The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 1
THE INTRUSION OF JIMMY
JIMMY MAKES A BET
THE main smoking-room of the Strollers' Club had been filling for the last half-hour, and was now nearly full. In many ways, the Strollers', though not the most magnificent, is the pleasantest club in New York. Its ideals are comfort without pomp; and it is given over after eleven o'clock at night mainly to the Stage. Everybody is young, clean-shaven, and full of conversation: and the conversation strikes a purely professional note.
Everybody in the room on this July night had come from the theater. Most of those present had been acting, but a certain number had been to the opening performance of the latest better-than-Raffles play. There had been something of a boom that season in dramas whose heroes appealed to the public more pleasantly across the footlights than they might have done in real life. In the play that had opened to-night, Arthur Mifflin, an exemplary young man off the stage, had been warmly applauded for a series of actions which, performed anywhere except in the theater, would certainly have debarred him from remaining a member of the Strollers' or any other club. In faultless evening dress, with a debonair smile on his face, he had broken open a safe, stolen bonds and jewelry to a large amount, and escaped without a blush of shame via the window. He had foiled a detective through four acts, and held up a band of pursuers with a revolver. A large audience had intimated complete approval throughout.
"It's a hit all right," said somebody through the smoke.
"These near-'Raffles' plays always are," grumbled Willett, who played bluff fathers in musical comedy. "A few years ago, they would have been scared to death of putting on a show with a crook as hero. Now, it seems to me the public doesn't want anything else. Not that they know what they do want," he concluded, mournfully.
"The Belle of Boulogne," in which Willett sustained the rôle of Cyrus K. Higgs, a Chicago millionaire, was slowly fading away on a diet of paper, and this possibly prejudiced him.
Raikes, the character actor, changed the subject. If Willett once got started on the wrongs of the ill-fated "Belle," general conversation would become impossible. Willett, denouncing the stupidity of the public, as purely a monologue artiste.
"I saw Jimmy Pitt at the show," said Raikes. Everybody displayed interest.
"Jimmy Pitt? When did he come back? I thought he was in Italy."
"He came on the Lusitania, I suppose. She docked this morning."
"Jimmy Pitt?" said Sutton, of the Majestic Theater. "How long has he been away? Last I saw of him was at the opening of 'The Outsider' at the Astor. That's a couple of months ago."
"He's been traveling in Europe, I believe," said Raikes. "Lucky beggar to be able to. I wish I could."
Sutton knocked the ash off his cigar.
"I envy Jimmy," he said. "I don't know anyone I'd rather be. He's got much more money than any man except a professional 'plute' has any right to. He's as strong as an ox. I shouldn't say he'd ever had anything worse than measles in his life. He's got no relations. And he isn't married."
Sutton, who had been married three times, spoke with some feeling.
"He's a good chap, Jimmy," said Raikes.
"Yes," said Arthur Mifflin, "yes, Jimmy is a good chap. I've known him for years. I was at college with him. He hasn't got my brilliance of intellect; but he has some wonderfully fine qualities. For one thing, I should say he had put more dead-beats on their legs again than half the men in New York put together."
"Well," growled Willett, whom the misfortunes of the Belle had soured, "what's there in that? It's mighty easy to do the philanthropist act when you're next door to a millionaire."
"Yes," said Mifflin warmly, "but it's not so easy when you're getting thirty dollars a week on a newspaper. When Jimmy was a reporter on the News, there used to be a whole crowd of fellows just living on him. Not borrowing an occasional dollar, mind you, but living on him—sleeping on his sofa, and staying to breakfast. It made me mad. I used to ask him why he stood for it. He said there was nowhere else for them to go, and he thought he could see them through all right—which he did, though I don't see how he managed it on thirty a week."
"If a man's fool enough to be an easy mark—" began Willett.
"Oh, cut it out!" said Raikes. "We don't want anybody knocking Jimmy here."
"All the same," said Sutton, "it seems to me that it was mighty lucky that he came into that money. You can't keep open house for ever on thirty a week. By the way, Arthur, how was that? I heard it was his uncle."
"It wasn't his uncle," said Mifflin. "It was by way of being a romance of sorts, I believe. Fellow who had been in love with Jimmy's mother years ago went West, made a pile, and left it to Mrs. Pitt or her children. She had been dead some time when that happened. Jimmy, of course, hadn't a notion of what was coming to him, when suddenly he got a solicitor's letter asking him to call. He rolled round, and found that there was about five hundred thousand dollars just waiting for him to spend it."
