MRS. BILTOX-JONES’S EXPERIMENT

I do not think any of us really liked Angell Herald, his self-satisfied philistinism constituting a serious barrier to close personal relations. I have already commented upon certain of his characteristics that jarred upon us all; but it seemed no one’s business to indicate, delicately or otherwise, that he was not so welcome as we might have wished.
Dick Little had introduced him on the strength of a story he had heard him tell at some masonic dinner, I think it was, and he had decided that Angell Herald would be an acquisition to the Night Club. Sallie thought otherwise, and had summed him up as “a worm in a top hat”: he always wore a top hat. It was the only occasion on which I had known Sallie break out into epigram. Both she and Bindle disliked Angell Herald almost to the point of intolerance. As a matter of fact he is not a bad fellow, if his foibles are not too much emphasized.
His principal asset, however, is that he has a fund of interesting experiences which, strangely enough, he rates far lower than the stories he at first would insist on telling.
He assured us that Mrs. Biltox-Jones was no imaginary person and we, knowing his limitations, believed him, and that her social experiment was at the time the talk of Fleet Street.
I
“Damn the war!” exclaimed Angell Herald, leaning back in his chair and looking at his clerk, who had just entered.
“Yes sir,” said Pearl, in a non-committal manner. There are moments when Pearl rises almost to inspiration. His sympathetic utterance was balm to his employer’s anguished soul.
Pearl accepts his chief’s moods or reflects them, whichever seems the more expedient at the moment. Incidentally Pearl has a heart that filled the War Office with foreboding; so Pearl will never become a V.C.
When Angell Herald uttered his impulsive remark, with which Pearl had so tactfully concurred, he had just finished reading a letter from Messrs. Simoon, Golbrith and Cathpell, Ltd. It consisted of three lines; but those three lines had brushed away a hundred a year from his income. This is what they wrote:—
“To Angell Herald, Esq.,
Publicity Agent,
382, Fleet Street, E.C.
DEAR SIR,
We regret to inform you that on account of the war we shall not be able to renew our advertising contract for the current year.
We are,
Yours faithfully,
(Signed) SIMOON, GOLBRITH & CATHPELL, LTD.
There was not a word of sympathy with the unfortunate publicity agent for his loss, no touch of humanity or pity, merely a bare announcement, and Angell Herald felt he was justified in saying, as he did say with a great deal of emphasis, “Damn the war!”
He fell to brooding over this letter. Publicity agents had been very badly hit by the war, and he foresaw the time when—well, anything might happen. He was awakened from his gloom by Pearl.
“I’ve got a friend, sir——”
“I know you have, Pearl,” was the response. “You have too many friends. That’s the infernal part of it. You are always marrying or burying them.”
“I have a friend,” continued Pearl, imperturbably, “who says that new conditions demand new methods.”
Angell Herald sat up straight, and looked at Pearl. Knowing him as his employer did, this was a most extraordinary utterance. There was in it just a spark of originality.
“Pearl,” said Angell Herald, “you’ve been drinking.”
“No, sir,” he replied, seriously, “I never take any alcoholic stimulant until after dinner.”
“Then you have a funeral in mind,” was the reply. “Something has intoxicated you.”
Pearl seemed to deliberate for a moment and then replied,
“Well, sir, I was going to tell you that my aunt’s second husband has had a stroke, and he is not expected to live. We are planning the funeral for Thursday week.”
Angell Herald felt that the loss of the Simoon contract had, as far as business was concerned, done him for the day, so he went out, bought a rose, and got his hat ironed. He then turned into “The Turkey Trot” and played a game of dominoes with his friend Harry Trumpet, who represents the old school of publicity men: he calls himself an advertising agent. He is a dull and stereotyped fellow, and, when Angell Herald feels at all depressed, it always puts him in countenance with himself to come in contact with Harry Trumpet.
