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Archie bounded silently out into the other room and stood listening tensely. He was not a naturally querulous man, hut he did feel at this point that Fate was picking on him with a somewhat undue severity.
"In th' name av th' Law!"
There are times when the best of us lose our heads. At this juncture Archie should undoubtedly have gone to the door, opened it, explained his presence in a few well-chosen words, and generally have passed the whole thing off with ready tact. But the thought of confronting a posse of police in his present costume caused him to look earnestly about him for a hiding-place.
Up against the farther wall was a settee with a high, arching back, which might have been put there for that special purpose. He inserted himself behind this, just as a splintering crash announced that the Law, having gone through the formality of knocking with its knuckles, was now getting busy with an axe. A moment later the door had given way, and the room was full of trampling feet. Archie wedged himself against the wall with the quiet concentration of a clam nestling in its shell, and hoped for the best.
It seemed to hiin that his immediate future depended for better or for worse entirely on the native intelligence of the Force. If they were the bright, alert men he hoped they were, they would see all that junk in the bedroom and, deducing from it that their quarry had stood not upon the order of his going but had hopped it, would not waste time in searching a presumably empty apartment. If, on the other hand, they were the obtuse, flat-footed persons who occasionally find their way into the ranks of even the most enlightened constabularies, they would undoubtedly shift the settee and drag him into a publicity from which his modest soul shrank. He was enchanted, therefore, a few moments later, to hear a gruff voice state that th' mutt had beaten it down th' fire-escape. His opinion of the detective abilities of the New York police force rose with a bound.
There followed a brief council of war, which, as it took place in the bedroom, was inaudible to Archie except as a distant growling noise. He could distinguish no words, but, as it was succeeded by a general trampling of large boots in the direction of the door and then by silence, he gathered that the pack, having drawn the studio and found it empty, had decided to return to other and more profitable duties. He gave them a reasonable interval for removing themselves, and then poked his head cautiously over the settee.
All was peace. The place was empty. No sound disturbed the stillness.
Archie emerged. For the first time in this morning of disturbing occurrences he began to feel that God was in his heaven and all right with the world. At last things were beginning to brighten up a bit, and life might be said to have taken on some of the aspects of a good egg. He stretched himself, for it is cramping work lying under settees, and, proceeding to the bedroom, picked up the tweed trousers again.
Clothes had a fascination for Archie. Another man, in similar circumstances, might have hurried over his toilet; but Archie, faced by a difficult choice of ties, rather strung the thing out. He selected a specimen which did great credit to the taste of Mr. Moon, evidently one of our snappiest dressers, found that it did not harmonise with the deeper meaning of the tweed suit, removed it, chose another, and was adjusting the bow and admiring the effect, when his attention was diverted by a slight sound which was half a cough and half a sniff; and, turning, found himself gazing into the clear blue eyes of a large man in uniform, who had stepped into the room from the fire-escape. He was swinging a substantial club in a negligent sort of way, and he looked at Archie with a total absence of bonhomie.
"Ah!" he observed.
"Oh, there you are!" said Archie, subsiding weakly against the chest of drawers. He gulped. "Of course, I can see you're thinking all this pretty tolerably weird and all that," he proceeded, in a propitiatory voice.
The policeman attempted no analysis of his emotions, He opened a mouth which a moment before had looked incapable of being opened except with the assistance of powerful machinery, and shouted a single word.
A distant voice gave tongue in answer. It was like alligators roaring to their mates across lonely swamps.
There was a rumble of footsteps in the region of the stairs, and presently there entered an even larger guardian of the Law than the first exhibit. He, too, swung a massive club, and, like his colleague, he gazed frostily at Archie.
"God save Ireland!" he remarked.
The words appeared to be more in the nature of an expletive than a practical comment on the situation. Having uttered them, he draped himself in the doorway like a colossus, and chewed gum.
"Where ja get him?" he enquired, after a pause.
"Found him in here attimpting to disguise himself."
