Simon Iff was considered a crank by many people; they based their opinion on those of his acts which were in reality severely rational.
But he had a little Temperament of his own, for all that; and it showed itself from time to time in sudden and acute attacks of discontentment with his environment. For instance, he would come in one evening and sit down to work, only to find himself conscious of a staleness in his surroundings. He would perhaps try to fight it off, discover that it was too strong for him, and put in an hour dragging the furniture all over the room into new positions.
At other times his routine of diet would become suddenly oppressive; on such occasions it was his practice to go out alone and find a restaurant where he had never eaten before. There he would search the bill of fare for some new kind of food, the wine list for some unfamiliar tipple. Disappointed, as a rule, in the quest, for the tendency to standarisation is an eternal menace to evolution, he would invent a meal for himself.
About a week after his return from Florida this mood took him. He went out on foot, and plunged into the tense and vital centres of crude life which makes Seventh and Eighth Avenues between Twenty-Third and Forty-Second Streets one of the most interesting districts in New York. It is, however, not a peculiarly happy hunting-ground for the disgruntled gourmet. But Simon, walking fast through the icy air, began to get an honest appetite; and he might have fallen into very bad hands had not his Fortune steered him to a fantastic inn called The Bas Bastion. Something in the manner of the exterior attracted him, and he entered to find a vast low-roofed room, where the tables were shut off from each other by wooden fences. The tables were innocent of napery, but each one was adorned with a dish of potato salad, which Simon, with true instinct, divined to be the supreme achievement of man's genius in that particular direction.
He sat down, and a waiter approached him. Alas! nothing on the bill of fare appealed to his mood. The Bas Bastion has the best steaks in New York, grilled over fires of hickory; but he cared not for steak.
The potato salad, however, entered by his nostrils with olfactory gust into every gate and alley of his body, thence flooded the brain with etherealized blood to such good purpose that he ordered slices of chicken, beef, ham, lobster and liver sausage to be tightly rolled in thin cylinders of dough, and baked. For drink, he concluded, let there be a great stein of that old musty ale laced with a wine-glassful of gin and another of rum; flavour the mixture with a tablespoonful of Crême de Noyau.
The magician secured the execution of this remarkable order by slipping a ten-dollar bill into the waiter's hand. It convinced the man that his weird guest was sane, instead of, as had been properer, confirming him in the impression that "the guy's bughouse."
So absorbed was the mystic in the sublunary sustenance of his novel banquet that it was only when he began to fill an old black meerschaum pipe of the 'Boer' pattern, modelled on a giant scale with heavy amber mouth-piece, that he perceived that one of the party of four at the next table was an acquaintence, one John Caudle, a very famous lawyer.
His genial nod was intercepted by the waiter, who informed Iff, trembling, that pipes were not allowed.
Simple Simon knocked out the tobacco, and rolled it in a piece of cigarette-paper before replacing it in his pipe.
"This, my friend, is a cigarette-holder. Decision of the Supreme Court of New York, January 30, 1910. Cyril Grey versus the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel."
The waiter immediately visualized himself and his proprietor as mulcted of half-a-million dollars apiece, and went off to inform the boss that Iff was a 'fly cop'.
The boss rang up the leading politicians in his district, appealing for protection, as he had voted the straight Republican ticket (both early and often) ever since 1886.
Simon completed his nod with added geniality. Caudle's gesture invited him over; as he lifted his third stein of 'Simon Pure', the name under which he had decided to market his new drink, and took the chair provided for him.
"Meet Mr. Gatt, Mr. Iff," said the lawyer. "Mr. Robinson, Mr. Carver." The two latter individuals were lawyers of great eminence, though not equal (in the House of Local Fame) to Caudle; Gatt was President of the Obelisk Publishing Company, which owned a number of rather vulgar magazines, such as "Thin Ice", "The Knuckle", "The Freudian", "Camembert", and "Smutty Stories".
"We were in the midst of a rather interesting discussion," said Caudle; "it might amuse you to hear it, though it is a purely legal problem."
