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A black figure detached itself from the blacker shadows, and shuffled stealthily to where Jimmy stood on the doorstep.
"That you, Spike?" asked Jimmy, in a low voice.
"Dat's right, Mr. Chames."
"Come on in."
He led the way up to his rooms, switched on the electric light, and shut the door. Spike stood blinking at the sudden glare. He twirled his battered hat in his hands. His red hair shone fiercely.
Jimmy inspected him out of the corner of his eye, and came to the conclusion that the Mullins finances must be at a low ebb. Spike's costume differed in several important details from that of the ordinary well-groomed man about town. There was nothing of the flaneur about the Bowery boy. His hat was of the soft black felt, fashionable on the East Side of New York. It was in poor condition, and looked as if it had been up too late the night before. A black tail coat, burst at the elbows, stained with mud, was tightly buttoned across his chest. This evidently with the idea of concealing the fact that he wore no shirt--an attempt which was not wholly successful. A pair of gray flannel trousers and boots out of which two toes peeped coyly, completed the picture.
Even Spike himself seemed to be aware that there were points in his appearance which would have distressed the editor of a men's fashion paper.
"'Scuse dese duds," he said. "Me man's bin an' mislaid de trunk wit' me best suit in. Dis is me number two."
"Don't mention it, Spike," said Jimmy. "You look like a matinee idol. Have a drink?"
Spike's eye gleamed as he reached for the decanter. He took a seat.
"Sure. T'anks, Mr. Chames."
Jimmy lit his pipe. Spike, after a few genteel sips, threw off his restraint and finished the rest of his glass at a gulp.
"Try another," suggested Jimmy.
Spike's grin showed that the idea had been well received.
Jimmy sat and smoked in silence for a while. He was thinking the thing over. He had met Spike Mullins for the first time in rather curious circumstances in New York, and for four years the other had followed him with a fidelity which no dangers or hardships could affect. Whatever "Mr. Chames" did, said, or thought was to Spike the best possible act, speech, or reflection of which man was capable. For four years their partnership had continued, and then, conducting a little adventure on his own account in Jimmy's absence, Spike had met with one of those accidents which may happen to any one. The police had gathered him in, and he had passed out of Jimmy's life.
What was puzzling Jimmy was the problem of what to do with him now that he had reŽntered it. Mr. Chames was one man. Sir James Willoughby Pitt, baronet, another. On the other hand, Spike was plainly in low water, and must be lent a helping hand.
Spike was looking at him over his glass with respectful admiration. Jimmy caught his eye, and spoke.
"Well, Spike," he said. "Curious, us meeting like this."
"De limit," agreed Spike.
"I can't imagine you three thousand miles away from New York. How do you know the cars still run both ways on Broadway?"
A wistful look came into Spike's eye.
"I t'ought it was time I give old Lunnon a call. De cops seemed like as if they didn't have no use for me in New York. Dey don't give de glad smile to a boy out of prison."
"Poor old Spike," said Jimmy, "you've had bad luck, haven't you?"
"Fierce," agreed the other.
"But whatever induced you to try for that safe without me? They were bound to get you. You should have waited."
"Dat's right, boss, if I never says anudder word. I was a farmer for fair at de game wit'out youse. But I t'ought I'd try to do somet'ing so dat I'd have somet'ing to show youse when you come back. So I says here's dis safe and here's me, and I'll get busy wit' it, and den Mr. Chames will be pleased for fair when he gets back. So I has a try, and dey gets me while I'm at it. We'll cut out dat part."
"Well, it's over now, at any rate. What have you been doing since you came to England?"
"Gettin' moved on by de cops, mostly. An' sleepin' in de park."
"Well, you needn't sleep in the park any more, Spike. You can pitch your moving tent with me. And you'll want some clothes. We'll get those to-morrow. You're the sort of figure they can fit off the peg. You're not too tall, which is a good thing."
"Bad t'ing for me, Mr. Chames. If I'd bin taller I'd have stood for being a New York cop, and bin buying a brownstone house on Fifth Avenue by this. It's de cops makes de big money in old Manhattan, dat's who it is."
"You're right there," said Jimmy. "At least, partly. I suppose half the New York force does get rich by graft. There are honest men among them, but we didn't happen to meet them."
