Roy Glashan's Library
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PETER CHEYNEY

CHRISTMAS WITH A PUNCH

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RGL e-Book Cover 2017



Published under syndication in, e.g.,
The Chronicle, Adelaide, Australia, 10 Dec 1931
Sussex Agricultural Express, East Sussex, England, 23 Dec 1931

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-09-04
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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THE unfortunate Sebastian Erasmus Bealby gazed tremulously over the tops of his spectacles and waited for the storm to break. He had not long to wait.

"Bealby," said his wife, as she put down the teapot with unusual decision, "may I ask why the coal was not brought up this morning? May I ask why my early tea was half an hour late? May I ask whether you intend to carry out your household duties or whether you intend to continue with this slackness permanently?" She paused, a piece of toast poised in her hand. Sebastian blinked across the breakfast table.

"You see, my dear, it's the overtime," he said. "You will remember that I've been working late every night. Last night I wasn't home until eleven. Christmas is always such a bad time for us—there's so much to do, and I'm afraid that I overslept this morning.'

The teeth of Mrs. Bealby snapped over the piece of toast. Sebastian felt as if he, almost, were within those jaws and that the white teeth were crunching him. "Very well, Bealby," said his wife, "instead of your usual twenty cigarettes this week I shall only allow you ten. You must be taught punctuality, although—goodness knows—you ought to have learned it by this time!"

"But, my dear," stammered Sebastian.

"That will do, Bealby," said his wife.

A deep silence reigned.


HURRYING to catch the 9.30, with his feet slipping over the snowy pavements, Sebastian observed, with envy, the large and manly form of Mr. Hubert Wyblot some ten yards in front of him. Wyblot was a lucky man, thought Bealby. He was respected and feared by his wife. The Wyblots lived next door to the Bealbys, and the walls were thin. Time and time again Mr. Bealby had heard Wyblot laying down the law to his pretty wife. Time and time again he heard the enterprising Hubert "telling off" his better half for some imagined grievance.

Sebastian sympathised with Margaret Wyblot. She was young and pretty; she adored Hubert, and she allowed him to walk over her. His word was law in the house. What a contrast to himself, thought Sebastian. In his house the situation was reversed. His life was a misery. He was henpecked and unhappy. His cigarettes and a few shillings to spend were doled out to him each week.

Sebastian never remembered just how all this business had started. Vaguely, he remembered times in the past when his wife had been charming and kind. Indeed, she was still attractive, but she was master in the house and everywhere else, and she let Sebastian know it—as often as possible.

In front Wyblot was hurrying. Sebastian realised that if he did not hurry, too, he would miss the 9.30. He increased his pace, trod on a piece of ice, described a semi-circle in the air, and fell with a crash on that spot intended by Nature for such business. Ruefully he picked himself up, brushed the loose snow from his clothes, and rubbed himself dolefully. Then he hurried towards the station and arrived—just in time to see the 9.30 steaming out. Wyblot, as usual, had just managed to catch it. Wyblot would!

Sebastian sat down and thought. This would mean that he would be half an hour late at the office. It would also mean that Mr. Larkins, the senior partner, would send for him and give him a good telling off. Sebastian sighed. He thought that he didn't like Christmas very much. There was always trouble of some sort. It was the end of the year, and the partners were looking around to see who they could sack. Possibly, and Bealby's heart almost stopped beating at the thought, Mr. Larkins might consider this morning's lateness sufficient excuse to get rid of him. He thought of his fifteen years' service with the firm, and sighed.

"Hallo, Mr. Bealby; have you missed your train?" He looked round. It was Margaret Wyblot. She looked pretty and attractive in her winter coat and gloves.

He smiled ruefully, and nodded.

"I'm just going up to town," she said. "I didn't go with Hubert because I had to think about his special supper tonight. He has it rather late now that he's rehearsing with your wife"—she stopped suddenly and put her fingers to her mouth. "Now I've done it," she said. "I've given it all away, and neither Hubert nor your wife will ever forgive me. Please promise that you won't tell. Please, Mr. Bealby, do promise."

"I'll promise anything," said Sebastian, "if you'll tell what it's all about. What's the great secret?"