"I should like very much to hear it," said Iff. "And may I order a round of drinks? I to pay if I fail to solve the problem."
"It's a bet," said Caudle heartily. "Go to it, Bob!"
Mr. Robinson cleared his throat. "My client, Mr. Iff, is a Mrs. Owen, a charming lady of Scandinavian blood. Her husband met her six years ago in Charleston, South Carolina, and married her in that city. I may tell you that South Carolina does not recognize the legality of divorce."
"My client," said Carver, after blowing his nose very vigorously, "is a Mrs. Owen, a charming lady of the purest African descent. Mr. Owen, having obtained a divorce from our friend Robinson's client in Reno, Nevada, came to New York City and married my client."
Caudle, sipping his claret, took up the tale. "My client," he echoed, "is a Mrs. Owen, a charming lady of French extraction. Mr. Owen, having occasion to travel to Atlanta, Georgia, found that his New York marriage was not recognized in that state. He has an almost equal horror of immorality and of the bachelor's estate, so he took the only possible course, and married my client."
"You must understand, Mr. Iff," put in Gatt, "these three women are all unquestionably Owen's legal wives."
"That is so," admitted Caudle. "But to continue. Business called Owen to Europe last year. For some reason unexplained - it does not concern us - he converted the whole of his holdings into cash, and bought diamonds with it - to the value of some six and a half million dollars. The ship on which he was returning to America was rammed and sunk in a fog about fifty miles off Nantucket. Owen, who had the diamonds in a belt, escaped in one of the boats, which was almost immediately picked up by the 'Maxuma', one of our latest battle-cruisers. Owen died an hour later from shock and exposure.
"He was intestate. I beg of you to note that his property is in Federal hands, and the problem is one concerning the conflicting claims of his three wives. South Carolina recognizes only No. 1, New York only No. 2, Georgia only No. 3. Who, in a word, gets the Diamonds?" He concluded with an air of mild pride in the complexities of his profession.
Iff scribbled two words on a slip of paper, and handed it to him. Caudle, after one glance, put it away immediately in his waistcoat pocket. "Gentlemen", he said somewhat hastily, "the drinks are on me. In fact, I will buy the next round also." And he called the waiter.
Robinson and Carver were mightily intrigued by this performance. They divined that the decision was against Caudle, and had rather frightened him. But which of them was the victor? They began to renew their arguments, when Gatt, scenting danger of a quarrel, broke in.
"Mr. Iff's perspicacity seems so eminently convincing to Caudle that I should like to consult him about a very mysterious robbery which has just taken place in my office."
"Do", said Simon. "I shall be delighted."
"My firm occupies the whole of the eighth floor of the Isadora Duncan Building. There are on one side the private offices of the principals, on the other a single very large room occupied by the staff of stenographers, bookkeepers, etc. The idea of the big room is to have them all superintended by a single overseer; it makes for efficiency.
"We close at five o'clock, but often have to keep some of the staff overtime. This however was not the case yesterday; by ten minutes past five every one had left.
"The offices are not locked; as soon as the staff vanish, the cleaners appear. The building officials and detectives make themselves responsible for the safety of property. There is in any case nothing much worth stealing; the cash is banked daily before closing hours.
"Well, sir, one of the girl stenographers, a Miss Vickers, came to me this morning in singular distress. One of the cashiers, leaving early, had given her a box of cigarettes to hand to one of our travelling men, who was expected to call. He did not do so, and she locked up the box in the drawer of her desk. This morning the drummer was on hand at 9 o'clock sharp, and she called him over to deliver her package. The drawer was still locked. But the cigarettes were gone.
"I came over to inspect the desk. Other girls, hearing the news, crowded round; several told similar tales of petty pilfering.
