Ruggles of Red Gap

Ruggles of Red Gap

RUGGLES OF RED GAP HARRY LEON WILSON 1915 [Dedication] TO HELEN COOKE WILSON CHAPTER ONE At 6:30 in our Paris apartment I had finished the Honourable George performing those final touches that make the difference between a man well turned out and a man merely dressed. In the main I was not dissatisfied. His dress waistcoats it is true no longer permit the inhalation of anything like a full breath and his collars clasp too closely. (I have always held that a collar may provide quite ample room for the throat without sacrifice of smartness if the depth be at least two and one quarter inches.) And it is no secret to either the Honourable George or our intimates that I have never approved his fashion of beard a reddish enveloping brushlike affair never nicely enough trimmed. I prefer indeed no beard at all but he stubbornly refuses to shave possessing a difficult chin. Still I repeat he was not nearly impossible as he now left my hands. "Dining with the Americans" he remarked as I conveyed the hat gloves and stick to him in their proper order. "Yes sir" I replied. "And might I suggest sir that your choice be a grilled undercut or something simple bearing in mind the undoubted effects of shell-fish upon one's complexion?" The hard truth is that after even a very little lobster the Honourable George has a way of coming out in spots. A single oyster patty too will often spot him quite all over. "What cheek! Decide that for myself" he retorted with a lame effort at dignity which he was unable to sustain. His eyes fell from mine. "Besides I'm almost quite certain that the last time it was the melon. Wretched things melons!" Then as if to divert me he rather fussily refused the correct evening stick I had chosen for him and seized a knobby bit of thornwood suitable only for moor and upland work and brazenly quite discarded the gloves. "Feel a silly fool wearing gloves when there's no reason!" he exclaimed pettishly. "Quite so sir" I replied freezing instantly. "Now don't play the juggins" he retorted. "Let me be comfortable. And I don't mind telling you I stand to win a hundred quid this very evening." "I dare say" I replied. The sum was more than needed but I had cause to be thus cynical. "From the American Johnny with the eyebrows" he went on with a quite pathetic enthusiasm. "We're to play their American game of poker--drawing poker as they call it. I've watched them play for near a fortnight. It's beastly simple. One has only to know when to bluff." "A hundred pounds yes sir. And if one loses----" He flashed me a look so deucedly queer that it fair chilled me. "I fancy you'll be even more interested than I if I lose" he remarked in tones of a curious evenness that were somehow rather deadly. The words seemed pregnant with meaning but before I could weigh them I heard him noisily descending the stairs. It was only then I recalled having noticed that he had not changed to his varnished boots having still on his feet the doggish and battered pair he most favoured. It was a trick of his to evade me with them. I did for them each day all that human boot-cream could do but they were things no sensitive gentleman would endure with evening dress. I was glad to reflect that doubtless only Americans would observe them. So began the final hours of a 14th of July in Paris that must ever be memorable. My own birthday it is also chosen by the French as one on which to celebrate with carnival some one of those regrettable events in their own distressing past. To begin with the day was marked first of all by the breezing in of his lordship the Earl of Brinstead brother of the Honourable George on his way to England from the Engadine. More peppery than usual had his lordship been his grayish side-whiskers in angry upheaval and his inflamed words exploding quite all over the place so that the Honourable George and I had both perceived it to be no time for admitting our recent financial reverse at the gaming tables of Ostend. On the contrary we had gamely affirmed the last quarter's allowance to be practically untouched--a desperate stand indeed! But there was that in his lordship's manner to urge us to it though even so he appeared to be not more than half deceived. "No good greening me!" he exploded to both of us. "Tell in a flash--gambling or a woman--typing-girl milliner dancing person what what! Guilty faces both of you. Know you too well. My word what what!" Again we stoutly protested while his lordship on the hearthrug rocked in his boots and glared. The Honourable George gamely rattled some loose coin of the baser sort in his pockets and tried in return for a glare of innocence foully aspersed. I dare say he fell short of it. His histrionic gifts are but meagre. "Fools quite fools both of you!" exploded his lordship anew. "And make it worse no longer young fools. Young and a fool people make excuses. Say 'Fool? Yes but so young!' But old and a fool--not a word to say what what! Silly rot at forty." He clutched his side-whiskers with frenzied hands. He seemed to comb them to a more bristling rage. "Dare say you'll both come croppers. Not surprise me. Silly old George course course! Hoped better of Ruggles though. Ruggles different from old George. Got a brain. But can't use it. Have old George wed to a charwoman presently. Hope she'll be a worker. Need to be--support you both what what!" I mean to say he was coming it pretty thick since he could not have forgotten that each time I had warned him so he could hasten to save his brother from distressing mesalliances. I refer to the affair with the typing-girl and to the later entanglement with a Brixton milliner encountered informally