“Harry is an ass,” Angell Herald had once said; “but the amusing thing is that he doesn’t know it. I once met his wife and his wife’s sister, and they don’t seem to know it either.”
Having evaded Trumpet’s very obvious readiness to be invited to lunch, Angell Herald went to his favourite place and did himself as well as he could. He was just drinking the last drop of claret, when Pearl’s remark came back to him. He remembered the old French saying “autre temps, autre moeurs.” It was the only piece of French that he could recollect, save the words “cocotte” and “très femme.”
His mind wandered back to that “interview” with Mr. Llewellyn John, who had given him such infinite instruction in the art of advertising.
It was, however, the agony column of The Age that gave him his inspiration. There he saw an advertisement, which read:—
“A lady of considerable wealth desires introduction into Society. A stranger to London. Apply in the first instance in strict confidence to X.Q. Box 38432. The office of The Age, Paper Buildings Quadrangle, E.C.”
“A munition fortune,” Angell Herald muttered to himself. “She has made her money, the old dear, and now she wants to get into high society, and wash away the taste of Guinness in the flavour of Moet and Chandon. In other words, she wants publicity.”
The word “publicity” suggested himself. Here was a woman desirous of publicity, here was Angell Herald wanting nothing better than to get for people publicity.
He returned to his office.
“Pearl,” he said, “you can have that half holiday on Thursday week. I think you have given me an idea.”
“Thank you, sir,” was his reply, and Pearl proceeded to ask for a rise, which was instantly refused, his chief telling him that time was money.
Angell Herald wrote a guarded letter to the lady desiring entry into high society, telling her that he thought he might possibly be of some assistance if she would kindly allow him the privilege of calling upon her. He received an equally guarded reply, making an appointment at the office of a certain firm of solicitors in Lincoln’s Inn.
II
Three days later Angell Herald was sitting in a room in the offices of Messrs. Robbe & Dammitt, the well-known society solicitors, awaiting the arrival of his fair client—as he hoped. He was meditating upon the old-fashioned methods of solicitors as he gazed round the room with its dusty volumes of law books, its hard, uncompromising chairs, and its long, stamped-leather covered office table, when the door opened, and there sailed in—sailed is really the only expression that conveys the motion—a heavily veiled female figure. As he rose and bowed he recalled Dick Grassetts’ description of his mother-in-law, “All front and no figure served up in black silk.”
“Mr. Herald?” she interrogated in a husky voice, flopping down into a chair with a gasp.
Angell Herald bowed.
For fully a minute she sat panting. Evidently the short flight of stairs had been too much for her.
“You saw my advertisement?” she queried.
Again Angell Herald bowed.
“Well, what about it?” she enquired. Her attitude was one of extreme arrogance, which was oddly out of keeping with the inflection of her voice and the directness of her speech. Obviously she was determined to assume the attitude of the theatrical duchess. It was necessary to put her in her place.
“I saw your advertisement,” Angell Herald remarked, “and remembering what Mr. Llewellyn John said to me the other day——”
“Mr. Llewellyn John,” she gasped. “You know him?”
“Oh, yes,” Angell Herald replied, airily. “As I was saying, he remarked to me the other day, ‘Without advertisement a man is doomed.’ That gave me the idea of writing to you.”
“Yes, go on,” she said eagerly, as she raised her veil.
“Well, madam,” Angell Herald continued, “you require certain social opportunities,” she nodded her head vigorously and gasped like a fat pug that sees tempting dainties it is too full to eat, “and I think I may be able to be of some assistance.”
Angell Herald did not like the woman. Her complexion was blue, her face puffy, and she had innumerable chins, which billowed down to meet the black silk of her gown. She was hung with jewellery, and her clothes were most unsuitable to her years. In her hat was mauve and emerald green. She was literally laden with sables, which must have considerably increased her difficulty in breathing, and her feet were pinched into the most ridiculously small patent hoots with enormous tassels that bobbed about every time she moved. Although a man of the world, Angell Herald was appalled at the shortness of her skirts.