Jimmy Pitt had now definitely ousted "Love, the Cracksman" as a topic of conversation. Everybody present knew him. Most of them had known him in his newspaper days; and, though every man there would have perished rather than admit it, they were grateful to Jimmy for being exactly the same to them now that he could sign a check for half a million as he had been on the old thirty-a-week basis. Inherited wealth, of course, does not make a young man nobler or more admirable; but the young man does not always know this.
"Jimmy's had a queer life," said Mifflin. "He's been pretty much everything in his time. Did you know he was on the stage before he took up newspaper-work? Only on the road, I believe. He got tired of it, and cut it out. That's always been his trouble. He wouldn't settle down to anything. He studied law at Yale, but he never kept it up. After he left the stage, he moved all over the States without a cent, picking up any odd job he could get. He was a waiter once for a couple of days, but they fired him for breaking plates. Then, he got a job in a jeweler's shop. I believe he's a bit of an expert on jewels. And, another time, he made a hundred dollars by staying three rounds against Kid Brady when the Kid was touring the country after he got the championship away from Jimmy Garwin. The Kid was offering a hundred to anyone who could last three rounds with him. Jimmy did it on his head. He was the best amateur of his weight I ever saw. The Kid wanted him to take up scrapping seriously. But Jimmy wouldn't have stuck to anything long enough in those days. He's one of the gypsies of the world. He was never really happy unless he was on the move, and he doesn't seem to have altered since he came into his money."
"Well, he can afford to keep on the move now," said Raikes. "I wish I—"
"Did you ever hear about Jimmy and—" Mifflin was beginning, when the Odyssey of Jimmy Pitt was interrupted by the opening of the door and the entrance of Ulysses in person.
Jimmy Pitt was a young man of medium height, whose great breadth and depth of chest made him look shorter than he really was. His jaw was square, and protruded slightly; and this, combined with a certain athletic jauntiness of carriage and a pair of piercing brown eyes very much like those of a bull-terrier, gave him an air of aggressiveness, which belied his character. He was not aggressive. He had the good-nature as well as the eyes of a bull-terrier. Also, he possessed, when stirred, all the bull-terrier's dogged determination.
There were shouts of welcome.
"When did you get back?"
"Come and sit down. Plenty of room over here."
"Where is my wandering boy to-night?"
"Waiter! What's yours, Jimmy?"
Jimmy dropped into a seat, and yawned.
"Well," he said, "how goes it? Hullo, Raikes! Weren't you at 'Love, the Cracksman'? I thought I saw you. Hullo, Arthur! Congratulate you. You spoke your piece nicely."
"Thanks," said Mifflin. "We were just talking about you, Jimmy. You came on the Lusitania, I suppose?"
"She didn't break the record this time," said Sutton.
A somewhat pensive look came into Jimmy's eyes.
"She came much too quick for me," he said. "I don't see why they want to rip along at that pace," he went on, hurriedly. "I like to have a chance of enjoying the sea-air."
"I know that sea-air," murmured Mifflin.
Jimmy looked up quickly.
"What are you babbling about, Arthur?"
"I said nothing," replied Mifflin, suavely.
"What did you think of the show to-night, Jimmy?" asked Raikes.
"I liked it. Arthur was fine. I can't make out, though, why all this incense is being burned at the feet of the cracksman. To judge by some of the plays they produce now, you'd think that a man had only to be a successful burglar to become a national hero. One of these days, we shall have Arthur playing Charles Peace to a cheering house."
"It is the tribute," said Mifflin, "that bone-headedness pays to brains. It takes brains to be a successful cracksman. Unless the gray matter is surging about in your cerebrum, as in mine, you can't hope—"
Jimmy leaned back in his chair, and spoke calmly but with decision.
"Any man of ordinary intelligence," he said, "could break into a house."
Mifflin jumped up and began to gesticulate. This was heresy.
"My good man, what absolute—"
"I could," said Jimmy, lighting a cigarette.
There was a roar of laughter and approval. For the past few weeks, during the rehearsals of "Love, the Cracksman," Arthur Mifflin had disturbed the peace at the Strollers' with his theories on the art of burglary. This was his first really big part, and he had soaked himself in it. He had read up the literature of burglary. He had talked with men from Pinkerton's. He had expounded his views nightly to his brother Strollers, preaching the delicacy and difficulty of cracking a crib till his audience had rebelled. It charmed the Strollers to find Jimmy, obviously of his own initiative and not to be suspected of having been suborned to the task by themselves, treading with a firm foot on the expert's favorite corn within five minutes of their meeting.
