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CHAPTER XXI


LOATHSOME GIFTS


THERE are doubtless men so constructed that they can find themselves accepted suitors without any particular whirl of emotion. King Solomon probably belonged to this class, and even Henry the Eighth must have become a trifle blasé in time. But, to the average man, the sensations are complex and overwhelming. A certain stunned feeling is perhaps predominant. Blended with this is relief, the relief of a general who has brought a difficult campaign to a successful end, or of a member of a forlorn hope who finds that the danger is over and that he is still alive. To this must be added a newly born sense of magnificence. Our suspicion that we were something rather out of the ordinary run of men is suddenly confirmed. Our bosom heaves with complacency, and the world has nothing more to offer.

With some, there is an alloy of apprehension in the metal of their happiness, and the strain of an engagement sometimes brings with it even a faint shadow of regret. "She makes me buy things," one swain, in the third quarter of his engagement, was overheard to moan to a friend. "Two new ties only yesterday." He seemed to be debating with himself whether human nature could stand the strain.

But, whatever tragedies may cloud the end of the period, its beginning at least is bathed in sunshine.

Jimmy, regarding his lathered face in the glass as he dressed for dinner that night, marveled at the excellence of this best of all possible worlds.

No doubts disturbed him. That the relations between Mr. McEachern and himself offered a permanent bar to his prospects, he did not believe. For the moment, he declined to consider the existence of the ex-constable at all. In a world that contained Molly, there was no room for other people. They were not in the picture. They did not exist.

To him, musing contentedly over the goodness of life, there entered, in the furtive manner habitual to that unreclaimed buccaneer, Spike Mullins. It may have been that Jimmy read his own satisfaction and happiness into the faces of others, but it certainly seemed to him that there was a sort of restrained joyousness about Spike's demeanor. The Bowery boy's shuffles on the carpet were almost a dance. His face seemed to glow beneath his crimson hair.

"Well," said Jimmy, "and how goes the world with young Lord Fitz-Mullins? Spike, have you ever been best man?

"What's dat, boss?"

"Best man at a wedding. Chap who stands by the bridegroom with a hand on the scruff of his neck to see that he goes through with it. Fellow who looks after everything, crowds the money on to the minister at the end of the ceremony, and then goes off and marries the first bridesmaid, and lives happily ever after."

Spike shook his head.

"I ain't got no use for gittin' married, boss."

"Spike, the misogynist! You wait, Spike. Some day, love will awake in your heart, and you'll start writing poetry."

"I'se not dat kind of mug, boss," protested the Bowery boy. "I ain't got no use fer goils. It's a mutt's game."

This was rank heresy. Jimmy laid down the razor from motives of prudence, and proceeded to lighten Spike's reprehensible darkness.

"Spike, you're an ass," he said. "You don't know anything about it. If you had any sense at all, you'd understand that the only thing worth doing in life is to get married. You bone-headed bachelors make me sick. Think what it would mean to you, having a wife. Think of going out on a cold winter's night to crack a crib, knowing that there would be a cup of hot soup waiting for you when you got back, and your slippers all warmed and comfortable. And then she'd sit on your knee, and you'd tell her how you shot the policeman, and you'd examine the swag together—! Why, I can't imagine anything cozier. Perhaps there would be little Spikes running about the house. Can't you see them jumping with joy as you slid in through the window, and told the great news? 'Fahzer's killed a pleeceman!' cry the tiny, eager voices. Candy is served out all round in honor of the event. Golden-haired little Jimmy Mullins, my god-son, gets a dime for having thrown a stone at a plain-clothes detective that afternoon. All is joy and wholesome revelry. Take my word for it, Spike, there's nothing like domesticity."

"Dere was a goil once," said Spike, meditatively. "Only, I was never her steady. She married a cop."

"She wasn't worthy of you, Spike," said Jimmy, sympathetically. "A girl capable of going to the bad like that would never have done for you. You must pick some nice, sympathetic girl with a romantic admiration for your line of business. Meanwhile, let me finish shaving, or I shall be late for dinner. Great doings on to-night, Spike."

Spike became animated.

"Sure, boss! Dat's just what—"

"If you could collect all the blue blood that will be under this roof to-night, Spike, into one vat, you'd be able to start a dyeing-works. Don't try, though. They mightn't like it. By the way, have you seen anything more—of course, you have. What I mean is, have you talked at all with that valet man, the one you think is a detective?"

"Why, boss, dat's just—"

"I hope for his own sake he's a better performer than my old friend, Galer. That man is getting on my nerves, Spike. He pursues me like a smell-dog. I expect he's lurking out in the passage now. Did you see him?"

"Did I! Boss! Why—"

Jimmy inspected Spike gravely.

"Spike," he said, "there's something on your mind. You're trying to say something. What is it? Out with it."

Spike's excitement vented itself in a rush of words.

"Gee, boss! There's bin doin's to-night fer fair. Me coco's still buzzin'. Sure t'ing! Why, say, when I was to Sir Tummas' dressin'-room dis afternoon—"

"What!"

"Surest t'ing you know. Just before de storm come on, when it was all as dark as could be. Well, I was—"

Jimmy interrupted.

"In Sir Thomas's dressing-room! What the—"

Spike looked somewhat embarrassed. He grinned apologetically, and shuffled his feet.

"I've got dem, boss!" he said, with a smirk.

"Got them? Got what?"

"Dese."

Spike plunged a hand in a pocket, and drew forth in a glittering mass Lady Julia Blunt's rope of diamonds.