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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE LOOKERS-ON

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As published in
The Sydney Mail, Australia, 27 February 1924

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Version Date: 2020-05-31
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Illustration

The struggle between Burge Maple and the holder of the pistol was short and savage.



"IF you raise your voice, Priscilla, it will reach Iris. Let's be reasonable," James Enderby almost begged his wife. "Give me your lawyer's letter. I'll read again carefully."

Priscilla Enderby placed the letter on the study desk while her pale eyes emitted flashes of indignation that were not without a suggestion of panic terror. James Enderby steadied his shaking hand he perused the letter:


Dear Mrs. Enderby

Following your instructions of August 24, we have made careful enquiries into the family history of Miss Iris Maple, the young lady engaged to marry your son Philip. We trust that our disclosures, which concern her father only, will in no way prejudice you against us for having made them. They are as follows:—

Mr. Burge Maple, the father of Miss Iris Maple, was at one time a professional pugilist—a successful one, we may add. Comparatively recently he met and defeated in a fierce encounter a fighter known as Chikawaukee Joe, of Klondyke. Other contests include his victories over Mike Connolly, of Bathurst; Tom Wilkes, New Jersey: Gaston Lecroix, France.

Whether your sensibilities will be affected by these disclosures we cannot say. Of Miss Iris Maple, we know that she bears an irreproachable name amongst the people in which we have been referred.

Yours faithfully,

Gilder and Cross


Mr. James Enderby returned the letter to his wife with a slightly trembling hand.

"And that's that, dear," he commented in his noncommittal way. "Iris engaged to Phil, and we're now connected, so to speak, with the gentleman who knocked out Chikawaukee Joe, of Klondyke, after a fierce encounter, to say nothing of Wilkes and Connolly."

Mrs. Enderby sat very still in the study chair. The faculty of speech as dead within her as though a twelve-inch shell had ripped out the roof and mooring of her house.

The Enderbys owned a string of ancestors dating from William the Norman. Priscilla Enderby was related to a peer in England, while her husband, James Enderby, was a director of a big Australian bank. Her son Phillip had met Iris Maple at the house of a well-known theatrical manager. Iris was regarded as one of the must beautiful girls in Sydney. Until now her father had been kept discreetly in the background.

Priscilla Enderby had never met a professional pugilist. Occasionally she had seen pictures of them in the papers, but she gathered from other ladies in her own set that the profession was mixed up with bar-parlours, dog-fights, and the films.

Of course, the engagement must be broken at once. A few hundred pounds would keep Iris and her pugilistic parent quiet. At all costs Phillip must be rescued from so debasing an alliance. It was unthinkable that their only son could be drawn into an atmosphere that reeked of Chikawaukee Joe and other shoe blacks!

The happy laughter of the young couple reached them from the near drawing-room, where Phillip was attempting one of his popular revue songs at the piano. Iris was applauding with the enthusiasm of a first-nighter. Priscilla recognised that Iris was the most lovable girl she had ever met. It was one of those unspeakable tragedies that so promising a debutante should be linked to the brute world, she thought. Nothing could alter the fact. The lines on Priscilla's brow grew sharp as hatchet strokes as she brooded over her son's folly, his lack of discrimination in the big things that mattered.


JAMES ENDERBY rose from his seat, as if impelled by a sense of his acute misfortune, of the sudden shadow which threatened to blight the honour of his house. James Enderby stood for the steadfast virtues of his family name. As a financial ruler he had often played the part of a friend to many of his less fortunate associates. He was proud of his son Phillip. The boy had wit, culture, brains, had the stuff in him that counted for social and commercial greatness. Never in his life had he known the boy waste a day in foolish games with bat and leather. No, by George, there were higher games in life worth playing!

The hour was late. From the study window overlooking the marble-fronted terrace Enderby saw a sabre slice of moon edging above the pepper-trees at the extreme end of the grounds. A soft breeze stirred the foliage that clung to the walls of the old Georgian house. An aroma of dew-drenched eucalyptus stole into the study, James Enderby hated the scent of eucalyptus, he could think of nothing but the ex-champion bruiser who had somehow gained admission to the inner sanctuary of his life, had squeezed his bullet head in at the window.

"I'm afraid, Priscilla, we're in for it," he ventured deliberately. "Yet Iris is the most charming girl of our set. I remember how she spoke out before his Excellency at the garden party given to the Poor Children's Association. She collected a half of money for the brats. Whatever her father may be, she isn't afraid to face our society tigers."

The sharp, hatchet lines around Priscilla's mouth puckered to a malicious smile.

