won. It will mean everything. Lady Corstorphine has promised to
arrange a meeting. In the meantime, I will speak to James and
warn him to be more careful."
Mr. Crocker had produced a stump of pencil from his pocket and
was writing on the table-cloth.
Lord Bingley Crocker
Lord Crocker of Crocker
The Marquis of Crocker
Bingley, first Viscount Crocker
He blanched as he read the frightful words. A sudden thought stung
"What will the boys at the Lambs say?"
"I am not interested," replied his wife, "in the boys at the
"I thought you wouldn't be," said the future baron gloomily.
It is a peculiarity of the human mind that, with whatever
apprehension it may be regarding the distant future, it must
return after a while to face the minor troubles of the future
that is immediate. The prospect of a visit to the dentist this
afternoon causes us to forget for the moment the prospect of
total ruin next year. Mr. Crocker, therefore, having tortured
himself for about a quarter of an hour with his meditations on
the subject of titles, was jerked back to a more imminent
calamity than the appearance of his name in the Birthday
Honours - the fact that in all probability he would be taken again
this morning to watch the continuation of that infernal
cricket-match, and would be compelled to spend the greater part
of to-day, as he had spent the greater part of yesterday, bored
to the verge of dissolution in the pavilion at Lord's.
One gleam of hope alone presented itself. Like baseball, this
pastime of cricket was apparently affected by rain, if there had
been enough of it. He had an idea that there had been a good deal
of rain in the night, but had there been sufficient to cause the
teams of Surrey and Kent to postpone the second instalment of
their serial struggle? He rose from the table and went out into
the hall. It was his purpose to sally out into Grosvenor Square
and examine the turf in its centre with the heel of his shoe, in
order to determine the stickiness or non-stickiness of the
wicket. He moved towards the front door, hoping for the best, and
just as he reached it the bell rang.
One of the bad habits of which his wife had cured Mr. Crocker in
the course of the years was the habit of going and answering
doors. He had been brought up in surroundings where every man was
his own door-keeper, and it had been among his hardest tasks to
learn the lesson that the perfect gentleman does not open doors
but waits for the appropriate menial to come along and do it for
him. He had succeeded at length in mastering this great truth,
and nowadays seldom offended. But this morning his mind was
clouded by his troubles, and instinct, allaying itself with
opportunity, was too much for him. His fingers had been on the
handle when the ring came, so he turned it.
At the top of the steps which connect the main entrance of
Drexdale House with the sidewalk three persons were standing. One
was a tall and formidably handsome woman in the early forties
whose appearance seemed somehow oddly familiar. The second was a
small, fat, blobby, bulging boy who was chewing something. The
third, lurking diffidently in the rear, was a little man of about
Mr. Crocker's own age, grey-haired and thin with brown eyes that
gazed meekly through rimless glasses.
Nobody could have been less obtrusive than this person, yet it was
he who gripped Mr. Crocker's attention and caused that home-sick
sufferer's heart to give an almost painful leap. For he was
clothed in one of those roomy suits with square shoulders which
to the seeing eye are as republican as the Stars and Stripes. His
blunt-toed yellow shoes sang gaily of home. And his hat was not
so much a hat as an effusive greeting from Gotham. A long time
had passed since Mr. Crocker had set eyes upon a biped so
exhilaratingly American, and rapture held him speechless, as one
who after long exile beholds some landmark of his childhood.
The female member of the party took advantage of his
dumbness - which, as she had not unnaturally mistaken him for the
butler, she took for a silent and respectful query as to her
business and wishes - to open the conversation.
"Is Mrs. Crocker at home? Please tell her that Mrs. Pett wishes
to see her."
There was a rush and scurry in the corridors of Mr. Crocker's
brain, as about six different thoughts tried to squash
simultaneously into that main chamber where there is room for
only one at a time. He understood now why this woman's appearance
had seemed familiar. She was his wife's sister, and that same
Nesta who was some day to be pulverised by the sight of his name
in the Birthday Honours. He was profoundly thankful that she had
mistaken him for the butler. A chill passed through him as he
pictured what would have been Eugenia's reception of the
information that he had committed such a bourgeois solecism as
opening the front door to Mrs. Pett of all people, who already
despised him as a low vulgarian. There had been trouble enough
when she had found him opening it a few weeks before to a mere
collector of subscriptions for a charity. He perceived, with a
clarity remarkable in view of the fact that the discovery of her
identity had given him a feeling of physical dizziness, that at
all costs he must foster this misapprehension on his
Fortunately he was in a position to do so. He knew all about what
butlers did and what they said on these occasions, for in his
innocently curious way he had often pumped Bayliss on the subject.
