The Blameless Villain
THE BLAMELESS VILLAIN
By Stewart Edward White
THERE was once a young girl who was a sentimentalist, and read the English magazines. "Oh, why has the age of chivalry departed from us?" she would wail to one of her very dearest friends. "Our young men are too busy to undertake Quests for us. Life is too strenuous. It is so different abroad!"
"It is," breathed the dearest friend.
"No one ever undertakes to carry important diplomatic messages and is nearly asphyxiated on the train. No one ever comes here and is a mysterious Indian prince. No one ever steals your diamonds and takes them to a dark house on a lonely road where your lover can rescue them. Life here is so prosaic!"
"And you have such lovely diamonds!" sighed the friend.
The dearest friends often varied in their opinions on other matters, but they were unanimous on the subject of the jewels.
In time the sentimental young girl evolved a plot constructed on the lines of the best authorities as set forth by the Buckingham, the Piccadilly, the Fleet Street, the Imperial and other periodicals. The stage properties she found ready to her hand. Her father, the earl, must take the diamonds from the bank to her house, and place them on a table while he consults the family lawyer in the adjoining library. During his absence the box must be stolen by a villain, who must escape into a garden. In the garden he must leave footprints. The hero must be opportunely passing, engaged in smoking a cigar before retiring. He must follow the villain to the nearest deserted house, where will await the accomplice. After a few words the thieves will separate. Enter the hero. He is to produce a revolver or club, and is to give the accomplice, who denies all knowledge of the gems, fifteen seconds to disgorge. At the fourteen-and-a-half-second point the accomplice disgorges. Next morning the hero calls on the heroine before breakfast. "This early visit must surely mean something important," exclaims the heroine, in surprise; "you are up early!" "I have not slept," replies the hero; "I have spent the night in your service, as I would spend my life." He produces the diamonds.
That was the plot the sentimental young girl made out of the English magazines. Her father was not an earl, but he looked like one; nor were the diamonds in a bank, but that was a detail. The evening newspaper would do for him to consult, and he would probably do the consulting in the city, for the rumor of a dinner party always drove him to inaccessible clubs; but what difference did that make? He could send the diamonds by registered post. The colored butler would do for the villain, because he always did what he was told; and the buttons would make an admirable accomplice, because he, too, read the English magazines—after Miss Goodwood had finished with them. The mise-en-scène was quite perfect, for the Goodwoods were at the time in their country home on the outskirts of a village; and from the front gate a lonely road led past a kind friend's empty cottage, the key of which was easily procurable from the caretaker. As for the hero, he did not matter so much. Anyone would do.
Miss Goodwood enumerated his duties to the buttons. She explained it all as a joke, calling to his mind the stories in the English magazines. Somewhere underneath the buttons a boy lay hidden.
"My eye!" said the boy. "Yes, Miss Goodwood," said the buttons.
He understood and appreciated. For three days, by way of rehearsal, he made mysterious speeches in dark corners, until the other servants concluded him crazy.
So far, so good. The sentimental young girl next wrote five oblong notes to two of the dearest friends and to three young men, inviting them to dinner on a certain date. This meant that they would also stay the night. By the same mail went a request to her father (the earl) that he send out her diamonds for use at a dinner party the twenty-fifth of the month. The company would be chaperoned by Miss Tibbs, a maiden aunt with an hysterical nature and a kittenish disposition.
Of the three young men, Miss Goodwood, after deliberation, chose a practical business man. There seemed more chance of testing the inherence of American chivalry in his person. Much depended, after all, on how the hero rose to the occasion. The individual who was elected had the reputation of being keen and courageous in commercial crises. It would be interesting to see how well these qualities would serve him in the mediæval adventure.
As to person, he was a thick-set, matter-of-fact individual whose opinions of things in general were well summed up in his frequent remark: "Business is not run on sentiment." Anyone more unlike the English magazine hero it would be difficult to imagine. So much the better test.
The dinner, as a dinner, was not a success. Miss Goodwood was too distraite to attend properly to her duties as a hostess. The scheme occupied all her thoughts. And, worst of all, she had to appear without the celebrated diamonds, for the reason that up to the soup they had not put in an appearance. Then, to her relief, John—butler and villain—brought the carefully sealed package to her on a tray.
"See!" she cried, gaily, "here are all the jewels with which I was going to dazzle you this evening. Now you will have to take them on faith!"
The inanest young man murmured the appropriate reply about dazzling.
"Put them on the library table until after dinner," she added, to the butler.
"Do you think they will be quite safe there?" inquired Bincker, the hero.
