 1 knew her too well. I had no discoveries to make
about her Her honest, simple soul had always been open to me
to read. There was none ot that curiosity, that sense of some-
thing beyond that makes tor love. We had reached a point of
comradeship beyond which neither of us desired to pass.
Yet at the Fletchers' ball I asked Cynthia to marry me, and
Looking back, I can see that, though the determining cause
was Mr Tankerville Gifford, it was Audrey who was re-
sponsible She had made me human, capable of sympathy, and
it was sympathy, primarily, that led me to say what I said that
But the immediate cause was certainly young Mr Gifford.
I arrived at Marlow Square, where I was to pick up Cynthia
and her mother, a little late, and found Mrs Drassilis, florid and
overdressed, in the drawing-room with a sleek-haired, pale
young man known to me as Tankerville Gifford - to his inti-
mates, of whom I was not one, and in the personal paragraphs
of the coloured sporting weeklies, as 'Tanky'. I had seen him
frequently at restaurants. Once, at the Empire, somebody had
introduced me to him; but, as he had not been sober at the
moment, he had missed any intellectual pleasure my acquaint-
anceship might have afforded him. Like everybody else who
moves about in London, I knew all bout him. To sum him up,
he was a most unspeakable little cad, and, if the drawing-room
had not been Mrs Drassilis's, I should have wondered at finding
him in it.
Mrs Drassilis introduced us.
'I think we have already met,' I said.
He stared glassily.
I was not surprised.
At this moment Cynthia came in. Out of the corner of my eye
I observed a look of fuddled displeasure come into Tanky's
face at her frank pleasure at seeing me.
I had never seen her looking better. She is a tall girl, who
carries herself magnificently. The simplicity of her dress gained
an added dignity from comparison with the rank glitter of her
mother's. She wore unrelieved black, a colour which set off to
wonderful advantage the clear white of her skin and her pale-
'You're late, Peter, 1 she said, looking at the clock.
'I know. I'm sorry. 1
'Better be pushing, what?' suggested Tanky.
'My cab's waiting.'
'Will you ring the bell, Mr Gifford?' said Mrs Drassilis. 'I will
tell Parker to whistle for another.*
Take me in yours.' I heard a voice whisper in my ear.
I looked at Cynthia. Her expression had not changed. Then 1
looked at Tanky Gilford, and I understood. I had seen that
stuffed-fish look on his face before - on the occasion when I had
been introduced to him at the Empire.
'If you and Mr Gifford will take my cab,* I said to Mrs
Drassilis, 'we will follow/
Mrs Drassilis blocked the motion. I imagine that the sharp
note in her voice was lost on Tanky, but it rang out like a
clarion to me.
'I am in no hurry,' she said. 'Mr Gifford, will you take
Cynthia? I will follow with Mr Burns. You will meet Parker
on the stairs. Tell him to call another cab.'
As the door closed behind them, she turned on me like a
'How can you be so extraordinarily tactless, Peter?' she cried.
4 You're a perfect fool. Have you no eyes?'
Tm sorry,' I said.
'He's devoted to her.'
'What do you mean?'
'Sorry for her.'
She seemed to draw herself together inside her dress. Her eyes
glittered. My mouth felt very dry, and my heart was beginning
to thump. We were both furiously angry. It was a moment that
had been coming for years, and we both knew it. For my part
I was glad that it had come. On subjects on which one feels
deeply it is a relief to speak one's mind.
'Oh!' she said at last. Her voice quivered. She was clutching
at her self-control as it slipped from her. 'Oh! And what is my
daughter to you, Mr Burns!'
*A great friend.'
'And I suppose you think it friendly to try to spoil her
'If Mr Gifford is a sample of them - yes.'
'What do you mean?'
'I see. I understand. I am going to put a stop to this once and
for all. Do you hear? I have noticed it for a long time. Because I
have given you the run of the house, and allowed you to come
in and out as you pleased, like a tame cat, you ^resume - '
'Presume - ' I prompted.
'You come here and stand in Cynthia's way. You trade on the
fact that you have known us all this time to monopolize her
attention. You spoil her chances. You - '
The invaluable Parker entered to say that the cab was at the
We drove to the Fletchers' house in silence. The spell had
been broken. Neither of us could recapture that first, fine, care-
less rapture which had carried us through the opening stages of
the conflict, and discussion of the subject on a less exalted plane
was impossible. It was that blessed period of calm, the rest
between rounds, and we observed it to the full.
When I reached the ballroom a waltz was just finishing.
Cynthia, a statue in black, was dancing with Tanky Gifford.
They were opposite me when the music stopped, and she caught
sight of me over his shoulder.
She disengaged herself and moved quickly towards me.
'Take me away,' she said under her breath. 'Anywhere.
It was no time to consider the etiquette of the ballroom.
Tanky, startled at his sudden loneliness, seemed by his ex-
pression to be endeavouring to bring his mind to bear on the
matter. A couple making for the door cut us off from him, and
following them, we passed out.
Neither of us spoke till we had reached the little room where I
She sat down. She was looking pale and tired.
'Oh, dear!' she said.
I understood. I seemed to see that journey in the cab, those
dances, those terrible between-dances . . ,
It was very sudden.
I took her hand. She turned to me with a tired smile. There
were tears in her eyes . . .
I heard myself speaking . . .
She was looking at me, her eyes shining. All the weariness
seemed to have gone out of them.
I looked at her.
There was something missing. I had felt it when I was speak-
ing. To me my voice had had no ring of conviction. And then I
saw what it was. There was no mystery. We knew each other
too well. Friendship kills love.
She put my thought into words.
'We have always been brother and sister/ she said doubt-
'You have changed tonight? You really want me?'
Did I? I tried to put the question to myself and answer it
honestly. Yes, in a sense, I had changed tonight. There was an
added appreciation of her fineness, a quickening of that blend
of admiration and pity which I had always felt for her. I wanted
with all my heart to help her, to take her away from her dread-
ful surroundings, to make her happy. But did I want her in the
sense in which she had used the word? Did I want her as I
had wanted Audrey Blake? I winced away from the question.
Audrey belonged to the dead past, but it hurt to think
Was it merely because I was five years older now than when I
had wanted Audrey that the fire had gone out of me?
I shut my mind against my doubts.
'I have changed tonight/ I said.
And I bent down and kissed her.
I was conscious of being defiant against somebody. And then
I knew that the somebody was myself.
I poured myself out a cup of hot coffee from the flask which
Smith, my man, had filled against my return. It put life into me.
The oppression lifted.
And yet there remained something that made for uneasiness,
a sort of foreboding at the back of my mind.
I had taken a step in the dark, and I was afraid for Cynthia.
I had undertaken to give her happiness. Was I certain that I
could succeed? The glow of chivalry had left me, and I began to
Audrey had taken from me something that I could not re-
cover - poetry was as near as I could get to a definition of it.
Yes, poetry. With Cynthia my feet would always be on the solid
earth. To the end of the chapter we should be friends and
I found myself pitying Cynthia intensely. I saw her future a
series of years of intolerable dullness. She was too good to be
tied for life to a battered hulk like myself.
I drank more coffee and my mood changed. Even in the grey
of a winter morning a man of thirty, in excellent health, cannot
pose to himself for long as a piece of human junk, especially if
he comforts himself with hot coffee.
My mind resumed its balance. I laughed at myself as a sen-
timental fraud. Of course I could make her happy. No man and
woman had ever been more admirably suited to each other. As
for that first disaster, which I had been magnifying into a life-
tragedy, what of it? An incident of my boyhood. A ridiculous
episode which - I rose with the intention of doing so at once - I
should now proceed to eliminate from my life.
I went quickly to my desk, unlocked it, and took out a photo-
And then - undoubtedly four o'clock in the morning is no
time for a man to try to be single-minded and decisive - I
wavered. I had intended to tear the thing in pieces without a
glance, and fling it into the wastepaper-basket. But I took the
glance and I hesitated.
The girl in the photograph was small and slight, and she
looked straight out of the ptcture with large eyes that met and
challenged mine. How well I remembered them, those Irish-
blue eyes under their expressive, rather heavy brows. How
exactly the photographer had caught that half-wistful, half-im-
pudent look, the chin tilted* the mouth curving into a smile.
In a wave all my doubts had surged back upon me. Was this
mere sentimentalism, a four-in-the-morning tribute to the
pathos of the flying years, or did she really fill my soul and
stand guard over it so that no successor could enter in and usurp
I had no answer, unless the fact that I replaced the photo-
graph in its drawer was one. I felt that this thing could not be
decided now. It was more difficult than I had thought.
All my gloom had returned by the time I was in bed. Hours
seemed to pass while I tossed restlessly aching for sleep.
When I woke my last coherent thought was still clear in my
mind. It was a passionate vow that, come what might, if those
Irish eyes were to haunt me till my death, 1 would play the
game loyally with Cynthia.
The telephone bell rang just as I was getting ready to call at
Marlow Square and inform Mrs Drassilis ot the position of
affairs. Cynthia, I imagined, would have broken the news
already, which would mitigate the embarrassment of the inter-
view to some extent; but the recollection of my last night's
encounter with Mrs Drassilis prevented me from looking for
ward with any joy to the prospect of meeting her again.
Cynthia's voice greeted me as I unhooked the receiver.
'Hullo, Peter! Is that you? I want you to come round here at
'I was just starting,' I said.
'I don't mean Marlow Square I'm not there. I'm at the
Guelph. Ask for Mrs Ford's suite It's very important I'll tell
you all aboitf it vhen y^ 6 et Here. Come as soon as you can."
ft W4V 'rooms were conveniently situated for visits to the Hotel
Guelph. A walk of a couple of minutes took me there. Mrs
Ford's suite was on the third floor. I rang the bell and Cynthia
opened the door to me.
'Come in,' she said. 'You're a dear to be so quick.'
'My rooms are only just round the corner." 1
She shut the door, and for the first time we looked at one
another. I could not say that I was nervous, but there was cer-
tainly, to me, a something strange in the atmosphere. Last night
seemed a long way off and somehow a little unreal. I suppose 1
must have shown this in my manner, for she suddenly broke
what had amounted to a distinct pause by giving a little
'Peter,' she said, 'you're embarrassed.'
I denied the charge warmly, but without real conviction. 1
'Then you ought to be,* she said 'Last night, when I was
looking my very best in a lovely dress, you asked me to marry
you. Now you see me again in cold blood, and you're wondering
how you can back out of it without hurting my feelings.'
I smiled. She did not. I ceased to smile. She was looking at me
in a very peculiar manner.
'Peter,' she said, 'are you sure?'
'My dear old Cynthia,' I said, 'what's the matter with
'You are sure?' she persisted.
'Absolutely, entirely sure.' I had a vision of two large eyes
looking at me out of a photograph. It came and went in a
I kissed Cynthia.
'What quantities of hair you have,' I said. 'It's a shame to
cover it up.' She was not responsive. 'You're in a very queer
mood today, Cynthia,' I went on. 'What's the matter?'
'I've been thinking.'
'Out with it. Something has gone wrong.' An idea flashed
upon me. 'Er - has your mother - is your mother very angry
about - '
'Mother's delighted. She alwayj liLv$ vou, Peter-'
I had the self -restraint to check a grin.
'Then what is it?' I said. 'Tired after the dance?'
'Nothing as simple as that.'
'It's so difficult to put it into words.'
She was playing with the papers on the table, her face turned
away. For a moment she did not speak.
'I've been worrying myself, Peter,' she said at last. 'You are
so chivalrous and unselfish. You're quixotic. It's that that is
troubling me. Are you marrying me just because you're sorry
for me? Don't speak. I can tell you now if you will just let me
say straight out what's in my mind. We have known each other
for two years now. You know all about me. You know how -
how unhappy I am at home. Are you marrying me just because
you pity me and want to take me out of all that?'
'My dear girl!'
'You haven't answered my question.'
'I answered it two minutes ago when you asked me if - '
'You do love me?'
All this time she had been keeping her face averted, but now
she turned and looked into my eyes with an abrupt intensity
which, I confess, startled me. Her words startled me more.
'Peter, do you love me as much as you loved Audrey Blake?'
In the instant which divided her words from my reply my
mind flew hither and thither, trying to recall an occasion when I
could have mentioned Audrey to her. I was convinced that I
had not done so. I never mentioned Audrey to anyone.
There is a grain of superstition in the most level-headed man.
I am not particularly level-headed, and I have more than a
grain in me. I was shaken. Ever since I had asked Cynthia to
marry me, it seemed as if the ghost of Audrey had come back
into my life.
'Good Lord!' I cried. 'What do you know of Audrey
She turned her face away again.
'Her name seems to affect you very strongly,' she said
I recovered myself.
'If you ask an old soldier,' I said, 'he will tell you that a
wound, long after it has healed, is apt to give you an occasional
'Not if it has really healed.'
'Yes, when it has really healed - when you can hardly remem-
ber how you were fool enough to get it.'
She said nothing.
'How did you hear about - it?' I asked.
'When I first met you, or soon after, a friend of yours - we
happened to be talking about you - told me that you had been
engaged to be married to a girl named Audrey Blake. He was to
have been your best man, he said, but one day you wrote and
told him there would be no wedding, and then you disappeared;
and nobody saw you again for three years.'
'Yes,' I said: 'that is all quite true.'
'It seems to have been a serious affair, Peter. I mean - the sort
of thing a man would find it hard to forget.'
I tried to smile, but I knew that I was not doing it well. It was
hurting me extraordinarily, this discussion of Audrey.
'A man would find it almost impossible,' I said, 4 unless he had
a remarkably poor memory.'
*I didn't mean that. You know what I mean by forget.'
'Yes,' I said, 1 do.'
She came quickly to me and took me by the shoulders, look-
ing into my face.
'Peter, can you honestly say you have forgotten her - in the
sense I mean?'
'Yes,' I said.
Again that feeling swept over me - that curious sensation of
being defiant against myself.
'She does not stand between us?'
'No,' I said.
I could feel the effort behind the word. It was as if some
subconscious part of me were working to keep it back.
There was a soft smile on her face; as she raised it to mine I
put my arms around her.
She drew away with a little laugh. Her whole manner had
changed. She was a different being from the girl who had
looked so gravely into my eyes a moment before.
'Oh, my dear boy, how terribly muscular you are! You've
crushed me. I expect you used to be splendid at football, like
I did not reply at once. I cannot wrap up the deeper emotions
and put them back on their shelf directly I have no further
immediate use for them. I slowly adjusted myself to the new
key of the conversation.
'Who's Broster?' I asked at length.
'He used to be tutor to' - she turned me round and pointed -
'to that. 9
I had seen a picture standing on one of the chairs when I
entered the room but had taken no particular notice of it. I now
gave it a closer glance. It was a portrait, very crudely done,
of a singularly repulsive child of about ten or eleven years
'Was he, poor chap! Well, we all have our troubles, don't we!
Who is this young thug! Not a friend of yours, I hope?'
That is Ogden, Mrs Ford's son. It's a tragedy - *
'Perhaps it doesn't do him justice. Does he really squint like
that, or is it just the artist's imagination?'
'Don't make fun of it. It's the loss of that boy that is breaking
I was shocked.
'Is he dead? I'm awfully sorry. I wouldn't for the world - '
'No, no. He is alive and well. But he is dead to her. The court
gave him into the custody of his father.'
'Mrs Ford was the wife of Elmer Ford, the American
millionaire. They were divorced a year ago.'
Cynthia was gazing at the portrait.
This boy is quite a celebrity in his way,' she said. They call
him 'The Little Nugget" in America.'
'Oh! Why is that?'
'It's a nickname the kidnappers have for him. Ever so many
attempts have been made to steal him.'
She stopped and looked at me oddly.
'I made one today, Peter,' she said. 'I went down to the
country, where the boy was, and kidnapped him.'
'Cynthia! What on earth do you mean?'
'Don't you understand? I did it for Nesta's sake. She was
breaking her heart about not being able to see him, so
I slipped down and stole him away, and brought him back
I do not know if I was looking as amazed as I felt. I hope not,
for I felt as if my brain were giving way. The perfect calmness
with which she spoke of this extraordinary freak added to my
'No; I stole him.'
'But, good heavens! The law! It's a penal offence, you
'Well, I did it. Men like Elmer Ford aren't fit to have charge
of a child. You don't know him, but he's just an unscrupulous
financier, without a thought above money. To think of a boy
growing up in that tainted atmosphere - at his most impression-
able age. It means death to any good there is in him.'
My mind was still grappling feebly with the legal aspect of
'But, Cynthia, kidnapping's kidnapping, you know! The law
doesn't take any notice of motives. If you're caught - '
She cut through my babble.
'Would you have been afraid to do it, Peter?'
'Well - ' I began. I had not considered the point before.
'I don't believe you would. If I asked you to do it for my
sake - '
'But, Cynthia, kidnapping, you know! It's such an infernally
'I played it. Do you despise meT
I perspired. I could think of no other reply.
'Peter,' she said, 'I understand your scruples. I know exactly
how you feel. But can't you see that this is quite different from
the sort of kidnapping you naturally look on as horrible? It's
just taking a boy away from surroundings that must harm him,
back to his mother, who worships him. It's not wrong. It's
'You will do it for me, Peter?' she said.
'I don't understand,' I said feebly. 'It's done. You've kid-
napped him yourself.'
'They tracked him and took him back. And now I want you
to try.' She came closer to me. 'Peter, don't you see what it will
mean to me if you agree to try? I'm only human, I can't help, at
the bottom of my heart, still being a little jealous of this Audrey
Blake. No, don't say anything. Words can't cure me; but if you
do this thing for me, I shall be satisfied. I shall know. 9
She was close beside me, holding my arm and looking into
my face. That sense of the unreality of things which had
haunted me since that moment at the dance came over me with
renewed intensity. Life had ceased to be a rather grey, orderly
business in which day succeeded day calmly and without event.
Its steady stream had broken up into rapids, and I was being
whirled away on them.
'Will you do it, Peter? Say you will.'
A voice, presumably mine, answered 'Yes'.
*My dear old boy!'
She pushed me into a chair, and, sitting on the arm of it, laid
her hand on mine and became of a sudden wondrously
'Listen,' she said, Til tell you what we have arranged.'
It was borne in upon me, as she began to do so, that she
appeared from the very beginning to have been extremely
confident that that essential part of her plans, my consent to the
scheme, could be relied upon as something of a certainty.
Women have these intuitions.
Looking back, I think I can fix the point at which this insane
venture I had undertaken ceased to be a distorted dream, from
which I vaguely hoped that I might shortly waken, and took
shape as a reality of the immediate future. That moment came
when I met Mr Arnold Abney by appointment at his club.
Till then the whole enterprise had been visionary. I gathered
from Cynthia that the boy Ogden was shortly to be sent to a
preparatory school, and that I was to insinuate myself into this
school and, watching my opportunity, to remove him; but it
seemed to me that the obstacles to this comparatively lucid
scheme were insuperable. In the first place, how were we to
discover which of England's million preparatory schools Mr
Ford, or Mr Mennick for him, would choose? Secondly, the
plot which was to carry me triumphantly into this school when
- or if - found, struck me as extremely thin. I was to pose,
Cynthia told me, as a young man of private means, anxious to
learn the business, with a view to setting up a school of his own.
The objection to that was, I held, that I obviously did not want
to do anything of the sort. I had not the appearance of a man
with such an ambition. I had none of the conversation of such a
I put it to Cynthia.
They would find me out in a day,' I assured her. 'A man who
wants to set up a school has got to be a pretty brainy sort of
fellow. I don't know anything.'
'You got your degree.'
'A degree. At any rate, I've forgotten all I knew.'
That doesn't matter. You have the money. Anybody with
money can start a school, even if he doesn't know a thing.
Nobody would think it strange.'
It struck me as a monstrous slur on our educational system,
but reflection told me it was true. The proprietor of a pre-
paratory school, if he is a man of wealth, need not be able to
teach, any more than an impresario need be able to write
'Well, we'll pass that for the moment,' I said. 'Here's the real
difficulty. How are you going to find out the school Mr Ford has
'I have found it out already - or Nesta has. She set a detective
to work. It was perfectly easy. Ogden's going to Mr Abney's.
Sanstead House is the name of the place. It's in Hampshire
somewhere. Quite a small school, but full of little dukes and
earls and things. Lord Mountry's younger brother, Augustus
Beckford, is there.'
I had known Lord Mountry and his family well some years
ago. I remembered Augustus dimly.
'Mountry? Do you know him? He was up at Oxford with
She seemed interested.
'What kind of a man is he?' she asked.
'Oh, quite a good sort. Rather an ass. I haven't seen him for
'He's a friend of Nesta 's. I've only met him once. He is going
to be your reference.'
'You will need a reference. At least, I suppose you will. And,
anyhow, if you say you know Lord Mountry it will make it
simpler for you with Mr Abney, the brother being at the
'Does Mountry know about this business? Have you told him
why I want to go to Abney's?'
'Nesta told him. He thought it was very sporting of you. He
will tell Mr Abney anything we like. By the way, Peter, you will
have to pay a premium or something, I suppose. But Nesta will
look after all expenses, of course.'
On this point I made my only stand of the afternoon.
'No,' I said; 'it's very kind of her, but this is going to be
entirely an amateur performance. I'm doing this for you, and
I'll stand the racket. Good heavens! Fancy taking money for a
job of this kind!'
She looked at me rather oddly.
'That is very swe^t of you, Peter,' she said, after a slight
pause. 'Now let's get to work.'
And together we composed the letter which led to my sitting,
two days later, in stately conference at his club with Mr Arnold
Abney, M.A., of Sanstead House, Hampshire.
Mr Abney proved to be a long, suave, benevolent man with
an Oxford manner, a high forehead, thin white hands, a cooing
intonation, and a general air of hushed importance, as of one in
constant communication with the Great. There was in his bear-
ing something of the family solicitor in whom dukes confide,
and something of the private chaplain at the Castle.
He gave me the key-note to his character in the first minute
of our acquaintanceship. We had seated ourselves at a table in
the smoking-room when an elderly gentleman shuffled past,
giving a nod in transit. My companion sprang to his feet almost
convulsively, returned the salutation, and subsided slowly into
his chair again.
'The Duke of Devizes,' he said in an undertone. 'A most able
man. Most able. His nephew, Lord Ronald Stokeshaye, was
one of my pupils. A charming boy.'
I gathered that the old feudal spirit still glowed to some
extent in Mr Abney's bosom.
We came to business.
'So you wish to be one of us, Mr Burns, to enter the scholastic
I tried to look as if I did.
'Well, in certain circumstances, the circumstances in which I
- ah - myself, I may say, am situated, there is no more de-
lightful occupation. The work is interesting. There is the con-
stant fascination of seeing these fresh young lives develop - and
of helping them to develop - under one's eyes; in any case, I
may say, there is the exceptional interest of being in a position
to mould the growing minds of lads who will some day take
their place among the country's hereditary legislators, that little
knot of devoted men who, despite the vulgar attacks of loud-
mouthed demagogues, still do their share, and more, in the
guidance of England's fortunes. Yes.'
He paused. I said I thought so, too.
'You are an Oxford man, Mr Burns, I think you told me? Ah,
I have your letter here. Just so. You were at - ah, yes. A fine
college. The Dean is a lifelong friend of mine. Perhaps you
knew my late pupil, Lord Rollo? - no, he would have been since
your time. A delightful boy. Quite delightful . . . And you took
your degree? Exactly. And represented the university at both
cricket and Rugby football? Excellent. M ens sana in - ah - cor-
pore, in fact, sano, yes!'
He folded the letter carefully and replaced it in his pocket.
'Your primary object in coming to me, Mr Burns, is, I gather,
to learn the - ah - the ropes, the business? You have had little
or no previous experience of school-mastering?'
'Then your best plan would undoubtedly be to consider your-
self and work for a time simply as an ordinary assistant-master.
You would thus get a sound knowledge of the intricacies of the
profession which would stand you in good stead when you
decide to set up your own school. School-mastering is a pro-
fession, which cannot be taught adequately except in practice.
"Only those who - ah - brave its dangers comprehend its mys-
tery." Yes, I would certainly recommend you to begin at the
foot of the ladder and go, at least for a time, through the
'Certainly,' I said. 'Of course.'
My ready acquiescence pleased him. I could see that he was
relieved. I think he had expected me to jib at the prospect of
4 As it happens,' he said, *my classical master left me at the
end of last term. I was about to go to the Agency for a successor
when your letter arrived. Would you consider - '
I had to think this over. Feeling kindly disposed towards Mr
Arnold Abney, I wished to do him as little harm as possible. I
was going to rob him of a boy, who, while no moulding of his
growing mind could make him into a hereditary legislator, did
undoubtedly represent a portion of Mr Abney's annual income;
and I did not want to increase my offence by being a useless
assistant-master. Then I reflected that, if I was no Jowett, at
least I knew enough Latin and Greek to teach the rudiments of
those languages to small boys. My conscience was satisfied.
*I should be delighted,' I said.
'Excellent. Then let us consider that as - ah - settled,' said Mr
There was a pause. My companion began to fiddle a little
uncomfortably with an ash-tray. I wondered what was the
matter, and then it came to me. We were about to become
sordid. The discussion of terms was upon us.
And as I realized this, I saw simultaneously now I could
throw one more sop to my exigent conscience. After all, the
whole thing was really a question of hard cash. By kidnapping
Ogden I should be taking money from Mr Abney. By paying
my premium I should be giving it back to him.
I considered the circumstances. Ogden was now about thir-
teen years old. The preparatory-school age limit may be esti-
mated roughly at fourteen. That is to say, in any event Sanstead
House could only harbour him for one year. Mr Abney's fees I
had to guess at. To be on the safe side, I fixed my premium at
an outside figure, and, getting to the point at once, I named it.
It was entirely satisfactory. My mental arithmetic had done
me credit. Mr Abney beamed upon me. Over tea and muffins
we became very friendly. In half an hour I heard more of the
theory of school-mastering than I had dreamed existed.
We said good-bye at the club front door. He smiled down at
me benevolently from the top of the steps.
'Good-bye, Mr Burns, good-bye,' he said. 'We shall meet at -
ah - Philippi.'
When I reached my rooms, I rang for Smith.
'Smith,* I said, 'I want you to get some books for me first
thing tomorrow. You had better take a note of them.*
He moistened his pencil.
'A Latin Grammar.*
'A Greek Grammar.*
*Brodley Arnold's Easy Prose Sentences.'
'And Caesar's Gallic Wars. 9
'What name, sir?'
'Thank you, sir. Anything else, sir?'
'No, that will be all.'
'Very good, sir,'
He shimmered from the room.
Thank goodness, Smith always has thought me mad, and is
consequently never surprised at anything I ask him to do.
Sanstead House was an imposing building in the Georgian style.
It stood, foursquare, in the midst of about nine acres of land.
For the greater part of its existence, I learned later, it had been
the private home of a family of the name of Boone, and in its
early days the estate had been considerable. But the progress of
the years had brought changes to the Boones. Money losses had
necessitated the sale of land. New roads had come into being,
cutting ofT portions of the estate from their centre. New facili-
ties for travel had drawn members of the family away from
home. The old fixed life of the country had changed, and in the
end the latest Boone had come to the conclusion that to keep up
so large and expensive a house was not worth his while.
That the place should have become a school was the natural
process of evolution. It was too large for the ordinary pur-
chaser, and the estate had been so whittled down in the course
of time that it was inadequate for the wealthy. Colonel Boone
had been glad to let it to Mr Abney, and the school had started
It had all the necessary qualifications for a school. It was
isolated. The village was two miles from its gates. It was near
the sea. There were fields for cricket and football, and inside the
house a number of rooms of every size, suitable for classrooms
The household, when I arrived, consisted, besides Mr Abney,
myself, another master named Glossop, and the matron, of
twenty-four boys, the butler, the cook, the odd-job-man, two
housemaids, a scullery-maid, and a parlour-maid. It was a little
colony, cut off from the outer world.
With the exception of Mr Abney and Glossop, a dismal man
of nerves and mannerisms, the only person with whom I
exchanged speech on my first evening was White, the butler.
There are some men one likes at sight. White was one of them.
Even for a butler he was a man of remarkably smooth manners,
but he lacked that quality of austere aloofness which I have
noticed in other butlers.
He helped me unpack my box, and we chatted during the
process. He was a man of medium height, square and muscular,
with something, some quality of springiness, as it were, that
seemed unusual in a butler. From one or two things he said, I
gathered that he had travelled a good deal. Altogether he
interested me. He had humour, and the half-hour which I had
spent with Glossop made me set a premium on humour. I found
that he, like myself, was a new-comer. His predecessor had left
at short notice during the holidays, and he had secured the
vacancy at about the same time that I was securing mine. We
agreed that it was a pretty place. White, I gathered, regarded its
isolation as a merit. He was not fond of village society.
On the following morning, at eight o'clock, my work
My first day had the effect of entirely revolutionizing what
ideas I possessed of the lot of the private-school assistant-
My view, till then, had been that the assistant-master had an
easy time. I had only studied him from the outside. My opinion
was based on observations made as a boy at my own private
school, when masters were an enviable race who went to bed
when they liked, had no preparation to do, and couldn't be
caned. It seemed to me then that those three facts, especially the
last, formed a pretty good basis on which to build up the Per-
I had not been at Sanstead House two days before doubts
began to creep in on this point. What the boy, observing the
assistant-master standing about in apparently magnificent idle-
ness, does not realize is that the unfortunate is really putting
in a spell of exceedingly hard work. He is 'taking duty'. And
'taking duty' is a thing to be remembered, especially by a man
who, like myself, has lived a life of fatted ease, protected from
all the minor annoyances of life by a substantial income.
Sanstead House educated me. It startled me. It showed me a
hundred ways in which I had allowed myself to become soft
and inefficient, without being aware of it. There may be other
professions which call for a fiercer display of energy, but for the
man with a private income who has loitered through life at his
own pace, a little school-mastering is brisk enough to be a won-
I needed it, and I got it.
It was almost as if Mr Abney had realized intuitively how
excellent the discipline of work was for my soul, for the kindly
man allowed me to do not only my own, but most of his as well.
I have talked with assistant-masters since, and I have gathered
from them that headmasters of private schools are divided into
two classes: the workers and the runners-up-to-London. Mr
Abney belonged to the latter class. Indeed, I doubt if a finer
representative of the class could have been found in the length
and breadth of southern England. London drew him like a
After breakfast he would take me aside. The formula was
always the same.
'Ah - Mr Burns.'
Myself (apprehensively, scenting disaster, *like some wild
creature caught within a trap, who sees the trapper coming
through the wood'). 'Yes? Er - yes?'
'I am afraid I shall be obliged to run up to London today. I
have received an important letter from - ' And then he would
name some parent or some prospective parent. (By 'prospective'
I mean one who was thinking of sending his son to Sanstead
House. You may have twenty children, but unless you send
them to his school, a schoolmaster will refuse to dignify you
with the name of parent.)
Then, 'He wishes - ah - to see me,' or, in the case of titled
parents, 'He wishes - ah - to talk things over with me.' The
distinction is subtle, but he always made it.
And presently the cab would roll away down the long drive,
and my work would begin, and with it that soul-discipline to
which I have alluded.
'Taking duty' makes certain definite calls upon a man. He has
to answer questions; break up fights; stop big boys bullying
small boys; prevent small boys bullying smaller boys; check
stone-throwing, going-on-the-wet-grass, worrying-the-cook,
teasing-the-dog, making-too-much-noise, and, in particular
discourage all forms of hara-kiri such as tree-climbing,
water-spout-scaling, leaning-too-far-out-of the-wmdow, sliding
down-the-banisters, pencil-swallowing, and ink-drmking-
At intervals throughout the day there are further feats to
perform. Carving the joint, helping the pudding, playing foot-
ball, reading prayers, teaching, herding stragglers in for meals,
and going round the dormitories to see that the lights are out,
are a few of them.
I wanted to oblige Cynthia, it I could, but there were
moments during the first day or so when I wondered how on
earth I was going to snatch the necessary time to combine kid-
napping with my other duties. Of all the learned professions it
seemed to me that that of the kidnapper most urgently de
manded certain intervals for leisured thought, in which schemes
and plots might be matured.
Schools vary. Sanstead House belonged to the more difficult
class. Mr Abney's constant flittings did much to add to the
burdens of his assistants, and his peculiar reverence for the
aristocracy did even more. His endeavour to make Sanstead
House a place where the delicately nurtured scions of the
governing class might feel as little as possible the temporary loss
of titled mothers led him into a benevolent tolerance which
would have unsettled angels.
Success or failure for an assistant-master is, 1 consider, very
much a matter of luck. My colleague, Glossop, had most of the
qualities that make for success, but no luck. Properly backed up
by Mr Abney, he might have kept order. As it was. his class-
room was a bear-garden, and, when he took duty, chaos
I, on the other hand, had luck. For some reason the boys
agreed to accept me. Quite early in my sojourn I enjoyed that
sweetest triumph of the assistant-master's life, the spectacle of
one boy smacking another boy's head because the latter per-
sisted in making a noise after I had told him to stop. I doubt if a
man can experience so keenly in any other way that thrill which
comes from the knowledge that the populace is his friend. Poli-
tical orators must have the same sort of feeling when their
audience clamours for the ejection of a heckler, but it cannot be
so keen. One is so helpless with boys, unless they decide that
they like one.
It was a week from the beginning of the term before I made
the acquaintance of the Little Nugget.
I had kept my eyes open for him from the beginning, and,
when I discovered that he was not at school, I had felt alarmed.
Had Cynthia sent me down here, to work as I had never worked
before, on a wild-goose chase?
Then, one morning, Mr Abney drew me aside after break-
'Ah - Mr Burns/
It was the first time that I had heard those soon-to-be-fami-
'I fear I shall be compelled to run up to London today. I have
an important appointment with the father of a boy who is
coming to the school. He wishes - ah - to see me.'
This might be the Little Nugget at last.
I was right. During the interval before school, Augustus
Beckford approached me. Lord Mountry's brother was a stolid
boy with freckles. He had two claims to popular fame. He
could hold his breath longer than any other boy in the school,
and he always got hold of any piece of gossip first.
There's a new kid coming tonight, sir,' he said - 'an
American kid. I heard him talking about it to the matron. The
kid's name's Ford. I believe the kid's father's awfully rich.
Would you like to be rich, sir? I wish I was rich. If I was rich, I'd
buy all sorts of things. I believe I'm going to be rich when I grow
up. I heard father talking to a lawyer about it. There's a new
parlour-maid coming soon, sir. I heard cook telling Emily. I'm
blowed if I'd like to be a parlour-maid, would you, sir? I'd much
rather be a cook.'
He pondered the point for a moment. When he spoke again,
it was to touch on a still more profound problem.
'If you wanted a halfpenny to make up twopence to buy a
lizard, what would you do, sir?'
He got it.
Ogden Ford, the El Dorado of the kidnapping industry, en-
tered Sanstead House at a quarter past nine that evening. He
was preceded by a Worried Look, Mr Arnold Abney, a cabman
bearing a large box, and the odd-job man carrying two suit-
cases. I have given precedence to the Worried Look because it
was a thing by itself. To say that Mr Abney wore it would be to
create a wrong impression. Mr Abney simply followed in its
wake. He was concealed behind it much as Macbeth's army
was concealed behind the woods of Dunsinane.
I only caught a glimpse of Ogden as Mr Abney showed him
into his study. He seemed a self-possessed boy, very like but, if
anything, uglier than the portrait of him which I had seen at the
A moment later the door opened, and my employer came
out. He appeared relieved at seeing me.
'Ah, Mr Burns, I was about to go in search of you. Can you
spare me a moment? Let us go into the dining-room.'