"There was nothing much in this. Any one of the cleaning staff - or some dishonest official of the building, for the matter of that - could easily work the trick with a set of skeleton keys. But here's the queer thing - a trifle, Mr. Iff, but devilish annoying, because it's such a stupid mystification! - Miss Vickers, while I stood talking, took the cover off her typewriter. Immediately she exclaimed. The machine had been smashed. It was a new model Wemyss, a machine constructed for hard wear and perfect work. It is consequently built of unusual strength, the cast steel frame being much more solid than is usual.
"This frame had been hammered with great violence - there were a dozen marks on it - and at last it had been smashed clean across. There is no sense in the business at all; it is the act of a madman."
"But when was it done? Such operations are noisy."
"That's what beats us. There was somebody on the floor the whole time. A sly thief might have come in and out at almost any time, even manipulating locks without attracting attention; but this blacksmith business! It's unthinkable."
"Very curious indeed," said Simon Iff without enthusiasm. "I should like to look into it."
"Of course we shall afford you every facility."
"Thanks," replied the magician with a queer little grin, "but I don't believe I shall have to trouble you at all. A couple of telephone messages and a morning call ought to do it; suppose you lunch with me and hear the story."
"That beats cock-fighting! But the lunch is on me if you make good on that. By Jiminy; say, may I bring along the editor of 'Jags'? He'll simply eat it up."
"I hope so, indeed," said Simon earnestly. "An editor with a poor appetite or a deranged liver is a public menace."
The party broke up soon after, and Simon Iff walked home to bed. His eccentric evening had been a great success. In the morning he woke deliciously normal, and after breakfast made the two telephone calls he had promised, and proceeded in his car to the Isadora Duncan Building. But he did not go to the eighth floor; he went to the ninth, and entered the tiny office of Hodge, Peet and Co., publishers of Indianapolis; New York Office, Mr. Greil.
There was a small antechamber almost filled by a big raw country girl with hair dyed yellow and lips and cheeks stained red. She was pounding away upon her machine, and did not stop as she looked up to inquire the visitor's business, which she did with the words "What's doin'?"
"I understand that Mr. Greil is rarely here before eleven."
"Therefore, as I do not in the least wish to see him, I made a point of calling a little before ten."
The girl was up on her feet, her eyes ablaze.
"What's the game?" she shouted defiantly.
Simple Simon raised himself to his full height. Till then he had kept a hand upon her table, as he bent over toward her.
"Suppose I were to tell you that the bulls have got Ned again?"
"Oh don't! Oh don't!" she sobbed wildly. "It's a shame; it's a damned shame, indeed it is. He's the dearest boy in the world."
She paused, and stared.
"Why, who are you? What d'ye know? Come across."
"I will, my dear young lady. I'm Simon Iff; middle name, A Friend in Need. Now sit down: The bulls have not got Ned - at least, they hadn't at nine o'clock this morning. But why am I a friend? To be frank, I came as an enemy. The Truth is this; when I saw you, I was sure you were straight. Also, that you were not the sort of girl to make a fool of herself over a man. I began to think that Ned might have been hardly used."
The girl had become calm. "Sit down, Mr. Simonev," she said, familiar with few but Ghetto names in business circles, "pleased to meet you. My name's Sadie White. Please tell me how you come to know Ned."
"I don't know Ned, or anything about him except that his other name is Grattan, and that he escaped from the custody of a detective, about three blocks from here, two days ago at a little after five o'clock in the afternoon."
"Why, that's right, too."
"Well, tell me the whole story."
"I guess I will. I'm all hot over it. See here, mister, Ned's the straightest boy in this dirty grafting burg. He hasn't got a cent, but he loves me, and I'm gonna wait like till he gets clear through college and puts up his shingle. 'Ts like this. All winter he studies up at Youghal, and lives by doing tailor work for some o' the rich guys in college. He's the fastest boy in the football team, too, so all summer when they ain't no work, he comes t' New York t' be near me, and grinds out the mazuma doin' the African Ball Dodger stunt in a show down at Coney, which just suits him, too, for he keeps up his swimming and sculling in his spare time. Now they just passed a law against that, y' know ..."
