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   Chapter 8 HOW JILL SLEPT UNDISTURBED, AND NOBBY ATTENDED CHURCH PARADE.

Berry and Co. By Dornford Yates Characters: 47799

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"What d'you do," said Berry, "when you want to remember something?"

"Change my rings," said Daphne. "Why?"

"I only wondered. D'you find that infallible?"

My sister nodded.

"Absolutely," she said. "Of course, I don't always remember what I've changed them for, but it shows me there's something I've forgotten."

"I see. Then you've only got to remember what that is, and there you are. Why don't I wear rings?"

"Change your shoes instead," said I drowsily. "Or wear your waistcoat next to your skin. Then, whenever you want to look at your watch, you'll have to undress. That'll make you think."

"You go and change your face," said Berry. "Don't wait for something to remember. Just go and do it by deed-poll. And then advertise it in The Times. You'll get so many letters of gratitude that you'll get tired of answering them."

Before I could reply to this insult-

"I suppose," said my sister, "this means that you can't remember something which concerns me and really matters."

In guilty silence her husband prepared a cigar for ignition with the utmost care. At length-

"I wouldn't go as far as that," he said. "But I confess that at the back of my mind, in, as it were, the upper reaches of my memory, there is a faint ripple of suggestion for which I cannot satisfactorily account. Now, isn't that beautifully put?"

With a look of contempt, Daphne returned to the digestion of a letter which she had that morning received from the United States. Reflectively Berry struck a match and lighted his cigar. I followed the example of Jill and began to doze.

With the exception of Jonah, who was in Somerset with the Fairies, we had been to Goodwood. I had driven the car both ways and was healthily tired, but the long ride had rendered us all weary, and the prospect of a full night and a quiet morrow was good to contemplate.

On the following Tuesday we were going out of Town. Of this we were all unfeignedly glad, for London was growing stale. The leaves upon her trees were blown and dingy, odd pieces of paper crept here and there into her parks, the dust was paramount. What sultry air there was seemed to be second-hand. Out of the pounding traffic the pungent reek of oil and fiery metal rose up oppressive. Paint three months old was seamed and freckled. Look where you would, the silver sheen of Spring was dull and tarnished, the very stones were shabby, and in the summer sunshine even proud buildings of the smartest streets wore but a jaded look and lost their dignity. The vanity of bricks stood out in bold relief unsightly, dressing the gentle argument of Nature with such authority as set tired senses craving the airs and graces of the countryside and mourning the traditions of the children of men.

"Adèle," said Daphne suddenly, "is sailing next week."

"Hurray," said Jill, waking up.

"Liverpool or Southampton?" said I.

"She doesn't say. But I told her to come to Southampton."

"I expect she's got to take what she can get; only, when you're making for Hampshire, it seems a pity to go round by the Mersey."

"I like Adèle," said Berry. "She never seeks to withstand that feeling of respect which I inspire. When with me, she recognizes that she is in the presence of a holy sage, and, as it were, treading upon hallowed ground. Woman," he added, looking sorrowfully upon his wife, "I could wish that something of her piety were there to lessen your corruption. Poor vulgar shrew, I weep--"

"She says something about you," said Daphne, turning over a sheet. "Here you are. Give Berry my love. If I'd been with you at Oxford, when he got busy, I should just have died. All the same, you must admit he's a scream. I'm longing to see Nobby. He sounds as if he were a dog of real character...."

"Thank you," said her husband, with emotion. "Thank you very much. 'A scream,' I think you said. Yes. And Nobby, 'a dog of character.' I can't bear it."

"So he is," said I. "Exceptional character."

"I admit," said Berry, "he's impartial. His worst enemy can't deny that. His offerings at the shrine of Gluttony are just as ample as those he lays before the altar of Sloth."

"All dogs are greedy," said Jill. "It's natural. And you'd be tired, if you ran about like him."

"He's useful and ornamental and diverting," said I. "I don't know what more you want."

"Useful?" said Berry, with a yawn. "Useful? Oh, you mean scavenging? But then you discourage him so. Remember that rotten fish in Brook Street the other day? Well, he was making a nice clean job of that, he was, when you stopped him."

"That was a work of supererogation. I maintain, however, that nobody can justly describe Nobby as a useless dog. For instance--"

The sudden opening of the door at once interrupted and upheld my contention.

Into the room bustled the Sealyham, the personification of importance, with tail up, eyes sparkling, and gripped in his large mouth the letters which had just been delivered by the last post.

As the outburst of feminine approval subsided-

"Out of his own mouth," said I, "you stand confuted."

Either of gallantry or because her welcome was the more compelling, the terrier made straight for my sister and pleasedly delivered his burden into her hands. Of the three letters she selected two and then, making much of the dog, returned a foolscap envelope to his jaws and instructed him to bear it to Berry. Nobby received it greedily, but it was only when he had simultaneously spun into the air, growled and, placing an emphatic paw upon the projecting end, torn the letter half-way asunder, that it became evident that he was regarding her return of the missive as a douceur or reward of his diligence.

