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A Bulldog Drummond Thriller
By H. C. McNeile
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
IN WHICH HE TAKES TEA AT THE CARLTON AND IS SURPRISED
CAPTAIN HUGH DRUMMOND, D.S.O., M.C., late of His Majesty's Royal Loamshires, was whistling in his morning bath. Being by nature of a cheerful disposition, the symptom did not surprise his servant, late private of the same famous regiment, who was laying breakfast in an adjoining room.
After a while the whistling ceased, and the musical gurgle of escaping water announced that the concert was over. It was the signal for James Denny—the square-jawed ex-batman—to disappear into the back regions and get from his wife the kidneys and bacon which that most excellent woman had grilled to a turn. But on this particular morning the invariable routine was broken. James Denny seemed preoccupied, distrait.
Once or twice he scratched his head, and stared out of the window with a puzzled frown. And each time, after a brief survey of the other side of Half Moon Street, he turned back again to the breakfast table with a grin.
'What's you looking for, James Denny?' The irate voice of his wife at the door made him turn round guiltily. 'Them kidneys is ready and waiting these five minutes.'
Her eyes fell on the table, and she advanced into the room wiping her hands on her apron.
'Did you ever see such a bunch of letters?' she said.
'Forty-five,' returned her husband grimly, 'and more to come.' He picked up the newspaper lying beside the chair and opened it out.
'Them's the result of that,' he continued cryptically, indicating a paragraph with a square finger, and thrusting the paper under his wife's nose.
... 'Demobilised officer,' she read slowly, 'finding peace incredibly tedious, would welcome diversion. Legitimate, if possible; but crime, if of a comparatively humorous description, no objection. Excitement essential. Would be prepared to consider permanent job if suitably impressed by applicant for his services. Reply at once Box X10.'
She pushed down the paper on a chair and stared first at her husband, and then at the rows of letters neatly arranged on the table.
'I calls it wicked,' she announced at length. 'Fair flying in the face of Providence. Crime, Denny—crime. Don't you get 'axing nothing to do with such mad pranks, my man, or you and me will be having words.' She shook an admonitory finger at him, and retired slowly to the kitchen. In the days of his youth, James Denny had been a bit wild, and there was a look in his eyes this morning—the suspicion of a glint—which recalled old memories.
A moment or two later Hugh Drummond came in. Slightly under six feet in height, he was broad in proportion. His best friend would not have called him good-looking, but he was the fortunate possessor of that cheerful type of ugliness which inspires immediate confidence in its owner. His nose had never quite recovered from the final one year in the Public Schools Heavy Weights; his mouth was not small. In fact, to be strictly accurate only his eyes redeemed his face from being what is known in the vernacular as the Frozen Limit.
Deep-set and steady, with eyelashes that many a woman had envied, they showed the man for what he was—a sportsman and a gentleman. And the combination of the two is an unbeatable production.
He paused as he got to the table, and glanced at the rows of letters. His servant, pretending to busy himself at the other end of the room, was watching him surreptitiously, and noted the grin which slowly spread over Drummond's face as he picked up two or three and examined the envelopes.
'Who would have thought it, James?' he remarked at length. 'Great Scot! I shall have to get a partner.'
With disapproval showing in every line of her face, Mrs. Denny entered the room, carrying the kidneys, and Drummond glanced at her with a smile.
'Good morning, Mrs. Denny,' he said. 'Wherefore this worried look on your face? Has that reprobate James been misbehaving himself?'
The worthy woman snorted. 'He has not, sir—not yet, leastwise. And if so be that he does'—her eyes travelled up and down the back of the hapless Denny, who was quite unnecessarily pulling books off shelves and putting them back again—'if so be that he does,' she continued grimly, 'him and me will have words—as I've told him already this morning.' She stalked from the room, after staring pointedly at the letters in Drummond's hand, and the two men looked at one another.
'It's that there reference to crime, sir, that's torn it,' said Denny in a hoarse whisper.
'Thinks I'm going to lead you astray, does she, James?'
Hugh helped himself to bacon. 'My dear fellow, she can think what she likes so long as she continues to grill bacon like this. Your wife is a treasure, James—a pearl amongst women: and you can tell her so with my love.' He was opening the first envelope, and suddenly he looked up with a twinkle in his eyes. 'Just to set her mind at rest,' he remarked gravely, 'you might tell her that, as far as I can see at present, I shall only undertake murder in exceptional cases.'
He propped the letter up against the toast-rack and commenced his breakfast. 'Don't go, James.' With a slight frown he was studying the typewritten sheet. 'I'm certain to want your advice before long. Though not over this one...It does not appeal to me—not at all. To assist Messrs. Jones & Jones, whose business is to advance money on note of hand alone, to obtain fresh clients, is a form of amusement which leaves me cold. The waste- paper basket, please, James. Tear the effusion up, and we will pass on to the next.'
