Piccadilly Jim (4 of 4)

Uploaded by The16thCavern on 30.10.2012

The library, whither Jimmy had made his way after leaving Mrs.
Pett, was a large room on the ground floor, looking out on the
street which ran parallel to the south side of the house. It had
French windows, opening onto a strip of lawn which ended in a
high stone wall with a small gate in it, the general effect of
these things being to create a resemblance to a country house
rather than to one in the centre of the city. Mr. Pett's town
residence was full of these surprises.
In one corner of the room a massive safe had been let into the
wall, striking a note of incongruity, for the remainder of the
wall-space was completely covered with volumes of all sorts and
sizes, which filled the shelves and overflowed into a small
gallery, reached by a short flight of stairs and running along
the north side of the room over the door.
Jimmy cast a glance at the safe, behind the steel doors of which
he presumed the test-tube of Partridgite which Willie had carried
from the luncheon-table lay hid: then transferred his attention
to the shelves. A cursory inspection of these revealed nothing
which gave promise of whiling away entertainingly the moments
which must elapse before the return of Ann. Jimmy's tastes in
literature lay in the direction of the lighter kind of modern
fiction, and Mr. Pett did not appear to possess a single volume
that had been written later than the eighteenth century—and
mostly poetry at that. He turned to the writing-desk near the
window, on which he had caught sight of a standing shelf full of
books of a more modern aspect. He picked one up at random and
opened it.
He threw it down disgustedly. It was poetry. This man Pett
appeared to have a perfect obsession for poetry. One would never
have suspected it, to look at him. Jimmy had just resigned
himself, after another glance at the shelf, to a bookless vigil,
when his eye was caught by a name on the cover of the last in the
row so unexpected that he had to look again to verify the
He had been perfectly right. There it was, in gold letters.
He extracted the volume from the shelf in a sort of stupor. Even
now he was inclined to give his goddess of the red hair the
benefit of the doubt, and assume that some one else of the same
name had written it. For it was a defect in Jimmy's
character—one of his many defects—that he loathed and scorned
minor poetry and considered minor poets, especially when
feminine, an unnecessary affliction. He declined to believe that
Ann, his Ann, a girl full of the finest traits of character, the
girl who had been capable of encouraging a comparative stranger
to break the law by impersonating her cousin Jimmy Crocker, could
also be capable of writing The Lonely Heart and other poems. He
skimmed through the first one he came across, and shuddered. It
was pure slush. It was the sort of stuff they filled up pages
with in the magazines when the detective story did not run long
enough. It was the sort of stuff which long-haired blighters read
alone to other long-haired blighters in English suburban
drawing-rooms. It was the sort of stuff which—to be brief—gave
him the Willies. No, it could not be Ann who had written it.
The next moment the horrid truth was thrust upon him. There was
an inscription on the title page.
"To my dearest uncle Peter, with love from the author, Ann
The room seemed to reel before Jimmy's eyes. He felt as if a
friend had wounded him in his tenderest feelings. He felt as if
some loved one had smitten him over the back of the head with a
sandbag. For one moment, in which time stood still, his devotion
to Ann wobbled. It was as if he had found her out in some
terrible crime that revealed unsuspected flaws in her hitherto
ideal character.
Then his eye fell upon the date on the title page, and a strong
spasm of relief shook him. The clouds rolled away, and he loved
her still. This frightful volume had been published five years
A wave of pity swept over Jimmy. He did not blame her now. She
had been a mere child five years ago, scarcely old enough to
distinguish right from wrong. You couldn't blame her for writing
sentimental verse at that age. Why, at a similar stage in his own
career he had wanted to be a vaudeville singer. Everything must
be excused to Youth. It was with a tender glow of affectionate
forgiveness that he turned the pages.
As he did so a curious thing happened to him. He began to have
that feeling, which every one has experienced at some time or
other, that he had done this very thing before. He was almost
convinced that this was not the first time he had seen that poem
on page twenty-seven entitled "A Lament." Why, some of the lines
seemed extraordinarily familiar. The people who understood these
things explained this phenomenon, he believed, by some stuff
about the cells of the brain working simultaneously or something.
Something about cells, anyway. He supposed that that must be it.
But that was not it. The feeling that he had read all this before
grew instead of vanishing, as is generally the way on these
occasions. He _had_ read this stuff before. He was certain of it.
But when? And where? And above all why? Surely he had not done it
from choice.
It was the total impossibility of his having done it from choice
that led his memory in the right direction. There had only been a
year or so in his life when he had been obliged to read things
which he would not have read of his own free will, and that had
been when he worked on the _Chronicle_. Could it have been that
they had given him this book of poems to review? Or—?
And then memory, in its usual eccentric way, having taken all
this time to make the first part of the journey, finished the
rest of it with one lightning swoop, and he knew.
And with the illumination came dismay. Worse than dismay. Horror.
"Gosh!" said Jimmy.
He knew now why he had thought on the occasion of their first
meeting in London that he had seen hair like Ann's before. The
mists rolled away and he saw everything clear and stark. He knew
what had happened at that meeting five years before, to which she
had so mysteriously alluded. He knew what she had meant that
evening on the boat, when she had charged one Jimmy Crocker with
having cured her of sentiment. A cold sweat sprang into being
about his temples. He could remember that interview now, as
clearly as if it had happened five minutes ago instead of five
years. He could recall the article for the _Sunday Chronicle_ which
he had written from the interview, and the ghoulish gusto with
which he had written it. He had had a boy's undisciplined sense
of humour in those days, the sense of humour which riots like a
young colt, careless of what it bruises and crushes. He shuddered
at the recollection of the things he had hammered out so
gleefully on his typewriter down at the _Chronicle_ office. He
found himself recoiling in disgust from the man he had been, the
man who could have done a wanton thing like that without
compunction or ruth. He had read extracts from the article to an
appreciative colleague. . . .
A great sympathy for Ann welled up in him. No wonder she hated
the memory of Jimmy Crocker.
It is probable that remorse would have tortured him even further,
had he not chanced to turn absently to page forty-six and read a
poem entitled "Love's Funeral." It was not a long poem, and he
had finished it inside of two minutes; but by that time a change
had come upon his mood of self-loathing. He no longer felt like a
particularly mean murderer. "Love's Funeral" was like a tonic.
It braced and invigourated him. It was so unspeakably absurd, so
poor in every respect. All things, he now perceived, had worked
together for good. Ann had admitted on the boat that it was his
satire that had crushed out of her the fondness for this sort of
thing. If that was so, then the part he had played in her life
had been that of a rescuer. He thought of her as she was now and
as she must have been then to have written stuff like this, and
he rejoiced at what he had done. In a manner of speaking the Ann
of to-day, the glorious creature who went about the place
kidnapping Ogdens, was his handiwork. It was he who had destroyed
the minor poetry virus in her.
The refrain of an old song came to him.
"You made me what I am to-day! I hope you're satisfied!"
He was more than satisfied. He was proud of himself.
He rejoiced, however, after the first flush of enthusiasm,
somewhat moderately. There was no disguising the penalty of his
deed of kindness. To Ann Jimmy Crocker was no rescuer, but a sort
of blend of ogre and vampire. She must never learn his real
identity—or not until he had succeeded by assiduous toil, as he
hoped he would, in neutralising that prejudice of the distant
A footstep outside broke in on his thoughts. He thrust the book
quickly back into its place. Ann came in, and shut the door
behind her.
"Well?" she said eagerly.
Jimmy did not reply for a moment. He was looking at her and
thinking how perfect in every way she was now, as she stood there
purged of sentimentality, all aglow with curiosity to know how
her nefarious plans had succeeded. It was his Ann who stood
there, not the author of "The Lonely Heart."
"Did you ask her?"
"Yes. But—"
Ann's face fell.
"Oh! She won't let him come back?"
"She absolutely refused. I did my best."
"I know you did."
There was a silence.
"Well, this settles it," said Jimmy. "Now you will have to let me
help you."
Ann looked troubled.
"But it's such a risk. Something terrible might happen to you.
Isn't impersonation a criminal offence?"
"What does it matter? They tell me prisons are excellent places
nowadays. Concerts, picnics—all that sort of thing. I shan't
mind going there. I have a nice singing-voice. I think I will try
to make the glee-club."
"I suppose we are breaking the law," said Ann seriously. "I told
Jerry that nothing could happen to us except the loss of his
place to him and being sent to my grandmother to me, but I'm
bound to say I said that just to encourage him. Don't you think
we ought to know what the penalty is, in case we are caught?"
"It would enable us to make our plans. If it's a life sentence, I
shouldn't worry about selecting my future career."
"You see," explained Ann, "I suppose they would hardly send me to
prison, as I'm a relation—though I would far rather go there
than to grandmother's. She lives all alone miles away in the
country, and is strong on discipline—but they might do all sorts
of things to you, in spite of my pleadings. I really think you
had better give up the idea, I'm afraid my enthusiasm carried me
away. I didn't think of all this before."
"Never. This thing goes through, or fails over my dead body. What
are you looking for?"
Ann was deep in a bulky volume which stood on a lectern by the
"Catalogue," she said briefly, turning the pages. "Uncle Peter
has heaps of law books. I'll look up kidnapping. Here we are. Law
Encyclopedia. Shelf X. Oh, that's upstairs. I shan't be a
She ran to the little staircase, and disappeared. Her voice came
from the gallery.
"Here we are. I've got it."
"Shoot," said Jimmy.
"There's such a lot of it," called the voice from above. "Pages
and pages. I'm just skimming. Wait a moment."
A rustling followed from the gallery, then a sneeze.
"This is the dustiest place I was ever in," said the voice. "It's
inches deep everywhere. It's full of cigarette ends, too. I must
tell uncle. Oh, here it is. Kidnapping—penalties—"
"Hush" called Jimmy. "There's some one coming."
The door opened.
"Hello," said Ogden, strolling in. "I was looking for you. Didn't
think you would be here."
"Come right in, my little man, and make yourself at home," said
Ogden eyed him with disfavour.
"You're pretty fresh, aren't you?"
"This is praise from Sir Hubert Stanley."
"Eh? Who's he?"
"Oh, a gentleman who knew what was what."
Ogden closed the door.
"Well, I know what's what, too. I know what you are for one
thing." He chuckled. "I've got your number all right."