With a cry my brother-in-law sprang to enlighten him; but Nobby, hailing his action as the first move in a game of great promise, darted out of his reach, tore round the room at express speed, and streaked into the hall.

By dint of an immediate rush to the library door, we were just in time to see Berry slip on the parquet and, falling heavily, miss the terrier by what was a matter of inches, and by the time we had helped one another upstairs, the medley of worrying and imprecations which emanated from Daphne's bedroom made it clear that the quarry had gone to ground.

As we drew breath in the doorway-

"Get him from the other side!" yelled Berry, who was lying flat on his face, with one arm under the bed. "Quick! It may be unsporting, but I don't care. A-a-ah!" His voice rose to a menacing roar, as the rending of paper became distinctly audible. "Stop it, you wicked swine! D'you hear? Stop it!"

From beneath the bed a further burst of mischief answered him....

Once again feminine subtlety prevailed where the straightforward efforts of a man were fruitless. As I flung myself down upon the opposite side of the bed-

"Nobby," said Jill in a stage whisper, "chocolates!"

The terrier paused in his work of destruction. Then he dropped the mangled remains of the letter and put his head on one side.

"Chocolates!"

The next second he was scrambling towards the foot of the bed....

I gathered together the débris and rose to my feet.

Nobby was sitting up in front of Jill, begging irresistibly.

"What a shame!" said the latter. "And I haven't any for you. And if I had, I mightn't give you them." She looked round appealingly. "Isn't he cute?"

"Extraordinary how that word'll fetch him," said I. "I think his late mistress must have--"

"I'm sure she must," said Berry, taking the ruins of his correspondence out of my hand. "Perhaps she also taught him to collect stamps. And / or crests. And do you mean to say you've got no chocolates for him? How shameful! I'd better run round and knock up Gunter's. Shall I slip on a coat, or will the parquet do?"

"There's no vice in him," I said shakily. "It was a misunderstanding."

With an awful look Berry gingerly withdrew from what remained of the envelope some three-fifths of a dilapidated dividend warrant, which looked as if it had been immersed in water and angrily disputed by a number of rats.

"It's-it's all right," I said unsteadily. "The company'll give you another."

"Give me air," said Berry weakly. "Open the wardrobe, somebody, and give me air. You know, this is the violation of Belgium over again. The little angel must have been the mascot of a double-breasted Jaeger battalion in full blast." With a shaking finger he indicated the cheque. "Bearing this in mind, which would you say he was to-night-useful or ornamental?"

"Neither the one, nor the other," said I. "Merely diverting."

Expectantly my brother-in-law regarded the ceiling.

"I wonder what's holding it," he said. "I suppose the whitewash has seized. And now, if you'll assist me downstairs and apply the usual restoratives, I'll forgive you the two pounds I owe you. There's a letter I want to write before I retire."

Half an hour later the following letter was dispatched-

Sir,

The enclosed are, as a patient scrutiny will reveal, the remains of a dividend warrant in my favour for seventy-two pounds five shillings.

Owing to its dilapidation, which you will observe includes the total loss of the date, signature and stamp, I am forced to the reluctant conclusion that your bankers will show a marked disinclination to honour what was once a valuable security.

Its reduction to the lamentable condition in which you now see it is due to the barbarous treatment it received at the teeth and claws of a dog or hound which, I regret to say, has recently frequented this house and is indubitably possessed of a malignant devil.

In fairness to myself I must add, first, that it was through no improvidence on my part that the domestic animal above referred to obtained possession of the document, and, secondly, that I made such desperate efforts to recover it intact as resulted in my sustaining a fall of considerable violence upon one of the least resilient floors I have ever encountered. If you do not believe me, your duly accredited representative is at liberty to inspect the many and various contusions upon my person any day between ten and eleven at the above address.

Yours faithfully,

etc.

P.S.-My cousin-german has just read this through, and says I've left out something. I think the fat-head is being funny, but I just mention it, in case.

P.P.S.-It's just occurred to me that the fool means I haven't asked you to send me another one. But you will, won't you?

* * *

For no apparent reason I was suddenly awake.

Invariably a sound sleeper, I lay for a moment pondering the phenomenon. Then a low growl from the foot of the bed furnished one explanation only to demand another.

I put up a groping hand and felt for the dangling switch.

For a moment I fumbled. Then from above my head a deeply-shaded lamp flung a sudden restricted light on to the bed.

I raised myself on an elbow and looked at Nobby.

His body was still curled, with his small strong legs tucked out of sight, but his head was raised, and he was listening intently.

I put my head on one side and did the same....

Only the hoot of a belated car faintly disturbed the silence.

I looked at my wrist-watch. This showed one minute to one. As I raised my eyes, an impatient clock somewhere confirmed its tale.

With a yawn I conjured the terrier to go to sleep and reached for the switch.

As I did so, he growled again.

With my fingers about the "push," I hesitated, straining my ears....

The next moment I was out of bed and fighting my way into my dressing-gown, while Nobby, his black nose clapped to the sill of the doorway, stood tense and rigid and motionless as death.

As I picked him up, he began to quiver, and I could feel his heart thumping, but he seemed to appreciate the necessity for silence, and licked my face noiselessly.

