The Man Who Drove the Car
IN ACCOUNT WITH DOLLY ST. JOHN
My old father used to say that "woman's looks were his only books and folly was all they taught him," which shows, I suppose, that what he knew about the sex he learned from a circulating library.
Anyway, he never drove a motor-car, or he would have written in another strain. Sometimes I pick up a piece in the newspapers about women and then I laugh to myself, thinking how many mugs there are in the world and how they were born for the other sex to make game of. Let 'em get on the driver's seat and take madam round an afternoon or two. There won't be much talk about gentle shepherdesses after that, I'll wager—though if a crook or two don't get into the story I'm Dutchman.
Well, you must know that this is about Dolly St. John—a little American girl, who hired a car from the Empire Company when I was one of its drivers, and had a pretty little game with us. I used to go for her every afternoon to some hotel or the other, and always a different one, she not being domesticated, so to speak, and never caring to overstay her welcome.
A daintier little body was never fitted upon a chassis. There are some who like them fair, and some who like them dark—but Dolly St. John was betwixt and between, neither the one nor the other, but a type that gets there every time, and turns twenty heads when a policeman stops you at a crossing.
It's very natural that young women should like to talk to their drivers; and, if the truth were told, some of them will tell us things they would never speak of, no, not to their own husbands, if they've got any. Dolly was one of these, and a more talkative little body never existed. I knew her history the very first afternoon I took her round; and by the third, I could have told you that she had met the Hon. John Sarand, and meant to marry him, even if his old father, Lord Badington, had to go on the halls in consequence.
I had driven Dolly about three weeks, if I remember rightly, when our people first began to get uneasy. It was all very well for her to talk about her uncle, Nathaniel St. John, of New York City, who made a hundred thousand dollars a day by blowing bubbles through a telephone; but her bill for seventy-five sixteen and four remained unpaid, and when Hook-Nosed Moss, our manager, asked her for it, all he got was a cigarette out of a bon-bon box, and an intimation that if he came on a similar errand again, she'd write to the papers about it. Had she not been a born little actress, who could have earned twenty a week on any stage in London, the man would have closed the deal on the spot, and left it to the lawyers. But she just tickled him like a carburettor, and he went home to say that the money was better than Consols, and the firm making a fool of itself.
I drove her for another week after this, chiefly to the theatre with the Honorary John, and to supper afterwards. She had a wonderful mania for shopping, and used to spend hours in Regent Street, while I read the Auto-Car outside, and fell to asking myself how long it would last. You don't deceive the man who drives the car—be sure of it. Either she led the Honorary John to the financial altar, or her poor uncle would be on the Rocky Mountains—I hadn't a doubt of it.
I liked her, that goes without saying. A man's a fool who tells you that a pretty woman's charm is less because her bankers are wondering how they shall get the cheque-book back, and the tradesman round the corner is blotting his ledger with tears. In a way I was in love with Miss Dolly, and would have married her myself upon any provocation; but before I could make up my mind to it either way, she'd gone like a flash, and half the bill collectors in London after her. This I learned during the week following the disappearance. She sent for me one day to pick her up at Joran's Hotel, and when I got there, and the hotel porter had handed out two rugs and a Pomeranian, down comes the chambermaid to say madam had not returned since eleven o'clock. And then I knew by some good instinct that the game was up—and, handing the Pomeranian back, I said, "Be good to him, for he's an orphan."
This was a surmise—a surmise and nothing more; and yet how true it proved! I had a 'tec with me on the following afternoon, and a pretty tale he had to tell. Not, mind you, as he himself declared, that Dolly was really dishonest. She had left a few bills behind her; but where is the woman who does not do that, and who would think the better of her if she didn't? Dolly wasn't a thief by a long way—but her shopping mania was wild enough to be written about, and she bought thousands of pounds' worth of goods in London, just for the mere pleasure of ordering them and nothing more.
I often laugh when I think how she fooled the tradesmen in Bond Street and the West End. Just imagine them bowing and scraping when she told 'em to send home a thousand-pound tiara, or a two-hundred-guinea white fox, and promised they should be paid on delivery. Why, they strewed her path with bows and smiles—and when they sent home the goods to a flat by Regent's Park—an address she always gave—they found it empty and no one there to take delivery. No more bows and smiles after that; but what could they do, and what offence had she committed? That was just what the 'tec asked me, and I could not answer.