under the portico of a theatre in Charing Cross Road. But he was in no mood to concede that I had thus far shown a scrupulous care in these emergencies. Peppery he was indeed. He gathered hat and stick glaring indignantly at each of them and then at us. "Greened me fair haven't you about money? Quite so quite so! Not hear from you then till next quarter. No telegraphing--no begging letters. Shouldn't a bit know what to make of them. Plenty you got to last. Say so yourselves." He laughed villainously here. "Morning" said he and was out. "Old Nevil been annoyed by something" said the Honourable George after a long silence. "Know the old boy too well. Always tell when he's been annoyed. Rather wish he hadn't been." So we had come to the night of this memorable day and to the Honourable George's departure on his mysterious words about the hundred pounds. Left alone I began to meditate profoundly. It was the closing of a day I had seen dawn with the keenest misgiving having had reason to believe it might be fraught with significance if not disaster to myself. The year before a gypsy at Epsom had solemnly warned me that a great change would come into my life on or before my fortieth birthday. To this I might have paid less heed but for its disquieting confirmation on a later day at a psychic parlour in Edgware Road. Proceeding there in company with my eldest brother-in-law a plate-layer and surfaceman on the Northern (he being uncertain about the Derby winner for that year) I was told by the person for a trifle of two shillings that I was soon to cross water and to meet many strange adventures. True later events proved her to have been psychically unsound as to the Derby winner (so that my brother-in-law who was out two pounds ten thereby threatened to have an action against her); yet her reference to myself had confirmed the words of the gypsy; so it will be plain why I had been anxious the whole of this birthday. For one thing I had gone on the streets as little as possible though I should naturally have done that for the behaviour of the French on this bank holiday of theirs is repugnant in the extreme to the sane English point of view--I mean their frivolous public dancing and marked conversational levity. Indeed in their soberest moments they have too little of British weight. Their best-dressed men are apparently turned out not by menservants but by modistes. I will not say their women are without a gift for wearing gowns and their chefs have unquestionably got at the inner meaning of food but as a people at large they would never do with us. Even their language is not based on reason. I have had occasion for example to acquire their word for bread which is "pain." As if that were not wild enough they mispronounce it atrociously. Yet for years these people have been separated from us only by a narrow strip of water! By keeping close to our rooms then I had thought to evade what of evil might have been in store for me on this day. Another evening I might have ventured abroad to a cinema palace but this was no time for daring and I took a further precaution of locking our doors. Then indeed I had no misgiving save that inspired by the last words of the Honourable George. In the event of his losing the game of poker I was to be even more concerned than he. Yet how could evil come to me even should the American do him in the eye rather frightfully? In truth I had not the faintest belief that the Honourable George would win the game. He fancies himself a card-player though why he should God knows. At bridge with him every hand is a no-trumper. I need not say more. Also it occurred to me that the American would be a person not accustomed to losing. There was that about him. More than once I had deplored this rather Bohemian taste of the Honourable George which led him to associate with Americans as readily as with persons of his own class; and especially had I regretted his intimacy with the family in question. Several times I had observed them on the occasion of bearing messages from the Honourable George--usually his acceptance of an invitation to dine. Too obviously they were rather a handful. I mean to say they were people who could perhaps matter in their own wilds but they would never do with us. Their leader with whom the Honourable George had consented to game this evening was a tall careless-spoken person with a narrow dark face marked with heavy black brows that were rather tremendous in their effect when he did not smile. Almost at my first meeting him I divined something of the public man in his bearing a suggestion perhaps of the confirmed orator a notion in which I was somehow further set by the gesture with which he swept back his carelessly falling forelock. I was not surprised then to hear him referred to as the "Senator." In some unexplained manner the Honourable George who is never as reserved in public as I could wish him to be had chummed up with this person at one of the race-tracks and had thereafter been almost quite too pally with him and with the very curious other members of his family--the name being Floud. The wife might still be called youngish a bit florid in type plumpish with yellow hair though to this a stain had been applied leaving it in deficient consonance with her eyebrows; these shading grayish eyes that crackled with determination. Rather on the large side she was forcible of speech and manner yet curiously eager I had at once detected for the exactly correct thing in dress and deportment. The remaining member of the family was a male cousin of the so-called Senator his senior evidently by half a score of years since I took him to have reached the late fifties. "Cousin