'That is a boy called Ford, Mr Burns,' he said, when he had
closed the door. 'A rather - er - remarkable boy. He is an
American, the son of a Mr Elmer Ford. As he will be to a great
extent in your charge, I should like to prepare you for his - ah -
'Is he peculiar?'
A faint spasm disturbed Mr Abney's face. He applied a silk
handkerchief to his forehead before he replied.
'In many ways, judged by the standard of the lads who have
passed through my hands - boys, of course, who, it is only fair
to add, have enjoyed the advantages of a singularly refined
home-life - he may be said to be - ah - somewhat peculiar.
While I have no doubt that au fond . . . aii fond he is a charm-
ing boy, quite charming, at present he is - shall I say? -
peculiar. I am disposed to imagine that he has been, from child-
hood up, systematically indulged. There has been in his life, I
suspect, little or no discipline. The result has been to make him
curiously unboylike. There is a complete absence of that
diffidence, that childish capacity for surprise, which I for one
find so charming in our English boys. Little Ford appears to be
completely blase. He has tastes and ideas which are precocious,
and - unusual in a boy of his age ... He expresses himself in a
curious manner sometimes ... He seems to have little or no
reverence for - ah - constituted authority.'
He paused while he passed his handkerchief once more over
'Mr Ford, the boy's father, who struck me as a man of great
ability, a typical American merchant prince, was singularly
frank with me about his domestic affairs as they concerned his
son. I cannot recall his exact words, but the gist of what he said
was that, until now, Mrs Ford had had sole charge of the boy's
upbringing, and - Mr Ford was singularly outspoken - was too
indulgent, in fact - ah - spoilt him. Indeed - you will, of course,
respect my confidence - that was the real reason for the divorce
which - ah - has unhappily come about. Mr Ford regards this
school as in a measure - shall I say? - an antidote. He wishes
there to be no lack of wholesome discipline. So that I shall
expect you, Mr Burns, to check firmly, though, of course,
kindly, such habits of his as - ah - cigarette-smoking. On our
journey down he smoked incessantly. I found it impossible -
without physical violence - to induce him to stop. But, of
course, now that he is actually at the school, and subject to the
discipline of the school . . .'
*Exactly,' I said.
'That was all I wished to say. Perhaps it would be as well if
you saw him now, Mr Burns. You will find him in the study.*
He drifted away, and I went to the study to introduce
A cloud of tobacco-smoke rising above the back of an easy-
chair greeted me as I opened the door. Moving into the room, I
perceived a pair of boots resting on the grate. I stepped to the
right, and the remainder of the Little Nugget came into view.
He was lying almost at full length in the chair, his eyes fixed
in dreamy abstraction upon the ceiling. As I came towards him,
he drew at the cigarette between his fingers, glanced at me,
looked away again, and expelled another mouthful of smoke.
He was not interested in me.
Perhaps this indifference piqued me. and I saw him with
prejudiced eyes. At any rate, he seemed to me a singularly un-
prepossessing youth. That portrait had flattered him. He had a
stout body and a round, unwholesome face. His eyes were dull,
and his mouth dropped discontentedly. He had the air of one
who is surfeited with life.
I am disposed to imagine, as Mr Abney would have said, that
my manner in addressing him was brisker and more incisive
than Mr Abney 's own. I was irritated by his supercilious de-
'Throw away that cigarette,' I said.
To my amazement, he did, promptly. I was beginning to
wonder whether I had not been too abrupt - he gave me a
curious sensation of being a man of my own age - when he
produced a silver case from his pocket and opened it. I saw that
the cigarette in the fender was a stump.
I took the case from his hand and threw it on to a table. For
the first time he seemed really to notice my existence.
'You've got a hell of a nerve,' he said.
He was certainly exhibiting his various gifts in rapid order.
This, I took it, was what Mr Abney had called Expressing him-
self in a curious manner'.
'And don't swear/ I said.
We eyed each other narrowly for the space of some
'Who are you?' he demanded.
I introduced myself.
'What do you want to come butting in for?'
'I am paid to butt in. It's the main duty of an assistant-
'Oh, you're the assistant-master, are you?'
'One of them. And, in passing - it's a small technical point -
you're supposed to call me "sir" during these invigorating little
chats of ours.'
'Call you what? Up an alley!'
4 I beg your pardon?'
4 Fade away. Take a walk.'
I gathered that he was meaning to convey that he had con-
sidered my proposition, but regretted his inability to entertain
'Didn't you call your tutor "sir" when you were at home?'
'Me? Don't make me laugh. I've got a cracked lip.'
*1 gather you haven't an overwhelming respect for those set in
authority ovei you.'
4 It you mean my tutors, I should say nix.'
'You use the plural. Had you a tutor before Mr Broster?'
"Had I? Only about ten million.'
'Poor devils!' 1 said.
'Who's swearing now?'
The point was well taken. I corrected myself.
'Poor brutes! What happened to them? Did they commit
'Oh, they quit And I don't blame them I'm a pretty tough
proposition, and you don't want to forget it."
He reached out for the cigarette-case. I pocketed it
'You make me tired,' he said.
'The sensation's mutual.'
*Do you think you can swell around, stopping me doing
'You've defined my job exactly. 1
'Guess again. 1 know all about this joint The hot-air mer
chant was telling me about it on the train/
I took the allusion to be to Mr Arnold Abney, and thought it
rather a happy one.
'He's the boss, and nobody but him is allowed to hit
fellows. If you tried it, you'd lose your job. And he ain't going
to, because the Dad's paying double fees, and he's scared stiff
he'll lose me if there's any trouble.'
'You seem to have a grasp of the position '
'Bet your life I have.'
I looked at him as he sprawled in the chair.
'You're a funny kid/ I said.
He stiffened, outraged His little eyes gleamed.
*Say, it looks to me as if you wanted making a head shorter.
You're a darned sight too fresh. Who do you think you are,
Tm your guardian angel,' I replied. Tm the fellow who's
going to take you in hand and make you a little ray of sunshine
about the home. I know your type backwards. I've been in
America and studied it on its native asphalt. You superfatted
millionaire kids are all the same. If Dad doesn't jerk you into
the office before you're out of knickerbockers, you just run to
seed. You get to think you're the only thing on earth, and you
go on thinking it till one day somebody comes along and shows
you you're not, and then you get what's coming to you - good
He began to speak, but I was on my favourite theme, one I
had studied and brooded upon since the evening when 1 had
received a certain letter at my club.
*I knew a man,' I said, 'who started out just like you. He
always had all the money he wanted: never worked: grew to
think himself a sort of young prince. What happened?'
Tm afraid Fm boring you,' I said.
'Go on. Enjoy yourself,' said the Little Nugget.
'Well, it's a long story, so I'll spare you it. But the moral of it
was that a boy who is going to have money needs to be taken in
hand and taught sense while he's young. 5
He stretched himself.
'You talk a lot. What do you reckon you're going to do?'
I eyed him thoughtfully.
'Well, everything's got to have a beginning,' I said 'What you
seem to me to want most is exercise. I'll take you tor a run
every day. You won't know yourself at the end of a week/
'Say, if you think you're going to get me to run - '
'When I grab your little hand, and start running, you'll find
you'll soon be running too. And, years hence, when you win the
Marathon at the Olympic Games, you'll come to me with tears
in your eyes, and you'll say - '
'I shouldn't wonder.' I looked at my watch. 'Meanwhile, you
had better go to bed. It's past your proper time.'
He stared at me in open-eyed amazement.
He seemed more amused than annoyed.
'Say, what time do you think I usually go to bed?'
'I know what time you go here. Nine o'clock.'
As if to support my words, the door opened, and Mrs Att-
well, the matron, entered.
'I think it's time he came to bed, Mr Burns.'
'Just what I was saying, Mrs Attwell.'
'You're crazy,' observed the Little Nugget. 'Bed nothing!'
Mrs Attwell looked at me despairingly.
'I never saw such a boy!'
The whole machinery of the school was being held up by this
legal infant. Any vacillation now, and Authority would suffer a
set-back from which it would be hard put to it to recover. It
seemed to me a situation that called for action.
I bent down, scooped the Little Nugget out of his chair like
an oyster, and made for the door. Outside he screamed inces-
santly. He kicked me in the stomach and then on the knee. He
continued to scream. He screamed all the way upstairs. He was
screaming when we reached his room.
Half an hour later I sat in the study, smoking thoughtfully.
Reports from the seat of war told of a sullen and probably only
temporary acquiescence with Fate on the part of the enemy. He
was in bed, and seemed to have made up his mind to submit to
the position. An air of restrained jubilation prevailed among
the elder members of the establishment. Mr Abney was friendly
and Mrs Attwell openly congratulatory. I was something like
the hero of the hour.
But was I jubilant? No, I was inclined to moodiness. Un-
foreseen difficulties had arisen in my path. Till now, I had re-
garded this kidnapping as something abstract. Personality had
not entered into the matter. If I had had any picture in my
mind's eye, it was of myself stealing away softly into the night
with a docile child, his little hand laid trustfully in mine. From
what I had seen and heard of Ogden Ford in moments of
emotion, it seemed to me that whoever wanted to kidnap him
with any approach to stealth would need to use chloroform.
Things were getting very complex.
I have never kept a diary, and I have found it, in consequence,
somewhat difficult, in telling this narrative, to arrange the
minor incidents of my story in their proper sequence. I am
writing by the light of an imperfect memory; and the work is
complicated by the fact that the early days of my sojourn at
Sanstead House are a blur, a confused welter like a Futurist
picture, from which emerge haphazard the figures of boys -
boys working, boys eating, boys playing football, boys whis-
pering, shouting, asking questions, banging doors, jumping on
beds, and clattering upstairs and along passages, the whole pic-
ture faintly scented with a composite aroma consisting of roast
beef, ink, chalk, and that curious classroom smell which is like
nothing else on earth.
I cannot arrange the incidents. I can see Mr Abney, furrowed
as to the brow and drooping at the jaw, trying to separate
Ogden Ford from a half-smoked cigar-stump. I can hear
Glossop, feverishly angry, bellowing at an amused class. A
dozen other pictures come back to me, but I cannot place them
in their order; and perhaps, after all, their sequence is unim-
portant. This story deals with affairs which were outside the
ordinary school life.
With the war between the Little Nugget and Authority, for
instance, the narrative has little to do. It is a subject for an epic,
but it lies apart from the main channel of the story, and must be
avoided. To tell of his gradual taming, of the chaos his advent
caused until we became able to cope with him, would be to turn
this story into a treatise on education. It is enough to say that
the process of moulding his character and exorcising the devil
which seemed to possess him was slow.
It was Ogden who introduced tobacco-chewing into the
school, with fearful effects one Saturday night on the aristo-
cratic interiors of Lords Cartridge and Windhall and Honour-
ables Edwin Bellamy and Hildebrand Kyne. It was the
ingenious gambling-game imported by Ogden which was
rapidly undermining the moral sense of twenty-four innocent
English boys when it was pounced upon by Glossop. It was
Ogden who, on the one occasion when Mr Abney reluctantly
resorted to the cane, and administered four mild taps with it,
relieved his feelings by going upstairs and breaking all the
windows in all the bedrooms.
We had some difficult young charges at Sanstead House. Mr
Abney's policy of benevolent toleration ensured that. But
Ogden Ford stood alone.
I have said that it is difficult for me to place the lesser events
of my narrative in their proper order. I except three, however,
which I will call the Affair of the Strange American, the Adven-
ture of the Sprinting Butler, and the Episode of the Genial
I will describe them singly, as they happened.
It was the custom at Sanstead House for each of the assistant-
masters to take half of one day in every week as a holiday. The
allowance was not liberal, and in most schools, I believe, it is
increased; but Mr Abney was a man with peculiar views on
other people's holidays, and Glossop and I were accordingly
My day was Wednesday; and on the Wednesday of which I
write I strolled towards the village. I had in my mind a game
of billiards at the local inn. Sanstead House and its neigh-
bourhood were lacking in the fiercer metropolitan excite-
ments, and billiards at the 'Feathers* constituted for the
pleasure-seeker the beginning and end of the Gay
There was a local etiquette governing the game of billiards at
the 'Feathers'. You played the marker a hundred up, then you
took him into the bar-parlour and bought him refreshment. He
raised his glass, said, 'To you, sir', and drained it at a gulp.
After that you could, if you wished, play another game, or go
home, as your fancy dictated.
There was only one other occupant of the bar-parlour when
we adjourned thither, and a glance at him told me that he was
not ostentatiously sober. He was lying back in a chair, with his
feet on the side-table, and crooning slowly, in a melancholy
voice, the following words:
7 don't care - if he wears - a crown,
He - can't - keep kicking my - dawg aroun\*
He was a tough, clean-shaven man, with a broken nose, over
which was tilted a soft felt hat. His wiry limbs were clad in what
I put down as a mail-order suit. I could have placed him by his
appearance, if I had not already done so by his voice, as an
East-side New Yorker. And what an East-side New Yorker
could be doing in Sanstead it was beyond me to explain.
We had hardly seated ourselves when he rose and lurched
out. I saw him pass the window, and his assertion that no
crowned head should molest his dog came faintly to my ears as
he went down the street.
'American!' said Miss Benjafield, the stately barmaid, with
strong disapproval. They're all alike.'
I never contradict Miss Benjafield - one would as soon con-
tradict the Statue of Liberty - so I merely breathed sympatheti-
'What's he here for I'd like to know?'
It occurred to me that I also should like to know. In another
thirty hours I was to find out.
I shall lay myself open to a charge of denseness such as even
Doctor Watson would have scorned when I say that, though I
thought of the matter a good deal on my way back to the
school, I did not arrive at the obvious solution. Much teaching
and taking of duty had dulled my wits, and the presence at
Sanstead House of the Little Nugget did not even occur to me
as a reason why strange Americans should be prowling in the
We now come to the remarkable activity of White, the
It happened that same evening
It was not late when I started on my way back to the house,
but the short January day was over, and it was very dark as 1
turned in at the big gate of the school and made my way up the
drive. The drive at Sanstead House was a fine curving stretch of
gravel, about two hundred yards in length, flanked on either
side by fir trees and rhododendrons. I stepped out briskly, for it
had begun to freeze. Just as I caught sight through the trees ot
the lights of the windows, there came to me the sound of run
I stopped. The noise grew louder. There seemed to be two
runners, one moving with short, quick steps, the other, the one in
front, taking a longer stride.
I drew aside instinctively. In another moment, making a great
clatter on the frozen gravel, the first of the pair passed me; and
as he did so, there was a sharp crack, and something sang
through the darkness like a large mosquito.
The effect of the sound on the man who had been running
was immediate. He stopped in his stride and dived into the
bushes. His footsteps thudded faintly on the turf.
The whole incident had lasted only a few seconds, and I was
still standing there when I was aware of the other man ap-
proaching. He had apparently given up the pursuit, for he was
walking quite slowly. He stopped within a few feet of me and I
heard him swearing softly to himself.
'Who's that?' I cried sharply. The crack of the pistol had
given a flick to my nerves. Mine had been a sheltered life, into
which hitherto revolver-shots had not entered, and I was resent-
ing this abrupt introduction of them. I felt jumpy and irri-
It gave me a malicious pleasure to see that I had startled the
unknown dispenser of shocks quite as much as he had startled
me. The movement he made as he faced towards my direction
was almost a leap; and it suddenly flashed upon me
that I had better at once establish my identity as a non-
combatant. I appeared to have wandered inadvertently into
the midst of a private quarrel, one party to which -
the one standing a couple of yards from me with a loaded
revolver in his hand - was evidently a man of impulse,
the sort of man who would shoot first and inquire after-
'I'm Mr Burns,' I said. 'I'm one of the assistant-masters. Who
Surely that rich voice was familiar.
'White?' I said.
'What on earth do you think you're doing? Have you gone
mad? Who was that man?'
'I wish I could tell you, sir. A very doubtful character. I
found him prowling at the back of the house very suspiciously.
He took to his heels and I followed him.'
'But' - I spoke querulously, my orderly nature was shocked -
'you can't go shooting at people like that just because you find
them at the back of the house. He might have been a trades-
'I think not, sir.'
'Well, so do I, if it comes to that. He didn't behave like one.
But, all the same - '
'I take your point, sir. But I was merely intending to frighten
'You succeeded all right. He went through those bushes like a
I heard him chuckle.
'I think I may have scared him a little, sir.'
'We must phone to the police-station. Could you describe the
'I think not, sir. It was very dark. And, if I may make the
suggestion, it would be better not to inform the police. I have a
very poor opinion of these country constables.'
'But we can't have men prowling - '
'If you will permit me, sir. I say - let them prowl. It's the only
way to catch them.'
'If you think this sort of thing is likely to happen again I
must tell Mr Abney.'
'Pardon me, sir, I think it would be better not. He impresses
me as a somewhat nervous gentleman, and it would only disturb
At this moment it suddenly struck me that, in my interest in
the mysterious fugitive, I had omitted to notice what was
really the most remarkable point in the whole affair. How did
White happen to have a revolver at all? I have met many
butlers who behaved unexpectedly in their spare time. One I
knew played the fiddle; another preached Socialism in Hyde
Park. But I had never yet come across a butler who fired
'What were you doing with a revolver?' I asked.
'May I ask you to keep it to yourself, sir, if I tell you some-
thing?' he said at last.
'What do you mean?'
'I'm a detective.'
4 A Pinkerton's man, Mr Burns.'
I felt like one who sees the 'danger' board over thin ice. But
for this information, who knew what rash move I might not
have made, under the assumption that the Little Nugget was
unguarded? At the same time, I could not help reflecting that, if
things had been complex before, they had become far more so
in the light of this discovery. To spirit Ogden away had never
struck me, since his arrival at the school, as an easy task. It
seemed more difficult now than ever.
I had the sense to affect astonishment. I made my imitation of
an innocent assistant-master astounded by the news that the
butler is a detective in disguise as realistic as I was able. It
appeared to be satisfactory, for he began to explain.
'I am employed by Mr Elmer Ford to guard his son. There
are several parties after that boy, Mr Burns. Naturally he is a
considerable prize. Mr Ford would pay a large sum to get back
his only son if he were kidnapped. So it stands to reason he
'Does Mr Abney know what you are?'
'No, sir. Mr Abney thinks I am an ordinary butler. You are
the only person who knows, and I have only told you because
you have happened to catch me in a rather queer position for a
butler to be in. You will keep it to yourself, sir? It doesn't do
for it to get about. These things have to be done quietly. It
would be bad for the school if my presence here were adver-
tised. The other parents wouldn't like it. They would think that
their sons were in danger, you see. It would be disturbing for
them. So if you will just forget what I've been telling you, Mr
Burns - '
I assured him that I would. But I was very far from meaning
it. If there was one thing which I intended to bear in mind, it
was the fact that watchful eyes besides mine were upon that
The third and last of this chain of occurrences, the Episode of
the Genial Visitor, took place on the following day, and may be
passed over briefly. All that happened was that a well-dressed
man, who gave his name as Arthur Gordon, of Philadelphia,
dropped in unexpectedly to inspect the school. He apologized
for not having written to make an appointment, but explained
that he was leaving England almost immediately. He was look-
ing for a school for his sister's son, and, happening to meet his
business acquaintance, Mr Elmer Ford, in London, he had been
recommended to Mr Abney. He made himself exceedingly
pleasant. He was a breezy, genial man, who joked with Mr
Abney, chaffed the boys, prodded the Little Nugget in the ribs,
to that overfed youth's discomfort, made a rollicking tour of
the house, in the course of which he inspected Ogden's bedroom
- in order, he told Mr Abney, to be able to report con-
scientiously to his friend Ford that the son and heir was not
being pampered too much, and departed in a whirl of good-
humour, leaving every one enthusiastic over his charming per-
sonality. His last words were that everything was thoroughly
satisfactory, and that he had learned all he wanted to know.
Which, as was proved that same night, was the simple
I owed it to my colleague Glossop that I was in the centre of the
surprising things that occurred that night. By sheer weight of
boredom, Glossop drove me from the house, so that it came
about that, at half past nine, the time at which the affair began,
I was patrolling the gravel in front of the porch.
It was the practice of the staff of Sanstead House School to
assemble after dinner in Mr Abney's study for coffee. The room
was called the study, but it was really more of a master's
common room. Mr Abney had a smaller sanctum of his own,
reserved exclusively for himself.
On this particular night he went there early, leaving me alone
It is one of the drawbacks of the desert-island atmosphere of
a private school that everybody is always meeting everybody
else. To avoid a man for long is impossible. I had been avoiding
Glossop as long as I could, for I knew that he wanted to corner
me with a view to a heart-to-heart talk on Life Insurance.
These amateur Life Insurance agents are a curious band. The
world is full of them. I have met them at country-houses, at
seaside hotels, on ships, everywhere; and it has always amazed
me that they should find the game worth the candle. What they
add to their incomes I do not know, but it cannot be very much,
and the trouble they have to take is colossal. Nobody loves
them, and they must see it; yet they persevere. Glossop, for
instance, had been trying to buttonhole me every time there was
a five minutes' break in the day's work.
He had his chance now, and he did not mean to waste it. Mr
Abney had scarcely left the room when he began to exude pam-
phlets and booklets at every pocket.
I eyed him sourly, as he droned on about 'reactionable en-
dowment', 'surrender-value', and 'interest accumulating on the
tontine policy', and tried, as I did so, to analyse the loathing I
felt for him. I came to the conclusion that it was partly due to
his pose of doing the whole thing from purely altruistic motives,
entirely for my good, and partly because he forced me to face
the fact that I was not always going to be young. In an abstract
fashion I had already realized that I should in time cease to be
thirty, but the way in which Glossop spoke of my sixty-fifth
birthday made me feel as if it was due tomorrow. He was a man
with a manner suggestive of a funeral mute suffering from sup-
pressed jaundice, and I had never before been so weighed down
with a sense of the inevitability of decay and the remorseless
passage of time. I could feel my hair whitening.
A need for solitude became imperative; and, murmuring
something about thinking it over, I escaped from the room.
Except for my bedroom, whither he was quite capable of
following me, I had no refuge but the grounds. I unbolted the
front door and went out.
It was still freezing, and, though the stars shone, the trees
grew so closely about the house that it was too dark for me to
see more than a few feet in front of me.
I began to stroll up and down. The night was wonderfully
still. I could hear somebody walking up the drive - one of the
maids, I supposed, returning from her evening out. I could even
hear a bird rustling in the ivy on the walls of the stables.
I fell into a train of thought. I think my mind must still have
been under Glossop's gloom-breeding spell, for I was filled with
a sense of the infinite pathos of Life. What was the good of it
all? Why was a man given chances of happiness without the
sense to realize and use them? If Nature had made me so self-
satisfied that I had lost Audrey because of my self-satis-
faction why had she not made me so self-satisfied that I could
lose her without a pang? Audrey! It annoyed me that, whenever
I was free for a moment from active work, my thoughts should
keep turning to her. It frightened me, too. Engaged to Cynthia, I
had no right to have such thoughts.
Perhaps it was the mystery which hung about her that kept
her in my mind. I did not know where she was. I did not know
how she fared. I did not know what sort of a man it was whom
she had preferred to me. That, it struck me, was the crux of the
matter. She had vanished absolutely with another man whom I
had never seen and whose very name I did not know. I had been
beaten by an unseen foe.
I was deep in a very slough of despond when suddenly things
began to happen. I might have known that Sanstead House
would never permit solitary brooding on Life for long. It was a
place of incident, not of abstract speculation.
I had reached the end of my 'beat', and had stopped to relight
my pipe, when drama broke loose with the swift unexpectedness
which was characteristic of the place. The stillness of the night
was split by a sound which I could have heard in a gale and
recognized among a hundred conflicting noises. It was a scream,
a shrill, piercing squeal that did not rise to a crescendo, but
started at its maximum and held the note; a squeal which could
only proceed from one throat: the deafening war-cry of the
I had grown accustomed, since my arrival at Sanstead House,
to a certain quickening of the pace of life, but tonight events
succeeded one another with a rapidity which surprised me. A
whole cinematograph-drama was enacted during the space of
time it takes for a wooden match to burn.
At the moment when the Little Nugget gave tongue, I had
just struck one, and I stood, startled into rigidity, holding it in
the air as if I had decided to constitute myself a sort of limelight
man to the performance.
It cannot have been more than a few seconds later before
some person unknown nearly destroyed me.
I was standing, holding my match and listening to the sounds
of confusion indoors, when this person, rounding the angle of
the house in a desperate hurry, emerged from the bushes and
rammed me squarely.
He was a short man, or he must have crouched as he ran, for
his shoulder - a hard, bony shoulder - was precisely the same
distance from the ground as my solar plexus. In the brief
impact which ensued between the two, the shoulder had the
advantage of being in motion, while the solar plexus was
stationary, and there was no room for any shadow of doubt as
to which had the worst of it.
That the mysterious unknown was not unshaken by the en-
counter was made clear by a sharp yelp of surprise and pain. He
staggered. What happened to him after that was not a matter of
interest to me. I gather that he escaped into the night. But I was
too occupied with my own affairs to follow his movements.
Of all cures for melancholy introspection a violent blow in
the solar plexus is the most immediate. If Mr Corbett had any
abstract worries that day at Carson City, I fancy they ceased to
occupy his mind from the moment when Mr Fitzsimmons ad-
ministered that historic left jab. In my case the cure was in-
stantaneous. I can remember reeling across the gravel and
falling in a heap and trying to breathe and knowing that I
should never again be able to, and then for some minutes all
interest in the affairs of this world left me.
How long it was before my breath returned, hesitatingly, like
some timid Prodigal Son trying to muster up courage to enter
the old home, I do not know; but it cannot have been many
minutes, for the house was only just beginning to disgorge its
occupants as I sat up. Disconnected cries and questions filled
the air. Dim forms moved about in the darkness.
I had started to struggle to my feet, feeling very sick and
boneless, when it was borne in upon me that the sensations of
this remarkable night were not yet over. As I reached a sitting
position, and paused before adventuring further, to allow a
wave of nausea to pass, a hand was placed on my shoulder and
a voice behind me said, *Don't move!'
I was not in a condition to argue. Beyond a fleeting feeling that
a liberty was being taken with me and that I was being treated
unjustly, I do not remember resenting the command. I had no
notion who the speaker might be, and no curiosity. Breathing
just then had all the glamour of a difficult feat cleverly per-
formed. I concentrated my whole attention upon it. I was
pleased, and surprised, to find myself getting on so well. I
remember having much the same sensation when I first learned
to ride a bicycle - a kind of dazed feeling that I seemed to be
doing it, but Heaven alone knew how.
A minute or so later, when I had leisure to observe outside
matters, I perceived that among the other actors in the drama
confusion still reigned. There was much scuttering about and
much meaningless shouting. Mr Abney's reedy tenor voice was
issuing directions, each of which reached a dizzier height of
futility than the last. Glossop was repeating over and over again
the words, 'Shall I telephone for the police?' to which nobody
appeared to pay the least attention. One or two boys were dart-
ing about like rabbits and squealing unintelligibly. A female
voice - I think Mrs Attwell's - was saying, 'Can you see him?'
Up to this point, my match, long since extinguished, had been
the only illumination the affair had received; but now some-
body, who proved to be White, the butler, came from the direc-
tion of the stable-yard with a carriage-lamp. Every one seemed
calmer and happier for it. The boys stopped squealing, Mrs
Attwell and Glossop subsided, and Mr Abney said 'Ah!' in a
self-satisfied voice, as if he had directed this move and was con-
gratulating himself on the success with which it had been car-
The whole strength of the company gathered round the
'Thank you, White,' said Mr Abney. 'Excellent. I fear the
scoundrel has escaped.'
'I suspect so, sir/
'This is a very remarkable occurrence, White.'
'The man was actually in Master Ford's bedroom.'
A shrill voice spoke. I recognized it as that of Augustus
Beckford, always to be counted upon to be in the centre of
things gathering information.
'Sir, please, sir, what was up? Who was it, sir? Sir, was it a
burglar, sir? Have you ever met a burglar, sir? My father took
me to see Raffles in the holidays, sir. Do you think this chap was
like Raffles, sir? Sir - '
'It was undoubtedly - ' Mr Abney was beginning, when the
identity of the questioner dawned upon him, and for the first
time he realized that the drive was full of boys actively engaged
in catching their deaths of cold. His all-friends-here-let-us-
discuss-this-interesting-episode-fully manner changed. He be-
came the outraged schoolmaster. Never before had I heard
him speak so sharply to boys, many of whom, though breaking
rules, were still titled.
'What are you boys doing out of bed? Go back to bed in-
stantly. I shall punish you most severely. I - '
'Shall I telephone for the police?' asked Glossop. Dis-
'I will not have this conduct. You will catch cold. This is
disgraceful. Ten bad marks! I shall punish you most severely if
you do not instantly - '
A calm voice interrupted him.
The Little Nugget strolled easily into the circle of light. He
was wearing a dressing-gown, and in his hand was a smouldering
cigarette, from which he proceeded, before continuing his
remarks, to blow a cloud of smoke.
'Say, I guess you're wrong. That wasn't any ordinary porch-
The spectacle of his bete noire wreathed in smoke, coming on
top of the emotions of the night, was almost too much for Mr
Abney. He gesticulated for a moment in impassioned silence,
his arms throwing grotesque shadows on the gravel.
4 How dare you smoke, boy! How dare you smoke that ciga-
'It's the only one I've got,' responded the Little Nugget
'I have spoken to you - I have warned you - Ten bad marks!
- I will not have - Fifteen bad marks!'
The Little Nugget ignored the painful scene. He was smiling
*If you ask me,' he said, 'that guy was after something better
than plated spoons. Yes, sir! If you want my opinion, it was
Buck MacGinnis, or Chicago Ed., or one of those guys, and
what he was trailing was me. They're always at it. Buck had a
try for me in the fall of '07, and Ed. - '
'Do you hear me? Will you return instantly - '
'If you don't believe me I can show you the piece there was
about it in the papers. I've got a press-clipping album in my
box. Whenever there's a piece about me in the papers, I cut it
out and paste it into my album. If you'll come right
along, I'll show you the story about Buck now. It happened
in Chicago, and he'd have got away with me if it hadn't
been - '
'Twenty bad marks!'
It was the person standing behind me who spoke. Till now he
or she had remained a silent spectator, waiting, I suppose, for a
lull in the conversation.
They jumped, all together, like a well-trained chorus.
'Who is that?' cried Mr Abney. I could tell by the sound of
his voice that his nerves were on wires. 'Who was that who
'Shall I telephone for the police?' asked Glossop. Ignored.
'I am Mrs Sheridan, Mr Abney. You were expecting me to-
'Mrs Sheridan? Mrs Sher - I expected you in a cab. I ex-
pected you in - ah - in fact, a cab.'
I had a curious sensation of having heard the voice before.
When she had told me not to move, she had spoken in a whisper
- or, to me, in my dazed state, it had sounded like a whisper -
but now she was raising her voice, and there was a note in it that
seemed familiar. It stirred some chord in my memory, and I
waited to hear it again.
When it came it brought the same sensation, but nothing
more definite. It left me groping for the clue.
'Here is one of the men, Mr Abney.'
There was a profound sensation. Boys who had ceased to
squeal, squealed with fresh vigour. Glossop made his suggestion
about the telephone with a new ring of hope in his voice. Mrs
Attwell shrieked. They made for us in a body, boys and all,
White leading with the lantern. I was almost sorry for being
compelled to provide an anticlimax.
Augustus Beckford was the first to recognize me, and I expect
he was about to ask me if I liked sitting on the gravel on a frosty
night, or what gravel was made of, when Mr Abney spoke.
'Mr Burns! What - dear me! - what are you doing there?'
'Perhaps Mr Burns can give us some information as to where
the man went, sir,' suggested White.
'On everything except that,* I said, 'I'm a mine of infor-
mation. I haven't the least idea where he went. All I know
about him is that he has a shoulder like the ram of a battleship,
and that he charged me with it.'
As I was speaking, I thought I heard a little gasp behind me. I
turned. I wanted to see this woman who stirred my memory
with her voice But the rays of the lantern did not fall on her,
and she was a shapeless blur in the darkness. Somehow I felt
that she was looking intently at me.
I resumed my narrative.
'1 was lighting my pipe when I heard a scream - ' A chuckle
came from the group behind the lantern.
'I screamed,' said the Little Nugget. 'You bet I screamed!
What would you do if you woke up in the dark and found a
strong-armed roughneck prising you out of bed as if you were a
clam? He tried to get his hand over my mouth, but he only
connected with my torehead, and I'd got going before he could
switch. I guess I threw a scare into that gink!'
He chuckled again, reminiscently, and drew at his ciga-
*How dare you smoke! Throw away that cigarette!' cried Mr
Abney, roused afresh by the red glow.
'Forget it!' advised the Little Nugget tersely.
'And then,' I said, 'somebody whizzed out from nowhere and
hit me. And after that I didn't seem to care much about him or
anything else.' I spoke in the direction of my captor. She was
still standing outside the circle of light. 'I expect you can tell us
what happened, Mrs Sheridan?'
I did not think that her information was likely to be of any
practical use, but I wanted to make her speak again.
Her first words were enough. I wondered how I could ever
have been in doubt. I knew the voice now. It was one which I
had not heard for five years, but one which I could never forget
if I lived for ever.
'Somebody ran past me/ I hardly heard her. My heart was
pounding, and a curious dizziness had come over me. I was
grappling with the incredible. 'I think he went into the
I heard Glossop speak, and gathered from Mr Abney's reply
that he had made his suggestion about the telephone once
'I think that will be - ah - unnecessary, Mr Glossop. The man
has undoubtedly - ah - made good his escape. I think we had all
better return to the house.' He turned to the dim figure beside
me. 'Ah, Mrs Sheridan, you must be tired after your journey
and the - ah - unusual excitement. Mrs Attwell will show you
where you - in fact, your room.'
In the general movement White must have raised the lamp or
stepped forward, for the rays shifted. The figure beside me was
no longec dim, but stood out sharp and clear in the yellow
I was aware of two large eyes looking into mine as, in the
grey London morning two weeks before, they had looked from
a faded photograph.
Of all the emotions which kept me awake that night, a vague
discomfort and a feeling of resentment against Fate more than
against any individual, were the two that remained with me
next morning. Astonishment does not last. The fact of Audrey
and myself being under the same roof after all these years had
ceased to amaze me. It was a minor point, and my mind shelved
it in order to deal with the one thing that really mattered, the
fact that she had come back into my life just when I had
definitely, as I thought, put her out of it.
My resentment deepened. Fate had played me a wanton trick.
Cynthia trusted me. If I were weak, I should not be the only one
to suffer. And something told me that I should be weak. How
could I hope to be strong, tortured by the thousand memories
which the sight of her would bring back to me?
But I would fight, I told myself. I would not yield easily. I
promised that to my self-respect, and was rewarded with a cer-
tain glow of excitement. I felt defiant. I wanted to test myself at
My opportunity came after breakfast. She was standing on
the gravel in front of the house, almost, in fact, on the spot
where we had met the night before. She looked up as she heard
my step, and I saw that her chin had that determined tilt which,
in the days of our engagement, I had noticed often without
attaching any particular significance to it. Heavens, what a
ghastly lump of complacency I must have been in those days!
A child, I thought, if he were not wrapped up in the con-
templation of his own magnificence, could read its meaning.
It meant war, and I was glad of it. I wanted war.
*Good morning,' I said.
There was a pause. I took the opportunity to collect my
I looked at her curiously, Five years had left their mark on
her, but entirely for the good. She had an air of quiet strength
which I had never noticed in her before it may have been there
in the old days, but I did not think so It was, I felt certain, a
later development. She gave the impression of having been
through much and of being sure of herself.
