"'You've got this wrong, Sharper,' I said. 'I know your wife. She won't commit suicide because you've gone. She possibly might have done it if you had stopped. So your maids won't be upset, and they won't commit suicide either. And the painter's man who spilt the whitewash over your books will be enjoying the joke over his Sunday dinner. You're no good at the leper-and-pariah business. Come over and be introduced to my missus.'
"'What you say might be true if I were a real man, but I have horrible doubts. I don't feel like a real man.'
"'Come off it,' I said. 'What do you feel like, then?'
"'I feel like a lot of tripe out of some damn-silly book.'
"Well, I took him over to the missus, and she got on the buzz. She's an energetic talkist. He never got time to say he was a leper once. Then some pals of hers came up to talk to her, and he and I escaped. I asked him what he was going to do. He said he was going back to Halfpenny Hole directly, in order to save the coroner's officer the trouble of fetching him. Then he asked me to have a drink. We had three each. He rushed off to the station, and left me to pay. A man in that state is not fit to be alone. And it's not too safe for anybody who happens to be with him. I let him go."
It was half-past five when Luke got back to Jawbones again. He rang the bell. As the door was not opened, he rang again.
Then from the garden behind the house he heard the sound of voices and laughter. He recognized the laugh. It was Dot's. It was a full-bodied, fruity laugh. Luke walked round the house and into the garden to see what was happening.
On the lawn sat Dot, Dash, and the first and second footmen from Gallows. A table showed that tea, including bottled beer, had been served with some profusion. But the banquet was over and all four reclined in deck-chairs, smoking cigarettes.
Luke stared at them blankly. "Afraid I'm rather interrupting," he stammered.
"Well, old bean," said Dot. "You do come as a bit of a surprise. We'd not expected you before Tuesday. But our two gentlemen friends—Albert and Hector—I think you've met them—have to be back at their job at six. So we shan't keep you long. The kitchen door's open if you care to slip into the house and wait."
Luke's powerful mind made a rapid deduction. This could never have happened if Mabel had not been powerless to prevent it. So Mabel must have ... Yes, the oxalic acid.
"Can you tell me," he said in sepulchral tones, "where I shall find the body of my poor wife?"
"Afraid I can't," said Dot. Her laughter jarred on him.
"Let us," he said, "be reverent. When did she die?"
Here Dash, under the pink parasol, broke in, "But she's alive. And I'll bet she's a good deal livelier than she's been for years past. I helped her pack, and it was some trousseau. The old girl's done a bunk. See? Skipped it with a gentleman friend of hers."
"You might have mentioned that before," said Luke, aggrieved. "I quite thought that something was the matter."
"Well, she's left a letter for you in your almost-silver cigarette case. You'll find it in the bath-room, balanced on the hot-water tap. You run along and read it. You're the least little bit in the way at this tea party."
Seated on the edge of the bath, Luke read as follows:
"You could always see every point of view except one, and that was your wife's.
"Once or twice the sting of your jelly-fish of a conscience made you try to be nice to me. There are words and acts from a man to a woman which may be lovely to the woman if they come spontaneously and naturally. If they are produced as by a force-pump, they are an insult. If you tried to hide the pump, it was a poor effort.
"When you took up with that Tyburn minx, I thought that you had realized the situation, that you saw that I found life with you detestable and intolerable, and that you meant to give me a chance to divorce you. I employed a private detective with what I had saved out of the house-money, and had you watched. The detective reported that there was nothing good enough—or bad enough——for the High Court, and that the woman seemed to be doing most of the work.
"So as the mixture of cowardice and selfishness which you call your conscience would not let you give me a chance to divorce you, I determined to make you divorce me. The first thing to do was to get you out of the way. It is so trying and undignified to elope if a husband is looking on, and possibly interfering. So I adopted a system of intensive spring-cleaning. I don't think I left out anything which could inconvenience and annoy you. It went on and on. No house has been spring-cleaned like this since the world began. I fancy it was the whitewash over your books that finally shunted you. You left in the early morning. I packed at leisure and left in the evening, taking with me a gentleman who financed that great success, Doom Dagshaw's Mammoth Circus.
"As he is not in the book, I may mention that he is a Mr. Nathan Samuel. But no matter. A nose by any other name would smell as efficiently. He is a true Christian with no fault except his love for me.
"The necessary particulars will be sent to your solicitors, and I hope you will then get busy.
"Ta-ta, old crock. Yours, Mabel.
"P.S.—You shouldn't leave oxalic acid about like that. Don't you know it's a poison? I've hidden it underneath your dress-shirts, in case of accidents."
Luke put the letter down. There was a step outside the door and Dot entered.
"Thought I should find you here," said Dot. "Everything all right?"
"Couldn't be better. But why did she leave the letter on the hot-water tap?"
"Oh, that was just a little joke of hers. She said you always got into any hot water that might be going about, and so you'd be sure to find it there."
"Do you see what this means, Dot? It means that in future we can play at boats without any fear of interruption."
"M'yes," said Dot. "It's not the very devil of a game, is it? Been over the house yet? I must say it does look nice, now all the cleaning and decorating's finished. Albert and Hector both noticed it."
"Yes, very nice. I suppose you and Dash would like to be getting dinner for me."
"That's what we're panting after. But it can't be done, because there's nothing to eat. At least, there's nothing for you. Besides, after this afternoon we are both emotionally worn-out. And that's not all. Albert and Hector brought us a bit of news from Gallows. Just you take my tip and ask no questions. You take the train into Dilborough and dine at the 'Crown.' You might—I don't say you will, but you might—get a bit of a surprise. If you hurry you'll catch the 7.5."
Luke thrust his wife's letter into his pocket, and hurried.