"We know most of 'em," he said, "but she's a right-down finger-print from the backwoods. Nathaniel St. John cables from New York that he doesn't know her, but will be pleased to make her acquaintance, if we'll frank her over. I tell these people they can sue her—but, man, you might as well sue the statue of Oliver Cromwell——"
"He being stony-broke likewise," said I. "Well, she had a run for her money, and here's good luck to her. I hope that I haven't seen her for the last time."
"If you have," says he, "put me in Madame Tussaud's. When next you hear of Dolly St. John it will be in something big. Remember that when the day comes."
I told him I would not forget it, and we parted upon it. Dolly was a pretty bit of goods for a tea-party, but a driver sees too many faces to keep one over-long in his memory, and I will say straight out, that I had forgotten her very name when next I saw her, and was just about the most astonished man inside the four-mile radius when I picked her up one fine afternoon at a West End hotel, and she told me we were going to drive into the country together.
"But," says I, "this car has been hired by Miss Phyllis More——"
"Oh, you stupid man!" cried she. "Don't you see that I am Miss Phyllis More? I thought you were clever enough to understand that ladies change their names sometimes, Britten. Now, why shouldn't I be Phyllis More if I wish to? Are you going to be unkind enough to tell people about it? I'm sure you are not, for you were so very good to me when last I was in England."
Now all this took place in her private room, to which I had been sent up by the porter. Three months had passed since I drove Dolly and the Honorary John, but not a whit had she changed; and I found her just the same seductive little witch with the dimples and the curly brown hair, who had played the deuce with the West End tradesmen last Christmas-time. Beautifully dressed in green, with a pretty motor veil, she was a picture I must say; and when I looked at her and remembered Hook-Nosed Moss, our traffic manager at the Empire Company, and how he docked me four and nine last Saturday, I swore I'd take her; yes, if she ordered me to drive through to San Francisco.
"I don't suppose I ought to do it, miss," I said, "unless your uncle in New York has left you anything——"
"Oh," she burst out, laughing as she said it, "he's dead, Britten; besides, I don't want any uncles now, for I shall marry Mr. Sarand directly Lord Badington gives his consent—and that won't be long, for we are going down to his house to-night to get it."
I told her frankly that I was glad to hear it, and that I thought Mr. Sarand a very lucky gentleman. What's more, I believed her story, and I knew that if this marriage came off, there would not be much trouble about my firm's seventy-five, and that half the tradesmen in London would be running after Dolly again inside a week. So I made up my mind to do it, and, sending a wire back to the yard, telling them that the lady wanted the car for two or three days, and explaining to her that I must buy myself some luggage as she went—for I do like a clean collar of evenings—I was ready for Miss Phyllis More, and not at all displeased with the venture.
"She'd been hard put to it to keep going in London, while John did the courting," said I to myself, "and that's what caused her to change her name. If she doesn't catch him, we're another twenty-five down, and Moss will have to turn Jew. Well, I can get plenty of jobs as good as his, and there aren't many Dolly St. Johns in the world, all said and done. I'll risk it, and take my gruelling afterwards. What's more, if Mr. John's papa don't come up to the scratch, I'll put a word in for myself. It would make a line in the newspapers anyway, and who knows but what we mightn't both get engaged at the halls?"
Of course, this was only my way of putting it; but I really was pleased to be driving such a pretty girl again; and when her old cane trunk came down, and we fixed it on to the grid behind, and half a dozen hat-boxes littered up the back seats, I felt that old times had come again, and that I was one of the luckiest drivers in the country.
"How far are we going, miss?" I asked her when all was ready.
"To Lord Badington's house—near Sandwich in Kent."
"It's a longish run, and we shan't get there before dark."
"Oh," says she, "they don't expect me until quite late; indeed, I don't think Lord Badington himself returns before the last train from town."