She blinked at him through her lorgnettes.
“Well!” she said.
“May I enquire first of all,” he enquired, “what methods you have hitherto adopted? I may tell you that everything discussed between us is in strict confidence.”3
This seemed to reassure her. After a slight hesitation she began to tell her story. It appeared that her husband had made an enormous fortune in the early days of the war by contracting for porous huts and brown-paper boots for the Army. They had lived in Manchester, but now they had come to London and taken what was literally a mansion in Park Lane. She had set herself to work to get into Society, and apparently had been very badly snubbed.
She had subscribed liberally to the Red Cross and similar charities, and attended every charitable entertainment that had been given since her advent. She had engaged, regardless of cost, a number of the most famous artists in the country for a drawing-room concert in aid of a certain hospital, and had sent out invitations lavishly to the whole of Mayfair. The result was that the artists had turned up; but not the audience.
She had to pay the fees and eat the leek. Then she had offered to drive convalescent soldiers round the Park.
“And they sent me common soldiers,” she remarked, “although I particularly asked for officers, generals if possible.” There was a note of querulous complaint in her voice.
It was with something akin to horror that Angell Herald heard her say she had written to The Age, asking what their terms would be to publish a photograph of her daughter, together with a few personal particulars.
“The Age, madam?” he almost shrieked. “The Age? They never publish illustrations.”
“No,” she replied. “But they publish advertisements and theatrical notices. My daughter (she pronounced it ‘darter’) is as good as a music-hall actress, and a good sight better,” she added.
She had left cards on everyone in Park Lane, (she called it “The Lane”), and upon a number of people in other fashionable quarters, but had not received a single call in return.
“Your only chance, madam,” Angell Herald ventured, “is to get into the public eye. These are the days of advertisement. You must get the public to know you as they know our generals and our politicians.”
“I know all about that,” she replied, with a certain asperity. “But how’s it going to be done?”
“Well!” Angell Herald replied, “I will think it over and let you know. Perhaps you will tell me to whom I can write.”
For a moment she hesitated, and then saying, “Of course the whole thing’s strictly in confidence?” Angell Herald bowed—she handed him her card. On it he read “Mrs. Biltox-Jones, 376, Park Lane, W.,” and in the corner “Third Thursdays.” Angell Herald smiled inwardly as he thought of the loneliness of this lady on her “Third Thursdays.”
For a minute or two he gazed reflectively at Mrs. Biltox-Jones’s card. Through his mind was running the “interview” with Mr. Llewellyn John. He remembered the suggestion of the accident in stepping into his car, how the Prime Minister had suggested that he should be assaulted for purposes of publicity, and finally he recalled the suggestion of the abduction of his daughter. Without pausing to think, he turned to Mrs. Biltox-Jones.
“You have a daughter, Mrs. Biltox-Jones?” he said, taking great care to give her her hyphenated name.
She started.
“A daughter!” she said. “Of course I’ve got a daughter.” Her tone was that of someone accused of lacking some necessary member.
“Exactly,” he said. “That may solve the difficulty. In these days,” he continued, “publicity is a very difficult matter.” Angell Herald put his fingers together in judicial fashion and proceeded, “There are two things that the journalist recognises. One is ‘copy,’ Mrs. Biltox-Jones, and the other is ‘news.’ Now news takes precedence over ‘copy,’ just as birth does over money, at least, it should do.”
“I don’t see what that’s got to do with the matter at all,” snapped Mrs. Biltox-Jones. Angell Herald could see that she had not formed a very favourable opinion of him, or of his capabilities. “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘copy’ and ‘news.'”
“Well,” he continued, “I once heard a journalist define the two.” Ha was quite indifferent as to what Mrs. Biltox-Jones might think of him. “A friend once asked him the same question, and his reply was, ‘Now, if a dog bit a man, that would be ‘copy’; but, Mrs. Biltox-Jones, if a man bit a dog, that would be ‘news.'”