"That's right, we didn't. Dere was old man McEachern."
"McEachern! Yes. If any of them got rich, he would be the man. He was the worst grafter of the entire bunch. I could tell you some stories about old Pat McEachern, Spike. If half those yarns were true he must be a wealthy man by now. We shall hear of him running for mayor one of these days."
"Say, Mr. Chames, wasn't youse struck on de goil?"
"What girl?" said Jimmy quietly.
"Old man McEachern's goil, Molly. Dey used to say dat youse was her steady."
"If you don't mind, Spike, friend of my youth, we'll cut out that," said Jimmy. "When I want my affairs discussed I'll mention it. Till then--See?"
"Sure," said Spike, who saw nothing beyond the fact, dimly realized, that he had said something which had been better left unsaid.
Jimmy chewed the stem of his pipe savagely. Spike's words seemed to have touched a spring and let loose feelings which he had kept down for three years. Molly McEachern! So "they" used to say that he was engaged to Molly. He cursed Spike Mullins in his heart, well-meaning, blundering Spike, who was now sitting on the edge of his chair drawing sorrowfully at his cigar and wondering what he had done to give offense. The years fell away from Jimmy, and he was back in New York, standing at the corner of Forty-second Street with half an hour to wait because the fear of missing her had sent him there too early; sitting in Central Park with her while the squirrels came down and begged for nuts; walking--Damn Spike! They had been friends. Nothing more. He had never said a word. Her father had warned her against him. Old Pat McEachern knew how he got his living, and could have put his hand on the author of half a dozen burglaries by which the police had been officially "baffled". That had been his strong point. He had never left tracks. There was never any evidence. But McEachern knew, and he had intervened stormily when he came upon them together. And Molly had stood up for him, till her father had apologized confusedly, raging inwardly the while at his helplessness. It was after that----
"Mr. Chames," said Spike.
Jimmy's wits returned.
"Hullo?" he said.
"Mr. Chames, what's doing here? Put me next to de game. Is it de old lay? You'll want me wit' youse, I guess?"
Jimmy laughed, and shut the door on his dreams.
"I'd quite forgotten I hadn't told you about myself, Spike. Do you know what a baronet is?"
"Search me. What's de answer?"
"A baronet's the noblest work of man, Spike. I am one. Let wealth and commerce, laws and learning--or is it art and learning?--die, but leave us still our old nobility. I'm a big man now, Spike, I can tell you."
"My position has also the advantage of carrying a good deal of money with it."
"You have grasped it. Plunks. Dollars. Doubloons. I line up with the thickwads now, Spike. I don't have to work to turn a dishonest penny any longer."
The horrid truth sank slowly into the other's mind.
"Say! What, Mr. Chames? Youse don't need to go on de old lay no more? You're cutting it out for fair?"
"That's the idea."
Spike gasped. His world was falling about his ears. Now that he had met Mr. Chames again he had looked forward to a long and prosperous partnership in crime, with always the master mind behind him to direct his movements and check him if he went wrong. He had looked out upon the richness of London, and he had said with BlŁcher: "What a city to loot!"
And here was his leader shattering his visions with a word.
"Have another drink, Spike," said the lost leader sympathetically. "It's a shock to you, I guess."
"I t'ought, Mr. Chames----"
"I know you did, and I'm very sorry for you. But it can't be helped. Noblesse oblige, Spike. We of the old aristocracy mustn't do these things. We should get ourselves talked about."
Spike sat silent, with a long face. Jimmy slapped him on the shoulder.
"After all," he said, "living honestly may be the limit, for all we know. Numbers of people do it, I've heard, and enjoy themselves tremendously. We must give it a trial, Spike. We'll go out together and see life. Pull yourself together and be cheerful, Spike."
After a moment's reflection the other grinned, howbeit faintly.
"That's right," said Jimmy Pitt. "You'll be the greatest success ever in society. All you have to do is to brush your hair, look cheerful, and keep your hands off the spoons. For in society, Spike, they invariably count them after the departure of the last guest."
"Sure," said Spike, as one who thoroughly understood this sensible precaution.
"And now," said Jimmy, "we'll be turning in. Can you manage sleeping on the sofa for one night?"
"Gee, I've bin sleepin' on de Embankment all de last week. Dis is to de good, Mister Chames."
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