I switched off the light and opened the door.

There was a lamp burning on the landing, and I stepped directly to the top of the stairs.

Except that there was a faint light somewhere upon the ground floor, I could see nothing, but, as I stood peering, the sound of a stealthy movement, followed by the low grumble of utterance, rose unmistakably to my ears. Under my left arm Nobby stiffened notably.

For a moment I stood listening and thinking furiously....

It was plain that there was more than one visitor, for burglars do not talk to themselves, and Discretion suggested that I should seek assistance before descending. Jonah was out of Town, the men-servants slept in the basement, the telephone was downstairs. Only Berry remained.

The faint chink of metal meeting metal and a stifled laugh decided me.

With the utmost caution I stole to the door of my sister's room and turned the handle. As I glided into the chamber-

"Who's that?" came in a startled whisper.

Before I could answer, there was a quick rustle, a switch clicked, and there was Daphne, propped on a white arm, looking at me with wide eyes and parted lips. Her beautiful dark hair was tumbling about her breast and shoulders. Impatiently she brushed it clear of her face.

"What is it, Boy?"

I laid a finger upon my lips.

"There's somebody downstairs. Wake Berry."

Slowly her husband rolled on to his left side and regarded me with one eye.

"What," he said, "is the meaning of this intrusion?"

"Don't be a fool," I whispered. "The house is being burgled."

"Gurgled?"

"Burgled, you fool."

"No such word," said Berry. "What you mean is 'burglariously rifled.' And then you're wrong. Why, there's Nobby."

I could have stamped with vexation.

My sister took up the cudgels.

"Don't lie there," she said. "Get up and see."

"What?" said her husband.

"What's going on."

Berry swallowed before replying. Then-

"How many are there?" he demanded.

"You poisonous idiot," I hissed, "I tell you--"

"Naughty temper," said Berry. "I admit I'm in the wrong but there you are. You see, it all comes of not wearing rings. If I did, I should have remembered that a wire came from Jonah just before dinner-it's in my dinner-jacket-saying he was coming up late to-night with Harry, and that if the latter couldn't get in at the Club, he should bring him on here. He had the decency to add 'Don't sit up.'"

Daphne and I exchanged glances of withering contempt.

"And where," said my sister, "is Harry going to sleep?"

Her husband settled himself contentedly.

"That," he said drowsily, "is what's worrying me."

"Outrageous," said Daphne. Then she turned to me. "It's too late to do anything now. Will you go down and explain? Perhaps he can manage in the library. Unless Jonah likes to give up his bed."

"I'll do what I can," I said, taking a cigarette from the box by her side.

"Oh, and do ask if it's true about Evelyn."

"Right oh. I'll tell you as I come back."

"I forbid you," murmured her husband, "to re-enter this room."

I kissed my sister, lobbed a novel on to my brother-in-law's back, and withdrew before he had time to retaliate. Then I stepped barefoot downstairs, to perform my mission.

With the collapse of the excitement, Nobby's suspicion shrank into curiosity, his muscles relaxed, and he stopped quivering. So infectious a thing is perturbation.

The door of the library was ajar, and the thin strip of light which issued was enough to guide me across the hall. The parquet was cold to the touch, and I began to regret that I had not returned for my slippers.

As I pushed the door open-

"I say, Jonah," I said, "that fool Berry--"

It was with something of a shock that I found myself looking directly along the barrel of a .45 automatic pistol, which a stout gentleman, wearing a green mask, white kid gloves, and immaculate evening-dress, was pointing immediately at my nose.

"There now," he purred. "I was going to say, 'Hands up.' Just like that. 'Hands up.' It's so romantic. But I hadn't expected the dog. Suppose you put your right hand up."

I shook my head.

"I want that for my cigarette," I said.

For a moment we stood looking at one another. Then my fat vis-à-vis began to shake with laughter.

"You know," he gurgled, "this is most irregular. It's enough to make Jack Sheppard turn in his grave. It is really. However.... As an inveterate smoker, I feel for you. So we'll have a compromise." He nodded towards an armchair which stood by the window. "You go and sit down in that extremely comfortable armchair-sit well back-and we won't say any more about the hands."

As he spoke, he stepped forward. Nobby received him with a venomous growl, and to my amazement the fellow immediately caressed him.

"Dogs always take to me," he added. "I'm sure I don't know why, but it's a great help."

To my mortification, the Sealyham proved to be no exception to the rule. I could feel his tail going.

As in a dream, I crossed to the chair and sat down. As I moved, the pistol moved also.

"I hate pointing this thing at you," said the late speaker. "It's so suggestive. If you'd care to give me your word, you know.... Between gentlemen...."

"I make no promises," I snapped.

The other sighed.

"Perhaps you're right," he said. "Lean well back, please.... That's better."

The consummate impudence of the rogue intensified the atmosphere of unreality, which was most distracting. Doggedly my bewildered brain was labouring in the midst of a litter of fiction, which had suddenly changed into truth. The impossible had come to pass. The cracksman of the novel had come to life, and I was reluctantly witnessing, in comparative comfort and at my own expense, an actual exhibition of felony enriched with all the spices which the cupboard of Sensation contains.