Miss Goodwood could have clapped her hands over this fortunate remark. It started the hero's thoughts on the right track.
At the other end of the table Miss Tibbs contributed to the failure of the dinner. From soup to salad she talked books; from salad to cheese she dissertated in a sprightly manner of Miss Goodwood when a baby; on the appearance of the cheese she cheerfully asked the inanest young man what flower would come up if she were to plant an animal and an article of lady's clothing. "Fox-glove!" she shrieked at the bewildered youth. "Now, you ask one, Mr. Fitzhugh, and see if I can guess it." Coffee brought with it the proposition of a game requiring pencils and paper, than which there are no lower depths.
In ordinary circumstances Miss Goodwood would have seen and checked this slaughter of the amenities, but now she was quite absorbed in the details of her scheme. The company fell with gasps of delight into the comparatively familiar coils of "Up, Jenkins." Miss Goodwood rose and called John, the butler and villain, to her.
"John," said she, impressively, taking the square package in her hand, "I am going to ask you to do something very strange, and without telling you what it is all about. Do you think you can do it?"
"Yais, miss, "replied John, promptly.
"I want you to eat your dinner as fast as you can, and then wait in the dark corner of the hall with this package until I come to you. If anyone happens to pass through the hall, you must slip behind the curtain into the little closet. No one must see you. Understand?"
John rolled his eyes. "Yais, miss," said he, still without hesitation.
"Then, when I tell you, you are to climb out of the dining-room window, cross the garden, go down the road to Mr. Pierce's cottage, where you will find James sitting in the kitchen. You will give him the package, which you must take great care of, for it contains my diamonds, and come back to me at once, without saying one word to James—not one word. Now, all this is very important; are you sure you understand?"
"Repeat what I have just told you."
John, butler and villain, did so. His conclusion of "Foh de Lohd!" had in it a pathetic but hopeless curiosity. John read nothing, but he had his traditions. They were of the "faithful unto death" order.
"And let me know at once when you have finished your dinner."
Fifteen minutes later John skimmed cautiously over the stormy waters of "Up, Jenkins" to inform his mistress that all was ready. Two minutes after that Miss Goodwood returned wildly to her guests.
"My diamonds!" she gasped; "they're gone!"
From that moment events slid along the grooves worn for them by the traditions of the English magazines. Auntie Tibbs had hysterics; everybody crowded excitedly about; suggestions and searches were made; the servants were called and interrogated; the absence of John, butler and villain, was noted; the inanest young man was despatched for the village police; the hero offered to take a look about the grounds; the other young men offered to accompany him; latter proposition vetoed by the girls, who refused to be left alone; John, butler and villain, received his signal and escaped through the window. It was glorious.
Bincker, the hero, began at the front door and proceeded, methodically, around the end of the house. As he turned the comer he perceived a figure slipping through the front gate. "Aha!" said Bincker, softly, starting to follow. "Oho!" said he, when he recognized the butler and made out the white package that the latter carried carefully in his hand.
Now, Bincker never read the English magazines, but he was an assiduous student of the daily press.
"Either he is going to hide his booty somewhere, or he has an accomplice," said Bincker to himself. "If the latter, I may as well know who it is."
So he set himself the task of following John. He did it in the most approved style, by slinking along the shadows of the trees and walls about thirty yards behind the object of his pursuit.
Near the new United Westphalian Church John encountered Pie Face, the fat and zealous village policeman. His name was not really Pie Face; but he was the only policeman. Of course, he knew John well, and being lonely and gregarious, he halted the butler for a chat.
"In a hurry, John?" he inquired, ponderously.
"Good evenin', offisah," replied John, with great pomposity. "Ah am 'gaged in a errand of impohtance."
"Jehoshaphat! Come off!" advised Pie Face; "where did you git them words?"
John reflected that the protection of the law is always a good thing; besides which, he had to back his bluff.
"Ah am transpohting heah," said he, haughtily, "Miss Goodwood's di'monds, an' Ah cannot lingah!"
After which he strutted on his interrupted way.
"Jehoshaphat!" ejaculated Pie Face, looking after him. At that moment Bincker, the hero, slunk past in the shadow of the trees. The sight made Pie Face's blubber quiver. Pie Face did not read the English magazines, either; but he solaced a dull and profitless employment with the writings of Old Sleuth, and he knew just what to do. "Drawing his trusty six-shooter," he breathed, "the brave officer put himself in instant pursuit of the lurking villain;" saying which he suited the action to the word, following, a little more carefully, about fifty yards behind Bincker, the hero.