He bowed silently and led the way to the morning-room, followed
by the drove of Petts: then, opening the door, stood aside to
allow the procession to march past the given point.
"I will inform Mrs. Crocker that you are here, madam."
Mrs. Pett, shepherding the chewing child before her, passed into
the room. In the light of her outspoken sentiments regarding her
brother-in-law, it is curious to reflect that his manner at this,
their first meeting, had deeply impressed her. After many months
of smouldering revolt she had dismissed her own butler a day or
so before sailing for England, and for the first time envy of her
sister Eugenia gripped her. She did not covet Eugenia's other
worldly possessions, but she did grudge her this supreme butler.
Mr. Pett, meanwhile, had been trailing in the rear with a hunted
expression on his face. He wore the unmistakable look of a man
about to be present at a row between women, and only a wet cat in
a strange back-yard bears itself with less jauntiness than a man
faced by such a prospect. A millionaire several times over, Mr.
Pett would cheerfully have given much of his wealth to have been
elsewhere at that moment. Such was the agitated state of his mind
that, when a hand was laid lightly upon his arm as he was about
to follow his wife into the room, he started so violently that
his hat flew out of his hand. He turned to meet the eyes of the
butler who had admitted him to the house, fixed on his in an
"Who's leading in the pennant race?" said this strange butler in
a feverish whisper.
It was a question, coming from such a source, which in another
than Mr. Pett might well have provoked a blank stare of
amazement. Such, however, is the almost superhuman intelligence
and quickness of mind engendered by the study of America's
national game that he answered without the slightest hesitation.
"Wow!" said the butler.
No sense of anything strange or untoward about the situation came
to mar the perfect joy of Mr. Pett, the overmastering joy of the
baseball fan who in a strange land unexpectedly encounters a
brother. He thrilled with a happiness which he had never hoped
to feel that morning.
"No signs of them slumping?" enquired the butler.
"No. But you never can tell. It's early yet. I've seen those boys
lead the league till the end of August and then be nosed out."
"True enough," said the butler sadly.
"Matty's in shape."
"He is? The old souper working well?"
"Like a machine. He shut out the Cubs the day before I sailed!"
At this point an appreciation of the unusualness of the
proceedings began to steal upon Mr. Pett. He gaped at this
"How on earth do you know anything about baseball?" he demanded.
The other seemed to stiffen. A change came over his whole
appearance. He had the air of an actor who has remembered his
"I beg your pardon, sir. I trust I have not taken a liberty. I was
at one time in the employment of a gentleman in New York, and
during my stay I became extremely interested in the national
game. I picked up a few of the American idioms while in the
country." He smiled apologetically. "They sometimes slip out."
"Let 'em slip!" said Mr. Pett with enthusiasm. "You're the first
thing that's reminded me of home since I left. Say!"
"Got a good place here?"
"Er - oh, yes, sir."
"Well, here's my card. If you ever feel like making a change,
there's a job waiting for you at that address."
"Thank you, sir." Mr. Crocker stooped.
"Your hat, sir."
He held it out, gazing fondly at it the while. It was like being
home again to see a hat like that. He followed Mr. Pett as he
went into the morning-room with an affectionate eye.
Bayliss was coming along the hall, hurrying more than his wont.
The ring at the front door had found him deep in an extremely
interesting piece of news in his halfpenny morning paper, and he
was guiltily aware of having delayed in answering it.
"Bayliss," said Mr. Crocker in a cautious undertone, "go and tell
Mrs. Crocker that Mrs. Pett is waiting to see her. She's in the
morning-room. If you're asked, say you let her in. Get me?"
"Yes, sir," said Bayliss, grateful for this happy solution.
"Is the wicket at Lord's likely to be too sticky for them to go
on with that game to-day?"
"I hardly think it probable that there will be play, sir. There
was a great deal of rain in the night."
Mr. Crocker passed on to his den with a lighter heart.
