Settled Out of Court by George A. Birmingham
There are many solicitors in London who make larger incomes than Mr. Dane-Latimer, though he does very well and pays a considerable sum every year by way of super-tax. There are certainly solicitors with firmly established family practices, whose position is more secure than Mr. Dane-Latimer's. And there are some whose reputation stands higher in legal circles. But there is probably no solicitor whose name is better known all over the British Isles than Mr. Dane-Latimer's. He has been fortunate enough to become a kind of specialist in "Society" cases. No divorce suit can be regarded as really fashionable unless Mr. Dane-Latimer is acting in it for plaintiff, defendant, or co-respondent. A politician who has been libelled goes to Mr. Dane-Latimer for advice. An actress with a hopeful breach of promise case takes the incriminating letters to Mr. Dane-Latimer. He knows the facts of nearly every exciting scandal. He can fill in the gaps which the newspapers necessarily leave even in stories which spread themselves over columns of print. What is still better, he can tell stories which never get into the papers at all, the stories of cases so thrilling that the people concerned settle them out of court.
It will easily be understood that Mr. Dane-Latimer is an interesting man to meet and that a good many people welcome the chance of a talk with him.
Gorman, who has a cultivated taste for gossip, was greatly pleased when Dane-Latimer sat down beside him one day in the smoking-room of his club. It was two o'clock, an hour at which the smoking-room is full of men who have lunched. Gorman knew that Dane-Latimer would not talk in an interesting way before a large audience, but he hoped to be able to keep him until most of the other men had left. He beckoned to the waitress and ordered two coffees and two liqueur brandies. Then he set himself to be as agreeable as possible to Dane-Latimer.
"Haven't seen you for a long time," he said. "What have you been doing? Had the flu?"
"Flu! No. Infernally busy, that's all."
"Really," said Gorman. "I should have thought the present slump would have meant rather a slack time for you. People--I mean the sort of people whose affairs you manage--can't be going it in quite the old way, at all events not to the same extent."
Dane-Latimer poured half his brandy into his coffee cup and smiled. Gorman, who felt it necessary to keep the conversation going, wandered on.
"But perhaps they are. After all, these war marriages must lead to a good many divorces, though we don't read about them as much as we used to. But I dare say they go on just the same and you have plenty to do."
Dane-Latimer grinned. He beckoned to the waitress and ordered two more brandies. Gorman talked on. One after another the men in the smoking-room got up and went away. At three o'clock there was no one left within earshot of Gorman and Dane-Latimer. A couple of Heads of Government Departments and a Staff Officer still sat on at the far end of the room, but they were busy with a conversation of their own about a new kind of self-starter for motor cars. Dane-Latimer began to talk at last.
"The fact is," he said, "I shouldn't have been here to-day--I certainly shouldn't be sitting smoking at this hour if I hadn't wanted to talk to you."
Gorman chuckled pleasantly. He felt that something interesting was coming.
"I've rather a queer case on hand," said Dane-Latimer, "and some friends of yours are mixed up in it, at least I think I'm right in saying that that picturesque blackguard Konrad Karl of Megalia is a friend of yours."
"I hope he's not the co-respondent," said Gorman.
"No. No. It's nothing of that sort. In fact, strictly speaking, he's not in it at all. No legal liability. The action threatened is against Madame Ypsilante."
"Don't say shop lifting," said Gorman. "I've always been afraid she's take to that sooner or later. Not that she's a dishonest woman. Don't think that. It's simply that she can't understand, is constitutionally incapable of seeing any reason why she shouldn't have anything she wants."
"You may make your mind easy," said Dane-Latimer. "It's not shop-lifting. In fact it isn't anything that would be called really disgraceful."
"That surprises me. I should hardly have thought Madame could have avoided--but go on.
"You know Scarsby?" said Dane-Latimer.
"I know a Mrs. Scarsby, a woman who advertises herself and her parties and pushes hard to get into the smartest set. She's invited me to one of her shows next week. Very seldom does now, though I used to go there pretty often. She has rather soared lately, higher circles than those I move in."
"That's the wife of the man I mean."
"Never knew she had a husband," said Gorman. "She keeps him very dark. But that sort of woman often keeps her husband in the background. I suppose he exists simply to earn what she spends."
"That's it. He's a dentist. I rather wonder you haven't heard of him. He's quite at the top of the tree; the sort of dentist who charges two guineas for looking at your front tooth and an extra guinea if he tells you there's a hole in it."