Mrs. Biltox-Jones was clearly annoyed. She made a movement to rise; but to rise, with Mrs. Biltox-Jones, was a matter of several movements, persistent and sustained.
“One moment, madam,” Angell Herald continued. “In your own case, now, in order to obtain the publicity you desire, you must endeavour to give the Press something that it will regard as ‘news’ in distinction from ‘copy.’ Now, as far as I can see, there are two ways in which you can achieve your object.”
Mrs. Biltox-Jones began to look interested once more.
“First you might arrange to be seriously assaulted.”
“Me?” she gasped. “Me, assaulted? What on earth do you mean, Mr. Herald?”
“Well,” he continued, “You might arrange for somebody to meet you in a lonely place, and knock you down.”
“Knock me down?” The italics fail to do justice to Mrs. Biltox-Jones’s look and tone. “Are you mad?” she demanded.
“No,” was the response. “I am endeavouring to help you. If you will listen calmly, you will see what I’m driving at. The fact of a lady of your position and wealth being publicly assaulted would appeal to the journalistic mind, and would undoubtedly result in a great deal of Press notice.”
“But it would be so painful,” she replied.
“Of course, there is always that. It might even be fatal. There is, of course, an alternative measure, which I think, in your case, might be even better: that is, the abduction of your daughter.”
“The what?” she shrieked.
“The abduction of Miss Biltox-Jones. Imagine the sensation! Think of the ‘copy’! Millionaire’s daughter abducted—I assume Mr. Biltox-Jones is a millionaire. I believe all Army contractors who are business men have become millionaires. Yes,” Angell Herald added, “I think Miss Biltox-Jones might be abducted.”
“That shows you don’t know Gertie,” said Mrs. Biltox-Jones, smiling grimly. At least, she made certain facial movements which were intended to indicate a smile.
Mrs. Biltox-Jones seemed to be thinking deeply. After fully a minute’s silence she demanded, rather truculently,
“Will you abduct her?”
Angell Herald drew himself up with dignity.
“I am a publicity agent, Mrs. Biltox-Jones, not a professional abductor of millionaires’ daughters. Furthermore I have a reputation to maintain.”
“All right, don’t get ‘uffy,” was her response.
Angell Herald shuddered.
Again there was silence between them.
“Gertie’s always complainin’ how dull she is,” Mrs. Biltox-Jones muttered to herself; “she might like it for a change. P’raps Martin might arrange it. Martin’s my butler, he does everythink for me. He’s been with the Duke of Porchester, and Prince Carmichael of Dam-Splititz.”
“Well,” Angell Herald proceeded. “Let us see Miss Biltox-Jones abducted. Imagine the Press the next morning. You would apply to the police, you would intimate the terrible news to every newspaper, and there would be scare headings. I merely offer this as a suggestion. As a matter of fact, it is a little out of my usual line of business. New conditions, however, Mrs. Biltox-Jones, demand new methods.” Angell Herald blessed Pearl for that exquisite phrase, and registered a vow not to refuse his next application for a holiday in which to bury, marry or bail-out a friend. He could almost see himself giving him a rise. NORFLOXACIN NICOTINATE
“But how could I do it?” she enquired.
“That,” Angell Herald replied, “I must leave to you, Mrs. Biltox-Jones. I should gather that you are not lacking in resource or originality. I should try Martin. English butlers are wonderfully resourceful. Get your daughter abducted and the result will be that your name will be sounded throughout the British Empire. I may add, by the way, that I should see she was abducted for at least a fortnight. That would give time for a thorough Press campaign. You would find that all the Colonial papers would copy the story, and if Miss Biltox-Jones happened to be handsome, as I should imagine she would be”—Angell Herald looked very pointedly at Mrs. Biltox-Jones, and she preened herself like a second-hand peacock—”then the sensation created would be the greater.