"I told Cap. he was hiding somewheres, but he would have it that he'd beat it down th' escape," said the gum-chewer, with the sombre triumph of the underling whose sound advice has been overruled by those above him. He shifted his wholesome (or, as some say, unwholesome) morsel to the other side of his mouth, and for the first time addressed Archie directly. "Ye're pinched!" he observed.
Archie started violently. The bleak directness of the speech roused him with a jerk from the dream-like state into which he had fallen. He had not anticipated this. He had assumed that there would be a period of tedious explanations to be gone through before he was at liberty to depart to the cosy little lunch for which his interior had been sighing wistfully this long time past; but that he should be arrested had been outside his calculations. Of course, he could put everything right eventually; he could call witnesses to his character and the purity of his intentions; but in the meantime the whole dashed business would be in all the papers, embellished with all those unpleasant flippancies to which your newspaper reporter is so prone to stoop when he sees half a chance. He would feel a frightful chump. Chappies would rot him about it to the most fearful extent. Old Brewster's name would come into it, and he could not disguise it from himself that his father-in-law, who liked his name in the papers as little as possible, would be sorer than a sunburned neck.
"No, I say, you know! I mean, I mean to say!"
"Pinched!" repeated the rather larger policeman.
"And annything ye say," added his slightly smaller colleague, "will be used agenst ya 't the trial."
"And if ya try t'escape," said the first speaker, twiddling his club, "ya'll getja block knocked off."
And, having sketched out this admirably clear and neatly-constructed scenario, the two relapsed into silence. Officer Cassidy restored his gum to circulation. Officer Donahue frowned sternly at his boots.
"But, I say," said Archie, "it's all a mistake, you know. Absolutely a frightful error, my dear old constables. I'm not the lad you're after at all. The chappie you want is a different sort of fellow altogether. Another blighter entirely."
New York policemen never laugh when on duty. There is probably something in the regulations against it. But Officer Donahue permitted the left corner of his mouth to twitch slightly, and a momentary muscular spasm disturbed the calm of Officer Cassidy's granite features, as a passing breeze ruffles the surface of some bottomless lake.
"That's what they all say!" observed Officer Donahue.
"It's no use tryin' that line of talk," said Officer Cassidy. "Babcock's squealed."
"Sure. Squealed 's morning," said Officer Donahue.
Archie's memory stirred vaguely.
"Babcock?" he said. "Do you know, that name seems familiar to me, somehow. I'm almost sure I've read it in the paper or something."
"Ah, cut it out!" said Officer Cassidy, disgustedly. The two constables exchanged a glance of austere disapproval. This hypocrisy pained them. "Read it in th' paper or something!"
"By Jove! I remember now. He's the chappie who was arrested in that bond business. For goodness' sake, my dear, merry old constables," said Archie, astounded, "you surely aren't labouring under the impression that I'm the Master-Mind they were talking about in the paper? Why, what an absolutely priceless notion! I mean to say, I ask you, what! Frankly, laddies, do I look like a Master-Mind?"
Officer Cassidy heaved a deep sigh, which rumbled up from his interior like the first muttering of a cyclone.
"If I'd known," he said, regretfully, "that this guy was going to turn out a ruddy Englishman, I'd have taken a slap at him with m' stick and chanced it!"
Officer Donahue considered the point well taken.
"Ah!" he said, understandingly. He regarded Archie with an unfriendly eye. "I know th' sort well! Trampling on th' face av th' poor!"
"Ya c'n trample on the poor man's face," said Officer Cassidy, severely; "but don't be surprised if one day he bites you in the leg!"
"But, my dear old sir," protested Archie, "I've never trampled--"
"One of these days," said Officer Donahue, moodily, "the Shannon will flow in blood to the sea!"
Officer Cassidy uttered a glad cry.
"Why couldn't we hit him a lick," he suggested, brightly, "an' tell th' Cap. he resisted us in th' exercise of our jooty?"