"Excuse me," said Iff, with a little cough, and a wry smile, "I don't quite know what an African Ball Dodger is."
"Why, he blacks his face and shoves his head through a hole in a canvas, and the boys throw wooden balls at it for coconuts. He was so quick they never hit him, not half a dozen times a day; he wuz just coinin' money for that show."
"So they passed a law?"
"Up in Albany. But the show went on; nobody ever knows here what the law will be from one day to the next, not even the judges. So one day the bulls drops in, and pinches the whole crowd, and Ned gets six months.
"Well, 'bout a week after one o' th' warders comes an' whispers to Ned. 'Beat it, kid!' he ses. So Ned lit out, and got clean off, into New Jersey where the law don't run. But o' course he could never come back in this state."
"There seem compensations even in so harsh a fate," murmured Simon Iff. "But is Ned really any good at his work? Strange - to an English ear - to hear of a student earning his living in such ways."
"Oh, it's the reg'lar thing here," said Sadie. "But clever, my! he's got three scholarships. But o' course he can't live on that."
"However, he got safe to Youghal, and played football and took his examination fine. Now and then he got a day off, and would come down the Hudson to see me.
"Well, one night I went over to Hoboken to meet him, and we went to the movies. Comin' back, Ned goes in a saloon for a drink or su'thin', an' the nex' thing is three men throwing him into a motor wagon.
"Four days after that he 'phones me to come out to Hoboken; they'd run him over to New York and dumped him in Central Park at two that morning. Sure 'nuff, the bulls was on him. When he gets to the station, the captain he says: Thow him in the cooler; he's a desprit character. An' two hours after that the captain comes an' unlocks him, an' ses: Go up ter my house, leg it, now, an' gives him the address. So off goes Ned, an' they treat him fine for two days, an' then the captain comes in one night late, an' ses: All right, kid, come along in th' old gas buggy. Then he runs him over to Hoboken. Good-night, ses he, and take care of yourself. Which he does till last week, when he thinks it's all forgotten, and he wasn't two hours in the city before they pinch him again. This time it's another frame-up - charge o' forgery - and he gets real scared. So he breaks away from the bull, an' ..."
"I know the rest," said Simon Iff. "Ned seems a much more important person - to somebody - than appears at first sight. Has he got any enemies that he knows of?"
"Nary one. Everybody likes Ned."
"It's very strange to me. The law appears equally anxious to arrest him and to let him go."
"Thasso. I never thought of that."
"By the way, here is a hundred dollars. You will know what to do with it."
"Oh, I couldn't take it. I can save it out of my salary."
"Nonsense. Besides, I want the matter settled this morning, for reasons of my own."
"All right. Thank you ever so much."
"I think I will run off now. Be at ease, my dear; I can promise you that Ned will come to no harm."
"Oh do do your best! You don't know how I love him!"
"Oh yes, I do. I've taken medals for it."
"Ned has medals, too," said the girl quite seriously. "He won the Elijah Blossom sculls two years running."
"Ah," said Iff, "I thought I knew the name."
Simon Iff walked down one flight of stairs, and looked in on Mr. Gatt. "I want to bring a friend to that little lunch if I may."
Gatt was quite charmed.
"Shall we say the Holland House at one?"
"It will suit admirably."
The magician went off in search of the friend at his club. He was rather in a hurry, for the friend kept very regular hours. At the stroke of eleven he invariably laid down his cue, whether the game was finished or not, and retired to sleep until dinner-time. Iff was well aware that, once in bed, he was less accessible than the Dalai Lama.
He found him, one Captain Lascelles, whose pet name was "Cheero", yawning his way through what proved to be a break of 121 18-inch baulk lime. Despite this, he was in bitter humour, for the blizzards had prevented him from enjoying his one passion, yachting, for over ten days.
"Hello, Cheero!" cried Simon, "and how's yourself!"
"Top hole, dear boy, but it's a dog's life. The bottom's dropped out of the damned barometer."