“I am afraid, madam, that I can do nothing more than make this suggestion; but you may be assured that if you act upon it, you will not lack the publicity that I gather all ladies of your position seek.”
For a few moments she was silent, then said, “And what’s all this cost, Mr. Herald?”
“Oh,” he replied, “it’s a very trifling matter. Let us say fifty guineas, shall we, especially as I am not able to be of any practical assistance to you.”
“I’ll send you a cheque.” Her jaw snapped with a determined air that convinced Angell Herald that in the very near future Miss Biltox-Jones would be abducted.
III
A little over a week later, Angell Herald had left the office to get his usual simple lunch of everything the food restrictions permitted, and as much in the way of extras as he could squeeze in, when his eye was arrested by a placard of The Evening Mail. He had already received a cheque for fifty guineas from Mrs. Biltox-Jones, and had dismissed the circumstance from his memory. This placard, however, brought back the whole story vividly to his recollection. It read
ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION
AN AMAZON FEAT
Something seemed to link up that newspaper placard with the fifty guinea cheque, and he purchased The Evening Mail.
On the front page of the paper, most of which seemed to be covered with clever headlines, he read the following with something akin to amazement:
ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION OP A MILLIONAIRE’S DAUGHTER
A MODERN AMAZON
SOCIETY YOUNG LADY OUTWITS TWO
DESPERATE RUFFIANS
THE ABDUCTORS CAPTURED
AN AMAZING FEAT
“Last evening, about 9.15, Miss Biltox-Jones, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Biltox-Jones, of 376 Park Lane, W., was motoring back from Epsom, where she had been lunching with friends, when her car was stopped by someone waving a red light on the middle of the road. The chauffeur, seeing the danger-signal, immediately pulled up, and a moment afterwards, to his astonishment, found a pistol presented to his head, and he was told that if he moved a muscle he would be shot.
“It was afterwards discovered that two masked men were responsible for this outrage. The second man approached the car, and invited Miss Biltox-Jones to alight, which she accordingly did. He then informed her that she was his prisoner, and would be taken away to await the payment of a ransom. But they had reckoned without their host, or shall we say hostess. It appears that Miss Biltox-Jones is an adept at physical culture, ju jitsu and such like things. With a swift movement she had her attacker on his back upon the road; hitting him smartly on the temple with the butt-end of his own pistol, she rendered him unconscious, and before the other ruffian was aware of what had happened, she had floored him likewise.
“With the aid of the chauffeur, the two men were bound, placed in the car, and taken to the nearest police-station. They are to appear this morning before the magistrate, the outrage having taken place on the outskirts of London, when further particulars of this strange affair will probably be divulged.
“In the meantime we congratulate Miss Biltox-Jones on what must be regarded as a remarkable achievement.”
There followed an interview with the chauffeur; another interview with Miss Biltox-Jones, together with her portrait. She proved to be a not uncomely girl of muscular proportions and determined expression.
For a moment Angell Herald was dazed at the turn events had taken. He inwardly cursed Pearl and his ridiculous advice. He saw himself involved in a most unsavoury business. He even wondered why he had not been sent for to attend the police-court proceedings. What was he to do? There was nothing for it but to wait for subsequent editions of the paper.
Engagements prevented him from returning to the office until nearly six. As he entered he saw that Pearl was in a state of suppressed excitement. He too had read the wretched story.
“Mrs. Biltox-Jones to see you, sir.”
“What?” Angell Herald almost shouted.
“She’s been here three-quarters of an hour, sir. She insisted on waiting.”
Never had Angell Herald felt such a coward. Why had he not foreseen that she would descend upon him. Could he turn and fly? No: a man must appear a hero before his own clerk. He would lose for ever Pearl’s respect if he were to flee at that moment.
Assuming an air of nonchalance, he said he would see Mrs. Biltox-Jones immediately, and, with shaking hand, opened the door of his room, prepared for a blast of reproach such as it had never been his fate to experience.