"In what respect?"
Another chuckle proceeded from the bulbous boy.
"You think you're smooth, don't you? But I'm onto you, Jimmy
Crocker. A lot of Jimmy Crocker you are. You're a crook. Get me?
And I know what you're after, at that. You're going to try to
kidnap me."
From the corner of his eye Jimmy was aware of Ann's startled
face, looking over the gallery rail and withdrawn hastily. No
sound came from the heights, but he knew that she was listening
"What makes you think that?"
Ogden lowered himself into the depths of his favourite easy
chair, and, putting his feet restfully on the writing-desk, met
Jimmy's gaze with a glassy but knowing eye.
"Got a cigarette?" he said.
"I have not," said Jimmy. "I'm sorry."
"So am I."
"Returning, with your permission, to our original subject," said
Jimmy, "what makes you think that I have come here to kidnap
Ogden yawned.
"I was in the drawing-room after lunch, and that guy Lord
Wisbeach came in and said he wanted to talk to mother privately.
Mother sent me out of the room, so of course I listened at the
"Do you know where little boys go who listen to private
conversations?" said Jimmy severely.
"To the witness-stand generally, I guess. Well, I listened, and I
heard this Lord Wisbeach tell mother that he had only pretended
to recognise you as Jimmy Crocker and that really he had never
seen you before in his life. He said you were a crook and that
they had got to watch you. Well, I knew then why you had come
here. It was pretty smooth, getting in the way you did. I've got
to hand it to you."
Jimmy did not reply. His mind was occupied with the contemplation
of this dashing counter-stroke on the part of Gentleman Jack. He
could hardly refrain from admiring the simple strategy with which
the latter had circumvented him. There was an artistry about the
move which compelled respect.
"Well, now, see here," said Ogden, "you and I have got to get
together on this proposition. I've been kidnapped twice before,
and the only guys that made anything out of it were the
kidnappers. It's pretty soft for them. They couldn't have got a
cent without me, and they never dreamed of giving me a rake-off.
I'm getting good and tired of being kidnapped for other people's
benefit, and I've made up my mind that the next guy that wants me
has got to come across. See? My proposition is fifty-fifty. If
you like it, I'm game to let you go ahead. If you don't like it,
then the deal's off, and you'll find that you've a darned poor
chance of getting me. When I was kidnapped before, I was just a
kid, but I can look after myself now. Well, what do you say?"
Jimmy found it hard at first to say anything. He had never
properly understood the possibilities of Ogden's character
before. The longer he contemplated him, the more admirable Ann's
scheme appeared. It seemed to him that only a resolute keeper of
a home for dogs would be adequately equipped for dealing with
this remarkable youth.
"This is a commercial age," he said.
"You bet it is," said Ogden. "My middle name is business. Say,
are you working this on your own, or are you in with Buck
Maginnis and his crowd?"
"I don't think I know Mr. Maginnis."
"He's the guy who kidnapped me the first time. He's a rough-neck.
Smooth Sam Fisher got away with me the second time. Maybe you're
in with Sam?"
"No, I guess not. I heard that he had married and retired from
business. I rather wish you were one of Buck's lot. I like Buck.
When he kidnapped me, I lived with him and he gave me a swell
time. When I left him, a woman came and interviewed me about it
for one of the Sunday papers. Sob stuff. Called the piece 'Even
Kidnappers Have Tender Hearts Beneath A Rough Exterior.' I've got
it upstairs in my press-clipping album. It was pretty bad slush.
Buck Maginnis hasn't got any tender heart beneath his rough
exterior, but he's a good sort and I liked him. We used to shoot
craps. And he taught me to chew. I'd be tickled to death to have
Buck get me again. But, if you're working on your own, all right.
It's all the same to me, provided you meet me on the terms."
"You certainly are a fascinating child."
"Less of it, less of it. I've troubles enough to bear without
having you getting fresh. Well, what about it? Talk figures. If I
let you take me away, do we divvy up or don't we? That's all
you've got to say."
"That's easily settled. I'll certainly give you half of whatever
I get."
Ogden looked wistfully at the writing-desk.
"I wish I could have that in writing. But I guess it wouldn't
stand in law. I suppose I shall have to trust you."
"Honour among thieves."
"Less of the thieves. This is just a straight business
proposition. I've got something valuable to sell, and I'm darned
if I'm going to keep giving it away. I've been too easy. I ought
to have thought of this before. All right, then, that's settled.
Now it's up to you. You can think out the rest of it yourself."
He heaved himself out of the chair, and left the room. Ann,
coming down from the gallery, found Jimmy meditating. He looked
up at the sound of her step.
"Well, that seems to make it pretty easy for us, doesn't it?" he
said. "It solves the problem of ways and means."
"But this is awful. This alters everything. It isn't safe for you
to stay here. You must go away at once. They've found you out.
You may be arrested at any moment."
"That's a side-issue. The main point is to put this thing
through. Then we can think about what is going to happen to me."
"But can't you see the risk you're running?"
"I don't mind. I want to help you."
"I won't let you."
"You must."
"But do be sensible. What would you think of me if I allowed you
to face this danger—?"
"I wouldn't think any differently of you. My opinion of you is a
fixed thing. Nothing can alter it. I tried to tell you on the
boat, but you wouldn't let me. I think you're the most perfect,
wonderful girl in all the world. I've loved you since the first
moment I saw you. I knew who you were when we met for half a
minute that day in London. We were utter strangers, but I knew
you. You were the girl I had been looking for all my life. Good
Heavens, you talk of risks. Can't you understand that just being
with you and speaking to you and knowing that we share this thing
together is enough to wipe out any thought of risk? I'd do
anything for you. And you expect me to back out of this thing
because there is a certain amount of danger!"
Ann had retreated to the door, and was looking at him with wide
eyes. With other young men and there had been many—who had said
much the same sort of thing to her since her _debutante_ days she
had been cool and composed—a little sorry, perhaps, but in no
doubt as to her own feelings and her ability to resist their
pleadings. But now her heart was racing, and the conviction had
begun to steal over her that the cool and composed Ann Chester
was in imminent danger of making a fool of herself. Quite
suddenly, without any sort of warning, she realised that there
was some quality in Jimmy which called aloud to some
corresponding quality in herself—a nebulous something that made
her know that he and she were mates. She knew herself hard to
please where men were concerned. She could not have described
what it was in her that all the men she had met, the men with
whom she had golfed and ridden and yachted, had failed to
satisfy: but, ever since she had acquired the power of
self-analysis, she had known that it was something which was a
solid and indestructible part of her composition. She could not
have put into words what quality she demanded in man, but she had
always known that she would recognise it when she found it: and
she recognised it now in Jimmy. It was a recklessness, an
irresponsibility, a cheerful dare-devilry, the complement to her
own gay lawlessness.
"Ann!" said Jimmy.
"It's too late!"
She had not meant to say that. She had meant to say that it was
impossible, out of the question. But her heart was running away
with her, goaded on by the irony of it all. A veil seemed to have
fallen from before her eyes, and she knew now why she had been
drawn to Jimmy from the very first. They were mates, and she had
thrown away her happiness.
"I've promised to marry Lord Wisbeach!"
Jimmy stopped dead, as if the blow had been a physical one.
"You've promised to marry Lord Wisbeach!"
"But—but when?"
"Just now. Only a few minutes ago. When I was driving him to his
hotel. He had asked me to marry him before I left for England,
and I had promised to give him his answer when I got back. But
when I got back, somehow I couldn't make up my mind. The days
slipped by. Something seemed to be holding me back. He pressed me
to say that I would marry him, and it seemed absurd to go on
refusing to be definite, so I said I would."
"You can't love him? Surely you don't—?"
Ann met his gaze frankly.
"Something seems to have happened to me in the last few minutes,"
she said, "and I can't think clearly. A little while ago it
didn't seem to matter much. I liked him. He was good-looking and
good-tempered. I felt that we should get along quite well and be
as happy as most people are. That seemed as near perfection as
one could expect to get nowadays, so—well, that's how it was."
"But you can't marry him! It's out of the question!"
"I've promised."
"You must break your promise."
"I can't do that."
"You must!"
"I can't. One must play the game."
Jimmy groped for words. "But in this case you mustn't—it's
awful—in this special case—" He broke off. He saw the trap he
was in. He could not denounce that crook without exposing
himself. And from that he still shrank. Ann's prejudice against
Jimmy Crocker might have its root in a trivial and absurd
grievance, but it had been growing through the years, and who
could say how strong it was now?
Ann came a step towards him, then paused doubtfully. Then, as if
making up her mind, she drew near and touched his sleeve.
"I'm sorry," she said.
There was a silence.
"I'm sorry!"
She moved away. The door closed softly behind her. Jimmy scarcely
knew that she had gone. He sat down in that deep chair which was
Mr. Pett's favourite, and stared sightlessly at the ceiling. And
then, how many minutes or hours later he did not know, the sharp
click of the door-handle roused him. He sprang from the chair.
Was it Ann, come back?
It was not Ann. Round the edge of the door came inquiringly the
fair head of Lord Wisbeach.
"Oh!" said his lordship, sighting Jimmy.
The head withdrew itself.
"Come here!" shouted Jimmy.
The head appeared again.
"Talking to me?"
"Yes, I was talking to you."
Lord Wisbeach followed his superstructure into the room. He was
outwardly all that was bland and unperturbed, but there was a
wary look in the eye that cocked itself at Jimmy, and he did not
move far from the door. His fingers rested easily on the handle
behind him. He did not think it probable that Jimmy could have
heard of his visit to Mrs. Pett, but there had been something
menacing in the latter's voice, and he believed in safety first.
"They told me Miss Chester was here," he said by way of relaxing
any possible strain there might be in the situation.
"And what the devil do you want with Miss Chester, you slimy,
crawling second-story-worker, you damned, oily yegg?" enquired
The sunniest optimist could not have deluded himself into the
belief that the words were spoken in a friendly and genial
spirit. Lord Wisbeach's fingers tightened on the door-handle, and
he grew a little flushed about the cheek-bones.
"What's all this about?" he said.
"You infernal crook!"
Lord Wisbeach looked anxious.
"Don't shout like that! Are you crazy? Do you want people to
Jimmy drew a deep breath.
"I shall have to get further away from you," he said more
quietly. "There's no knowing what may happen if I don't. I don't
want to kill you. At least, I do, but I had better not."