In appearance she had changed amazingly little. She looked
as small and slight and trim as ever she had done. She was a
little paler, I thought, and the Irish eyes were older and a shade
harder; but that was all.
I awoke with a start to the fact that I was staring at her. A
slight flush had crept into her pale cheeks.
'Don't!' she said suddenly, with a little gesture of irritation.
The word and the gesture killed, as if they had been a blow, a
kind of sentimental tenderness which had been stealing over
'What are you doing here?' I asked.
She was silent.
'Please don't think I want to pry into your affairs,' I said
viciously. 'I was only interested in the coincidence that we
should meet here like this.'
She turned to me impulsively. Her face had lost its hard
'Oh, Peter,' she said, Tm sorry. I am sorry.*
It was my chance, and I snatched at it with a lack of chivalry
which I regretted almost immediately. But I was feeling bitter,
and bitterness makes a man do cheap things.
'Sorry?' I said, politely puzzled. 'Why?'
She looked taken aback, as I hoped she would.
'For - for what happened.'
'My dear Audrey! Anybody would have made the same mis-
take. I don't wonder you took me for a burglar.'
'I didn't mean that. I meant - five years ago.'
I laughed. I was not feeling like laughter at the moment, but I
did my best, and had the satisfaction of seeing that it jarred
'Surely you're not worrying yourself about that?' 1 said. 1
laughed again. Very jovial and debonair I was that winter
The brief moment in which we might have softened towards
each other was over. There was a glitter in her blue eyes which
told me that it was once more war between us.
*I thought you would get over it,' she said.
'Well,' I said, *I was only twenty-five. One's heart doesn't
break at twenty-five.'
'I don't think yours would ever be likely to break, Peter.'
'Is that a compliment, or otherwise?'
'You would probably think it a compliment. I meant that you
were not human enough to be heart-broken.'
'So that's your idea of a compliment!'
*I said I thought it was probably yours.'
*I must have been a curious sort of man five years ago, if I
gave you that impression.'
She spoke in a meditative voice, as if, across the years, she
were idly inspecting some strange species of insect. The attitude
annoyed me. I could look, myself, with a detached eye at the
man I had once been, but I still retained a sort of affection for
him, and I felt piqued.
'I suppose you looked on me as a kind of ogre in those days?'
*I suppose I did.'
There was a pause.
*I didn't mean to hurt your feelings,' she said. And that was
the most galling part of it. Mine was an attitude of studied
offensiveness. I did want to hurt her feelings. But hers, it seemed
to me, was no pose. She really had had - and, I sup-
pose, still retained - a genuine horror of me. The struggle was
'You were very kind,' she went on, 'sometimes - when you
happened to think of it.'
Considered as the best she could find to say of me, it was not
'Well,' I said, 'we needn't discuss what I was or did five years
ago. Whatever I was or did, you escaped. Let's think of the
present. What are we going to do about this?'
*You think the situation's embarrassing?'
4 I do.'
'One of us ought to go, I suppose,' she said doubtfully.
'Well, I can't go.'
'Nor can I.'
*I have business here.'
'Obviously, so have I.'
'It's absolutely necessary that I should be here.'
'And that I should.'
She considered me for a moment.
'Mrs Attwell told me that you were one of the assistant-
masters at the school.'
'I am acting as assistant-master. I am supposed to be learning
'Why?' she said.
'But - but - you used to be very well off.'
'I'm better off now. I'm working.'
She was silent for a moment.
'Of course it's impossible for you to leave. You couldn't,
'I can't either.'
'Then I suppose we must face the embarrassment.'
'But why must it be embarrassing? You said yourself you had
- got over it.'
'Absolutely. I am engaged to be married.'
She gave a little start. She drew a pattern on the gravel with
her foot before she spoke.
'I congratulate you,' she said at last.
'I hope you will be very happy.'
'I'm sure I shall.'
She relapsed into silence. It occurred to me that, having
posted her thoroughly in my affairs, I was entitled to ask about
'How in the world did you come to be here?' I said.
'It's rather a long story. After my husband died - '
*Oh!' I exclaimed, startled.
*Yes; he died three years ago.'
She spoke in a level voice, with a ring of hardness in it, for
which I was to learn the true reason later. At the time it seemed
to me due to resentment at having to speak of the man she
had loved to me, whom she disliked, and my bitterness in-
'I have been looking after myself for a long time.'
4 In England?'
'In America. We went to New York directly we - directly I
had written to you I have been in America ever since. I only
returned to England a few weeks ago.'
'But what brought you to Sanstead?'
'Some years ago I got to know Mr Ford, the father of the
little boy who is at the school. He recommended me to Mr
Abney, who wanted somebody to help with the school.'
'And you are dependent on your work? I mean - forgive me
if I am personal - Mr Sheridan did not - '
'He left no money at all.'
'Who was he?' I burst out. I felt that the subject of the dead
man was one which it was painful for her to talk about, at any
rate to me; but the Sheridan mystery had vexed me for five
years, and I thirsted to know something of this man who had
dynamited my life without ever appearing in it.
'He was an artist, a friend of my father.'
1 wanted to hear more. I wanted to know what he looked like,
how he spoke, how he compared with me in a thousand ways;
but it was plain that she would not willingly be communicative
about him; and, with a feeling of resentment, I gave her her
way and suppressed my curiosity.
'So your work here is all you have?' I said.
'Absolutely all. And, if it's the same with you, well, here we
'Here we are!' I echoed. 'Exactly.*
'We must try and make it as easy for each other as we can,'
She looked at me in that curious, wide-eyed way of hers.
*You have got thinner, Peter,' she said.
*Have I?' I said. Buffering, I suppose, or exercise.'
Her eyes left my face. I saw her bite her lip.
'You hate me,' she said abruptly. 'You've been hating me all
these years. Well, I don't wonder.'
She turned and began to walk slowly away, and as she did so
a sense of the littleness of the part I was playing came over me.
Ever since our talk had begun I had been trying to hurt her,
trying to take a petty revenge on her - for what? All that had
happened five years ago had been my fault. I could not let her
go like this. I felt unutterably mean.
* Audrey!' I called.
She stopped. I went to her.
'Audrey!' I said, 'you're wrong. If there's anybody I hate, it's
myself. I just want to tell you I understand.'
Her lips parted, but she did not speak.
'I understand just what made you do it,' I went on. 'I can see
now the sort of man I was in those days.'
'You're saying that to - to help me,' she said in a low voice.
'No. I have felt like that about it for years.'
'I treated you shamefully.'
'Nothing of the kind. There's a certain sort of man who badly
needs a - jolt, and he has to get it sooner or later. It happened
that you gave me mine, but that wasn't your fault. I was bound
to get it - somehow.' I laughed. "Fate was waiting for me round
the corner. Fate wanted something to hit me with. You hap-
pened to be the nearest thing handy.'
'I'm sorry, Peter.'
'Nonsense. You knocked some sense into me. That's all you
did. Every man needs education. Most men get theirs in small
doses, so that they hardly know they are getting it at all. My
money kept me from getting mine that way. By the time I met
you there was a great heap of back education due to me, and I
got it in a lump. That's all.'
'Nothing of the kind. It's only that I see things clearer than I
did. I was a pig in those days.'
'I was. Well, we won't quarrel about it.'
Inside the house the bell rang for breakfast. We turned. As I
drew back to let her go in, she stopped.
'Peter,' she said.
She began to speak quickly.
'Peter, let's be sensible. Why should we let this embarrass us,
this being together here? Can't we just pretend that we're two
old friends who parted through a misunderstanding, and have
come together again, with all the misunderstanding cleared
away - friends again? Shall we?'
She held out her hand. She was smiling, but her eyes were
'Old friends, Peter?'
I took her hand.
'Old friends,' I said.
And we went in to breakfast. On the table, beside my plate,
was lying a letter from Cynthia.
I give the letter in full. It was written from the s.y. Mermaid,
lying in Monaco Harbour.
MY DEAR PETER, Where is Ogden? We have been expecting
him every day. Mrs Ford is worrying herself to death. She keeps
asking me if I have any news, and it is very tiresome to have to
keep telling her that I have not heard from you. Surely, with the
opportunities you must get every day, you can manage to kidnap
him. Do be quick. We are relying on you. - In haste,
I read this brief and business-like communication several
times during the day; and after dinner that night, in order to
meditate upon it in solitude, I left the house and wandered off in
the direction of the village.
I was midway between house and village when I became
aware that I was being followed. The night was dark, and the
wind moving in the tree-tops emphasized the loneliness of the
country road. Both time and place were such as made it peculi-
arly unpleasant to hear stealthy footsteps on the road behind
Uncertainty in such cases is the unnerving thing. I turned
sharply, and began to walk back on tiptoe in the direction from
which I had come.
I had not been mistaken. A moment later a dark figure
loomed up out of the darkness, and the exclamation which
greeted me, as I made my presence known, showed that I had
taken him by surprise.
There was a momentary pause. I expected the man, whoever
he might be, to run, but he held his ground. Indeed, he edged
'Get back!' I said, and allowed my stick to rasp suggestively
on the road before raising it in readiness for any sudden de-
velopment. It was as well that he should know it was there.
The hint seemed to wound rather than frighten him.
'Aw, cut out the rough stuff, bo,' he said reproachfully in a
cautious, husky undertone. 'I ain't goin' to start anything.'
I had an impression that I had heard the voice before, but I
could not place it.
'What are you following me for?' I demanded. 'Who are
'Say, I want a talk wit youse. I took a slant at youse under de
lamp-post back dere, an' I seen it was you, so I tagged along.
Say, I'm wise to your game, sport.'
I had identified him by this time. Unless there were two men
in the neighbourhood of Sanstead who hailed from the Bowery,
this must be the man I had seen at the 'Feathers' who had
incurred the disapproval of Miss Benjafield.
'I haven't the faintest idea what you mean,' I said. 'What is
His voice became reproachful again.
'Ah chee!' he protested. 'Quit yer kiddin'! What was youse
rubberin' around de house for last night if you wasn't trailin' de
'Was it you who ran into me last night?' I asked.
'Gee! I fought it was a tree. I came near takin' de count.'
'I did take it. You seemed in a great hurry.'
'Hell!' said the man simply, and expectorated.
'Say,' he resumed, having delivered this criticism on that stir-
ring episode, 'dat's a great kid, dat Nugget. I t'ought it was a
Black Hand soup explosion when he cut loose. But, say, let's
don't waste time. We gotta get together about dat kid.'
'Certainly, if you wish it. What do you happen to mean?'
'Aw, quit yer kiddin'!' He expectorated again. He seemed to
be a man who could express the whole gamut of emotions by
this simple means. 'I know you!'
'Then you have the advantage of me, though I believe I re-
member seeing you before. Weren't you at the "Feathers" one
Wednesday evening, singing something about a dog?'
'Sure. Dat was me.'
'What do you mean by saying that you know me?'
'Aw, quit yer kiddin', Sam!'
There was, it seemed to me, a reluctantly admiring note in his
'Tell me, who do you think I am?' I asked patiently.
'Ahr ghee! You can't string me, sport. Smooth Sam Fisher, is
who you are, bo. I know you.'
I was too surprised to speak. Verily, some have greatness
thrust upon them.
'I hain't never seen youse, Sam,' he continued, 'but I know
it's you. And I'll tell youse how I doped it out. To begin with,
there ain't but you and your bunch and me and my bunch dat
knows de Little Nugget's on dis side at all. Dey sneaked him out
of New York mighty slick. And I heard that you had come here
after him. So when I runs into a guy dat's trailin' de kid down
here, well, who's it going to be if it ain't youse? And when dat
guy talks like a dude, like they all say you do, well, who's it
going to be if it ain't youse? So quit yer kiddin', Sam, and let's
get down to business.'
'Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr Buck MacGinnis?'
I said. I felt convinced that this could be no other than that
'Dat's right. Dere's no need to keep up anyt'ing wit me, Sam.
We're bote on de same trail, so let's get down to it.'
'One moment,' I said. 'Would it surprise you to hear that my
name is Burns, and that I am a master at the school?'
He expectorated admirably.
'Hell, no!' he said. 'Gee, it's just what you would be, Sam. I
always heard youse had been one of dese rah-rah boys oncest.
Say, it's mighty smart of youse to be a perfessor. You're right in
on de ground floor.'
His voice became appealing.
'Say, Sam, don't be a hawg. Let's go fifty-fifty in dis deal. My
bunch and me has come a hell of a number of miles on dis
proposition, and dere ain't no need for us to fall scrappin' over
it. Dere's plenty for all of us. Old man Ford'll cough up enough
for every one, and dere won't be any fuss. Let's sit in togedder
on dis nuggett'ing. It ain't like as if it was an ornery two-by-
four deal. I wouldn't ask youse if it wasn't big enough fir de
whole bunch of us.'
As I said nothing, he proceeded.
'It ain't square, Sam, to take advantage of your having edu-
cation. If it was a square fight, and us bote wit de same chance,
I wouldn't say; but you bein' a dude perfessor and gettin' right
into de place like dat ain't right. Say, don't be a hawg, Sam.
Don't swipe it all. Fifty-fifty! Does dat go?'
4 I don't know,' I said. 'You had better ask the real Sam. Good
I walked past him and made for the school gates at my best
pace. He trotted after me, pleading.
'Sam, give us a quarter, then.'
I walked on.
'Sam, don't be a hawg!'
He broke into a run.
'Sam!' His voice lost its pleading tone and rasped men-
'Gee, if I had me canister, youse wouldn't be so flip! Listen
here, you big cheese! You t'ink youse is de only t'ing in sight,
huh? Well, we ain't done yet. You'll see yet. We'll fix you!
Youse had best watch out.'
I stopped and turned on him.
'Look here, you fool,' I cried. 'I tell you I am not Sam Fisher.
Can't you understand that you have got hold of the wrong
man? My name is Burns - Burns.'
He expectorated - scornfully this time. He was a man slow by
nature to receive ideas, but slower to rid himself of one that had
contrived to force its way into what he probably called his
brain. He had decided on the evidence that I was Smooth Sam
Fisher, and no denials on my part were going to shake his belief.
He looked on them merely as so many unsportsmanlike
quibbles prompted by greed.
'Tell it to Sweeney!' was the form in which he crystallized his
'May be you'll say youse ain't trailin' de Nugget, huh?'
It was a home-thrust. If truth-telling has become a habit, one
gets slowly off the mark when the moment arrives for the
prudent lie. Quite against my will, I hesitated. Observant
Mr MacGinnis perceived my hesitation and expectorated
'Ah ghee!' he remarked. And then with a sudden return to
ferocity, 'All right, you Sam, you wait! We'll fix you, and fix
you good! See? Dat goes. You t'ink youse kin put it across us,
huh? All right, you'll get yours. You wait!'
And with these words he slid off into the night. From some-
where in the murky middle distance came a scornful 'Hawg!'
and he was gone, leaving me with a settled conviction that,
while I had frequently had occasion, since my expedition to
Sanstead began, to describe affairs as complex, their complexity
had now reached its height. With a watchful Pinkerton's man
within, and a vengeful gang of rivals without, Sanstead House
seemed likely to become an unrestful place for a young kid-
napper with no previous experience.
The need for swift action had become imperative.
White, the butler, looking singularly unlike a detective - which,
I suppose, is how a detective wants to look - was taking the air
on the football field when I left the house next morning for a
before-breakfast stroll. The sight of him filled me with a desire
for first-hand information on the subject of the man Mr Mac-
Ginnis supposed me to be and also of Mr MacGinnis himself. I
wanted to be assured that my friend Buck, despite appearances,
was a placid person whose bark was worse than his bite.
White's manner, at our first conversational exchanges, was
entirely that of the butler. From what I came to know of him
later, I think he took an artistic pride in throwing himself into
whatever role he had to assume.
At the mention of Smooth Sam Fisher, however, his manner
peeled off him like a skin, and he began to talk as himself, a
racy and vigorous self vastly different from the episcopal person
he thought it necessary to be when on duty.
'White,' I said, 'do you know anything of Smooth Sam
He stared at me. I suppose the question, led up to by no
previous remark, was unusual.
'I met a gentleman of the name of Buck MacGinnis - he was
our visitor that night, by the way - and he was full of Sam. Do
you know him?'
'Either of them.'
'Well, I've never seen Buck, but I know all about him.
There's pepper to Buck.'
'So I should imagine. And Sam?'
'You may take it from me that there's more pepper to Sam's
little finger than there is to Buck's whole body. Sam could make
Buck look like the last run of shad, if it came to a showdown.
Buck's just a common roughneck. Sam's an educated man. He's
'So I gathered. Well, I'm glad to hear you speak so well of
him, because that's who I'm supposed to be.'
'Buck MacGinnis insists that I am Smooth Sam Fisher.
Nothing I can say will shift him.'
White stared. He had very bright humorous brown eyes.
Then he began to laugh.
'Well, what do you know about that?' he exclaimed.
'Wouldn't that jar you!'
'It would. I may say it did. He called me a hog for wanting to
keep the Little Nugget to myself, and left threatening to "fix
me". What would you say the verb "to fix" signified in Mr
White was still chuckling quietly to himself.
'He's a wonder!' he observed. 'Can you beat it? Taking you
for Smooth Sam!*
'He said he had never seen Smooth Sam. Have you?'
'Does he look like me?'
'Not a bit.'
'Do you think he's over here in England?'
'Sam? I know he is.'
Then Buck MacGinnis was right?'
'Dead right, as far as Sam being on the trail goes. Sam's after
the Nugget to get him this time. He's tried often enough before,
but we've been too smart for him. This time he allows he's
going to bring it off.'
'Then why haven't we seen anything of him? Buck Mac-
Ginnis seems to be monopolizing the kidnapping industry in
'Oh, Sam'll show up when he feels good and ready. You can
take it from me that Sam knows what he is doing. Sam's a
special pet of mine. I don't give a flip for Buck MacGinnis.'
'I wish I had your cheery disposition! To me Buck Mac-
Ginnis seems a pretty important citizen. I wonder what he
meant by "fix"?'
White, however, declined to leave the subject of Buck's more
'Sam's a college man, you know. That gives him a pull. He
has brains, and can use them.'
'That was one of the points on which Buck MacGinnis re-
proached me. He said it was not fair to use my superior edu-
'Buck's got no sense. That's why you find him carrying on
like a porch-climber. It's his only notion of how to behave when
he wants to do a job. And that's why there's only one man to
keep your eye on in this thing of the Little Nugget, and that's
Sam. I wish you could get to know Sam. You'd like him.'
'You seem to look on him as a personal friend. I certainly
don't like Buck.'
'Oh, Buck!' said White scornfully.
We turned towards the house as the sound of the bell came to
us across the field.
'Then you think we may count on Sam's arrival, sooner or
later, as a certainty?' I said.
'Surest thing you know.'
'You will have a busy time.'
'All in the day's work.'
'I suppose I ought to look at it in that way. But I do wish I
knew exactly what Buck meant by "fix".'
White at last condescended to give his mind to the trivial
'I guess he'll try to put one over on you with a sand-bag,' he
said carelessly. He seemed to face the prospect with calm.
'A sand-bag, eh?' I said. 'It sounds exciting.'
'And feels it. I know. I've had some.'
I parted from him at the door. As a comforter he had failed
to qualify. He had not eased my mind to the slightest extent.
Looking at it now I can see that the days which followed
Audrey's arrival at Sanstead marked the true beginning of our
acquaintanceship. Before, during our engagement, we had been
strangers, artificially tied together, and she had struggled
against the chain. But now, for the first time, we were beginning
to know each other, and were discovering that, after all, we had
much in common.
It did not alarm me, this growing feeling of comradeship.
Keenly on the alert as I was for the least sign that would show
that I was in danger of weakening in my loyalty to Cynthia, I
did not detect one in my friendliness for Audrey. On the con-
trary, I was hugely relieved, for it seemed to me that the danger
was past. I had not imagined it possible that I could ever experi-
ence towards her such a tranquil emotion as this easy friend-
liness. For the last five years my imagination had been playing
round her memory, until I suppose I had built up in my mind
some almost superhuman image, some goddess. What I was
passing through now, of course, though I was unaware of it,
was the natural reaction from that state of mind. Instead of the
goddess, I had found a companionable human being, and I
imagined that I had effected the change myself, and by sheer
force of will brought Audrey into a reasonable relation to the
scheme of things.
I suppose a not too intelligent moth has much the same views
with regard to the lamp. His last thought, as he enters the flame,
is probably one of self-congratulation that he has arranged his
dealings with it on such a satisfactory commonsense basis.
And then, when I was feeling particularly safe and com-
placent, disaster came.
The day was Wednesday, and my 'afternoon off', but the rain
was driving against the windows, and the attractions of billiards
with the marker at the 'Feathers' had not proved sufficient to
make me face the two-mile walk in the storm. I had settled
myself in the study. There was a noble fire burning in the grate,
and the darkness lit by the glow of the coals, the dripping of the
rain, the good behaviour of my pipe, and the reflection that, as I
sat there, Glossop was engaged downstairs in wrestling with my
class, combined to steep me in a meditative peace. Audrey was
playing the piano in the drawing-room. The sound came to me
faintly through the closed doors. I recognized what she was
playing. I wondered if the melody had the same associations for
her that it had for me.
The music stopped. I heard the drawing-room door open.
She came into the study.
*I didn't know there was anyone here,' she said. Tm frozen.
The drawing-room fire's out.'
*Come and sit down,' I said. 'You don't mind the smoke?'
I drew a chair up to the fire for her, feeling, as I
did so, a certain pride. Here I was, alone with her in the fire-
light, and my pulse was regular and my brain cool. I had a
momentary vision of myself as the Strong Man, the strong,
quiet man with the iron grip on his emotions. I was pleased
She sat for some minutes, gazing into the fire. Little spurts of
flame whistled comfortably in the heart of the black-red coals.
Outside the storm shrieked faintly, and flurries of rain dashed
themselves against the window.
'It's very nice in here,' she said at last.
I filled my pipe and re-lit it. Her eyes, seen for an instant in
the light of the match, looked dreamy.
'I've been sitting here listening to you,' I said. 'I liked that last
thing you played.'
'You always did.'
*You remember that? Do you remember one evening - no,
* Which evening?'
'Oh, you wouldn't remember. It's only one particular evening
when you played that thing. It sticks in my mind. It was at your
She looked up quickly.
'We went out afterwards and sat in the park.'
I sat up thrilled.
'A man came by with a dog,' I said.
'Two. A bull-dog and a fox-terrier.'
'I remember the bull-dog, but - by Jove, you're right. A fox-
terrier with a black patch over his left eye.'
'Right eye. They came up to us, and you - '
'Gave them chocolates.'
I sank back slowly in my chair.
'You've got a wonderful memory,' I said.
She bent over the fire without speaking. The rain rattled on
'So you still like my playing, Peter?'
'I like it better than ever; there's something in it now that I
don't believe there used to be. I can't describe it - something -'
'I think it's knowledge, Peter,' she said quietly. 'Experience.
I'm five years older than I was when I used to play to you
before, and I've seen a good deal in those five years. It may not
be altogether pleasant seeing life, but - well, it makes you play
the piano better. Experience goes in at the heart and comes out
at the finger-tips.'
It seemed to me that she spoke a little bitterly.
'Have you had a bad time, Audrey, these last years?' I said.
'I'm not - altogether. I've learned a lot.'
She was silent again, her eyes fixed on the fire.
'What are you thinking about?' I said.
4 Oh, a great many things.'
'Mixed. The last thing I thought about was pleasant. That
was, that I am very lucky to be doing the work I am doing now.
Compared with some of the things I have done - '
'I wish you would tell me about those years, Audrey,' I said.
'What were some of the things you did?'
She leaned back in her chair and shaded her face from the fire
with a newspaper. Her eyes were in the shadow.
'Well, let me see. I was a nurse for some time at the Lafayette
Hospital in New York.'
'That's hard work?'
'Horribly hard. I had to give it up after a while. But - it
teaches you . . . You learn . . . You learn - all sorts of things.
Realities. How much of your own trouble is imagination. You
get real trouble in a hospital. You get it thrown at you.'
I said nothing. I was feeling - I don't know why - a little
uncomfortable, a little at a disadvantage, as one feels in the
presence of some one bigger than oneself.
'Then I was a waitress.'
'I tell you I did everything. I was a waitress, and a very bad
one. I broke plates. I muddled orders. Finally I was very rude to
a customer and I went on to try something else. I forget what
came next. I think it was the stage. I travelled for a year with a
touring company. That was hard work, too, but I liked it. After
that came dressmaking, which was harder and which I hated.
And then I had my first stroke of real luck.'
'What was that?'
'I met Mr Ford.'
'How did that happen?'
'You wouldn't remember a Miss Vanderley, an American girl
who was over in London five or six years ago? My father taught
her painting. She was very rich, but she was wild at that time to
be Bohemian. I think that's why she chose Father as a teacher.
Well, she was always at the studio, and we became great
friends, and one day, after all these things I have been telling
you of, I thought I would write to her, and see if she could not
find me something to do. She was a dear.' Her voice trembled,
and she lowered the newspaper till her whole face was hidden.
'She wanted me to come to their home and live on her for ever,
but I couldn't have that. I told her I must work. So she sent me
to Mr Ford, whom the Vanderleys knew very well, and I
became Ogden's governess.'
'Great Scott!' I cried. 'What!'
She laughed rather shakily.
'I don't think I was a very good governess. I knew next to
nothing. I ought to have been having a governess myself. But I
'But Ogden?' I said. 'That little fiend, didn't he worry the life
out of you?'
'Oh, I had luck there again. He happened to take a mild
liking to me, and he was as good as gold - for him; that's to say,
if I didn't interfere with him too much, and I didn't. I was
horribly weak; he let me alone. It was the happiest time I had
had for ages.'
'And when he came here, you came too, as a sort of ex-
governess, to continue exerting your moral influence over
'More or less that.'
We sat in silence for a while, and then she put into words the
thought which was in both our minds.
'How odd it seems, you and I sitting together chatting like
this, Peter, after all - all these years.'
'Like a dream!'
'Just like a dream . . . I'm so glad . . . You don't know how
I've hated myself sometimes for - for - '
'Audrey! You mustn't talk like that. Don't let's think of it.
Besides, it was my fault.'
She shook her head.
'Well, put it that we didn't understand one another.'
She nodded slowly.
'No, we didn't understand one another.'
'But we do now,' I said. 'We're friends, Audrey.'
She did not answer. For a long time we sat in silence. And
then - the newspaper must have moved - a gleam from the fire
fell upon her face, lighting up her eyes; and at the sight some-
thing in me began to throb, like a drum warning a city against
danger. The next moment the shadow had covered them
I sat there, tense, gripping the arms of my chair. I was
tingling. Something was happening to me. I had a curious sen-
sation of being on the threshold of something wonderful and
From downstairs there came the sound of boys' voices. Work
was over, and with it this talk by the firelight. In a few minutes
somebody, Glossop, or Mr Abney, would be breaking in on our
We both rose, and then - it happened. She must have tripped
in the darkness. She stumbled forward, her hand caught at my
coat, and she was in my arms.
It was a thing of an instant. She recovered herself, moved to
the door, and was gone.
But I stood where I was, motionless, aghast at the revelation
which had come to me in that brief moment. It was the physical
contact, the feel of her, warm and alive, that had shattered for
ever that flimsy structure of friendship which I had fancied so
strong. I had said to Love, 'Thus far, and no farther', and Love
had swept over me, the more powerful for being checked. The
time of self-deception was over. I knew myself.
That Buck MacGinnis was not the man to let the grass grow
under his feet in a situation like the present one, I would have
gathered from White's remarks if I had not already done so
from personal observation. The world is divided into dreamers
and men of action. From what little I had seen of him I placed
Buck MacGinnis in the latter class. Every day I expected him to
act, and was agreeably surprised as each twenty-four hours
passed and left me still unfixed. But I knew the hour would
come, and it did.
I looked for frontal attack from Buck, not subtlety; but,
when the attack came, it was so excessively frontal that my
chief emotion was a sort of paralysed amazement. It seemed
incredible that such peculiarly Wild Western events could
happen in peaceful England, even in so isolated a spot as San-
It had been one of those interminable days which occur only
at schools. A school, more than any other institution, is de-
pendent on the weather. Every small boy rises from his bed of a
morning charged with a definite quantity of devilry; and this, if
he is to sleep the sound sleep of health, he has got to work off
somehow before bedtime. That is why the summer term is the
one a master longs for, when the intervals between classes can be
spent in the open. There is no pleasanter sight for an assistant-
master at a private school than that of a number of boys ex-
pending their venom harmlessly in the sunshine.
On this particular day, snow had begun to fall early in the
morning, and, while his pupils would have been only too de-
lighted to go out and roll in it by the hour, they were prevented
from doing so by Mr Abney's strict orders. No schoolmaster
enjoys seeing his pupils running risks of catching cold, and just
then Mr Abney was especially definite on the subject. The Satur-
nalia which had followed Mr MacGinnis' nocturnal visit to the
school had had the effect of giving violent colds to three lords, a
baronet, and the younger son of an honourable. And, in ad-
dition to that, Mr Abney himself, his penetrating tenor changed
to a guttural croak, was in his bed looking on the world with
watering eyes. His views, therefore, on playing in the snow as an
occupation for boys were naturally prejudiced.
The result was that Glossop and I had to try and keep order
among a mob of small boys, none of whom had had any chance
of working off his superfluous energy. How Glossop fared I can
only imagine. Judging by the fact that I, who usually kept fair
order without excessive effort, was almost overwhelmed, I
should fancy he fared badly. His classroom was on the opposite
side of the hall from mine, and at frequent intervals his voice
would penetrate my door, raised to a frenzied fortissimo.
Little by little, however, we had won through the day, and the
boys had subsided into comparative quiet over their evening
preparation, when from outside the front door there sounded
the purring of the engine of a large automobile. The bell
I did not, I remember, pay much attention to this at the
moment. I supposed that somebody from one of the big houses
in the neighbourhood had called, or, taking the lateness of the
hour into consideration, that a motoring party had come, as
they did sometimes - Sanstead House standing some miles
from anywhere in the middle of an intricate system of by-roads
- to inquire the way to Portsmouth or London. If my class had
allowed me, I would have ignored the sound. But for them it
supplied just that break in the monotony of things which they
had needed. They welcomed it vociferously.
A voice: 'Sir, please, sir, there's a motor outside.'
Myself (austerely): 'I know there's a motor outside. Get on
with your work.'
Various voices: 'Sir, have you ever ridden in a motor?'
'Sir, my father let me help drive our motor last Easter, sir.'
'Sir, who do you think it is?'
An isolated genius (imitating the engine): 'Pr-prr! Pr-prr! Pr-
I was on the point of distributing bad marks (the school-
master's stand-by) broadcast, when a curious sound checked
me. It followed directly upon the opening of the front door. I
heard White's footsteps crossing the hall, then the click of the
latch, and then - a sound that I could not define. The closed
door of the classroom deadened it, but for all that it was
audible. It resembled the thud of a falling body, but I knew it
could not be that, for in peaceful England butlers opening front
doors did not fall with thuds.
My class, eager listeners, found fresh material in the sound
for friendly conversation.
'Sir, what was that, sir?'
'Did you hear that, sir?'
'What do you think's happened, sir?'
'Be quiet,' I shouted. 'Will you be - '
There was a quick footstep outside, the door flew open, and
on the threshold stood a short, sturdy man in a motoring coat
and cap. The upper part of his face was covered by a strip of
white linen, with holes for the eyes, and there was a Browning
pistol in his hand.
It is my belief that, if assistant-masters were allowed to wear
white masks and carry automatic pistols, keeping order in a
school would become child's play. A silence such as no threat of
bad marks had ever been able to produce fell instantaneously
upon the classroom. Out of the corner of my eye, as I turned to
face our visitor, I could see small boys goggling rapturously at
this miraculous realization of all the dreams induced by juven-
ile adventure fiction. As far as I could ascertain, on subsequent
inquiry, not one of them felt a tremor of fear. It was all too
tremendously exciting for that. For their exclusive benefit an
illustration from a weekly paper for boys had come to life, and
they had no time to waste in being frightened.
As for me, I was dazed. Motor bandits may terrorize France,
and desperadoes hold up trains in America, but this was peace-
ful England. The fact that Buck MacGinnis was at large in the
neighbourhood did not make the thing any the less incredible. I
had looked on my affair with Buck as a thing of the open air
and the darkness. I had figured him lying in wait in lonely
roads, possibly, even, lurking about the grounds; but in my
most apprehensive moments I had not imagined him calling at
the front door and holding me up with a revolver in my own
And yet it was the simple, even the obvious, thing for him
to do. Given an automobile, success was certain. Sanstead
House stood absolutely alone. There was not even a cottage
within half a mile. A train broken down in the middle of the
Bad Lands was not more cut off.
Consider, too, the peculiar helplessness of a school in such a
case. A school lives on the confidence of parents, a nebulous
foundation which the slightest breath can destroy. Everything
connected with it must be done with exaggerated discretion. I
do not suppose Mr MacGinnis had thought the thing out in all
its bearings, but he could not have made a sounder move if he
had been a Napoleon. Where the owner of an ordinary country-
house raided by masked men can raise the countryside in pur-
suit, a schoolmaster must do precisely the opposite. From his
point of view, the fewer people that know of the affair the
better. Parents are a jumpy race. A man may be the ideal
schoolmaster, yet will a connection with melodrama damn him
in the eyes of parents. They do not inquire. They are too panic-
stricken for that. Golden-haired Willie may be receiving the
finest education conceivable, yet if men with Browning pistols
are familiar objects at his shrine of learning they will remove
him. Fortunately for schoolmasters it is seldom that such visi-
tors call upon them. Indeed, I imagine Mr MacGinnis's effort to
have been the first of its kind.
I do not, as I say, suppose that Buck, whose forte was action
rather than brain-work, had thought all this out. He had trusted
to luck, and luck had stood by him. There would be no raising
of the countryside in his case. On the contrary, I could see Mr
Abney becoming one of the busiest persons on record in his
endeavour to hush the thing up and prevent it getting into the
The man with the pistol spoke. He sighted me - I was stand-
ing with my back to the mantelpiece, parallel with the door -
made a sharp turn, and raised his weapon.
Tut 'em up, sport,' he said.
It was not the voice of Buck MacGinnis. I put my hands up.
'Say, which of dese is de Nugget?'
He half turned his head to the class.
'Which of youse kids is Ogden Ford? 5
The class was beyond speech. The silence continued.
'Ogden Ford is not here,' I said.
Our visitor had not that simple faith which is so much better
than Norman blood. He did not believe me. Without moving
his head he gave a long whistle. Steps sounded outside. Another
short, sturdy form, entered the room.
'He ain't in de odder room,' observed the newcomer. *I been
This was friend Buck beyond question. I could have recog-
nized his voice anywhere!
'Well dis guy,' said the man with the pistol, indicating me,
'says he ain't here. What's de answer?'
'Why, it's Sam!' said Buck. 'Howdy, Sam? Pleased to see us,
huh? We're in on de ground floor, too, dis time, all right, all
His words had a marked effect on his colleague.
'Is dat Sam? Hell! Let me blow de head off'n him!' he said,
with simple fervour; and, advancing a step nearer, he waved his
disengaged fist truculently. In my role of Sam I had plainly
made myself very unpopular. I have never heard so much
emotion packed into a few words.
Buck, to my relief, opposed the motion. I thought this decent
'Cheese it,' he said curtly.
The other cheesed it. The operation took the form of lower-
ing the fist. The pistol he kept in position.
Mr MacGinnis resumed the conduct of affairs.
'Now den, Sam,' he said, 'come across! Where's de
'My name is not Sam,' I said. 'May I put my hands down?'