He looked at the mauve envelope doubtfully, and examined the postmark. 'Where is Pudlington, James? And one might almost ask—why is Pudlington? No town has any right to such an offensive name.' He glanced through the letter and shook his head. 'Tush! tush! And the wife of the bank manager, too—the bank manager of Pudlington, James! Can you conceive of anything so dreadful? But I'm afraid Mrs. Bank Manager is a puss—a distinct puss. It's when they get on the soul-mate stunt that the furniture begins to fly.'
Drummond tore up the letter and dropped the pieces into the basket beside him. Then he turned to his servant and handed him the remainder of the envelopes.
'Go through them, James, while I assault the kidneys, and pick two or three out for me. I see that you will have to become my secretary. No man could tackle that little bunch alone.'
'Do you want me to open them, sir?' asked Denny doubtfully.
'You've hit it, James—hit it in one. Classify them for me in groups. Criminal; sporting; amatory—that means of or pertaining to love; stupid and merely boring; and as a last resort, miscellaneous.' He stirred his coffee thoughtfully. 'I feel that as a first venture in our new career—ours, I said, James—love appeals to me irresistibly. Find me a damsel in distress; a beautiful girl, helpless in the clutches of knaves. Let me feel that I can fly to her succour, clad in my new grey suiting.'
He finished the last piece of bacon and pushed away his plate. 'Amongst all that mass of paper there must surely be one from a lovely maiden, James, at whose disposal I can place my rusty sword. Incidentally, what has become of the damned thing?'
'It's in the lumber-room, sir—tied up with the old humbrella and the niblick you don't like.'
'Great heavens! Is it?' Drummond helped himself to marmalade. 'And to think that I once pictured myself skewering Huns with it. Do you think anybody would be mug enough to buy it, James?'
But that worthy was engrossed in a letter he had just opened, and apparently failed to hear the question. A perplexed look was spreading over his face, and suddenly he sucked his teeth loudly. It was a sure sign that James was excited, and though Drummond had almost cured him of this distressing habit, he occasionally forgot himself in moments of stress.
His master glanced up quickly, and removed the letter from his hands. 'I'm surprised at you, James,' he remarked severely. 'A secretary should control itself. Don't forget that the perfect secretary is an it: an automatic machine—a thing incapable of feeling...'
He read the letter through rapidly, and then, turning back to the beginning, he read it slowly through again.
My dear Box X10—I don't know whether your advertisement was a joke. I suppose it must have been. But I read it this morning, and it's just possible, X10, just possible, that you mean it. And if you do, you're the man I want. I can offer you excitement and probably crime.
I'm up against it, X10. For a girl I've bitten off rather more than I can chew. I want help—badly. Will you come to the Carlton for tea to-morrow afternoon? I want to have a look at you and see if I think you are genuine. Wear a white flower in your buttonhole.'
Drummond laid the letter down, and pulled out his cigarette-case. 'To-morrow, James,' he murmured. 'That is to-day—this very afternoon. Verily I believe that we have impinged upon the goods.' He rose and stood looking out of the window thoughtfully. 'Go out, my trusty fellow, and buy me a daisy or a cauliflower or something white.'
'You think it's genuine, sir?' said James thoughtfully.
His master blew out a cloud of smoke. 'I know it is,' he answered dreamily. 'Look at that writing; the decision in it—the character. She'll be medium height, and dark, with the sweetest little nose and mouth. Her colouring, James, will be—'
But James had discreetly left the room.
At four o'clock exactly Hugh Drummond stepped out of his two-seater at the Haymarket entrance to the Carlton. A white gardenia was in his buttonhole; his grey suit looked the last word in exclusive tailoring. For a few moments after entering the hotel he stood at the top of the stairs outside the dining-room, while his eyes travelled round the tables in the lounge below.
A brother-officer, evidently taking two country cousins round London, nodded resignedly; a woman at whose house he had danced several times smiled at him. But save for a courteous bow he took no notice; slowly and thoroughly he continued his search. It was early, of course, yet, and she might not have arrived, but he was taking no chances.
Suddenly his eyes ceased wandering, and remained fixed on a table at the far end of the lounge. Half hidden behind a plant a girl was seated alone, and for a moment she looked straight at him. Then, with the faintest suspicion of a smile, she turned away, and commenced drumming on the table with her fingers.
The table next to her was unoccupied, and Drummond made his way towards it and sat down. It was characteristic of the man that he did not hesitate; having once made up his mind to go through with a thing, he was in the habit of going and looking neither to the right hand nor to the left. Which, incidentally, was how he got his D.S.O.; but that, as Kipling would say, is another story.
