THE HON. CHAS. WAVENY
Detective-Sergeant Bobby Owen looked with some surprise at the card his landlady had just brought him. It was one of his rare afternoons off, and he was on the point of starting for Lord’s in the hope that Mr. Hammond (90 not out at lunch) would still be batting when he got there. And now this interruption. Yet somehow it seemed to him that the name the card showed—The Hon. Chas. Waveny—was vaguely familiar.
Then recollection flooded back. Of course. It was that match between his own college—St. George’s—and Wadham. Bobby had been a member of the St. George’s rugby fifteen—he had even been tried for the University team—and in that St. George’s-Wadham match there had been a flying tackle that had somehow gone wrong and had ended with one of the other fellow’s boots in his face and the other boot pressed firmly home below his belt. How plainly now it came back to him; the mingled taste of mud and leather from the boot heel in his mouth, a tendency to hold himself together in the middle where he seemed to be coming apart, the blood streaming from his nose, his captain’s warmly expressed opinion that he was the most hopeless muff that ever threw a goal away and why was he sitting there, looking like a sea-sick rabbit?
It had been, Bobby remembered, the Hon. Charles’s boots of which he still seemed to taste the flavour, to feel the impress so firmly planted so exactly in his middle. Nothing like such happy memories of the past for bringing old friends together again; and though that was the only occasion on which Bobby and Mr. Waveny had come into such intimate contact, it was with a beaming face and an outstretched hand that Bobby went out into the hall where a cautious landlady, little impressed by some of Bobby’s visitors, had left the Hon. Chas. to wait.
“Hullo,” Bobby greeted him. “Haven’t seen you since I muffed that tackle and let you get through. Did me out of getting another chance for my blue. Come along in. How’s everything?”
Mr. Waveny was a tall, heavily built young man, already showing, as Bobby noticed with regret, a certain tendency to corpulence. He ought to have joined the police, Bobby thought. Eight hours a day directing traffic, or twenty-four hours a day chasing someone who wasn’t there, would have lessened the girth of that waistcoat, reduced the fleshiness that showed beneath those pale blue, slightly protuberant eyes. Not but that Waveny was still a fine figure of a man with his light curling hair, his prominent beaked nose above the fair moustache and somewhat small mouth and chin, and that general air of confidence and command which comes so naturally to those born into the British governing classes. But perhaps this was given him by that haughty nose of his that seemed as it were like a flag of triumph, planted there by nature itself. A ruthless, determined nose, Bobby thought, but a little at war with the small mouth and chin and the slightly surprised looking protuberant eyes. He accepted now the cigarette Bobby offered, did not answer the question put him, and coughed in an embarrassed way, a cough indeed quite unworthy of that fierce and domineering nose.
Bobby began to feel slightly uneasy. In the first exuberance of those happy memories of the past that had returned to him so vividly at the sight of Waveny’s card, he had been inclined to suppose his visitor had come out of pure friendliness, to chat, perhaps, over the jolly days when they had met upon the football field for a moment brief indeed but of poignant memory. But now he noticed that there was a worried look in Waveny’s eyes, a twitching at the corners of his mouth, a nervous movement of his toes inside his smart expensive looking shoes—nervousness often shows itself in movements of the feet people forget to control as they control their hands or their expression. He was fidgeting nervously, too, with the cane he was carrying—one of the variety known as Penang Lawyer. Its handle had been bound round with silver and Bobby noticed that this silver was badly dented as if from a heavy blow.
“You see, Owen,” began Mr. Waveny and paused.
Bobby was gloomily certain now of what was coming. There was often a kind of idea that as a member of the C.I.D. he could pull strings, influence the authorities, lend a helping hand to people who felt they both needed and deserved one. Bobby smiled grimly to himself at the idea of a sergeant pulling strings or exercising influence on the authorities to whom sergeants were just there to run errands and do as they were told. People couldn’t understand that, though. There had been one young woman, for instance, who had never forgiven him his plea of inability to secure the withdrawal of a summons for exceeding the speed limit.