"I expect he needs it all," said Gorman, "to keep Mrs. Searsby going. But what the devil has he got to do with Madame Ypsilante. I can't imagine her compromising herself with a man whose own wife is ashamed to produce him."
Dane-Latimer smiled. "I told you it was nothing of that sort," he said. "In fact it's quite the opposite. Madame went to him as a patient in the ordinary way, and he started to put a gold filling into one of her teeth. She was infernally nervous and made him swear beforehand that he wouldn't hurt her. She brought Konrad Karl with her and he held one of her hands. There was a sort of nurse, a woman whom Scarsby always has on the premises, who held her other hand. I mention this to show you that there were plenty of witnesses present, and it won't be any use denying the facts. Well, Scarsby went to work in the usual way with one of those infernal drill things which they work with their feet. He had her right back in the chair and was standing more or less in front of her. He says he's perfectly certain he didn't hurt her in the least, but I think he must have got down to a nerve or something without knowing it. Anyhow Madame--she couldn't use her hands you know--gave a sort of twist, got her foot against his chest and kicked him clean across the room."
"I'd give five pounds to have been there," said Gorman.
"It must have been a funny sight. Scarsby clutched at everything as he passed. He brought down the drilling machine and a table covered with instruments in his fall. He strained his wrist and now he wants to take an action for a thousand pounds damages against Madame."
"Silly ass," said Gorman. "He might just as well take an action against me for a million. Madame hasn't got a thousand pence in the world."
"So I thought," said Dane-Latimer, "and so I told him. As a matter of fact I happen to know that Madame is pretty heavily in debt."
"Besides," said Gorman. "He richly deserved what he got. Any man who is fool enough to go monkeying about with Madame Ypsilante's teeth--you've seen her, I suppose."
"Oh, yes. Several times."
"Well then you can guess the sort of woman she is. And anyone who had ever looked at her eyes would know. I'd just as soon twist a tiger's tail as try to drill a hole in one of Madame Ypsilante's teeth. Scarsby must have known there'd be trouble."
"I'm afraid the judge won't take that view," said Dane-Latimer, smiling.
"He ought to call it justifiable self-defence. He will too if he's ever had one of those drills in his own mouth."
"As a lawyer," said Dane-Latimer, "I'd like to see this action fought out. I don't remember a case quite like it, and it would be exceedingly interesting to see what view the Court would take. But of course I'm bound to work for my client's interest, and I'm advising Scarsby to settle it if he can. He's in a vile temper and there's no doubt he really is losing money through not being able to work with his strained wrist. Still, if Madame, or the king on her behalf, would make any sort of offer--She may not have any money, Gorman, but everybody knows she has jewellery."
"Do you really think," said Gorman, "that Madame will sell her pearls to satisfy the claims of a dentist who, so far as I can make out, didn't even finish stopping her tooth for her?"
"The law might make her."
"The law couldn't," said Gorman. "You know perfectly well that if the law tried she'd simply say that her jewellery belonged to King Konrad and you've no kind of claim on him."
"That's so," said Dane-Latimer. "All the same it won't be very nice if the case comes into court. Madame had far better settle it. Just think of the newspapers. They'll crack silly jokes about it for weeks and there'll be pictures of Madame in most undignified attitudes. She won't like it."
"I see that," said Gorman. "And of course Konrad Karl will be dragged in and made to look like a fool."
"Kings of all people," said Dane-Latimer, "can't afford to be laughed at. It doesn't do a king any real harm if he's hated, but if once he becomes comic he's done."
Gorman thought the matter over for a minute or two.
"I'll tell you what," he said at last. "You hold the dentist in play for a day or two and I'll see what I can do. There'll be no money. I warn you fairly of that. You won't even get the amount of your own bill unless Scarsby pays it; but I may be able to fix things up."
It was not very easy for Gorman to deal with Madame Ypsilante. Her point was that Scarsby had deliberately inflicted frightful pain on her, breaking his plighted word and taking advantage of her helpless position.
"He is a devil, that man," she said. "Never, never in life has there been any such devil. I did right to kick him. It would be more right to kick his mouth. But I am not a dancer. I cannot kick so high."
"Corinne," said the king. "You have suffered. He has suffered. It is, as the English say in the game of golf 'lie as you like.' Let us forgive and regret."
"I do not regret," said Madame, "except that I did not kick with both feet. I do not regret, and I will not forgive."
"The trouble is," said Gorman, "that the dentist won't forgive either. He's talking of a thousand pounds damage."
Madame's face softened.