Egbert" he was called and it was at once apparent to me that he had been most direly subjugated by the woman whom he addressed with great respect as "Mrs. Effie." Rather a seamed and drooping chap he was with mild whitish-blue eyes like a porcelain doll's a mournfully drooped gray moustache and a grayish jumble of hair. I early remarked his hunted look in the presence of the woman. Timid and soft-stepping he was beyond measure. Such were the impressions I had been able to glean of these altogether queer people during the fortnight since the Honourable George had so lawlessly taken them up. Lodged they were in an hotel among the most expensive situated near what would have been our Trafalgar Square and I later recalled that I had been most interestedly studied by the so-called "Mrs. Effie" on each of the few occasions I appeared there. I mean to say she would not be above putting to me intimate questions concerning my term of service with the Honourable George Augustus Vane-Basingwell the precise nature of the duties I performed for him and even the exact sum of my honourarium. On the last occasion she had remarked--and too well I recall a strange glitter in her competent eyes--"You are just the man needed by poor Cousin Egbert there--you could make something of him. Look at the way he's tied that cravat after all I've said to him." The person referred to here shivered noticeably stroked his chin in a manner enabling him to conceal the cravat and affected nervously to be taken with a sight in the street below. In some embarrassment I withdrew conscious of a cold speculative scrutiny bent upon me by the woman. If I have seemed tedious in my recital of the known facts concerning these extraordinary North American natives it will I am sure be forgiven me in the light of those tragic developments about to ensue. Meantime let me be pictured as reposing in fancied security from all evil predictions while I awaited the return of the Honourable George. I was only too certain he would come suffering from an acute acid dyspepsia for I had seen lobster in his shifty eyes as he left me; but beyond this I apprehended nothing poignant and I gave myself up to meditating profoundly upon our situation. Frankly it was not good. I had done my best to cheer the Honourable George but since our brief sojourn at Ostend and despite the almost continuous hospitality of the Americans he had been having to put it bluntly an awful hump. At Ostend despite my remonstrance he had staked and lost the major portion of his quarter's allowance in testing a system at the wheel which had been warranted by the person who sold it to him in London to break any bank in a day's play. He had meant to pause but briefly at Ostend for little more than a test of the system then proceed to Monte Carlo where his proposed terrific winnings would occasion less alarm to the managers. Yet at Ostend the system developed such grave faults in the first hour of play that we were forced to lay up in Paris to economize. For myself I had entertained doubts of the system from the moment of its purchase for it seemed awfully certain to me that the vendor would have used it himself instead of parting with it for a couple of quid he being in plain need of fresh linen and smarter boots to say nothing of the quite impossible lounge-suit he wore the night we met him in a cab shelter near Covent Garden. But the Honourable George had not listened to me. He insisted the chap had made it all enormously clear; that those mathematical Johnnies never valued money for its own sake and that we should presently be as right as two sparrows in a crate. Fearfully annoyed I was at the denouement. For now we were in Paris rather meanly lodged in a dingy hotel on a narrow street leading from what with us might have been Piccadilly Circus. Our rooms were rather a good height with a carved cornice and plaster enrichments but the furnishings were musty and the general air depressing notwithstanding the effect of a few good mantel ornaments which I have long made it a rule to carry with me. Then had come the meeting with the Americans. Glad I was to reflect that this had occurred in Paris instead of London. That sort of thing gets about so. Even from Paris I was not a little fearful that news of his mixing with this raffish set might get to the ears of his lordship either at the town house or at Chaynes-Wotten. True his lordship is not over-liberal with his brother but that is small reason for affronting the pride of a family that attained its earldom in the fourteenth century. Indeed the family had become important quite long before this time the first Vane-Basingwell having been beheaded by no less a personage than William the Conqueror as I learned in one of the many hours I have been privileged to browse in the Chaynes-Wotten library. It need hardly be said that in my long term of service with the Honourable George beginning almost from the time my mother nursed him I have endeavoured to keep him up to his class combating a certain laxness that has hampered him. And most stubborn he is and wilful. At games he is almost quite a duffer. I once got him to play outside left on a hockey eleven and he excited much comment some of which was of a favourable nature but he cares little for hunting or shooting and though it is scarce a matter to be gossiped of he loathes cricket. Perhaps I have disclosed enough concerning him. Although the Vane-Basingwells have quite almost always married the right people the Honourable George was beyond question born queer. Again in the matter of marriage he was difficult. His lordship having married early into a family of poor lifes was now long a widower and