"Wait till some of our tigers get a glimpse of the victor of Chikawaukee Joe," Priscilla intoned. "Positively I can see the man!" she added, with eyes half closed, as one peering into space. "A huge, ungainly brute with that brow and a pair of gorilla arms! Wait, my dear James, until that brow protrudes into one of our garden parties, or at the wedding breakfast. He's bound to turn up sooner or later!"

A sudden hush seemed to fall on the old Georgian house as Phil Enderby, accompanied by Iris Maple, entered the study. Both were flushed and still humming the song which had been rendered a few moments before.

Phil was twenty-two, with something of the lean, untried athlete in his easy pose and manner. A second glance revealed an unaccountable softness of touch, mingled with a dangerous flexibility of movement. He suggested taking Iris home in the light landaulette. It was a lovely night for a spin; a night of stars and strange voices singing across the harbour. What a sin to be indoors!

"I expected my father would take me home," Iris intimated happily. "He goes a good deal to his club, but generally he goes to bed a little early."

"No doubt he acquired the habit when he was—er—" Enderby senior paused, hoping that Iris would finish the sentence.

"When he was a young man," Phil interposed quickly.

A slight, imperceptible sound in his rear turned him round. Facing him from the half closed study door was the dull black sheen of an automatic pistol. A voice addressed them sharply, threateningly, from the hall.

"Sit still, or this gun will make noises! Maybe I'll keep you here a few minutes, maybe not. A friend of mine is at this moment inspecting your old pile of a house. Being a quick worker, he generally fools the clock. Sit still, please!"

The tones were every bit full of the deadly menace that is rarely heard behind footlights or in high comedy. Half a glance revealed the situation to Phil Enderby. The man behind the door was asking them to remain still while his confederate ransacked the rooms upstairs and appropriated what ever valuables lay to hand.

Anger blazed in his young veins at the thought of remaining inert, under the cold bluff of an automatic pistol. His father had sunk quietly into an armchair, his eyes fixed in hypnotised agony at the levelled weapon. Priscilla seemed to shrink into a terrified bundle of clothes, her fingers grasping restrainingly the sleeve of her son's coat.

"Don't do it, Phillip! All the money in the house isn't worth it. Shut your eyes; that horrible thing will go off!"

Iris Maple remained outwardly calm, her hand stretched to Priscilla's reassuringly, although a strange battle light flamed in her beautiful eyes. "They will soon make off," she whispered. "The pity is we've got to sit still."

There were sounds in the passages outside. The hushed clatter of servants retreating before the softly uttered threats of a light-footed invader. Doors were locked with professional promptitude and snap, a fact which revealed that the housemaids and attendants were being held prisoners in their rooms.

"No end of bills and notes and valuables of all kinds lying about my room!" James Enderby groaned under his breath. "And we've got to sit here like oysters in a stew until everything's bagged!"

Again the quiet of midnight fell upon the house, broken only by the soft, lightning movements of the thief upstairs as be flitted from room to room, from drawer to drawer.

"Keep your temper, sir!" the voice behind the automatic warned, as Phillip shifted from foot to foot in fierce impatience. "You won't get anything by jumping at this bit of iron, except an extra one in the neck. Keep your confounded feet still!"

"For heaven's sake, Phil, mind what you are doing," his father pleaded, "Let them take what they want. It's my fault for not banking the jewellery and papers."

Little by little the man behind the automatic revealed himself to the tense drawn group in the study. Heavily built and thick-set, he leaned his strong figure against the door jamb. Phil had measured his chance of a sudden leap at the automatic in his right hand, only to tell himself that failure to reach his man might bring death or injury to the others.

"My rings and pearls, my diamonds strewn about my dressing-table!" Priscilla moaned with a sudden recollection of her own carelessness. "Oh, the shame of it!"

Just here the owner of the automatic caught a sound in the outer hall that caused him to shift his position. A second later he was out in the passage at grips with a figure in evening dress.

Phil Enderby heard the sound of smashing blows given and taken with the precision of hammer-strokes. From the midst of these hurricane impacts came the voice of the man in evening clothes.

"Keep away, everybody! This is my job. And I hit these fellows to kill!"

Iris threw out her hands to Phil.

"That's Daddy! He came to fetch me. I knew he would."

Outside the struggle between Burge Maple and the holder of the pistol was short and savage. A short-armed blow to the jaw that seemed no more than a push jolted the burglar to the wall, his knees sagging. Another stiff push sent him face down to the floor. Burge Maple stooped and picked up the automatic which had been knocked from the fellow's hand in the struggle. He turned to Phil in the doorway and nodded briskly.