"You!" said Arthur Mifflin, with scorn.
"You! Why, you couldn't break into an egg unless it was a poached one."
"What'll you bet?" said Jimmy.
The Strollers began to sit up and take notice. The magic word "bet," when uttered in that room, had rarely failed to add a zest to life. They looked expectantly at Arthur Mifflin.
"Go to bed, Jimmy," said the portrayer of cracksmen. "I'll come with you and tuck you in. A nice, strong cup of tea in the morning, and you won't know there has ever been anything the matter with you."
A howl of disapproval rose from the company. Indignant voices accused Arthur Mifflin of having a yellow streak. Encouraging voices urged him not to be a quitter.
"See! They scorn you," said Jimmy. "And rightly. Be a man, Arthur. What'll you bet?"
Mr. Mifflin regarded him with pity.
"You don't know what you're up against, Jimmy," he said. "You're half a century behind the times. You have an idea that all a burglar needs is a mask, a blue chin, and a dark lantern. I tell you he requires a highly specialized education. I've been talking to these detective fellows, and I know. Now, take your case, you worm. Have you a thorough knowledge of chemistry, physics, toxicology—"
"—electricity and microscopy?"
"You have discovered my secret."
"Can you use an oxy-acetylene blow-pipe?"
"I never travel without one."
"What do you know about the administration of anæsthetics?"
"Practically everything. It is one of my favorite hobbies."
"Can you make 'soup'?"
"Soup," said Mr. Mifflin, firmly.
Jimmy raised his eyebrows.
"Does an architect make bricks?" he said. "I leave the rough preliminary work to my corps of assistants. They make my soup."
"You mustn't think Jimmy's one of your common yeggs," said Sutton. "He's at the top of his profession. That's how he made his money. I never did believe that legacy story."
"Jimmy," said Mr. Mifflin, "couldn't crack a child's money-box. Jimmy couldn't open a sardine-tin."
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.
"What'll you bet?" he said again. "Come on, Arthur; you're earning a very good salary. What'll you bet?"
"Make it a dinner for all present," suggested Raikes, a canny person who believed in turning the wayside happenings of life, when possible, to his personal profit.
The suggestion was well received.
"All right," said Mifflin. "How many of us are there? One, two, three, four— Loser buys a dinner for twelve."
"A good dinner," interpolated Raikes, softly.
"A good dinner," said Jimmy. "Very well. How long do you give me, Arthur?"
"How long do you want?"
"There ought to be a time-limit," said Raikes. "It seems to me that a flyer like Jimmy ought to be able to manage it at short notice. Why not to-night? Nice, fine night. If Jimmy doesn't crack a crib to-night, it's up to him. That suit you, Jimmy?"
Willett interposed. Willett had been endeavoring to drown his sorrows all the evening, and the fact was a little noticeable in his speech.
"See here," he said, "how's J-Jimmy going to prove he's done it?"
"Personally, I can take his word," said Mifflin.
"That be h-hanged for a tale. Wha-what's to prevent him saying he's done it, whether he has or not?"
The Strollers looked uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it was Jimmy's affair.
"Why, you'd get your dinner in any case," said Jimmy. "A dinner from any host would smell as sweet."
Willett persisted with muddled obstinacy.
"Thash—thash not point. It's principle of thing. Have thish thing square and 'bove board, I say. Thash what I say."
"And very creditable to you being able to say it," said Jimmy, cordially. "See if you can manage 'Truly rural'."
"What I say is—this! Jimmy's a fakir. And what I say is what's prevent him saying he's done it when hasn't done it?"
"That'll be all right," said Jimmy. "I'm going to bury a brass tube with the Stars and Stripes in it under the carpet."
Willett waved his hand.
"Thash quite sh'factory," he said, with dignity. "Nothing more to say."
"Or a better idea," said Jimmy. "I'll carve a big J on the inside of the front door. Then, anybody who likes can make inquiries next day. Well, I'm off home. Glad it's all settled. Anybody coming my way?"
"Yes," said Arthur Mifflin. "We'll walk. First nights always make me as jumpy as a cat. If I don't walk my legs off, I sha'n't get to sleep to-night at all."
"If you think I'm going to help you walk your legs off, my lad, you're mistaken. I propose to stroll gently home, and go to bed."
"Every little helps," said Mifflin. "Come along."
"You want to keep an eye on Jimmy, Arthur," said Sutton. "He'll sand-bag you, and lift your watch as soon as look at you. I believe he's Arsène Lupin in disguise."