'Yep, if you want the top of your damn head blown off.'
Such was not my desire. I kept them up.
'Now den, you Sam,' said Mr MacGinnis again, 'we ain't got
time to burn. Out with it. Where's dat Nugget?'
Some reply was obviously required. It was useless to keep
protesting that I was not Sam.
'At this time in the evening he is generally working with Mr
'Who's Glossop? Dat dough-faced dub in de room over dere?'
'Exactly. You have described him perfectly.'
'Well, he ain't dere. I bin rubberin'. Aw, quit yer foolin',
Sam, where is he?'
'I couldn't tell you just where he is at the present moment,' I
'Ahr chee! Let me swot him one!' begged the man with the
pistol; a most unlovable person. I could never have made a
friend of him.
'Cheese it, you!' said Mr MacGinnis.
The other cheesed it once more, regretfully.
'You got him hidden away somewheres, Sam,' said Mr Mac-
Ginnis. 'You can't fool me. I'm com' t'roo dis joint wit a fine-
tooth comb till I find him.'
'By all means,' I said. 'Don't let me stop you.'
'You? You're coming wit me.'
'If you wish it. I shall be delighted.'
'An' cut out dat dam' sissy way of talking, you rummy,'
bellowed Buck, with a sudden lapse into ferocity. 'Spiel like a
regular guy! Standin' dere, pullin' dat dude stuff on me! Cut it
'Say, why mayn't I hand him one?' demanded the pistol-
bearer pathetically. 'What's your kick against pushin' his face
I thought the question in poor taste. Buck ignored it.
'Gimme dat canister,' he said, taking the Browning pistol
from him. 'Now den, Sam, are youse goin' to be good, and
come across, or ain't you - which?'
'I'd be delighted to do anything you wished, Mr MacGinnis,'
I said, 'but - '
4 Aw, hire a hall!' said Buck disgustedly. 'Step lively, den, an'
we'll go t'roo de joint. I t'ought youse 'ud have had more sense,
Sam, dan to play dis fool game when you know you're beat.
Shooting pains in my shoulders caused me to interrupt him.
'One moment,' I said. Tm going to put my hands down. I'm
'I'll blow a hole in you if you do!'
'Just as you please. But I'm not armed.'
'Lefty,' he said to the other man, 'feel around to see if he's
Lefty advanced and began to tap me scientifically in the
neighbourhood of my pockets. He grunted morosely the while.
I suppose, at this close range, the temptation to 'hand me one'
was almost more than he could bear.
'He ain't got no gun,' he announced gloomily.
'Den youse can put 'em down,' said Mr MacGinnis.
'Thanks,' I said.
'Lefty, youse stay here and look after dese kids. Get a move
We left the room, a little procession of two, myself leading,
Buck in my immediate rear administering occasional cau-
tionary prods with the faithful 'canister'.
The first thing that met my eyes as we entered the hall was the
body of a man lying by the front door. The light of the lamp
fell on his face and I saw that it was White. His hands and feet
were tied. As I looked at him, he moved, as if straining against
his bonds, and I was conscious of a feeling of relief. That sound
that had reached me in the classroom, that thud of a falling
body, had become, in the light of what had happened later, very
sinister. It was good to know that he was still alive. I gathered -
correctly, as I discovered subsequently - that in his case the
sand-bag had been utilized. He had been struck down and
stunned the instant he opened the door.
There was a masked man leaning against the wall by
Glossop's classroom. He was short and sturdy. The Buck Mac-
Ginnis gang seemed to have been turned out on a pattern. Exter-
nally, they might all have been twins. This man, to give him a
semblance of individuality, had a ragged red moustache. He was
smoking a cigar with the air of the warrior taking his rest.
'Hello!' he said, as we appeared. He jerked a thumb towards
the classroom. Tve locked dem in. What's doin', Buck?' he
asked, indicating me with a languid nod.
'We're going t'roo de joint,' explained Mr MacGinnis. 'De
kid ain't in dere. Hump yourself, Sam!'
His colleague's languor disappeared with magic swiftness.
'Sam! Is dat Sam? Here, let me beat de block off'n him!'
Few points in this episode struck me as more remarkable
than the similarity of taste which prevailed, as concerned
myself, among the members of Mr MacGinnis's gang. Men,
doubtless of varying opinions on other subjects, on this one
point they were unanimous. They all wanted to assault me.
Buck, however, had other uses for me. For the present, I was
necessary as a guide, and my value as such would be impaired
were the block to be beaten off me. Though feeling no friendlier
towards me than did his assistants, he declined to allow sen-
timent to interfere with business. He concentrated his attention
on the upward journey with all the earnestness of the young
gentleman who carried the banner with the strange device in the
Briefly requesting his ally to cheese it - which he did - he
urged me on with the nozzle of the pistol. The red-moustached
man sank back against the wall again with an air of dejection,
sucking his cigar now like one who has had disappointments in
life, while we passed on up the stairs and began to draw the
rooms on the first floor.
These consisted of Mr Abney's study and two dormitories.
The study was empty, and the only occupants of the dormi-
tories were the three boys who had been stricken down with
colds on the occasion of Mr MacGinnis's last visit. They
squeaked with surprise at the sight of the assistant-master in
such questionable company.
Buck eyed them disappointedly. I waited with something of
the feelings of a drummer taking a buyer round the sample
*Gt: :.- sa.c E_:.v
'Won't one ::' :.-ose do?'
'H_~r yourself. Si~
'Call me Sammy.' I urged. 'We're old mends now.'
'Don': ge: fresh.' he said austerely. And we moved on.
The top floor was even more deserted than the first. There
was no one in the dormitories. The onlv other room was Mr
Abne;. E ind. as we carr.t : rrosite it, a sneeze from within told
of the sufferings of its occupant.
The sound stirred Buck to his depths. He 'pointed' at the door
l..vc -- srr.ell-dog.
'Who's in ct:t" he demanded.
'Only Mr Abney. Better not disturb him. He has a bad
He placed a wrong construction on my solicitude for my
employer. His manner became excited.
'Open dat door, you/ he cried.
'It'll give him a nasty shock.'
'G'wan! Open it!'
No one who is digging a Browning pistol into the small of my
bi.;?: 'A. .11 ever find me disobliging. I opened the door - knock-
ing first, as a mild concession to the conventions - and the
procession passed in.
My stricken employer was lying on his back, staring at the
ceiling, and our entrance did not at first cause him to change
'Y : he said thickly, and disappeared beneath a huge
pocket-handkerchief. Muffled sounds, as of distant explosions
of dynamite, together with earthquake shudderings of the bed-
clothes, told of another sneezing-fit.
'I'm sorry to disturb you,' I began, when Buck, ever the man
of action, with a scorn of palaver, strode past me, and, hav-
ing prodded with the pistol that part of the bedclothes
beneath which a rough calculation suggested that Mr Ab-
ney's lower ribs were concealed, uttered the one word,
Mr Abney sat up like a Jack-in-tr.e-rox. Cr.t ~.ght aur.cs:
say that he shot up. And then he saw Buck.
I cannot even faintly imagine v-ha: -ere Mr A'rr.e;. s
emotions at that moment. He was a man who. :':; boyhood
up. had led a quiet and regular life. Things like Buck had ap-
peared to him hitherto, if they appeared at all. only in dreams
after injudicious suppers. Even in the ordina.:;. costurr.e :: the
Bower,' gentleman, without such adventitious extras as masks
and pistols. Buck was no beauty. \\.':h that hideous strip ::
dingy white linen on his face, he was a walking -.gr.tmare.
Mr Abney's eyebrows had risen and his jaw ;__ :_ 7- t:
their uttermost Limits. His hair, disturbed by canted with the
pillow, gave the impression of standing on end. H;s e;. es seemed
to bulge like a snail's. He stared at Buck, fascinated
'Say. you. quit rubberin'. Ycuse ain't in a dime museum
Where's dat Ford kid. huh?'
I have set down all Mr MacGinnis's remarks as if they bad
been uttered in a bell-like voice with a clear and cris? enun-
ciation: but. in doing so. I have flattered him. In reality. : >
mode of speech suggested :hat he had something large and ur.-
wield y permanently stuck in his mouth: and it was not easy for
a stranger to follow him. Mr Abney signally fa. .e j te : : so. He
continued to gape helplessly till the tension was broken by a
One cannot interrogate a sneezing man with any satisfac: m
to oneself. Buck siood by the bedside in moody silence. wa.:.-.c
for the paroxysm to spend itself.
I. meanwhile, had remained where I stood, close to the door.
And. as I waited for Mr Abney to finish sneezing, for the fast
time since Buck's colleague Lefty had entered the classroom the
idea of action occurred to me. Until this moment. I suppose, the
strangeness and unexpectedness of these happenings had
numbed my brain. To precede Buck meekly upsta.rs and to
wait with equal meekness while he interviewed Mr Abney h.^u
seemed the only course open to me. To one whose life has lain
apart from such things, the hypnotic influence of a Browning
pistol is irresistible.
But now. freed temporarily from this influence. I began to
think; and, my mind making up for its previous inaction by
working with unwonted swiftness, I formed a plan of action at
It was simple, but I had an idea that it would be effective. My
strength lay in my acquaintance with the geography of Sanstead
House and Buck's ignorance of it. Let me but get an adequate
start, and he might find pursuit vain. It was this start which I
saw my way to achieving.
To Buck it had not yet occurred that it was a tactical error to
leave me between the door and himself. I supposed he relied too
implicitly on the mesmeric pistol. He was not even looking at
The next moment my fingers were on the switch of the elec-
tric light, and the room was in darkness.
There was a chair by the door. I seized it and swung it into
the space between us. Then, springing back, I banged the door
I did not run without a goal in view. My objective was the
study. This, as I have explained, was on the first floor. Its
window looked out on to a strip of lawn at the side of the house
ending in a shrubbery. The drop would not be pleasant, but I
seemed to remember a waterspout that ran up the wall close to
the window, and, in any case, I was not in a position to be
deterred by the prospect of a bruise or two. I had not failed to
realize that my position was one of extreme peril. When Buck,
concluding the tour of the house, found that the Little Nugget
was not there - as I had reason to know that he would - there
was no room for doubt that he would withdraw the protection
which he had extended to me up to the present in my capacity
of guide. On me the disappointed fury of the raiders would fall.
No prudent consideration for their own safety would restrain
them. If ever the future was revealed to man, I saw mine. My
only chance was to get out into the grounds, where the darkness
would make pursuit an impossibility.
It was an affair which must be settled one way or the other in
a few seconds, and I calculated that it would take Buck just
those few seconds to win his way past the chair and find the
I was right. Just as I reached the study, the door of the bed-
room flew open, and the house rang with shouts and the noise of
feet on the uncarpeted landing. From the hall below came
answering shouts, but with an interrogatory note in them. The
assistants were willing, but puzzled. They did not like to leave
their posts without specific instructions, and Buck, shouting as
he clattered over the bare boards, was unintelligible.
I was in the study, the door locked behind me, before they
could arrive at an understanding. I sprang to the window.
The handle rattled. Voices shouted. A panel splintered be-
neath a kick, and the door shook on its hinges.
And then, for the first time, I think, in my life, panic gripped
me, the sheer, blind fear which destroys the reason. It swept
over me in a wave, that numbing terror which comes to one in
dreams. Indeed, the thing had become dream-like. I seemed to
be standing outside myself, looking on at myself, watching
myself heave and strain with bruised fingers at a window that
would not open.
The arm-chair critic, reviewing a situation calmly and at his
ease, is apt to make too small allowances for the effect of hurry
and excitement on the human mind. He is cool and detached.
He sees exactly what ought to have been done, and by what
simple means catastrophe might have been averted.
He would have made short work of my present difficulty, I
feel certain. It was ridiculously simple. But I had lost my head,
and had ceased for the moment to be a reasoning creature. In
the end, indeed, it was no presence of mind but pure good luck
which saved me. Just as the door, which had held out gallantly,
gave way beneath the attack from outside, my fingers, slipping,
struck against the catch of the window, and I understood why I
had failed to raise it.
I snapped the catch back, and flung up the sash. An icy wind
swept into the room, bearing particles of snow. I scrambled on
to the window-sill, and a crash from behind me told of the
falling of the door.
The packed snow on the sill was drenching my knees as I
worked my way out and prepared to drop. There was a deaf-
ening explosion inside the room, and simultaneously something
seared my shoulder like a hot iron. I cried out with the pain of
it, and, losing my balance, fell from the sill.
There was, fortunately for me, a laurel bush immediately
below the window, or I should have been undone. I fell into it,
all arms and legs, in a way which would have meant broken
bones if I had struck the hard turf. I was on my feet in an
instant, shaken and scratched and, incidentally, in a worse
temper than ever in my life before. The idea of flight, which
had obsessed me a moment before, to the exclusion of all other
mundane affairs, had vanished absolutely. I was full of fight, I
might say overflowing with it. I remember standing there, with
the snow trickling in chilly rivulets down my face and neck, and
shaking my fist at the window. Two of my pursuers were lean-
ing out of it, while a third dodged behind them, like a small man
on the outskirts of a crowd. So far from being thankful for my
escape, I was conscious only of a feeling of regret that there was
no immediate way of getting at them.
They made no move towards travelling the quick but trying
route which had commended itself to me. They seemed to be
waiting for something to happen. It was not long before I was
made aware of what this something was. From the direction of
the front door came the sound of one running. A sudden dimi-
nution of the noise of his feet told me that he had left the
gravel and was on the turf. I drew back a pace or two and
It was pitch dark, and I had no fear that I should be seen. I
was standing well outside the light from the window.
The man stopped just in front of me. A short parley fol-
'Can'tja see him?'
The voice was not Buck's. It was Buck who answered. And
when I realized that this man in front of me, within easy reach,
on whose back I was shortly about to spring, and whose neck I
proposed, under Providence, to twist into the shape of a cork-
screw, was no mere underling, but Mr MacGinnis himself, I
was filled with a joy which I found it hard to contain in
Looking back, I am a little sorry for Mr MacGinnis. He was
not a good man. His mode of speech was not pleasant, and his
manners were worse than his speech. But, though he un-
doubtedly deserved all that was coming to him, it was never-
theless bad luck for him to be standing just there at just that
moment. The reactions after my panic, added to the pain of my
shoulder, the scratches on my face, and the general misery of
being wet and cold, had given me a reckless fury and a deter-
mination to do somebody, whoever happened to come along,
grievous bodily hurt, such as seldom invades the bosoms of the
normally peaceful. To put it crisply, I was fighting mad, and I
looked on Buck as something sent by Heaven.
He had got as far, in his reply, as 'Naw, I can't - ' when I
I have read of the spring of the jaguar, and I have seen some
very creditable flying-tackles made on the football field. My
leap combined the outstanding qualities of both. I connected
with Mr MacGinnis in the region of the waist, and the howl he
gave as we crashed to the ground was music to my ears.
But how true is the old Roman saying, 'Surgit amari aliquid'.
Our pleasures are never perfect. There is always something. In
the programme which I had hastily mapped out, the upsetting
of Mr MacGinnis was but a small item, a mere preliminary.
There were a number of things which I had wished to do to
him, once upset. But it was not to be. Even as I reached for his
throat I perceived that the light of the window was undergoing
an eclipse. A compact form had wriggled out on to the sill, as I
had done, and I heard the grating of his shoes on the wall as he
lowered himself for the drop.
There is a moment when the pleasantest functions must come
to an end. I was loath to part from Mr MacGinnis just when
I was beginning, as it were, to do myself justice; but it was
unavoidable. In another moment his ally would descend
upon us, like some Homeric god swooping from a cloud,
and I was not prepared to continue the battle against
I disengaged myself - Mr MacGinnis strangely quiescent
during the process - and was on my feet in the safety of the
darkness just as the reinforcement touched earth. This time I
did not wait. My hunger for fight had been appeased to some
extent by my brush with Buck, and I was satisfied to have
achieved safety with honour.
Making a wide detour I crossed the drive and worked my
way through the bushes to within a few yards of where the
automobile stood, filling the night with the soft purring of its
engines. I was interested to see what would be the enemy's next
move. It was improbable that they would attempt to draw the
grounds in search of me. I imagined that they would recognize
failure and retire whence they had come.
I was right. I had not been watching long, before a little
group advanced into the light of the automobile's lamps. There
were four of them. Three were walking, the fourth, cursing
with the vigour and breadth that marks the expert, lying on
their arms, of which they had made something resembling a
The driver of the car, who had been sitting woodenly in his
seat, turned at the sound.
'Ja get him?' he inquired.
'Get nothing!' replied one of the three moodily. 'De Nugget
ain't dere, an' we was chasin' Sam to fix him, an' he laid for us,
an' what he did to Buck was plenty.'
They placed their valuable burden in the tonneau, where he
lay repeating himself, and two of them climbed in after him.
The third seated himself beside the driver.
'Buck's leg's broke,' he announced.
'Hell!' said the chauffeur.
No young actor, receiving his first round of applause, could
have felt a keener thrill of gratification than I did at those
words. Life may have nobler triumphs than the breaking of a
kidnapper's leg, but I did not think so then. It was with an effort
that I stopped myself from cheering.
'Let her go,' said the man in the front seat.
The purring rose to a roar. The car turned and began to move
with increasing speed down the drive. Its drone grew fainter,
and ceased. I brushed the snow from my coat and walked to the
My first act on entering the house, was to release White. He
was still lying where I had seen him last. He appeared to have
made no headway with the cords on his wrists and ankles. I
came to his help with a rather blunt pocket-knife, and he rose
stiffly and began to chafe the injured arms in silence.
They've gone,' I said.
'Did they hit you with a sand-bag?'
He nodded again.
'I broke Buck's leg,' I said, with modest pride.
He looked up incredulously. I related my experiences as
briefly as possible, and when I came to the part where I made
my flying tackle, the gloom was swept from his face by a joyful
smile. Buck's injury may have given its recipient pain, but it was
certainly the cause of pleasure to others. White's manner was
one of the utmost enthusiasm as I described the scene.
That'll hold Buck for a while,* was his comment. *I guess we
shan't hear from him for a week or two. That's the best cure for
the headache I've ever struck.'
He rubbed the lump that just showed beneath his hair. I did
not wonder at his emotion. Whoever had wielded the sand-bag
had done his work well, in a manner to cause hard feelings on
the part of the victim.
I had been vaguely conscious during this conversation of an
intermittent noise like distant thunder. I now perceived that it
came from Glossop's classroom, and was caused by the beating
of hands on the door-panels. I remembered that the red-
moustached man had locked Glossop and his young charges in.
It seemed to me that he had done well. There would be plenty
of confusion without their assistance.
I was turning towards my own classroom when I saw Audrey
on the stairs and went to meet her.
*It's all right,' I said. They've gone.'
'Who was it? What did they want?'
'It was a gentleman named MacGinnis and some friends.
They came after Ogden Ford, but they didn't get him.'
'Where is he? Where is Ogden?'
Before I could reply, babel broke loose. While we had been
talking, White had injudiciously turned the key of Glossop's
classroom which now disgorged its occupants, headed by my
colleague, in a turbulent stream. At the same moment my own
classroom began to empty itself. The hall was packed with boys,
and the din became deafening. Every one had something to say,
and they all said it at once.
Glossop was at my side, semaphoring violently.
'We must telephone,' he bellowed in my ear, 'for the
Somebody tugged at my arm. It was Audrey. She was saying
something which was drowned in the uproar. I drew her
towards the stairs, and we found comparative quiet on the first
'What were you saying?' I asked.
'He isn't there.'
'Ogden Ford. Where is he? He is not in his room. They must
have taken him.'
Glossop came up at a gallop, springing from stair to stair like
the chamois of the Alps.
'We must telephone for the police!' he cried.
'I have telephoned,' said Audrey, 'ten minutes ago. They are
sending some men at once. Mr Glossop, was Ogden Ford in
'No, Mrs Sheridan. I thought he was with you, Burns.'
I shook my head.
'Those men came to kidnap him, Mr Glossop,' said
'Undoubtedly the gang of scoundrels to which that man the
other night belonged! This is preposterous. My nerves will not
stand these repeated outrages. We must have police protection.
The villains must be brought to justice. I never heard of such a
thing! In an English school!'
Glossop's eyes gleamed agitatedly behind their spectacles.
Macbeth's deportment when confronted with Banquo's ghost
was stolid by comparison. There was no doubt that Buck's visit
had upset the smooth peace of our happy little community to
quite a considerable extent.
The noise in the hall had increased rather than subsided. A
belated sense of professional duty returned to Glossop and
myself. We descended the stairs and began to do our best, in our
respective styles, to produce order. It was not an easy task.
Small boys are always prone to make a noise, even without
provocation. When they get a genuine excuse like the incursion
of men in white masks, who prod assistant-masters in the small
of the back with Browning pistols, they tend to eclipse them-
selves. I doubt whether we should ever have quieted them, had
it not been that the hour of Buck's visit had chanced to fall
within a short time of that set apart for the boys' tea, and that
the kitchen had lain outside the sphere of our visitors' oper-
ations. As in many English country houses, the kitchen at San-
stead House was at the end of a long corridor, shut off by doors
through which even pistol-shots penetrated but faintly. Our ex-
cellent cook had, moreover, the misfortune to be somewhat
deaf, with the result that, throughout all the storm and stress in
our part of the house, she, like the lady in Goethe's poem, had
gone on cutting bread and butter; till now, when it seemed that
nothing could quell the uproar, there rose above it the ringing
of the bell.
If there is anything exciting enough to keep the Englishman
or the English boy from his tea, it has yet to be discovered. The
shouting ceased on the instant. The general feeling seemed to be
that inquiries could be postponed till a more suitable occasion,
but not tea. There was a general movement in the direction of
Glossop had already gone with the crowd, and I was about to
follow, when there was another ring at the front-door bell.
I gathered that this must be the police, and waited. In the
impending inquiry I was by way of being a star witness. If any
one had been in the thick of things from the beginning it was
White opened the door. I caught a glimpse of blue uniforms,
and came forward to do the honours.
There were two of them, no more. In response to our urgent
appeal for assistance against armed bandits, the Majesty of the
Law had materialized itself in the shape of a stout inspector and
a long, lean constable. I thought, as I came to meet them, that
they were fortunate to have arrived late. I could see Lefty and
the red-moustached man, thwarted in their designs on me,
making dreadful havoc among the official force, as here rep-
White, the simple butler once more, introduced us.
'This is Mr Burns, one of the masters at the school,' he said,
and removed himself from the scene. There never was a man
like White for knowing his place when he played the butler.
The inspector looked at me sharply. The constable gazed into
'H'm!' said the inspector.
Mentally I had named them Bones and Johnson. I do not
know why, except that they seemed to deserve it.
'You telephoned for us,' said Bones accusingly.
'What's the trouble? What - got your notebook? - has been
Johnson removed his gaze from the middle distance and pro-
duced a notebook.
'At about half past five - ' I began.
Johnson moistened his pencil.
'At about half past five an automobile drove up to the front
door. In it were five masked men with revolvers.'
I interested them. There was no doubt of that. Bones's
healthy colour deepened, and his eyes grew round. Johnson's
pencil raced over the page, wobbling with emotion.
'Masked men?' echoed Bones.
'With revolvers,' I said. 'Now aren't you glad you didn't go to
the circus? They rang the front-door bell; when White opened
it, they stunned him with a sand-bag. Then - '
Bones held up a large hand.
'Who is White?'
'I will take his statement. Fetch the butler.'
Johnson trotted off obediently.
Left alone with me, Bones became friendlier and less
This is as queer a start as ever I heard of, Mr Burns,' he said.
Twenty years I've been in the force, and nothing like this has
transpired. It beats cock-fighting. What in the world do you
suppose men with masks and revolvers was after? First idea I
had was that you were making fun of me.'
I was shocked at the idea. I hastened to give further details.
They were a gang of American crooks who had come over to
kidnap Mr Elmer Ford's son, who is a pupil at the school. You
have heard of Mr Ford? He is an American millionaire, and
there have been several attempts during the past few years to
At this point Johnson returned with White. White told his
story briefly, exhibited his bruise, showed the marks of the
cords on his wrists, and was dismissed. I suggested that further
conversation had better take place in the presence of Mr
Abney, who, I imagined, would have something to say on the
subject of hushing the thing up.
We went upstairs. The broken door of the study delayed us a
while and led to a fresh spasm of activity on the part of John-
son's pencil. Having disposed of this, we proceeded to Mr
Bones's authoritative rap upon the door produced an agitated
4 Who's that?' from the occupant. I explained the nature of the
visitation through the keyhole and there came from within the
sound of moving furniture. His one brief interview with Buck
had evidently caused my employer to ensure against a second
by barricading himself in with everything he could find suitable
for the purpose. It was some moments before the way was clear
for our entrance.
'Cub id,' said a voice at last.
Mr Abney was sitting up in bed, the blankets wrapped tightly
about him. His appearance was still disordered. The furniture
of the room was in great confusion, and a poker on the floor by
the dressing-table showed that he had been prepared to sell his
*I ab glad to see you, Idspector,' he said. 'Bister Burds, what is
the expladation of this extraordinary affair?'
It took some time to explain matters to Mr Abney, and more
to convince Bones and his colleague that, so far from wanting a
hue and cry raised over the countryside and columns about the
affair in the papers, publicity was the thing we were anxious to
avoid. They were visibly disappointed when they grasped the
position of affairs. The thing, properly advertised, would have
been the biggest that had ever happened to the neighbourhood,
and their eager eyes could see glory within easy reach. Mention
of a cold snack and a drop of beer, however, to be found in the
kitchen, served to cast a gleam of brightness on their gloom,
and they vanished in search of it with something approaching
cheeriness, Johnson taking notes to the last.
They had hardly gone when Glossop whirled into the room in
a state of effervescing agitation.
'Mr Abney, Ogden Ford is nowhere to be found!'
Mr Abney greeted the information with a prodigious
'What do you bead?' he demanded, when the paroxysm was
over. He turned to me. *Bister Burds, I understood you to - ah -
say that the scou'drels took their departure without the boy
'They certainly did. I watched them go.'
'I have searched the house thoroughly,' said Glossop, 'and
there are no signs of him. And not only that, the Boy Beckford
cannot be found.'
Mr Abney clasped his head in his hands. Poor man, he was in
no condition to bear up with easy fortitude against this suc-
cession of shocks. He was like one who, having survived an
earthquake, is hit by an automobile. He had partly adjusted his
mind to the quiet contemplation of Mr MacGinnis and friend^
when he was called upon to face this fresh disaster. And he had
a cold in the head, which unmans the stoutest. Napoleon would
have won Waterloo if Wellington had had a cold in the
'Augustus Beckford caddot be fou'd?' he echoed feebly.
'They must have run away together,' said Glossop.
Mr Abney sat up, galvanized.
'Such a thing has never happened id the school before!' he
cried. 'It has aldways beed my - ah - codstant endeavour to
make my boys look upod Sadstead House as a happy hobe. I
have systebatically edcouraged a spirit of cheerful codtedment.
I caddot seriously credit the fact that Augustus Beckford, one
of the bost charbig boys it has ever beed by good fortude to
have id by charge, has deliberately rud away.'
'He must have been persuaded by that boy Ford,' said
Glossop, 'who,' he added morosely, 'I believe, is the devil in
Mr Abney did not rebuke the strength of his language. Prob-
ably the theory struck him as eminently sound. To me there
certainly seemed something in it.
'Subbthig bust be done at once!' Mr Abney exclaimed. 'It is -
ah - ibperative that we take ibbediate steps. They bust have
gone to Londod. Bister Burds, you bust go to Londod by the
next traid. I caddot go byself with this cold.'
It was the irony of fate that, on the one occasion when duty
really summoned that champion popper-up-to-London to the
Metropolis, he should be unable to answer the call.
'Very well,' I said. Til go and look out a train.'
'Bister Glossop, you will be in charge of the school. Perhaps
you had better go back to the boys dow.'
White was in the hall when I got there.
'White,' I said, 'do you know anything about the trains to
'Are you going to London?' he asked, in his more con-
versational manner. I thought he looked at me curiously as he
'Yes. Ogden Ford and Lord Beckford cannot be found. Mr
Abney thinks they must have run away to London.'
'I shouldn't wonder,' said White dryly, it seemed to me. There
was something distinctly odd in his manner. 'And you're going
'Yes. I must look up a train.'
'There is a fast train in an hour. You will have plenty of
'Will you tell Mr Abney that, while I go and pack my bag?
And telephone for a cab.'
'Sure,' said White, nodding.
I went up to my room and began to put a few things together
in a suit-case. I felt happy, for several reasons. A visit to
London, after my arduous weeks at Sanstead, was in the nature
of an unexpected treat. My tastes are metropolitan, and the
vision of an hour at a music-hall - I should be too late for the
theatres - with supper to follow in some restaurant where there
was an orchestra, appealed to me.
When I returned to the hall, carrying my bag, I found
'I'm being sent to London,' I announced.
'I know. White told me. Peter, bring him back.'
'That's why I'm being sent.'
'It means everything to me.'
I looked at her in surprise. There was a strained, anxious
expression on her face, for which I could not account. I de-
clined to believe that anybody could care what happened to the
Little Nugget purely for that amiable youth's own sake.
Besides, as he had gone to London willingly, the assumption
was that he was enjoying himself.
'I don't understand,' I said. 'What do you mean?'
'I'll tell you. Mr Ford sent me here to be near Ogden, to
guard him. He knew that there was always a danger of attempts
being made to kidnap him, even though he was brought over to
England very quietly. That is how I come to be here. I go
wherever Ogden goes. I am responsible for him. And I have
failed. If Ogden is not brought back, Mr Ford will have nothing
more to do with me. He never forgives failures. It will mean
going back to the old work again - the dressmaking, or the
waiting, or whatever I can manage to find.' She gave a little
shiver. 'Peter, I can't. All the pluck has gone out of me. I'm
afraid. I couldn't face all that again. Bring him back. You must.
You will. Say you will.'
I did not answer. I could find nothing to say; for it was I who
was responsible for all her trouble. I had planned everything. I
had given Ogden Ford the money that had taken him to
London. And soon, unless I could reach London before it hap-
pened, and prevent him, he, with my valet Smith, would be in
the Dover boat-train on his way to Monaco.
It was only after many hours of thought that it had flashed
upon me that the simplest and safest way of removing the Little
Nugget was to induce him to remove himself. Once the idea had
come, the rest was simple. The negotiations which had taken
place that morning in the stable-yard had been brief. I suppose
a boy in Ogden's position, with his record of narrow escapes
from the kidnapper, comes to take things as a matter of course
which would startle the ordinary boy. He assumed, I imagine,
that I was the accredited agent of his mother, and that the
money which I gave him for travelling expenses came
from her. Perhaps he had been expecting something of the
sort. At any rate, he grasped the essential points of the
scheme with amazing promptitude. His little hand was ex-
tended to receive the cash almost before I had finished
The main outline of my plan was that he should slip away to
London, during the afternoon, go to my rooms, where he would
find Smith, and with Smith travel to his mother at Monaco. I
had written to Smith, bidding him be in readiness for the ex-
pedition. There was no flaw in the scheme as I had mapped it
out, and though Ogden had complicated it a little by gratu-
itously luring away Augustus Beckford to bear him company,
he had not endangered its success.
But now an utterly unforeseen complication had arisen. My
one desire now was to undo everything for which I had been
I stood there, looking at her dumbly, hating myself for being
the cause of the anxiety in her eyes. If I had struck her, I could
not have felt more despicable. In my misery I cursed Cynthia
for leading me into this tangle.
I heard my name spoken, and turned to find White at my
'Mr Abney would like to see you, sir.*
I went upstairs, glad to escape. The tension of the situation
had begun to tear at my nerves.
'Cub id, Bister Burds,' said my employer, swallowing a lo-
zenge. His aspect was more dazed than ever. 'White has just
bade an - ah - extraordinary cobbudicatiod to me. It seebs he is
in reality a detective, an employee of Pidkertod's Agedcy, of
which you have, of course - ah - heard.'
So White had revealed himself. On the whole, I was not sur-
prised. Certainly his motive for concealment, the fear of
making Mr Abney nervous, was removed. An inrush of Red
Indians with tomahawks could hardly have added greatly to Mr
Abney's nervousness at the present juncture.
'Sent here by Mr Ford, I suppose?' I said. I had to say some-
'Exactly. Ah - precisely.' He sneezed. 'Bister Ford, without
codsulting me - I do not cobbedt on the good taste or wisdob of
his actiod - dispatched White to apply for the post of butler at
this - ah - house, his predecessor having left at a bobedt's
dotice, bribed to do so, I strodgly suspect, by Bister Ford him-
self. I bay be wrodging Bister Ford, but do dot thig so.'
I thought the reasoning sound.
'All thad, however,' resumed Mr Abney, removing his face
from a jug of menthol at which he had been sniffing with the
tense concentration of a dog at a rabbit-hole, 'is beside the
poidt. I berely bedtiod it to explaid why White will accompady
you to London.'
The exclamation was forced from me by my dismay. This
was appalling. If this infernal detective was to accompany me,
my chance of bringing Ogden back was gone. It had been my
intention to go straight to my rooms, in the hope of finding him
not yet departed. But how was I to explain his presence there to
'I don't think it's necessary, Mr Abney,' I protested. 'I am
sure I can manage this affair by myself.'
'Two heads are better thad wud,' said the invalid sen-
tentiously, burying his features in the jug once more.
'Too many cooks spoil the broth,' I replied. If the con-
versation was to consist of copybook maxims, I could match
him as long as he pleased.
He did not keep up the intellectual level of the discussion.
'Dodseds!' he snapped, with the irritation of a man whose
proverb has been capped by another. I had seldom heard him
speak so sharply. White's revelation had evidently impressed
him. He had all the ordinary peaceful man's reverence for the
'White will accompany you, Bister Burds,' he said dog-
*Very well,' I said.
After all, it might be that I should get an opportunity of
giving him the slip. London is a large city.
A few minutes later the cab arrived, and White and I set
forth on our mission.
We did not talk much in the cab. I was too busy with my
thoughts to volunteer remarks, and White, apparently, had
meditations of his own to occupy him.
It was when we had settled ourselves in an empty com-
partment and the train had started that he found speech. I had
provided myself with a book as a barrier against conversation,
and began at once to make a pretence of reading, but he broke
through my defences.
interesting book, Mr Burns?'
'Very,' I said.
'Life's more interesting than books.'
I made no comment on this profound observation. He was
'Mr Burns,' he said, after the silence had lasted a few
'Let's talk for a spell. These train-journeys are pretty slow.'
Again I seemed to detect that curious undercurrent of mean-
ing in his voice which I had noticed in the course of our brief
exchange of remarks in the hall. I glanced up and met his eye.
He was looking at me in a way that struck me as curious. There
was something in those bright brown eyes of his which had the
effect of making me vaguely uneasy. Something seemed to tell
me that he had a definite motive in forcing his conversation on
'I guess I can interest you a heap more than that book, even if
it's the darndest best seller that was ever hatched.'
Ke lit a cigarette.
'You didn't want me around on this trip, did you?'
'It seemed rather unnecessary for both of us to go,' I said
indifferently. 'Still, perhaps two heads are better than one, as
Mr Abney remarked. What do you propose to do when you
get to London?'
He bent forward and tapped me on the knee.
'I propose to stick to you like a label on a bottle, sonny,' he
said. 'That's what I propose to do.'
'What do you mean?'
I was finding it difficult, such is the effect of a guilty con-
science, to meet his eye, and the fact irritated me.
'I want to find out that address you gave the Ford kid this
morning out in the stable-yard.'