"Please look after this fellow, Mr. Enderby while I collect his pal upstairs."

Priscilla Enderby, palpitating and speechless in the doorway, saw for a fleeting instant the profile of a fine-chiselled face, a brow square and broad enough to have delighted a Greek sculptor, as Burge Maple mounted the stairs. In a moment he had disappeared along the heavily-carpeted passage, switching off the electric light at the top. A shot rang out, followed by the sound of short, quick blows. Again Burge Maple's voice reached them, but this time it was addressed to the trapped invader.

"You thief in a lady's room! I'd sooner hang than be caught at such work."

The thief's reply came in a quavering undertone, only half heard by Enderby and his wife.

"Don't hit me again, boss. I've had enough. My baby punch has gone to sleep. I'll go quietly."

Iris had slipped to the telephone in the hall and had called up the local police station.

"Please send a couple of men to Mr. Enderby's house. We've got some burglars waiting. Thank you, thank you!"

There was hardly a flutter in her breath as she hung up the receiver, while Phil stood guard over the crouching, dazed figure on the floor.

Three plain-clothes police arrived in a car and walked swiftly up to the house. A short interview with the two captured men proved them to be long-wanted house breakers and jewel thieves. They were promptly handcuffed and driven to the station.


AFTER they had gone Burge Maple surveyed James Enderby and his son with accusing eye. Priscilla could not help contrasting his sculpturesque figure with that of her husband. James had gone to flesh: there were tiny pouches under his eyes, and when he moved hastily the effort caused a violent fluttering of the lips and heart. Maple had spent his life keeping fit: James had passed the years at a desk, rustling papers and dictating letters to pretty girl typists.

Priscilla started in alarm at the sound of Maple's voice. He was addressing her husband and son.

"I am not going to tell both you gentlemen that you ought not to be left unprotected in a big house like this: but the safety of my daughter, Iris, is a matter of concern to me when she happens to be in a mix-up of the kind that has just happened."

There was a note of sorrow in his voice as he contemplated James Enderby's stout, overfed figure. His voice softened at sight of Priscilla's agitation.

"I strolled along this evening, feeling that it would be nice to bring Iris home. I happened to see those two chaps sauntering in your private grounds. A thief is sometimes known by his walk, so I just hung round and stepped in after them."

"I—I am deeply indebted for your timely interference." James Enderby found voice to say. "Upon my word. Mr. Maple, you have saved me an incalculable loss, and—er—"

"Don't mention it," Maple, interrupted with a smile. "But you will forgive me for saying that people who have wealth and responsibilities should have the strength and courage to look after them." He turned to his daughter with a beam in his eye. "We'll say good-night to your friends, dear. It is later than usual."

"Please don't forget that we were menaced with a pistol," Priscilla interposed, conscious of her husband's uneasiness.

"Mr. Maple look his chance, like I might have done," Phil broke in, a flush of shame darkening his cheek.

Burge Maple laughed good-naturedly in the doorway.

"When you next call for my daughter, Mr. Phillip. I'll make sure that you are in a condition to protect her and yourself. I have a rooted prejudice against the lookers-on in the game of life. I should not like to think that my own safely and that of my daughter depended on the timely interference of other people. Gentlemen, I wish you good-night."

Burge Maple passed from the house with Iris sobbing quietly on his arm. James Enderby stared blankly at his wife, anger, humiliation, stripping him of speech and gesture. Phil Enderby dropped into a chair beside his mother. Maple's parting words sinking like bullets into his young brain. And Iris had heard him, had blanched under them, as he was blanching now.

But happy young muscles have a knack of waking to life at the right signal. The signal that woke Phillip Enderby to a sense of his own illness had come from Burge Maple. Rightly or wrongly, the ex-champion cruiser-weight had denounced him as a looker-on in the game of life, a fellow content to sit still while efficient and kindly-disposed athletes head off midnight prowlers and people with guns.


THE following day it took Phil Enderby half an hour to discover the address of one Chinney Smith, champion heavyweight boxer of Australia. During the summer months Chinney basked in the luxurious surroundings of a mountain bungalow, attended by a sparring partner and trainer. Phil learned that the champion's services were not to be obtained as a mere instructor in the noble art; but when Enderby presented a letter of introduction from the secretary of the National Sporting Club the mountain bungalow, including Chinney, became his own.

From that moment Phil Enderby look a new leap at life. The men he met and trained with, boxed, rowed, and ran with, did little more than reveal his own strength and plasticity of action. His length and limberness soon made him the champion's favourite sparring partner.