The monstrous audacity of the proceedings, and the business-like way in which they were conducted, were almost stupefying.

Most of the silver in the house, including a number of pieces, our possession of which I had completely forgotten, seemed to have been collected and laid in rough order upon rugs, which had been piled one upon the other to deaden noise. One man was taking it up, piece by piece, scrutinizing it with an eye-glass such as watchmakers use, and dictating descriptions and particulars to a second, who was seated at the broad writing-table, entering the details, in triplicate, in a large order-book. By his side a third manipulated a pair of scales, weighing each piece with the greatest care and reporting the result to the second, who added the weight to the description. Occasionally the latter paused to draw at a cigarette, which lay smouldering in the ash-tray by his side. As each piece was weighed, the third handed it to a fourth assistant, who wrapped it in a bag of green baize and laid it gently in an open suit-case. Four other cases stood by his side, all bearing a number of labels and more or less the worse for wear.

All four men were masked and gloved, and working with a rapidity and method which were remarkable. With the exception of the packer, who wore a footman's livery, they were attired in evening-dress.

"We find it easier," said the master, as if interpreting my thoughts, "to do it all on the spot. Then it's over and done with. I do hope you're insured," he added. "I always think it's so much more satisfactory."

"Up to the hilt," said I cheerfully. "We had it all re-valued only this year, because of the rise in silver."

"Splendid!"-enthusiastically. "But I'm neglecting you." With his left hand the rogue picked up an ash-tray and stepped to my side. Then he backed to the mantelpiece, whence he picked up and brought me a handful of cigarettes, laying them on the broad arm of my chair. "I'm afraid the box has gone," he said regretfully. "May I mix you a drink?"

I shook my head.

"I've had my ration. If I'd known, I'd have saved some. You see, I don't sit up so late, as a rule."

He shrugged his shoulders.

As he did so, my own last words rang familiarly in my ears: "I don't sit up so late" ... "Don't sit up." ...

Jonah! He and Harry were due to arrive any moment!

Hope leaped up within me, and my heart began to beat violently. I glanced at the silver, still lying upon the rugs. Slowly it was diminishing, and the services of a second suit-case would soon be necessary. I calculated that to complete the bestowal would take the best part of an hour, and began to speculate upon the course events would take when the travellers appeared. I began to pray fervently that Harry would be unable to get in at the Club....

"Now, then, you three," said a reproving voice. "I'm surprised at you."

Daphne!

The rogues were trained to a hair.

Before she was framed in the doorway, the cold steel of another weapon was pressing against my throat, and the master was bowing in her direction.

"Madam, I beg that you will neither move nor cry out."

My sister stood like a statue. Only the rise and fall of her bosom showed that she was alive. Pale as death, her eyes riveted on the speaker, who was holding his right hand markedly behind him, her unbound hair streaming over her shoulders, she made a beautiful and arresting picture. A kimono of softest apricot, over which sprawled vivid embroideries, here in the guise of parti-coloured dragons, there in that of a wanton butterfly, swathed her from throat to foot. From the mouths of its gaping sleeves her shapely wrists and hands thrust out snow-white and still as sculpture.

For a moment all eyes were upon her, as she stood motionless.... Then the man with the eye-glass screwed it back into his eye, and resumed his dictation....

The spell was broken.

The packer left his work and, lifting a great chair bodily with apparent ease, set it noiselessly by my side.

The master bowed again.

"I congratulate you, madam, upon your great heart. I beg that you will join that gentleman."

With a high head, My Lady Disdain swept to the spot indicated and sank into the chair.

"Please lean right back.... Thank you."

The cold steel was withdrawn from my throat, and I breathed more freely.

Nobby wriggled to get to my sister, but I held him fast.

"So it was burglars," said Daphne.

"Looks like it," said I.

I glanced at the leader, who had taken his seat upon the club-kerb. His right hand appeared to be resting upon his knee.

"I think," said my sister, "I'll have a cigarette." I handed her one from the pile and lighted it from my own. As I did so-

"Courage," I whispered. "Jonah ne tardera pas."

"I beg," said the spokesman, "that you will not whisper together. It tends to create an atmosphere of mistrust."

My sister inclined her head with a silvery laugh.

"You have a large staff," she said.

"That is my way. I am not a believer in the lone hand. But there you are. Quot homines, tot sententic?," and with that, he spread out his hands and shrugged his broad shoulders.

Daphne raised her delicate eyebrows and blew out a cloud of smoke.

"'The fewer men,'" she quoted, "'the greater share of-plunder.'"

The shoulders began to shake.

"Touché," was the reply. "A pretty thrust, madam. But you must read further on. 'And gentlemen in Mayfair now abed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here.' Shall we say that-er-honours are easy?" And the old villain fairly rocked with merriment.

Daphne laughed airily.

"Good for you," she said. "As a matter of fact, sitting here, several things look extremely easy."

"So, on the whole, they are. Mind you, lookers-on see the easy side. And you, madam, are a very privileged spectator."

"I have paid for my seat," flashed my sister.