It is strange how really literal figurative expressions are. I had
read stories in which some astonished character's heart leaped
into his mouth. For an instant I could have supposed that mine
had actually done so. The illusion of some solid object blocking
up my throat was extraordinarily vivid, and there certainly
seemed to be a vacuum in the spot where my heart should have
been. Not for a substantial reward could I have uttered a word
at that moment. I could not even breathe. The horrible unex-
pectedness of the blow had paralysed me.
White, however, was apparently prepared to continue the
chat without my assistance.
'I guess you didn't know I was around, or you wouldn't have
talked that way. Well, I was, and I heard every word you said.
Here was the money, you said, and he was to take it and break
for London, and go to the address on this card, and your pal
Smith would look after him. I guess there had been some talk
before that, but I didn't arrive in time to hear it. But I heard all
I wanted, except that address. And that's what I'm going to find
out when we get to London.'
He gave out this appalling information in a rich and soothing
voice, as if it were some ordinary commonplace. To me it
seemed to end everything. I imagined I was already as good as
under arrest. What a fool I had been to discuss such a matter
in a place like a stable-yard, however apparently empty. I
might have known that at a school there are no empty
'I must say it jarred me when I heard you pulling that stuff,'
continued White. 'I haven't what you might call a childlike
faith in my fellow-man as a rule, but it had never occurred to
me for a moment that you could be playing that game. It only
shows,' he added philosophically, 'that you've got to suspect
everybody when it comes to a gilt-edged proposition like the
The train rattled on. I tried to reduce my mind to working
order, to formulate some plan, but could not.
Beyond the realization that I was in the tightest corner of my
life, I seemed to have lost the power of thought.
White resumed his monologue.
'You had me guessing,' he admitted. 'I couldn't figure you
out. First thing, of course, I thought you must be working in
with Buck MacGinnis and his crowd. Then all that happened
tonight, and I saw that, whoever you might be working in with,
it wasn't Buck. And now I've placed you. You're not in with
any one. You're just playing it by yourself. I shouldn't mind
betting this was your first job, and that you saw your chance of
making a pile by holding up old man Ford, and thought it
was better than schoolmastering, and grabbed it.'
He leaned forward and tapped me on the knee again. There
was something indescribably irritating in the action. As one
who has had experience, I can state that, while to be arrested at
all is bad, to be arrested by a detective with a fatherly manner is
'See here,' he said, 'we must get together over this business.'
I suppose it was the recollection of the same words in the
mouth of Buck MacGinnis that made me sit up with a jerk and
stare at him.
'We'll make a great team,' he said, still in that same cosy
voice. 'If ever there was a case of fifty-fifty, this is it. You've got
the kid, and I've got you. I can't get away with him without
your help, and you can't get away with him unless you square
me. It's a stand-off. The only thing is to sit in at the game
together and share out. Does it go?'
He beamed kindly on my bewilderment during the space of
time it takes to select a cigarette and light a match. Then, blow-
ing a contented puff of smoke, he crossed his legs and leaned
'When I told you I was a Pinkerton's man, sonny,' he said, *I
missed the cold truth by about a mile. But you caught me shoot-
ing off guns in the grounds, and it was up to me to say some-
He blew a smoke-ring and watched it dreamily till it melted
in the draught from the ventilator.
'I'm Smooth Sam Fisher,' he said.
When two emotions clash, the weaker goes to the wall. Any
surprise I might have felt was swallowed up in my relief. If I
had been at liberty to be astonished, my companion's infor-
mation would no doubt have astonished me. But I was not. I
was so relieved that he was not a Pinkerton's man that I did not
really care what else he might be.
'It's always been a habit of mine, in these little matters,' he
went on, 'to let other folks do the rough work, and chip in
myself when they've cleared the way. It saves trouble and ex-
pense. I don't travel with a gang, like that bone-headed Buck.
What's the use of a gang? They only get tumbling over each
other and spoiling everything. Look at Buck! Where is he?
Down and out. While I - '
He smiled complacently. His manner annoyed me. I objected
to being looked upon as a humble cat's paw by this bland
4 While you - what?' I said.
He looked at me in mild surprise.
'Why, I come in with you, sonny, and take my share like a
'Well, don't I?'
He looked at me in the half-reproachful half-affectionate
manner of the kind old uncle who reasons with a headstrong
'Young man,' he said, 'you surely aren't thinking you can put
one over on me in this business? Tell me, you don't take me for
that sort of ivory-skulled boob? Do you imagine for one in-
stant, sonny, that I'm not next to every move in this game? Are
you deluding yourself with the idea that this thing isn't a perfect
cinch for me? Let's hear what's troubling you. You seem to
have gotten some foolish ideas in your head. Let's talk it over
'If you have no objection,' I said, 'no. I don't want to talk to
you, Mr Fisher. I don't like you, and I don't like your way of
earning your living. Buck MacGinnis was bad enough, but at
least he was a straightforward tough. There's no excuse for
'Surely we are unusually righteous this p.m., are we not?' said
I did not answer.
'Is this not mere professional jealousy?'
This was too much for me.
'Do you imagine for a moment that I'm doing this for
*I did have that impression. Was I wrong? Do you kidnap the
sons of millionaires for your health?'
'I promised that I would get this boy back to his mother. That
is why I gave him the money to go to London. And that is why
my valet was to have taken him to - to where Mrs Ford is.'
He did not reply in words, but if ever eyebrows spoke, his
said, 'My dear sir, really!' I could not remain silent under their
'That's the simple truth,' I said.
He shrugged his shoulders, as who would say, 'Have it your
own way. Let us change the subject.'
'You say "was to have taken". Have you changed your
'Yes, I'm going to take the boy back to the school.'
He laughed - a rich, rolling laugh. His double chin shook
'It won't do,' he said, shaking his head with humorous re-
proach. 'It won't do.'
'You don't believe me?'
'Frankly, I do not.'
'Very well,' I said, and began to read my book.
'If you want to give me the slip,' he chuckled, 'you must do
better than that. I can see you bringing the Nugget back to the
'You will, if you wait,' I said.
'I wonder what that address was that you gave him,' he
mused. 'Well, I shall soon know.'
He lapsed into silence. The train rolled on. I looked at my
watch. London was not far off now.
'The present arrangement of equal division,' said Sam, break-
ing a long silence, 'holds good, of course, only in the event of
your quitting this fool game and doing the square thing by me.
Let me put it plainly. We are either partners or competitors. It
is for you to decide. If you will be sensible and tell me that
address, I will pledge my word - '
'Your word!' I said scornfully.
'Honour among thieves!' replied Sam, with unruffled genial-
ity. T wouldn't double-cross you for worlds. If, however,
you think you can manage without my assistance, it will
then be my melancholy duty to beat you to the kid, and col-
lect him and the money entirely on my own account. Am I
to take it,' he said, as I was silent, 'that you prefer war to an
I turned a page of my book and went on reading.
'If Youth but knew!' he sighed. 'Young man, I am nearly
twice your age, and I have, at a modest estimate, about ten
times as much sense. Yet, in your overweening self-confidence,
with your ungovernable gall, you fancy you can hand me a
lemon. Me! I should smile!'
'Do,' I said. 'Do, while you can.'
He shook his head reprovingly.
'You will not be so fresh, sonny, in a few hours. You will be
biting pieces out of yourself, I fear. And later on, when my
automobile splashes you with mud in Piccadilly, you will taste
the full bitterness of remorse. Well, Youth must buy its experi-
ence, I suppose!'
I looked across at him as he sat, plump and rosy and com-
placent, puffing at his cigarette, and my heart warmed to the old
ruffian. It was impossible to maintain an attitude of righteous
iciness with him. I might loathe his mode of life, and hate him
as a representative - and a leading representative - of one of the
most contemptible trades on earth, but there was a sunny charm
about the man himself which made it hard to feel hostile to him
as an individual.
I closed my book with a bang and burst out laughing.
* You're a wonder!' I said.
He beamed at what he took to be evidence that I was coming
round to the friendly and sensible view of the matter.
*Then you think, on consideration - he said. 'Excellent!
Now, my dear young man, all joking aside, you will take me
with you to that address, will you not? You observe that I do
not ask you to give it to me. Let there be not so much as the
faintest odour of the double-cross about this business. All I ask
is that you allow me to accompany you to where the Nugget is
hidden, and then rely on my wider experience of this sort of
game to get him safely away and open negotiations with the
'I suppose your experience has been wide?' I said.
'Quite tolerably - quite tolerably.'
'Doesn't it ever worry you the anxiety and misery you
'Purely temporary, both. And then, look at it in another way.
Think of the joy and relief of the bereaved parents when sonny
comes toddling home again! Surely it is worth some temporary
distress to taste that supreme happiness? In a sense, you might
call me a human benefactor. I teach parents to appreciate their
children. You know what parents are. Father gets caught short
in steel rails one morning. When he reaches home, what does he
do? He eases his mind by snapping at little Willie. Mrs Van
First-Family forgets to invite mother to her freak-dinner. What
happens? Mother takes it out of William. They love him,
maybe, but they are too used to him. They do not realize all he
is to them. And then, one afternoon, he disappears. The agony!
The remorse! "How could I ever have told our lost angel to stop
his darned noise!" moans father. "I struck him!" sobs mother.
"With this jewelled hand I spanked our vanished darling!" "We
were not worthy to have him," they wail together. "But oh, if
we could but get him back!" Well they do. They get him back as
soon as ever they care to come across in unmarked hundred-
dollar bills. And after that they think twice before working off
their grouches on the poor kid. So I bring universal happiness
into the home. I don't say father doesn't get a twinge every now
and then when he catches sight of the hole in his bank balance,
but, darn it, what's money for if it's not to spend?'
He snorted with altruistic fervour.
'What makes you so set on kidnapping Ogden Ford?' I asked.
'I know he is valuable, but you must have made your pile by
this time. I gather that you have been practising your particular
brand of philanthropy for a good many years. Why don't you
'It is the dream of my life to retire, young man. You may not
believe me, but my instincts are thoroughly domestic. When I
have the leisure to weave day-dreams, they centre around a cosy
little home with a nice porch and stationary wash tubs.'
He regarded me closely, as if to decide whether I was worthy
of these confidences. There was something wistful in his brown
eyes. I suppose the inspection must have been favourable, or he
was in a mood when a man must unbosom himself to someone,
for he proceeded to open his heart to me. A man in his par-
ticular line of business, I imagine, finds few confidants, and the
strain probably becomes intolerable at times.
'Have you ever experienced the love of a good woman,
sonny? It's a wonderful thing.' He brooded sentimentally for a
moment, then continued, and - to my mind - somewhat spoiled
the impressiveness of his opening words. *The love of a good
woman,' he said, 'is about the darnedest wonderful lay-out that
ever came down the pike. I know. I've had some.'
A spark from his cigarette fell on his hand. He swore a
'We came from the same old town,' he resumed, having re-
covered from this interlude. 'Used to be kids at the same school
. . . Walked to school together ... me carrying her luncheon-
basket and helping her over the fences . . . Ah! . . . Just the same
when we grew up. Still pals. And that was twenty years ago . . *
The arrangement was that I should go out and make the money
to buy the home, and then come back and marry her.'
'Then why the devil haven't you done it?' I said severely.
He shook his head.
'If you know anything about crooks, young man,' he said,
'you'll know that outside of their own line they are the easiest
marks that ever happened. They fall for anything. At least, it's
always been that way with me. No sooner did I get together a
sort of pile and start out for the old town, when some smooth
stranger would come along and steer me up against some skin-
game, and back I'd have to go to work. That happened a few
times, and when I did manage at last to get home with the
dough I found she had married another guy. It's hard on
women, you see,' he explained chivalrously. 'They get lonesome
and Roving Rupert doesn't show up, so they have to marry
Stay-at-Home Henry just to keep from getting the horrors.'
'So she's Mrs Stay-at-Home Henry now?' I said sym-
'She was till a year ago. She's a widow now. Deceased had a
misunderstanding with a hydrophobia skunk, so I'm informed.
I believe he was a good man. Outside of licking him at school I
didn't know him well. I saw her just before I left to come here.
She's as fond of me as ever. It's all settled, if only I can connect
with the mazuma. And she don't want much, either. Just
enough to keep the home together.'
'I wish you happiness,' I said.
'You can do better than that. You can take me with you to
I avoided the subject.
'What does she say to your way of making money?' I
'She doesn't know, and she ain't going to know. I don't see
why a man has got to tell his wife every little thing in his past.
She thinks I'm a drummer, travelling in England for a dry-
goods firm. She wouldn't stand for the other thing, not for a
minute. She's very particular. Always was. That's why I'm
going to quit after I've won out over this thing of the Little
Nugget.' He looked at me hopefully. 'So you will take me
along, sonny, won't you?'
I shook my head.
'I'm sorry to spoil a romance, but I can't. You must look
around for some other home into which to bring happiness. The
Fords' is barred.'
'You are very obstinate, young man,' he said, sadly, but with-
out any apparent ill-feeling. 'I can't persuade you?'
'Ah, well! So we are to be rivals, not allies. You will regret
this, sonny. I may say you will regret it very bitterly. When you
see me in my automo - '
'You mentioned your automobile before.'
'Ah! So I did.'
The train had stopped, as trains always do on English rail-
ways before entering a terminus. Presently it began to move
forward hesitatingly, as if saying to itself, 'Now, am I really
wanted here? Shall I be welcome?' Eventually, after a second
halt, it glided slowly alongside the platform.
I sprang out and ran to the cab-rank. I was aboard a taxi,
bowling out of the station before the train had stopped.
Peeping out of the window at the back, I was unable to see
Sam. My adroit move, I took it, had baffled him. I had left him
It was a quarter of an hour's drive to my rooms, but to me, in
my anxiety, it seemed more. This was going to be a close thing,
and success or failure a matter of minutes. If he followed my
instructions Smith would be starting for the Continental boat-
train tonight with his companion; and, working out the dis-
tances, I saw that, by the time I could arrive, he might already
have left my rooms. Sam's supervision at Sanstead Station had
made it impossible for me to send a telegram. I had had to trust
to chance. Fortunately my train, by a miracle, had been up to
time, and at my present rate of progress I ought to catch Smith
a few minutes before he left the building.
The cab pulled up. I ran up the stairs and opened the door of
'Smith!' I called.
A chair scraped along the floor and a door opened at the end
of the passage. Smith came out.
'Thank goodness you have not started. I thought I should
miss you. Where is the boy?'
'The boy, sir?'
'The boy I wrote to you about.'
'He has not arrived, sir.'
I stared at him blankly.
'How long have you been here?'
'All day, sir.'
'You have not been out?'
'Not since the hour of two, sir.'
'I can't understand it,' I said.
'Perhaps the young gentleman changed his mind and never
'I know he started.'
Smith had no further suggestion to offer.
Tending the young gentleman's arrival, sir, I remain in
A fruity voice spoke at the door behind me.
'What! Hasn't he arrived?'
I turned. There, beaming and benevolent, stood Mr Fisher.
'It occurred to me to look your name out in the telephone
directory,' he explained. 'I might have thought of that
'Come in here,' I said, opening the door of the sitting-room. I
did not want to discuss the thing with him before Smith.
He looked about the room admiringly.
'So these are your quarters,' he said. 'You do yourself pretty
well, young man. So I understand that the Nugget has gone
wrong in transit. He has altered his plans on the way?'
'I can't understand it.'
'I can! You gave him a certain amount of money?'
'Yes. Enough to get him to - where he was going.'
Then, knowing the boy, I should say that he has found other
uses for it. He's whooping it up in London, and, I should fancy,
having the time of his young life.'
He got up.
'This of course,' he said, 'alters considerably any under-
standing we may have come to, sonny. All idea of a partnership
is now out of the question. I wish you well, but I have no
further use for you. Somewhere in this great city the Little
Nugget is hiding, and I mean to find him - entirely on my own
account. This is where our paths divide, Mr Burns. Good
When Sam had left, which he did rather in the manner of a
heavy father in melodrama, shaking the dust of an erring son's
threshold off his feet, I mixed myself a high-ball, and sat down
to consider the position of affairs. It did not take me long to see
that the infernal boy had double-crossed me with a smooth
effectiveness which Mr Fisher himself might have envied.
Somewhere in this great city, as Sam had observed, he was
hiding. But where? London is a vague address.
I wondered what steps Sam was taking. Was there some
underground secret service bureau to which persons of his pro-
fession had access? I doubted it. I imagined that he, as I pro-
posed to do, was drawing the city at a venture in the hope of
flushing the quarry by accident. Yet such was the impression he
had made upon me as a man of resource and sagacity, that 1 did
not relish the idea of his getting a start on me, even in a venture
so uncertain as this. My imagination began to picture him mir-
aculously inspired in the search, and such was the vividness of
the vision that I jumped up from my chair, resolved to get on
the trail at once. It was hopelessly late, however, and I did not
anticipate that I should meet with any success.
Nor did I. For two hours and a half I tramped the streets, my
spirits sinking more and more under the influence of failure and
a blend of snow and sleet which had begun to fall; and then,
tired out, I went back to my rooms, and climbed sorrowfully
It was odd to wake up and realize that I was in London.
Years seemed to have passed since I had left it. Time is a thing
cf emotions, not of hours and minutes, and I had certainly
packed a considerable number of emotional moments into my
stay at Sanstead House. I lay in bed, reviewing the past, while
Smith, with a cheerful clatter of crockery, prepared my break-
fast in the next room.
A curious lethargy had succeeded the feverish energy of the
previous night. More than ever the impossibility of finding the
needle in this human bundle of hay oppressed me. No one is
optimistic before breakfast, and I regarded the future with dull
resignation, turning my thoughts from it after a while to the
past. But the past meant Audrey, and to think of Audrey
It seemed curious to me that in a life of thirty years I should
have been able to find, among the hundreds of women I had
met, only one capable of creating in me that disquieting welter
of emotions which is called love, and hard that that one should
reciprocate my feeling only to the extent of the mild liking
which Audrey entertained for me.
I tried to analyse her qualifications for the place she held in
my heart. I had known women who had attracted me more
physically, and women who had attracted me more mentally. I
had known wiser women, handsomer women, more amiable
women, but none of them had affected me like Audrey. The
problem was inexplicable. Any idea that we might be affinities,
soul-mates destined for each other from the beginning of time,
was disposed of by the fact that my attraction for her was
apparently in inverse ratio to hers for me. For possibly the
millionth time in the past five years I tried to picture in my
mind the man Sheridan, that shadowy wooer to whom she had
yielded so readily. What quality had he possessed that I did not?
Wherein lay the magnetism that had brought about his tri-
These were unprofitable speculations. I laid them aside until
the next occasion when I should feel disposed for self-torture,
and got out of bed. A bath and breakfast braced me up, and I
left the house in a reasonably cheerful frame of mind.
To search at random for an individual unit among London's
millions lends an undeniable attraction to a day in town. In a
desultory way I pursued my investigations through the morning
and afternoon, but neither of Ogden nor of his young friend
Lord Beckford was I vouchsafed a glimpse. My consolation was
that Smooth Sam was probably being equally unsuccessful.
Towards the evening there arose the question of return to
Sanstead. I had not gathered whether Mr Abney had intended
to set any time-limit on my wanderings, or whether I was not
supposed to come back except with the deserters. I decided that
I had better remain in London, at any rate for another night,
and went to the nearest post office to send Mr Abney a telegram
to that effect.
As I was writing it, the problem which had baffled me for
twenty-four hours, solved itself in under a minute. Whether my
powers of inductive reasoning had been under a cloud since I
left Sanstead, or whether they were normally beneath contempt,
I do not know. But the fact remains, that I had completely
overlooked the obvious solution of my difficulty. I think I must
have been thinking so exclusively of the Little Nugget that I
had entirely forgotten the existence of Augustus Beckford. It
occurred to me now that, by making inquiries at the latter's
house, I should learn something to my advantage. A boy of the
Augustus type does not run away from school without a reason.
Probably some party was taking place tonight at the ancestral
home, at which, tempted by the lawless Nugget, he had decided
that his presence was necessary.
I knew the house well. There had been a time, when Lord
Mountry and I were at Oxford, when I had spent frequent
week-ends there. Since then, owing to being abroad, I had seen
little of the family. Now was the moment to reintroduce myself.
I hailed a cab.
Inductive reasoning had not played me false. There was a red
carpet outside the house, and from within came the sounds of
Lady Wroxham, the mother of Mountry and the vanishing
Augustus, was one of those women who take things as they
come. She did not seem surprised at seeing me.
'How nice of you to come and see us,' she said. 'Somebody
told me you were abroad. Ted is in the south of France in the
yacht. Augustus is here. Mr Abney, his schoolmaster, let him
come up for the night.'
I perceived that Augustus had been playing a bold game.
I saw the coaching of Ogden behind these dashing false-
'You will hardly remember Sybil. She was quite a baby when
you were here last. She is having her birthday-party this even-
'May I go in and help?' I said.
'I wish you would. They would love it.*
I doubted it. but went in. A dance had just finished. Strolling
towards me in his tightest Eton suit, his face shining with honest
joy, was the errant Augustus, and close behind him, wearing the
blase air of one tor whom custom has staled the pleasures of
life, was the Little Nugget.
I think they both saw me at the same moment. The effect of
my appearance on them was illustrative of their respective
characters Augustus turned a deep shade of purple and fixed
me with a horrified stare. The Nugget winked. Augustus halted
and shuffled his feet. The Nugget strolled up and accosted me
like an old friend.
'Hello!' he said 'How did you get here? Say, I was going to
try and get you on the phone some old time and explain things.
I've been pretty much on the jump since I hit London/
*You little biute!'
My gleaming eye. travelling past him, met that of the Hon.
Augustus Beckford, causing that youth to jump guiltily The
Nugget looked over his shoulder.
T guess we don't want him around if we're to talk business/
he said. Til go and tell him to beat it.'
'You'll do nothing of the kind. I don't propose to lose sight of
either of you.'
'Oh, he's all right. You don't have to worry about him. He
was going back to the school anyway tomorrow He only ran
away to go to this party Why not let him enjoy himself while
he's here? I'll go and make a date for you to meet at the end of
He approached his friend, and a short colloquy ensued, which
ended in the latter shuffling off in the direction of the other
revellers Such is the buoyancy of youth that a moment later he
was dancing a two-step with every appearance of careless
enjoyment. The future, with its storms, seemed to have slipped
from his mind.
'That's all right,' said the Nugget, returning to me. 'He's
promised he won't duck away. You'll find him somewhere
around whenever you care to look for him. Now we can talk.'
'I hardly like to trespass on your valuable time,' I
said. The airy way in which this demon boy handled what
should have been - to him - an embarrassing situation irritated
me. For all the authority I seemed to have over him I might
have been the potted palm against which he was lean-
*That's all right.' Everything appeared to be all right with
him. This sort of thing does not appeal to me. Don't be afraid
of spoiling my evening. I only came because Becky was so set
on it. Dancing bores me pallid, so let's get somewhere where we
can sit down and talk.'
I was beginning to feel that a children's party was the right
place for me. Sam Fisher had treated me as a child, and so did
the Little Nugget. That I was a responsible person, well on in
my thirty-first year, with a narrow escape from death and a
hopeless love-affair on my record, seemed to strike neither of
them. I followed my companion to a secluded recess with the
He leaned back and crossed his legs.
'Got a cigarette?'
'I have not got a cigarette, and, if I had, I wouldn't give it to
He regarded me tolerantly.
'Got a grouch tonight, haven't you? You seem all flittered up
about something. What's the trouble? Sore about my not show-
ing up at your apartment? I'll explain that all right.'
'I shall be glad to listen.'
'It's like this. It suddenly occurred to me that a day or two
one way or the other wasn't going to affect our deal and that,
while I was about it, I might just as well see a bit of London
before I left. I suggested it to Becky, and the idea made the
biggest kind of a hit with him. I found he had only been in an
automobile once in his life. Can you beat it? I've had one of my
own ever since I was a kid. Well, naturally, it was up to me to
blowhim to a joy-ride, and that's where the money went.'
'Where the money went?'
'Sure. I've got two dollars left, and that's all. It wasn't al-
together the automobiling. It was the meals that got away with
my roll. Say, that kid Beckford is one swell feeder. He's wrap-
ping himself around the eats all the time. I guess it's not smok-
ing that does it. I haven't the appetite I used to have. Well,
that's how it was, you see. But I'm through now. Cough up the
fare and I'll make the trip tomorrow. Mother'll be tickled to
death to see me.'
'She won't see you. We're going back to the school
He looked at me incredulously.
'What's that? Going back to school?'
'I've altered my plans.'
Tm not going back to any old school. You daren't take me.
Where'll you be if I tell the hot-air merchant about our deal and
you slipping me the money and all that?'
'Tell him what you like. He won't believe it.'
He thought this over, and its truth came home to him. The
complacent expression ieft his face.
'What's the matter with you? Are you dippy, or what? You
get me away up to London, and the first thing that happens
when I'm here is that you want to take me back. You make me
It was borne in upon me that there was something in his point
of view. My sudden change of mind must have seemed inex-
plicable to him. And, having by a miracle succeeded in finding
him, I was in a mood to be generous. I unbent.
'Ogden, old sport,' I said cordially, 'I think we've both had all
we want of this children's party. You're bored and if I stop on
another half hour I may be called on to entertain these
infants with comic songs. We men of the world are above
this sort of thing. Get your hat and coat and I'll take you
to a show. We can discuss business later over a bit of
The gloom of his countenance melted into a pleased smile.
*You said something that time!' he observed joyfully; and we
slunk away to get our hats, the best of friends. A note foi
Augustus Beckford, requesting his presence at Waterloo Station
at ten minutes past twelve on the following morning, I left with
the butler. There was a certain informality about my methods
which I doubt if Mr Abney would have approved, but I felt
that I could rely on Augustus.
Much may be done by kindness. By the time the curtain fell
on the musical comedy which we had attended all was peace
between the Nugget and myself. Supper cemented our friend-
ship, and we drove back to my rooms on excellent terms with
one another. Half an hour later he was snoring in the spare
room, while I smoked contentedly before the fire in the sitting-
I had not been there five minutes when the bell rang Smith
was in bed, so I went to the door myself and found Mr Fisher
on the mat,
My feeling of benevolence towards all created things, the
result of my successful handling ot the Little Nugget, embraced
Sam. I invited him in.
'Well,' I said, when I had given him a cigar and filled his
glass, 'and how have you been getting on, Mr Fisher? Any
He shook his head at me reproachfully.
'Young man, you're deep. I've got to hand it to you. I under-
estimated you. You're very deep.'
'Approbation from Smooth Sam Fisher is praise indeed. But
why these stately compliments?'
'You took me in, young man. I don't mind owning it. When
you told me the Nugget had gone astray, I lapped it up like a
babe. And all the time you were putting one over on me. Well,
'But he had gone astray, Mr Fisher.'
He knocked the ash off his cigar. He wore a pained look.
'You needn't keep it up, sonny I happened to be standing
within three yards of you when you got into a cab with him in
'Well, if that's the case, let there be no secrets between us.
He's asleep in the next room.'
Sam leaned forward earnestly and tapped me on the knee.
'Young man, this is a critical moment. This is where, if you
aren't careful, you may undo all the good work you have done
by getting chesty and thinking that, because you've won out so
far, you're the whole show. Believe me, the difficult part is to
come, and it's right here that you need an experienced man to
work in with you. Let me in on this and leave the negotiations
with old man Ford to me. You would only make a mess of
them. I've handled this kind of thing a dozen times, and I know
just how to act. You won't regret taking me on as a partner.
You won't lose a cent by it. I can work him for just double what
you would get, even supposing you didn't make a mess of the
deal and get nothing.'
'It's very good of you, but there won't be any negotiations
with Mr Ford. I am taking the boy back to Sanstead, as I told
you.' I caught his pained eye. 'I'm afraid you don't believe
He drew at his cigar without replying.
It is a human weakness to wish to convince those who doubt
us, even if their opinion is not intrinsically valuable. I remem-
bered that I had Cynthia's letter in my pocket. I produced it as
exhibit A in my evidence and read it to him.
Sam listened carefully.
'I see/ he said. 'Who wrote that?'
'Never mind. A friend of mine.'
I returned the letter to my pocket.
'I was going to have sent him over to Monaco, but I altered
my plans. Something interfered.'
'I might call it coincidence, if you know what that means.'
'And you are really going to take him back to the school?'
'We shall travel back together,' he said. 'I had hoped I had
seen the last of the place. The English countryside may be de-
lightful in the summer, but for winter give me London. How-
ever,' he sighed resignedly, and rose from his chair, 'I will
say good-bye till tomorrow. What train do you catch?'
'Do you mean to say,' I demanded, 'that you have the nerve
to come back to Sanstead after what you have told me about
'You entertain some idea of exposing me to Mr Abney?
Forget it, young man. We are both in glass houses. Don't let us
throw stones. Besides, would he believe it? What proof have
I had thought this argument tolerably sound when I had used
it on the Nugget. Now that it was used on myself I realized its
soundness even more thoroughly. My hands were tied.
'Yes,' said Sam, 'tomorrow, after our little jaunt to London,
we shall all resume the quiet, rural life once more.'
He beamed expansively upon me from the doorway.
'However, even the quiet, rural life has its interest. I guess we
shan't be dull!' he said.
I believed him.
Considering the various handicaps under which he laboured -
notably a cold in the head, a fear of the Little Nugget, and a
reverence for the aristocracy - Mr Abney's handling of the
situation, when the runaways returned to school, bordered on
the masterly. Any sort of physical punishment being out of the
question - especially in the case of the Nugget, who would
certainly have retaliated with a bout of window-breaking - he
had to fall back on oratory, and he did this to such effect that,
when he had finished, Augustus wept openly and was so sub-
dued that he did not ask a single question for nearly three
One result of the adventure was that Ogden's bed was moved
to a sort of cubby-hole adjoining my room. In the house, as
originally planned, this had evidently been a dressing-room.
Under Mr Abney's rule it had come to be used as a general
repository for lumber. My boxes were there, and a portmanteau
of Glossop's. It was an excellent place in which to bestow a boy
in quest of whom kidnappers might break in by night. The
window was too small to allow a man to pass through, and the
only means of entrance was by way of my room. By night, at
any rate, the Nugget's safety seemed to be assured.
The curiosity of the small boy, fortunately, is not lasting. His
active mind lives mainly in the present. It was not many days,
therefore, before the excitement caused by Buck's raid and the
Nugget's disappearance began to subside. Within a week both
episodes had been shelved as subjects of conversation, and the
school had settled down to its normal humdrum life.
To me, however, there had come a period of mental unrest
more acute than I had ever experienced. My life, for the past
five years, had run in so smooth a stream that, now that I found
myself tossed about in the rapids, I was bewildered. It was a
peculiar aggravation of the difficulty of my position that in my
world, the little world of Sanstead House, there should be but
one woman, and she the very one whom, if I wished to recover
my peace of mind, it was necessary for me to avoid.
My feelings towards Cynthia at this time defied my powers of
analysis. There were moments when I clung to the memory of
her, when she seemed the only thing solid and safe in a world
of chaos, and moments, again, when she was a burden crushing
me. There were days when I would give up the struggle and let
myself drift, and days when I would fight myself inch by inch.
But every day found my position more hopeless than the last.
At night sometimes, as I lay awake, I would tell myself that if
only I could see her or even hear from her the struggle would be
easier. It was her total disappearance from my life that made it
so hard for me. I had nothing to help me to fight.
And then, one morning, as if in answer to my thoughts her
The letter startled me. It was as if there had been some tele-
pathic communion between us.
It was very short, almost formal:
*Mv DEAR PETER - I want to ask you a question. I can put it
quite shortly. It is this. Are your feelings towards me still the same?
I don't tell you why I ask this. I simply ask it. Whatever your answer
is, it cannot affect our friendship, so be quite candid. CYNTHIA.'
I sat down there and then to write my reply. The letter,
coming when it did and saying what it said, had affected me
profoundly. It was like an unexpected reinforcement in a losing
battle. It filled me with a glow of self-confidence. I felt strong
again, able to fight and win. My mood bore me away, and I
poured out my whole heart to her. I told her that my feelings
had not altered, that I loved her and nobody but her. It was a
letter, I can see, looking back, born of fretted nerves; but at the
time I had no such criticism to make. It seemed to me a true
expression of my real feelings.
That the fight was not over because in my moment of exal-
tation I had imagined that I had conquered myself was made
uncomfortably plain to me by the thrill that ran through me
when, returning from posting my letter, I met Audrey. The
sight of her reminded me that a reinforcement is only a re-
inforcement, a help towards victory, not victory itself.
For the first time I found myself feeling resentful towards
her. There was no reason in my resentment. It would not have
borne examination. But it was there, and its presence gave me
support. I found myself combating the thrill the sight of her had
caused, and looking at her with a critical and hostile eye. Who
was she that she should enslave a man against his will? Fasci-
nation exists only in the imagination of the fascinated. If he
have the strength to deny the fascination and convince himself
that it does not exist, he is saved. It is purely a matter of will-
power and calm reasonableness. There must have been sturdy,
level-headed Egyptian citizens who could not understand what
people saw to admire in Cleopatra.
Thus reasoning, I raised my hat, uttered a crisp 'Good morn-
ing', and passed on, the very picture of the brisk man of
Even the brisk man of affairs must stop when spoken to.
Otherwise, apart from any question of politeness, it looks as if
he were running away.
Her face was still wearing the faint look of surprise which my
manner had called forth.
'You're in a great hurry.'
I had no answer. She did not appear to expect one.
We moved towards the house in silence, to me oppressive
silence. The force of her personality was beginning to beat
against my defences, concerning the stability of which, under
pressure, a certain uneasiness troubled my mind.
'Are you worried about anything, Peter?' she said at last.
'No,' I said. 'Why?'
'I was afraid you might be.*
I felt angry with myself. I was mismanaging this thing in the
most idiotic way. Instead of this bovine silence, gay small-talk,
the easy eloquence, in fact, of the brisk man of affairs should
have been my policy. No wonder Smooth Sam Fisher treated
me as a child. My whole bearing was that of a sulky school-
The silence became more oppressive.
We reached the house. In the hall we parted, she to upper
regions, I to my classroom. She did not look at me. Her face
was cold and offended.
One is curiously inconsistent. Having created what in the cir-
cumstances was a most desirable coldness between Audrey and
myself, I ought to have been satisfied. Reason told me that this
was the best thing that could have happened. Yet joy was one of
the few emotions which I did not feel during the days which
followed. My brief moment of clear-headedness had passed,
and with it the exhilaration that had produced the letter to
Cynthia and the resentment which had helped me to reason
calmly with myself on the intrinsic nature of fascination in
woman. Once more Audrey became the centre of my world.
But our friendship, that elusive thing which had contrived to
exist side by side with my love, had vanished. There was a
breach between us which widened daily. Soon we hardly
Nothing, in short, could have been more eminently satisfac-
tory, and the fact that I regretted it is only a proof of the
essential weakness of my character.
In those grey days there was one thought, of the many that
occupied my mind, which brought with it a certain measure of
consolation. It was the reflection that this state of affairs could
not last for ever. The school term was drawing to a close. Soon I
should be free from the propinquity which paralysed my efforts
to fight. I was resolved that the last day of term should end for
ever my connection with Sanstead House and all that was in it.
Mrs Ford must find some other minion. If her happiness de-
pended on the recovery of the Little Nugget, she must learn to
do without happiness, like the rest of the inhabitants of this
Meanwhile, however, I held myself to be still on duty. By
what tortuous processes of thought I had arrived at the con-
clusion I do not know, but I considered myself responsible to
Audrey for the safeguarding of the Little Nugget, and no
altered relations between us could affect my position. Perhaps
mixed up with this attitude of mind, was the less altruistic wish
to foil Smooth Sam. His continued presence at the school was a
challenge to me.