He retired slowly until brought to a halt by the writing-desk. To
this he anchored himself with a firm grip. He was extremely
anxious to do nothing rash, and the spectacle of Gentleman Jack
invited rashness. He leaned against the desk, clutching its
solidity with both hands. Lord Wisbeach held steadfastly to the
door-handle. And in this tense fashion the interview proceeded.
"Miss Chester," said Jimmy, forcing himself to speak calmly, "has
just been telling me that she has promised to marry you."
"Quite true," said Lord Wisbeach. "It will be announced
to-morrow." A remark trembled on his lips, to the effect that he
relied on Jimmy for a fish-slice, but prudence kept it unspoken.
He was unable at present to understand Jimmy's emotion. Why Jimmy
should object to his being engaged to Ann, he could not imagine.
But it was plain that for some reason he had taken the thing to
heart, and, dearly as he loved a bit of quiet fun, Lord Wisbeach
decided that the other was at least six inches too tall and fifty
pounds too heavy to be bantered in his present mood by one of his
own physique. "Why not?"
"It won't be announced to-morrow," said Jimmy. "Because by
to-morrow you will be as far away from here as you can get, if
you have any sense."
"What do you mean?"
"Just this. If you haven't left this house by breakfast time
to-morrow, I shall expose you."
Lord Wisbeach was not feeling particularly happy, but he laughed
at this.
"That's what I said."
"Who do you think you are, to go about exposing people?"
"I happen to be Mrs. Pett's nephew, Jimmy Crocker."
Lord Wisbeach laughed again.
"Is that the line you are going to take?"
"It is."
"You are going to Mrs. Pett to tell her that you are Jimmy
Crocker and that I am a crook and that you only pretended to
recognise me for reasons of your own?"
"Just that."
"Forget it!" Lord Wisbeach had forgotten to be alarmed in his
amusement. He smiled broadly. "I'm not saying it's not good stuff
to pull, but it's old stuff now. I'm sorry for you, but I thought
of it before you did. I went to Mrs. Pett directly after lunch
and sprang that line of talk myself. Do you think she'll believe
you after that? I tell you I'm ace-high with that dame. You
can't queer me with her."
"I think I can. For the simple reason that I really am Jimmy
"Yes, you are."
"Exactly. Yes, I am."
Lord Wisbeach smiled tolerantly.
"It was worth trying the bluff, I guess, but it won't work. I
know you'd be glad to get me out of this house, but you've got to
make a better play than that to do it."
"Don't deceive yourself with the idea that I'm bluffing. Look
here." He suddenly removed his coat and threw it to Lord
Wisbeach. "Read the tailor's label inside the pocket. See the
name. Also the address. 'J. Crocker. Drexdale House. Grosvenor
Square. London.'"
Lord Wisbeach picked up the garment and looked as directed. His
face turned a little sallower, but he still fought against his
growing conviction.
"That's no proof."
"Perhaps not. But, when you consider the reputation of the tailor
whose name is on the label, it's hardly likely that he would be
standing in with an impostor, is it? If you want real proof, I
have no doubt that there are half a dozen men working on the
_Chronicle_ who can identify me. Or are you convinced already?"
Lord Wisbeach capitulated.
"I don't know what fool game you think you're playing, but I
can't see why you couldn't have told me this when we were talking
after lunch."
"Never mind. I had my reasons. They don't matter. What matters is
that you are going to get out of here to-morrow. Do you
understand that?"
"I get you."
"Then that's about all, I think. Don't let me keep you."
"Say, listen." Gentleman Jack's voice was plaintive. "I think you
might give a fellow a chance to get out good. Give me time to
have a guy in Montreal send me a telegram telling me to go up
there right away. Otherwise you might just as well put the cops
on me at once. The old lady knows I've got business in Canada.
You don't need to be rough on a fellow."
Jimmy pondered this point.
"All right. I don't object to that."
"Don't start anything, though."
"I don't know what you mean."
Jimmy pointed to the safe.
"Come, come, friend of my youth. We have no secrets from each
other. I know you're after what's in there, and you know that I
know. I don't want to harp on it, but you'll be spending to-night
in the house, and I think you had better make up your mind to
spend it in your room, getting a nice sleep to prepare you for
your journey. Do you follow me, old friend?"
"I get you."
"That will be all then, I think. Wind a smile around your neck
and recede."
The door slammed. Lord Wisbeach had restrained his feelings
successfully during the interview, but he could not deny himself
that slight expression of them. Jimmy crossed the room and took
his coat from the chair where the other had dropped it. As he did
so a voice spoke.
Jimmy spun round. The room was apparently empty. The thing was
beginning to assume an uncanny aspect, when the voice spoke
"You think you're darned funny, don't you?"
It came from above. Jimmy had forgotten the gallery. He directed
his gaze thither, and perceived the heavy face of Ogden hanging
over the rail like a gargoyle.
"What are you doing there?" he demanded.
"How did you get there?"
"There's a door back here that you get to from the stairs. I
often come here for a quiet cigarette. Say, you think yourself
some josher, don't you, telling me you were a kidnapper! You
strung me like an onion. So you're really Jimmy Crocker after
all? Where was the sense in pulling all that stuff about taking
me away and divvying up the ransom? Aw, you make me tired!"
The head was withdrawn, and Jimmy heard heavy steps followed by
the banging of a door. Peace reigned in the library.
Jimmy sat down in the chair which was Mr. Pett's favourite and
which Ogden was accustomed to occupy to that gentleman's
displeasure. The swiftness of recent events had left him a little
dizzy, and he desired to think matters over and find out exactly
what had happened.
The only point which appeared absolutely clear to him in a welter
of confusing occurrences was the fact that he had lost the chance
of kidnapping Ogden. Everything had arranged itself so
beautifully simply and conveniently as regarded that venture
until a moment ago; but now that the boy had discovered his
identity it was impossible for him to attempt it. He was loth to
accept this fact. Surely, even now, there was a way . . .
Quite suddenly an admirable plan occurred to him. It involved the
co-operation of his father. And at that thought he realised with
a start that life had been moving so rapidly for him since his
return to the house that he had not paid any attention at all to
what was really as amazing a mystery as any. He had been too busy
to wonder why his father was there.
He debated the best method of getting in touch with him. It was
out of the question to descend to the pantry or wherever it was
that his father lived in this new incarnation of his. Then the
happy thought struck him that results might be obtained by the
simple process of ringing the bell. It might produce some other
unit of the domestic staff. However, it was worth trying. He rang
the bell.
A few moments later the door opened. Jimmy looked up. It was not
his father. It was a dangerous-looking female of uncertain age,
dressed as a parlour-maid, who eyed him with what seemed to his
conscience-stricken soul dislike and suspicion. She had a
tight-lipped mouth and beady eyes beneath heavy brows. Jimmy had
seldom seen a woman who attracted him less at first sight.
"Jer ring, S'?"
Jimmy blinked and almost ducked. The words had come at him like a
"Oh, ah, yes."
"J' want anything, s'?"
With an effort Jimmy induced his mind to resume its interrupted
"Oh, ah, yes. Would you mind sending Skinner the butler to me."
The apparition vanished. Jimmy drew out his handkerchief and
dabbed at his forehead. He felt weak and guilty. He felt as if he
had just been accused of nameless crimes and had been unable to
deny the charge. Such was the magic of Miss Trimble's eye—the
left one, which looked directly at its object. Conjecture pauses
baffled at the thought of the effect which her gaze might have
created in the breasts of the sex she despised, had it been
double instead of single-barrelled. But half of it had wasted
itself on a spot some few feet to his right.
Presently the door opened again, and Mr. Crocker appeared,
looking like a benevolent priest.
"Well, Skinner, my man," said Jimmy, "how goes it?"
Mr. Crocker looked about him cautiously. Then his priestly manner
fell from him like a robe, and he bounded forward.
"Jimmy!" he exclaimed, seizing his son's hand and shaking it
violently. "Say, it's great seeing you again, Jim!"
Jimmy drew himself up haughtily.
"Skinner, my good menial, you forget yourself strangely! You will
be getting fired if you mitt the handsome guest in this chummy
fashion!" He slapped his father on the back. "Dad, this is great!
How on earth do you come to be here? What's the idea? Why the
buttling? When did you come over? Tell me all!"
Mr. Crocker hoisted himself nimbly onto the writing-desk, and sat
there, beaming, with dangling legs.
"It was your letter that did it, Jimmy. Say, Jim, there wasn't
any need for you to do a thing like that just for me."
"Well, I thought you would have a better chance of being a peer
without me around. By the way, dad, how did my step-mother take
the Lord Percy episode?"
A shadow fell upon Mr. Crocker's happy face.
"I don't like to do much thinking about your step-mother," he
said. "She was pretty sore about Percy. And she was pretty sore
about your lighting out for America. But, gee! what she must be
feeling like now that I've come over, I daren't let myself
"You haven't explained that yet. Why did you come over?"
"Well, I'd been feeling homesick—I always do over there in the
baseball season—and then talking with Pett made it worse—"
"Talking with Pett? Did you see him, then, when he was in
"See him? I let him in!"
"Into the house, I mean. I had just gone to the front door to see
what sort of a day it was—I wanted to know if there had been
enough rain in the night to stop my having to watch that cricket
game—and just as I got there the bell rang. I opened the door."
"A revoltingly plebeian thing to do! I'm ashamed of you, dad!
They won't stand for that sort of thing in the House of Lords!"
"Well, before I knew what was happening they had taken me for the
butler. I didn't want your step-mother to know I'd been opening
doors—you remember how touchy she was always about it so I just
let it go at that and jollied them along. But I just couldn't
help asking the old man how the pennant race was making out, and
that tickled him so much that he offered me a job here as butler
if I ever wanted to make a change. And then your note came saying
that you were going to New York, and—well, I couldn't help
myself. You couldn't have kept me in London with ropes. I sneaked
out next day and bought a passage on the _Carmantic_—she sailed
the Wednesday after you left—and came straight here. They gave
me this job right away." Mr. Crocker paused, and a holy light of
enthusiasm made his homely features almost beautiful. "Say, Jim,
I've seen a ball-game every darned day since I landed! Say, two
days running Larry Doyle made home-runs! But, gosh! that guy Klem
is one swell robber! See here!" Mr. Crocker sprang down from the
desk, and snatched up a handful of books, which he proceeded to
distribute about the floor. "There were two men on bases in the
sixth and What's-his-name came to bat. He lined one out to
centre-field—where this book is—and—"
"Pull yourself together, Skinner! You can't monkey about with the
employer's library like that." Jimmy restored the books to their
places. "Simmer down and tell me more. Postpone the gossip from
the diamond. What plans have you made? Have you considered the
future at all? You aren't going to hold down this buttling job
forever, are you? When do you go back to London?"