"Royally. Still, deadhead or not, a spectator you are, and, as such, you see the easy side. Now, one of the greatest dangers that can befall a thief is avarice."

"I suppose you're doing this out of charity," I

blurted.

"Listen. Many a promising career of-er-appropriation has come to an abrupt and sordid end, and all because success but whetted where it should have satisfied." He addressed my sister. "Happily for you, you do not sleep in your pearls. Otherwise, since you are here, I might have fallen... Who knows? As it is, pearls, diamonds and the emerald bracelets that came from Prague-you see, madam, I know them all-will lie upstairs untouched. I came for silver, and I shall take nothing else. Some day, perhaps..."

The quiet sing-song of his voice faded, and only the murmur of the ceaseless dictation remained. Then that, too, faltered and died....

For a second master and men stood motionless. Then the former pointed to Daphne and me, and Numbers Three and Four whipped to our side.

Somebody, whistling softly, was descending the stairs....

Just as it became recognizable the air slid out of a whistle into a song, and my unwitting brother-in-law invested the last two lines with all the mockery of pathos of which his inferior baritone voice was capable.

"I'm for ever b-b-blowing b-b-bub-b-bles,

B-blinkin' b-bub-b-bles in the air."

He entered upon the last word, started ever so slightly at his reception, and then stood extremely still.

"Bubbles be blowed," he said. "B-b-burglars, what? Shall I moisten the lips? Or would you rather I wore a sickly smile? I should like it to be a good photograph. You know, you can't touch me, Reggibald. I'm in balk." His eyes wandered round the room. "Why, there's Nobby. And what's the game? Musical Chairs? I know a better one than that." His eyes returned to the master. "Now, don't you look and I'll hide in the hassock! Then, when I say 'Cuckoo,' you put down the musket and wish. Then-excuse me."

Calmly he twitched a Paisley shawl from the back of the sofa and crossed to his wife. Tenderly he wrapped it about her feet and knees. By the time he had finished a third chair was awaiting him, and Numbers Three and Four had returned to their work.

"Pray sit down," drawled the master. "And lean well back.... That's right. You know, I'm awfully sorry you left your bed."

"Don't mention it," said Berry. "I wouldn't have missed this for any thing. How's Dartmoor looking?"

The fat rogue sighed.

"I have not had a holiday," he said, "for nearly two years. And night work tells, you know. Of course I rest during the day, but it isn't the same."

"How wicked! And they call this a free country. I should see your M.P. about it. Or wasn't he up when you called?"

The other shook his head.

"As a matter of fact," he said, "he was out of Town. George, give the gentleman a match." The packer picked up a match-stand and set it by Berry's side. "I'm so sorry about the chocolates. You see, I wasn't expecting--Hullo!"

At the mention of the magical word Nobby had leapt from my unready grasp and trotted across to the fireplace. There, to my disgust and vexation, he fixed the master with an expectant stare, and then sat up upon his hindquarters and begged a sweatmeat.

His favourer began to heave with merriment.

"What an engaging scrap!" he wheezed, taking a chocolate from an occasional table upon which the contents of a dessert dish had apparently been emptied. "Here, my little apostate.... Well caught!"

With an irrational rapidity the Sealyham disposed of the first comfit he had been given for more than six months. Then he resumed the attractive posture which he had found so profitable. Lazily his patron continued to respond....

Resentfully I watched the procedure, endeavouring to console myself with the reflection that in a few hours Nature would assuredly administer to the backslider a more terrible and appropriate correction than any that I could devise.

Would Jonah never come?

I stole a glance at the clock. Five and twenty minutes to two. And when he did come, what then? Were he and Harry to blunder into the slough waist-high, as we had done? Impossible. There was probably a man outside-possibly a car, which would set them thinking. Then, even if the brutes got away, their game would be spoiled. It wouldn't be such a humiliating walk-over. Oh, why had Daphne come down? Her presence put any attempt at action out of the question. And why....

A taxi slowed for a distant corner and turned into the street. For a moment it seemed to falter. Then its speed was changed clumsily, and it began to grind its way in our direction. My heart began to beat violently. Again the speed was changed, and the rising snarl choked to give way to a metallic murmur, which was rapidly approaching. I could hardly breathe.... Then the noise swelled up, hung for an instant upon the very crest of earshot, only to sink abruptly as the cab swept past, taking our hopes with it.

Two-thirds of the silver had disappeared.

Berry cleared his throat.

"You know," he said, "this is an education. In my innocence I thought that a burglar shoved his swag in a sack and then pushed off, and did the rest in the back parlour of a beer-house in Notting Dale. As it is, my only wonder is that you didn't bring a brazier and a couple of melting-pots."

"Not my job," was the reply. "I'm not a receiver. Besides, you don't think that all this beautiful silver is to be broken up?" The horror of his uplifted hands would have been more convincing if both of them had been empty. "Why, in a very little while, particularly if you travel, you will have every opportunity of buying It back again in open market."

"But how comic," said Berry. "I should think you're a favourite at Lloyd's. D'you mind if I blow my nose? Or would that be a casus belli?"

"Not at all"-urbanely. "Indeed, if you would care to give me your word...."