Sam's behaviour puzzled me. I do not know exactly what I
expected him to do, but I certainly did not expect him to do
nothing. Yet day followed day, and still he made no move. He
was the very model of a butler. But our dealings with one
another in London had left me vigilant, and his inaction did not
disarm me. It sprang from patience, not from any weakening of
purpose or despair of success. Sooner or later I knew he would
act, swiftly and suddenly, with a plan perfected in every
But when he made his attack it was the very simplicity of his
methods that tricked me, and only pure chance defeated him.
I have said that it was the custom of the staff of masters at
Sanstead House School - in other words, of every male adult in
the house except Mr Fisher himself - to assemble in Mr
Abney's study after dinner of an evening to drink coffee. It was
a ceremony, like most of the ceremonies at an establishment
such as a school, where things are run on a schedule, which
knew of no variation. Sometimes Mr Abney would leave us
immediately after the ceremony, but he never omitted to take
his part in it first.
On this particular evening, for the first time since the be-
ginning of the term, I was seized with a prejudice against coffee.
I had been sleeping badly for several nights, and I decided that
abstention from coffee might remedy this.
I waited, for form's sake, till Glossop and Mr Abney had
filled their cups, then went to my room, where I lay down in the
dark to wrestle with a more than usually pronounced fit of
depression which had descended upon me. Solitude and dark-
ness struck me as the suitable setting for my thoughts.
At this moment Smooth Sam Fisher had no place in my
meditations. My mind was not occupied with him at all. When,
therefore, the door, which had been ajar, began to open slowly,
I did not become instantly on the alert. Perhaps it was some
sound, barely audible, that aroused me from my torpor and set
my blood tingling with anticipation. Perhaps it was the way the
door was opening. An honest draught does not move a door
furtively, in jerks.
I sat up noiseless, tense, and alert. And then, very quietly,
somebody entered the room.
There was only one person in Sanstead House who would
enter a room like that. I was amused. The impudence of the
thing tickled me. It seemed so foreign to Mr Fisher's usual
cautious methods. This strolling in and helping oneself was cer-
tainly kidnapping de luxe. In the small hours I could have
understood it; but at nine o'clock at night, with Glossop, Mr
Abney and myself awake and liable to be met at any moment
on the stairs, it was absurd. I marvelled at Smooth Sam's
I lay still. I imagined that, being in, he would switch on the
electric light. He did, and I greeted him pleasantly.
'And what can I do for you, Mr Fisher?'
For a man who had learned to control himself in difficult
situations he took the shock badly. He uttered a startled excla-
mation and spun round, open-mouthed.
I could not help admiring the quickness with which he recov-
ered himself. Almost immediately he was the suave, chatty Sam
Fisher who had unbosomed his theories and dreams to me in
the train to London.
'I quit,' he said pleasantly. 'The episode is closed. I am a man
of peace, and I take it that you would not keep on lying quietly
on that bed while I went into the other room and abstracted our
young friend? Unless you have changed your mind again,
would a fifty-fifty offer tempt you?'
'Not an inch.'
'Just so. I merely asked.'
'And how about Mr Abney, in any case? Suppose we met him
on the stairs?'
'We should not meet him on the stairs,' said Sam confidently.
'You did not take coffee tonight, I gather?'
'I didn't - no. Why?'
He jerked his head resignedly.
'Can you beat it! I ask you, young man, could I have foreseen
that, after drinking coffee every night regularly for two months,
you would pass it up tonight of all nights? You certainly are
my jinx, sonny. You have hung the Indian sign on me all right.'
His words had brought light to me.
'Did you drug the coffee?'
'Did I! I fixed it so that one sip would have an insomnia
patient in dreamland before he had time to say "Good night".
That stuff Rip Van Winkle drank had nothing on my coffee.
And all wasted! Well, well!'
He turned towards the door.
'Shall I leave the light on, or would you prefer it off?'
'On please. I might fall asleep in the dark.'
'Not you! And, if you did, you would dream that I was there,
and wake up. There are moments, young man, when you bring
me pretty near to quitting and taking to honest work.'
'But not altogether. I have still a shot or two in my locker. We
shall see what we shall see. I am not dead yet. Wait!'
*I will, and some day, when I am walking along Piccadilly, a
passing automobile will splash me with mud. A heavily furred
plutocrat will stare haughtily at me from the tonneau, and with
a start of surprise I shall recognize - '
'Stranger things have happened. Be flip while you can, sonny.
You win so far, but this hoodoo of mine can't last for ever.'
He passed from the room with a certain sad dignity. A
moment later he reappeared.
'A thought strikes me,' he said. The fifty-fifty proposition
does not impress you. Would it make things easier if I were to
offer my cooperation for a mere quarter of the profit?'
'Not in the least.'
'It's a handsome offer.'
'Wonderfully. I'm afraid I'm not dealing on any terms.'
He left the room, only to return once more. His head ap-
peared, staring at me round the door, in a disembodied way,
like the Cheshire Cat.
'You won't say later on I didn't give you your chance?' he
He vanished again, permanently this time. I heard his steps
passing down the stairs.
We had now arrived at the last week of term, at the last days of
the last week. The holiday spirit was abroad in the school.
Among the boys it took the form of increased disorderliness.
Boys who had hitherto only made Glossop bellow now made
him perspire and tear his hair as well. Boys who had merely spilt
ink now broke windows. The Little Nugget abandoned ciga-
rettes in favour of an old clay pipe which he had found in the
As for me, I felt like a spent swimmer who sees the shore
almost within his reach. Audrey avoided me when she could,
and was frigidly polite when we met. But I suffered less now. A
few more days, and I should have done with this phase of
my life for ever, and Audrey would once more become a
Complete quiescence marked the deportment of Mr Fisher
during these days. He did not attempt to repeat his last effort.
The coffee came to the study unmixed with alien drugs. Sam,
like lightning, did not strike twice in the same place. He had the
artist's soul, and disliked patching up bungled work. If he made
another move, it would, I knew, be on entirely fresh lines.
Ignoring the fact that I had had all the luck, I was inclined to
be self-satisfied when I thought of Sam. I had pitted my wits
against his, and I had won. It was a praiseworthy performance
for a man who had done hitherto nothing particular in his
If all the copybook maxims which had been drilled into me in
my childhood and my early disaster with Audrey had not been
sufficient, I ought to have been warned by Sam's advice not to
take victory for granted till the fight was over. As Sam had said,
his luck would turn sooner or later.
One realizes these truths in theory, but the practical appli-
cation of them seldom fails to come as a shock. I received mine
on the last morning but one of the term.
Shortly after breakfast a message was brought to me that Mr
Abney would like to see me in his study. I went without any
sense of disaster to come. Most of the business of the school was
discussed in the study after breakfast, and I imagined that the
matter had to do with some detail of the morrow's exodus.
I found Mr Abney pacing the room, a look of annoyance on
his face. At the desk, her back to me, Audrey was writing. It
was part of her work to take charge of the business correspon-
dence of the establishment. She did not look round when I came
in, nor when Mr Abney spoke my name, but went on writing as
if I did not exist.
There was a touch of embarrassment in Mr Abney's manner,
for which I could not at first account. He was stately, but
with the rather defensive stateliness which marked his
announcements that he was about to pop up to London and
leave me to do his work. He coughed once or twice before
proceeding to the business of the moment.
'Ah, Mr Burns,' he said at length, *might I ask if your plans
for the holidays, the - ah - earlier part of the holidays are
settled? No? ah - excellent.'
He produced a letter from the heap of papers on the desk.
4 Ah - excellent. That simplifies matters considerably. I have
no right to ask what I am about to - ah - in fact ask. I have no
claim on your time in the holidays. But, in the circumstances,
perhaps you may see your way to doing me a considerable
service. I have received a letter from Mr Elmer Ford which puts
me in a position of some difficulty. It is not my wish - indeed, it
is foreign to my policy - to disoblige the parents of the boys
who are entrusted to my - ah - care, and I should like, if
possible, to do what Mr Ford asks. It appears that certain
business matters call him to the north of England for a few
days, this rendering it impossible for him to receive little Ogden
tomorrow. It is not my custom to criticize parents who have
paid me the compliment of placing their sons at the most mal-
leable and important period of their lives, in my - ah - charge,
but I must say that a little longer notice would have been a - in
fact, a convenience. But Mr Ford, like so many of his country-
men, is what I believe is called a hustler. He does it now, as the
expression is. In short, he wishes to leave little Ogden at the
school for the first few days of the holidays, and I should be
extremely obliged, Mr Burns, if you should find it possible to
stay here and - ah - look after him.'
Audrey stopped writing and turned in her chair, the first inti-
mation she had given that she had heard Mr Abney's
'It really won't be necessary to trouble Mr Burns,' she said,
without looking at me. 'I can take care of Ogden very well by
'In the case of an - ah - ordinary boy, Mrs Sheridan, I should
not hesitate to leave you in sole charge as you have very kindly
offered to stay and help me in this matter. But we must recollect
not only - I speak frankly - not only the peculiar - ah - dis-
position of this particular lad, but also the fact that those
ruffians who visited the house that night may possibly seize the
opportunity to make a fresh attack. I should not feel - ah -
justified in thrusting so heavy a reponsibility upon you.'
There was reason in what he said. Audrey made no reply. I
heard her pen tapping on the desk and deduced her feelings. I,
myself, felt like a prisoner who, having filed through the bars of
his cell, is removed to another on the eve of escape. I had so
braced myself up to endure till the end of term and no longer
that this postponement of the day of release had a crushing
Mr Abney coughed and lowered his voice confidentially.
*I would stay myself, but the fact is, I am called to London on
very urgent business, and shall be unable to return for a day or
so. My late pupil, the - ah - the Earl of Buxton, has been - 1 can
rely on your discretion, Mr Burns - has been in trouble with the
authorities at Eton, and his guardian, an old college friend of
mine - the - in fact, the Duke of Bessborough, who, rightly or
wrongly, places - er - considerable reliance on my advice, is
anxious to consult me on the matter. I shall return as soon as
possible, but you will readily understand that, in the circum-
stances, my time will not be my own. I must place myself unre-
servedly at - ah - Bessborough's disposal.'
He pressed the bell.
*In the event of your observing any suspicious characters
in the neighbourhood, you have the telephone and can instantly
communicate with the police. And you will have the assistance
The door opened and Smooth Sam Fisher entered.
'You rang, sir?'
'Ah! Come in, White, and close the door. I have something to
say to you. I have just been informing Mr Burns that Mr Ford
has written asking me to allow his son to stay on at the school
for the first few days of the vacation.'
He turned to Audrey.
'You will doubtless be surprised, Mrs Sheridan, and possibly
- ah - somewhat startled, to learn the peculiar nature of White's
position at Sanstead House. You have no objection to my
informing Mrs Sheridan, White, in consideration of the fact
that you will be working together in this matter? Just so. White
is a detective in the employment of Pinkerton's Agency. Mr
Ford' - a slight frown appeared on his lofty brow - 4 Mr Ford
obtained his present situation for him in order that he might
protect his son in the event of - ah - in fact, any attempt to
I saw Audrey start. A quick flush came into her face. She
uttered a little exclamation of astonishment.
'Just so,' said Mr Abney, by way of comment on this. 'You
are naturally surprised. The whole arrangement is excessively
unusual, and, I may say - ah - disturbing. However, you have
your duty to fulfil to your employer, White, and you will, of
course, remain here with the boy.'
I found myself looking into a bright brown eye that gleamed
with genial triumph. The other was closed. In the exuberance of
the moment, Smooth Sam had had the bad taste to wink at me.
'You will have Mr Burns to help you, White. He has kindly
consented to postpone his departure during the short period in
which I shall be compelled to be absent.'
I had no recollection of having given any kind consent, but I
was very willing to have it assumed, and I was glad to see that
Mr Fisher, though Mr Abney did not observe it, was visibly
taken aback by this piece of information. But he made one of
his swift recoveries.
'It is very kind of Mr Burns,' he said in his fruitiest voice, 'but
I hardly think it will be necessary to put him to the incon-
venience of altering his plans. I am sure that Mr Ford would
prefer the entire charge of the affair to be in my hands.'
He had not chosen a happy moment for the introduction of
the millionaire's name. Mr Abney was a man of method, who
hated any dislocation of the fixed routine of life; and Mr Ford's
letter had upset him. The Ford family, father and son, were just
then extremely unpopular with him.
He crushed Sam.
'What Mr Ford would or would not prefer is, in this par-
ticular matter, beside the point. The responsibility for the boy,
while he remains on the school premises, is - ah - mine, and I
shall take such precautions as seem fit and adequate to - him -
myself, irrespective of those which, in your opinion, might sug-
gest themselves to Mr Ford. As I cannot be here myself,
owing to - ah - urgent business in London, I shall certainly
take advantage of Mr Burns's kind offer to remain as my
He paused and blew his nose, his invariable custom after
these occasional outbursts of his. Sam had not wilted beneath
the storm. He waited, unmoved, till all was over:
'I am afraid I shall have to be more explicit,' he said: 'I had
hoped to avoid scandal and unpleasantness, but I see it is impos-
Mr Abney 's astonished face emerged slowly from behind his
'I quite agree with you, sir, that somebody should be here to
help me look after the boy, but not Mr Burns. I am sorry to
have to say it, but I do not trust Mr Burns.'
Mr Abney's look of astonishment deepened. I, too, was sur-
prised. It was so unlike Sam to fling away his chances on a
blundering attack like this.
'What do you mean?' demanded Mr Abney.
'Mr Burns is after the boy himself. He came to kidnap
Mr Abney, as he had every excuse for doing, grunted with
amazement. I achieved the ringing laugh of amused innocence.
It was beyond me to fathom Sam's mind. He could not suppose
that any credence would be given to his wild assertion. It
seemed to me that disappointment had caused him momentarily
to lose his head.
'Are you mad, White?'
'No, sir. I can prove what I say. If I had not gone to London
with him that last time, he'd have got away with the boy then,
For an instant an uneasy thought came to me that he might
have something in reserve, something unknown to me, which
had encouraged him to this direct attack. I dismissed the notion.
There could be nothing.
Mr Abney had turned to me with a look of hopeless be-
wilderment. I raised my eyebrows.
'Ridiculous,' I said.
That this was the only comment seemed to be Mr Abney's
view. He turned on Sam with the pettish anger of the mild
'What do you mean, White, by coming to me with such a
I don't say Mr Burns wished to kidnap the boy in the ordi-
nary way,' said Sam imperturbably, 'like those men who came
that night. He had a special reason. Mr and Mrs Ford, as of
course you know, sir, are divorced. Mr Burns was trying to get
the boy away and take him back to his mother.'
I heard Audrey give a little gasp. Mr Abney's anger became
modified by a touch of doubt. I could see that these words, by
lifting the accusation from the wholly absurd to the somewhat
plausible, had impressed him. Once again I was gripped by the
uneasy feeling that Sam had an unsuspected card to play. This
might be bluff, but it had a sinister ring.
'You might say,' went on Sam smoothly, 'that this was credi-
table to Mr Burns's heart. But, from my employer's viewpoint
and yours, too, it was a chivalrous impulse that needed to be
checked. Will you please read this, sir?'
He handed a letter to Mr Abney, who adjusted his glasses and
began to read - at first in a detached, judicial way, then with
'I felt it necessary to search among Mr Burns's papers, sir, in
the hope of finding - '
And then I knew what he had found. From the first the blue-
grey notepaper had had a familiar look. I recognized it now. It
was Cynthia's letter, that damning document which I had been
mad enough to read to him in London. His prediction that the
luck would change had come amazingly true.
I caught Sam's eye. For the second time he was unfeeling
enough to wink. It was a rich, comprehensive wink, as expres-
sive and joyous as a college yell.
Mr Abney had absorbed the letter and was struggling for
speech. I could appreciate his emotion. If he had not actually
been nurturing a viper in his bosom, he had come, from his
point of view, very near it. Of all men, a schoolmaster neces-
sarily looks with the heartiest dislike on the would-be kid-
As for me, my mind was in a whirl. I was entirely without a
plan, without the very beginnings of a plan, to help me cope
with this appalling situation. I was crushed by a sense of the
utter helplessness of my position. To denounce Sam was impos-
sible; to explain my comparative innocence was equally out of
the question. The suddenness of the onslaught had deprived me
ot the power of coherent thought. I was routed.
Mr Abney was speaking.
'Is your name Peter, Mr Burns?'
I nodded. Speech was beyond me.
'This letter is written by - ah - by a lady. It asks you in set
terms to - ah - hasten to kidnap Ogden Ford. Do you wish me
to read it to you? Or do you confess to knowing its contents?'
He waited for a reply. I had none to make.
'You do not deny that you came to Sanstead House for the
deliberate purpose of kidnapping Ogden Ford?'
I had nothing to say I caught a glimpse of Audrey's face,
cold and hard, and shifted my eyes quickly. Mr Abney gulped.
His face wore the reproachful expression of a cod-fish when
jerked out of the water on the end of a line. He stared at me
with pained repulsion. That scoundrelly old buccaneer Sam did
the same. He looked like a shocked bishop.
'I - ah - trusted you implicitly,' said Mr Abney.
Sam wagged his head at me reproachfully. With a flicker of
spirit I glared at him. He only wagged the more.
It was, I think, the blackest moment of my life. A wild desire
for escape on any terms surged over me. That look on Audrey's
face was biting into my brain like an acid.
'I will go and pack,' I said.
'This is the end of all things/ 1 said to myself.
I had suspended my packing in order to sit on my bed and
brood. I was utterly depressed. There are crises in a man's life
when Reason fails to bring the slightest consolation. In vain I
tried to tell myself that what had happened was, in essence,
precisely what, twenty- four hours ago, I was so eager to bring
about. It amounted to this, that now, at last, Audrey had
definitely gone out ot my life From now on I could have no
relations with her of any sort Was not this exactly what,
twenty- four hours ago, I had wished? Twenty-four hours ago
had I not said to myself that I would go away and never see her
again? Undoubtedly Nevertheless, I sat there and groaned in
It was the end of all things.
A mild voice interrupted my meditations.
'Can I help?'
Sam was standing in the doorway, beaming on me with in
'You are handling them wrong. Allow me. A moment more
and you would have ruined the crease.'
I became aware of a pair of trousers hanging limply in my
grasp. He took them from me, and, folding them neatly, placed
them in my trunk.
'Don't get all worked up about it, sonny,' he said 'It's the
fortune of war Besides, what does it matter to you? Judging by
that very snug apartment in London, you have quite enough
money for a young man. Losing your job here won t break you.
And, if you're worrying about Mrs Ford and her feelings,
don't! I guess she's probably forgotten all about the Nugget by
this time, So cheer up. You're all right!'
He stretched out a hand to pat me on the shoulder, then
thought better of it and drew it back
'Think of my happiness, if you want something to make you
feel good. Believe me, young man, it's some I could sing! Gee,
when I think that it's all plain sailing now and no more troubles,
I could dance! You don't know what it means to me, putting
through this deal. I wish you knew Mary! That's her name. You
must come and visit us, sonny, when we're fixed up in the home.
There'll always be a knife and fork for you. We'll make you
one of the family! Lord! I can see the place as plain as I can see
you Nice frame house with a good porch . . , Me in a rocker in
my shirt sleeves, smoking a cigar and reading the baseball news;
Mary in another rocker, mending my socks and nursing the cat!
We'll sure have a cat. Two cats. I like cats. And a goat in the
front garden. Say, it'll be greatV
And on the word, emotion overcoming prudence, he brought
his fat hand down with a resounding smack on my bowed
There is a limit. I bounded to my feet.
'Get out!' I yelped. 'Get out of here!'
'Sure,' he replied agreeably. He rose without haste and re-
garded me compassionately. 'Cheer up, son! Be a sport!'
There are moments when the best of men become melo-
dramatic. I offer this as excuse for my next observation.
Clenching my fists and glaring at him, I cried, Til foil you
yet, you hound!'
Some people have no soul for the dramatic. He smiled tol-
'Sure,' he said. 'Anything you like, Desperate Desmond.
And he left me.
I evacuated Sanstead House unostentatiously, setting off on
foot down the long drive. My luggage, I gathered, was to follow
me to the station in a cart. I was thankful to Providence for the
small mercy that the boys were in their classrooms and conse-
quently unable to ask me questions. Augustus Beckford alone
would have handled the subject of my premature exit in a
manner calculated to bleach my hair.
It was a wonderful morning. The sky was an unclouded blue,
and a fresh breeze was blowing in from the sea. I think that
something of the exhilaration of approaching spring must have
stirred me, for quite suddenly the dull depression with which I
had started my walk left me, and I found myself alert and full
Why should I feebly withdraw from the struggle? Why
should I give in to Smooth Sam in this tame way? The memory
of that wink came back to me with a tonic effect. I would show
him that I was still a factor in the game. If the house was closed
to me, was there not the 'Feathers'? I could lie in hiding there,
and observe his movements unseen.
I stopped on reaching the inn, and was on the point of enter-
ing and taking up my position at once, when it occurred to me
that this would be a false move. It was possible that Sam would
not take my departure for granted so readily as I assumed. It
was Sam's way to do a thing thoroughly, and the probability
was that, if he did not actually come to see me off, he would at
least make inquiries at the station to find out if I had gone. I
He was not at the station. Nor did he arrive in the cart with
my trunk. But I was resolved to risk nothing. I bought a ticket
for London, and boarded the London train. It had been my
intention to leave it at Guildford and catch an afternoon train
back to Stanstead; but it seemed to me, on reflection, that this
was unnecessary. There was no likelihood of Sam making any
move in the matter of the Nugget until the following day. I
could take my time about returning.
I spent the night in London, and arrived at Sanstead by an
early morning train with a suit-case containing, among other
things, a Browning pistol. I was a little ashamed of this pur-
chase. To the Buck MacGinnis type of man, I suppose, a pistol
is as commonplace a possession as a pair of shoes, but I blushed
as I entered the gun-shop. If it had been Buck with whom I was
about to deal, I should have felt less self-conscious. But there
was something about Sam which made pistols ridiculous.
My first act, after engaging a room at the inn and leaving my
suit-case, was to walk to the school. Before doing anything else,
I felt I must see Audrey and tell her the facts in the case of
Smooth Sam. If she were on her guard, my assistance might not
be needed. But her present state of trust in him was fatal.
A school, when the boys are away, is a lonely place. The
deserted air of the grounds, as I slipped cautiously through the
trees, was almost eerie. A stillness brooded over everything, as
if the place had been laid under a spell. Never before had I been
so impressed with the isolation of Sanstead House. Anything
might happen in this lonely spot, aqd the world would go on its
way in ignorance. It was with quite distinct relief that, as I drew
nearer the house, I caught sight of the wire of the telephone
among the trees above my head. It had a practical, comforting
A tradesman's cart rattled up the drive and disappeared
round the side of the house. This reminder, also, of the outside
world was pleasant. But I could not rid myself of the feeling
that the atmosphere of the place was sinister. I attributed it to
the fact that I was a spy in an enemy's country. I had to see
without being seen. I did not imagine that Johnson, grocer, who
had just passed in his cart, found anything wrong with the at-
mosphere. It was created for me by my own furtive attitude.
Of Audrey and Ogden there were no signs. That they were
out somewhere in the grounds this mellow spring morning I
took for granted; but I could not make an extended search.
Already I had come nearer to the house than was prudent.
My eye caught the telephone wire again and an idea came to
me. I would call her up from the inn and ask her to meet me.
There was the risk that the call would be answered by Smooth
Sam, but it was not great. Sam, unless he had thrown off his role
of butler completely - which would be unlike the artist that he
was - would be in the housekeeper's room, and the ringing of
the telephone, which was in the study, would not penetrate to
I chose a moment when dinner was likely to be over and
Audrey might be expected to be in the drawing-room.
I had deduced her movements correctly. It was her voice that
answered the call.
'This is Peter Burns speaking/
There was a perceptible pause before she replied. When she
did, her voice was cold.
'I want to speak to you on a matter of urgent importance.'
'I can't do it through the telephone. Will you meet me in half
an hour's time at the gate?'
'Where are you speaking from?'
'The "Feathers". I am staying there.'
'I thought you were in London.'
'I came back. Will you meet me?'
'Because I have something important to say to you - import-
ant to you.'
There was another pause.
'In half an hour, then. Is Ogden Ford in bed?'
'Is his door locked?'
'Then lock it and bring the key with you.'
'I will tell you when we meet/
*l will bring it.'
Thank you Good-bye.'
I hung up the receiver and set out at once for the school.
She was waiting in the road, a small, indistinct figure in the
'Is that you - Peter?'
Her voice had hesitated at the name, as if at some obstacle. It
was a trivial thing, but, in my present mood, it stung me.
Tm afraid I'm late I won't keep you long. Shall we walk
down the road? You may not have been followed, but it is as
well to be on the safe side,'
'Followed? 1 don't understand.'
We walked a few paces and halted.
'Who would follow me?'
*A very eminent person of the name of Smooth Sam
'Smooth Sam Fisher?'
'Better known to you as White.'
'I don't understand,'
4 I should be surprised if you did. I asked you to meet me here
so that I could make you understand. The man who poses as a
Pinkerton's detective, and is staying in the house to help you
take care of Ogden Ford, is Smooth Sam Fisher, a professional
'But - but - '
'But what proof have I? Was that what you were going to
say? None. But I had the information from the man himself. He
told me in the train that night going to London.'
She spoke quickly. I knew from her tone that she thought she
had detected a flaw in my story.
'Why did he tell you?*
'Because he needed me as an accomplice. He wanted my help.
It was I who got Ogden away that day. Sam overheard me
giving money and directions to him, telling him how to get
away from the school and where to go, and he gathered - cor-
rectly - that I was in the same line of business as himself. He
suggested a partnership which I was unable to accept.'
'Our objects were different. My motive in kidnapping Ogden
was not to extract a ransom.'
She blazed out at me in an absolutely unexpected manner.
Till now she had listened so calmly and asked her questions with
such a notable absence of emotion that the outburst over-
'Oh, I know what your motive was. There is no need to ex-
plain that. Isn't there any depth to which a man who thinks
himself in love won't stoop? I suppose you told yourself you
were doing something noble and chivalrous? A woman of her
sort can trick a man into whatever meanness she pleases, and,
just because she asks him, he thinks himself a kind of knight-
errant. I suppose she told you that he had ill-treated her and
didn't appreciate her higher self, and all that sort of thing? She
looked at you with those big brown eyes of hers - I can see her -
and drooped, and cried, till you were ready to do anything she
'Whom do you mean?'
'Mrs Ford, of course. The woman who sent you here to steal
Ogden. The woman who wrote you that letter.'
'She did not write that letter. But never mind that. The reason
why I wanted you to come here was to warn you against Sam
Fisher. That was all. If there is any way in which I can help you,
send for me. If you like, I will come and stay at the house till
Mr Abney returns/
Before the words were out of my mouth, I saw that
I had made a mistake. The balance of her mind was
poised between suspicion and belief, and my offer turned the
'No, thank you/ she said curtly.
'You don't trust me?'
'Why should I? White may or may not be Sam Fisher. I shall
be on my guard, and I thank you for telling me. But why should
I trust you? It all hangs together. You told me you were en-
gaged to be married. You come here on an errand which no
man would undertake except for a woman, and a woman with
whom he was very much in love. There is that letter, imploring
you to steal the boy. I know what a man will do for a woman he
is fond of. Why should I trust you?'
There is this. You forget that I had the opportunity to steal
Ogden if I had wanted to. I had got him away to London. But I
brought him back. I did it because you had told me what it
meant to you.'
She hesitated, but only for an instant. Suspicion was too
strong for her.
'I don't believe you. You brought him back because this man
whom you call Fisher got to know of your plans. Why should
you have done it because of me? Why should you have put my
interests before Mrs Ford's? I am nothing to you.'
For a moment a mad impulse seized me to cast away all
restraint, to pour out the unspoken words that danced like imps
in my brain, to make her understand, whatever the cost, my
feelings towards her. But the thought of my letter to Cynthia
checked me. That letter had been the irrevocable step. If I was
to preserve a shred of self-respect I must be silent.
'Very well,' I said, 'good night.' And I turned to go.
There was something in her voice which whirled me round,
thrilling, despite my resolution.
'Are you going?'
Weakness would now be my undoing. I steadied myself and
'I have said all I came to say. Good night.'
I turned once more and walked quickly off towards the vil-
lage. I came near to running. I was in the mood when flight
alone can save a man. She did not speak again, and soon I was
out of danger, hurrying on through the friendly darkness,
beyond the reach of her voice.
The bright light from the doorway of the 'Feathers', was the
only illumination that relieved the blackness of the Market
Square. As I approached, a man came out and stopped in the
entrance to light a cigar. His back was turned towards me as he
crouched to protect the match from the breeze, but something
in his appearance seemed familiar.
I had only a glimpse of him as he straightened himself and
walked out of the pool of light into the Square, but it was
Ft was my much-enduring acquaintance, Mr Buck Mac-
At the receipt of custom behind the bar sat Miss Benjafield,
stately as ever, relaxing her massive mind over a penny novel-
'Who was the man who just left, Miss Benjafield?' I asked.
She marked the place with a shapely thumb and looked up.
The man? Oh, himl He's - why, weren't you in here, Mr
Burns, one evening in January when - '
That's him. What he's doing here I don't know. He disap-
peared quite a while back, and I haven't seen him since. Nor
want. Tonight up he turns again like a bad ha'penny. I'd like to
know what he's after. No good, if you ask me.'
Miss Benjafield's prejudices did not easily dissolve. She
prided herself, as she frequently observed, on knowing her own
'Is he staying here?'
'Not at the "Feathers". We're particular who we have
I thanked her for the implied compliment, ordered beer for
the good of the house, and, lighting a pipe, sat down to meditate
on this new development.
The vultures were gathered together with a vengeance. Sam
within, Buck without, it was quite like old times, with the
difference that now, I, too, was on the wrong side of the school
It was not hard to account for Buck's reappearance. He
would, of course, have made it his business to get early infor-
mation of Mr Ford's movements. It would be easy for him
to discover that the millionaire had been called away to
the north and that the Nugget was still an inmate of Sanstead
House. And here he was preparing for the grand attack.
I had been premature in removing Buck's name from the list
of active combatants. Broken legs mend. I ought to have re-
His presence on the scene made, I perceived, a vast difference
to my plan of campaign. It was at this point that my purchase
of the Browning pistol lost its absurdity and appeared
in the light of an acute strategic move. With Sam the only
menace, I had been prepared to play a purely waiting game,
watching proceedings from afar, ready to give my help if
necessary. To check Buck, more strenuous methods were called
My mind was made up. With Buck, that stout disciple of
the frontal attack, in the field, there was only one place for
me. I must get into Sanstead House and stay there on
Did he intend to make an offensive movement tonight? That
was the question which occupied my mind. From the point of
view of an opponent, there was this merit about Mr MacGinnis,
that he was not subtle. He could be counted on with fair cer-
tainty to do the direct thing. Sooner or later he would make
another of his vigorous frontal attacks upon the stronghold.
The only point to be decided was whether he would make it that
night. Would professional zeal cause him to omit his beauty
I did not relish the idea of spending the night patrolling the
grounds, but it was imperative that the house be protected.
Then it occurred to me that the man for the vigil was Smooth
Sam. If the arrival of Mr MacGinnis had complicated matters
in one way, it had simplified them in another, for there was no
more need for the secrecy which had been, till now, the basis of
my plan of action. Buck's arrival made it possible for me to
come out and fight in the open, instead of brooding over San-
stead House from afar like a Providence. Tomorrow I proposed
to turn Sam out. Tonight I would use him. The thing had re-
solved itself into a triangular tournament, and Sam and Buck
should play the first game.
Once more I called up the house on the telephone. There was
a long delay before a reply came. It was Mr Fisher's voice that
spoke. Audrey, apparently, had not returned to the house im-
mediately after leaving me.
'Hullo!' said Sam.
4 Good evening, Mr Fisher.'
4 Gee! Is that you, young fellow-me-lad? Are you speaking
'No. I am at the "Feathers".'
He chuckled richly.
'Can't tear yourself away? Hat still in the ring? Say, what's
the use? Why not turn it up, sonny? You're only wasting your
'Do you sleep lightly, Mr Fisher?'
'I don't get you.'
'You had better do so tonight. Buck MacGinnis is back
There was silence at the other end of the wire. Then I heard
him swear softly. The significance of the information had not
been lost on Mr Fisher.
'Is that straight?'
'You're not stringing me?'
'You're sure it was Buck?'
'Is Buck's the sort of face one forgets?'
He swore again.
'You seem disturbed,' I said.
'Where did you see him?' asked Sam.
'Coming out of the "Feathers", looking very fierce and deter-
mined. The Berserk blood of the MacGinnises is up. He's going
to do or die. I'm afraid this means an all-night sitting for you,
'I thought you had put him out of business!'
There was a somewhat querulous note in his voice.
'Only temporarily. I did my best, but he wasn't even limping
when I saw him.'
He did not speak for a moment. I gathered that he was pon-
dering over the new development.
Thanks for tipping me off, sonny. It's a thing worth knowing.
Why did you do it?'
'Because I love you, Samuel. Good night.'
I rose late and breakfasted at my leisure. The peace of the
English country inn enveloped me as I tilted back my chair and
smoked the first pipe of the morning. It was a day to hearten a
man for great deeds, one of those days of premature summer
which comes sometimes to help us bear the chill winds of early
spring. The sun streamed in through the open window. In the
yard below fowls made their soothing music. The thought of
violence seemed very alien to such a morning.
I strolled out into the Square. I was in no hurry to end this
interlude of peace and embark on what, for all practical pur-
poses, would be a siege.
After lunch, I decided, would be time enough to begin active
The clock on the church tower was striking two as I set forth,
carrying my suit-case, on my way to the school. The light-
heartedness of the morning still lingered with me. I was amused
at the thought of the surprise I was about to give Mr Fisher.
That wink still rankled.
As I made my way through the grounds I saw Audrey in the
distance, walking with the Nugget. I avoided them and went on
into the house.
About the house there was the same air of enchanted quiet
which pervaded the grounds. Perhaps the stillness indoors was
even more insistent. I had grown so accustomed to the never-
ending noise and bustle of the boys' quarters that, as I crossed
the silent hall, I had an almost guilty sense of intrusion. I felt
like a burglar.
Sam, the object of my visit, would, I imagined, if he were in
the house at all, be in the housekeeper's room, a cosy little
apartment off the passage leading to the kitchen. I decided to
draw that first, and was rewarded, on pushing open the half-
closed door, by the sight of a pair of black-trousered legs
stretched out before me from the depths of a wicker-work arm-
chair. His portly middle section, rising beyond like a small hill,
heaved rhythmically. His face was covered with a silk handker-
chief, from beneath which came, in even succession, faint and
comfortable snores. It was a peaceful picture - the good man
taking his rest; and for me it had an added attractiveness in that
it suggested that Sam was doing by day what my information
had prevented him from doing in the night. It had been some
small consolation to me, as I lay trying to compose my anxious
mind for sleep on the previous night, that Mr Fisher also was
keeping his vigil.
Pleasing as Sam was as a study in still life, pressure of
business compelled me to stir him into activity. I prodded him
gently in the centre of the rising territory beyond the black
trousers. He grunted discontentedly and sat up. The handker-
chief fell from his face, and he blinked at me, first with the
dazed glassiness of the newly awakened, then with a 'Soul's
Awakening' expression, which spread over his face until it
melted into a friendly smile.
'Hello, young man!'
4 Good afternoon. You seem tired.'
He yawned cavernously.
4 Lord! What a night!'
'Did Buck drop in?'