"Well, you see," she said, "Hubert and your wife are going to perform a sketch at the Christmas concert that Hubert is getting up. They've been keeping it a secret from everyone. It's quite easy for them to rehearse at your house in the evening because you are working overtime, and you never get home until ten-thirty or eleven. Then, when it's all ready they're going to surprise everyone."

"I see," said Bealby. "I wonder why Mary didn't tell me about it. No. I don't. She never tells me anything, anyhow."

"Poor you," said Margaret Wyblot. "I'm afraid that we're neither of us a match for our respective spouses. But never mind. I've got a surprise for you. Something that will bring you luck."

She felt in her pocket and produced a small horseshoe—one of the type to worn by Shetland ponies. She had polished it and it shone like silver.

"I found this yesterday," she said, "and I was going to give it to Hubert. Then I thought that, anyhow, he's always very lucky, and that I would give it to you, just so that you should have good luck for Christmas. Would you like it?"

Sebastian smiled. "Rather!" he said.

It was a long time since anyone had given him anything.

He took the horseshoe and put it in his pocket. He felt better already. It was a nice thought on Margaret's part, he considered. Perhaps he wasn't such an old "out-of-date" after all.

The train arrived, and they found a deserted carriage. "What's the sketch about—is it dramatic?" asked Sebastian. "I never guessed that either Hubert or my wife were amateur actors."

She smiled. "Neither did I," she said, "but Hubert says that it's going to be awfully good. He's supposed to be a cat-burglar who has broken into a house where a lady is all alone. She surprises him whilst he is robbing the safe, and he threatens her with a revolver. But, by a trick, she gets possession of the revolver and turns the tables on him. Tonight's the last rehearsal. They're going to start at nine and rehearse until ten-forty-five, because Mrs. Bealby says you will be working very late tonight and won't be home until eleven o'clock. I shall have to wait up for Hubert."

Sebastian nodded. Some people had all the fun, he thought, but as he did so his hand touched the horseshoe in his pocket and for some unknown reason it made him feel almost happy.

Sebastian was removing his overcoat, when the office boy came into the outer office. "Mr. Larkins wants to see you, Mr. Bealby," said the boy with a grin. Sebastian's heart sank. The best he could expect from Larkins was a good telling off! He hung up his overcoat, and as he did so his hand knocked against the horseshoe in the overcoat packet. He took it out and looked at it. After all, why shouldn't there be something in the idea that a horseshoe was lucky.

Sebastian slipped it into his trouser pocket, and felt all the better for it.

He'd always been much too meek with old Larkins, he thought. If the old man said too much he would tell him that he couldn't be responsible for accidents. He would not stand meekly before the senior partner's desk, and say, "Yes, sir," "Sorry, sir."

He rapped on the door and entered. Old Larkins was seated at his desk, and behind him stood the two junior partners.

Larkins looked up. "Now, look here, Bealby," he began heavily.

Sebastian thought of the horseshoe and interrupted. "I'm sorry I was late," he began, breathlessly, "but I had an accident and slipped over a bit of ice. Nothing very much, but it made me lose my train, and—"

Larkins waved his hand. "Why worry about that, Bealby," he said. "Do you think that we haven't noticed that you've only been late four times in fifteen years? Now take a chair and listen to me."

"Bealby," said Larkins with a smile "we're going to make you a partner. Business has improved wonderfully during the last two years and quite a lot of it is due to your steady work, You'll receive an increased salary as general manager, and a sixteenth snare of the profits. My congratulations!"

Larkins held out his hand, Bealby—almost dizzy—could see that he was smiling.

He shook hands with the partners in turn.

"Bit of a surprise, eh?" said Larkins. "Tomorrow, well talk it all over, in the meantime why don't you take the day off? I expect your fall shook you a bit. Lovell, ask the boy to go and get a whisky and soda for Bealby."


IT was nine-thirty when Sebastian—a large cigar protruding from his mouth—crept silently through the garden at the back of his house and approached the French windows.

Everything depended upon his not being heard or discovered. He had worked out his plot to the last degree. Mary and Wyblot would be rehearsing in the room which was behind the French windows. The windows were unlatched, and behind them was a thick curtain. He remembered the details of the sketch which Margaret Wyblot had given him, and hoped that circumstances would allow him to put his plan into execution. Gently he pushed open the window and stepped through, hidden from the room by the curtains.