Berry shook his head.

"Honour among thieves?" he said. "Unfortunately I'm honest, so you must have no truck with me. Never mind. D'you touch cards at all? Or only at Epsom?"

Beneath the green mask the mouth tightened, and I could see that the taunt had gone home. No man likes to be whipped before his underlings.

Nobby profited by the master's silence, and had devoured two more chocolates before Berry spoke again-this time to me.

"Gentleman seems annoyed," he remarked. "I do hope he hasn't misconstrued anything I've said. D'you think we ought to offer him breakfast? Of course, five is rather a lot, but I dare say one of them is a vegetarian, and you can pretend you don't care for haddock. Or they may have some tripe downstairs. You never know. And afterwards we could run them back to Limehouse. By the way, I wonder if I ought to tell him about the silver which-not. It's only nickel, but I don't want to keep anything back. Oh, and what about the dividend warrant? Of course it wants riveting and-er-forging, and I don't think they'd recognize it, but he could try. If I die before he goes, ask him to leave his address; then, if he leaves anything behind, the butler can send it on. I remember I left a pair of bed-socks once at Chatsworth. The Duke never sent them on, but then they were perishable. Besides, one of them followed me as far as Leicester. Instinct, you know. I wrote to The Field about it." He paused to shift uneasily in his seat. "You know, if I have to sustain this pose much longer, I shall get railway spine or a hare lip or something."

"Hush," said I. "What did Alfred Austin say in 1895?"

"I know," said Berry. "'Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet 'tis early morn.' Precisely. But then all his best work was admittedly done under the eiderdown."

The clock upon the wall was chiming the hour. Two o'clock.

Would Jonah never come?

I fancy the same query renewed its hammering at Berry's brain, for, after a moment's reflection, he turned to the master.

"I don't wish to presume upon your courtesy," he said, "but will the executive portion of your night's work finish when that remaining treasure has been bestowed?"

"So far as you are concerned."

"Oh, another appointment! Of course, this 'summer time' stunt gives you another hour, doesn't it? Well, I must wish you a warmer welcome."

"That were impossible," was the bland reply "Once or twice, I must confess, I thought you a little-er, equivocal, but let that pass. I only regret that Mrs. Pleydell, particularly, should have been so much inconvenienced."

"Don't mention it," said Berry. "As a matter of fact, we're all very pleased to have met you. You have interested us more than I can say, with true chivalry you have abstained from murder and mutilation, and you have suffered me to blow my nose, when a less courteous visitor would have obliged me to sniff with desperate and painful regularity for nearly half an hour. Can generosity go further?"

The rogue upon the club-kerb began to shake with laughter again.

"You're a good loser," he crowed. "I'll give you that. I'm quite glad you came down. Most of my hosts I never see, and that's dull, you know, dull. And those I do are so often-er-unsympathetic. Yes, I shall remember to-night."

"Going to change his rings," murmured Berry.

"And now the highly delicate question of our departure is, I am afraid, imminent. To avoid exciting impertinent curiosity, you will appreciate that we must take our leave as artlessly as possible, and that the order of our going must be characterized by no unusual circumstance, such, for instance, as a hue and cry. Anything so vulgar as a scene must at all costs be obviated. Excuse me. Blake!"

Confederate Number One stepped noiselessly to his side and listened in silence to certain instructions, which were to us inaudible.

I looked about me.

The last of the silver had disappeared. The packer was dismantling the scales as a preliminary to laying them in the last suit-case. The clerk was fastening together the sheets which he had detached from the flimsy order-book. Number Three had taken a light overcoat from a chair and was putting it on. And the time was six minutes past two....

And what of Jonah? He and Harry would probably arrive about five minutes too late. I bit my lip savagely....

Again the chief malefactor lifted up his voice.

"It is my experience," he drawled, "that temerity is born, if not of curiosity, then of ignorance. Now, if there is one vice more than another which I deplore, it is temerity-especially when it is displayed by a host at two o'clock of a morning. I am therefore going to the root of the matter. In short, I propose to satisfy your very natural curiosity regarding our method of departure, and, incidentally, to show you exactly what you are up against. You see, I believe in prevention." His utterance of the last sentences was more silky than ever.

"The constables who have passed this house since half-past twelve will, if reasonably observant, have noticed the carpet which, upon entering, we laid upon the steps. A departure of guests, therefore, even at this advanced hour, should arouse no more suspicion than the limousine-landaulette which has now been waiting for some nine minutes.

"The lights in the hall will now be turned on, the front door will be opened wide, and the footman will place the suit-cases in the car, at the open door of which he will stand, while my colleagues and I-I need hardly say by this time unmasked-emerge at our leisure, chatting in a most ordinary way.

"I shall be the last to enter the car-I beg your pardon. To-night I shall be the last but one"-for an instant he halted, as if to emphasize the correction-"and my entry will coincide with what is a favourable opportunity for the footman to assume the cap and overcoat which he must of necessity wear if his closing of the front door and subsequent occupation of the seat by the chauffeur are to excite no remark.... You see, I try to think of everything."