"That young feller," Chinney hinted to his manager one morning, after a three round whirlwind encounter with Phil, "is going to beat the next best man to me. He's got somethin' on his mind when he's shootin' for your chin. He crossed me the other night, and I tell you it made me feel liked a tinned crayfish. I ain't sayin' it because the lad's got money—it's one of the things a champ's got to take notice of."

"Sure. Chinney, sure," the manager agreed.

One day Phil received a letter from Iris. It contained her reflections on life as experienced by the daughter of a retired champion.


I don't know what has come over my father. He hardly allows me out of his sight. He is continually suggesting that I ought to marry a man of his own profession. When I go out he insists on young Kid Johnson accompanying me. I don't think it would be safe for you to come to the house, dear. At the present moment a ruffianly lout named Bender is camped in our drawing-mom smoking the most awful tobacco. I really believe he is here to watch and prevent you entering during father's absence. Of course, Phil dear, I find it very dreary without you, but what is one to do!


THAT settled Phil Enderby. She was the sweetest and most lovable girl in the world subjected to the constant surveillance of bruisers and race-course bandits. He pictured Iris seated, alone with Bender, forced to breathe his poisonous smoke and listen to Bender's stories! The thought stroked him like a whip. After a light dinner at his club that night he told his chauffeur to drive him to Vine Row Lodge, Rose Bay, the home of Burge Maple and Iris.

Vine Row Lodge was suburban. It had always suited Burge Maple to live near the Big Town. Phil knew the house; he had often escorted Iris to the gate after a dance or theatre party. A single dim light was visible in the front room that over looked the road. Usually the Lodge was the best-lighted house in the road, for Burge loved cheery, inviting rooms in which to entertain his many friends.

Touching the bell, Phil waited in the hope that Iris would appear. A stealthy step in the hall was followed by the shooting back of a bolt. The door opened slowly, and Enderby found himself staring at a big-eared, stooping-shouldered ruffian of the comic opera type. His small, squinting, eyes made rapid valuations of Phil's clothes, personal effects, including the light landaulette in the road.

"Whatcher want?" he demanded in a hoarse effort to appear polite. "Burge ain't home. I'm in charge."

"I want to see Miss Maple." Enderby intimated briefly. "Be good enough to take in my card."

A wave of nausea swept him at the fellow's proximity to Iris. After all, he had mistaken Burge Maple for a gentleman, one of the old school of sportsmen who put a lady before everything, including wealth, honour, and pride.

Yet here he found this one-time beau ideal of the arena compelling his daughter to associate with a creature whose presence would not be tolerated in a third-rate bush hotel. The rage of impassioned youth smouldered like a dynamite fuse in Enderby. Blows hard and fierce he had taken of late in his desire to prove worthy of the woman who had once witnessed his humiliation in his father's house. He restrained himself with difficulty as he again appealed to the keeper of the door.

"Miss Maple will see me if you say Mr. Enderby is here. Do you understand?"

The man shook his head.

"My name's Bender. I got orders to keep everybody out. You're out." he added with a toothless grin, "and out you keep!"

Phil's elbow and heel hurled back the slamming door in Bender's face. A volley of oaths emerged from the passage as Enderby squeezed through. Long after the event Phil told himself that the spat-eared man struck him twice before he had crossed the threshold of Burge Maple's house. Using his long left he thrust Bender staggering down the unlit passage. But only for a fraction of time. The spat-ears returned to the assault with the speed of a charging boar. Phil took a blow on the throat that might have sickened him a year before. It merely steadied him now, and brought home the fact that the fellow was fighting to keep him from Iris.

"Keep away, Marne," he called to his chauffeur at the door. "This is my obligation."

It was. But the dark, narrow passage rendered the obligation difficult and open to savage reprisals, pitted as he was against an unknown tiger of the slums.

"If yer come an inch nearer, me gold-tipped friend, I'll beat yer to sleep and give yer nice clothes to the poor!" Bender challenged from the darkness. "Stay out and lick yer diamonds fer a change."

Phil poised himself an instant in the doorway and then dashed in.

It was stiflingly dark inside, and in the swift grapple that followed his entry Phil remembered Marle's good-humoured taunt, about the lookers-on. And the strength of his clean young manhood shook off the garrotter's hold that was being fastened on him in the pitch black atmosphere. His right fist smote twice the bristling chin and ears of the gutter pugilist. Again and again his lightning left smashed between the pair of gorilla-like arms that sought to clinch and strangle.

Up and down the passage they swayed and struck and grappled blindly. The end was swift and unexpected. Youth will be served, and sometimes quickly. Bender rocked dizzily from a blow between the eyes: his knees grew slack as he lay against the wall.