"Well, buck up. Can't last for ever. What d'ye say to a devilled kidney at the Holland House by way of a late supper?"
"Imposs! You know my rules. You've told me yourself a hundred times that a regular life is the key to good health - though I never saw you do it yourself!"
"I've a story for you - something you value more than health is at stake."
"Oho! a breeze from the nor'rard! Good. Simon Iff, you interest me strangely. Proceed with your esteemed narration. Nay, I must first castigate this presumptuous amateur."
His opponent had just failed at an easy one-cushion shot through trying too much for position.
"Let me introduce Major Bimis, of the United States Army. Mr. Iff."
"Glad to know you, sir!" said Bimis. "A cueist, sir?"
"Used to make 'em talk Chinese," said Lascelles, gathering the balls with a surperb three-cushion shot. "I once saw him run off thirty-one, on an English table, at Empstone Manor, blindfold. Allowed to feel where the balls were, before playing, wonderful, by Jove! That's my string, Bimis. So long: Mr. Iff wants to ask my advice; he's got to see a man about a dog. Oh Simon Iff, beware, if she's a blonde!"
Bimis, with a slight list to starboard, headed for the open sea.
Lascelles sank upon a chesterfield, while Simon Iff, one thigh upon a corner of the table, made caroms with a ball spun between finger and thumb. Lascelles made circles with his eyes and mouth as the old mystic snapped out his story; but he said nothing beyond the occasional ejaculation: "These are indeed deep waters, Watson!"
At the end he cried, "A walk across the Park, Iff, to chase away the clouds of sleep, to furnish me an appetite, and - above all - to get my monocle. We must not go among these criminals unarmed!"
Captain Lascelles R.N. was the youngest Captain in the British Navy. He was generally admitted to be the Grand Panjandrum in matters of gunnery, and he was Iff's right hand man in the Secret Mission which had brought him to the United States. But the British and American publics only knew of him as the yachtsman, and patron of all forms of sport. He was particularly famous for madcap pranks, but nobody doubted his seriousness and integrity when need arose for its display. He was a steward of the Jockey Club, and had once won a match - impromptu - against Lord Abinghame over the Derby course by moonlight; thereby disposing of the theory that a sailor cannot sit a horse.
Luncheon at the Holland House was for five instead of four, as Gatt, inviting the editor of "Jags", a humble person with goloshes, umbrella, no chest, a perpetual snuffle, a taste for ice-cream soda, and a wife who beat him, found himself obliged to include the editor of "Smutty Stories", in the party. This was a long lean Yankee with a Nonconformist (or New England) Conscience, sallow, wrinkled, spectacled with huge disks of horn, sharp-nosed, long-toothed, with a thin mouth that had never been seen to smile.
This lugubrious pair were inseparable companions; they had dined at each other's houses, on 177th Street, alternate nights without a break, for nearly twenty years.
After dinner each would produce a bundle of manuscripts, and peruse them conscientiously with many a groan.
They kept humbly behind the great Gatt, and could hardly be persuaded to sit at the table with so obviously distinguished an individual as a Captain in the British Navy, complete, with a monocle more dreadful than a Nordenfeldt.
Gatt, however, was in his glory. Here was a first-class detective story in real life, and he was to be present at the Ceremony of Unveiling.
He introduced the subject by recounting the dinner at the Bas Bastion, and telling the Story of the Man with the Three Wives. "And Mr. Iff," he concluded, "just scribbled on a piece of paper, and passed it to Caudle. I never saw any one so crushed. The great Caudle! It was a treat, believe me! Mr. Iff, I'd give a hundred dollars to know what you wrote on that paper. Who gets the diamonds?"
"The lawyers," said Iff, laconically.
Gatt was delighted.
"And now, do tell us, have you solved our little mystery of the Broken Typewriter?"
"Just one question, Mr. Gatt. You are a member of the Pi Omicron Xi Frat, are you not?"
"I am. I am on several of the Committees."
"The Frat is restricted to old Kingsbridge graduates, I think?"