He paused for a moment, regarding the tips of his fingers, as though they were ungloved. Then-

"Your presence here presents no difficulty. Major and Mrs. Pleydell will stay in this room, silent ... and motionless ... and detaining the dog. You"-nonchalantly he pointed an extremely ugly trench-dagger in my direction-"will vouch with your-er-health for their observance of these conditions. Be good enough to stand up and place your hands behind you."

With a glance at Berry, I rose. All things considered, there was nothing else to be done.

The man whom he had addressed as "Blake" picked up Nobby and, crossing the room, laid the terrier in Berry's arms. Then he lashed my wrists together with the rapidity of an expert.

"Understand, I take no chances." A harsh note had crept into the even tones. "The slightest indiscretion will cost this gentleman extremely dear."

I began to hope very much that my brother-in-law would appreciate the advisability of doing as he had been told.

"George, my coat." The voice was as suave as ever again. "Thank you. Is everything ready?"

Berry stifled a yawn.

"You don't mean to say," he exclaimed, "that you're actually going? Dear me. Well, well.... I don't suppose you've a card on you? No. Sorry. I should have liked to remember you in my prayers. Never mind. And you don't happen to know of a good plain cook, do you? No. I thought not. Well, if you should hear of one...."

"Carry on."

Blake laid a hand on my shoulder and urged me towards the door. As I was going, I saw the master bow.

"Mrs. Pleydell," he said, "I have the honour--Dear me! There's that ridiculous word again. Never mind-the honour to bid adieu to a most brave lady."

With a faint sneer my sister regarded him. Then-

"Au revoir," she said steadily.

"So long, old bean," said Berry. "See you at Vine Street."

As I passed into the hall, the lights went up and a cap was clapped on to my head and pulled down tight over my eyes. Then I was thrust into a corner of the hall, close to the front door. Immediately this was opened, and I could hear everything happen as we had been led to expect. Only there was a hand on my shoulder....

I heard the master coming with a jest on his lips.

As he passed me, he was speaking ostensibly to one of his comrades ... ostensibly....

"I shouldn't wait up for Jonah," he said.

* * *

Thanks to the fact that one of the Assistant Commissioners of Police was an old friend of mine, we were spared much of the tedious interrogation and well-meant, but in the circumstances utterly futile, attentions of the subordinate officers of the C.I.D.

Admission to the house had been gained without breaking, and there were no finger-prints. Moreover, since our visitors had worn masks, such descriptions of them as we could give were very inadequate. However, statements were taken from my sister, Berry and myself, and the spurious telegram was handed over. The insurance company was, of course, informed of the crime.

Despite the paucity of detail, our description of the gang and its methods aroused tremendous excitement at Scotland Yard. The master, it appeared, was a veritable Prince of Darkness. Save that he existed, and was a man of large ideas and the utmost daring, to whose charge half the great unplaced robberies of recent years were, rightly or wrongly, laid, little or nothing was known of his manners or personality.

"I tell you," said the Assistant Commissioner, leaning back and tilting his chair, "he's just about as hot as they make 'em. And when we do take him, if ever we do-and that might be to-morrow, or in ten years' time-we might walk straight into him next week with the stuff in his hands; you never know-well, when we do take him, as like as not, he'll prove to be a popular M.P., or a recognized authority on livestock or something. You've probably seen him heaps of times in St. James's, and, as like as not, he's a member of your own Club. Depend upon it, the old sinner moves in those circles which you know are above suspicion. If somebody pinched your watch at Ascot, you'd never look for the thief in the enclosure, would you? Of course not. Well, I may be wrong, but I don't think so. Meanwhile let's have some lunch."

For my sister the ordeal had been severe, and for the thirty hours following the robbery she had kept her bed. Berry had contracted a slight cold, and I was not one penny the worse. Jill was overcome to learn what she had missed, and the reflection that she had mercifully slept upstairs, while such a drama was being enacted upon the ground floor, rendered her inconsolable. Jonah was summoned by telegram, and came pelting from Somerset, to be regaled with a picturesque account of the outrage, the more purple features of which he at first regarded as embroidery, and for some time flatly refused to believe. As was to be expected, Nobby paid for his treachery with an attack of biliousness, the closing stages of which were terrible to behold. At one time it seemed as if no constitution could survive such an upheaval; but, although the final convulsion left him subdued and listless, he was as right as ever upon the following morning.

The next Sunday we registered what was to be our last attendance of Church Parade for at least three months.

By common consent we had that morning agreed altogether to eschew the subject of crime. Ever since it had happened we had discussed the great adventure so unceasingly that, as Berry had remarked at breakfast, it was more than likely that, unless we were to take an immediate and firm line with ourselves, we should presently get Grand Larceny on the brain, and run into some danger of qualifying, not only for admission to Broadmoor, but for detention in that institution till His Majesty's pleasure should be known. For the first hour or two which followed our resolution we either were silent or discussed other comparatively uninteresting matters in a preoccupied way; but gradually lack of ventilation began to tell, and the consideration of the robbery grew less absorbent.

As we entered the Park at Stanhope Gate-

"Boy, aren't you glad Adèle's coming?" said Jill.

I nodded abstractedly.

"Rather."