'No, but I thought he had every time I heard a board creak. I
didn't dare close my eyes for a minute. Have you ever stayed
awake all night, waiting for the goblins that get you if you don't
watch out? Well, take it from me it's no picnic.'
His face split in another mammoth yawn. He threw his heart
into it, as if life held no other tasks for him. Only in alligators
have I ever seen its equal.
I waited till the seismic upheaval had spent itself. Then I
came to business.
'I'm sorry you had a disturbed night, Mr Fisher. You must
make up for it this afternoon. You will find the beds very
'At the "Feathers". I should go there, if I were you. The
charges are quite reasonable, and the food is good. You will like
4 I don't get you, sonny.'
'I was trying to break it gently to you that you are about to
move from this house. Now. At once. Take your last glimpse of
the old home, Sam, and out into the hard world.'
He looked at me inquiringly.
'You seem to be talking, young man; words appear to be
fluttering from you; but your meaning, if any, escapes me.'
'My meaning is that I am about to turn you out. I am coming
back here, and there is not room for both of us. So, if you do
not see your way to going quietly, I shall take you by the back
of the neck and run you out. Do I make myself fairly clear
He permitted himself a rich chuckle.
'You have gall, young man. Well, I hate to seem unfriendly. I
like you, sonny. You amuse me - but there are moments when
one wants to be alone. I have a whole heap of arrears of sleep to
make up. Trot along, kiddo, and quit disturbing uncle. Tie a
string to yourself and disappear. Bye-bye.'
The wicker-work creaked as he settled his stout body. He
picked up the handkerchief.
'Mr Fisher,' I said, 'I have no wish to propel your grey hairs
at a rapid run down the drive, so I will explain further. I am
physically stronger than you. I mean to turn you out. How can
you prevent it? Mr Abney is away. You can't appeal to him.
The police are at the end of the telephone, but you can't appeal
to them. So what can you do, except go? Do you get me
He regarded the situation in thoughtful silence. He allowed
no emotion to find expression in his face, but I knew that the
significance of my remarks had sunk in. I could almost follow
his mind as he tested my position point by point and found it
When he spoke it was to accept defeat jauntily.
'You are my jinx, young man. I said it all along. You're really
set on my going? Say no more. I'll go. After all, it's quiet at the
inn, and what more does a man want at my time of life?'
I went out into the garden to interview Audrey.
She was walking up and down on the tennis-lawn. The
Nugget, lounging in a deck-chair, appeared to be asleep.
She caught sight of me as I came out from the belt of trees,
and stopped. I had the trying experience of walking across open
country under hostile observation.
The routing of Sam had left me alert and self-confident. I felt
no embarrassment. I greeted her briskly.
'Good afternoon. I have been talking to Sam Fisher. If you
wait, you will see him passing away down the drive. He is leav-
ing the house. I am coming back.*
She spoke incredulously, or, rather, as if my words had con-
veyed no meaning. It was so that Sam had spoken. Her mind,
like his, took time to adjust itself to the unexpected.
She seemed to awake to my meaning with a start.
4 Coming back?' Her eyes widened. The flush deepened on her
cheeks. 'But I told you - '
'I know what you told me. You said you did not trust me. It
doesn't matter. I am coming back whether you trust me or not.
This house is under martial law, and I am in command. The
situation has changed since I spoke to you last night. Last night
I was ready to let you have your way. I intended to keep an eye
on things from the inn. But it's different now. It is not a case of
Sam Fisher any longer. You could have managed Sam. It's
Buck MacGinnis now, the man who came that night in the
automobile. I saw him in the village after I left you. He's
She looked away, past me, in the direction of the drive. I
followed her gaze. A stout figure, carrying a suit-case, was
moving slowly down it.
I smiled. Her eyes met mine, and I saw the anger that had
been lying at the back of them flash out. Her chin went up with
the old defiant tilt. I was sorry I had smiled. It was my old fault,
the complacency that would not be hidden.
'I don't believe you!' she cried. 'I don't trust you!'
It is curious how one's motive for embarking on a course of
conduct changes or disappears altogether as the action develops.
Once started on an enterprise it is as if one proceeded with it
automatically, irrespective of one's original motives. I had
begun what I might call the second phase of this matter of the
Little Nugget, the abandoning of Cynthia's cause in favour of
Audrey's, with a clear idea of why I was doing it. I had set
myself to resist the various forces which were trying to take
Ogden from Audrey, for one simple reason, because I loved
Audrey and wished to help her. That motive, if it still existed at
all, did so only in the form of abstract chivalry. My personal
feelings towards her seemed to have undergone a complete
change, dating from our parting in the road the night before.
I found myself now meeting hostility with hostility. I looked
at her critically and told myself that her spell was broken
at last, that, if she disliked me, I was at least indifferent to
And yet, despite my altered feelings, my determination to
help her never wavered. The guarding of Ogden might be -
primarily - no business of mine, but I had adopted it as my
'I don't ask you to trust me,' I said. 'We have settled all that.
There's no need to go over old ground. Think what you please
about this. I've made up my mind.'
'If you mean to stay, I suppose I can't prevent you.'
Sam appeared again in a gap in the trees, walking slowly and
pensively, as one retreating from his Moscow. Her eyes fol-
lowed him till he was out of sight.
'If you like,' I said bitterly, 'you may put what I am doing
down to professional rivalry. If I am in love with Mrs Ford and
am here to steal Ogden for her, it is natural for me to do all I
can to prevent Buck MacGinnis getting him. There is no need
for you to look on me as an ally because we are working
'We are not working together/
'We shall be in a very short time. Buck will not let another
night go by without doing something.'
'I don't believe that you saw him.'
'Just as you please,' I said, and walked away. What did it
matter to me what she believed?
The day dragged on. Towards evening the weather broke
suddenly, after the fashion of spring in England. Showers of
rain drove me to the study.
It must have been nearly ten o'clock when the telephone
It was Mr Fisher.
4 Hello, is that you, sonny?'
4 It is. Do you want anything?'
4 I want a talk with you. Business. Can I come up?'
4 If you wish it.'
Til start right away.'
It was some fifteen minutes later that I heard in the distance
the engines of an automobile. The headlights gleamed through
the trees, and presently the car swept round the bend of the
drive and drew up at the front door. A portly figure got down
and rang the bell. I observed these things from a window on the
first floor, overlooking the front steps; and it was from this
window that I spoke.
*Is that you, Mr Fisher?'
He backed away from the door.
"Where are you?'
4 Is that your car?'
4 It belongs to a friend of mine.'
*I didn't know you meant to bring a party.'
'There's only three of us. Me, the chauffeur, and my friend -
The possibility, indeed the probability, of Sam seeking out
Buck and forming an alliance had occurred to me, and I was
prepared for it. I shifted my grip on the automatic pistol in my
4 Mr Fisher.'
4 Ask your friend MacGinnis to be good enough to step into
the light of that lamp and drop his gun.'
There was a muttered conversation. I heard Buck's voice
rumbling like a train going under a bridge. The request did not
appear to find favour with him. Then came an interlude of
soothing speech from Mr Fisher. I could not distinguish the
words, but I gathered that he was pointing out to him that, on
this occasion only, the visit being for the purposes of parley and
not of attack, pistols might be looked on as non-essentials.
Whatever his arguments, they were successful, for, finally,
humped as to the back and muttering, Buck moved into the
'Good evening, Mr MacGinnis,' I said. Tm glad to see your
leg is all right again. I won't detain you a moment. Just feel in
your pockets and shed a few of your guns, and then you can
come in out of the rain. To prevent any misunderstanding, I
may say I have a gun of my own. It is trained on you now.'
'I ain't got no gun.'
'Come along. This is no time for airy persiflage. Out with
A moment's hesitation, and a small black pistol fell to the
'Think I'm a regiment?'
'I don't know what you are. Well, I'll take your word for it.
You will come in one by one, with your hands up.'
I went down and opened the door, holding my pistol in readi-
ness against the unexpected.
Sam came first. His raised hands gave him a vaguely pontifical
air (Bishop Blessing Pilgrims), and the kindly smile he wore
heightened the illusion. Mr MacGinnis, who followed, sug-
gested no such idea. He was muttering moodily to himself, and
he eyed me askance.
I showed them into the classroom and switched on the light.
The air was full of many odours. Disuse seems to bring out the
inky-chalky, appley-deal-boardy bouquet of a classroom as the
night brings out the scent of flowers. During the term I had
never known this classroom smell so exactly like a classroom. I
made use of my free hand to secure and light a cigarette.
Sam rose to a point of order.
'Young man,' he said. 'I should like to remind you that we
are here, as it were, under a flag of truce. To pull a gun on us
and keep us holding our hands up this way is raw work. I feel
sure I speak for my friend Mr MacGinnis.'
He cocked an eye at his friend Mr MacGinnis, who seconded
the motion by expectorating into the fireplace. I had observed
at a previous interview his peculiar gift for laying bare his soul
by this means of mode of expression. A man of silent habit,
judged by the more conventional standard of words, he was
almost an orator in expectoration.
'Mr MacGinnis agrees with me,' said Sam cheerfully. 4 Do we
take them down? Have we your permission to assume Position
Two of these Swedish exercises? All we came for was a little
friendly chat among gentlemen, and we can talk just as well -
speaking for myself, better - in a less strained attitude. A little
rest, Mr Burns! A little folding of the hands? Thank you.'
He did not wait for permission, nor was it necessary. Sam and
the melodramatic atmosphere was as oil and water. It was im-
possible to blend them. I laid the pistol on the table and sat
down. Buck, after one wistful glance at the weapon, did the
same. Sam was already seated, and was looking so cosy and at
home that I almost felt it remiss of me not to have provided
sherry and cake for this pleasant gathering.
'Well,' I said, 'what can I do for you?'
'Let me explain,' said Sam. 'As you have, no doubt, gathered,
Mr MacGinnis and I have gone into partnership. The Little
'I gathered that - well?'
'Judicious partnerships are the soul of business. Mr Mac-
Ginnis and I have been rivals in the past, but we both saw that
the moment had come for the genial smile, the hearty hand-
shake, in fact, for an alliance. We form a strong team, sonny.
My partner's speciality is action. I supply the strategy. Say,
can't you see you're up against it? Why be foolish?'
'You think you're certain to win?'
'It's a cinch.'
'Then why trouble to come here and see me?'
I appeared to have put into words the smouldering thought
which was vexing Mr MacGinnis. He burst into speech.
'Ahr chee! Sure! What's de use? Didn't I tell youse? What's
de use of wastin' time? What are we spielin' away here for?
Let's get busy '
Sam waved a hand towards him with the air of a lecturer
making a point.
'You see! The man of action! He likes trouble. He asks for it
He eats it alive. Now I prefer peace Why have a fuss when you
can get what you want quietly? That's my motto That's why
we've come. It's the old proposition. We're here to buy you out.
Yes, I know you have turned the offer down before, but things
have changed. Your stock has fallen. In tact, instead of letting
you in on sharing terms, we only feel justified now in offering a
commission. For the moment you may seem to hold a strong
position. You are in the house, and you've got the boy. But
there's nothing to it really. We could get him in five minutes if
we cared to risk having a fuss. But it seems to me there's no
need of any fuss. We should win dead easy all right, if it came
to trouble; but, on the other hand, you've a gun, and there's a
chance some of us might get hurt, so what's the good when we
can settle it quietly? How about it, sonny?'
Mr MacGmnis began to rumble, preparatory to making
further remarks on the situation, but Sam waved him down and
turned his brown eyes inquiringly on me.
'Fifteen per cent is our offer,' he said.
'And to think it was once fifty -fifty!'
'Business? It's sweating!'
'It's our limit. And it wasn't easy to make Buck here agree to
that. He kicked like a mule '
Buck shuffled his feet and eyed me disagreeably. I suppose it
is bard to think kindly of a man who has broken your leg It was
plain that, with Mr MacGinnis, bygones were by no means
'Well, I'm sorry you should have had the trouble of coming
here for nothing. Let me see you out. Single file, please.'
Sam looked aggrieved.
'You turn it down?'
'One moment. Let's have this thing clear. Do you realize
what you're up against? Don't think it's only Buck and me
you've got to tackle. All the boys are here, waiting round the
corner, the same gang that came the other night. Be sensible,
sonny. You don't stand a dog's chance. I shouldn't like to see
you get hurt. And you never know what may not happen. The
boys are pretty sore at you because of what you did that night. I
shouldn't act like a bonehead, sonny - honest.'
There was a kindly ring in his voice which rather touched me.
Between him and me there had sprung up an odd sort of friend-
ship. He meant business; but he would, I knew, be genuinely
sorry if I came to harm. And I could see that he was quite
sincere in his belief that I was in a tight corner and that my
chances against the Combine were infinitesimal. I imagine that,
with victory so apparently certain, he had had difficulty in per-
suading his allies to allow him to make his offer.
But he had overlooked one thing - the telephone. That he
should have made this mistake surprised me. If it had been
Buck, I could have understood it. Buck's was a mind which lent
itself to such blunders. From Sam I had expected better
things, especially as the telephone had been so much in evi-
dence of late. He had used it himself only half an hour
I clung to the thought of the telephone. It gave me the quiet
satisfaction of the gambler who holds the unforeseen ace. The
situation was in my hands. The police, I knew, had been pro-
foundly stirred by Mr MacGinnis's previous raid. When I
called them up, as I proposed to do directly the door had closed
on the ambassadors, there would be no lack of response. It
would not again be a case of Inspector Bones and Constable
Johnson to the rescue. A great cloud of willing helpers would
swoop to our help.
With these thoughts in my mind, I answered Sam pleasantly
'I'm sorry I'm unpopular, but all the same - '
I indicated the door.
Emotion that could only be expressed in words and not
through his usual medium welled up in Mr MacGinnis. He
sprang forward with a snarl, falling back as my faithful auto-
matic caught his eye.
'Say. you! Listen here! You'll- '
Sam, the peaceable, plucked at his elbow.
'Nothing doing. Buck. Step lively.'
Buck wavered, then allowed himself to be drawn away. We
rissed out of the classroom in our order of entry.
An exclamation from the stairs made me look up. Audrey
was leaning over the banisters. Her face was in the shadow, but
I gathered from her voice that the sight of our little procession
had startled her. I was not surprised. Buck was a distinctly
startling spectacle, and his habit of growling to himself, as he
walked, highly disturbing to strangers.
'Good evening. Mrs Sheridan,' said Sam suavely.
Audrey did not speak. She seemed fascinated by Buck.
I opened the front door and they passed out. The automobile
is still purring on the drive. Buck's pistol had disappeared. I
supposed the chauffeur had picked it up, a surmise which was
proved correct a few moments later, when, just as the car was
moving off, there was a sharp crack and a bullet struck the wall
to the right of the door. It was a random shot, and I did not
return it. Its effect on me was to send me into the hall with a
leap that was almost a back-somersault. Somehow, though I
was keyed up for violence and the shooting of pistols. I had not
expected it at just that moment, and I was disagreeably sur-
prised at the shock it had given me. I slammed the door and
bolted it. I was intensely irritated to find that my fingers were
Audrey had left the stairs and was standing beside me.
'They shot at me.' I said.
By the light of the hall lamp I could see that she was very
'It missed bv a mile.' Mv nerves had not recovered and I
spoke abruptly. 'Don't be frightened.'
'I - I was not frightened.' she said, without conviction.
'I was,' I said, with conviction. 'It was too sudden for me. It's
the sort of thing one wants to get used to gradually. I shall be
ready for it another time.'
I made for the stairs.
'Where are you going?'
Tm going to call up the police-station.'
'Was - was that man the one you spoke c:
'Yes, that was Buck MacGinnis. He and Sam have gone into
Tm sorry.' she said.
I was half-way up the stairs :y fra :.me. I stopped and
looked over the banisters
'I didn't believe you this aftenm :>n.'
'Oh. that's all right.' I said. I tried to make nq
indifferent, for I was on guard a^- nt insidious friendliness I
had bluci'ecned my mind into an attitude of safe he
towards her. and I saw the oic cha : : ihead .: I allowed myself
to abandon it.
I went to the telephone and unhooked the :e;eiver.
There is apt to be a certain leisure!. r.tss i: : _: the metfaodi of
Dountry telerr. : : orators, and th" fact thai i voice did not
immediately ask me arhat nmnbei I wanted - : -.:: it first
tort ~ie. S'- ; r : ?n of the trut came to me, I think, ifta my
..-..rd shou: intc the receiver hi; rerr.i.r.ed unanswe-r- \ had
s ofeied from delay be:::e. but -ever such _.': _ : :h.s.
I must have remained there fully two min-:t r.g at
inter\-als. before I realized the truth. Then I crcrrec :he receive:
and leaned limply against the wall. For the rr.omeni I was as
stunned as if I had received a blow. I could not e - en think. It
us only by degrees that I recovered surncienti; : : -r.ders^'d
that Audrey wi: speak ng .: ~e.
'What is it? Don't they answer!
[t .s curious how the mind responds : : ;he need for making
an eflc-: for the sake c: sorr.ebccy else. If I had had orJy n-.yself
to think of. it would. I believe, have beer, i ::".s zenb'.e time
before I could have adjusted my thoughts :; zrirrle w;;h this
disaster. But the necessity of ccr.veying the truth quietly :;
Audrey and of helping her to bear up under it steadied me at
once. I found myself thinking quite coolly how best I might
break to her what had happened.
Tm afraid,' I said, *I have something to tell you which may -'
She interrupted me quickly.
'What is it? Can't you make them answer?'
I shook my head. We looked at each other in silence.
Her mind leaped to the truth more quickly than mine had
They have cut the wire!'
I took up the receiver again and gave another call. There was
Tm afraid so,' I said.
'What shall we do?' said Audrey.
She looked at me hopefully, as if I were a mine of ideas. Her
voice was level, without a suggestion of fear in it. Women have
the gift of being courageous at times when they might legiti-
mately give way. It is part of their unexpectedness.
This was certainly such an occasion. Daylight would bring us
relief, for I did not suppose that even Buck MacGinnis would
care to conduct a siege which might be interrupted by the ar-
rival of tradesmen's carts; but while the darkness lasted we were
completely cut off from the world. With the destruction of the
telephone wire our only link with civilization had been snapped.
Even had the night been less stormy than it was, there was no
chance of the noise of our warfare reaching the ears of anyone
who might come to the rescue. It was as Sam had said,
Buck's energy united to his strategy formed a strong com-
Broadly speaking, there are only two courses open to a be-
leaguered garrison. It can stay where it is, or it can make a sortie.
I considered the second of these courses.
It was possible that Sam and his allies had departed in the
automobile to get reinforcements, leaving the coast temporarily
clear; in which case, by escaping from the house at once, we
might be able to slip unobserved through the grounds and reach
the village in safety. To support this theory there was the fact
that the car, on its late visit, had contained only the chauffeur
and the two ambassadors, while Sam had spoken of the remain-
der of Buck's gang as being in readiness to attack in the event of
my not coming to terms. That might mean that they were wait-
ing at Buck's headquarters, wherever those might be - at one of
the cottages down the road, I imagined; and, in the interval
before the attack began, it might be possible for us to make our
sortie with success.
'Is Ogden in bed?' I asked.
'Will you go and get him up as quickly as you can?'
I strained my eyes at the window, but it was impossible to see
anything. The rain was still falling heavily. If the drive had been
full of men they would have been invisible to me.
Presently Audrey returned, followed by Ogden. The Little
Nugget was yawning the aggrieved yawns of one roused from
his beauty sleep.
'What's all this?' he demanded.
'Listen,' 1 said. *Buck MacGinnis and Smooth Sam Fisher
have come after you. They are outside now. Don't be fright-
He snorted derisively.
'Who's frightened? I guess they won't hurt me. How do you
know it's them?'
'They have just been here. The man who called himself
White, the butler, was really Sam Fisher. He has been waiting
an opportunity to get you all the term.'
'White! Was he Sam Fisher 9 ' He chuckled admiringly. 'Say,
he's a wonder!'
'They have gone to fetch the rest of the gang.'
'Why don't you call the cops?'
'They have cut the wire.'
His only emotions at the news seemed to be amusement and a
renewed admiration tor Smooth Sam. He smiled broadly, the
'He's a wonder!' he repeated. 'I guess he's smooth, all right.
He's the limit! He'll get me all right this trip. I bet you a nickel
he wins out/
I found his attitude trying. That he, the cause of all the
trouble, should be so obviously regarding it as a sporting con-
test got up for his entertainment, was hard to bear. And the fact
that, whatever might happen to myself, he was in no danger,
comforted me not at all. If I could have felt that we were in any
way companions in peril, I might have looked on the bulbous
boy with quite a friendly eye. As it was, I nearly kicked him.
'We had better waste no time/ suggested Audrey, 'if we are
'I think we ought to try it,' I said.
'What's that?' asked the Nugget. 'Go where?'
'We are going to steal out through the back way and try to
slip through to the village.'
The Nugget's comment on the scheme was brief and to the
point. He did not embarrass me with fulsome praise of my
'Of all the fool games!' he said simply. 'In this rain? No,
This new complication was too much for me. In planning out
my manoeuvres I had taken his cooperation for granted. I had
looked on him as so much baggage - the impedimenta of the
retreating army. And, behold, a mutineer!
I took him by the scruff of the neck and shook him. It was a
relief to my feelings and a sound move. The argument was one
which he understood.
'Oh, all right,' he said. 'Anything you like. Come on. But it
sounds to me like darned foolishness!'
If nothing else had happened to spoil the success of that
sortie, the Nugget's depressing attitude would have done so. Of
all things, it seems to me, a forlorn hope should be undertaken
with a certain enthusiasm and optimism if it is to have a chance
of being successful. Ogden threw a gloom over the proceedings
from the start. He was cross and sleepy, and he condemned the
expedition unequivocally. As we moved towards the back door
he kept up a running stream of abusive comment. I silenced
him before cautiously unbolting the door, but he had said
enough to damp my spirits. I do not know what effect it would
have had on Napoleon's tactics if his army - say, before Aus-
terlitz - had spoken of his manoeuvres as a 'fool game' and of
himself as a 'big chump', but I doubt if it would have stimu-
The back door of Sanstead House opened on to a narrow
yard, paved with flagstones and shut in on all sides but one by
walls. To the left was the outhouse where the coal was stored, a
squat barnlike building: to the right a wall that appeared to
have been erected by the architect in an outburst of pure whim-
sicality. It just stood there. It served no purpose that I had ever
been able to discover, except to act as a cats' club-house.
Tonight, however, I was thankful for this wall. It formed an
important piece of cover. By keeping in its shelter it was pos-
sible to work round the angle of the coal-shed, enter the stable-
yard, and, by making a detour across the football field, avoid
the drive altogether. And it was the drive, in my opinion, that
might be looked on as the danger zone.
The Nugget's complaints, which I had momentarily suc-
ceeded in checking, burst out afresh as the rain swept in at the
open door and lashed our faces. Certainly it was not an ideal
night for a ramble. The wind was blowing through the opening
at the end of the yard with a compressed violence due to the
confined space. There was a suggestion in our position of the
Cave of the Winds under Niagara Falls, the verisimilitude of
which was increased by the stream of water that poured down
from the gutter above our heads. The Nugget found it un-
pleasant, and said so shrilly.
I pushed him out into the storm, still protesting, and we
began to creep across the yard. Half-way to the first point of
importance of our journey, the corner of the coal-shed, I halted
the expedition. There was a sudden lull in the wind, and I took
advantage of it to listen.
From somewhere beyond the wall, apparently near the house,
sounded the muffled note of the automobile. The siege-party
There was no time to be lost. Apparently the possibility of a
sortie had not yet occurred to Sam, or he would hardly have left
the back door unguarded; but a general of his astuteness was
certain to remedy the mistake soon, and our freedom of action
might be a thing of moments. It behoved us to reach the stable-
yard as quickly as possible. Once there, we should be prac-
tically through the enemy's lines.
Administering a kick to the Nugget, who showed a dis-
position to linger and talk about the weather, I moved on, and
we reached the corner of the coal-shed in safety.
We had now arrived at the really perilous stage in our
journey. Having built his wall to a point level with the end of
the coal-shed, the architect had apparently wearied of the thing
and given it up; for it ceased abruptly, leaving us with a matter
of half a dozen yards of open ground to cross, with nothing to
screen us from the watchers on the drive. The flagstones, more-
over, stopped at this point. On the open space was loose gravel.
Even if the darkness allowed us to make the crossing unseen,
there was the risk that we might be heard.
It was a moment for a flash of inspiration, and I was waiting
for one, when that happened which took the problem out of my
hands. From the interior of the shed on our left there came a
sudden scrabbling of feet over loose coal, and through the
square opening in the wall, designed for the peaceful purpose of
taking in sacks, climbed two men. A pistol cracked. From the
drive came an answering shout. We had been ambushed.
I had misjudged Sam. He had not overlooked the possibility
of a sortie.
It is the accidents of life that turn the scale in a crisis. The
opening through which the men had leaped was scarcely a
couple of yards behind the spot where we were standing. If they
had leaped fairly and kept their feet, they would have been on
us before we could have moved. But Fortune ordered it that,
zeal outrunning discretion, the first of the two should catch his
foot in the woodwork and fall on all fours, while the second,
unable to check his spring, alighted on top of him, and, judging
from the stifled yell which followed, must have kicked him in
In the moment of their downfall I was able to form a plan
and execute it.
I shouted the words to Audrey in the act of snatching up the
Nugget and starting to run. She understood. She did not hesitate
in the direction of the house for even the instant which might
have undone us, but was with me at once; and we were across
the open space and in the stable-yard before the first of the men
in the drive loomed up through the darkness. Half of the
wooden double-gate of the yard was open, and the other half
served us as a shield. They fired as they ran - at random, I
think, for it was too dark for them to have seen us clearly - and
two bullets slapped against the gate. A third struck the wall
above our heads and ricocheted off into the night. But before
they could fire again we were in the stables, the door slammed
behind us, and I had dumped the Nugget on the floor, and was
shooting the heavy bolts into their places. Footsteps clattered
over the flagstones and stopped outside. Some weighty body
plunged against the door. Then there was silence. The first
round was over.
The stables, as is the case in most English country-houses,
had been, in its palmy days, the glory of Sanstead House. In
whatever other respect the British architect of that period may
have fallen short, he never scamped his work on the stables. He
built them strong and solid, with walls fitted to repel the as-
saults of the weather, and possibly those of men as well, for the
Boones in their day had been mighty owners of race-horses at a
time when men with money at stake did not stick at trifles, and
it was prudent to see to it that the spot where the favourite was
housed had something of the nature of a fortress. The walls
were thick, the door solid, the windows barred with iron. We
could scarcely have found a better haven of refuge.
Under Mr Abney's rule, the stables had lost their original
character. They had been divided into three compartments,
each separated by a stout wall. One compartment became a
gymnasium, another the carpenter's shop, the third, in which we
were, remained a stable, though in these degenerate days no
horse ever set foot inside it, its only use being to provide a place
for the odd-job man to clean shoes. The mangers which had
once held fodder were given over now to brushes and pots of
polish. In term-time, bicycles were stored in the loose-box
which had once echoed to the tramping of Derby favourites.
I groped about among the pots and brushes, and found a
candle-end, which I lit. I was running a risk, but it was neces-
sary to inspect our ground. I had never troubled really to exam-
ine this stable before, and I wished to put myself in touch with
I blew out the candle, well content with what I had seen. The
only two windows were small, high up, and excellently barred.
Even if the enemy fired through them there were half a dozen
spots where we should be perfectly safe. Best of all, in the event
of the door being carried by assault, we had a second line of
defence in a loft. A ladder against the back wall led to it, by
way of a trap-door. Circumstances had certainly been kind to us
in driving us to this apparently impregnable shelter.
On concluding my inspection, I became aware that the
Nugget was still occupied with his grievances. I think the shots
must have stimulated his nerve centres, for he had abandoned
the languid drawl with which, in happier moments, he was wont
to comment on life's happenings, and was dealing with the situ-
ation with a staccato briskness.
4 Of all the darned fool lay-outs I ever struck, this is the limit.
What do those idiots think they're doing, shooting us up that
way? It went within an inch of my head. It might have killed
me. Gee, and I'm all wet. I'm catching cold. It's all through
your blamed foolishness, bringing us out here. Why couldn't we
stay in the house?'
'We could not have kept them out of the house for five
minutes,' I explained. 'We can hold this place.'
'Who wants to hold it? I don't. What does it matter if they do
get me? / don't care. I've a good mind to walk straight out
through that door and let them rope me in. It would serve Dad
right. It would teach him not to send me away from home to
any darned school again. What did he want to do it for? I was
all right where I was. I - '
A loud hammering on the door cut off his eloquence. The
intermission was over, and the second round had begun.
It was pitch dark in the stable now that I had blown out the
candle, and there is something about a combination of noise
and darkness which tries the nerves. If mine had remained
steady, I should have ignored the hammering. From the sound,
it appeared to be made by some wooden instrument - a mallet
from the carpenter's shop I discovered later - and the door could
be relied on to hold its own without my intervention. For a
novice to violence, however, to maintain a state of calm inac-
tion is the most difficult feat of all. I was irritated and worried
by the noise, and exaggerated its importance. It seemed to me
that it must be stopped at once.
A moment before, I had bruised my shins against an empty
packing-case, which had found its way with other lumber into
the stable. I groped for this, swung it noiselessly into position
beneath the window, and, standing on it, looked out. I found
the catch of the window, and opened it. There was nothing to be
seen, but the sound of the hammering became more distinct;
and pushing an arm through the bars, I emptied my pistol at a
As a practical move, the action had flaws. The shots cannot
have gone anywhere near their vague target. But as a demon-
stration, it was a wonderful success. The yard became suddenly
full of dancing bullets. They struck the flagstones, bounded off,
chipped the bricks of the far wall, ricocheted from those,
buzzed in all directions, and generally behaved in a manner
calculated to unman the stoutest hearted.
The siege-party did not stop to argue. They stampeded as one
man. I could hear them clattering across the flagstones to every
point of the compass. In a few seconds silence prevailed, broken
only by the swish of the rain. Round two had been brief, hardly
worthy to be called a round at all, and, like round one, it had
ended wholly in our favour.
I jumped down from my packing-case, swelling with pride. I
had had no previous experience of this sort of thing, yet here I
was handling the affair like a veteran. I considered that I had a
right to feel triumphant. I lit the candle again, and beamed
protectively upon the garrison.
The Nugget was sitting on the floor, gaping feebly, and awed
for the moment into silence. Audrey, in the far corner, looked
pale but composed. Her behaviour was perfect. There was
nothing for her to do, and she was doing it with a quiet self-
control which won my admiration. Her manner seemed to me
exactly suited to the exigencies of the situation. With a super-
competent dare-devil like myself in charge of affairs, all she had
to do was to wait and not get in the way.
'I didn't hit anybody,' I announced, 'but they ran like rabbits.
They are all over Hampshire.'
I laughed indulgently. I could afford an attitude of tolerant
amusement towards the enemy.
'Will they come back?'
'Possibly. And in that case' - I felt in my left-hand coat-
pocket - 'I had better be getting ready.' I felt in my right-
hand coat-pocket. 'Ready,' I repeated blankly. A clammy
coldness took possession of me. My voice trailed off into
nothingness. For in neither pocket was there a single one
of the shells with which I had fancied that I was abundantly
provided. In moments of excitement man is apt to make
mistakes. I had made mine when, starting out on the
sortie, I had left all my ammunition in the house.
I should like to think that it was an unselfish desire to spare my
companions anxiety that made me keep my discovery to myself.
But I am afraid that my reticence was due far more to the fact
that I shrank from letting the Nugget discover my imbecile
carelessness. Even in times of peril one retains one's human
weaknesses; and I felt that I could not face his comments. If he
had permitted a certain note of querulousness to creep into his
conversation already, the imagination recoiled from the
thought of the caustic depths he would reach now should I
reveal the truth.
I tried to make things better with cheery optimism.
'They won't come back!' I said stoutly, and tried to believe
The Nugget as usual struck the jarring note.
'Well, then, let's beat it,' he said. 'I don't want to spend the
night in this darned icehouse. I tell you I'm catching cold. My
chest's weak. If you're so dead certain you've scared them
away, let's quit.'
I was not prepared to go as far as this.
'They may be somewhere near, hiding.'
'Well, what if they are? I don't mind being kidnapped. Let's
'I think we ought to wait,' said Audrey.
'Of course/ I said. 'It would be madness to go out now.'
'Oh, pshaw!' said the Little Nugget; and from this point
onwards punctuated the proceedings with a hacking cough.
I had never really believed that my demonstration had
brought the siege to a definite end. I anticipated that there
would be some delay before the renewal of hostilities, but I was
too well acquainted with Buck MacGinnis's tenacity to imagine
that he would abandon his task because a few random shots had
spread momentary panic in his ranks. He had all the night
before him, and sooner or later he would return.
I had judged him correctly. Many minutes dragged wearily
by without a sign from the enemy, then, listening at the
window, I heard footsteps crossing the yard and voices talking
in cautious undertones. The fight was on once more.
A bright light streamed through the window, flooding the
opening and spreading in a wide circle on the ceiling. It was not
difficult to understand what had happened. They had gone to
the automobile and come back with one of the head-lamps, an
astute move in which I seemed to see the finger of Sam. The
danger-spot thus rendered harmless, they renewed their attack
on the door with a reckless vigour. The mallet had been super-
seded by some heavier instrument - of iron this time. I think it
must have been the jack from the automobile. It was a more
formidable weapon altogether than the mallet, and even our
good oak door quivered under it.
A splintering of wood decided me that the time had come to
retreat to our second line of entrenchments. How long the door
would hold it was impossible to say, but I doubted if it was
more than a matter of minutes.
Relighting my candle, which I had extinguished from motives
of economy, I caught Audrey's eye and jerked my head towards
'You go first,' I whispered.
The Nugget watched her disappear through the trap-door,
then turned to me with an air of resolution.
'If you think you're going to get me up there, you've another
guess coming. I'm going to wait here till they get in, and let
them take me. I'm about tired of this foolishness.'
It was no time for verbal argument. I collected him, a kicking
handful, bore him to the ladder, and pushed him through the
opening. He uttered one of his devastating squeals. The sound
seemed to encourage the workers outside like a trumpet-blast.
The blows on the door redoubled.
I climbed the ladder and shut the trap-door behind me.
The air of the loft was close and musty and smelt of mil-
dewed hay. It was not the sort of spot which one would have
selected of one's own free will to sit in for any length of time.
There was a rustling noise, and a rat scurried across the rickety
floor, drawing a startled gasp from Audrey and a disgusted 'Oh,
piffle!' from the Nugget. Whatever merits this final refuge
might have as a stronghold, it was beyond question a noisome
The beating on the stable-door was working up to a cre-
scendo. Presently there came a crash that shook the floor on
which we sat and sent our neighbours, the rats, scuttling to and
fro in a perfect frenzy of perturbation. The light of the auto-
mobile lamp poured in through the numerous holes and chinks
which the passage of time had made in the old boards. There
was one large hole near the centre which produced a sort of
searchlight effect, and allowed us for the first time to see what
manner of place it was in which we had entrenched ourselves.
The loft was high and spacious. The roof must have been some
seven feet above our heads. I could stand upright without
In the proceedings beneath us there had come a lull. The mys-
tery of our disappearance had not baffled the enemy for long,
for almost immediately the rays of the lamp had shifted and
begun to play on the trap-door. I heard somebody climb the
ladder, and the trap-door creaked gently as a hand tested it. I
had taken up a position beside it, ready, if the bolt gave way, to
do what I could with the butt of my pistol, my only weapon.
But the bolt, though rusty, was strong, and the man dropped to
the ground again. Since then, except for occasional snatches of
whispered conversation, I had heard nothing.