John, butler and villain, naturally arrived first at the Pierce cottage, and proceeding at once to the kitchen, he there discovered James, the accomplice, seated by the table. Without a word the transfer of the package was effected. "Foh de Lohd!" said John, inside of himself, "Ah wondah what dis is all about! Faithful unto death!" He comforted himself and disappeared across the foot of the garden, before his curiosity could induce him to break his trust.
"My eye!" quoth the accomplice, in his heart of hearts, "wot a goime! Wonder where his nibs is!"
"I'm damned!" ruminated Bincker, outside the window. "It's a regular servants' plot to rob her," and he culled a stake from the nearest flower bed.
Pie Face was groping in bewildered darkness near the front steps.
Bincker stepped in through the open door.
"Hand over, you villain!" said he.
"'And over wot?" asked the accomplice, ostentatiously concealing the package with every symptom of delight.
"That package—Miss Goodwood's diamonds!" replied the hero, taking a firmer grip on his bludgeon.
Now, I ask you, could anything have gone better up to this point? Every step of the English magazine story had been carefully trodden in. But here race temperament, or something equally effective, took a hand. Bincker's next speech should have been, "I will give you just fifteen seconds by my gold watch and chain, at the end of which time I will call out the Fire Department," or something of that sort. He did nothing of the kind. Instead, he leaped suddenly forward, and before James, the accomplice, could so much as shout, he had laid the young man out with the garden stake. Then he stooped over, removed the package from inside the young fellow's coat, and cut the seal to examine for the diamonds. At this moment. Pie Face, having extricated himself from the front lawn, in his turn looked through the window. With four bounds he covered the eight feet from the window to the kitchen door, and called out, in a firm but excited voice:
"Stop where you are!"
Bincker, the hero, stopped where he was, to look into the octagonal muzzle of Pie Face's self-cocking, five-shot, two-dollar-and-a-half, short-barreled, bulldog revolver. Pie Face furnished his own revolver. The village furnished the helmet.
"You come with me!" he said, solemnly.
Bincker looked at him with astonishment.
"What's the matter with you?" he cried. "Come and help me take this man to the station-house."
"You're the man who is going to the station-house," replied Pie Face.
"What?" shouted Bincker.
Pie Face repeated.
"But this man has robbed Miss Goodwood of her diamonds!" expostulated the hero; "they are here in this box."
"Yes," said Pie Face, with supernatural cunning; "I know Miss Goodwood's diamonds, and I know Miss Goodwood's servants. That story won't wash, my fine bird."
He liked the sound of this last.
The bulldog revolver had never been fired. Bincker looked at it. It might go off, and it might not explode. He rose.
"All right, you blank blanked blank of a blank," he said. "Lead ahead. I suppose you intend to leave this man here unconscious?"
"Oh, no," said Pie Face, sweetly; "you can carry him."
Bincker, the hero, carried James, the accomplice. Pie Face followed, bearing the package of diamonds. In time they arrived at a small ex-grocery, which now served as a bureau of police. It was kept by a tall, red-haired youth with invisible eyebrows, ordinarily somnolent, but now aroused to the gibbering state by the alarming visit a few moments before of the inanest youth in search of the police.
"Oh, Pie—officer!" he shrieked, "Miss Goodwood has had——"
"Yes, I know," interrupted Pie Face, with conscious pride; "and here is the robber."
"He looks it!" cried the red-haired youth, placing his long legs nimbly behind the desk.
"And here are the diamonds," concluded the policeman, slapping the package dramatically on the table. "Lock the door, Tim, and help me with the bracelets."
Bincker was securely handcuffed. Pie Face deliberately unwrapped the package, disclosing thus a small pasteboard box. He opened the box. It contained one lower set of false teeth, a prophylactic tooth brush and a tube of Dr. Windman's Aromatic Cherry Paste.
"No diamonds!" cried Pie Face and the boy in one breath, and turned suspicious eyes on Bincker.
"Where have you concealed your ill-gotten gains?" demanded Pie Face, threateningly.
Bincker told them a number of things about the quality of their intelligence.
"We must search him," concluded Pie Face.
They searched violently, amid profanity and physical objection. Nothing. "The lining of his clothes!" cried Tim. Still nothing. They proceeded on the lines of Old Sleuth, becoming more fertile in hypotheses as the excitement warmed their combined recollection of that writer's many works. After they had torn off Bincker's boot heels, slit the lining of his clothes, fussed in his abundant hair, and examined carefully the cavity of his mouth, they had to confess themselves puzzled. In his bewilderment Pie Face's stare chanced to fall on the paper Tim had let drop when the inanest youth rushed in. He remembered it well; in fact, he had himself lent it to his subordinate. It was called "Diamond Dick's Craft; or, The Story of a Young Desperado's Deed in the African Mines." Like a flash came the recollection of the means that worthy had employed to recover a stolen gem from a dishonest Kaffir.