“There wasn’t a creature in sight,” she explained, “and I wasn’t doing a bit more than fifty and it’s so unsporting for the police to be watching when you don’t know they are there. If I had seen them I should have slowed down at once,” she protested earnestly and since then, and her forty shilling fine, she had made a point of cutting Bobby dead.
Something of the same sort, Bobby began to suspect, must have caused this unexpected visit. In the hope of heading Waveny off, if that were possible, Bobby said:
“Not often I see any of the old crowd now. Any idea of how old Figgs is doing? Heard he was flying in Spain, but no one seemed to know for which side.”
Waveny did not avail himself of the opening. He said:
“There’s something I wanted to ask you.”
“Oh, my dear chap, don’t,” interposed Bobby hastily. “I never was good at conundrums. I say, that’s a jolly looking stick you’ve got—Penang Lawyers, they call them, don’t they? Handy thing to have when there’s a general row going on.”
This time Waveny responded. He bestowed a glance of pride upon what was almost as much a weapon as a walking-stick.
“I’ve got two,” he said. “A cousin of mine had a tea garden or something out there and when it went smash and he came home he brought them with him. I gave him a fiver for the two—just backed a winner,” he added, apparently in explanation of an evidently somewhat unusual fiver.
But then quite abruptly he remembered what he was there for, since indeed it is not easy to switch a nose like his from the path to which it points.
“I heard you had joined the police. That’s why I’m here,” he explained.
“My dear chap,” protested Bobby, “if it’s a police matter, you ought to go to H.Q.”
Waveny took no heed. He continued:
“It was a pal of mine in the Home Office told me about you.”
“Oh, Lord,” said Bobby.
“He told me the Home Secretary—”
“Now look here, Waveny, old man,” interrupted Bobby again, even more firmly this time. “The Home Secretary doesn’t know me from Adam, and I never set eyes on the blighter in my life. The only thing is when he was a kid he used to leave the milk at uncle’s back door, and now he’s so thundering cocky about it, he thinks he owns the whole family. I wish,” said Bobby bitterly, “he had drowned himself in his own milk can.”
Waveny ignored this. Bobby began to perceive that he was a young man of one idea, not easily diverted, a young man indeed of considerable perseverance. That nose, Bobby thought moodily.
“My pal didn’t know where you hung out,” Waveny went on, “so I looked up Lord Hirlpool—I knew he was your uncle.”
“He gave it away, I suppose,” Bobby said, meditating removal without letting any of his relatives know.
“It cost me a quid,” observed Waveny wistfully, a wistfulness of that small mouth and chin, not of the domineering nose. “He promised to pay it back next week.”
“Well, he won’t,” said Bobby viciously.
Waveny nodded with melancholy resignation.
“So I came along,” he said.
Bobby got up from his chair. He felt disturbed. It seemed to him that work threatened. And he had a feeling that now he would arrive at Lord’s just in time to see Mr. Hammond bowing his acknowledgements to the cheering crowds as he returned to the pavilion after scoring another double century or so. Waveny remained seated. It was evident his nose was in command now. No shifting a nose like that till it was ready to go.
“Do you know Dictator’s Way?” he asked. “It’s out by Epping Forest somewhere.”
Bobby stared. He knew Dictator’s Way very well but he did not wish to say so. Dictator’s Way was the name Mr. Judson, a wealthy city man, had given a stretch of roadway he had succeeded in closing to wheeled traffic, though not to pedestrians. There had been a good deal of talk about it at the time. Echoes of the controversy had even reached the London papers in the shape of indignant letters protesting against Mr. Judson’s high handed and intolerable action. He had been nicknamed ‘Dictator Judson,’ compared to Hitler, Stalin, and others of those picturesque contemporaries of ours who have done so much to bring back prosperity to the world by inducing us to spend all our money on battleships, bombs, tanks, and other pleasing and instructive toys of modern civilization. In defiance Mr. Judson had retorted, once he had established his legal right to bar wheeled traffic from the piece of road in dispute, by naming it ‘Dictator’s Way.’