"You never said so the other night."

"Didn't I?"

"I suppose, if she comes to Southampton, you'll go to meet her. May I come with you?"

"Good heavens, yes. Why shouldn't you?"

"Oh, I don't know. I thought, perhaps, you'd rather...."

I whistled to Nobby, whose disregard of traffic was occasionally conducive to heart failure. As he came cantering up-

"Adèle isn't my property," I said.

"I know, but...."

"But what?"

"I've never seen Nobby look so clean," said Jill, with a daring irrelevance that took my breath away.

"I observe," said I, "that you are growing up. Your adolescence is at hand. You are fast emerging from the chrysalis of girlish innocence, eager to show yourself a pert and scheming butterfly." My cousin regarded me with feigned bewilderment. "Yes, you've got the baby stare all right, but you must learn to control that little red mouth. Watch Daphne."

Jill made no further endeavour to restrain the guilty laughter which was trembling upon her lips.

"I b-believe you just love her," she bubbled.

I thought very rapidly. Then-

"I think we all do," said I. "She's very attractive."

"I mean it," said Jill.

"So do I. Look at her ears. Oh, I forgot. Hides them under her hair, doesn't she? Her eyes, then."

"I observe," said Jill pompously, "that you are sitting up and taking notice. Your adol-adol-er-what you said, is at hand. You are emerging from the chrysalis of ignorance--"

"This is blasphemy. You wicked girl. And what are you getting at? Matchmaking or only blackmail?"

"Well, it's time you got married, isn't it? I don't want you to, dear, but I know you've got to soon, and-and I'd like you to be happy."

There was a little catch in her voice, and I looked down to see her eyes shining.

"Little Jill," I said, "if I marry six wives, I shall still be in love with my cousin-a little fair girl, with great grey eyes and the prettiest ways and a heart of the purest gold. And now shall we cry here or by The Serpentine?"

She caught at my arm, laughing.

"Boy, you're very--Oh, I say! Where's Nobby?"

We had reached the Achilles Statue, and a hurried retrospect showed me the terrier some thirty paces away, exchanging discourtesies with an Aberdeen. The two were walking round each other with a terrible deliberation, and from their respective demeanours it was transparently clear that only an immediate distraction could avert the scandal of a distressing brawl.

Regardless of my surroundings, I summoned the Sealyham in my "parade" voice. To my relief he started and, after a menacing look at his opponent, presumably intended to discourage an attack in rear, cautiously withdrew from his presence and, once out of range, came scampering in our direction.

My brother-in-law and Daphne, whom we had outdistanced, arrived at the same time.

As I was reproving the terrier-

"The very people," said a familiar voice.

It was the Assistant Commissioner, labouring under excitement which he with difficulty suppressed. He had been hurrying, and was out of breath.

"I want you to cross the road and walk along by the side of The Row," he said jerkily. "If you see anyone you recognize, take off your hat. And, Mrs. Pleydell, you lower your parasol."

"But, my dear chap," said Berry, "they were all masked."

"Well, if you recognize a voice, or even--"

"A voice? My dear fellow, we're in the open air. Besides, what jury--"

"For Heaven's sake," cried the other, "do as I ask I I know it's a chance in a million. Think me mad, call me a fool-anything you like ... but go."

His earnestness was irresistible.

I whistled to Nobby-who had seized the opportunity of straying, apparently by accident, towards a bull-terrier-and started to stroll in the direction of The Row. Jill walked beside me, twittering, and a glance over my shoulder showed me my sister and Berry a horse's length behind. Behind them, again, came the Assistant Commissioner.

We crossed the road and entered the walk he had mentioned.

It was a beautiful day. The great sun flamed out of a perfect sky, and there was little or no wind. With the exception of a riding-master and two little girls The Row was empty, but the walk was as crowded as a comfortably filled ball-room, if you except the dancers who are sitting out; for, while three could walk abreast with small inconvenience either to others or themselves, there was hardly a seat to spare.

I have seen smarter parades. It was clear that many habitués had already left Town, and that a number of visitors had already arrived. But there was apparent the same quiet air of gaiety, the same good humour which fine feathers bring, and, truth to tell, less ennui and more undisguised enjoyment than I can ever remember.

Idly I talked with Jill, not thinking what I said nor noticing what she answered, but my heart was pounding against my ribs, and I was glancing incessantly from side to side in a fever of fear lest I should miss the obvious.

Now and again I threw a look over my shoulder. Always Berry and Daphne were close behind. Fervently I wished that they were in front.

I began to walk more slowly....

Suddenly I realized that I was streaming with sweat.

As I felt for my handkerchief-

"Look at Nobby," said Jill. "Whatever's he doing?"

I glanced at my cousin to follow the direction of her eyes.

Nobby was sitting up, begging, before a large elderly gentleman who was seated, immaculately dressed, some six paces away. He was affecting not to see the terrier, but there was a queer frozen look about his broad smile that set me staring. Even as I gazed he lowered his eyes and lifting a hand from his knee, began to regard the tips of his fingers, as though they were ungloved....

For a second I stood spellbound.

Then I took off my hat.

* * *

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