* * * * *
It was Mrs. Crocker's habit, acquired after years of practice and
a sedulous study of the best models, to conceal beneath a mask of
well-bred indifference any emotion which she might chance to
feel. Her dealings with the aristocracy of England had shown her
that, while the men occasionally permitted themselves an
outburst, the women never did, and she had schooled herself so
rigorously that nowadays she seldom even raised her voice. Her
bearing, as she approached the morning-room was calm and serene,
but inwardly curiosity consumed her. It was unbelievable that
Nesta could have come to try to effect a reconciliation, yet she
could think of no other reason for her visit.
She was surprised to find three persons in the morning-room.
Bayliss, delivering his message, had mentioned only Mrs. Pett. To
Mrs. Crocker the assemblage had the appearance of being a sort of
Old Home Week of Petts, a kind of Pett family mob-scene. Her
sister's second marriage having taken place after their quarrel,
she had never seen her new brother-in-law, but she assumed that
the little man lurking in the background was Mr. Pett. The guess
"Good morning, Eugenia," said Mrs. Pett.
"Peter, this is my sister, Eugenia. My husband."
Mrs. Crocker bowed stiffly. She was thinking how hopelessly
American Mr. Pett was, how baggy his clothes looked, what
absurdly shaped shoes he wore, how appalling his hat was, how
little hair he had and how deplorably he lacked all those graces
of repose, culture, physical beauty, refinement, dignity, and
mental alertness which raise men above the level of the common
Mr. Pett, on his side, receiving her cold glance squarely between
the eyes, felt as if he were being disembowelled by a clumsy
amateur. He could not help wondering what sort of a man this
fellow Crocker was whom this sister-in-law of his had married. He
pictured him as a handsome, powerful, robust individual with a
strong jaw and a loud voice, for he could imagine no lesser type
of man consenting to link his lot with such a woman. He sidled in
a circuitous manner towards a distant chair, and, having lowered
himself into it, kept perfectly still, pretending to be dead,
like an opossum. He wished to take no part whatever in the coming
"Ogden, of course, you know," said Mrs. Pett.
She was sitting so stiffly upright on a hard chair and had so
much the appearance of having been hewn from the living rock that
every time she opened her mouth it was as if a statue had spoken.
"I know Ogden," said Mrs. Crocker shortly. "Will you please stop
him fidgeting with that vase? It is valuable."
She directed at little Ogden, who was juggling aimlessly with a
handsome _objet d'art_ of the early Chinese school, a glance similar
to that which had just disposed of his step-father. But Ogden
required more than a glance to divert him from any pursuit in which
he was interested. He shifted a deposit of candy from his right
cheek to his left cheek, inspected Mrs. Crocker for a moment with a
pale eye, and resumed his juggling. Mrs. Crocker meant nothing in
his young life.
"Ogden, come and sit down," said Mrs. Pett.
"Don't want to sit down."
"Are you making a long stay in England, Nesta?" asked Mrs.
"I don't know. We have made no plans."
She broke off. Ogden, who had possessed himself of a bronze
paper-knife, had begun to tap the vase with it. The ringing note
thus produced appeared to please his young mind.
"If Ogden really wishes to break that vase," said Mrs. Crocker in
a detached voice, "let me ring for the butler to bring him a
"Ogden!" said Mrs. Pett.
"Oh Gee! A fellow can't do a thing!" muttered Ogden, and walked
to the window. He stood looking out into the square, a slight
twitching of the ears indicating that he still made progress with
"Still the same engaging child!" murmured Mrs. Crocker.
"I did not come here to discuss Ogden!" said Mrs. Pett.
Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows. Not even Mrs. Otho Lanners,
from whom she had learned the art, could do it more effectively.
"I am still waiting to find out why you did come, Nesta!"
"I came here to talk to you about your step-son, James Crocker."
The discipline to which Mrs. Crocker had subjected herself in the
matter of the display of emotion saved her from the humiliation
of showing surprise. She waved her hand graciously - in the manner
of the Duchess of Axminster, a supreme hand-waver - to indicate
that she was all attention.
"Your step-son, James Crocker," repeated Mrs. Pett. "What is it
the New York papers call him, Peter?"