I noticed that she laid a lot of stress upon the words, "Lord Badington," for the benefit of the hotel porters, no doubt; but I wasn't angry with her for that, remembering that she was a single woman, and perhaps unprotected; and without any more words we set out across Westminster Bridge, and were very soon picking our way down the Old Kent Road. A couple of hours later we came to Maidstone, where we had tea; it was a quarter past five precisely when we made a new start for Canterbury, and a good hour and a half later when we entered that musty old town.
I shall never forget that journey, the country just showing the buds of spring, the roads white and beautiful, the twenty Renault running as smooth as a beautiful clock. Three months had passed since I had driven Miss Dolly, and this was the month of May. Yet here she was, just the same wicked little witch as ever, trotting round on a wild errand, and about to come out best, I could swear. As for me, I had the sack before me for a certainty; but little I cared for that. Who would have done, with Dolly St. John for his passenger?
We drove through Canterbury, I say, and set the car going her best on the fair road after Sturry is passed. I know the country hereabouts pretty well, being accustomed to visit fashionable watering-places from time to time, and well acquainted with Ramsgate and Margate, to say nothing of Deal and Dover. My road lay by Monkton, down toward Pegwell Bay, and it was just at the entrance to Minster that Dolly made me stop without much warning, and took me into her confidence for the first time.
"Britten," says she, "there is something I didn't tell you, but which I think I ought to tell you now. I'm not asked to Lord Badington's house at all."
"Not asked," said I, with a mouth wide enough open to swallow a pint of gear-box "B." "Then what's the good of going there, if you're not invited?"
"Oh," says she, more sweetly than ever, "I think they'll be glad to have me if I do get inside, Britten; but we shall have to act our parts very well."
I laughed at this.
"Seeing that neither of us is in the theatrical line, I don't suppose that anybody is going to take me for Sir Beerbohm Tree, or you for the Merry Widow," says I, "but, anyway, I'll do my best."
This pleased her, and she looked at me out of her pretty eyes, just sweet enough to make a man think himself a beauty.
"You see, Britten," says she, "if the car broke down just outside Lord Badington's house, perhaps they would give me shelter for the night; at least, I hope they would, and if they would not, well, it doesn't really matter, and we can go and stop at the hotel at Sandwich. It would have to be a real breakdown, for Lord Badington keeps motor-cars of his own, and his drivers would be sure to be clever at putting anything right——"
"Oh," says I, quickly enough, "if they can get this car right when I have done with it, I'll put up statues to 'em in the British Museum. You say no more, miss. We'll break down right enough, and if you are not breakfasting with his lordship to-morrow morning, don't blame me."
She nodded her head; and I could swear the excitement of it set her eyes on fire. Lord Badington's house, you must know, stands overlooking Pegwell Bay, not very far from the golf links, while the Ramsgate Road runs right before its doors. There is nothing but a bit of an inn near by, and not a cottage in sight. I saw that the place could not have been better chosen, and fifty yards from the big iron gates I got off my seat and prepared for business.
"You're really sure that you mean this, miss?" I asked her, knowing what women are. "You won't change your mind afterwards, and blame me because the car isn't going?"
"How can you ask such a thing?" was her answer. "Doesn't my whole future depend on our success, Britten?"
"Then you won't have long to wait," I rejoined, and, opening the bonnet, I set to work upon the magneto, and in twenty minutes had done the job as surely as it could have been done by the makers themselves.
"If this car is going on to-night," said I, "some one will have to push it. Now will you please tell me what is the next move, miss, for I'm beginning to think I should like my supper?"
She was down on the road herself by this time, and pretty enough she looked in her motor veil, and the beautiful sables which Mr. Sarand had given her last winter. When she told me to go on to the house, and to say that a lady's motor-car had broken down at the gates, I would have laid twenty to one on the success of her scheme, always provided that we weren't left to the menials who bark incivilities at a nobleman's door. Here luck stood by Miss Dolly, for hardly had I pulled the great bell at Lord Badington's gate when his own car came flying up the drive, with his lordship himself sitting in the back of it.
"What do you want, my man?" he asked, in a quick, sharp tone—he's a wonder for fifty-two, and there has been no smarter man in the Guards since he left them. "Where do you come from?"
"Begging your pardon, sir," said I, for I didn't want to pretend that I knew him for a lord, "but my mistress's car has come by a bit of trouble, and she sent me to ask if any one could help her."