"If he will pay a thousand pounds--" she said. "It is not much. It is not enough. Still, if he pays at once----"
"You've got it wrong," said Gorman. "He thinks you ought to pay. He's going to law about it."
"Law!" said Madame. "Pouf! What is your law? I spit at it. It is to laugh at, the law."
The king took a different view. He knew by painful experience something about law, chiefly that part of the law which deals with the relations of creditor and debtor. He was seriously alarmed at what Gorman said.
"Alas, Corinne," he said, "in Megalia, yes. But in England, no. The English law is to me a black beast. With the law I am always the escaping goat who does not escape. Gorman, I love your England. But there is, as you say, a shift in the flute. In England there is too much law. Do not, do not let the dentist go to law. Rather would I----"
"I will not pay," said Madame.
"Corinne," said the king reproachfully, "would I ask it? No. But if the dentist seeks revenge I will submit. He may kick me."
"That's rot of course," said Gorman. "It wouldn't be the slightest satisfaction to Scarsby to kick you. What I was going to suggest----"
"Good!" said the king. "Right-O! O.K.! Put it there. You suggest. Always, Gorman, you suggest, and when you suggest, it is all over except to shout."
"I don't know about that," said Gorman. "My plan may not work, and anyway you won't like it. It's not an agreeable plan at all. The only thing to be said for it is that it's better than paying or having any more kicking. You'll have to put yourself in my hands absolutely."
"Gorman, my friend," said the king, "I go in your hands. In both hands or in one hand. Rather than be plaintiff-defendant I say, 'Gorman, I will go in your pocket.'"
"In your hands," said Madame, "or in your arms. Sir Gorman, I trust you. I give you my Konrad into your hands. I fling myself into your arms if you wish it."
"I don't wish it in the least," said Gorman. "In fact it will complicate things horribly if you do."
Three days later Gorman called on Dane-Latimer at his office.
"I think," he said, "that I've got that little trouble between Madame Ypsilante and the dentist settled up all right."
"Are you sure?" said Dane-Latimer. "Scarsby is still in a furious temper. At least he was the day before yesterday. I haven't seen him since then."
"You won't see him again," said Gorman. "He has completely climbed down."
"How the deuce did you manage it?"
Gorman drew a heavy square envelope from his breast pocket and handed it to Dane-Latimer.
"That's for you," he said, "and if you really want to understand how the case was settled you'd better accept the invitation and come with me."
Dane-Latimore opened the envelope and drew out a large white card with gilt edges and nicely rounded corners.
"10 Beaulieu Gardens, S.W." he read. "Mrs. J. de Montford Scarsby. At Home, Thursday, June 24, 9 to 11. To have the honour of meeting His Majesty the King of Megalia. R.S.V.P."
"The king," said Gorman, "is going in his uniform as Field Marshal of the Megalian Army. It took me half an hour to persuade him to do that, and I don't wonder. It's a most striking costume--light blue silk blouse, black velvet gold-embroidered waistcoat, white corded breeches, immense patent leather boots, a gold chain as thick as a cable of a small yacht with a dagger at the end of it, and a bright red fur cap with a sham diamond star in front. The poor man will look an awful ass, and feel it. I wouldn't have let him in for the uniform if I could possibly have helped it, but that brute Scarsby was as vindictive as a red Indian and as obstinate as a swine. His wife could do nothing with him at first. She came to me with tears and said she'd have to give up the idea of entertaining the king at her party if his coming depended on Scarsby's withdrawing his action against Madame Ypsilante. I told her to have another try and promised her he'd come in uniform if she succeeded. That induced her to tackle her husband again. I don't know how she managed it, but she did. Scarsby has climbed down and doesn't even ask for an apology. I advise you to come to the party."
"Will Madame Ypsilante be there?"
"I hope not," said Gorman. "I shall persuade her to stay at home if I can. I don't know whether Scarsby will show up or not; but it's better to take no risks. She might kick him again."
"What I was wondering," said Dane-Latimer, "was whether she'd kick me. She might feel that she ought to get a bit of her own back out of the plaintiff's solicitor. I'm not a tall man. She could probably reach my face, and I don't want to have Scarsby mending up my teeth afterwards."
"My impression is," said Gorman, "that Mrs. Scarsby would allow anyone to kick her husband up and down Piccadilly if she thought she'd be able to entertain royalty afterwards. I don't think she ever got higher than a Marquis before. By the way, poor Konrad Karl is to have a throne at the end of her drawing-room, and I'm to present her. You really ought to come, Dane-Latimer."