The light died out of Mr. Crocker's face.
"I guess I shall have to go back some time. But how can I yet,
with the Giants leading the league like this?"
"But did you just light out without saying anything?"
"I left a note for your step-mother telling her I had gone to
America for a vacation. Jimmy, I hate to think what she's going
to do to me when she gets me back!"
"Assert yourself, dad! Tell her that woman's place is the home
and man's the ball-park! Be firm!"
Mr. Crocker shook his head dubiously.
"It's all very well to talk that way when you're three thousand
miles from home, but you know as well as I do, Jim, that your
step-mother, though she's a delightful woman, isn't the sort you
can assert yourself with. Look at this sister of hers here. I
guess you haven't been in the house long enough to have noticed,
but she's very like Eugenia in some ways. She's the boss all
right, and old Pett does just what he's told to. I guess it's the
same with me, Jim. There's a certain type of man that's just born
to have it put over on him by a certain type of woman. I'm that
sort of man and your stepmother's that sort of woman. No, I guess
I'm going to get mine all right, and the only thing to do is to
keep it from stopping me having a good time now."
There was truth in what he said, and Jimmy recognised it. He
changed the subject.
"Well, never mind that. There's no sense in worrying oneself
about the future. Tell me, dad, where did you get all the
'dinner-is-served, madam' stuff? How did you ever learn to be a
"Bayliss taught me back in London. And, of course, I've played
butlers when I was on the stage."
Jimmy did not speak for a moment.
"Did you ever play a kidnapper, dad?" he asked at length.
"Sure. I was Chicago Ed. in a crook play called 'This Way Out.'
Why, surely you saw me in that? I got some good notices."
Jimmy nodded.
"Of course. I knew I'd seen you play that sort of part some time.
You came on during the dark scene and—"
"—switched on the lights and—"
"—covered the bunch with your gun while they were still
blinking! You were great in that part, dad."
"It was a good part," said Mr. Crocker modestly. "It had fat. I'd
like to have a chance to play a kidnapper again. There's a lot of
pep to kidnappers."
"You _shall_ play one again," said Jimmy. "I am putting on a little
sketch with a kidnapper as the star part."
"Eh? A sketch? You, Jim? Where?"
"Here. In this house. It is entitled 'Kidnapping Ogden' and opens
Mr. Crocker looked at his only son in concern. Jimmy appeared to
him to be rambling.
"Amateur theatricals?" he hazarded.
"In the sense that there is no pay for performing, yes. Dad, you
know that kid Ogden upstairs? Well, it's quite simple. I want you
to kidnap him for me."
Mr. Crocker sat down heavily. He shook his head.
"I don't follow all this."
"Of course not. I haven't begun to explain. Dad, in your rambles
through this joint you've noticed a girl with glorious red-gold
hair, I imagine?"
"Ann Chester?"
"Ann Chester. I'm going to marry her."
"But she doesn't know it yet. Now, follow me carefully, dad. Five
years ago Ann Chester wrote a book of poems. It's on that desk
there. You were using it a moment back as second-base or
something. Now, I was working at that time on the _Chronicle_. I
wrote a skit on those poems for the Sunday paper. Do you begin to
follow the plot?"
"She's got it in for you? She's sore?"
"Exactly. Get that firmly fixed in your mind, because it's the
source from which all the rest of the story springs."
Mr. Crocker interrupted.
"But I don't understand. You say she's sore at you. Well, how is
it that you came in together looking as if you were good friends
when I let you in this morning?"
"I was waiting for you to ask that. The explanation is that she
doesn't know that I am Jimmy Crocker."
"But you came here saying that you were Jimmy Crocker."
"Quite right. And that is where the plot thickens. I made Ann's
acquaintance first in London and then on the boat. I had found
out that Jimmy Crocker was the man she hated most in the world,
so I took another name. I called myself Bayliss."
"I had to think of something quick, because the clerk at the
shipping office was waiting to fill in my ticket. I had just been
talking to Bayliss on the phone and his was the only name that
came into my mind. You know how it is when you try to think of a
name suddenly. Now mark the sequel. Old Bayliss came to see me
off at Paddington. Ann was there and saw me. She said 'Good
evening, Mr. Bayliss' or something, and naturally old Bayliss
replied 'What ho!' or words to that effect. The only way to
handle the situation was to introduce him as my father. I did so.
Ann, therefore, thinks that I am a young man named Bayliss who
has come over to America to make his fortune. We now come to the
third reel. I met Ann by chance at the Knickerbocker and took her
to lunch. While we were lunching, that confirmed congenital
idiot, Reggie Bartling, who happened to have come over to America
as well, came up and called me by my name. I knew that, if Ann
discovered who I really was, she would have nothing more to do
with me, so I gave Reggie the haughty stare and told him that he
had made a mistake. He ambled away—and possibly committed
suicide in his anguish at having made such a bloomer—leaving Ann
discussing with me the extraordinary coincidence of my being
Jimmy Crocker's double. Do you follow the story of my life so
Mr. Crocker, who had been listening with wrinkled brow and other
signs of rapt attention, nodded.
"I understand all that. But how did you come to get into this
"That is reel four. I am getting to that. It seems that Ann, who
is the sweetest girl on earth and always on the lookout to do
some one a kindness, had decided, in the interests of the boy's
future, to remove young Ogden Ford from his present sphere, where
he is being spoiled and ruined, and send him down to a man on
Long Island who would keep him for awhile and instil the first
principles of decency into him. Her accomplice in this admirable
scheme was Jerry Mitchell."
"Jerry Mitchell!"
"Who, as you know, got fired yesterday. Jerry was to have done
the rough work of the job. But, being fired, he was no longer
available. I, therefore, offered to take his place. So here I
"You're going to kidnap that boy?"
"No. You are."
"Precisely. You are going to play a benefit performance of your
world-famed success, Chicago Ed. Let me explain further. Owing to
circumstances which I need not go into, Ogden has found out that
I am really Jimmy Crocker, so he refuses to have anything more to
do with me. I had deceived him into believing that I was a
professional kidnapper, and he came to me and offered to let me
kidnap him if I would go fifty-fifty with him in the ransom!"
"Yes, he's an intelligent child, full of that sort of bright
ideas. Well, now he has found that I am not all his fancy painted
me, he wouldn't come away with me; and I want you to understudy
me while the going is good. In the fifth reel, which will be
released to-night after the household has retired to rest, you
will be featured. It's got to be tonight, because it has just
occurred to me that Ogden, knowing that Lord Wisbeach is a crook,
may go to him with the same proposal that he made to me."
"Lord Wisbeach a crook!"
"Of the worst description. He is here to steal that explosive
stuff of Willie Partridge's. But as I have blocked that play, he
may turn his attention to Ogden."
"But, Jimmy, if that fellow is a crook—how do you know he is?"
"He told me so himself."
"Well, then, why don't you expose him?"
"Because in order to do so, Skinner my man, I should have to
explain that I was really Jimmy Crocker, and the time is not yet
ripe for that. To my thinking, the time will not be ripe till you
have got safely away with Ogden Ford. I can then go to Ann and
say 'I may have played you a rotten trick in the past, but I have
done you a good turn now, so let's forget the past!' So you see
that everything now depends on you, dad. I'm not asking you to do
anything difficult. I'll go round to the boarding-house now and
tell Jerry Mitchell about what we have arranged, and have him
waiting outside here in a car. Then all you will have to do is to
go to Ogden, play a short scene as Chicago Ed., escort him to the
car, and then go back to bed and have a good sleep. Once Ogden
thinks you are a professional kidnapper, you won't have any
difficulty at all. Get it into your head that he wants to be
kidnapped. Surely you can tackle this light and attractive job?
Why, it will be a treat for you to do a bit of character acting
once more!"
Jimmy had struck the right note. His father's eyes began to gleam
with excitement. The scent of the footlights seemed to dilate his
"I was always good at that rough-neck stuff," he murmured
meditatively. "I used to eat it!"
"Exactly," said Jimmy. "Look at it in the right way, and I am
doing you a kindness in giving you this chance."
Mr. Crocker rubbed his cheek with his forefinger.
"You'd want me to make up for the part?" he asked wistfully.
"Of course!"
"You want me to do it to-night?"
"At about two in the morning, I thought."
"I'll do it, Jim!"
Jimmy grasped his hand.
"I knew I could rely on you, dad."
Mr. Crocker was following a train of thought.
"Dark wig . . . blue chin . . . heavy eyebrows . . . I guess I
can't do better than my old Chicago Ed. make-up. Say, Jimmy, how
am I to get to the kid?"
"That'll be all right. You can stay in my room till the time
comes to go to him. Use it as a dressing-room."
"How am I to get him out of the house?"
"Through this room. I'll tell Jerry to wait out on the
side-street with the car from two o'clock on."
Mr. Crocker considered these arrangements.
"That seems to be about all," he said.
"I don't think there's anything else."
"I'll slip downtown and buy the props."
"I'll go and tell Jerry."
A thought struck Mr. Crocker.
"You'd better tell Jerry to make up, too. He doesn't want the kid
recognising him and squealing on him later."
Jimmy was lost in admiration of his father's resource.
"You think of everything, dad! That wouldn't have occurred to me.
You certainly do take to Crime in the most wonderful way. It
seems to come naturally to you!"
Mr. Crocker smirked modestly.
Plit is only as strong as its weakest link. The best-laid schemes
of mice and men gang agley if one of the mice is a mental
defective or if one of the men is a Jerry Mitchell. . . .