"What, you're broken down——"
"It's just that, sir; magneto gone absolutely wrong. I shall have to be towed if I go any further to-night."
He stood on the steps beside me, and seemed to hesitate an instant. A word and he would have told his own chauffeur to drive us on to Sandwich; but it was never spoken, and I'll tell you why. Miss Dolly herself had followed me up the drive, and she arrived upon the scene at that very instant.
"Oh, I am so sorry to trouble you," she cried in her sweetest voice, "but my car's gone all wrong, and I'm so tired and hungry, I don't know what to do. Will you let me rest here just a little while?"
Talk about actresses; there isn't one of 'em in the West End would have done half so well. There she was, looking the picture of distress, and there was his lordship, twisting his moustache, and eyeing her as one who was at his wits' end to know what to do. If he didn't take long to come to a resolution, put it down to Dolly's blue eyes—he couldn't see the colour of them at that time of night, but he could feel them, I'll be bound; and, jumping, as it were, to a conclusion he turned to his man and gave him an order.
"This lady will stay here to-night," he said. "Go and help her driver to get the car in, and see that he is looked after," and without another word he waited for Miss Dolly to enter the house. Believe me, I never thought Mr. John's stock stood higher—and "Britten, my boy," says I to myself, "if this isn't worth a cool fifty when the right time comes, don't you never drive a pretty girl no more."
I had a rare lark that night, partly with Biggs, his lordship's chauffeur, and partly with a motor expert who came along on a bicycle, and said he'd have my Renault going in twenty minutes. I'm not one that can stand a billet in servants' quarters, and I chose rather to put up at the little inn down by the bay and take my luck there. It was here that Biggs came after supper, and he and the motor expert got going on my high-tension magneto.
Bless the pair of them, they might have been a month there, and no better off—for, you must know that I had taken out the armature, and if you take out an armature and don't slip a bit of soft iron in after it, your magnets are done for, and will never be worth anything again until they are re-magnetised. This baffled the pair of them, and they were there until after eleven o'clock, drinking enough beer to float a barge, and confessing that it was a mystery.
"Never see such a thing in ten years' experience," said the motor expert.
"I'm blowed if I don't think the devil has got inside the magneto," said Biggs; and there I agreed with him. For wasn't it Miss Dolly who had done it, and isn't she—but there, that wouldn't be polite to the sex, so I won't write it down.
I learned from Biggs that Lord Badington's daughter and stepson were staying in the house with him, and a couple of old gentlemen, who, when they weren't making laws at Westminster, were making fools of themselves on the links at Sandwich. It was a golfing party, in fact, and next morning early, Biggs took them on to Prince's—and, will you believe me?—the car came back for the ladies by-and-by, and off went Miss Dolly, as calmly as though she had known them all her life. Not a word to me, not a word about going on, or getting the car ready, but just a nod and a laugh as she went by, and a something in her eyes which seemed to say, "Britten, I'm doing famously, and I haven't forgotten you."
The same afternoon about tea-time she sent for me, and had a word with me in the hall. I learned then that she had promised to stop until the following morning, and she asked, in a voice which nobody could mistake, if the car would be ready. When I told her that I was waiting for a new magneto from London I thought she would kiss me on the spot.
"Oh, Britten," she said in a whisper, "suppose we couldn't get on for three or four days."
"In that case," said I, "I should consider that we were really unfortunate, miss, but I'll do my best."
"Are you comfortable at the inn, Britten?"
"Putting on flesh rapidly, miss. I never knew there were so many red herrings in the world."
"And your room?"
"They built it when they thought the King was coming to Sandwich."
She laughed and looked at me, and, just as I was leaving, she whispered, "Do make it three or four days, Britten," and I promised her with a glance she could not mistake. And why not? What was against us? Was it not all plain sailing? Truly so, but for one little fact. I'll tell you in a word—Hook-Nosed Moss and the old bill he carried about like a love-letter—a bill against Dolly St. John for seventy-five pounds sixteen shillings and fourpence.