He felt not the slightest doubt in his mind that this was the girl who had written to him, and, having given an order to the waiter, he started to study her face as unobtrusively as possible. He could only see the profile but that was quite sufficient to make him bless the moment when more as a jest than anything else he had sent his advertisement to the paper.
Her eyes, he could see, were very blue; and great masses of golden brown hair coiled over her ears, from under a small black hat. He glanced at her feet—being an old stager; she was perfectly shod. He glanced at her hands, and noted, with approval, the absence of any ring. Then he looked once more at her face, and found her eyes fixed on him.
This time she did not look away. She seemed to think that it was her turn to conduct the examination, and Drummond turned to his tea while the scrutiny continued. He poured himself out a cup, and then fumbled in his waistcoat pocket. After a moment he found what he wanted, and taking out a card he propped it against the teapot so that the girl could see what was on it. In large block capitals he had written 'Box X10'. Then he added milk and sugar and waited.
She spoke almost at once. 'You'll do, X10,' she said, and he turned to her with a smile.
'It's very nice of you to say so,' he murmured. 'If I may, I will return the compliment. So will you.'
She frowned slightly. 'This isn't foolishness, you know. What I said in my letter is literally true.'
'Which makes the compliment even more returnable,' he answered. 'If I am to embark on a life of crime, I would sooner collaborate with you than—shall we say?—that earnest eater over there with the tomato in her hat.'
He waved vaguely at the lady in question and then held out his cigarette-case to the girl. 'Turkish on this side—Virginia on that,' he remarked. 'And as I appear satisfactory, will you tell me who I'm to murder?'
With the unlighted cigarette held in her fingers she stared at him gravely. 'I want you to tell me,' she said at length, and there was no trace of jesting in her voice, 'tell me, on your word of honour, whether that advertisement was bona fide or a joke.'
He answered her in the same vein. 'It started more or less as a joke. It may now be regarded as absolutely genuine.'
She nodded as if satisfied. 'Are you prepared to risk your life?'
Drummond's eyebrows went up and then he smiled. 'Granted that the inducement is sufficient,' he returned slowly, 'I think that I may say that I am.'
She nodded again. 'You won't be asked to do it in order to obtain a halfpenny bun,' she remarked. 'If you've a match, I would rather like a light.'
Drummond apologised. 'Our talk on trivialities engrossed me for the moment,' he murmured. He held the lighted match for her, and as he did so he saw that she was staring over his shoulder at someone behind his back.
'Don't look round,' she ordered, 'and tell me your name quickly.'
'Drummond—Captain Drummond, late of the Loamshires.' He leaned back in his chair, and lit a cigarette himself.
'And are you going to Henley this year?' Her voice was a shade louder than before.
'I don't know,' he answered casually. 'I may run down for a day possibly, but—'
'My dear Phyllis,' said a voice behind his back, 'this is a pleasant surprise. I had no idea that you were in London.'
A tall, clean-shaven man stopped beside the table, throwing a keen glance at Drummond.
'The world is full of such surprises, isn't it?' answered the girl lightly. 'I don't suppose you know Captain Drummond, do you? Mr. Lakington—art connoisseur and—er—collector.'
The two men bowed slightly, and Mr. Lakington smiled. 'I do not remember ever having heard my harmless pastimes more concisely described,' he remarked suavely. 'Are you interested in such matters?'
'Not very, I'm afraid,' answered Drummond. 'Just recently I have been rather too busy to pay much attention to art.'
The other man smiled again, and it struck Hugh that rarely, if ever, had he seen such a cold, merciless face.
'Of course, you've been in France,' Lakington murmured. 'Unfortunately a bad heart kept me on this side of the water. One regrets it in many ways—regrets it immensely. Sometimes I cannot help thinking how wonderful it must have been to be able to kill without fear of consequences. There is art in killing, Capt Drummond—profound art. And as you know, Phyllis,' he turned to the girl, 'I have always been greatly attracted by anything requiring the artistic touch.' He looked at his watch and sighed: 'Alas! I must tear myself away. Are you returning home this evening?'
The girl, who had been glancing round the restaurant, shrugged her shoulders. 'Probably,' she answered. 'I haven't quite decided. I might stop with Aunt Kate.'
'Fortunate Aunt Kate.' With a bow Lakington turned away, and: through the glass Drummond watched him get his hat and stick from the cloak-room. Then he looked at the girl, and noticed that she had gone a little white.
'What's the matter, old thing?' he asked quickly. 'Are you feeling faint?'
She shook her head, and gradually the colour came back to her face. 'I'm quite all right,' she answered. 'It gave me rather a shock, that man finding us here.'
'On the face of it, it seems a harmless occupation,' said Hugh.
Excerpted from Bulldog Drummond by H. C. McNeile. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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