Celestine, Mrs. Pett's maid—she who was really Maggie O'Toole
and whom Jerry loved with a strength which deprived him of even
that small amount of intelligence which had been bestowed upon
him by Nature—came into the house-keeper's room at about ten
o'clock that night. The domestic staff had gone in a body to the
moving-pictures, and the only occupant of the room was the new
parlourmaid, who was sitting in a hard chair, reading
Celestine's face was flushed, her dark hair was ruffled, and her
eyes were shining. She breathed a little quickly, and her left
hand was out of sight behind her back. She eyed the new
parlour-maid doubtfully for a moment. The latter was a woman of
somewhat unencouraging exterior, not the kind that invites
confidences. But Celestine had confidences to bestow, and the
exodus to the movies had left her in a position where she could
not pick and choose. She was faced with the alternative of
locking her secret in her palpitating bosom or of revealing it to
this one auditor. The choice was one which no impulsive damsel in
like circumstances would have hesitated to make.
"Say!" said Celestine.
A face rose reluctantly from behind Schopenhauer. A gleaming eye
met Celestine's. A second eye no less gleaming glared at the
"Say, I just been talking to my feller outside," said Celestine
with a coy simper. "Say, he's a grand man!"
A snort of uncompromising disapproval proceeded from the
thin-lipped mouth beneath the eyes. But Celestine was too full of
her news to be discouraged.
"I'm strong fer Jer!" she said.
"Huh?" said the student of Schopenhauer.
"Jerry Mitchell, you know. You ain't never met him, have you?
Say, he's a grand man!"
For the first time she had the other's undivided attention. The
new parlour-maid placed her book upon the table.
"Uh?" she said.
Celestine could hold back her dramatic surprise no longer. Her
concealed left hand flashed into view. On the third finger
glittered a ring. She gazed at it with awed affection.
"Ain't it a beaut!"
She contemplated its sparkling perfection for a moment in
rapturous silence.
"Say, you could have knocked me down with a feather!" she
resumed. "He telephones me awhile ago and says to be outside the
back door at ten to-night, because he'd something he wanted to
tell me. Of course he couldn't come in and tell it me here,
because he'd been fired and everything. So I goes out, and there
he is. 'Hello, kid!' he says to me. 'Fresh!' I says to him.
'Say, I got something to be fresh about!' he says to me. And then
he reaches into his jeans and hauls out the sparkler. 'What's
that?' I says to him. 'It's an engagement ring,' he says to me.
'For you, if you'll wear it!' I came over so weak, I could have
fell! And the next thing I know he's got it on my finger and—"
Celestine broke off modestly. "Say, ain't it a beaut, honest!"
She gave herself over to contemplation once more. "He says to me
how he's on Easy Street now, or will be pretty soon. I says to
him 'Have you got a job, then?' He says to me 'Now, I ain't got a
job, but I'm going to pull off a stunt to-night that's going to
mean enough to me to start that health-farm I've told you about.'
Say, he's always had a line of talk about starting a health-farm
down on Long Island, he knowing all about training and health and
everything through having been one of them fighters. I asks him
what the stunt is, but he won't tell me yet. He says he'll tell
me after we're married, but he says it's sure-fire and he's going
to buy the license tomorrow."
She paused for comment and congratulations, eyeing her companion
"Huh!" said the new parlour-maid briefly, and resumed her
Schopenhauer. Decidedly hers was not a winning personality.
"Ain't it a beaut?" demanded Celestine, damped.
The new parlour-maid uttered a curious sound at the back of her
"He's a beaut!" she said cryptically.
She added another remark in a lower tone, too low for Celestine's
ears. It could hardly have been that, but it sounded to Celestine
"I'll fix 'm!"
Riverside Drive slept. The moon shone on darkened windows and
deserted sidewalks. It was past one o'clock in the morning. The
wicked Forties were still ablaze with light and noisy foxtrots;
but in the virtuous Hundreds, where Mr. Pett's house stood,
respectable slumber reigned. Only the occasional drone of a
passing automobile broke the silence, or the love-sick cry of
some feline Romeo patrolling a wall-top.
Jimmy was awake. He was sitting on the edge of his bed watching
his father put the finishing touches to his make-up, which was of
a shaggy and intimidating nature. The elder Crocker had conceived
the outward aspect of Chicago Ed., King of the Kidnappers, on
broad and impressive lines, and one glance would have been enough
to tell the sagacious observer that here was no white-souled
comrade for a nocturnal saunter down lonely lanes and
out-of-the-way alleys.
Mr. Crocker seemed to feel this himself.
"The only trouble is, Jim," he said, peering at himself in the
glass, "shan't I scare the boy to death directly he sees me?
Oughtn't I to give him some sort of warning?"
"How? Do you suggest sending him a formal note?"
Mr. Crocker surveyed his repellent features doubtfully.
"It's a good deal to spring on a kid at one in the morning," he
said. "Suppose he has a fit!"
"He's far more likely to give you one. Don't you worry about
Ogden, dad. I shouldn't think there was a child alive more equal
to handling such a situation."
There was an empty glass standing on a tray on the
dressing-table. Mr. Crocker eyed this sadly.
"I wish you hadn't thrown that stuff away, Jim. I could have done
with it. I'm feeling nervous."
"Nonsense, dad! You're all right! I had to throw it away. I'm on
the wagon now, but how long I should have stayed on with that
smiling up at me I don't know. I've made up my mind never to
lower myself to the level of the beasts that perish with the
demon Rum again, because my future wife has strong views on the
subject: but there's no sense in taking chances. Temptation is
all very well, but you don't need it on your dressing-table. It
was a kindly thought of yours to place it there, dad, but—"
"Eh? I didn't put it there."
"I thought that sort of thing came in your department. Isn't it
the butler's job to supply drinks to the nobility and gentry?
Well, it doesn't matter. It is now distributed over the
neighbouring soil, thus removing a powerful temptation from your
path. You're better without it." He looked at his watch. "Well,
it ought to be all right now." He went to the window. "There's an
automobile down there. I suppose it's Jerry. I told him to be
outside at one sharp and it's nearly half-past. I think you might
be starting, dad. Oh, by the way, you had better tell Ogden that
you represent a gentleman of the name of Buck Maginnis. It was
Buck who got away with him last time, and a firm friendship seems
to-have sprung up between them. There's nothing like coming with
a good introduction."
Mr. Crocker took a final survey of himself in the mirror.
"Gee I I'd hate to meet myself on a lonely road!"
He opened the door, and stood for a moment listening.
From somewhere down the passage came the murmur of a muffled
"Third door on the left," said Jimmy. "Three—count 'em!—three.
Don't go getting mixed."
Mr. Crocker slid into the outer darkness like a stout ghost, and
Jimmy closed the door gently behind him.
Having launched his indulgent parent safely on a career of crime,
Jimmy switched off the light and returned to the window. Leaning
out, he gave himself up for a moment to sentimental musings. The
night was very still. Through the trees which flanked the house
the dimmed headlights of what was presumably Jerry Mitchell's
hired car shone faintly like enlarged fire-flies. A boat of some
description was tooting reflectively far down the river. Such was
the seductive influence of the time and the scene that Jimmy
might have remained there indefinitely, weaving dreams, had he
not been under the necessity of making his way down to the
library. It was his task to close the French windows after his
father and Ogden had passed through, and he proposed to remain
hid in the gallery there until the time came for him to do this.
It was imperative that he avoid being seen by Ogden.
Locking his door behind him, he went downstairs. There were no
signs of life in the house. Everything was still. He found the
staircase leading to the gallery without having to switch on the
It was dusty in the gallery, and a smell of old leather enveloped
him. He hoped his father would not be long. He lowered himself
cautiously to the floor, and, resting his head against a
convenient shelf, began to wonder how the interview between
Chicago Ed. and his prey was progressing.
* * * * *
Mr. Crocker, meanwhile, masked to the eyes, had crept in fearful
silence to the door which Jimmy had indicated. A good deal of the
gay enthusiasm with which he had embarked on this enterprise had
ebbed away from him. Now that he had become accustomed to the
novelty of finding himself once more playing a character part,
his intimate respectability began to assert itself. It was one
thing to play Chicago Ed. at a Broadway theatre, but quite another
to give a benefit performance like this. As he tip-toed along the
passage, the one thing that presented itself most clearly to him
was the appalling outcome of this act of his, should anything go
wrong. He would have turned back, but for the thought that Jimmy
was depending on him and that success would mean Jimmy's
happiness. Stimulated by this reflection, he opened Ogden's door
inch by inch and went in. He stole softly across the room.
He had almost reached the bed, and had just begun to wonder how
on earth, now that he was there, he could open the proceedings
tactfully and without alarming the boy, when he was saved the
trouble of pondering further on this problem. A light flashed out
of the darkness with the suddenness of a bursting bomb, and a
voice from the same general direction said "Hands up!"
When Mr. Crocker had finished blinking and had adjusted his eyes
to the glare, he perceived Ogden sitting up in bed with a
revolver in his hand. The revolver was resting on his knee, and
its muzzle pointed directly at Mr. Crocker's ample stomach.
Exhaustive as had been the thought which Jimmy's father had given
to the possible developments of his enterprise, this was a
contingency of which he had not dreamed. He was entirely at a
"Don't do that!" he said huskily. "It might go off!"
"I should worry!" replied Ogden coldly. "I'm at the right end of
it. What are you doing here?" He looked fondly at the lethal
weapon. "I got this with cigarette-coupons, to shoot rabbits when
we went to the country. Here's where I get a chance at something
"Do you want to murder me?"
"Why not?"
Mr. Crocker's make-up was trickling down his face in sticky
streams. The mask, however, prevented Ogden from seeing this
peculiar phenomenon. He was gazing interestedly at his visitor.
An idea struck him.
"Say, did you come to kidnap me?"
Mr. Crocker felt the sense of relief which he had sometimes
experienced on the stage when memory had failed him during a
scene and a fellow-actor had thrown him the line. It would be
exaggerating to say that he was himself again. He could never be
completely at his case with that pistol pointing at him; but he
felt considerably better. He lowered his voice an octave or so,
and spoke in a husky growl.
"Aw, cheese it, kid. Nix on the rough stuff!"
"Keep those hands up!" advised Ogden.
"Sure! Sure!" growled Mr. Crocker. "Can the gun-play, bo! Say,
you've soitanly grown since de last time we got youse!"
Ogden's manner became magically friendly.
"Are you one of Buck Maginnis' lot?" he enquired almost politely.
