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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Gem Collector - Chapter I
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The Gem Collector - Chapter I Post by :John_Sikora Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :July 2011 Read :1409

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The Gem Collector - Chapter I


The supper room of the Savoy Hotel was all brightness and glitter and gayety. But Sir James Willoughby Pitt, baronet, of the United Kingdom, looked round about him through the smoke of his cigarette, and felt moodily that this was a flat world, despite the geographers, and that he was very much alone in it.

He felt old.

If it is ever allowable for a young man of twenty-six to give himself up to melancholy reflections, Jimmy Pitt might have been excused for doing so, at that moment. Nine years ago he had dropped out, or, to put it more exactly, had been kicked out, and had ceased to belong to London. And now he had returned to find himself in a strange city.

Jimmy Pitt's complete history would take long to write, for he had contrived to crowd much into those nine years. Abridged, it may be told as follows: There were two brothers, a good brother and a bad brother. Sir Eustace Pitt, the latter, married money. John, his younger brother, remained a bachelor. It may be mentioned, to check needless sympathy, that there was no rivalry between the two. John Pitt had not the slightest desire to marry the lady of his brother's choice, or any other lady. He was a self-sufficing man who from an early age showed signs of becoming some day a financial magnate.

Matters went on much the same after the marriage. John continued to go to the city, Eustace to the dogs. Neither brother had any money of his own, the fortune of the Pitts having been squandered to the ultimate farthing by the sportive gentleman who had held the title in the days of the regency, when White's and the Cocoa Tree were in their prime, and fortunes had a habit of disappearing in a single evening. Four years after the marriage, Lady Pitt died, and the widower, having spent three years and a half at Monte Carlo, working out an infallible system for breaking the bank, to the great contentment of Mons. Blanc and the management in general, proceeded to the gardens, where he shot himself in the orthodox manner, leaving many liabilities, few assets, and one son.

The good brother, by this time a man of substance in Lombard Street, adopted the youthful successor to the title, and sent him to a series of schools, beginning with a kindergarten and ending with Eton.

Unfortunately Eton demanded from Jimmy a higher standard of conduct than he was prepared to supply, and a week after his seventeenth birthday, his career as an Etonian closed prematurely. John Pitt thereupon delivered an ultimatum. Jimmy could choose between the smallest of small posts in his uncle's business, and one hundred pounds in banknotes, coupled with the usual handwashing and disowning. Jimmy would not have been his father's son if he had not dropped at the money. The world seemed full to him of possibilities for a young man of parts with a hundred pounds in his pocket.

He left for Liverpool that day, and for New York on the morrow.

For the next nine years he is off the stage, which is occupied by his Uncle John, proceeding from strength to strength, now head partner, next chairman of the company into which the business had been converted, and finally a member of Parliament, silent as a wax figure, but a great comfort to the party by virtue of liberal contributions to its funds.

It may be thought curious that he should make Jimmy his heir after what had happened; but it is possible that time had softened his resentment. Or he may have had a dislike for public charities, the only other claimant for his wealth. At any rate, it came about that Jimmy, reading in a Chicago paper that if Sir James Willoughby Pitt, baronet, would call upon Messrs. Snell, Hazlewood, and Delane, solicitors, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, he would hear of something to his advantage, had called and heard something very much to his advantage.

Wherefore we find him, on this night of July, supping in lonely magnificence at the Savoy, and feeling at the moment far less conscious of the magnificence than of the loneliness.

Watching the crowd with a jaundiced eye, Jimmy had found his attention attracted chiefly by a party of three a few tables away. The party consisted of a pretty girl, a lady of middle age and stately demeanor, plainly her mother, and a light-haired, weedy young man of about twenty. It had been the almost incessant prattle of this youth and the peculiarly high-pitched, gurgling laugh which shot from him at short intervals which had drawn Jimmy's notice upon them. And it was the curious cessation of both prattle and laugh which now made him look again in their direction.

The young man faced Jimmy; and Jimmy, looking at him, could see that all was not well with him. He was pale. He talked at random. A slight perspiration was noticeable on his forehead.

Jimmy caught his eye. There was a hunted look in it.

Given the time and the place, there were only two things which could have caused that look. Either the light-haired young man had seen a ghost, or he had suddenly realized that he had not enough money to pay the check.

Jimmy's heart went out to the sufferer. He took a card from his case, scribbled the words, "Can I help?" on it, and gave it to a waiter to take to the young man, who was now in a state bordering on collapse.

The next moment the light-haired one was at his table, talking in a feverish whisper.

"I say," he said, "it's frightfully good of you, old chap. It's frightfully awkward. I've come out with too little money. I hardly like to--What I mean to say is, you've never seen me before, and----"

"That's all right," said Jimmy. "Only too glad to help. It might have happened to any one. Will this be enough?"

He placed a five-pound note on the table. The young man grabbed at it with a rush of thanks.

"I say, thanks fearfully," he said. "I don't know what I'd have done. I'll let you have it back to-morrow. Here's my card. Blunt's my name. Spennie Blunt. Is your address on your card? I can't remember. Oh, by Jove, I've got it in my hand all the time." The gurgling laugh came into action again, freshened and strengthened by its rest. "Savoy Mansions, eh? I'll come round to-morrow. Thanks, frightfully, again old chap. I don't know what I should have done."

He flitted back to his table, bearing the spoil, and Jimmy, having finished his cigarette, paid his check, and got up to go.

It was a perfect summer night. He looked at his watch. There was time for a stroll on the Embankment before bed.

He was leaning on the balustrade, looking across the river at the vague, mysterious mass of buildings on the Surrey side, when a voice broke in on his thoughts.

"Say, boss. Excuse me."

Jimmy spun round. A ragged man with a crop of fiery red hair was standing at his side. The light was dim, but Jimmy recognized that hair.

"Spike!" he cried.

The other gaped, then grinned a vast grin of recognition.

"Mr. Chames! Gee, dis cops de limit!"

Three years had passed since Jimmy had parted from Spike Mullins, Red Spike to the New York police, but time had not touched him. To Jimmy he looked precisely the same as in the old New York days.

A policeman sauntered past, and glanced curiously at them. He made as if to stop, then walked on. A few yards away he halted. Jimmy could see him watching covertly. He realized that this was not the place for a prolonged conversation.

"Spike," he said, "do you know Savoy Mansions?"

"Sure. Foist to de left across de way."

"Come on there. I'll meet you at the door. We can't talk here. That cop's got his eye on us."

He walked away. As he went, he smiled. The policeman's inspection had made him suddenly alert and on his guard. Yet why? What did it matter to Sir James Pitt, baronet, if the whole police force of London stopped and looked at him?

"Queer thing, habit," he said, as he made his way across the road.

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