"No," said the sad-eyed waiter, in reply to Luke's enquiry. "No, we do not serve the dinner on Sunday night. In Dilborough Sunday night, there is what you call, nothing doing. You can have a nice chop."
"I hate chops," said Luke moodily. "All right, get me a chop."
"The lady who stay here, she have a chop too. She also say she hate chops. You have to wait a little time perhaps, because the chef is out Sunday evening. You wait in the drawing-room. It is very nice. Very comfortable. There is a newspaper of last Friday evening."
Luke submitted and entered the fly-haunted drawing-room. He sat down with his head in his hands. Mabel's letter had been characteristically unlike her. Her letters were never in the least bit like herself. That was perhaps their only attraction. It was only in the postscript that he seemed actually to hear her speak.
"Poor Nathan Samuel!" he said to himself. "Poor Moses Nathan Modecai Samuel!"
The door opened and Jona came in, clad in a betrayed-heroine tea-gown. She looked beautiful but tragic.
"Jona," he cried, springing to his feet.
She shrank back, covering her face with her hands.
"Don't speak to me," she said. "Don't come near me. I'm a leper, a pariah, and an outcast."
"Oh, look here, hang it all, you can't, you know. That's mine. If there's any lepering to be done, I do that. Outcast? How do you mean outcast?"
"Haven't you heard?" she said.
"No," said Luke. "Come and sit on my knee, and tell me all your troubles."
"I oughtn't," she said, but she did.
"You didn't turn up at Victoria yesterday. Couldn't you leave your husband?"
"I couldn't," she said. "I couldn't, because I've not got a husband. And have never had a husband. One of Bill's previous wives started to make a fuss, and he made a clean breast of it to me. He'd married in two different names before he married me, and both wives are still living. He went to Brighton on Saturday to marry one more. Because he wants to get his picture, as the peer convicted of trigamy, on the back page of the 'Daily Mail,' with the fourth wife inset. So you see what has happened. It was my fault, but that's how I come to be in the pariah class. Can you bear me any longer?"
"Yes," said Luke, "you're not heavy."
And then the sad-eyed waiter came in without knocking, and they broke away.
"I beg pardon," said the waiter. "Perhaps I interrupt a little. I come to say the chops is ready. Shall I put the two places close together?"
"Very close together," said Luke.
They entered the dining-room.
"You needn't remain," said Luke to the waiter. "We'll help ourselves."
"Ver' good," said the waiter. "I understand. I am since three years of experience in the week-end business. I come when you ring—not before."
Luke and Jona talked together earnestly for an hour. Then they remembered they had been intending to dine. Luke removed the cover from the dish and looked at two large melancholy chops, frozen hard.
"Can we?" said Luke.
"Not in this life," said Jona. "Get it removed."
Luke produced a visiting-card, and wrote on the back of it: "A Present for a Good Dog. From Jona and Lukie!" He put the card in the dish and replaced the cover. Then he investigated the wine list, rang the bell, and ordered champagne and dry biscuits to be put in the drawing-room.
(The reader is requested to look out. Once more the numbers of the section will be used as a part of the sections. The price of paper is still very high.)
"Just imagine," said Luke. "Only this morning I was convinced that life was hell. Absolute hell."
"And now?" asked Jona, shyly.
"Now I know that it's
he said, and kissed her.
Luke walked back. It was some time in the small hours that he entered his house burglariously by forcing open the window of a room that had once been called a den.
As he sat at breakfast the next morning, Dot said: "Hope they gave you a good dinner at the 'Crown' last night."
"I don't know," he said. "I don't really remember what we
"All love and honey, what?" suggested Dot.
"Dot," said Luke, "don't be asi—
"Oh, that's all right," said Dot "You don't need to pay any at—
tion to my chaff."
Luke sold Jawbones for a much higher price than he had expected.
"You see," the agent explained, "the place is in such a perfect condition. Everything up to the mark. Absolutely spotless."
"Yes," said Luke. "Mrs. Sharper was an excellent housekeeper. I've always said so."
Luke had intended to pay Dot and Dash board-wages until he was free to marry Jona, and then to take them into his service again. But this was not to be.
"Sorry," said Dot, "but it won't do. Of course we wish you every happiness, and no doubt in time you'll get used to not suffering so much, and not being misunderstood so frequent. But me and Dash has been brought up respectable, and respectable we shall remain. I've no doubt your good lady thought it was all right, and went to church with him, and signed the book and all that. But facts are facts, and the fact is that for years and years she was living the life of open sin with that Lord Tyburn. No, we couldn't stick it. Besides, I'm going to marry Hector to take entire charge of a small flat, one in family, no children or washing, every Sunday, and frequent outings. And my sister's doing the same with Albert. All the same, here's luck."
Our friend, Mr. Alfred Jingle, solicitor, arranged everything splendidly. He prevented Luke from inserting, in a moment of enthusiasm, an advertisement under the Fashionable Intelligence in the daily press that a divorce had been arranged and would shortly take place, between Luke Sharper, Esq., formerly of Jawbones, Halfpenny Hole, and Mabel, his wife. The case was undefended, and the day after the decree was made absolute Luke married Jona.
Nor did Mr. Alfred Jingle forget, when he made out his bill of costs, to include in his out-of-pocket expenses, the cost of certain luncheons and drinks which Mr. Sharper would, no doubt, have defrayed had he not at that time been in a condition of absent-mindedness induced by martyrdom.
Not only did Lord Tyburn succeed in getting his photograph on to the back page of the "Daily Mail." There was also another photograph of the four ladies whom he had married, reading from left to right. He did everything well.
1. This book is a parody on the biographies of it's times; as a result, very few changes have been made, other than obvious typesetter errors.
2. On the title page, there were two lines of words that were typeset with "strikethroughs"; these have been indicated by the addition of "=" before and after the lines.