An instant gleam of approval and enthusiasm came into Officer Donahue's eyes. Officer Donahue was not a man who got these luminous inspirations himself, but that did not prevent him appreciating them in others and bestowing commendation in the right quarter. There was nothing petty or grudging about Officer Donahue.
"Ye're the lad with the head, Tim!" he exclaimed admiringly.
"It just sorta came to me," said Mr. Cassidy, modestly.
"It's a great idea, Timmy!"
"Just happened to think of it," said Mr. Cassidy, with a coy gesture of self-effacement.
Archie had listened to the dialogue with growing uneasiness. Not for the first time since he had made their acquaintance, he became vividly aware of the exceptional physical gifts of these two men. The New York police force demands from those who would join its ranks an extremely high standard of stature and sinew, but it was obvious that jolly old Donahue and Cassidy must have passed in first shot without any difficulty whatever.
"I say, you know," he observed, apprehensively.
And then a sharp and commanding voice spoke from the outer room.
"Donahue! Cassidy! What the devil does this mean?"
Archie had a momentary impression that an angel had fluttered down to his rescue. If this was the case, the angel had assumed an effective disguise--that of a police captain. The new arrival was a far smaller man than his subordinates--so much smaller that it did Archie good to look at him. For a long time he had been wishing that it were possible to rest his eyes with the spectacle of something of a slightly less out-size nature than his two companions.
"Why have you left your posts?"
The effect of the interruption on the Messrs. Cassidy and Donahue was pleasingly instantaneous. They seemed to shrink to almost normal proportions, and their manner took on an attractive deference.
Officer Donahue saluted.
"If ye plaze, sorr--"
Officer Cassidy also saluted, simultaneously.
"'Twas like this, sorr--"
The captain froze Officer Cassidy with a glance and, leaving him congealed, turned to Officer Donahue.
"Oi wuz standing on th' fire-escape, sorr," said Officer Donahue, in a tone of obsequious respect which not only delighted, but astounded Archie, who hadn't known he could talk like that, "accordin' to instructions, when I heard a suspicious noise. I crope in, sorr, and found this duck--found the accused, sorr--in front of the mirror, examinin' himself. I then called to Officer Cassidy for assistance. We pinched--arrested um, sorr."
The captain looked at Archie. It seemed to Archie that he looked at him coldly and with contempt.
"Who is he?"
"The Master-Mind, sorr."
"The accused, sorr. The man that's wanted."
"You may want him. I don't," said the captain. Archie, though relieved, thought he might have put it more nicely. "This isn't Moon. It's not a bit like him."
"Absolutely not!" agreed Archie, cordially. "It's all a mistake, old companion, as I was trying to--"
"Cut it out!"
"You've seen the photographs at the station. Do you mean to tell me you see any resemblance?"
"If ye plaze, sorr," said Officer Cassidy, coming to life.
"We thought he'd bin disguising himself, the way he wouldn't be recognised."
"You're a fool!" said the captain.
"Yes, sorr," said Officer Cassidy, meekly.
"So are you, Donahue."
Archie's respect for this chappie was going up all the time. He seemed to be able to take years off the lives of these massive blighters with a word. It was like the stories you read about lion- tamers. Archie did not despair of seeing Officer Donahue and his old college chum Cassidy eventually jumping through hoops.
"Who are you?" demanded the captain, turning to Archie.
"Well, my name is--"
"What are you doing here?"
"Well, it's rather a longish story, you know. Don't want to bore you, and all that."
"I'm here to listen. You can't bore me."
"Dashed nice of you to put it like that," said Archie, gratefully. "I mean to say, makes it easier and so forth. What I mean is, you know how rotten you feel telling the deuce of a long yarn and wondering if the party of the second part is wishing you would turn off the tap and go home. I mean--"
"If," said the captain, "you're reciting something, stop. If you're trying to tell me what you're doing here, make it shorter and easier."
Archie saw his point. Of course, time was money--the modern spirit of hustle--all that sort of thing.