"Tim," he cried, "look in the cupboard, and bring me the bottle marked 'Syrup of Ipecac.'"
Tim understood at once. He also brought the horse bucket.
"How much 'd we ought to give him?" he asked.
"I dunno," Pie Face acknowledged. "We'll give him enough."
They did. Bincker, the hero, had to be held down and his nose pinched shut before he would swallow.
After this method had failed to make him disgorge his ill-gotten gains, another puzzled pause ensued. Bincker made himself heard.
"Now, you dashed dashed blank of a mastodon—" he began, then paused, and continued, more slowly, with vast irony: "It must be evident even to your feeble intelligence that I have not the diamonds. In fact, if you had used the pint of corn soup you call your brains, you would have seen that I could not possibly have had time to take them from the package and conceal them. Your suspicions must naturally rest on the servants."
They did. Pie Face eyed the still unconscious James with a malevolent eye, and thoughtfully shook the ipecac bottle.
"Furthermore, as the package does not contain the diamonds now, and has evidently been loaded to give the impression of weight, said loading must have been done for the purpose of fooling the one who was to receive them—that boy there."
"Then John, the butler, has them!" shouted Pie Face, wild with excitement.
"You have got a glimmer of sense," replied Bincker, wearily. "Perhaps now you will let me loose."
"Unlock them cuffs! Shut up James in the closet till I git back!" shouted Pie Face, and seizing his two-dollar-and-a-half revolver, he rushed wildly from the door.
The household to which he at once directed himself had partially calmed. Miss Tibbs alone had retired with a violent headache. John's and James's absence had been explained by Miss Goodwood's assertion that she had sent them on errands, so the subsequent reappearance of the butler caused no remark. The inanest youth had returned from alarming the police. Only Mr. Bincker and James were unaccounted for. After a time Miss Goodwood became so nervous over the prolonged absence of her two principal performers that she made an excuse and slipped away down the lonely road to the deserted house. The others speculated feverishly in the dining-room. Without preliminary, Pie Face, red to the point of apoplexy, burst in upon them.
"John! John!" he gasped, shaking the muzzle of his deadly weapon at the inanest youth.
"Yes, yes, my good man," quavered the inanest youth, dodging, "what do you want?"
"John!" repeated Pie Pace, explosively.
"He wants the butler," said the most collected dearest friend, and rang the bell. John, after a decent interval, appeared.
"Hold up your hands!" roared Pie Face, and advanced on his shuddering victim, paying not the slightest heed to the exclamations and questions of the rest of the party.
"What 've I did?" implored the chattering John. "Oh, say, Mistah Offisah, what 've I did?"
Not a word answered Pie Pace, but thrust his hands into his prisoner's pockets and drew forth in triumph a paper package, which he requested the inanest youth to open. The latter obeyed.
"What do you find?" inquired Pie Face, with fine dramatic effect.
"The diamonds!" cried the inanest youth.
A stupefied instant followed. Then John craned his neck forward and laughed uncertainly.
"You done t'ink Ah stole dem di'monds," he cackled. "You done fool yo'self . Ah no steal dem di'monds. Dem di'monds is mine!"
At this effrontery Pie Face yanked John about until his teeth chattered, while he detailed to his interested audience how he had shadowed John to his trysting place, and had secured James, the accomplice. He omitted mention of Bincker, the hero.
"So to jail with yuh!" he snarled, like Sly Sikes, the boy detective.
"Dey's mine. Ah tells yo'—dey's mine!" howled John, in a paroxysm of terror, and dragging back like a badly trained setter dog. "If yo' don' believe dat, ask Miss Nellie!"
"What's the matter?" cried that young woman, arriving out of breath from the empty cottage.
She learned the facts from five people at once. The inanest youth showed her the diamonds.
"Those aren't my diamonds," she exclaimed at once; "they are some false Alaska stones I bought for John's wife."
Pie Face gave an imitation of a man dropping a red-hot negro.
"Done tells yo' dey's mine!" growled the latter, sulkily.
"Then where are the diamonds?" they all cried.
"What diamonds?" queried a new voice from the doorway. "What's all this row about?"
The company whirled sharply on its heels, to discover Mr. Goodwood, who had returned on a late train from the city.