Well, Moss came down from town suddenly on the second afternoon, and while he carried a new magneto under his arm, the bill was in his pocket right enough. I was standing at the inn door as he drove up in a fly, and when I recognised the face, you might have knocked me down with a cotton umbrella. Not, mind you, that I lost my presence of mind, or said anything foolish, but just that I felt sorry enough for Dolly St. John to risk all I'd got in the world to save her from this land shark. That Moss had found her out, I did not doubt for an instant, and his first words told me I was right.
"Do you know who you've been trotting about the country?" he asked, as he stepped down. I replied that I did not, but that I believed the lady to be a relative of Lord Badington's. Then he was fair angry.
"Lord Badington be d——d," he said, speaking through his nose as he always did, "her dabe's Dolly Sid John, and she's the sabe who did us id de winter. I wonder you were such a precious fool as not to recognise her. Do you mean to dell me you didn't dow her?"
"What!" I cried, opening my eyes wide, "she Dolly St. John! Well, you do surprise me; and she gone to Dover this very afternoon—leastwise, if it isn't to Dover, it's to Folkestone—but Biggs would tell us. Are you quite sure about it, sir?"
He swore he was sure, and went on to tell me that if I hadn't been the greatest chump in Europe I would have known it from the start.
"Where are your eyes?" he kept asking me; "do you mean to say you can drive a woman for ted days in London and not dow her again three months afterwards? A fine sort of chap you are. You deserve a statue in the Fools' Museum, upod my word you do. Now take me to the car, and let's see what's the matter. I'll have more to say to you whed we're in London, you mark that, my man."
I didn't give him any cheek, much as I would have liked to. My game was to protect Miss Dolly as far as I was able, and to hold my tongue for her sake.
Clearly her position was perilous. If this dun of a Jew went up to the house, and told them her name was not More, but St. John, the fat would be in the fire with a vengeance, and her chance of marrying John Sarand about equal to mine of mating with the crowned heads of Europe. What to do I knew no more than the dead. I had no messenger to send up to the house; I dare not leave Moss to get talking to the people of the inn; and there I was, helping him to fit and time the new magneto, and just feeling I'd pay ten pounds for the privilege of knocking him down with his own spanner.
We finished the job in about half an hour, and the Renault started up at once. Moss hadn't spoken of Miss Dolly while we were at work; but directly the engine started he remembered his business, and turned on me like a fury.
"Whed did you say she started off?" he asked.
"About two this afternoon, I think."
"In whose car?"
"Why, his lordship's, of course."
"She seems pretty thick with the dobility. Perhaps I'd better give her a chadce of paying?"
"There's boats to France at Dover," said I. "What if she's going over by the night mail?"
He looked at me most shrewdly.
"I can't make you out, Britten," says he; "either you are the greatest fool or the greatest rogue id my ebployment. Subtimes you seeb clever enough, too. Suppose we rud the car over to Dover and see what's doing there."
"Yes," said I, "and you can telephone to the pier at Folkestone to have her stopped if she's sailing from there."
He snapped his fingers and smiled all over his face.
"That's it!" he cried. "If she's leaving the coudtry I'll arrest her. I wish you'd been half as sharp when you picked her up id London."
"It's these motor veils," said I. "You can't expect a man to see through three thicknesses of shuffon—now can you, Mr. Moss?"
It was a lucky shot, and, upon my word, I really do believe that I began to wheedle him, Whether I did, or whether I did not, we had the car upon the road in ten minutes, and were off for Dover before a quarter of an hour had passed. Previous to that I had slipped into the inn on the pretence of leaving my coat, and had left a letter for Miss Dolly to be taken up by Biggs, when he came there to meet me for our evening walk. "Moss is here," I wrote, "look out for yourself."
I laugh now when I think of that journey to Dover, and old Shekels Moss sitting like a hawk on the seat beside me. What lies I had to tell him—what starts I gave him, when I pointed out that she might have gone by the afternoon boat, or perhaps motored right on to Southampton. My own idea was to stop the night at Dover, whatever happened, and no sooner had we drawn up at the "Lord Warden," than I had a penknife into the off front tyre, and turned my back when the wind fizzed out. This stopped the run to Folkestone straight away, and, by the time I'd done the job, Moss said he thought he would telephone the police, as I suggested, describing Miss Dolly, but saying nothing about his lordship.