He could hear Wyblot speaking:—

"Now this is the important part," he was saying. "This bit where you enter the room and discover me at the safe. We'd better do it as we shall do it at the performance. You go out of the room. Then you come in and find me—in the dark—with an electric torch shining on the safe. Then I say 'Hands up!' and cross the room and switch on the light. Let's do that bit, shall we?"

"All right," Bealby heard his wife reply. She walked across the room, switched off the light and closed the door behind her. As darkness filled the room, Bealby slipped through the curtains. Wyblot was kneeling down before the bookcase, his electric torch shining on the books. Bealby waited to spring.... He heard the door open and his wife enter. Wyblot flashed his torch round until the light fell upon her. "Hands up!" he shouted, and as he did so Sebastian sprang and hit him full upon the nose.

"That'll teach you," he shouted, "if you think I'm going to stand by and have burglars threaten my wife you're mistaken. Mary—telephone for the police at once. Switch on the light!"

He heard a gasp, and then the light went on.

An expression of amazement came over Bealby's face.

"Why—what's this?" he said. "Wyblot? What are you doing here? What does this mean, Mary?"

Wyblot said nothing. He was nursing a bleeding nose.

"We were only rehearsing, Harry," said Mary Bealby. "We—"

"Good heavens," interrupted Sebastian, "This is a joke! I came in by the back way because I'd forgotten my key, and as I approached and opened the French window I heard a man say, 'Hands up!' Naturally I thought it was a burglar."

Wyblot staggered to his feet.

"By Jove, Bealby," he said, "you've got a deuce of a punch. I've never been hit so hard in all my boxing experience. Anyhow, this is our own fault. We ought to have told you that we were rehearsing for the Christmas concert. Do you mind if I go to the bathroom and fix my nose?"

He hurried off. Bealby turned to his wife. Her eyes were shining.

"Oh, Harry," she said. "I never knew that you were so brave. I was so disappointed in you because I thought you were so meek that anyone could frighten you. Just fancy, you would have fought a six-foot burglar who was armed with a revolver—and all for me!"

Sebastian smiled.

"Oh, that's nothing," he said. "Incidentally, Mary, there are one or two things I want to say to you. The first is that you will get a maid at once. I'm sick of carrying up the coals. The second thing is that you will behave like you used to, or I shall want to know why. I've had enough of this henpecking business. Oh, by the bye, you'd better get supper for four. Wyblot had better stay as I've punctured his nose, and I'll telephone his wife to come round. And hurry, I don't want to wait, I'm hungry."

"Yes, dear," said his wife, meekly.

"Also," continued Sebastian, "I shan't want to be called till ten o'clock tomorrow. I'm not going up until eleven. I forgot to tell you that I'm a partner in the firm now, and that we're having a meeting to fix things at lunch tomorrow. Whilst I'm telephoning you'd better tell Wyblot when he's finished looking after his nose that several of us men around here are a bit sick of the way he talks to his wife. It's no business of mine, of course, but I'd hate to lose my temper one day and hit him. I'm pretty hasty when I'm roused, and he might get another smack on the nose. And you'd better get your hair waved tomorrow, you look a sight when the curls come out."

"Yes, dear," said Mrs. Bealby, still more meekly.

Sebastian went out into the hall towards the telephone. As he walked he removed a small horseshoe from the glove on his right hand. No wonder Wyblot had said that he had a deuce of a punch!

"Hello. Is that vou. Margaret?" he said, cheerfully. "Come round to supper, will you? Hubert is staying on. He's had a little accident—nothing much—just a smack on the nose. And, by-the-bye, don't forget that I knew nothing about the rehearsal tonight. You see. I returned home suddenly and found a burglar threatening my wife, and I knocked him down. When you arrive, you might like to ask Hubert why he didn't put up a better show. It might do him good, and, Margaret, thank you for your horseshoe. It's going to bring us both lots of luck and happiness for Christmas. You'll find a much more charming husband, and Mary will never henpeck me any more. I'm too tough! Come along quickly, and after supper we'll make them rehearse the show again!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.