"It is, Mr. Iff."
"But what has that to do with our mystery?"
"Much, Mr. Gatt. I shall have a request to prefer, a little later. Allow me to explain.
"The outrages in your office fall naturally into two parts, as you yourself saw. There was some pilfering, which almost anybody might have done. The means would be simple, the motive obvious. But the thief would be a sly sneaky person, I imagine, one liable to take instant alarm."
"The man - the person - who broke your - the - machine, would on the contrary, be perfectly fearless, ready for violence, careless of consequence."
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Two people, not one, then?"
"I quite follow you."
"But - how did this person do it? And when? And why? Answer those questions, and Who did it? soon answers itself."
"Quite so, Mr. Iff."
"The how and when are very awkward, though. At the only possible times there were people actually at work in the office. Why did nobody hear the clang of those repeated blows upon that exceptionaly solid steel?
"As to the why, it is a regular stumper!"
"I see the difficulties very clearly, Mr. Iff."
"Who is benefited by the smashing up of the machine? Nobody. Who is injured? Your two-million dollar corporation. A hayseed on an elephant's back! I therefore concluded that the breaking was an accident, an incident in some purposeful act. Now, how could that be? Any idea?"
Mr. Gatt considered.
"If some one had thrown the machine at somebody?"
"Not bad," smiled Iff. "Really a very creditable conjecture. Apart from the fact of the repeated blows, quite satisfactory. But when? - and how? - and -"
He broke off, and leaned over impressively to Gatt. His voice took on a grave and majestic intonation. But all he said was: "And - where?"
Mr. Gatt looked genuinely puzzled.
"It could not have been done in your office. Therefore it must have been done somewhere else. But who would take away a typewriter, break it, and put it back? It is absurd. I decided, Mr. Gatt, that the broken machine is not your machine at all."
Gatt gasped his amazement. The editors nudged each other with a kind of surly pleasure. Lascelles continued to contemplate his chop with distant contempt, as if it had been a hostile cruiser on the horizon.
"Then, whose machine was it? It belonged, I thought, to some one in the building, since nobody could have entered or left after the regular closing hours, carrying such a bulky object, without arousing comment. So I rang up the Wemyss Typewriter Company. Yes, they had supplied a new machine, six weeks before, to a Mr. Greil. But was Mr. Greil a lunatic? I hoped not. Now think, Mr. Gatt! To what use could one put that very solid frame? Why hammer it? There is no conceivable reason. But - might not somebody use its power of resistence? To hammer it is silly - but to use it as an anvil? - to crack some hard substance upon it? - sounds more like sense.
"Now think again. What can Mr. Greil wish to crack? Mr. Greil though? Would he, for the sake of a hundred dollars, take such a long chance as to bring the broken machine down to your room and take yours up to his? Unlikely. It must be a subordinate of Greil's. Someone who would fear the result of the discovery of what had happened.
"So much for the who, for it turns out that Greil has only one subordinate. Now turn to the why, shall we?
"What in Heaven's name can a clerk - a girl in an office - want to crack in such a hurry, with so awkward an anvil, in a place where discovery meant trouble? Why not take it home and smash what had to be smashed?
"I could only think of one thing - a chain. I call up my friend Teake, of the Police. The only escaped prisoner in the offing is one Ned Grattan, arrested that same afternoon for forgery. So I trotted up to Greil's office and got the girl to tell me the whole story. You may be glad to learn, Mr. Gatt, that she has sent your cashier a hundred dollars in payment for the borrowed machine."
Gatt somehow felt uncomfortable, though he could hardly have told why. Possibly it was some side-consciousness of the monocle of Captain Lascelles, which appeared to be aimed at a piece of cheese, hull down, of low visibility.
"I say, Mr. Gatt," drawled the owner of this formidable engine of offence in a thin dry far-away voice, "the fact is, Mr. Iff and I have come about a little matter of sport. You see, this fellow Grattan is the only man that can beat our first string, Bruce of Balliol, for the Diamond Sculls at Henley this summer, and you can imagine that naturally we don't want him to compete. We just thought we might do something, see? And I remembered that you were prominent as a Kingsbridge man, aren't you? and you certainly don't want to see a Youghal man pull off anything, do you? Eh?"