"He might do pusiness with us, Britten," he remarked. "I won't have his dabe in it—but I'll tell him about her directly I get the chadce, and she won't be long in his house, dow will she?"
"Perhaps not," said I; "but if she marries his lordship's son, the boot will be on the other leg. You'd better think of that, Mr. Moss."
"What I want is my modey," he rejoined. "If she don't pay, she goes to prison—I dow too much about the peerage to be stuffed with promises. Either the modey or the writ. I'll feed here, Britten, and go back to Sadwich, if she's not on the boats. Perhaps we were a couple of fools to come at all."
I said nothing, but was pretty sure that one fool had come along in the car, anyway. My business was to keep Moss at Dover as long as might be, and in that I succeeded well enough. Nothing could save Miss Dolly if he went blundering up to Lord Badington's house with his story of what she'd done in London, and how fond certain West End tradesmen had become of her. Given time enough, I believed the pretty little lady would wheedle his lordship to consent to her marriage with Mr. Sarand. But time she must have, and if she did not get it, well, then, time of another kind might await her. It would have broken my heart to see misfortune overtake pretty Dolly St. John, and I swore that it should not, if any wit of mine could prevent it.
Moss took about an hour and a half over his dinner, and when he came out he was picking his teeth with a great steel prong, and looking as pleased as though he had done the hotel waiters out of fourpence. I saw that he had come to some resolution, and that it was a satisfactory one. There was a twinkle in his little eyes you could not mistake, and he shook his head while he talked to me, just as though I were buying old clothes of him at twice their value.
"Britten," he asked, "are you all ready?"
"Quite ready, sir," said I—for I'd just that minute shoved my knife into another tyre. "Are you going back to Sandwich?"
"I'm going to Lord Badington's," says he, with a roar of laughter, "why not? I'm going to ask for Miss Phyllis More, and say she's an ode fred of the family. Ha, ha! what do you think of that, Britten? Will I get the modey or won't I? Well, we'll see, my boy—so start her up, and be quick about it."
I said "Yes, sir," and went round to the front of the car. My cry of astonishment when I saw the burst tyre would have done credit to Mr. Henry Irving himself. Perhaps I said some things I shouldn't have said—Moss did, anyway, and he raved so loud that the ostler had to tell him his wife and children were upstairs.
"Another tyre gone—what do I pay you wages for? Adser me that! Who the —— is going to pay the bill? Don't you see I must get to Sadwich to-night? A pretty sort of a dam fool you must be. Now you get that car going in twedy minutes, or I'll leave you in the street—so help me heaven I will——" And so on and so on, until I could have dropped for laughing where I stood.
It was touching to hear him, upon my word it was; but I held my tongue for Miss Dolly's sake, and went to work quietly to take off the cover and examine the tube for the cut I didn't mean to find. When I told him presently that this was the last tube we had, and he'd better give me two pound eight to go and buy a new one, I thought his language would blow the ships out of the harbour; but he never gave me the money, and then I knew that he meant to stay at Dover all night, and that Miss Dolly had until the morning, anyway. "And by that time," said I to myself, "she'll be off to London if she's clever enough, and perhaps find Mr. Sarand at the station to meet her."
I slept upon this—for you will understand that Moss had no real intention of going on that night, after he heard about the tubes—and at nine o'clock next morning I had my car ready, and drove her round to the "Lord Warden." The run to Sandwich is not over-exciting in an ordinary way, but I found it quite lively enough on that particular occasion, when there were all sorts of doubts and fears in my head about Miss Dolly, and the sure and certain knowledge that I should get the sack whatever happened. Indeed, I might properly have been more anxious about myself than the lady, for I never doubted that she would have made a bolt for London by the time we arrived, and there was no more disappointed man in Thanet when, on reaching the inn, Biggs told me that she was still at the house. An inquiry whether he had delivered my letter met with the amazing response that they had given him no letter, and when I rushed into the house to ask what had become of it, there it was, on the mantelshelf of the bar-parlour, just where I had left it. Never did a man meet with a worse blow. I knew then that Miss Dolly was done for, and I did not believe that the day could pass and keep the police from Lord Badington's doorstep.