Suddenly Sam's voice spoke.
4 Mr Burns!'
I saw no advantage in remaining silent.
'Haven't you had enough of this? You've given us a mighty
good run for our money, but you can see for yourself that
you're through now. I'd hate like anything for you to get hurt.
Pass the kid down, and we'll call it off.'
'Well?' he said. 'Why don't you answer?'
'Did you? I didn't hear you.'
'You mean to stick it out? Don't be foolish, sonny. The boys
here are mad enough at you already. What's the use of getting
yourself in bad for nothing? We've got you in a pocket, I know
all about that gun of yours, young fellow. I had a suspicion
what had happened, and I've been into the house and found the
shells you forgot to take with you. So, if you were thinking of
making a bluff in that direction forget it!'
The exposure had the effect I had anticipated.
'Of all the chumps!' exclaimed the Nugget caustically. 'You
ought to be in a home. Well, I guess you'll agree to end this
foolishness now? Let's go down and get it over and have some
peace. I'm getting pneumonia.'
'You're quite right, Mr Fisher,' I said. 'But don't forget I still
have the pistol, even if I haven't the shells. The first man who
tries to come up here will have a headache tomorrow.'
'I shouldn't bank on it, sonny. Come along, kiddo! You're
done. Be good, and own it. We can't wait much longer.'
'You'll have to try.'
Buck's voice broke in on the discussion, quite unintelligible
except that it was obviously wrathful.
'Oh well!' I heard Sam say resignedly, and then there was
silence again below.
I resumed my watch over the trap-door, encouraged. This
parleying, I thought, was an admission of failure on the part of
the besiegers. I did not credit Sam with a real concern for my
welfare - thereby doing him an injustice. I can see now that he
spoke perfectly sincerely. The position, though I was unaware
of it, really was hopeless, for the reason that, like most posi-
tions, it had a flank as well as a front. In estimating the pos-
sibilities of attack, I had figured assaults as coming only from
below. I had omitted from my calculations the fact that the loft
had a roof.
It was a scraping on the tiles above my head that first brought
the new danger-point to my notice. There followed the sound of
heavy hammering, and with it came a sickening realization of
the truth of what Sam had said. We were beaten.
I was too paralysed by the unexpectedness of the attack to
form any plan; and, indeed, I do not think that there was any-
thing that I could have done. I was unarmed and helpless. I
stood there, waiting for the inevitable.
Affairs moved swiftly. Plaster rained down on to the wooden
floor. I was vaguely awafe that the Nugget was speaking, but I
did not listen to him.
A gap appeared in the roof and widened. I could hear the
heavy breathing of the man as he wrenched at the tiles.
And then the climax arrived, with anticlimax following so
swiftly upon it that the two were almost simultaneous. I saw the
worker on the roof cautiously poise himself in the opening,
hunched up like some strange ape. The next moment he had
As his feet touched the floor there came a rending, splintering
crash; the air was filled with a choking dust, and he was gone.
The old worn out boards had shaken under my tread. They had
given way in complete ruin beneath this sharp onslaught. The
rays of the lamp, which had filtered in like pencils of light
through crevices, now shone in a great lake in the centre of the
In the stable below all was confusion. Everybody was speak-
ing at once. The hero of the late disaster was groaning horribly,
for which he certainly had good reason: I did not know the
extent of his injuries, but a man does not do that sort of thing
with impunity. The next of the strange happenings of the night
I had not been giving the Nugget a great deal of my attention
for some time, other and more urgent matters occupying me.
His action at this juncture, consequently, came as a complete
and crushing surprise.
I was edging my way cautiously towards the jagged hole in the
centre of the floor, in the hope of seeing something of what was
going on below, when from close beside me his voice screamed.
'It's me, Ogden Ford. I'm coming!' and, without further warn-
ing, he ran to the hole, swung himself over, and dropped.
Manna falling from the skies in the wilderness never received
a more whole-hearted welcome. Howls and cheers and ear-
splitting whoops filled the air. The babel of talk broke out
again. Some exuberant person found expression of his joy in
emptying his pistol at the ceiling, to my acute discomfort, the
spot he had selected as a target chancing to be within a foot of
where I stood. Then they moved off in a body, still cheering.
The fight was over.
I do not know how long it was before I spoke. It may have
been some minutes. I was dazed with the swiftness with which
the final stages of the drama had been played out. If I had given
him more of my attention, I might have divined that Ogden had
been waiting his opportunity to make some such move; but, as
it was, the possibility had not even occurred to me, and I was
In the distance I heard the automobile moving off down the
drive. The sound roused me.
'Well, we may as well go,' I said dully. I lit the candle and
held it up. Audrey was standing against the wall, her face white
I raised the trap-door and followed her down the ladder.
The rain had ceased, and the stars were shining. After the
closeness of the loft, the clean wet air was delicious. For a
moment we stopped, held by the peace and stillness of the
Then, quite suddenly, she broke down.
It was the unexpectedness of it that first threw me off my
balance. In all the time I had known her, I had never before
seen Audrey in tears. Always, in the past, she had borne the
blows of fate with a stoical indifference which had alternately
attracted and repelled me, according as my mood led me to
think it courage or insensibility. In the old days, it had done
much, this trait of hers, to rear a barrier between us. It had
made her seem aloof and unapproachable. Subconsciously, I
suppose, it had offended my egoism that she should be able to
support herself in times of trouble, and not feel it necessary to
lean on me.
And now the barrier had fallen. The old independence, the
almost aggressive self-reliance, had vanished. A new Audrey
had revealed herself.
She was sobbing helplessly, standing quite still, her arms
hanging and her eyes staring blankly before her. There was
something in her attitude so hopeless, so beaten, that the pathos
of it seemed to cut me like a knife.
The stars glittered in the little pools among the worn flag-
stones. The night was very still. Only the steady drip of water
from the trees broke the silence.
A great wave of tenderness seemed to sweep from my mind
everything in the world but her. Everything broke abruptly that
had been checking me, stifling me, holding me gagged and
bound since the night when our lives had come together again
after those five long years. I forgot Cynthia, my promise, every-
She was in my arms, clinging to me, murmuring my name.
The darkness was about us like a cloud.
And then she had slipped from me, and was gone.
In my recollections of that strange night there are wide gaps.
Trivial incidents come back to me with extraordinary vividness;
while there are hours of which I can remember nothing. What I
did or where I went I cannot recall. It seems to me, looking
back, that I walked without a pause till morning; yet, when day
came, I was still in the school grounds. Perhaps I walked, as a
wounded animal runs, in circles. I lost, I know, all count of
time. I became aware of the dawn as something that had hap-
pened suddenly, as if light had succeeded darkness in a flash. It
had been night; I looked about me, and it was day - a steely,
cheerless day, like a December evening. And I found that I was
very cold, very tired, and very miserable.
My mind was like the morning, grey and overcast. Con-
science may be expelled, but, like Nature, it will return. Mine,
which I had cast from me, had crept back with the daylight.
I had had my hour of freedom, and it was now for me to pay
I paid in full. My thoughts tore me. I could see no way out.
Through the night the fever and exhilaration of that mad
moment had sustained me, but now the morning had come,
when dreams must yield to facts, and I had to face the future.
I sat on the stump of a tree, and buried my face in my hands.
I must have fallen asleep, for, when I raised my eyes again, the
day was brighter. Its cheerlessness had gone. The sky was blue,
and birds were singing.
It must have been about half an hour later that the first
beginnings of a plan of action came to me. I could not trust
myself to reason out my position clearly and honestly in this
place where Audrey's spell was over everything. The part of me
that was struggling to be loyal to Cynthia was overwhelmed
here. London called to me. I could think there, face my position
quietly, and make up my mind.
I turned to walk to the station. I could not guess even re-
motely what time it was. The sun was shining through the trees,
but in the road outside the grounds there were no signs of
workers beginning the day.
It was half past five when I reached the station. A sleepy
porter informed me that there would be a train to London, a
slow train, at six.
I remained in London two days, and on the third went down
to Sanstead to see Audrey for the last time. I had made my
I found her on the drive, close by the gate. She turned at my
footstep on the gravel; and, as I saw her, I knew that the fight
which I had thought over was only beginning.
I was shocked at her appearance. Her face was very pale, and
there were tired lines about her eyes.
I could not speak. Something choked me. Once again, as on
that night in the stable-yard, the world and all that was in it
seemed infinitely remote.
It was she who broke the silence.
'Well, Peter,' she said listlessly.
We walked up the drive together.
'Have you been to London?'
*Yes. I came down this morning.' I paused. 'I went there to
think,' I said.
*I have been thinking, too.'
I stopped, and began to hollow out a groove in the wet gravel
with my heel. Words were not coming readily.
Suddenly she found speech. She spoke quickly, but her voice
was dull and lifeless.
'Let us forget what has happened, Peter. We were neither of
us ourselves. I was tired and frightened and disappointed. You
were sorry for me just at the moment, and your nerves were
strained, like mine. It was all nothing. Let us forget it.'
I shook my head.
'No,' I said. 'It was not that. I can't let you even pretend you
think that was all. I love you. I always have loved you, though I
did not know how much till you had gone away. After a time, I
thought I had got over it. But when I met you again down here,
I knew that I had not, and never should. I came back to say
good-bye, but I shall always love you. It is my punishment for
being the sort of man I was five years ago.'
'And mine for being the sort of woman I was five years ago.'
She laughed bitterly. 'Woman! I was just a little fool, a sulky
child. My punishment is going to be worse than yours, Peter.
You will not be always thinking that you had the happiness of
two lives in your hands, and threw it away because you had not
the sense to hold it.'
'It is just that that I shall always be thinking. What happened
five years ago was my fault, Audrey, and nobody's but mine. I
don't think that, even when the loss of you hurt most, I ever
blamed you for going away. You had made me see myself as I
was, and I knew that you had done the right thing. I was selfish,
patronizing - I was insufferable. It was I who threw away our
happiness. You put it in a sentence that first day here, when you
said that I had been kind - sometimes - when I happened to
think of it. That summed me up. You have nothing to reproach
yourself for. I think we have not had the best of luck; but all
the blame is mine.'
A flush came into her pale face.
'I remember saying that. I said it because I was afraid of
myself. I was shaken by meeting you again. I thought you must
be hating me - you had every reason to hate me, and you spoke
as if you did - and I did not want to show you what you were to
me. It wasn't true, Peter. Five years ago I may have thought it,
but not now. I have grown to understand the realities by this
time. I have been through too much to have any false ideas left.
I have had some chance to compare men, and I realize that they
are not all kind, Peter, even sometimes, when they happen to
think of it.'
'Audrey,' I said - I had never found myself able to ask the
question before - 'was - was - he - was Sheridan kind to
She did not speak for a moment, and I thought she was re-
senting the question.
'No!' she said abruptly.
She shot out the monosyllable with a force that startled and
silenced me. There was a whole history of unhappiness in the
'No,' she said again, after a pause, more gently this time. I
understood. She was speaking of a dead man.
4 I can't talk about him,' she went on hurriedly. 'I expect most
of it was my fault. I was unhappy because he was not you, and
he saw that I was unhappy and hated me for it. We had nothing
in common. It was just a piece of sheer madness, our marriage.
He swept me off my feet. I never had a great deal of sense, and I
lost it all then. I was far happier when he had left me.'
'He deserted me almost directly we reached America.' She
laughed. 'I told you I had grown to understand the realities. I
I was horrified. For the first time I realized vividly all that she
had gone through. When she had spoken to me before of her
struggles that evening over the study fire, I had supposed that
they had begun only after her husband's death, and that her life
with him had in some measure trained her for the fight. That
she should have been pitched into the arena, a mere child, with
no experience of life, appalled me. And, as she spoke, there
came to me the knowledge that now I could never do what I
had come to do. I could not give her up. She needed me. I tried
not to think of Cynthia.
I took her hand.
'Audrey,' I said, 'I came here to say good-bye. I can't. I want
you. Nothing matters except you. I won't give you up.'
'It's too late,' she said, with a little catch in her voice. 'You
are engaged to Mrs Ford*'
'I am engaged, but not to Mrs Ford. I am engaged to some-
one you have never met - Cynthia Drassilis.'
She pulled her hand away quickly, wide-eyed, and for some
moments was silent.
'Do you love her?' she asked at last.
'Does she love you?'
Cynthia's letter rose before my eyes, that letter that could
have had no meaning, but one.
*I am afraid she does,' I said.
She looked at me steadily. Her face was very pale.
'You must marry her, Peter.'
I shook my head.
'You must. She believes in you.'
'I can't. I want you. And you need me. Can you deny that
you need me?'
She said it quite simply, without emotion. I moved towards
her, thrilling, but she stepped back.
'She needs you too,' she said.
A dull despair was creeping over me. I was weighed down by
a premonition of failure. I had fought my conscience, my sense
of duty and honour, and crushed them. She was raising them up
against me once more. My self-control broke down.
'Audrey,' I cried, 'for God's sake can't you see what you're
doing? We have been given a second chance. Our happiness is in
your hands again, and you are throwing it away. Why should
we make ourselves wretched for the whole of our lives? What
does anything else matter except that we love each other? Why
should we let anything stand in our way? I won't give you
She did not answer. Her eyes were fixed on the ground. Hope
began to revive in me, telling me that I had persuaded her. But
when she looked up it was with the same steady gaze, and my
heart sank again.
Teter,' she said, 'I want to tell you something. It will make
you understand, I think. I haven't been honest, Peter. I have not
fought fairly. All these weeks, ever since we met, I have been
trying to steal you. It's the only word. I have tried every little
miserable trick I could think of to steal you from the girl you
had promised to marry. And she wasn't here to fight for herself.
I didn't think of her. I was wrapped up in my own selfishness.
And then, after that night, when you had gone away, I thought
it all out. I had a sort of awakening. I saw the part I had been
playing. Even then I tried to persuade myself that I had done
something rather fine. I thought, you see, at that time that you
were infatuated with Mrs Ford - and I know Mrs Ford. If she is
capable of loving any man, she loves Mr Ford, though they are
divorced. I knew she would only make you unhappy. I told
myself I was saving you. Then you told me it was not Mrs Ford,
but this girl. That altered everything. Don't you see that I can't
let you give her up now? You would despise me. I shouldn't feel
clean. I should feel as if I had stabbed her in the back.'
I forced a laugh. It rang hollow against the barrier that sep-
arated us. In my heart I knew that this barrier was not to be
'Can't you see, Peter? You must see.'
4 I certainly don't. I think you're overstrained, and that you
have let your imagination run away with you. I - '
She interrupted me.
'Do you remember that evening in the study?' she asked
abruptly. 'We had been talking. I had been telling you how I
had lived during those five years.'
'Every word I spoke was spoken with an object - calculated
. . . Yes, even the pauses. I tried to make them tell, too. I knew
you, you see, Peter. I knew you through and through, because I
loved you, and I knew the effect those tales would have on you.
Oh, they were all true. I was honest as far as that goes. But they
had the mean motive at the back of them. I was playing on your
feelings. I knew how kind you were, how you would pity me. I
set myself to create an image which would stay in your mind
and kill the memory of the other girl; the image of a poor, ill-
treated little creature who should work through to your heart
by way of your compassion. I knew you, Peter, I knew you.
And then I did a meaner thing still. I pretended to stumble in
the dark. I meant you to catch me and hold me, and you did.
And . . .'
Her voice broke off.
'I'm glad I have told you,' she said. 'It makes it a little better.
You understand now how I feel, don't you?'
She held out her hand.
*I am not going to give you up,' I said doggedly.
'Good-bye,* she said again. Her voice was a whisper.
I took her hand and began to draw her towards me.
'It is not good-bye. There is no one else in the world but you,
and I am not going to give you up.'
'Peter!' she struggled feebly. 'Oh, let me go.'
I drew her nearer.
'I won't let you go,' I said.
But, as I spoke, there came the sound of automobile wheels
on the gravel. A large red car was coming up the drive. I
dropped Audrey's hand, and she stepped back and was lost in
the shrubbery. The car slowed down and stopped beside me.
There were two women in the tonneau. One, who was dark and
handsome, I did not know. The other was Mrs Drassilis.
I was given no leisure for wondering how Cynthia's mother
came to be in the grounds of Sanstead House, for her com-
panion, almost before the car had stopped, jumped out and
clutched me by the arm, at the same time uttering this cryptic
speech: Whatever he offers I'll double!'
She fixed me, as she spoke, with a commanding eye. She was
a woman, I gathered in that instant, born to command. There
seemed, at any rate, no doubt in her mind that she could com-
mand me. If I had been a black beetle she could not have
looked at me with a more scornful superiority. Her eyes were
very large and of a rich, fiery brown colour, and it was these
that gave me my first suspicion of her identity. As to the mean-
ing of her words, however, I had no clue.
'Bear that in mind,' she went on. 'Ill double it if it's a million
Tm afraid I don't understand,' I said, finding speech.
She clicked her tongue impatiently.
'There's no need to be so cautious and mysterious. This lady
is a friend of mine. She knows all about it. I asked her to come.
I'm Mrs Elmer Ford. I came here directly I got your letter. I
think you're the lowest sort of scoundrel that ever managed to
keep out of gaol, but that needn't make any difference just now.
We're here to talk business, Mr Fisher, so we may as well
I was getting tired of being taken for Smooth Sam.
'I am not Smooth Sam Fisher.'
I turned to the automobile. 'Will you identify me, Mrs Dras-
She was regarding me with wide-open eyes.
'What on earth are you doing down here? I have been trying
everywhere to find you, but nobody - '
Mrs Ford interrupted her. She gave me the impression
of being a woman who wanted a good deal of the conver-
sation, and who did not care how she got it. In a conversa-
tional sense she thugged Mrs Drassilis at this point, or
rather she swept over her like some tidal wave, blotting her
'Oh,' she said fixing her brown eyes, less scornful now but still
imperious, on mine. 'I must apologize. I have made a mistake. I
took you for a low villain of the name of Sam Fisher. I hope
you will forgive me. I was to have met him at this exact spot
just about this time, by appointment, so, seeing you here, I
mistook you for him.'
'If I might have a word with you alone?' I said.
Mrs Ford had a short way with people. In matters concerning
her own wishes, she took their acquiescence for granted.
'Drive on up to the house, Jarvis,' she said, and Mrs Drassilis
was whirled away round the curve of the drive before she knew
what had happened to her.
'My name is Burns,' I said.
'Now I understand,' she said. 'I know who you are now.' She
paused, and I was expecting her to fawn upon me for my gallant
service in her cause, when she resumed in quite a different strain.
'I can't think what you can have been about, Mr Burns, not
to have been able to do what Cynthia asked you. Surely in
all these weeks and months . . . And then, after all, to have
let this Fisher scoundrel steal him away from under your
nose . . . !'
She gave me a fleeting glance of unfathomable scorn. And
when I thought of all the sufferings I had gone through that
term owing to her repulsive son and, indirectly, for her sake, I
felt that the time had come to speak out.
'May I describe the way in which I allowed your son to be
stolen away from under my nose?' I said. And in well-chosen
words, I sketched the outline of what had happened. I did not
omit to lay stress on the fact that the Nugget's departure with
the enemy was entirely voluntary.
She heard me out in silence.
'That was too bad of Oggie,' she said tolerantly, when I had
ceased dramatically on the climax of my tale.
As a comment it seemed to me inadequate.
'Oggie was always high-spirited/ she went on. 'No doubt you
have noticed that?'
4 A little.'
'He could be led, but never driven. With the best intentions,
no doubt, you refused to allow him to leave the stables that
night and return to the house, and he resented the check and
took the matter into his own hands.' She broke off and looked at
her watch. 'Have you a watch? What time is it? Only that? I
thought it must be later. I arrived too soon. I got a letter from
this man Fisher, naming this spot and this hour for a meeting,
when we could discuss terms. He said that he had written to Mr
Ford, appointing the same time.* She frowned. 'I have no doubt
he will come,' she said coldly.
'Perhaps this is his car,' I said.
A second automobile was whirring up the drive. There was a
shout as it came within sight of us, and the chauffeur put on the
brake. A man sprang from the tonneau. He jerked a word to the
chauffeur, and the car went on up the drive.
He was a massively built man of middle age, with powerful
shoulders, and a face - when he had removed his motor-goggles
- very like any one of half a dozen of those Roman emperors
whose features have come down to us on coins and statues,
square-jawed, clean-shaven, and aggressive. Like his late wife
(who was now standing, drawn up to her full height, staring
haughtily at him) he had the air of one born to command. I
should imagine that the married life of these two must have
been something more of a battle even than most married lives.
The clashing of those wills must have smacked of a collision
between the immovable mass and the irresistible force.
He met Mrs Ford's stare with one equally militant, then
turned to me.
'I'll give you double what she has offered you,' he said. He
paused, and eyed me with loathing. 'You damned scoundrel,' he
Custom ought to have rendered me immune to irritation, but
it had not. I spoke my mind.
'One of these days, Mr Ford,' I said, 'I am going to publish a
directory of the names and addresses of the people who have
mistaken me for Smooth Sam Fisher. I am not Sam Fisher. Can
you grasp that? My name is Peter Burns, and for the past term I
have been a master at this school. And I may say that, judging
from what I know of the little brute, any one who kidnapped
your son as long as two days ago will be so anxious by now to
get rid of him that he will probably want to pay you for taking
My words almost had the effect of bringing this divorced
couple together again. They made common cause against me. It
was probably the first time in years that they had formed even a
'How dare you talk like that!' said Mrs Ford. 'Oggie is a
sweet boy in every respect.'
'You're perfectly right, Nesta,' said Mr Ford. 'He may want
intelligent handling, but he's a mighty fine boy. I shall make
inquiries, and if this man has been ill-treating Ogden, I shall
complain to Mr Abney. Where the devil is this man Fisher?' he
broke off abruptly.
'On the spot,' said an affable voice. The bushes behind me
parted, and Smooth Sam stepped out on to the gravel.
I had recognized him by his voice. I certainly should not have
done so by his appearance. He had taken the precaution of
'making up' for this important meeting. A white wig of inde-
scribable respectability peeped out beneath his black hat. His
eyes twinkled from under two penthouses of white eyebrows. A
white moustache covered his mouth. He was venerable to a
He nodded to me, and bared his white head gallantly to Mrs
'No worse for our little outing, Mr Burns, I am glad to see.
Mrs Ford, I must apologize for my apparent unpunctuality, but
I was not really behind time. I have been waiting in the bushes.
I thought it just possible that you might have brought un-
welcome members of the police force with you, and I have been
scouting, as it were, before making my advance. I see, however,
that all is well, and we can come at once to business. May I say,
before we begin, that I overheard your recent conversation, and
that I entirely disagree with Mr Burns. Master Ford is a charm-
ing boy. Already I feel like an elder brother to him. I am loath
to part with him.'
'How much?' snapped Mr Ford. 'You've got me. How much
do you want?'
'Ill give you double what he offers,' cried Mrs Ford.
Sam held up his hand, his old pontifical manner intensified by
the white wig.
'May I speak? Thank you. This is a little embarrassing. When
I asked you both to meet me here, it was not for the purpose of
holding an auction. I had a straight-forward business propo-
sition to make to you. It will necessitate a certain amount of
plain and somewhat personal speaking. May I proceed? Thank
you. I will be as brief as possible.'
His eloquence appeared to have had a soothing effect on the
two Fords. They remained silent.
'You must understand,' said Sam, 'that I am speaking as an
expert. I have been in the kidnapping business many years, and
I know what I am talking about. And I tell you that the
moment you two got your divorce, you said good-bye to all
peace and quiet. Bless you' - Sam's manner became fatherly -
'I've seen it a hundred times. Couple get divorced, and, if there's
a child, what happens? They start in playing battledore-and-
shuttlecock with him. Wife sneaks him from husband. Husband
sneaks him back from wife. After a while along comes a gentle-
man in my line of business, a professional at the game, and he
puts one across on both the amateurs. He takes advantage of
the confusion, slips in, and gets away with the kid. That's what
has happened here, and I'm going to show you the way to stop it
another time. Now I'll make you a proposition. What you want
to do' - I have never heard anything so soothing, so suggestive
of the old family friend healing an unfortunate breach, as
Sam's voice at this juncture - 'what you want to do is to get
together again right quick. Never mind the past. Let bygones be
bygones. Kiss and be friends.'
A snort from Mr Ford checked him for a moment, but he
'I guess there were faults on both sides. Get together and talk
it over. And when you've agreed to call the fight off and start
fair again, that's where I come in. Mr Burns here will tell you, if
you ask him, that I'm anxious to quit this business and marry
and settle down. Well, see here. What you want to do is to give
me a salary - we can talk figures later on - to stay by you and
watch over the kid. Don't snort - I'm talking plain sense. You'd
a sight better have me with you than against you. Set a thief to
catch a thief. What I don't know about the fine points of the
game isn't worth knowing. I'll guarantee, if you put me in
charge, to see that nobody comes within a hundred miles of the
kid unless he has an order-to-view. You'll find I earn every
penny of that salary . . . Mr Burns and I will now take a turn up
the drive while you think it over.'
He linked his arm in mine and drew me away. As we turned
the corner of the drive I caught a glimpse over my shoulder of
the Little Nugget's parents. They were standing where we had
left them, as if Sam's eloquence had rooted them to the
'Well, well, well, young man,' said Sam, eyeing me
affectionately, 'it's pleasant to meet you again, under happier
conditions than last time. You certainly have al 1 the luck,
sonny, or you would have been badly hurt that night. I was
getting scared how the thing would end. Buck's a plain rough-
neck, and his gang are as bad as he is, and they had got mighty
sore at you, mighty sore. If they had grabbed you, there's no
knowing what might not have happened. However, all's well
that ends well, and this little game has surely had the happy
ending. I shall get that job, sonny. Old man Ford isn't a fool,
and it won't take him long, when he gets to thinking it over, to
see that I'm right. He'll hire me.'
'Aren't you rather reckoning without your partner?' I said.
'Where does Buck MacGinnis come in on the deal?'
Sam patted my shoulder paternally.
'He doesn't, sonny, he doesn't. It was a shame to do it - it was
like taking candy from a kid - but business is business, and I
was reluctantly compelled to double-cross poor old Buck. I
sneaked the Nugget away from him next day. It's not worth
talking about; it was too easy. Buck's all right in a rough-and-
tumble, but when it comes to brains he gets left, and so he'll go
on through life, poor fellow. I hate to think of it.'
He sighed. Buck's misfortunes seemed to move him deeply.
*I shouldn't be surprised if he gave up the profession after
this. He has had enough to discourage him. I told you about
what happened to him that night, didn't I? No? I thought I did.
Why, Buck was the guy who did the Steve Brodie through the
roof; and, when we picked him up, we found he'd broken his
leg again! Isn't that enough to jar a man? I guess he'll retire
from the business after that. He isn't intended for it.'
We were approaching the two automobiles now, and, looking
back, I saw Mr and Mrs Ford walking up the drive. Sam fol-
lowed my gaze, and I heard him chuckle.
'It's all right,' he said. They've fixed it up. Something in the
way they're walking tells me they've fixed it up.'
Mrs Drassilis was still sitting in the red automobile, looking
piqued but resigned. Mrs Ford addressed her.
'I shall have to leave you, Mrs Drassilis,' she said. Tell
Jarvis to drive you wherever you want to go. I am going with
my husband to see my boy Oggie.'
She stretched out a hand towards the millionaire. He caught
it in his, and they stood there, smiling foolishly at each other,
while Sam, almost purring, brooded over them like a stout fairy
queen. The two chauffeurs looked on woodenly.
Mr Ford released his wife's hand and turned to Sam.
I've been considering your proposition. There's a string tied
*Oh no, sir, I assure you!'
'There is. What guarantee have I that you won't double-cross
Sam smiled, relieved.
'You forget that I told you I was about to be married, sir. My
wife won't let me!'
Mr Ford waved his hand towards the automobile.
'Jump in,' he said briefly, 'and tell him where to drive to.
'No manners!' said Mrs Drassilis. *None whatever. I always said
She spoke bitterly. She was following the automobile with an
offended eye as it moved down the drive.
The car rounded the corner. Sam turned and waved a fare-
well. Mr and Mrs Ford, seated close together in the tonneau,
did not even look round.
Mrs Drassilis sniffed disgustedly.
'She's a friend of Cynthia's. Cynthia asked me to come down
here with her to see you. I came, to oblige her. And now, without
a word of apology, she leaves me stranded. She has no manners
I offered no defence of the absent one. The verdict more or
less squared with my own opinion.
'Is Cynthia back in England?' I asked, to change the sub-
'The yacht got back yesterday. Peter, I have something of the
utmost importance to speak to you about.' She glanced at Jarvis
the chauffeur, leaning back in his seat with the air, peculiar to
chauffeurs in repose, of being stuffed. 'Walk down the drive
I helped her out of the car, and we set oft in silence. There
was a suppressed excitement in my companion's manner which
interested me, and something furtive which brought back all my
old dislike of her. I could not imagine what she could have to
say to me that had brought her all these miles.
'How do you come to be down here?' she said. 'When Cyn-
thia told me you were here, I could hardly believe her. Why
are you a master at this school? I cannot understand it!'
'What did you want to see me about?' I asked.
She hesitated. It was always an effort for her to be direct.
Now, apparently, the effort was too great. The next moment she
had rambled off on some tortuous bypath of her own, which,
though it presumably led in the end to her destination, was
evidently a long way round.
'I have known you for so many years now, Peter, and I don't
know of anybody whose character I admire more. You are so
generous - quixotic in fact. You are one of the few really
unselfish men I have ever met. You are always thinking of other
people. Whatever it cost you, I know you would not hesitate to
give up anything if you felt that it was for someone else's hap-
piness. I do admire you so for it. One meets so few young men
nowadays who consider anybody except themselves.'
She paused, either for breath or for fresh ideas, and I took
advantage of the lull in the rain of bouquets to repeat my ques-
'What did you want to see me about?' I asked patiently.
'About Cynthia. She asked me to see you.'
'You got a letter from her.'
'Last night, when she came home, she told me about it, and
showed me your answer. It was a beautiful letter, Peter. I'm
sure I cried when I read it. And Cynthia did, I feel certain. Of
course, to a girl of her character that letter was final. She is so
loyal, dear child.'
'I don't understand.'
As Sam would have said, she seemed to be speaking; words
appeared to be fluttering from her; but her meaning was
'Once she has given her promise, I am sure nothing would
induce her to break it, whatever her private feelings. She is so
loyal. She has such character.'
'Would you mind being a little clearer?' I said sharply. 'I
really don't understand what it is you are trying to tell me.
What do you mean about loyalty and character? I don't under-
She was not to be hustled from her bypath. She had chosen
her route, and she meant to travel by it, ignoring short-cuts.
*To Cynthia, as I say, it was final. She simply could not see
that the matter was not irrevocably settled. I thought it so fine
of her. But I am her mother, and it was my duty not to give in
and accept the situation as inevitable while there was anything I
could do for her happiness. I knew your chivalrous, unselfish
nature, Peter. 1 could speak to you as Cynthia could not. I could
appeal to your generosity in a way impossible, of course, for
her. I could put the whole facts of the case clearly before
I snatched at the words.
4 I wish you would. What are they?*
She rambled off again.
'She has such a rigid sense of duty. There is no arguing with
her. I told her that, if you knew, you would not dream of
standing in her way. You are so generous, such a true friend,
that your only thought would be for her. If her happiness de-
pended on your releasing her from her promise, you would not
think of yourself. So in the end I took matters into my own
hands and came to see you. I am truly sorry for you, dear Peter,
but to me Cynthia's happiness, of course, must come before
everything. You do understand, don't you?'
Gradually, as she was speaking, I had begun to grasp hesi-
tatingly at her meaning, hesitatingly, because the first hint of it
had stirred me to such a whirl of hope that I feared to risk the
shock of finding that, after all, I had been mistaken. If 1 were
right - and surely she could mean nothing else - 1 was free, free
with honour. But I could not live on hints. I must hear this
thing in words.
'Has - has Cynthia - ' I stopped, to steady my voice. 'Has
Cynthia found - ' I stopped again. I was finding it absurdly
difficult to frame my sentence. 'Is there someone else?' I con-
cluded with a rush.
Mrs Drassilis patted my arm sympathetically.
'Be brave, Peter 1'
The trees, the drive, the turf, the sky, the birds, the house, the
automobile, and Jarvis, the stuffed chauffeur, leaped together
for an instant in one whirling, dancing mass of which I was the
centre. And then, out of the chaos, as it separated itself once
more into its component parts, I heard my voice saying, 4 Tell
The world was itself again, and I was listening quietly and
with a mild interest which, try as I would, I could not make any
stronger. I had exhausted my emotion on the essential fact: the
details were an anticlimax.
'I liked him directly I saw him,' said Mrs Drassilis. 'And, of
course, as he was such a friend of yours, we naturally - '
'A friend of mine?'
'I am speaking of Lord Mountry.'
'Mountry? What about him?' Light flooded in on my
numbed brain. 'You don't mean - Is it Lord Mountry?'
My manner must have misled her. She stammered in her
eagerness to dispel what she took to be my misapprehension.
'Don't think that he acted in anything but the most honour-
able manner. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He knew
nothing of Cynthia's engagement to you. She told him when he
asked her to marry him, and he - as a matter of fact, it was he
who insisted on dear Cynthia writing that letter to you.'
She stopped, apparently staggered by this excursion into hon-
'In fact, he dictated it.'
'Unfortunately, it was quite the wrong sort of letter. It was
the very opposite of clear. It can have given you no inkling of
the real state of affairs.'
'It certainly did not.'
'He would not allow her to alter it in any way. He is very
obstinate at times, like so many shy men. And when your
answer came, you see, things were worse than before.'
'I suppose so.'
'I could see last night how unhappy they both were. And
when Cynthia suggested it, I agreed at once to come to you and
tell you everything.'
She looked at me anxiously. From her point of view, this was
the climax, the supreme moment. She hesitated. I seemed to see
her marshalling her forces, the telling sentences, the persuasive
adjectives; rallying them together for the grand assault.
But through the trees I caught a glimpse of Audrey, walking
on the lawn; and the assault was never made.
'I will write to Cynthia tonight/ I said, 'wishing her hap-
'Oh, Peter!' said Mrs Drassilis.
'Don't mention it,' said I.
Doubts appeared to mar her perfect contentment.
'You are sure you can convince her?'
'And - er - Lord Mountry. He is so determined not to do
anything - er - what he would call unsportsmanlike.'
'Perhaps I had better tell her I am going to marry some one
else,' I suggested.
'I think that would be an excellent idea,' she said, brightening
visibly. 'How clever of you to have thought of it.'
She permitted herself a truism.
'After all, dear Peter, there are plenty of nice girls in the
world. You have only to look for them.'
'You're perfectly right,' I said. Til start at once.'
A gleam of white caught my eye through the trees by the
lawn. I moved towards it.
THE LITTLE NUGGET
In which the Little Nugget is introduced to the reader
and plans are made for his future by several interested
And it is when the Little Nugget, alias thirteen-year-old
Ogden Ford, 'bulgy, rude, chain-smoking son of an
American millionaire', arrives at Sanstead House School that
the fun begins. Mr Peter Burns, a none-too-dedicated
school-master, engaged by snobbish Mr Abney to educate
his hand-picked pupils, soon finds himself and his enraptured
class at the mercy of an American gunman . . . and at the
beginning of a series of truly mind-boggling adventures in a
delicious Wodehouse tale of suspense, excitement and
'I have devoured his work repeatedly . . . not merely because
he is a great comic writer, but because I think he is arguably
the greatest musician of the English language I have ever
encountered' - Douglas Adams in the Guardian
Cover illustration by lonicus
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