"Well, it was this bathing suit, you know," he said.
"What bathing suit?"
"Mine, don't you know, A lemon-coloured contrivance. Rather bright and so forth, but in its proper place not altogether a bad egg. Well, the whole thing started, you know, with my standing on a bally pedestal sort of arrangement in a diving attitude--for the cover, you know. I don't know if you have ever done anything of that kind yourself, but it gives you a most fearful crick in the spine. However, that's rather beside the point, I suppose--don't know why I mentioned it. Well, this morning he was dashed late, so I went out-- "
"What the devil are you talking about?"
Archie looked at him, surprised.
"Aren't I making it clear?"
"Well, you understand about the bathing suit, don't you? The jolly old bathing suit, you've grasped that, what?"
"Oh, I say," said Archie. "That's rather a nuisance. I mean to say, the bathing suit's what you might call the good old pivot of the whole dashed affair, you see. Well, you understand about the cover, what? You're pretty clear on the subject of the cover?"
"Why, for the magazine."
"Now there you rather have me. One of these bright little periodicals, you know, that you see popping to and fro on the bookstalls."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said the captain. He looked at Archie with an expression of distrust and hostility. "And I'll tell you straight out I don't like the looks of you. I believe you're a pal of his."
"No longer," said Archie, firmly. "I mean to say, a chappie who makes you stand on a bally pedestal sort of arrangement and get a crick in the spine, and then doesn't turn up and leaves you biffing all over the countryside in a bathing suit--"
The reintroduction of the bathing suit motive seemed to have the worst effect on the captain. He flushed darkly.
"Are you trying to josh me? I've a mind to soak you!"
"If ye plaze, sorr," cried Officer Donahue and Officer Cassidy in chorous. In the course of their professional career they did not often hear their superior make many suggestions with which they saw eye to eye, but he had certainly, in their opinion, spoken a mouthful now.
"No, honestly, my dear old thing, nothing was farther from my thoughts--"
He would have spoken further, but at this moment the world came to an end. At least, that was how it sounded. Somewhere in the immediate neighbourhood something went off with a vast explosion, shattering the glass in the window, peeling the plaster from the ceiling, and sending him staggering into the inhospitable arms of Officer Donahue.
The three guardians of the Law stared at one another.
"If ye plaze, sorr," said. Officer Cassidy, saluting.
"May I spake, sorr?"
"Something's exploded, sorr!"
The information, kindly meant though it was, seemed to annoy the captain.
"What the devil did you think I thought had happened?" he demanded, with not a little irritation, "It was a bomb!"
Archie could have corrected this diagnosis, for already a faint but appealing aroma of an alcoholic nature was creeping into the room through a hole in the ceiling, and there had risen before his eyes the picture of J. B. Wheeler affectionately regarding that barrel of his on the previous morning in the studio upstairs. J. B. Wheeler had wanted quick results, and he had got them. Archie had long since ceased to regard J. B. Wheeler as anything but a tumour on the social system, but he was bound to admit that he had certainly done him a good turn now. Already these honest men, diverted by the superior attraction of this latest happening, appeared to have forgotten his existence.
"Sorr!" said Officer Donahue.
"It came from upstairs, sorr."
"Of course it came from upstairs. Cassidy!"
"Get down into the street, call up the reserves, and stand at the front entrance to keep the crowd back. We'll have the whole city here in five minutes."
"Don't let anyone in."
"Well, see that you don't. Come along, Donahue, now. Look slippy."
"On the spot, sorr!" said Officer Donahue.
A moment later Archie had the studio to himself. Two minutes later he was picking his way cautiously down the fire-escape after the manner of the recent Mr. Moon. Archie had not seen much of Mr. Moon, but he had seen enough to know that in certain crises his methods were sound and should be followed. Elmer Moon was not a good man; his ethics were poor and his moral code shaky; but in the matter of legging it away from a situation of peril and discomfort he had no superior.
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