Phil breathed in the doorway, waiting for the other to speak. There was no response: only a slight gasping, followed by a groan. A door on the landing above opened suddenly. Iris Maple, holding a candle above her head, peered down the passage.

"Is that Daddy?" she called out softly. "Something has happened to the electric light."

In reply Phil mounted the stairs and took her in his arms. Iris suppressed a little cry of joy and alarm.

"I'm expecting Daddy," she told him, her cheek resting for an instant against his lips.

"I want to see your Daddy, Iris. I want to ask him to provide you with a more picturesque satellite than the fellow downstairs."

A sudden thought crossed Phil as he watched his chauffeur assist Bender into a side room. For an instant he paused between doubt and certainty.

"I had a rough-and-tumble trying to get in," he whispered apologetically. "And I've a suspicion that Bender is here for a particular purpose."

Begging Iris to remain upstairs for a while, Phil descended and exchanged glances with his chauffeur. In a flash he was beside the bruised and breath-shaken Bender, seated in a wicker chair.

"Tell us about it!" he demanded abruptly. "Are you a bailiff in possession of Mr. Maple's house?"

Bender drew himself together with a painful effort as he wiped the dew of battle from his brow. A forgiving leer illuminated his bristling profile.

"I mistook yer for a jazz dude," he confessed hoarsely. "About that little scrap I bears no malice. I was picked for the job of takin' possession of Burge Maple's house on account of him being a fighter."

"Then you are acting for his creditors?"

"A matter of six hundred pounds odd, sir. If the money is paid now the distraint is off an' I walks. If it ain't paid his home goes into the auction room to-morrow. I'm sorry for Burge: he's down on his luck through helping others."

Phil pondered swiftly, and then drew a cheque-book from his pocket and filled in the amount the bailiff had mentioned.

"This clears you out, Mr. Bender; and this"—he thrust a roll of notes into the grimy fist—"puts us right. I'm sorry you missed me so often in the dark. Better luck next time."

The bailiff grinned in appreciation. "There might be a next, sir: but there won't be me! I know when there's an egg in my hat, an' I know when to beat it."

With a final nod he passed from the house.


PHIL returned to Iris with the knowledge that Burge had not made known to her the secret of Bender's presence in the house. Instead of feeling depressed over the incident, Phil was overcome by a sense of relief and joy at the opportunity which had allowed him to dispose of the strangle grip on Maple's belongings.

"I hope Bender didn't hurt you, Phil?" Iris regarded his awry appearance in consternation.

"I'll get hurt any time I like," he assured her with the air of a twelfth century martyr. "I'll get hurt and raise Cain every time your father tries to keep me from the house. I'm going to fill my pockets with slick fast stuff and giant cement to keep us together. I'll lend you some."

"Hush, Phil! Someone is coming."

It was Burge Maple, changed in appearance since the night he had disarmed the burglars in James Enderby's house. He stood silently surveying Phil and Iris in the candle-lit doorway, a well-cut but despondent figure, a victim of his own kindly impulses.

Irresistibly Phil was drawn to the man whose well-meaning utterances could not always be ignored or resented. He held out his hand for a moment before speaking.

"I took the liberty of ejecting a curious bird I found nesting in your house, Mr. Maple," he explained somewhat shyly. "One of those blue-birds that ought never come back. I hope you'll forgive me," he added, with a meaning glance in Iris's direction.

Burge sighed softly as one relieved of a nightmare.

"I met the bird going home on three legs," he said slowly. "Looked as if someone had been using him to stop a train!"


Illustration

"I met the bird going home on three legs," he said slowly.
"Looked as if someone had been using him to stop a train!"


His glance went over and through Enderby in rapid appraisement. "When you handled Bender, Mr. Phillip, you took on the toughest heavyweight of his time. I tell you honestly he could have kept me out."

Phil considered the statement in modest silence. Then, before Iris could divert his attention, he put a thought-out query to the ex-champion.

"Suppose we start a high-class gymnasium to train fellows to break through occasionally?" he ventured with a boyish grimace. "I'll let you in as director at your own salary. My father will take up most of the shares. He owes something to the game," he added with real meaning.

Burge Maple looked up quickly.

"That settles me, my boy. But how about this little looker-on?" He was bending very gently over his daughter. Iris kissed his troubled cheek as she noted the glint of moisture in his eye.

"Now you're satisfied that Phil can drive away blue birds, Daddy, don't you think we ought to keep him with us?"

"I'm as good as most fellows," Phil implied meekly.

Burge Maple's handgrip fully endorsed the latter statement.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
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.