"Dat's right!" Mr. Crocker blessed the inspiration which had
prompted Jimmy's parting words. "I'm wit Buck."
"Why didn't Buck come himself?"
"He's woiking on anudder job!"
To Mr. Crocker's profound relief Ogden lowered the pistol.
"I'm strong for Buck," he said conversationally. "We're old pals.
Did you see the piece in the paper about him kidnapping me last
time? I've got it in my press-clipping album."
"Sure," said Mr. Crocker.
"Say, listen. If you take me now, Buck's got to come across. I
like Buck, but I'm not going to let myself be kidnapped for his
benefit. It's fifty-fifty, or nothing doing. See?"
"I get you, kid."
"Well, if that's understood, all right. Give me a minute to get
some clothes on, and I'll be with you."
"Don't make a noise," said Mr. Crocker.
"Who's making any noise? Say, how did you get in here?"
"T'roo de libery windows."
"I always knew some yegg would stroll in that way. It beats me
why they didn't have bars fixed on them."
"Dere's a buzz-wagon outside, waitin'."
"You do it in style, don't you?" observed Ogden, pulling on his
shirt. "Who's working this with you? Any one I know?"
"Naw. A new guy."
"Oh? Say, I don't remember you, if it comes to that."
"You don't?" said Mr. Crocker a little discomposed.
"Well, maybe I wouldn't, with that mask on you. Which of them
are you?"
"Chicago Ed.'s my monaker."
"I don't remember any Chicago Ed."
"Well, you will after dis!" said Mr. Crocker, happily inspired.
Ogden was eyeing him with sudden suspicion.
"Take that mask off and let's have a look at you."
"Nothing doin'."
"How am I to know you're on the level?"
Mr. Crocker played a daring card.
"All right," he said, making a move towards the door. "It's up to
youse. If you t'ink I'm not on de level, I'll beat it."
"Here, stop a minute," said Ogden hastily, unwilling that a
promising business deal should be abandoned in this summary
manner. "I'm not saying anything against you. There's no need to
fly off the handle like that."
"I'll tell Buck I couldn't get you," said Mr. Crocker, moving
another step.
"Here, stop! What's the matter with you?"
"Are youse comin' wit me?"
"Sure, if you get the conditions. Buck's got to slip me half of
whatever he gets out of this."
"Dat's right. Buck'll slip youse half of anyt'ing he gets."
"All right, then. Wait till I've got this shoe on, and let's
start. Now I'm ready."
"Beat it quietly."
"What did you think I was going to do? Sing?"
"Step dis way!" said Mr. Crocker jocosely.
They left the room cautiously. Mr. Crocker for a moment had a
sense of something missing. He had reached the stairs before he
realised what it was. Then it dawned upon him that what was
lacking was the applause. The scene had deserved a round.
Jimmy, vigilant in the gallery, heard the library door open
softly and, peering over the rail, perceived two dim forms in the
darkness. One was large, the other small. They crossed the room
Whispered words reached him.
"I thought you said you came in this way."
"Then why's the shutter closed?"
"I fixed it after I was in."
There was a faint scraping sound, followed by a click. The
darkness of the room was relieved by moonlight. The figures
passed through. Jimmy ran down from the gallery, and closed the
windows softly. He had just fastened the shutters, when from the
passage outside there came the unmistakeable sound of a footstep.
Jimmy's first emotion on hearing the footstep was the crude
instinct of self-preservation. All that he was able to think of
at the moment was the fact that he was in a questionable position
and one which would require a good deal of explaining away if he
were found, and his only sensation was a strong desire to avoid
discovery. He made a silent, scrambling leap for the gallery
stairs, and reached their shelter just as the door opened. He
stood there, rigid, waiting to be challenged, but apparently he
had moved in time, for no voice spoke. The door closed so gently
as to be almost inaudible, and then there was silence again. The
room remained in darkness, and it was this perhaps that first
suggested to Jimmy the comforting thought that the intruder was
equally desirous of avoiding the scrutiny of his fellows. He had
taken it for granted in his first panic that he himself was the
only person in that room whose motive for being there would not
have borne inspection. But now, safely hidden in the gallery, out
of sight from the floor below, he had the leisure to consider the
newcomer's movements and to draw conclusions from them.
An honest man's first act would surely have been to switch on the
lights. And an honest man would hardly have crept so stealthily.
It became apparent to Jimmy, as he leaned over the rail and tried
to pierce the darkness, that there was sinister work afoot; and
he had hardly reached this conclusion when his mind took a
further leap and he guessed the identity of the soft-footed
person below. It could be none but his old friend Lord Wisbeach,
known to "the boys" as Gentleman Jack. It surprised him that he
had not thought of this before. Then it surprised him that, after
the talk they had only a few hours earlier in that very room,
Gentleman Jack should have dared to risk this raid.
At this moment the blackness was relieved as if by the striking
of a match. The man below had brought an electric torch into
play, and now Jimmy could see clearly. He had been right in his
surmise. It was Lord Wisbeach. He was kneeling in front of the
safe. What he was doing to the safe, Jimmy could not see, for the
man's body was in the way; but the electric torch shone on his
face, lighting up grim, serious features quite unlike the amiable
and slightly vacant mask which his lordship was wont to present
to the world. As Jimmy looked, something happened in the pool of
light beyond his vision. Gentleman Jack gave a muttered
exclamation of satisfaction, and then Jimmy saw that the door of
the safe had swung open. The air was full of a penetrating smell
of scorched metal. Jimmy was not an expert in these matters, but
he had read from time to time of modern burglars and their
methods, and he gathered that an oxy-acetylene blow-pipe, with
its flame that cuts steel as a knife cuts cheese, had been at
Lord Wisbeach flashed the torch into the open safe, plunged his
hand in, and drew it out again, holding something. Handling this
in a cautious and gingerly manner, he placed it carefully in his
breast pocket. Then he straightened himself. He switched off the
torch, and moved to the window, leaving the rest of his
implements by the open safe. He unfastened the shutter, then
raised the catch of the window. At this point it seemed to Jimmy
that the time had come to interfere.
"Tut, tut!" he said in a tone of mild reproof.
The effect of the rebuke on Lord Wisbeach was remarkable. He
jumped convulsively away from the window, then, revolving on his
own axis, flashed the torch into every corner of the room.
"Who's that?" he gasped.
"Conscience!" said Jimmy.
Lord Wisbeach had overlooked the gallery in his researches. He
now turned his torch upwards. The light flooded the gallery on
the opposite side of the room from where Jimmy stood. There was a
pistol in Gentleman Jack's hand now. It followed the torch
Jimmy, lying flat on the gallery floor, spoke again.
"Throw that gun away, and the torch, too," he said. "I've got you
The torch flashed above his head, but the raised edge of the
gallery rail protected him.
"I'll give you five seconds. If you haven't dropped that gun by
then, I shall shoot!"
As he began to count, Jimmy heartily regretted that he had
allowed his appreciation of the dramatic to lead him into this
situation. It would have been so simple to have roused the house
in a prosaic way and avoided this delicate position. Suppose his
bluff did not succeed. Suppose the other still clung to his
pistol at the end of the five seconds. He wished that he had made
it ten instead. Gentleman Jack was an enterprising person, as his
previous acts had showed. He might very well decide to take a
chance. He might even refuse to believe that Jimmy was armed. He
had only Jimmy's word for it. Perhaps he might be as deficient in
simple faith as he had proved to be in Norman blood! Jimmy
lingered lovingly over his count.
"Four!" he said reluctantly.
There was a breathless moment. Then, to Jimmy's unspeakable
relief, gun and torch dropped simultaneously to the floor. In an
instant Jimmy was himself again.
"Go and stand with your face to that wall," he said crisply.
"Hold your hands up!"
"I'm going to see how many more guns you've got."
"I haven't another."
"I'd like to make sure of that for myself. Get moving!"
Gentleman Jack reluctantly obeyed. When he had reached the wall,
Jimmy came down. He switched on the lights. He felt in the
other's pockets, and almost at once encountered something hard
and metallic.
He shook his head reproachfully.
"You are very loose and inaccurate in your statements," he said.
"Why all these weapons? I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier!
Now you can turn around and put your hands down."
Gentleman Jack's appeared to be a philosophical nature. The
chagrin consequent upon his failure seemed to have left him. He
sat on the arm of a chair and regarded Jimmy without apparent
hostility. He even smiled a faint smile.
"I thought I had fixed you, he said. You must have been smarter
than I took you for. I never supposed you would get on to that
drink and pass it up."
Understanding of an incident which had perplexed him came to
"Was it you who put that high-ball in my room? Was it doped?"
"Didn't you know?"
"Well," said Jimmy, "I never knew before that virtue got its
reward so darned quick in this world. I rejected that high-ball
not because I suspected it but out of pure goodness, because I
had made up my mind that I was through with all that sort of
His companion laughed. If Jimmy had had a more intimate
acquaintance with the resourceful individual whom the "boys"
called Gentleman Jack, he would have been disquieted by that
laugh. It was an axiom among those who knew him well, that when
Gentleman Jack chuckled in the reflective way, he generally had
something unpleasant up his sleeve.
"It's your lucky night," said Gentleman Jack.
"It looks like it."
"Well, it isn't over yet."
"Very nearly. You had better go and put that test-tube back in
what is left of the safe now. Did you think I had forgotten it?"
"What test-tube?"
"Come, come, old friend! The one filled with Partridge's
explosive, which you have in your breast-pocket."
Gentleman Jack laughed again. Then he moved towards the safe.
"Place it gently on the top shelf," said Jimmy.
The next moment every nerve in his body was leaping and
quivering. A great shout split the air. Gentleman Jack,
apparently insane, was giving tongue at the top of his voice.
"Help! Help! Help!"
The conversation having been conducted up to this point in
undertones, the effect of this unexpected uproar was like an
explosion. The cries seemed to echo round the room and shake the
very walls. For a moment Jimmy stood paralysed, staring feebly;
then there was a sudden deafening increase in the din. Something
living seemed to writhe and jump in his hand. He dropped it
incontinently, and found himself gazing in a stupefied way at a
round, smoking hole in the carpet. Such had been the effect of
Gentleman Jack's unforeseen outburst that he had quite forgotten
that he held the revolver, and he had been unfortunate enough at
this juncture to pull the trigger.