To his utter bewilderment, Mrs. Biltox-Jones was sitting smiling, and, more wonderful still, holding in her hand a cheque, which she extended to him, as she made certain bouncing movements, which he rightly interpreted as preliminaries to her assuming an upright position.
Utterly bewildered, he took the cheque, What could be the meaning of this new development? Instinctively he looked at the cheque; it was for a hundred guineas. Clearly Mrs. Biltox-Jones was mad.
“Mr. Herald,” she began, in her wheezy voice, having got to her feet, “you’ve done me a real service, you’ve got me what I wanted. You’re a wonderful man.”
“But—but—” he stammered.
“No, no,” she continued. “No modesty. The idea was entirely yours. Of course I didn’t anticipate Gertie upsetting things like that; but then you never know what Gertie will do, and the poor child so enjoyed it.”
Angell Herald pictured the Gertie whose photograph he had seen, “enjoying it.” Then his thoughts turned to the nefarious abductors.
“But the men,” he asked, “Who were they?”
“Oh! Martin arranged that. One was his brother, and the other was John’s second cousin. John is my first footman. But, of course, a great general has to be prepared for everything, as you said the other day.” (Angell Herald had no recollection of saying anything of the sort.) “So when I heard these two men had been caught by Gertie, I decided to turn the whole thing into a joke. Gertie was delighted, and said that she hadn’t enjoyed anything so for a long time. The magistrate, of course, was most rude about it.”
“But the butler’s brother and the—”
“They’ve been released. The magistrate pitched into them; but still, it’s all right, although Martin’s brother has a big bump on his head, which will cost a good deal, and John’s cousin can be squared. The teeth he lost were not really his own, although he said they were until I threatened to ring up my dentist and have his mouth examined.”
“Yes,” she continued, after a pause, “it was really a brilliant idea of yours, Mr. Herald, and I thank you for it. I shall recommend you to my friends. My husband has great influence in the city, and he shall know what a remarkable man you are.”
“And,” began Angell Herald, “have the er—er——”
“Oh! I’ve had heaps of callers. Sir Jacob and Lady Wanderlust, Mrs. Hermann Schmidt, Mr. Gottinhimmel, Mr. Lüftstoessel, Miss Strafestein, and a lot of the best people in The Lane. And they’re so patriotic. They do so hate the Kaiser, and they simply love England. We have become great friends.”
Angell Herald congratulated her. “And now I must be going,” she said, “I’ve got to arrange about compensating those two poor men. If you knew Gertie as I know her, you’d know they didn’t come off without severe er—er—contoosions, was what the doctor called ’em.”
Mrs. Biltox-Jones sailed out of the office wheezing and smiling. Angell Herald saw Pearl looking at him in a bewildered fashion, and he almost fainted when handed the cheque and told to pay it into the bank.
The late evening papers were full of this extraordinary “joke.” By a lucky chance, there was no news from anywhere. The German Emperor had not been patronizing the Almighty, and no one had shown on any of the fronts the least inclination to push. The result was that the photographs of the Biltox-Joneses, of their butler, the butler’s brother, of John, and John’s second cousin, filled every newspaper. The scene of the “outrage” was pictured, with a cross marking the spot on the road where Martin’s brother’s head had been tapped.
In Angell Herald’s heart there was a great gladness and a deep gratitude to Mr. Llewellyn John! He had the greatest difficulty to restrain himself from giving Pearl a rise.—Instead he gave him the cigar he had received from Trumpet a few days previously. There are no half tones about either Trumpet or his cigars.
At the conclusion of the story Angell Herald, sat back with the air of a man prepared to receive the congratulations that he knows are his due. He was obviously disappointed when the only remark made was Sallie’s.
“Poor old thing.”
“I should like to meet that clerk of ‘is,” “whispered” Bindle to Windover. “‘E ought to be able to tell us some things, wot?”
“Ha, yes,” muttered Windover abstractedly, “but it’s casting Pearls before swine though.”