"We don't want him to stroke Youghal this spring, surely," said Gatt. "If we lick 'em, our eight goes to Henley."
"That will be A.1., then, if he's in quod over this forgery, what?"
"I'm concerned deeply," put in Simon Iff; "you get him all right, but he keeps on escaping."
"Lookee here," exclaimed Gatt, in a burst of confidence, feeling himself a person of international importance. "There's a pot of money behind this, bets, and all that. So we put that little law through up at Albany to frame him. Only they've got Youghal fans in the police, and they always manage to let him go. There's a hell of a leak somewhere. So we thought we'd fix him proper with a forgery charge. More serious, you understand. We got a hand-picked judge or two, and we'll have it dead to rights. If he did escape, they couldn't let a convicted forger row for them. Besides, the Federal Government would be on to it. You can sleep easy, gentlemen. Grattan won't row."
"Thank you very much," said Simon Iff. "Captain Lascelles will now fire his monocle."
The navel officer turned on Mr. Gatt, as who should sight a periscope among a welter of drowned women and children.
"Sir," he said, and his voice sounded at least three thousand miles away, "would you kindly inform the Pi Omicron Xi Frat - I do not think you need inform the Kingsbridge Boat Club - I hope not - that unless Ned Grattan rows for Youghal against you, and unless he competes in the Diamonds, we in England shall not race against any Kingsbridge crew. And we shall publish the reasons for our decision."
"Good gracious, you don't mean it," stammered Gatt. "This is a joke, Captain, of course."
"Judging from the expression of Captain Lascelles, Mr. Gatt, my opinion is that he was never quite so serious in his life." Simon smiled cheerfully.
"Damn it! I don't understand it. I thought you were a sportsman."
"From that," said Lascelles stiffly, "I beg to be excused."
"But you can't want your own man beaten!" wailed Gatt.
"No," said Iff. "We want him to win. Now I put it to your very strong common sense, how can he win without an opponent? He must have an opponent, in his own interest, you see that? Then we must not be stingy about it; we must get him the best opponent available."
"Iff," said Lascelles, "forgive me, but your humour is ill-timed. Personally, I can't stick this. Come and dine at the club to-night. Righto!
"Here, waiter, take this. It's my check."
He gave the man a twenty-dollar bill, and walked out without another glance at Gatt.
"Mr. Iff," said that unhappy man, "what in hell am I to do?"
"Read your Bible," replied the magician. "Eleventh Commandment, as you know: Thou shat not be found out. Twelfth: When you are, play the game. I don't want this filthy business published. Kingsbridge is as fine as Youghal. It's only you and a low gang of blackguards, with your crooked politicians and your hand-picked judges - you don't stand even for the main body of your Frat. I shall go round to your committee, by the way, and advise them to look into this business, for their own sakes."
"How did you get on to it?" Gatt was twitching his fingers nervously.
"Oh, it was as plain as a headline. Why should any one trouble to frame up this poor hardworking devil? (He has a damned fine girl, by the way.) He was a nobody. Personel jealousies wouldn't explain it. Ned Grattan, somehow or other, was a public character. Of course: Sport. That told me at once: Kingsbridge was the only rival worth considering. I had no idea you were in it, of course; Lascelles meant to deliver his ultimatum to you merely as a convenient ambassador. That was why he put things - er - the wrong way round; and you very kindly gave yourself away.
"And now I must confess that his attitude has somewhat hypnotised me; I am feeling exceedingly unwell, and I will stroll up to your Frat House while you explain to your false witnesses and hand-picked judges that it won't do this time."
He got up and walked away.
That summer the Youghal eight only lost to First Trinity in the final, and Ned Grattan made a dead heat with Bruce of Balliol in the Diamond Sculls.
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