There was a sudden rush and a swirl of action. Something hit
Jimmy under the chin. He staggered back, and when he had
recovered himself found himself looking into the muzzle of the
revolver which had nearly blown a hole in his foot a moment back.
The sardonic face of Gentleman Jack smiled grimly over the
"I told you the night wasn't over yet!" he said.
The blow under the chin had temporarily dulled Jimmy's mentality.
He stood, swallowing and endeavouring to pull himself together
and to get rid of a feeling that his head was about to come off.
He backed to the desk and steadied himself against it.
As he did so, a voice from behind him spoke.
"Whassall this?"
He turned his head. A curious procession was filing in through
the open French window. First came Mr. Crocker, still wearing his
hideous mask; then a heavily bearded individual with round
spectacles, who looked like an automobile coming through a
haystack; then Ogden Ford, and finally a sturdy, determined-looking woman with glittering but
poorly co-ordinated eyes, who held a large revolver in her unshaking
right hand and looked the very embodiment of the modern female
who will stand no nonsense. It was part of the nightmare-like
atmosphere which seemed to brood inexorably over this particular
night that this person looked to Jimmy exactly like the parlour-maid
who had come to him in this room in answer to the bell
and who had sent his father to him. Yet how could it be she? Jimmy
knew little of the habits of parlour-maids, but surely they did
not wander about with revolvers in the small hours?
While he endeavoured feverishly to find reason in this chaos, the
door opened and a motley crowd, roused from sleep by the cries,
poured in. Jimmy, turning his head back again to attend to this
invasion, perceived Mrs. Pett, Ann, two or three of the geniuses,
and Willie Partridge, in various stages of _negligee_ and babbling
The woman with the pistol, assuming instant and unquestioned
domination of the assembly, snapped out an order.
Somebody shut the door.
"Now, whassall this?" she said, turning to Gentleman Jack.
Gentleman Jack had lowered his revolver, and was standing waiting
to explain all, with the insufferable look of the man who is just
going to say that he has only done his duty and requires no
"Who are you?" he said.
"Nev' min' who I am!" said Miss Trimble curtly. "Siz Pett knows
who I am."
"I hope you won't be offended, Lord Wisbeach," said Mrs. Pett
from the group by the door. "I engaged a detective to help you. I
really thought you could not manage everything by yourself. I
hope you do not mind."
"Not at all, Mrs. Pett. Very wise."
"I'm so glad to hear you say so."
"An excellent move."
Miss Trimble broke in on these amiable exchanges.
"Whassall this? Howjer mean—help me?"
"Lord Wisbeach most kindly offered to do all he could to protect
my nephew's explosive," said Mrs. Pett.
Gentleman Jack smiled modestly.
"I hope I have been of some slight assistance! I think I came
down in the nick of time. Look!" He pointed to the safe. "He had
just got it open! Luckily I had my pistol with me. I covered him,
and called for help. In another moment he would have got away."
Miss Trimble crossed to the safe and inspected it with a frown,
as if she disliked it. She gave a grunt and returned to her place
by the window.
"Made good job 'f it!" was her comment.
Ann came forward. Her face was glowing and her eyes shone.
"Do you mean to say that you found Jimmy breaking into the safe?
I never heard anything so absurd!"
Mrs. Pett intervened.
"This is not James Crocker, Ann! This man is an impostor, who
came into the house in order to steal Willie's invention." She
looked fondly at Gentleman Jack. "Lord Wisbeach told me so. He
only pretended to recognise him this afternoon."
A low gurgle proceeded from the open mouth of little Ogden. The
proceedings bewildered him. The scene he had overheard in the
library between the two men had made it clear to him that Jimmy
was genuine and Lord Wisbeach a fraud, and he could not
understand why Jimmy did not produce his proofs as before. He was
not aware that Jimmy's head was only just beginning to clear from
the effects of the blow on the chin. Ogden braced himself for
resolute lying in the event of Jimmy calling him as a witness.
But he did not intend to have his little business proposition
dragged into the open.
Ann was looking at Jimmy with horror-struck eyes. For the first
time it came to her how little she knew of him and how very
likely it was—in the face of the evidence it was almost
certain—that he should have come to the house with the intention
of stealing Willie's explosive. She fought against it, but a
voice seemed to remind her that it was he who had suggested the
idea of posing as Jimmy Crocker. She could not help remembering
how smoothly and willingly he had embarked on the mad scheme.
But had it been so mad? Had it not been a mere cloak for this
other venture? If Lord Wisbeach had found him in this room, with
the safe blown open, what other explanation could there be?
And then, simultaneously with her conviction that he was a
criminal, came the certainty that he was the man she loved. It
had only needed the spectacle of him in trouble to make her sure.
She came to his side with the vague idea of doing something to
help him, of giving him her support. Once there, she found that
there was nothing to do and nothing to say. She put her hand on
his, and stood waiting helplessly for she knew not what.
It was the touch of her fingers which woke Jimmy from his stupor.
He came to himself almost with a jerk. He had been mistily aware
of what had been said, but speech had been beyond him. Now, quite
suddenly, he was a whole man once more. He threw himself into the
debate with energy.
"Good Heavens!" he cried. "You're all wrong. I found _him_ blowing
open the safe!"
Gentleman Jack smiled superciliously.
"A likely story, what! I mean to say, it's a bit thin!"
"Ridiculous!" said Mrs. Pett. She turned to Miss Trimble with a
gesture. "Arrest that man!"
"Wait a mom'nt," replied that clear-headed maiden, picking her
teeth thoughtfully with the muzzle of her revolver. "Wait mom'nt.
Gotta look 'nto this. Hear both these guys' st'ries."
"Really," said Gentleman Jack suavely, "it seems somewhat
"Ney' mind how 'bsurd 't sounds," returned the fair Trimble
rebukingly. "You close y'r face 'n lissen t' me. Thass all you've
gotta do."
"I know you didn't do it!" cried Ann, tightening her hold on
Jimmy's arm.
"Less 'f it, please. Less 'f it!" Miss Trimble removed the pistol
from her mouth and pointed it at Jimmy. "What've you to say? Talk
"I happened to be down there—"
"Why?" asked Miss Trimble, as if she had touched off a bomb.
Jimmy stopped short. He perceived difficulties in the way of
"I happened to be down there," he resumed stoutly, "and that man
came into the room with an electric torch and a blowpipe and
began working on the safe—"
The polished tones of Gentleman Jack cut in on his story.
"Really now, is it worth while?" He turned to Miss Trimble. "I came
down here, having heard a noise. I did not _happen_ to be here for
some unexplained purpose. I was lying awake and something attracted
my attention. As Mrs. Pett knows, I was suspicious of this worthy
and expected him to make an attempt on the explosive at any moment:
so I took my pistol and crept downstairs. When I got here, the safe
was open and this man making for the window."
Miss Trimble scratched her chin caressingly with the revolver,
and remained for a moment in thought. Then she turned to Jimmy
like a striking rattlesnake.
"Y' gotta pull someth'g better th'n that," she said. "I got y'r
number. Y're caught with th' goods."
"No!" cried Ann.
"Yes!" said Mrs. Pett. "The thing is obvious."
"I think the best thing I can do," said Gentleman Jack smoothly,
"is to go and telephone for the police."
"You think of everything, Lord Wisbeach," said Mrs. Pett.
"Not at all," said his lordship.
Jimmy watched him moving to the door. At the back of his mind
there was a dull feeling that he could solve the whole trouble if
only he could remember one fact which had escaped him. The
effects of the blow he had received still handicapped him. He
struggled to remember, but without result. Gentleman Jack reached
the door and opened it: and as he did so a shrill yapping,
hitherto inaudible because of the intervening oak and the raised
voices within, made itself heard from the passage outside.
Gentleman Jack closed the door with a hasty bang.
"I say that dog's out there!" he said plaintively.
The scratching of Aida's busy feet on the wood bore out his
words. He looked about him, baffled.
"That dog's out there!" he repeated gloomily.
Something seemed to give way in Jimmy's brain. The simple fact
which had eluded him till now sprang into his mind.
"Don't let that man get out!" he cried. "Good Lord! I've only
just remembered. You say you found me breaking into the safe!
You say you heard a noise and came down to investigate! Well,
then, what's that test-tube of the explosive doing in your
breast-pocket?" He swung round to Miss Trimble. "You needn't take
my word or his word. There's a much simpler way of finding out
who's the real crook. Search us both." He began to turn out his
pockets rapidly. "Look here—and here—and here! Now ask him to
do the same!"
He was pleased to observe a spasm pass across Gentleman Jack's
hitherto composed countenance. Miss Trimble was eyeing the latter
with sudden suspicion.
"Thasso!" she said. "Say, Bill, I've f'gott'n y'r name—'sup to
you to show us! Less've a look 't what y' got inside there."
Gentleman Jack drew himself up haughtily.
"I really could not agree to—"
Mrs. Pett interrupted indignantly.
"I never heard of such a thing! Lord Wisbeach is an old friend—"
"Less'f it!" ordered Miss Trimble, whose left eye was now like
the left eye of a basilisk. "Y' _gotta_ show us, Bill, so b'
quick 'bout 't!"
A tired smile played over Gentleman Jack's face. He was the bored
aristocrat, mutely protesting against something that "wasn't
done." He dipped his slender fingers into his pocket. Then,
drawing out the test-tube, and holding it up, he spoke with a
drawling calm for which even Jimmy could not help admiring him.
"All right! If I'm done, I'm done!"
The sensation caused by his action and his words was of the kind
usually described as profound. Mrs. Pett uttered a strangled
shriek. Willie Partridge yelped like a dog. Sharp exclamations
came simultaneously from each of the geniuses.
Gentleman Jack waited for the clamour to subside. Then he resumed
his gentle drawl.
"But I'm not done," he explained. "I'm going out now through that
window. And if anybody tries to stop me, it will be his—or
her—" he bowed politely to Miss Trimble—"last act in the world.
If any one makes a move to stop me, I shall drop this test-tube
and blow the whole damned place to pieces."
If his first speech had made a marked impression on his audience,
his second paralysed them. A silence followed as of the tomb.
Only the yapping of the dog Aida refused to be stilled.
"Y' stay where y' are!" said Miss Trimble, as the speaker moved
towards the window. She held the revolver poised, but for the
first time that night—possibly for the first time in her
life—she spoke irresolutely. Superbly competent woman though she
was, here was a situation that baffled her.