Mr. Pett, the human opossum, came to life. He had contrived to
create about himself such a defensive atmosphere of non-existence
that now that he re-entered the conversation it was as if a
corpse had popped out of its tomb like a jack-in-the-box.
Obeying the voice of authority, he pushed the tombstone to one
side and poked his head out of the sepulchre.
"Piccadilly Jim!" he murmured apologetically.
"Piccadilly Jim!" said Mrs. Crocker. "It is extremely impertinent
In spite of his misery, a wan smile appeared on Mr. Pett's
death-mask at this remark.
"They should worry about - !"
Mr. Pett died again, greatly respected.
"Why should the New York papers refer to James at all?" said Mrs.
Mr. Pett emerged reluctantly from the cerements. He had supposed
that Nesta would do the talking.
"Well, he's a news-item."
"Well, here's a boy that's been a regular fellow - raised in
America - done work on a newspaper - suddenly taken off to England
to become a London dude - mixing with all the dukes, playing
pinochle with the King - naturally they're interested in him."
A more agreeable expression came over Mrs. Crocker's face.
"Of course, that is quite true. One cannot prevent the papers
from printing what they wish. So they have published articles
about James' doings in English Society?"
"Doings," said Mr. Pett, "is right!"
"Something has got to be done about it," said Mrs. Pett.
Mr. Pett endorsed this.
"Nesta's going to lose her health if these stories go on," he
Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows, but she had hard work to keep a
contented smile off her face.
"If you are not above petty jealousy, Nesta . . ."
Mrs. Pett laughed a sharp, metallic laugh.
"It is the disgrace I object to!"
"What else would you call it, Eugenia? Wouldn't you be ashamed if
you opened your Sunday paper and came upon a full page article
about your nephew having got intoxicated at the races and fought
a book-maker - having broken up a political meeting - having been
sued for breach-of-promise by a barmaid . . ."
Mrs. Crocker preserved her well-bred calm, but she was shaken.
The episodes to which her sister had alluded were ancient
history, horrors of the long-dead past, but it seemed that they
still lived in print. There and then she registered the resolve
to talk to her step-son James when she got hold of him in such a
manner as would scourge the offending Adam out of him for once
and for all.
"And not only that," continued Mrs. Pett. "That would be bad enough
in itself, but somehow the papers have discovered that I am the
boy's aunt. Two weeks ago they printed my photograph with one of
these articles. I suppose they will always do it now. That is why I
have come to you. It must stop. And the only way it can be made to
stop is by taking your step-son away from London where he is
running wild. Peter has most kindly consented to give the boy a
position in his office. It is very good of him, for the boy cannot
in the nature of things be of any use for a very long time, but we
have talked it over and it seems the only course. I have come this
morning to ask you to let us take James Crocker back to America
with us and keep him out of mischief by giving him honest work.
What do you say?"
Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows.
"What do you expect me to say? It is utterly preposterous. I have
never heard anything so supremely absurd in my life."
"Of course I refuse."
"I think you are extremely foolish."
Mr. Pett cowed in his chair. He was feeling rather like a nervous
and peace-loving patron of a wild western saloon who observes two
cowboys reach for their hip-pockets. Neither his wife nor his
sister-in-law paid any attention to him. The concluding exercises
of a duel of the eyes was in progress between them. After some
silent, age-long moments, Mrs. Crocker laughed a light laugh.
"Most extraordinary!" she murmured.
Mrs. Pett was in no mood for Anglicisms.
"You know perfectly well, Eugenia," she said heatedly, "that
James Crocker is being ruined here. For his sake, if not for
mine - "
Mrs. Crocker laughed another light laugh, one of those offensive
rippling things which cause so much annoyance.
"Don't be so ridiculous, Nesta! Ruined! Really! It is quite true
that, a long while ago, when he was much younger and not quite used
to the ways of London Society, James was a little wild, but all
that sort of thing is over now. He knows" - she paused, setting
herself as it were for the punch - "he knows that at any moment
the government may decide to give his father a Peerage . . ."
The blow went home. A quite audible gasp escaped her stricken
Mrs. Crocker placed two ringed fingers before her mouth in order
not to hide a languid yawn.
"Yes. Didn't you know? But of course you live so out of the world.