I should tell you that Moss had called at the police station at Sandwich as we drove through, and that a sergeant and a constable came over to the inn on bicycles about midday. Their questioning me helped them a mighty lot, for I contrived to look as foolish as a yokel when you ask him the way to Nowhere; and all I could tell them was that the lady had come down upon Lord Badington's invitation, and, when she was tired of it, I supposed she would go away again. All of which they took down in pocket-books about as large as a family Bible, and then set out for the house, while I watched them with my heart in my very boots, and the sort of feeling that might overtake a man if the police set out to arrest his own sweetheart.
Biggs, I should tell you, was with me when this happened, and mighty curious he was about it all. Of course, I told him that Moss was making a fool of himself, and that there would be a pretty action afterwards if he didn't behave properly to Miss Dolly. None the less, he was just as curious as I was, and directly the other party had left, we followed on their heels, and were through the lodge gates almost as soon as they were. As for Lal Britten, his heart went pat-a-pat, like a girl's at a wedding. I could have knocked Moss down cheerful, and paid forty bob for doing it with the greatest pleasure in my life. But that wouldn't have helped Miss Dolly, you see, so I just trudged up the drive after Moss, and said nothing whatever to anybody.
Bless us all—how the chap did walk. There he was, head bent down, shoulders sagging, his step shuffling as though he wore slippers, and in his eyes that money fever which, to me, is one of the most awful things in all the world. Even the police were rather disgusted with him, I think, and the sergeant told me afterwards that he would have paid fifty pounds to have got out of the job. For that matter, neither he nor his underling said a word to Moss when they rang at the front door bell, and they didn't seem to think it at all wonderful that Biggs and I should be upon the doorstep with them. So all together we waited quite a long time before old Hill, the butler, came jauntily along the great corridor, and opened to us very deliberately. And now for it, I thought—and oh, my poor Dolly, whatever is going to happen to you!
"Party of the dabe of Miss More—is she sdaying in this house?" asks Moss, half pushing his way in, and trying to look impudent. You should have seen the butler's face when he answered him.
"Who the devil are you?" he asked, "and what do you mean by coming here like this? Outside, my man, or I'll put you there pretty quick."
He took Moss by the collar, and, turning him about as though he were a babe, shoved him on the wrong side of the door before you could have said "knife." Then he turned to the sergeant.
"What's all this, Sergeant Joyce?" he asked. "Why do you bring this person here?"
"Oh," stammered the sergeant, "he says that a certain Miss More——"
"I beg you pardon," cried the butler quickly, "I think you should speak of Lady Badington—my master left for Paris at eight o'clock this morning."
"What!" roared Moss—and you could have heard him on the Goodwin Sands—"Lord Badington's married her?"
"I believe those are the facts," says Hill, very quietly—and then—well, and then I sat down on the doorstep and I laughed until the tears ran down my face. Oh, Lord! oh, Lord!—and Moss's face! But you will understand all that, and how the sergeant looked, and the smile on the butler's face, without me saying a single word about it.
"Take a week's notice, and be d——d to you!" cried I, turning upon my master all of a sudden. "Do you think I'll serve with a man who sent policemen after his best customers? You go to hell, Moss—where you ought to have been long ago," and with that I just walked off down the drive, and Biggs with me. Lord, what an afternoon we had! And the night we spent afterwards in Ramsgate!
For, you see, it was quite true. Old Lord Badington, who never could look at a pretty woman twice without falling in love with her, found himself mostly alone with Mistress Dolly at Sandwich, and, by all that is true and wonderful, he married her.
Not that she was Dolly St. John at all, you must know, but Dolly Hamilton in reality; and connected, I am told, with the old American family, the Hamiltons of Philadelphia. What she did in London was done, I do believe, for the sheer excitement of doing it. And if folks have called her an adventuress, set that down to the rogues of trustees, who played ducks and drakes with her fortune, and left her in Europe to shift as best she might.
I got a hundred pounds for that job, sent by Miss Dolly herself from Venice. Moss got his car back, and three or four punctured tubes. Some day, I suppose, they'll pay him that seventy-five pounds sixteen shillings and four-pence. But I hope it won't be yet.
The Honorary John, they tell me, is very angry with his papa. But I'll back an old boy every time—notwithstanding what is written in the papers.