As a matter of fact the whole thing had been very much a storm in a tea-cup, for in the upshot drivers had only to make a brief detour of a few hundred yards that in any case most would have made, both to avoid a sharp bend and for the sake of a better surface. Mr. Judson always protested that all the excitement had been worked up by a local paper anxious to prove its public spirit and to provide its patrons with interesting reading matter. All he really wanted, he said, was the right to prevent people parking their cars, making themselves a nuisance by picnicking there, especially on Bank holidays, and by blocking his own access to the gates admitting to the grounds of a big, rambling old house, known as The Manor, where he was then living.
All this had happened some time previously, it was indeed almost forgotten, even locally. The name, however, ‘Dictator’s Way,’ remained, though Mr. Judson had now left The Manor as his usual residence and was established in one of those huge new blocks of flats that of late years have risen in the West End of London like fungi in a field after heavy rain.
But recently Dictator’s Way and The Manor had been brought again, as Bobby knew, to the attention of the authorities. There were rumours that Mr. Judson not only used the house, since a block of West End flats must be respectable, as a convenient place where to meet his numerous and successive—even rapidly successive—lady friends, but that he also gave there parties at which cards were played for high stakes and at which sometimes were shown films that had not passed the censor.
But lady friends are no affair of Scotland Yard, the censor’s business is his own, and there was no proof that the play was anything but perfectly straightforward, even if occasionally foolish people lost foolish sums. Apparently, too, Mr. Judson was careful to admit none but his own friends, or those for whom his own personal friends vouched. The Yard indeed had taken steps to assure itself that strangers were never admitted, it had also discovered that such high personages as the Etrurian Ambassador were occasional visitors—the Etrurian Military Attaché was a frequent one and was known to have had heavy losses over which he shrugged the shoulders of resignation—and since there is nothing illegal about playing cards in a private house, would have entirely disinterested itself in Dictator’s Way and The Manor, but for vague, persistent, quite unsubstantiated rumours that occasionally the evenings did not pass off altogether peaceably. But then Mr. Judson was known to be liberal with his champagne and to possess an excellent brandy—a Denis Mounie of 1830, though not every one got that.
“There’s a city chap called Judson—” Waveny went on, but Bobby interrupted him.
“Look here, Waveny,” he said, “I don’t know what it’s all about, but if you think there’s anything wrong or have any information to give, it’s no good coming to me. You want to go to Scotland Yard. They’ll listen to you there. Or the nearest police-station. They’ll take it up all right, if there’s anything in it. All I could do anyhow would be to go round with you to the one in the High Street, and you can do that just as well by yourself—or better,” added Bobby, with a lingering thought of Lord’s and the sweet sound of Mr. Hammond’s bat meeting the ball full face.
“That’s just what I can’t do,” mumbled Waveny.
But Bobby was not listening. He was watching two newspaper sellers go by, the first with a placard announcing ‘Fresh European Crisis,’ the second proclaiming briefly: ‘Hammond Out.’
“I thought as much,” said Bobby bitterly, though not making it clear to which placard he referred.
“You see,” Waveny went on in his stolid, deliberate way, “there’s a girl.”
“I thought as much,” said Bobby again.
Waveny nodded. His nod seemed to say he was not disappointed in his estimate of Bobby’s intelligence and that he had fully expected Bobby to perceive the indicated presence of a girl.
“There’s a bounder, too, bothering her,” Waveny went on, “I ought to thrash within an inch of his life—or a bit more.” He spoke with such a sudden and unexpected vehemence that Bobby gave him a somewhat startled glance. Waveny continued more quietly: “Only, you see, you’ve got to keep her name out of it, so I thought I would come along to you.”