meaning to remain so he had been especially concerned that the Honourable George should contract a proper alliance. Hence our constant worry lest he prove too susceptible out of his class. More than once had he shamefully funked his fences. There was the distressing instance of the Honourable Agatha Cradleigh. Quite all that could be desired of family and dower she was thirty-two years old a bit faded though still eager with the rather immensely high forehead and long thin slightly curved Cradleigh nose. The Honourable George at his lordship's peppery urging had at last consented to a betrothal and our troubles for a time promised to be over but it came to precisely nothing. I gathered it might have been because she wore beads on her gown and was interested in uplift work or that she bred canaries these birds being loathed by the Honourable George with remarkable intensity though it might equally have been that she still mourned a deceased fiance of her early girlhood a curate I believe whose faded letters she had preserved and would read to the Honourable George at intimate moments weeping bitterly the while. Whatever may have been his fancied objection--that is the time we disappeared and were not heard of for near a twelvemonth. Wondering now I was how we should last until the next quarter's allowance. We always had lasted but each time it was a different way. The Honourable George at a crisis of this sort invariably spoke of entering trade and had actually talked of selling motor-cars pointing out to me that even certain rulers of Europe had frankly entered this trade as agents. It might have proved remunerative had he known anything of motor-cars but I was more than glad he did not for I have always considered machinery to be unrefined. Much I preferred that he be a company promoter or something of that sort in the city knowing about bonds and debentures as many of the best of our families are not above doing. It seemed all he could do with propriety having failed in examinations for the army and the church and being incurably hostile to politics which he declared silly rot. Sharply at midnight I aroused myself from these gloomy thoughts and breathed a long sigh of relief. Both gipsy and psychic expert had failed in their prophecies. With a lightened heart I set about the preparations I knew would be needed against the Honourable George's return. Strong in my conviction that he would not have been able to resist lobster I made ready his hot foot-bath with its solution of brine-crystals and put the absorbent fruit-lozenges close by together with his sleeping-suit his bed-cap and his knitted night-socks. Scarcely was all ready when I heard his step. He greeted me curtly on entering swiftly averting his face as I took his stick hat and top-coat. But I had seen the worst at one glance. The Honourable George was more than spotted--he was splotchy. It was as bad as that. "Lobster _and_ oysters" I made bold to remark but he affected not to have heard and proceeded rapidly to disrobe. He accepted the foot-bath without demur pulling a blanket well about his shoulders complaining of the water's temperature and demanding three of the fruit-lozenges. "Not what you think at all" he then said. "It was that cursed bar-le-duc jelly. Always puts me this way and you quite well know it." "Yes sir to be sure" I answered gravely and had the satisfaction of noting that he looked quite a little foolish. Too well he knew I could not be deceived and even now I could surmise that the lobster had been supported by sherry. How many times have I not explained to him that sherry has double the tonic vinosity of any other wine and may not be tampered with by the sensitive. But he chose at present to make light of it almost as if he were chaffing above his knowledge of some calamity. "Some book Johnny says a chap is either a fool or a physician at forty" he remarked drawing the blanket more closely about him. "I should hardly rank you as a Harley Street consultant sir" I swiftly retorted which was slanging him enormously because he had turned forty. I mean to say there was but one thing he could take me as meaning him to be since at forty I considered him no physician. But at least I had not been too blunt the touch about the Harley Street consultant being rather neat I thought yet not too subtle for him. He now demanded a pipe of tobacco and for a time smoked in silence. I could see that his mind worked painfully. "Stiffish lot those Americans" he said at last. "They do so many things one doesn't do" I answered. "And their brogue is not what one could call top-hole is it now? How often they say 'I guess!' I fancy they must say it a score of times in a half-hour." "I fancy they do sir" I agreed. "I fancy that Johnny with the eyebrows will say it even oftener." "I fancy so sir. I fancy I've counted it well up to that." "I fancy you're quite right. And the chap 'guesses' when he awfully well knows too. That's the essential rabbit. To-night he said 'I guess I've got you beaten to a pulp' when I fancy he wasn't guessing at all. I mean to say I swear he knew it perfectly." "You lost the game of drawing poker?" I asked coldly though I knew he had carried little to lose. "I lost----" he began. I observed he was strangely embarrassed. He strangled over his pipe and began anew: "I said that to play the game soundly you've only to know when to bluff. Studied it out myself and jolly well right I was too as far as I went. But there's further to go in the silly game. I hadn't observed that to play it greatly one must also know when one's opponent is bluffing." "Really sir?" "Oh really; quite important I assure you. More important than one ...