Gentleman Jack crossed the room slowly, the test-tube held aloft
between fore-finger and thumb. He was level with Miss Trimble,
who had lowered her revolver and had drawn to one side, plainly at
a loss to know how to handle this unprecedented crisis, when the
door flew open. For an instant the face of Howard Bemis, the
poet, was visible.
"Mrs. Pett, I have telephoned—"
Then another voice interrupted him.
"Yipe! Yipe! Yipe!"
Through the opening the dog Aida, rejoicing in the removal of the
obstacle, raced like a fur muff mysteriously endowed with legs
and a tongue. She tore across the room to where Gentleman Jack's
ankles waited invitingly. Ever since their first meeting she had
wanted a fair chance at those ankles, but some one had always
prevented her.
"Damn!" shouted Gentleman Jack.
The word was drowned in one vast cataclysm of noise. From every
throat in the room there proceeded a shout, a shriek, or some
other variety of cry, as the test-tube, slipping from between the
victim's fingers, described a parabola through the air.
Ann flung herself into Jimmy's arms, and he held her tight. He
shut his eyes. Even as he waited for the end the thought flashed
through his mind that, if he must die, this was the manner of
death which he would prefer.
The test-tube crashed on the writing-desk, and burst into a
million pieces. . . .
Jimmy opened his eyes. Things seemed to be much about the same as
before. He was still alive. The room in which he stood was solid
and intact. Nobody was in fragments. There was only one respect
in which the scene differed from what it had been a moment
before. Then, it had contained Gentleman Jack. Now it did not.
A great sigh seemed to sweep through the room. There was a long
silence. Then, from the direction of the street, came the roar of
a starting automobile. And at that sound the bearded man with the
spectacles who had formed part of Miss Trimble's procession
uttered a wailing cry.
"Gee! He's beat it in my bubble! And it was a hired one!"
The words seemed to relieve the tension in the air. One by one
the company became masters of themselves once more. Miss Trimble,
that masterly woman, was the first to recover. She raised herself
from the floor—for with a confused idea that she would be safer
there she had flung herself down—and, having dusted her skirt
with a few decisive dabs of her strong left hand, addressed
herself once more to business.
"I let 'm bluff me with a fake bomb!" she commented bitterly. She
brooded on this for a moment. "Say, shut th't door 'gain, some
one, and t'run this mutt out. I can't think with th't yapping
going on."
Mrs. Pett, pale and scared, gathered Aida into her arms. At the
same time Ann removed herself from Jimmy's. She did not look at
him. She was feeling oddly shy. Shyness had never been a failing
of hers, but she would have given much now to have been
Miss Trimble again took charge of the situation. The sound of the
automobile had died away. Gentleman Jack had passed out of their
lives. This fact embittered Miss Trimble. She spoke with
"Well, _he's_ gone!" she said acidly. "Now we can get down t' cases
again. Say!" She addressed Mrs. Pett, who started nervously. The
experience of passing through the shadow of the valley of death and
of finding herself in one piece instead of several thousand had
robbed her of all her wonted masterfulness. "Say, list'n t' me.
There's been a double game on here t'night. That guy that's jus'
gone was th' first part of th' entertainment. Now we c'n start th'
sec'nd part. You see these ducks?" She indicated with a wave of the
revolver Mr. Crocker and his bearded comrade. "They've been trying
t' kidnap y'r son!"
Mrs. Pett uttered a piercing cry.
"Oh, can it!" muttered that youth, uncomfortably. He foresaw
awkward moments ahead, and he wished to concentrate his faculties
entirely on the part he was to play in them. He looked sideways
at Chicago Ed. In a few minutes, he supposed, Ed. would be
attempting to minimise his own crimes, by pretending that he,
Ogden, had invited him to come and kidnap him. Stout denial must
be his weapon.
"I had m' suspicions," resumed Miss Trimble, "that someth'ng was
goin' t' be pulled off to-night, 'nd I was waiting outside f'r it
to break loose. This guy here," she indicated the bearded
plotter, who blinked deprecatingly through his spectacles, "h's
been waiting on the c'rner of th' street for the last hour with
'n automobile. I've b'n watching him right along. I was onto h's
game! Well, just now out came the kid with this plug-ugly here."
She turned to Mr. Crocker. "Say you! Take off th't mask. Let's
have a l'k at you!"
Mr. Crocker reluctantly drew the cambric from his face.
"Goosh!" exclaimed Miss Trimble in strong distaste. "Say, 've you
got some kind of a plague, or wh't is it? Y'look like a coloured
comic supplement!" She confronted the shrinking Mr. Crocker and
ran a bony finger over his cheek. "Make-up!" she said, eyeing the
stains disgustedly. "Grease paint! Goosh!"
"Skinner!" cried Mrs. Pett.
Miss Trimble scanned her victim more closely.
"So 't is, if y' do a bit 'f excavating." She turned on the
bearded one. "'nd I guess all this shrubbery is fake, 'f you come
down to it!" She wrenched at the unhappy man's beard. It came off
in her hands, leaving a square chin behind it. "If this ain't a
wig, y'll have a headache t'morrow," observed Miss Trimble,
weaving her fingers into his luxuriant head-covering and pulling.
"Wish y' luck! Ah! 'twas a wig. Gimme those spect'cles." She
surveyed the results of her handiwork grimly. "Say, Clarence,"
she remarked, "y're a wise guy. Y' look handsomer with 'em on.
Does any one know _this_ duck?"
"It is Mitchell," said Mrs. Pett. "My husband's physical
Miss Trimble turned, and, walking to Jimmy, tapped him meaningly
on the chest with her revolver.
"Say, this is gett'n interesting! This is where y' 'xplain, y'ng
man, how 'twas you happened to be down in this room when th't
crook who's just gone was monkeyin' with the safe. L'ks t' me as
if you were in with these two."
A feeling of being on the verge of one of those crises which dot
the smooth path of our lives came to Jimmy. To conceal his
identity from Ann any longer seemed impossible. He was about to
speak, when Ann broke in.
"Aunt Nesta," she said, "I can't let this go on any longer. Jerry
Mitchell isn't to blame. I told him to kidnap Ogden!"
There was an awkward silence. Mrs. Pett laughed nervously.
"I think you had better go to bed, my dear child. You have had a
severe shock. You are not yourself."
"But it's true! I did tell him, didn't I, Jerry?"
"Say!" Miss Trimble silenced Jerry with a gesture. "You beat 't
back t' y'r little bed, honey, like y'r aunt says. Y' say y' told
this guy t' steal th' kid. Well, what about this here Skinner? Y'
didn't tell _him_, did y'?"
"I—I—" Ann began confusedly. She was utterly unable to account
for Skinner, and it made her task of explaining difficult.
Jimmy came to the rescue. He did not like to think how Ann would
receive the news, but for her own sake he must speak now. It
would have required a harder-hearted man than himself to resist
the mute pleading of his father's grease-painted face. Mr.
Crocker was a game sport: he would not have said a word without
the sign from Jimmy, even to save himself from a night in prison,
but he hoped that Jimmy would speak.
"It's perfectly simple," said Jimmy, with an attempt at airiness
which broke down miserably under Miss Trimble's eye. "Perfectly
simple. I really am Jimmy Crocker, you know." He avoided Ann's
gaze. "I can't think what you are making all this fuss about."
"Th'n why did y' sit in at a plot to kidnap this boy?"
"That, of course—ha, ha!—might seem at first sight to require a
little explanation."
"Y' admit it, then?"
"Yes. As a matter of fact, I did have the idea of kidnapping
Ogden. Wanted to send him to a dogs' hospital, if you understand
what I mean." He tried to smile a conciliatory smile, but,
encountering Miss Trimble's left eye, abandoned the project. He
removed a bead of perspiration from his forehead with his
handkerchief. It struck him as a very curious thing that the
simplest explanations were so often quite difficult to make.
"Before I go any further, I ought to explain one thing. Skinner
there is my father."
Mrs. Pett gasped.
"Skinner was my sister's butler in London."
"In a way of speaking," said Jimmy, "that is correct. It's rather
a long story. It was this way, you see. . . ."
Miss Trimble uttered an ejaculation of supreme contempt.
"I n'ver saw such a lot of babbl'ng crooks in m' life! 't beats
me what y' hope to get pulling this stuff. Say!" She indicated
Mr. Crocker. "This guy's wanted f'r something over in England.
We've got h's photographs 'n th' office. If y' ask me, he lit out
with the spoons 'r something. Say!" She fixed one of the geniuses
with her compelling eye. "'Bout time y' made y'rself useful. Go'n
call up th' Astorbilt on th' phone. There's a dame there that's
been making the enquiries f'r this duck. She told Anderson's—and
Anderson's handed it on to us—to call her up any hour of the day
'r night when they found him. You go get her on the wire and t'll
her t' come right up here'n a taxi and identify him."
The genius paused at the door.
"Whom shall I ask for?"
"Mrs. Crocker," snapped Miss Trimble. "Siz Bingley Crocker. Tell
her we've found th' guy she's been looking for!"
The genius backed out. There was a howl of anguish from the
"I _beg_ your pardon!" said the genius.
"Can't you look where you're going!"
"I am exceedingly sorry—"
Mr. Pett entered the room, hopping. He was holding one slippered
foot in his hand and appeared to be submitting it to some form of
massage. It was plain that the usually mild and gentle little man
was in a bad temper. He glowered round him at the company
"What the devil's the matter here?" he demanded. "I stood it as
long as I could, but a man can't get a wink of sleep with this
noise going on!"
"Yipe! Yipe! Yipe!" barked Aida from the shelter of Mrs. Pett's
Mr. Pett started violently.
"Kill that dog! Throw her out! Do _something_ to her!"
Mrs. Pett was staring blankly at her husband. She had never seen
him like this before. It was as if a rabbit had turned and
growled at her. Coming on top of the crowded sensations of the
night, it had the effect of making her feel curiously weak. In
all her married life she had never known what fear was. She had
coped dauntlessly with the late Mr. Ford, a man of a spirited
temperament; and as for the mild Mr. Pett she had trampled on
him. But now she felt afraid. This new Peter intimidated her.
End of Chapter XXVI End of Piccadilly Jim
by P. G. Wodehouse �