"My diamonds!" explained Miss Goodwood, beginning to cry. "They're stolen."
Mr. Goodwood looked considerably astonished. "Why, what are you talking about, Nellie?" said he; "I have your diamonds here in my coat pocket."
"You!" they shouted.
"Yes, I. Why shouldn't I? You wrote me you wanted them for a dinner party on the twenty-fifth, so I brought them down to-night."
"You're a little late, aren't you?" sobbed his daughter, hysterically. "The dinner is all over."
"But to-day is only the twenty-fourth," cried Mr. Goodwood.
"Is it?" appealed the girl, miserably.
They assured her it was.
"Now, I want to understand what all the row is about," requested Mr. Goodwood, seating himself comfortably in an armchair. "Why is my good friend, the officer, here; and why are you all so excited?"
Nellie had been thinking rapidly.
"Well, you see, papa, when I started out I thought I'd get up a joke on everybody, so I arranged to have the diamonds stolen by John and James. Just pretend, you know. And then, when we discovered they weren't here at all, we became alarmed. A package was delivered just about dinner, and I concluded, of course, it must contain the diamonds."
That was all she really had to tell at the time; now, wasn't it?
"Had to use real diamonds, I suppose. Pebbles from the garden walk wouldn't have done just as well, of course," commented Mr. Goodwood, ironically.
His daughter looked foolish.
"You see by this," he preached, pleased at the success of his sarcasm, "the importance of great accuracy." He rose and placed his hands behind his coat-tails. "I have been in business a great many years, and I have had this borne in on me time without end. It is a natural human failing, I suppose, and yet it can be, to a great extent, eradicated by careful attention. Such training as I get, for instance, makes such attention practically a second nature."
Still smiling, he drew a packet from his coat-tail pocket.
"Here are the famous diamonds," said he.
He proceeded leisurely to cut the string, which he rolled neatly and placed on a comer of the mantel, and opened the box.
"Suffering giraffes!" he screamed. In his hand he held extended a pearl-and-silver teething ring.
Overdrawn emotion honored no further drafts. A silence fell.
"Oh, poppa!" wailed Miss Goodwood. "Where did you get it?"
"Get it!" howled her father. "Get it! I've been robbed on the train! Do you think I'm buying teething rings? Do you think I don't know a teething ring from a diamond necklace?"
"Don't believe there is no diamond necklace," muttered Pie Face.
Mr. Goodwood was a man of resource and considerable influence. An hour later, by the coöperation of pencil, paper, John and the telegraph operator, the police of the great city of New York were conducting a round-up of crooks from which the fraternity now dates time. And that is saying a good deal.
And then, after the last despatch had gone singing on its way, and Mr. Goodwood was beginning to bask a bit in his rehabilitated self-esteem, a loud peal at the front door bell turned rearoused interest to that quarter. John returned, followed by a young man in a check suit and a derby hat.
"Why, Simpkins!" exclaimed the head of the house, "what's up?"
"I knew it was important, sir, so I caught the next train after you," replied Simpkins. "You left Miss Goodwood's diamonds on your desk when you went out, and knowing that you fully intended taking them, and the safe being shut, I brought them. Hope I did right, sir?"
"Quite right, quite right, Simpkins," hemmed Mr. Goodwood, out of countenance. He looked bewilderedly across the table to the package he had brought "But I wonder where I got that teething ring."
"Beg your pardon, sir, it's mine," put in Simpkins. "I bought it for a friend who has a baby, but I don't know how you came to take it, as I placed it very carefully with my coat."
At this evidence of carelessness Mr. Goodwood collapsed.
"And I wonder whose is the tooth brush and the tooth paste——"
"Mine," tittered Miss Tibbs, through the crack of the door, where she had been listening.
"And the false teeth," finished Pie Face, relentlessly.
The door slammed.
"And I wonder what can have become of poor Mr. Bincker," marveled Miss Goodwood, in her turn.
John grinned maliciously at Pie Face. "He done gone to baid," said he. "All he clothes spiled, and he powerful mad 'bout it. He kill somebody, come mahnin'."
"Oh, Lord!" said Pie Face to himself. "How will I fix it with Mr. Bincker and James?"
"Suffering giraffes!" groaned Mr. Goodwood. "I'll never be able to square it with the New York police!"
"Gracious!" cried Miss Goodwood's repentant inner spirit. "How am I ever going to explain it to everybody when the truth comes out?"
John, butler and villain, alone was calm.
And this is the only story ever written in which the hero, alive or dead, does not appear in the finale.