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The Gem Collector

The Gem Collector

Author:P. G. Wodehouse


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

  He felt old.

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

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

  Matters went on much the same after the marriage. John continued to goto the city, Eustace to the dogs. Neither brother had any money of hisown, the fortune of the Pitts having been squandered to the ultimatefarthing by the sportive gentleman who had held the title in the daysof the regency, when White's and the Cocoa Tree were in their prime,and fortunes had a habit of disappearing in a single evening. Fouryears after the marriage, Lady Pitt died, and the widower, havingspent three years and a half at Monte Carlo, working out an infalliblesystem for breaking the bank, to the great contentment of Mons. Blancand the management in general, proceeded to the gardens, where he shothimself 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 seriesof schools, beginning with a kindergarten and ending with Eton.

  Unfortunately Eton demanded from Jimmy a higher standard of conductthan he was prepared to supply, and a week after his seventeenthbirthday, his career as an Etonian closed prematurely. John Pittthereupon delivered an ultimatum. Jimmy could choose between thesmallest of small posts in his uncle's business, and one hundredpounds in banknotes, coupled with the usual handwashing and disowning.Jimmy would not have been his father's son if he had not dropped atthe money. The world seemed full to him of possibilities for a youngman 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 hisUncle John, proceeding from strength to strength, now head partner,next chairman of the company into which the business had beenconverted, and finally a member of Parliament, silent as a wax figure,but a great comfort to the party by virtue of liberal contributions toits funds.

  It may be thought curious that he should make Jimmy his heir afterwhat had happened; but it is possible that time had softened hisresentment. Or he may have had a dislike for public charities, theonly other claimant for his wealth. At any rate, it came about thatJimmy, 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 ofsomething to his advantage, had called and heard something very muchto his advantage.

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

  Watching the crowd with a jaundiced eye, Jimmy had found his attentionattracted chiefly by a party of three a few tables away. The partyconsisted of a pretty girl, a lady of middle age and stately demeanor,plainly her mother, and a light-haired, weedy young man of abouttwenty. It had been the almost incessant prattle of this youth and thepeculiarly high-pitched, gurgling laugh which shot from him at shortintervals which had drawn Jimmy's notice upon them. And it was thecurious cessation of both prattle and laugh which now made him lookagain in their direction.

  The young man faced Jimmy; and Jimmy, looking at him, could see thatall was not well with him. He was pale. He talked at random. A slightperspiration 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 couldhave caused that look. Either the light-haired young man had seen aghost, or he had suddenly realized that he had not enough money to paythe 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 totake 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 afeverish whisper.

  "I say," he said, "it's frightfully good of you, old chap. It'sfrightfully awkward. I've come out with too little money. I hardlylike 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 havehappened to any one. Will this be enough?"

  He placed a five-pound note on the table. The young man grabbed at itwith 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, byJove, I've got it in my hand all the time." The gurgling laugh cameinto action again, freshened and strengthened by its rest. "SavoyMansions, eh? I'll come round to-morrow. Thanks, frightfully, againold chap. I don't know what I should have done."

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

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

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

  "Say, boss. Excuse me."

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

  "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, RedSpike to the New York police, but time had not touched him. To Jimmyhe looked precisely the same as in the old New York days.

  A policeman sauntered past, and glanced curiously at them. He made asif to stop, then walked on. A few yards away he halted. Jimmy couldsee him watching covertly. He realized that this was not the place fora 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. Thatcop's got his eye on us."

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

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