Oh yes, it is extremely probable that Mr. Crocker's name will
appear in the next Honours List. He is very highly thought of by
the Powers. So naturally James is quite aware that he must behave
in a suitable manner. He is a dear boy! He was handicapped at
first by getting into the wrong set, but now his closest friend
is Lord Percy Whipple, the second son of the Duke of Devizes, who
is one of the most eminent men in the kingdom and a personal
friend of the Premier."
Mrs. Pett was in bad shape under this rain of titles, but she
rallied herself to reply in kind.
"Indeed?" she said. "I should like to meet him. I have no doubt
he knows our great friend, Lord Wisbeach."
Mrs. Crocker was a little taken aback. She had not supposed that
her sister had even this small shot in her locker.
"Do you know Lord Wisbeach?" she said.
"Oh yes," replied Mrs. Pett, beginning to feel a little better.
"We have been seeing him every day. He always says that he looks
on my house as quite a home. He knows so few people in New York.
It has been a great comfort to him, I think, knowing us."
Mrs. Crocker had had time now to recover her poise.
"Poor dear Wizzy!" she said languidly.
Mrs. Pett started.
"I suppose he is still the same dear, stupid, shiftless fellow?
He left here with the intention of travelling round the world,
and he has stopped in New York! How like him!"
"Do you know Lord Wisbeach?" demanded Mrs. Pett.
Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows.
"Know him? Why, I suppose, after Lord Percy Whipple, he is James'
most intimate friend!"
Mrs. Pett rose. She was dignified even in defeat. She collected
Ogden and Mr. Pett with an eye which even Ogden could see was not
to be trifled with. She uttered no word.
"Must you really go?" said Mrs. Crocker. "It was sweet of you to
bother to come all the way from America like this. So strange to
meet any one from America nowadays. Most extraordinary!"
The _cortege_ left the room in silence. Mrs. Crocker had touched
the bell, but the mourners did not wait for the arrival of
Bayliss. They were in no mood for the formalities of polite
Society. They wanted to be elsewhere, and they wanted to be there
quick. The front door had closed behind them before the butler
reached the morning-room.
"Bayliss," said Mrs. Crocker with happy, shining face, "send for
the car to come round at once."
"Very good, madam."
"Is Mr. James up yet?"
"I believe not, madam."
Mrs. Crocker went upstairs to her room. If Bayliss had not been
within earshot, she would probably have sung a bar or two. Her
amiability extended even to her step-son, though she had not
altered her intention of speaking eloquently to him on certain
matters when she could get hold of him. That, however, could
wait. For the moment, she felt in vein for a gentle drive in the
A few minutes after she had disappeared, there was a sound of
slow footsteps on the stairs, and a young man came down into the
hall. Bayliss, who had finished telephoning to the garage for
Mrs. Crocker's limousine and was about to descend to those lower
depths where he had his being, turned, and a grave smile of
welcome played over his face.
"Good morning, Mr. James," he said.
JIMMY'S DISTURBING NEWS
Jimmy Crocker was a tall and well-knit young man who later on in
the day would no doubt be at least passably good-looking. At the
moment an unbecoming pallor marred his face, and beneath his eyes
were marks that suggested that he had slept little and ill. He
stood at the foot of the stairs, yawning cavernously.
"Bayliss," he said, "have you been painting yourself yellow?"
"Strange! Your face looks a bright gamboge to me, and your
outlines wobble. Bayliss, never mix your drinks. I say this to
you as a friend. Is there any one in the morning-room?"
"No, Mr. James."
"Speak softly, Bayliss, for I am not well. I am conscious of a
strange weakness. Lead me to the morning-room, then, and lay me
gently on a sofa. These are the times that try men's souls."
The sun was now shining strongly through the windows of the
morning-room. Bayliss lowered the shades. Jimmy Crocker sank onto
the sofa, and closed his eyes.
"A conviction is stealing over me that I am about to expire."
"Shall I bring you a little breakfast, Mr. James?"
A strong shudder shook Jimmy.
"Don't be flippant, Bayliss," he protested. "Try to cure yourself
of this passion for being funny at the wrong time. Your comedy is
good, but tact is a finer quality than humour. Perhaps you think
I have forgotten that morning when I was feeling just as I do
to-day and you came to my bedside and asked me if I would like a
nice rasher of ham. I haven't and I never shall. You may bring me
a brandy-and-soda. Not a large one. A couple of bath-tubs full